Hotline #1,032: Anti-Amtrak Amendments Defeated; NY Penn Station Returns to Normal; Trump Discusses Gateway; Uber Partners with Sound Transit; Irma Causes Suspensions
September 8, 2017
We Need Your ‘Nose For News’! When you see rail-related news stories, op-eds, editorials, or letters to the editor in your communities, send them along to us! We include them in our social media efforts, along with the weekly Hotline. Send your news items to Bob Brady, firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will continue to share it with the membership. Are you holding a rally, a community meeting, or another kind of rail-advocacy event? We can help spread the word if you send them to us. We can put on the website here. And please follow NARP on Facebook and Twitter.
Wonder whether Advocacy Works? Well, Wednesday night we saw more proof that your voices DO count! A bipartisan coalition of House Transportation leadership defeated a proposal to eliminate $1.1 billion in federal support for Amtrak on Wednesday. In doing so, Congress took a strong stance backing America's national rail network. With your NARP staff tracking movement on the House floor until votes were cast, all the anti-Amtrak amendments were defeated in an unexpected session that went late into the night. Once again, the White House’s draconian and short-sighted budget proposal to end long-distance trains was turned back!
We can all take satisfaction in knowing that a summer of hard-fought advocacy has paid off in shoring up a strong, bipartisan coalition capable of repelling these continued attacks!
Vote counts for the proposals::
Anti-Amtrak Amendment #33 proposed by Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL): Would have ended Amtrak's National Network through the elimination of $1.1 billion in grant funding. [Defeated by a vote of 128 Yeas - 293 Nays]
Anti-Amtrak Amendment #32 by Rep. Ted Budd (R-NC): Would have eliminated a $900 million allocation for the upgrade of an Amtrak rail line between Newark and New York City. [Defeated by a vote of 159 Yeas - 260 Nays]
We would like to thank you for your support of passenger rail and our mission at NARP! Moving forward, please consider donating a special gift to NARP to help us continue these fights for a better, more connected passenger rail system -- that all Americans can enjoy!
Following the defeat of the misguided proposals on Wednesday, President Trump met with numerous officials from New York and New Jersey about the Gateway project, which would create a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River. Those invited to the White House on Thursday included Senators Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Rep. Pete King (R-L.I.), New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
“This meeting was very important for the future of the Gateway project, the NEC, and the infrastructure of the entire U.S.,” said NARP President and CEO Jim Mathews. “This could be a sign that the President is focused on this project and is willing to work with others to make sure it moves forward with appropriate funding.”
Although details are limited on the result of meeting, Sen. Schumer said, “the meeting was positive,” and that, “the President was receptive and wants to get back to us on Gateway."
The White House provided a similar sentiment and an official said, “The expense of the program, which approaches $30 billion, will require a strong partnership to deliver these ... projects in a cost-effective manner by streamlining the permitting process, using innovative procurement techniques, and being creative in the funding and financing of the program.”
The Gateway Program would include the construction of two new rail tubes under the Hudson River for Amtrak and New Jersey Transit trains, as well as the rebuilding of a bridge in New Jersey over the Hackensack River. The new tubes will allow repairs to be made to the existing, 100-year-old tunnels that were damaged during Hurricane Sandy without interruption in service.
Stories From Passengers: Bob Sandberg
I am a Wartime Korean Vet, who is also disabled. For 18 years after my retirement I would move all over the continental USA via RV. When my disabilities became too severe to continue this, I tried commercial air, which has gradually deteriorated and no longer can accommodate my requirements.
So wanting to continue some mobility, I turned to Amtrak, who has continued beyond my wildest dreams to provide every service I require to make two trans-continental trips annually, plus another round trip to the Minnesota Mayo Clinic.
This service has been nothing short of outstanding, and enables me to continue my mobility desires. And I know that their ability to continue this service is severely threatened by our Elected Representatives. I have always said that if they were required to take only Commercial Rail - we would have the best in the world, equaling Europe, Australia and South Africa.
But who makes the laws?
