RPA Staff Tour Brightline Prior to Saturday’s Service Launch; PTC Legislation Introduced; Mudslide Hampers Pacific Surfliner; Alaska To Study Passenger Rail Line
January 12, 2018
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The Rail Passengers Association attended a special event today to celebrate the commencement of passenger service by All Aboard Florida’s Brightline. The higher-speed rail line will kick-off introductory service on Saturday, with a travel time of 35 minutes between Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. Brightline’s service will have 10 daily round trips during the weekdays and nine on the weekends, with trains departing between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m. Brightline officials said they plan to run 16 round trips daily when full service begins.
“Congratulations to All Aboard Florida. This is a very exciting moment for Brightline service, as well as passenger rail service in the U.S.,” said RPA President and CEO Jim Mathews, who took an early ride on Brightline today to celebrate the opening of service. “The commencement of service has been years in the making, and it highlights the fact that people want new, faster and more reliable train service nationwide.”
Brightline has also launched a new mobile app and a new website for people to purchase tickets, check schedules, and get other travel information. Currently, Brightline has set ticket prices starting at $10 one-way on the 66-seat Smart Coach - similar to economy. Tickets cost $15 one-way for the 50-seat Select Coach - similar to first class.
“We believe the comfort and convenience of our travel experience paired with premium hospitality will set a new standard for passenger rail service,” Brightline President and COO Patrick Goddard said in a statement.
City Commissioner Paula Ryan, who took part in the gathering of officials at the launch, said “This is going to change the feel of the city for 100 years.”
Later this year, Brightline officials plan to open the Miami route, and construction on the connection between the West Palm Beach station and Orlando International Airport will begin later this year.
New legislation that will help increase the implementation of Positive Train Control (PTC) on passenger trains was proposed by House Democrats, including Rep. Peter DeFazio (Ore.), the ranking Democratic member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. The bill, called the Positive Train Control Implementation and Financing Act (H.R. 4766), comes after it was reported by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) that PTC could have prevented lost month’s Amtrak derailment in Washington, which resulted in three deaths including RPA members Jim Hamre and Zack Willhoite. Every member of the Washington State Democratic delegation co-sponsored the proposal.
“This bill is an important step in getting passenger rail systems utilizing a potential accident-preventing and life-saving technology,” said RPA President and CEO Jim Mathews. “We have seen transit agencies struggle to install PTC, with Congress pushing deadlines further and further. It has to stop.”
PTC can remotely monitor a train, as well as slow or stop a train if it is speeding, and Congress first approved legislation for railroads to utilize PTC in 2008. The new proposal would give railroads through the end of the year to install PTC, and it would also prevent the Department of Transportation from allotting extensions to railroads seeking to delay meeting the current deadline.
"Positive Train Control will significantly improve passenger safety and full implementation must be made a priority. This legislation will ensure that PTC is done as quickly as possible and makes resources available to help certain railroads meet this obligation," said Rep. Michael Capuano (D-Mass.), who serves as the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials.
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.
Following deadly mudslides in California, Amtrak reopened passenger rail service for the Pacific Surfliner Thursday morning. Amtrak cancelled trains between Ventura and Santa Barbara counties on Tuesday after portions of track--as well as the 101 Freeway--were covered by debris from the mudslide. Since the debris has been cleared, Amtrak is serving Ventura, Carpinteria, Santa Barbara, Goleta, San Luis Obispo, and all other stations as indicated on its schedule.
Despite resuming service, Amtrak officials said that passengers should expect delays, and that service will be in high-demand as portions of the freeway remain closed. In addition, since the 101 Freeway remains closed through Montecito, all Amtrak Thruway bus service is cancelled between Oxnard and Santa Barbara through Monday, January 15.
In Alaska, Governor Bill Walker issued an executive order to create a new advisory task force that will examine the possibility of a new passenger rail line between Anchorage and Wasilla. The task force will include nine members, made up of various parties interested in bringing passenger rail to the region. The nine members will include the mayors from the different communities that the rail line will run through (Anchorage, Wasilla, Palmer, Houston and the Mat-Su Borough), a representative from the city-state Anchorage transportation agency Anchorage Metropolitan Area Transportation Solutions and from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, and two public members.
