Hotline #1,108

The End of the Eisenhower Era?; Trump Budget Implications; Momentum Grows for More Passenger Rail in Minnesota; House Subcommittee Chair Wants Answers from Amtrak CEO on Chicago Signal Meltdown; Congressmen Seek ‘Doomsday’ Plan for Rail Tunnel Failure; Rail Line Opening Allows for Europe-Asia High-Speed Intercity Trains

Hotline #1,108: The End of the Eisenhower Era?; Trump Budget Implications; Momentum Grows for More Passenger Rail in Minnesota; House Subcommittee Chair Wants Answers from Amtrak CEO on Chicago Signal Meltdown; Congressmen Seek ‘Doomsday’ Plan for Rail Tunnel Failure; Rail Line Opening Allows for Europe-Asia High-Speed Intercity Trains

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Rail Passengers’ 2018 Amtrak Ridership Stats Are Now Available:

The latest ridership fact sheets for your congressional district, station, and trains are here and ready for distribution– check them out today!


House Transportation leaders indicated this week that they want the next surface transportation reauthorization legislation to be the first truly 21st century transportation blueprint, moving out of the shadow of Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways.

“It will be different than the repetitive things we’ve done building on the Eisenhower legacy, which was a great legacy but it’s time to move on to more progressive things,” said Chairman Peter DeFazio during a March 13th hearing held by the House Committee on Transportation Infrastructure.

While the Interstate Highway System was a necessary investment that transformed the U.S., connecting formerly isolated parts of the country, Rep. DeFazio is correct that transportation officials have become to dependent on a structure more suited to the 1960s than the 21st Century. As more Americans move to cities in the west and south, planners must be able to create the high-capacity rail corridors that have allowed the Northeast and Chicago-hub to function. A continued over-reliance on the highway program will ensure worsening congestion and stagnant economic growth.

Infrastructure Bill Still in Play

Chairman DeFazio also hinted at the structure for the infrastructure bill he’s preparing, pointing out that the FAST Act stipulates “any additional real funds allocated by Congress will immediately flow through the policies in this bill.”

For passenger rail, that means State DOTs will take the lead in accessing any new funding offered up as part of a grand bargain on infrastructure.

Amtrak Appears Before House Transportation Leaders, Talks White House Budget

In a March 12th hearing held by the T&I Rail Subcommittee, Chairman David Price (D-NC) asked Amtrak’s Senior Executive Vice President Stephen Gardner about the Trump Administration’s budget proposal to replace National Network train service with buses.

“Certainly, we’re prepared to request the full $1.8 billion authorized by the FAST Act, that’s the maximum we’re permitted to request from your subcommittee,” replied Gardner, a nod towards the broad, bipartisan rejection of the Trump budget’s proposed cuts to transportation. “But we’ll include a long list of things that we think are worthy of additional funding so we see really no shortage of things that require continued federal investment and partnership with our states. You can be sure we’ll be asking for our full authorized amount and we think it’s essential for us to continue the progress we’ve been making on the Network.”

This approach is in line with what Rail Passengers has been asking from Amtrak for the past two years: communicate to legislators the cost of funding the network Congress has laid out by statute, regardless of authorized levels -- and include what it would cost to improve service -- and let local officials and advocates work with Congress to ensure that the network has sufficient funding to grow.

Gardner also outlined a case for additional funding from Congress to launch new short-distance corridor service on top of existing long-distance routes:

“We’re looking to understand better the Administration’s proposal here, but our view is that... the long-distance network…it’s been proposed various times to be funded by the various states [which] poses some obvious coordination challenges. There are a core set of long-distance routes which we think make sense in the future of the Network and for which federal support will be necessary. There are a number of routes which we do think have opportunity for expanded corridor service, and of course we today have, through the Section 209 of PRIIA, a strong partnership with states to support and fund corridor services. Many corridors exist today on long-distance routes, so there are opportunities to have corridors that today are served by long-distance trains served instead by corridor trains. But a strong partnership would need to exist between the States and the Federal government and Amtrak to support that, as certainly it would be a big transition to start adding those services and I think it would be appropriate for Congress through reauthorization or your committee to look at the right partnership between the federal government and the states as part of the modernization of the network. There are clearly interests that are local, intrastate and national that would be served by such an improvement.”

Rail Passengers supports incremental expansion of service under 500 miles, but insists that it come in addition to existing service, not at the expense of rural America and other small communities along the National Network.