I have been a NARP member, and participate to the best of my abilities. To eliminate long-distance rail coverage to half of our states, is nothing short of a third-world action - i.e., I have mine and that is all that counts. So keep your fingers crossed and be proactive.
A big thanks goes to the Bob 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.
Following a summer filled with construction and repairs at New York’s Penn Station, normal passenger rail service returned on Tuesday. Restored service included trains for Amtrak, the Long Island Rail Road and New Jersey transit, all of which had to deal with track closures that rerouted passengers to and from Penn Station. Amtrak's chief engineer Gery Williams said workers installed the equivalent of six football fields of new track in the section known as Interlocking A, which directs trains entering and exiting Penn Station.
Many riders feared significant delays on their daily commutes, but Amtrak officials reported no significant issues over the two-month period of work. The New York Times even collected some riders’ thoughts on their experience, which showed people made the best of it and even found silver linings:
“Riding the ferry was great for my mental health and the crew was terrific. Fellow rerouted riders nicknamed the passengers and crew the Hoboken Yacht Club. Turns out I’m a proud member!”
Kimberly Mullaney, 54, Maplewood N.J.
“It added stability and predictability to my commute. There were absolutely no cancellations or disruptions, just a bit more crowded.”
Jimmy Schwecherl, 31, Rockville Centre, N.Y.
“The commute this summer was more mentally than physically exhausting, as there were a lot of steps involved in getting me to my office in Rockefeller Center. What good came out of it? I really appreciate the steps people take to get to work every day. And I certainly appreciate Penn Station a whole lot more!”
Lauren Mirman, 38, South Orange, N.J.
“During construction this summer I left the house 20 minutes earlier, which is no easy feat as I try to spend every minute possible with my 2-year-old. But it got me to work before most of my office, which makes for a nice and relaxing start to my morning. I’m going to keep going in early.”
Lisa Kim, 36, Rockville Centre, N.Y.
“My favorite part of the summer was when my daily evening conductor spoke over the loudspeaker to announce that after already being delayed for 45 minutes, we were going to be stalled again so another train could pass us mid-route. ‘I would say I’m sorry, but I know you don’t believe us anymore,’ he said, to a train full of laughs. We survived together.”
Kelsey Leiter, 24, Mahwah, N.J.
Although the “Summer of Renewal” work is completed, Amtrak leaders said that more work will continue during weeknights and weekends. Additional work includes replacing more rails and ties, and upgrading bridges and tunnels that have more than 100 years of wear.
Following the return of regular service at Penn Station, Amtrak’s co-CEO Richard Anderson said that Amtrak is focused on the future of providing service to people living and moving to metropolitan areas. Anderson laid out key objectives that Amtrak needs to follow through on:
Fix the current national and NEC rail infrastructure
Improve train performance and reliability
Update the interiors of Amtrak passenger trains
Grow passenger rail services to other regions
Anderson also said that the process for upgrading the infrastructure and service of Amtrak will be a multi-year project, and that the transit agency would not decrease the space between seats.
Registration is filling fast for NARP’s 2017 RAIL NATION CHICAGO Passenger Advocacy EXPO And 50th Anniversary Celebration this November in 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. You’ll hear DIRECTLY from leaders shaping the future of passenger rail, here in the U.S. and worldwide!
A culinary demonstration, a passenger-rail jobs fair and fun exhibits, too!
Fabulous 50th 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.
Confirmed And Invited Speakers:
Étienne Tricaud - CEO & Co-Founder - AREP - Keynote Address Thursday AM, Nov. 2
Richard Anderson - Co-President/CEO - Amtrak - Invited on Friday, Nov. 3
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
Jim Wrinn - Editor - Trains Magazine
Ian Jefferies - Senior Vice-President Government Affairs - Association of American Railroads
Henry Posner III - Chairman - Railroad Development Corporation
Bob Johnston - Passenger Rail Columnist - Trains Magazine
Karen Hedlund - Director Public-Private Partnerships - WSP - Parsons Brinckerhoff
Richard Harnish - Executive Director - Mid-West High Speed Rail Association
Prof. Anthony Perl - Simon Fraser University
Don Phillips - Rail Industry Columnist - Trains Magazine
William O'Leary - President/CEO - Alaska Railroad
Yves Desjardins-Sicilano - President/CEO - VIA Rail Canada
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.
