Hotline #1,019: NARP Launches #Rally4Trains; Amtrak Submits Budget Request; Inspection Train Runs From Oklahoma City to Kansas City
June 9, 2017
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NARP Launches #Rally4Trains Campaign
In the face of a White House budget that could kill long distance trains in this country, NARP launched a new campaign to #Rally4Trains so that Americans can stand up and be counted supporting trains in their towns. With the threat of Amtrak service being completely wiped out in more than 220 cities and towns in 23 states, NARP and the association’s members could not stand idly by without reminding the White House and Congress that funding and maintaining a national rail network is vital to everyday life for millions of people, as well as the economic growth and prosperity of the country.
#Rally4Trains is a national event that will see rallies kick off nationwide, beginning with a day of unified rallies on Friday, June 23 in towns across the country which face the loss of Amtrak trains and other local transit services. Twenty rallies are set so far, mostly on June 23, but more are joining every day! Some will take place on Saturday, June 24 or Sunday, June 25th and one is even slated for Monday, June 26. Each rally is designed to raise awareness with members of Congress and let them know that if budget cuts to Amtrak and crucial U.S. DOT grant programs like TIGER are approved, millions of people will be left isolated, jobs will disappear and economic growth will be lost in these affected communities.
Confirmed rallies are expected to take place in more than 20 cities including: Alexandria, VA; Birmingham, AL; Charlottesville, VA; Chicago, IL; Cincinnati, OH; Cleveland, OH; Columbus, OH; Denver, CO; Martinsburg, WV; Meridian, MS; Miami, FL; New Orleans, LA; Portland, OR; Richmond, VA; Sacramento, CA; San Luis Obispo, CA; Toledo, OH; Washington, DC; Wilmington, DE and Whitefish, MT.
To launch #Rally4Trains, Jim Mathews, President and CEO of NARP said, "if Congress were to go along with even parts of this White House proposal, our national passenger rail network will largely cease to exist. Communities and rail passengers need to clearly and loudly tell Congress that our communities and citizens rely on trains as important travel options."
As it stands now, the proposed 2018 White House budget would slash funding for Amtrak, leaving 140 million Americans without access. Other cuts to transit and commuter rail programs will cost thousands of construction and manufacturing jobs, especially in small town America. Budget cuts will place a disproportionate amount of pain on rural and working class communities who rely on rail and public transit services for everyday travel.
As many of you know, the threatened services are commonly called long distance trains, but they also create local and regional transportation options for the communities they serve. In Montana and North Dakota, for example, Amtrak's long distance trains connect nineteen towns and cities on a single corridor. In Florida, twenty eight communities are bound together by long distance routes that offer an important travel option for family and business travelers.
"Millions of people will be left isolated, and those who will suffer the most are those who rely on passenger rail to get to their job, for an ADA-compliant mode of travel, and for people where other transportation options are limited," said NARP Chairman Peter LeCody. "The voices of these people must be heard by members of Congress, and we plan to make that possible during our ‘Rally For Trains’.”
For more information on #Rally4Trains events, to see if your town could lose service, to sign up to volunteer to host a rally in your town, or to contact members of Congress, visit TownsWithoutTrains.com. You can also download and print posters & flyers that you can use during your local rally. For more information e-mail email@example.com.
Write your member of Congress today!
NARP needs your stories about the National Network to help us fight the White House's proposed budget for FY2018. Facts and figures alone can’t communicate how vital these trains are to the communities that depend on them. NARP needs to hear from YOU about your town, and your train.
If you haven’t taken part in this campaign, please take just a minute or two to write out a few paragraphs telling us why passenger rail is important to you, and email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
We’re looking for stories from individual passengers about how train service benefits their lives, and how their lives would be hurt by the loss of train service. We’re especially interested in stories that describe how trains:
- Connect you to vital services, such as medical care or vital government services.
- Provide access to educational opportunities, whether it’s traveling across the state to university or commuting to an internship.
- Allow you to maintain mobility while managing a disability or medical condition.
- Help you and your business, and its role in helping you connect with customers and clients.
