Hotline #1,008

Projects and Services Hit By Proposed Trump Budget; Texas Central Hires Lobbying Firm; House in WV Votes to Expand Amtrak; Union Station in Springfield, MA to Reopen

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Amtrak announced this morning that Acela Express 2151 derailed at slow speed while departing New York Penn Station at around 9 a.m. EDT, and made contact with an incoming New Jersey Transit train. All 248 passengers exited the train onto the platform safely, with no serious injuries reported. Federal Railroad Administration investigators are on the scene.

"It's too early to know any potential cause, but based on the proximity to the station platforms [Positive Train Control] would have no impact on controlling the train's speed or movements." said Bruce Becker, NARP Vice President of Operations.

Service in and out of Penn Station was delayed and as of mid-afternoon all service to & from upstate New York was being originated/terminated at Croton-Harmon, with passengers being accommodated on Metro North trains to/from Grand Central Terminal and then being provided with dedicated a bus transfer to/from Penn Station.

Immediately following the release of the Trump Administration's general budget outline last week, rail and transit agencies, as well as the rail-riding public and associations like NARP, were concerned that major transportation services like Amtrak would disappear in certain areas, while infrastructure projects in the works would never materialize. The Washington Post, among other publications, highlighted 16 major transit projects in several metropolitan cities and regions that would be put at risk should Congress approve Trump’s final proposed budget.

These 16 projects include:

  1. Phoenix Light Rail
  2. Los Angeles Westside Subway Extension (Section 3)
  3. San Jose and Santa Clara BART Silicon Valley extension (Phase 2)
  4. Santa Ana/Garden Grove Streetcar
  5. Fort Lauderdale Streetcar
  6. Lake County, Indiana Commuter Rail
  7. Maryland Purple Line
  8. Minneapolis Light Rail (Blue Line)
  9. Minneapolis Light Rail (Southwest)
  10. Durham-Chapel Hill Light Rail
  11. New York – New Jersey Hudson Tunnel
  12. New Jersey Portal North Bridge
  13. New York Second Avenue Subway (Phase 2)
  14. New York Bus Rapid Transit (Woodhaven Boulevard)
  15. Seattle Light Rail (Federal Way)
  16. Seattle Light Rail (Lynnwood Link Extension)

These large, multi-year, multi-step projects will be put at risk because they do not yet have “full funding grant agreements,” which are needed in order to receive a “New Starts” grant from the Federal Transit Administration. If that requirement sticks, these projects would have to seek other sources. Just as likely, they won’t get built at all.

Rail agencies and advocates are pushing back and are voicing their concerns about the budget cuts. Many are calling upon Congress to preserve funding avenues for these critical projects that are unlikely to move forward without federal money. For example, New Jersey legislators and Port Authority officials gathered on Capitol Hill this week to encourage federal lawmakers to keep funding available for the Gateway Project. Back in 2015, federal officials and Amtrak agreed to finance half of the project, while New York and New Jersey covered the rest of the project, which includes adding two new tunnels under the Hudson. It would also allow Amtrak to repair the current tunnel that is more than 100 years old and was damaged during Superstorm Sandy.

Advocates of the tunnels are also puzzled by the administration’s decision to cut funding. Len Resto, of the Association of Railroad Passengers of New Jersey stated, “The cutback in funding for Gateway, by a president who is a native New Yorker, is mystifying.”

Beyond just these 16 projects, there are more than 220 communities nationwide that could end up without passenger rail service if the funding is cut for Amtrak. The proposed budget currently calls for the elimination of subsidies to long-distance train routes, and would see Amtrak services disappear nationwide. Last year, long-distance Amtrak routes carried 4.6 million passengers.

Examples of states and cities that could lose Amtrak service include, but are not limited to:

Following a terrible White House budget proposal, NARP asked all passengers to rally in support of trains—and you answered!

That pressure has resulted in tangible benefits on Capitol Hill: Representatives Seth Moulton (D-MA), Elizabeth Esty (D-CT), and Louise Slaughter (D-NY) are spearheading a Member Submission to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation leadership—Chairman Mario Diaz-Balart and Ranking Member David Price—asking appropriators to provide full funding for Amtrak and passenger rail programs authorized under the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, a bipartisan, bicameral law passed with overwhelming support in 2015.

Now, these Members of Congress need your help!

NARP needs you to ask your representatives to sign on to this Members’ Letter. Our Take Action page will provide you with talking points to guide your call. If they’ve already signed the letter, please remember to thank them.

The House deadline for submissions is April 4th, so call today!

If you haven’t participated in NARP’s in-district campaign, NOW 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.

When President Trump finalizes his administration’s transportation infrastructure plan, private company Texas Central Partners hopes to be included as one of several projects that will receive a green light from President Trump. To encourage the administration to look favorably at the high speed rail development between Dallas and Houston, Texas Central has hired K&L Gates, a D.C. lobbying firm. The hire is the next step the company is taking to push high-speed rail in Texas with President Trump. Most recently, Drayton McLane Jr., who sits on Texas Central’s board of directors, met with Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Elaine Chao to discuss the project’s development.

