One Year Anniversary of Amtrak 188; Potential Delays for Gateway Tunnel; Economic Boost from HSR in Texas
May 13, 2016
A year ago on May 12, Amtrak Train 188 derailed outside Philadelphia. Eight people died and 200 hundred were injured in the tragic accident. It was a moment in time that changed the way the public and government agencies view passenger rail, and it forced people to closely look at appropriate funding for railroads and infrastructure, as well as technologies, like Positive Train Control (PTC), that could improve safety and prevent unnecessary tragedies. The country’s transportation infrastructure needs funding that allows for regular updates and repairs, and this has been highlighted by NARP, and other rail advocates, for years.
Following the derailment and the House Committee on Appropriations failing to pass two positive amendments that would provide capital funds for transit and Amtrak, NARP’s President and CEO Jim Mathews stated that “several things are certain: Amtrak’s Northeast corridor—the busiest rail corridor in the Western Hemisphere—faces a $52 billion maintenance backlog that is hindering the efficient movement of trains, the average age of Amtrak’s equipment is 28 years old, and its fleet is rapidly aging beyond its usable lifespan.” One year later, this statement still holds true as transportation providers nationwide work towards finding appropriate levels of funding to implement new safety technology like PTC.
On the anniversary of the derailment of Amtrak 188, the Administrator Sarah E. Feinberg of Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) emphasized the continued need “to implement every available safety technology and policy to prevent future derailments.” Feinberg also noted that “PTC is not the only safety improvement we need. The FRA has spent much of the last year focused on additional improvements that will enhance safety: addressing fatigue and distraction of train crews and engineers, continuing research into the crashworthiness of passenger cars so occupants are protected in the event of an incident, and more.”
In the year since the accident, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), Amtrak and other agencies have investigated the cause of Amtrak 188’s derailment. Evidence has shown that the train was traveling more than 50 mph faster than the speed limit leading into Frankford Curve, but investigators have ruled out mechanical, signal or track failures and have focused on human error. The NTSB however is meeting in Washington, D.C. next week to determine the cause of the accident. Notably, investigators have said that PTC would have prevented the derailment if it had been present on Frankford Curve. Amtrak has since installed PTC throughout its Northeast Corridor on rail it owns, but away from the Northeastern U.S. much of Amtrak's service runs on track owned by private freight companies, which have not installed PTC.
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!
Developing or expanding rail service is essential for creating jobs and boosting the economic stability of surrounding communities. This has held true for local communities around the country that have made a push for passenger rail transit, and it will hold true for cities like Houston and Dallas and those in between, where a high speed rail line could bring millions as the populations of both cities are expected to double by 2035. And when the project is completed, the railway would become the largest taxpayer in nearly every community it passes through. Texas Central expects to pay $2.5B in taxes over the next 25 years, which would help support numerous government programs, projects and jobs, from schools to firefighters to better roads. The influx of that much tax revenue to small towns is monumental. Overall, the economic impact report from Texas Central estimates $36B of direct and indirect economic benefit to the state over the next 25 years, which also includes 40,000 jobs over four years of construction for HSR, and 1,000 permanent jobs to operate the railway system.
The Gateway Tunnel project is a critical rail infrastructure project that will help double the number of passenger trains running under the Hudson River. Gateway was deemed essential after Amtrak officials announced in October 2015 that flood damage from Hurricane Sandy would force the 106-year old tunnels to be closed for one year each for major repair. But red tape and environmental studies could delay the project, and force the closure of existing tunnels for repairs, causing major congestion for all commuters in the region whether they ride the train or not. Amtrak, NJ Transit and Federal Transit Administration officials, however, are committed to an "aggressive" 24-month schedule to get the required studies completed and obtain environmental permits needed to start building the Gateway Tunnel project. For those interested in becoming active in the project, information about upcoming public scoping meetings on May 17th and 19th can be found at http://www.hudsontunnelproject.com/
The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, or MARTA, released a draft wish list of potential transit options and infrastructure improvements for the city. Major improvements include a light rail transit along the Atlanta BeltLine, bus rapid transit on Northside Drive, heavy rail transit on I-20 West, bus rapid transit on I-20 East and light rail transit on Clifton Corridor. In addition to adding new lines and services, MARTA wants to rehabilitate seven metro stations and add more rail cars to its existing fleet. The improvements are dependent on how residents vote on the $2.5 billion plan, which is also $5.5 billion less than what MARTA had initially proposed for an expansion of service.
Summer By Rail
Starting Sunday, 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 (https://twitter.com/RailPassengers) and Instagram (www.instagram.com/railpassengers) at the handle @RailPassengers, and her blog at www.summberbyrail.com. People interested in Elena’s travels can also follow the hashtags #ElenaAndStevie and #GetRail for regular updates. Follow along and cheer her on!
In North Carolina, the Durham-Chapel Hill light rail project has received a boost in development after House lawmakers said they want to remove a funding cap. Under the cap of $500,000, concerns were raised by urban legislators that eventually canceled the state’s commitment of $138 million in funding for the project. The removal of the cap will help the $1.5 billion light rail project move forward with support from state officials. The line will run 17 miles, and it would be anchored by UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill, and in Durham by the Duke and VA medical centers and the downtown core.
A celebration was held in Denver as local elected and transportation officials broke ground on the Southeast Rail Extension. The extension will add 2.3 miles of light rail to the existing 19-mile Southeast Rail Line, and it includes three new stations, 1,300 parking spaces and the purchase of eight vehicles. The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) is contributing $92 million towards the $233 million project from its Capital Investment Grant program, while the rest being covered from local funding sources. The extension is expected to be opened in 2019.
There are still openings for state representatives on the NARP Council of Representatives in several states. Check-out the full list of current vacancies here.
Of particular note, there are multiple vacancies in the states of California, Ohio and Texas. If you live in these states and want to become more active in NARP’s work, this is your opportunity to become involved. 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.
Railroads in Pennsylvania will receive new funding after the state’s transportation agency approved $36 million for 31 rail projects. The increase in funding is critical for the state, as Governor Tom Wolf noted Pennsylvania has the most railroads in the country, and are a vital part of the state’s economy and transportation. Projects include the construction of new bridges and tracks, repairs and updates to current rail infrastructure throughout the state.
Walkers and bikers in New Jersey are getting easier access to passenger rail service, when NJ Transit opens the Wesmont station this weekend. The $18 million stop is close enough for residents to easily commute to and from and features bike racks, along with 215 parking spots. The station, on NJ Transit's Bergen County Line, was built under a public-private partnership between Somerset and NJ Transit and cost the agency $6 million.
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.
NARP thanks those members who have sent in industry-related news stories, op-eds, editorials or letters to the editor from your communities. We include them in our social media efforts, along with the weekly Hotline. Please send your news items to Will Hubbard, email@example.com, and we will continue to share it with the membership. We also ask members to send events that we can put on the website, here. And please follow NARP on Facebook and Twitter.