Amtrak is doing what it can to highlight the danger, warning that these short-sighted cuts would do nothing to save money. In a letter from Amtrak President and CEO Wick Moorman about Amtrak's, "General and Legislative Annual Report & Fiscal Year 2018 Budget Request," Moorman reported that eliminating Amtrak long distance rail service will actually cost the country more money -- $423 million more in FY2018.
"The Administration's Fiscal Year 2018 budget request for the U.S. Department of Transportation proposes the elimination of Federal funding for Amtrak's long distance services. Enactment of such a proposal would drastically shrink the scope of our network, could cause major disruptions in existing services, and increase costs for the remaining services across the Amtrak system. Amtrak's initial projection is that eliminating long distance services would result in an additional cost of $423 million in FY 2018 alone, requiring more funding from Congress and our partners rather than less."
Moorman also told Congress that the company witnessed remarkable growth and success last year: “Amtrak reported strong audited financial results for the fiscal year which ended on September 30, 2016, including an all-time ticket revenue record of $2.14 billion. The increased ticket revenue was fueled by a record 31.3 million passengers on America’s Railroad – nearly 400,000 more than the previous year. This is the sixth straight year Amtrak carried more than 30 million customers. The company covered 94 percent of its operating costs with ticket sales and other revenues, up from 92 percent the year before – a world-class performance for a passenger-carrying railroad. Thanks in part to our strong performance, Amtrak was also able to make a net reduction in long-term debt of $69.2 million.”
Amtrak’s funding request also goes on to highlight several important areas for the railroad:
- Many of its movable bridges are over 100 years old, but no funding is available to replace them;
- Funding in the NEC has lagged for years, and the NEC Commission estimates a backlog of crucial state-of-good-repair work totalling $38 billion;
- Amtrak’s Superliner fleet averages more than 200,000 miles per car, per year, and the fleet is approaching 40 years old.
The letter and budget request were sent on May 31, 2017, to Vice President Mike Pence, in his role as President of the Senate, and to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI).
Today, Amtrak and BNSF Railway have been operating a one-way inspection train. The purpose of the train is to evaluate a section of BNSF’s right-of-way and explore the possibility of extending its Heartland Flyer north to Newton, KS, with hopes to connect it with the existing Southwest Chief route. Budget cuts eliminated Amtrak service in the region in 1979.
The trip began at 7:45am (CDT) in Oklahoma City, OK, and was set to conclude in Kansas City, MO, at 5:30pm. The train also stopped along the way in several cities, where groups of rail advocates, transit officials, and elected representatives expressed support for the service. Cities in Oklahoma included Guthrie, Perry and Ponca City, and cities in Kansas included Ark City, Wichita, Newton, Emporia, and Topeka.
NARP President Jim Mathews emphasized the importance of the inspection train. “This is a very critical step in passenger rail, as the expansion of Amtrak in this region helps solidify a national rail network in the U.S. We are looking forward to this initiative moving forward,” he said.
In addition to the inspection train running between Oklahoma City and Kansas City, Amtrak began testing trains and training crews between Lynchburg, VA, and downtown Roanoke this week. On Monday, the initial test train made the trip between the two cities, in anticipation of the start of revenue service set for this October. To prepare for the extension of state-supported NE Regional service past Lynchburg, a new boarding platform is under construction in downtown Roanoke, and a new layover maintenance facility was completed earlier this spring.
Once service begins, the train will seat 494 passengers on weekdays and 422 on weekends for its run to Washington, DC, and beyond, according to the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation. The current travel option for passengers is to depart the nearest Amtrak station in Lynchburg and stop in Charlottesville, Culpeper, Manassas, Burke and Alexandria before reaching Union Station, a trip of about four hours. In addition, ridership on the route totaled 91,841 people between October 1 and March 31, up 0.8 percent from the same period in 2015-16.
Rail Passengers Send Two Interns on Cross-Country Trip by Train + Bike
Two college students secured the summer’s best internship, which will take them on a 27-day “road trip” by train to 22 cities. Victoria Principato and Caitlin Boyle were hired by NARP for the 2nd annual “Summer By Rail” journey where they will study the transportation system in America. The tandem’s once-in-a-lifetime journey will cross the country and venture into parts of Canada. They will travel via public transit and their bicycles, stopping along the way to learn about communities that rely on rail. The 21st Century multi-modal “road trip” is the second annual “Summer By Rail” journey NARP has sponsored.
