Hotline #983

Commuter Train Crash in Hoboken; Accident Places Spotlight on PTC; Penn Station Renovation Set To Begin

Tragic news struck this week in passenger rail, after a New Jersey Transit commuter train crashed into a station in Hoboken Thursday morning. The crash resulted in more than 100 injuries for passengers on the train and people standing on the platform, and in addition to the injuries, one fatality occurred due to falling debris. When the train arrived at the station, it went “over the bumper block, through the depot” and came to rest at the wall right before the station’s waiting area according to a NJ Transit worker who was at the station. The crash comes five years after more than 30 people were injured when a PATH train overran its stop at the same station. NTSB investigators are on scene trying to determine what caused Thursday's crash.


In response to the tragic accident, NARP’s Jim Mathews stated in a press release, “We are saddened to see reports of fatalities in the accident this morning and thank the first responders for their quick action to help those who are injured. The facts of the incident are still largely unknown, and it’s critical to let the investigators do their jobs before we start speculating. Once the cause of today’s collision is identified, NARP will work with local passengers, New Jersey Transit, and federal officials to ensure that the work is done to prevent these kinds of incidents. Taking a commuter train is still one of the safest ways to get to work—but there are investments that can be made to make it even safer.”


As news and updates continued to come out about the Hoboken incident, government officials and passenger rail advocates renewed calls to highlight the importance of safety technology that can help prevent train wrecks. Though the cause of the accident if still unknown (early reports point to operator error), officials are looking closely at positive train control (PTC). The technology, which was not implemented on the NJ Transit train, can automatically slow trains that could be speeding and in risk of an accident. Officials acknowledged that the train was traveling at a high rate of speed, based on eyewitness accounts, but were reluctant to speculate about whether any automated technology, such as PTC, could have prevented the crash.

The New York Times editorial board, among other outlets and advocacy groups, pointed out that Congress originally required PTC to be installed by the end of 2015, but extended the deadline to the end of 2018. This was due to most passenger rail agencies, including NJ Transit, not being able to meet the original deadline as a result of funding, or lack thereof. Congress authorized over $1 billion over five years for deployment of safety technology, including positive train control. And disputes over how to pay for transportation projects in New Jersey have hobbled state and local officials trying to solve their transportation problems. In this they are like many agencies nationwide that have struggled to find adequate funding for regular maintenance and new equipment. The Times notes that this is unlikely to change soon, “because state leaders have been squabbling for months over how to pay for road, rail and other transportation projects.” There are 23 commuter railroads operating in the U.S. Only 30% of commuter locomotives were equipped with PTC at the end of 2015, according to Federal Railroad Administration data.

Nevertheless, NARP, along with other organizations including editorial board of The The New York Times, continue to point out that despite incidents like Hoboken and lack of appropriate funding, travel by rail remains one of the safest modes of transportation available to commuters. A recent study by the American Public Transportation Association revealed that the death rate for people who traveled in cars or light trucks was 17 times higher than for people who used Amtrak or commuter trains nationwide. This is a remarkable statistic that should be remembered by commuters, as well as state and federal officials because it also highlights that train travel could be that much safer if only it were adequately funded.


Register Today For The “A Connected America...The Future Has Begun”

Advocacy Symposium & Meeting October 14 - 16 In Denver!

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. Complete information and agenda for this exciting event is now posted on the event webpage and will be updated regularly as the final planning process continues. Event Registration is NOW open along with a full listing of the available registration options and rates.

Friday’s activities include an evening Welcome Reception in the Main Hall of Denver Union Station. FYI...the Friday daytime tour of the new Denver RTD Rail Lines and Maintenance Facility is now FULL!

Saturday’s Symposium will feature speakers and panels of interest to all advocates, including on the following topics:

  • Moving Ahead With Shared Passenger/Freight Corridors

  • Is Transit-Oriented Development The Answer?

