Hotline #1,002: NARP Pushes Back on Attack on Caltrain Electrification; Trump Discusses HSR at Airline Meeting; Texas Central Partners Reach New Milestones
February 10, 2017
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To counter attacks on high-speed rail by California GOP members in a letter to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, NARP President Jim Mathews wrote Chao supporting the Caltrain Electrification Project and highlighting the job-creating power of investing in high-speed rail.
“[T]he Peninsula Corridor Electrification Project… [provides] a critical alternative to 65,000 daily rail commuters along the heavily congested U.S. 101 freeway,” wrote Mathews. “By thinking comprehensively about how to build a 21st century transportation network, local officials were able to secure more than $1.3 billion in local funds for the Peninsula electrification (the project is currently waiting on a full funding agreement for a $647 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration’s Core Capacity program).”
Foes are asking Chao to delay approval of grant money for the electrification of the Caltrain system -- a backdoor effort to oppose the high-speed rail line in the state. All 18 GOP members of California’s congressional delegation signed the letter to Chao, requesting a hold until a full audit is done on Gov. Jerry Brown’s high-speed rail project.
Mathews also highlighted the ways the California High Speed Rail program’s investments in modern rail are already creating jobs and boosting the economy of the state.
“A University of the Pacific study pegs the Fresno-area unemployment rate at less than 10 percent for only the fourth time in the past 25 years, thanks in large part to high-speed rail construction. From July 2006 through June 2016, the CAHSR project has invested some $2.3 billion in planning and constructing the nation’s first high-speed rail system, generating 19,900 to 23,600 job-years of employment and pumping $3.5 to $4.1 billion into the state’s economy, benefiting over 630 different private-sector suppliers and vendors. Also significant is the more than $196 million that has been paid to certified Small, Disadvantaged, and Disabled Veteran Business Enterprises working on the project, and as of this past September 327 small businesses are either committed, utilized, or actively working on CAHSR.”
By contrast, all 37 of California's Democrats in Congress, plus both Senators, wrote to Secretary Chao on February 3 to voice their support for the Caltrain project, calling out the Republicans’ January 24th attack for making a "material misstatement of fact" regarding the electrification of Caltrain.
Republicans are attacking the electrification of Caltrain’s Peninsula corridor, which runs between San Jose and San Francisco, because it would let the high-speed train currently under construction access San Francisco. However, the upgrades to the Caltrain corridor have independent utility, and would add capacity and reliability for commuter rail passengers in the near term. Caltrain spokesman Seamus Murphy stated that, “It’s critical that we get the funding,” and that the project would help create hundreds of jobs and help clean up emissions from the existing transit line.
While the GOP legislators pushed to delay Caltrain electrification and HSR in California, President Trump discussed the need for HSR service in the U.S. this week. Trump commented on the state of HSR in the country during a meeting with top airline executives from Delta, Southwest, JetBlue and United. Trump compared the lack of HSR in the U.S. to the services in China and Japan and noted “They have fast trains all over the place.”
California Governor Jerry Brown responded quickly on Twitter, as well as Facebook, saying that “California’s Ready” for HSR service in his state.
Trump’s airlines meeting, one of many sessions that the administration is holding with business leaders, also focused on the need to improve the country’s infrastructure, including airports.
Additionally, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) told reporters that she discussed the HSR project with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during his visit to Washington, D.C. Japan is interested in establishing a rail manufacturing presence in the U.S. as a way to export its technology.
“I did give him the best regards of our governor, Jerry Brown, to call attention to high-speed rail in California,” Rep. Pelosi said, highlighting the “infrastructure investment the Japanese may be making in the United States”
The first month of 2017 has featured a number of positive signs for increased investment in passenger rail, from President Trump’s pushing railways in his inaugural address to Democrat’s introducing a trillion dollar infrastructure proposal that would invest billions in rail and transit.
NARP is asking you to call your elected official today and deliver two key points:
I support a bipartisan transportation bill that invests in safe, efficient passenger trains and transit.
Investing money in new equipment for Amtrak and high-speed rail will put Americans back to work, and boost U.S. manufacturing jobs.
Congress needs to hear this critical message from day one. Call now!
Texas Central Partners announced this week that the organization has made significant headway on the future of a high-speed train between Dallas and Houston. Part of the announcement included news that Texas Central has reached option agreements on about 30 percent of the parcels estimated to be needed for the line’s route, which covers 10 counties between the two cities. Notably, 50 percent of the parcels for the proposed route in Waller and Grimes counties have reached an agreement. The private company credits “collaborative and ongoing engagements with property owners and stakeholders” for their progress.
In addition to the news on land parcel agreements, Texas Central Partners has decided to withdraw lawsuits against landowners in Texas. Texas Central had previously filed more than a dozen suits that sought court orders for the company to survey land on private property for the HSR line. Texas Central claimed that Texas state law would allow it on private property to survey land that may be used for the HSR route because it is a railroad. However, an opposing group called Texans Against High-Speed Rail stated the company shouldn’t be considered a railroad because it doesn’t currently operate any rail lines.
