Hotline #1,020: Join NARP’s #Rally4Trains; House Appropriators Grill Secretary Chao; NJ Transit and LIRR Release Summer Schedules
June 16, 2017
Check Out Our Newest Hotline! NARP thanks those members who have sent in industry-related news stories, op-eds, editorials, or letters to the editor from your communities. We include them in our social media efforts, along with the weekly Hotline. Please send your news items to Bob Brady, email@example.com, and we will continue to share it with the membership. We also ask members to send events that we can put on the website here. And please follow NARP on Facebook and Twitter.
Join NARP’s #Rally4Trains
On the weekend of June 23, NARP members and other rail advocates will host rallies in cities across the country to support long distance passenger rail and oppose the White House’s plans to kill Amtrak’s long-distance routes. Visit www.townswithouttrains.com for a “rally locator” to help NARP members find a rally to attend near them. And if there’s no rally near you we’re making it easy for you to help to host a rally in your community, by signing up on the website. We’ll provide all the materials you need in a Rally In A Box kit. The site also makes it easy to contact Congress via email or phone. The main goal of the rallies will be to encourage Congress to appropriately fund Amtrak in the FY2018 budget.
The rallies are a direct response to a proposed federal budget that will kill Amtrak in more than 220 cities and towns in 23 states. More than 140 million Americans are currently at risk of losing all Amtrak service under the proposed White House budget.
NARP is also asking members to use the #Rally4Trains hashtag to help rail supporters stand up and voice their concerns on social media. Opposition to slashing the U.S. Department of Transportation's budget is crucial to persuading Congress to block this disastrous proposal and set budget priorities appropriately. Federal representatives must understand 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.
The #Rally4Trains is a series of national events taking place on the weekend of June 23rd, but continuing for as long as is necessary to ensure trains are a part of the national transportation system. Some rallies will take place on Saturday, June 24, Sunday, June 25th, and 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 in the rural and less wealthy communities in so-called “flyover country.” Jobs will disappear and economic growth will be lost in these affected communities.
Confirmed rallies are expected to take place in more than a dozen 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; San Luis Obispo, CA; Toledo, OH; Wilmington, DE and many other locations. Rallies are being added and changed each day, so keep checking back. And if your community is missing it’s not too late for you to stand up to host a rally -- we’ll send you everything you need.
As it stands now, the proposed 2018 White House budget would slash funding for Amtrak, but also transit and commuter rail programs. It 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.
Several local communities have begun to take note, and highlight the detrimental impact that the proposed budget cuts will have.
In Sandusky, OH for example, 10,000 people every year take Amtrak’s Capitol Limited train, which runs from Washington, D.C., to Chicago.
Southern Rail Commission Chairperson Greg White has been encouraging people to take part in the #Rally4Trains in Birmingham, AL. The Commission, along with NARP have been working with Amtrak to restore service again to the Gulf Coast for millions of people.
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 www.TownsWithoutTrains.com.
You can also download and print various posters & flyers that you can use during your local rally or to provide other rail advocates. If you need any additional information, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
[The Towns Without Trains and #Rally4Trains project has been made possible through generous bequests from the estates of George McCallum, Edmund Fritz and Lewis Hoppe, as well as contributions from NARP members all across America who make our work possible.]
Stories From Passengers: Ed D’Amato, Berea, OH
“I've been using Amtrak's long distance trains for 22 years. In all my trips, I never once chose the train because was looking for a ‘land cruise,’ which is what Amtrak's opponents have often accused the long distance trains of being. Except for the Auto Train, only once did I ever ride one from endpoint to endpoint. In every instance, I chose the train because I wanted or needed an alternative to driving or flying, and since I became a parent nearly 12 years ago a second reason has come about: because it allows me to spend more quality time with my family than flying or driving ever could.
