Hotline #1,013

NARP Concludes Annual Advocacy Summit; Amtrak Announces Bold Initiatives for Penn Station; California HSR Sees Tentative Legal Milestone

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With today’s Senate vote to pass a seven-day stopgap budget extension, Congress is poised to avoid a government shutdown and pass a bill to fund the government for the rest of Fiscal Year 2017, which ends September 31. Your fellow rail advocates from all over the country added their voices to the process this week, traveling to Washington, D.C. for a Day on the Hill to argue that the FY17 budget should include more Amtrak, rail and transit funding. Many lawmakers we met with were optimistic about the prospect for passing a measure that includes increased levels of infrastructure investment. They also credited the strong push-back from rail advocates and NARP members for helping to make it politically unacceptable to slash long-distance passenger rail as the White House proposed last month. In the weeks leading up to this week’s Day on the Hill, NARP members made nearly 6,000 legislative contacts -- either by phone, by email or visit to local district offices -- capped by almost 300 meetings with House and Senate members this past Tuesday. The positive response shows your outreach, persistence and personal visits are paying off!

Day on the Hill Recap

April 25th marked another successful series of meetings between elected officials and staffers, and NARP members and Council Representatives for NARP’s “Day on the Hill.” Overall, more than 100 NARP members congregated in Washington D.C. to represent the needs of communities who are looking to develop, maintain and even expand their rail and transit services.

As meetings took place over the course of the day your fellow members shared important key messages and facts about maintaining critical federal support, such as policies and funding for our country’s transportation infrastructure.

We emphasized three key points for a Connected America and encouraged our elected officials to look towards the future of Amtrak, passenger rail and public transit services in the U.S. We advocated to:

  • Fully fund and implement the passenger rail programs created by the FAST Act.
  • Pass a multimodal infrastructure bill that addresses the deficit in transportation investment.
  • Make modern passenger rail service available within 25 miles of 80% of Americans in 25 years.

In addition, NARP recognized Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Representative Elise Stefanik of New York, and Representative Ann McLane Kuster of New Hampshire with the Golden Spike Award for their leadership in successfully enacting legislation permitting border pre-clearance to ease travel and commerce between the U.S. and Canada, advancing border security while also improving the passenger experience on rail trips across the border.

The Promoting Travel, Commerce, and National Security Act, signed into law in December 2016, allowed for the upgrade of U.S. Customs and Border Protection preclearance facilities—easing the movement of people and goods at rail, land, marine and airports. The bipartisan bill, which expands U.S. preclearance operations to train stations for the first time ever, will make it easier for both American and Canadian passengers to travel internationally by train—an economic boost for U.S. communities that depend on tourism.

By supporting passenger rail service, these leaders are also allowing the U.S. rail manufacturing industry to succeed. As a whole, the rail manufacturing and supply sector employs 90,000 Americans in 39 states. Over 750 companies, many of them small businesses, fabricate components and subcomponents for passenger rail and transit rail in the U.S.—often in small and rural communities located far from the systems they are helping to build.

Following recent track issues at New York Penn Station that resulted in two separate derailments of Amtrak and NJ Transit trains, Amtrak President and CEO Wick Moorman announced that the passenger rail agency would speed up efforts this summer to repair and increase operations and services at Penn Station -- trading short-term disruption for long-term improvements and safety. Amtrak says it will redirect funds that would have been spent on technological improvements to pay for new tracks at Penn Station, and Moorman noted it would take “tens of millions of dollars” to improve the station.

Moorman, who took over Amtrak in September of last year, said, “Using our limited resources, we have made this renewal project a priority to ensure the continuity of travel in the region. Without these improvements, Amtrak, NJ TRANSIT and the Long Island Rail Road could continue to see major disruptions, which could also have an impact on passenger safety.”

Amtrak has laid out plans for the Penn Station Improvement Initiatives, which include:

  • New York Penn Station Infrastructure Renewal Program - A focus on major track and switch upgrades, beginning with the area known as “A Interlocking,” which serves as the critical sorting mechanism routing trains that enter Penn Station from the Hudson River tunnels and the Long Island Rail Road’s West Side Yard to the various station tracks and platforms.