“Anyone who drives on the Glenn Highway knows all too well that we need an alternative way to move between Alaska’s two largest population centers,” Governor Walker said in a press release. “This new group will make sure our rail system is reaching its full potential.”
The rail link has been studied several times before, and the new task force will take those studies into account. Results of the study will determine estimates of initial and ongoing capital costs, expected operating costs, potential ridership, a recommended governance structure, and economic benefits of a commuter rail such as saving on road maintenance and lowering of emissions, among other things. Initial findings are due to the governor no later than May 31, with a conclusion by October 1, 2019.
Amtrak began the second phase of its New York Penn Station Infrastructure Renewal program this week, which will run through May 28, 2018. Although the work and renovations that Amtrak crews will be completing will not be as intense as phase one from last summer, Amtrak, the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) and NJ Transit have to revise their passenger service schedules. Amtrak’s reservation systems are updated to reflect the changes and detailed information can be found online at www.amtrak.com/NYPrenewal. For information on LIRR schedule changes, visit www.mta.info. For information on NJ Transit schedule changes, visit www.NJTransit.com.
Amtrak’s renewal work is now occurring on Tracks 15 and 18, both of which require varying degrees of concrete demolition and replacement and rail renewal. Amtrak will also replace three turnouts in C interlocking, which directs Amtrak and LIRR trains.
Most of the work will be conducted on weekends, but it will have an effect on several Amtrak trains throughout the week days, and so far the renewal work has moved forward without any issues. However, riders on all three railroads have experienced major delays due to other factors that highlight the importance of maintaining a robust rail infrastructure.
Issues that Penn Station commuters have experienced since Amtrak began work this week include:
The century-old Portal Bridge over the Hackensack River got stuck open and caused about two hours of delayed service for NJ Transit riders.
Amtrak and NJ Transit experienced a power problem in the station that caused delays up to 20 minutes until it was resolved.
On the first day of repair work, a disabled Amtrak train got stuck in the Hudson River tunnel and caused delays of over 45 minutes for other services.
“Despite the frustration that riders experience with delays, these issues only highlight the need for appropriate levels of funding and maintenance that Penn Station, the NEC, and rail service nationwide should receive,” said RPA President and CEO Jim Mathews. “Otherwise, transit agencies and passengers will continue to experience these delays more and more regularly.”
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 can be applied 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: www.isupportcause.com/campaign/portrait-of-a-passenger
Bloomberg took a close and important look at how high-speed rail lines in Asian and European countries are gaining popularity as a form of high-quality, reliable, and fast transit. With advancements in HSR technology, trains are providing a similar service to airlines on the same route, in terms of price and travel time. The report showed travellers prefer rail for trips under 1,000 km or 621 miles, after which the benefit begins to shift to the air.
In addition, Bloomberg highlights that the recent emergence of HSR service has increased travel demand, but not just for trains. Rather, what would appear to be competitors in terms of attracting passengers, train and plane service can work well together. Bloomberg says, “low-cost airlines focused on short-haul routes and European high-speed rail options that would seem to compete are generally not rivals, given their vast differences on other counts. The trains generally serve city centers, while the air carriers tend to use secondary airports further afield as a way to lower their costs.”
This is of course a stark difference from the U.S., where Amtrak’s Acela in the NEC is the fastest train service available at tops speeds of 150 mph, though it most stays at 100 mph or less. This represents a significant drop off in speed not only from flying, but from foreign high-speed trains that travel 200 mph or faster. As a result, ridership numbers also pale in comparison; “While Asia rail systems measure their passengers in the hundreds of millions, in the U.S., Amtrak had 31.3 million riders in its 2016 fiscal year.”
