Hotline #976

AAR Petition’s STB’s OTP Rule; Amtrak to Implement New Acela Locomotives; APTA Names Metro Transit in Minneapolis system of the year

Following the Surface Transportation Board’s (STB) final rule to define on-time performance for passenger rail using on-time arrival and departure at all stations along a passenger-train's route—a huge victory for passengers—the Association of American Railroads (AAR) filed a petition with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia questioning the STB’s authority to define on-time for passenger rail. The AAR maintains that Congress gave the Federal Railroad Administration and Amtrak the authority to define on-time performance (OTP), not the STB.

It’s an ironic twist in the battle to protect passenger’s rights to quality service, since the AAR petitioned the STB in January 2015 to pursue rulemaking proceedings to define OTP. The STB agreed to AAR’s request, and originally issued a preliminary finding that favored freight traffic. The AAR supported this interpretation. However, following a concerted advocacy campaign—led by NARP and Amtrak-served communities—the STB revised the proposal and issued a more passenger-friendly final ruling. Having not gotten their way, the AAR finds itself in the embarrassing position of accusing the STB—which only issued the ruling in the first place in response to an AAR request—of not having jurisdiction over OTP.

In addition to AAR, freight railroads CSX, Norfolk Southern and Canadian National Railway each filed their own suits against STB this week regarding the OTP rule. Each of these railroads are under STB investigation for poor performance on Amtrak routes that use their tracks.
The ruling is important for both freight and passenger rail, as a 2008 law mandates that if on-time performance averages less than 80 percent for any two consecutive calendar quarters, Amtrak can petition the STB for an investigation into congestion issues and solutions for the delays.

You can read NARP’s comments on the STB’s ruling here.

NARP played an active role in last year’s AAR case before the Supreme Court, filing an amicus curiae brief with the Environmental Law & Policy Center in a case that was ultimately decided in Amtrak’s favor. We will continue to fight for your rights in the courts, in Congress, and in the sphere of public opinion—but we need your support! Help the cause of passenger rail by making a special donation today!

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Tell Us Your #SummerbyRail Adventure

Summer is winding down, but there is still plenty of time to share your summer rail adventures with us on social media.

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.

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.


Amtrak has been busy this past week, with important updates for passenger rail service throughout the U.S., including the Southwest region and the Northeast Corridor.

As a testament to Amtrak’s commitment to keeping the Southwest Chief route open and running, Amtrak President and CEO Joe Boardman went on a three-state trip to thank government officials for their partnership, efforts and support. The trip went through Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico, and also included on the tour was BNSF Railway Executive Chairman Matt Rose. Amtrak and BNSF began a public conversation in 2012 regarding deteriorating rail conditions that would have slowed BNSF freight traffic and led Amtrak to permanently detour or discontinue the Southwest Chief service. Since then, successful grant applications have resulted in $27.6 million in federal TIGER funding in the past two years.

As part of the tour, Boardman discussed the possibility of expanding the number of stations on the Southwest Chief route. Boardman stated he would like Pueblo to be one of the cities that gain an Amtrak station. If the station were to be developed, recent studies revealed that that ridership would generate an annual 1.5 million dollars in ticket sales, while the stop stop would bring in 6.5 million dollars in local economic activity. The cost for developing the station are not available yet, but a cost proposal is expected later this month.

In the Northeast Corridor, Amtrak is moving forward with a project to order new trainset replacements for it’s Acela service that will be able to carry passengers at up to 160 mph in certain sections of the route. The effort is being made to replace the current 20-year-old trains to help decrease travel times and increase capacity. Overall, the project will cost $2.5 billion and will include bringing the new trainsets into use three years from now. Amtrak had considered trying to boost the speeds above 200 mph, but concluded that would require significant track improvements and be too expensive. Reportedly, a contract with Alstom (of Hornell, NY) to build the new trainsets will be finalized in the near future.

