Rail Passengers’ President & CEO Jim Mathews Defends Rail in CATO Institute Debate; One Week Until RailNation Miami; Amtrak Employees Protest At NYC Penn Station; Hurricane Michael Disrupts Florida Service; MTA Launches Transit Tech Lab; Brightline Finalizes Bids for Miami-Orlando
October 12, 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.
Rail Passengers Association President Jim Mathews aggressively defended the need for intercity passenger rail during a CATO Institute debate this week in Washington, DC, citing demographic trends that point to the need for more trains, not fewer.
In the debate, Mathews countered author and Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute, Randal O’Toole. The debate--dubbed “Romance of the Rails: Why the Passenger Trains We Love Are Not the Transportation We Need”--was named for O’Toole’s book, in which he says that he loves passenger trains, but that cars, buses and airplanes should replace them, in much the same way as telephones replaced the telegram.
O’Toole’s book “posits an interesting baseline of a free-market transportation system, and uses it to suggest that as a result we no longer need passenger rail,” Mathews said. But, he declared, “that baseline simply doesn’t exist.”
From massive highway trust fund subsidies to more subtle supports, such as localities by code requiring developers to build $24,000 parking spaces, automotive transportation is in fact subsidized and regulated in myriad ways. O’Toole points to an America in which toll lanes replace all gas taxes, congestion pricing regulates traffic, and there are no zoning requirements for housing or parking.
“In real life, people want to have a say over what their communities look like and how they’re able to move around them, and not just the parts that they personally use,” Mathews said.
He also made the case that we invest in passenger rail because it generates economic and social benefits, helping America achieve crucial national goals such as enabling mobility in crowded metropolitan areas, ensuring the mobility of America’s booming senior population and ensuring a base level of prosperity for rural areas.
“There are certain things that we’ve just agreed we want to pay for, together, so that we can have a community, a state, a Nation,” Mathews said. “Do you think the folks in Florida’s Panhandle today are glad that we have a National Weather Service. Yes, they are. We all benefit from dams, bridges, air traffic control, a strong military, a [Centers for Disease Control] to fight pandemic diseases, and yes, passenger rail.”
In addition, Mathews pointed out that the reason for a service like Amtrak is not to connect cities like Chicago and Seattle, but to connect people to smaller communities along the entire route, like Whitefish, MT and Minot, ND, which do not have connectivity through bus or airplane service.
Others to participate in the debate included Art Guzzetti, Vice President of Policy, American Public Transportation Association and Marc Scribner, Senior Fellow, Competitive Enterprise Institute.
To watch to the full debate from the CATO Institute, please visit CATO online. The CATO Institute is a libertarian think tank in Washington, D.C. that was founded as the Charles Koch Foundation in 1974.
Even More Great Speakers Recently Added To The RailNation Miami Line-Up!
- Stephen Gardner, Amtrak’s Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer, will address attendees at lunch on Saturday.
- Former Amtrak Presidents Joe Boardman (in person) and David Gunn (via video), will be joined by Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis (via video) and Trains Magazine Columnist Fred Frailey (via video) in a fireside chat Friday evening, moderated by Jim Mathews.
WE HAVE A GREAT PROGRAM WAITING FOR YOU...YOU SHOULD BE THERE!
There’s still time to make plans to attend RPA’s RailNation Miami 2018 Advocacy Symposium & Meeting in Miami, FL, Friday, October 19 through Sunday, October 21 at the Hyatt Regency in Downtown Miami.
RailNation Miami Registration Is Open! Special pricing is available for one-day passes for this exciting program you won’t want to miss. On-line advance registration closes Thursday, October 18. Higher rates will apply if you register on-site!
This is your opportunity to gather with rail advocates from across the country to learn how you can best make an active difference in your local community. You will hear from an impressive lineup of rail advocacy and industry experts, including:
- Friday, October 19 - 6:30pm - 8:00pm
- A Fireside Chat with former Amtrak Presidents Joe Boardman (in person) and David Gunn (via video), who will be joined by Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis (via video) and Trains Magazine Columnist Fred Frailey (via video). Jim Mathews will moderate this session, which will explore the future of Amtrak and U.S. passenger rail from the perspective of the panelists. Don’t miss this opportunity to hear their unique perspectives on the future of Amtrak. Can’t make the entire RailNation event? Individual tickets are NOW available for this special Friday evening session!
