Hotline #1,006

NARP Opposes Job-Killing Regulations in Florida and Texas; Amtrak Shows Strong Support for Gulf Coast; Senate Meets to Discuss $1 Trillion Investments

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This week, NARP has urged for the opposition of newly proposed bills in Florida and Texas that would hinder development of new passenger rail projects. The legislation proposed in both states would attack private-sector companies that want to provide fast rail service between major metropolitan cities, and both could lead to the prevention of creating thousands of new jobs.

In Florida, NARP submitted a letter to the leadership of the Florida State Legislature opposing two proposed bills that target All Aboard Florida’s Brightline passenger rail train. The service will link Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, and Orlando with fast, frequent service -- but a group of state lawmakers has filed two bills attacking the Brightline project in the Senate and House of Representatives. The proposed bills are designed as an attack on high-speed rail, placing burdensome regulatory costs on right of way upkeep and allowing local governments to dictate how railroads can use their land; however, since the bills define “high-speed” as anything exceeding 80 mph, they could also end up killing of the Gulf Coast rail restoration project between Florida and Louisiana. These punitive and overreaching regulations are unfair to Florida taxpayers, who will pay for the additional costs of these new regulations and the years of litigation this bill will generate.

In the letter NARP stated, “There are tremendous benefits this private-sector passenger rail project would bring—not just for the four connected communities—Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, and Orlando—but the entire state. The project will create 10,000 direct construction jobs, and hundreds more permanent operating and maintenance jobs. That will generate over $650 million in federal, state, and local tax revenue. It will also take three million automobiles off the crowded Interstate 95 corridor. By 2030, Florida will have added six million residents, and the state needs to start expanding infrastructure capacity now.”

NARP also emphasized that passage of the legislation would seriously harm the efforts to restore Amtrak rail service to Florida’s Gulf Coast communities, which have been disconnected since Hurricane Katrina damaged track and stations in 2005.

NARP’s Floridian members can voice their concerns on the proposed regulations and help see that the Brightline rail project continues to move forward.

Even as rail opponents are throwing up new obstacles, Brightline executives are moving forward and are planning for the launch of the new inter-city passenger rail service later this year between Miami and West Palm Beach. In doing so, the private company has made several new key hires for its leadership ahead of the lines launch later this year. The company specifically made three new hires, including:

  • Dave Howard, a former executive from the sports and entertainment industry, was hired as Brightline’s Chief Executive Officer,

  • Michael Reininger, who has been with the company since 2012, will act as Executive Director at Florida East Coast Industries (FECI), Brightline’s parent company,

  • and Patrick Goddard, who currently serves as the executive Vice-President of Operations, has been promoted to Chief Operating Officer of Brightline.

Brightline’s second trainset of Siemens-built engines and cars are currently enroute to Florida for testing.

The Texas State Legislature is also considering job-killing regulations aimed at passenger rail. A suite of proposed bills filed this month would create several obstacles to Texas Central Partners developing high-speed train service between Houston and Dallas,by imposing regulations to restrict certain business activities and investments. Some of the bills even target passenger rail by name, creating an uneven playing field on which transportation companies can compete. This will have negative effects that reverberate far beyond the Texas Central project.

Upon release of the draft regulations, NARP called upon state leaders to reject the legislation and allow for the development of the rail project. Not only would this new rail corridor connect Dallas and Houston via a cutting-edge transportation corridor, served by trains capable of hitting 205mph, the project is being developed by a private company, which is helping to introduce a new model for private sector-led transportation investment to the U.S.

NARP Chairman Peter LeCody, who also heads up the Texas Rail Advocates, stated “If passed, these bills would deal two blows to Texas. First, by killing 40,000 direct jobs in construction and engineering that would be created over four years, and an additional 1,000 permanent jobs in operating and maintenance. The second through the loss of a desperately needed alternative to the overcrowded highways connecting two of the country’s fastest growing mega-regions, Dallas and Houston. On behalf of the millions of Texans who rely on trains, I’m calling on the state legislature to reject these job-killing regulations.”

