Hotline #1048

Hotline #1,048: NTSB Issues Report on Amtrak Derailment; Gateway Hits Snag with Administration; Amtrak Begins Stage Two at NY Penn Station; Brightline Readies Service

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The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released a preliminary report on the Amtrak Cascades derailment in DuPont, WA and said that the accident could have been prevented through the use of Positive Train Control (PTC), a technology that can remotely monitor, slow and stop trains that are speeding.

The report said, “In this accident, PTC would have notified the engineer of train 501 about the speed reduction for the curve; if the engineer did not take appropriate action to control the train’s speed, PTC would have applied the train brakes to maintain compliance with the speed restriction and to stop the train.”

The NTSB previously said that the passenger train was moving at 78 mph in a 30 mph zone around a curve. The excessive speed saw Amtrak train 501 jump the tracks and derail, resulting in the deaths of three passengers, including RPA members Jim Hamre and Zack Willhoite.

“The NTSB report only strengthens the need to implement PTC on all passenger rail services,” said RPA President and CEO Jim Mathews. “Congress created an unfunded mandate on PTC, to be carried out independently by transit agencies of varying resources and capabilities, some of which cannot afford to meet the 2018 deadline set by Congress. This is not acceptable and the traveling public, who are our friends and family, deserves more.”

The NTSB also revealed in its report that the Amtrak derailment cost $40.4 million in damages.

U.S. DOT Secretary Elaine Chao sent a letter to executives of Class I, intercity railroads, and state and local transit agencies as a reminder and encouraging them to utilize PTC before the December 31, 2018 deadline mandated by Congress. Secretary Chao said in the letter, dated December 27, that the federal agency is concerned with safety as a top priority and it’s expected that each agency “is taking all possible measures to ensure that it will meet the requirements specified by Congress” regarding implementation of PTC.

Secretary Chao also said in the letter that the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) will work with the railroads "to help create an increased level of urgency to underscore the imperative of meeting existing timeline expectations for rolling out this critical rail safety technology.”

The letters come after U.S. senators from Washington and Oregon, among other states, urged Secretary Chao to hold railroads "accountable" if they fail to implement PTC by the deadline. The request from the senators also came after the Amtrak Cascades derailment in Washington.


Save The Date For RPA’s Spring 2018 Advocacy Summit and ‘Day on The Hill’: Annual Congressional Reception and Meeting - Sunday, April 15 to Wednesday, April 18, 2018

  • The host hotel is the Hilton Old Town Alexandria, located adjacent to the King Street Metro & Alexandria Amtrak Stations. Discounted group rate room reservations are now available!

  • RPA’s ‘Day on The Hill’ is Tuesday, April 17. The Annual RPA Congressional Reception will be held that evening from 5:30pm - 7:30pm.


In a letter to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Deputy Administrator K. Jane Williams said that the Trump Administration will not move forward with plans for the $30 billion Gateway Program. In the letter, Williams said that a previously developed funding agreement between Amtrak and both states was “nonexistent” and referred to the necessary work of building a new Hudson Tunnel, among other projects, as a “local project.” Gov. Cuomo and Gov. Christie had agreed with the Obama administration to cover the cost of the project 50/50 in 2015, and most recently both governors announced how they would pay back the federal loans used to cover the construction and renovation of the tunnels.

“To refer to the the Gateway Program as a ‘local project’ is unrealistic as its breadth influences the entire country and our economy,” said RPA President and CEO Jim Mathews. “The current rail tunnel is quickly deteriorating, and a new tunnel is needed to keep the entire Northeast Corridor up and running. The federal government must reconsider how it looks at this project in order to benefit the nation.”

After several transit advocates heard news of the government’s position on the Gateway Program, some considered the letter as an early step in negotiations on paying for the new tunnel, repairing the old tunnel that was severely damaged by Superstorm Sandy, and building a replacement for the Portal Bridge in northern New Jersey. For example, Thomas Wright, executive director of the Regional Plan Association, doesn’t believe that the administration has cut ties on the project.

“I don’t think that they killed Gateway,” Wright said in an interview with The New York Times. “I think they took a very hard position as an early negotiating tactic. They are threatening to kill the hostage.”

In addition, executive director of the Gateway Development Corporation John Porcari, said that he is sure a new agreement can be developed with the federal government following the letter. Porcari said that Gateway planners will continue “plowing full-speed ahead” while negotiations on funding the project continue with the administration.

Starting today, and running through May 25, 2018, Amtrak has started the next stage of the New York Penn Station Infrastructure Renewal program to renew Tracks 15 and 18 and replace three turnouts in C interlocking. Most of the work will be conducted on weekends, but it will have an effect on several Amtrak services as of January 8.

“The work that Amtrak is continuing to perform at New York Penn Station is vital to the passengers who not only travel to and from Penn Station, but along the Northeast Corridor,” said Jim Mathews, President and CEO of RPA. “We understand that the closures will cause canceled trains and new schedules for others, but in the long run, this work will result in improved efficiency and safety.”

