Hotline #1,047

RPA Remembers Jim Hamre and Zack Willhoite; Amtrak Derailment in DuPont, WA; Brightline Receives FEIS Approval; CHSRA Releases Sustainability Report

We Need Your ‘Nose For News’! When you see rail-related news stories, op-eds, editorials, or letters to the editor in your communities, send them along to us! We include them in our social media efforts, along with the weekly Hotline. Send your news items to Bob Brady, [email protected], and we will continue to share it with the membership. Are you holding a rally, a community meeting, or another kind of rail-advocacy event? We can help spread the word if you send them to us. We can put on the website here. And please follow NARP on Facebook andTwitter.

FYI...This is the last Hotline of 2017! The next scheduled Hotline will be published on Friday, Janaury 5, 2018

Also Please Note: RPA will be closed for the Holidays through Tuesday, December 26th. We will have limited office hours on December 27th, 28th, and 29th. We will return to regular business hours on Tuesday, January 2nd. Your RPA staff hopes you have a wonderful holiday season.

(Dec. 18, 2018) PRESS RELEASE: RPA Board Member Jim Hamre and Member Zack Willhoite Reported Among Fatalities in Amtrak Cascades Derailment

The rail community is shocked at the loss of two Rail Passengers Association members Jim Hamre and Zack Willhoite, who reports have confirmed are among the three fatalities in the Amtrak derailment that occured Monday near Tacoma, Wash. Both men were devoted to their family and friends, as well as passionate advocates for passenger railroad and advancing the advocacy work of RPA. While we wait on the National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation into the cause of the accident, the entire Rail Passengers Association membership and staff will mourn their loss. Our deepest sympathies go out to their families.

"Jim was among the country's most-respected and effective rail advocates and a good friend and mentor to me. I will miss his counsel, and our community is poorer for his loss," said Rail Passengers Association President Jim Mathews. “Both Jim and Zack have been advocates of transit and passenger rail for decades, and we can’t thank them enough for their work. Our thoughts are with their families at this time, as they work through this tragedy.”

"Jim was proud of the part that rail advocates played as stakeholders in expanding passenger rail services in the Northwest,” said RPA Chairman Peter LeCody. “Last year he took my wife and me on a tour of the region showing how important rail is to connect us in our daily lives. I will miss my friend Jim."

Jim Hamre was a board member for the Rail Passengers Association, in addition to being a vice president of All Aboard Washington. Jim started work on the Milwaukee Road in the early 1970's while studying at Washington State University. He moved on to work at the Washington State Department of Transportation, and got involved in transportation advocacy in the early 1980's. Jim combined personability and kindness, and paired it with an intricate and detailed knowledge of transit policy and technical insight. This made him an extremely powerful advocate and an inspiration for others.

Zack Willhoite was a member of the Rail Passengers Association, and also on the board of All Aboard Washington, serving as the Director of Information Technology. He was a member of the AAW since 1998 and on its board for 10 years. Zack has been a Pierce Transit employee since 2008.

RPA asks for privacy for the families as they come to terms with this tragedy. In the coming days, our Association will share the best ways to celebrate the lives that were lost.

On December 18, Amtrak Train #501 was carrying more than 85 people on it, including 78 passengers, on a new route through Washington state before it derailed in DuPont near Tacoma. Of those 78 passengers, many were not only train enthusiasts who were excited to take the train for the first time on its brand new route, but friends, family and colleagues to the passenger rail community. It is unfortunate that three people lost their lives during the accident, including James Hamre, an RPA board member, and Zack Willhoite, an RPA member, who were both on Amtrak #501.

RPA President and CEO Jim Mathews said toThe New York Times in a special article on Hamre and Willhoite, that at least 12 RPA members were on the train, with others waiting to board at other stations. Each of the members, including Hamre and Willhoite, were more than passionate about their commitment to passenger rail. Several friends and colleagues described their passion for trains in the article, including Michael Hamre, Jim Hamre’s brother, who said Jim has ridden trains in Europe, Africa, and Australia.

“We talk about passion, but it’s almost an inadequate word for what they have,” Mathews said of rail advocates such as Hamre and Willhoite in The New York Times. Monday, “should have been a celebration. It should have been a coming-out moment for a really vital new service.”

