Fixing Bottleneck in NEC; NYC Ridership Surges; States Looking for Private Funding of HSR
May 6, 2016
Efficiency, timeliness and modern infrastructure are critical for rail services and their passengers - whether commuting between only a few stations, or traveling long distances through multiple states. It’s no surprise that if trains regularly run late, are overcrowded, and constantly need repair, passengers may look to other forms of transportation for their needs, leaving rail services with less revenue. NARP knows investment is critical, and properly funded and supported projects have a strong return on investment. Through years of experience and review of services, it’s been proven that when trains run on time or more frequencies are added to existing routes, revenue rises faster than costs. In addition, when new routes are added, ridership on connecting routes also increases. This ideal holds true for passenger rail services across the country, ranging from Amtrak service in the Northeast Corridor to the subways in New York City to the forthcoming high speed rail in California and other states that are interested in developing similar rail projects. Fixing bottlenecks in the NEC will help trains meet performance standards; maintaining a reliable infrastructure will help New York meet rising demands in ridership; and expanding high speed rail throughout the U.S. can open new possibilities.
Bottlenecks in the Northeast Corridor are a major concern, and an issue that Amtrak is looking to fix in order to have its trains travel between New York and Washington, D.C. in two hours. To accomplish this goal, Amtrak must fix four different pinch points in Maryland, where the dated railroad infrastructure cannot accommodate the speed and capacity of modern trains. The bottlenecks that force trains to slow down include the Susquehanna River Rail Bridge, which opened 110 years ago, and the even older Baltimore and Potomac Tunnel, built under the city in the decade after the Civil War. Officials have developed plans to correct these two areas, but actually implementing them could cost billions of dollars. Amtrak estimates that replacing the Susquehanna River Rail Bridge alone could cost up to $1 billion and take up to a decade, and the B&P Tunnel is a $4 billion project. The other two aging pinch points are the Gunpowder River Bridge between Chase and Joppa, and the Bush River Bridge between Edgewood and Perryman.
In New York City, ridership on the subway has hit a resurgence, with the system currently carrying nearly six million daily riders, up from four million in the 1990s. Though demand has increased for the system, the subway infrastructure has not kept pace in order to keep passengers moving and prevent delays. Notably, delays caused by overcrowding have quadrupled since 2012 to more than 20,000 each month, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Congested trains have also increased the number of assaults between disgruntled passengers, according to transit police. To help ease the stress on the system, the authority’s board recently approved $14.2 billion for the subway as part of a $29.5 billion, five-year capital spending plan. In addition, the long-awaited opening of the Second Avenue subway on the Upper East Side this year will ease congestion on the Lexington Avenue line. However, installing a modern signal system, which would allow more trains to run, is many years away for most lines.
Though things did not run smoothly for the state of California before it began construction on its high speed rail network last year, other states throughout the country have learned from California’s experience and are interested in developing high speed rail networks. Specifically, companies in Texas, Minnesota and Nevada all plan to tap private cash from investors globally, with help from foreign train makers and governments eager to export train technology. The projects would rely on partnerships with Japanese or Chinese firms that face saturated train markets at home. The goal for these states and rail networks is to avoid the funding issues that California faced from accepting public money for projects. California's experience shows that taking taxpayer money can open the door to political and legal challenges that can drag out planning, bidding and approvals for years.
NARP needs your help! NARP is concerned about language that was added to the transportation budget which, if approved, will erode the ambitious scope of the Consolidated Rail, Infrastructure and Safety (CRISI) grant program. While the Senate THUD Subcommittee approved $50 million in funding for the program, it also stripped eligibility for passenger-specific goals, including investment in stations, upgrades to reduce train congestion, and enhancements to facilitate ridership growth. These were some of CRISI’s most exciting features, and NARP needs your help to restore them.
Click here to send an email to your Senator asking them to restore passenger eligibility for these funds when the transportation budget bill goes to the full floor!
City officials in Houston are hoping that the downtown area will host a high speed rail terminal as a Houston-to-Dallas line proposal moves forward. Texas Central Partners is developing the project, and the ride is expected to take 90 minutes, carry up to 400 passengers every 30 minutes during peak times between the two metro regions. Despite strong interest to have a downtown terminal in Houston, Texas Central Partners points out that the terminal would require public funding, and would be built later. The project, which is estimated at $12 billion, will be privately funded through Texas-based investors and engineering companies, as well as the Japan Bank of International Cooperation.
A $260 million bailout of the Transbay Transit Center in San Francisco was approved by the Board of Supervisors in a vote of 10-1. Since 2008, the project costs have increased by about 90 percent, from $1.189 billion to $2.259 billion. The latest shortfall estimate shows $260 million is needed to complete Phase 1 of the project by December 2017. Board members have expressed concerns about the cost escalations, but say the project is too important not to assist with funding to ensure its completion. The bailout is for Phase 1 of the project. Phase 2 would extend Caltrain and California High Speed Rail to an underground Transbay station by 2024. The estimated cost for the second phase is $3.9 billion, and funding for that phase of work has not yet been identified.