LeCody has also emphasized that development and construction of HSR in Texas is “going to be a lot easier than the California project.” Texas Central is planning a dedicated rail corridor that with total grade separation. As a result, the project could easily incorporate existing cutting edge rail technology used internationally.

Despite the misguided opposition, Texas Central is making good progress on design work, engineering, and environmental reviews. Recently, the company hit major milestones in land acquisition for construction of the line, with the company announcing in February that it has reached option agreements on about 30 percent of the parcels needed for the line’s route.

NARP is providing opportunities for our Texan members to reach out to their elected officials and safeguard texan rail project from attacks by special interest groups.

In addition to NARP, Texas Central Partners is pushing back against the draft legislation. According to officials with the company, nearly 9,000 letters from citizens who support the project were sent to members of House and Senate members in Texas. Texas Central officials also stated that residents in every state senate district have written letters of support for the project.

If you haven’t participated in NARP’s in-district campaign, this week is the perfect time to get involved!

NARP is providing you with the tools, but we need your help doing these three things:

  1. Meet with your in-district staff contacts for all three congressional representatives (one representative, two senators), either in-person or over the phone, to ask them to support an infrastructure bill
  2. Importantly: communicate significant points of agreement, disagreement, and intelligence back to NARP staff
  3. Post a photo of yourself visiting + calling your Members of Congress, and post it online using the tag #MyTrainMyTown and #AConnectedAmerica (or email it to us at NARP[@], subject line "My Train, My Town")

To access more advocacy resources, including NARP’s Guide to Engagement, click here.

A 'Record of Decision' from the Federal Railroad Administration on the Northeast Corridor rail alignment and the NEC FUTURE project, expected this week, was delayed by the agency. It is not yet clear why the decision is being held up.

NARP has continued to advocate for the route selection identified in the Tier 1 Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS). Failing that, NARP believes there must be a re-examination of the DEIS Alternative 2. In either case, the integrity of the corridor is crucial and must be maintained. As reported in Hotline last week, NARP sent a letter to the FRA detailing its concerns and advocating for priorities including:

  • expedited construction of the new trans-Hudson rail tunnels,
  • replacing the Portal Bridge in the New Jersey Meadowlands,
  • replacing the Baltimore and Potomac tunnel in Baltimore, and
  • construction of the North-South Rail Link in Boston,

NARP identified several other priorities, as spelled out by the Northeast Corridor Commission (NECC).

This past week, Amtrak expressed its support for restoring passenger rail service along the Gulf Coast, which was suspended following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The commitment to the project came in the form of a letter to Southern Rail Commission (SRC) Chairman Greg White from Amtrak President and CEO Wick Moorman. Moorman stated that Amtrak is “committed to operating both the long-distance and corridor services along the Gulf Coast route as soon as the necessary funding can be arranged, and the necessary arrangements are in place to implement the service.” Service would run between New Orleans, LA and Orlando, FL.

In addition to the Gulf Coast project, Moorman also expressed support for the implementation of Amtrak service between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, LA., as well as expanding Amtrak’s Crescent service west of Meridian, MS.

Since service was suspended more than 10 years ago, NARP has regularly called for the reintroduction of service along the Gulf Coast. NARP was part of the team, along with Amtrak and SRC in February 2016, to launch an inspection train to evaluate the possibility of restoring service.

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 event’s theme ‘My Town, My Train’, will serve to highlight the connection between grassroots advocacy and the importance of passenger rail service in communities across the country.

EVENT REGISTRATION is now open! Visit the Event Page for complete registration information, the most current agenda and other details of this great advocacy opportunity.
The Host Hotel is again the Sheraton Silver Spring (MD,) which is located just three blocks from Metro’s Red Line Silver Spring station. FYI...Discounted group rate rooms are now sold out! Regular rate rooms at the Sheraton are available on all nights. Information on other available nearby hotels in Silver Spring can be found on the Event Page.

And Save These Dates!

