Hotline #952

The Hill reported that Amtrak, as well as NARP, filed comments in response to the Surface Transportation Board’s “policy statement” on preference for freight trains. Overall, the proposed statement would reverse a federal mandate, which currently gives Amtrak preference on rail track over freights. Amtrak and NARP shared comments that highlighted that a change in preference will result in delays for passengers, especially those traveling long distance.

STB Public Comment On Definition of Preference

On February 22, 2016, NARP provided the U.S. Surface Transportation Board with its comments in regards to preference between freight and passenger trains. The STB sought comments from the rail-riding public through February 22, 2016.

In its comments, NARP contended that the STB overreached their administrative powers by issuing a “Policy Statement” on how it will view the need for a right to preference without any input from any outside parties – even though “preference” has already been defined, and periodically reaffirmed, by elected legislators who make the law on behalf of the voting public. The Dept. of Justice and the Dept. of Transportation have also addressed preference on numerous occasions.

Following the deadline for submissions regarding preference, commenters supported NARP's position by nearly 10 to 1, recognizing that STB's issuing of a policy statement was an overreach that should be withdrawn. In addition, in less than 24 hours more than 60 members of NARP have written to the STB on Amtrak’s behalf to voice their concerns and support passenger rail service.

Following the Gulf Coast Inspection Train’s trip last week, supporters of reintroducing passenger rail service from New Orleans to Orlando encouraged the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee to support grants that would boost capital. The effort was for the funding of two discretionary grant programs that were included in the $325 billion long-term transportation bill from 2015 - the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvement program and the Restoration and Enhancement Grants program. The push was led by Knox Ross, a Southern Rail Commissioner and mayor of Pelahatchie, Miss.

A study released by the Michigan Environmental Council revealed that a daily passenger railroad service between Detroit and Holland could cost up to $540 million, but that the service would generate $14 million in annual revenue. The report also noted that with increased train frequency traveling at higher speeds, ridership and revenue would grow, with expectations that up to 1.71 million annual riders will use the service by 2040. According to the study, a 110-mph, 8 daily trip route through Jackson showed the greatest potential ridership and revenue.

Officials of the California High-Speed Rail Authority met with federal partners this week to discuss how the state will now build the first stretch of the train to the Bay Area, as opposed to its original plan of Los Angeles. Among the officials meeting on Capitol Hill was Dan Richard, chairman of the California High-Speed Rail Authority who stated that the change to San Jose was “all about getting a train up and running the fastest way possible.” With the change underway, it’s expected that the train will be completed within the next 10 years.

In the past two years, passengers on Texas Eagle trains have experienced delays or been forced to ride on buses due to construction of a third north-south mainline track in the Fort Worth, Texas, Tower 55 project, the higher speed rail construction between Chicago and St. Louis and significant weather events on the route.

So to celebrate the completion of track upgrades and anticipated reduction in track delays in 2016, the Texas Eagle Local Revenue Management team, in conjunction with the Texas Eagle Route Director and Amtrak Central Division Marketing, will begin a special promotion for passengers between January and March 2016.

Passengers will receive a free companion rail fare when they buy one regular (adult) fare. The ticket must be purchased at least one day in advance of travel between January 5 and March 15, 2016, for travel between January 6 and March 20, 2016.

These fares may be upgraded to a sleeper after paying for an accommodation charge. The promotion is valid for travel only on the Texas Eagle. It is not valid for local travel between Chicago and St. Louis, or for local travel between San Antonio and Los Angeles. Fares are subject to availability, and seating is limited. Please use discount code V344 when booking the fare.

In Massachusetts, the Legislature's Transportation Committee held a hearing on a bill that would allow the creation of a high-speed train between Boston and Springfield to be researched. State representatives, including State Sen. Eric Lesser, who sponsored the bill, emphasize that the train can be a catalyst for economic growth in western Massachusetts. Overall, the bill would commission a study to "examine and evaluate the costs and economic opportunities related to establishing high-speed rail service between the city of Springfield and the city of Boston."

Paul Casey, AICP (American Institute of Certified Planners), shared his view with The New Orleans Advocate, on how a passenger rail line between Baton Rouge and New Orleans is the key for future economic growth in the region. In the column, Casey notes that the current proposal for the rail line could accommodate 10,800 passengers per hour, which is 10,000 people more than one freeway lane in Louisiana. Having this possibility would provide new employment opportunities for people who can’t afford a car for work.

On May 20, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority will begin running a 6.6 mile extension of the Expo Line to Santa Monica, CA. This is the first time in 60 years that a passenger train will carry riders from downtown Los Angeles and to Santa Monica. Metro officials say the full Expo Line will handle about 64,000 boardings on an average weekday by 2030.

Registration for the Spring Council and Membership Meeting being held Sunday, April 10 through Wednesday, April 13 at the Sheraton Silver Spring Hotel is now available on the event webpage. The draft agenda is now posted and information on NARP’s ‘Day on The Hill’ can be found here.

Group rate hotel room reservations are still available at the Sheraton. Click here to make your room reservations. The deadline to make reservations is March 10th.

Railway Age reported that for the first time in North America, retractable bridge plates for high-level boarding platforms will be installed on Brightline trains in Florida. Brightline and carbuilder Siemens collaborated with Kassel, Germany-based Bode to develop the custom retractable bridge plate that is integrated into the railcar door system. Brightline calls the plates a “gap filler,” as the retractable plates will extend up to 12 inches from the train and pivot to contact the station platform. As a result, a flush surface will be created for passengers to cross.

Manage Your Membership! You can instantly change your address, your phone number or any other important detail in your membership by yourself using the NARP website, at manage-your-membership. Just enter your membership number, or create an account to get started.

According to a new report from the Puget Sound Regional Council in Washington state, commuters in Seattle are increasingly choosing mass transit for transportation, instead of cars. The report highlights that commuters are showing greater interest in light rail, as well as buses. Notably, the area's light rail has shown a 59 percent increase in boardings since 2010 — that factors out to five million more in 2015, or one million more each year since 2010.

The Atlanta Regional Commission has released a comprehensive plan for the city in 2040. The plan, known as the “Atlanta Region’s Plan” includes a framework for developing and expanding the city’s transportation infrastructure, community development, economic growth and more. According to the plan, almost $12 billion could go toward the implementation of a slew of public transit initiatives, including $8 billion for MARTA.

NARP is inviting members in good standing to consider running for 10 open seats on the Council of Representatives, the association’s volunteer governing body, for two-year terms. The next election for seats is for the term starting March 1, 2016.

Any NARP 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 Council of Representatives represents the overall NARP membership in setting and approving the overall policy and direction for the association. For more information, click here. For an 'At-Large' Representative Candidate Information Statement form, go here.

In addition, nominations are now being sought from those members interested and qualified in being elected as an Association Officer (Chair; 4 Vice-Chairs; Treasurer & Secretary) and for the 8 Director positions. The Officers and Directors are elected by the Council of Representatives at the April meeting. For more information on these positions including duties, responsibilities and required qualifications, go here. For an Officer & Director Candidate Information Statement form, go here.

The deadline for all submissions is 11:59 p.m. (local time) on March 31, 2016. It must be postmarked no later than March 31, 2016.

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 Will Hubbard,, 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.