logo

Happening Now

Hotline #1,031: Amtrak and Metro Houston Suspend Service; Officials Find a Way Forward for New Equipment for California and Midwest; NY Penn Station to Resume Full Service Tuesday

September 1, 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, bbrady@xenophonstrategies.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.


After making landfall nearly a week ago, Hurricane Harvey has led to suspended rail service in Houston, TX and along the Texas Gulf Coast. Due to the amount of flooding, public transit agencies were forced to delay or suspend services until flood waters receded. Amtrak suspended all service in the region, while Houston’s Metro stopped all bus and rail services since many roads and sections of the city are underwater. Amtrak said earlier this week that continued high winds and heavy rainfall from Hurricane Harvey have led to truncation of the Sunset Limited service (Trains 1 & 2) and the Texas Eagle (Trains 21, 22, 421 & 422) across Texas out of an abundance of caution and in consultation with Union Pacific Railroad and BNSF Railway.”

“Our thoughts go out to everyone affected by Hurricane Harvey and the flood waters that now run through the greater Houston area,” said Jim Mathews, NARP President and CEO.

Over the past couple of days, some services have been slowly restored. Yesterday, Amtrak re-started service on the Texas Eagle (Trains 21/421 and 22/422) between San Antonio and Fort Worth, and the Amtrak station in Houston is now operating. The Sunset Limited (Trains 1 and 2) is still unable to operate east of San Antonio due to temporary track closures, terminating and originating in San Antonio rather than New Orleans. No alternate transportation is available between San Antonio and New Orleans. Amtrak Thruway Buses Routes 6021 and 6022 remain cancelled.

In addition, the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County announced that 18 additional bus lines will resume operations as of today, according to a press release. All services had been suspended since August 27. A separate service alert said the MetroRail Red Line will resume full service today as well. Trains will run between Fannin South Station and the Northline Transit Center with no shuttle buses. However, buses will serve the entire length of the Green and Purple lines, as rail service on those lines remains suspended.

The California Department of Transportation announced they will be substituting Siemens equipment for the Midwest passenger railcar procurement of 130 bi-level passenger railcars, replacing current manufacturer Nippon Sharyo.

Since Siemens does not produce bi-level equipment, the procurement will be amended to 130 single-level railcars. While this will reduce the total number of seats, it will shorten the delivery frame for the railcars from approximately 5 years for a bi-level railcar to 24-34 months for a single level railcar.

The procurement is led by the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) in joint agreement with the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT), which represents a coalition of Midwestern states. The bi-levels were to be manufactured in Sharyo’s new manufacturing plant in Rochelle, Illinois. However, the Japanese company hit problems early in the manufacturing process, unable to meet the requirements for high structural rigidity, which are unique to the U.S. passenger rail market.

“We support the decision to substitute Siemens’ equipment, since it has become clear that Nippon Sharyo is not going to be able to deliver the equipment to meet Federal Railroad Administration requirements,” said NARP’s Jim Mathews. “Giving the advanced age of Amtrak’s existing fleet, and surging demand for passenger train service, the top priority is acquiring new rolling stock as soon as possible. As we move forward, we hope the FRA and state transportation officials use this incident to bring U.S. rail safety regulations more in-line with international best practices, which will lower procurement costs, expand capacity, and save lives by allowing more Americans to choose train travel.”


Stories From Passengers: Guy Ludwig; Vermont

My wife and I use the Ethan Allen, a daily Amtrak train, to travel to and from our home in north central Vermont. We live in Manhattan, but garage our car in Castleton, Vermont, a stop on the Ethan Allen route. In so doing, we save driving 250 miles per direction of our 300 mile one-way trip.

In addition to using the Ethan Allen 30 - 35 times per year, we also support the owner of the garage through our yearly rental. We also bought our automobile from a Vermont dealer and use a number of merchants in the Castleton/Brandon, VT area as part of our regular travel through these towns.

None of this commerce would be happening without the train. Our dollars are going to rural communities unable to replace the revenue with other sources. Transactions such as ours are going on all over the country, but can't happen without the vital link of train service to otherwise isolated communities.