- Saturday, October 20
- Former Federal Railroad Administration Administrator and Amtrak President Joe Boardman will kick-off the day’s program at 8:30am with a look at railroad safety; past, present and tomorrow. With the year-end deadline for PTC installation approaching, Joe’s comments are sure to be informative and timely.
- Other Saturday sessions include:
- ‘Why The Swiss Can Build Big Projects Cheap And We Can’t…’, (9:50am - 11:10am) moderated by RPA’s Sean Jeans-Gail with panelists Gene Skoropowski, noted U.S. passenger rail project authority; Marie Corado, Amtrak’s Senior Director for the Gateway Project, and Ken Sislak, AECOM’s VP - Manager Transit and Rail Planning. Panelists will discuss why major infrastructure projects cost so much in the U.S. and will delve into possible ways to overcome these mind-numbing estimates.
- ‘How To Pay For Infrastructure; Unlocking The Value Of Real Estate’ (9:50am - 11:10am) moderated by RPA’s James Zumwalt with panelists Albert Hernandez, Assistant Director of Planning and Development for Miami-Dade Transit and Jose Gonzalez, Senior VP of Business Development for Florida East Coast Industries. The panel will look at the often untapped potential of increased real estate values surrounding planned transit hubs as a means of leveraging project funding.
- ‘RPA’s Envisioning Of The Future Of The U.S. Rail Network’ (9:50am - 11:10am) led by Jim Mathews, will explore what current and future travelers need and desire in a truly ‘Connected America’ transportation network. The session will look at the potential for new routes and other services between the growing regions of the country. This is an INTERACTIVE session, designed to begin gathering input from RPA members and RailNation attendees. RailPassengers will use this input to form advice on rail policy to the DOT, the Federal Railroad Administration AND to Amtrak itself. We need to hear from you!
- ‘Passenger on Freight - How To Address The Challenge’ (11:20am - 12:20pm) moderated by RPA Chairman Peter LeCody, with panelists Patrick Goddard, President/CEO Brightline; Gene Skoropowski of Brightline and Jay Westbrook (invited), General Manager - Florida Dispatch Company. The session will discuss passenger trains running on freight tracks and how both can work together to provide reliable and safe service.
- Stephen Gardner, Amtrak’s Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer, is the Lunch Keynote Speaker
- ‘The Next Opportunity & Challenge; Amtrak's Upcoming Re-Authorization’ (2:15pm - 3:35pm) moderated by RPA’s Sean Jeans-Gail with panelists Art Guzzetti, Vice-President Policy at the American Public Transportation Association and Rick Harnish, Executive Director of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association. The panel will examine the opportunities to codify Amtrak’s National Network into law as part of the upcoming reauthorization.
- ‘Introducing RPA's Station Host Volunteer Program’ (2:15pm - 3:350pm) moderated by RPA’s Carolyn Cokley with panelists Patrick Kidd of Amtrak’s Corporate Communications Department and Bryan Swyer (invited), Amtrak’s Southeast Region District Station Manager. With Amtrak’s continued reduction in staffed stations, RPA is stepping up to the plate to coordinate Station Host Volunteer Programs across the country. Learn how you can get involved in your local area.
- ‘South Florida’s First Mile/Last Challenge’ (2:00pm - 3:45pm) panel moderated by RPA’s Joe Aiello will explore how new innovative services and technologies can bridge the gap in the public transit network.
- ‘SmartCohort’ Pre-Transportation Camp’ (3:50pm - 4:45pm) will be a warm-up session for January 2019’s all-day Transportation Camp conference.
- Of special note is The Jim Hamre Scholarship Fund Benefit Reception on Saturday evening (6:30pm - 8:30pm) at the MiamiCentral Station complex.
- Sunday, October 22
- RPA Council Business Meeting (8:30am - 9:45am)
- ‘Take Me Out To The Ballpark with RPA’s Summer By Rail 2018’ (10:10am - 11:30am) session moderated by RPA’s Mark Colucci will introduce you to Jacob Wallace, our SBR intern who traveled to 19 baseball games across the country, all by rail! Jacob will describe his great experiences spreading the word on the importance of a national rail network.
