Bipartisan Bills Stall; Presidential Candidates Support Infrastructure Investment With Few Details; FRA Proposal on Long-Distance Trains
June 24, 2016
Stalled by heated partisan battles over gun control, a response to the threat of the Zika virus, and birth control provisions, a bipartisan movement to pass a transportation budget for fiscal year 2017 has stalled.
Senate and House appropriators have created positive bills that are closely aligned; both increase funding for Amtrak, passenger rail, and transit, with the House favoring the Northeast Corridor and the Senate focusing additional funds on the National Network and grant programs for the states. The Senate has already passed its version, and is simply waiting on the full House to vote before reconciling the bill in, ultimately sending it to the President’s desk.
Unfortunately, the House has already adjourned for the July 4th holiday, and the full Congress will adjourn on July 15th to begin focusing on the Democratic and Republican national conventions. With gun control and Zika bills still looming, a Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization that must be passed before July 15th, and a general election campaign season that will begin to heat up after the political conventions, time is running very short for the bipartisan transportation bill to pass before the current budget expires at the end of September. Everyday the House fails to act increases chances that transportation is included in a short-term budget extension in September, freezing Amtrak funding and leaving the exciting new FAST Act rail programs unfunded.
If you haven’t taken part in NARP’s campaign to spur the House into action, ACT NOW!
In advance of the Republican and Democratic parties conventions in July, NARP has submitted statements to party platform committees calling for increased investment in passenger rail and transit as a means of creating new jobs, bolstering the middle class, and helping the U.S. economy to grow.
NARP requested both parties recognize the need to provide a dedicated source of funding for the passenger rail programs created by the Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act, and increase investment in transit’s general fund and capital investment programs to address a massive capital backlog facing the U.S.’s most heavily-ridden rail transit corridors.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump contends he wants to “build the greatest infrastructure on the planet earth - the roads and railways and airports of tomorrow.”
Hillary Clinton has also discussed her goals for the country’s infrastructure, proposing a five-year plan that includes an additional $275 billion in investment on new and improved infrastructure.
Neither candidate has offered details on a plan to pay for it.
Changes could be coming to Amtrak and overnight passenger rail services, as the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) looks to move forward with a new program that will allow independent services to run long-distance trains on up to three routes. The proposal from the FRA stated the initiative is in response to the FAST Act in which the U.S. DOT is set to develop a program “for selection of eligible petitioners in lieu of Amtrak to operate not more than three long-distance routes.” The proposal opens the possibilities to several bidders, ranging from Class I railroads to short lines, and more. Under the FRA’s initiative, Amtrak is still welcomed to bid for continued operation of certain trains.
If you plan to travel to Rio De Janeiro for the Olympic Games in support of U.S. athletes, and want to take the city’s new subway system, you may want to reconsider. Construction teams and city officials are scrambling to complete the new subway network with only seven weeks to go before the opening ceremony on August 5. Officials state that the trains will be up and running, but with repeated deadlines pushed back, the opening of the subway will only take place four days before competitive starts in Rio. Transportation experts are concerned that this will not leave enough time to properly test the safety and effectiveness of the new system. Should the new subways lines not work as expected, city officials have prepared back up plans that include special lanes and rapid transit systems for buses.
NARP Intern Completes #SummerbyRail and Now It’s Your Turn To Share Your Stories
For 38 days, Elena Studier traveled 10,000 miles on the nation’s rail network, with stops in 20 cities in 15 states. Her Summer by Rail internship circumnavigated the entire United States to help highlight how young Americans are demanding mobility options, and choosing to live in communities that cater to people, not cars. Through blogs, videos, and pictures, Elena shared her travel across the networks that connect America’s cities and national landmarks. NARP is calling on American passengers to continue Summer by Rail by sharing photos and videos of their travels on social media.
“Our country has a strong rail infrastructure that people can utilize to easily jump on a train and see the nation—for a weekend trip or an extended vacation,” said Elena, who is a student at the George Washington University in D.C. “Through my trip, I wanted to show how it’s possible to visit major cities like New York, Chicago, Seattle and Los Angeles, as well as national landmarks like the Grand Canyon and Glacier National Park, all by train and bike. And I encourage others, young and old, to try it and see what our country has to offer.”
