Dems Seek Amtrak Updates; Brightline To Enhance Safety; CHSRA Gets New CEO and Cost Outlook; Pacific Surfliner Adds Cars; Purple Line Keeps 2022 Opening
January 19, 2018
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, email@example.com, and we will share it with members. 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. Please follow RPA on Facebook and Twitter to stay up to date on all things passenger rail.
Reps. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) and Michael Capuano (D-Mass.), ranking members for the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials, respectively, issued a letter to Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson requesting that Amtrak provide updates on Positive Train Control (PTC) implementation. They also requested in the letter that Amtrak provide the committees with regular progress reports on how the railroad is improving its “safety culture,” which the company identified as an area for improvement at the end of 2017. The letter asked that Amtrak provide them with an update, or the same type of information Amtrak provides the Federal Railroad Administration, by February.
“Accountability is an important step for improving safety--for Amtrak as well as other railroads and transit agencies nationwide” said RPA President Jim Mathews. “The derailment in Washington last month has many looking at what can be done to better prevent an accident like that in the future.”
In the letter, Defazio and Capuano said, “If you operate it or operate on it, we want to know the status of [Positive Train Control] implementation in detail, including information on locomotives that are equipped by route, installation of track segments and other infrastructure by route, and information on whether your back office servers are connected to the back office servers of other railroads by route.”
The letter also said, “We would like to know what ‘safety culture’ weaknesses Amtrak has identified throughout the organization and what specific steps Amtrak is taking to resolve them immediately. If there are problems holding the organization back from advancing the best safety practices, we would like Amtrak to identify them.”
The letter comes only a week after the two House Democrats proposed new legislation that would give railroads until the end of 2018 to fully implement PTC, and provide $2.6 billion in additional implementation funding. DeFazio and Capuano have moved forward with the letter and the new bill as a result of the Amtrak Cascades derailment in Washington last month, which saw the deaths of three passengers, including RPA members Jim Hamre and Zack Willhoite. The National Transportation Safety Board released a preliminary report on the accident, and found that PTC could have helped prevent the derailment.
Following the Amtrak derailment, RPA President and CEO Jim Mathews wrote an Op-Ed that calls for more appropriate levels of funding to better assist with and speed up the implementation of PTC. In the Op-Ed, published online by The Hill, Mathews said, “As a nation, we’ve decided that the $12 billion project to implement PTC — what the FRA has described as the ‘most important’ change in railroad safety technology in a century — just isn’t important enough.”
To read the Op-Ed and Mathews’ thoughts on PTC funding in full, please visit The Hill online.
Make Plans NOW To Attend RPA’s Spring 2018 Advocacy Summit and ‘Day on The Hill’: Annual Congressional Reception and Meeting - Sunday, April 15 to Wednesday, April 18, 2018
This is THE Opportunity of the year for rail passenger advocates to have their voices heard directly to the decision makers on Capitol Hill.
- 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.
Following the death of a bicyclist on Wednesday, who was hit by a Brightline train in its first week of service, several people have voiced their opposition to the train in general, and called for safety enhancements. Sen. Bill Nelson, (D-Fla.) has requested that the U.S. DOT investigate the safety of the new rail line, while Rep. Brian Mast, (R-Fla.), called on the private passenger rail to halt service until “safety flaws are resolved.” In addition, Mast requested that the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee conduct an oversight hearing on HSR safety, and that Brightline should be blocked from receiving $1.5 million in federal tax-exempt bonds until an investigation is completed.
“Private and Federal railroads, transit agencies and rail associations have been encouraging people for decades to be safe around railroads across the country,” said RPA President Jim Mathews. “Railroads have developed and implemented numerous safety precautions to alert and prevent people from crossing the tracks while a train is approaching. However, we continue to see that people ignore these warning signs, which is truly unfortunate.”
RPA responded in greater depth in an op-ed (see “Unsafety Advocates” below).
In response to the recent fatality and calls for the higher-speed rail line to shutdown, Brightline officials held a press conference this morning, Friday, January 19, to address the safety concerns. Brightline President Patrick Goddard said that the company built the safest railroad possible, but it will work to increase education programs around safety for the local communities in which the train travels. Brightline said that the educational campaigns will involve:
- Temporary signs along the train’s route,
- Advertising that service has begun,
- Encouraging people to not try to beat the train,
- Safety street teams sharing safety information to the public, and
- Safety ambassadors stationed at busy intersections.
"We ask ourselves everyday if there's any way to make our railroad safer. What we know is education works," Goddard said during the press conference.
