Hotline #1,029: Trump Signs Order On Infrastructure; TSA Warns Of Train Terrorist Attacks; SMART To Begin Service August 25; HSR In TX Hits Two Milestones
August 18, 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.
While a massive infrastructure investment program was a cornerstone of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, the White House has been slow to unveil concrete details for addressing the massive funding backlog facing U.S. infrastructure. President Trump took a step to advance infrastructure development this week by laying out a plan he said will alleviate the length of time it takes to get federal approval for projects. To accomplish this, he signed an executive order on Tuesday that:
- Establishes “one Federal decision” for major infrastructure projects to proceed
- Sets a two-year goal for completing reviews
- Sets up a “quarterly scorecard” to hold agencies accountable for delays
- Aims to cut back on duplicative requests for information and late-stage changes in the approval process.
During the announcement of the order, Trump said, “I just signed a new executive order to dramatically reform the nation’s badly broken infrastructure permitting process. Just blocks away is the Empire State building. It took 11 months to build. But today, it could take as long as a decade.”
“Early in Trump’s presidency, NARP provided US DOT Secretary Elaine Chao with a list of “shovel-ready” projects that would benefit from federal support,” said NARP President Jim Mathews. “That list has not changed, and with the issuance of this new executive order, many of those rail projects could receive quick and much-needed federal approval to move forward.”
A list of shovel-ready transit projects can be found on NARP’s website.
Unfortunately, President Trump’s vision also took a big hit this week, with a White House source announcing that the President will no longer move ahead with the creation of an Advisory Council on Infrastructure.
The infrastructure council was to help provide guidance to the Trump administration on how to spend a hundreds of billions of dollars in addition funding for upgrading roads, bridges and other public works. It would have included 15 members representing real estate, finance, labor and other sectors, and was designed to study and make recommendations to the President regarding the funding, support, and delivery of infrastructure projects.
The termination of the council comes shortly after Trump disbanded two other advisory groups he had created to guide U.S. manufacturing and policies. The cancellation of these two groups, the American Manufacturing Council and the Strategic and Policy Forum, happened in the wake of CEOs pulling out in protest over Trump’s remarks regarding the rally in Charlottesville, VA on August 12.
Given the massive investment needs, shortening project delivery will have a limited value without a plan for additional funding.
Stories From Passengers: Ed D'Amoto; Ohio
I could tell you for each and every trip why I chose the train over driving or flying. For example, there was the time my mother had major surgery in Johnstown, which was accompanied by a diagnosis of non-hodgkin's lymphoma. At the same time my mother-in-law was having major surgery in Toledo which was accompanied by a concern about pancreatic cancer, and I needed a stress-free way to travel between the two cities. I think you can all understand what my state of mind would have been and would agree it was probably best that I wasn't on the highway.
What I'm getting at is that there have always been practical reasons why I've chosen the train over driving or flying. I was never looking for a land cruise, which is what the long distance trains are often accused of being. Something else I hope you've noticed from the examples I've just given you is that I wasn't riding the long distance trains from endpoint to endpoint. In fact, with the exception of a few trips on Amtrak's Auto train, I've only ever ridden a long distance train from endpoint to endpoint one time. Every other trip began in a midpoint city and ended in a midpoint city. I'm telling you this because opponents of Amtrak's long distance trains often speak of them as if travel between the endpoint cities is the only thing they offer, then they'll compare the travel time between the endpoint cities with flying, which is a useless comparison that doesn't explain how people are using the trains.
Our lack of an extensive national system of passenger trains reduces our mobility and hampers our economy. My father-in-law just turned 80. In May of this year, he and my mother-in-law drove to Nashville to attend their grandson's high school graduation. Upon returning from their trip, my in-laws said that's the last time they are going to make that drive because it has just become too difficult for them. Flying isn't much easier, but a train would be, if one existed between northern Ohio and Nashville. Now because they are too old to drive long distances, their mobility is reduced.
I would add that my family and I travel less than we otherwise would because we lack options to the car keys, and we're not alone. I can't count the number of times I've heard people tell me over the years “We wanted to go, but we just didn't want to make the drive.” Think of how many more tourism dollars would be pumped into our economy if we had more and better passenger trains.
