Happening Now

Hotline #1,000

January 27, 2017

GOP Reject Dems’ Infrastructure Proposal; DC’s Metro Receives Financial Boost; 30th Street Station District Plan Wins Award; MTA To Expand Sleep Apnea Program; NTSB Releases Initial Report on Amtrak Accident

Hotline #1,000: GOP Reject Dems’ Infrastructure Proposal; DC’s Metro Receives Financial Boost; 30th Street Station District Plan Wins Award; MTA To Expand Sleep Apnea Program; NTSB Releases Initial Report on Amtrak Accident

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, [email protected], 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.

On Tuesday, Democrats in the Senate shared their $1 trillion infrastructure proposal, which would span the next 10 years and potentially create 15 million jobs in the U.S. The plan was revealed by the Democrats this week in an effort to align infrastructure goals for the country with President Trump, who previously stated his administration would develop a $1 trillion investment plan. According to the plan, billions of dollars would go towards supporting repairs for major infrastructure projects for roads, bridges, railroads, ports and waterways.

Specific examples of major projects include:

  • $200 billion “vital infrastructure fund” for major projects such as rail lines and tunnels connecting New York City and New Jersey.
  • $210 billion to repair “crumbling” roads and bridges.
  • $180 billion for rail and bus transit.
  • $75 billion for school construction.
  • $70 billion for port, waterway and airport improvement.
  • $100 billion for energy infrastructure.

Funding would also be provided for sewer improvements, broadband and internet expansion, and public school construction.

NARP is asking you to call your elected official today and deliver two key points:

  1. I support a bipartisan transportation bill that invests in safe, efficient passenger trains and transit.
  2. Investing money in new equipment for Amtrak and high-speed rail will put Americans back to work, and boost U.S. manufacturing jobs.

Congress needs to hear this critical message from day one. Call now!

Governors from across the country, both Republican and Democrat, are eager to receive a portion of funding from the federal government in order to repair and develop infrastructure projects within their states. Overall, 40 states and some territories have submitted lists, containing more than 300 infrastructure projects, to the National Governors Association. Trump’s administration had asked the association to collect a list of “shovel ready” projects that have approval to begin or have already started construction, and can use funding quickly.

After review of the plan however, Republicans rejected the proposal from the Democrats. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, noted that, “Whatever they come up with, we’d be happy to look at … but we don’t want to go down the path of another $1 trillion stimulus.”

Although Trump has called for a $1 trillion investment in infrastructure, the president’s infrastructure adviser Richard LeFrak said the actual amount invested could be closer to $550 billion, due to a potential “tug-of-war” with conservatives over the spending issue. To ease some concerns for fiscally conservative Republicans who don’t want a new infrastructure stimulus, Trump has pushed an investment strategy that would put private companies in charge of transportation projects instead of the federal government.

NARP Offers First Student Fellowship

This spring, NARP will offer its first student Fellowship opportunity at the association’s annual Spring Council Meeting and Day on the Hill (April 25, 2017). The Fellowship will include a number of hands-on learning experiences in public policy and administration focused on transportation issues, including opportunities to meet with members of Congress and their staffs, as well representatives from the US Department of Transportation, Amtrak, and various rail trade associations and interest groups.

The Fellowship will be geared towards students whose academic or career interests are in transportation, railroads, political science, public policy, public administration, urban and regional planning, and business or nonprofit/association management. This is an all-expense paid opportunity that will afford students great networking opportunities and a chance to understand the workings of a non-profit. This fellowship is open to both undergraduate and graduate students who are U.S. citizens or legal residents and enrolled as a full-time student at a U.S. accredited college or university.

We are also looking for college and university faculty/staff who can help promote and advertise NARP’s Spring Fellowship Program. If you, or someone you know, can help, please contact Betsy at the email address below.

In addition, NARP can use your help funding the project. You can learn more about how you can support the fellowship by visiting our GoFundMe page.

Applications for the fellowship are available at www.narprail.org/fellowship. Additional information can be requested by contacting Betsy Nelson, Director, Resource Development [email protected].