Texas Central President Tim Keith stated that the company would prefer “stepping back and going back to conversations and taking some of the heat out of our process.” The company said they would prefer an “open dialogue” with Texas landowners.
Also in Texas, construction company Archer Western will build a new TEX Rail station at the Dallas Fort Worth International Airport. The new station will be built for Terminal B at DFW, and will be the last stop of TEX Rail’s proposed 27-mile commuter rail project. The project is designed to connect Fort Worth’s downtown area to the airport to help reduce commuting. The new station will cost $28.5 million, and service is expected to begin next year. It’s estimated that the new line will carry 8,000 riders a day in its first year.
NARP Offers First Student Fellowship
This spring, NARP will offer its first student Fellowship opportunity at the association’s annual Spring Council Meeting and Day on the Hill (April 25, 2017). The Fellowship will include a number of hands-on learning experiences in public policy and administration focused on transportation issues, including opportunities to meet with members of Congress and their staffs, as well as representatives from the US Department of Transportation, Amtrak, and various rail trade associations and interest groups.
The Fellowship will be geared towards students whose academic or career interests are in transportation, railroads, political science, public policy, public administration, urban and regional planning, and business or nonprofit/association management. This is an all-expense paid opportunity that will afford students great networking opportunities and a chance to understand the workings of a non-profit. This fellowship is open to both undergraduate and graduate students who are U.S. citizens or legal residents and enrolled as a full-time student at a U.S. accredited college or university.
We are also looking for college and university faculty/staff who can help promote and advertise NARP’s Spring Fellowship Program. If you, or someone you know, can help, please contact Betsy at the email address below.
In addition, NARP can use your help funding the project. You can learn more about how you can support the fellowship by visiting our GoFundMe page.
Applications for the fellowship are available at www.narprail.org/student-fellowship. Additional information can be requested by contacting Betsy Nelson, Director, Resource Development firstname.lastname@example.org.
In other high-speed rail news, Washington state Governor Jay Inslee included in his 2017-2019 operating budget a new proposal to study the feasibility of an HSR line between Seattle and Vancouver, B.C. The possibility of a line has been discussed for a number of years, with hopes that people could connected between the two cities at speeds of 250 mph. The topic was recently proposed again this past fall as the Emerging Cascadia Innovation Corridor Conference in Vancouver. At the conference, a meeting on the HSR line drew interest from Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and British Columbia Premier Christy Clark. The feasibility report is due by December 15, 2017.
Elected officials in Colorado are also looking at the possibility of developing a passenger rail line that would span from southern Colorado to Fort Collins. Known as Colorado’s Front Range, some lawmakers are pushing Senate Bill 153 in order to study the feasibility of the line, which they say will reduce congestion and connect various rural and urban areas of the state. The bill would expand a commission that was designed to preserve the existing Amtrak Southwest Chief rail line in southern Colorado, but now officials want to expand the mandate since the Southwest Chief is now financially secure.
Columbus, WI, has become the latest Amtrak station to lose its staff, as the twin pressures of Congressional demands for tighter belts at Amtrak and the continued migration of ticket sales online push Amtrak into leaving some stations unstaffed when ticket agents retire or transfer. In the past year and a half, Amtrak pulled agents from ticket offices in Winona, MN, Grand Forks, ND, Glenview, IL, and Rugby, ND. Columbus, WI, will become an unstaffed stop beginning on May 1.
NARP has protested these “de-staffing” moves since the Fall of 2015. We know Amtrak struggles every day to run America’s Railroad under political and economic constraints that few other railroads in the world face. However, we believe there must be a balance between minimizing the annual federal investment required to operate a national transportation service, and running a railroad that is safe, efficient, and comfortable.
The reality used to justify de-staffing – that many more tickets are booked online today – misses the larger point: a staffed station is safer, more attractive to riders, can handle baggage, and provides customer service when long-distance trains are delayed or other issues arise. Customer service in these instances deteriorates without staff or caretakers.
NARP has been working closely with Amtrak for a year and a half to come up with ways forward on this issue. We think, for example, that if funding truly can’t be found for appropriate staffing, volunteers and community groups may have a role to play in helping Amtrak cover the needs of these stations in the face of continued budget constraints. NARP hopes to spend more time highlighting this issue and our potential solutions during the Spring Advocacy Summit & Meeting in Washington, DC.
Make plans NOW to attend NARP’s Spring 2017 Advocacy Summit & Meeting in Washington, DC - Sunday, April 23 through Wednesday, April 26, 2017. NARP’s 2017 ‘Action Day On The Hill’ & Congressional Reception will be held on Tuesday, April 25, 2017.