  • Sneak Peek At The Future: U.S. Passenger Rail In 2025 And Beyond

  • Solving the Infrastructure Conundrum: The $300+Billion Elephant In The Room

  • Colorado Regional Challenges And Opportunities

  • Fulfilling High-Speed Rail’s Promise

Representatives from Texas Central Railway will give the lunch keynote address.

NARP business sessions will be held on Sunday morning, following by the wrap-up lunch with Gary DeFrange, CEO - Winter Park Resorts.

Please be aware that due to higher than expected demand, the discounted group rate hotel rooms at the host hotel, the Embassy Suites Denver Downtown, are now sold out. Other category rooms are however available at the Embassy Suites. In addition, there are a number of nearby hotels within walking distance of the Embassy Suites with available rooms and attractive rates. A complete listing of these alternate hotel options is posted on the event web page.


As some public transit systems, including those in Washington, D.C. and San Francisco face maintenance backlogs, budget shortfalls and breakdowns, the Regional Transportation District in Denver has seen great success. The transit system operated for years as a modest bus service, and in the 1990s it added a few rail lines and in 2004, voters in the eight-county region approved an additional 0.4% sales tax to expand the train network, called FasTracks. That new funding dramatically boosted a stream of local tax money already going to transit. Currently, RTD relies on public-private partnerships for much of its construction and maintenance, and its management takes a fiscally conservative approach toward expansion: It only builds what it can afford to operate and maintain for the long term. Based on the agency’s financial practices, RTD is “basically doing everything right,” according to Jeff Brown, who researches public-transit system finances. This isn’t however to say the transit agency is immune to financial issues; with a fiscal 2015 operating budget of $466.7 million, RTD recently lowered its revenue growth projections in coming years to 5% from 8%, which likely will limit future expansion. In addition, budget shortfalls after the recession already forced it to postpone plans to extend rail lines to Boulder.

In New York City, officials revealed the new renovation designs for Penn Station. Empire State Development, the New York MTA, Long Island Rail Road and Amtrak first issued a proposal asking for plans for redevelopment, and Related, Vornado, and Skanska have all provided guarantees to complete the $1.595 billion project. The redevelopment includes the historic midtown Farley Building, as well as a Train Hall and the surrounding office and retail space. The Moynihan Train Hall will include shops and restaurants located under a new skylight on the building’s historic and architecturally dramatic steel trusses. The building will increase floor space 50% from Penn Station, and serve riders on the LIRR, Amtrak and eventually accommodate passengers from Metro-North. A total of nine platforms and 17 tracks will be accessible from the Train Hall. Construction for the project is expected to begin this fall with construction to be completed in December of 2020.

After two weeks of operations, the Cincinnati streetcar has been a success for the city, as well as its riders. Ridership, along with revenue, is higher than city officials first projected, but the Cincinnati Bell Connector still has some issue to resolve before everyone is completely happy. At a transportation committee meeting with city council members, the operators of the streetcar revealed that there are still three issues that need to be resolved: Credit card readers at four of the Cincinnati Bell Connector's 18 stops don't work, there aren't enough cars running on the weekend and the every 15 minutes loop isn't living up to that ambitious time frame. The meeting between the groups was more fact gathering with questions and answers, with council members conveying some frustration that the pay kiosks are hard to operate. Operators also suggested solutions to some of the problems, such as running more cars at peak hours on the weekend, and encourage riders to use a mobile app to pay for rides on the streetcar.


There are still openings for state representatives on the NARP Council of Representatives in several states, including one each in Alabama; Arizona; Delaware; Hawaii; Idaho; Louisiana; Missouri; Nebraska; Nevada; New Jersey; North Carolina; North Dakota: Ohio (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.


