Hotline #1,004: Feds Delay Caltrain Funding; New Report Highlights Growth in Highway Congestion; APTA Reveals PTC Implementation Moving Forward
February 24, 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.
The White House is promising that President Donald Trump will send Congress more details on his much-discussed infrastructure bill next week.
“The infrastructure projects and priorities that the president has talked about, there's [air traffic control] and our airports or the roads and bridges will be something that he's going to work with [Department of Transportation] but also talk about in his budget and you'll see more in his joint address to Congress,” said White House spokesman Sean Spicer.
President Trump’s first State of the Union will be held February 28th.
The National Governors Association has responded by showing rare bipartisan agreement on the need for more federal investment in transportation infrastructure, submitting a list of high priority projects. Additionally, NARP submitted a list of “shovel ready” rail projects to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao (see a short version of the list here).
Despite efforts from NARP, as well as all 37 of California's Democratic congressional delegation, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) decided on February 17th that it has placed a hold on $647 million in federal funding for the Caltrain Peninsula Corridor Electrification Project (PCEP). The FTA informed Caltrain officials that the federal agency needed “additional time to complete review of this significant commitment of Federal resources.” The FTA plans to make a decision on Caltrain funding after the Trump Administration releases its budget for fiscal year 2018, which begins October 1st.
Seamus Murphy, Caltrain’s chief communications officer, stated that there’s little chance Caltrain can meet its deadline for electrification now that an audit is required. Murphy also noted that the cost penalties could be “so severe that we might not be able to do the project.”
The deferral could also hurt plans for the California High Speed Rail line, which would run from Los Angeles to San Francisco, and use part of Caltrain’s electrified infrastructure.
Previously, NARP’s President and CEO Jim Mathews wrote to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, expressing the importance of funding the electrification of Caltrain. Additionally, California’s Congressional Democrats also wrote Secretary Chao in response to a letter from Republicans, who requested the funding be deferred.
The San Francisco Chronicle criticized the decision to use the critical project as a pawn in a political game.
“It is outrageous that elected representatives would sabotage a critical infrastructure project in their own state as collateral damage in their zeal to stop the bullet train,” wrote the paper’s editorial board. “Frustrated local leaders are holding out hope that President Trump, who has cited infrastructure as one area where Republicans and Democrats can find common ground in a polarized Washington, might resurrect the federal grant for Caltrain in his fiscal 2018 budget. He should, as a matter of creating jobs, cleaning the air and keeping people moving in one of the most vibrant and productive corners of the American economy.”
In response to the FTA’s decision, an online petition was started by Caltrain official to raise awareness of the project and ask President Trump to move forward with the electrification. The petition needs to collect 100,000 signatures by March 20. The petition highlights that the Caltrain project would meet the Trump Administration’s goal of creating new jobs. Caltrain has estimated the project would create 9,600 jobs in the Bay Area and throughout the country. For example, they say, a manufacturing plant would be built in Salt Lake City to assemble the new rail cars.
The Colorado state senate voted to advance a feasibility study of the Front Range rail service by the end of 2017 in a 24-11 vote. The Front Range train will provide a desperately needed alternative to the overcrowded Interstate 25 corridor.
The bill has bipartisan support, with Republican State Senator Larry Crowder (R-Alamosa) sponsoring the bill. The bill will also advance work being done by a panel focused on improving Amtrak’s Southwest Chief.
Crowder says Colorado must invest in expanded rail service to accommodate the state’s booming population growth.
The bill heads to the Democratic House next.
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 fly in 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")
A new report has revealed that more people are getting on the country’s highways to drive, but are also getting stuck in more traffic delays. As a result, traffic congestion has cost drivers nearly $300 billion in 2016 according to the study by INRIX Global Traffic Scorecard. Part of the cause of people moving away from public rail services and buses in metropolitan areas, is that 2016 saw a stronger economy with lower gas prices. Notably, the study found that drivers in Los Angeles spent an average of 104 hours per year in traffic. Drivers in New York and San Francisco spend more than 80 hours in gridlock, while drivers in Atlanta, Miami, Washington, Dallas, Boston, Chicago and Seattle were stuck in traffic for 50 hours per year. In the report, INRIX estimated congestion costs the average driver $1,399 per year in the U.S, but Los Angeles the cost can hit $2,408.
At the same time, the National Safety Council estimates that 40,200 people died in motor vehicle-related accidents in 2016. That’s a 6 percent rise from the previous year, and the sixth straight year automotive fatalities have risen.
The spike in deaths seem to stem from the sheer amount of cars on roads. 2016 data released from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) showed that the U.S. drivers drove for a record-breaking number of miles for the fifth straight year. According to the agency, U.S. drivers hit 3.2 trillion miles in 2016, up from 3.1 trillion miles in 2015. FHWA officials said the statistics highlights the need for major infrastructure improvements, as roads and bridges continues to feel excessive strain from travel.
