Hotline #1,045

Hotline #1,045: Wildfires Suspend Service North of LA; Brightline To Begin Testing; Amtrak Empire Marks 50 Years; Submit Train Photos and Win Rewards; Remember to Renew Membership Before Year End

We Need Your ‘Nose For News’! When you see rail-related news stories, op-eds, editorials, or letters to the editor in your communities, send them along to us! We include them in our social media efforts, along with the weekly Hotline. Send your news items to Bob Brady, bbrady@xenophonstrategies.com, and we will continue to share it with the membership. Are you holding a rally, a community meeting, or another kind of rail-advocacy event? We can help spread the word if you send them to us. We can put on the website here. And please follow NARP on Facebook and Twitter.


Brightline trains began test runs this week between Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. The passenger-less trials of up to 20 trains a day are in preparation for service to begin before the end of the year. The testing includes 10 northbound and 10 southbound trains between Broward Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale and 15th Street in West Palm Beach. Once Brightline begins service, trains can carry about 240 passengers.

“With only a few weeks to go before the end of the year, people are very excited to see Brightline trains enter service,” said Rail Passengers Association President Jim Mathews.

In advance of the launch, Brightline released five safety tips for pedestrians:

  • Look and listen for a train as you approach all railroad crossings — obey all signs, warning lights and gates.

  • Trains are quieter and faster than you think — never try to beat a train.

  • Because of their size and weight, it can take a mile or more to stop a train.

  • Always expect a train on any track; avoid distractions when you approach a crossing.

  • Railroad property is private property. Walking on the tracks is illegal and dangerous.

New York State's Empire Service marked its 50th anniversary on Monday at the rail station in Rensselaer, NY, with a special event that included current and former officials from Amtrak, the New York Central Railroad, Capital District Transportation Authority, the state Department of Transportation and the state Public Service Commission. It was an important milestone to recognize, as the December 3, 1967 launch of Empire Service between New York, Albany & Buffalo was an early precursor of the modern corridor services now offered across the country.

The Rail Passenger Association’s Bruce Becker, VP of of Operations attended the anniversary event and recalled that the new service started in 1967 with high hopes for success. "It was a marketing campaign," said Becker, who grew up in New York state riding the early Empire Service trains operated by the New York Central and later Penn Central. "They refurbished coaches specifically for the new Empire Service trains, added snack bar cars and generally sped up the schedules."

To highlight the growth that Amtrak and its Empire Service has experienced over the years, Joe McHugh, vice president of state supported services and business development at Amtrak, was on hand at the 50th anniversary to talk about the various projects that Amtrak and New York State have for the future.

Current and future projects include:

  • Refurbishing first-generation Amfleet cars used in New York State with new flooring; new upholstery; brighter, updated bathrooms; and improved lighting throughout, which should be completed during 2018.

  • Building a new station in Schenectady

  • Track, tunnel and bridge improvement work on the Empire Connection line owned by Amtrak that takes upstate trains the last few miles into Penn Station.

McHugh also said the new CAF Viewliner II diners that have been delivered have received positive comments from passengers. It is expected that regular dining car service will be restored to the Lake Shore Limited using these new cars during 2018.

Citizens for the North South Rail Link organized a panel in Everett, Massachusetts as part of its series of local events in support for the project to build a rail link between Boston’s North and South Stations.

The event was organized by local RPA Council Member Joe Aiello, with support from Sierra Club Massachusetts, Massachusetts AFL-CIO, and many other local groups. The panel was moderated by former-Governor Michael Dukakis and hosted by State Senator Sal DiDomenico. It also featured RPA Vice President Sean Jeans-Gail, who talked about the national significance of the project, which would not only connect Boston’s fragmented commuter network, but improve the efficiency of the Northeast Corridor from Maine to Virginia.

The NSRL is looking to secure Commonwealth funds to update an already-completed engineering study, and launch the environmental review necessary to secure federal funds.


Show Your Support For The North-South Rail Link

This week, you have an opportunity to show your support for the North-South Rail Link tunnels in downtown Boston. All you need to do is visit, www.bankerandtradesman.com and on the right hand side you will find the poll with four choices. The top choice recommends it to be built.

