Hotline #1,015: Infrastructure Week Kicks Off Monday, Amtrak Looks to Partner with Private Organizations to Improve New York’s Penn Station, Texas Central Railway Advocates Pushed Back Against Litigation
May 12, 2017
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With Infrastructure Week kicking off this coming Monday, organizations are doubling down on efforts to push the White House to follow through on a promised trillion dollar investment in U.S. infrastructure.
A task force made up of mayors and a coalition of conservative organizations entered the fray, and their goals, like those of NARP and many other transit-focused organizations, are centered around ensuring investment in the country’s roads, bridges and railways. NARP President and CEO Jim Mathews supported the creation of the groups, noting that infrastructure is a top priority for cities and states across the country.
“Cities across the U.S. are experiencing major population growth and transit systems, roadways, bridges and more are coming under heightened demand,” Mathews stated.
“Through our role as members of the National Advisory Committee on Travel & Tourism Infrastructure, we have already provided the Trump administration with a list of shovel-ready projects that are in need of support. But it’s important that NARP and other groups continue to come together to ensure that the federal government listens to the needs of the country and provides the best infrastructure investment plan possible.”
The first group is an infrastructure task force assembled earlier this week to represent mayors from across the country, and their respective infrastructure needs. Through the task force, the U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) plans to work with Trump’s infrastructure team, as well as Congress on developing infrastructure plans. The task force will encourage the federal government to include various aspects for investment transportation initiatives, including water, ports, energy and broadband, as well as other priorities such as tax-exempt municipal bonds and direct funding for cities.
Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett (R), president of USCM, noted that Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti (D) will lead the task force due to his experience working on local infrastructure priorities and working with top White House officials.
Mayor Garcetti said, “The path to economic prosperity runs through our investments in America’s infrastructure. That means upgrading our roads and rail systems, modernizing our airports and ports of entry to better compete on the global stage, strengthening our water systems, and creating partnerships in telecommunications to better connect our communities.”
NARP also emphasized the potential returns on the Trump administration providing a robust infrastructure plan.
“Depending on how the plan works out, thousands of jobs will be made available to people across the country, which will help local economies thrive for years to come, and generate strong economic growth for the U.S. as a whole,” Mathews stated.
In addition to the mayors’ task force, a number of conservative groups came together to form a new coalition in support of a wish list on how the administration should handle its infrastructure investment plans. Christine Harbin, vice president of external affairs for Americans for Prosperity, a member of the coalition, stated that the letter is an opportunity to start the development process early with the administration, and help avoid, “what happened to the initial effort on health care.”
If you haven’t participated in NARP’s in-district campaign, NOW is the perfect time to get involved as decisions get made about rail budgets in Washington!
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 (Facebook, Twitter or Instagram) using the tag #MyTrainMyTown and #AConnectedAmerica (or email it to us at NARP[@]narprail.org, subject line "My Town, My Train")
To access more advocacy resources, including NARP’s Guide to Engagement, click here.
Following a series of service disruptions, Amtrak is looking to partner with private organizations to lead concourse operations and make improvements to New York City’s Penn Station. Amtrak already plans to begin repairs in July for 44 days, but Amtrak President and CEO Wick Moorman noted that the agency will need assistance.
The announcement didn’t come soon enough for Governors Andrew Cuomo of New York and Chris Christie of New Jersey, who joined together to issue a letter calling for “a professional, qualified, private station operator” to take over responsibility from Amtrak for the management and repair of Penn Station.
At a panel hearing on Thursday with New York state lawmakers, Moorman said, “The fundamental challenge at Penn Station standing in the way of transformative change is the bifurcated control and disjointed nature of the three railroads’ respective passenger concourses. To be truly successful, everyone involved in Penn Station should be part of this venture.” Additionally, Amtrak is talking with the Long Island Rail Road and New Jersey Transit, which lease their own passenger ticketing and waiting areas at the station, to consider joint control.
Later that evening, the governors issued the letter, which read, in part: "Intense and immediate repairs are clearly necessary but they are not enough: longer term changes in the management of these assets must go hand in glove with the emergency repairs,” the men wrote. "Between New York and New Jersey we pay approximately $150 million a year for our respective use for the facility. As Amtrak's management of Penn Station continues to produce multiple failures, we believe systemic changes cannot wait. A professional, qualified, private station operator must be brought in to take over the repairs and manage this entire process going forward. We must have the right to approve any private contractor that Amtrak selects in response to our request and the record of failure causing these problems at Penn Station. The current situation is not tolerable and change cannot wait any longer."
NARP will closely monitor any plans to ensure that passengers are given a voice in the project, and that maintaining a high degree of safety for intercity passengers and commuters is given due consideration.
