Hotline #1,053: Two Amtrak Crew Killed; Texas Central Reveals Prefered Houston Location; MARC Service To WV Could End By Summer; Infrastructure Proposal Monday
February 9, 2018
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Two Amtrak crew were killed when the train they were operating was diverted into a parked CSX freight train in Cayce, SC Sunday. The incident occurred after a manual switch was left in the wrong position in an area of track controlled by CSX railroad. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has been investigating the accident, and preliminary reports have said that a maintenance crew was working to install Positive Train Control (PTC) on the railway when they set a manual switch that disabled an existing signal system for the track. The change in the switch position diverted the Amtrak train onto the same siding as the CSX freight train.
“This is another tragic accident that should not have happened, and should not have resulted in the loss of two lives,” said RPA President Jim Mathews. “It highlights the critical need for Positive Train Control to be implemented and utilized by railroads, which we know many times over, can help save lives. It’s sobering and disheartening to learn that the accident occured while the PTC system was being installed.”
Chairman of the NTSB Robert L. Sumwalt said PTC, which can automatically slow and stop trains to prevent accidents, could have helped prevent this most recent incident, as well as the Amtrak derailment in Washington State in December.
Sumwalt also contended that the Amtrak engineer should have noticed that the switch was in the wrong direction. The NTSB is taking a closer look at the switch, and why it was locked in the wrong position.
The NTSB revealed that the Amtrak engineer applied the emergency brake before the train collided with the freight train at 50 mph. The force of the impact derailed the lead locomotive and a couple of passenger cars, and injured 116 passengers. This accident is the third Amtrak accident in less than two months: last week an Amtrak train carrying dozens of Republican lawmakers headed to the Greenbrier resort for a planning retreat hit a garbage truck in Virginia, and in December an Amtrak train derailed in DuPont, WA and resulted in the deaths of three people, including RPA members Jim Hamre and Zack Willhoite.
The recent accidents, though unrelated in their causes, have put a spotlight on the ability of railroads to implement PTC. The technology was originally set by Congress to be installed by the end of 2015, but after a push by the rail industry, lawmakers postponed the deadline until the end of 2018. Several railroads are still struggling to fund and install PTC, and there is a possibility the deadline could be extended to the end of 2020.
With the recent accidents and the deadline looming for PTC installation, House Democrats urged the Trump administration to fully fund Amtrak’s network for the 2019 Fiscal Year. The request came in a letter to White House budget chief Mick Mulvaney from Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), the House Appropriations Committee ranking member, as well as Reps. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), David Price (D-N.C.), Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) and Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.).
"As you work with President Trump to finalize the Administration's Fiscal Year 2019 budget request, we urge you to fully fund Amtrak's National Network request, including funds for infrastructure to facilitate host railroad Positive Train Control,” the House members said in the letter. “Without this funding, passengers and commerce traveling by rail will continue to be at risk.”
Following the DuPont derailment last month, USDOT Secretary Elaine Chao warned railroad leaders in a letter that she is concerned that railroads will not be able to meet the 2018 deadline for PTC implementation. Secretary Chao said that her letter should serve as a reminder to the railroads to emphasize that at the end of 2018, railroads are required to meet Congressionally-mandated milestones.
“The coming year is filled with an agenda of rail safety-oriented initiatives, and among the most important is advancing the implementation of Positive Train Control,” Secretary Chao said. “This particular initiative must be executed within the regulatory timelines as extended by Congress.”
It’s Time To Take Safety Seriously
Last week, RPA President Jim Mathews provided his take on how to move forward from the recent Amtrak and Brightline accidents. Mathews shared his opinion in an editorial published by The Hill. Although it was written a week ago, the message is unchanged, efforts to improve safety on the nation’s railroads should be a top priority for the federal government.
To read Mathews’ Op-Ed, please visit The Hill online.
In light of the recent accidents, Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson will testify before a U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee panel on February 15 regarding the implementation of safety technology, such as PTC. In addition to hearing Anderson, the Committee said it will also invite leaders of federal transportation agencies, private rail operators, public transit agencies and labor groups to discuss PTC implementation.