For every train trip I've ever taken, I could explain in detail why it is important to me. The only reason we don't take the train more than we do is because Ohio has too few trains and no daylight service. The long distance trains are not a waste of taxpayer dollars. They provide an essential transportation service that is misunderstood and under-appreciated by too many policymakers. Amtrak's problem isn't that there are too many long distance trains. It's that there are too few of them.”
Thanks, Ed, for sharing your story! NARP is looking for more stories like Ed’s 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. We’ve heard from hundreds of you so far and we’re making sure they get seen in Washington...but we still need more!
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 email@example.com.
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.
The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development yesterday grilled U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao over plans to slash infrastructure funding, eliminate Amtrak's long-distance trains, and stall transit projects slated for construction.
Appropriators made it clear they understand the need for robust investment in passenger rail and transit. They were extremely skeptical of the White House’s proposed cuts to the transportation budget—particularly for rural communities.
Even so, Chao held firm in the White House's intention to target those very same rural communities by slashing Amtrak funding.
"Funding for Amtrak’s long distance routes is another area where Federal investments do not match the level of usage. Amtrak’s long distance services are used by a relatively small number of passengers," said the Secretary. "These trains are very expensive to operate and maintain; and account for much of Amtrak’s operating losses. The President’s budget recognizes this is an area with a low return on investment and instead asks us to concentrate our resources on other portions of Amtrak’s system."
Chao's statement is flat out wrong, and Amtrak President & CEO, Wick Moorman, has said the cuts would lead to a net loss for the company. "Amtrak's initial projection is that eliminating long distance services would result in an additional cost of approximately $423 million in FY2018 alone, requiring more funding from Congress and our partners rather than less," said Moorman.
When repeatedly pressed on details of President Trump’s oft-touted infrastructure bill, Sec. Chao promised answers soon—a strong indication that a concrete proposal will not be released this summer.
NARP was on hand to bring you all the relevant exchanges from the hearing:
Chairman Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), noting the DOT budget would be $16.3 billion, worries about the lack of funding for passenger rail and the Capital Investment Grant program, in particular.
Representative David Price (D-NC) argued that the P3 program would not be viable unless the federal government increased its investment from the proposed $200 billion. He said state and local funds would not suffice to fill the gap. He noted that the infrastructure plan presented to the House was too vague. Price was unhappy with the proposed $3.1-billion cut on discretionary spending, as well the 50% cut to Amtrak and the 28% cut to the Northeast Corridor. Rep. Price said that these cuts would reduce safety and damage the economy given the NEC's importance. Furthermore, he criticized the roughly $500 million cut to TIGER, noting it was overwhelmingly approved in the most-recent omnibus spending measure.
Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) focused on two projects in the NEC: the Gateway and the Hudson Tunnel. He said the Tunnel required federal funding to fix and any delay would gravely damage GNP and the economies of both NJ and NY. He also doubts that $200 billion would be able to leverage $800 billion from private, state, and local sources. Chao did not provide an in-depth answer. Regarding the specific projects brought up, she reverted to talking points about permit reform.
Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) strongly believed that proposed federal funding was insufficient and that localities and states could in no way afford to undergo projects without federal funding.
Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL) said that $85 billion was needed for urban transit to bring it into a state of good repair. He emphasized the need for maintenance on metro systems and asserted that younger generations find transit more appealing than cars. Furthermore, he said that urban transit systems--such as in Chicago--are not suited to P3. He also pressed Secretary Chao on Positive Train Control and modernization. She responded to say streamlining regulation would make upgrading systems faster, but also that funding would be directed mainly towards the "most efficient systems." Quigley said that Chicago could not afford to repair-and-upgrade without federal funding and the current cuts were damaging. Chao said funds would be placed in a "new investment system."
Rep. Hal Rodgers (R-KY) was unhappy about the focus on "the most transformative" projects, leaving him to believe rural America would be overlooked. Rodgers further questioned the possibility of selling public assets to the private sector. Secretary Chao said the focus of funding was still being debated, and that some states may have to loosen their restrictions and would not be permitted to sell assets to foreign entities.
Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA) said that Positive Train Control required federal funds to be provided.
Rep. David Valadao (R-CA) asked if the administration would honor the $647 million pledged to the Caltrain and their peninsula electrification project, which would have a difficult time getting private investment. Chao said $170 million would be given due to commitments made by the omnibus. Rep. Valadao requested funding be frozen until the project underwent an audit. Chao did not give a direct answer, but seemed to agree with the proposal. She further said that the question of appropriated funds for this project is a Congressional issue not one for the DOT.
Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-CA) said that "seed capital" already existed for HSR and Caltrain, emphasizing that they were separate entities; and that the TIGER Program was necessary for these projects to continue. He asked how those funds would be replaced. Secretary Chao responded by saying that TIGER was a popular program, but its funds were "earmarked" and should be replaced with more block-style grants to the states to spend as needed. She said the administration "philosophically" disagreed with TIGER's implementation.
Summer By Rail Blog: Exploring our August vacation home (a.k.a. Amtrak's rolling stock)
By Victoria Principato
In preparing our trip, I’ve been focusing a lot lately on each destination, and what Cate and I will be doing in each place we visit. But it’s also important for me to remind myself how we’ll be getting there. This past week, Amtrak was kind enough to give us a tour of the equipment that will be our home for almost a full month in August.
Being from New Jersey, I’ve only ever traveled by train on the Northeast Corridor, and have mainly taken the Northeast Regional train. The Regionals are really comfortable for short trips -- definitely a lot better than the bus or plane -- but if you're going to spend a whole day traveling (or longer, even) than you need a whole different set of onboard facilities.
It was so exciting to finally get the chance to see the long-distance cars that Cate and I will be journeying across the country in. I was surprised at how spacious the cars are, and how comfortable the reclining seats are.
I was able to meet first hand with an Amtrak crew, see where meals are prepared, and how had the crew works to make sure passengers -- whether in sleeper compartments or coach -- are comfortable and safe.
The coolest feature about these cars though is definitely the observation decks. These cars have windows for walls, that make the entire room have a view. I can only imagine what the Rocky Mountains or the Pacific Coast will look like from this perspective. All aboard!
The Summer plans for New York City’s Penn Station became more clear when NJ Transit issued its new service schedule. The revised schedule affects weekday trains for seven weeks between July 10 and September 1, as Amtrak repairs three of the station's 21 tracks. Overall, most commuters can expect trips to be 60 to 90 minutes longer this summer. The Morris-Essex commuter line will be impacted most as passengers will be diverted to ferry service or the PATH train to cross the Hudson River.
New York City commuters got to experience a silver lining to the perpetual cloud that has descended upon Penn Station, when officials opened a new $300 million concourse on Thursday. Located across the street from Penn Station, the concourse improves access to 17 of the 21 train platforms used by Long Island Rail Road, New Jersey Transit and Amtrak trains.
In contrast to the notoriously dim and dingy Penn Station basement concourses, the new LIRR concourse is well lit, with digital panels showing images of blue sky and clouds, and windows opening onto the trains and the platform below.
The new concourse gives commuters a taste of what life could be like once the renovated Moynihan Station comes online. They’ll have to be patient, however: it’s not scheduled to open until 2020.
In related new, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) announced this week its schedule for LIRR, and the plan calls for new service during peak rush hour, which will allow the LIRR to accommodate 9,600 people. The agency also plans to add 36 more cars to scheduled trains to provide more space at rush hour. Although there will be new service and more cars for some lines, the number of trains leaving Penn Station during evening rush hour will be reduced from 87 to 70. Of those 17 trains, seven will be canceled, while the others will head to different stations. In addition, three overnight trains that run between 2 and 4 a.m. will be canceled.
