Philly-Area Lawmakers Question WH Proposal; NTSB Releases Findings on Amtrak Accident; 3 MiamiCentral Tower Opens Ahead of Brightline; WV Looks At $4 Hike for MARC
February 23, 2018
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 share it with members. 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 them on the website, here. Please follow RPA on Facebook and Twitter to stay up to date on all things passenger rail.
The Rail Passengers Association is not alone in opposing the White House’s proposed infrastructure initiatives, which would gut Amtrak’s long-distance services by cutting $757 million from the annual Amtrak grant. Last week, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), a ranking member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and American Public Transportation Association (APTA) President Paul P. Skoutelas, added their names to the list of the those opposed to Trump’s plan.
Several lawmakers along the Northeast Corridor in the Philadelphia area also pushed back against the plan as it would cut $128 million from the federal subsidy that Amtrak receives for service in the NEC. Lawmakers are questioning the cuts following a deadly 2015 derailment at Frankford Junction in Port Richmond, PA. It clearly would have a negative impact on maintaining and increasing safety on Amtrak routes.
“We need intercity rail service that is safe as well as efficient,” Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) said. “When somebody gets on a train … they should be able to feel that they are going to come home safe and sound to their family.”
Central New Jersey Rep. Leonard Lance said that now is the time to invest in the country’s aging passenger rail network. “It’s important to the entire region — regardless of political party — and it’s an alternative to driving in automobiles, and it is environmentally sound.”
U.S. Rep. Ryan Costello (R-PA) said the administration needs to address maintenance and repairs on existing Amtrak lines, which will require additional federal support, not less.
“There’s over $20 billion in rehab projects just along the Northeast Corridor,” Costello said. “So, I mean, we start talking about passenger rail and new funding … the first thing we need to do is deal with existing rehabilitation projects before you lay a new line of track anywhere. The problem’s only going to become more acute and more expensive in time.”
Overall, the Administration contends that the money needed to operate the National Network after the cuts can come from the states served, but also suggests that devolving costs to the States, “is only one tool in the menu of options for reform the Administration will be exploring to improve the current system and reduce Federal subsidies in the Long Distance network.”
RPA is asking its members to take action immediately to stave off these draconian cuts to vital National Network services. RPA has set up an online tool to permit riders and members alike to let the White House know directly that they disagree with these proposed cuts.
Visit www.railpassengers.org/whitehousebudget to take action now!
A preliminary report from NTSB said a garbage truck ignored gates, flashing lights and bells, leading to a collision with an Amtrak train near Charlottesville, Virginia last month. Footage from the front-mounted camera of the train, which was carrying a Republican Congressional delegation, showed that the gates were down prior to and during the accident. In addition, the report said that, “witnesses to the crash reported that the refuse truck entered the crossing after the gates were down.”
“Based on the information provided by the NTSB, this unfortunate accident could have easily been prevented,” said RPA President Jim Mathews. “Educating the public on rail safety is important, as well as the general public understanding and respecting trains.”
The NTSB also confirmed that the Amtrak train, which was traveling through Crozet, VA, was traveling at 61 MPH when the engineer applied the brakes.
The NTSB said in the report that the agency continues to examine issues related to the highway–railroad grade crossing. Investigators are also coordinating additional passenger and witness interviews and continue to gather information related to motor carrier operations, rail operations, and driver and train crew experience. All aspects of the crash remain under investigation while the NTSB determines the probable cause, with the intent of issuing safety recommendations to prevent similar crashes.
Passenger and freight rail projects in New York are available for $26.5 million in state funding that can go towards the preservation and improvement of rail and port services.
Eligible projects include track and bridge rehabilitation; yard, terminal, and siding construction; elimination of clearance obstructions; wharf, dock, and bulkhead construction; dredging; and other projects to improve economic competitiveness.
The funding was announced by Governor Andrew Cuomo, who said in a press release, “This funding will improve rail safety and port infrastructure while also alleviating congestion on our roads and boosting economic activity and growth. These investments in our state's transportation network will help secure a stronger New York for all."