The modifications to Amtrak weekday operations at New York Penn Station include:

  • Amtrak cancelled 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 is terminating at Newark Penn Station
  • Southbound Keystone Train 643 is originating at Newark Penn Station
  • Southbound Train 173 is stopping at Newark Airport
  • Southbound Trains 129, 193 and 653 are all having earlier departure times.
  • Train 170 is also departing WAS early, is stopping at North Philadelphia and Cornwells Heights and resuming its schedule from Trenton

Amtrak’s reservation systems are updated to reflect these schedules and passengers who were booked on a cancelled or altered train have been contacted and re-accommodated. Additional information can be found at www.amtrak.com/NYPrenewal.

A new report by the government of Washington State found that Canada’s new $35 billion infrastructure bank could help support the proposed "Ultra High-Speed Ground Transportation" (UHSGT) line between Vancouver and Seattle. Under Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the country has established the Canada Infrastructure Bank to develop economic growth within the country as it uses public funds to attract private investment for major infrastructure projects, such as bridges, transit systems and rail lines, as well as cross-border projects such as the HSR route between the U.S. and Canada. As a result of the banks potential to benefit the U.S. and Canada, Washington governor Jay Inslee wanted to study the possibility of utilizing the bank.

The report, which was released December 15, says, “The CIB, once fully operational, could provide a potential key source to finance major infrastructure projects such as the UHSGT project.” The report also said the HSR project could satisfy the CIB’s financial and commercial requirements, such as generating revenue. "The UHSGT project meets the CIB’s strategic criteria, based on a preliminary assessment, and the project could satisfy financial and commercial requirements for investment. The CIB increases the financing options available."

The proposed line would connect Portland, Seattle and Vancouver at speeds of up to 250 mph. The cost estimate for the line is between US$24 billion and $42 billion. Notably, the study explores a variety of transportation technologies that could be used, including high-speed rail, magnetic-levitation rail and, although still highly conceptual, a hyperloop.


Portrait of a Passenger: Use Our Facebook Photo Frame to Show Your Support for Passenger Rail

We want it to be known that U.S. travelers and commuters are frustrated by trains that are late, equipment that is falling apart, and service that is far too skeletal and infrequent. Rail Passengers Association is doing its best to advocate for equitable funding to solve these problems that affect millions of people. But, we can’t do it alone.

Help us raise awareness for the federal government’s lackluster transportation priorities by applying our “Portrait of a Passenger” Facebook photo frame to your profile photo.

This photo frame is an adaptation of our new window logo and can be applied over your current profile photo on Facebook. To apply this frame to your profile photo is easy, all you need to do is visit this link and it takes you through the process step-by-step: www.isupportcause.com/campaign/portrait-of-a-passenger


In Savannah, GA, three cars on Amtrak Silver Meteor Train 98 derailed as the train backed into the station. The cars included two sleeper cars and a baggage car, but all three remained upright after they jumped the tracks. The train was carrying more than 300 people on it, but thankfully nobody was injured.

Following the incident, Amtrak said that the train would continue on its route from Miami to New York, with some passengers boarding a different train. Amtrak also said that it was not sure what caused the derailment, and gave no indication if the recent winter storm that hit Savannah was a factor.

Los Angeles Metro will soon implement a change for passengers - allowing them to pay for service on their smartphones. Riders of Metro’s buses, shuttles, trains and even bike-share, will be able to download an app that will allow them to pay for rides using their smartphone instead of having to deal with a TAP card. Metro said that the agency is planning to test the new service this summer, with a full service expected to be available this fall. As the app is developed and put in place, Metro will also eliminate tokens, and also increase the price for new TAP cards from $1 to $2.

The new app is being developed by Cubic Transportation Solutions, and the company said that frequent riders of Metro will also be eligible for special promotions through the app. Promotions may include incentives for users choosing to ride public transit on smoggy days or a system by which riders could earn points or “medallions” when paying for trips.


Upcoming Regional Rail Passenger and State Passengers Association Member Meetings & Events

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


Officials for All Aboard Florida’s Brightline service announced that introductory passenger service will begin the week of January 8. Service will run between Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. Leading up to service, Brightline has been training their staff and testing the higher-speed trains on the route.

“This is a very exciting time for passenger rail in the U.S.,” said RPA President and CEO Jim Mathews. “The Rail Passengers Association, along with our members, have been looking forward to the launch of Brightline service as it will be the first privately owned passenger rail service to open in the U.S. in 50 years.”

Once Brightline service begins, quiet zones will go into effect along the route for the first six months. The quiet zones will apply to the Florida East Coast Railway corridor from West Palm Beach south to the county line. However, the upgrades to reduce the sound of horns from trains have not yet been put in place by construction crews.

Assistant City Administrator Scott Kelly said in the city’s Facebook post, “Once implemented, this quiet zone will go a long way toward improving the quality of life for our residents. We ask the public to be patient at this time, as the quiet zone is coming.”

