Hotline #1,016: Updates From Infrastructure Week; Senate Confirms New USDOT Deputy Secretary; Amtrak May Utilize Grand Central Station During Penn Station Repairs
May 19, 2017
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It was a busy Infrastructure Week on Capitol Hill, with several notable updates taking place that will help shape the future of the country’s transportation infrastructure. NARP staff made sure to attend several events throughout the week, in order to share important insight and information regarding passenger rail.
According to U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, who spoke at an Infrastructure Week kick-off event hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Trump administration will release its infrastructure plan within the next several weeks. Secretary Chao informed the Chamber that the infrastructure proposal will include $200 billion in direct federal funds to leverage $1 trillion in infrastructure investment over the next 10 years. Secretary Chao did not provide specifics on which projects will receive support, but said that the plan will most likely include support for roads, bridges, railroads, airports, inland waterways and ports, as well as energy, water, broadband and veterans hospitals.
The administration's goal will be to use federal funding, "as an incentive to get projects underway and built more quickly with greater participation by state, local and private partners," Chao said at the event, "This approach is in line with studies that show federal spending often substitutes rather than augments state and local funding on infrastructure.”
NARP staff was on hand at the kick-off event to ensure that the voice of rail passengers was represented. NARP recognizes that the need for an infrastructure proposal is critical to the country’s current transit needs, as well as the future.
“Now is not the time to sit back and wait, but rather encourage our elected officials to move forward with an infrastructure plan that will support local, state, regional and national initiatives,” said NARP President and CEO Jim Mathews. “It’s important that the Trump administration gets this plan right.”
Other groups agreed the time for action is now, and pushed for something more substantive than a vision.
“My question to the White House and Congress is this: Where is the bill?” said Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, at the same event. “It’s ‘go’ time. Bring legislation to the floor, and the labor movement will help you pass it.’’
The Senate, for its part, is looking to use its experience in successfully drafting the FAST Act—a multi-year surface transportation bill that ramped up investment in roads, rail, and transit—to take the lead on an infrastructure bill.
“Because of our experience in the FAST Act, I would rather get something really specific in the Senate because it turned out that that’s what we did anyway,” said Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Senator Inhofe expected Secretary Chao to present concrete details to his committee in a hearing held Wednesday, “enough time has gone by that she can speak to some specifics as to what projects are going to be pursued, what type of projects," he said.
In addition, Secretary Chao said the plan was developed with input from 16 federal departments and agencies, and it will address the needs of urban and rural communities. She also emphasized, “that Gateway is an absolute priority in terms of our focus.”
NARP was also on hand at an event hosted by Bloomberg on Tuesday with many mayors who are working to find solutions for the critical challenges facing cities and states around the country. Participation in the discussion included: Nashville Mayor Megan Barry, Connecticut Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty, Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser, Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts and New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell.
You can listen to an audio recording of the conversation online at Bloomberg.
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 gives you the tools, but we need YOUR help by 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.
Not waiting for the Trump administration to reveal its infrastructure plan, two infrastructure bills were proposed on Capitol Hill during Infrastructure Week.
Leading a bipartisan group of senators, Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) proposed a infrastructure bill that looks to leverage money from the private sector through a newly created investment bank. According to the senators, the “Bridge Act” would use $10 billion in federal money to generate approximately $300 billion for total project investment in roads, bridges, and other projects. The Act would create an independent financing authority to oversee financial assistance opportunities in order for states to support their respective infrastructure projects.
"We must think boldly and make real investments in our nation’s infrastructure rather than kick the can down the road with short-term fixes,” Warner said. “This legislation will set a clear framework that will help create jobs, expand U.S. commerce and trade, and keep American businesses competitive.”
In regards to the proposed infrastructure plans, NARP President Jim Mathews said, “We are glad to see that parties on both sides are focused on improving our country’s infrastructure. At the request of the Trump administration, in March we provided a list of shovel-ready projects that could use federal support to move forward, and many, if not all of them, would provide significant job creation and economic growth for the U.S. The proposed list of projects should be taken into consideration by all parties that look to repair and upgrade our country’s infrastructure.”
In addition to the Bridge Act, House Democrats on the Energy and Commerce Committee revealed an $85-billion plan for infrastructure, though it did not include any money for transportation. Known as the Leading Infrastructure For Tomorrow’s America, or LIFT, Act, it includes federal funding for five years of infrastructure projects in the areas of energy, environment, technology, and healthcare.