Despite White House officials planning to release the administration's infrastructure proposal in early January, the plan may not be released until next month. This update comes after White House officials met with lawmakers, including Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), and said that the infrastructure plan may come after President Trump’s inaugural State of the Union address on January 30.
To assist the White House in the infrastructure plan’s future development and focus, the congressional Problem Solvers Caucus issued a new report that offers several suggestions. Specifically, the report provides recommendations on modernizing the country’s infrastructure, how to appropriately prioritize and finance projects, maintain environmental protections and bolster national security.
“We are encouraged to see the Problem Solvers Caucus echo the president’s priorities of increasing infrastructure investment, streamlining the permitting process, making government more efficient, enhancing American competitiveness, and focusing on the needs of rural communities,” said White House deputy press secretary Lindsay Walters in response to the report. “We hope to continue to work through any potential differences in order to achieve our shared goal of rebuilding our country’s crumbling infrastructure.”
Upcoming Regional Rail Passenger and State Passengers Association Member Meetings & Events
Saturday, January 13 - Empire State Passengers Association Working Group Meeting - Schenectady, NY
Saturday, January 13 - Louisiana Association of Railroad Passengers - New Orleans, LA
Tuesday, January 16 - Ohio State Rail Plan Public Meeting - Columbus, OH
Friday, January 19 - Southwestern Rail Conference - Dallas, TX
Saturday, January 27 - Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers - Haslett, MI
Monday, January 29 - Massachusetts State Rail Plan Public Meeting - Worcester, MA
Tuesday, February 1 - Trains In the Valley Meeting - Greenfield, MA
Please contact Bruce Becker to have a local, state or regional event or meeting added to the RPA calendar of upcoming events!
In Minnesota, Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, and Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson put a stop to an environmental study that would have looked at the possibility of developing a higher-speed rail line between the Twin Cities and Milwaukee, WI. The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) was set to receive $181,682 in grant money from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), but the two legislators opposed the grant because Wisconsin’s GOP Gov. Scott Walker previously declined $810 million in federal stimulus money for the project and his position hasn’t changed. Though $1 million in state and federal money has already been spent on it, the two Minnesota legislators said they do not want to waste tax dollars for a project that has no chance of moving forward.
“Minnesota should not be squandering precious tax dollars — whether local, state or federal — on a wasteful project actively opposed by other states whose support is necessary to proceed,” Torkelson and Newman wrote in a letter to Minnesota’s commissioner of the Department of Management and Budget.
“That’s regrettable,” said Janice Rettman, a Ramsey County commissioner who chairs the Minnesota High Speed Rail Commission. “We fight so hard for dollars from the feds.”
Previously, Gov. Walker ran his campaign for governor on the notion that operating the service would be too expensive, and facing the subsequent irony of paying millions to the Spanish train manufacturer Talgo for breaking contract. The funding originally was part of the Obama administration’s $10 billion investment in HSR nationwide.
The Amtrak’s Empire Builder currently serves the two cities.
Taylor Michael Wilson, the alleged white supremacist who attempted an attack on an Amtrak train in Nebraska on October 22 last year, will face federal terrorism charges from the FBI. During the incident in October, Wilson had entered a secure area of passenger train and applied the emergency brake, but was subdued by two Amtrak conductors until police showed up on the scene.
In an affidavit attached to the criminal complaint, FBI Special Agent Monte Czaplewski said there was probable cause to believe that electronic devices possessed by Wilson and firearms owned by him, "have been used for or obtained in anticipation of engaging in or planning to engage in criminal offenses against the United States."
The criminal complaint was filed in a U.S. District Court in Lincoln, and it also said that in addition to weapons and a hand-made shield, the FBI learned that Wilson shared violent and racist thoughts to his roommate, and also supported white supremacist groups.
Nominations Now Open For 2018 ‘At-Large’ RPA Council of Representative Seats And RPA Officer & Director Positions
RPA/NARP is inviting members in good-standing to consider running for one of the up-to 10 available ‘At-Large’ positions on the Council of Representatives (the Association’s volunteer governing body). These positions are for a two-year term commencing immediately upon election by the State Representatives at the Council of Representatives Annual Business Meeting being held on Wednesday, April 18, 2018, in Alexandria, VA.