The funding is supplied through the Passenger and Freight Rail Assistance Program, which was included in the New York State Department of Transportation's (NYSDOT) $29 billion, five-year state transportation plan. NYSDOT will accept applications for the funding through April 27.
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
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 in the Capitol Visitors Center.
This is THE opportunity of the year for rail passenger advocates to have their voices heard directly by the decision makers on Capitol Hill. With drastic cuts being proposed for Amtrak and grant programs such as TIGER, it is VITAL that rail advocates make this year’s Summit and ‘Day on The Hill’ the largest event ever. We need to flood ‘The Hill’ with our message that passenger rail matters! Please join in this effort.
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 rooms are now SOLD-OUT! Regular market rate rooms are available at the Hilton and there is a list of other nearby hotels on the Event Page.
Downtown Miami is now home to 3 MiamiCentral, the first tower of a mixed-use project that is being developed around the city’s Brightline station. The building was developed by Florida East Coast Industries (FECI), and it includes 96,000 square feet of office space that is only a short walk from the Brightline train station.
“MiamiCentral is set to raise the bar for future office environments and 3 MiamiCentral is the first new standard,” said Daniel Quintana, VP of development for FECI. “From the variety of integrated transit options to the desired lifestyle offerings just one elevator ride from the offices, the built-in amenities that come with working at MiamiCentral are truly immeasurable.”
The building, which was designed by AECOM, is 12 stories and includes a seven-story parking garage that will be utilized both for the office building and Brightline passengers. FECI is also building 2 MiamiCentral, which will have 190,000 square feet of office space. Other buildings under construction in MiamiCentral will add 800 apartments and 180,000 square feet of retail.
The Brightline station also will be home to Central Fare, a 50,000-square-foot food hall that will open this spring in the MiamiCentral development. The dining area will feature 20 food vendors, including the restaurant Monger, run by brothers and “Top Chef” alums Bryan and Michael Voltaggio. In addition to Monger, other eateries opening their doors to area residents and Brightline passengers include the coffee shop Parliament, the pizzeria 800 Degrees, and the bakery Rosetta.
“What Florida East Coast Industries is developing around the Miami Brightline station is truly unique for the U.S.,” said RPA President Jim Mathews. “The station is setup to become a cultural hub for friends and family to live, gather, shop and eat. There will be more reasons to visit MiamiCentral than to just take the train and this development is setting a great example for other cities looking to build new transit stations.”
The New Hampshire Business for Rail Expansion coalition released a list of more than 100 state businesses and organizations that have given their support for a passenger rail line between Boston, MA and Manchester, NH. Supporters are from a variety of industries including real estate, education, fitness, design, food, and more.
The coalition is encouraging the state’s House Public Works and Highways Committee to support a $4-million analysis of the line, which is contained in a 2018 House Bill for the state’s 10-year transportation plan. The cost of the analysis would be covered through federal grants, and would review engineering, environmental and geotechnical requirements, along with a financial plan for expanding passenger rail between the two cities.
“Business leaders from across New Hampshire are calling on our elected officials to take a closer look at the benefits passenger rail could provide,” spokesperson E.J. Powers said in a press release. “Our coalition, representing a range of large and small businesses across multiple industries, are acutely aware of New Hampshire’s workforce and demographic challenges and believe rail expansion could be part of the solution. It is time for our legislators to hear the desires of the business community and act.”
West Virginia officials are considering a fare increase of $4 to help keep MARC passenger train service running. If the idea were to move forward, the fare hike would generate about $600,000 per year, though the overall amount requested from Maryland to keep the service running is $3.2 million. If a new contract between the two states is not reached, Maryland lawmakers have said MARC service to Martinsburg, Duffields and Harpers Ferry stations would stop, potentially as early as this summer.
In addition to the funds raised through the fare increase, West Virginia Department of Transportation Secretary Tom Smith said about $500,000 in funding has been identified in ongoing state budget negotiations. Smith said that the funding gap of $2.1 million could be supported in other ways, such as federal funding and private sector support.