Of the recent fatal accidents, Anderson said that Amtrak is not at fault for two of them, including the South Carolina incident, where CSX was responsible for the switch that was padlocked in a position that steered the Amtrak train onto a siding where it crashed into the CSX train.
In a separate, non-fatal accident, “Hardware failure,” caused two Acela cars to come apart while the train traveled towards Boston, Amtrak officials said. The incident took place in Maryland after the train left Union Station in D.C., and was traveling at 124 mph. Despite the description of the incident, the train’s safety systems kicked in and immediately stopped the train, which carried 52 passengers.
Amtrak spokeswoman Christina Leeds said, “As a result of this incident, Amtrak mechanical personnel at three mechanical facilities examined the connecting hardware on each of the Acela trainsets during daily inspections yesterday and found no defects.”
Regardless of finding no defective parts, Amtrak said it will replace the hardware that failed on the two cars on its entire Acela fleet.
Despite the recent string of accidents, passenger rail experts, including RPA vice president Sean Jeans-Gail, say that the public will not be deterred from riding the train. This expectation is based on data and trends in recent years. For example, Amtrak hit ridership records in fiscal year 2017, with 31.7 million passenger trips, an increase of 1.5 percent over the previous year. In addition, a number of states and cities, including Florida, Texas and California are opening and building new passenger rail services.
"These trains serve a real utility," Jeans-Gail said in an interview with The Post and Courier. "There are not a lot of options and a lot of people who travel on these trains do not necessarily have a lot of alternatives," due to the loss of air service in some smaller cities.
In addition, Randy Clarke, vice president of operations and member services at the American Public Transportation Association said, "These types of incidents are certainly significant and we want to avoid them as (much as) possible, but we do think train travel is something the American public is not only interested in, but craving more of. If anything, we think train ridership is going to continue to increase."
Make Plans NOW To Attend RPA’s Spring 2018 Advocacy Summit and ‘Day on The Hill’: Annual Congressional Reception and Meeting - Sunday, April 15 to Wednesday, April 18, 2018
This is THE opportunity of the year for rail passenger advocates to have their voices heard directly by the decision makers on Capitol Hill.
Event registration is now available!
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.
Developers of the high-speed rail line between Dallas and Houston, Texas Central Partners, have selected its prefered site of the Northwest Mall to be the location for the Houston station. Texas Central selected the spot because the area is expected to increase in population and jobs in the coming years.
"We look forward to helping create a new community that will also bring a transportation asset to all Houstonians," said Jack Matthews, president of Matthews Southwest, which will be developing the station. "We are excited to work in an area with so much potential for vibrancy, including transit-oriented development."
The selection comes about a month after the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) released an extensive environment analysis, the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, which said the HSR line would help alleviate traffic congestion and meet the growing demand for transit in the state. The FRA outlined three potential sites for Houston, though Texas Central is keen on building at the Northwest Mall.
RPA Statement: FRA's Draft Environmental Impact Statement for Dallas - Houston High-Speed Rail
February 7, 2018
The Honorable D. Reyes, III
Acting Deputy Administrator
Federal Railroad Administration
1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
Washington, DC 20590
Re: Draft Environmental Impact Statement the Dallas to Houston High-Speed Rail Project
Dear Deputy Administrator Reyes,
The Rail Passengers Association (RPA) is writing you on behalf of our thousands of Texas members, and all 28,000 members nationwide, to voice support for Texas Central Railway’s (TCR) Houston – Dallas high-speed rail corridor project. As the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) prepares the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for this transformative project, we hope that you’ll consider the full breadth and width of benefits to the people of Texas, Americans at large, the regional passenger rail network, and the U.S. economy.
Nearly 50,000 Texans currently travel between Dallas and Houston at least once a week. The 240-mile trek along Interstate-45 currently takes four hours. With Texas’ population rapidly growing, that drive-time will grow to 6.5 hours by 2035. Texas’ population is expected to double by the year 2050, further exacerbating problems. TCR’s service will connect Dallas and Houston with frequent, 200mph service, cutting the trip-time to 90 minutes.
