Hotline #1,093

Thanksgiving Edition; Amtrak Urges Travelers to Arrive Early; Amtrak Announces Black Friday Sale; FRA Issues Final Rule for High-Speed Rail Safety Standards; FTA Funds Sound Transit Light-Rail Extension; Brightline Becomes Virgin Trains USA; Holiday Schedules are Announced; and North Carolina DOT announces “Mobi Awards”

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, bbrady@xenophonstrategies.com, 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.

With the Thanksgiving holiday tomorrow, we’re providing you with an early edition of the weekly Hotline. We hope you have a safe, enjoyable and delicious Thanksgiving with friends and family. The RPA DC office will be CLOSED for the holiday on Thursday November 22nd through Friday, November 23rd. The next Hotline will be posted on Friday, November 30.


Amtrak urges Thanksgiving travelers to arrive 45 minutes early, to clearly label their luggage, and to pre-purchase tickets -- especially for Sunday, the busiest travel day of the year.

If you’re planning for a trip after Thanksgiving, this Friday might be the best day to purchase an Amtrak ticket. Amtrak plans to bring back its Black Friday sale, offering significant discounts of up to 30 percent on train trips nationwide.

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) issued a final rule establishing modern, performance-based safety standards for railroad passenger equipment.

The rule defines a new category of high-speed rail operations and makes it possible for high-speed rail to utilize existing infrastructure, saving the expense of building new rail lines. ‘Tier III’ passenger trains can operate over shared track at conventional speeds where necessary, and then as fast as 220 mph on segments of exclusive high-speed right-of-way, which are fully grade separated.

It also establishes minimum safety standards for these trains, focusing on core, structural, and critical system design criteria. FRA estimates that the rule will improve safety because of expected improvements made by the railroads to accommodate the operation of high-speed rail equipment in shared rights-of-way.

Given the blended nature of rail operations in the US--both with passenger equipment operating on freight-dominated corridors, and commuter railroads utilizing intercity rail corridors in urban cores--this rule is an important step in allowing domestic passenger railroads to take advantage of modern equipment that is employed across the globe. International railcar manufacturers have introduced innovative safety features that center around crash energy management; by using crumple zones to protect passengers--an adaptation utilized in modern automobiles--manufacturers are able to build lighter, faster, more energy-efficient equipment without sacrificing safety. This rule will allow US operators to buy “off the shelf” railcar designs, which will significantly lower procurement costs for new equipment.

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has (finally) submitted a Full Funding Grant Agreement for Sound Transit's $3.2 billion Lynnwood Link light-rail extension.

After nervous waiting caused by the current administration's unprecedented and irresponsible behavior of leaving appropriated funds undistributed, a gift arrives just in time for the holiday season. The agreement will provide a $1.2 billion commitment from the federal government to fund the project. It also will allow Sound Transit to begin using $200 million of federal funding that Congress already allocated through the FTA's Capital Investment Grants program, according to a press release issued by the office of Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.).

With the federal funding commitment in place, Sound Transit is set to launch construction on the 8.5-mile project early next year, said Peter Rogoff, the agency's chief executive officer. The extension will connect King and Snohomish counties, Washington, building on the rip roaring success of Link Light Rail. It will enhance the only direct alternative to some of the worst congestion in the country.


IF YOU AREN’T USING YOUR NEW DISCOUNTS, YOU’RE MISSING OUT! Being an RPA member is now even more valuable!

Whether you are from Bakersfield, Bismarck or Boston, Rail Passengers and MemberDeals have you covered!

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 and 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!

Remember, if you want to use these great internet-only discounts, you must be a member in good standing AND be logged in to the RPA website. If you need help accessing these discounts email us at narp@narprail.org, or call the office at 202-408-8362.


Brightline and Virgin Group will form a strategic partnership in an effort to continue to grow privately funded intercity passenger rail. The partnership will allow Brightline to leverage Virgin's industry-leading expertise and customer experience to establish a new brand, “Virgin Trains USA.”

