Hotline #945

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced an ambitious $3 billion plan to renovate Penn Station, reports the New York Times. It includes creating an adjunct train and retail hub in the James A. Farley Post Office across the street.

During his press conference, Cuomo also outlined plans for new air and rail terminals, new transit stations and a Hudson River rail tunnel, calling it “the biggest construction program in our state’s history.” The state, working with Amtrak and MTA, will do an RFP from developers, who would take on the project in exchange for the rights to control all the retail shops in Penn Station.

Planning for the new Hudson River tunnels under the Gateway project is expected to ramp up in 2016 as the Port Authority takes the reins of what could be the largest public works project in the nation, reports NorthJersey.com. The project will deliver rail tunnels that would double the train capacity into New York City, along with a new set of tracks that will create a one-seat ride from North Jersey into Manhattan.

The estimated $20 billion Gateway project also includes critical repairs to the existing train tunnels, upgrades and replacements of several bridges along Amtrak’s heavily traveled Northeast Corridor, and miles of additional tracks between Newark and New York City.

In the 2015 NARP report, “The United States of Underinvestment,” the association calculated an existing pipeline of rail projects totaling $208.57 billion, including $52 billion for state of good repair projects in the Northeast Corridor. “If Congress were to step up and provide predictable and dedicated funding for passenger trains, state DOTs have shown they are ready to launch work that would dramatically revolutionize the way Americans travel,” said the report.

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NARP is inviting members in good standing to consider running for 10 open seats on the Council of Representatives, the association’s volunteer governing body, for two-year terms. The next election for seats is for the term starting March 1, 2016.

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 Council of Representatives represents the overall NARP membership in setting and approving the overall policy and direction for the association. For more information, click here. For an 'At-Large' Representative Candidate Information Statement form, go here.

The deadline for submission is 11:59 p.m. (local time) on March 31, 2016. It must be postmarked no later than March 31, 2016.

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New Jersey Transit trains are breaking down more often as Gov. Chris Christie (R) continues a tradition of diverting money for capital improvements to cover operating costs, reports Bloomberg News. In the 12 months ended June 30, trains went an average 83,815 miles between failures, the worst performance in at least four years, according to agency figures. The Long Island Rail Road gets more than double that distance, while New York City’s subways travel more than 141,000 miles between breakdowns on average.

The Federal Railroad Administration will continue its series of public hearings on the Northeast Corridor’s Tier 1 Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that began in December 2015. The next hearing will be held on Monday, January 11, 2016, from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. Go to the NEC Future website for upcoming meetings and more information.

Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy said he will not back down from his $100 billion plan to transform his state's transportation network, noting these issues have been ignored for too long, reports the Hartford Courant. The governor believes that residents are willing to pay for better highways, rail lines and bus systems, but want to be sure that money designated for transportation doesn't get diverted. His transportation finance panel has spent nearly a year studying options including highway tolls, tax increment financing, a mileage-based driving tax and others.

During the first nine months of 2015, rail ridership in the United States logged small increases, while the number of public transportation trips fell 1.2 percent over the same period in 2014, reports the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). Nearly eight billion trips were taken across all modes of U.S. public transportation in the first nine months of last year, representing 95.6 million fewer trips compared with 2014 figures, according to APTA's third-quarter ridership report.

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In the past two years, passengers on Texas Eagle trains have experienced delays or been forced to ride on buses due to construction of a third north-south mainline track in the Fort Worth, Texas, Tower 55 project, the higher speed rail construction between Chicago and St. Louis and significant weather events on the route.

So to celebrate the completion of track upgrades and anticipated reduction in track delays in 2016, the Texas Eagle Local Revenue Management team, in conjunction with the Texas Eagle Route Director and Amtrak Central Division Marketing, will begin a special promotion for passengers between January and March 2016.

Passengers will receive a free companion rail fare when they buy one regular (adult) fare. The ticket must be purchased at least one day in advance of travel between January 5 and March 15, 2016, for travel between January 6 and March 20, 2016. These fares may be upgraded to a sleeper after paying for an accommodation charge. The promotion is valid for travel only on the Texas Eagle. It is not valid for local travel between Chicago and St. Louis, or for local travel between San Antonio and Los Angeles. Fares are subject to availability, and seating is limited. Please use discount code V344 when booking the fare.

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Trains magazine blogger Fred Frailey put out four names he thinks could run Amtrak after President Joe Boardman retires in September. The post came after Frailey asked Trains readers to make their own suggestions. The names are: Charles (Wick) Moorman; Ron Batory; John Fenton; and Matt Rose.

The Southwest Chief appeared in two positive news stories this week. USA Today’s piece was on badly needed repairs to tracks used by the Chief that will eventually allow it to run faster. It also covered the staff and riders that depend on the service provided by the Chief.