Elena relied heavily on Amtrak’s National Network to navigate the country, along with her bicycle (nicknamed “Stevie” after her parents’ two favorite singers: Stevie Wonder and Stevie Nicks). As Elena and Stevie traveled from city to city, they met with numerous elected and transportation officials, including Mayor Chris Koos of Normal, IL, and Mayor Knox Ross of Pelahatchie, MS, as well as transit and bike advocacy groups. Supporting groups included Transportation for America, Southern Rail Commission, Adventure Cycling Association, League of American Cyclists, Congressional Bike Caucus, Bike Texas—and many, many more. Each official and group highlighted how their respective city is working toward train, pedestrian, and bike-friendly transportation infrastructure. Elena used a variety of other forms of public transportation to highlight the rich assortment of modes available to travelers, including buses, ferries, trollies, ride-sharing, and more.
Throughout the entirety of the trip, Elena shared her adventure on her blog, “Summer by Rail,” and on Instagram and Twitter, in order to provide followers with an insider’s perspective on touring the U.S., and how people live and move in different regions of the U.S. You can visit SummerbyRail.com to see a “Thank You” page acknowledging the numerous organizations that helped Elena from start to finish of her journey.
“This trip was a major campaign for NARP, one in which we wanted to not only highlight the ease of travel by rail, but also how regular funding for rail infrastructures and services like Amtrak, are critical to providing jobs and supporting country’s economic vitality,” said Jim Mathews, President and CEO of NARP, a rail advocacy group for passenger rail in the U.S. “And we want to continue to highlight the need for support, which is why NARP is inviting travelers this summer to take the train, and share their stories with us through social media using the hashtag, #SummerbyRail.”
This invitation to the American public will continue Elena’s journey, while offering new and exciting adventures from people throughout the country. NARP welcomes stories, videos and images through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram that use #SummerByRail. For the best submissions, NARP will share the new “Summer by Rail” journeys on the Summer by Rail blog.
In an effort to provide Washington, D.C.’s Metro more guidance as it looks to correct and repair its rail network, Metro General Manager hired Joseph Leader, a 30-year veteran of New York City’s transportation system. Leader will take the position as chief of operations in August, amid Metro’s “SafeTrak” plan, a yearlong effort to repair the aging and neglected Metro infrastructure. Up to the beginning of this year, Mr. Leader was managing the New York subway system, with a $3.4 billion budget, and was also in charge of moving the subway system forward after Superstorm Sandy in 2012.
Texas Central, the private company that has proposed the development of a high-speed rail line between Houston and Dallas, was provided an Order of Protection from the Surface Transportation Board (STB) to keep commercial information private as the project moves forward. The order was requested by Texas Central in an effort to shield proprietary documents from opponents of the train, including rural lawmakers and landowners. In addition, Amtrak indicated to the STB that the rail transit agency is open to new opportunities with Texas Central to bring high-speed rail to Texas. Amtrak has stations in both Houston and Dallas, but has not provided direct service between the two cities since 1995.
In addition, support for high-speed rail in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, where traffic congestion is a top concern among local leaders, is incredibly high. Members of the North Central Texas Council of Governments has reached out to both French and Chinese railroad companies at a high-speed forum in Texas, asking the companies to support HSR initiatives in the state. Officials from Texas Central Partners who are planning the Dallas-Houston route also attended the two-hour meeting, as did officials from the Lone Star Rail District which is working on a proposed rail line from Austin to San Antonio. Foreign companies that have shown interest in building HSR in Dallas include SNCF, France’s state-owned railway, and China Railway Corp.
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.
The environmental dangers and pollutants of developing new infrastructure, travel and traffic congestion in the U.S. and around the world is significant, and it’s a critical factor that needs to be closely examined as new rail and transit project move forward. The California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) and the California Energy Commission (CEC), for example, developed a Memorandum of Understanding that will examine how the HSR initiative can help achieve climate and green goals for California. Overall, CHSRA and CEC can look at green technology and best practices during the design and construction of the high-speed rail system. Green initiatives the organizations will look at include the use of renewable energy, the delivery of zero net energy buildings and incorporation of zero emission vehicle infrastructure as part of the rail system.