Any RPA/NARP member who has paid dues for at least one year, is at least 18 years of age and is a U.S. resident is eligible to self-nominate and seek a seat to be elected at the April meeting. The Council consists of 112 elected state representatives, up-to 10 elected ‘At-Large’ representatives and up-to 15 elected Board Officers and Directors.
The Council of Representatives represents the RPA/NARP membership in setting and approving the overall policy and direction for the Association. For more information on these ‘At-Large’ positions, including the duties, responsibilities and required qualifications, go to: http://ow.ly/Yxzs30hxl4P.
In addition, self-nominations are now being sought from qualified members interested in being elected by the Council of Representatives at the April Council Annual Business Meeting to an Association officer position (Chair of the Board; one of four Vice-Chairs; Treasurer or Secretary) or to one of three available Board Director positions. Board officer positions are for a two-year term and the Board director positions are for a three-year term, both commencing at the conclusion of April’s Annual Business Meeting. For complete information on these Board Officer & Director positions, including the duties, responsibilities and required qualifications, go to: http://ow.ly/LGSj30hxlaf.
To complete and submit the required ‘At-Large’ Representative and Board Officer & Director Candidate Information Statement form, go to: http://ow.ly/VZvW30hxl7h.
The deadline to submit a Candidate Information Statement for any position is March 31, 2018.
Four alternative routes for Los Angeles Metro’s Green Line extension, or the South Bay Extension, was shared by the transit agency this week. With its proposed routes, Metro officials are looking extend Green Line service from Redondo Beach to Torrance, CA. Two of the proposed routes would follow Metro's existing rail right-of-way through Redondo Beach and Lawndale to Torrance, while the other routes would run alongside Hawthorne Boulevard for part of the way to Torrance. However, the fourth alternative would be completely aerial tracks, while the third would use a combination of street level and aerial.
Metro officials are planning to recommend a route this summer to the transit agency’s board of directors, with 2025 as the year in which construction would begin. The project has $891 million in funding between Measure M, Measure R and other sources, and is estimated to be opened for service between 2030 and 2033.
The Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) will begin passenger service for its Blue Line Extension on Friday, March 16, which also coincides with Charlotte hosting the first and second rounds of the men’s NCAA basketball tournament. The opening of the 9.3-mile extension, which includes 11 stations, will carry passengers from uptown Charlotte, NC to UNC Charlotte. CATS officials hoped to open the extension in August 2017, but experienced delays that pushed the opening to March. Despite the delays, the development and construction of the line still came in under budget.
Starting January 21, CATS will begin running trains on the Blue Line Extension to simulate passenger service, with trains stopping at each station. Trains currently run every 10 minutes during rush hour on weekdays and every 15 minutes during off-peak times. After the extension opens, CATS will operate trains every 7.5 minutes during rush hour.
Ken Hylander has been appointed Amtrak’s new Executive Vice President and Chief Safety Officer. In this role, Hylander will, “be responsible for be responsible for implementing a proven Safety Management System (SMS),” for the passenger rail service, Amtrak said in a press release. SMS is a proactive risk management system that builds on predictive safety management methods. SMS has been a cornerstone of improving safety in many industries, including aviation, health care and energy.
“We are improving safety at Amtrak. Keeping our customers and employees safe is our most important responsibility and a high quality Safety Management System is a requirement for Amtrak,” said Amtrak’s President and CEO Richard Anderson. “Ken is a recognized leader in the implementation and operation of SMS, and his experience will be instrumental in helping build our safety culture.”
Hylander most recently served as Chairman of the Flight Safety Foundation, and previously served as the Chief Safety Officer at Delta Air Lines. He retired as a senior vice president from Delta Air Lines in 2014, where he successfully oversaw the SMS implementation at Delta and managed the occupational, operating safety, security, quality and environmental compliance programs.