Hotline #1,005: Trump Commits to $1 Trillion for Infrastructure; Caltrain Extends Deadline to Begin Work; NARP Writes FRA on NEC Future Plans
March 3, 2017
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Updated 3/3/2017; 6:15p.m. EST
In President Donald Trump’s joint address to Congress this week, he again brought up his campaign pledge to invest $1 trillion in U.S. infrastructure.
President Trump stated during his address, “Crumbling infrastructure will be replaced with new roads, bridges, tunnels, airports and railways gleaming across our beautiful land. To launch our national rebuilding, I will be asking the Congress to approve legislation that produces a $1 trillion investment in the infrastructure of the United States—financed through both public and private capital—creating millions of new jobs.”
President Trump did not offer any details—particularly on how projects will be funded—but emphasized he will focus on buying American-made products and hiring U.S. citizens. President Trump stated that the plan will help create millions of new jobs for Americans.
Some members of Congress have already responded, talking about the need for specifics and a national scope.
“There’s been lists out there—50 mega projects,” House Transportation & Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) told a gathering of state transportation officials. “And I have said to the folks at the White House, tell them that’s not the president’s list because 50 projects aren’t going to get 535 members of Congress, 50 governors and 50 legislative bodies out there to back this plan. So I’ve said over and over and over, it’s not 50, it should be something like 500.”
The Trump Administration is expected to convene tomorrow with representatives from 15 federal agencies; the group will identify new and existing projects that could be quickly advanced with new federal funding.
If you haven’t participated in NARP’s in-district campaign, this week is the perfect time to get involved!
NARP is providing you with the tools, but we need your help doing these three things:
Meet with your in-district staff contacts for all three congressional representatives (one representative, two senators), either in-person or over the phone, to ask them to support an infrastructure bill
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")
To access more advocacy resources, including NARP’s Guide to Engagement, click here.
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!
Following the decision by the federal government to delay funding for the Caltrain Peninsula Corridor Electrification Project (PCEP), Caltrain officials and Governor Jerry Brown are working to keep the project moving forward.
At the request of California's Republican delegation, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) informed Caltrain officials that they needed "additional time to complete review of this significant commitment of Federal resources.” With an original March 1 deadline to proceed with work, the delay threatened significant cost increases. Fortunately, Caltrain was able to negotiate a deadline extension through June 30 with contractors.
The $2 billion project upgrade the train service from diesel to electric. The change is expected to increase daily capacity from 65,000 to 110,000 and help provide a much-needed alternative to congested roadways in the Bay Area.
Whatever your feelings about HSR, this project was identified almost twenty years ago in the 1999 Caltrain Strategic Plans. This long-overdue upgrade will expand capacity on this crowded corridor, which currently features trains operating at 125% capacity during peak hours. 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. Not only does this political game hurt passengers... it will cost over 9,600 jobs for hardworking Americans!
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.
Governor Brown also reached out to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao this week to encourage her to reverse the funding decision. In his letter to Chao, Brown noted that the project receiving the grant money is “an open and shut case.” Brown also stated that “By electrifying the line, we can run more trains, cut commute times, save fuel costs, improve air quality, reduce noise and ease traffic congestion.”
The FTA says it will make a decision on Caltrain funding after the Trump Administration releases its budget for fiscal year 2018, which begins October 1st -- but Caltrain has warned that if the agency is unable to proceed, this project will see cost overruns, eroding the project's viability.
We need your help! There are two things you can do TODAY to help save this project:
Sign this WhiteHouse.gov petition by March 20th to force the Administration to respond (this action is available nationally);
Send a letter to your Californian state representatives and mayor to apply pressure on the federal delegation (this action is for Californians only).
In addition to efforts by Caltrain and Brown, officials in Palo Alto have not been deterred by the funding deferral. Officials stated this week that they plan to move forward with the separation of train tracks from local roadways. Officials had discussed doing the grade separation work for years, but it wasn’t until the Caltrain electrification project and the development of California’s high-speed rail line did it begin to move forward with urgency. Palo Alto officials expect that both projects, once complete, will bring more trains to the area’s rail corridor and could cause longer delays and worsening traffic jams at the city's four rail crossings. And despite the hold on Caltrain funding, all four members of the City Council's reconstituted Rail Committee that the separation project should begin as early as next month.
