Happening Now

Hotline #1,145

November 27, 2019

Rail Passengers Thanksgiving Holiday Schedule

FYI: This is an abbreviated Hotline Holiday Edition. The next full Hotline will be published on Friday, December 6. In celebration of the Holiday, the Rail Passengers’ DC Office will be closed from Thursday, November 28 through Sunday, December 1.

Happy Thanksgiving to All!

Texas Central Takes Another Step Forward

Texas Central chose Kiewit subsidiary Mass. Electric to install the core system, signaling and communications equipment for the planned high-speed rail link between Dallas and Houston, and expects to sign a formal contract by the end of the year.

“The Shinkansen total system approach has created performance unparalleled in the industry, having transported over 10 billion people safely,” said Texas Central CEO Carlos Aguilar in a prepared statement. “Marrying the experience of Mass. Electric with the dedication to safety of an integrated system, brings the project one step closer to construction and operation.”

Meanwhile an important issue to the future of Texas Central remains open at the Surface Transportation Board as the railroad hopes to get STB to rule that it has federal jurisdiction over the project. Rail Passengers strongly supports that position, and we hope you’ll join us in expressing your support to the STB.

In September Rail Passengers filed with the STB to concur with Texas Central’s arguments, adding our voice to many others urging the STB to assume jurisdiction and sweep away some of the local procedural roadblocks that could hamstring progress on this important new service. You can read our filing here.

Season of Giving

As we near the end of the year, you may be considering your end of year philanthropic choices. We ask you to support the Rail Passengers Association. As a charitable organization, we rely on the generosity of others so that we can continue being the voice of the passenger. As the only national organization that consistently advances the cause of commuter rail, regional rail, and inter-city rail as well as Amtrak’s national network trains. Our concerted efforts have saved national routes from what once seemed to be certain demise and have prevented many of the worst cuts that had been planned to sought-after services such as food offerings and sleeping car accommodations.

We need your help so that we can continue to advocate for the country’s 40+ million rail passengers. To donate with a credit card, click on the image below. You can also mail in a donation, written out to the Rail Passengers Association at 1200 G Street NW, Suite 240, Washington, DC 20005, ATTN: Jonsie Stone/EOY. Please include “EOY Donation” in the check’s memo field. If you live in the DC area, please feel free to drop a donation off at the same address.

Click the image below to donate!

Transportation Leaders Convene in Illinois to Discuss Freight Train Interference’s Effects on Passengers

At a roundtable convened by Congressman Rodney Davis (R-IL), stakeholders met to outline solutions to freight train delays plaguing passengers on Amtrak’s Illini and Saluki lines. And while the roundtable’s scope was targeted at the broken relationship between Amtrak’s Illinois trains and Canadian National (CN) freight trains, the problem affects passengers across the National Network, which has seen a sharp spike in delays over the last five years.

The Illinois-Carbondale line remains, however, a canary in the coalmine: only 6 percent of northbound Illini and 17 percent of southbound Saluki trains arrived on time in Fiscal Year 2018.

For passengers, the answer is clear: host railroads must live up to their legal requirement to grant Amtrak dispatching preference. This agreement was a cornerstone of the agreement made between the Class Is and the U.S. government when Congress bailed-out the freight railroads in the 1970s, leading to the creation of Amtrak.

“We need to be able to work collaboratively with our freight railroad partner, Canadian National, to make sure that they’re dispatching passenger trains with priority, like other railroads do,” said Amtrak’s Derrick James. “We’re hopeful that the pressure that comes from the community, and that comes from your delegation in Washington, helps us come to some agreement on how we can make sure that these trains move over the railroad on time.”

Passengers suffering from these delays have a new source of hope in the announcement by Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) that he’s introducing the Rail Passenger Fairness Act, which will give Amtrak with the ability to sue offending freight railroads and enforce its statutory right to dispatching preference.

“By empowering Amtrak to hold the freight railroads accountable when they don’t follow the law, we can improve Amtrak on-time performance and save taxpayer dollars,” said Durbin. “For too long, we’ve seen on-time performance decline as a result of freight interference. The people of Illinois – and Amtrak riders nationwide – deserve assurance that they can arrive at their destination in a safe and timely manner.”

Congressman Davis, while agreeing on the scope and cause of the program, is not quite ready to endorse Sen. Durbin’s legislation.

“At this point, I want to try and solve the problem without going to litigation," said Davis. "Because as we all know, everybody in this room here, especially the public officials know, when litigation becomes involved, it will prolong the final solution.”