Additionally, Amtrak will be adding additional Acela Express station stops in Iselin (MetroPark) and Trenton, New Jersey. Starting August 22, Washington, D.C.-bound Acela trains will make two more evening stops in MetroPark and Trenton. The addition of the new stops is to help Acela meet the growing needs and desires of their passengers.


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!


Robert Kiley, a leader in energizing and revitalizing the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's (MTA) subway system in New York, passed away this week at the age of 80. Kiley was the fifth chairman of the MTA, and led efforts in the removal of graffiti throughout the subway system. He also was instrumental in advancing MTA New York City Transit's fare system from tokens to the MetroCard. Although his legacy will be the revival of New York City's subway system, Kiley also revived subway and bus systems in Boston and London.

Cincinnati’s new streetcar will open in less than a month, and to celebrate the occasion, as well as encourage ridership, Cincinnati Metro is selling 2,000 commemorative tokens for $10 each. In addition, the tokens also provide an unlimited number of rides during the first week of service for the streetcar. A limited number of the $100 Cincinnati Streetcar Founders’ Club commemorative metal cards and matching metal cases are also available. Originally sold in 2014, these cards are good for unlimited rides during the first 60 days of revenue service. Notably, when the streetcar opens on September 9th, against criticism and predictions, it will open $2.5 million under budget. The savings comes from $2 million in the construction contract with the consortium of companies building the project – Messer Construction, Prus Construction and Delta Railroad – with most of the rest from less spending on moving utilities than was expected.


NARP: MAKING MONEY THE OLD FASHIONED WAY: AMTRAK INDUSTRY DAY AT BALTIMORE PENN

The re-development of Baltimore Penn Station and its adjacent vacant railway owned properties is a missing and obvious project, that exact sentiment being expounded upon in the recent press release on the topic. To those keeping track of the state of the industry, this can hardly been seen as a surprise, given Penn's unoccupied acres of otherwise urban space, and three million yearly passengers. Certainly, Amtrak's recent zeal for similar projects in Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C. also factor here. Indeed, for the industry, land development is a widespread trend and a return to form. It's what passenger railways of all scopes have always done well, and something that Amtrak sagaciously plans to turn into a permanent source of revenue.

What was interesting about this event wasn't so much why it was happening, but how. This was Amtrak's first so-called "Industry Day" where diverse engineering, development, and architecture firms came together to gather information about the project as it moves forward. The turnout was good, as I was in the room perhaps with over a hundred such representatives. Significantly, all attendees are listed on the project website (nec.amtrak.com) in the wake of the meeting. This has the smack of transparency and due process, but there is something else in this small fact as well. Showing overwhelming interest from private companies and developers over such a project is a gauge of Amtrak's direct potential economic impact on a given place where it has significant service. I would estimate that the list alone will have some political value.

The attendance is further remarkable because the ask is big: Penn Station needs approximately seventy million dollars to bring it up to a state of good repair alone, not to mention the intricacies of developing the so-called "overbuilding" to bridge the Corridor for three blocks on the North side of the station. Amtrak is asking for help with it all, specifying a phased project that will be able to fund its own expansions.

Amtrak is also visualizing this process in a remarkable way. The slideshow (worth a look) emphasizes a coordinated approach to value enhancement of their latent properties. Rina Cutler, Amtrak's Senior Director for Major Stations Planning & Development, was brought on a scant 15 months ago, and the shift in perspective at Amtrak surrounding these properties is perhaps only three years old at most. She has an appropriately holistic approach. One of the slides explicitly shows a "prior" approach to Amtrak's property asset management, with value realization being totally disassociated with operations, as if left to chance. Now, railroad operations forms the core, with direct and indirect value capture emanating directly from it:

I was glad to hear many times over that Amtrak is first and foremost a railway. They spoke of increasing railroad capacity, and of developers allowing for that eventuality. All too often in such large projects, developers and transit agencies work in silos and end up prohibiting inherent symbiotic potential. For the development to be truly successful, the passenger facility must be successful and visa versa. However, there are many examples where this has not been realized: too many examples of light rail lines placed across a sea of parking from shopping malls come to mind. Even Denver's otherwise fabulous Union Station project was a casualty of this: the project was executed in a way that prohibits building additional rail capacity at the dawn of the city's commuter rail system. By putting its foot down about prioritizing railroad operations, Amtrak is setting the tone for which such symbiosis may have a long term chance.

