Happening Now

Hotline #1,001

February 3, 2017

Hoosier State Transitions Back to Amtrak Equipment; NY Awards $25 Million to Passenger and Freight Rail Projects; Meeting Held To Discuss HSR Between U.S. and Mexico

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.

Starting March 1, 2017, Amtrak will run trains between Indianapolis and Chicago on the Hoosier State passenger line. The change in service comes after the Indiana Department of Transportation announced that its current contract with Iowa Pacific Holdings will expire at the end of February. Iowa Pacific Holdings is a private company that was providing equipment, maintenance, food service, and marketing on the Hoosier State line since July of 2015.

NARP noted that the decision brings an end to an exciting experiment that saw the train run as a joint partnership between Iowa Pacific Holdings; INDOT; Amtrak; and the cities of Crawfordsville, Lafayette, and Rensselaer. Iowa Pacific hoped to drive ridership increases by providing enhanced passenger amenities, such as full-service dining and dome cars.

Amtrak stated that the Hoosier State, which operates four days per week between Indianapolis and Chicago, will transition to railcars, locomotives, and on-board services supplied by Amtrak beginning March 1, but the change will not effect service for customers.

The first month of 2017 has featured a number of positive signs for increased investment in passenger rail, from President Trump’s pushing railways in his inaugural address to Democrat’s introducing a trillion dollar infrastructure proposal that would invest billions in rail and transit.

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!

In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that 19 passenger and freight rail improvement projects will receive $25 million in grants. According to the press release issued by Cuomo’s office, the grants were awarded through the state's Passenger and Freight Rail Assistance Program and will provide support to rail projects that will strengthen transportation infrastructure and economic development throughout New York state. The grants will also leverage an additional $5.4 million in public and private investments to complete the projects. Some of the rail projects that will receive grant money include:

Meanwhile, rail advocates in New York State continue to be concerned over the lack of apparent progress on the vital Tier One Environmental Impact Statement for New York’s Empire Corridor. The study process was undertaken by the New York State Department of Transportation in 2010 utilizing ARRA funds, with the goal of identifying a preferred alternative for future infrastructure & service improvements along the Corridor. Public hearings on the Draft EIS were held across the state in March 2014, but there has been NO further public information released by NYSDOT since this time.

NJ Transit is also looking to improve its rail infrastructure by replacing the Raritan River drawbridge. The bridge is 108 years old and received structural damage during Superstorm Sandy in 2012 that forced it closed for three weeks. Once a new bridge is completed, it would allow trains to travels up to 60 mph. Current cost estimates for the new bridge stand at $446 million, with construction expected to begin in 2019. The project will be funded through superstorm Sandy relief aid provided by the federal government. Prior to construction, NJ Transit is in the process of securing federal environmental permits and plans to to issue a design contract this spring.

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 as 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.

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

As part of a pilot program by Amtrak, Baltimore Penn Station, along with Chicago Union Station, is now providing improved high-speed Wi-Fi to travelers. The program includes increased connectivity and reliability, as well as two new 30-inch high-top work stations that host charging outlets for laptops, tablets, and phones. Amtrak is also working to increase Wi-Fi service throughout its trains. Last fall, Amtrak introduced improved Wi-Fi on the high-speed Acela Express trains and is planning Wi-Fi upgrades to the remainder of the Northeast regional trains.

Amtrak also announced in a press release that passengers in the NEC and on Midwest trains can receive access to The Washington Post. Through the partnership, the Post is now the exclusive news provider for Amtrak with free unlimited content. Previously Amtrak only provided free Washington Post content on Acela Express trains.

Amtrak announced this week that William Feidt, previously the VP of financial operations at Cable & Wireless Communications in Miami, has been appointed the organization’s new vice president and chief financial officer. Feidt’s appointment will be made effective on February 6, 2017. Amtrak President and Chief Executive Officer Wick Moorman noted that Feidt “is an experienced and operationally-oriented financial executive with a strong technology background. He will be joining Amtrak's executive team as we look to continue to improve our finance capabilities and lay the foundation for continued growth."

