House Delays Increase in Funding; FRA Plans for Amtrak Tunnel in Baltimore: NARP Continues Fight For OTP; Dan Akroyd Helps NARP Share Importance of Rail
December 9, 2016
Hotline #993: House Delays Increase in Funding; FRA Plans For Amtrak Tunnel in Baltimore; NARP Continues Fight For OTP; Dan Aykroyd Helps NARP Share Importance of Rail
Additional funding for transportation infrastructure under the FAST Act will have to wait until at least the end of April, 2017. Funding for transportation related projects was supposed to see an influx of $2.4 billion with the start of the 2017 fiscal year. However, Republican House leaders moved forward with a continuing resolution that would see spending levels maintained from the 2016 fiscal year through April of next year. State governments banking on increased funding are now likely to approve fewer projects, while businesses and workers will miss out on new contracts until the spring construction season is already in swing.
Despite stagnant funding levels, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) continues planning to replace the Baltimore & Potomac Amtrak tunnel that runs under West Baltimore on the North East Corridor (NEC). The FRA now estimates a $4 billion price to replace the 143-year-old NEC bottleneck with a new and wider tunnel, accommodating more than twice the trains at higher speeds. The FRA has looked at several potential routes, and is currently interested in developing the tunnel under several Baltimore-area neighborhoods: Reservoir Hill, Penn North, and Sandtown-Winchester. The revised plan has drastically cut the number of homes displaced to 22. Community members’ previously stressed concerns that the trains would be disruptive due noise and vibrations has buried the tunnel an additional hundred feet underground. The FRA is accepting public comment through late December before final approval.
NARP Keeps Up Legal Fight for On-Time Performance
NARP and its partners on Tuesday urged an appeals court in St. Louis to reject freight railroads’ challenges to federal on-time performance rules, the Association’s latest salvo in its continuing legal fight on behalf of the nearly 40 million Americans who ride trains every year. The brief cited decades of legal precedent, supporting statements from the congressional members who drafted the section of the 2008 rail law now under attack, and regulations dating back to 1973.
In its brief, NARP and its partners, declared that the court should act for three reasons: Congress gave the Surface Transportation Board (STB) the authority, in law, to make the rule; the Board considered public input while making the rule, and; this makes the Board’s move reasonable, and not “arbitrary or capricious.”
In NARP’s original filing with the same court in September, President & CEO Jim Mathews warned that if the freights were to prevail in overturning the Board’s ability to enforce the standards in the 2008 rail bill “on-time performance of intercity passenger rail in the United States will be reduced or eliminated.”
The freights’ core argument in this case is that when earlier federal courts invalidated the metrics and standards in Section 207 of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 (“PRIIA”), it had the knock-on effect of invalidating Section 213 as well, which lets STB define what constitutes on-time performance and to enforce meeting the standards associated with it.
Like many others, Mathews calls this argument a red herring.
“First freight railroads argued that forcing them to dispatch so that Amtrak’s trains run reasonably on-time imposed an undue burden on them– even though in many parts of the country the ‘burden’ constitutes a single train each day on a system running hundreds of freight trains, and even though these ‘burdened’ railroads never exercised their right under the 1973 law to petition the STB for a waiver from their burden,” Mathews said.
“Next the freight railroads argued to the Supreme Court that Amtrak didn’t have the legal authority to decide what ‘on-time’ means for its passenger trains, and that only the Surface Transportation Board had that ability,” Mathews continued. “Then when STB’s issued a rule in February determining what “on-time” means– a rule that the freight railroads themselves petitioned STB to make – didn’t go their way, they changed their minds and decided that STB doesn’t have the authority either.”
By contrast, the Board and the Justice Dept. asserted to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in November that STB has the authority from Congress to conduct a rulemaking under PRIIA and it did so reasonably in selecting an on-time performance standard that takes into account timeliness at all stations and not just the end points. Because of that, STB says, the court should uphold the OTP rule.
NARP members are telling the Eighth Circuit the same thing we told the STB in February when it contemplated changing the OTP rule: All Stations OTP (ASOTP) is utterly reasonable and downright essential for passengers, states and cities served. Congress intended the OTP standard to be “All Points” all along for a variety of reasons that remain important and valid.
The millions of American rail travelers who NARP represents rely on – and pay for – reliable, timely and regular service. They deserve that service regardless of where they get on or where they get off, and both regulators and lawmakers have agreed with that position for decades.
Abandoning all-stations on-time performance effectively tells some 90% of Amtrak riders that their service quality does not count, a situation that was recognized 42 years ago as unsupportable. The Interstate Commerce Commission said in 1974 that “The public should be able to rely upon train schedules at intermediate stops as well as the ‘final terminus’ of a route.” And of course Congress expressed its commitment to on-time performance at all stations as a matter of law in 1973 and again in 2008.
Ignoring OTP at intermediate stations – measured today using the All-Stations OTP (ASOTP) metric – could permanently hobble Amtrak from taking action on behalf of the 65% of its passengers in 24 states who get on and off at an intermediate station. Substituting endpoint measurements would mean that some 90% of Amtrak stations’ OTP would never be measured. For states within the orbit of the Eighth Circuit court, between 55% and 89% of passengers never set foot in an “endpoint” station – 621,312 people in 2015 alone.
