Hotline #1,003: Amtrak President Spends Day on Capitol Hill; NARP Looks to Members for Local Engagement; FRA to Consider Feedback on NEC Future Plan
February 17, 2017
Check Out Our Newest Hotline! 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, email@example.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.
This past Wednesday, Amtrak President and CEO Wick Moorman was on Capitol Hill testifying before the Senate Subcommittee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. Moorman focused on the future of Amtrak and the need for a “new era of investment” to make that future possible. He argued that federal investment will help Amtrak upgrade its infrastructure, improve its equipment fleet (including National Network trains) and stations in the Northeast Corridor, as well as other regions of the national rail network.
In a blog from Moorman following his meeting, he highlighted that Amtrak had a record-breaking year in fiscal year 2016. Ridership hit more than 31 million passengers and the company reached a ticket revenue of $2.2 billion. But Moorman also noted that additional federal investments from Congress in Amtrak will let Amtrak modernize and upgrade 100-year old rail systems and tunnels for millions of passengers who depend on quality and reliable passenger service.
While on Capitol Hill, Moorman talked with reporters, including a broadcast interview with CNBC that focused on privatization. During the interview, Moorman noted that Amtrak is a company and that there is no reason why it should not be able to run effectively like other rail companies, such as Norfolk Southern or BNSF.
Bring the Fight for A Connected America to YOUR Town
NARP’s staff and Council of Representatives are already preparing for our April 25th Day on the Hill, where advocates from all over the country will gather in Washington to represent America’s passengers at the highest level. With a new president and a new congress, it’s crucial that they hear from their constituents demanding investment in a modern, people-focused passenger rail system.
We need you to join us in asking your elected officials to invest in better trains and transit—for A Connected America.
We’re making advocacy easy, with a list of resources, including links to NARP-created legislative asks, a guide to effective engagement, and a list of rail “shovel-ready” rail infrastructure projects—all available on our Membership Materials page.
NARP's 1-2-3 Guide for Local Engagement
In 2017, we plan to aggressively lay a foundation for our Day on the Hill activities. In the past, NARP’s leadership has traveled to Washington, D.C. to advocate for passenger rail in the U.S. This year we’re asking the entire NARP membership to help initiate these conversations starting now, in your own town, with direct conversations with in-district staffers. By talking with in-state Congressional offices, you can expand your local network of engaged policymakers to better demand investment in passenger trains and transit.
NARP is is providing you with the tools, but we need your help doing three things this February:
Meet with your in-district staff contacts for all three congressional representatives (one representative, two senators), either in-person or over the phone, to issue the following asks:
Keep pressure on Congress and Administration to move on an infrastructure bill, discuss benefits of local shovel-ready rail and transit projects
Support full funding authorized by FAST Act rail grants in FY2018
Support full funding authorized by FAST Act rail grants in FY2017
And importantly: communicate significant points of agreement, disagreement, and intelligence back to NARP staff
Post a photo of yourself visiting + calling your Members of Congress, and post it online using the tag #MyTrainMyTown and #AConnectedAmerica (or email it to us at NARP[@]narprail.org, subject line "My Train, My Town")
This week New Jersey Reps. Donald Payne Jr. and Albio Sires revealed new legislation that would keep the general public informed about when a railroad or rail transit agency is under investigation by the federal government for safety violations. The proposal comes following the deadly Hoboken accident with NJ Transit towards the end of 2017, in which one woman was killed. After the accident, it was revealed that the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) was auditing NJ Transit due to an increase in safety violations. Both lawmakers noted that they want to increase transparency from railroads to passengers, who may not be aware that their transit agency is being reviewed.
If passed, the measure would require the FRA and the Federal Transit Administration to notify lawmakers if they conduct any safety audits on passenger rail services. It also would require federal agencies to submit a report to Congress detailing the results of the investigation within 90 days of the audit’s completion.