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) received a significant boost in financial support from D.C., Virginia, and Maryland for it’s next fiscal year which begins July 1. The request for additional funding was made by Metro’s General Manager, Paul J. Wiedefeld, this past October in order to continue repairs and maintenance on the network. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) proposed a budget that offered a $42 million increase in the state’s subsidy for Metro, while Virginia increased its subsidy to nearly $40 million and D.C. increased its by nearly $50 million.

None of the three jurisdictions plan to increase subsidies beyond what has been approved as of last week, but Metro officials have estimated that the agency will need an additional $1 billion over the next three years.

In addition to the request for increased subsidies, Wiedefeld also proposed to eliminate 1,000 jobs, raise rail and bus fares, trim rail service and eliminate bus routes. These proposed items have been met with resistance, as Metro’s unions have held two town hall meetings in which riders and transit advocates have said such measures would reduce ridership and cost the agency needed revenue.

After conducting a review of New Jersey Transit employee practices, the Federal Railroad Administration discovered hundreds of potential work-hour violations, according to materials obtained by Bloomberg. The examination began in September after the FRA found irregularities in timekeeping with a small group of engineers and other crew members.

As a result, the FRA conducted a more thorough review and found a number of issues including altered duty logs and employees working longer shifts than allowed. The findings also come at a time when NJ Transit and other transit agencies are under high scrutiny following recent rail accidents in New Jersey, Brooklyn, Connecticut and elsewhere. A major concern following the accident last September in New Jersey which killed one woman, has focused heavily on railroads’ testing procedures among engineers for sleep disorders. And according to a 2013 report from the FRA, the NJ Transit workers whose duty logs raised red flags are among the train personnel nationwide at greatest risk of fatigue and most likely to exceed monthly work-hour limits.

With a major focus on sleeping disorders, such as sleep apnea, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) plans to expand its sleep apnea program systemwide. The program is designed to provide screenings to the transit agency’s employees, but was previously only used on the MTA Metro-North Railroad locomotive engineers. The agency’s board approved the proposal this week, and the program will now include MTA Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) train engineers and conductors, as well as MTA New York City Transit subway operators, conductors, and bus drivers. Once implemented, the MTA would become the first public transit agency in the United States to systematically screen employees for obstructive sleep apnea and offer priority treatment, according to the agency. Sleep apnea is a medical disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts while a person is sleeping, and can cause severe fatigue and also cause people to fall asleep involuntarily. The engineer of the Metro-North train involved in a deadly derailment in late 2013 was later diagnosed with the disorder.

Only One Week Left to Apply For The Country’s BEST Internship! Summer By Rail, Part Two!

This summer, NARP is giving one college student an opportunity to travel across the country by rail to destinations of their choice, for the greatest internship ever. This is year two of “Summer by Rail,” and we are encouraging college students to submit an application to see how rail connects and powers America.

The intern can develop their own plan that connects them by rail, bicycle, boat, or foot to any number of potential destinations of their choosing. That could mean choosing to visit, for instance, Major League Baseball stadiums, national parks, foodie destinations, or state capitals that use passenger rail networks including the national Amtrak network.

During our first Summer by Rail, NARP sent Elena, a George Washington University student, on a month-long train trip across 15 states and 20 cities. She explored the connections between rail and bikes, ferries, and transit along the way. On her journey across America’s transportation network, she met with mayors and transportation officials, reporters, local cyclists and advocacy groups, and hundreds of fellow travelers.

Applications from college students for 2017, are due by January 31, 2017, and NARP will make a final selection in March.

Additional information on the internship is available at www.summerbyrail.com.

Elaine Chao, President Trump’s nominee for transportation secretary, was approved by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation this week. Chao’s nomination was unanimously approved by the committee, and her nomination will now head to the full Senate for approval. A hearing has not yet been scheduled, however it could happen as early as next Tuesday.

