Amtrak Announces New Repairs at NY Penn Station; Legislation Targeted Against Brightline Moves Forward, SMART Looks To Connect With Amtrak
November 17, 2017
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FYI...The Next Hotline Will Be An Abridged Thanksgiving Holiday Edition, Which Will Be Posted On Wednesday, November 22!
From January 5 to May 28, 2018, Amtrak, NJ Transit, and Long Island Rail Road passengers will experience service changes traveling through Penn Station as Amtrak plans its next series of repairs following the “Summer of Renewal.” The new repairs will require that Amtrak, which operates Penn Station and its tracks, repair three different tracks one at a time. The track closures will also require transit agencies to readjust service on weekends and weekdays.
“After a successful summer, it is essential that we continue to upgrade the infrastructure so that we can continue to improve the reliability of service for all the customers that use New York Penn Station,” Amtrak co-CEO Wick Moorman said in a press release issued by the agency.
For Amtrak, the following schedule changes will take place:
Cancellation of Northeast Regional Trains 110 from Washington, D.C. (WAS) to New York Penn Station (NYP) and 127 from NYP to WAS
Northbound Keystone Train 640 will terminate at Newark Penn Station
Southbound Keystone Train 643 will originate at Newark Penn Station
Southbound Train 173 will stop at Newark Airport
Southbound Trains 129, 193 and 653 will all have earlier departure times.
Train 170 will also depart WAS early, stop at North Philadelphia and Cornwells Heights and resume its schedule from Trenton
“We fully understand that passengers traveling to and from Penn Station may have concern about a second major wave of repairs at Penn Station, but we saw this summer that Amtrak laid out and completed a plan with no major complications. The same is expected this time around.” said Rail Passengers Association President and CEO Jim Mathews. “It is unfortunate, however, that degradation of Penn Station infrastructure has had to come to major repairs and closures that directly impact service for not only Amtrak, but also NJ Transit and LIRR passengers. Appropriate levels of funding over the past several years could have allowed Amtrak to properly address and maintain infrastructure issues at Penn Station to avoid previous derailments and now track closures.”
Amtrak said in the release that the work will take place on Track 15 and Track 18, both of which will require concrete demolition and replacement. Amtrak will also work on three turnouts in “C” Interlocking, which directs Amtrak and LIRR trains to routes heading east and to Sunnyside Yard.
LIRR has not yet released a revised schedules, but LIRR President Patrick Nowakowski said the repair work and changes to service, “will not be as much as we experienced last summer.”
NJ Transit released its revised schedule of service, which is available online.
The Senate Committee on Transportation in Florida approved a regulation that would impose unneeded restrictions on any rail service traveling more than 80 mph, including All Aboard Florida’s Brightline rail service. The regulations, known as bill SB 572, would require all rail companies with trains operating above 80 mph, to install safety features, cover the cost of maintaining rail crossings, pay for fencing along sections of its tracks where pedestrians could be at risk, and help train first responders in the event of an accident involving passenger trains or hazardous materials.
Brightline officials, as well as the Rail Passengers Association (RPA), have opposed the bill since it was first proposed as it is used as means to attack the service. Earlier this year in March, RPA President and CEO Jim Mathews wrote to the Florida State Legislature opposing the bill, as it places unfair regulatory costs on right of way upkeep and allowing local governments to dictate how railroads can use their land. In addition, since the bills define “high-speed” as anything exceeding 80 mph, the bill could also end up killing the Gulf Coast rail restoration project between Florida and Louisiana.
“There are tremendous benefits this private-sector passenger rail project would bring—not just for the four connected communities—Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, and Orlando—but the entire state. The project will create 10,000 direct construction jobs, and hundreds more permanent operating and maintenance jobs. That will generate over $650 million in federal, state, and local tax revenue. It will also take three million automobiles off the crowded Interstate 95 corridor. By 2030, Florida will have added six million residents, and the state needs to start expanding infrastructure capacity now,” Mathews said in the letter.