- ‘The Passenger Experience’ (10:10am - 11:30am) Board Vice-Chair David Randall will lead a highly interactive session looking at what services, amenities, facilities and equipment are important to passengers. Come prepared to share your views!
Don’t miss out on the optional chartered Brightline Round Trip from Miami to West Palm Beach on Friday afternoon. Tours of the Brightline MiamiCentral Station will start at 1:15pm, followed by boarding the train at 2:00pm. Brightline representatives will be on board to describe the service and the Siemens-built train sets. Lite snacks and beverages will be served during on the train. The trip returns to MiamiCentral at 5:15pm. Advance reservations are required NO later than Wednesday, October 16! NO on-site tickets will be sold!
Detailed agenda, programming and speaker information is now available and is being updated regularly as additional details are confirmed! Discounted $179.00 per night group-rate room reservations at the Hyatt may still be available via this link. The Hyatt has just made some last-minute rooms available to us, but discounted room supply is very limited and may be closed off at anytime. Book now!
More than 100 Amtrak employees and union leaders rallied in at New York Penn Station to protest changes that they believe could lead to significant layoffs at Amtrak and loss of food service and amenities for passengers on trains. The labor group gathered to voice its opposition to an estimated 1,700 job losses among Amtrak staff working in food service on trains, such as Amtrak chefs.
A survey of Rail Passengers Association Council members from June 2018, showed that 97 percent of riders do not support downgrading food services on trains, and the Association has repeatedly confronted Amtrak with the perception among riders that services are being eroded. Rail Passengers’ position continues to be that any experiments or changes in food-service designed to cope with the congressional mandate for break-even food-and-beverage service should benefit the passenger rather than degrade their experience.
In an interview with The New York Post, Transport Workers Union International President John Samuelsen accused Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson of engaging in “a slash-and-burn management plan. He’s looking to dump 1,700 workers who provide Amtrak riders a vital service — hot food service — that they pay dearly for.”
Rail Passengers Association CEO Jim Mathews sought a series of meetings with Amtrak managers and leaders, who all point to long-term goals to improve food service and other amenities on board trains, especially those running more than a single overnight.
Amtrak began making changes to its food service in June on the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited. When the change from Amtrak was first announced, the Rail Passengers Association’s Council Members took part in a survey on customer service issues at Amtrak, including meal service. The results showed that 97 percent do not support downgrading food service on Amtrak overnight trains.
A recent Amtrak Inspector General report fueled worries about layoffs when it said one of the most pressing challenges Amtrak faces in the coming fiscal year is cutting costs on long-distance routes.
“Whether from the IG, the Administration or political leaders, we need to debunk this inaccurate idea that long-distance routes should make money,” Mathews said. “Taxpayer-supported Amtrak was created in 1971 to serve communities that could not be served profitably by private railroads back then. If these routes were profitable, then we wouldn't have the need for Amtrak in the first place.”
In regards to the layoffs, Amtrak spokesman Jason Abrams said that 14 Amtrak chef positions have been eliminated recently. Abrams also said, “At this time, all who have sought a new position at Amtrak has landed one. We will continue to evaluate impacts to determine staffing levels.”
Amtrak is awaiting responses in the next week or so to a Request for Information (RFI) it published to vendors on seeking information on potential transformational service models and industry best practices for managing Amtrak’s diverse food & beverage services.
“Amtrak is interested in exploring unique offerings that have a value-added proposition for the passenger while controlling expenses for the corporation,” Amtrak said.
It went on: “In identifying new service delivery model(s) and best practices, there are several important considerations, including the following:
- The proposed models/practices should be transformational for Amtrak
- The proposed models/practices should offer different levels of travel to include luxury options that are similar to the Rocky Mountaineer in Canada and Via Rails “Canadian” and European luxury trains such as: Golden Eagle (Moscow to Vladivostok), Golden Eagle Danube Express (Budapest, Prague & Sarajevo), Venice Simplon-Orient Express (Paris to Istanbul), Belmond Royal Scotsman (England, Scotland and Wales), Belmond Grand Hibernian (Ireland’s first luxury overnight train service);
- Best practices used in transportation and/or other relevant sectors such as: technology, processes, product, equipment, brand management strategy, etc.
