House Appropriations Committee Advances Transportation Bill; FRA Presents Gulf Coast Recommendations; H. W. Bush Wishes to Ride Texas HSR
July 21, 2017
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House Appropriations Committee Moves Transportation, Amtrak Funding Bill to Full House
Under the guidance of Republican leadership, House appropriators passed a FY 2018 transportation budget on July 18th that would boost spending for passenger rail by $360 million over current levels, with much of the increase targeted towards the enormous state of good repair backlog on the Northeast Corridor. This bill is a huge victory for NARP and our allies, who held a series of successful rallies against a White House proposal to eliminate long distance trains.
“This win belongs to all our advocates who took part in the rallies and campaigns against the White House’s disastrous proposal for the national rail network,” said NARP President Jim Mathews. “There has been a huge shift in how conservative members of the House of Representatives views Amtrak’s National Network trains as a result of the work of our staff and our members. This is what bipartisan coalition building looks like."
Led by Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), the bill will enable much-needed work on the Gateway Project. “I am especially pleased that more than $900 million will be allocated to the Gateway program in the New Jersey-New York area in this legislation," Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen said. “It is not an overstatement to say that Gateway is critical to our nation’s economy. The Northeast Corridor region, encompassing over 50 million people from Washington D.C. to Boston, produces approximately $3 trillion in economic output, equal to 20% of our national Gross Domestic Product. Safe and reliable passenger rail travel through New Jersey and New York City is essential to that economic productivity.”
The bill presents a more complicated picture for transit, cutting top-levels by $662 million while preserving a key investment program that has proved crucial for rail transit and commuter rail projects. It also cuts the TIGER program, which has been critical in funding transit and passenger rail programs, including the Southwest Chief preservation effort.
Largely because of these cuts the bill passed largely along party lines, with most Democratic members voting "no" while calling for additional boosts to infrastructure spending. Ranking Member David Price (D-NC) offered an amendment that would provide an additional $200 billion in infrastructure spending.
“We were assured by the president that infrastructure would be a priority, yet a plan for infrastructure keeps getting pushed back, back, back,” said Ranking Member David Price (D-NC). “Believe me, this country ... might even conclude we’re putting our money where our mouth is” if the panel adopted the amendment.
Republican members voted the bill down, saying additional funds would lead to the bill's failure on the full floor.
The full House must still pass the bill, and the Senate has yet to take up its version of the transportation budget. Both bodies are working against a September 31st deadline, which is when the FY 2017 budget expires.
Despite movement on the budget for FY 2018, little action has been taken on the infrastructure plan from the White House. Although the Trump Administration released initial details and vision for the plan earlier this year, Republicans have placed the infrastructure plan behind tax reform in order of priority.
Sen. John Thune (S.D.), chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said, “I’d like to see infrastructure get done. But I’ve always said, that in terms of how things are sequenced, it’s more likely that they would do tax reform first. And that might push infrastructure into sometime next year.”
The delay in the infrastructure plan, which focuses on funding road, bridge, railway and other projects, follows a stalled effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act in the Senate. Tax reform or infrastructure could be next to be tackled, but neither have any proposed legislation prepared. And should infrastructure follow tax reform, some expect that a tax reform bill could be just as challenging as the healthcare reform to pass.
Stories From Passengers: Joyce Anderson
I am an Amtrak rider and the thought that the government would cut funding to all long distance trains or get rid of them altogether is appalling.
Do they have any idea what that would do to this country or the communities or the riders of Amtrak?
It would be devastating to all of us. There are college students who depend on the trains to get to school, commuters that depend on trains to get to work, senior citizens and people with disabilities and people that don't drive or can't fly need trains to travel everywhere.
Should they cut funding on the long distance trains or shut them down we, the riders, have no way to get anywhere in this country because it is the ONLY way for me and everyone else to travel. People should take a look at the whole picture as well as the Amtrak map of where these trains go and the cities they service and realize what would happen if no trains were running to the economy of these cities. No travel, no tourism, no money, no way to get families together, no way to get to work, no money to spend.
I travel Amtrak because it is the only way for me to go, for I am a senior citizen with a disability, I don't fly and I do not drive so I depend on Amtrak. Please help save Amtrak by not cutting funds or the long distance trains.
A big thanks goes to Joyce Anderson for sharing her story! NARP is looking for more stories like this about the National Network to help us fight the White House's proposed budget for FY 2018. 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 yet 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.
In a new report issued by the Gulf Coast Working Group and presented to Congress by the Federal Railroad Administration, the working group recommended that two Amtrak routes be considered for restoration in the Gulf Coast region. One route is a daily round trip from New Orleans to Orlando, while the other would be a New Orleans to Mobile daily round trip.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, who helped create the working group under the FAST Act in 2015, said, “This report makes clear the need to restore passenger rail service along the Gulf Coast and provides a path to get us there. While there's lots of work ahead, this service will not only help us meet the future transportation needs of the region but could also be a boon for tourism and the local economy."