Brightline plans to begin service before the end of the year. When all segments are complete, trains will travel at speeds up to 79 mph between Miami and West Palm Beach; 110 mph between West Palm Beach and Cocoa Beach; and 125 mph between Cocoa and Orlando.
Congrats to the First Winners for Our Photo Contest! You Still Have A Chance to Win 10,000 Amtrak Guest Rewards® Points and NARP Giveaways, too: Send Us Your Best Photos
The Rail Passengers Association is asking passengers like you to be a part of our new identity. A great way to do this is through our new social media contest that will give nine lucky passengers 10,000 Amtrak Guest Rewards ® Points, while dozens more will win other prizes.
Throughout the past few weeks, we have received over 40 photo submissions and today we’re announcing 22 runner up winners as well as our first Grand Prize Winner: Doug Kerr. Doug submitted a spectacular photo from the California Zephyr in Colorado. Here’s his winning entry:
We’re still looking for 8 other Grand Prize Winners, and have room for dozens more runner ups, too. To enter the contest, we are asking you, along with your friends and family, to share your favorite train-view photos via Instagram, Facebook or Twitter. The pictures should be your own, and should depict what you see outside your train window. Whether it’s a photo of countryside, oceans, forests or cities, we want to see what you see. Rail Passengers’ staff will be evaluating the photos, and selected images will be used as part of the Rail Passengers Association’s new visual identity on the web, and in print.
The best selections will be named grand prize winners and participants will receive 10,000 Amtrak Guest Rewards ® points. We will be offering a variety of rewards for contest submissions, including new Rail Passengers gear such as totes, magnet photo frames or luggage tags for 90 contest winners.
There is a rolling deadline for submissions, and the contest will end once we have enough winners from each of our nine regions: Northeast, Northwest, Midwest, South Central, Mountains & Plains, Mid-Atlantic, Southeast, South, and Southwest. Submitting photos for consideration is easy. Just share them on one of our social media networks and be sure to use the hashtag #RailPassengers and @RailPassengers. If you don’t, we won’t be able to find the submissions!
For additional information on how to enter, as well as guidelines for photo submissions, please visit https://www.narprail.org/news/blog/contest-your-view-from-the-train/
(Please remember, we can only use photo entries with permission. The best way to make sure you have the right, is to share photos you took personally. Please don’t just grab a picture off Google!)
During a hearing by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the agency said that Amtrak allowed an unsafe work culture that eventually led to the April 2016, accident near Philadelphia. The accident involved an Amtrak train hitting a backhoe at 99 mph, and resulted in the death of the backhoe operator and a track supervisor, and 39 people injured. According to reports, a night foreman was said to have lifted a track safety closure while a backhoe remained on the track. The day foreman did not restore the closure, leading to the train striking the backhoe.
The NTSB revealed from its 19-month investigation that it had discovered 20 safety lapses from Amtrak, which created an unsafe environment. This included the Amtrak workers not having the proper safety equipment to steer trains around repair work, and a lack of job briefing at the construction site before high-speed trains were allowed back on the track. The NTSB had said prior to the hearing that toxicology reports found marijuana in the system of the train's engineer, and cocaine or opioids in the maintenance workers who died, but they did not conclude that the employees were impaired at the time of the crash. While drug use did not have a, "direct causal link to this accident," NTSB officials said it reflected Amtrak’s weak safety culture.
It is important to note that the NTSB found Amtrak tried to enforce safety rules, but management had an adversarial relationship with unions and workers didn't report infractions.
“Despite the emphasis on rules compliance, investigators did not find a culture of compliance,” Board Chairman Robert Sumwalt said at the hearing. “Rather, they found a culture of fear on one hand and a normalization of deviance from rules on another hand.”
Amtrak spokeswoman Kimberly Woods said that the transit agency has, "taken a series of actions to improve workplace safety at Amtrak," but did not provide specifics.