The Denver Post noted that ridership and ticket revenues on the Southwest Chief rose slightly in 2015, crediting efforts by small towns along the train’s route to get a $15 million grant for track repairs. Amtrak’s Chicago-to-San Francisco train, the California Zephyr, also saw increased ridership last year.

A.J. Robinson, president of Central Atlanta Progress, uses an op-ed in the Atlanta Business Chronicle to show how far the city has come since the one-year anniversary of the Atlanta Streetcar launch, an idea first reintroduced 15 years ago. “In those early days, we gave little thought to potential ridership numbers, economic impacts or even traffic mitigation,” he wrote. “What we strived for was re-connectivity of the central core with its surrounding neighborhoods and preservation of the value of Peachtree Street, one of the city's most important north-south corridors.”

Johnson compared the long-term infrastructure project to a new airport runway, bridge or roadway, noting it was something that wouldn’t be fully appreciated in the short term. “In a way we expected some reluctance and criticism during the early stages, specifically from those who refuse to see the benefits of the Atlanta Streetcar which include, providing missing circulation and direct connectivity to existing transit services coming into Downtown, as well as future intercity and high-speed passenger rail services; and generating economic impact and new investment for the city,” he wrote.

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Now that NARP’s new membership management system is up and running, we encourage members to take control of their profiles. After logging in here, members can manage all their details, including updating a profile, make address changes, make and check on donations and changing passwords. It’s a win-win for everyone: members can make their own changes to ensure accuracy, while NARP staff can focus on ongoing advocacy efforts.

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The California High-Speed Rail Authority is closer to choosing a construction company to build the third segment of its rail line, reports the Fresno Bee. Spain’s California Rail Builders submitted the “apparent best value” bid of about $347.5 million to design and build a 22-mile stretch of the bullet-train route; it was the lowest of five bids received by the rail authority in late November. The first contract was awarded in 2013 for about 29 miles of the rail, and the second contract was for a 65-mile stretch of the line.

“It is absurd for a state that prides itself on leadership and innovation to have such a heavy and vocal opposition to something that embodies those very principles – high-speed rail,” writes Arthur Koster, vice president of the Fresno City College chapter of I Will Ride, in a Fresno Bee op-ed. “If we want to provide a foundation for a stable economy for the millennial generation and those after, we must invest in infrastructure projects that will provide just that.”

Koster noted that Millennials are fast moving, and high-speed rail provides a transportation infrastructure to support that. “The high-speed rail network would provide many benefits for millennials by offering faster travel and more job opportunities – both directly through the addition of high-speed rail jobs and the ability to commute to a wider variety of job markets, and indirectly through the increased job opportunities that will be seen with a thriving economy, for which high-speed rail can lay the foundation,” he wrote.

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Thanks to NARP members, 2015 was a very successful year for rail supporters. But now that 2016 is here, we hope you’ll consider using your New Year resolutions to help NARP continue its work advocating for a strong rail system as part of the national transportation network. Click here to see a list of eight things you can do to help NARP in 2016.

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The 50-year-old Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) has laid out a vision for SoCal’s transportation future we believe the Inland Empire’s two counties and more than 50 cities ought to share, writes the editorial board of the Press-Enterprise. That includes preserving the transportation system the six-county, 38,000 square-mile megaregion already has; to fix it first before launching new initiatives. That means a substantial public “investment” in existing infrastructure (SCAG proposes $274.9 billion) – the transit and passenger rail system, the state highway system and “regionally significant local streets and roads.”

Cities across the country are moving forward with mass transit projects, despite the required tax hikes and cheap gasoline that encourages commuters to drive their cars, says a report from the Pew Charitable Trusts. The ballot measures, most at the city and county level, passed in states at both ends of the political spectrum, from red states such as Arizona and Utah to bluer ones like Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts and Washington.

Everyone remembers how last year’s massive snowstorms in Boston affected operations of the MBTA. Local cable news channel NECN will use crowdsourcing to track delays and other issues on the MBTA's subway and commuter rail lines during the winter of 2016. The channel has urged commuters to use the hashtag #GradeTheMBTA on Twitter and include a letter grade, and the reasoning behind it. The station will post the grades on its website and may even show some on the air.

We’ll end the week with this piece from NPR on entrepreneurs who use long-haul train rides to get work done away from distractions. “There were no distractions, no calls or texts or emails, not even my dog—it was just my laptop and me,” said entrepreneur Rae Michalik on her commute between New York City and Montreal. “I went into the experience with a long checklist of things to do and managed to get almost all of them done.”

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Although the NARP staff has access to a variety of media outlets, we can’t see everything. So we thank all our members who continue to send in news stories, op-eds, editorials or letters to the editor from their local media outlets. Your news contributions are used on our social media outlets and the weekly Hotline. Keep sending your media links to bwilson@narprail.org, and don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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