However, to many of the stakeholders at Friday’s meeting, simply identifying the problems doesn’t go nearly far enough.

“It’s a repeat of the things we heard already,” said Visit Champaign County President Jayne DeLuce. “It’s nice to have Canadian National and Amtrak at the same table, but we’re looking for what the answers are, not just re-emphasizing what the issues are. We already know the issues.”

Rail Passengers has been in court over late trains for the past several years. We've covered this issue nonstop for almost a decade. Join us, and contact your elected officials about freight interference today!

Commuter Railroads Are Racing to Install a Key Safety Technology, and the Clock’s Ticking

With just over a year left before the deadline for the full installation of Positive Train Control (PTC) safety technology, the Federal Railroad Administration released its quarterly industry update revealing that railroads have installed PTC across 92% of the system covered under the law. However, with only 13 months until the December 31, 2020 deadline, commuter railroads are lagging, with PTC operating in revenue service for less than half of commuter route miles.

The FRA reports that Amtrak leads the way, with 899 of 901 route miles covered by PTC, or 99.8 percent. Most Amtrak-owned right-of-way is located along the Northeast Corridor (NEC).

Class Is, meanwhile, have PTC in operation on 51,222 of required route miles, or 95.4 percent.

Commuter agencies have seen real improvement, but they still trail in several key areas:

  • 50% in revenue service demonstration**

  • 37% are PTC certified by FRA or are operating with PTC

  • 10% are in field testing

  • 3% are preparing for field testing

The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) provided important context, pointing out that--even without PTC--commuter rail is 18 times safer than driving. They nonetheless promised that commuter agencies will meet the deadline.

“Safety is a core value for APTA and commuter rail operators. It is a fundamental operating principle and a promise to our riders,” said APTA President and CEO Paul Skoutelas. “...The commuter rail industry is strongly focused and committed to completing full implementation by December 2020.”

Rail Passengers is working to secure dedicated funding for PTC installation and maintenance as part of our reauthorization blueprint, which can be read at RailPassengers.org/Blueprint

FRA's 2019 Third Quarter PTC Reporting

NJ Transit’s New North Brunswick Station May Add To Rail Congestion

In late October, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy announced that a memorandum of understanding (MOU) had been reached that will ultimately lead to the construction of a new commuter rail station in North Brunswick on the busy Northeast Corridor main line. Residents of the surrounding area have long sought such a station, which is expected to ease Manhattan commutes, boost property values and unclog regional highways.

But the preliminary plans for the project omit a proposed $300 million elevated loop track over the NEC that would allow NJ Transit commuter trains to reverse direction at North Brunswick without having to be switched across Amtrak’s high-speed tracks. The loop was intended to complement Amtrak’s plans to increase top speeds in the area to 160mph when the next generation Acela trainsets enter service in 2021.

Under the scaled-back plan, NJ Transit would build conventional sidings off of the main Corridor tracks for the new station, but some fear that this layout could exacerbate delays and congestion along this already extremely busy rail route.

NJ Transit entered into its first public-public partnership for the North Brunswick station, when it selected the Middlesex County Improvement Authority to manage the construction. Funding for the project is relying on $50 million from New Jersey’s Transportation Trust Fund and $20 million from the Improvement Authority.

Baltimore Penn Station Redevelopment Moves Forward

The long-awaited redevelopment of Baltimore’s historic Penn Station received a “critical missing piece” of its funding sources when the state of Maryland announced the award of a $3 million historic tax credit for the project. With this announcement, construction could potentially begin by mid-2020.

The redevelopment’s first phase is the $70 million renovation of the station’s main ‘Head House’ building, which will include new retail shops on the passenger level and offices on the upper floors.

The tax credit brings the total committed so far to $53 million out of the required $70 million, and another approximately $3.5 million in federal historic tax credits is also expected. The project’s private developers will provide $13.5 million in additional financing.

The phase one project is part of an overall $400 million to $600 million initiative announced in December 2017 to redevelop the area around Penn Station into a transit-oriented hub of apartments, shops, offices and a hotel. The larger plan includes the main building work, track improvements to accommodate high-speed trains and a mixed-use project on a lot adjacent to the train station. The project also aims to develop other Amtrak-owned parcels in the Station North neighborhood. Baltimore Penn Station is Amtrak’s eighth busiest station with more than one million passengers each year.

Rounding Up This Week’s Social Media Highlights

Do you follow @railpassengers on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter?

Join the digital conversation and get engaged with your fellow members!