Goddard also said that Brightline is open to working with legislators on increasing safety efforts around the rail service. Goddard said he would like to invite them to tour Brightline facilities and discuss safety.
By Jim Mathews
Everyone can agree that safety should be paramount for railroads. We can’t take risks with people’s lives.
Unfortunately, for their own political ends, some anti-rail advocates are making dangerous public comments that suggest it is acceptable for pedestrians and vehicles to trespass on train tracks. What’s worse, elected officials have introduced legislation in Florida that would hamper rail projects that would actually increase safety in our transportation system.
Whether it's the Association of American Railroads or the Federal Railroad Administration or safety groups like Operation Lifesaver, practically everyone involved has been working for years to get people off the rights-of-way. Recent pedestrian accidents involving the new Brightline in trains in Florida highlight that need.
Yet, the head of “Citizens Against Rail Expansion” in Florida now suggests it is ok and normal for kids to use railroads as a walking path. This is dangerous and unhelpful.
In a press release, Brent Hanlon, the group’s Chairman said, “we need safety measures in place that will protect our pedestrians, our school children who may walk or bike along the tracks to school, our first responders and members of our community.”
Actively encouraging children and pedestrians to utilize railroad tracks to walk or bike to school is beyond reckless. This kind of disregard for safety, while emphasizing safety, is a shameful low point in their long disinformation campaign to shut down the rail system.
It’s part of a thinly-veiled, organized, multi-faceted effort to impede much-needed higher speed rail service that has already begun to bring economic value, mobility and other quality-of-life benefits to the east coast of Florida.
In an opinion piece published on November 9, 2017, the Treasure Coast Newspapers advocated for secured crossing and fencing up and down both sides of entire high speed rail corridors. That story didn’t just appear out of nowhere. The fencing is one of the measures Hanlon’s group lobbied for and that would be mandated according to new legislation proposed in Florida. The article cites a variety of statistics to show that this, and a sweeping array of other requirements, would be necessary to safely run high speed trains.
In fact, there were 16 rail fatalities over a 351-mile stretch of railway along the “Treasure Coast” last year. But, during that time period, there were 17 pedestrian and bicycle fatalities in those same areas of Indian River, St. Lucie, and Martin.
From a wider perspective, there were 214 pedestrian injuries and fatalities and 251 bike crashes in 2017, according to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. Across Florida, Smart Growth America reports that the state leads the nation in pedestrian deaths with 5,142 fatalities in the ten-year period ending 2014.
The danger to pedestrians and bicyclists is an order of magnitude larger than that posed by trains, but the supposed safety advocates at Citizens Against Rail Expansion in Florida don’t pay much attention to those stats. If they were really concerned about safety, they would be arguing to get more people off the streets and on to trains, not less.
As an example of the dangers of rail, they misguidedly point to a recent, regular-speed-train derailment in Dupont, Wa. that led to three fatalities. They use the accident to suggest that high speed trains are inherently too dangerous to operate when there is no evidence to support this. To the contrary, trains have a strong safety record. And, countries which have embraced rail, and high speed rail specifically, have proven that trains and pedestrians can safely co-exist.
While the Dupont derailment last month could have--and should have--been prevented by safety measures including Positive Train Control, which automatically slows a train when necessary, it is misleading to say that “speed was a factor.” That train should have slowed as it approached a curve, but the investigation of the crash will not likely cite speed as the root cause. And, it won’t show that pedestrians were at risk.
At the same time, one of the recent tragedies in Florida involved pedestrians who didn’t recognize the dangers of railroad tracks despite unmistakable warnings. The victim ignored signs and flashing lights, crawled under working gates, and subsequently was struck by a passenger train as she ran across the tracks along with a man who managed to narrowly escape. We agree this can be avoided. Unfortunately, a high number of train accidents are due to this type of track incursion.
Even giving Hanlon the benefit of the doubt for his intentions, his clumsy turn of phrase--at best--demonstrates a lack of knowledge about train safety. It shows that even people who should know better can be too careless or be caught unaware.
Our Rail Passenger Association members are among the most ardent advocates for rail safety and we will join any fight to protect people and raise awareness for smart railroad safety measures. Indeed, far too many people gamble with their lives trying to beat oncoming trains and dangerously encroach on train tracks.
In truth, we do need prudent measures to protect passengers, pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers from accidentally moving in front of a train. But, we also need to embrace a safety culture that recognizes the value and relative safety of trains at the same time. And, we need to redouble our efforts to teach kids--and adults--the right way act around railways. Not the opposite.