Trump Administration Budget Would End National Rail Network

by Sean Jeans-Gail, Vice President of Government Affairs and Policy

The White House released a budget proposal this week that would slash funding for critical rail and transit programs, cutting $455.6 million from Amtrak and intercity rail programs—23% less than the amount approved by Congress in FY2019—and eliminates long-distance routes, replacing corridor train service with subsidized bus service. The Trump Administration also recommends cutting $1 billion from New Starts Capital Investment Grants program—39% less than the amount approved by Congress in FY2019—which provides important grants for rail transit systems across the U.S. Overall, the Trump Administration is calling for a $5.9 billion cut to transportation, a 21.5% reduction.

To read the rest of the response, please click HERE.


Rail Passengers Track Update: Where are we and what’re we working on? This section will give you updates on what Rail Passengers HQ is up to.

Jim Mathews, Rail Passengers President and CEO, attended and presented at a leadership conference in Washington bringing together transportation officials, railroad executives -- including BNSF’s Matt Rose -- Amtrak leadership and seasoned Washington attorneys to wrestle with the question of how Amtrak and freight railroads can work together on on-time performance, dispatch preference and other shared-use issues. Mathews presented Rail Passengers’ proposals that Congress create a Shared-Use Corridor Advisory Committee, pilot a regional approach to consolidated dispatching, establish a legal and fiscal framework to acquire and “bank” unused or underused rights-of-way, and other innovations. Mathews was joined by the DC policy team, Sean Jeans-Gail and Abe Zumwalt.

Sean Jeans-Gail, Rail Passengers Vice President of Government Affairs, met with Congressional staffers to discuss rail is a vital part of the infrastructure bill under consideration, and attended a conference on shared-use corridors to discuss ways to improve passenger rail on-time performance and avenues for expansion of service.

Rail Passengers Director of Policy Research, Abe Zumwalt, attended “Passengers and Freight Railroads Unite,” a conference surrounding the relationship between host railroads and passenger carriers. He has also been coordinating speakers and content for the upcoming Rail Nation conference at the end of this month.

Carolyn Cokley, Rail Passengers Director of Customer Programs has had a mixed bag of activities, this week. Carolyn worked on continuing her analyzing of the over 300 Travel Reviews that have been submitted, to date. In her role as ACAC Director, Carolyn worked with the OBS Manager in Miami to finalize the ACAC Customer Service award presentation to Miami-based Train Attendant Sharon Diaz. The presentation will take place on Monday, March 18. With training for the Niles, MI station volunteers scheduled for Saturday, April 6, Carolyn worked with Amtrak managers in Transportation, Safety & Emergency Preparedness and the Amtrak Police Department to line up their presentations to the volunteers.

Rail Passengers Northeast Field Coordinator, Joseph Aiello, confirmed the guest speaker for our Beer+Transit networking event that is taking place on April 1st as part of #RailNationDC. You can see information (and purchase tickets) HERE. Joe also held a conference call with the Regional Rail panelists yesterday afternoon. It was a great conversation and everyone is very excited to bring their expertise to our members.

Bruce Becker, Rail Passengers Vice-President of Operations, represented the Association at Joe Boardman’s funeral in Rome, NY on Friday. The somber celebration of Joe’s life was attended by a wide-range of rail industry notables, including many from New York State’s Department of Transportation, the Federal Railroad Administration and Amtrak. Bruce, who is from nearby Utica, NY, had known Joe for over thirty years, starting back in the early 1980’s when Joe managed the Utica Transit Authority.

Jonsie Stone, Director of Resource Development, worked on aligning existing efforts into define-able programs attractive to help gain funding from prospects.


60 Minutes Loses Forest for Trees in PTC Story (Part 2)

Railroad investments are made largely for the sake of private gain, rather than public good

By Abe Zumwalt, Director of Policy Research

Last week, instead of inserting needed nuance into the conversation surrounding 60 Minutes’ piece about American Railroad safety, there was first and foremost need for a reality check.

Passenger Trains in the United States are about 17 times safer than passenger automobiles, on a mile-per-mile basis. With a gap that big, we can say with certainty that passenger trains save American lives every year, given that about half of Amtrak’s millions of riders would otherwise drive private automobiles. Spreading a perception that American passenger trains are inherently unsafe will get people killed. However, passenger trains should be far safer than they presently are.

To read the rest, click HERE.


Momentum Grows for More Passenger Rail in Minnesota

On the heels of Rail Passengers’ Research Note about a second train between Chicago and St. Paul, the stars are aligning for additional passenger train service in Minnesota.

Amtrak is officially seeking additional service from Minneapolis to Duluth, MN and Superior, WI.The service plan is robust: four frequencies, expecting to attract 750,000 passengers annually.