The Regional Transportation District (RTD) in Denver is one step closer to seeing its G-Line provide passenger service after the agency began full testing this week. The G-Line, which is 11 miles long and will connect to Arvada and Wheat Ridge, was supposed to begin service more than a year ago. However, RTD was not able to start service due to crossing-gate technology that was not properly working for months on end. As a result, it took until September 2017 for the Federal Railroad Administration to approve the use of the technology and the G-Line, while the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC) required additional time, which resulted in a PUC administrative law judge setting a hearing for March to consider RTD’s solution. The judge ruled last week however that full testing of the G-Line could resume.

Despite the positive direction forward, the start of service on the G-Line is still months away. RTD spokesman Scott Reed said that the agency needs to receive final approval from state regulators to initiate passenger service on the commuter-rail line and that will happen in February at the earliest. Once approval is received, RTD will be required to complete several more weeks of testing on the G-Line.

For people traveling between Atlanta and New Orleans, track work is being performed by Norfolk Southern Railway. The track work will affect Amtrak Crescent Trains 19 and 20, Monday through Thursday, between January 8 and February 8. As a result, Amtrak will provide bus service from Atlanta to Anniston, Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, Meridian, Laurel, Hattiesburg and New Orleans.

Passengers traveling to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, which is February 13, should be aware if traveling mid-week. Additional information on the changes can be found online.


Nominations Now Open For 2018 ‘At-Large’ RPA Council of Representative Seats And RPA Officer & Director Positions

RPA/NARP is inviting members in good-standing to consider running for one of the up-to 10 available ‘At-Large’ positions on the Council of Representatives (the Association’s volunteer governing body). These positions are for a two-year term commencing immediately upon election by the State Representatives at the Council of Representatives Annual Business Meeting being held on Wednesday, April 18, 2018, in Alexandria, VA.

Any RPA/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 self-nominate and seek a seat to be elected at the April meeting. The Council consists of 112 elected state representatives, up-to 10 elected ‘At-Large’ representatives and up-to 15 elected Board Officers and Directors.

The Council of Representatives represents the RPA/NARP membership in setting and approving the overall policy and direction for the Association. For more information on these ‘At-Large’ positions, including the duties, responsibilities and required qualifications, go to: http://ow.ly/Yxzs30hxl4P.

In addition, self-nominations are now being sought from qualified members interested in being elected by the Council of Representatives at the April Council Annual Business Meeting to an Association officer position (Chair of the Board; one of four Vice-Chairs; Treasurer or Secretary) or to one of three available Board Director positions. Board officer positions are for a two-year term and the Board director positions are for a three-year term, both commencing at the conclusion of April’s Annual Business Meeting. For complete information on these Board Officer & Director positions, including the duties, responsibilities and required qualifications, go to: http://ow.ly/LGSj30hxlaf.

To complete and submit the required ‘At-Large’ Representative and Board Officer & Director Candidate Information Statement form, go to: http://ow.ly/VZvW30hxl7h.

The deadline to submit a Candidate Information Statement for any position is March 31, 2018.


Metro Los Angeles reached a key point in the development of the Regional Connector light rail project when the tunnel boring machine (TBM) cleared the path for the future Grand Avenue Arts/Bunker Hill Station. The TBM started mining the second tunnel of the project in September and dug through 4,400 feet of earth to reach the deepest portion of the new station.

Metro released a video of the TBM reaching its endpoint. Next, the TBM will move to complete the second tunnel, digging through another 1,370 feet of soil to reach the extraction point at the intersection of 4th and Flower streets in early January.

The Federal Railroad Administration issued a draft environmental impact statement that identified a preferred route for proposed high-speed rail line between Dallas and Houston. The statement took four years to complete and now begins the process of land acquisition for construction of the line, which is being developed by Texas Central Partners. Once built, the line will take passengers between the two cities in less than 90 minutes at more than 200 mph.

Tim Keith, president of Texas Central Partners, said “This is the biggest milestone to date that we’ve crossed so far.”

The release of the statement also allows for the public to comment on the project through February 20, 2018. The schedule is available on the FRA website, which also includes the link for public comments. Once the comment period is closed, Texas Central and the FRA will review them before making a final statement. Notably, local and federal authorities expect there to be some negative comments against the HSR line. Concerns that officials expect to be voiced involve land acquisition, environmental health, and that Houston's station would be too far north of the city for some people.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is looking to expand subway service from Lower Manhattan to a new station in Red Hook, a neighborhood in Brooklyn. Gov. Cuomo made a request for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to study the proposed extension in his 2018 State of the State Address. As part of the revitalization of Red Hook, Gov. Cuomo also asked the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to consolidate maritime operations by relocating them to Sunset Park. The move, should it happen, would free up space for community activities.

"Brooklyn's Red Hook neighborhood is full of untapped potential, and with this proposal, I am calling on the Port Authority to accelerate consideration of relocating its Red Hook maritime activities to free up the waterfront for more productive community use," Governor Cuomo said in a press release. "I am also calling on the MTA to take steps to improve transportation options to Red Hook, including studying the potential of a new subway line to connect Red Hook to Manhattan."

Once a plan to relocate and consolidate maritime activities becomes clear and the MTA study is complete, stakeholders and elected officials will be asked to make recommendations and suggestions for what community-based activities the Port Authority can make of the new open space.


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