Hotline #1,040: RailNation Chicago Begins; Amtrak Service in Roanoke Returns; HSR From Seattle to Vancouver To Attract 1.8 Million Riders; Amtrak Could Face Delays Due to Degraded Rail Ties
November 3, 2017
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The Rail Passengers Association, formerly known as NARP, kicked off RailNation Chicago yesterday as a number of speakers, including Amtrak’s co-CEO Richard Anderson, addressed the members. As reported in the Chicago Tribune, Anderson warned that millions of people will lose long-distance service disproportionately if the federal government moves forward with proposed budget cuts to Amtrak.
“The real purpose of the national network is to connect small cities and inland cities to provide the most utility to the most Americans across the country,” Anderson said. “Only 6 percent of the long-distance customers travel from the beginning point to the end point along the route.”
Anderson’s points during the conference echo the findings of the Association’s recent economic report, “Dismantling a National Transportation Network.” The report highlights that the recent budget proposals from the White House and members of Congress would negatively affect 220 communities and economies, or 45 percent of American taxpayers across the U.S.
The report also clarifies the misconceptions that many in federal offices believe - that Amtrak is a major recipient of subsidies. In truth, between 2008 and 2016, Congress spent $143 billion subsidizing highways. That’s more than three times what Amtrak has received since it was created in 1971.
Anderson maintained during his speech that Amtrak will continue to work closely with the Trump administration. The current focus, he said, is running a good railroad, improving Amtrak customer experience and developing a long-term strategy for the national rail network.
Despite strong opposition from members of Congress, some member are still pushing the idea to raise the gasoline tax to pay for infrastructure. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said that Congress needs, “to keep our options open in terms of how we get that done,” and pay for improvements to the country’s roads, railways, bridges and other public projects.
White House officials said the tax increase of seven cents is under consideration to help support Trump’s infrastructure proposal. If the tax increase moved forward, it would be the first time in 20 years that the federal government approved a tax hike. The Highway Trust Fund, which supports transportation projects nationwide, is financed by a federal fuel tax of 18.4 cents per gallon of gasoline and 24.4 cents per gallon of diesel fuel.
“If anything is done on the Highway Trust Fund, it will happen in the context of an infrastructure discussion,” Thune said. “If that’s what we’re going to use to pay for infrastructure in this country, then we’ve got to figure out a way to fund the trust fund.”
Passengers on Amtrak routes could face delays as Norfolk Southern Railway replaces millions of defective wooden ties on its network, said Sean Jeans-Gail, vice president of government affairs and policy at the Rail Passengers Association, formerly known as NARP. In a lawsuit filed by Norfolk Southern in the U.S. District Court in Alabama, the company alleged that the ties degraded faster than expected due to an Alabama company failing to use proper protective coating on more than 4.7 million of the ties. Norfolk Southern said that instead of using materials that preserve the wood, officials with Boatright Railroad Products Inc. had workers, "make them black by whatever means necessary," so they appeared to be properly treated but were not. This included the use of paint and motor oil, instead of creosote — the chemical which should have been used.
The degradation of the ties has led to derailments in recent months, which sparked investigations to the causes. Additional and more frequent inspections are needed to prevent potentially catastrophic derailments of trains, including passenger trains and freight trains that carry flammable materials like oil and ethanol. The scope of work for Norfolk Southern and its impact on Amtrak service is not known, but it could impact several Amtrak routes across the country as Norfolk Southern operates freight trains in more than 20 states in the southern and eastern United States.
Want a Chance to Win 10,000 Amtrak Guest Rewards® Points?: Send Us Your Best Photo
The Rail Passengers Association is asking passengers like you to be a part of our new identity. A great way to do this is through our new social media contest that will give nine lucky passengers 10,000 Amtrak Guest Rewards ® Points, while dozens more will win other prizes.
To enter the contest, we are asking you, along with your friends and family, to share your favorite train-view photos via Instagram, Facebook or Twitter. The pictures should be your own, and should depict what you see outside your train window. Whether it’s a photo of countryside, oceans, forests or cities, we want to see what you see. Rail Passengers’ staff will be evaluating the photos, and selected images will be used as part of the Rail Passengers Association’s new visual identity on the web, and in print.
The best selections will be named grand prize winners and participants will receive 10,000 Amtrak Guest Rewards ® points. We will be offering a variety of rewards for contest submissions, including new Rail Passengers gear such as totes, umbrellas or luggage tags for 90 contest winners.