A big thanks goes to Ed for sharing his 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.
It has been a long nine years, the last two years plagued by delays, but the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) rail service will officially begin August 25. The Federal Railroad Administration has given federal approval to begin service. To celebrate the opening, SMART will host a community grand opening event at 9 a.m. at its Santa Rosa Downtown Station, at 7 Fourth Street at Historic Railroad Square, and will begin running the full service schedule at 12:49 p.m. Service will be free of charge to riders on the 25th.
“We are proud to say that we are ready to roll,” said SMART Board of Directors Chairwoman Debora Fudge in a press release. “This is the result of years of hard work from SMART’s staff, its team of contractors and consultants, and Federal Railroad Administration Regional Administrator James Jordan and his team. Successfully opening a new transit system is a major accomplishment—and we will remember this day for generations to come.”
After opening day, SMART fares for everyone will be discounted 50 percent through Labor Day, September 4. Regular fares will be in place on September 5. SMART will run 34 trips each weekday, and 10 trips on weekends. Riders will be able to board trains at 10 stations from Santa Rosa to downtown San Rafael, a 43-mile route along old Northwestern Pacific Railroad tracks.
For riding SMART, the Press Democrat provided additional information and tips for riders.
High-speed rail in Texas reached two major milestones this week, both of which help advance the project and bring HSR closer to a reality.
Texas Central Partners announced that it selected Fluor Enterprises (Irving, TX) and Lane Construction Corp. (Cheshire, CT) to review, refine and update the HSR route between Dallas and Houston. This specifically involves the project’s construction planning and sequencing, scheduling and cost estimates, procurement and other design, and engineering activities related to the civil infrastructure. Both companies would also be the preferred design-builder of the line.
“This underscores the attention the Texas Bullet Train has received from world-class firms, wanting to be part of a project that will revolutionize travel here and generate long-lasting local economic benefits,” Texas Central CEO Carlos Aguilar said of the agreement with Fluor and Lane.
For the second milestone, Texas Central announced it signed a memorandum of understanding with Houston officials to advance the 200-mph train. Under the agreement, Texas Central and the city will share environmental surveys, utility analysis and engineering information related to the project, and they will work together to develop new transit and travel options to and from the likely terminus, possibly at the Northwest Mall in Houston.
“Both steps this week are great news for high-speed rail in Texas and for people eager to ride between Dallas and Houston in 90 minutes,” said NARP President Jim Mathews. “NARP has long advocated for HSR in Texas and these agreements bring it that much closer to happening.”
Construction of the HSR line is expected to begin late next year or early 2019 and take between four and five years. The cost is estimated at $12 billion, and it will be privately funded.
Upcoming Regional NARP and State Passengers Association Member Meetings & Events
Saturday, August 19 - 11:00am to 3:00pm - 2017 New England Regional NARP Meeting - Springfield, MA - Sheraton Monarch Hotel
Saturday, September 16 - 12:00n - 4:00pm - All Aboard Washington - Annual Eastern Washington Meeting - Pasco, WA - TRAC Center
Please contact Bruce Becker to have a local, state or regional meeting added to the NARP calendar of upcoming events!
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) warned mass transit agencies, freight, and passenger rail lines to be extra cautious following new propaganda released by Al Qaeda. While there are no known plots, the terrorist group issued a video online and an article in its “Inspire” publication that encourages attacks in the U.S. The group specifically listed dozens of train routes that it considered vulnerable. Many of the choices run through Union Station in Chicago, considered America's rail nerve center. Included on the list are the Lake Shore Limited which runs between New York and Chicago, and the Empire Builder from Chicago to the Pacific Northwest.
"The Al-Qaeda video is an important reminder that mass transit, passenger-rail, and freight-rail operations are a potential target for terrorist activity," TSA officials said. The agency also encouraged employees to keep a close eye on their environments and surroundings. The TSA urged railroads to exercise caution with equipment and materials that could be used to obstruct or derail trains.
Despite the attention of security threats brought to the country’s railways in recent years, body scanners and metal detectors are not common. However, public transit agencies like the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in Los Angeles are testing new equipment to enhance security. This week at the city’s Union Station, the agency conducted a test run with new technology to scan passengers to detect firearms or explosive vests.