Brightline's current management team will oversee daily operations, engineering, business development and strategy, and the company will begin transitioning to the Virgin Trains USA brand in 2019.

"Our private sector-led effort to reinvent passenger-rail service in America is taking another leap forward with the addition of the Virgin team," said Wes Edens, chairman of Brightline and co-founder of Fortress Investment Group. "Virgin has built a respected and trusted brand in travel and hospitality. With our shared focus on customer experience, powered by a culture of innovation and disruption, we are well-positioned to build on our success."

Virgin Group has significant experience operating in the United Kingdom's rail sector, including the company's ongoing investment in Virgin Trains, a high-speed intercity passenger-rail system.

On the same day, the private train company formerly known as Brightline filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission to become a publicly traded company.

Virgin Trains USA, the name the company said Friday it would formally adopt, filed an S-1 form stating its intent to begin trading its shares on the open market.

“We are the first new major private passenger intercity railroad in the United States in over a century, and we believe our business represents a scalable model for twenty-first century passenger travel in North America,” the company says in the filing. “Our goal is to build railroad systems in North America that connect major metropolitan areas with significant traffic and congestion. We believe that the economics of passenger rail service offer a highly compelling investment opportunity.”


RailPassengers CEO Blog On Brightline Announcement: Branson Bets On Brightline

My current and previous worlds merged this afternoon...and I couldn't be more excited about it.

As many of you probably know, I came to lead the Rail Passengers Association team after nearly three decades in aviation, mostly at Aviation Week. During my time at AvWeek, once or twice I met Sir Richard Branson -- the adventurer, serial entrepreneur and genius behind everything from Virgin records to Virgin Airlines and yes, Virgin Galactic (my personal favorite) -- and covered him for a couple of decades.

Unlike some other pie-in-the-sky venture capitalists, Sir Richard can point to real things in the real world that worked: hotels, trains, planes, and near-Earth spacecraft, just to name a few.

We learned this afternoon from our friends at Brightline that Sir Richard's Virgin Group has taken a minority stake in the Brightline rail project, and will take part in both the Florida expansion and the new project to link Las Vegas to Southern California.

Brightline will re-brand as Virgin next year.

Sir Richard says he shares a typically modest Branson-eque goal with Brightline: to transform rail transportation in the U.S.

"We believe Brightline is at the forefront of this innovation and the ideal partner to work with to alter perceptions and traveling habits across the United States," Sir Richard writes in his own blog.

We at Rail Passengers were excited about Brightline from the beginning. Not as some kind of anti-Amtrak -- indeed, we happen to know top Amtrak executives who are excited to see Brightline succeed -- but as an example of thought leadership and the beginnings of a change in thinking about what rail travel could be in this country. That's why we held our annual Fall meeting only a few short weeks ago in Miami, and gave our attendees the opportunity to ride a chartered Brightline train to experience it for themselves...and share that experience as advocates back home all across the country.

These are beautiful trainsets with wide ADA-compliant aisles, functioning bathrooms, enjoyable on-board service, spacious and thoughtfully appointed stations and fares which, while not cheap, are fully competitive in the markets they serve. Yes, America, trains really can be this good.

Speaking from the experience of someone who spent almost his entire career watching Sir Richard innovate, invest and take risks, I firmly believe this could be a real shot in the arm for passenger-rail in the United States. Like all entrepreneurs, Sir Richard isn't afraid to fail, and he has made a few bad bets in the past. But he's also made some very good ones, and has transformed not just travel but philosophies wherever he has gone.

I couldn't be more eager to see Sir Richard ride this train along with us.

Jim Mathews

President & CEO

Rail Passengers Association


The election of J.B. Pritzker as governor of Illinois, combined with strong local support, has revived hopes for the eventual return of passenger rail in northwest Illinois and southeastern Iowa.

The Quad Cities have wanted a passenger train to and from Chicago since the Rock Island Railroad stopped service to the community in the 1970s. Rockford wants a train too — the old Black Hawk train from Chicago through Rockford to Dubuque, Iowa, stopped running in 1981.

