USDOT Opens New Bureau; FRA Examines Rail Opportunities in Texas and New England; Lawmakers Push For TSA To Implement Safety Protocols
July 22, 2016
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) have been busy this past week pushing forward new efforts to enhance America’s transportation infrastructure. Most notable, the DOT created a new bureau that will be a driving force for continued focus and funding, both of which are critical to future growth in the U.S. of rail and other modes of transit for people and freight. Known as the Build America Bureau, it “will drive transportation infrastructure development projects in the United States by streamlining credit and grant opportunities while providing technical assistance and encouraging innovative best practices in project planning, financing, delivery and monitoring."
The Build America Bureau combines the following DOT programs: the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA), the Railroad Rehabilitation & Improvement Financing (RRIF), the private activity bond (PAB), the Build America Transportation Investment Center (BATIC) and the new $800 million Fostering Advancements in Shipping and Transportation for the Long-term Achievement of National Efficiencies (FASTLANE) grant program. The FASTLANE grant program helps fund large projects that address key challenges affecting the transportation of people and freight; Virginia just received $165 million from a FASTLANE grant that will be directed towards the “Atlantic Gateway” project.
In an effort to closely examine the best options for rail travel between Oklahoma City and Southern Texas, the FRA and the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) released 10 service and route possibilities. Current passenger rail service along the Interstate 35 corridor includes three intercity Amtrak services, but as the area becomes a major hub for “major financial, energy, and education centers that people rely on every day,” according to U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. FRA and TxDOT will also take comments from the public on options and the comment period will be open for 45 days. Four public hearings will also be held to give residents a chance to learn about the Texas-Oklahoma Passenger Rail Study, understand how their communities may be affected, and provide comments.
The FRA also released the findings of a new survey that examined the potential impact of the Northern New England Intercity Rail Initiative that would run between Boston and New Haven through Springfield and Hartford and add new service between Boston and Montreal. Overall, the proposed infrastructure and initiative changes, which would cost $1.2 billion, would add more frequent and higher speed intercity passenger rail service, and according to the study, these improvements would not result in any significant impact to the environment. The FRA noted that the initiative would help build a framework for a robust rail network in the area, and provide rail service for more approximately 323,000 people annually.
The Republican National Committee issued a Platform statement that attacked mass transit and passenger rail, ignoring the growing bipartisan support for transit and trains on display in the current Congress.
“One fifth of (HTF's) funds are spent on mass transit, an inherently local affair that serves only a small portion of the population, concentrated in six big cities,” stated the Republican National Committee’s vision statement, which went on to say “Amtrak is an extremely expensive railroad for the American taxpayers, who must subsidize every ticket. The federal government should allow private ventures to provide passenger service in the northeast corridor. The same holds true with regard to high-speed and intercity rail across the country. We reaffirm our intention to end federal support for boondoggles like California’s high-speed train to nowhere.”
Ironically, the document contradicts statements made by the Republican nominee for president, Donald Trump. Trump not only criticized America’s inability to keep pace with China’s train system, in campaign speeches as well as his 2015 book, he explicitly called for rail investment in his acceptance speech, saying “we will build the roads, highways, bridges, tunnels, airports and railways of tomorrow.”
Additionally, the RNC platform statements claims did not hold up to fact checking. Rural transit ridership is, in fact, steadily growing. And federal investment in rail and transit is an essential part of economic growth in both urban, suburban, and rural areas -- one study found eliminating funding would cost the economy $227 billion over the next six years, with almost $14 billion in costs to rural communities alone.
NARP Is Asking For Your #SummerbyRail Stories
Taking a train for vacation this summer? We want to hear about it and see any great photos or videos that you take while on your trip.
This invitation to NARP members, and the vacationing American public will continue NARP intern, Elena Studier’s “Summer by Rail” 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.
And in case you missed it, for 38 days, Elena 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 through her blog, “Summer by Rail,” and on Instagram and Twitter.
“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, trolleys, ride-sharing, and more.
A lack of serviceable Heritage dining cars means that starting this week Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited will lose full-service diners temporarily. The Heritage diners will be replaced by an Amfleet II dinette serving a modified, limited menu similar to that now offered on the Cardinal and the City of New Orleans. Amtrak told NARP this week that structural defects on the Heritage cars -- mostly in the form of cracks that would require major effort to repair -- have left the railroad with only 12 single-level diners for the entire network, at least until the new CAF-built Viewliner diners begin to enter service from the production plant in Elmira, N.Y. As a result Amtrak had to shift service because of the shortage of cars, and the Lake Shore seemed the best candidate because its route offers fewer full meal periods than other single-level services. The dining cars are in production now and CAF is working on “punch list” items identified by Amtrak; in fact, top Amtrak executives expect the new single-level diners to enter revenue service late this summer, August or early September. Amtrak assured NARP President Jim Mathews that once the new diners are available, a more conventional dining service should resume on the Lake Shore. The new Viewliner sleeping cars, meanwhile, should start rolling out in the Fall.
