Hotline #1,027: WH Reaffirms Commitment To Infrastructure; CAHSR Opens Fresno Bridge; #SummerByRail Launched July 31; Amtrak and Lyft Partner Up
August 4, 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, firstname.lastname@example.org, 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.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee repeated claims that the Trump administration is focused on creating an infrastructure bill with Congress. Despite broad, bipartisan support for an infrastructure package, President Trump and Congressional Republicans have so far focused on moving health care and tax legislation.
“Reassurance from the Trump administration that roads, bridges and railways are still a priority is great to hear, but actionable steps need to be taken sooner than later,” said NARP President Jim Mathews. “We have provided the administration with a list of shovel-ready projects that would truly benefit from federal support, and in turn, provide much-needed benefits to the people who will use those public transit services.”
With the White House slow to move on the infrastructure bill, members of Congress have moved ahead with transportation funding legislation. Only last week the Senate Appropriations Committee approved an FY2018 transportation budget that would provide $1.6 billion for Amtrak and $12.1 billion for transit. The committee’s action established a bipartisan, bicameral consensus on the necessity of increasing investment in intercity rail, which hasn’t existed in recent years. Overall, the plan included:
Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvement: $92.5 million ($24.5 million more than fiscal year 2017, $67.5 million more than the President’s budget request, but $137.5 less than authorized by the FAST Act) to support implementation of positive train control, station improvements, and rail grade crossing projects.
Federal-State Partnership for State of Good Repair Grants: $26 million ($149 million less than authorized and $424 million less than the House bill) to upgrade aging infrastructure, a “key concern on Amtrak’s network”.
Rail Restoration and Enhancement Grants: $5 million ($16 million less than authorized and $5 million more than the House bill) to connect more communities to better service on the national rail network.
Restored $550 million for the popular Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants cut by the House, and funded New Starts at $2.133 billion—$380 million higher than House levels.
The Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee has also been discussing the possibility of drafting an infrastructure plan before the end of the summer.
In addition, Republicans are discussing with the administration ways to approach infrastructure, but they have noted the party’s desire to move forward with a plan, quickly. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said, “If Donald Trump fails to demonstrate leadership, Congress is just going to have to grab the rope. There’s already been discussions among us, both Republicans and Democrats, about coming together [on infrastructure.]”
“Time is not on our side,” Senator Blumenthal also said.
Stories From Passengers: Maria Evans
What an economic boost it is living about 10 miles north of an Amtrak station in "flyover land" (La Plata, MO.) Many of our students at Truman State University in Kirksville ride the train for trips home to Chicago or Kansas City, as it is economical and reasonably reliable (When it's not on time, it's usually b/c it's been bumped to a side track by long distance freight trains).
Amtrak business definitely is a boost to the economy of La Plata, helping to support a nice hotel, restaurants, and gas stations. I've known people to travel 100 miles one way to pick someone up at the station.
Personally, I find train travel economical, relaxing, and fun. I'd rather take the train than fly these days for short trips, and I do when I can. We should be putting more money into upgrading train travel, not less, with improved trains, high speed rail, dedicated passenger tracks, and amenities like Wi-fi on all trains. It disgusts me how much federal subsidization the airlines get for the "privilege" of treating human beings like cattle, and basically bullying passengers. I can truly say I have always been treated well on the train, like a valued passenger instead of a piece of cargo.
Please do not cut Amtrak funding, and particularly to the middle of the country, where public transportation is scarce enough as it is.
A big thanks goes to Maria for sharing her story! NARP is looking for more stories like this about the National Network to help us fight the White House's proposed budget for FY 2018. 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 yet taken part in this effort, 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.
A ribbon-cutting celebration was held this morning in Fresno, CA by the California High-Speed Rail Authority to open the new Tuolumne Street railroad overcrossing in downtown. The event marks the long-awaited opening of the bridge, which is eight months behind schedule, but also signals an important step for high-speed rail in the state.
