USDOT Withdraws from Gateway; Audit of PTC to be Conducted; FRA Issues New Cost for New Hudson Tunnel; #SummerbyRail Kicks Off this Month
July 7, 2017
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At the end of last week, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) announced that it has withdrawn its participation in the Gateway Program Development Corporation. The Gateway Program was set to oversee the construction of a new rail tunnel between New York and New Jersey, as well as a new rail bridge to Newark, and add capacity to Penn Station in New York.
In its letter to the Corporation, the DOT’s acting general counsel Judith Kaleta said, “It is not DOT’s standard practice to serve in such a capacity on other local transportation projects, and DOT’s Trustee has had to recuse [himself] from several board actions already.”
The spokesperson for the Trump Administration said the decision for the DOT to withdraw from the project “underscores the department’s commitment to ensuring there is no appearance of prejudice or partiality in favor of these projects ahead of hundreds of other projects nationwide.”
“We fully understand the position that the U.S. DOT is in, as it has to weigh how to divide transportation and infrastructure funding for numerous projects,” said Jim Mathews, NARP President and CEO. “What we can hope for is that this will not reflect how the federal government will provide support for the Gateway project, as it is vital to the future of the Northeast Corridor, as well as transit services throughout the U.S.”
In addition, the estimated pricetag for the overall Gateway project is going up from $23.9 to $29.1 billion. The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) released a new report that revealed an updated cost for the new rail tunnel under the Hudson that will connect New York and New Jersey.
For a helpful breakdown of the project components and costs, check out this informative article by Eno Transportation. Much of the increased costs come from a more comprehensive project scoping, such as the inclusion of $1.8 billion to renovate the existing Hudson River rail tunnels.
Stories From Rail Passengers
A big thanks goes to J. Howard Harding for sharing his story! NARP is looking for more stories like these about the National Network to help us fight the White House's proposed budget for FY2018. Facts and figures alone can’t communicate how vital these trains are to the communities that depend on them. NARP needs to hear from YOU about your town, and your train. We’ve heard from hundreds of you so far and we’re making sure they get seen in Washington...but we still need more!
If you haven’t taken part in this effort, please take just a minute or two to write out a few paragraphs telling us why passenger rail is important to you, and email it to email@example.com.
We’re looking for stories from individual passengers about how train service benefits their lives, and how their lives would be hurt by the loss of train service. We’re especially interested in stories that describe how trains:
- Connect you to vital services, such as medical care or vital government services.
- Provide access to educational opportunities, whether it’s traveling across the state to university or commuting to an internship.
- Allow you to maintain mobility while managing a disability or medical condition.
- Help you and your business, and its role in helping you connect with customers and clients.
Despite the many problems plaguing the New York City subway system and Penn Station, public transportation is thriving in other cities like Chicago. Eighty-five percent of Chicago passengers are satisfied with their transit service said Rahm Emanuel, the Mayor of Chicago in a New York Times opinion-piece.
Chicago’s “L” transit system saw more than 238 million rides last year. The “L” offers 4G wireless connectivity across its system, four of its seven lines are being rebuilt, and by 2019 there will be 40 reconstructed or brand new stations across Chicago. When the final upgrades to the system are complete, Chicago will be able to run 15 trains per hour and push speeds up to 55 mph.
Working from the inside out, Chicago focused on the importance of improving the functionality of the Chicago’s transportation system first. Mayor Emanuel said by putting reliability before expansion, the Chicago transportation system focused on upgrading tracks, signals, switches, stations, and cars before extending lines to new destinations.
“Cities with reliable, modern mass transit are more economically competitive, have higher productivity, fewer carbon emissions, and a better quality of life. And as we have seen in Chicago, mass transit not only connects people to opportunities, it also fuels growth,” Mayor Emanuel wrote.
Upcoming Regional NARP and State Passengers Association Member Meetings & Events
Monday, July 10 - 9:00am - Rhode Island Association of Railroad Passengers will be participating in a public outreach event at the Wickford Junction, RI MBTA Station highlighting the start of limited-time free train service to and from Providence, RI.
Saturday, August 12 - 12:00noon - Empire State Passengers Association Working Group Meeting - Utica, NY Union Station - Trackside Restaurant
Please contact Bruce Becker to have a local, state or regional meeting added to the NARP calendar of upcoming events!
U.S. passenger rail is making strides, but there is always room for improvement. A Wired article offered some looks at what systems are successful in the U.S. and abroad.
For starters, Paris invested $25 billion to expand its subway system which could boost ridership by 40 percent by 2030. London is introducing payment systems and boarding procedures to improve the user experience, and at the same time, consolidating transportation planning for all modes instead of having separate agencies working in silos for trains, buses, bikes, etc. Hong Kong turns a multi-billion profit by owning land and renting out space to businesses.
