Republican Party Takes Control of All Three Branches of Government; Voters Approve 69% of Public Transit Measures; FRA Rejects Drug Testing Petition; SEPTA Strike Ends
November 11, 2016
Following a contentious election, American voters have given control of the federal government to the Republican Party, which has taken the White House and retained control of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. Given the disparity between Donald Trump’s ambitious (but vague) infrastructure proposals and the 2016 Republican Party Platform, there is a lot of work NARP staff will need to do to map out a strategic plan for securing passenger-friendly policy in the 115th Congress.
However, even at this early date, we are able to report on some transportation-specific developments that came out of the election results.
TRANSIT AT THE BALLOT BOX:
Regardless of your party affiliations, November 8th was a great day for transportation funding measures. The American Public Transportation Association reports that Americans approved, 69 percent, or 33 of 48 local and statewide public transit measures. All together, those 48 ballot measures represented roughly $200 billion in public investment in transit.
Some of the big winners include:
Bay Area voters approved $3.5 billion for the BART commuter rail system.
Los Angeles County voters passed a sales tax to help LA Metro fund its $120 billion mobility plan, which includes expansion of the rail system.
Washington: Seattle voters approved a $54 billion transit package to fund light rail, bus rapid transit, and commuter train service.
Colorado: Pueblo County voters approved Measure 1A, part of which will fund work to continue and extend Amtrak’s Southwest Chief service.
Virginia: Voters in Arlington and Fairfax approved $58.8 million and $120 million, respectively, in bond measures to upgrade Metro.
Maryland: Prince George’s County voters approved bond measures that will help fund the Purple Line light-rail project.
Georgia: Atlanta voters approved a half-penny increase for the MARTA commuter rail service.
You can find a full list of transportation ballots at the Eno Center for Transportation.
President-Elect Trump’s Infrastructure Proposal
Trump’s campaign promised a trillion dollar infrastructure plan that will rely heavily on private funding, incentivized by an investment tax credit. Trump officials argue this would largely be revenue neutral, with tax credits offset by the additional tax revenue from the companies and workers participating in building these projects. The bad news for passenger rail and transit? This funding structure works best for projects like toll roads and airports.
House Speaker Paul Ryan has also proposed paying for a big infrastructure push by eliminating entitlement programs, such as block grants to Medicaid and food stamps.
The Trump campaign is indicating that it will move an infrastructure proposal within the first 100 days of his presidency.
You can read additional updates on Tuesday’s voting results, including senate races, on NARP’s blog.
End of the Year Donations for a Connected America
As we enter the last few weeks of 2016, we have been looking back at NARP’s accomplishments this past year. The big programs that stand out are Gulf Coast Rail Restoration, engaging the Surface Transportation Board’s ruling on On Time Performance, and ramping up the grassroots efforts for a Daily Cardinal.
Needless to say, we have been busy! But we cannot accomplish these goals and many others around the US and take them to the finish line without your continued support. NARP wants to make sure that your legacy of “A Connected America” becomes reality.
You can help by making your year-end donation today! It’s easy to do – just log on to your NARP Account and click “Get Involved” then “Donate.”
Does your company match donations? If you’re not sure, check with your Human Resources Department. Once you make your donation, all you have to do is fill out a form and NARP will receive matching funds from 2-4 times your donation amount depending on your company’s policy.
You can also make the ultimate symbolic donation to NARP: consider donating your old car, RV, or boat! It’s easy and a great way to give! Just go to www.narprail.org/vehicle. All the information you need is right there.
Thank you for your support!
In other cities, rail projects were not so fortunate to receive the support needed to move forward.
In Virginia Beach, the light-rail project was opposed by 57 percent of voters. State officials previously offered $155 million to help fund the proposed $243 million light-rail extension from Norfolk to Town Center in Virginia Beach, but following the results, Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne told state officials to stop all work on the project. The city must also repay the state $20 million for the light-rail corridor that Virginia helped purchase. However, Layne said he’s giving the city six months to explore other mass-transit alternatives that may be suitable along the line, like Bus Rapid Transit.