“The opening of the bridge is a great milestone for high-speed rail in California,” said NARP President Jim Mathews. “Each bridge opening, or tracks laid, brings the state one step closer to completing its goal of connecting southern California.”
The bridge spans from Broadway to the east and F street on the west, and will carry drivers over the Union Pacific Railroad freight tracks and the future high-speed rail line.
To check out additional updates from the Authority on HSR in California, officials launched BuildHSR.com. The new website provides updates about the 119 miles of construction underway in the state's Central Valley. The site will be updated regularly with road and construction alerts, photos, videos construction milestones and events.
Despite the great celebration this morning, CHSRA also experienced a legal challenge this week as the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said the Authority must follow the state’s environmental laws. Previously the U.S. Surface Transportation Board provided an opinion that the HSR project would be protected by federal law, and would not have to follow the state’s laws. The court ruled the the STB’s opinion was only advisory and did not carry the weight of federal law.
The decision complemented a ruling last week by the California Supreme Court, which similarly found that federal rail law does not supersede California’s environmental regulations. The legal decisions can make it easier for HSR opponents to file additional lawsuits against the project. The rulings also allow state residents to challenge other rail uses, such as the freight movement of crude oil.
Upcoming Regional NARP and State Passengers Association Member Meetings & Events
Saturday, August 12 - 11:30am - All Aboard Washington Picnic Meeting - Lacey, WA - Rainier Vista Park
Saturday, August 12 - 12:00noon - Empire State Passengers Association Working Group Meeting - Utica, NY Union Station - Trackside Restaurant
Saturday, August 19 - 11:00am to 3:00pm - 2017 New England Regional NARP Meeting - Springfield, MA - Sheraton Monarch Hotel
Please contact Bruce Becker to have a local, state or regional meeting added to the NARP calendar of upcoming events!
Since 2008, people in the North Bay area of California have been waiting for the eventual opening of the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit System, known as SMART. The development of the service experienced more than two years of delays, but SMART officials say that the service is about to close to being open. Officials also said they are looking to develop a network that could have a profound impact on the region’s residents, its job centers and its growing tourism. This includes the creation of plans for new stations and a critical southern link to Larkspur near the Golden Gate Ferry terminal.
As it stands now, when SMART service begins, riders will be able to utilize 10 different stations that range 43 miles from the Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport in Santa Rosa to downtown San Rafael. Officials expect to open an 11th station, in downtown Novato, sometime next year, before extending to Larkspur. When all new stations for SMART are complete, service will extend 70 miles, and provide a transit alternative to the congested Highway 101.
The latest delay for SMART service is due to delays in federal oversight. SMART hasn’t received final approval for $50 million for the implementation of positive train control, which is designed to automatically stop trains if it senses a potential collision or problem. A spokeswoman for the Federal Railroad Administration, Tiffany Lindemann, said last week that the agency “is still working closely with SMART to review the positive train control system for final sign-off. The duration of the review can vary depending on the complexity of the system.”
#Rally4Trains Keeps Growing!
The “Rally4Trains” movement is growing! Nearly 210,000 people have signed a petition to save long-distance passenger rail in America. Help us get to 212,000! A second petition has more than 6,000 signatures. If you haven’t yet had the chance, please add your name to the lists. Show Congress that we are still united for trains!
Remember, it’s not too late to host a rally in your town! Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll send you everything you need, including posters, flyers, handouts, sample press releases and letters, and a list of media contacts. Keeping this issue front-and-center is important. Sharing pictures of rallies at your station or in your town on Facebook or Instagram, or just sharing your frustration over the short-sighted budget request, is an easy and free way to pitch in. At the end of your Facebook post, insert #Rally4Trains, just as you see it spelled here. That ensures that everyone’s messages and pictures are gathered in one place for everyone to see online!
As always, call Congress at: 202-224-2131, and tell them you oppose this disastrous federal budget proposal. That number will allow you to connect with the people you elected to represent you in Washington. Or, email them by visiting the www.townswithouttrains.com website, and clicking the “Contact Congress” button. And, share the #Rally4Trains hashtag on your social media accounts.