Since the derailment, the National Transportation Safety Board is looking at various reasons why the train, on its inaugural run of a new route, would be going 50 mph above the speed limit. NTSB officials have said that they are looking into whether the train’s engineer was distracted, possibly by an employee-in-training, during the time of the derailment.

NTSB member Bella Dinh-Zarr said earlier this week that a conductor-in-training was in the cab with the engineer at the time of the derailment. In addition, the brake that eventually stopped the train was automatically activated instead of being applied by the engineer. As a result, NTSB officials are looking into if the engineer lost “situational awareness” before the accident.

The NTSB also confirmed that technology that can automatically slow or stop trains, knowns of Positive Train Control, was not utilized on the new route. Dinh-Zarr said that PTC components had been installed on the stretch of track where the train derailed, but the system was not expected to be operational until the spring. However, it is important to note that the NTSB, which has recommended that railroad to install PTC, said that it cannot confirm at this time if the technology would have been able to stop the derailment from occurring.

As part of the investigation, the NTSB has said it will also:

  • Review the event data record from the lead locomotive and the rear engine.
  • Review data from inward- and outward-facing on-board cameras, although these were damaged in the crash.
  • Speak with Amtrak employees on the train, including the engineer.
  • Review the training required of the engineer and other crew members to operate on the new route.

Almost 10 years ago Congress first required PTC to be implemented on passenger and freight rail lines, but the rail industry struggled to meet the deadline due to cost and time. As a result, Congress extended the deadline from December 2015 to December 2018.

This week’s derailment falls into a list of recent passenger rail accident where speed was a factor, and PTC could have played a life-saving role. Recent accidents include:

  • May 2015: Philadelphia, PA where Amtrak Train #188 derailed going around a curve at 106 mph – 56 mph above the limit. Eight passengers were killed in the accident.
  • December 2013: Bronx, NY where a Metro-North train derailed going 82 mph into a curve with a speed limit of 30 mph. Four people were killed in the derailment.

The derailment of Amtrak #501, along with the other high-profile accidents, has raised the concern of many rail advocates, including RPA’s Jim Mathews. Part of the concern is that the attention the Amtrak derailment has received will make people fearful of taking trains in general, even though rail has a strong safety record overall.

It’s also possible that passenger rail opponents, such as associations or elected officials at local, state or federal levels, could also use the derailment as a reason to oppose new rail projects from Amtrak or any number of other passenger rail projects currently in development. This includes All Aboard Florida’s Brightline high-speed rail service, which is nearing the start of passenger service. It could also create a hindrance for other projects that are in early stages of development, such as the high-speed rail line between Houston and Dallas being developed by Texas Central Partners.

“I’m afraid it’s going to be used to ill effect,” Mathews said of the Amtrak derailment during his interview with The New York Times. “There’s lessons to be learned from any wreck. But the risk is that we learn the wrong lesson.”

Amtrak’s co-CEO Richard Anderson released a statement two days after the derailment to reassure passengers that Amtrak is safe to ride. Within his statement, Anderson said, “If you are traveling with us during the holiday season, I want to assure you that Amtrak remains committed to your safety. Our primary focus is and will always be getting you to your destination safely, comfortably, and efficiently. We are truly privileged to serve you and thank you for your continued patronage.”

Despite the derailment and rising concerns, Harvey Bowen, the president of All Aboard Washington, an organization that Hamre and Willhoite were board members for, said advocacy work for passenger trains should be intensified, not stopped.

“I think it would be a disservice to them to do anything but double our efforts toward the goals that we shared,” Mr. Bowen said in regards to Hamre and Willhoite, who lost their lives doing something they truly enjoyed. “Jim would be very disappointed if anyone would not ride the train or not expand railway service because of this.”

End-Of-Year Donations Keep Advocacy Work Strong

In 2017, we launched the single largest campaign in the Association’s history—“Towns Without Trains,” which included rallies in 30 cities across America. The #Rally4Trains campaign reached an estimated 17 Million Americans, and promoted funding for the national network’s service to 220 stations in more than 25 states. The campaign helped ensure funding into 2018, in the face of a disastrous, proposed White House budget that would have seen it cut to zero,destroying the network.

Unfortunately, the fight is not over. Just as trains run 365 days per year, there is no rest for passenger advocacy. Not only do we need to continue to pressure Congress for long-term funding for the network, but we must keep pressure on an array of issues including On-Time Performance (OTP).