TCR’s Houston – Dallas rail service will also close a significant gap in the regional rail network, directly connecting Oklahoma City to Houston via Amtrak’s Heartland Flyer, and Dallas to New Orleans via Amtrak’s Sunset Limited, providing greater connectivity throughout the south-central U.S. while linking cities that play a vital role in domestic energy production.
Beyond its direct transportation impacts, the TCR project—backed entirely by private sector capital—is exactly the kind of innovative infrastructure venture the Trump Administration has called for. The project will inject an estimated $36 billion into the Texas economy during the next 25 years, create 40,000 construction jobs over the life of the project, and create an additional 1,000 permanent jobs in operations and maintenance. The railroad will also pay $2.5 billion in state, county, and school taxes over that same period.
In consideration of the specific alignments discussed within the EIS, RPA would emphasize the following points:
RPA supports TCR’s proposed Houston station at the Northwest Mall site, but with the recognition that it needs to be connected to the rest of the city through convenient, frequent, reliable transit, preferably light rail, to major business centers. These business centers include Downtown, Uptown/Galleria, and the Energy Corridor. These transit connections will facilitate the movement of passengers out of the station area while minimizing the impact of additional traffic volume on the surrounding neighborhoods, which already suffer an overloaded highway network.
The transit connections between TCR and downtown must include a stop at the Amtrak station on Washington Avenue. This direct transit link will facilitate connections between Amtrak’s National Network and TCR’s Dallas – Houston, expanding the project’s benefits to include passengers in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, and beyond.
Thank you for your consideration of RPA’s comments.
Jim Mathews, President and CEO
Rail Passengers Association
President Trump plans to issue his administration’s infrastructure proposal on Monday, February 12. A White House official said Tuesday that the proposal will focus on investing $1.5 trillion, if not more, into the country’s roads, bridges, railways and more. It will include “principles” on how the administration will focus on rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure.
“We are very interested in seeing the administration’s infrastructure proposal,” said RPA President Jim Mathews. “The federal government has an opportunity here to truly advance passenger rail projects, as well as other public transit programs across the country, many of which are in critical need of funding support.”
Part of the interest in the proposal stems from questions on how the administration plans to fund $1.5 trillion in projects, especially when it appears that much of the plan depends on asking local governments to contribute funds that they don’t have. During last week’s State of the Union, White House officials provided reporters with a fact sheet including some details, some of which coincided with the previously leaked draft of infrastructure principles. Both memos pushed the idea of an incentive program. Under the incentive program, federal government could contribute $200 billion in projects, with private sector and local governments investing the other $1.3 trillion in projects.
Following the announcement from the White House to release its infrastructure plan next week, Senate leaders agreed and a bipartisan deal that will provide $20 billion for infrastructure programs, including water, energy and broadband projects, as well as improving surface transportation in the U.S. The deal was introduced by Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
McConnell said said the budget agreement, "will clear the way for a new investment in our nation’s infrastructure, a bipartisan priority shared by the president and lawmakers of both parties."
RPA Launches $10,000 Sweepstakes for Education
The Rail Passengers Association launched a new educational program for college students, with the chance to win $10,000 for higher education. A goal of RPA is to ensure that people across America, young and old, have access to passenger rail and other transit services. In doing so, RPA recognizes that many college students rely on having reliable and quality public transit to commute to and from class.
With this in mind, RPA wants to support college students in their education and is offering $10,000 to help pay for higher education during the 2018-2019 school year. Students can nominate themselves for the chance to win, or a student can be nominated by you. The main criteria is that the winning student must be enrolled in a U.S. accredited college, university or graduate program for the 2018-2019 school year.
For details on how to enter or nominate a student, as well as rules for the scholarship program, please visit: www.crowdrise.com/rpascholarship.
The San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) opened a new railroad bridge, with an Amtrak Pacific Surfliner train being the first to cross it. The new 900-foot bridge extends over the San Diego River, and is part of the San Diego River Double Track project.
The goal of the project is to boost passenger and freight rail service in the area, and it will involve building a parallel bridge, which will allow for a continuous, 7-mil,e double-track segment from Garnet Avenue/Balboa Avenue to the Santa Fe Depot in San Bernardino. Currently, the San Diego River bridge is the only single-track segment south of Balboa Avenue in San Diego County.