  • New York Penn Station Passenger Concourse Coordination Review - Former Metropolitan Transportation Authority CEO and Chairman Tom Prendergast will independently review the interaction, coordination and collaboration between the railroads’ various passenger concourses within Penn Station.

  • Development of a Joint Station Concourse Operations Center - A proposal for the three railroads serving Penn Station to develop a joint station concourse operations center, bringinging together the managers of the various Penn Station concourses and technology. This will strengthen coordination, enhance the passenger experience and improve our responses to disruptions, incidents and other events that occur anywhere in the station.

  • Safety & Security - Assembly of a task force with Amtrak, partner railroads, first responders, law enforcement, and other stakeholders to review protocols relating to disabled trains and ensure that adequate procedures are documented, trained and exercised.

Although Moorman did not provide specific details, he noted track closures will take place during the summer, and during the weekdays. Penn Station currently sees 600,000 passengers and 1,300 trains each day, and the expected closures will delay thousands of daily commuters, as well as other travelers. Amtrak planners say they’ll do their best to minimize disruption, but without rapid action the problems, and the disruption, could prove much worse later on.

This is why NARP supports Amtrak’s decision to move forward with the work, which will inconvenience many hundreds of travelers this summer but ultimately bring a new sense of safety and reliability to Penn Station and the NEC.

NARP President and CEO Jim Mathews stated, “Penn Station is a vital piece of the Northeast Corridor and our national rail network overall, and it cannot be stressed enough that the steps taken here by Amtrak will pay off for the future of our infrastructure. But Amtrak should not have to face this challenge alone, and it will be important for the Trump Administration to look closely at the issues Penn Station, and Amtrak as a whole faces, and make decisions that will bring connectivity and mobility to our nation.”

Amtrak’s challenge also comes at a critical time for passenger rail and public transit services in the U.S. as the Trump administration continues to further develop its budget, as well as its infrastructure investment plan. While transit agencies across the country wait to hear what will be proposed and what will be approved, NARP and other advocacy groups are pushing back against budget cuts that would reduce or eliminate passenger rail and public transit services.

This week, Mathews told CityLab, a publication of The Atlantic, that cuts to Amtrak could affect 220 cities across 23 states, hinder the reintroduction of Amtrak service along the Gulf Coast, and reduce the mobility of thousands of elderly people who rely on Amtrak for transportation. In the article, Mathews noted that, “roughly 25 percent of Amtrak passengers” on Amtrak’s long-distance services are elderly or disabled, and the loss of service will leave them and many other people, “completely cut off from the world,” unable to make routine trips to friends and family or receive medical out of town.

In the same article, Rick Harnish, executive director of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association stated, “Basically Trump has said that if you don’t drive, you don’t deserve federal money.”

Additionally, a new report from the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) and the Economic Development Research Group revealed that if the administration’s proposed budget cuts moved forward, $38 billion in planned public transportation projects would be put at risk. Not only would the projects be potentially lost, but the $2.4 billion cut to the Department of Transportation, would threaten 800,000 construction and related jobs associated with transit projects. According to APTA’s findings, the loss of these projects and jobs would result in an estimated loss of $90 billion in economic output.

Richard White, acting president and CEO of APTA, stated that, "These proposed cuts will devastate the working class by causing job losses and turning back the economic progress being made on Main Street America."

If you haven’t participated in NARP’s in-district campaign, NOW is the perfect time to get involved as decisions get made about rail budgets in Washington!

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

  • 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
  • Importantly: communicate significant points of agreement, disagreement, and intelligence back to NARP staff
  • Post a photo of yourself visiting + calling your Members of Congress, and post it online (Facebook, Twitter or Instagram) using the tag #MyTrainMyTown and #AConnectedAmerica (or email it to us at NARP[@], subject line "My Town, My Train")

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

High speed rail in California reached a significant milestone this week, following the tentative decision of Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Raymond Cadei to refuse an effort by HSR opponents to temporarily block the state from spending money from the sale of bonds on the rail project. Law AB1889, which was signed by Governor Jerry Brown, allowed money from high-speed rail bonds to be spent on the electrification of 55 miles of track from south of San Jose to San Francisco.