Though a 2009 capital bill appropriated $150 million for Amtrak expansion for both the Quad Cities route and service to Dubuque via Rockford, and the FTA awarded a $177.3 million grant to the Illinois DOT in 2011, both projects were put on hold in 2015.

Getting state money, and in turn more federal money, for routes to the Quad Cities and Rockford will not be easy. It will first require a new state capital bill. A spokeswoman for Pritzker, a Democrat, said the incoming governor is committed to “working across the aisle” to get a capital plan that will leverage as much federal money as possible. Lawmakers say they expect it will happen next year.

The Chicago suburbs of Oswego and Yorkville hired a lobbying firm to help bring Metra service to Kendall County.

A nine-mile rail line would be needed to bring commuter rail service to the region along the BNSF Railway. The municipalities decided to hire the lobbyist in anticipation of a state capital funding bill being written next year which could help make the transportation project a reality.

The total project to extend Metra service into Kendall County is expected to cost between $150 million and $300 million, depending on where the last stop would be. However, federal grants could fund up to 50 percent of the work, leaving the local share at about $75 million to $150 million.

Oklahoma City’s City Council is expected to agree to a new Regional Transportation Authority on Tuesday. Driven by the growing need for mass transit with a focus on intercity rail corridors, it will be the first such RTA in Oklahoma.

The formation of an RTA legal entity is the next step required to develop a rail transit system connecting the key cities to a hub in Oklahoma City. Recent stakeholder workshops outlined the agency’s boundaries, board member composition and voting protocols.

As for financing such a system, local contributions are likely to be apportioned in part by population. Local officials said that Oklahoma City generates about 66 percent of the sales tax revenue in the transit region envisioned by the RTA work group, which is another reason the city will get a second seat on the authority’s board. By comparison, Norman produces 12 percent; Edmond, 10 percent; Moore, 5 percent; Midwest City, 5 percent; and Del City, 2 percent, all of whom will get 1 seat each on the board.

ACOG Deputy Director John Sharp said monetary commitments, buying rights of way, and the costs for upgrades to commuter rail will all follow “much later”.


NEW PHOTO CONTEST: #ViewsOnATrain

We are now asking you to submit photos of #ViewsOnATrain. This could be of you preparing for your train journey; of your children admiring the view from a moving train; of the crowd waiting on a platform; or of you standing under the departures board at Grand Central.

Photos can be submitted via Instagram, Facebook or Twitter depicting your experience as “The Rail Passenger”. Rail Passengers Association executives will be judging the photos, and the winners’ images will be used as part of our new visual identity on our website, in our monthly newsletter, on social media, and more!

Grand prize winners will receive of 10,000 Amtrak Guest Rewards® points.

Runner-Up photos will also be awarded, including Rail Passengers gear.

When submitting your photos on social media, be sure to use the hashtag #ViewsOnATrain and tag @RailPassengers.

We can’t wait to see your submissions!


Proposals for a second rail tunnel beneath San Francisco Bay were discussed at a meeting of the Bay Area Rapid Transit board of directors on November 15.

BART says a second crossing would help to connect the Bay Area’s strong economy with projected housing growth in Sacramento and the Central Valley while supporting economic development in the northern San Joaquin Valley and Sacramento.

Construction of the Second Transbay Rail Crossing could begin within a decade and the project would relieve the existing tunnel between Oakland and San Francisco, which opened in the 1970s.

New York Transit Museum’s vintage subway trains will return for the holiday season starting Sunday, November 25.

Beginning Sunday, November 25, riders will be able to “travel through time” with a swipe of their MetroCards. The holiday fleet is made up of R1-9 train cars that date back to the 1930s and feature rattan seats, paddle ceiling fans, roll signs, incandescent light bulbs, and replica period subway ads.