“While we’ll never become a fully secured environment like you’d have in the airport, we do want to find a way to more effectively screen passengers,” Metro security executive Alex Wiggins said. “We are trying to stay ahead of the threat.”
In the past, detection technology has not been fast enough to process transit and train riders. But, the technology being tested in L.A. can scan up to 600 passengers per hour. Riders can keep their shoes on and leave their laptops, keys and phones in their bags. After the test ends, Metro will analyze the accuracy of the results before deciding whether to buy the scanners. The devices cost about $60,000 each, and Metro would need to buy and install about 20 for Union Station alone.
In Minnesota, the development of a light-rail project that would connect downtown Minneapolis to Eden Prairie is closer to taking shape following new agreements this week between the Metropolitan Council, BNSF Railway, and Twin Cities & Western Railroad. The agreement follows a deal made earlier this year between the Council and Canadian Pacific Railway. The organizations have all agreed to allow the Southwest light-rail and freight rail to operate along much of the same corridor. The agreements allow the light-rail project to apply for $929 million in federal funding.
The Southwest project is estimated at $1.9 billion and will run for 14.5 miles. For eight miles of the route, passenger and freight trains will run side by side. Construction of the light-rail is expected to be completed by 2021, however, construction bids for the project just opened this week following the agreements.
#Rally4Trains Keeps Growing!
The “Rally4Trains” movement is growing! More than 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.]
Last week, the Gateway Program Development Corp. (GDC) made two notable moves to advance development of a new rail tunnel under the Hudson river to connect New York and New Jersey.
One of the steps the GDC made was hiring Francis Sacr as the new interim chief financial officer. Sacr once headed French bank Societe Generale and oversaw its infrastructure finance team for the Americas. As the new CFO, Sacr will now head the financing for the $24 billion Gateway program in the Northeast Corridor. It is expected that the project will involve a public-private partnership (P3) to build and finance some portions, and P3s are often used in Europe, Australia and Canada. Before joining the Gateway Program, Sacr oversaw the $4 billion public-private renovation of the central terminal at New York's LaGuardia Airport, a project that is underway and is the largest P3 project in the country.
The second move that the GDC made was the issuance of a request for information (RFI) for the Hudson Tunnel and the final section of the Hudson Yards concrete casing projects. The project includes the rehabilitation of a 106-year old, existing North River Tunnel, which was heavily damaged during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The RFI was issued for private-sector leaders who can provide ideas for the planning for procurement and delivery of the project. This includes the potential design, construction and solutions for the projects.
"This RFI is a part of the Gateway Development Corp.'s commitment to engage private sector leaders with expertise in major infrastructure projects to seek innovations in delivering them better, faster and cheaper," said GDC Chairman Richard Bagger. "By drawing on the skill and experience of industry professionals, we plan to incorporate the best practices to ensure the best possible result."
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has given the go-ahead to begin conversion of the landmarked Farley Post Office building into a train hall next to Penn Station. The $1.6-billion project has been under discussion for several decades, but is expected to be completed in only a few short years - the end of 2020. When the conversion is complete, the new station will be named the Moynihan Train Hall, after late-senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. It was Sen. Moynihan who first proposed a new Penn Station inside the Farley Post Office in 1993.
“On my father's deathbed I vowed that I would try to get this station built,” said Maura Moynihan, who joined Gov. Cuomo in the announcement. “I wouldn't believe it until I saw people with hard hats at the Farley Building.”
The cost of the project is being divided up by several different parties. The state is providing $550 million for the project, while $420 million is coming from Amtrak, the MTA, the Port Authority and a federal grant. Another $630 million is coming from private developers.
Following a new study by a group of Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) students, alumni and faculty, the new, estimated cost of connecting Boston’s North and South Stations sits between $4 and $6 billion - significantly lower than a previous costs estimated by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) in 2003. According to the research, the project would cost $6 billion for a ‘maximum build,’ which would include four tracks, two tunnels, and three stations. The price tag lowers to an estimated $3.8 billion for a ‘minimum build,’ which consists of two tracks, one tunnel and two stations. The figures are inflated to 2025 dollars, which is the assumed mid-point of construction.