Although Judge Cadei did not rule on the opponents’ underlying challenge to HSR in the state, he noted that the recently changed plans for the project were in accordance with what voters approved in 2008, and that an injunction against the California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) and the project could harm the state and residents. Judge Cadei noted that the voter-approved initiative broadly authorized the state to sell about $1.25 billion from the sale of $10 billion in bonds last week.

NARP continues to push for support from the federal government for HSR service in California, and that line was a major component of discussion during “Day on the Hill.” NARP members noted that the line will provide economic benefits through construction and once it begins operation, including a total economic return to the state of California of about $8 billion on its initial $2.6 billion investment. NARP also emphasized that the project will create 66,000 new jobs for 15 years as construction occurs.

In related news, CEO of CHSRA Jeff Morales announced that he will leave the Authority this summer. Morales was in the position for five years, and noted during an interview, “A lot of people didn't believe it could be done. I really wanted to make sure we got the program on solid financial footing."

Morales also stated that the Authority is reviewing several candidates to replace him.

Congratulations to George Chilson of San Diego, CA; Charles Hamilton of Seattle, WA and Phillip Streby of Peru, IN on their election as Directors on the NARP Board. These positions are for three-year terms through April 2020.

Congratulations also to Ron Kaminkow of Reno, NV; Kevin Mock of Camp Hill, PA and Jonathan Nelson of North Miami, FL on their recent appointment to the NARP Council of Representatives from their respective states.

As users of passenger rail lines and other public transportation, we all know that safety on tracks and roadways is paramount to ensuring that services run effectively. That means safety for passengers, as well as safety for workers who are on the tracks daily. This is why the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) is pushing Washington, D.C.’s Metro to improve worker safety. If the transit agency fails to do so, the FTA threatened in a letter to Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld that it will withhold millions of dollars in funding.

The letter from the FTA said that there are six deficiencies that Metro must address in new plans to improve worker safety within five business days, or the federal agency would withhold up to 25 percent of a formula-based grant fund until the issues are addressed. The letter comes after the FTA conducted several reviews of WMATA’s safety practices after it assumed safety responsibilities for WMATA in October 2015.

NARP members from across the country used the rail system this week as part of NARP’s Annual Advocacy Summit, and experienced first-hand the disruption that Metro’s years of neglect for state-of-good-repair work has created. The transit system has faced maintenance, safety and ridership issues for years, and each action Metro takes can be a step in returning Metro to its once-proud place as an example of a solid urban transport system.

Registration is NOW Open For NARP’s 2017 RAIL NATION CHICAGO 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
  • Watch for more details soon...

Northern Louisiana is one step closer to getting Amtrak passenger rail, as Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards has come out in favor of restoring the service to the cities of Ruston and Monroe. While there is no guarantee that passenger rail will come to Northern Louisiana, negotiations are underway with Amtrak and additional freight railways. The alternative mode of travel will come as a relief for the area, as congestion plagues the area’s highways.

"All of our cities, especially Shreveport and Monroe, air service is an issue, bus service is an issue. It's hard to get anywhere. They need another alternative," Southern Rail Commissioner Knox Ross said.

NARP agrees Amtrak service in Ruston and Monroe would be a significant boon to the area that would allow for easier travel options between Louisiana and surrounding states. At the same time, extending Amtrak service through Northern Louisiana could further push forward the reintroduction of Gulf Coast passenger rail service.

Texas Central is slowly but surely paving the way to break ground on its high-speed rail line connecting Houston and Dallas. The company has claimed that it already has more than half the land it needs in Grimes County to build the line, with over 70 different agreements. While some people, like John Bertling who accepted a valued $500k deal, are inclined to strike a deal with Texas Central to operate through their property, not all jump at the thought of fast cash. Eventually, as Mr. Bertling pointed out, it might not make a difference and Texas Central Railway will be able to build its high-speed rail line, with plans to start construction in late 2018.