Boyle and Principato won the internships after a competitive application process in which they proposed their vision for their journey. They will kick-off their “Summer By Rail” on July 31 in New York City, before heading to 21 other cities in the U.S. and Canada, as well as dozens of attractions along the way. Cities the two interns will visit include Burlington, VT; Montreal, QU; Toronto, ON; Niagara Falls ON/NY; Buffalo, NY; Los Angeles, CA; Denver, CO; Kansas City, MO; New Orleans, LA and many more. The last leg of the trip, starting in Hattiesburg, MS, will see Boyle and Principato conclude their travels in Washington, D.C. on August 26.“We are very excited to explore the U.S. and Canada during ‘Summer By Rail.’ This internship will give us a unique opportunity to learn how people in different cities use public transit to get around,” said Boyle, who graduated this year from the Catholic University of America with a degree in civil engineering. “We will also look at the differences we see in style and culture in the various cities and towns on our trip. From food, to fashion, to architecture and design, we hope to spotlight what long distance train travel is like and the incredible experiences that await passengers.”
“This is a really unique opportunity that we hope will provide us real-life experiences that we can apply to our future careers,” said Principato, who also attends The Catholic University of America as a finance major, with an interest in politics. “Through this trip, I hope to inspire other people to explore America by train. At the same time, I want to be able to influence how local and state governments, as well as the federal government, view the development of policies that can support public transit and connect our country further.”
During their journey, Boyle and Principato plan to use multiple modes of transportation, including the primary mode which will be Amtrak trains, from east coast to west, and back again. They will bring their bicycles on the trip to explore the many cities they visit. While in each town, the two interns will ride buses, streetcars, ferries, and ride-sharing services--to name a few--in order to explore each city.
“Trains are an integral part of our 21st Century transportation system and bring so many benefits to travelers and communities,” said Jim Mathews, President and CEO of NARP. “During this year’s ‘Summer By Rail,’ Caitlin and Victoria will explore the joys of rail travel from city to city and coast to coast. They will have the chance to meet people from around the U.S. and Canada, and bring back important insights that they learn and can help us advocate for more and better trains in America.”
Leading up to, during, and after the trip, Boyle and Principato will share their journey and insights for the world to see on the “Summer By Rail” blog, as well as on Instagram and Twitter. To follow the pair’s journey on social media, audiences can use the hashtag: #summerbyrail. People can also follow the adventure at Facebook.com/narprail and YouTube.com/narprail.
In the first year of “Summer by Rail” in 2016, George Washington University student Elena Studier and her bike “Stevie” traveled to 20 different cities throughout the U.S., and met with numerous city and transit officials and representatives to discuss the country’s evolving transportation needs. Due to the tremendous success of last year’s trip and a newly found sense of importance to promote support for public transit services, the association continued and expanded “Summer By Rail” in 2017 to include two interns.
The Trump Administration this week tried to shift its focus to promoting its infrastructure investment ideas to help rebuild U.S. roads, bridges, railways and more. The Administration kicked-off “Infrastructure Week” on Monday by unveiling controversial plans to privatize air traffic control, and officials met with transportation business leaders and key Congress members to hear out ideas for tax cuts on Tuesday. However, Capitol Hill and the Administration can’t seem to reach an understanding on how to best move forward.
Democrats joined Republicans representing rural areas to push back at the administration’s proposal to separate air traffic control from the federal government and privatize it. The plan would see the transfer of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) air traffic control operations to an independent outside agency over three years “at no charge,” removing 30,000 FAA employees from the federal payroll. The FAA would still maintain safety oversight.
“Proposals to privatize air traffic control threaten the reliable transportation options provided by small airports and the general aviation community for millions of Americans. All but our largest airports nationwide stand to be hurt by this proposal,” said Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kan.).