Ahead of Hurricane Irma making landfall in Florida this weekend, Amtrak has added coaches to northbound service due to the number of people seeking to evacuate the area. Amtrak has also begun canceling trains entirely or along portions of their routes ahead of the storm. As it stands now, several lines that will head north are sold out. The final northbound Auto Train is set to leave Sanford, on Saturday, but this departure, along with departures for today are also sold out. Friday’s northbound Silver Meteor and Silver Star are also sold out and have been rescheduled to leave at 9:15 a.m. Amtrak officials are still waiting to decide whether it will be possible to run trains out of Miami on Saturday.
Whether Amtrak trains will run Saturday out of Miami also depends upon what Tri-Rail plans to do, since Amtrak trains use Tri-Rail tracks south of West Palm Beach. That decision was still pending as of Wednesday evening. A spokeswoman tells Trains News Wire that if sustained winds above 35 mph are expected, the operator considers taking steps to secure the corridor. This can mean tying crossing gates up, taking them down, or a combination of both.
“Our thoughts are with those who are in the path of Hurricane Irma,” said NARP President Jim Mathews. “We hope that everyone either evacuates the area or finds a secure place to shelter and stay safe as the storm passes.”
Additional details on the service Amtrak has temporarily suspended in Florida are below:
The Silver Star Train 92 and Silver Meteor Train 98 (Miami - New York City) are cancelled for Sept. 9 - 11.
The Silver Star Train 91 (New York City - Miami) will operate from New York City to Orlando, Fla., on Thursday, Sept. 7. The Silver Meteor Train 97 (New York City - Miami) will operate from New York City to Jacksonville, Fla. Trains 91 and 97 are cancelled for Sept. 8 - 10.
The Auto Train 53 (Lorton, Va. - Sanford, Fla.) is cancelled for Saturday, Sept. 9. The Auto Train 52 (Sanford, Fla. - Lorton, Va.) is cancelled on Sept. 10 and 11.
Summer by Rail Blog - One Last Thought
By Victoria Principato
After the whirlwind that was our Summer by Rail experience, I’ve finally had some time to sit and think about all that Cate and I have seen and done. Looking back on pictures and blog posts, it seems surreal that we actually completed our 28-day, 25 city, 10,000 mile journey. From Niagara Falls, to the Rocky Mountains, to the Pacific Coast, we’ve seen some incredible things, and have had some life changing experiences along the way. However, what has struck me most is the sense of connectedness that is truly present in our country. From community to community, I saw neighbors helping neighbors, and friends supporting one another in countless ways. People care about small businesses that create community and drive the economy of their towns. It was wonderful to see the American Dream alive in countless communities across the country. On another note, after experiencing several cities and towns, I feel a physical sense of connectedness to a variety of places in America.
With this physical connection comes a feeling of community, especially in times of hardship. Take for example. with the devastation that Hurricane Harvey left in its path, I feel a sense of connection to Texas and the Gulf Coast that I have never before felt. When natural disasters such as Harvey, or Katrina, strike, it is easy to feel removed from the situation, though nonetheless sympathetic, if we are not directly impacted. However, after actually passing through Texas, and seeing the Gulf Coast for myself, I feel a sense of closeness to these communities, and the people who live there. In my opinion, the only way to begin to fully connect with one another is to spend a day in one another's shoes. That connectedness, I believe, is something that can only be brought to us by long distance train travel, and the communal, shared experience that train travel offers.
Cate and I were greeted with nothing but kindness, hospitality, and generosity in each town that we visited. Most every person we encountered went above and beyond to welcome us into his or her community, even if it was just for a day. There is so much value in getting to experience the entirety of America. It is my hope that more people will take the time to travel this way, and to see our country from sea to shining sea, and everything in between.