“Both Amtrak and Governors Cuomo and Christie are explicitly acknowledging what NARP has long argued: the Northeast Corridor infrastructure backlog is too big for Amtrak to tackle on its own. A solution will require resources from Amtrak, city and state entities, the federal government, and the private sector,” said NARP President & CEO Jim Mathews. “This problem has been building for decades, and solving it requires not only smarter allocation of investment, but dramatically increased investment. Penn Station is the busiest train station in the Western Hemisphere, in the greatest city in the world. It should be the crown jewel of the national rail network. That it’s not should be an embarrassment to each and every American.”
Moorman also announced that that agency will release its plans for summer service at Penn Station next week. Initial details of the work Amtrak will conduct has been limited, but reports suggest that 25 percent of the trains running in and out of the station daily could be cancelled. Approximately 1,300 Amtrak, LIRR and NJ Transit trains travel in and out of Penn Station each day, which means about 325 trains a day would be cancelled between the three rail services.
At the same hearing, Moorman discussed Amtrak’s plan to conduct additional work in 2018 for Penn Station. Moorman did not have specific details for timing of the outage, but did share that the duration of work will be shorter than the outage this summer and that Amtrak, LIRR and NJ Transit will be working together to keep information streamlined for commuters.
Moorman also said, "This is not the cure-all for Penn Station, there are signal (and) equipment issues. By doing this this work, it eliminates the possibility of tracks causing disruptions for a good long time."
NARP Office Move Update
This week, NARP started its move into new offices that will become the launching pad for advocacy activities in Washington, D.C.
Easily accessible from the Metro station and steps from Capitol Hill and the White House, the new offices offer a state-of-the-art conference space that will enhance the effectiveness of advocacy for passenger rail in America.
The 2,000-square-foot location at 1200 G Street, NW, Suite 240, is fully ADA-compliant so that members with mobility challenges will be able to use the offices with ease. The building also offers bike-friendly lockers and 24-hour security.
NARP will host a series of open houses for members in its Metro Center neighborhood in the months ahead.
Please stay tuned for more details regarding a planned ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Texas’ vision for high-speed rail isn’t confined to the private sector rail line between Dallas and Houston by Texas Central Partners. The cities of Fort Worth and Dallas are considering the development of a high-speed rail line that will run between both cities for up to 40 miles. The line would be known and the DFW Core Express.
NARP’s President and CEO Jim Mathews noted that the creation of the DFW Core Express will provide a variety of benefits to the two cities. “It’s still very early in the process for the development of the Core Express, but the benefits are wide ranging for the DFW area, including alternatives to driving for reduce congestion, job creation during construction and implementation of the line, and the potential for increased development of stores, restaurants and homes along the line.”
As it stands now, the Fort Worth City Council is considering a partnership with Dallas to create a local government corporation, an entity that would govern inter-city passenger rail service to plan out the line’s development. A $15 million environmental impact study of the possible route is expected to be completed in 2018, but the earliest the line could open is 2023 or 2024.
Fort Worth Mayor, Betsy Price, stated the line “could be a major piece and a solution for us for transit in the future. The benefits of having high speed rail between Fort Worth and Dallas, where you could be in and out in 15 or 20 minutes, are amazing.”
Texas Central Partners and Texas Rail Advocates pushed back against litigation under review by state lawmakers that could potentially kill development of a High Speed rail line from Dallas to Houston. Four bills that are in front of the House Transportation Committee highlight current efforts to stop the project. These regulations, if passed, are seen as highly anti-free market, according to Texas Central and other rail advocates.
Regarding House Bill 2104 specifically, Texas Rail Advocates executive director Chris Lippincott stated that, “‘A better business environment than Texas’ is not a phrase that I’m used to saying, but that’s what this bill contemplates and it’s not how we do things here.”
These bills would prevent any private companies building high-speed rail lines to file a bond that would cover the cost of reverting all land bought for the project back to its previous use if train service ever stops. According to Texas Central officials, such a requirement would be so costly that it would deter potential investors from putting money into the rail line.
When the proposed regulations were first released, NARP Chairman Peter LeCody, who also heads up the Texas Rail Advocates, stated, “If passed, these bills would deal two blows to Texas. First, by killing 40,000 direct jobs in construction and engineering that would be created over four years, and an additional 1,000 permanent jobs in operating and maintenance. The second through the loss of a desperately needed alternative to the overcrowded highways connecting two of the country’s fastest growing mega-regions, Dallas and Houston. On behalf of the millions of Texans who rely on trains, I’m calling on the state legislature to reject these job-killing regulations.”
As it stands now, the bills are pending additional review in the House transportation committee. Anti-HSR groups have been vocal in trying to kill the rail line. NARP members and HSR supporters in Texas still have an opportunity to voice their support for the project. Texan members can reach out to their elected officials and to help safeguard the project from these bills and other attacks.