Amtrak is reviewing its current service model...to identify opportunities to increase revenue and control costs. In doing so, Amtrak wishes to explore alternative service models and industry best practices that could be implemented for existing onboard food and beverage service. Amtrak is interested in learning how respondents might address food and beverage service onboard all trains through examples of similar services offered elsewhere or new and innovative approaches that might fit Amtrak’s environment. Interested respondents should provide their vision and examples of industry best practices to transform and reshape all services on board Amtrak trains.”
Before Hurricane Michael made landfall in the U.S. on October 10, Amtrak modified its passenger rail service to Florida. The storm has currently weakened after making it’s way from the Florida panhandle to the Carolinas, but it left severe destruction in its wake - flooding, property damage, and at least seven deaths.
Due to the storm, Amtrak modified schedules for the Silver Star and the Palmetto. The changes in service include:
- As of Wednesday, October 10, the Silver Star (New York – Miami) 91 & 92 will operate from Miami to Jacksonville. No alternate transportation will be provided between Jacksonville to New York.
- As of Thursday, October 11, the Palmetto (New York to Savannah, Ga.) 89 & 90 will operate between New York and Washington, D.C. No alternate transportation will be provided between Washington, D.C., to Savannah.
“This is the second major hurricane of 2018 to directly hit the U.S., and we hope that everyone in affected areas are remaining safe following the storm’s passing,” said Rail Passengers President Jim Mathews. “We will continue to keep an eye on updates on tracks and Amtrak service, and alert members as soon as we can about when service will resume in affected areas.”
Amtrak officials said that the railroad will gladly waive additional charges for customers looking to change their reservation during the modified schedule by calling our reservation center at 800-USA-RAIL.
New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) is interested in how startup tech companies and tech entrepreneurs can help modernize public transit and solve transit challenges through the first-ever Transit Tech Lab. MTA officials launched the lab and posed two challenges to tech companies: develop a new way to better predict MTA subway incident impacts and find a new way to provide faster and more efficient MTA bus service. In addressing these challenges, MTA officials hope that it can improve the customer service and the reliability of its transit services.
“The MTA is committed to exploring every avenue to ensure that we modernize our system for the next generation of riders,” MTA President Pat Foye said in a press release. “We look forward to working closely with the Partnership and making sure we’re doing everything in our power to embrace the sort of innovation that will move this organization forward. The entire MTA leadership team is deeply committed to incorporating new technologies throughout the system and I am excited about this new initiative.”
In regards to improving subway service, the lab is interested in new technology that can predict how long a subway delay will last. It also wants to be able to determine how long a delay will affect other trains and lines throughout the subway system. Potential technologies to solve the challenge could analyze historical subway data to find patterns to predict future disruptions, and provide tools to immediately communicate disruptions with riders.
MTA specialists and private sector experts will review the proposals submitted to the Transit Tech Lab. If the proposal is approved, companies will participate in an eight-week program starting in February 2019. The program will allow participants to test and revamp their technologies in order to meet the MTA’s transit needs. After the eight-week program, the MTA will select companies for a 12-month unpaid pilot on its transit system.
The City Council of Fort Pierce, FL approved a letter of support for the development of a proposed train station that would bring Brightline passenger service to the area. Council members said that the higher-speed rail line would provide a benefit to residents while also boosting the local Treasure Coast economy.
The letter of support comes following Brightline’s request for proposals to several cities along the Treasure Coast portion of the train’s route, which runs on the Florida East Coast Railway tracks. Other cities that were asked if they wanted to submit a proposal for a station, as well as cities that have strong community support, include Sebastian, Stuart and Vero Beach. As of September, Vero Beach officials said they're uninterested, Sebastian is undecided and Stuart has expressed some interest recently, though there has been opposition to Brightline in the past. Cities have until October 26 to submit a proposal.
Despite the support from the City Council, Mayor Greg Oravec said there is no viable location for a Brightline station within a developable area of the city. Oravec said that the only possible location is “away from the population center” and “it's not in the city proper."
Share Your Photos, Win Amtrak Guest Reward Points© and RPA Giveaways
We are asking members, friends and family, and the general train-riding public to share their #ViewsFromATrain on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Prizes include Amtrak Guest Rewards Points© and RPA giveaways.
Just use the hashtag #RailPassengers or #ViewsFromATrain and tag @RailPassengers to show us what you see outside your window.