Texas Central has emphasized that the HSR line is being built exclusively with money from private investors. Company officials have stated that it doesn’t need government funding to build the line, but rather, the company needs the involvement of USDOT and TxDOT employees to clear state regulatory hurdles and move forward with the project.

Looking at the benefits and overall possibilities that expanded passenger rail service can bring, the House of Delegates in West Virginia approved new legislation that would allow for daily Amtrak service. The proposal seeks daily service on the Amtrak Cardinal line in the state, which currently only runs three days a week. Authors of the legislation, including Delegate Brent Boggs, D-Braxton, noted that the limited schedules hinder ridership for local residents, as well as out-of-state tourists.

Supporters hope the expansion of Amtrak Cardinal service will provide a boost to tourism and economic development in southern West Virginia. The bill would also allow the state Tourism Commissioner to enter into compact agreements with other states served by the train and with Amtrak, in order to improve Cardinal service. After passing the House by a vote of 95 to 5, the legislation will now have to be reviewed and voted on in the state’s Senate.

In an important step to continue moving the construction of California’s high-speed rail line, state officials are planning to sell $1.4 billion in bonds in April. In addition, the state could sell an additional $1 billion bonds in the later half of 2017. The sale of the bonds by the state Treasurer’s Office would support the construction of the rail line in San Joaquin Valley. Construction in the area is estimated to cost $6.7 billion, but Proposition 1A allows for $9.9 billion high-speed rail bonds to be used for construction of the line. The proposition was approved by California voters in 2008, and the state Department of Finance gave approval for the financing plan to be adopted by the authority in December. The San Joaquin Valley portion of the HSR service will run nearly 120 miles once it is completed.

California High-Speed Rail Authority CEO Jeff Morales stated, “After a lot of years and a lot of challenges, the Treasurer will sell bonds and we’ll be able to spend bond funds as intended. It’s a very important milestone for us in the program.”

All Aboard Florida’s Brightline is about to expand testing of its new trains by including its second train set in tests. Just this week, the company received BrightPink, which has been housed with BrightBlue at Brightline’s West Palm Beach facility. Both trains were undergoing “static tests” as the company works towards completing its West Palm Beach station. Once ready, both trains can be seen on the rails as the company prepares to begin service in July.

Michael Reininger, executive director at Florida East Coast Industries, also emphasized to the editorial board of the Palm Beach Post, that recently proposed legislation in the state could significantly harm the future of passenger rail in Florida. Reininger noted that, “Senate Bill 386 is not about safety, but about transferring costs for infrastructure maintenance at road and rail intersections on All Aboard and imposing regulatory authority on railroads to other jurisdictions.”

NARP’s Floridian members can voice their opinions on the proposed regulations, and help show that the Brightline project supports a stronger economy and provides more transit alternatives for the state.

Register TODAY 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.

With the release of President Trump’s budget which would eliminate all national network train service to more than 220 cities and towns across the country, this year’s ‘Action Day On The Hill’, will be of critical importance. The Advocacy Summit’s theme, ‘My Town, My Train,’ will serve to highlight the vital connection between grassroots advocacy and passenger rail service in communities across the country.

EVENT REGISTRATION is open! Early registration rates are available through April 7 - higher rates will take effect after this date and for all on-site registrations. Visit the Event Page for complete registration information, the most current agenda and other details of this great advocacy opportunity.

The Host Hotel is 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 2017 Passenger Rail EXPO And 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
  • Hotel Reservations and Event Registration Will Open In Early May

It was a controversial idea when proposed, but Massachusetts Governor Governor Charlie Baker withdrew his administration’s proposal to cut weekend commuter rail service on the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA). The proposal was an effort to reduce costs on the state’s budget, which includes a $42 million deficit for MBTA. But, the idea of eliminating rail service received immediate pushback from MBTA riders and other political officials. The option of cutting service would have made MBTA the only major commuter rail service in the U.S. to not run any weekend service. Also, it would have reduced trips for as many as 10,000 physically disabled riders, on The Ride paratransit program.

Baker’s administration may still propose alternatives that include eliminating or reducing train service for specific lines on the weekend. It is not clear yet how the administration will move forward.

According to data from Amtrak and Winter Park, CO, more than 18,000 passengers will have taken the Winter Park Express by the time it wraps up its first test season this weekend. Based on how well this season went, and using it as a learning experience, officials from both groups are looking at ways to improve amenities for the train which connects Denver Union Station to the city-owned ski hill in Grand County. They are currently looking at food and beverage service, and are considering more “dynamic pricing” — raising and lowering prices depending on demand. This season, which started January 7, Amtrak sold one-way tickets costing $39, $49 and $59. It offered a lift up to the mountain on weekend mornings and back down to Denver weekend evenings.