Summer By Rail
Starting May 15th in New York City, NARP’s intern, Elena Studier, will travel 10,000 miles through the U.S. for nearly 40 days riding only public forms of transportation including rail, buses and other services, such as her bike. Travelling by Amtrak, Elena will explore how people travel by rail to see the country’s greatest sites and attractions. Through her exploration, key elements of connectivity by rail and support for rail in various communities, will be shared to her audience via social media channels on Twitter and Instagram at the handle @RailPassengers, and her blog at www.summerbyrail.com. People interested in Elena’s travels can also follow the hashtags #ElenaAndStevie and #GetRail for regular updates. Follow along and cheer her on!
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) in D.C. has been under severe scrutiny by government officials, including the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) following the January 12, 2015 smoke incident that resulted in one person’s death. Reports during a five-hour hearing claimed that trains loaded with passengers were routinely sent into tunnels to investigate smoke or fires that are often caused by sparking from short-circuited power cables. Officials with Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 told NTSB that the organization had not heard of those claims before, but the NTSB still continues to criticize Metro’s lax safety procedures and urges immediate changes at Metro to improve oversight and emergency response.
As part of the hearing on WMATA, the NTSB also discussed what agency should have oversight authority over D.C.’s Metro. Currently, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) conducts inspections and issues corrective actions without the authority to level fines, enforce regulations, make new rules, or establish minimum standards — although FTA’s authority was recently strengthened by congressional action. Still, the NTSB’s preference continues to be the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), the agency that oversees freight lines and passenger railroads such as Amtrak with stronger enforcement authority and years of know-how. Among the 33 recommendations issued in the final report on the L’Enfant Plaza smoke incident, NTSB is calling for Metro to be placed under FRA oversight. The FTA authority is supposed to be temporary until D.C., Virginia, and Maryland set up an independent Metro safety commission through legislation expected early next year. A change in oversight to FRA would require congressional action that does not appear imminent.
Amtrak Says Goodbye to Iconic Locomotives
On Saturday, June 18, 2016, Amtrak will host a farewell excursion trip for its iconic AEM-7 electric locomotives that have been in service for 37 years and traveled 220 million miles between Boston and Washington, D.C.
The special trip is available to the public, and the AEM-7 excursion train will depart from Washington Union Station en route to Philadelphia, where the train will reverse direction and head for a unique visit and tour of Wilmington Shops in Delaware, the maintenance home of the AEM-7. The train will then return to Washington.
Limited tickets are available now and can be purchased online or by calling 1-800-USA-RAIL. Tickets are $155 for adults. Children aged 2-12 ride for half price with each adult ticket.
AEM-7s are being replaced by the new, advanced, next-generation ACS-64 locomotives.
In a surprise turn of events, nearly 40 percent of NJ Transit’s union employees, including conductors and engineers, voted against a newly proposed contract. This news was a shock to many as NJ Transit offered workers a 21 percent pay raise over three years and low-cost health insurance. Many conductors stated that they voted no because despite the raise, their salaries will remain far lower than their counterparts’ on the Long Island Rail Road. Prior to the new contracts, NJ Transit employees threatened to strike, which would have caused massive disruptions to commuters between New York and New Jersey. Workers could still strike following the vote against the contract, but the rejection also results in a 60-day period that prohibits a strike or lockout, under federal law.
In an effort to expand and connect passengers to tourist attractions throughout Las Vegas, the city’s Monorail system will be expanded one mile to Mandalay Bay. County commissioners voted to allow the Las Vegas Monorail Company to expand the line, helping fund the extension from its investment earnings on its $6 million account. The earnings on the Monorail’s account amount to about $1.9 million, and that money will be used to secure a design and guaranteed maximum price on the expansion. Extending from the existing MGM Grand terminus to Mandalay Bay would cost an estimated $100 million.
A list of the newly elected Board Officers & Directors and At-Large Representatives serving on the NARP Council of Representatives is available on the NARP website. Contact Information for all elected representatives is available to NARP members.
There are still openings for state representatives in several states. Check-out the full list of current vacancies here. If you are interested in being considered for an appointment to an open state seat by the Board of Directors please complete this Candidate Information Statement.
Kansas City is focused on developing a new streetcar network with the reintroduction of service this week, following a six-decade hiatus. The new 2.2 mile line, which runs from Union Station to River Market, is much smaller than the previous network, but city officials consider it a starting point with potential for future growth. It's expected to be the base of a network that could eventually extend to the city's south and east sides, encompassing the Country Club Plaza — an upscale shopping district — and University of Missouri-Kansas City campus.
Amtrak has been operating the Lake Shore Limited with only one locomotive between Chicago and Albany recently, raising concerns over what would happen in the case of an engine failure or other mechanical problem. The train’s normal consist is 11 cars (and this will hopefully be 12 cars during the busy summer travel season), all of which currently operate through from New York’s Penn Station to Chicago. NARP staffer Bruce Becker rode the westbound train last week and he noted that the single locomotive was unable to reach the top 100-110mph operating speeds on the Amtrak-owned segment west of Albany and that slower than normal acceleration hampered running times across upstate New York.
Honolulu unveiled its first rail car to the public, as the city moved forward with a $6.5 billion rail project. There are some subtle design details in the cars that are function first. The seats aren't mounted to the floor so there's extra storage space underneath, and on the opposite side of the car there are fold-down seats that you can sit on when the train isn't crowded but stand next to when it is. The cars are also designed to allow passengers to bring their surfboards onboard.
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 May 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 May 15, 2016, for travel between January 6 and May 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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