NARP Strengthens Passengers’ Voices With Office Move

NARP is gearing up for a move that will take the association to a new space across the street from Washington, D.C.’s Metro Center subway station hub in the heart of the city. The new office will be convenient to both the White House and Capitol Hill, as well as Amtrak’s Union Station. The move offers NARP members new resources--including a state-of-the-art conference space--that will enhance the effectiveness of advocacy for passenger rail in America.

NARP plans to complete its move into the 2,000-square-foot location at 1200 G Street, NW, Suite 240, by the end of May. The new space includes a conference room equipped with a complement of audio-visual technology, as well as offices and dedicated workstations for staff, which has increased in the last year with three new full-time employees. Volunteers, interns and visiting members will also have access to workstations. Unlike the current space, the new building and office are both fully ADA-compliant so that members with mobility challenges will be able to visit the offices with ease. The building also offers bike-friendly lockers and 24-hour security. A ribbon-cutting ceremony and welcome reception is set to take place in early June, ushering in a new era of advocacy. NARP will host a series of open houses for members in its Metro Center neighborhood in the months ahead.

Please stay tuned for more details on the upcoming move, as well as on the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

After the release of a Tier 2 Project Level Environmental Assessment of the Northern Lights Express Project, the Minnesota Department of Transportation, the Federal Railroad Administration with cooperation from the Wisconsin DOT proposed a, “higher speed intercity passenger rail project to provide rail service between Minneapolis and Duluth.” The NLX Project would work in conjunction with a BNSF railway track already in use.

A comment period is currently open to the public and NARP encourages NARP members who are local residents to voice their support for the project. Though it is still early in the process, we have already seen in other cities that increased capabilities for rail transit can have remarkable influences on local economies.

Written comments are due by May 24, and if you would like to learn more about the project and the assessment, please visit the Minnesota DOT’s website here.

NARP has teamed up with the Association of Young Americans (AYA) to promote our campaign to save Amtrak’s National Network Trains. AYA empowers young Americans to create the future they want. AYA is a non-partisan membership-based organization that inserts the voices of the 80 million Americans between ages 18 to 35 into everyday politics.

According to the Colorado Regional Transportation District, they have fixed a problem at the A-line Univeristy of Colorado stop, which was having grade crossing timing glitches. Despite resolving the problem, the RTD must wait for the Federal Railroad Administration’s approval of that assessment. The A-Line, which will celebrate its one year anniversary Saturday, has had about 5 million passengers since it opened, and serves nearly 17,000 passenger trips a day. While it is still young, the A-Line has seen much success since it has opened and the RTD hopes to open two more lines, the B and G, pending federal approval. NARP has strongly supported linking airports to city cores using rail, and the A-line’s one-year ridership underscores how important it is to use an intermodal mindset to link travel modes together in a seamless network.

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 Las Vegas Raiders, formerly of Oakland, have helped to re-spark interest in the Las Vegas high speed rail project. The project, which has been considered for more than a decade, may finally be taken seriously, since government officials at many levels have started to embrace new infrastructure investment and a new survey has come out supporting travel between Southern California and Las Vegas. Veteran Las Vegas developer Tony Marnell believes that now is the time to push for greater activity in securing an opportunity to invest and ultimately build the high speed rail line. “We all know that the Republicans are not big advocates of spending money on infrastructure, although this president is one of the first presidents to come along in a long time that recognizes the country needs another investment in infrastructure and it needs an investment in 21st century technology,” Marnell said.

If taken seriously, the high speed rail project could have incredible economic benefits for the area. According to a report from a transportation forecasting consultant, “the ridership demand combined with the cost of round-trip tickets, which would average $115 — priced competitively to rival other travel options — would generate more than $1 billion a year in operating revenue when the system is fully operational in 2035.”

High speed rail must be taken seriously as an imperative mode of transportation, one that cut costs and improves productivity for Americans across the U.S. These projects, in Texas and Nevada, will pave the way for faster and more effective modes of transportation for Americans.

There are openings for state representatives on the NARP Council of Representatives, including one each in Alabama; Arizona; Hawaii; Idaho; Indiana; Missouri; 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.