On Monday, the White House took an important step to increase safety for transportation workers, rail passengers, and other commuters. The administration released its finalized rule for drug testing of transportation workers, including railroad engineers. Previously, safety-sensitives transportation workers such as pilots, air traffic controllers and truck drivers were only tested for drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, and PCP, as well as alcohol.
“The opioid crisis is a threat to public safety when it involves safety-sensitive employees involved in the operation of any kind of vehicle or transport,” said Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao in a press release from the USDOT. “The ability to test for a broader range of opioids will advance transportation safety significantly and provide another deterrence to opioid abuse, which will better protect the public and ultimately save lives.”
The recent increase in opioid abuse and accidents is what has pushed the White House to increase safety practices and drug testing. The White House recently declared opioid abuse in the U.S. a public health emergency. This action was made following last year’s accident in April when two maintenance workers who were struck and killed by an Amtrak train tested positive for cocaine and oxycodone - thought the NTSB concluded the drugs did not have an impact on the accident.
Concern about federal funding for Amtrak continues to be an important topic for local communities that could one day lose access to long-distance service under the White House’s proposed budget cuts. Sean Jeans-Gail, VP of government affairs and policy of the RPA, said in an interview with The News-Journal in Longview, TX, that he is concerned the Senate and House, which agreed to increase funding for 2018, will “kick the can down the road" and not advance additional funding for Amtrak. Instead, Amtrak will receive the same funding year over year.
"That would mean Amtrak would get funding. All the danger we faced of shutting down the national system goes away for a year, but we don't make any progress that we worked hard for, too," Jeans-Gail said.
Under the proposed budget from the administration, 220 communities in the U.S., including Longview which relies on the Texas Eagle, would lose partial or complete access to Amtrak’s long-distance service. As revealed in RPA’s recent economic report, “Dismantling a National Transportation Network,” the economic loss would be crippling for people and communities that rely on that service for economic growth, commuting for school, jobs or appointments, and even tourism. Fortunately the proposal by the White House has largely stalled. This will help keep Amtrak’s long-distance trains, including the Texas Eagle, running for at least the next year.
Rail Passengers Association President and CEO Jim Mathews addressed several of these issues and more in a recent Op-Ed in Global Railway Review, based on the economic report.
Mathews wrote in the Op-Ed, “Thankfully, the U.S. Congress is beginning to act in a way that recognizes the importance of a strong and robust national network. Congress provided the U.S. Department of Transportation with a boost in appropriations for 2018, that will fuel economic growth nationwide, especially in rural and less wealthy communities throughout regions of the U.S. known as ‘flyover country’.
Unfortunately, without a dedicated source of funding, this success must be repeated each and every budget cycle. Calls for eliminating the National Network on all but the most popular rail lines could come again in the next budget cycle. And if that plan was implemented, it would be disastrous.”
Amtrak officials continue to work to not only improve service and reliability of trains, but have reduced the company’s operating deficit through a 1.5 percent increase in ridership. In the agency’s financial results for the year ending September 30, Amtrak reported a rise in ridership to 31.7 million passengers, and a new milestone in lowering operating expenses.
Amtrak is now covering 95 percent of its operating costs through ticket sales and other sources of revenue, which increased by 1.1 percent to $3.2 billion. From the previous year, Amtrak reduced its operating loss from $230 million to $194 million. This is a significant decrease since operating losses ranged from between $373 million and $469 million from 2007 to 2012.
“I think these numbers demonstrate that the effort we’ve been going through over the last several years to try to strengthen the company and make it a more efficient enterprise is showing results,” said Anthony Coscia, chairman of Amtrak’s board of directors.
If you haven’t already, check out the “Rally For Trains” economic report to find an array of stats and data that can bolster advocacy efforts for passenger rail in America. The report details how cutting funding for trains will hurt America, especially in rural areas. It shows why expanding funding for passenger rail will be a boon for our national and local economies. Feel free to pick out data and share it on social media with the #rallyfortrains hashtag.