According to the bill, funding would be directed as:
$40 billion to deploy broadband internet around the United States;
$22.5 billion on drinking water infrastructure improvements;
$17 billion on the electric grid, renewable energy and energy efficiency programs;
$3 billion to improve hospitals and infectious disease research facilities; and
$2.7 on the Brownfields industrial waste site cleanup program.
As part of Infrastructure Week, Amtrak President Wick Moorman and Association of American Railroads CEO Edward Hamberger appeared in a C-SPAN interview on the state of the railroad system in the U.S.
Moorman defended the National Network's role in serving communities that are underserved by other forms of transportation, and also cautioned that the financial fallout from the Trump administration's proposals cutting the National Network would include diminishing Amtrak's ability to invest in the Northeast Corridor.
'A Day Without Trains': Saturday, June 23 -- Save The Date!
The fight to preserve the National Network has really only begun, but thanks to all of you we've already won a significant victory with support in the Fiscal 2017 spending plan. We expect the Network to come under assault again in the Fiscal 2018 budget submission, which Congress will debate this summer. Make no mistake: the state-supported services and the Northeast Corridor would also be terribly crippled by the end of the National Network, and this is a moment for everyone who needs passenger-rail service to stand up and be counted. We'll be organizing a National Day Without Trains on Saturday, June 23, and we NEED YOU TO PARTICIPATE IN YOUR TOWN.
Watch for emails and announcements on how to take part. Don’t sit on the sidelines!
Also on Capitol Hill this past Tuesday, the U.S. Senate confirmed Jeffrey A. Rosen as the deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation. Rosen was nominated by President Trump to be the second in command at the DOT, working under Secretary Chao to manage the agency’s day-to-day operations.
Regarding the confirmation, NARP President Jim Mathews said, “Congratulations to Deputy Secretary Rosen on his appointment. We look forward to working closely with him and Secretary Chao on several important passenger rail and infrastructure initiatives as the administration plans to release its proposal soon.”
Although Rosen received the Senate’s approval, with a vote of 56-42, it’s important to note that several Democrats voted against Rosen’s confirmation. Most notable is California Senator Dianne Feinstein’s opposition to Rosen and all other U.S. DOT nominees.
Sen. Feinstein said this week that she intends, “to oppose confirmation for every Transportation Department nominee until the Trump administration releases funding for the Caltrain Peninsula Corridor Electrification Project.”
It was in February that Caltrain officials were informed by the administration that the agency would not receive $647 million in federal grants, until at least 2018. The federal grant was intended to help support the $2 billion electrification project, which would have also aided the development of California’s high-speed rail line as the two services could use the same lines.
Previously, Mathews wrote to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao highlighting the importance of funding the electrification of Caltrain. Mathews wrote that, “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.”
Even this week however, Secretary Chao said she will not approve a funding agreement necessary to release federal funds for the project, claiming -- somewhat disingenuously -- that she can only approve releasing the funds if Congress appropriates the entire $647 billion earmarked for the project. Congress rarely approves multi-year appropriations, and typically funds get released with language specifying that continued funding depends on “future appropriations.” Secretary Chao was asked about the Caltrain funding during a hearing Wednesday for the Senate Environment and Public Works committee.
Speaking of high-speed rail in California, Gov. Jerry Brown sent a letter to President Trump with a request to transfer federal oversight of environmental reviews for the project to the California High Speed Rail Authority. Specifically, Brown asks for “delegation of federal authority” under the National Environmental Protection Act, and he noted in his letter that the request is being made because he believes state officials can move faster through the process than their federal counterparts.
Although construction of the project is underway, the environmental review process is behind schedule and the rail authority does not expect to meet review deadlines before the end of the year. With a change of responsibility, Brown can shorten the timeline.
Spokeswoman for the rail authority, Lisa Marie Alley, said that Secretary Elaine Chao has the ability to delegate authority on environmental decisions to state officials. Governor Brown has met with Secretary Chao, and NARP’s Jim Mathews reached out to Secretary Chao to support high speed rail in the state.
In a letter to Secretary Chao, Mathews pushed the need for continued support from the federal government for high-speed rail in California due to the economic benefits the project will provide over its development and implementation. 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."
Association of Young Americans stands with NARP
Too often we hear about disenfranchisement spreading to the very voters who our work will eventually affect the most: those just now eligible to vote. This is why we're proud to announce that the Association of Young Americans picked up on our recent campaign against the proposed White House budget. The issue resonated with their growing membership. Thanks to them, hundreds of calls were made on behalf of saving national network trains by newly active Millennials in the political arena. Head over and check them out; there's no age restriction, only an interest in expanding democratic participation from newly of age voters: an underrepresented yet enormous segment of constituents.