As noted, in 2016 the Seattle area saw significant growth in ridership for its mass transit service. Overall, ridership for rail systems Sound Transit and King County Metro grew by eight million rides from 2015. The growth represents a five percent increase in King County, though bus ridership fell by 300,000 rides. Notably, the region’s rail lines benefited from new stations opening at Capitol Hill and the University District. Light rail ridership rose by 66 percent immediately after the two stops opened in March 2016. Other stats for 2016 ridership are included:
Metro transit (buses and the South Lake Union streetcar): 121.5 million rides in 2016 (down from 121.8 million in 2015)
Sound Transit (Link light rail, Sounder, Sound Transit Express): 42.7 million rides (34.7 million in 2015)
Metro RapidRide: 20.7 million rides across six routes (10 percent jump from 2015)
Link Light Rail: 19.1 million rides in 2016
Sound Transit express routes (operated my Metro): 9.7 million riders in 2016
Seattle’s Sound Transit continues to build out its network and ridership. The agency began construction work on a new light rail station near the current transit center at Northgate. The work is expected to take until 2021, when the new station opens, but Sound Transit’s Kimberly Reason expects that “people will see that area changing rapidly as the station construction takes shape.” The new light rail station is being built on either side of NE 103rd Street so vehicles can still get in and out of the transit center. The station will be elevated, and trains will come out of the Maple Leaf tunnel and then move to an elevated track before entering the new station.
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...only a few discounted rooms are still available; a sell-out is expected!
And Save These Dates!
NARP’s 50th Anniversary Celebration And Passenger Rail Symposium – 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
Through surveying members and reviewing quarterly reports of commuter rail lines submitted to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) announced this week that commuter rail lines in the U.S. are on target for installing Positive Train Control (PTC) by the current December 2018 deadline. APTA noted that at the end of 2016, 23 percent of the 3,150 route miles of commuter-rail track in the U.S. were either in service with PTC or in full PTC demonstration mode and only awaiting FRA approvals. In addition, APTA revealed that 30 percent of commuter railroads' 3,400 locomotives and cab cars have PTC technology installed, while 70 percent of the radio spectrum needed for PTC had been acquired.
Despite the positive news on PTC implementation, APTA noted that funding still remains an important issue for rail agencies. Overall, installing the PTC technology is estimated to cost the commuter-rail industry more than $3.5 billion in capital expenditures, including more than $16 million in spectrum acquisition. APTA’s Acting President and Chief Executive Officer Richard White stated, "I urge Congress to quickly make available the $199 million authorized by the [Fixing America's Surface Transportation] Act for FY 2017 and consider providing additional resources to support industry efforts to meet the congressional deadline."
They were joined in requesting funding by the freight industry.
“As a freight railroad, it may sound out of line, but I actually urge Congress to fund passenger commuter rail funding for positive train control,” said BNSF CEO Matt Rose during a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation committee hearing held last week. “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.”
Texas Central Partners, the private company that plans to develop high-speed rail between Dallas and Houston, recently announced several milestones regarding land acquisition. The company even dropped its lawsuits and looked to make agreements with landowners outside the courtroom. Despite this progress, Texas senators filed 18 bills this week that would prevent the rail line from further developing, or limiting the company’s ability to finish acquiring necessary land. HSR opponents, such as Texans Against High-Speed Rail, find the new set of bills impressive and persuasive in stopping development.
The newly filed bills complicate the Texas Central's right to acquire property via eminent domain, strengthen landowner protections, compel state agencies to assess the feasibility of the planned rail project and prohibit the state from ever maintaining or operating a high-speed rail line. However, Texas Central noted that the company does not plan to use eminent domain on any parcels except as a last resort. The company is in the process of securing purchase agreements on land it will likely need for the route as it connects the state's two largest metro areas, in which officials in Dallas and Houston have supported the project.
Passenger rail service in Minnesota is also seeing its own set of challenges regarding to funding the Southwest light-rail transit line, which would run 14 miles from downtown Minneapolis to Eden Prairie. This week, Republicans in the Minnesota Legislature proposed taking nearly $1billion in federal funding that is specified for the rail project, and instead using it for other transportation projects, such as roads and bridges. The proposal seeks approval to request that the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) direct $929 million away from light-rail line.
If approved, the proposal would be sent to the DOT Secretary Elaine Chao as a formal request. Sen. David Osmek, R-Mound, the author of the resolution in the Senate, also stated that he is planning to meet with Secretary Chao to share his concern that the project has been primarily driven by the appointed Metropolitan Council rather than elected state lawmakers. When a light-rail funding bill did not pass in the Legislature’s last session, the Metropolitan Council then came up with different plan, lining up $145 million in local contributions for the $1.9 billion project. Nevertheless, Osmek said he and others in the Republican-controlled Legislature remain opposed to the light-rail expansion and feel they've been sidelined in the process.
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.