In the past year, more than half of Amtrak passengers outside the Northeast Corridor were delayed by a freight train.Your association has petitioned the Supreme Court to review a case that would pave the way for enforcement of on-time performance standards for passenger rail. Without these defined standards, freight is systematically prioritized over passenger trains, leading to chronic delays for long distance riders. This is yet another dramatic chapter in our long standing fight for on time trains. Something that we need you to take part of.

There are so many ways to help your association. Donate to make sure that your legacy of a CONNECTED AMERICA becomes reality. Donations to Rail Passengers are tax deductible(!), so even if the Feds aren’t spending what they should on passenger trains, you can force the issue.

Directly, you can log onto, or send a check to our office. As a thank you for a great year of advocacy, we’re also offering double Amtrak Guest Rewards Points for renewals through the end of the year-- visit

Does your company match donations? If you’re not sure, check with your Human Resources Department. Once you make your donation, all you have to do is fill out a form and Rail Passengers will receive matching funds from 2 to 4 times your donation amount, depending on your company’s policy.

You can also make the ultimate symbolic donation for Rail Passengers: Consider donating your old car, RV, or boat! Trading in one form of transportation to help promote trains is easy and a great way to give! Just go to All the information you need is right there.

Feel free to contact us with any questions!

Thank you for everything you do. Wishing you a Happy Holiday Season--


Or, send your check to:

Rail Passengers ATTN: Sam

1200 G Street NW STE 240,

Washington D.C. 20005

The development of the light-rail Purple Line in Maryland reached a major milestonethanks to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit Court. The three-judge panel agreed that the developers of the Purple Line do not need to conduct a new environmental study, despite declining ridership for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority’s (WMATA) Metro. The judges ruled that the opponents of the Purple Line did not prove that Metro’s decline in ridership would affect the Purple Line’s ridership projections from its previous environmental study. The ruling reversed a 2016 order by U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon that agreed with opponents that Maryland did not sufficiently considered Metro’s safety and ridership challenges.

As a result of the new ruling, construction for the Purple Line’s 16-mile route can continue. Construction of the line first began in August, following legal challenges that delayed construction by a year. The Purple Line is scheduled to open in 2022, and will run between Bethesda in Montgomery County and New Carrollton in Prince George’s County. It will run separately from Metro, but 27 percent of Purple Line riders are expected to be people transferring to or from Metro.

Development of the Southwest light-rail line in Minnesota has been delayed againdue to the Metropolitan Council revising the proposal for the project. The revisions to the proposal come from the addition of a $20-million, crash-protection wall separating freight and light-rail trains along a rail corridor just west of Target Field, home of the Minnesota Twins. As a result of the addition, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and state leaders requested more environmental studies to see how the 10-foot wall will affect the area.

Following the change, Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska,--who chairs the state’s House Transportation Committee--questioned the Southwest project’s viability. The “announcement is yet another reminder of how profoundly expensive and chaotic the Southwest Light Rail process has been,” Torkelson said. “Every month that goes by means significant additional costs to Minnesota taxpayers — I think it’s time for an honest conversation about whether it’s prudent to keep sinking tax dollars into a project whose federal funding remains uncertain at best.”

The new environmental work must be completed before the Met Council can award the construction contract. Proposals for the construction of the 14.5-mile line are due May 3, which has been extended from January 9. The changes will be reflected in the expected commencement of service, which has been pushed from 2022 to 2023.

Save The Date For RPA’s Spring 2018 Advocacy Summit and ‘Day on The Hill’: Annual Congressional Reception and Meeting - Sunday, April 15 to Wednesday, April 18, 2018

  • The host hotel is the Hilton Old Town Alexandria, located adjacent to the King Street Metro & Alexandria Amtrak Stations. Discounted group rate room reservations are now available!
  • RPA’s ‘Day on The Hill’ is Tuesday, April 17. The Annual RPA Congressional Reception will be held that evening from 5:30pm - 7:30pm.

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) said in its annual report that it is effectively working toward driving down its costs and improving its operations. The new report, from the MBTA’s Fiscal and Management Control Board (FMCB), said that the MBTA has come a long way "institutionally and operationally" toward developing and implementing strategies for long- and short-term improvements. Most notably, the MBTA kept its projected operating budget deficit down significantly for FY 2017, which was projected at $242 million. In actuality, the deficit for MBTA was $30 million. The FMCB’s report said that the drop was due to $37 million in internal cost controls and $30 million debt service savings.

