Hotline #978

Biden Helps Amtrak Unveil “Avelia Liberty” Next Gen Trainsets; Motorists Set Record for Miles Driven as Accidents and Fatalities Rise; NARP Hires Director of Resource Development

The National Association of Railroad Passengers was on hand at today’s event in Wilmington Station, where Vice President Joe Biden announced $2.45 billion in federally secured loans to support Amtrak’s purchase of new high-speed trainsets for the Northeast Corridor, station upgrades, and track improvements. The “Avelia Liberty” model trainsets will be designed and manufactured by the French company Alstom at its Hornell and Rochester, New York facilities, creating 400 local jobs.

NARP’s President and CEO Jim Mathews was in attendance at the Vice President’s announcement, which took place at the Joseph R. Biden Jr. Railroad Station in Delaware. Mathews stated, “This is a red letter day in American railroading, and I’m proud to be on hand to represent the nation’s passengers. We applaud the Obama Administration and Amtrak for working together on this project. With year after year of surging demand, the additional capacity is desperately needed—not only on the Northeast Corridor, but across the national network. NARP echoes Senator Carper’s demand that Congress step up and do the right thing: provide a dedicated source of funding for passenger rail projects like these.”

The loan comes from the Railroad Rehabilitation & Improvement Financing (RRIF) loan program, which looks to provide low cost loans to passenger and freight railroads to leverage infrastructure investment.

Additional details about the announcement can be read in NARP’s press release online.

NARP and other public transit organizations regularly highlight the benefits of taking passenger rail for daily commutes, work travel or even for vacations. The benefits include taking cars off the nation’s crowded highways, more time to kickback and relax during a commute, safer commutes and less chance of accidents, and decreases in harmful pollutants. These benefits can have a profound and positive change on Americans’ quality of life.

Yet despite these positive attributes from passenger rail and other forms of public transit, 2016 has already seen a record-breaking number of miles driven by U.S. motorists during the first half of 2016. According to data from the U.S. Department of Transportation, drivers in the U.S. reached 1.58 trillion miles, up 3.3 percent from the first six months in 2015. For context, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) noted that 1.58 trillion miles is the equivalent of 250 round trips from Earth to Pluto.

Of course, several factors contributed to an increase in driving, including lower gas prices, a decrease in unemployment and more fuel-efficient vehicles. However, with more cars and congestion comes more accidents and fatalities. Overall, traffic fatalities increased nine percent for the first six months of 2016. Since January, 19,100 people have been killed on U.S. roads, while 2.2 million people have been seriously injured. This is an unfortunate upward trend that began in 2014, and according to the National Safety Council, which released the data, shows “no signs of decreasing.”

The overall trend is muddled further by the fact that per capita miles driven is still down from its pre-recession peak. While walking, biking, and transit use per capita is up, it’s not enough to offset the reduction in per-capita driving, suggesting Americans are becoming less mobile.

If these trends are to be reversed, NARP encourages drivers to think about a change to public transit, while government agencies place a greater emphasis on the benefits and life-changing possibilities of passenger rail throughout the U.S.


NARP Names Betsy Nelson as Director of Resource Development

NARP has hired Betsy Nelson as its new Director of Resource Development. Nelson has a master’s degree in Civil Engineering and Transportation Policy, and will help NARP communicate to partners, transit agencies, elected officials, and other organizations on the importance of establishing rail and intermodal transportation for sustainable economic and population growth.

“Betsy has a true and unmistakable passion for a balanced transportation system in the U.S.—one that provides people with transportation choice,” said NARP President and CEO Jim Mathews. “NARP is happy to have Betsy join our team, and look forward to her help in our work to build ‘A Connected America.’”

Nelson first experienced the benefits of passenger rail after she moved to Biloxi, MS in 2010 and attended Amtrak’s 40th Anniversary Celebration in Meridian in 2011. While at Meridian’s Union Station, it occurred to Nelson that rail infrastructure is a catalyst that drives the economy and creates jobs throughout the country. This led Nelson to pursue a Master of Engineering from Texas A&M University, specializing in the equilibrium needed between planning, policy, and engineering for passenger rail.