Don’t Let MARC Commuter Service Disappear
We don’t want MARC service between Maryland and West Virginia 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
To improve safety at three grade crossings, Caltrain construction crews began installing new equipment for pedestrians on February 13. The safety equipment includes new pedestrian gate arms, as well as new guard rails and signage to channel pedestrians toward crosswalks. Caltrain workers are also installing roadway markers and bumps along the crosswalk so vehicles don't accidentally turn onto the tracks. The three crossing’s receiving safety updates are in Redwood City, CA - specifically near the Main Street crossing, the Whipple Avenue crossing, and the Broadway Street crossing. The Broadway project is to be completed by April, while the other two are scheduled for the end of July.
Catherine Rinaldi has been appointed the first woman president of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s (MTA) Metro-North Railroad. Rinaldi has been serving as the acting president for the railroad sine July 2017, and takes over for former Metro-North President Joseph Giulietti, who retired in August 2017.
"Cathy is the best person to continue to push forward the progress that Metro-North has made in renewing the railroad and enhancing the confidence of its customers," MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota said in a press release. "She brings 15 years of dedicated service to the MTA, a disarmingly calm management style, a razor-sharp intellect and an uncanny ability to break problems down into their component parts to quickly find a practical solution."
Rinaldi has several years of experience in passenger rail, having served as the MTA's general counsel from 2003 to 2007, and later as MTA Long Island Rail Road's general counsel. In 2011, Rinaldi became chief of staff for the MTA, a position she held until 2015.
Issues with New Jersey Transit continue after it was revealed that the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) found numerous safety risks associated with train cars during a 2016 audit. Through New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act, Bloomberg discovered several reports from the FRA that showed cars have defects that make at least one passenger car unsafe for use. Minor to severe risks included potential fires, faulty brakes, electrical hazards, misaligned foundation gear, and more.
Though the majority of the issues the FRA highlighted in 2016 have been corrected by NJ Transit, the problems persisted. From January 2017 to September 2017, the federal agency found 787 rule violations with trains and other NJ Transit property.
Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti, the acting New Jersey transportation commissioner and NJ Transit chairwoman, said NJ Transit and FRA regulators are working together on correcting the flaws within the transit system. NJ Transit also said that it has addressed many flaws identified by inspectors since that time.
$10,000 Sweepstakes for Education Underway
RPA kicked-off a new sweepstakes in February for college students who can use assistance paying for higher education. RPA understands that paying for college is not easy, and this is why the Association is offering one lucky student a chance to win $10,000 for the 2018-2019 school year.
To be eligible to win the sweepstakes, students can nominate themselves, or a student can be nominated by someone else - a friend or a parent for example. The only criteria is that the winning student must be enrolled in a U.S. accredited college 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 sweepstakes, please visit: www.crowdrise.com/rpascholarship. Nominations will close on April 26 at 11:59:59.
U.S. voters are split on if the federal government should increase the gas tax to help pay for infrastructure projects, such as rebuilding the country’s railways, bridges and roads. Based on a poll from Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, 46 percent of respondents said that raising the tax is a good idea, while 44 percent said it's a bad idea. When broken into political leanings, 48 percent of Republicans, 49 percent of Democrats and 46 percent of independents said that raising the tax would be helpful.
The idea of raising the gas tax, which has not been done since the 1990s, has received recent backing from President Trump, as well as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Despite recent support, the tax has received pushback from from conservative lawmakers and organizations.
The Quinnipiac poll was conducted from February 16-19 and surveyed 1,249 voters. The survey has a 3.4-percentage-point margin of error.
Southern California Residents who are looking to travel to Disneyland by Amtrak are eligible for a special offer. Amtrak and Disneyland have partnered together to offer people limited-time discounts on tickets for both the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner and entry to the resort.
“We are excited to partner with the Disneyland® Resort to offer enhanced savings not only on train travel, but on a quintessential SoCal experience,” Bryan MacDonald, chairman of the Los Angeles – San Diego – San Luis Obispo Rail Corridor Agency, which oversees the Pacific Surfliner service, said in a press release. “Through this partnership, we hope to make passenger rail service more accessible and approachable for Southern Californians, while also providing added value to our existing Pacific Surfliner customers.”