Brian Kelly, who has served as secretary of the California State Transportation Agency (CalSTA) since 2013, was named the CEO of California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA), effective February 1. In his previous role, Kelly helped lead efforts to enact Senate Bill 1, which marked the single largest investment in California's transportation infrastructure, CHSRA officials said in a press release.
"Brian has been a keen advocate for the development of high-speed rail as a core component of California’s future transportation networks," said CHSRA Chairman Dan Richard. "As a respected leader and skilled manager he will provide the right leadership as the project moves into the delivery and commercialization phase."
Following Kelly's departure from CalSTA, California Gov. Jerry Brown named Brian Annis acting secretary. Annis served as the agency's undersecretary since 2013.
In addition to the announcement of Kelly as CEO, CHSRA held a board meeting this week, in which developer WSP provided a long-term analysis of the high-speed rail’s current timeline and financial situation. The analysis provided important information to the development of the HSR in California, and several of the main points from the analysis include:
- The EIS submissions are now two years late (now scheduled throughout 2018),
- Construction is running a year late (with construction firms requesting contract timeline extensions),
- Delays and scope changes are driving costs up for the line. The primary factors impacting cost are:
- Right-of-way-issues: which includes additional expenses for acquiring property,
- Freight railroads issues: which demanded intrusion protection (reinforced concrete crash walls) anywhere the HSR line is within close proximity of the freight line,
- Utility relocation issues: with companies like PG&E and AT&T, and
- Other relocation issues: such as water, sewer, and main irrigation canals.
As a result of the delays and additional cost, WSP has forecasted that expenditures for the Valley sections of the HSR line have increased from $7.8 billion to $10.6 billion, a $2.8-billion increase.
Following the announcement of the newly expected costs, Kelly participated in an interview with The New York Times to discuss his new role, as well as the future of the HSR line. The interview is available online.
Due to continued closures of Highway 101 caused by mudslides in California, Amtrak has added additional railcars to its Pacific Surfliner to help meet increased demand. Amtrak said in a press release that the added cars are on each of Amtrak’s 10 daily trains and allows for 2,000 additional seats for people who can’t travel by highway. Due to the mudslides near Montecito, CA, Amtrak has been, “the only viable ground transportation option between Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, as drive time on alternate routes between the two counties can take nearly four hours.” Amtrak said that the Pacific Surfliner can travel between Ventura and Santa Barbara in approximately 45 minutes.
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 Washington, D.C., three cars of the city’s Red Line Metro system derailed during Monday’s morning commute, highlighting the continued troubles for the transit agency. Since it was MLK Day, ridership on the train was lower than normal. Still, 60 passengers had to walk through the city’s Metro tunnels to get out. No one was hurt during the accident.
Following the derailment, workers began placing the cars back on the tracks and investigating the cause of the accident. Preliminary findings from Metro officials report that the derailment was most likely caused by a broken rail. The accident also raised questions about the millions of dollars that have been invested in the agency’s repair work program, known as SafeTrack, which concluded seven months ago. However, it is important to note that the recent derailment occurred in downtown D.C., which was not an area that Metro focused on during SafeTrack work.
“This is a process that will take some time as you can imagine, and we’re going to be very methodical about it to prevent any further damage and obviously any safety-related issues,” Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld said. “As you can imagine it’s very tight quarters down there in the tunnel.”
Following the Metro derailment, Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.) issued a letter to Metro’s Wiedefeld that was highly critical of the agency. Comstock said in the letter that she believes “the system has gotten worse,” and that riders have come to expect derailments and other incidents as part of their commute.
Comstock also said in her letter, “Incidents like the derailment on the Red Line are another example of the unacceptable condition of [Metro] and the dire need for fundamental reform to not only provide more resources, but also truly address the constant dangerous and unreliable conditions that plague the system and result in repeated problems that we have been assured have already been addressed.”
The criticism from Comstock does not come lightly, as she has been an advocate for getting the agency appropriate levels of funding for repairs and quality service, as well as reforming the transit agency itself. To do so, Comstock introduced a new bill in December that proposed solutions for funding, cut labor costs and create a “reform board” to guide Metro in the future.