The construction of the NSRL has been a chief objective of the Rail Passengers Association for almost two decades. It provides increased capacity, better efficiency and lower operating costs at cheaper initial investment than other proposed alternatives.


Due to the dangerous wildfires North of Los Angeles, Amtrak service has been suspended between Los Angeles and San Luis Obispo, with no alternate transportation. The suspension comes after Union Pacific Railroad decided to close the tracks between Ventura and Santa Barbara. Should anyone need additional updates and alerts on service, they can visit Amtrak.com/delayalerts.

California state officials, along with county officials from Los Angeles and San Bernardino, held two special events this week which signified growth in the region’s transit system.

On Saturday, officials broke ground on the latest expansion of LA County’s light rail system. The new project will add six stations on the Metro Gold Line that will run 12.3 miles from Azusa in the eastern San Gabriel Valley to Montclair in western San Bernardino County. Major construction for the project will extend through 2026, with the new extension opening in 2027. The project is estimated at $1.5 billion.

On Tuesday, San Bernadino officials celebrated the extension of Metrolink services from the newly upgraded city transit center, to connect to the Santa Fe Depot. The $123-million project allows commuters to easily connect the mile between San Bernardino and Santa Fe using the city’s sbX rapid transit line, Metrolink locomotives and Omnitrans buses.

“We’re excited that this project is bringing the rail together with our hub at the San Bernardino Transit Center,” said Wendy Williams, an Omnitrans spokeswoman. “It’s really going to help customers by providing more seamless travel between modes of transportation.”

The new rail officially opens Monday, Dec. 18, with test runs planned for Dec. 16 and 17.


END OF YEAR DONATIONS KEEPS ADVOCACY WORK STRONG

We’ve been busy this year.

Despite the signal sent by the White House’s first so-called “Skinny Budget” in March – that America’s heartland isn’t worth investing in – Congress solidly funded Amtrak for the remainder of Fiscal 2017. It was an important victory, and it was your emails, your phone calls, your letters and your financial support that helped us secure Amtrak’s budget through September with 6,000 legislative contacts.

When the White House doubled down with the release of the full Fiscal 2018 budget, slating again to slash Amtrak funding and especially funding for national network passenger rail, we were ready.

We launched the single largest campaign in the Association’s history—“Towns Without Trains” including the #Rally4Trains across 25 cities, which reached 17 Million Americans, ensuring the national network’s service to 220 stations’ safety into 2018. You might say that your association is punching above its weight.

While the White House level threat has been neutralized for the time being (don’t expect it to suddenly disappear forever), your association is currently working with another issue on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue here in D.C.

Has a freight train delayed your Amtrak trip lately? In the past year, statistically more than half of passengers nationwide were, outside of the North East Corridor. Your association has petitioned the Supreme Court to review a case that would pave the way for enforcement of on-time performance standards for passenger rail. Without these defined standards, freight is systematically prioritized over passenger trains, leading to chronic delays for long distance riders.

To keep up this important work, please make a tax deductible contribution today so we can build on what we’ve done! Also, as a thank you, we’re offering DOUBLE the bonus Amtrak Guest Rewards© points for renewals through the end of the year!

Visit:

railpassengers.org/donate

or send your check to:

Rail Passengers ATTN: Sam

1200 G Street NW STE 240,

Washington D.C. 20005


Tests runs aimed at extending Amtrak’s Downeaster rail service up the coast of Maine to Rockland, may be coming this December. The test runs are part of the New England Passenger Rail Authority’s (NNEPRA) goal to see passenger service extended north in 2018. NNEPRA originally proposed the idea in the fall and is interested in seeing service run from Brunswick to Rockland on a limited weekend schedule from May to September.

“Although the plans for extended service are still in the early stages, the test runs could be very promising for cities in Maine that would like to have rail service restored,” said Rail Passengers Association President Jim Mathews. “Service could include stops in Bath, Wiscasset, Newcastle and Rockland, and it could provide many economic benefits to the area.”

Specific plans for the service, such as fares, are still being discussed, but this month’s tests will help determine if the tentative service schedule is actually possible and if infrastructure along the route can accommodate an extension of Downeaster service. If the trial-runs show that the pilot project is viable, the next step for NNEPRA would be holding public meetings in the communities where stops are proposed.