Other news from Capitol Hill focused on Positive Train Control (PTC), the technology that can be used to slow or stop trains remotely. Matthew Rose, executive chairman of BNSF, urged Congress to pay for the implementation of PTC for passenger railroads -- though the federal government has already provided $650 million in grants since 2008. Although BNSF has taken a strong lead in using the technology on its freight trains, Rose raised concern with the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation subcommittee that passenger trains are not equipped with the life-saving systems. Rose said “I can’t imagine a more difficult train wreck for us to have to go to where we have the positive train control on the freight rail, and the passenger or commuter train didn’t because of lack of funding.”
The deadline for PTC implementation was originally set by Congress for the end of 2015. However, the timeline was changed to December 31, 2018 as railroads were not able to meet the original deadline. Despite the revised schedule, federal reports have revealed that railroads are still slow to implement PTC, in part because of the steep cost of the technology.
NARP Supports Funding for Caltrain Electrification Project in Letter to Secretary Chao
In a letter sent to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao today, NARP President and CEO Jim Mathews expressed support for federal investment in Caltrain’s Peninsula Corridor Electrification Project (PCEP). The letter asks the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to move forward with a Full Funding Grant Agreement (FFGA), which is now pending approval.
“Over 65,000 commuters depend on the Peninsula Corridor every day, and the service provides a critical alternative to the heavily congested U.S. 101 freeway,” said Mathews in the letter. “Modernizing the current diesel-based service is a cost-effective way to deliver more efficient, faster, and more frequent rail service to the region.”
In addition to demand for Caltrain, Mathews highlighted that the electrification of the line has the ability to create jobs and strengthen domestic manufacturing – issues the Trump Administration has pushed recently. According to the Caltrain Modernization Program, the project is estimated to create more than 9,600 total direct and indirect jobs. The program has also been the driving force for the construction of a new railcar assembly plant in Salt Lake City, which will generate sustainable, family-wage jobs for 550 employees.
The letter from Mathews comes after California GOP members wrote to Secretary Chao in January, and requested that Chao delay approval of $647 million grant money from the FTA’s Core Capacity Program for the electrification of the Caltrain system – a backdoor effort to oppose the high-speed rail line in the state. Reversing previous bipartisan support, 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.
“Caltrain has warned that if the agency is unable to issue a Notice to Proceed (NTP) to contractors by March 1, 2017, this vital project will see cost overruns, eroding the project’s viability,” stated Mathews.
By contrast, all 37 of California's Democrats in Congress, plus both Senators, wrote to Secretary Chao on February 3rd 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.
The full letter from NARP to Secretary Chao can be read online at www.NARPRail.org.
As the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) looks to to relocate its Manhattan bus terminal to between 9th and 10th Avenues, the New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers (NJ-ARP) has encouraged officials to look closely at an alternative. NJ-ARP has supported the idea to extend the NYCTA #7 subway line to Secaucus Junction where an intermodal connection can be made with both Amtrak (after it adopts this station as part of the national network) and New Jersey Transit. Passengers would be able swap a one-seat ride for a shorter trip 20 minute trip between Secaucus and Grand Central Terminal in New York by using a bus to subway transfer. NJ-ARP President Len Resto has expressed that the Port Authority needs to consider the use of all modes of transportation, as roadways and the Lincoln Tunnel are already too congested.
Additionally, former NJ-ARP director Jack May submitted comments to the Port Authority regarding the agency’s plan to extend PATH from Newark Penn Station to Newark Airport. May notes that the current Airtrain system is near the end of its life cycle and will soon be replaced with faster and larger capacity vehicles. May suggests “when replacing the Airtrain, why not extend the new automated system to Newark Penn Station instead of extending PATH itself from Newark.”
After proposing a variety of recommendations for improving the Northeast Corridor’s rail infrastructures and reducing travel times between major cities, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is considering input from elected officials in Connecticut. U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, both Connecticut Democrats, have expressed opposition to the FRA’s NEC Future plan, which makes one recommendation to build a route for high-speed trains through coastal eastern Connecticut and southwest Rhode Island.
The FRA has noted that the new route would reduce travel time between New York and Boston by 45 minutes, but Connecticut officials fear that the line would cut through and disrupt too many shoreline towns and reduce property value of neighborhoods. As a result Courtney stated he would take a “pre-emptive strike” and block any funding that would support the new route. At the same time, Blumenthal described the recommendation as a "fantasy plan.”