The North-South Rail Link was initially proposed more than 100 years ago, but has received added political support in recent years, including from U.S. Representative Seth Moulton, a Harvard Kennedy School graduate (MPP 2011) who represents Massachusetts’ 6th Congressional district. The new study may bring momentum to efforts to convince lawmakers to move forward with the project and greatly improve the traffic flow for suburban travelers commuting through the city.
By NARP Intern Victoria Principato
After a few hours on the train from Sacramento, Cate and I sat in the observation car, minding our own business, when suddenly we saw something glimmering in the distance. Our car kept moving and the clearing opened, and there it was: the Pacific Ocean! For the next 30 minutes or so, we rode the Coast Starlight along the ocean. The views were incredible! If you ever get the chance to take this ride, make sure you're in the observation car. It was absolutely unforgettable!
After this amazing train trip, Cate and I were ready to roll! After unloading Cate's bike, we were greeted by the incredible team at Bici Centro, which is Santa Barbara's bike coalition. They were kind enough to bring us a bike directly to the station, then take us for a quick spin around downtown Santa Barbara! Cate and I had the pleasure of being guests on Bici Centro's monthly TV show to talk about Summer by Rail. This month's episode will be released sometime next week, so stay tuned for updates! In the meantime, if you want to learn more about Bici Centro, check out their website here!
Nestled between the base of a mountain and the Pacific Ocean, Santa Barbara has something for everyone. Its downtown streets are lined with shops, art studios, restaurants, and wineries. If we had more time in this awesome town, Cate and I definitely would have taken advantage of some of the great hiking and bike trails Santa Barbara has to offer, or maybe even done a little paddle boarding in the Pacific! But not worry, Cate and I definitely took the time to explore Santa Barbara's incredible downtown. Like most West Coasters, we took our sweet time strolling from shop to shop. We strolled down Stearns Wharf, and even sat for a quick lunch before catching our next train, (but not before getting a quick ice cream cone, of course!). Overall, Santa Barbara has so much to offer. We're looking forward to seeing the success of Bici Centro's downtown bike path projects when we revisit Santa Barbara. Up next: LA, baby!
The Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) officials are moving ahead with funding and construction plans to modernize throughout the greater San Francisco region. But, the agency is challenged to conduct upgrades while still providing reliable service. To meet the test, BART officials are heavily considering reducing service hours by pushing start time forward from 4am to 5am this fall in order to give more time for service crews to complete work.
“We don’t want to abandon riders, but there is no way we can inch our way,” to a rebuilt system, said BART Director Lateefah Simon. “There are going to have to be sacrifices on the part of riders, on the part of employers.”
To accommodate the estimated 2,400 weekday commuters who would be most affected by the time change, BART officials have looked into busing riders to their destinations.
“The 45-year old BART rail system needs to be updated to meet current demands,” said NARP President Jim Mathews. “To do so, this may require some small inconveniences for riders, just like at New York’s Penn Station. But in the long run, the system will be able to provide more reliable and effective service.”
Thanks to the help of Facebook, which has a new campus near Dumbarton, CA, city officials are eager to rebuild the Dumbarton Bridge for commuter trains that travel to and from major tech hubs. Facebook provided $1.2 million to study options to rebuild or rehabilitate the 1.6-mile bridge, in an effort to start passenger train service that links ace trains in the East Bay, to Caltrain on the Peninsula. The funding from Facebook shaved off years that the city would have spent on researching the project, and has ignited a spark for city officials to get the bridge operational again.
“This rail bridge is going to get built, okay? Make no mistake about it, I’m going on record, right here and now, that eventually this rail bridge will get built,” San Mateo County Supervisor Warren Slocum said.
The bridge was built in 1910, but was damaged by a fire in the 1990s. Since then, revitalizing the bridge has only been a topic of discussion. The estimated cost of a new rail bridge is $1.3 billion.
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.