[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 financial contributions from NARP members all across America who make our work possible.]
With Penn Station repairs more than halfway complete, Jim Venturi, Principal and Founder of ReThink Studio, suggested various means in which Penn Station could be revitalized for the future. Part of the issue that Penn Station faces, Venturi said, is that “Penn Station is not actually a station for most passengers – it’s a terminal. The difference is not merely semantic; in a terminal, trains must cross each other as they enter and leave, making it far less efficient than a through-running station. Even when this doesn’t cause delays, it severely limits capacity and ensures every train has to travel more slowly in Penn.”
Venturi notes that Phase 2 of the Gateway project, which includes a new terminal station known as Penn Station South for $8 billion, is not necessary. An alternate plan however, known as the ReThinkNYC vision, would include:
First, build new facilities in the Bronx and New Jersey so it is possible to operate Penn Station as a through station. NJ Transit trains could be extended to Queens, the Bronx, and then along existing Long Island Railroad and Metro-North Lines; similarly, Metro-North and LIRR could be extended to New Jersey.
Next, widen and lengthen Penn’s existing platforms – and use the 31st Street side of the station for eastbound trains and the 33rd Street side for westbound ones, regardless of final destination. Universal “smart” ticketing between the systems can help erase arbitrary distinctions.
This would allow nearly 50% more trains to use the station.
NJ Transit would no longer need to use Sunnyside Yards, making it possible to instead build a major station across the East River that would have access to all of the region’s 26 commuter rail lines, Amtrak, both Penn Station and Grand Central, and seven subway lines. Sunnyside could be the new East Midtown.
In Port Morris, the light industrial neighborhood east of the Bruckner Expressway and south of Hunts Point, commuters could catch NJ Transit and Metro-North – and an extended Second Avenue Subway serving the Bronx.
An AirTrain under the East River to an expanded LaGuardia Airport would provide a quick, convenient single seat ride for millions.
During the annual President’s Safety and Service Awards program, Amtrak’s President and CEO Wick Moorman named NARP members Richard and Christina Anderson of Marshall, TX as Amtrak Champions for their volunteer work with the Ark-La-Tex Corridor Council since 2006. Overall, the pair was recognized for their support of Amtrak for more than 20 years, which also includes the Andersons having initiated, led and developed a strong multistate coalition to establish the Southern Passenger Rail Connection. This proposed connection would extend a section of the Crescent along the busy I-20 Corridor between Meridian, MS, and Fort Worth, TX.
As part of their efforts, Richard and Christina secured more than $750,000 in federal grant monies to help Amtrak with the expansion project. They donated their resources and energy and sought signatures on memoranda of understanding from 48 counties and parishes along the I-20 Corridor. They also assisted the Marshall, Texas, depot in getting a $150,000 chairlift for passengers with disabilities at no cost to the company.
Also honored for her volunteer service was Carol Kelsheimer of Arcadia Valley, MO. For the first time since 1968, Missouri’s Arcadia Valley now has regularly scheduled passenger rail service. This is largely due to the commitment of Carol. In 2011, she and the non-profit organization Our Town Tomorrow began working with Amtrak, Union Pacific and state and local governments to open the train station in Arcadia.
Week 1: #SummerByRail Leaves its Mark on New York City and Burlington, VT
Victoria and Cate kicked off their 22-city “Summer By Rail” journey on Monday, July 31, in New York City. The start of the trip was captured in The New York Times and Metro US, and highlighted a full day of exploring the city and its many attractions. After biking around town using Citi-Bike, the pair took advantage of New York’s subway system, and Victoria and Cate made their way via Amtrak to their nextstop, Burlington, VT.
Burlington welcomed them with sun rays and clear skies, and our friends at Local Motion provided Victoria and Cate with bikes of their own to get around. The pair was able to take in the scenic views and enjoy one or two craft ciders from Citizen Ciders along the way.