"I believe we will be bringing Superior back onto the Amtrak system and Duluth as well," said Joe McHugh, Amtrak's vice-president of state-supported services of business development. "We'll be serving both of these communities and I hope in a very short while."

Walking the talk, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz’s budget has included funding for the necessary steps to get passenger rail service on the ground both to Duluth, and from Chicago to the Twin Cities.

Local rail advocacy organization All aboard Minnesota held a rally at the State Capitol on March 6th, attracting 6 members of the state congress and Rail advocacy groups such as the Great River Rail Commission, Northern Lights Alliance, West Central Wisconsin Rail Coalition, Smart Transportation, and the Environmental Law and Policy Center presented at the event. Amtrak and MnDOT representatives also attended.

If you’re a Minnesota resident and would like to help support the growing movement for trains in that state, you can do so here.


It’s All About That First and Last Mile

Forget A & B - How Do You Get To Points C through G?

By Joe Aiello, Northeast Field Coordinator

When we were in Miami back in October, I was tasked with creating a first/last mile panel to give a local view of a universal transportation issue in this country. It’s something that I have been working on for some time here in the Northeast and, as the Regional Coordinator, I wanted to shine a light on the topic. We had representatives from the Miami-Dade TPO, Uber, The Underline, and #SmartMiami. It was a great discussion and gave those in attendance a number of tools to bring home to their cities and towns.

To read the rest of Joe’s blog HERE.


The Rail Passengers Spring Advocacy Summit in Washington, DC, is for ALL Rail Passengers...including YOU!

The dates are set for Rail Passengers’ RailNation: Washington 2019 Washington Advocacy Summit, Day on The Hill And Congressional Reception - Sunday, March 31st through Wednesday, April 3rd - and we hope to see YOU there! This year’s theme is: ‘Blueprint 2020: Be The Architect’

Rail Passengers meetings aren’t just for Council and Board Members...they’re for anybody who wants our country to invest in More Trains, Better Trains and a Commitment to Infrastructure. Whether you’ve been a member for decades or you’re brand-new to Rail Passengers...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 Late Board Meeting open to all attendees

  • Monday, April 1 - Advocacy Summit Speakers, Presentations & Day on The Hill Prep

    • Confirmed programming includes sessions on:

      • ‘Investments, Not Subsidies: How American Long Distance Trains Make Money’

      • No Schedules: Regional Rail and the Future of American Passenger Trains’

      • ‘The View from the Hill: Infrastructure and the 116th Congress’

      • ‘How to Sell Trains to Your Congressman’

      • ‘What Can Passengers Do?: Advocacy Strategies That Really Work’

    • Monday’s lunch Keynote Address will be given by Kenneth Hylander, Amtrak’s Executive Vice President & Chief Safety Officer

  • On Monday Evening noted Rail Tour Operator Carl Fowler will present an engaging optional travel program entitled ‘Switzerland, Scenic Railway Paradise’. Carl’s presentation will benefit the ‘Jim Hamre Memorial Scholarship Fund’. Tickets for this special program are now available!

  • Tuesday, April 2 - Day on The Hill Visiting Congressional Offices & The Rail Passengers Annual Congressional Reception (To Be Held This Year In Room 106 Of The Dirksen Senate Office Building).

  • Wednesday, April 3 - Rail Passengers Council Annual Business Meeting & Elections (Concluding By Noon)

There’s also a new Host Hotel for 2019...the Westin City Center at Thomas Circle (3 1/2 blocks from the Metro). NOTICE: Group Rate rooms at the Westin are now sold out! Regular public rate rooms are currently available online at the nearby Washington Plaza Hotel. However, there Is NO Group Rate or other special arrangement at the Washington Plaza!

Early’ Event Registration rates are available through tomorrow, Saturday, March 17 – Higher rates will apply starting March 18 and at the door!

Please visit the Event Page for complete information!

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

  • Saturday, March 16 - Carolinas Association for Passenger Trains Meeting - North Charleston, SC

  • Monday, March 25 - Rhode Island Association of Railroad Passengers - North Providence, RI

  • Saturday, April 13 - All Aboard Arizona Spring Passenger Rail Summit - Mesa, AZ

  • Saturday, May 4 – Rail Passengers Northeast Division Meeting – Haverhill. MA

  • Saturday, May 18 - Rail Passengers Northwest Division Meeting - Cut Bank, MT

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


Congressman wants answers from Amtrak CEO on Chicago signal meltdown

U.S. Representative Dan Lipinski (D-IL), the new chair of the House subcommittee on railroads, wants answers to what caused the major service breakdown at Chicago’s Union Station last month. Rep. Lipinski sent a list of nine detailed questions to Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson asking for an explanation of the “human error” that disrupted travel for nearly 100,000 rail passengers. Anderson has been given until the end of March to respond to the query.