The Host Hotel is again the Sheraton Silver Spring (MD,) which is located just three blocks from Metro’s Red Line Silver Spring station. Discounted group rate room reservations are now available. NOTE: If you need to reserve a room with 2 beds, please call the Sheraton Silver Spring directly at 301-563-3702 and reference that you are part of the 'NARP 2017 Spring Meeting' group. Don't delay...over 70% of the available discounted rooms have already been reserved & a sell-out is expected!
And Save These Dates!
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
Four proposals in Los Angeles, if approved, could see the development of major passenger rail projects in the city. The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) stated that two of the proposals are specific for the West Santa Ana Branch Transit Corridor, where the agency is considering building a light-rail line. The other two proposals are for the Sepulveda Pass Transit Corridor which also may involve building a rail line. The projects are funded by the Measure M ballot, and the proposals still need to undergo a qualitative and quantitative analysis before final approval.
The two proposals for West Santa Ana are from Skanska USA Civil West and Kiewit Infrastructure West Co. The two proposals for Sepulveda Pass are from Parsons Transportation Group Inc. and Cintra US Services LLC.
In other proposal news, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s (MTA) Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) and the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) released a list of construction firms that are approved to bid on the agency’s expansion project. The project is currently estimated at $2 billion, which includes two major rail projects:
The addition of a third track along 10 miles of LIRR’s Main Line
Modifying seven grade crossings in the area
Additionally, renovation work was started this week for the Chicago Transit Authority’s (CTA) Illinois Medical District Blue Line station. Renovation plans will focus on improvements to the station’s three entrances, which includes complete reconstruction of the main station house on Ogden Avenue. CTA also noted in its press release that an elevator will be added to the station so it can be more accessible to people with disabilities. The renovation of the station will cost $23 million.
Dan Aykroyd Helps NARP Share The Importance of Passenger Rail
In an effort to share the continued, as well as growing importance passenger rail plays in connecting Americans to sustainable transportation, NARP created a new video. 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 used 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, and 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 with 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.
New Jersey Transit has started introducing new cars to service in an effort to provide riders with more comfortable rides with more space. NJ Transit has introduced longer five-car trains, which also includes a new extended car that has been added to the the center of 10 Newark Light Rail-City Subway trains and 25 Hudson-Bergen Light Rail trains. The extended sections of trains increase seating capacity by 50 percent, from 68 seats to 102 seats, according to NJ Transit Executive Director Steven Santoro. Three of the extended trains are now running on Hudson-Bergen Light Rail on weekends and four are in service on Newark Light Rail. The new cars are part of a $54 million project, with 80 percent of that coming from the federal clean air and congestion management funds.
Upcoming Regional NARP and State Passengers Association Member Meetings
Friday, March 3, 2017 - Rhode Island Association of Railroad Passengers - Warwick, RI
Saturday, March 4, 2017 - Empire State Passengers Association & NARP - Schenectady, NY
Please contact Bruce Becker to have a local, state or regional meeting added to the NARP calendar of upcoming events!
The City Council of Worcester, MA is interested in expanding rail service for residents in the area who want to get to Boston or New York more conveniently. Specifically, the Council wants to form a regional transportation summit that will examine how the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) can expand service to Boston, while Amtrak service can be expanded to New York City. The council made the request this past Tuesday, and Mayor Joseph M. Petty noted that former Worcester Mayor Timothy P. Murray co-hosted a similar gathering several years ago to discuss increased commuter rail service between Worcester and Boston. Mayor Petty said while it did not produce overnight results, the frequency of commuter rail service was eventually increased, though he believes more is still needed.
The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) is set to release a request-for-proposal to study the feasibility, and the planning, of a new passenger line between Traverse City and Ann Arbor. Known as the “A2TC Train,” MDOT officials expect to select a firm to begin the study within the next two months. Since 2011, when MDOT developed the Michigan State Rail Plan, a push for a rail line to northern Michigan has gained support due to increased congestion on Michigan’s highways and at airports. The route would also make transportation for college students easier, as an estimated 95,000 college students reside along the projected route and its multiple stops. The feasibility study is backed by an $80,000 federal transportation planning grant, $20,000 in state funding and a $20,000 local match.
Nominations are now being sought from qualified NARP members interested in seeking election to one of three available Board Director posts at the upcoming April Meeting. These positions will be for three-year terms, ending in April 2020. For more information on how you could make a difference as a NARP Board Director, please review the specific duties, responsibilities and required qualifications. If you are interested in seeking a Board Director position, you must complete and submit this Candidate Information Statement by the March 31, 2017 deadline.
There are still openings for state representatives on the NARP Council of Representatives, including one each in Alabama; Arizona; Delaware; Florida, Hawaii; Idaho; Missouri; Nevada; North Carolina; North Dakota: Ohio, South Carolina, Virginia (2 openings) and Wyoming. Check out the full, up-to-date, list of current vacancies here.
If you live in one of these states and want to become more active in NARP’s leadership and 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.