In Detroit, voters opposed a regional transit tax that would have provided millions of dollars in support over 20 years for public transit services. The tax proposal would have also provided help in funding for the Detroit to Ann Arbor commuter rail line.
In important safety and regulatory news for railroads, both passenger and freight, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), rejected a request by the railroad industry to postpone required drug testing for more than 36,000 employees who repair rail lines. The rejection comes at a time when it was revealed that about eight percent of workers involved in rail accidents this year have tested positive for drug use, including marijuana, cocaine, ecstasy, benzodiazepine, OxyContin, and morphine, according to internal federal documents. This percentage is the highest since 1987, when the FRA first began keeping records. The request by the industry asked that the FRA extend its drug and alcohol testing deadline, set to take effect in June, by one year. Previously, drug testing has been limited to about 120,000 “safety sensitive” workers whose performance puts lives at risk. The train-repair workers and about 70 percent of the more than 36,000 workers who maintain track beds and railroad right-of-ways have not been required to undergo the same testing.
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; Missouri; Nebraska; Nevada; 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.
On Monday, officials for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) and the Transport Workers Union announced a tentative agreement that effectively ended the employee strike. Overall, the employee strike, which impacted bus and rail transit services in Philadelphia, lasted one week and caused massive congestion for morning and evening rush hours. The strikes also resulted in packed and delayed regional rail service, which was the only passenger rail available over the past week. Nearly 4,700 union workers went on strike over wages and pension benefits, both of which SEPTA officials say have increased in a fair deal.
Due in part to increased interest in Americans traveling domestically and visiting national parks in the U.S., Amtrak has introduced 25 new vacation packages for travelers. The focal point of the new routes is the “Grand National Parks” option, which includes a round trip from Chicago to Yellowstone, Yosemite and the Grand Canyon. Throughout the 13-day trip, passengers can ride on the California Zephyr from Chicago to San Francisco/Emeryville, the Coast Starlight from Emeryville to Los Angeles, and the Southwest Chief from Los Angeles to the Grand Canyon and back to Chicago. Additionally, the introduction of the new packages gives travelers 350 different itineraries in 46 continental states to choose from.
Four years after Hurricane Sandy made landfall in the U.S., working its way up the east coast to New York City, Progressive Railroading provided a look at how the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) is still working through repairs from the damage caused. Of MTA’s services, the New York City Transit (NYCT) received $4.5 billion in damages from Hurricane Sandy in areas of lower Manhattan, Staten Island, the Rockaways, and in Brooklyn at the Coney Island rail yards and maintenance facilities. Nine of NYCT’s 14 tunnels were flooded with saltwater which damaged or ruined walls, tracks, switches, signals, controls, and power and communication cables. As repairs kicked off, MTA officials also decided that repairs to the transit system should exceed its pre-Sandy status and be strengthened to help protect against future infrastructure damage caused by other natural disasters. As a result of the new effort, NYCT established a Sandy Recovery and Resiliency Division to coordinate and oversee the restoration of the nine tunnels.
Save These Dates!
Spring 2017 Advocacy Summit & Meeting - Washington, DC
Sunday, April 23 to Wednesday, April 26, 2017
NARP’s ‘Action Day On The Hill’ & Congressional Reception – Tuesday, April 25, 2017
Host Hotel: Sheraton Silver Spring (MD)
NARP’s 50th Anniversary Celebration – Chicago, IL
Thursday, November 2 to Sunday, November 5, 2017
Four days packed with an exciting array of presentations, speakers, exhibits, tours, and events
Celebrating NARP’s accomplishments over the past 50 years and looking ahead to the future of passenger rail in the United States
Host Hotel: Millennium Knickerbocker
Following the election of Donald Trump, rail advocates along the Gulf Coast urge the new president-elect to make reintroducing Amtrak to the area an infrastructure priority. Five coastal states and a federal working group have been working to finalize a feasibility report on resuming Amtrak service between New Orleans and Orlando. The Gulf Coast has been without passenger rail since Hurricane Katrina hit in August 2005. A preliminary report was completed in September, and a final report is expected within the next six weeks. The final report will include estimates for costs on reintroducing Amtrak along the coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.