NARP Welcomes Elaine Chao as New Secretary of Transportation

NARP welcomed Elaine Chao as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) following her confirmation by the United States Senate this week.

“Secretary Chao has notable experience in the federal government, as well as knowledge on transportation issues that can impact passenger rail service,” said Jim Mathews, President and CEO of NARP. “As a member of the National Advisory Committee on Travel and Tourism Infrastructure (NACTTI) which was set up by Congress last year to provide advice to the Secretary, we look forward to working with Secretary Chao on these important topics.”

In November 2016, Mathews was appointed to NACTTI, which was created by the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act. The committee brings together some of the nation’s top transportation and tourism experts, from both private and public sectors, and provides direct advice and recommendations to the DOT Secretary on transportation and infrastructure issues.

NARP urges Secretary Chao to lead in the implementation of the Trump Administration’s promise of increased investment in infrastructure, including the modernization of the national rail network. As head of the U.S. DOT, Secretary Chao is an important advocate for projects of national significance, including the Gulf Coast Rail restoration project and the New York/New Jersey Gateway Project. Secretary Chao should also defend the right of local officials to have a voice in which projects are funded which will help ensure rural Americans have transportation choice. Finally, Secretary Chao should prioritize projects that—when paired with sensible Buy American provisions—will create domestic manufacturing jobs, such as purchasing new trainsets to replace Amtrak’s aging fleet.

In Chattanooga, Mayoral Candidate David Crockett shared his plans to develop a high-speed rail line from the north side of Atlanta to Chattanooga. Crockett highlighted that with an HSR service passengers can get between the two cities in 30 minutes, and the line will provide an economic boost to the area. Crockett made the announcement at the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport, which he expects will receive between four and five million travelers annually and become a major regional airport. If elected, Crockett plans to begin building the HSR line as soon as he takes office as an environmental study has already been completed.

Come February 24, Denver’s Regional Transportation District will open its newest light rail train service. The R line, which cost $687 million to construct and was originally supposed to open last year, will for run for 22 miles through Aurora, CO, with eight stations. Major locations along the new R line include the Aurora Metro Center, University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, Children’s Hospital, and the new Veterans Administration (VA) hospital at the Anschutz Medical Campus. The line will connect with the Airport Line at the Peoria station and the E, F, & H lines at multiple stations. RTD estimates that the train will carry 12,000 people each weekday.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that Veronique “Ronnie” Hakim will act as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s (MTA) interim executive director, effectively immediately. Hakim will step in for Tom Prendergast, who retired from the MTA on February 1. Hakim was president of the New York City Transit since December 2015. Prior to that, she was head of NJ Transit and the New Jersey Turnpike Authority. In a statement, Cuomo said, “Ronnie Hakim is ready to embrace the challenge of running the nation's largest transportation network during this transition. I am confident that in this new role she will continue doing that as we reimagine and modernize the MTA for the 21st century.”

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...over 60% of the available discounted rooms have already been reserved & a sell-out is expected!

Event registration will open on Monday, February 6. Visit the Event Page soon to sign-up for this great advocacy opportunity.

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

Steps continue to be taken to develop a high-speed rail line between South Texas and Monterrey, the capital and largest city of the northeastern state of Nuevo León, in Mexico. On January 23 and January 24, 2017, U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar hosted an international meeting with the Federal Railroad Administration, state and federal agencies, and their Mexican counterparts to determine the possibility of an HSR line between the two countries. Specifically, the meetings focused on if a rail line is feasible, what safety and infrastructure regulations would be required, and the current rail standards in U.S. and Mexico. The meeting was the first of its kind and Cuellar believes it was an example of how U.S. leaders are looking to work more closely with their counterparts in Mexico. Cuellar also highlighted how development of a rail line is an opportunity to increase tourism and boost development and growth in the participating cities in the U.S. and Mexico.