“I appreciated the candor CEO Anderson displayed when he met with me [in Washington] and accepted responsibility for the failures that led to the chaos at Union Station,” Lipinski said in a statement accompanying the letter.

“However, we need more than contrition and an acknowledgment of what went wrong in order to make sure this doesn’t happen again and to compensate passengers. I’ve asked him to conduct an in-depth review of Amtrak’s policies and procedures and present a corrective action plan to help build back the public’s confidence in our rail system and give commuters the reliable service they should expect.”

The main question being asked by many involved with the issue - from public officials and tech experts to the commuters themselves - is why Amtrak launched a software update to the dispatch controls during rush hour? An update during the weekend or overnight would have minimized interruptions and harm from a systems crash, experts say.

The Congressman is also asking if Amtrak is looking into ways to reimburse commuters who needed to seek alternate means to get around - after it was reported that ride share services were charging up to $125 due to “surge pricing”.


Passenger Rail Service Notices

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

Northeast Regional Trains 94 and 95 Track Work Affects Service March 13 and 14, 2019

Due to track work being performed by CSX, Northeast Regional Trains 94 and 95 will be impacted as outlined below:

Wednesday, March 13

  • Train 95, which normally operates between Boston and Norfolk, will terminate at Richmond Staples Mill. o Alternate transportation will be provided via Bus 3195 between Richmond Staples Mill and missed stops of Petersburg and Norfolk.

    • Bus 3195 is scheduled to arrive and depart stations at the normal train time.

Thursday, March 14

  • Train 94, which normally operates between Norfolk and Boston, will originate at Richmond Staples Mill. No alternate transportation will be provided between Norfolk and Richmond Staples Mill.

Saluki Service Trains 390 and 391
March 19, 21 and 26, 2019

Due to track improvements being performed by Canadian National Railway, Trains 390 and 391 will be impacted as follows:

Train 390 which normally operates between Carbondale and Chicago, will originate at Champaign. Train 390 will depart at 10:45 am, 31 minutes later than the normal schedule and will operate on this later schedule at all stations from Champaign to Chicago. Alternate service will be provided as described below.

Train 391 which normally operates between Chicago and Carbondale, will terminate at Champaign. Alternate service will be provided as described below.

Alternate Transportation to:

3390 (22)

3391 (22) Read Up

Carbondale (CDL)

5.20 AM

3:45 PM

Du Quoin (DQN)

5:50 AM

3:10 PM

Centralia (CEN)

6:45 AM

2:15 PM

Effingham (EFG)

8:00 AM

12:45 PM

Mattoon (MAT)

8:40 AM

12:00 PM

Champaign-Urbana (CHM) AR/Dp

9:50 AM/10:45 AM

10:25 AM/10:45 AM

Coatesville and Parkesburg Stations Boarding Track Changes
Effective March 16 and 17, 2019

Due to track work being performed along the Keystone Service line, track 1 will be closed March 16 and 17.

Passengers traveling to Philadelphia will need to board on track 4 at Coatesville and Parkesburg Stations.

Van Nuys Station Temporarily Closed
April 13, 2019

Amtrak Pacific Surfliner and Coast Starlight trains will not stop at Van Nuys station on Saturday, April 13 due to scheduled track work preventing boarding and leaving trains at this stop.

Customers who use Van Nuys station for travel may use these nearby stations for their traveling needs:

  • Los Angeles: A staffed station three stops south of Van Nuys

  • Hollywood Burbank Airport: Unstaffed station one stop south of Van Nuys

  • Chatsworth: Unstaffed station one stop north of Van Nuys

Minimal delays are expected during this time.

Keystone Service and Pennsylvanian Trains 42 and 43
Reservations Required During the Easter Holiday Period Thursday through Tuesday, April 18 through 23, 2019

To better accommodate the increased number of passengers traveling during the Easterholiday period, reservations will be required on all Pennsylvanian and Keystone Service trains from Thursday, April 18 through Tuesday, April 23.

Note: Monthly and ten-ride tickets will be accepted on these dates.

Easter Holiday Travel Reminders:

  • To avoid ticket counter lines, passengers are encouraged to utilize eTicketing.

  • Allow ample time to arrive at the station and board the train.

  • Make sure your baggage is tagged with your name and address.

Station Elevator Out of Service Marshall, TX Station
Effective immediately, the elevator located inside the Marshall, TX Station is out of service until further notice.