According to research conducted by the Working Group, which used information collected from the FRA, Amtrak, the Southern Rail Commission, CSX and communities along the route, it’s estimated that restoration of service would cost $117.6 million.
“This report highlights that there is a critical need for Amtrak service along the Gulf Coast,” said NARP President Jim Mathews. “Congress should listen to the Working Group and make efforts to approve funding for Amtrak service in the Gulf Coast, as well as approve funding at appropriate levels for Amtrak’s long distance trains throughout the U.S.”
Following a ribbon cutting ceremony on October 30 in Roanoke, VA, Amtrak service will resume on October 31 and will run to and from the city. The return of service ends a 38-year drought after service ended in 1979. State officials, including the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, approved $100 million for funding the line and began the restoration effort three-and-a-half years ago.
“The restoration of Amtrak service in Roanoke is a step in the right direction for passenger rail service in the U.S.,” said Mathews. “The demand for passenger rail service is real in Roanoke and other cities across the country. Amtrak and other public transit services are a vital means of how people not only commute, but how people live.”
Although Amtrak has not finalized hours of operation for service between Roanoke and Washington, D.C., preliminary reports show that one daily train that will depart Roanoke about 6:20 a.m. and D.C. in five hours. Officials said previously the train would return just before 10 p.m. The train will also seat 494 passengers on weekdays and 422 on weekends.
Upcoming Regional NARP and State Passengers Association Member Meetings & Events
Saturday, August 12 - 12:00noon - Empire State Passengers Association Working Group Meeting - Utica, NY Union Station - Trackside Restaurant
Saturday, August 19 - 11:00am to 3:00pm - 2017 New England Regional NARP Meeting - Springfield, MA - Sheraton Monarch Hotel
Please contact Bruce Becker to have a local, state or regional meeting added to the NARP calendar of upcoming events!
In an effort to advance the Purple Line rail line in Maryland, the Federal Transit Administration teamed with the Maryland Transit Administration to appeal U.S. District Judge Richard Leon’s ruling to revoke the project’s federal Record of Decision to move forward. Specifically, the FTA and MTA appealed the judge’s ruling requiring a new environmental study of the Purple Line project.
As it turns out, the additional support may have assisted in granting a stay on the project. This week, the U.S. Court of Appeals restored federal approval of the Purple Line, which will allow for construction to begin this year. Three judges ruled that Maryland has “satisfied the stringent requirements” necessary for the court to grant a stay of U.S. District Judge Leon’s previous ruling.
Maryland officials have said vacating the project’s federal approval has prevented the state from signing a full funding grant agreement with the U.S. government. Signing the agreement would allow the state access to the $900 million in federal funds proposed for the light-rail line’s construction.
Important to note though is that the appeals court stated it was granting the stay pending the results of Maryland’s appeal. This means that the stay could be revoked if the court upholds Leon’s previous rulings in the case.
Eying modernization of the Long Island Rail Road and upgraded service for the decades-old system, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo approved $5.6 billion for upgrades to the system. Capital projects that will be supported under the new funding include an overhaul of tracks, switches, signaling and power substations. In addition, services and amenities at major stations will be updated, which will help increase LIRR capacity by 80 percent. In addition, wifi, charging stations and heated enclosures will comprise some of the new features.
“With the complete transformation of the Long Island Rail Road, New York is recapturing the bold ambition that made our infrastructure the envy of the nation and building for the future. The LIRR is the backbone of the region’s economy, and the strength and resiliency of Long Island requires bold, transformative investments to bolster our transportation network,” Cuomo said regarding the funding.
According the press release issued by Cuomo’s office, the $5.6 billion in funding is a part of the state’s $100 billion infrastructure program. The program includes development of the new Hudson Tunnel, rehabbing its existing lines, and the development of the new Penn-Farley Complex, featuring the new Moynihan Train Hall, which is a $1.6 billion, 255,000 square foot facility that is expected to open in 2020.
“Not only is this about modernizing an important rail line in New York, it’s also about providing passengers a safe and reliable experience,” said NARP President Jim Mathews. “New York’s infrastructure program is a perfect example of how other officials, at both the state and federal levels, should view infrastructure and transportation -- as essential.”
#Rally4Trains Is Growing
The “Rally4Trains” movement is growing! More than 204,500 people have signed a petition to save long-distance passenger rail in America. Help us get to 210,000! 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’s also 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 on Facebook or Instagram, 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 Facebook 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 you elected to 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.]
On Monday, the California high-speed rail project received a boost of support after state lawmakers voted to extend the state’s cap-and-trade program. The climate-change program requires companies to buy permits to release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The idea of charging to release emissions is designed to help reduce energy costs, improve local air quality and stabilize critical revenue streams to invest in clean energy according to California Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de Leon. In addition, sales help generate funding to support the HSR project, which has been receiving cap-and-trade funding for development.
The vote by state lawmakers was seen as a two-way victory for Governor Jerry Brown, who has pushed both the cap-and-trade program and the high-speed train. Pending Governor Brown’s approval, the program will now be extended to 2030 and allow the rail line to receive additional funding.