OTP at route end points is irrelevant to most passengers. Three out of every four passengers using Amtrak’s trains system-wide depart from and arrive at stations between end point cities. The percent of passengers traveling between intermediate points exceeds 50% on three-fourths of Amtrak’s 47 routes. Intermediate stations’ ridership is an important statistic throughout the system, and is significant on short, medium and long distance routes.
Whether filing an amicus brief in the Supreme Court, making regulatory filings with the Surface Transportation Board or arguing in federal district court, NARP remains firmly committed to the idea that all paying passengers, including those in “flyover country,” deserve on-time service as a matter of common sense as well as law.
As high-speed rail plans and initiatives continue to develop, there were several notable updates on HSR projects this past week in areas throughout the U.S.
The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation released its proposals for high-speed rail service from Richmond to Washington, D.C. The 123-mile line would help passengers connect to the Northeast Corridor from D.C. to Boston, and the Southeast Corridor which connects south from Richmond through Atlanta to Jacksonville, FL. The DRPT’s plan was broken down for each city or region that would be connected to the HSR line, which include Northern Virginia, Fredericksburg, Central Virginia, and Richmond. Another city, Ashland, is also due to receive a recommendation for HSR service, but the DRPT recommended an additional study for capacity improvements in the Ashland region. The additional study would be designed to allow for additional coordination and time to identify a preferred alternative for this area. The DRPT will now present the recommendation to the Commonwealth Transportation Board, which will then make a recommendation on how to proceed to the Federal Railroad Administration.
California High-Speed Rail Authority officials took an opportunity last week to meet with local residents of Burbank and Glendale to discuss the rail project. Two separate meetings allowed for the CAHSRA to discuss how a 12-mile section of the 800-mile HSR system would affect the area from Los Angeles Union Station to Hollywood Burbank Airport, which will have a station built next to it. Overall, the agency discussed efforts to minimize the train’s affect through urban environments in both cities, which includes working with both cities and other local agencies. For example, officials are still determining if the station platform at the airport will be constructed underground or at surface level. In addition, CAHSRA wants to connect the two stations by primarily using the railroad right-of-way currently used by Metro, Metrolink, Amtrak and freight operators. Another topic of discussion was the state agency’s proposal for new grade separations that would most likely run tracks over streets - though grade separations would not likely start until 10 to 15 years from now.
Texas Central Partners appoints new CEO, Carlos Aguilar. The previous CEO, Tim Keith, has been appointed president of the company. The change in CEO reflects the next stage in which the project has approached. With experience and industrial and infrastructure construction, Aguilar will oversee the the project as it moves from development to planning, engineering and construction of high-speed rail between Dallas and Houston.
Dan Aykroyd Helps NARP Share The Importance of Passenger Rail
Over the past several months, NARP has been creating a video to help share the continued, as well as growing, importance of passenger rail and connecting Americans to rail service. The increasing demand for rail service in this country is trending upward, and it is evident through rail projects in California, Florida, Texas and elsewhere. Once these projects are completed, they will change and influence how Americans travel, and we wanted to capture the benefits of this change in a new and educational video.
For the development of the video, we collaborated with and utilized as a spokesperson, actor, comedian and rail enthusiast, Dan Aykroyd. He helps us share the travel, economic, and environmental benefits of passenger rail services, such as the national Amtrak network, light rail service in Charlotte, NC, or upgraded rail lines in Salt Lake City, UT.
With the completion of the video, NARP members are welcomed to not only watch and enjoy it, but to help NARP share it with others so they too know the positive outcomes passenger rail generates. Whether it's friends and family, or local government and transportation officials, you can help spread the word.
The video is on the NARP website at the following link, hosted through YouTube. So please take a few minutes to watch, enjoy and share.
North Seattle eagerly awaits an expanded Link Light Rail system, with a promise to change the dynamic of a geographically cloistered city. On the flip side, local businesses are also awaiting the line to open, which will help connect them with customers in neighborhoods that need economic growth. Steve Heim, the general manager for Northgate Mall stated, “What we’re hoping for is a person that lives, eats and plays in this area.” In other areas, such as Roosevelt, mixed-use construction projects are already in development block after block in anticipation of new business advance of the rail line. Despite the eagerness for the line to open, business will have to wait as stations are still under construction; the line is not expected to open until 2021.