In California, the Los Angeles City Council approved a new transit-oriented project near the city’s new Epor Line Station in the Westside. The initiative, which is is the largest project of its kind, will provide 516 housing united, 150,000 feet of retail stories, shared public spaces, and transit-integrating features. In addition, the development will have a multi-modal transportation component, which will mitigate any increased traffic the project will create. The parking plans include 100 car spaces reserved for Expo Line users and over 600 short- and long-term bicycle parking spaces. Some of the spaces will be reserved for a car share program. Others will be reserved for e-vehicle charging. In addition, the developer will work with Metro to provide transit passes for residents at a discount paid for by the development. Despite the positives that the project can bring to the city, the Coalition to Preserve L.A., advocated against it. The group mailed a full-color glossy brochure to Westside residents this summer encouraging them to fight the project.

According to transit advocacy group Lackawanna Commuter Coalition, a new law in New Jersey will not help commuters who rely on public transportation. Currently, the new legislation, which was signed into law by Governor Chris Christie this past week, requires NJ Transit to hold a public hearing when the agency wants to make service cuts for rail or bus service, if the cut creates a gap of more than two hours between the next scheduled train or bus. However, as the Coalition points out, service can be cut for a gap of up to two hours, with no notice to the public. The group contends that new statute puts riders in a worse position than the 1979 law that created NJ Transit, because that law didn't specify a time period which would trigger a hearing.

Following the roof collapse of Buffalo, NY’s downtown Amtrak station, Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) wants to hold a summit in Washington, D.C. to outline possible next steps. The station is the only one between Albany and Buffalo that has not been updated, and the incident showed that funding is needed after the station was closed due to heavy rain that collapsed the roof. At the summit, Sen. Schumer wants to hear answers on if a new Amtrak station should be build in Buffalo, and where, as well as how the new station would be funded. As part of the summit, Sen. Schumer has invited representatives from Amtrak, the City of Buffalo, the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation, and Rep. Brian Higgins to meet to develop a comprehensive plan and funding strategy for a new rail station. Schumer’s call for action comes two days after Higgins called on the NY State Department of Transportation to conduct a study for a new station in Canalside or at the Central Terminal. Higgins noted that $25 million was included earlier this year for a Buffalo train station in a transportation program for capital improvements. He wants $1 million to $2 million released now to study alternative sites.


You Win! And So Do We! Benefits Enhance Your Membership And Support Our Work!

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!

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.

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.


The majority of the City Council in Boston is now favoring support for the North-South Rail Link, thanks to city councillors Frank Baker and Ayanna Pressley. The NSRL line has been a stalled project under Governor Charlie Baker, who would prefer to the $1.6 billion South Station expansion (SSX) project, paired with reinvestment in the existing core system. But the NSRL line would connect North Station and South Station with a mile-long tunnel, allowing for easy movement across the region’s 138 stations and linking lines north of Boston to Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, the busiest passenger rail line in the country. And though the NSRL line would provide many benefits to the greater Boston area, it also faces many challenges with a governor that would prefer the SSX project, as well as a boom in construction in the city that is limiting the ability for tunneling. In addition, should the SSX project moved forward, it could be the end for the NSRL. Under the SSX proposal, New England’s second-largest transit hub would gain seven new tracks and relocate to the nearby parcel owned by the U.S. Postal Service along the Fort Point Channel.

According to officials from the Brightline passenger rail service in Florida, the project’s first leg is more than 65 percent complete, and is on track for a service start date in mid-2017. The first segment will run from West Palm Beach to Miami, and the first trainset is set to arrive this fall. In addition, the multi-modal transportation hub, MiamiCentral, continues to be developed on the city’s former train station, and work on the office tower has begun as well. The hub and urban development will serve the 90,000 residents who call downtown Miami home, bringing much-needed transportation, food, retail and residential options to the area. According to the company, a status report on the downtown construction includes:

  • Over the past week, more than 80 pieces of structural steel were installed and more than 140 tons of concrete Florida I-Beams were placed by more than 350 workers.

  • Installation of the massive pre-cast beams is more than 50% completed.

  • Steel installation for 2 MiamiCentral office tower, which serves as structural foundation for the main station and office tower, has begun. The core for 2 MiamiCentral is 86 feet high.

  • Cores for two residential towers at final elevation are nearing completion; then vertical construction begins.


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.

Comments