This week we’ve been talking a lot about On Time Performance and the impact freight delays have on passengers. Next week we will be taking a deep dive into the new bill put forward by Sen. Durbin and talk about how we as members can support this initiative that is so essential to improving OTP. Stay tuned for information about how you can help stop #latebyfreight - Be sure to like, subscribe, reblog, and follow along on your favorite social media platforms to keep informed and up to date on all things RPA.

Top Comments from our Facebook page:

“The underlying problem in my view is that we have for too many years emphasizing expanding roads at the expense of our railway infrastructure. Vested interest such has big oil and the automotive industry have had to much influence on what infrastructure our taxes our used for. I feel there should be a national policy of rail banking abandoned right of ways for future use.”

  • Scott Taylor

“There should be an arbitrator to resolve disputes between Amtrak and freight railroads. Also federal rail funding should be prioritized to reduce these conflicts.”

- David McClusky

Tell Us What’s Happening Where You Live!

When you see rail-related news stories, op-eds, editorials, or letters to the editor in your communities, send them along to us! We will include them in our social media efforts, along with the weekly Hotline. Send your news items to Joe Aiello at jaiello[at]narprail.org, 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 Rail Passengers on Facebook and Twitter to stay up to date on all things passenger rail.

Rail Passengers Track Update

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

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

  • Jim Mathews, President & CEO, crammed a lot of important work into a very short week! Your CEO had a productive meeting with senior Amtrak officials about the upcoming reauthorization and continued efforts to reverse some of the most-disliked elements of the new Contemporary/Flexible dining service on Eastern trains. There was also an all-day meeting of the Federal Railroad Administration’s Railroad Safety Advisory Committee, in which the full Committee voted to move ahead with rulemaking around new-generation passenger rail equipment. The rulemaking grew out of work this year that Rail Passengers did as members of the RSAC’s Passenger Safety Working Group.

  • Sean Jeans Gail, Vice President of Policy, discussed rail policy with several stakeholder groups in regards to the upcoming reauthorization, thinking through passenger-focused issues such as funding, sustainable on-board services, and on-time performance. He also helped educate several legacy media outlets on the state of PTC implementation in response to the FRA’s quarterly update on the safety technology.

  • Carolyn Cokley, Director of Customer Programs, is enjoying the Thanksgiving holiday and spending time with family and friends. Happy Thanksgiving to all. Safe travels!

  • Joseph Aiello, Field Coordinator, is in Australia and will return to normal office hours next week.

  • Madi Butler, Grassroots Organizer, has had a short but productive week following up on #givingtuesday, covering the Rail Passengers Fairness Act, and galvanizing plans for upcoming field support.

  • Bruce Becker, Vice-President of Operations, worked with Jonsie Stone on the Association's re-designed website, which was launched yesterday.

  • Jonsie Stone, Director of Resource Development, worked with Bruce Becker on the Association's re-designed website, which was launched yesterday.

  • Kim Williams, Membership Manager, is working with our payment processors to troubleshoot member renewal issues and hopes to have them resolved quickly. Thank you all for your patience and happy holidays!

The Rail Passengers Association would like to thank our Annual Partners for their support.

We are excited to welcome Texas Rail Advocates as our newest Annual Partner. The Southwestern Rail Conference is hosted by Texas Rail Advocates, the largest grassroots, non-profit organization in Texas that promotes smart development of freight and passenger rail throughout the Southwest. To learn more about the Conference please click the image below.

Upcoming Regional Rail Passenger & State Association Events

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

Passenger Service Notices

Keystone Service Schedule Changes

Effective Dec. 7, 8, 14 and 15, 2019

Due to track work being performed along the Keystone Service line, some schedules will be affected on the weekends of December 7-8 and 14-15.


  • Train 611, 615, 661, 663, 667, 669 and 671 will operate 7 minutes later from Exton to Harrisburg.

  • Train 665 will operate 5 minutes earlier from Philadelphia to Paoli and 2 minutes later from Exton to Harrisburg.

12th Annual Turkey Trot 5K Run/Walk Affects Amtrak Thruway Service

Thursday, November 28, 2019

On Thursday, November 28, the Claremont Sunrise Rotary will be hosting their 12th Annual 5k Run/Walk and 1K Kids Fun Run event. Streets will be closed from 5:30 am to 11:00 am.

As a result, Amtrak’s Thruway Buses 5415 and 5417will be unable to access the Claremont stop. Buses 5402, 5410, 5412, 5413, 5416 and 5419 will continue to stop at Claremont during afternoon, late night and early morning hours. All Thruway service will run normally at Amtrak’s Ontario station stop, approximately 25 minutes east of Claremont.