Public transportation, whether it’s passenger rail, buses or ferries, is important to people who rely on them everyday to commute to work, go to the store or visit friends and family. In some cities, people take more than one of these services to connect to where they are going. However, The Wall Street Journal revealed that city bus ridership is in a steady decline across the country. Data from the US Department of Transportation showed that the second quarter of 2017 saw a 13 percent decline from the same quarter in 2007. Despite this drop, nearly 3.8 million people, many of them low-income workers, took the bus to work in 2015, more than any other form of public transit, according to the Census Bureau.
The demand is there, but at the same time, drops in ridership have forced many transit agencies to hike up fares and cut back on service. Miami and Cincinnati for example, are now facing new rounds of cuts. Orange County, CA, officials are looking to run fewer bus routes while looking for new ways to help people get around.
Factors contributing to the trend include the rise of Uber and Lyft, cheap gas prices, and younger adults moving to city centers within walking or biking distance of work.
When looking at subway service in cities, rail is doing much better than buses. The country’s subway systems, which tend to be more expensive and less widespread than buses, have boosted service 10 percent over the past decade and ridership is up 12 percent. Intercity bus companies such as Greyhound and Megabus are also doing well, posting a 22 percent increase in trips between 2010 and 2015, according to the DOT.
As Amtrak continues its “Summer of Renewal” at Penn Station in New York, the transit agency is also looking to improve its passengers’ experience on the station’s concourses. To do so, Amtrak announced it has selected AECOM, in partnership with Network Rail, to conduct an independent review of railroad coordination of passenger concourses at Penn Station. The review will include examining the interaction, coordination and collaboration between the passenger railroads that use Penn Station. This includes Amtrak, Long Island Railroad, and New Jersey Transit, all of which manage their own respective concourses at the station. AECOM and Network Rail will review those relationships and develop recommendations for improvement.
"We have made significant progress in renewing rail infrastructure at Penn Station and are now taking steps to improve the passenger areas," said Amtrak co-Chief Executive Officer Wick Moorman in a press release. "We have assembled a top-notch team of national and international experts to work with the railroads on delivering solutions that will greatly improve the passenger experience at New York Penn Station."
A press release from Amtrak also said that the “AECOM-Network Rail team will review management of daily operations within the three station concourses, including during service disruptions, as well as look for opportunities to strengthen coordination between all parties to improve the passenger experience, safety, and security. Using their analysis of Penn Station as well as knowledge of national and international best practices at rail stations and airports, the consultants will develop recommendations for a unified three-railroad concourse operations center.”
Direct Amtrak Service to the New York State Fair in Syracuse, NY is again being offered over the event’s August 24 - September run. As in past years, a ‘Kids Ride Free’ promotion is again being offered for travel to & from the on-site State Fair stop (NYF), with the purchase of full fare adult, senior and disabled tickets. New York State trains # 63, 64, 281, 283, 284 & 288 will stop each day. There is direct access into the Fairgrounds from the stop.
Amtrak and its passengers on the Hoosier State and Cardinal trains received a significant backing from the Surface Transportation Board (STB) in regards to freight and passenger rail. The STB told CSX Chief Executive Hunter Harrison, in a letter sent last month, that the freight railroad can no longer maintain its unreliable and inefficient operations at the cost of Amtrak service. This week, the federal agency again reiterated its concern in a follow-up letter to the company, which owns about 21,000 miles of track in 23 states, D.C., and the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec east of the Mississippi river.
CSX’s poor performance and lack of reliable service has significantly slowed Amtrak's Hoosier State and Cardinal trains. Both operate on CSX tracks between Indianapolis and Dyer, Ind., on the Indiana-Illinois line about 30 miles southeast of Chicago. In June, the Hoosier State train from Chicago arrived on time only one in three times.
NARP’s Jim Mathews said, “We are glad to see that the federal government is taking action and putting passengers’ needs first. The Hoosier State and Cardinal lines are important to thousands of people on a daily basis, and even minor delays for Amtrak can have significant consequences to people's’ schedules.”
CSX representative Rob Doolittle said the issue stems from CSX implementing a new operational plan and delays will be short-lived. The STB said it will review the progress that CSX makes in providing more reliable service.
There are openings for state representatives on the NARP Council of Representatives, including one each in Alabama; Arizona; Hawaii; Idaho; Indiana; Missouri; North Dakota; Ohio; Virginia 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 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 on a rolling basis as they are received.