The pictures should be your own, and should depict what you see outside your train window, whether it’s a photo of countryside, oceans, forests or cities. People who submit photos will have an opportunity to win a variety of great prizes, including 10,000 Amtrak Guest Rewards® Points.
So, if you have taken a train this summer and captured some great photos, or maybe you plan to take a trip this fall, we would love to see them, share them and give you an amazing prize.
Florida's SunRail conducted extensive testing for its positive train control (PTC) system last weekend. The testing was conducted between Sanford and Winter Park, and it included uphill and downhill brake tests at defined speeds and grades to verify braking performance. The test train was made up of two locomotives, four coaches, and one cab car to simulate a fully-weighted SunRail passenger train.
SunRail officials said that the data obtained during the tests will be programmed into the railroad's PTC system, which will be implemented along a 13-mile stretch by year's end. Full implementation on SunRail's entire 61.5-mile corridor is expected in late 2019.
Caltrain could provide service to more than 240,000 passengers daily by the year 2040, based on the agency’s most recent Caltrain Business Plan. This represents a 300 percent increase in passengers - up from the agency’s current ridership of 65,000 daily passengers. The growth projections were shared with the Caltrain Board of Directors as part of an update to the plan, although it is not yet completed. The estimates “were part of an unconstrained assessment of the market for rail service along the Caltrain corridor.”
Caltrain officials also said in a press release that the railroad has seen significant growth in ridership over the past 10 years. On average, the agency has seen a growth of six percent per year. Due to the growth, Caltrain officials are undertaking new projects and ideas to meet the growing demand, which includes its electrification efforts. Electrification of the route will allow the agency to provide the necessarily transformative increases in capacity, better travel times, and drastically improved service frequency when electric trains commence service in 2022.
Caltrain officials will continue to develop the business plan, which will eventually include long-range opportunities for Caltrain to integrate regional rail service. The plan will also outline specific targets for service and capacity growth.
RPA Members’ Online Forum Now Open!
Rail Passengers Association has a forum for members on Google Groups. Members can share their gripes and their applause, and trade information on the latest passenger rail-related issues.
Click THIS LINK to sign up. It's free and open to the public, but users must join the group before they are able to post messages.
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy plans to restore commuters’ faith in NJ Transit following the release of an audit of the transportation system that highlights several weak points. Areas that need to be improved are well-known to NJ Transit riders, but include:
- Severe underfunding for repairs, maintenance and new equipment;
- Low employee morale;
- Constant delays, cancellations and overcrowded trains; and
- Rider dissatisfaction as a result of these issues.
North Highland Worldwide Consulting, which conducted the audit, also found that NJ Transit officials do not have a strategic plan to alleviate the aforementioned issues. Nor does the agency have a plan to manage its inventory of assets, which includes more than $5 billion invested in buses, locomotives, rail cars, stations, and infrastructure.
Auditors also said that a lack of funding during former Governor Chris Christie’s two terms forced NJ Transit officials to move funds meant for maintenance of tracks and equipment to the day-to-day railroad operations. This created a $900 million reduction in the value of NJ Transit’s capital assets.
“Despite New Jersey’s location and our population density, we have continually failed to get mass transit right, something that has limited our economic growth for far too long,” Governor Murphy said in a press release. “This audit is a critical step toward rebuilding NJ Transit into once again being an agency our residents can count on for safe, reliable, on-time service.”
The $1.3 million audit was ordered by Murphy shortly after he was elected this year, and it also included several recommendations that the governor plans to implement moving forward. Two major recommendations provided in the audit included the creation of an “Office of Strategic Planning to create a leadership vision that restores NJ Transit to a leadership position in the industry and to improve communication with customers, as well as developing a technology roadmap to better implement infrastructure across all levels of the organization.”
Other recommendations focused on:
- Streamlining organizational structure;
- Improving recruitment practices;
- Enhancing the procurement structure;
- Improving asset management;
- Finding more reliable funding;
- Improving Communications; and
- Improving Physical Infrastructure.
The full report can be viewed online here.
In the meantime, New Jersey Transit officials plan to shutdown Dinky train service for at least three months beginning October 14, but citizen group Save the Dinky has requested that the agency reconsider the decision. Save the Dinky President Anita Garoniak wrote to New Jersey Transit Executive Director Kevin Corbett and asked for the Dinky to continue its vital passenger service and benefit to the local economy and students in Princeton.