Sharing photos at your station or in your town on Facebook or Instagram is another easy and free way to keep the pressure on Congress to ask for funding for rail passengers! At the end of your post, insert #Rally4Trains, just as you see it spelled here. That ensures that everyone’s messages and pictures are gathered in one place for everyone to see online!
As always, you can call Congress at: 202-224-2131, and tell them you support funding rail in America. That number will allow you to connect with the people you elected to represent you in Washington. Or, email them by visiting the www.townswithouttrains.com website, and clicking the “Contact Congress” button.
[The Towns Without Trains and #Rally4Trains project has been made possible through generous bequests from the estates of George McCallum, Edmund Fritz, and Lewis Hoppe, as well as financial contributions from NARP members all across America who make our work possible.]
Officials with Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) are interested in expanding the commuter rail line to Solano County, where they hope to be able to connect with Amtrak at the agency’s rail station in Suisun City. SMART trains have been running for only three months on 43 miles of the planned 70-mile route. The proposed extension, known as the Novato-Solano Hub, is included in the 2018 California State Rail Plan drafted by Caltrans as a way to increase ridership. The state has a goal of boosting daily trips from 110,000 to more than 1.3 million by 2040.
“You gotta have a vision so you can get places,” said Farhad Mansourian, SMART general manager.
The transit agency currently owns 25 miles of track from Novato to the north end of Vallejo, and would acquire use of the tracks from there to an Amtrak station at Suisun City. There are no cost estimates associated with the proposed extension as the idea is still under development and a feasibility study would need to be completed. SMART officials also need to continue to focus on finishing current projects. Construction of the 2.1-mile extension from San Rafael to Larkspur recently started and is scheduled for completion in early 2019. SMART also has not yet set deadlines for extending service north to Windsor, Healdsburg and Cloverdale, but the state rail plan calls for completion of the full line by 2027.
Despite a push by TriMet in the Portland, OR, area, voters will have to wait to get a funding measure for the Southwest Corridor light-rail and other transit projects on the 2018 ballot. The delay stems from disagreement between mayors and city commissioners in the greater Portland about which area transit projects to include. TriMet officials now say that it is looking at 2020 for the funding measure to move forward, which will delay the development of the light-rail project. At the same time, the agency plans to let Metro take over the proposal so that agency can also include funding for affordable housing.
"We were trying to break the speed of light and don't quite have the technology to get to 2018," said Andy Shaw, Metro's government affairs director. "To get to 2020, we still need to break the sound barrier."
The proposed, $1.7-billion measure would have included a $13, annual vehicle registration fee and a new property tax assessment within the transit agency's service area. About $740 million would be directed towards the Southwest Corridor light-rail, which would connect downtown Portland with Tigard and Bridgeport Village in Tualatin.
Friends of the Brooklyn Queens Connector, an advocacy group for the proposed streetcar in Brooklyn, released a prototype of the car that would carry 150 people at speeds faster than city buses. The $2.5-billion project was first proposed in 2016, by New York Mayor Bill de Blasio. The proposed BQX would span 14 miles in areas that do not have access to the New York subway, running from Astoria, Queens, to Sunset Park, Brooklyn.
“This should be a community-driven project,” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, speaking at the Brooklyn Navy Yard as part of the prototype unveiling. “And as you move through the area, people are raising different questions about different aspects of this initiative: They’re talking about should it be designated lanes? What location? What stop? Those are great questions — you’re not hearing people say, ‘no,’ to the idea.”
Despite the push by the advocacy group, the BQX has not materialized as a priority for de Blasio, who said funding is one issue. Others include: Stop locations, integration with existing traffic, and use of the MetroCard payment system. Friends of the Brooklyn Queens Connector, which includes development firms on its executive committee and board of directors, is pressing de Blasio to make the project a priority in his second term.