Details on the special deals, which will last through May 21, 2018, are available online at: http://pacificsurfliner.com/Disney.
Two forthcoming studies will look at the possibility of passenger rail and/or Hyperloop technology to connect the cities of Chicago, Columbus, and Pittsburgh. The studies are part of the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission’s (MORPC) Rapid-Speed Transportation Initiative (RSTI) that looks to bring rapid-speed transit to the region.
“We are excited to partner with leading public and private organizations on the future of rapid-speed transportation here in Central Ohio,” said MORPC Executive Director William Murdock in a press release. “Being in one of the fastest growing regions in the Midwest and with the potential to add up to one million people by 2050, we are taking the next steps in exploring the best transportation options for both passengers and freight that will better connect Columbus to Chicago and Pittsburgh.”
The first study will be a feasibility study on the use of Hyperloop technology between the cities, and the second study will be an environmental study. MORPC anticipates the total cost of the RSTI to reach approximately $2.5 million.
All Aboard Ohio welcomed the announcement in a press release. The group said the new studies will further the planning work that is currently taking place for a 110 MPH passenger rail line and the addition of Hyperloop will provide an alternative mode of transit for consideration. However, All Aboard Ohio said that Hyperloop is an unproven and unused technology, the benefits of it are unknown when compared to rail transit.
All Aboard Ohio Executive Director Ken Prendergast pointed out that some cities between Chicago, Columbus, and Pittsburgh may not be able to access the Hyperloop like they could rail.
“Because Hyperloop, if built, is unlikely to serve any cities between the major cities of Pittsburgh, Columbus, Fort Wayne and Chicago, it is important to also advance the planning for and development of proven, modern, high-performance passenger rail,” Prendergast said.
All Aboard Ohio said that passenger rail development brings with it, “station-area real estate development in major urban centers and small cities alike.” Officials pointed to rail programs and projects underway in the U.S., including Brightline in Florida, Amtrak’s Acela Express in the NEC, HSR being developed by Texas Central, and Amtrak’s higher-speed passenger services in the Midwest, California and Pacific Northwest. These systems are all models for Ohio to follow in the development of passenger rail.
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, March 24 - Iowa Association of Railroad Passengers - Grinnell, IA
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!
Caltrans and the San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority plan to be able to fully implement Positive Train Control (PTC) technology before the end of the year, in order to avoid any suspension of Amtrak service. The two organizations operate the San Joaquin corridor of Amtrak in the Central Valley of California, but concerns of service suspension were raised after Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson told the U.S. House Transportation committee service could be halted if not all operators outfit their tracks with PTC.
Anderson said there could be routes that don’t have the technology installed by the December 31 deadline, and, “for those segments, Amtrak will suspend operations.”
“For the San Joaquin lines, most of the equipment has been installed,” said Matt Rocco, with Caltrans. “We are very confident that this will be running at the beginning of next year.”
Following the testimony last week from Anderson, RPA President Jim Mathews said:
“We're in a place in this country where Amtrak may not feel comfortable operating on the nation's rail network. That should never have been allowed to happen. Shutting down parts of the passenger rail system over PTC implementation will in no way represent a safer transportation system for Americans. It will strip citizens of a transportation choice that a growing ridership warrants, and force them onto far more dangerous roads. Millions more who cannot drive will be left with no options at all.
Let's not lose sight of the important fact that rail -- even as it's configured today -- is at least 10 times safer than driving on the highway. Amtrak's National Network, state-supported corridors and Northeast Corridor services are still safe for passengers and will be made safer-still by full implementation of PTC.”
Passenger service in Vermont, however, may face service suspension based on Anderson’s comments, even though the Ethan Allen Express and the Vermonter are exempt from the federal mandate.
Anderson said during his testimony that, “for those instances, where we will not have PTC even after the 12/31 deadline because it's not required by statute, we have a question about whether we're going to operate at all, and I doubt we will.”