“The San Diego River Double Track project is a critical piece of the effort to double track the coastal rail corridor in San Diego,” said SANDAG Board Chair and Del Mar City Councilman Terry Sinnott. “Double tracking will support the growth in rail service and increase safety and reliability – these are critical improvements to San Diego’s only rail connection to the rest of the nation.”
The cost of the project is $93.9 million, with some funding coming from California State Transportation Agency. Construction on the double-track project is scheduled to be completed in 2019.
MARC commuter train service to Harpers Ferry, Duffields and Martinsburg in West Virginia could disappear this summer if the state does not pay Maryland up to $3.8 million per year to continue service. Maryland Governor Larry Hogan’s administration is looking for a new funding agreement that will support MARC service.
The 2012 agreement between Maryland and West Virginia to retain MARC commuter-train service to West Virginia expired in October 2017. Since that time, state officials have agreed to operate service on a month-to-month basis. If a new deal is not met, the Maryland Mass Transit Administration will end MARC service to these cities as early as July. In addition, CSX Railway has indicated that it will not welcome commuter trains back to the line should service cease.
West Virginia state Senator Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said that negotiations are currently taking place. Senator Blair said in an interview with The News Journal, “It would be premature to say where the negotiations are now. Funding is not built into the budget at this time. But we’re working to solve the problem. We’re committed to solving the problem.”
We don’t want MARC service to disappear and we need your help to save the service! This is even more urgent today because West Virginia's part-time legislature, in session right now, will soon conclude its business. Budget adjustments by the state legislature to include funding for West Virginia MARC service must be decided this month.
It is crucial that appropriate West Virginia legislators and officials hear from everyone who supports continued operation of Eastern Panhandle MARC service right away! Telephone calls or emails urging that MARC operational funds be added to the West Virginia budget should be addressed to the following:
Governor Jim Justice
Secretary of Transportation Thomas J. Smith, P.E.
Senator Patricia Rucker
(16th District, Jefferson County
and part of Berkeley County)
Senator Craig Blair
(15th District, part of Berkeley County and Morgan, Hampshire and Mineral Counties)
Members of the House of Delegates
To determine your Delegate, visit http://www.wvlegislature.gov/Districts/maps.cfm#HD01
Upcoming Regional Rail Passenger & State Association Member Meetings and Other Events:
Saturday, March 10 - Empire State Passengers Association & Rail Passengers Association Annual New York State Meeting & Lunch - Schenectady, NY
Saturday, March 10 - Galveston Railroad Day - Galveston, TX
Saturday, March 24 - Rail Passengers Association New England Regional Meeting - Boston, MA
Saturday, April 14 - Delaware, Pennsylvania & New Jersey RPA Regional Meeting - Philadelphia, PA
Please contact Bruce Becker to have a local, state or regional event or meeting added to the RPA calendar of upcoming events!
Based on investigations by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), cases of sleep apnea were probable causes in two commuter railroad accidents in 2016 and 2017, for NJ Transit and Long Island Rail Road (LIRR), respectively.
In September 2016, the NTSB said that sleep apnea led to an accident in which an NJ Transit engineer failed to stop and crashed at the Hoboken station, killing one person on the platform and injuring 110 others.
In January 2017, an LIRR engineer also failed to stop at the Atlantic Terminal Station and crashed. No one was killed in the accident, but 108 people were injured.
“The traveling public deserves alert operators,” said NTSB Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt said in a press release. “That is not too much to ask.”
NTSB officials said that sleep apnea, a sleep disorder that can cause people to stop breathing while sleeping, caused engineer fatigue and that in both accidents, the engineers failed to stop their trains before reaching the end of a terminating track. The NTSB also said that NJ Transit requires periodic physical exams, which are to include measuring sleep apnea risk factors for engineers, conductors and brake operators. The engineer in the 2016 accident had annual physical exams, but the only fully completed sleep apnea screening was from 2013. In the case of the LIRR accident, sleep apnea screenings were planned by the agency, but not implemented, the NTSB said.