Additionally, there were three stated values outside of the presentation intended to inform potential projects, that may not be mentioned elsewhere:

1. Money (obviously)

2. Community (Amtrak realizes that input must be taken for such projects to proceed with minimal controversy (and may be rewarded with a built-in constituency if successful-- "station as the city's living room" was a recurring theme))

3. Design ("we're not going to allow ugly stuff to get built. These are legacy projects")

They seem intent on doing this right. The RFQ is out this month, with the RFP coming this winter, after which we'll hopefully see some diverse competing visions for the project.


The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) has named Metro Transit in Minneapolis the transit system of the year. Metro Transit was selected as the top agency in the country due to its achievements from 2013 to 2015, which include growing ridership, expanding access, advancing sustainability, and system safety. Metro Transit experienced its highest ridership in 30 years following the opening of the Green Line light-rail route in 2014. The agency's safety-related accomplishments include growth in its police department, enhanced operator training and highly visible safety campaigns.


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; North Dakota: Ohio (2 Seats); Texas (2 Seats) 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.


It could be a good problem to have for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in Los Angeles, but not for the riders. Only two months after the debut of light-rail service to Santa Monica, regular overcrowding has highlighted the fact that MTA does not have enough rail cars to meet the demand for surging ridership on the Expo Line. MTA officials want to add more cars to each train, but a years-long series of delays in acquiring cars for several new rail lines has left Metro without a way to meet demand. Overall, weekday trips on the Expo Line have jumped by half since trains began running to Santa Monica, eclipsing the performance of other Metro routes during their first months in operation. But riders have complained about cars so full during peak hours that there is no room for bicycles, wheelchairs or, at some stations, any more passengers.

Following the derailment in Philadelphia of Amtrak Train 188, dozens of lawsuits were filed by families of that were killed, along with people who were injured. Amtrak acknowledged liability for the accident, and has now started to settle lawsuits against the railroad. Amtrak has not released any of the details regarding settlements, but notably, legislation was passed by congress last December that raised the cap on damages Amtrak could be forced to pay to $295 million from $200 million.


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. Event Registration is NOW open via a link on the event web page, along with a full listing of the available options and rates.

Demand for the discounted group rate hotel rooms at the host hotel, Embassy Suites Denver Downtown, have exceeded expectations and we are working to make more rooms available. A list of other nearby hotel options will be posted on the Event web page by August 16th, along with an update on the availability of discounted rooms at the Embassy Suites. Thank you for your patience as we work to accommodate everyone’s housing needs!


Pennsylvania's State Transportation Commission is looking to spend a significant amount of money on improving the state’s transportation infrastructure, including railroads. The Commission approved a new plan that will put nearly $62 billion towards improvements in roads, bridges, transit systems, airports and railroads. The initiative will begin October 1 and expects $8.6 billion being available for transit programs, $305 million for multimodal and $229 million for freight-rail projects.

The Federal Transit Administration issued its final ruling for the Public Transportation Safety Program, which will focus on a comprehensive safety system to improve the safety of federally-funded public transportation systems. Overall, the rule sets procedural rules for FTA to issue directives and advisories to the public transportation industry and to promulgate future safety regulations. It also lays out the rules of practice for FTA to inspect, investigate, audit, examine and test transit agencies’ facilities, equipment, rolling stock and operations. In addition, the final rule details FTA enforcement actions against transit agencies for noncompliance with Federal transit safety law.


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, bbrady@xenophonstrategies.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.

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