“It’s important for commuters to know that this is a temporary project that is focused on improving the safety of not only Amtrak trains, but also NJ Transit and Long Island Rail Road trains,” said NARP President Jim Mathews regarding the repair initiative. “Penn Station sees more than 1,300 trains and millions of passengers pass through it each day. These repairs are vital to their lives.”
Although Amtrak has most work scheduled for the summer, additional work will last until about June 2018. Most of this work will occur on weekends, resulting in minimal impacts to service.
Amtrak this week released a fascinating online video in which President Wick Moorman explains what’s driving the work this summer at Penn Station. It includes animations that really highlight the complex ballet that takes place each day in this oversaturated hub, which sees a train every four minutes all day long.
NJ Transit is facing another issue: Providing passengers with on-time service. According to NJ Transit officials, the transportation agency may have posted its lowest on-time performance numbers in its history in May. Only 46 percent of morning trains to Penn Station New York were on time, while "peak" rush hour trains to and from Penn Station in the morning and afternoon were on time only 58.5 percent of the time. However, Steven Santoro, executive director of NJ Transit said, “The obvious reason is the performance is based on the Amtrak repairs that are ongoing at Penn Station."
In addition, Santoro noted that another contributor to the poor performance is that the west end of Penn Station New York remains under a 10-mile-per-hour speed restriction by Amtrak, while the station’s east end speed limited was removed. The current speed limit for the west end has not been removed due to track work and inspections, and it affects eastbound trains coming out of the Hudson River tunnels from New Jersey.
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!
Maryland’s Purple Line hit another roadblock yesterday as U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon reinforced his decision to block development of the line, which would connect Bethesda with New Carrollton in Prince George’s County. Maryland’s Attorney General argued that the state will suffer “irreparable” financial harm unless the Purple Line project is allowed to move forward while the state appeals Judge Leon’s previous decision. The Attorney General specifically requested Judge Leon restore the project’s federal environmental approval, which would allow the state to secure $900 million in federal construction grants. The request would allow for construction to begin on the 16-mile line.
Despite the request, Judge Leon said that the state of Maryland has itself to blame for the current position it is in in regards to funding, having signed a $5.6 billion contract to build the project when the lawsuit was still under his review. The plaintiffs in the case say that one of the state’s arguments — that Metro riders aren’t required for Purple Line success — undermines one of the original stated ideals of the project: To help people reach spokes of the region’s subway system. Plaintiffs said that if the focus of the project has changed, then the state must reopen the environmental impact study to determine, “whether far cheaper and less environmentally destructive alternatives may satisfy,” the new objectives.
Following the judge’s decision, Erin Henson, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Transportation said in a statement, “We disagree with the judge’s commentary. We don’t believe Judge Leon will have the last word on this incredibly important project for the Washington region and the state of Maryland.”
The city of Las Vegas is one step closer to realizing the development of a light-rail line that will connect downtown to McCarran International Airport. Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval signed a new bill that gave approval for the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada to begin developing campaigns to raise money to fund the project, which is estimated at $705 million.
“This is a great milestone for passenger rail in Las Vegas, one that is a warm welcome for the city and the millions of tourists who visit Las Vegas every year,” said NARP President Jim Mathews, who welcomed Governor Sandoval’s signing of the bills.
Governor Sandoval signed two bills that will move the light-rail line forward:
One which gives RTC until the end of 2020 to ask Clark County voters whether sales taxes should be increased to help pay for the proposed 8.7-mile transit system;
The other allows the RTC to develop partnerships with private companies that will invest in large-scale transportation projects, such as the light-rail line.
As funding plans for the line develop, RTC is looking to mirror its efforts after San Diego, Phoenix, Salt Lake City and other so-called “peer cities” that have built and currently operate light-rail systems through a mix of federal funds, fares and sales taxes. In addition, RTC is looking to begin service for the light-rail line as early as 2023.