Rumors abound that the Lake Shore Limited could be re-routed this fall, during October, as an experiment, and the thinking is that the end result could be a Lake Shore that runs between Chicago and Toledo through Dearborn/Detroit. NARP has heard this from several sources inside and outside the railroad, but Amtrak can only say that at this point such a routing is very far from reality and is just part of a very high level analysis of options for the future. Michigan is known to want to see this as part of a larger vision for rail service in the state.
On August 10, Amtrak will host an Industry Day for prospective bidders and development industry representatives interested in the Master Development partnership opportunity for the redevelopment of Baltimore Penn Station and adjacent properties. The event will feature a presentation on Amtrak’s approach to investment and development at its major stations, specific improvement initiatives at Baltimore Penn Station, as well as an overview of next steps in the Master Developer solicitation. The Industry Day is in advance of the release of a Request for Qualifications (RFQ), which will seek bidders that can lead all aspects of the project, which include an implementable Master Plan, design, construction, financing, operation and maintenance of non-rail assets at Baltimore Penn Station, as well as expansion opportunities and commercial development of the surrounding Amtrak owned properties.
Despite being a law that was passed 10 years ago, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), has been lax in implementing all safety measures to increase security against terror threats at Amtrak stations. As a result, Reps. Daniel Lipinski (D-Ill.) and Barbara Comstock (R-Va.) are supporting a bill that would push TSA into fulling all security measures. The new bill came to be after it was revealed that TSA has only implemented a few of the safety measures over the past decade, such as awarding security improvement grants to Amtrak; creating a program for conducting rail security exercises; establishing a task force to assess the risk of a terrorist attack; and issuing a regulation prohibiting rail carriers from making false statements to employees while undergoing TSA security background checks. Under the new measure from Lipinski and Comstock, the TSA would have to develop a process for completing the remaining requirements, which would help create a regulatory framework for addressing potential security threats in the rail network.
There are still openings for state representatives on the NARP Council of Representatives in several states, including one each in Alabama; Arizona; California; Delaware; Hawaii; Idaho; Iowa; Louisiana; Massachusetts; Missouri; Nebraska; Nevada; New Jersey; North Carolina; Ohio (2 Seats); Texas (2 Seats); West Virginia and Wyoming. Check out the full, up-to-date, list of current vacancies here.
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.
Siemens provided a special tour to U.S. Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) of its now fully-operational facility in Sacramento. The facility serves as Siemens Mobility Customer Services U.S. headquarters and West Coast logistics hub, and is solely dedicated to rail service, maintenance and repair operations, and complements Siemens' existing rail manufacturing operations in the region. One of the first projects at the new facility is a $21 million contract to modernize 32 SD160 light-rail vehicles for Calgary Transit in Alberta, Canada. Siemens' Customer Services business has also partnered with Sacramento Regional Transit District to complete the refurbishment of 21 light-rail vehicles for that system.
The development of new rail systems in Honolulu is moving forward, as three developers were awarded a contract of $875 million to to build the elevated guideway and stations around the Honolulu International Airport. The Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART) awarded the contract to a joint venture of Shimmick Construction, Traylor Bros., Inc. and Granite Construction for the design and building of four station and 5.2 miles of elevated guideway near the airport. Construction of the airport section of the guideway is to begin in approximately six months.
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!
Advocacy group, Transit Columbus, started a petition to urge officials in Columbus, OH to include light rail and other forms of mass transit in the city’s long-term transportation plans. The petition comes after the city won the Smart City Challenge, and focused heavily on driverless cars and other technologies to advance the city’s transportation goals. In response, Transit Columbus started an online petition urging Columbus and the Central Ohio Transit Authority to consider light rail, bus rapid transit or streetcars in its transportation planning. The petition has almost 1,500 signatures.
On July 28th, Amtrak will host an open house for the introduction of the Concourse Modernization Project at Washington Union Station, and members of the public are encouraged to attend the event. From 4:00pm - 7:00pm in the Starlight Room of Union Station, representatives from Amtrak will provide details of the project, along with schedule information and displays. The Modernization Project is part of the of Washington Union Station’s 2nd Century plan, which is a comprehensive improvement initiative comprised of multiple projects that seeks to triple passenger capacity and double train capacity over the next 20 years in D.C.
Despite proponents pushing for high-speed rail in Oregon, the state’s Department of Transportation is recommending that the Willamette Valley passenger rail line of the future should stay on the Union Pacific Railroad tracks. The decision was made after the department spent four years and $10 million studying route options, and the agency now hopes to publish a draft environmental impact statement by December, take public comment on the proposed train route in early 2017 and designate a final plan in 2018. High-speed rail enthusiasts have wanted the state to, instead, build a new rail line alongside Interstate 5, the second (but less favored by the state) alternative in the draft environmental impact statement. This plan would allow train speeds of 120 mph, while requiring construction of new train stations near the freeway right-of-way.
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.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) revealed new designs for the renovation of more than 30 subway stations in New York, as well as renderings of new subway cars. The designs for the cars include 1,025 cars that will have new exterior and interior enhancements, as well as 750 new cars that will be “Open Car End” and allow passengers to move between cars. The investment and effort to update cars and stations is part of MTA’s $27 billion, five-year capital plan.
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.