“Rail transportation is all positive – it’s green, it’s fast, it’s easy, you can ‘plug-in’ while someone else drives, it’s efficient,” said Nelson. “I’m very passionate about rail and intermodal transportation and I’m excited to bring my knowledge and experience to NARP.”

In Nelson’s new role as Director of Resource Development, she will work to keep the lines of communication open between NARP, its members and partners in the rail industry—including suppliers, transit agencies and transportation officials—to promote passenger rail as part of a sustainable, connected America. It will be Nelson’s job to communicate how membership dues, donations, and sponsorships are making a difference. She will also help NARP represent passenger needs on Capitol Hill and beyond.

Prior to her time with NARP, Nelson spent time as a project manager and computer programmer with Western Geophysical, a legal assistant with the IRS, a travel agent with SATO and McDonnell Douglas, and a realtor in San Antonio, TX. Nelson is also married to Col. (Dr.) Paul Nelson, USAF and together they have two children.


After New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo requested that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) review passenger rail trains from other countries, the agency plans to order up to 750 gangway cars that will allow for more room for passengers. One city and its subway cars that has been closely reviewed is Toronto, which faced overcrowded subways and introduced spacious new cars nearly five years ago. The trains, which allow passengers to walk between cars or stand on passageways that were once separated by doors, have received positive feedback from riders. The new subway trains, which could start to appear in New York by 2020 or earlier, do not have doors between cars, creating up to 10 percent more space for passengers. These so-called open gangway trains are common in cities like London and Shanghai, but subway systems in the U.S. have not adopted them. American transit officials have had reservations about whether the new design could work on aging subways and whether ridership levels warrant the expense of switching to the new cars. In Boston, subway officials considered the idea for new cars on two lines but decided against it.

The status of the California high-speed rail project will be reviewed on August 29th by the U.S. House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials. The field hearing, which is chaired by U.S. Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA), will take a close look at the scope of the project and how much federal and state support could be required to complete the project. The multi-billion dollar project is the largest in the administration’s High-Speed and Intercity Passenger Rail program, and has received federal funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), as well as state funding from the local cap-and-trade program. Projected cost estimates have fluctuated as the California High-Speed Rail Authority has considered various alignments.

Witnesses for the hearing include:

  • The Honorable Sarah Feinberg, Administrator, Federal Railroad Administration

  • Mr. Dan Richard, Chairman of the Board, California High-Speed Rail Authority

  • Mr. Jim Hartnett, CEO, Caltrain

  • Mr. Stuart Flashman, Attorney, Law Offices of Stuart Flashman

  • Mr. Robbie Hunter, President, State Building & Construction Trades Council of California


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 https://TravelersUnited.org/welcome-narp/

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!


The restoration of passenger rail service in Massachusetts between Boston and the South Coast is taking shape, as the state’s Department of Transportation and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) will host a series of public meetings to discuss the service. The potential service will make use of the existing MBTA Stoughton Commuter Rail Line, but an alternative rail route that could potentially be designed and constructed more quickly is also being considered. Service in the area ended in 1959 and left Taunton, Fall River and New Bedford as the only major cities within 50 miles of Boston without transit access to the City and other communities.

Sound Transit’s light-rail network will be getting one more station at Angel Lake on September 24. The new stop is south of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, and it is expected to add 5,400 daily boardings to the 21-mile passenger rail system. The agency expects to spend $40 million less than the $383 million project budget for the Angle Lake Station and 1.6 miles of elevated track from the airport, including $30,400 in construction cost per garage stall. The Angel Lake Station will also be the last light-rail station to open until 2021 when a mostly tunneled extension from Husky Stadium to the U District, Roosevelt and Northgate stations is to be completed.


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. [Read the full post on the NARP Blog.]


