Hotline #975: Amtrak Sees Reduction in Delays; NTSB Releases Preliminary Findings of Metro Derailment; NARP Hires New Customer Advisory Director
August 5, 2016
Investment in new technology, maintenance and equipment pays off, which is evident with Amtrak’s implementation of new Siemens locomotives in the Northeast Corridor. According to new statistics from the railroad, the introduction of 70 new locomotives, known as the Amtrak Cities Sprinter, which started revenue service three years ago, has helped reduce delays by more than 20 percent. Overall, data show that there were 1,138 locomotive-related delays in the 10 months ending in July 2013. That number dropped nearly 25 percent, to 857 delays, for the similar period ending last month. In addition, the total length of the delays fell 30 percent, from 417 hours to 290 hours.
In addition, the new locomotives are far more technologically advanced than older units. The new ACS-64s feature a dashboard with an electronic screen that can tell an engineer what problems to look for even before they happen. This has helped Amtrak see a 10 percent decrease in the time of the average delay. Sean Jeans-Gail of NARP noted that the reduction in delays is “heartening” and a positive aspect to highlight to taxpayers about their investments.
Amtrak’s President and CEO Joe Boardman celebrated the rail agency’s commitment to providing passenger service in Kansas with the announcement that the Southwest Chief will be preserved and continue to run. The future of the route was in limbo for years, as deterioration of tracks owned by BNSF needed repair for Amtrak to continue serving the route. However, grant applications led by Garden City, Kan., and La Junta, Colo., have resulted in $27.6 million in federal TIGER funding in the past two years. State support and contributions from Amtrak ($8 million), BNSF ($4 million) and other communities has led to the replacement of jointed rails and ties nearing the end of their service. The Southwest Chief travels from from Chicago to Los Angeles, and stops at 3 a.m.in Newton - the busiest rail station in Kansas.
Former Congressman Steve LaTourette, renowned as an advocate for passenger rail and bipartisanship, died this week at the age 62.
LaTourette represented Ohio’s 19th District in Congress for 18 years. While there, he was a leading Republican voice for bipartisan investment in infrastructure and passenger rail. He retired in 2013, citing the increasingly corrosive atmosphere of partisanship in Washington.
“You get some who just take this attitude that, ‘If I don’t get 100 percent of what I want, I’m going to take my ball and go home,’” LaTourette told local outlet WKSU in a recent interview. “And that’s not the way the country was set up. That isn’t the way life is. And I don’t know how many people in the tea party are married but I’d like to meet the man or woman who gets 100 percent of their way at home every day. That just isn’t life.”
He passed away after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He died in his home in McLean, VA, surrounded by family. He is survived by his wife, Jennifer, and his six children: Sarah, Amy, Clare, Sam, Emerson and Henry.
NARP Names Carolyn Stagger Cokley New Customer Advisory Committee Director
NARP named Carolyn Stagger Cokley as the new Customer Advisory Committee Director for the organization. In the role, she will oversee the operations of the Amtrak Customer Advisory Committee (ACAC), and on behalf of NARP, create and maintain advisory committees for other rail service agencies and service providers across the United States.
“We are happy to welcome Carolyn to our NARP team,” said Jim Mathews, President and CEO of NARP. “This is a new position that Carolyn will be filling, and with her experience, we are excited to see what networks she will establish in order to help our Association build relationships and services with rail transit agencies so they can provide great experiences for their passengers.”
As the Customer Advisory Committee Director, Cokley will oversee the ACAC, which was created in 1997 as a group of volunteers to help Amtrak understand and meet the needs of its riders throughout the country. For the past two decades, members of ACAC have been providing new and innovative ideas for how Amtrak can assist seniors and people with mobility issues, how to improve food options, and even proposed the idea of the Quiet Car, which has been a dramatic success. As Cokley works with the ACAC, she will also work with other rail transit agencies to establish similar committees in an effort to increase customer service.
“After a few years away from the railroad industry, it feels like I am coming home in this new role with NARP,” said Cokley, who has more than 15 years of experience as a human capital management professional, accomplished administrator, meeting facilitator and event manager “I’m looking forward to building new relationships and help further connect the national rail network for the better.”
In Cokley’s most recent position as a federal contractor with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, she provided administrative and program management support in the Office of the Chief Human Capital Officer. Previously, she worked for Amtrak as an Employee Engagement and Recognition Programs manager. During her tenure with Amtrak, Cokley’s responsibilities included managing the annual Employee Appreciation Day events, the Employee Service Awards program and the Educational Assistance Program. For more than a decade, Cokley also chaired the 30-person employee selection committee for Amtrak’s Presidents Service & Safety Awards (PSSA) program and managed the planning and execution of the annual PSSA event.
Meanwhile, more woes last week at Washington, D.C.’s Metro underscore how lack of investment in rail infrastructure and poor infrastructure conditions can be felt after a train derailed outside the suburban East Falls Church station. Preliminary findings from the National Transportation Safety Board revealed that a stretch of tracks had rail ties that were falling apart, with rails that were almost two inches too far apart. The Federal Transit Administration also stated that the findings are consistent with its own investigation, which found “systemic safety deficiencies in the maintenance and repair” of tracks. Overall, the findings highlighted the need for Metro to increase the frequency of inspections as the crumbling rail ties should have been repaired years ago, and raised questions on why they rails hadn’t been fixed previously when Metro’s own protocols call for more frequent inspections.