Upcoming Regional Rail Passenger and State Passengers Association Member Meetings & Events
Saturday, January 20 - Carolinas Association for Passenger Trains Meeting - Burlington, NC
Saturday, January 27 - Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers Meeting - Haslett, MI
Monday, January 29 - Massachusetts State Rail Plan Public Meeting - Worcester, MA
Tuesday, February 1 - Trains In The Valley Meeting - Greenfield, MA
Saturday, March 10 - Empire State Passengers Association & Rail Passengers Association Annual New York State Meeting & Lunch - Schenectady, NY
Saturday, March 24 - Rail Passengers Association New England Regional Meeting - Boston, MA
Please contact Bruce Becker to have a local, state or regional event or meeting added to the RPA calendar of upcoming events!
The Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission issued a new report that provides a look at how the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) can modernize its trolley system. Not only that, the plan details how upgrading the trolley system will enhance the way drivers and bikers interact with the modernized system. The upgraded trolley system is critical to providing the city with reliable transit options, especially since most of the cars were built in the 1980s, with a few that were built in 1948. The trolleys, which run between West Philadelphia and Center City on Girard Avenue and in Delaware County, see about 80,000 people each weekday.
Modernized plans in the report include:
- Replacing the 112-year-old, 53-foot long trolley cars with 120 new cars that are about 80 feet long,
- Reducing the number of stops,
- Developing stops with platforms that are raised above street level,
- Making stops wheelchair-accessible, and
- Redesigning the streets for the trolleys, which could change bike lanes and eliminate street parking in some areas.
The plan from the Commission is only one part of a larger plan for new trolleys, which SEPTA officials plan to introduce in 2024. The project is currently estimated at $1 billion. The new cars will cost about $500 million, and SEPTA officials expect the remainder of that budget will go towards upgrading its trolley infrastructure, including wires, bridges, and garages, to accommodate bigger vehicles.
John Porcari, Gateway Development Corporation acting executive director, said this week that construction work on the replacement of the decades-old Portal Bridge above the Hackensack River could begin later this year. The bridge, which dates back to around 1910, has been a significant problem for passenger trains that utilize it to travel between New York and New Jersey. Even this past week, the bridge was stuck upright and delayed 30,000 NJ Transit passengers. The delay resulted in a major jam of traffic in the NEC, including 30 NJ Transit and Amtrak trains that were canceled.
Porcari said that funding for the replacement bridge, which is estimated at $1.5 billion, would come from a grant and a low-interest transit infrastructure loan. Plans for the funding are expected to be finalized in mid-2018, and Porcari said that New Jersey and Amtrak would match their contribution. Construction of the bridge is to be completed by 2024, and it is part of the overall Gateway Project.
Despite starting construction late due to lawsuits and courts cases, Maryland officials still expect the Purple Line light rail system to open in 2022. The original launch date for the line was March 2022, but court delays of more than a year forced construction to begin this past August. Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn said that the construction schedule of the Purple Line is being revised, but he expects that crews can make up some of the lost time for a later opening date in 2022. A second lawsuit filed against the Purple Line is pending in federal court, but judges have allowed construction of the project to move forward.
“We know there are going to be some delays,” Rahn said during a Silver Spring forum, hosted by the Purple Line Now advocacy group. Rahn also said that the contractor, Purple Line Transit Partners, currently has about 375 people working on the 16-mile light rail system, and that number will hit 1,500 people later this year.
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.
Amtrak is again offering this year a Special Winter-Season $45.00 one-way weekend fare on it’s popular Adirondack service between New York City and Montreal , QC. The special fare is available for sale through April 23 and is valid for travel Thursdays - Mondays through April 26.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce will encourage the Trump Administration to implement an increase in the gas tax of 25 cents per gallon to fund the forthcoming infrastructure proposal, which looks to invest in repairing the country’s roads, railways, bridges and more. The push for a gas tax increase is nothing new from the Chamber, as it has supported a hike for the past several years, but has seen no change. The Chamber’s CEO, Tom Donohue, is somewhat optimistic that a gas tax increase could come under the current Administration, following the release of a new tax bill.
“We just got a new tax bill for the first time in 31 years,” Donohue said in an interview with The Washington Post. “We’re making some significant changes in regulatory reform. We’ve got a president — everybody’s got all their own views about him and what he stands for and all that — but the guy’s getting stuff done ... and he’s a builder. I think we can get some help here."
Recent efforts by the Chamber to increase the gas tax came in 2015 and in 2011, partnering with the American Trucking Association and AAA, and the AFL-CIO, respectively. In 2015 the goal was to increase the tax to support the Highway Trust Fund, while the 2011 campaign was to fund national infrastructure projects. If an increase takes place, it will be the first time since 1993.