Elevator Options

  • Passengers requiring an elevator may board at the Longview, TX Station, approximately thirty minutes west of Marshall.

Allow Extra Time–Don’t Miss Your Train

  • Customers using the stairs may need to allow extra time to get to the boarding platform.

Additional Northeast Regional Service to Norfolk, VA

Starting March 4, there will be two additional weekday trains arriving and departing Norfolk, as well as an additional train on Sundays. This will have a minor impact to other Northeast Regional train schedules as outlined below.

Northbound

  • Train 84 will now depart at 6:15 am Monday through Friday

  • Train 94 will now depart Norfolk at 9:00 am

Southbound

  • Train 71 on Saturdays will be replaced with Train 87

  • Train 87 will now continue to Norfolk on Saturday and Sunday, arriving at 11:36 pm

  • Train 93 will now operate to Norfolk, instead of Richmond, arriving at 10:31 pm

    • Train 93 will now operate Monday through Friday, replacing Train 83

  • Train 95 will now operate to Norfolk instead of Newport News, arriving at 7:04 pm

  • Train 125 will now terminate at Newport News

City of New Orleans Trains 58 and 59 Busing Between Jackson and New Orleans

Please be advised that CN railway closed the route used by Amtrak City of New Orleans due to flooding until further notice. Amtrak-chartered buses are being provided between Jackson and New Orleans as substitute transportation for Trains 58 and 59.

Normal train service will resume as soon as possible. Passengers will be provided bus service in both directions between Jackson, Hazlehurst, Brookhaven, McComb, Hammond and New Orleans. Passengers traveling north from New Orleans are asked to arrive at Union Passenger Terminal by 12:15 to board the buses.


Your Feedback is Important to Improving Amtrak Service

The Rail Passenger Travel Review is now up and live on our website. For those who have taken recent Amtrak trips and want to provide their feedback, it can be accessed directly at RailPassengers.org/TravelReview.

As you travel , please help us promote the Travel Review with other rail passengers. As you encounter passengers who want to make their positive and negative opinions known, please direct them to www.railpassengers.org/Travel Review. All participants will remain anonymous. If you encounter any problems with the Travel Review, or have any questions, please send an email to [email protected]


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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 Rail Passengers website. If you need help accessing these discounts email us at [email protected], or call the office at 202-408-8362.


Congressmen seek ‘doomsday’ plan for rail tunnel failure

Congressman Peter King (R-NY) and Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) are filing bipartisan legislation to force the hand of the Department of Transportation to create a contingency plan were the current tunnels under the Hudson River to suffer a major failure. The bill is the result of frustrations among supports of the $13 billion tunnel project - which is part of the larger Gateway Program. Nearly 200,000 rail passengers pass through the current century-old tunnels every day.

“This is being slow-walked by the DOT,” Rep. King said on Monday at Penn Station.

The need to replace the tunnels was made more critical thanks to saltwater damage suffered during Superstorm Sandy in 2012. It has been predicted that this critical point on the Northeast Corridor between Washington DC and Boston, would need to be shut down for work within the next decade. Experts have said that even closing one of the rail tunnels would “reduce peak service by 75 percent and create crushing delays for already beleaguered commuters”.

Gottheimer said he was confident the bill would pass the Democrat-led House and was hopeful it would pass the Republican-led Senate.

“It’s just saying, ‘OK, what’s your plan?’” he said. “Just give us a plan. Because they must know something we don’t know. We think this will actually just keep ratcheting up the pressure to get it done.”


Rail Line Opening Allows for Europe-Asia High-Speed Intercity Trains

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan cut the ribbon to formally open an “iron silk road” – the 47.8 mile Marmaray rail line. A project 15 years in the making, the line makes it possible for high speed intercity passenger trains to operate between Asia and Europe, crossing the Bosporus river for the first time.


Rail Passengers Association Board Director Elections

Nominations are now being sought from qualified Rail Passengers Association members interested in being elected to one of two available Board Director positions at the upcoming Council of Representatives Annual Business Meeting being held on Wednesday, April 3, 2019.

These Board Director positions are for three-year terms, ending in April 2022.

For more information on how you could make a difference as a Rail Passengers Association Board Director, please review the position’s required qualifications, description, duties and responsibilities.

If you are interested in seeking a Board Director position, you must complete and submit a Candidate Information Statement by the March 31, 2019 deadline. Questions may be directed to either Board Chair Peter LeCody at [email protected] or Vice-President of Operations Bruce Becker at [email protected]

Openings Available For Rail Passengers State Council Representatives

The following vacancies now exist for state representatives on the Rail Passengers 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); Texas (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 Rail Passengers 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.

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