Hotline #1,028: Infrastructure Borrowing Drops; FRA Issues New Bids For Service Operators; Brightline Service To Begin By End Of Year; Amtrak Offers Service To Total Eclipse
August 11, 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.
Campaigning as a champion for transportation and infrastructure, President Trump promised to revolutionize the system with a $1 trillion infrastructure package designed to tackle roads, bridges, airports and other transit systems. More than half way through the first year of the Trump Presidency, we know just as much as when Trump was sworn into office. This might explain one reason why state and municipal governments have issued fewer bonds to fix ailing infrastructure projects this year.
So far in 2017 new municipal deals funding transportation projects have reached $50.7 billion. While that does sounds like considerable investment, when compared to municipal projects from last year, this is down nearly 20%.
"I think people started to realize that the agenda within the Trump administration wasn't going to accelerate as quickly as had been advertised," said Randy Gerardes, director of municipal securities research at Wells Fargo in New York.
The U.S. has traditionally relied on government bonds to fund infrastructure and transportation projects, but now as Trump promised private sector investment, there is uncertainty in the bond market. Trump's plan to utilize private financing to spur the bulk of his infrastructure program is "unrealistic," Managing director at McDonnell Investment Management James Grabovac said.
States and municipal governments may be less inclined to finance long-term infrastructure projects as they wait out whether or not Trump’s infrastructure package comes to fruition, Grabovac added.
During his vacation in New Jersey, Trump also discussed the possibility of developing an infrastructure package without the help of Democrats. This is partly due to the fact that the plans for investment from the White House, such as the use of private investors for projects, has not received much support from Democrats. Although Trump said he may not reach across the aisle for support from Democrats, he also said, “I think the infrastructure bill will be bipartisan and quite frankly, I might have more support from the Democrats. I want a very strong infrastructure bill.”
“The Trump administration needs to focus on developing an infrastructure plan that benefits the U.S. - its people and its economy,” said NARP President and CEO Jim Mathews. “Congress is already moving forward with a proposed budget that provides funding for Amtrak and other transportation projects well-beyond what the White House has proposed. It will be in the best interest of everyone if the White House and Congress can move forward together.”
Just the other 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 helped established a bipartisan, bicameral consensus on the necessity of increasing investment in intercity rail which hasn’t existed in recent years.
The Amtrak repairs at Penn Station have reached the halfway point of an eight-week schedule. They are continuing to stay on schedule as half of the emergency repairs at Penn Station are complete. The repairs are moving along in good time and Amtrak is even considering addressing critical repairs, which may lead to long-term outages in the years to come.
“We will ask our partners — MTA LIRR, NJ Transit and others — for maybe some extended outages after we have well planned them, looked at them and determined the need for them,” Gery Williams, Amtrak’s chief engineer said Friday.
Amtrak looks to address the aging infrastructure under the Hudson and East rivers, which connect to Penn Station. As of now repairs to these sections of New York’s commuter rail system may take place as early as next year.
“The significant tunnel work we want to do is probably a couple of years away but there’ll be some work. We’ll have to go in there and patch until that time,” Williams said. “There are older tunnels, you have increased maintenance that’s necessary.”
Transit authorities in the area, like NJ Transit and the LIRR, will need to evaluate how serious these repairs will be so they can begin to plan and create modified schedules to best serve their customers. Transit Authorities are feeling pressure from their commuters and understand their frustrations, but will work with Amtrak to keep delays at a minimum.
"Our customers are tired of problems in Penn Station and the East River tunnels, and they deserve infrastructure there that just works,” MTA Spokesperson Shams Tarek said in a statement. “Amtrak will need to prioritize its work to fix Penn and the tunnels, but it also needs to do it in a way that minimizes the impact on LIRR riders, who make up the majority of traffic at Penn.”
SBR 2017: Bikes & Brews in Kalamazoo
By Victoria Principato
From Toronto, to Buffalo, from Buffalo to Chicago, it's been a whirlwind couple of days (I guess they don't call it the Windy City for nothing!) In the past 72 hours, Cate and I have been in 4 different cities, on 3 different trains, in 2 different countries! Since we've been moving so quickly, it was so nice to have a relaxing stop in the beautiful city of Kalamazoo, Michigan. Kalamazoo is only a short 2 hour train ride from Chicago, IL, (although the one hour time change did throw us off a bit!) The station is conveniently located right in the heart of Kalamazoo, and makes accessing all of Downtown Kalamazoo's offerings a breeze. Luckily, Cate and I had a wonderful welcome crew awaiting our arrival, including the city's mayor, Mayor Hopewell!