With the help of the Vermont Rail Action Network, the interns also received a proper send off for the rest of the trip! Joined by members of Rail Action Network, Vermont’s Transportation Department, and staffers from Sen. Leahy and Rep. Welsh’s office, Victoria and Cate spoke about the importance of passenger rail in Vermont, as well as the rest of the country.
As they prepared for the next few stops on their journey, crossing into Canada, they were able to see up close the value of expanding customs and immigration pre-clearance to train travelers -- an initiative spearheaded by Vermont volunteers led by NARP’s Carl Fowler and for which Sen. Leahy, Representative Elise Stefanik of New York, and Representative Ann McLane Kuster of New Hampshire were recognized with NARP Golden Spike awards this past Spring.
Up next, the interns will be traveling through Montreal, Toronto, and Niagara Falls to close out the week.
In an effort to renew opposition to All Aboard Florida’s Brightline service, officials in the Treasure Coast have requested that Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao require a new impact assessment test for the area. The train is set to provide service from West Palm Beach to Orlando, but county attorneys from Martin and Indian River counties said in a letter to Secretary Chao that the 2015 regulatory review “has become stale and aged through the passage of time and changes in circumstances.” Brightline opponents also say the federal review process never carefully considered such issues as noise, vibration and effects of flooding, wildlife and boat traffic.
Brightline officials have dismissed the call for a second impact assessment, noting that it could further delay the Orlando leg of the service.
“Martin and Indian River Counties and CARE Florida continue to use misrepresentations, mischaracterizations and fear mongering in their failing attempt to halt the expansion of Brightline,” the company said in a statement. “Brightline reiterates its commitment to develop a system that meets the highest safety standards while providing a critically needed transportation alternative for Florida’s residents and visitors.”
Federal and New Jersey Transit officials will hold the final of its three public hearings on August 10, at Union City High School, 2500, Kennedy Blvd Union City, NJ 07087. Commuters will have the ability to address their concerns about the preferred route for the new tunnels, and learn more about the the Hudson River rail tunnel project, which is the first step in the $25 billion Gateway project. The Hudson River rail tunnel could reach an estimated cost of $14 billion.
The hearing will consist of two separate sessions, one from 3 - 5 pm and the other at 6 - 8 pm with brief presentations 15 minutes after each session. If you’re interested in making an oral or submitting a written comment, email email@example.com or leave a comment on a form on the tunnel project website.
If the project receives the necessary function and the final Army Corp. of Engineers’ Environmental Report, which is expected to be completed in March 2018, construction could start as early as 2019.
Amtrak’s service to Roanoke, VA has been in the spotlight recently. Amtrak is extending its service, but cuts to Amtrak are being threatened by the White House proposal for FY2018 and could hurt service in Roanoke.
Senator Tim Kaine said, “Although Amtrak hasn’t said for sure, if they get huge budget cuts one of the first things they would probably do, instead of cutting existing routes, is they would delay expansion, so that would affect Roanoke.”
During an interview with WFXR in Roanoke, NARP’s President Jim Mathews said service in Charlottesville and Lynchburg have been popular with residents, which makes Roanoke “a natural extension.” Mathews also said, “People are really knocking down the doors to get that service.”
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 must-see presentations, speakers, exhibits, tours, and events; hear from leaders in industry, advocacy and public policy tackling issues such as Positive Train Control, finding creative ways to finance new rail service and rolling stock, covering the “Last Mile” so that rail passengers can reach their final destinations, new on-board technologies and more!
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
Boston commuter rail advocates in favor of connecting Boston’s North and South stations via a 2.8 mile underground tunnel, held their first town hall event, moderated by former Massachusetts Gov. Mike Dukakis. Citizens for the North South Rail Link argue that the project will transform Boston’s transportation infrastructure, paving the way an efficient transit system and greater connectivity to New York and the rest of the country.