The vintage trains will depart from Second Avenue on the F line and run along Sixth Avenue to 47-50th Street/Rockefeller Center, before making its way up the Central Park West line, stopping at 59th Street-Columbus Circle and ending at 125th Street in Harlem.

On Sundays, November 25th, December 2nd, 9th, 16th, 23rd, and 30th, nostalgia trains will depart from Second Avenue on the F line at 10 a.m., 12 p.m., 2 p.m., and 4 p.m. Trains will depart from 125th Street on the A/C/D lines at 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 3 p.m., and 5 p.m.


HAVE YOU EVER heard of “Giving Tuesday”? It started in 2012 as a response to Black Friday and the impulse to buy...replacing it with the impulse to give back. Recognized on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving, #GivingTuesday has grown in importance in just six short years to charities large and small around the world -- from $10 million raised in its first year to $247 million in 2017. Your Association is participating in this year’s campaign, and we’d love it if all of you shared this link with friends and family who might not be members of the Rail Passengers Association. Help us mark #GivingTuesday by building support for our work! Our #GivingTuesday link is here: http://www.railpassengers.org/donate


New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced $27.1 million in grants for rail infrastructure improvement projects across the state.

The grants, which are being distributed under the state’s Passenger and Freight Rail Assistance Program, will be used to rehabilitate 14 rail bridges, 26 grade crossings and more than 32 miles of track and facilities, according to a press release issued by Cuomo's office.

Passenger-focused grant recipients and their awards are:

  • Central New York Regional Transportation Authority, Onondaga County, $600,000 for William F. Walsh Regional Transportation Center Platform Rehabilitation (for repairs to the current high-level platform at the Syracuse Amtrak Station);
  • Catskill Revitalization Corp., Delaware County, $500,000 to restore 6.7 miles of rail for the Highmount Project (to extend service on the tourist-oriented Delaware & Ulster Railroad); and
  • MTA Long Island Railroad, Queens County, $2.8 million to rehabilitate the Union Turnpike bridge;

Freight-focused grant recipients and their awards are:

  • New York City Department of Small Business Services, Richmond County, $3.5 million for rehabilitation of the Arthur Kill Lift Bridge;
  • Ontario Midland Railroad Corp., Wayne County, $2.9 million for 15 miles of track rehabilitation and to improve three grade crossings;
  • Finger Lakes Railway Corp., Cayuga County, $2.8 million for coordinated yard improvements;
  • Pan Am Southern LLC in Rensselaer County, $2.7 million to reconfigure and expand track at the Hoosick Junction interchange;
  • Mohawk, Adirondack and Northern Railroad Corp., Oneida County, $1.8 million for engine house expansion and track and bridge rehabilitation;
  • Middletown & New Jersey Railroad LLC, Orange County, $1.6 million for track rehabilitation and a siding;
  • Chautauqua, Cattaraugus, Allegany and Steuben Southern Tier Extension Railroad Authority, Cattaraugus and Chautauqua counties, $1.3 million for track rehabilitation and grade crossing improvements from Steamburg to Poland Center;
  • Albany Port Railroad Corp., Albany County, $1.2 million to replace an existing switcher locomotive with a Tier 4 compliant switcher;
  • New York, Susquehanna & Western Railway Corp., Onondaga County, $1.1 million for installation of 2.6 miles of new continuous-welded rail;
  • Falls Road Railroad Co. Inc., Niagara and Orleans counties, $900,000 for bridge repairs and track rehabilitation between Lockport and Brockport;
  • Rochester & Southern Railroad Inc., Genesee County, $900,000 for rehabilitation of nine grade crossings and one bridge;
  • B&H Rail Corp., Steuben County, $800,000 for bridge rehabilitations;
  • City of Rome, Oneida County, $800,000 for rehabilitation of a combined railroad and highway bridge;
  • Central New York Railroad Corp., Delaware and Sullivan counties, $600,000 to replace high side rail and track rehabilitation; and
  • Schenectady County Industrial Development Agency, Schenectady County, $300,000 for track improvements at the Glenville Business and Technology Park;

Come To Washington In March To Make Your Voice Heard! RPA's 2019 Washington Advocacy Summit, Day on The Hill And Congressional Reception - Sunday, March 31st through Wednesday, April 3rd

RPA meetings aren’t just for Council and Board Members...they’re for YOU! Whether you’ve been a member for decades or you’re brand-new to RPA...or even if you aren’t a member at all...you should come to Washington in March to make sure YOUR congressional representatives hear directly from YOU about rail and transportation!