The Kalamazoo station was built in 1887, and features beautiful wooden benches, a bubbling fountain outside, and a fireplace inside for the cold Michigan winters. It serves the 75,000 citizens of the city, and includes several bus terminals to increase accessibility throughout the area. Cate and I were able to make use of the city's bike rental shop, called Pedal Bicycles, and were able to see the city by our favorite mode of transportation! Thanks to the wonderful people of Discover Kalamazoo and Downtown Kalamazoo, we were able to see some of the highlights that Kalamazoo has to offer. Our first stop: Bells Brewery!
Bell's Brewery, originally known as the Kalamazoo Brewing Company, first began in 1983. Larry Bell first started his company by brewing, packaging, labeling, and delivering his beer all on his own, urging people to try his craft beers. At a time when the largest brewers in the country were Budweiser and Miller, and people pretty much only drank light pilsners, Larry faced many challenges in spreading his vision of craft beer across America. Since his humble beginnings, Bell's has evolved into one of the largest craft breweries in the country, and has received countless awards for his Two Hearted Ale. As a fan of Bell's Oberon Ale, I was so excited to get a tour of the original brewery where the idea for my favorite summer seasonal began! Bells has established itself as a key part to the Kalamazoo community
Next up on our tour of the city was Arcadia Ales. This brewery began twenty one years ago in 1996, when then paper salesman Tim Suprise decided to change his career to work in a field that he loves! Its clear to see that Tim is passionate about what he does, especially when he was giving us a tour of the Arcadia Ales facilities (which, by the way, Tim says are modeled after his favorite show, Game of Thrones! Could this place be any more perfect?!) Hearing about the brewery's methods and mission from the owner himself was an incredible, and I learned a lot on our tour. Arcadia is one of the few American breweries that uses an open fermentation method, which is more typical of English beers. Arcadia Ales is active in the Kalamazoo area, and seeks to create jobs and community for the people that live there. With its beautiful beer garten and facilities, (and delicious BBQ!) Arcadia Ales is a must see.
Next up on our tour of the city, we got to bike through the one of the city's many parks. Sitting on the edge of the bike trail, however, was our destination of Open Roads headquarters. Open Roads is a nonprofit bike repair program for the youth of Kalamazoo. The program teaches its participants how to repair bikes and how to be responsible owners. It also incorporates the values of respect and personal responsibility as well as teamwork and . If you want to learn more about Open Roads and how to offer your support, check out their website here!
Overall, Kalamazoo is a vibrant city with fresh air, beautiful bike trails, and countless breweries to try. It's definitely off the beaten path for typical destinations, but I'm so glad to have had the chance to try all that Kalamazoo has to offer. We got to ride bikes, try delicious beers, and meet wonderfully welcoming people. I can't wait to return to one of our friendliest cities we've visited so far. Thanks for the great times, Kalamazoo! Up next: Colorado, here we come!
In accordance with a provision of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, the Federal Railroad Administration published a final rule for a new program using a bid process to find “eligible petitioners” to replace Amtrak as new operators for three long-distance routes.
Taking effect September 5, the FRA will begin to evaluate petitions and bids for new operators to provide passenger rail service. The FRA will consider new operators only if they currently own related rail infrastructure or have a written agreement with the a rail infrastructure owner. If an operator were to win a bid that doesn’t own the infrastructure, they must obtain a written agreement that “governs access issues” from the owner.
Former Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter recently wrote an op-ed in Philly.com vocalizing his support for Amtrak, and the way the passenger rail operator is handling the repairs at Penn Station in New York.
“I am a loyal Amtrak rider. And I am proud of it. That’s why I am pleased to see that, in spite of great initial fears, the Infrastructure Renewal Program underway at New York City’s Penn Station has been going smoothly,” Nutter said.
Mayor Nutter wrote that what Governor Cuomo expected to be the “Summer of Hell,” has been anything but. More than half way through the repairs, Amtrak is operating smoothly and efficiently. He credited the success so far to the coordinating and planning of Amtrak, New Jersey Transit, and the Long Island Railroad.
In closing, Mayor Nutter made a point to highlight that despite the good work accomplished at Penn Station so far, there is much more work to be done. U.S. leaders need to realize that the only way to solve America’s aging infrastructure problem is through considerable investment. With the proper investment, Americans could benefit from a safe, reliable, and incredibly efficient transportation system that will save them traveling time and give them more time at their destination.
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!
Passenger rail service is set to begin service for travelers between West Palm Beach and Miami by the end of 2017. All Aboard Florida’s Brightline will offer introductory fares and special deals to encourage ridership. Initially set to begin service at the end of the summer, Brightline CEO Dave Howard said that trains will be fully operational later this year. The full schedule should be released in the coming weeks and ticket prices will be announced 10 days before service is set to begin.
Other points to highlight:
“The company plans to offer lower-than-normal ticket prices to encourage riders to try its trains.
Work on Brightline’s West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale stations is essentially complete, and construction on the station in downtown Miami is on track to be finished this fall.
Quiet zones that will eventually silence train horns along the Florida East Coast Railway tracks through Palm Beach County are still set to be implemented when Brightline launches its service.”