On Thursday Amtrak unveiled plans for a $16-million renovation project for the interiors of its Amfleet I passenger cars, and it didn’t take long for the rumor mill to start passing the idea that it was new CEO Richard Anderson’s first salvo to compress seating to airline levels of discomfort. NARP has checked and here is the definitive word: the new seats will preserve the same seat pitch and width we’re all used to on the Amfleets. Pitch measures the distance, in inches, between the back of your seat and the back of the seat in front of you -- using the anchors of the seats to the floor as the reference point. Senior Amtrak officials tell NARP that Anderson has spoken to the executive team about the spaciousness of Amtrak’s coach seating as a selling point that needs to be marketed and highlighted.
Meanwhile, the upgrades will be fast-tracked and will refresh cars servicing not only the Northeast Corridor but a few other routes in the Midwest such as the Hiawatha, River Runner and Michigan services. Many of these cars first started running in the mid-1970’s. As part of the modernization project, Amtrak will upgrade the Amfleet I cars with:
Brand-new seat cushions
New LED reading lights
New bathroom flooring
Upgraded wainscoting and bulkhead
New curtains in Business Class cars
Redesigned galleys in the Café cars
"Amtrak is committed to offering a premium customer experience and these modernized interior features are a marked improvement in the overall ambience on board," said Wick Moorman, Amtrak's co-CEO. "The upgrades offer customers what they told us they want more of during their travels — a more comfortable, refreshed look and feel."
The renovation project will modernize the interior of 450 passengers cars, and work will run through next summer.
"We railroad passengers are enthusiastic to see Amtrak's commitment to refresh the backbone of its fleet, especially in the Northeast Corridor and New York state," said Bruce Becker, NARP's Vice President of Operations.
Amtrak also announced that a rehabilitation of the public restrooms at New York’s Penn Station will start this fall.
Amtrak is also taking steps to increase safety of its service with plans to install Positive Train Control (PTC) technology on 310 of its diesel locomotives. PTC, which can remotely monitor and stop or slow a train if its is speeding, will be installed on the diesel locomotives that are currently running on the national rail network, as well as on state-sponsored routes in the East and Midwest. When used with a railroad’s PTC infrastructure, the combination of PTC technology can improve safety and reliability for passengers riding Amtrak.
"PTC is a set of highly advanced technologies designed to enhance rail transportation safety by automatically stopping a train before certain types of incidents occur," said George Hartman, Amtrak's senior manager of PTC in a press release issued by Amtrak. “We are dedicated to ensuring our locomotives are enabled with this important safety technology."
Amtrak has already been implementing the technology. Last year, the passenger rail agency installed PTC on its Harrisburg Line, which runs 104 miles. In December 2015, Amtrak also began using PTC on its NEC route between New York and D.C. PTC has also been installed on Amtrak’s routes between Boston and New Haven, CT, and on Amtrak-owned tracks in Michigan and Indiana.
Despite the unfunded nature of the mandate from Congress, Amtrak is planning to have PTC fully installed on its trains by the federal deadline of December 31, 2018.
#Rally4Trains Fights Off Attack
Our advocacy efforts this summer have helped give Congress courage to defeat attacks on the national rail network this week. Congress has passed a short-term fix to keep the government open until December 8, but we need a long-term solution. As the full Senate takes up their version of the transportation budget, we need YOU to continue to engage on social media using the #Rally4Trains!
Sharing pictures at your station or in your town on Facebook or Instagram is an easy and free way to pitch in! At the end of your 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!
Another way to amplify your voice is to join more than 210,000 people who have signed a petition to save long-distance passenger rail in America.
As always, you can 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.
[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.]
The battle over Maryland’ Purple Line continues, even though the state broke ground on the project last week. Federal Judge Richard Leon said this week that Purple Line construction could be halted, at least temporarily, pending his ruling on the lawsuit filed by opponents of the project. The lawsuit could cost Maryland $400,000 per day in costs and contract penalties with Purple Line Transit Partners - the private company that will build and operate the line.
A previous, related lawsuit in the case held up funding for the 16-mile light rail project that will run from Bethesda to New Carrollton until the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit stayed Leon’s ruling in that case earlier this summer.