Nashville’s Metro Council voted to give final approval for Mayor Megan Barry’s transit development proposal to be placed on the local primary election ballot on May 1. The Council’s vote, which was 34-2 in support, will allow Nashville residents the opportunity to vote on the $5.4 billion transit referendum. Should the proposal pass, the city will see the development of 26 miles of new light-rail line, increased and more efficient bus service, and a 1.8-mile tunnel below downtown Nashville. To pay for it, voters must agree to increase four taxes:
The city’s sales tax rate increasing from 9.25 percent to 9.75 percent;
A quarter surcharge on the hotel-motel tax;
A 20 percent surcharge that would be added to the local car rental tax; and
A 20 percent hike for the city’s business and excise tax.
Of the vote, Mayor Barry said in a statement on Twitter, “As we continue to grow, so will our traffic problems if we don’t act now. I want to applaud the Council for giving Davidson County voters the opportunity to make their voice heard this May on a bold, comprehensive transportation solution that will keep Nashville moving forward.”
Language on the ballot will include the present estimated cost of the project, as well as the long-term revenue needed for the project, which stands at $8.95 billion.
As Sound Transit officials plan for development of light-rail line extensions that will run to West Seattle and Ballard, WA, the agency will host a series of open houses to take comments from the public. Sound Transit officials said in a press release that through 2019, the agency will work with various stakeholders and the public to determine preferred alternative routes and locations of stations. The meetings will be held on February 13, 15 and 20 in West Seattle, Ballard and downtown Seattle, respectively.
The agency also said that it will develop the proposed route through 2019, with planning for both projects expected to wrap up by 2022. The West Seattle line, which calls for 4.7 miles of elevated light-rail from downtown Seattle to West Seattle's Alaska Junction neighborhood, would open to passengers in 2030. The Ballard extension, which includes 7.1 miles of light rail from downtown Seattle to Ballard's Market Street area, would open in 2035.
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 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 assists the RPA/NARP membership by 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, please visit: http://ow.ly/Yxzs30hxl4P.
In addition, self-nominations are now being sought from qualified members interested in being elected 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, please visit: 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.
Miami Mayor Carlos Gimenez requested that the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) review Brightline’s safety measures for its higher-speed rail line that will soon run to the city. The Mayor’s ask was made in a letter to the FDOT’s District Six secretary James Wolfe in light of the private company’s recent accidents and fatalities, which he referred to as “unfortunate incidents.” Mayor Gimenez asked that the FDOT conduct a review of all grade crossings along the Florida East Coast Railway corridor (FEC).
“Following the recent fatalities involving Brightline, company officials and rail advocacy groups are taking extra precautions to educate the public on train safety around railroad tracks and crossings,” said RPA President Jim Mathews. “Mayor Gimenez’s request to the FDOT will provide a thorough analysis of the grade crossings and will highlight that Brightline has taken the necessary steps in providing a safe mode of transit for Floridians.”
Following the department’s review, the state will prepare a plan that will provide recommendations on taking additional steps for the public’s safety. The actions are yet to be determined, but may include educational programs and coordination with the leaders of cities along the FEC. Construction for the Brightline extension to Miami is expected to being later this year.
FDOT officials have confirmed that the state will review 27 rail crossings that have "skewed design concerns." The crossings were identified by the FRA and are located in Brevard, Indian River, St. Lucie and Martin counties.
A Brightline spokeswoman, in a statement Tuesday, said the railroad's crossing upgrades, "exceed the highest safety standards," and that the railroad "continues working with all agencies, FRA and FDOT, and local stakeholders, including the counties and cities in the Treasure Coast, on the grade-crossing improvements."
The effort to increase safety and educate the public in Florida about Brightline and rail crossings is even more important as a sixth person was injured after entering the Brightline right of way. The person suffered non-life-threatening injuries, and it has not been said yet if the safety gates were down as the individual attempted to cross the tracks.
Local police have said that in each of the previous five accidents, which include four fatalities, pedestrians attempted to cross the tracks as a Brightline train was approaching. In addition, Brightline’s safety features,specifically gates and lights that warn of an approaching train, were operating appropriately. Although the company’s safety features were working, Brightline is taking additional steps to help educate the community in the area. Steps include placing light-up signs at rail crossings and using safety ambassadors to talk with people in the communities about acting safely around railroad tracks.