New Hire At Rail Passengers Association Office
There's a new face here at NARP headquarters, and a new voice you'll hear on the phone: Samantha Brown is our new Office Manager!
Samantha is a native Washingtonian and a lifetime Washington Metro commuter. She attended Duke Ellington School of the Arts' music program, with a concentration in voice. She attended the Hartt School of Music at the University of Hartford ('03), and received her Bachelor of Music. She is thrilled to start at NARP, bolstering her professional career in customer service after a decade spent in the banking industry.
Innovative, clean and reliable passenger rail cars are important to keep and attract new riders, and Amtrak is moving forward with a new feel for its cars ahead of Thanksgiving. Mark Yachmetz, Amtrak’s vice president for Northeast Corridor business development provided USA Today with a in-depth look at how Amtrak is using $16 million for renovations Updates that passengers can feel and see immediately include:
- New carpeting and seat cushions
- Bright LED lighting
- New curtains
- Simulated-leather seats
“You lose the expectations of customers when it looks dated,” Yachmetz said. “We expect to operate this equipment for several more years.”
These new features are currently being phased in by Amtrak on its 450 rail cars in the NEC. Service routes includes the Empire, the Keystone, the Downeaster and the Vermonter. Midwest trains are also receiving upgrades. All improvements are scheduled to be finished by early May. Yachmetz also said that the last major overhaul took place in the late 1990s, before the introduction of Acela trains in 2000.
Sound Transit continued to make progress on development of a new floating bridge that will also carry its light-rail line over Lake Washington. Construction on the project began this past summer, and the agency is now performing post-tensioning work on the floating bridge. Progress is moving according to plan, and Sound Transit will begin installing track in 2019, with a bridge completion date in 2023.
Designing the bridge, which is part of Sound Transit’s 14-mile East Link extension project, has been no easy task. John Sleavin, the project's senior technical director said the agency had to do numerous tests in Pueblo, CO, where it built two full-sized track bridges and tested them at Transportation Technology Center Inc.’s facility. Sound Transit also brought two light-rail vehicles to the center to test the new structures.
"While we didn't have a lake there, we used ballast to jack the track into different positions to simulate a lake level that was higher or lower," Sleavin says.
Upcoming Regional NARP and State Passengers Association Member Meetings & Events
Saturday, November 18 - Carolinas Association For Passenger Trains Annual Meeting - Charlotte, NC
Wednesday, November 29 - Boston, MA North/South Rail Link Town Hall Meeting - Quincy, MA
Saturday, December 2 - Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers Annual Meeting - Dearborn, MI
Saturday, December 2 - Association of Oregon Rail & Transit Advocates (AORTA) - Portland, OR
Saturday, December 9 - All Aboard Washington Annual Meeting - Lacey, WA
Saturday, December 9 - All Aboard Arizona Fall 2017 Passenger Rail Summit - Tucson, AZ
Friday, December 15 - Amtrak Cascades Service Event - Tacoma, WA
Please contact Bruce Becker to have a local, state or regional meeting added to the NARP calendar of upcoming events!
Following a series of tests and inspections, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) has five of its newest light-rail cars ready to take passengers through the streets of the city as early as this week. The agency completed testing in August, but was awaiting certification from the California Public Utilities Commission before service could begin.
“San Francisco is a transit city, with the country’s third busiest light-rail line. This is a lot of wear-and-tear on light-rail vehicles,” said Rail Passengers Association President and CEO Jim Mathews. “We are looking forward to riding these new and upgraded cars.”
The new cars are produced by Siemens, and will slowly be implemented into service to replace the transit agency’s current 151-car fleet. SFMTA officials also said that it will increase its fleet size by 64 new cars. SFMTA is now awaiting the delivery of the next set of cars, and expects to take delivery of 24 units by the end of 2018.