A group is studying the reintroduction of through passenger rail service from Pittsfield, MA to New York City, that would run through the Capital Region of New York. The route being studied would run along Amtrak’s Empire Corridor to Rensselaer, NY, and then reverse direction and travel over a line through southern Rensselaer County, which is already used by the Lake Shore Limited's Boston section, to then connect to the CSX line to Pittsfield, MA.

The panel is studying this specific route as it is expected to cost significantly less than others that have been in consideration. The proposed route likely wouldn't require any significant additional investment in new track, signals or land purchases on the Amtrak-owned segments, though any potential CSX requirements, including for the overnight storage and servicing of the train at Pittsfield, are unclear. It is envisioned that the service could be supplied by extending an existing train that now terminates at Rensselaer. Eddie Sporn, a West Stockbridge resident who heads real estate and planning firm Robin Road Consulting, said that while another option that would avoid running through Rensselaer is still on the table, the Rensselaer option appears to be the favored.


We’re Still Accepting Submissions for our Photo Contest! You Still Have A Chance to Win 10,000 Amtrak Guest Rewards® Points and Other Rail Passengers Giveaways: Send Us Your Best Photos

Throughout the past few weeks, we have received over 120 photo submissions through our social media contest, and we have crowned two grand prize winners and over 30 runner up winners. We’re still looking for Grand Prize winners from the following regions: Southwest, Midwest, South Central, South, Southeast, Mid-Atlantic and Northeast.

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.

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.

There is a rolling deadline for submissions. Submitting photos for consideration is easy. Just share them on social media and be sure to use the hashtag #RailPassengers and @RailPassengers.

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!)


The Regional Plan Association (RPA) in New York issued its Fourth Regional Plan, which provides recommendations on improving the subway system in the city. Among recommendations, includes the controversial suggestion to end 24/7 subway service on weekdays to allow time for maintenance crews to upgrade tracks. Instead of running trains, the RPA recommended that the city run buses that coincide with the closed train routes during the less-trafficked late night and early morning hours.

“I know that 24/7 is a kind of badge of honor for New Yorkers," said Tom Wright, President of the Regional Plan Association. "We think it’s something that we ought to change. The other 6.15 million riders during the rest of the day are all paying for the service to be open at 2 o’clock, 3 o’clock in the morning. We’re all paying for that now. We don’t see that, but we’re paying for that."

The Regional Plan’s recommendation drew criticism from Joe Lhota, chairman of the MTA. Lhota said, "a permanent closure of the entire subway system every night is a bit draconian. A permanent closure, I fear, would be inappropriate for the ‘city that never sleeps.'"

The Association also suggested that the MTA could conduct major capital construction and repairs to upgrade the subway. Under this recommendation, entire lines would be shut down for months at a time. Nevertheless, the recommendations are only just that for state and city officials. The Regional Plan Association has no authority or control over the actions of the MTA and if the agency makes any upgrades to the subways lines.

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) is the focus of a new proposed legislation from U.S. Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.), who wants to increase funding for the transit agency. The bill, known as the "Metro Accountability and Reform Act," would increase funding to WMATA, but with the condition of, "making fundamental changes necessary to meet reasonable benchmarks of a functional mass transit system.” Comstock's bill also proposed reducing the use of overtime; shifting employees from a pension system to a 401k system; controlling contract increases; and improving service reliability. The bill would also create a Metro Reform Board, which would serve as an interim control entity to govern WMATA to achieve changes in the near term. In addition to the board, the bill would establish a Metro Reform Commission, which would keep Congress and other stakeholders informed of the reform efforts.

"Years of deferred maintenance, increasing budget deficits and decreasing ridership on Metro threatens the safety and reliability of the system," she said. "Without significant reforms, the system will continue to decline and lose ridership and fail the nation's capital which needs this vital system for the vitality of our local and national economy."

Comstock drafted the bill after consulting with regional political leaders and business groups, former U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, former Virginia Transportation Secretary Jim Dyke, current U.S. Department of Transportation officials, WMATA General Manager Paul Wiedefeld and others at WMATA, whistleblowers, and those affiliated with efforts to turn the Boston transit system around and others.

You can read the full METRO Accountability and Reform Act here.