City officials in Dallas toured a potential station site for the planned high-speed rail line that will link the city to Houston. As officials toured the site located at Able Pump Station on Riverfront, city leaders like Dallas City Councilman Lee Kleinman expressed excitement about the project, which would be privately funded through Texas Central Railway. Kleinman stated, “It’s different because there’s no government money, it’s also different because we opened up Love Field to long haul flights, so the Dallas/Houston leg? Airlines are not as attracted to that as they were forced to be in the past.” As a result, people who would normally fly between the two cities, will need another form a transit to connect, specifically high-speed rail.

Officials and residents are also excited about the high-speed rail line as it is expected to generate significant economic growth in the area, short-term and long-term. Construction of the rail line is expected to begin within the next four to five years.

For the first time in nearly 50 years, a new railway station was opened by the Staten Island Railway (SIR) this past Saturday. Unable to handle the new fleet of trains operated by SIR due to size and new specifications for the rail cars, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) decided to close two smaller stations, Nassau and Atlantic, and build the newly opened Arthur Kill Station. The new station cost $27.4 million to develop and construct, and is part of a larger $386 million investment in the SIR that’s coming out of the MTA 2015-2019 Capital Program.

Last Thursday, All Aboard Florida took a significant step in implementation of its passenger rail service between Miami and Orlando. The transit agency began testing its Brightline service with its BrightBlue train. The train began testing on a 10-mile stretch of rail between West Palm Beach and Lantana, and focused on dynamic testing of the rolling stock, system integration tests between the train and railway infrastructure, and a series of tests required by the Federal Railroad Administration. Testing was conducted without passengers, but to simulate the weight of riders and baggage, the agency utilized 45,000 pounds of sand. Currently, All Aboard Florida expects its first phase of the line to open this summer, with the second phase opening before the end of the year.

Make plans NOW to attend NARP’s Spring 2017 Advocacy Summit & Meeting in Washington, DC - Sunday, April 23 through Wednesday, April 26, 2017. NARP’s 2017 ‘Action Day On The Hill’ & Congressional Reception will be held on Tuesday, April 25, 2017.

The Host Hotel is again the Sheraton Silver Spring (MD,) which is located just three blocks from Metro’s Red Line Silver Spring station. Discounted group rate room reservations are now available. Don't delay...discounted rooms sold out quickly last year!

And Save These Dates!

NARP’s 50th Anniversary Celebration – Chicago, IL

  • Thursday, November 2 to Sunday, November 5, 2017
  • Four days packed with an exciting array of presentations, speakers, exhibits, tours, and events
  • Celebrating NARP’s accomplishments over the past 50 years and looking ahead to the future of passenger rail in the United States
  • Host Hotel: Millennium Knickerbocker

Preliminary reports filed by the National Transportation Security Board (NTSB) revealed that a miscommunication about the clearing of a track from work between foremen may have led to a deadly Amtrak accident last April near Chester, PA. The documents do not conclude the cause of the accident, but an interview between investigators and John Yaeger, an Amtrak day shift foreman whose shift had only just started, suggested there had been confusion between workers if the the track had been cleared for rail traffic. The morning of the accident, the Amtrak train struck a backhoe that was still in use for a multiday maintenance operation on a neighboring track. Two workers operating the backhoe were killed.

The NTSB’s reports also revealed the the Amtrak engineer tested positive for trace amounts of marijuana in his system. The engineer noted that he hit the emergency brake as soon as the backhoe was spotted, but the train was traveling 106 mph and crashed into the equipment six seconds later, according to the NTSB findings. The engineer also informed investigators he did not suffer from sleep disorders, was in overall good health and felt alert at the start of his shift.

Dan Aykroyd Helps NARP Share The Importance of Passenger Rail

In an effort to share the continued, as well as growing importance passenger rail plays in connecting Americans to sustainable transportation, NARP created a new video. The increasing demand for rail service in this country is trending upward, and it is evident through rail projects in California, Florida, Texas, and elsewhere. Once these projects are completed, they will change and influence how Americans travel, and we wanted to capture the benefits of this change in a new and educational video.