Garoniak wrote in the letter that “Dinky service is an economic lifeline for Princeton and the region. The service that the Princeton Branch performs for commuters, occasional users and students is a critical feature of our community’s commitment to sustainable transit and to support for mobility options that reduce reliance on the automobile.”
NJ Transit is planning to shut down the line in order to use Dinky equipment and personnel to help with positive train control installation on other parts of the system. In the push to keep the line up and running, nearly 600 people have signed an online petition that calls on NJ Transit to do away with its plans.
California’s Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) introduced its new earthquake early warning alert system, ShakeAlert 2.0. The new technology, which is equipped throughout the BART rail system will provide an advance warning of an earthquake in order for BART trains to either slow down or stop completely. ShakeAlert 2.0 can provide trains with an advance warning that the ground is shaking up to tens of seconds before major seismic activity reaches the train.
To kick-off use of the warning system, BART officials hosted a demonstration that saw trains slow to 27 mph during a test warning. Stations and trains also broadcasted an alert to passengers in a simulation of BART's response to a real ShakeAlert warning.
Seismologists who are familiar with the technology said that it is one of the most sophisticated earthquake alert systems in the world, and can help protect millions of people. The system was developed by the the U.S. Geological Survey, University of California-Berkeley, California Institute of Technology, University of Washington and University of Oregon in partnership with the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services.
New Discounts Add Value to Your RPA Membership!
Whether you are from Bakersfield, Bismarck or Boston, Rail Passengers and MemberDeals have you covered! Wherever you live, work or travel, MemberDeals has discounts available for all RPA members.
RPA’s new partnership with MemberDeals will give members access to exclusive savings on movie tickets, theme parks, hotels, rental cars, tours, Broadway and Vegas shows & more through the members only area of the RPA website. Be sure to check back often as new products and discounts are constantly being added! You must be a member in good standing and be logged in to the RPA website to have access to these internet only discounts.
Brightline officials finalized bids from three contractors for the construction of a higher-speed rail line between Miami and Orlando. The line will require tracks to be laid between Orlando International Airport and Brightline’s tracks in Cocoa. The new line will be built in sections, and each section will be under a specific contractor.
In August All Aboard Florida, the parent company of Brightline, received approval from the state board to issue $1.75 billion in federal tax-exempt bonds for the private railroad, including development of the Miami-to-Orlando route. State and local officials had raised concerns about Brightline trains running through communities, but several Central Florida officials, as well as the Florida Chamber of Commerce and other business-lobbying groups see Brightline as a major benefit to the state. Brightline can be used as an alternative form of transportation from South Florida that could complement the SunRail commuter system in Orlando.
“Brightline is a model of high-quality passenger rail service,” said Rail Passengers Association President Jim Mathews. “It is setting a great example of how a private railroad can transform a region.”
Brightline officials expect that passenger service on the new route is will begin sometime in 2021.
In Denver, Regional Transportation District (RTD) officials are threatening to end its contract with Denver Transit Partners (DTP), the company that built and operates Denver's commuter rail lines. RTD said in a letter to the company that it will terminate its contract unless Denver Transit Partners corrects safety issues that are specific to the the A-Line to the airport, B-Line to Westminster, and G-Line to Arvada. RTD asked that the company correct the issues within 30 days or present a plan to fix them within 20 days.
The lines mentioned above dealt with numerous issues with safety gates at multiple crossings over the past two years. For example, the A Line gates had timing issues caused by difficulties trying to integrate a wireless signaling system with federally mandated positive train control equipment. The A-Line and B-Line were able to operate under a waiver from the Federal Railroad Administration, but the G-Line remained closed to passenger service until the crossing gate issues on the other two lines were resolved. The G-Line was supposed to launch revenue service two years ago.
Despite the recent letter, RTD and DTP officials say that service will continue as normal and uninterrupted over the next 30 days. RTD’s contract with DTP is worth $2.2 billion.
Join Us for Our RailNation “Beer & Transit” Kick-Off
When: October 18th from 6:30 to 8:30pm
Where: Fado Irish Pub at Mary Brickell Village in Miami
What: "Beer & Transit" is a great networking event for young professionals and public transportation advocates to come share their ideas and interests in the industry. Since it will be held prior to RailNation in Miami, it will see people from all over the country who have a vested interest in advancing passenger rail in the U.S.