Closer to home, Chicago and New York are investing in repairs to keep their systems moving into the future. Houston reimagined its bus system to cut redundancies, add connectivity, and increase frequencies. If we are going to address climbing ridership and plummeting performance measures, we’re going to need innovative solutions and long-term commitments.
#Rally4Trains Is Growing
The “Rally For Trains” movement is growing! More than 195,000 people have signed a petition to save long-distance passenger rail in America. That’s nearly double the number from last week. Help us get to 200,000! A second petition has 6,000 signatures. If you haven’t yet had the chance, please add your name to the lists. Show Congress we are united for trains.
Remember, it is not too late to host a rally in your town. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll send you everything you need, including posters, flyers, handouts, sample press releases and letters, and a list of media contacts. Keeping this issue front-and-center is important. Sharing pictures of rallies at your station or in your town, or just sharing your frustration over the short-sighted budget request, is an easy and free way to pitch in. At the end of your post, insert #Rally4Trains, just as you see it spelled here. That ensures that everyone’s messages and pictures are gathered in one place for everyone to see online!
As always, call Congress at: 202-224-2131, and tell them you oppose this disastrous federal budget proposal. That number will allow you to connect with the people who represent you in Washington. Or, email them by visiting the www.townswithouttrains.com website, and clicking the “Contact Congress” button. And, share the #Rally4Trains hashtag on your social media accounts.
[The Towns Without Trains and #Rally4Trains project has been made possible through generous bequests from the estates of George McCallum, Edmund Fritz, and Lewis Hoppe, as well as financial contributions from NARP members all across America who make our work possible.]
Ahead of the summer repair at New York’s Penn Station, current Amtrak CEO Wick Moorman spoke with CBS News about the challenges the transit agency faces. During the interview Moorman said Penn Station is “the single worst place” he’s ever seen to conduct repairs due to the complex track work and the number of trains passing through the station daily.
Despite the challenges, Moorman and Amtrak want to bring the station up to par in running safe and reliable trains for passengers. Major work on the station is set to begin Monday, and will run through September 1.
For the future, one action that the U.S. Department of Transportation is taking to help relieve congestion and strain is through a loan worth $537.1 million. The loan comes from the DOT’s Build America Bureau, under the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA), and is for the New York State Urban Development Corp. to be used on the Moynihan Train Hall redevelopment project. Specifically, the project is set to develop a new train hall across the street from Penn Station at the James A. Farley Post Office.
“The loan and the eventual redevelopment of the Moynihan Train Hall is an important step in updating the Northeast Corridor and providing some relief to an already over-strained Penn Station,” said NARP President Jim Mathews.
Once the hall is complete, it will act as the arrival and departure station for Amtrak passengers in New York City. It will also serve as ticketing and other facilities for MTA Long Island Rail Road. The total cost of the project is about $1.85 billion, and Amtrak, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and New York State Urban Development Corp. will cover the $1.3 billion that remains. Construction on the project has already begun and completion is currently scheduled for December 2020.
#SummerByRail Kicks Off At End Of The Month
Mark your calendars because July 31 is only a few weeks away and that’s when we’ll kick off this year’s #SummerByRail journey. NARP interns Victoria Principato and Caitlin Boyle will depart New York City for a very unique 27-day “road trip” by train and bike to 22 cities between the U.S. and Canada.
During their trip, both interns will also use multiple modes of transportation, including the primary mode which will be Amtrak trains, from east coast to west, and back again. They will bring their bicycles on the trip to explore each of the cities they visit. While in each town, the two interns will ride buses, streetcars, ferries, and ride-sharing services--to name a few--in order to explore each city.
The two interns will visit Burlington, VT; Montreal, QU; Toronto, ON; Niagara Falls ON/NY; Buffalo, NY; Los Angeles, CA; Denver, CO; Kansas City, MO; New Orleans, LA and many more. The last leg of the trip, starting in Hattiesburg, MS, will see Boyle and Principato conclude their travels in Washington, D.C. on August 26.
Already Boyle and Principato have been sharing their journey and insights on the trip on the “Summer By Rail” blog, as well as on Instagram and Twitter, and will continue to so anyone can follow along with their travels. To get their updates on social media, audiences can use the hashtag: #summerbyrail. People can also follow the adventure at Facebook.com/narprail and YouTube.com/narprail.