As bus ridership declines in Miami, and the time it takes to travel twenty miles along the busway in Miami-Dade County only increases, some city officials hope to spur investment to build a light rail project. The project currently has a price tag of roughly $1.5 billion to build. County Mayor Carlos Gimenez has walked back his stance on the issue previously supporting the idea, and now would like to put $115 million into upgrading the bus system.
“My hope is a train would be warranted,” says Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava, referring to an ongoing study on options for improving busway transit.
Moving forward, Miami city officials will need to consider their costs, as they will only be able to put investment into one of the two projects. However, because the Federal government hasn’t committed to funding part of the Metrolink expansion in Miami, Mayor Gimenez may ultimately back rapid expansion.
#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!
Most recently, our passenger rail friends in Birmingham, AL held a rally on Friday August 4 at the soon to be new Amtrak Station! The Amtrak stop will be apart of the new intermodal Max Bus Station, which recently opened on June 30!
Remember, it’s not too late to host a rally in your town! Email us at email@example.com 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.]
On August 21, a total solar eclipse will take place, and the best place to view it will be in Carbondale, Illinois. The best way to get there, by way of Amtrak on the special Eclipse Express.
The sold-out train, which filled up in just 22 hours, will transport 340 passengers from Chicago’s Union Station to Carbondale and back for $153. The train will depart Union Station at 3 a.m. and will return by 11 p.m. that night. There will be a variety of events in the Carbondale, as the city has deemed it “Eclipse Day.”
While the boost in ridership is most likely due to the natural phenomenon that will occur on the 21, this is a promising sign for the national rail network. It highlights a greater story. In the face of of an administration that portrays Amtrak and passenger rail as obsolete, people not only see the value in passenger rail but are enthusiastically using it it.
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 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.
The Kansas City Streetcar received a major victory for its expansion efforts last week thanks to local voters. Nearly 2,500 people voted in favor of creating a new taxing district that could lead to expansion of the streetcar system from downtown to the University of Missouri Kansas City. With the vote, the transportation development district boundaries have been established, but two more elections are needed. One is to elect a streetcar district board. The other is to approve the specific local sales and property taxes needed to help fund the expansion, which is estimated to cost about $227 million.
Although voters approved the initial measure for expansion, this week Kansas City voters approved a measure that prohibits the municipal government from planning or implementing any streetcar transit system without citywide approval. This now creates potential challenges for the streetcar expansion since the project ultimately will need city participation. The vote could be overturned by the City Council, but until it does, the Kansas City Streetcar Authority will use non-city resources to jump-start engineering studies to prepare for the project.
Although a lawsuit was filed more than a year ago against the state of New York’s Departments of Environmental Conservation and Transportation, along with the state Adirondack Park Agency, no decision has been made and no time frame exists for one. Franklin County Clerk Kip Cassavaw said in an email this week that the decision is “still before the court.”
The lawsuit was filed by the Adirondack Rail Preservation Society, which operates the Adirondack Scenic Railroad. The Society claims that the state did not take into account economic data and preservation laws when it developed a proposal to remove 34 miles of train tracks between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake for the construction of a multi-use trail. Even with the lawsuit pending, the state came to an agreement to buy a parcel of land in Saranac Lake, notifying that village’s board recently of its intent to do so. The land is currently owned by North Country Community College and Franklin and Essex counties. In addition, personnel involved in developing the final design and construction plan for the proposed trail will be at work in the coming weeks, in spite of the fact that the trail plan could be overturned by the court.
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 much, much 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
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 email@example.com.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is pushing to raise $800 million a year for the city’s transit system to conduct emergency repairs on bus lines and the subway system. This may not seem like a unique push for de Blasio’s election-year pitch, but it is, as the mayor wants to raise that money by taxing the wealthy in New York. Mayor de Blasio proposed a near 14 percent tax increase on those individuals that make more than $500,000 and married couples that make more than $1 million. Under the proposed plan, about $250 million would be used to subsidize half-price MetroCards for about 800,000 New Yorkers living in poverty.
Even though Mayor de Blasio proposed the idea, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has opposed similar proposals in the past from the mayor. In 2014, Cuomo emphatically rejected de Blasio’s campaign pledge to pay for his universal pre-K program by taxing top earners, resulting in lawmakers instead striking a deal that sent $300 million to the city and $40 million to programs elsewhere in the state.
GoTriangle, the project coordinator for the Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit project, received an overall medium rating from the Federal Transit Administration. A medium is the minimum rating required to continue project development. The light-rail project which will connect UNC Chapel Hill to Duke and N.C. Central University in Durham, will cost $2.4 billion. Once state and local funding are confirmed and the project’s design, schedule, and costs are finalized, a final risk assessment could be completed over the next six months. GoTriangle might be able to submit the light-rail project for the FY 2018 budget.
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.