We’re building informative sessions and hands-on workshops to make you a better advocate in your hometown. You won’t want to miss it.

The event agenda includes:

  • Sunday, March 31 - Afternoon Committee & Board Meetings
  • Monday, April 1 - Advocacy Summit Speakers, Presentations & Day on The Hill Prep
  • Tuesday, April 2 - Day on The Hill Visiting Congressional Offices & RPA’s Annual Congressional Reception
  • Wednesday, April 3 - RPA Council Annual Business Meeting & Elections (Concluding After Lunch)

There’s also a new Host Hotel for 2019...the Westin City Center at Thomas Circle (3 1/2 blocks from the Metro)

Watch for more information online at www.railpassengers.org.

Upcoming Regional Rail Passenger & State Association Member Meetings and Other Events:

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


Passenger Rail Service Notices

Current and upcoming service notifications that could affect affect upcoming train travel include:

Amtrak train #151 WILL NOT operate on Wednesday, November 20 and 21. Passengers should ride MARC Train 517.

Amtrak trains #136 and #196 WILL NOT operate on Wednesday, November 21. To accommodate MARC passengers leaving work early, a special MARC Train will operate on November 21 only: Washington – 2:50pm New Carrollton – 3:00pm Odenton – 3:13pm Baltimore Penn – 3:35pm Martin Airport – 3:50pm Edgewood – 4:03pm Aberdeen – 4:12pm Perryville – 4:25pm.

There is no Penn Line service on Thanksgiving Day (Nov. 22) and the Penn Line will operate on the "R" schedule on Friday, November 23.

Hiawatha Service Reservations Required During the Thanksgiving Holiday Travel Period

To better accommodate the increased number of travelers expected during the busy Thanksgiving holiday period, reservations will be required on all Hiawatha Service trains from Tuesday, Nov. 20, through Sunday, Nov. 25. During this period, your ticket will only be valid on the train number shown on your ticket or boarding document.

Monthly or 10-ride ticket customers are exempt from the reservation requirement, but seating for these customers is not guaranteed.

Hartford Line Trains New Schedule

After November 19, Hartford Line trains into New Haven will leave 15 minutes earlier in an attempt to get travelers into New York by 9 a.m. Trains will now leave Springfield at 5:15 a.m. and Hartford at 5:48 a.m.

New York’s MTA Service Changes for Thanksgiving Weekend

The MTA has announced that trains and buses will operate on a special schedule to accommodate the unique travel demands of the upcoming holiday weekend. From November 21 through November 25, expect bridge and tunnel construction closures and Sunday schedule-like service.

The Long Island Railroad and Metro-North Railroad will offer off-peak fares and frequent train service from Thursday through Sunday to accommodate travelers going to and from the regions. Both railroads will also provide extra early train service on Wednesday, to help travelers get an easier head-start on their weekend.

Dallas Area Rapid Transit Schedule Changes for Thanksgiving

DART light rail trains will operate on a Sunday schedule on Thanksgiving and a Saturday schedule on Black Friday. The Trinity Railway Express (TRE) will not operate Thanksgiving Day and will provide Saturday service on Friday. DART and TRE holiday changes will continue until regular scheduled transit service resumes Saturday, Nov. 24.

Changes to Sound Transit train schedules for Thanksgiving and Black Friday

Sound Transit says that riders should expect service reductions for the holiday weekend, including limited Sounder trains that will serve shoppers and commuters the day after Thanksgiving.

On Thanksgiving Day, Sounder commuter rail will not operate and Link light rail will run on Sunday schedules.

