Hotline #979

High-Speed Rail Projects Move Forward; New Orleans Transit System Slowly Returns Post-Katrina, Winter Park Express In High Demand

Options for high-speed rail have received some significant attention over the past week thanks for a major announcement from Amtrak for new Acela trains, a federal hearing on the status of the high-speed rail project in California, and a trade agreement between Maryland and Japan. All three highlighted that there is continued, as well as growing, interest to pursue and develop high-speed rail systems throughout the country.

Last week, Amtrak announced its investment for the next generation of high-speed trainsets on Amtrak’s higher-speed service in the Northeast Corridor. The new trains will be manufactured in partnership with Alstom, who will produce 28 trainsets that “will provide our customers with the mobility and experience of the future,” according to outgoing Amtrak President and CEO Joe Boardman. As part of the announcement, Amtrak also released a nearly four-minute video to highlight what riders can see and experience on the new Avelia Liberty trains. Some of the notable features of the trains include:

  • Travel speeds over 160 mph

  • Active tilting technology for trains around curves

  • Smoother ride

  • Upgraded food cars

  • Personal outlets, USB ports and reading lights at seats

In addition, the new trainsets will bring an increase of 40 percent to the size of Amtrak’s fleet, which will allow for service to be offered every half hour between D.C. and New York City at peak hours.

Critically, significant improvements will have to be made to NEC track infrastructure to allow Amtrak to utilize the Avelia Liberty’s full potential. Members of Congress have already signaled they are committed to ensuring that this infrastructure investment is made, though there are no specific proposals that would provide sufficient funding for the projects needed to allow the Avelia Liberty trainsets to reach their top speed of 186 mph.

A hearing was held by the House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials regarding California’s high-speed rail project and its current status, as well as its future. The project drew both criticism and praise from witnesses, which included California High-Speed Rail Authority Chairman Dan Richard, Federal Railroad Administrator Sarah Feinberg, Caltrain Chief Executive Officer Jim Hartnett, attorney Stuart Flashman and State Building and Construction Trades Council of California President Robbie Hunter. A notable concern was about the first segment of the line, which will run from San Jose to Central Valley farmland, and the lack of a complete plan to connect the LA and San Francisco. Despite the critics, Richard noted that the project doing well, and that the state’s new business plan, released earlier this year, said the project had enough sources of money from bonds, federal grants and state greenhouse gas fees to build a $21-billion line from San Jose to a point somewhere near the small agricultural town of Wasco, before continuing on with new money to more populated destinations.

California’s state legislature also approved legislation authorizing Governor Jerry Brown to spend $1.1 billion in high-speed rail bonds to help electrify the Caltrain system in the San Francisco Bay Area, altering existing statutes to allow electrification projects to proceed prior to the launch of the state’s high-speed rail project.

The Japanese government has pledged $2 million to support the feasibility study of a magnetic levitation train between Baltimore and Washington, D.C. The contribution comes after Maryland Governor Larry Hogan visited Japan in 2015, and saw the maglev trains up close. Following the visit, Gov. Hogan has explored the possibility of developing a maglev train that will carry passengers up to 350 mph. The agreement with Japan was signed by Gov. Hogan and Ambassador Kenichiro Sasae, and it made Maryland the third state to sign such an agreement with Japan. Japan's $2 million pledge builds upon nearly $28 million in federal grants secured for environmental and engineering studies.


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!


A new report from Ride New Orleans, a transit advocacy group, revealed that the city’s public transit system is only starting to recover from Hurricane Katrina 11 years ago. The Regional Transit Authority (RTA) and its private manager, Transdev, has returned service to more than 50 percent of the its pre-storm capacity through the addition of new buses, but overall, the city sees challenges in providing access to residents living in more impoverished areas throughout New Orleans. RTA however, is working to hire a consultant to devise a long-term strategic plan for the city, which includes the new streetcar that will begin at the end of the year.