Despite the vocal rejection of the plan, Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) have expressed their willingness to work with Republicans on infrastructure, but Pelosi noted that the, “Republican Congress must stop pushing plans that fail to create good-paying jobs for hard-working Americans.”
As it stands now, the Trump Administration's infrastructure proposal would spend $200 billion in hopes of spurring $1 trillion-worth of private investment to back projects for the nation’s transportation network. That plan drew the ire of Democrats and rural Republicans who fear investors would only be attracted to projects that can recoup their costs quickly through tolls or user fees.
“What our country’s infrastructure needs is President Trump to live up to his campaign promises of investment,” said NARP President Jim Mathews. “The proposed budget cuts and the outline for the infrastructure investment plan fall very short from what President Trump offered months ago in rebuilding our transportation. And as it stands now, if these plans move forward, they will do more harm than good through eliminating transportation service, isolating areas of the country, eliminating jobs, and slowing economic growth.”
Upcoming Regional NARP and State Passengers Association Member Meetings
Please contact Bruce Becker to have a local, state or regional meeting added to the NARP calendar of upcoming events!
It’s remarkable how opinions can change about transit projects once development starts and the rewards can be measured. NARP has long said that passenger rail projects across the country have the ability to create new job opportunities, develop new transit hubs with residential and retail areas, and strengthen local economies. It’s great to see when people begin to open up about the possibilities that public transit can provide.
The editorial board at The Sacramento Bee is a notable example of that change. The Bee originally opposed the 2008 ballot measure that authorized high-speed rail in California. Now, they see the project as offering the “life-changing potential of a transportation system that connects the San Joaquin Valley to Silicon Valley,” benefiting millions of people who are often forgotten about in the state.
In an editorial, the paper’s board offers its sincere support for the project, which they note has been referred to as the “crazy train,” or the “train to nowhere.” The editorial board highlights the project’s many benefits:
- Connecting two million people that live in Fresno, Madera, Merced and Stanislaus counties;
- Opportunities for jobs in other parts of the states since in these areas, unemployment hits as high as 10.2 percent in Merced County;
- Each workday at 14 job sites in Fresno and Madera counties, 1,100 people, many in hard hats, have jobs building the HSR system.
The editorial also drives home the positive outcomes that will be felt thanks to the Caltrain electrification project, which was approved for a federal grant last week. “Like the L.A. subway and BART, an improved CalTrain will ease gridlock, enhance economic activity, and reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. The same will be true of high-speed rail.”
Further, looking at how high-speed rail in California can change lives, the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) will provide the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority's (Metro) Regional Connector $115 million for its rail project. The $1.75 billion Regional Connector project is a 1.9-mile underground rail route that will allow passengers to transfer between Blue, Expo, Red and Purple lines. It also includes the construction of three stations.
What’s notable about the Regional Connector and why CHSRA is supporting it is that officials with CHSRA want people throughout the state to be able to connect. CHSRA officials said, “The California high-speed rail program isn't just about constructing the nation's first high-speed rail line. It's also about improving connectivity around the state, including in Southern California.”
The funds come from Proposition 1A bonds, which California voters approved in 2008. California Senate Bill 1029, which was signed into law in 2012, allocated the funds for the Metro project.
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
Chicago’s “L” train system, which began service in 1892, celebrated its 125th anniversary on Wednesday, June 7th. To celebrate the special day, the Chicago Transit Authority offered rides on vintage rail cars by giving people the option to hop on various cars built in 1923, and others built between 1976-78. It is always rewarding to see the evolution of passenger rail in this country, especially in a city where passenger rail has had a historic presence. Congrats and here’s to the next 125!
New Jersey commuter rail riders received some welcome news this week, as Amtrak said it will lift a 10-mph restriction on the east side of Penn Station. The speed restrictions implemented for safety concerns resulted in nearly 30-minute delays.With a major summer repair project approaching in July and August, lifting the restrictions will speed passengers’ commutes temporarily. The summer repairs will cut nearly 25 percent of train service to and from Penn Station. While drastic, the repairs are a necessary short-term evil, due to incredibly outdated tracks at Penn Station. As it is incredibly inconvenient, the repairs will offer an increased flow in and out of Penn Station, and ultimately and more pleasant and efficient mode of travel.