Registration is NOW Open For NARP’s 2017 RAIL NATION CHICAGO Passenger Rail EXPO And 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
- Watch for more details soon...
Although Caltrain officials are awaiting approval of $647 million in federal grants to support its peninsula electrification project, there are positive signs for passengers -- the FY17 budget included $100 million in funding for the project, and the transit agency launched a new website promoting its new high-performance trains. The site asks for the general public to provide feedback regarding the designs of Caltrain’s new electric trainsets. The new website highlights key features that will be made available on each train, such as outlets at each seat, bike cars, and improved location information.
Caltrain Executive Director Jim Hartnett stated, "We're looking forward to hearing feedback that will help inform what that evolution looks like, and we are excited to share more information about how much better the Caltrain rider experience will be."
Democrats in California have joined NARP to encourage Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to approve a full funding grant agreement for electrification.
NARP’s Jim Mathews noted, “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. Modernizing the current diesel-based service is a cost-effective way to deliver more efficient, faster, and more frequent rail service to the region.”
The recently enacted $1.1 trillion federal spending bill includes $100 million for the project. But, Caltrain officials cannot use the funds until the Federal Transit Administration signs off on the full funding grant agreement.
Sound Transit in Seattle is planning a first for passenger rail in the U.S.: a floating rail line. Beginning June 3, the transit agency plans to begin building a light rail line on a floating bridge on the center express lanes of Interstate 90. Sound Transit has spent $53 million on designs for the bridge to make sure it stays buoyant when tracks carry 300-ton trains across it.
According to the agency, the biggest challenge was designing the rails so they would move with the bridge on Lake Washington, which rises and falls two feet in a year. Engineers designed the tracks so they will cross the hinges and sloping spans between the bridge’s fixed sections and the 1-mile floating deck. The design will help the railbed resist and absorb roll, pitch and yaw, rather than fight forces of the trains - an idea pulled from earthquake building designs.
Upcoming Regional NARP and State Passengers Association Member Meetings
- Saturday, May 13, 2017 - NARP Houston Local Area Meeting - Houston, TX
- Monday, May 15, 2017 - Rhode Island Association Of Railroad Passengers Spring Meeting - North Providence, RI
- Saturday, May 20, 2017 - All Aboard Ohio 2017 Spring Meeting - Hilliard, OH
Please contact Bruce Becker to have a local, state or regional meeting added to the NARP calendar of upcoming events!
New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation is moving forward with initial plans for a nature trail that would replace 34 miles of the Adirondack Scenic Railroad, even though lawsuits aimed at stopping the project haven’t yet had their day in court.
“The DEC is most definitely giving the appearance of moving ahead with construction of the rail trail despite the fact that this has not been resolved in the courts yet. Their (modus operandi) the whole time is to proceed as if there has been no court case,” said Bethan Maher, executive director of the Adirondack Preservation Society. “They’re asking for public comment before judicial branch has had their input.”
Overall, the DEC plans to develop a nature trail from Lake Placid to Tupper Lake in the Adirondack Park, but the Adirondack Preservation Society, which operates the rail line and other supporters, note that the trails development would result in a loss of railroad operations between Saranac Lake and Lake Placid. After filing the lawsuit, the judge hearing the case ordered a stay to prevent the state from removing rail infrastructure from the area in question before the case was decided.
It’s expected that the judge will make a decision on the case in early June.
A recent opinion piece in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise highlighted some serious concerns about the overall process of implementing The Adirondack Rail Trail, a proposed plan that would convert the first 34 miles of the out-of-commision Adirondack Railroad for recreational use with a focus on outdoor activities. John Lanahan, a Lake Clear resident and active commenter on the plan, proclaimed the stakeholders group in charge of implementing the trail has not taken into account serious environmental, legal, and social issues. If the stakeholders group continues to avoid transparency and ignore the input of those who would be directly affected, they will continue to struggle to move forward with the project.
In Detroit, today is a big day as the city celebrates the grand opening of the QLINE streetcar. The QLINE will run for 3.3 miles along Woodward Avenue to downtown Detroit connecting passengers to many attractions, sporting events and restaurants. Some of the sites that people can connect to include:
- Comerica Park,
- Ford Field,
- the under-construction Little Caesars Arena,
- the Detroit Institute of Arts,
- the Detroit Historical Museum and
- Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit.
As the line has been developing, neighborhoods have experienced growth in new local businesses that have been helping revitalize the city.
The streetcar route takes around 25 minutes, to get from one end of the line to the other, according to a test by the Detroit Free Press. Officials predicted the trip would take as long as 35 minutes initially, with an expectation that the time would drop over the ensuing months.
There are openings for state representatives on the NARP Council of Representatives, including one each in Alabama; Arizona; Hawaii; Idaho; Indiana; Missouri; North Carolina; North Dakota: Ohio, 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.