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. FYI...Discounted group rate rooms are now sold out for Sunday Night, April 23 & Monday Night, April 24. Group rate rooms are available on Tuesday night, April 25. Regular rate rooms at the Sheraton are available on all nights. Information on available nearby hotels in Silver Spring can be found on the Event Page.
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
This week, the D.C. Streetcar, which runs along the city’s H Street Corridor in Northeast D.C., celebrated its one year anniversary. Over the course of the year, the streetcar has met or exceeded expectations. Officials from the District Department of Transportation said that the service carries 2,700 people daily. In January, for the first time since opening, ridership surpassed 3,000 people per weekday, which puts the streetcar performing at 236% of the DDOT's pre-opening estimate of 1,300 daily riders. And due to demand, service expanded from six days a week to seven. Currently, rides on the streetcar are free, and the DDOT expects that it won’t start charging riders for at least four years as the system is expanded.
Public transit will be an important aspect of the greater Houston area’s future, and how people in the region will travel. This was made evident by the proposal of a new task force that will closely look at the area’s long-term transportation needs, which will include highways, but also public transit like buses, rail lines and more. Members of the Houston-Galveston Area Council's transportation policy council proposed a task force designed to develop a plan that will involve high-capacity transit for the 14.2 million people that will live in the eight-county Houston area in 2050.
The transportation plan for the area is updated every five years and extends for a 25-year period. The current plan, approved in 2015, covers until 2040. The next plan will reflect plans for highway, transit, bicycle and maritime projects for 2020 to 2045. The emphasis on public transit in the region comes after the Houston-Galveston Area Council admitted that they cannot rely solely on highways. "Future growth and the resulting travel is expected to surpass our ability to meet regional mobility needs by relying solely on increased roadway capacity," the agency's staff wrote. The proposal is for the task force to be made up of transportation board members, transit officials and others, with two co-chairs, one of whom is from transit. The task force would wrap up its work in August 2018 and hand the findings over to the transportation council and H-GAC staff to help shape the 2045 Regional Transportation Plan.
The idea of a 3-mile “North-South” rail tunnel that would link North and South stations for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) is gaining momentum. State transportation officials began soliciting bids for the tunnel, which would create a fully connected rail route between Washington, D.C. and Maine. The study will help provide transit officials with a technical and financial analysis for the project, and if further review is required. The study is expected to cost $2 million and take up to eight months to complete.
The project was first proposed several years ago, but cost estimates were too high for the state to support. The tunnel was previously projected at $8 billion, but supporters say that advances in construction technology would lower the cost to between $2 billion and $3 billion.
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 email@example.com.
In a letter to the Federal Railroad Administration and the NEC Future Team, NARP President and CEO Jim Mathews expressed support for the route selection of the Tier 1 Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) and a focus on implementing a 21st century vision for Northeast Corridor (NEC) rail service. However, NARP expressed to the FRA that certain issues should take precedent in preserving the NEC’s integrity. In the letter, NARP urged the FRA to prioritize more pressing issues which include but are not limited to:
expedited construction of the new trans-Hudson rail tunnels,
replacing the Portal Bridge in the New Jersey Meadowlands,
replacing the Baltimore and Potomac tunnel in Baltimore, and
construction of the North-South Rail Link in Boston, along with other priorities as spelled out by the Northeast Corridor Commission (NECC).
In addition, Mathews acknowledged some local opposition in Connecticut and Rhode Island by a few communities to the Preferred Alternative's Shore Line Bypass alignment. He noted that if sufficient political and citizen opposition results in the inability to proceed with this line segment, NARP would ask FRA to re-examine DEIS Alternative 2, which routes the high-speed tracks through New Haven to Hartford, Connecticut and then in an easterly direction to Providence, RI. This option poses several positive attributes, including:
it establishes a "new" New England (inland) corridor linking Boston, Providence, Hartford and New Haven to New York City and beyond,
it may eliminate the significant opposition now expressed by some Connecticut and Rhode Island Shore Line citizenry and their elected representatives,
it preserves Providence access on a high-speed alignment,
it allows for the capture of additional rail ridership on a new corridor and
it provides greater economic benefits to New Haven, Hartford, and intermediate communities.