CRRC, a chinese rail car manufacturer, celebrated the “topping off” ceremony of its new $95 million plant in Springfield, MA. The ceremony included CRRC and MBTA officials, along with Governor Charlie Baker, and union steelworkers who hoisted the ceremonial last piece of steel into place with the construction process currently about 60 days ahead of schedule. Following the celebration, CRRC announced that it will begin hiring workers for the facility in October, with plans to send new hires to China for advanced training in February. Work on the plant, which will employ 150 workers, is expected to be completed by the fall of 2017. The first rail cars are scheduled to be delivered in 2018.


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.


After the Minnesota Legislature declined to approve $135 million in state funding to support the Southwest Corridor light rail project, the Metropolitan Council, Hennepin County and other Twin Cities area counties agreed to pull together to bridge the $144.5 million gap. To cover the funding for the $1.86 billion, 14.5 mile line, Hennepin County committed an extra $20.5 million to the project, raising its contribution to $185 million, while other counties agreed to match that amount. The line would run from downtown Minneapolis to Eden Prairie, with 15 stops. The project's environmental impact statement has already been finished, and orders for light rail cars could be placed as soon as this fall. Planners hope to open in 2021.

Following the announcement that Amtrak would resume service for the Winter Park Express train on weekends, connecting Denver and Winter Park ski area, sales of tickets were off to a strong start. Overall, Amtrak sold approximately 3,300 tickets, almost a quarter of all the tickets available for between January 7 and March 26. There were initial concerns about sales, but the early results are positive. Amtrak, Winter Park and rail owner Union Pacific spent 18 months negotiating to revive the historic ski train that ran between Denver and the ski area from 1940 to 2009.


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 available hotel options is posted on the Event web page. Thank you for your patience as we work to accommodate everyone’s housing needs!


Government officials and federal railroad regulators gathered in Old Lyme, CT to discuss the possibility of building a 30-mile bypass for Amtrak Acela trains between Old Saybrook and Rhode Island. The Federal Railroad Administration is currently studying how to prepare the Northeast Corridor to accommodate millions of additional riders projected over the next several decades, but only the bypass proposal has generated thousands of complaint letters and emails. In addition the federal officials, more than 500 local residents gathered to hear the roundtable discussion and voice their concerns about the new project. Overall, the project was met with harsh criticism. U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal stated that “It's unfeasible, unworkable and unnecessary. The resources are simply not going to be appropriated for this.”

After its first full month of service, the new Expo Line extension has not been able to live up to the ideals of on-time commutes. According to a review of Metropolitan Transportation Authority data by the LA Times, the 15.2-mile Expo Line has been the least timely route in the Los Angeles County rail network. The Expo Line has also experienced crowded cars and packed platforms - growing pains that underscore the challenges Metro faces as its rail system expands. More than 18 miles of track have been opened in the last six months, with 17 more miles slated to open within the next decade. Despite the timeliness drawbacks and major crowds, weekday trips have risen by 40% and weekend trips have soared by more than half as commuters and beachgoers seek an alternative to driving.


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.


Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) President and Executive Director Gary Thomas was recognized by The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) as the Outstanding Public Transportation Manager of the Year. Thomas has been with DART for almost 20 years and received the award based on “a proven track record for advancing the public transportation industry; demonstrating ability toward responsible, long-range planning; illustrating a disciplined approach toward sustainable growth and expansion; and embracing innovative uses of technology, resources and collaboration to make public transit more accessible.”

Passenger rail developers are moving forward with construction of a $35 million multi-modal station and hotel in Moline, IL in confidence that passenger rail service between the city and Chicago will resume in the future. The station will be known as “The Q” and the industrial interior of the century-old O'Rourke Building will morph into an extended-stay hotel, restaurants and shopping. Illinois is releasing nearly $5 million for this part of the project, but developers still need Illinois to trigger $177 million to restore Amtrak service between Chicago and Moline. However, there is no timetable for service, but 2018 is their best guess.


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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