We hope you will not only continue support of these services but expand them, thereby bringing even greater prosperity to these forgotten people and places in, as the president says, "our great country."

A big thanks goes to the Guy 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 stories@narprail.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.


After the Labor Day weekend wraps up, New York’s Penn Station will resume regular service for Amtrak, NJ Transit and LIRR trains after its $40 million “Summer of Renewal” repair project came in on time and on budget. Amtrak co-CEO Wick Moorman said, “We did it on time, on budget and, most importantly, safely. We thank passengers for their patience and flexibility, and our commuter partners, local governments, and the states for their collaboration this summer.”

When Penn Station, a vital part of the Northeast Corridor, resumes regular service September 5, the renewal project will have involved the work of 360 Amtrak employees that installed:

  • 897 track ties

  • 1,100 feet of rails

  • 1,000 tons of ballast

  • 176 yards of concrete

  • 7 turnout switches, and

  • 4 diamond crossings.

“The folks at Amtrak did an amazing job throughout the summer at Penn Station and we know that it was not an easy task,” said NARP President and CEO Jim Mathews. “But as full service resumes in only a couple days, passengers can enjoy a new sense of safety as they come and go from Penn Station.”

The majority of the work was done in the area of Penn Station known as, “A Interlocking.” This section controls the movement of trains that arrive and depart the station. This area came under review following two passenger train derailments on July 6, April 3, and March 24.


Upcoming Regional NARP and State Passengers Association Member Meetings & Events

  • Please contact Bruce Becker to have a local, state or regional meeting added to the NARP calendar of upcoming events!


Our interns, Victoria Principato and Cate Boyle have completed their 27-day “Summer by Rail” journey across the U.S. and Canada. The pair began their trip on July 31 in New York City, and arrived at their final stop of Washington, D.C. on August 26, and used only Amtrak and other forms of public transit on their travels.

The dynamic duo documented their trip on www.summerbyrail.com for everyone to follow along as they explored how the national rail network connects people - whether they are in major metropolitan areas or rural communities. Major cities the interns visited include Chicago, Montreal, Toronto, Sacramento, Los Angeles, Buffalo, New Orleans and more. Other smaller cities some might not be too familiar with include Kalamazoo, MI; Glenwood Springs, CO; Bay St. Louis, MS; and many more.

If you’re looking to create your own “Summer by Rail” journey, The Washingtonian provided an in-depth look at how Cate and Vic accomplished their trip. It also included what the pair recommends bringing on the trip, things to see and do, and why taking a long-distance train ride throughout North America is worth it.

Illinois Transportation Secretary Randy Blankenhorn said that passengers traveling on Amtrak will see a significant reduction in travel time between Chicago and St. Louis thanks to 12 new locomotives. The faster and more reliable locomotives, combined with improved signals and tracks, will cut the trip time by one hour once the locomotives are in use by next year. The 12 new locomotives, which are the diesel-electric, "Siemens Charger," model and known as a "Tier 4" engine. They will serve passenger lines in Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Missouri, which include the Hiawatha service to Milwaukee, the Saluki/Illini service to Carbondale, the Illinois Zephyr/Carl Sandburg service to Quincy, and the Lincoln service to St. Louis.

With the new locomotives, Blankenhorn said trains will be able to reach 110 mph, and passengers will notice a smoother, more quiet ride. In addition, the new locomotives cut emissions by 90 percent compared to a "Tier 0" commonly in use for Amtrak trains now. The new locomotives were paid for by $215.6 million in federal funds. They will be owned by the state of Illinois and leased by Amtrak.


#Rally4Trains Marches On

As the September 30 deadline for the current fiscal year is one month away, Congress is running out of time to pass a spending bill. There are signs they will defer to a Continuing Resolution that will keep funding levels static. Thanks to the dedicated efforts and enthusiasm of all those that came out to support the “Rally4Trains,” Congress heard our voices, though the work is not yet done.

Even if the Congressional Resolution is applied, we need YOU to continue to engage on social media using the #Rally4Trains! A CR is only a step toward achieving our goal, and our collective voice needs to be continuously heard by Congress.