It’s important to note however, that the NEC Future plan is only a proposal from the FRA. The FRA has stated that state governments, cities, railroads, and the Trump Administration will make the final decisions on whether to accept, revise, or completely ignore the recommendations. The federal agency also stated that it will accept feedback until a decision is published, which isn't expected before March 1.
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 80% 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
The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) has started national certification testing for the new Siemens Charger locomotives. The tests are being conducted on the Amtrak Cascades corridor and the test will run through February. WSDOT bought eight of the new locomotives as part of a multi-state procurement, and tests will certify the locomotives for use not only in Washington, but in other states across the nation as well. Washington will see the locomotives operate on the Cascades Corridor, which also runs in Oregon. In addition, Washington, along with Illinois, California, Michigan, and Missouri, jointly developed specifications for the Charger to be used on the nation’s rail network. Maryland’s MARC rail commuter agency will also be acquiring Chargers to take the place of soon-to-be-retired electric locomotives used on their NEC Penn Line.
The new Chargers, considered “next generation" locomotives, include:
- higher acceleration rates and top speeds up to 125mph
- on-board positive train control safety features,
- greater reliability,
- 4,400-horsepower engines that meet new emissions standards.
The Chargers will travel on various sections of the existing Vancouver, British Columbia to Eugene, Oregon corridor. Amtrak and Siemens staff will test and monitor how the locomotive performs, and if testing proves successful, the new locomotives will enter service later this year.
Although the California High-Speed Rail (CAHSR) project faces challenges with cash, timing, and efforts by Republicans to halt its progress, development and construction of the line is moving forward. The long-term plan is for the rail line to run 500 miles, heading from San Francisco to San Jose before turning inland and then south to Los Angeles. Officials say limited service from San Francisco to Bakersfield will launch in 2025.
The California High-Speed Rail Authority has purchased more than 1,000 parcels of land, and has landed contracts with private construction companies to begin building. The San Francisco Chronicle highlighted some of the work being completed by the 1,000-plus contractors and construction workers who are working daily to build the state’s high-speed rail line. Since construction started on the $64 billion project, crews have:
- Laid utility lines near the zoo in central Fresno,
- Started building bridges over rivers,
- Cleared hundreds of homes and businesses,
- Began relocating a two-mile stretch of Highway 99
The Authority has also stated that 90 percent of business owners have already relocated locally, or soon will.
NARP Urges Secretary Chao to Support High-Speed Rail in California
On February 9th, 2017, NARP President and CEO Jim Mathews wrote to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao urging the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to support the California High-Speed Rail (CAHSR) project. In the letter, Mathews highlighted the CAHSR project as “a vital element of critical transportation infrastructure investment in the U.S.,” that will generate economic benefits, create jobs, and help eliminate carbon emissions for years to come.
“With 119 miles of active construction already underway, the Los Angeles - San Francisco corridor is the most advanced attempt to bring express high-speed rail to the U.S.,” Mathews wrote regarding the $64 billion CAHSR project. “Even in its early stages, there is already evidence that CAHSR is spurring economic development, improving performance on environmental and energy-independence goals, and creating jobs.”
Through its development and beyond, Mathews stressed that the project is estimated to generate “a total economic return to the state of California of about $8 billion on its initial $2.6 billion investment, and the economic development that will take place along the routes will add dramatically to that tally. The project will create 66,000 new jobs for 15 years as this massive system is built. Each year, the high-speed train will eliminate at least 330,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions.”
“As surely as mobility fuels an economic engine, congestion constrains it,” said Mathews. “Investing in high-speed rail is one of the most cost-effective ways to ensure long-term growth by definitively easing congestion—not just for the intercity market, but for transit and commuter services as well.”
Development of the high-speed rail line, aimed at operating trains at up to 200 mph, has already seen CAHSR invest about $2.3 billion into the planning and construction of the rail system. Once completed, the 21st century system will connect 24 stations over 800 miles in California between San Diego and Sacramento, with its initial leg connecting San Francisco and Los Angeles. The line will also help reduce traffic and travel time, while increasing safety for Californians on the state’s congested highways.