This past Sunday, Amtrak Cascades 506 derailed as it headed north from Oregon toward Seattle. The train, which was carrying 267 people, derailed 50 to 100 yards before the Chambers Bay drawbridge south of Tacoma. Luckily, there were only minor injuries as the locomotive, a baggage car, and two passenger cars left the rails and tilted sideways.
Along with Amtrak, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and BNSF conducted an investigation into the incident, which revealed the train was speeding before it derailed. Amtrak spokeswoman Vernae Graham said the train failed to slow to the required 40 MPH before the drawbridge. As a result, a special "derail switch" that's designed to avoid a collision if the drawbridge is open as a train approaches was activated.
“This was an unfortunate accident over the holiday weekend, but it is very fortunate that no one was seriously injured,” said NARP President Jim Mathews. “We are confident Amtrak and other agencies are working closely to ensure safety on the rails is maintained in the future.”
This is the first time since the Cascades service began in 1999 that railcars toppled with passengers aboard.
Leading into the summer work plan for New York Penn Station, a passenger car on an NJ Transit train derailed Thursday night. No injuries were reported in the derailment, but it marks the third derailment in recent months at Penn Station, with one involving an Amtrak train and the other a NJ Transit train. The two most recent derailments pressed Amtrak to quickly move forward with upgrading the station’s old tracks and equipment. In a statement, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie called for a full investigation into the NJ Transit derailment.
The Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority will use $81.5 million to improve its 27-year old “Blue Line,” rail transit route connecting downtown L.A. to Long Beach. The repairs will primarily focus on adding four interlocking segments to the route which will allow trains to bypass segments of the track in the event of a stalled train or track maintenance. The interlocking system is expected to reduce delays and allow for trains to consistently arrive between 15 and 20 minutes. The “Blue Line” is a 22-mile track that sees more than 83,000 boardings per day, and as one of the busiest lines in L.A., passengers will welcome these much-needed repairs.
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s inspector general announced that it will be conducting a review of U.S. railroads and their implementation of Positive Train Control (PTC). The review was requested by Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, out of concern that railroads for freight and passenger lines are not moving fast enough. The review will examine how railroads are utilizing federal funds for installation of the technology which can remotely monitor and stop or slow trains that are speeding.
“Positive Train Control has the potential to prevent train accidents and save lives, and this audit will help encourage its use by freight and passenger rail networks,” said NARP President and CEO Jim Mathews. “We hope that all railroads and passenger rail agencies are taking the necessary steps to implement this technology and keep people moving safely on the rails.”
As it stands now, PTC is operating on 27 percent of freight-rail route miles and 23 percent of passenger-rail route miles, based on data for the first three months of 2017. Originally, the technology was to be implemented on railroads by the end of 2015, but Congress pushed the deadline to the end of 2018, as railroads struggled to meet the deadline, partly due to the cost of utilizing the technology.
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 must-see 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
As New York City braces for the Penn Station repairs and a revised summer schedule, Amtrak plans to re-route six Empire Service trains every weekday to Grand Central, which will travel to destinations along the Hudson River Valley. Re-routing these Empire trains to Grand Central will alleviate pressure on Penn Station, making it easier for Amtrak to conduct repairs.
Some hope that this detour, combined with the change of scenery from the congested and hectic Penn Station, can create some interest in revitalizing the Hudson River Valley service at Grand Central.
“For those of us who are state officials and take Amtrak to Albany,” Democratic State Sen. Brad Hoylman said, “it is going to be a stark comparative contrast between Penn Station and what a public space should look like.”
The Schedule for trains coming in and out of Grand Central can be seen below:
- The weekday Albany-bound trains using Grand Central will be No. 233 (departing 11:20 a.m.), No. 235 (2:20 p.m.) and No. 239 (5:47 p.m.)
- Grand Central-bound trains will be No. 230 (arriving 7:30 a.m.), No. 236 (10:50 a.m.) and No. 242 (5:48 p.m.).
The Midwest High Speed Rail Association unveiled its new logo and new website this past week. The new, sleek layout and logo design brings a modern feel to the association, and the new website’s layout is sharp and streamlined. The Midwest High Speed Rail Association is dedicated to bringing fast, frequent, and reliable trains to the region, and their new site lays out:
- Why the Midwest needs fast trains,
- What makes high-speed rail successful, and
- What we're doing to make a regional high-speed network a reality.
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, Texas, Virginia (2 openings) and Wyoming. There is also one ‘At-Large’ Representative position currently available. Check out the full, up-to-date, list of current vacancies here.
If you 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 or to the ‘At-Large’ position by the Board of Directors please visit review these position responsibilities and required qualifications and complete the corresponding Candidate Information Statement. There is no deadline to apply...submissions are considered as they are received.