There is a rolling deadline for submissions, and the contest will end once we have enough winners from each of our nine regions: Northeast, Northwest, Midwest, South Central, Mountains & Plains, Mid-Atlantic, Southeast, South, and Southwest. Submitting photos for consideration is easy. Just share them on one of our social media networks and be sure to use the hashtag #RailPassengers and @RailPassengers. If you don’t, we won’t be able to find the submissions!
For additional information on how to enter, as well as guidelines for photo submissions, please visit https://www.narprail.org/news/blog/contest-your-view-from-the-train/
(Please remember, we can only use photo entries with permission. The best way to make sure you have the right, is to share photos you took personally. Please don’t just grab a picture off Google!)
At the end of last week, Florida’s higher-speed rail line known as Brightline, was issued $600 million in tax-free bonds to help pay for the line. The funding decision was made by the Florida Development Finance Corp. and will be specific towards paying for Phase 1 of the project, which will run between West Palm Beach and Miami. The finance corporation first issued Brightline $1.75 billion of private-activity bonds, but the company failed to sell them, and last year canceled that request. Brightline then sought the tax-exempt financing in two phases, and requested $600 million for Phase 1, and it would then separately request $1.15 billion for Phase 2. Phase 2 will run between West Palm Beach and Orlando.
Bill Spivey, executive director of the state agency, said issuing bonds to All Aboard Florida is in line with the finance corporation's mission, "to promote the financing of projects for Florida business activities between the public and private sectors."
Service between Miami and West Palm is to begin later this year, with full service to Orlando International Airport still several years away.
The first Amtrak train to leave Roanoke, VA, in 38 years carried more than 240 passengers, as the train made it’s way north to Boston on October 31. The daily train marks the fourth expansion of Amtrak service in Virginia since 2009, following new or additional service to Lynchburg, Richmond, and Norfolk.
“The extension to Roanoke marks a milestone in the growth of Amtrak and passenger rail in Virginia,” Amtrak Co-CEO Wick Moorman said in a press release. “Rail service is a vital alternative in Virginia’s overall transportation solution. We look forward to continuing our partnership with DRPT and other cities to further expand rail service in the Commonwealth.”
Of the 240 passengers onboard the train, many had been waiting for the train service for years. David Kingsley, who was the first passenger to the station said, "I've been waiting for this day since 1995. I've been on four trips behind the 611 Steam Locomotive, but I've been waiting for restored passenger service like this for a long time."
On weekdays, the train will leave the Roanoke platform at 6:19 a.m. and return at 9:55 p.m. every day. On weekends, train service will leave Roanoke at 8:40 a.m. with various arrivals back into town.
If you haven’t already, check out the “Rally For Trains” economic report to find an array of stats and data that can bolster advocacy efforts for passenger rail in America. The report details how cutting funding for trains will hurt America, especially in rural areas. It shows why expanding funding for passenger rail will be a boon for our national and local economies. Feel free to pick out data and share it on social media with the #rallyfortrains hashtag.
Sharing photos at your station or in your town on Facebook or Instagram is another easy and free way to keep the pressure on Congress to ask for funding for rail passengers! 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!
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 Rail Passengers members all across America who make our work possible.]
The township of North Brunswick, NJ, secured $50 million in funding for a train station at its Main Street transit village. The money was allocated from the state Transportation Trust Fund for the project. Middlesex County announced its support by committing to the construction of the parking facilities at the train station site.
Mayor Francis Womack announced the funding this past weekend, and said that the development of the station and the transit village will help produce regional growth and improve the quality of life, while also reducing the CO2 footprint. Mayor Womack was joined by State and Middlesex County officials, and the Town Council.
Bidding for the Southwest Corridor light rail train was reopened this week by the Metropolitan Council in Minneapolis. The Council previously sought bids for the development of the line, which will run between Minneapolis and Eden Prairie, but rejected all offers due to costs. The decision by the Council to restart the process by four months. The new deadline for contractors looking to build the project is January 9, 2018, and the completion date is now moved to at least 2022.