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
NARP members Dennis Lytton and Roger Rudick wrote a bylined story in Streetsblog SF that argued in favor of running Caltrain service and San Francisco Municipal Railway (Muni) trains on same lines. First proposed by Stanford M. Horn in The San Francisco Examiner, the idea was was to simply connect the lines with minimal renovations and construction over a few weeks to months, at a relatively low cost.
Despite critics, Lytton and Rudick provide supportive points including that:
Heavy rail trains, such as Caltrain, have been run in the street previously. The alignment that is now used by Muni’s Embarcadero Heritage Streetcar line was actually a freight train route that went through the Ft. Mason tunnel all the way to the Presidio.
In Europe, various rail passenger services share tracks. The concept is known as a “tram-train,” in which streetcars join the regular rail network, accelerate, and travel out of the city like a conventional train, sharing tracks with standard intercity equipment.
Advances in signaling technology and positive train control, can make it safe for the two services to share the same tracks, while also helping reduce government regulations.
During the annual American Public Transportation Association (APTA) Rail Conference, several transit agencies received recognition for their efforts in rail safety and security, and were awarded Rail Safety and Security Excellence Awards. The winners of the awards represent best practices and innovations by agencies that, “make riding on rail public transit safe and secure," according to APTA Acting President and Chief Executive Officer Richard White.
Rail transit agencies that received Gold Awards are:
Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA), for Safety in the heavy-rail category.
Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LA Metro), for Security in the heavy-rail category.
Metro Transit in Minneapolis/St. Paul, for Safety in the light-rail/streetcar category.
Maryland Transit Administration, for Security in the light-rail/streetcar category.
NARP Office Move Update
NARP’s new offices are a 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 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 can easily and safely visit the new offices. The building also offers bike-friendly lockers and 24-hour security.
Stay tuned for more details regarding open houses and a planned ribbon-cutting ceremony.
In a press release this week, Amtrak revealed that Seattle will be the new home of a locomotive service facility for the transit agency. The $28-million project will include the demolition of the site’s current facilities, utilities, tracks, and other structures, and the development of the new building. The service facility will provide maintenance and repair work for Amtrak’s Empire Builder and Coast Starlight trains; Amtrak Cascades state supported corridor service; and for Sound Transit Sounder trains.
“It is great to see that Amtrak officials are moving forward with important projects, despite looming funding uncertainties from the federal government,” remarked Jim Mathews, NARP President and CEO. “Amtrak and other transit agencies must continue to think about the future of transportation in the U.S., and provide services that millions of Americans rely on.”
The new initiative is set to begin construction this month and will be completed in June 2019. PCL Construction Services, which has previously worked with Amtrak in Seattle, is leading the project’s development.
In other Amtrak news, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) announced this past week that the most likely cause of an Amtrak derailment on October 5, 2015, was a rock slide. The NTSB's accident brief notes that the Amtrak Train 55 collided with debris on the track that was the result of a rock slide on the New England Central Railroad (NECR) Roxbury Subdivision near Northfield, VT. The report from NTSB also noted that there were not slide-fence detectors along the tracks to provide trains with warnings about the rock slide. As a result of the collision, the locomotive and four coach cars derailed, and four crew members and three passengers were injured.
The Denver Regional Transportation District (RTD) began testing its G Line trains after the agency received the go-ahead to resume testing last week. Previously, the Federal Railroad Administration ordered RTD to stop tests due to crossing gate issues. With the crossing gate glitches repaired, RTD officials said that tests will focus on communication systems, signaling systems and the communication of traffic and rail signals at railroad crossings.
“We are excited to begin testing along the G Line. Authorization to perform testing is evidence of the dedication RTD and DTP have in working with the regulatory agencies to ensure a safe system for our riders," RTD General Manager and CEO Dave Genova said. "Safety is RTD's top priority, and it is important for the public to be aware and exercise caution when walking, biking or driving near the commuter rail alignment."
Officials said testing could take up to 90 days to complete, but they did not indicate when the G Line will begin carrying passengers.
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.