The report also acknowledged that riders experience too many challenges when dealing with service. The report said, “too many system users still experience T service that is late, inadequate, or otherwise unreliable. Fixing a system as complex and challenged as the T was never going to be quick or easy.”

The California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) released its annual sustainability report, and in it, said the agency remains focused on providing effective high-speed rail service to the state through its design, construction and operation.

Dan Richard, chairman of the CHSRA's board, said in a press release, "The Authority is committed to ensuring that high-speed rail is delivered in a responsible manner that not only sets a new bar for sustainable construction in California, but also provides a much-needed boost to local economies and California's small businesses. From requiring clean construction equipment at our job sites to recycling construction materials, this report proves that in the last year, we have continued to meet and exceed our goals and look for areas of improvement.”

In addition, the report highlighted how the authority will focus on energy, natural resources, infrastructure, station communities and business and management as it moves forward in development. For example, it will rely on 100 percent renewable energy to run the trains and facilities. In addition, the greenhouse gas emissions avoided by riders using the system between San Francisco through the Central Valley and to Los Angeles/Anaheim is projected to be equivalent to removing 285,000 motor vehicles off the roads.

Portrait of a Passenger: Use Our Facebook Photo Frame to Show Your Support for Passenger Rail

We want it to be known that U.S. travelers and commuters are frustrated by trains that are late, equipment that is falling apart, and service that is far too skeletal and infrequent. Rail Passengers Association is doing its best to advocate for equitable funding to solve these problems that affect millions of people. But, we can’t do it alone.

Help us raise awareness for the federal government’s lackluster transportation priorities by applying our “Portrait of a Passenger” Facebook photo frame to your profile photo.

This photo frame is an adaptation of our new window logo and just goes over your current profile photo on Facebook. To apply this frame to your profile photo is easy, all you need to do is visit this link and it takes you through the process step-by-step:

In New York, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's (MTA) board awarded Halmar International a $91.5-million, design-build contract for five MTA Metro-North Railroad stations. The stations to be improved include the Riverdale Station in Brooklyn; the Port Chester Station in Port Chester, New York; the Harlem-125th Street Station in Manhattan; the Crestwood station in Tuckahoe, New York, and a station in White Plains, New York. The upgrades will be funded through MTA's 2015-2019 capital program, as part of the agency’s Enhanced Stations Initiative.

"The Enhanced Stations Initiative raises the bar for station aesthetics, safety and amenities," said Cathy Rinaldi, Metro-North's acting president in a press release. "Customers can anticipate a better environment at our stations, and all with minimal disruption to their commute."

Halmar International will be responsible for:

  • Improving station platforms
  • Preparing new signage
  • Utilizing LED lighting
  • Installing benches with USB chargers
  • Increasing Wi-Fi and cellular connectivity
  • Adding new dashboards and totems to provide information to riders.

Maryland and Pennsylvania have received new Siemens locomotives, which will enter service in 2018. The Maryland Department of Transportation Maryland Transit Administration’s (MDOT MTA) MARC Train has received the first three of eight Charger diesel-electric locomotives. The new locomotives are among the most environmentally friendly, and are also the first high-speed passenger locomotives to receive Tier 4 emissions certification from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). The new locomotives will improve the reliability and efficiency of MARC for thousands of commuters and tourists. The Charger can operate at speeds up to 125 miles per hour and is powered by a 4,400 horsepower Cummins diesel engine.

The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) also received the first of 15 ACS-64 electric locomotives. The technology is similar to the locomotives currently operating, but the locomotives are more efficient than their predecessor and will enable SEPTA to increase its capacity. The new locomotives are designed for improved reliability and easier maintenance to provide faster turn-around and increased availability for service.

The locomotives traveled more than 2,700 miles across the country from the Siemens facility in Sacramento, CA to their new homes in Baltimore and Philadelphia, respectively.