NARP’s 50th Anniversary Celebration And Passenger Rail EXPO – 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
  • Hotel Reservations and Event Registration Will Open In Early May

In a meeting with administration staffers and The Wall Street Journal, President Trump emphasized that his infrastructure program will prioritize state projects that are well advanced. Projects would include renovating roads and highways, as opposed to building new ones, and “shovel ready” projects that can easily be started quickly. This also includes high-speed rail projects, which President Trump expressed interest in during the meeting.​

Specifically, Trump stated he wants federal funding to go towards projects that can begin within 90 days of states receiving money. Otherwise, “We’re not going to give the money to states unless they can prove that they can be ready, willing and able to start the project,” Trump said at the private meeting, which included Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and Energy Secretary Rick Perry, as well as business leaders.

NARP previously submitted a list of “shovel ready” rail projects to Secretary Chao to review and move forward with (see a short version of the list here). NARP’s list includes, but is not limited to:

  • The Baltimore & Potomac Tunnel
  • Amtrak Equipment Procurement
  • Caltrain Peninsula Corridor Electrification Project
  • The Gateway Project

With President Trump’s campaign promise of $1 trillion for infrastructure looming, the Senate Appropriations subcommittee held a hearing this week to begin looking at a variety of ways to fund projects. Though no conclusions were made about funding sources, members and panelists of the subcommittee hearing agreed that the trillion-dollar investment will require various funding tools to make Trump’s promise come true.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), who chairs the subcommittee on transportation, housing and urban development, stated, “When I first heard the president’s plan for a $1 trillion infrastructure investment, I was extremely excited. But I started thinking about the financing, and the fact no one was really talking in specific terms.”

A variety of funding options were discussed, and included:

  • Private financing and offering tax credits to investors,
  • Raising the federal gasoline tax or indexing it to inflation,
  • Charging fees based on the number of miles a vehicle travels,
  • Increasing existing sales and tires taxes,
  • Imposing a driver’s license surcharge,
  • Lifting the federal cap on passenger fees at airports.

According to the findings of a new report, a high-speed rail line between Las Vegas and Southern California would generate 11 million round-trip riders and generate roughly $1 billion in revenue annually. In addition, nearly three million passengers are projected to take roundtrip rides when the first segment between Las Vegas and Palmdale, California, is completed by XpressWest in 2021, generating about $300 million in annual revenue.

The Las Vegas to Southern California findings, based on an initial start date of 2035, are calculated based on a $115 roundtrip ticket, and include a connection to an operational Los Angeles - San Francisco high-speed rail service.

According to the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro), the transit agency wants to speed up the conversion of the Orange Line bus rapid transit (BRT) route to a light-rail line, and received an unsolicited proposal from Fluor Enterprises Inc. to help the process. The 18-mile Orange Line opened in 2005 and has beat ridership projections. Most recently in 2012, it was extended from Canoga Park to the Chatsworth Metrolink and Amtrak station, and it has become the busiest bus route in the San Fernando Valley, according to Metro officials. The new conversion proposal suggests a public-private partnership to make the bus to light-rail conversion happen. Before the proposal can be accepted, a team from Metro’s Office of Extraordinary Innovation will review and determine if it should advance to the next phase of review, decline further review, or proceed directly to a competitive solicitation.

It has been known for years that public transit, including passenger rail, has been a major contributor to the U.S. economy, but a new study by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) released findings that shed more light on the specifics.

According to APTA’s new study, "Who Rides Public Transportation," nearly 90 percent of public transit trips have an influence on the economy. Other findings in the report emphasized the impact, including:

  • 49 percent of riders reported using public transit to get to or from work,
  • 21 percent said they used transit to shop,
  • 17 percent rode transit for "recreational spending" in their local economies.

The study was based on 700,000 passenger surveys conducted between 2008 and 2015.

Upcoming Regional NARP and State Passengers Association Member Meetings

Please contact Bruce Becker to have a local, state or regional meeting added to the NARP calendar of upcoming events!

In Washington, D.C., Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) GM Paul Wiedefeld stated that he believes the city’s Metro system will be far more reliable in the Fall than it is now. Over the past few years, Metro’s performance has been hindered by a variety of issues pertaining to infrastructure, maintenance and overall safety of the rail system. As a result, Metro established the SafeTrack program to move forward with repairs, but the track work has negatively impacted ridership. Wiedefeld made his remark at a meeting with the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission, and also stated that approval of a proposed Metro budget will also play a role in helping Metro run more effectively.