Trains are known for connecting people to and from their destinations, but a new partnership between Sacramento Regional Transit and Sacramento Steps Forward are using trains to connect homeless people to help. The effort focuses on agency workers finding and helping homeless people on trains, at light-rail stations and in homeless camps near rail lines and connecting these people to social services and housing agencies. Homelessness is an important issue for Regional Transit as 2,659 individuals in the Sacramento area are homeless any given night, according to Sacramento Steps Forward’s homeless count in 2015. The RT outreach program is part of a countywide effort – called Common Cents and administered by Sacramento Steps Forward – to effectively end homelessness by 2020.

As passenger train stations continue to phase out old technologies, traditional features of stations are being replaced, such as split-flap displays which lists tracks and times for trains. Newark and New York’s Penn Station are replacing the Solari board, and now Amtrak will be replacing the traditional board with digital displays at 30th Street Station in Pennsylvania. There is no set timetable for the implementation of the new board as plans are still in the design phase.


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.


With the goal of bringing high-speed rail between Dallas and Houston, Dallas officials approved a deal this week with Texas Central Railway. The deal authorizes the Dallas City Council to receive $1.5 million from the company to pay the city’s project permitting costs. Construction for the project won’t begin until the end of 2017 or the beginning of 2018, but when the rail line is complete, it will see passengers traveling between the two cities in 90 minutes. A downtown Dallas station will also allow for connections to DART rail, freeways, and a separate rail line to Fort Worth that is also in development.

Additionally, local officials in Waco, TX are pushing for a stop on the proposed high-speed rail line that will eventually connect cities in Texas and Oklahoma. The Texas Department of Transportation is currently accepting public comments as part of the first phase of the Texas-Oklahoma Passenger Rail Study. The study looks at the feasibility and environmental impact of a new train system with speeds up to 220 mph, in an 850-mile corridor between Laredo and Oklahoma City. Preliminary work has shown that the stretch between San Antonio and Dallas-Fort Worth could operate in the black. The exact route and projected construction costs are not part of this phase of work. But if the Federal Railroad Administration’s review of the feasibility study is favorable, state officials could go on to a design phase that would answer those questions, with an eye toward federal funding.


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 23rd, 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!


It should be common knowledge that the development of passenger rail lines and stations encourage local development and can help boost economies. The development of SunRail’s Poinciana station in Florida is no different, as the transit agency’s $186.9 million Phase 2 South extension is driving developer AV Homes to move forward with plans for a nearby community development. Vacant land, directly north of the Poinciana Sunrail Station, will be rezoned from industrial to residential use for the planned community's more than 400 townhomes and single-family homes. Additionally, SunRail is expecting an economic boom as construction ramps up at other future SunRail stations. Construction on the Tupperware station is beginning this week, and plans for two new shopping centers and $85 million in new apartments are already in the works.

Completion of Detroit’s new streetcar line, known as the QLine, is getting close. Tests are beginning on the tracks with a small motorized inspection car, which will ride on the tracks to check for any obstructions and to ensure the streetcars can make turns safely. Overall, M-1 rail stated that completion of the project is near, with track installation 83 percent complete and station construction 40 percent complete. Officials continue to shoot for early 2017 as the start of passenger operations on the QLine.


Register now for the joint membership meeting for NARP & RailPAC, being held Saturday, September 24th at the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento.

Speakers will include NARP’s Chairman Peter LeCody and President Jim Mathews, Former Assembly Member Roger Dickinson of Sacramento, and Jeff Morales, CEO of the California High Speed Rail Authority. The museum features 21 restored locomotives and railroad cars, some dating back to 1862.


Ski train service will be returning between Grand County ski area and Denver’s Union Station for the 2016-17 ski season. The Winter Park Express, which was removed from service in 2009 and began in 1940, will run only on the weekends. The service was discontinued when Ski Train owner Philip Anschutz closed the business, citing declining profits, the cost of insurance and complexities of passenger service on the 62-mile stretch of rail heavily trafficked by freight trains. But a trial service in March 2015 sold out two weekends of train trips, offering more than 800 $75 round-trip, one-day tickets between Denver and Winter Park. The success of that one-time revival prodded Amtrak and Winter Park to negotiate with track owner Union Pacific to allow regular weekend service during the winter.


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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