Metro-North announces Thanksgiving Holiday Schedule

Metro-North Railroad will run on its Thanksgiving holiday service schedule starting Wednesday and running through Sunday.

On Thanksgiving, the rail service will operate on a Saturday schedule with additional inbound trains for those customers headed into New York City for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. There will be additional outbound service to get riders home after the parade.

On Black Friday, Metro-North trains will run on a Saturday schedule, with additional morning and night outbound trains from Grand Central Terminals.

On Saturday and Sunday, trains will run on regular weekend schedules.

Indiana’s South Shore Line Holiday Schedule

In order to accommodate the many travel needs of passengers this holiday season, the line has made their November train schedules available in advance. They will also be adding extra eastbound trains on certain days.

The Holiday train schedule is as follows according to the South Shore Line:

  • Wednesday, Nov. 21: A weekday schedule will be in effect on the day before Thanksgiving.
  • Thursday, Nov. 22 (Thanksgiving Day): A weekend/holiday schedule will be in effect in observance of Thanksgiving Day.
  • Friday, Nov. 23 (Black Friday): A weekday schedule will be in effect on the Friday following Thanksgiving Day.

The following are the additional eastbound train services:

  • Saturday, Nov. 17 (Magnificent Mile Lights Festival): Extra will depart Millennium Station at 8 p.m. (Van Buren St. at 8:03 p.m.), run non-stop to Hegewisch and make all local stops terminating at Carroll Ave., Michigan City.
  • Wednesday, Nov. 21: Extra will depart Millennium Station at 2 p.m. (Van Buren St. at 2:03 p.m.), run non-stop to Hegewisch and make all local stops terminating at Carroll Ave., Michigan City.
  • Saturday, Nov. 24: Extra will depart Millennium Station at 4:25 p.m. (Van Buren St. at 4:28 p.m.), run non-stop to Hegewisch and make all local stops terminating in Michigan City.

These extra trains will not serve Hudson Lake or South Bend. Additional train information and ticketing hours can be found at the South Shore Line’s website.


Being thankful and giving back goes beyond the holiday season for Kevin Garrison, who works overnights for Amtrak in New York City’s Penn Station. For the past two years, the Highlands, NJ, resident has organized the nonprofit Blessing Bag Brigade NJ which distributes “blessing bags” filled with donated goods for those in need throughout Monmouth County.

Garrison's latest venture takes that generosity to the next level. While making his rounds last spring, he heard the soup kitchen at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Long Branch would be closing --- so he took it over, too.

Blessing Bag Brigade NJ is hosting a free Thanksgiving dinner at the Robert Wilson Community Center in Highlands Wednesday, Nov. 21 from 5-7 p.m. To volunteer time or goods, or to contribute to St. Luke’s Tuesday soup kitchen in Long Branch, visit Blessing Bag Brigade NJ's website at www.blessingbagbrigadenj.org

The Rome, NY Amtrak Station is slated to re-open by Christmas, after being closed since July 4th, when a portion of the ceiling in the platform access tunnel collapsed. The City of Rome, the owners of the facility, have obtained state funding to permit temporary repairs to now be quickly made, as longer-term solutions are investigated. During the closure, passengers have been directed to the use the Utica, NY Amtrak stop. Rome is normally served by two daily New York to Niagara Falls round-trip Empire Service trains and the daily New York to Toronto Maple Leaf.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) announced the “Mobi Awards”, which will recognize state municipalities that have completed multimodal transportation projects that have led to economic development and other local benefits.

"The goal of the NCDOT Mobi Awards is to raise the profile of multimodal projects and the transformational impact they can have on communities," said NCDOT Deputy Secretary for Multimodal Transportation Julie White.

Entries should describe a transportation project that was completed within the last five years, and includes two or more modes of transportation such as transit, bicycle, pedestrian, rail, aviation, ferry or roadway.

Submissions will be accepted through Jan. 22, 2019. For more information, visit the department's website.


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.

Comments