Additionally, high-speed rail advocates in California are asking if Trump’s election to the presidential office will be a benefit to the state’s rail project. In his campaign to the office, Trump often spoke of his support for strengthening the transportation infrastructure in the U.S., including the country’s rail system.
A historic World Series win for the Chicago Cubs led to a record-breaking day for the Chicago Transit Authority, which carried a record-breaking 1.1 million-plus passengers to the victory parade on CTA trains and subways.
The November 4th celebration parade for the Cubs was the busiest day the CTA has ever had on its rails, handily beating out the old record set on October 28, when -- you guessed it -- over 900,000 people rode CTA trains for Game 3 of the World Series.
In order to achieve this feat, CTA ran extra trains on seven of its eight rail lines throughout the day, carrying a fifth of the estimated 5 million parade attendees.
The new Niagara Falls, NY Station, which will see Amtrak trains travelling through it, is the first new station to open in New York State since Albany-Rensselaer opened in 2002. And four months after the City of Niagara Falls hosted an open house for the public to view the new Niagara Falls station, Amtrak and the city have finally reached an agreement for the lease of the station in order for operations to begin in the coming weeks. The lease agreement is an important step in the use of the station, as city officials had not finalized these details with Amtrak before building the $43 million station over the past 10 years. The new 20-year agreement will lease Amtrak 29,360 square feet of the Niagara Falls station, and Amtrak will also cover 63 percent of the operating costs, including personnel and maintenance. The facility has been specifically designed to accommodate the efficient inspection of U.S. bound passengers on Amtrak’s Maple Leaf from Toronto, and it is hoped that the current two hours required for these inspections can be reduced in the future.
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.
Following a federal investigation of NJ Transit’s practices, newly appointed executive director Steven Santoro stated the “findings are unacceptable” before federal officials. Overall, the report found several areas in which NJ Transit has violated safety regulations. Violations include inadequate testing of train brakes, missing on-board emergency tools and working fire extinguishers, trains stopping too close to each other, and NJ Transit workers using cell phones at inappropriate times. In response to the new findings, the agency began conducting unannounced inspections and has increased penalties for workers, including longer suspensions, among other measures. In addition, Santoro vowed to correct and improve NJ Transit’s performance.
As part of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s (WMATA) revitalization of Metro, the transit agency ordered several hundred new cars to replace older cars that have been breaking down. The influx of new cars from Kawasaki went according to plan at first, with Metro receiving 16 cars each month earlier this year. However, delays from the manufacturer led to a backlog, and Metro is now receiving 20 cars per month and is unable to keep up with testing and implementing the new cars. If Metro were to accept 20 cars each month, Metro’s oldest cars, the 1000 Series, could be retired as early as September 2017. The target date, however, is December 2017 to comply with National Transportation Safety Board recommendations to remove the oldest cars from service because they don't meet crashworthy standards. Overall, nearly 60 percent of delays in Metro’s most recent reporting were caused by railcar issues. Metro has ordered a total of 748 of the new rail cars.
In an effort to pay for a $6 billion plan to build a new transit system in Middle Tennessee, the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce is looking at seven different ideas. The plans were discussed this week as part of the chamber’s Moving Forward transit initiative, which calls for a 25-year plan to develop commuter rail on a new Northwest Corridor from Nashville to Clarksville and enhanced services on the existing Music City Star rail line from Wilson to Davidson counties. Ideas that have been discussed to help generate revenue for the project include sales taxes, property taxes, wheel taxes, tourist services taxes, parking taxes, local gasoline taxes, and land value capture taxes.
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, firstname.lastname@example.org, 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.