The infrastructure issues surrounding Washington, D.C.’s Metro are expanding well beyond rising simply costs for the city and delays for riders. It has now altered the future development of the Purple Line, a light-rail system that would be built in the Maryland suburbs outside the the D.C. Due to the deterioration of Metro, U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon ordered that the Maryland Transit Administration redo the project’s ridership forecast as concerns were raised about declining ridership on Metro. Although the Purple Line will not be part of Metro, it will connect to four Metro stations, and more than a quarter of the Purple Line’s riders are expected to be Metro passengers feeding into the light-rail system. As a result, Leon stated he couldn’t “turn a blind eye to the recent extraordinary events involving seemingly endless Metrorail breakdowns and safety issues.”
After removing all Silverliner V rail cars from service on July 1, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) announced that it will begin phasing the cars back into service starting August 21. The cars were pulled from service due to the agency finding fatigue cracks the equalizer beams on 115 of 120 cars, and their removal severely disrupted service for commuters. SEPTA has begun to replace defective parts on the rail cars, and will continue to phase in cars until November 12, when the organization expects to have all cars back in service. SEPTA also plans to lease 40 rail cars from other transit agencies, which will help SEPTA return to a regular schedule in October.
New Member Benefits For You, And New Support For Us And Our Work!
Travelers United, the only non-profit membership organization that acts as a watchdog for traveler rights, now offers free reciprocal membership to all NARP members! To check out benefits and get the low-down on your passenger rights, visit TravelersUnited/Membership .
Amtrak Vacations, a premier tour operator offering first-rate travel packages combining great destinations and train travel, is now offering all NARP members a 10% discount on the rail travel portion of any package booked, along with a 5% discount on parent company Yankee Leisure Group’s Unique Rail Journeys packages across Europe! Better yet, go watch a recorded webinar co-hosted by Amtrak Vacations and NARP to learn about a special offer worth up to an additional $400 off certain rail-travel packages! Click here to watch the recorded webinar, or copy and paste this URL into your web browser: https://youtu.be/uiETYMKziWA , and to learn more about Amtrak Vacations please visit http://www.amtrakvacations.com .
If you buy anything from online retailer Amazon.com, sign up for Amazon Smile so that a portion of your purchase price is donated to support NARP! The price you pay for your items does not change, but every purchase helps your Association as we do the work you want done for A Connected America! Visit http://www.narprail.org/get-involved/donate to learn more.
VSP Individual Vision Care now offers specially discounted individual and family insurance plans exclusively for NARP members that typically save hundreds of dollars on your exams, glasses and contacts. In addition, as a VSP member you -- or any family member you designate -- can also enjoy savings of up to $1,200 per hearing aid through VSP’s TruHearing plan. When you sign up for a VSP plan through our website, you not only help yourself and your family with significant savings and great benefits, but you help support NARP’s work as well! Click here to enroll today!
Transportation officials in the Miami-Dade area are closely reviewing ideas on ways to fund the development of 90 miles of new passenger rail. In 2002, officials moved forward with a plan to have residents accept a nearly eight percent increase in sales tax, but since that time, not even three miles of track have been built. Looking back at that original 2002 plan, leaders may now move forward with a plan that creates special districts along expanded transit routes to capture some of the tax revenue paid from nearby real estate. A portion of new tax dollars — those generated by higher property values — would be dedicated to transit expenses within the district. The property taxes would also only be just one revenue source for the rail expansion. Miami-Dade leaders plan on generating cash with development deals along the expanded routes for companies interested in building stations with shops, apartments, hotels and other profit-generating uses. Other funding sources being explored include parking fees and revenue from existing toll roads.
NARP has previously noted that the Democratic and Republican parties have released their campaign platforms, in which they discuss funding the country’s transportation infrastructure, including rail. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton stated she would invest $275 billion for infrastructure, but most recently, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump claimed the GOP would invest twice as much as the Democrats. In an interview with Fox Business, Trump stated “I would say at least double her numbers, and you're really going to need more than that. We have bridges that are falling down. We’ll get a fund, we’ll make a phenomenal deal with the low interest rates and rebuild our infrastructure.”
There are still openings for state representatives on the NARP Council of Representatives in several states, including one each in Alabama; Arizona; California; Delaware; Hawaii; Idaho; Iowa; Louisiana; Massachusetts; Missouri; Nebraska; Nevada; New Jersey; North Carolina; North Dakota: Ohio (2 Seats); Texas (2 Seats) and Wyoming. Check out the full, up-to-date, list of current vacancies here.
If you live in these states and want to become more active in NARP’s 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 complete this Candidate Information Statement.