A White House official said that President Trump will release a detail plan for his promised infrastructure proposal in January, 2018. Based on available information, the White House has been preparing a 70-page infrastructure plan that will be submitted to Congress and deliver on Trump’s campaign promise to invest in the country’s infrastructure. Previously, the White House said it wants to use $200 billion in federal money, along with significant permit reform and other incentives.


Upcoming Regional NARP and State Passengers Association Member Meetings & Events

Please contact Bruce Becker to have a local, state or regional meeting added to the NARP calendar of upcoming events!


In November, Steve Jensen, a planning consultant in Omaha, and Derek Miller, the city’s long-range planning consultant, said during a special event that a streetcar in the city could provide significant economic and transit benefits. As it stands now, downtown Omaha has been trying to figure out ways to replace jobs and economic support it has lost over the past several years. Downtown Omaha has lost 21,000 of the 48,000 jobs it had in 1963, which Jensen said has been devastating to neighborhoods in the region. Jensen also said that Omaha needs to increase its urban density by bringing more jobs and population to downtown, but without increasing traffic congestion. Jensen said that a streetcar can help bring more people into the area, without city officials having to worry about more traffic and need for more parking.

The event, which saw 150 people attend, was put on by Modern Streetcar Advocates, a new organization formed to rally support for the streetcar. Real estate developer Jay Lund, a leader of the group, said that more than 350 people had signed up as supporters since the organization launched its website November 2. A study for the city estimated that it would cost $156 million to build a streetcar from TD Ameritrade Park to the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Miller said an updated cost estimate will be part of an advanced conceptual study under way now.

In Lincoln, IL, the newly renovated Amtrak station was unveiled to the public by city and state officials, including Illinois Department of Transportation. The renovated building now includes restored windows, doors, and the original ticket counter from 1911 with a scale once used to weigh luggage. New amenities to the building include free Wi-Fi, a climate-controlled waiting room with interior seating, and parking for both vehicles and bikes. The waiting area replaces a passenger shelter that previously served Amtrak’s Lincoln Service and Texas Eagle.

“This impressive facility is just the latest in a string of achievements to improve the passenger experience on one of the country’s busiest rail corridors,” Illinois Transportation Secretary Randy Blankenhorn said in a press release. “The station not only highlights Lincoln’s rich history, but provides travelers and commuters with a great option to get to where they need to go.”

The renovation project, which cost $4.04 million, received funding as part of a federal grant administered by IDOT to introduce better performance and higher speeds on the Union Pacific Railroad between Chicago and St. Louis. It is expected that about 22,000 people will use the Lincoln station every year.

People who travel on Sound Transit’s Tacoma line will soon be able to ride on new vehicles. The transit agency, along with Seattle officials and the Brookville Equipment Corp. agreed to terms for a $26.5-million contract for the design and manufacture of five Liberty Light Rail Vehicles (LRV). The new cars will be utilized by Sound Transit on a 2.4-mile extension of the agency’s 1.6-mile Tacoma Link line.

“We are eager to support Sound Transit with an all-new, Liberty LRV fleet for its expanding Tacoma Link system,” said Brookville Vice President of Business Development Joel McNeil. “These vehicles will be designed and manufactured right here in the U.S., using the latest rail-proven technologies and systems, and serving as a rail transit vehicle solution that we hope will have broad appeal to the agency and its growing ridership.”

The new Liberty vehicles feature an eight-foot-wide carbody with seating for up to 34 passengers, and a fully loaded capacity of 100. The new fleet will be ADA compliant with deployable bridge plates for easy boarding and more than 70 percent low-floor available standing area. The contract, which was awarded on November 16, also includes 10 option vehicles, five for Sound Transit and five for the City of Portland, Ore.


Renew your Membership by End of Year and get Double Amtrak Guest Rewards® Points!

That’s right. As a thank you for a great year in advocacy, and we couldn’t have done it without your support. Earn Double for renewing in 2017!

Membership level

$30

$35

$40

$60

$125

$250

$500

$1000

Amtrak Guest Rewards Points®

200 400

200 400

350 700

400 800

1000 2000

2000 4000

3500 7000

7500 15000

Whether it is raising awareness about the funding threat to National Network Trains, or our recent petition to the U.S. Supreme Court, your association has been punching above its weight. If you renew your membership today, not only do you continue to support this great work, but you can travel more too! #Rally4Trains

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