In addition, you will have an opportunity to listen to and speak with our guest speaker, Michael Caballero. Michael is the Quality and Process Improvement Engineer at FedEx and Chief People Officer at #SmartMiami. He is on the regional board of the United States Green Building Council, a Miami Foundation Fellow, Greenbiz 30 Under 30, and University of Miami 30 Under 30 Alumni. He received his bachelors and masters in Industrial Engineering from University of Miami..
Who: Hosted by the Rail Passengers Association
The event is being sponsored by Uber. Additional information and tickets are available at www.eventbrite.com/e/rail-nation-miami-tickets-50499623734
Passengers will be able to ride the TECO Line heritage streetcar in Tampa, FL for free for the next three years thanks to a $2.67 million grant from the Florida Department of Transportation. With reception of the grant, the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART), which operates the streetcar, has eliminated the $2.50 fare. In addition, HART officials are expanding service by increasing hours and frequency. On weekdays between 7am and 7pm, service frequency will increase from every 20 minutes to every 15 minutes.
HART also has plans to extend the streetcar system into downtown and surrounding neighborhoods.
Cost and implementation of positive train control (PTC) is one of the main challenges that transit agencies said they are currently facing in a new report from Progressive Railroading. Other issues that agencies said they are facing include federal funding uncertainty, the age of current fleets and infrastructure, construction costs, declines in ridership, and attracting a younger workforce.
Progressive Railroading surveyed public transit leaders across the nation to develop the report, titled “Passenger Rail at a Glance.” Many of the issues listed above were also listed in past years, but PTC rose to the top this year as the December 31, 2018 deadline is nearing fast.
For a full list of agencies and the challenges they face, please see the 2018 edition of Progressive Railroading’s “Passenger Rail at a Glance” report online.
Upcoming Regional Rail Passenger & State Association Member Meetings and Other Events:
- Friday, October 12 - Kansas – Oklahoma Passenger Rail Summit - Topeka, KS
- Monday, October 15 - Toledo Ohio Rail Forum - Toledo, OH
- Saturday, October 20 - All Aboard Ohio 2018 Fall Meeting - Lima, OH
- Saturday, October 27 - Wisconsin Association of Railroad Passengers Fall Meeting - Pewaukee, WI
- Monday, November 5 - Rhode Island Association of Railroad Passengers Fall Meeting - Warwick, RI
- Thursday, November 8 - Vermont Rail Action Network Annual Dinner - Montpelier, VT
- Saturday, November 17 - Association of Oregon Rail & Transit Advocates (AORTA) Annual Meeting - Salem, OR
- Saturday, November 17 - All Aboard Minnesota Fall Membership Meeting - Bloomington, MN
- Friday, December 14 - TrainRiders NE 30th Annual Meeting & Lunch - Portland, ME
Please contact Bruce Becker to have a state or regional event or meeting added to the RPA calendar of upcoming events!
In a testimony before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation on positive train control (PTC) last week, Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) Administrator Ronald Batory said that the federal agency is nearly complete with a final environmental impact statement (EIS) for a new Hudson River tunnel. Stepping away from PTC, Batory was asked by U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) when the FRA would be complete with the environmental review.
Batory said the FRA is “in the final chapters of meeting the final EIS,” and that he thinks the Committee “could see something forthcoming in the first- or second- quarter of next year."
When pressed further, Batory said he would provide additional specifics on a timeframe for the EIS in writing.
The tunnel is a major aspect of Amtrak’s Gateway program, which includes replacing the current tunnel. The tunnel, which connects New York and New Jersey, experienced significant damage following Superstorm Sandy in 2012. The Gateway program also involves replacing the North Portal Bridge in New Jersey.
If elected as the new governor of California, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom said he will continue to move forward with the state’s high-speed rail project, but will plan to scale it back. Newsom said his focus will be on the completion of the line from the San Joaquin Valley to the San Francisco Bay Area, while the segment from the valley to Los Angeles will be delayed until the initial line proves to be financially feasible and can attract more money from taxpayers or private investors.
Newsom said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times that the plan for HSR in the state a few years ago was “unrealistic and we weren’t being honest and transparent about the project.”