For the development of the video, we collaborated with and used as a spokesperson actor, comedian, and rail enthusiast, Dan Aykroyd. He helps us share the travel, economic, and environmental benefits of passenger rail services, such as the national Amtrak network, light rail service in Charlotte, NC, and upgraded rail lines in Salt Lake City, UT.

With the completion of the video, NARP members are welcomed to not only watch and enjoy it, but to help NARP share it with others so they, too, know the positive outcomes passenger rail generates. Whether it's with friends and family, or local government and transportation officials, you can help spread the word.

The video is on the NARP website at the following link, hosted through YouTube. So please take a few minutes to watch, enjoy, and share.

Important discussions in Buffalo, NY continue as city officials and residents seek to determine the preferred location for a new multifunctional train station. Mayor Byron Brown has stated that the city needs a new train station, and the “Train Station Selection Committee” has been tasked with deciding on a new site for Amtrak. The Committee has until the end of April to make a determination and at a meeting held last week the public had an opportunity to speak out on potential locations. Top suggestions include a new station downtown near the popular Canalside waterfront entertainment & recreation area; in the Seneca Street/Larkinville redevelopment zone and at the historic Buffalo Central Terminal, which last saw passenger service in 1979. Leaders with the selection committee say they will be reviewing the testimony presented by the more than 30 speakers at last week’s session, which included NARP’s Vice President, Bruce Becker. Additional public meetings will be held as more progress is made.

Following the submission of more than 500 entries from around the world, the 30th Street Station District Plan in Philadelphia was selected as the recipient of the 2017 Institute Honor Award for Regional and Urban Design from the American Institute of Architects. The plan itself is a joint effort by Amtrak, Brandywine Realty Trust, Drexel University, and SEPTA to develop a premier multi-modal transportation center. The plan begins with transit development in roads, bridges, rail, and more, but also encompasses the idea of a walkable community in which people can work and play. In addition, the plan has proposed the creation of 40 new acres of open space and 18 million square feet of new development, which would see 40,000 new jobs.

The NARP Board Of Directors has appointed William C. Dunn of Newport News, VA as the Association’s new Board Secretary. ‘Cliff’ Dunn has most recently served as a State Representative from Virginia.

The NARP Board has also recently appointed the following members to Council of Representative positions:

  • Stephen Adams as an At-Large Representative
  • William Gill representing Ohio
  • James Hanna representing Nebraska
  • Ronald Schneider representing Kentucky
  • Andrew Lodriguss representing Louisiana

Congratulations to all of these active rail advocates on their new positions!

There are still openings for state representatives on the NARP Council of Representatives, including one each in Alabama; Arizona; Delaware; Idaho; Missouri; Nevada; North Carolina; North Dakota: Ohio, South Carolina, Virginia and Wyoming. Check out the full, up-to-date, list of current vacancies here.

If you live in one of these states and 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 complete this Candidate Information Statement.

As of Monday night, Amtrak’s departures board, a staple at New York’s Penn Station, has come down. Maintenance crews began removing the board to make room for 40 new digital monitors that will allow passengers to watch for their trains. The old board was first installed in 2000, and its removal is the final step in the installation of Amtrak’s Passenger Information Display System, which was first activated in October.

On-time performance is critical for transit agencies if they want to get passengers to and from their destinations satisfied. Notably, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority's (MBTA) commuter-rail system saw an on-time performance rate of 89 percent through 2016. The rail service is operated by Keolis Commuter Services, and when data is adjusted for delays beyond the company’s control (trespassers or police activity), OTP was nearly 94 percent. This marks the highest OTP for Keolis since taking over operations in July 2014. Keolis noted that the staff increases and schedule adjustments have played a positive role in the improved OTP.

Post-Holiday Shopping Can Save You Money AND Support Our Work!

Your post-holiday shopping can help to support your Association. 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!

NARP signed an agreement with Travelers United, the only non-profit membership organization that acts as a watchdog for traveler rights, to offer free reciprocal membership to all NARP members! To check out benefits and get the low-down on your passenger rights, visit https://TravelersUnited.org/welcome-narp/

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.