Tom Girsch, a panelist at the event and one of three Massachusetts representatives with NARP said it’s important to make this an issue now. "What's lacking more than anything is public awareness and public support (for the North South Rail Link)," Girsch said. "Make noise. This is a great idea. I think we should be doing this — I don't think we should be expanding stations that don't get me where I want to go."
While there’s no guarantee the project will move forward, Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll is optimistic it’s taking the necessary steps to become a reality.
"It's hard to get behind just a big, bold idea without necessarily knowing if it'll ever come together," she said. "But the fact that we're sitting in a packed room shows how important not just rail but a project like this is."
Mayor Driscoll also said the project could potentially cost $2 million, factoring in environmental impacts and acquiring the land for construction, among others.
Girsch and fellow Massachusetts NARP Council member Joe Aiello helped to organize the summit. Thanks for your hard work!
Ari Ofsevit, a transit advocate and TransitMatters member, critiqued Boston’s commuter rail system in an opinion piece in CommonWealth Magazine. Ofsevit said that while the system isn’t perfect, it still services almost half of the city’s population. Respectively, the system isn’t broken but could benefit from repairs and innovations, like creating a bigger stations in Boston to house more trains and connect to other terminals. Below are some of Ofesvit’s suggestions that will bring greater benefits to Boston commuter rail, for the full explanation check out his op-ed.
“The benefits of a proper North South Rail Link are certainly substantial:
The rail link would allow direct trips between suburbs, which would help many commuters who currently would have to grapple with both an anemic reverse-peak commuter rail schedule and a three-or four-seat ride.
The rail link would provide much better access to workplaces which are not near the train stations downtown. The North South Rail Link would allow for a one-seat ride to most of the major employment centers in Boston, while at the same time lessening the burden on the already oversubscribed subway system.
The North South Rail Link would allow trains to run straight through from Porter to Ruggles or Yawkey, with the whole ride taking 35 or 40 minutes, faster than driving even without traffic. By distributing regional passengers directly to their destinations, the rail link would provide faster, more reliable trips and take pressure off the core capacity of the subways, improving conditions for passengers there as well.
The North South Rail Link would be layered upon and integrated with the current transit system, and could be designed to be complementary and act as a second subway system.”
Travel by Train to NARP’s 2017 Passenger Rail EXPO And 50th Anniversary Celebration
Don’t miss out! There’s still time to book your seat on the PV Dearing following our 50th Anniversary Celebration and November Passenger Rail EXPO in Chicago. Space is available from Huntington, West Virginia to Chicago on the Cardinal and from Chicago to Washington after the meeting on the Capitol Ltd. The Cardinal will arrive in Chicago on November 2nd. If you have any questions about pricing and accommodations please reach out to Betsy Nelson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Amtrak has announced that it is teaming up with ride-share company, Lyft, to guarantee you can get to and leave the station in a convenient way! Using Amtrak’s mobile app, you will be able to book a ride with Lyft, and you won’t have to worry about finding a ride as Lyft’s services reaches 97 percent of all Amtrak riders in the U.S.
"We're looking forward to working with Amtrak. As a fixture of American travel, Amtrak makes it simple and convenient for passengers, something Lyft feels passionately about as well," David Baga, Lyft’s chief business officer, said in a statement. "Both companies have a long-standing commitment to supporting communities we serve and we're excited to grow together."
If you’ve never used Lyft before, you can get $5 off your first ride. Next time you need a ride, create a Lyft account and use the promo code, ““AMTRAKLYFT,” and you will receive the $5 discount.
Kansas City residents voted in favor of extending their streetcar line south, with a majority vote, 3,642 out of 5,752 ballots cast. The vote will create a transportation development district (TDD), that will be used to raise a portion of the $227 million needed to extend the line from Union Station to the University of Missouri-Kansas. While this a step in the right direction for the development of the Kansas City streetcar, there is more work to be done. Construction on the southern extension can occur after voters decide on a board to oversee the TDD, approve sales taxes, and property assessments. However, the extension isn’t expected to become operational until 2022.
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.
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.