Cuellar’s point is highlighted by the opening of new rail service in the city of Puebla, approximately 100 km southeast of Mexico City. The opening of the line, which includes two tourist trains in the north of the country on January 23 marks an effort by government officials to increase tourism and business. The Puebla – Cholula line is also the first commercial passenger rail service to be launched in Mexico since most passenger trains were abandoned in 1996.

Texas Central, which is looking to connect Dallas and Houston in 90 minutes, is also another example of growing demand for HSR service in the region. Much like the proposed train between the U.S. and Mexico, Texas Central’s proposed HSR line will be a boost in economic growth for the two major metropolitan areas, while also easing commutes for area residents and tourists. Over the course of 25 years, the HSR line is expected to pump more than $36 billion into the state and local economy.

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.

The Albany (NY) Times-Union released an update on the temporary building that was to be used in Schenectady, NY while a new station for Amtrak passengers was being built. As it currently stands, the temporary structure, originally scheduled for installation by the end of 2016 has fallen behind schedule and there are no signs of it being completed any time soon. The Times-Union noted that “when state transportation officials last summer received just one bid for the project, and that bid was $10 million over the estimated $12 million to $15 million budgeted cost, they went back to the drawing board.” As of now, reportedly the project has been scaled back by NYSDOT in order to save money and only an unstaffed, outdoor shelter would serve the city’s station stop until the new station building is completed sometime in 2018. The planned temporary station would have continued to offer an enclosed waiting room, ticketing & baggage services and restrooms.

NARP’s Bruce Becker stated to the Times-Union, “Representing the passengers, we would be deeply concerned to have Schenectady station services reduced. Our concerns are for both the benefit and the safety of the passengers." Schenectady’s is seeing an economic revitalization and a new resort/casino located on the site of the historic former ALCO locomotive plant, only a short distance from the downtown train station, is set open next week.

A new survey by KC BizCare, the Downtown Council, and the Streetcar Authority found that the addition of the new Kansas City streetcar has had a positive impact on the local economy. Since the streetcar began running last May, 97 percent of small businesses that took part in the survey noted the transit system has had a positive impact on business. Additionally, 80 percent of business said they have seen an increase in revenue and customers. The survey was conducted last fall, and was distributed to more than 80 businesses, with 41 responding. Businesses included restaurants, shops, bars, pubs, and coffee shops. Additional results are on the Kansas City streetcar’s website, kcstreetcar.org/business.

Though California officials do not expect any immediate problem, the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) may face a new legal challenge in the future. Opponents of the HSR service filed papers this week that claim the state’s legislature violated the state’s constitution following the passage of a law last year that amended and modified the $9-billion high speed rail bond act that voters approved in 2008. The legal papers were an amendment to a suit filed in December in Sacramento Superior Court. The original suit alleged that a funding plan to spend the bond dollars was illegal and should be stopped. As a result, bond money has been held up by the litigation and CHSRA has utilized a $2.5-billion stimulus grant and separate revenue from the state’s greenhouse gas auctions to support the HSR line.

Council Representative Susan Hadrous of Sunrise, FL has been named the new Southern - East Division Leader by Board Chair Peter LeCody. Susan will be leading NARP’s advocacy efforts in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina & South Carolina.

There are still openings for state representatives on the NARP Council of Representatives, including one each in Alabama; Arizona; Delaware; Florida, Hawaii; Idaho; Missouri; Nevada; North Carolina; North Dakota: Ohio, South Carolina, Virginia (2 openings) 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.

Nominations are now being sought from qualified NARP members interested in seeking election to one of three available Board Director posts at the upcoming April Meeting. These positions will be for three-year terms, ending in April 2020. For more information on how you could make a difference as a NARP Board Director, please review the specific duties, responsibilities and required qualifications. If you are interested in seeking a Board Director position, you must complete and submit this Candidate Information Statement by the March 31, 2017 deadline.