He also said that he is optimistic that the line from the San Joaquin Valley to Silicon Valley can be built, and provide tech workers with affordable living along the route. Newsom said that critics have it wrong when they say it’s a train to nowhere.
“It’s not a train to nowhere,” Newsom said in the Times interview. “It’s insulting to suggest the Central Valley is nowhere. This is an economic development project, connecting the fastest growing and most dynamic economic regions in the country. That project is achievable and realistic.”
Newsom’s opponent for governor, Republican businessman John Cox, has said he would kill the high-speed rail project.
Passenger Rail Service Notices
Current and upcoming service notifications that could affect affect upcoming train travel include:
Night and Weekend Rail Work Planned for COASTER and Amtrak Pacific Surfliner
Over the next two weekends, all COASTER and Amtrak Pacific Surfliner services along the San Diego segment of the Los Angeles-San Diego- San Luis Obispo (LOSSAN) coastal rail corridor will be suspended due to a planned Absolute Work Window (AWW). The first of the two planned AWWs for the month of October will be in place this Saturday, October 13, through Monday, October 15.
- AWWs are select weekends that allow for crews to meet significant construction milestones and work unimpeded while all rail services are halted.
- No passenger or freight trains will run through the corridor between early Saturday morning and early Monday morning.
- Regular passenger rail service will resume in time for the Monday morning commute.
Amtrak is preparing to accommodate a surge in travelers for Thanksgiving.
Amtrak is prepared to operate every available passenger railcar in its fleet. This means Amtrak is adding extra trains for more seating on the Northeast Corridor (NEC) and Midwest routes, and is adding extra cars to existing trains along the West Coast.
- On the NEC, Amtrak Acela Express and Northeast Regional trains will operate full and extended schedules with additional frequencies and added capacity during the Thanksgiving week.
- Additional NEC trains, including the Keystone (New York – Harrisburg), will require reservations in advance of travel.
- Hiawatha trains will also require reservations between Nov. 20 and Nov. 25.
- Additional capacity will be added to the Capitol Corridor, San Joaquins and Pacific Surfliner routes.
- During the holiday period, the Pacific Surfliner service will also require reservations between Nov. 21 and Nov. 25.
- The San Joaquins train will require reservations between Nov. 18 and Nov. 26.
International railway company Renfe has been selected by Texas Central to operate the proposed high-speed rail line between Dallas and Houston. Renfe, based in Spain, has significant experience in operating passenger rail systems across the world, as well as freight rail systems. Renfe currently runs 5,000 trains daily on 7,500 miles of track globally. In Spain, Renfe provided service for more than 487 million passengers and 19.6 million tons of freight in 2017.
“After an intense review of the world’s best railroad operators, we were proud to select Renfe as the operator for the Texas Central Railroad. Renfe has established a reputation for excellence in railroad operation in Spain and across the world, and we welcome them aboard,” said Texas Central CEO Carlos Aguilar. “With their decades of expertise, they were a natural fit to join our other partners. Having the operator, the design build and technology teams all on board and able to collaborate will ensure all aspects of the railroad are integrated and efficient. The combination of these best-in-class global experts sets the foundation for the new jobs-creating industry we are bringing to Texas.”
Under the contract with Texas Central, Renfe’s responsibilities include providing technical advice on the design and construction the HSR line, and assist in the further development of Texas Central's operation and maintenance plans. Renfe will also run the trains; maintain system components, such as the engines, signals and other equipment; and oversee ticketing, passenger loyalty programs and other services.
Openings Available For RPA State Council Representatives
The following vacancies now exist for state representatives on the RPA Council of Representatives: Alabama (1 opening); California (6 openings); Idaho (1 opening); Illinois (1 opening); Louisiana (1 opening); Massachusetts (1 opening); Minnesota (1 opening); North Dakota (1 opening); Ohio (2 openings); Pennsylvania (1 opening); Washington State (1 opening); Wyoming (1 opening)
If you are interested in becoming more involved in passenger rail advocacy and serving in a RPA leadership role, this is your opportunity to be considered for an appointment by the Board of Directors to an open state representative seat. There is no deadline to apply and submissions will be considered on a rolling basis as they are received.
Please review the position responsibilities & required qualifications and complete & submit a Candidate Information Statement if you would like to seek a position.