Over the years, there has been significant discussion about restoring passenger rail service in Western Pennsylvania. Following significant stakeholder support, Pennsylvania’s House Transportation Committee adopted Resolution 1103 on Oct. 24, 2016: “To conduct a study of the feasibility of providing two additional passenger rail trips daily between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg.” Until 1969, 12 daily Pennsylvania Railroad (after 1968, Penn Central) intercity trains connected Pittsburgh eastward. By 2005, service had been reduced to one daily train: Amtrak’s current Pennsylvanian. But in 2014, the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership produced a report advocating increased rail service, and requested that Amtrak provide PennDOT with a high-level cost estimate for the addition of one to two trains a day to and from Harrisburg. To date, there has been no answer to this February 2015 request, says PennDOT. Despite the silence, several groups have submitted letters expressing their support for additional passenger rail service in the region. Allegheny County’s Congress of Neighboring Communities, Pittsburgh’s Green Building Alliance, the Greater Pittsburgh Hotel Association, AARP Pennsylvania, Visit Pittsburgh and more threw their weight behind the idea. The Committee will revisit this resolution at the start of the 2017 legislative session.
End of the Year Donations Support 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 hard work for “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”; by sending a check to NARP, 505 Capitol Ct, NE, Suite 300, Washington, DC 20002 or by calling the NARP office at 202-408-8362!
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 an effort to reduce congestion in Southern Nevada, the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada’s board of directors approved a $1.9 million contract for the development of a plan for public transit. The plan will specifically focus on “high capacity transit” and will include a route for light rail that would run from McCarran International Airport, the Strip and downtown Las Vegas. As part of the planning, transit experts will examine and compare transit developments in peer cities to help determine which transit systems will be most appropriate for Southern Nevada. Peer cities include Los Angeles, Denver, Salt Lake City, Phoenix, San Diego and Orlando. The study, which is being conducted by Nelson/NYGAARD Consulting, is expected to be completed by the middle of 2018.
In a 5-2 vote, the Orange County Board of Commissioners in North Carolina approved an effort to help provide $40 million more in local funding to support the Durham-Orange light rail project. The current cost of the line is $1.87 billion, and not all funding for the project has been established. GoTriangle officials have a $254 million state funding gap for the 17-mile light-rail line from UNC to N.C. Central University in Durham. Officials have also asked Durham to help find up to $135 million over 10 years and the regional Metropolitan Planning Organization for up to $20 million. To gain additional funding from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), GoTriangle must show local support for at least 30 percent of the project’s cost in its engineering application due December 31. FTA grants could pay 50 percent of the project, but the state set a 10 percent cap, leaving Durham and Orange to cover the remaining 40 percent.
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)
Room reservations will be available starting in early January 2017
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
The December 6th arrival of the first Amtrak train to serve Niagara Falls, NY’s new train station was met with applause by local city officials and rail advocates. Some of the passengers who arrived at the the International Train Station and Intermodal Transportation Center on the Toronto to New York City Maple Leaf were slightly confused about the celebration, but the arrival of the first train was a special moment for the city. Minor finishing touches are still being completed on the station complex and the City of Niagara Falls is still searching for tenants for 4,000 square feet of available retail space. Officials are also looking forward to both residents and visitors exploring the Underground Railroad Heritage Center Museum housed in the adjacent 1863 Custom House building.
The China Railway Rolling Stock Corp. (CRRC), the world’s largest rail transportation equipment provider, is planning to develop a plant at the Fort Edward Industrial Park in New York. The Chinese company wants to establish a plant in the U.S. in order to secure contracts with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) in the state. The MTA, which operates commuter rail lines from the Lower Hudson Valley to the eastern tip of Long Island, has already issued a request for proposals for the contract, which includes an initial order of 285 cars with options for the purchase of an additional 1,260. Submissions are due Dec. 15, though the deadline could be extended. This order included the 750 cars that Gov. Andrew Cuomo noted would have open-end designs for easy movement from car to car. If approved by state and local regulators, the CRRC project would involve up to $60 million in investment, and create an estimated 150 construction jobs and at least 200 permanent positions at the 125,000-square-foot plant.
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.
It is great news that ridership for the Hoosier State Train has increased over the past year, along with revenue. In September 2016, the rail line saw an increase of 46 percent over the same period in 2015. The Indiana Department of Transportation even saw an 80 percent increase in revenue for a month. Yet despite these gains and increased demand for the Hoosier State Train, there are no plans to increase service or reduce travel times. Though increased service is a vision that state officials have for the future, the current rail infrastructure would need upgrades to handle increased traffic, as well as trains traveling at higher speeds.
In-service testing of Amtrak’s new Viewliner II Dining Car #68001, the ‘Annapolis’. occurred this past week, when the car was first used in revenue service on the northbound Silver Meteor from Miami to New York City on December 5th. This testing was a planned part of Amtrak’s acceptance program for the new cars. Assuming all goes well with such in-service testing and the overall acceptance process, it is expected that additional new dining cars will be delivered by manufacturer CAF starting in January.
Amtrak continues to make travel with your pets easier. This week the passenger rail agency included the Vermonter as part of Amtrak’s pets program. Customers can now travel will their small-sized cats and dogs on the train, which travels between Vermont and Washington, D.C. The expansion of the program has been a contributing factor in Amtrak’s customer and revenue growth over the last fiscal year. Since the program started in October of last year, more than 15,000 pets and owners have traveled Amtrak routes, according to the agency. In addition, Amtrak has reported that over $400,000 in direct pet ticket sales and more than $1 million in overall revenue has been generated through the pets program.
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.