A new issue is arising in California over the state’s high-speed rail project and a specific line in legislation that supporters want to clarify. Overall advocates for the rail project want to clarify a highly technical wording of protections for taxpayers that was written into the $9 billion bond that was approved in 2008 by voters. Opponents of the project, however, claim that this is an effort to remove taxpayer protections from current legislation. If this is the case, opponents will sue to maintain their protection, which could cause additional delays for the rail project. Separately, some of the original proponents of high-speed rail fear that a cynical wholesale grab of bond money by local transit agencies will shortchange the cash-strapped project and fracture it into a series of regional pieces.
Over the course of the summer, Andrew Carpenter has biked from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., in an effort to explore the country’s transportation issues. Most recently, he explored the connectivity of rural communities to major forms of transportation, including airports and bus services. Most notably, Carpenter saw firsthand how many communities depend solely on train services, such as Amtrak, for reliable transportation as airports are too far and buses companies are cutting services. Carpenter notes that by providing an alternate transportation option, long-distance train routes move people who might otherwise not have the opportunity to travel, such as Mennonite families who cannot use other travel methods to visit far-flung relatives in other remote areas, or disabled people who cannot fly. More than 8 percent of passengers – a bit more than 2.5 million people – say they would not travel without Amtrak service.
NARP Is Asking For Your #SummerbyRail Stories
Taking a train for vacation this summer? We want to hear about it and see any great photos or videos that you take while on your trip.
This invitation to NARP members, and the vacationing American public will continue NARP intern Elena Studier’s “Summer by Rail” journey, while offering new and exciting adventures from people throughout the country. NARP welcomes stories, videos and images through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram that use #SummerByRail. For the best submissions, NARP will share the new “Summer by Rail” journeys on the Summer by Rail blog.
And in case you missed it, for 38 days, Elena traveled 10,000 miles on the nation’s rail network, with stops in 20 cities in 15 states. Her Summer by Rail internship circumnavigated the entire United States to help highlight how young Americans are demanding mobility options, and choosing to live in communities that cater to people, not cars. Through blogs, videos, and pictures, Elena shared her travel across the networks that connect America’s cities and national landmarks through her blog, “Summer by Rail,” and on Instagram and Twitter.
Elena relied heavily on Amtrak’s National Network to navigate the country, along with her bicycle (nicknamed “Stevie” after her parents’ two favorite singers: Stevie Wonder and Stevie Nicks). As Elena and Stevie traveled from city to city, they met with numerous elected and transportation officials, including Mayor Chris Koos of Normal, IL, and Mayor Knox Ross of Pelahatchie, MS, as well as transit and bike advocacy groups. Supporting groups included Transportation for America, Southern Rail Commission, Adventure Cycling Association, League of American Cyclists, Congressional Bike Caucus, Bike Texas—and many, many more. Each official and group highlighted how their respective city is working toward train, pedestrian, and bike-friendly transportation infrastructure. Elena used a variety of other forms of public transportation to highlight the rich assortment of modes available to travelers, including buses, ferries, trolleys, ride-sharing, and more.
When comparing the success of new streetcars developed and now running in Kansas City, Salt Lake City, Tampa, Atlanta, and Washington, D.C., Kansas City’s streetcar stands above the rest. The streetcar in Kansas City is seeing 6,660 riders a day over the first three months of operation, while Salt Lake’s S-Line carries 1,000 passengers per day, Atlanta’s 2.7-mile streetcar was counting just 1,000 riders a day during the first months of 2016, and in June, Tampa’s TECO line counted only 600 passengers a day. With Kansas City’s streetcar running in traffic, much like other streetcars, and with ample parking throughout downtown, some people are surprised that the line has been so successful early on. People attribute it to that the streetcar runs free of charge to passengers, or the fact that the city hasn’t had a rail line for more than 50 years. Regardless of the reasoning, Kansas City has again shown that streetcars can be practical and useful modes of transportation in urban areas.
Make plans now to attend NARP’s Fall 2016 Advocacy Symposium and Membership Meeting, being held in Denver, CO, Friday, October 14 - Sunday, October 16. Preliminary information and agenda for this exciting event is now posted on the event webpage and will be updated regularly as the planning process continues. Event Registration is NOW open via a link on the event web page, along with a full listing of the available options and rates.
Demand for the discounted group rate hotel rooms at the host hotel, Embassy Suites Denver Downtown, have exceeded expectations and we are working to make more rooms available. A list of other nearby hotel options will be posted on the Event web page by August 10th, along with an update on the availability of discounted rooms at the Embassy Suites. Thank you for your patience as we work to accommodate everyone’s housing needs!
State, city and transportation officials gathered in Biloxi, MS to discuss the return of Amtrak service to South Mississippi, as well as the Gulf Coast overall. Based on the positivity of the meeting, officials are very optimistic that service will return in the near future. The Working Group behind studying the feasibility of re-introducing service has until September 4th to issue a report on passenger rail. The report will examine some of the biggest challenges that Amtrak service may face, such as capital costs and operation costs for the trains. The committee also is awaiting Federal Railroad Administration approval on grants to make improvements at train stations. Officials also noted that South Mississippi has a lot of work to do, but the concept of “One Coast” will go a long way to getting Amtrak service running again according to the Gulf Regional Planning Commission and CSX.
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, email@example.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.