In other California high-speed rail news, California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) announced that the agency and its contractor Kleinfelder began geotechnical work for underground high-speed rail tunnels in the Pacheco Pass, which is part of the project's San Jose-to-Merced section. Specifically, crews are collecting samples of soil and rock from various locations to determine the exact conditions of the ground below, where roughly 13 miles of future high-speed rail tunnels are proposed. The authority noted that core ground samples are logged, then moved to a storage facility in Gilroy, California. Eventually the samples are sent to testing labs so engineering properties of the rock formations can be determined.
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) is moving forward in an effort to create transit-oriented development at Amtrak stations on the Keystone Corridor between Harrisburg and Philadelphia. The project was approved by Pennsylvania's Public-Private Partnership (P3) Board, and PennDOT is now requesting proposals to develop and connect the areas around at least one Amtrak station on the route. Locations under consideration include Harrisburg, Elizabethtown, Mount Joy, Lancaster, Parkesburg and Downingtown,
Following the board's approval, PennDOT will develop a schedule that looks at conducting a review of the stations and surrounding areas to determine whether to proceed on an individual station basis or whether to bundle more than one station into a P3 agreement. The schedule will be shared with the P3 Board prior to the project starting.
Former President George H.W. Bush told Pennsylvania’s Altoona Mirror newspaper that riding a high-speed train in Texas is high up on his bucket list. The 93-year-old hopes to see the Houston Astros play in the World Series, as well as to see the Houston Texans in the Super Bowl, but most notably Bush said he wants to ride the high-speed rail train from Houston to Dallas, which is being developed by Texas Central Partners and won’t be ready until 2023 - when he’s 99. Though uses a walker and a motorized scooter, Bush told his chief of staff, “I’m in” for riding the train in six years.
#SummerByRail Kicks Off At End Of The Month
Mark your calendars because July 31 is only a week 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 will see Boyle and Principato conclude their travels in Washington, D.C. on August 26.
Already Boyle and Principato have been sharing their preparation for 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.
Angle Lake light rail station, a stop on the Sound Transit system, earned a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) due to the station’s state of the art environmental friendly design. LEED certification is a globally recognized standard for rating environmental sustainability. The station includes a 60 panel 14-kilowatt solar array on the platform canopy, in addition to energy conservative escalators, that slow down when not in use.
"The Angle Lake Station exemplifies the creative ways in which transit facilities can function as sustainable resources in their communities," said Sound Transit Chief Executive Officer Peter Rogoff. "Achieving LEED Gold status for our newest Link station is a testament to Sound Transit's commitment to use taxpayer dollars to design and build facilities that contribute to the health of our environment here in the Puget Sound region."
The Edina Transportation commission is considering the possibility of adding a passenger rail line on the Dan Patch Corridor, that runs along Highway 100, a route between stretching between Minneapolis to Northfield, MN.
“We’ve had enough of our residents raise this issue that we think it’s important to study it,” Edina Mayor James Hovland said.
The report will cost $30,000 and will be recommended to the City Council in September. The study will consider various options like connecting to the St. Louis Park station for the proposed Southwest light-rail line, to commuter rail such as the Northstar line in the northern suburbs, and to intercity rail service such as Amtrak.
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
With the addition of the Roanoke Amtrak Station, Bristol, VA, officials are considering bringing passenger rail to the city. Amtrak statistics show that by adding a stop in Bristol, the city could add up to 12,000 riders a year to the route.
"Our train station is so nice, we could accept a passenger rail tomorrow," Bristol, Virginia Interim Community and Economic Development Director Bart Poe said.
Adding a passenger rail stop could help boost the economy, as it will bring access to downtown Bristol stores and restaurants. Bristol has up to $400,000 in state funding to put towards an economic study, and will plan to have statistics ready for the start of 2018.
Travel by Train to NARP’s 2017 Passenger Rail EXPO And 50th Anniversary Celebration
Don’t miss out! There’s still time to book your seat on the PV Dearing following our 50th Anniversary Celebration and November Passenger Rail EXPO in Chicago. Space is available from Huntington, West Virginia to Chicago on the Cardinal and from Chicago to Washington after the meeting on the Capitol Ltd. The Cardinal will arrive in Chicago on November 2nd. If you have any questions about pricing and accommodations please reach out to Betsy Nelson at email@example.com.
Talgo, the passenger rail systems manufacturer, began its maintenance operations in Milwaukee as a part of a contract for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Authority. Talgo hopes to receive more contracts as it sets up shop in Milwaukee, with the intent to buckle down. "We're committed to stay here at least five years, and maybe many more," Talgo President Anthony Perez said. The company expects to have up to than 40 employees working on the train maintenance projects.
Caltrain is continuing its efforts to collect public input about the development of its new electric trains. The agency started its collection of info in May with the launch of a website, but will now conduct in-person public outreach and polling about train seats July 24, 25 and 28. Anyone else who wants to participate can also complete the polls online through July 28. The site, calmodtrains.com, allows people submit their feedback. It also provides details about the trains' other proposed features and amenities, including electrical outlets and cars to store bikes.
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.
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.