Wiedefeld proposed a revised fiscal-year 2018 budget plan that eliminates some previously proposed service cuts. The proposed budget, which is set at $1.82 billion, would only reduce frequency during peak travel periods, and trains would operate every eight minutes systemwide. Under the original proposal, headways for off-peak trains could have grown to 15 minutes. Notably, the proposal still calls for an increase in fares.

Combined with improvements following the completion of SafeTrack, and potentially an increased budget, Metro riders could also see improved service following the retirement of 1000- and 4000-series rail cars and the installation of newer models. With these factors put together, Wiedefeld believes ridership in the D.C. region will increase.

Progress is being made to reduce border delays for Amtrak’s Adirondack service between the U.S. and Canada. For years the Adirondack (and the former Montrealer) have been required to stop at the border in order for U.S. and Canadian customs officers to clear passengers. Under a new agreement, customs officers will clear passengers at an inspection facility at Montreal’s Central Station. The improvement is now dependent on the Canadian Parliament approving legislation that would match what was already passed by the U.S. Congress, and signed into law by President Obama. The Canadian Parliament is expected to move forward with the legislation.

During last Saturday’s Annual Meeting of the Empire State Passengers Association and NYS NARP membership, Amtrak officials briefed attendees on the plans for the proposed Montreal inspection facility, which would serve the Adirondack. The facility would also accommodate a revived Vermonter, if necessary. Once the required bi-national treaty is finalized later this year, funding for the construction and operation of the facility will be requested. Design plans have already been developed and, once started, construction would be completed within two years. Bruce Becker, vice president of operations for the National Association of Railroad Passengers, said that while President Trump has included railways in his plans for $1 trillion in infrastructure spending, details have been sparse and it is still unclear where dollars will be spent, including for any new facility.

Officials of the M-1 Rail in Detroit, MI announced this week that the city’s new QLINE will officials begin service on May 12, 2017. Testing of the train continues, but officials are eager to return streetcar service to the city and welcome community members and companies to take part in the line’s launch. The event will take place at the Penske Technical Center featuring local officials and dignitaries, followed by its inaugural ride down Woodward Avenue. The system will open to the public that evening. Construction on the $142-million project began in July 2014, and testing began this past December. The QLINE will be able to carry 125 passengers at a time, with phase one connecting a 3.3-mile corridor.

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.

There are openings for state representatives on the NARP Council of Representatives, including one each in Alabama; Arizona; Florida, Hawaii; Idaho; Missouri; Pennsylvania, Nevada; North Carolina; North Dakota: Ohio, 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.

Southern Rail Commission: March Meeting Update.

The Southern Rail Commission met last week in Baton Rouge to get an update on Gulf Coast service restoration efforts. Members also had a chance to see a presentation on the Piedmont Improvement Project, hear from a NARP member about projects in Texas, and participate in a discussion with Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards.

In his comments, Governor Edwards highlighted the key benefits of bringing passenger rail to NOLA. "I know what difference it can make for the state and region" to have passenger rail. Baton Rouge – NOLA commuter service is "incredibly important," he stated. Key benefits he mentioned, included:

  • Access to the new international airport terminal at NOLA.
  • Saving driving time and parking costs at the airport.
  • Access to jobs along the River Road.

Amtrak's Mark Murphy read a letter addressed to the SRC from Wick Moorman stating the important support and work that the SRC has done in the Gulf Coast project and it is, "close to realization." The Gulf Coast project cost estimates have come down from very high to very reasonable.

The next SRC meeting will be in June and hosted by the Alabama Commissioners.

And the Fellowship Recipient is …... Jonathan Hinely!

The NARP Fellowship recipient is Jonathan Hinely, a senior Political Science major at Francis Marion University in Florence, South Carolina. Congratulations Jonathan! Don’t forget to tune into our Spring Advocacy Summit and Day on the Hill as we look forward to welcoming Jonathan at both events! A very big thank you to all that applied and our NARP membership who helped spread the word to students across the country!