In Minnesota, Republican legislators proposed a measure that would redirect $929 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation from Minneapolis’ Southwest light-rail to other projects like roads and bridges. However, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) stated the measure is barred by federal law. An FTA representative said last week that “by law, [Capital Investment Grant] funding may be used only on major transit capital projects. It may not be used for roads, bridges, or other transportation projects.” Before the federal money can be granted for the light-rail project, the Metropolitan Council must first prove that it has secured half of the line’s $1.9 billion project cost from local sources. According to officials, an application to the FTA for the Southwest money will likely be made by midyear. The 14.5-mile line will connect downtown Minneapolis to Eden Prairie beginning in 2021.
Construction on the Milwaukee Streetcar will begin this March with the installation of new trackage.
“It will be very similar to street construction,”said project manager Mike Ethier. “If you didn’t know it was a streetcar, you would think it was road construction going on until the rails appear.”
“I would be surprised if anybody who lives on the route would be unaware of this project,” added Ghassan Korban, commissioner of the Department of Public Works. “We are continuing to talk to local stakeholders, and although we have a good handle on schedules and needs, we are always open to make revisions. We are going to see excitement along the route. It is going to start to evolve and be built. The locations were selected thoughtfully in order to avoid pulling those long track pieces around corners. Where they are stored they are aligned in the direction they are headed to.”
The new LYNX Blue Line light-rail extension in Charlotte is now expected to begin service March 31, 2018 due to construction coordination challenges, system integrations testing, and safety reviews. The 9.3-mile extension was originally set to open August 2017 according to officials with the Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS). Despite the delay, the project is not expected to incur any costs over its $1.6 billion price tag since the project is under budget. Officials also noted that the agency will work with construction teams to open the extension earlier than March 2018 if possible.
Upcoming Regional NARP and State Passengers Association Member Meetings
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!
Rail Advocates in New York State’s Southern Tier have formed a group to explore the feasibility of returning passenger rail service to the region, which includes the cities of Binghamton, Elmira and Corning. Such future service would likely be an extension of long-sought restored trains operating from New York City to Scranton, PA, through New Jersey and Pennsylvania. NARP Vice-President Bruce Becker visited Corning in late February and met with the group’s organizers and over 25 interested citizens. The group hopes to raise $100,000 in order to fund a economic feasibility study for the service.
Officials with PennDot, Amtrak, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) celebrated the start of renovation work with a groundbreaking at the Paoli station on the Main Line. Part of the works includes an upgrade to the station for wheelchair accessibility, which was lacking for people with disabilities. As a result, Amtrak was sued by advocates for people with disabilities in 2012. SEPTA and Amtrak representatives are working to bring all their stations into compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act. Of SEPTA's 154 Regional Rail stations, 67 are either accessible to people with disabilities or undergoing accessibility upgrades, including the Paoli station.
Massachusetts Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Jay Ash stated that the development of a commuter rail line to Gillette Stadium, home of the New England Patriots, could generate $1 billion in economic growth. Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority officials noted that a pilot program to test the viability of sending daily commuter trains to the stadium would cost $950,000 to operate, and bring in $411,000 in fares and parking revenue. In addition, development would spread along Route 1 in Foxboro, Wrentham and Plainville, where companies are looking for large tracts with established infrastructure and transportation. Secretary Ash stated that the economic benefit of a commuter line to the stadium would more than offset cost of expanding the rail line, and noted examples in Weymouth and Plymouth. The money spent on new infrastructure in the two communities has led to hundreds of units of new housing and corporate development. The state would also have to spend $10 million upgrading signals and tracks along the route.
Local, state and federal officials have made recent pushes to expand passenger rail service in Johnstown in an effort to connect the area with Pittsburgh. Officials have been advocating for an increased number of trains for passengers in Johnstown and Altoona. Currently, trains are so infrequent, it would have taken three days of travel for a person to attend a Pennsylvania House Transportation Committee hearing in Pittsburgh that discussed increased rail service. Although support is there for expanding service, the project is still in the earliest stages. Officials noted potential obstacles include budgeting, cooperation with Amtrak, and negotiations with Norfolk Southern, which currently owns the tracks used by the passenger rail agency in Western Pennsylvania.
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.