The FAA Reauthorization bill being developed by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee could be a legislative vehicle for President Trump’s $1-trillion infrastructure investment plan. Committee Chairman Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) said the bill was a “must pass” because the FAA’s legal authority expires at the end of September. He added, that the bill would be an attractive option for Trump because it brings in revenue, which would help ease concerns of fiscal conservatives who are leery of $1 trillion in spending promised during the Presidential campaign.

Additionally, two bipartisan bills were introduced this week that focus on using overseas revenue from U.S. corporations to invest in the country’s transportation infrastructure. First, U.S. Rep. John Delaney (R-Md.) and U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) introduced the proposed Partnership to Build America Act, which would establish a $50 billion infrastructure investment bank. The new American Infrastructure Fund (AIF), once established, would finance state and local infrastructure projects, such as rebuilding roads, bridges and rail lines. Delaney stated in a press release that the fund would be capitalized through a one-time bond sale to U.S. corporations looking to "repatriate" a portion of their international earnings. The measure would allow companies to avoid a certain amount of federal tax liability by using overseas earning to invest in the bonds.

The second bill Rep. Delaney and U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) introduced, was the Infrastructure 2.0 Act, which would allow U.S. multinational corporations to repatriate earnings at a mandatory, one-time tax of 8.75 percent, a discount on the current 35 percent rate and deferral option. Revenue would be distributed in various ways, with $120 billion going to the Highway Trust Fund, $50 billion going to an infrastructure bank and $25 million going to a pilot program focused on rural infrastructure.

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!

The Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) is ready to begin construction on the Purple Line within two weeks or less if a court rules in favor of the project.

Construction on the new line has been on hold for three months after U.S District Court Judge Richard Leon repealed the agency’s federal approval from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). The lawsuit was filed by Chevy Chase residents John Fitzgerald and Christine Real de Azua, and the trail advocacy group Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail. It was argued that the MTA and FTA did not account for enormous ridership declines on D.C.’s Metro system caused by safety issues, as well as a repair schedule that hindered regular service.

The light-rail line was set to receive $900 million from the federal government before Leon delayed the process, but since the delay started, the FTA and MTA have moved forward in providing updated documents to the court, and argued that the project does not need to be reevaluated. Both agencies have stated that the MTA still plans to meet its goals, which specifically include adding an east-west line between Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.

What’s old can always be made new again. This is the case of Springfield’s Union Station in Massachusetts, which first opened its doors in 1926, but closed in the 1970’s. The station was once a major focal point for business travelers and tourists in Western Massachusetts. The emergence of highways and air travel slowly resulted in a decrease in rail travel through the station. Eventually, as service was cut, the station was no longer a viable option and the city shut it down in 1974.

But now, city and state officials are looking to take steps to revitalize parts of Springfield’s downtown by investing $95 million to renovate the station. U.S. Representative Richard E. Neal, who played a major role in spurring the restoration, believes Amtrak ridership will increase, and more foot traffic will expand to commercial opportunities. Neal noted that the local economy has already seen a significant boost, “In construction alone, there have been hundreds of jobs created. Then there were architectural firms that were hired and artists commissioned. Now that it’s done, food stands and shops have gone up, leading to new jobs in the service industry.”

The new Union Station, which left many of the building’s original features intact, will be opening to the public on June 24, 2017.

Congratulations to Ken Briers of Washington, DC, who has been appointed by the NARP Board to a NARP Vice-Chair position; Ken had previously been serving as a Board Director. Congratulations also to Charles Hamilton of Seattle, WA, who has been appointed to a Board Director position; Charlie had previously been serving as an ‘At-Large’ member on the Council of Representatives.

In other Board actions, Ken Potts of Wilmington, DE has been appointed to fill the vacant seat for Delaware on the Council of Representatives. And William Dunbar of Florence, SC has been appointed to fill the vacant seat for South Carolina. Welcome to both Ken and William!

LAST CALL - 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.

Coming up with creative and unique date nights is not easy, especially when a couple has been together for a long time. But Steve and Denise Thorpe have found a way to keep the spark alive: boarding the train every Friday evening for romantic night on the rails.

According to the local newspaper, The Record (Bergen, NJ), the couple boards a(n) NJ Transit train in Metuchen. They transfer at Secaucus and again at Hoboken, where they board the No. 59 express through Bergen and Passaic counties to Port Jervis, New York, the final stop. From there, they walk to a pizza shop for dinner, and then depart on the last train out of town to arrive home at 1 a.m. That equates to a nine-hour round-trip! The Thorpes have been enjoying their train ride date night every Friday for the last six years.

Due to increased demand from customers in the Northeast Corridor, Amtrak announced this week that it will provide additional weekend service between Boston and New York City. The new service on Acela Express trains includes a Saturday departure from Boston at 6:10 a.m., arriving in New York at 9:45 a.m. It also includes a Sunday afternoon round trip that will leave Boston at 12:10 p.m. and reach New York at 3:46 p.m. The train will then depart Penn Station at 5:03 p.m. and return to Boston at 8:48 p.m.