Mathews also stressed that if the CAHSR project halts, it’s estimated that between $158 billion and $272 billion will be spent instead on at least 4,300 miles of new highway, 115 new airport gates and four additional major-airport runways to cope with population growth in the state – the sixth-largest economy in the world.
The full letter to Secretary Chao can be read online at www.NARPRail.org.
In February 2016, the Adirondack Park Agency approved a new plan to create a rails-to trails conversion along a portion of the former New York Central Railroad’s 119-mile Remsen to Lake Placid rail line through the center of the Adirondacks, which has been owned by New York State since the 1970’s. The plan called for 34 miles of track to be removed and for the right of way be converted to a multi-use recreational trail, as was officially announced by Governor Andrew Cuomo last May. Despite this approval, the Adirondack Railway Preservation Society, operators of the Adirondack Scenic Railroad based at Utica, NY, filed a lawsuit challenging the approval process of the plan, contending that the approval violates the state Land Master Plan, historic preservation laws, and the (NY) Adirondack Park Agency Act.
Acting State Supreme Court Justice Robert Main is now overseeing the case, and this month he requested more information pertaining to ownership of land along the route’s right-of-way. Questions have been raised concerning property easements granted by landowners when the line was originally built in the 1890’s. Judge Main specifically ordered “that respondents shall provide a full and complete report to this court respecting the title and/or interest possessed by the State of New York along Segment 2 or the Remsen to Lake Placid Travel Corridor” by March 8. The order also prevents the state or local governments from removing any rail structures from the corridor until these issues are resolved. The state had previously said rail and tie removal could have began as early as last fall or this coming spring.
The Miami Herald highlighted the potential change that Florida’s Brightline train could bring to commuters, as well as real estate, along the route. With higher speed trains available, people who work in downtown Miami could easily live and commute from West Palm Beach which is more than 70 miles from Miami. Brightline service promises to get people to and from these cities in an hour, beating the often slow and congested drive on I-95. Jonathan Miller of Miller Samuel, which produces real estate market reports, noted that “young professionals buy or rent housing based heavily on walkability or easy commutes to work. Brightline will open the market for lesser-priced housing to the north of downtown Miami because commutes become more palatable.” As a result of Brightline’s quicker commutes, people can live in downtown Fort Lauderdale or downtown West Palm with prices at $1,930 and $1,477 respectively, for a one-bedroom. On the other hand, the average monthly rental in downtown Miami for a similar apartment is $2,000.
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
Saturday, March 4, 2017 - NARP NW Division 2017 Annual Meeting & Advocacy Workshop - Portland, OR
Saturday, March 11, 2017 - NARP Houston, TX Area Meeting - Houston, TX
Please contact Bruce Becker to have a local, state or regional meeting added to the NARP calendar of upcoming events!
For anyone in Honolulu interested in the city’s new passenger rail system, the new rail cars will be available for people to visit on Saturday, February 18th. The Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation is displaying its transit cars from 10am to 3pm at its operation center near Leeward Community College. Honolulu's rail will be the first driverless system in the nation, and local community members are highly encouraged to get an up close look and learn about the new system.
Senate Bill 153 has cleared the Colorado legislature which moves the proposal to study the viability of a new passenger rail line that much closer to a reality. The proposed line would run from southern Colorado to Fort Collins. Under the bill, a commission that was set up to preserve the existing Amtrak Southwest Chief line in southern Colorado would be expanded to include the new “Front Range” rail while extending the existing line. Local politicians have discussed the need to connect rural communities throughout Colorado, increase visitors to different cities, and also reduce traffic congestion on the state’s highways. The measure now moves to the Senate Finance Committee for review.
In Roanoke, VA, a new Amtrak boarding platform is starting to take shape as crews began relocating exhibits and the performance stage on the David R. and Susan S. Good Railwalk. The railwalk and it’s historical and rail-related exhibits run along the train tracks and needed to be moved before construction could begin on a new section of track, and a raised waiting and boarding platform. The exhibits were safely moved to the Virginia Museum of Transportation and will be housed there for 10 months while construction is completed. The new platform is estimated to cost $10.9 million.
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.