Amtrak has announced that it will be relocating its headquarters from Washington, D.C.’s Union Station one block west to what’s known as the National Guard Memorial Building. The move will be made effective this fall, and the new lease is for 11 years. Amtrak's vice president of asset and real estate development Bart Bush said in a statement that the move allows Amtrak to "optimize the effectiveness of our corporate talent” through use of a modernized work environment. With the newly available space at Union Station, Ashkenazy Acquisition Corp. plans to develop a boutique hotel that would be completed in the next five years.
Officials at New Jersey Transit, including Executive Director Stephen Santoro, are increasing efforts to listen to passengers on their suggestions for making rail and bus service more effective. The effort includes meetings between NJ Transit riders and officials, and already an emphasis has been placed on communication with passengers. Santoro has already hosted three “We're Listening" forums for commuters to share their concerns, and will host a fourth this coming Tuesday. Prior to these recent forums, the last one was held in November 2014. Santoro has stated that suggestions made at the first two sessions are being looked at by the transit agency, including how the agency can communicate more effectively during service disruptions. Santoro said as a result, NJ Transit will now focus on providing passengers with earlier updates, through social media and the MyTix smartphone app, on disruptions so people have more time to adjust their travel plans. Other commuter suggestions include making an announcement of a train's number, rail line and destination on the train before it leaves the station as passengers have gotten on the wrong train before.
City officials and passenger rail advocates in Biloxi are eager to see the return of Amtrak service in the Gulf Coast, a project supported by advocacy work being done by NARP and the Southern Rail Commission. Support for return of the service, which was halted following Hurricane Katrina, continues to grow especially after 11 communities received grants from the Federal Railroad Administration to develop plans further. City officials in Biloxi highlighted what they plan to do with the $252,000 that the city received in 2016. Biloxi City Spokesman Vincent Creel said the city plans to build a new Amtrak platform that will be next to the city’s multi-model station. The city also plans to reduce the number of crossing that are in the city, as Amtrak officials noted that are too many. The return of service however is still a ways into the future, with Congressional funding for further capital investments yet to be secured.
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
- Tuesday & Wednesday, April 18 - 19, 2017 - California Passenger Rail Summit - Sacramento, CA
Please contact Bruce Becker to have a local, state or regional meeting added to the NARP calendar of upcoming events!
A new proposal was brought to the Florida House of Representatives this week, which seeks to set safety regulations on Florida’s Brightline train and other high-speed train services. The bill, known as the Florida High-Speed Passenger Rail Safety Act, would set minimum safety standards for HSR trains in the state. Standards would include the implementation of Positive Train Control and Remote Health Monitoring safety technology, which are designed to monitor a train and help stop it in case of an emergency. In addition, the legislation would require that high-speed rail companies be responsible for the cost of all safety upgrades at railroad crossings. The bill was presented by Treasure Coast lawmakers to the Transportation & Infrastructure subcommittee. All Aboard Florida General Counsel Myles Tobin noted that if the bill is passed, it could severely delay the launch of the Brightline train and add tens of millions of dollars to its price tag.
In North Carolina, the Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit project is under review by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). Specifically, the FTA wants additional verification from GoTriangle that 30 percent of local and state money is earmarked for the $2.5 billion project. The FTA has requested the information because a 2012 cost-sharing agreement among Orange County, Durham County and GoTriangle no longer backs up the submitted financial plan. The agreement does not specify how much each partner could pay, and has the state picking up 25 percent of the project cost. However, the state has set a 10 percent cap on funding since the agreement was signed.
The deadline for submitting the information is April 30th, and if the deadline is missed, the projected could delayed an entire year. In addition, any money spent during that time would not be eligible for federal reimbursement. Additionally, GoTriangle expects its board to vote April 26 on a $70 million engineering contract, which would be executed only after the FTA lets the project advance.
Rep. John Delaney of Maryland proposed new legislation in the House that would provide additional funding for the Metro system in Washington, D.C., as the agency faces a nearly $300 million budget shortfall in fiscal 2018. Congress already provides $150 million per year to the agency, but Delaney’s proposal would provide an additional $75 million in annual federal funding over 10 years to Metro, which would help support the agency’s safety and repair project. The states of Maryland and Virginia would also contribute a combined $75 million per year under the measure.
However, under the proposal, Metro would face several changes to its board and operations. Specifically, Metro’s board of directors would have to be dropped from 16 members to nine, require all board members to meet certain qualifications and give the general manager a seat on the board. The legislation also would require Metro’s collective bargaining agreement to be overhauled in a way that allows for necessary improvements “while maintaining key wage protections.”
Congratulations To Kenneth Joseph of Pittsburgh, PA, who has been appointed to a Director Position on the NARP Board of Directors. Ken has served as a Council Representative from Pennsylvania and has been active in passenger rail advocacy for many years. The term of Ken’s Board position is through April 2018.
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 openings for state representatives on the NARP Council of Representatives, including one each in Alabama; Arizona; Delaware; Florida, Hawaii; Idaho; Missouri; Pennsylvania, 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.