The opponents of the line said their new lawsuit raises new issues, including specific concerns about construction along the Georgetown Branch Trail and Metro’s financial situation.
The National Transportation Safety Board is recommending rail-transit agencies install cameras on all trains to ensure greater transparency in accident investigations and to improve general rail safety. The NTSB is specifically recommending installing “crash-resistant inward and outward-facing cameras.” The cameras should have a minimum 12-hour continuous recording capability with the intent to monitor crew actions and train operating conditions.
"These devices, which are becoming cheaper and more reliable, are critical tools in our investigations," said NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt. "In 47 of the 64 rail transit accidents the NTSB investigated between 1976 and 2015, audio and image recorders would have greatly helped in learning what happened by documenting and preserving data describing the actions and conditions leading to an accident."
The NTSB issued the safety recommendations directly to the Federal Transit Administration and the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority as a result of a train crash in Upper Darby, PA in February.
Uber and Sound Transit, along with the cities of Tukwila and Seatac in Washington, have partnered to encourage area riders to pair rideshare trips with mass transit. The partnership highlights how these two forms of transportation can work together to get people where they need to go.
“We know people throughout the country are reducing their personal vehicle ownership and instead using a mix of public transit, rideshare, biking, walking and other forms of transportation,” Brooke Steger, Uber general manager for the Pacific Northwest said in a press release. “This pilot program is designed to encourage even more people to move in that direction.”
As of September 6, Uber riders who travel to or from eight light rail stations and enter the TRANSIT promo code in their app will receive $3.50 off their UberX or UberPOOL trip. The program will run through January 5, 2018.
Upcoming Regional NARP and State Passengers Association Member Meetings & Events
Saturday, September 16 - 12:00n - 4:00pm - All Aboard Washington - Annual Eastern Washington Meeting - Pasco, WA - TRAC Center
Friday, September 29 - 12:00n - 2:30pm - Indiana Rail Passengers Alliance Meeting - Tipton Public Library - Tipton, IN
Wednesday, November 8 - Vermont Rail Action Network Annual Dinner and Awards - Rutland, VT - Full details to be announced!
Please contact Bruce Becker to have a local, state or regional meeting added to the NARP calendar of upcoming events!
Hawaii Governor David Ige has signed into law legislation that will allow for the rail transit project in Honolulu to continue to receive funding. The new bill will increase the state’s transient accommodations tax and extend Oahu’s 0.5 percent surcharge of the general excise tax. According to state lawmakers, the combination will generate $2.4 billion for the over-budget rail project. Rail officials now have until September 15 to submit a financial recovery plan to the Federal Transit Administration, which has committed $1.55 billion to the project. If the plan is not submitted, the FTA could withdraw its support from the project.
Oklahoma State Representatives meet at the state Capitol this week to discuss the Eastern Flyer passenger rail project. State Reps. listened to investors and those interesting in advancing the project to learn more about what is at stake if the project fails. Development has stalled even as public transit is increasingly needed in Oklahoma City and Tulsa. “At a certain point it’s not just an extra, as some people see it. It is a necessity for a growing economy for a growing metro area,” said Rep Forrest Bennett, D-Oklahoma City.
Investors and state officials believe that the project shouldn't take more than three years to develop, as tracks are already laid out. “This is not a 5- or 10-year project. This ought to be year-and-a-half or two-year project, because you know the tracks are there we don’t have to reinvent the wheel here,” said James Coston, Chairman of Corridor Capital.
Currently the project is stalled, and legislators are in the process of figuring out why. In order for this project to start moving forward it will take private rail companies, state officials, and passengers to develop the right process.
In Colorado, state commission is now exploring ways to develop passenger rail service stretching up and down the Front Range. The goal is to develop a line that will run from Fort Collins to Pueblo. The commission has until December 1 to submit a plan to the Legislature. The plan will need to show how to pay for the project, which is estimated to cost between $5 billion and $15 billion.
The commission is also interested in rerouting Amtrak's Southwest Chief line, which runs through the state's southeastern corner. The commission would like to include stops in Pueblo and Walsenburg, which officials say could be done in less than five years.
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.