The decision to suspend service is still under consideration, and Amtrak assistant vice president for operations Chris Jagodzinski told affected states, including Vermont, that the company was launching a risk analysis of its 21,000 miles of routes, including those that fall outside the PTC mandate.
FrontRunner commuter rail service to Pleasant View, UT, which extends north of Salt Lake City, will end indefinitely in August due to the cost of implementing Positive Train Control (PTC). This stretch of service has the lowest ridership in the Utah Transit Authority system, and officials have said that implementing the life-saving technology is cost prohibitive.
“I think it’s fair to expect people to be disappointed,” Steve Meyer, UTA’s director of capital projects said. “We’re disappointed we haven’t been able to do better there.”
UTA said it is working on long-term plans that would see the acquisition of right-of-way so the Authority can build its own line north of Ogden to Pleasant View. The current tracks that the line operate on are owned by Union Pacific. However, the agency does not have a timeline established.
Officials with the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART) will award a contract next year for the last phase of development for the city’s light-rail system. Hart officials said they will be pursuing Public and Private Sector Partnerships (P-3s) to complete the last 4.1 miles of the line, as well as the last eight stations, known as the City Center segment. The guideway and station contract also will include the Pearl Highlands Transit Center and Garage, a contract worth up to 1.5 billion dollars.
HART CEO Andrew Robbins said the P-3s could eventually be used to help pay for future operations, maintenance and capital improvements for the rail line. The HART transit centers could mirror those in Asia, where transit stations have become activity centers to shop, eat and hang out.
HART officials named all nine light-rail stations on the Ewa side of Oahu. The names were provided by the Hawaiian Station Names Working Group, which is focused on creating Hawaiian names for the light-rail stations. Some of the names include Kualakai at the Kroc Center, Hoaeae in West Loch, Halaulani near Leeward Community college, Kalauao in Pearlridge and Halawa near Aloha Stadium. The names of the 12 remaining station will be made available later this year.
2018 ‘At-Large’ And Board Nominations Open
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. These positions are for two-year terms. Elections will be held at the Council's Annual Business Meeting on Wednesday, April 18, 2018 in Alexandria, VA. For more information on the ‘At-Large’ positions, including the duties, responsibilities and required qualifications, and to submit a self-nomination, go to: http://ow.ly/Yxzs30hxl4P.
Self-nominations are also now being sought from qualified members interested in being elected by the Council of Representatives 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. For information on Board Officer & Director positions, including the duties, responsibilities and required qualifications, and to submit a self-nomination, go to: http://ow.ly/LGSj30hxlaf.
The deadline to submit Candidate Information Statements is March 31, 2018.
County officials are pushing for new legislation that would provide $10 million for the planning of a light-rail line for Middlesex County in New Jersey. The idea of a light-rail line in New Brunswick, South Plainfield, Piscataway, and East Brunswick is nothing new. But, the effort to build the light-rail as an alternative to driving on the area’s busy Route 18 remains lacking. Even 40 years ago, transit studies showed that Route 18 would not meet the demands of the corridor, and that an additional local transit system would be required. The most recent effort to move the line forward came in 2001, when the Greater New Brunswick Area Corridor Study proposed a route that would run between park-and-ride stations at Piscataway and East Brunswick.
On the light-rail proposal, as well as transit services in New Jersey, Rutgers President Robert Barchi said in an Op-Ed to The Star Ledger, “A light rail linking key parts of Middlesex County has the potential to bring enormous improvements to our environment, our regional economy, and to the quality of life for the hundreds of thousands of commuters, workers, students and others who traverse the central Middlesex County corridors that include Route 18, Interstate 287 and countless county roads and bridges…
The new transportation capital plan is a good next step because the results of years of transit disinvestment are clear to all who seek to traverse the state, whether by road or rail. Traffic jams and gridlock contribute to air pollution as cars idle in endless delays. Trips that were once only a second thought are now major undertakings. Frustration abounds and tempers flare. The system that was once the envy of the nation is now an impediment to progress.”
As of now, plans for the $10-million study haven’t been finalized. The study is part of $166 million package the state Legislature is proposing to add to the Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) to fund infrastructure and transportation projects.