Upcoming Regional Rail Passenger and State Passengers Association Member Meetings & Events

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

Amtrak officials have stated that NJ Transit now owes the rail agency $121 million for access and maintenance of tracks between Trenton, NJ to New York Penn Station, which NJ Transit trains run on. Amtrak representative Christina Leeds said NJ Transit owes Amtrak $25.7 million for access, and $95.5 million for capital. The total is $30 million more than what NJ Transit owed to Amtrak in September. The rising cost is due in part to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie withholding monthly payments to Amtrak. Gov. Christie stopped payments to Amtrak because he was concerned with how Amtrak officials were spending the money.

Gov. Christie also directed state Attorney General Christopher Porrino to consider taking legal action against Amtrak to recover tens of millions of dollars of payments already made. However, Amtrak has said it will not withdraw its case against the state, and will continue to see NJ Transit’s balance grow if the state does not pay.

Nancy Snyder, a NJ Transit spokeswoman, said the agency is in "productive discussions" with Amtrak and it is working with Amtrak to address the condition of the NEC and how Amtrak spends the money. Problems that have been highlighted by NJ Transit include signal problems, which cause delays for NJ Transit trains. Another area of concern is the recent track closures at New York Penn Station over the summer, which required NJ Transit to revise its schedule and routes.

The U.S. Department of Transportation helped All Aboard Florida’s Brightline achieve a new milestone by issuing a Record of Decision on the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS). The approval allows Brightline to build the higher-speed rail line between West Palm Beach and Orlando. Over the next few months, Brightline will finalize the design for the rail infrastructure, as well as the 70-acre Vehicle Maintenance Facility that will be located on Orlando International Airport property.

“This is the most critical and final step in the extension of Brightline’s service to Orlando, and we are excited to move forward with Phase 2,” said Dave Howard, Brightline’s CEO in a press release. “This was a great year for us as we completed construction on two of our major stations and rail infrastructure, successfully pre-sold tickets and corporate packages to individuals and businesses throughout the region and priced $600 million in Private Activity Bonds to fund Phase 1. We look forward to launching service to Miami and starting construction north to Orlando in the first quarter of 2018.”

The FEIS was issued in 2015, and it involved the Federal Railroad Administration, Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Coast Guard, numerous local agencies, water management districts, cities and counties on the development and issuance of the FEIS. The process included extensive public outreach, including dozens of public meetings and the submission and consideration of thousands of public comments.

The federal approval also comes as Brightline is readying to launch service between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale. It expects to become fully operational and extend service into downtown Miami in early 2018.

RPA Remembers CSX CEO Hunter Harrison

Following the passing of CSX CEO Hunter Harrison on Saturday, December 16, Rail Passengers Association President and CEO Jim Mathews said:

"The Rail Passengers Association notes with sadness the passing of CSX's Hunter Harrison. Always controversial and always challenging, his love of railroading and his successes mark him as a giant in the field. We offer our sincere condolences to his wife, Jeannie, and two daughters."

Harrison, who was 73 when he passed, was appointed to the top position at CSX in March, after spending his entire career in the railroad industry. Hunter was previously the CEO of Illinois Central Railroad, Canadian National Railway and Canadian Pacific Railway.

The new streetcar in Kansas City spurred development in midtown, most recently impacting the redevelopment of the former Netherlands Hotel. As part of the $30-million Main Street development project, the hotel will be turned into a new apartment complex to meet and grow the city’s population.

“We’re trying to create a world that has walkability, density, is connected to the streetcar and stabilizes the corner of 39th and Main,” said developer Caleb Buland of Exact Partners.

The first phase, renovating the Netherlands into 110 one-bedroom apartments, is expected to begin next spring. It will be followed a year later by the renovation of the Monarch Storage building, which will be turned into 40 condo-style residences.

Tom Gerend, executive director of the Kansas City Streetcar Authority, is excited about the development, and said, “The streetcar is an attractive catalyst for continued investment along the corridor, but there’s a lot to do before we can complete that project.”

Renew your Membership by End of Year and get Double Amtrak Guest Rewards® Points!

That’s right. As a thank you for a great year in advocacy, and we couldn’t have done it without your support. Earn Double for renewing in 2017!

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Amtrak Guest Rewards Points®









Whether it is raising awareness about the funding threat to National Network Trains, or our recent petition to the U.S. Supreme Court, your association has been punching above its weight. If you renew your membership today, not only do you continue to support this great work, but you can travel more too! #Rally4Trains