The Dallas City Council's Mobility Solutions, Infrastructure & Sustainability Committee is moving forward with the proposal to create a separate local government corporation (LGC) to oversee the development of high-speed line between Dallas and Fort Worth. The Committee is asking that Dallas city officials prepare a draft agreement for the LGC, which will also need to include what cities can participate and have stations, such as Arlington or Grand Prairie, both of which are between Dallas and Fort Worth.
Michael Morris, the North Central Texas Council of Governments' transportation director, said that officials in Arlington and Grand Prairie need to contract with either the Fort Worth Transportation Authority, (The T), or Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART). If the cities don’t get invested in the transit project, neither will be considered for a stop on the proposed HSR line between Dallas and Fort Worth.
Development of the HSR line is still years away, but officials hope that the line will be able to connect to the HSR line being developed by Texas Central Partners, which will run from Dallas to Houston.
The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) will receive $382 in loans from the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) and Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing (RRIF) programs to install positive train control (PTC). The technology is a critical safety feature that can remotely monitor, slow and stop passenger trains that could be speeding.
The MBTA has already installed PTC on its Newburyport/Rockport, Lowell and Needham lines, but the loan will allow the agency to continue to install PTC on its lines through 2018. From 2018 through 2020, the MBTA will install software and other technical elements required to bring PTC up and running.
"Securing long-term funding for the PTC project at a low interest rate puts us one step closer to our goal of achieving fiscal sustainability," said MBTA Acting Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer Paul Brandley in a press release issued by the agency.
The board for the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) approved DB Engineering and Consulting USA as the early train operator. Under a new contract, DB Engineering and Consulting USA will work with CHSRA in areas of planning, designing and implementing high-speed rail in California. It also includes responsibilities in safety, operations, equipment, systems, fares and schedules that are expected to ensure that rail lines run as, "safe and successful enterprises."
The announcement was made in a press release from the transit agency, in which CHSRA Chair Dan Richard said, “Bringing on an early train operator during the current design and development phase of the program will allow us to infuse commercial thinking into the design of the system, including station layout, technical specifications, and strategies to improve asset performance and control costs."
DB Engineering and Consulting USA is the U.S. branch of Deutsche Bahn AG, and the contract will not exceed $30 million for the first phase of the project.
Nominations Now Open For The 2018 Election Of Council Of Representative Members
NARP is inviting all members in good standing to consider running for seats on the Council of Representatives, the Association’s volunteer governing body. The next election for seats on Council will occur in January 2018, for a two-year term starting March 1, 2018. Any NARP member, who has paid dues for at least one year, is at least 18-years of age and is a U.S. resident is eligible to run.
The Council consists of 112 elected state representatives. The number of representatives per state is determined by an equally weighted ratio of the NARP members in a given state and the state’s number of U.S. Representatives. Every state has at last one Council Representative. The certified number of Council seats to be elected, per state, in January 2018 can be viewed here.
The Council of Representatives represents the overall NARP membership in setting and approving the overall policy and direction for the Association. The Council elects the Officers and Board of Directors of the Association, in addition to up to 10 ‘At-Large’ members of the Council. Serving on the Council is a great opportunity to collaborate with others who have a common interest in actively improving passenger rail service across the country. Council members are expected to encourage activities at the grassroots level to advance the Association’s goals and represent local needs, issues and activities at the national level.
The Council meets in person twice per year; in the spring in Washington, D.C., and in the fall at varied locations across the country. Council members are responsible for their own travel and meeting expenses to attend these gatherings and they may be able to apply these expenses on their federal tax returns.
Members interested in running for a seat on the Council must complete and submit a Candidate Information Statement to the Candidate Certification Committee for review and qualification by 11:59 p.m. local time on December 1, 2017. The Candidate Information Statement is also available by requesting a printed copy from the NARP office. Complete information on serving on the Council of Representatives with detailed specifications on the election procedures can be found on the NARP website under ‘Join the Council’
NARP is only as strong as the leaders who step up and share their time and talents in working towards our collective goals. Please consider becoming one of these leaders and help make a difference in the future.