Although the information has not been confirmed by Amtrak, there are indications that the passenger rail agency may begin running some Empire Corridor trains to & from New York’s Grand Central Terminal this summer as it conducts repair work at Penn Station. Approximately 1,300 passenger trains run through Penn Station each day, but Amtrak’s plans for track and switch work could cut the station’s capacity by 25 percent.
Grand Central opened in 1913 but has not served intercity passenger trains since 1991, when that role was shifted to Penn Station. Yet according to a source, Amtrak officials have been studying switching at least some of its trains from the Empire Corridor back to Grand Central in order to relieve congestion once services are reduced.
Though he did not suggest the change, Amtrak President and CEO Wick Moorman told a state Assembly panel last week, "for perspective on this, Grand Central Terminal handles only roughly two-thirds the number of daily trains on double the number of train tracks, compared to Penn Station."
In addition, Albany area assemblyman John McDonald confirmed that Grand Central is a real possibility. “The fact that there’s ongoing discussion and communication up until 9:30 last night, indicates that it’s still very much in play,” he said.
Gary Prophet of the Empire State Passengers Association also told local news station, WCBS 880, he has been in contact with Amtrak train crews and said they are already being trained to operate on the route to Grand Central Terminal.
“We are sure that Amtrak officials are considering every possibility available to them as they prepare for their repair work at Penn Station,” said NARP President and CEO Jim Mathews. “Penn Station is a vital piece of the Northeast Corridor, so any reduction in service has the potential to up-end thousands of lives in a single day.”
Amtrak officials have not yet released details on how services will be reduced, but repair work at Penn Station is expected to begin July 7.
Upcoming Regional NARP and State Passengers Association Member Meetings
Saturday, May 20, 2017 - All Aboard Ohio 2017 Spring Meeting - Hilliard, OH
Saturday, June 3, 2017 - Empire State Passengers Association Working Group Meeting - Schenectady, NY
Please contact Bruce Becker to have a local, state or regional meeting added to the NARP calendar of upcoming events!
Carlos Aguilar, CEO of Texas Central Partners, said that the private company that is planning to build a high-speed rail line between Dallas and Houston reached an agreement with a global consortium to design and build the project. Aguilar did not provide specifics as a larger announcement is expected in a few days, but he did say, “We have a world-class design builder that has just signed on to come and build this for us.”
Aguilar also provided several highlights that emphasize further success of the projects, which include Central Japan Railway providing its "Shinkansen" bullet train technology, and that Texas Central now employs a hundred people on the project, with 16 more, “coming on board within the next week.”
Despite the positive notes, there has been misguided opposition that look to stop the development of HSR in Texas. Opponents have filed lawsuits with hopes of pushing eminent domain, while proposed legislation would impose regulations that restrict certain business activities and investments. Some bills specifically target passenger rail by name, creating an uneven playing field on which transportation companies can compete.
NARP Chairman Peter LeCody, who also heads 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.”
Aguilar remains optimistic however that the project will move forward. The project is currently estimated to cost $16 billion, with money coming from private investors and possibly federal loans earmarked specifically for infrastructure projects.
In New York City, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) released a new plan that would help improve subway reliability and service by reconfiguring its management and expediting the delivery of new subway cars. According to the MTA’s press release, “the new initiative is a comprehensive and focused plan targeting short-term, achievable service improvements,” as opposed to long-term infrastructure upgrades.
The plan includes proposed legislation that would create two separate roles for MTA’s chairman and chief executive officer, which the agency says will help strengthen leadership in MTA. It will begin to expedite the delivery of 300 new R179 subway cars this fall through September 2018. Also, MTA New York City Transit (NYCT) will accelerate the delivery of 450 new R211 cars.
Other components of the plan include:
Improve track and signals;
Mitigate delays associated with sick passengers and law enforcement activity;
Develop new strategies to streamline passengers' loading and unloading in stations; and
Better managing system bottlenecks.
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
To accommodate extensive Union Pacific track work west of Longview, the Texas Eagle will operate on an alternate route through Texas:
Upcoming Texas Eagle detour in Texas:
Beginning with train #21 on May 24, continuing through and including train #21 of June 21, (Train #22 of May 25 through June 22), the Texas Eagle will take an alternate route through parts of Texas.