As of now, more than 210,000 people have signed a petition to save long-distance passenger rail in America, have you? Help us get to 225,000! 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!

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 support funding rail in America. 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.]


Passenger rail in Honolulu has been a heated debate, as the project is in need of cash to finish development. Yesterday, the state House moved forward with a supplemental funding bill to keep construction going. House lawmakers approved the measure with no changes by voice vote, and the full chamber is expected to pass the bill today. Once the chamber approves the bill, it will then head to the governor's desk.

If passed by Governor David Ige, the measure would generate nearly $2.4 billion to complete the passenger line project. Costs for the line have jumped from $5.26 billion in 2014, to nearly $10 billion today. Ige said he wants to support the bill, but has required revisions to it in the past to ensure the project can move forward. The current version of the bill extends the existing half-percent general excise tax surcharge on Oahu for three additional years through 2030, which will generate about a billion dollars. The plan for funding the project is required by September 15 to the Federal Transit Administration, or the city could risk losing $1.55 billion in federal grant funding it has already received.

The parent company of passenger rail line Brightline, Florida East Coast Industries, reached a new milestone in development by “topping out” a 24-story residential tower adjacent to the station in West Palm Beach. The milestone in construction moves the project one step closer to completion. Construction crews celebrated reaching the highest point of the new 290-unit building known as the Park-Line last week. Located within walking distance of both Clematis Street and CityPlace, the building gives tenants a direct link to Brightline’s trains. The building is scheduled to open for occupancy in the fall of 2018. Brightline service between West Palm Beach, Ft. Lauderdale, and Miami is expected to begin in the coming months.

Maryland and federal officials gathered Monday to break ground on the long-awaited Purple Line, which will run 16.2 miles from Bethesda to New Carrollton in Prince George’s County and include 21 stations. Governor Larry Hogan and U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao participated in a ceremonial signing of the project’s federal full funding grant agreement (FFGA), which will be for $900 million. Following the groundbreaking ceremony, Gov. Hogan got in an excavator and used it to tear down a building to make way for what will become a Purple Line operations center. Officials estimate the Purple Line will cost $2 billion to construct, and construction is expected to be completed by 2022. By 2040, officials predict the Purple Line will carry 50,000 daily riders.

The Purple Line was in a state of limbo for several years as advocates and local officials were unsure if the project would move forward due to a lawsuit. The court case was brought forward by two Town of Chevy Chase residents and Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail, and it prevented the federal agreement from being signed last August after U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon vacated the project’s federal approval. Earlier this year, Leon ordered a new environmental analysis to determine how Metro’s ridership decline and safety issues would affect Purple Line ridership. The state appealed the rulings to the federal Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. The appeals court has already reinstated the project’s federal approval, which allowed the state to secure the grant agreement and move forward with construction.


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

  • Don’t Miss Out...Four days packed with an exciting array of presentations, speakers, panels, exhibits, tours, excursions and events highlighting the future of passenger rail in the United States and celebrating NARP’s 50th Anniversary.

  • Fabulous Anniversary Celebration Dinner on Saturday Evening, November 4

  • Host Hotel: Millennium Knickerbocker - E. Walton Place at N. Michigan Ave. Make Your Hotel Reservations HERE! Don’t Delay...Discounted hotel reservations must be made by October 3rd!

  • Visit the Event Webpage for complete information, agenda & details Or call the NARP Office 202-408-8362 for assistance.

REGISTER HERE!

Confirmed And Invited Speakers:

  • Richard Anderson - Co-President/CEO - Amtrak

  • Wick Moorman - Co-President/CEO - Amtrak

  • Gov. Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts

  • Hon. John Robert Smith - Board Chair - Transportation for America

  • Joseph Szabo - Executive Director - Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning

  • Daniel Elliott III - Vice-Chair - Surface Transportation Board

  • Leanne Redden - Executive Director - Chicago Regional Transportation Authority

  • Jim Wrinn - Editor - Trains Magazine

  • Ian Jefferies - Senior Vice-President Government Affairs - Association of American Railroads