Members of the Southwest Chief and Front Range Passenger Rail Commission spoke with Colorado’s state Legislature's Joint Transportation Committee about the opportunities and benefits for connecting rural parts of Colorado to Denver. One such benefit is providing alternatives to driving on the region’s roads, which Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace and chair of the Commission said are too congested and alternatives are needed. Pace and the Commission's’ vice chair, Jacob Riger, also said their preliminary plan is to seek out funding for any future projects outside of the legislature, through avenues like public-private partnerships, grants and/or a special district.
In their briefing with state lawmakers, Pace and Riger said connecting rural communities, such as Pueblo, will help people and businesses continue to recover from the Great Recession. The line, which is still years away from carrying passengers, would drive economic development with companies moving to Colorado near the line, and create a variety of new job opportunities. The commission is set to submit draft legislation on the rail line to lawmakers by December 1, 2018, which will include proposals to continue and expand their work.
Upcoming Regional Rail Passengers and State Association Member Meetings & Events
Wednesday, November 8 - Vermont Rail Action Network Annual Dinner and Awards - Rutland, VT - Tickets are now available and include a special train from Burlington to Rutland.
Monday, November 13 - Rhode Island Association of Railroad Passengers Meeting - East Greenwich, RI
Saturday, December 9 - All Aboard Washington Annual Meeting - Lacey, WA
Please contact Bruce Becker to have a local, state or regional meeting added to the Rail Passengers calendar of upcoming events!
Charles Knutson, Governor Jay Inslee's executive policy advisor in Washington State, said that a high speed rail line between Seattle and Vancouver, B.C. has the potential to attract 1.8 million passengers in a few years. The number is based on a study by consultants who are closely examining the potential of the line, which would also connect to Portland, OR.
Early hopes are that the HSR line would travel between Seattle and Vancouver at 250 MPH, making the trip in less than an hour. This is significantly lower travel time when compared to the four hours it currently takes on Amtrak Cascades. The estimated price of the train will be released once the final report is issued in December, but costs will depend on factors like the type of technology used, where it runs, and how many stops it makes. Governor Inslee budgeted $350,000 to study potential alignment, ridership, technology, costs and economic benefits of a high-speed rail line.
A prime example of urban development occurring around a passenger rail hub is taking place in Burbank, CA. Only 800 feet from the downtown Metrolink station, LaTerra Development is looking to build 542 apartments, a 300-room hotel, and retail storefronts on a seven-acre parcel. The development project, known as LaTerra Select Burbank, will also include a 27,000-square-foot public park on a two-acre city-owned parcel.
LaTerra Select Burbank is now expected to go before City Council in late 2018, with construction expected to start mid-2019. The project is being designed by Urban Architecture Lab.
Nominations Now Open For The 2018 Election Of Council Of Representative Members
Rail Passengers is inviting all members in good standing to consider running for seats on the Council of Representatives, the Association’s volunteer governing body. The next election for seats on Council will occur in January 2018, for a two-year term starting March 1, 2018. Any Rail Passenger member, who has paid dues for at least one year, is at least 18-years of age and is a U.S. resident is eligible to run.
The Council consists of 112 elected state representatives. The number of representatives per state is determined by an equally weighted ratio of the Rail Passengers members in a given state and the state’s number of U.S. Representatives. Every state has at last one Council Representative. The certified number of Council seats to be elected, per state, in January 2018 can be viewed here.
The Council of Representatives represents the overall Rail Passengers membership in setting and approving the overall policy and direction for the Association. The Council elects the Officers and Board of Directors of the Association, in addition to up to 10 ‘At-Large’ members of the Council. Serving on the Council is a great opportunity to collaborate with others who have a common interest in actively improving passenger rail service across the country. Council members are expected to encourage activities at the grassroots level to advance the Association’s goals and represent local needs, issues and activities at the national level.
The Council meets in person twice per year; in the spring in Washington, D.C., and in the fall at varied locations across the country. Council members are responsible for their own travel and meeting expenses to attend these gatherings and they may be able to apply these expenses on their federal tax returns.
Members interested in running for a seat on the Council must complete and submit a Candidate Information Statement to the Candidate Certification Committee for review and qualification by 11:59 p.m. local time on December 1, 2017. The Candidate Information Statement is also available by requesting a printed copy from the Rail Passengers office. Complete information on serving on the Council of Representatives with detailed specifications on the election procedures can be found on the Rail Passengers website under ‘Join the Council’
Rail Passengers is only as strong as the leaders who step up and share their time and talents in working towards our collective goals. Please consider becoming one of these leaders and help make a difference in the future.