The New Jersey Transit substitute schedules for New York Penn Station have been released as commuter rail passengers gear up for the summer repairs just around the corner. According to New Jersey Council Member Albert L. Papp, Jr., New Jersey Transit (NJT) has adopted a workable solution to enable its regional rail riders continued access to midtown Manhattan during Amtrak's summer reconstruction of New York Penn Station interlockings. The unfortunate nature of the disruption to both Amtrak Northeast Corridor (NEC) intercity trains and NJT's regional schedules only highlights and reinforces NARP's strong recommendation to federal legislators to approve the authorizations approved by Congress in last year’s FAST act. The NEC faces a more than $50 billion backlog in state-of-good-repair projects and adoption of the skinny Trump budget proposals will only exacerbate that backlog. Looking for a specific line, check it out here on the NJ Transit’s website.
Amtrak recently introduced new menus on the majority of its long-distance dining cars. The popular French Toast has returned at breakfast and new items include Chicken, Bacon & Cheddar Quesadillas & Thai-spiced Pulled Coconut Pork Sliders at lunch and Seared Shrimp & Chicken & Bacon Fettucine Carbonara entrees at dinner. The dinner selections have been expanded to six distinct offerings, in addition to a new Field & Sea Combo of the popular Flatiron Steak and Seared Shrimp.
In a vote this week by officials in Hawa’ii, the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART) will be allowed to issue bonds in order to help pay for the city’s rail project. With the new bill approved, HART can continue to finance the project, otherwise rail officials said it would run out of money in January and begin shutting down operations this August. The city council approved the proposal by a vote of 6 to 3, allowing HART to issue the $350 million in bonds for construction.
The project is estimated to cost $10 billion, and is currently seeing a shortfall of up to $3 billion. The federal government is waiting for the city to explain how it will close the funding gap before it decides to pull $1.55 billion from the project and demand the return of more than $700 million in federal dollars already spent.
NARP Office Move Update
NARP has moved 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, D.C. 20005 is fully ADA-compliant so that members with mobility challenges will be easily and safely able to visit 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.
Public transit is growing nationwide, and cities and states are putting funds towards projects that will attract new riders, while providing greater amenities to current passengers. New stations for example, are highlighting growth on both the west coast and east coast, where Valley Metro in Arizona and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) began construction this week on new stations.
The Valley Metro broke ground on the 50th Street/ Washington Station, as construction began on Thursday, June 8th in Phoenix, AZ. The Valley Metro in-fill station was approved by Phoenix voters in 2015, and is the first capital project to be approved under Transportation 2050, Phoenix’s 35-year transportation plan. The Valley Metro station will make the metro more accessible and convenient for those that depend on ADA-compliant modes of transportation to get to work.
The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) broke ground on a new commuter rail station in the Boston neighborhood, Mattapan on June 6. The Blue Hill Avenue Station on the Fairmount line, is expected to be fully operational in 2019, and will feature a center-island platform and two covered pedestrian ramps. The station will offer greater access to housing, retail, entertainment, and jobs.
“It’s not just at the national level in which we see demand for rail services growing,” said NARP President Jim Mathews. “These projects by Valley Metro and MBTA are perfect examples cities looking at new opportunities for connecting people together, and how transit projects can help foster jobs and economic growth.”
The 2017 edition of New York by Rail magazine has recently been released and is now available on board all New York State trains and at stations across the Empire State. In it’s 14th year, New York by Rail is a joint collaboration between New York State, Amtrak and a private Hudson Valley publishing firm. Included in this year’s 96 pages, is information on all of the stations and destinations served by Amtrak across the state and also points in Vermont & Montreal which are served by trains running through the state. New this year are multiple travel package offerings geared to those who don’t own cars, especially in New York City. The New York by Rail website is updated regularly with new events, promotions and opportunities for travel on Amtrak.
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, Texas, Virginia (2 openings) and Wyoming. There is also one ‘At-Large’ Representative position currently available. Check out the full, up-to-date, list of current vacancies here.
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.