After Longview, at Big Sandy, train 21 will travel on the former Cotton Belt to Tyler, the former SP to Corsicana, the former T&NO to Hearne and the former MP to Taylor TX, to rejoin the usual route to Austin and San Antonio. During this time, the train will operate one hour later between Chicago and Taylor. Train 22 will divert from the usual route at Taylor, operating on the former Missouri Pacific through Palestine direct to Longview.
Train 22 will operate its regular times San Antonio to Taylor, but will operate one hour earlier from Longview to Chicago.
Passengers on train 21 for stations Mineola-Temple will detrain at Longview for charter bus service to destination.
Passengers on train 22 for stations Temple-Mineola will detrain at Austin for charter bus service to destination.
On the heels of the Kansas City Streetcar’s first anniversary and larger than expected ridership, the KC Streetcar Authority and the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority (KCATA) selected a team to study the KC Streetcar Southern Extension. The study will be led by HDR and will look closely at the multi-modal transportation needs according to the KC Streetcar Authority. Specifically, the agency is interested in determining how to best move forward in extending the streetcar towards the University of Missouri, Kansas City (UMKC).
“We are thrilled to be working hand-in-hand with our partner, the KCATA, to detail specific plans for a southern streetcar extension and related bus improvements connecting downtown to the University of Missouri, Kansas City campus,” said Tom Gerend, executive director, KC Streetcar Authority stated in a press release. “This effort is a critical step towards advancing the region’s transit vision and completing the due diligence that will be required to make this vision a reality.”
Get Ready, Summer By Rail 2017 is Almost Here
Summer is right around the corner and that means “Summer by Rail” is returning for a second year. Thanks to the warm and enthusiastic support that Elena Studier and her bike Stevie received last year, we are expanding the program this year to send two interns across the country by rail for nearly 40 days.
Caitlin Boyle and Victoria Principato, both students at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., won the internship after a competitive application process. They will explore dozens of cities this summer. Together, they will share their experiences and the stories of those they meet along the way on www.summerbyrail.com as they travel from city to city by rail and bike. Major metropolitan areas and smaller communities will be traversed for this year’s event, which will kick-off in July. Some cities that Caitlin and Victoria will visit include New York, St. Louis, and Buffalo—as well as cities in Canada, including Montreal and Toronto.
The next leg of Summer By Rail will begin on July 31 in New York, and additional details on the event will be made available at www.summerbyrail.com.
Five cars out of 12 on a Metro-North train derailed Thursday as it carried 185 passengers from Stamford to Grand Central Station. Of the 185 passengers, 12 suffered minor injuries. The Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) suggested that the derailment could have been caused by heat and speed. The MTA said a recent inspection revealed a “heat kink” in the stretch of track, prompting a routine speed reduction of 10 miles per hour around the curve, through which the train was most likely going too fast. The MTA said the derailment was considered minor and happened at slow speed.
“Although this derailment was considered minor, thankfully, it has still highlighted that a minor derailment can cause significant backup and delays for passengers in the Northeast Corridor,” said NARP President Jim Mathews. “Delays were felt on Metro-North trains, but also Amtrak trains in the region.”
Crews were working overnight to clear the tracks and repair any damage to ensure trains were operating on time for Friday and through the weekend.
NARP Office Move Update
This week NARP completed its move into new offices that will become the launching pad for advocacy activities in Washington, D.C.
Easily accessible from the Metro Center 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, Washington, DC 20005 is fully ADA-compliant so that members with mobility challenges will be easily & safely able to visit and use the new offices. 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.
Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) officials released the rail lines’ first schedule for weekly service between Santa Rosa and San Rafael. The schedule, available online, has trains making 34 trips each weekday over the 43-mile line at 10 stations. In addition, the schedule allows for timely connections with SMART’s public transit partners, including Marin Transit, Sonoma County Transit, Golden Gate Transit, Petaluma Transit and Santa Rosa CityBus.
“We’re very excited to see SMART move forward with a schedule and near the start of service,” said NARP President and CEO Jim Mathews. “The start of SMART service has been highly anticipated and it will be a great benefit to communities between Santa Rosa and San Rafael.”
SMART train service has been planned since 2008 when voters approved the $450 million rail plan. Through development, the system has faced several problems and delays, but SMART officials are planning for service to begin late spring.
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. There is also one ‘At-Large’ Representative position currently available.
If you 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 or to the ‘At-Large’ position by the Board of Directors please visit review these position responsibilities and required qualifications and complete the corresponding Candidate Information Statement. There is no deadline to apply...submissions are considered as they are received.