The reintroduction of passenger rail in the Gulf Coast continues to receive growing support from local communities that would benefit from the service. The Jefferson Parish Council in Louisiana approved a resolution that offers support for bringing the line back, and the Parish is just one of several local government that have supported the service. Overall, the Jefferson Parish voted without unanimously to support the return of the route, however, Council Member Jennifer Van Vrancken added an amendment to ask the Gulf Coast Working Group, as part of their evaluations, to consider moving the railroad tracks that currently run through Metairie. The Working Group is currently focused on putting out a report that must be provided to the federal government by Sept. 1. The report is intended to detail what's needed to get the route up and running again, and how much it would cost.
New Member Benefits For You, And New Support For Us And Our Work!
Travelers United, the only non-profit membership organization that acts as a watchdog for traveler rights, now offers free reciprocal membership to all NARP members! To check out benefits and get the low-down on your passenger rights, visit TravelersUnited/Membership .
Amtrak Vacations, a premier tour operator offering first-rate travel packages combining great destinations and train travel, is now offering all NARP members a 10% discount on the rail travel portion of any package booked, along with a 5% discount on parent company Yankee Leisure Group’s Unique Rail Journeys packages across Europe! Better yet, go watch a recorded webinar co-hosted by Amtrak Vacations and NARP to learn about a special offer worth up to an additional $400 off certain rail-travel packages! Click here to watch the recorded webinar, or copy and paste this URL into your web browser: https://youtu.be/uiETYMKziWA , and to learn more about Amtrak Vacations please visit http://www.amtrakvacations.com .
If you buy anything from online retailer Amazon.com, sign up for Amazon Smile so that a portion of your purchase price is donated to support NARP! The price you pay for your items does not change, but every purchase helps your Association as we do the work you want done for A Connected America! Visit http://www.narprail.org/get-involved/donate to learn more.
VSP Individual Vision Care now offers specially discounted individual and family insurance plans exclusively for NARP members that typically save hundreds of dollars on your exams, glasses and contacts. In addition, as a VSP member you -- or any family member you designate -- can also enjoy savings of up to $1,200 per hearing aid through VSP’s TruHearing plan. When you sign up for a VSP plan through our website, you not only help yourself and your family with significant savings and great benefits, but you help support NARP’s work as well! Click here to enroll today!
Developing, approving and implementing a new transit plan is no easy task, and could take years to finally complete, but it is important that cities across the country take steps now to improve transit options, reduce congestion, and help eliminate pollutants. Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce and other business leaders are moving forward with a new effort to provide commuters with new mass transit solutions in order to reduce traffic and prevent travel delays as the area expects to grow by one million people over the next 25 years. Plans being pushed by the Chamber include several elements for rail: design transit projects between Nashville and surrounding communities that can be upgraded in the future to high-capacity transit such as rail; urge the state and other stakeholders to explore relocating the CSX-owned Radnor Yard rail facility near 100 Oaks to open up the city’s existing rail lines for commuter use; and ensure that a direct, light rail connection go from downtown Nashville to the Nashville International Airport.
Know of any remarkable women leaders in rail? The League of Railway Industry Women is looking for nominees for the 2016 “Outstanding Woman of the Year Award.” The award is co-sponsored by Progressive Railroading, and it recognizes women in the rail industry that have made important contributions through leadership and dedication. Nominations will be accepted until July 31 and nomination forms can be obtained from the League.
Make plans now to attend NARP’s Fall 2016 Advocacy Symposium and Membership Meeting, being held in Denver, CO, Friday, October 14 - Sunday, October 16. Preliminary information and agenda for this exciting event is now posted on the event webpage and will be updated regularly as the planning process continues.
Discounted group rate hotel rooms at the host hotel, Embassy Suites Denver Downtown, are now available. Click Here for a direct link to NARP’s group reservation page.
Expanded Amtrak service began between San Joaquin Valley cities and the Bay Area in California, which is the first expansion of service for San Joaquin trains in more than 14 years. The expanded service will increase the number of daily Bakersfield-to-Stockton round trips on Amtrak’s San Joaquin train service line to five. Amtrak also runs two daily train round trips on the San Joaquin service line from Bakersfield to Sacramento. Enhancing service on the Amtrak San Joaquins was recognized by TRIP, a national transportation research group, as one of the state’s top priorities for transportation improvement and investment.
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 Bob Brady, 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.