  • Henry Posner III - Chairman - Railroad Development Corporation

  • William O'Leary - President/CEO - Alaska Railroad

  • Yves Desjardins-Sicilano - President/CEO - VIA Rail Canada

  • Bob Johnston - Passenger Rail Columnist - Trains Magazine

  • Don Phillips - Rail Industry Columnist - Trains Magazine

  • Karen Hedlund - Director Public-Private Partnerships - Parsons Brinckerhoff

  • Richard Harnish - Executve Director - Mid-West High Speed Rail Association

  • Prof. Anthony Perl - Simon Fraser University

  • Representatives From:

    • Brightline

    • Texas Central

    • California High Speed Rail

  • Southern Rail Commission

  • American Public Transportation Association

  • Federal Railroad Administration

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 bnelson@narprail.org.


In Minneapolis, several people are speaking out and raising questions about the recently proposed concrete wall that would separate BNSF freight trains and the Southwest LRT trains along a short stretch of a planned, 14-mile light-rail route. Minneapolis City Council Member Lisa Goodman, whose district encompasses the BSNF route, said "the lack of transparency in this process was a tremendous disservice to the public." Goodman is calling out the Metropolitan Council, which reached an agreement with BNSF Railway over sharing the company’s right of way west of Target Field. The agreement, which happened over only a few days, includes the construction of a 10-foot-high, 3-foot-wide wall that would run for one mile. Goodman is not alone in her call for transparency. Rep. Frank Hornstein and Sen. Scott Dibble, both Minneapolis DFLers, have asked the Met Council to delay further action on the wall until there's a "meaningful period of transparency." Other have also raised concerns about the cost of the wall, its environmental impact, and its aesthetics.

California Governor Jerry Brown has appointed Nancy Miller, a senior counsel for Renne Sloan Holtzman Sakai LLP, to serve on the California High Speed Rail Authority's (CHSRA) board. A press release from CHSRA said that Miller has more than 30 years of experience in providing legal services to public agency and private clients, including cities, counties, local agency formation commissions, special districts, joint powers authorities, transportation commissions, and councils of governments. Miller also is chairwoman of the Judicial Selection Committee, U.S. District Court, Eastern District.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said that the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority should install cameras that face both outward at a train’s route and inward on its operator. The recommendation comes from the federal agency after the subway crash that took place in Upper Darby in February. The NTSB said that having both types of cameras would have been invaluable in determining what caused the collision, which included a Market-Frankford Line subway train that rear-ended another train in the yard behind the 69th Street Transportation Center, injuring three. A third train was also damaged in the derailment. Following the accident, the operator said he could not remember what had happened. The NTSB also recommended SEPTA publish a semi-annual report detailing its progress in installing the cameras.

The White House director of the Office of Management and Budget, Mick Mulvaney, said that the administration’s plan for the $1 trillion infrastructure plan will be broken up into three pieces that will receive federal funding. Of the three pieces, the largest chunk of funding will be dedicated to projects that currently have private or local money secured. Mulvaney made the announcement at an infrastructure meeting at the White House earlier this week, where he discussed the plans with 150 state, local, and tribal leaders.

Details of President Trump’s infrastructure plan are still unknown, although the Trump Administration has suggested it will focus on a less ambitious $200 billion infrastructure plan, as opposed to the $1 trillion proposal President Trump campaigned on.

“As the administration continues to develop plans for the country’s infrastructure, we are interested in knowing specifics,” said Jim Mathews, NARP President and CEO. “We get tidbits here and there that hint at what’s to come, but more must be done to provide adequate funding for our nation’s rail infrastructure, and other public transit projects.”

In the absence of details, transportation advocates have said they are concerned that the $200 billion will be spread too thin and not provide adequate resources to projects.

Lee Gibson, executive director of the Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) of Washoe County, Nev. said, “Where I get concerned is: Are we going to go down a path that ultimately results in so many players at the table that we can’t set a priority and get something done?”

Gibson raised the point since the administration is promising a plan that covers a wide range of investments, including roads and bridges, broadband, energy, and veterans hospitals. Even some universities are pushing to have research labs included in the rebuilding effort.


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.


Comments