Pacific Surfliner Service

Wed., Nov. 27 through Mon., Dec. 2, 2019

Reservations Required During the Thanksgiving Holiday Period

Make Your Pacific Surfliner Reservations Now For the Thanksgiving Holiday

To better accommodate the increased number of travelers expected during the busy Thanksgiving holiday period, reservations will be required on all Pacific Surfliner trains from Wednesday, Nov. 27 through Monday, Dec. 2. During this period, your ticket will only be valid on the train you are holding a reservation for.

Reservations are not required for our monthly and ten-ride ticket holders

Additionally, both Rail2Rail programs (Coaster and Metrolink) will observe a blackout period for the same dates, Nov. 27 through Dec. 2.

Also, we are adding cars to select trains to provide more seating for our customers on these dates. For more information on Thanksgiving holiday travel aboard the Pacific Surfliner, visit https://www.pacificsurfliner.com/blog/tips-for-planning-your-thanksgiving-trip/

Holiday Travel Reminders

  • For reservations, visit Amtrak.com, use our free mobile app, speak with station personnel or call 1-800-USA-RAIL (1-800-872-7245).

  • Use eTicketing to avoid ticket counter lines.

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

  • Take advantage of our California Everyday Discounts and other offers, but please note the blackout dates.

  • Take up to two bags (each weighing 50 pounds or less) for free. We have space on the first level of the train for larger and heavier luggage and room above each seat.

  • If you are traveling between stations with luggage service, you can check your bags. Stations are marked on the schedule with a suitcase icon.

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

  • Amtrak customers must produce valid photo identification when requested; including the following instances:

    • Obtaining, exchanging or refunding tickets

    • Storing baggage at stations

    • Checking baggage

    • Onboard trains, in response to a request by an Amtrak employee

Ashland, VA, Station Platform Update

Effective through Fall/Winter 2020

Beginning mid-October, Amtrak will begin construction to upgrade platforms at the Ashland station in order to make them compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The platforms and passenger loading areas will be raised, although a lift will still be required for passengers with mobility disabilities to board the train. Additional lighting will be added to the east side of the platform. Below is a rendering of the final improvements as seen from the south end of the platform facing north.

Construction will be performed in two phases, updating the southern portion first and then the northern portion. The Visitor Center inside the train station will continue to be open and Amtrak trains will continue to serve Ashland during construction.

Parking in certain areas will be limited during the different phases of construction. Please refer to the parking information page http://www.ashlandva.gov/562/Parking-Information for updates on parking throughout the project.

For updates about the project visit https://www.amtrak.com/stations/asd.html

Hiawatha Service Reservations Required During the Thanksgiving Holiday Travel Period

Tues., Nov. 26 through Mon., Dec. 2, 2019

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. 26 through Monday, Dec. 2. During this period, the date and time on your ticket must match the train you are riding on.

Monthly and ten-ride ticket holders will not need reservations.

Holiday Travel Reminders

  • For reservations, visit Amtrak.com, use our free mobile apps, speak with station personnel or call 1-800-USA-RAIL (1-800-872-7245).

  • Use eTicketing to avoid ticket counter lines.

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

  • Please note:

    • Boarding gates close five minutes before train departure

    • Ticket sales end 10 minutes before departure times

    • If checking baggage: Arrive one hour before departure

    • If assistance is required: Arrive early and alert staff

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

  • Amtrak customers must produce valid photo identification when:

    • Obtaining, exchanging or refunding tickets

    • Storing baggage at stations

    • Checking baggage

    • Onboard trains, in response to a request by an Amtrak employee

Keystone Service and Pennsylvanian Trains 42 and 43

Reservations Required During the Thanksgiving Holiday Travel Period

Effective Nov. 25 through Dec. 2, 2019

Make Your Keystone Service and Pennsylvanian Reservations Now For the Thanksgiving Holiday

To better accommodate the increased number of travelers expected during the busy Thanksgiving holiday period, reservations will be required on all Pennsylvanian and Keystone Service trains (including Philadelphia to Harrisburg service) from Monday, Nov. 25 through Monday, Dec. 2.

Reservations will not be required for our monthly and ten-ride ticket holders.

Note: On Thanksgiving Day, the Keystone Service trains will operate according to a Saturday schedule.

Holiday Travel Reminders:

  • For reservations, visit Amtrak.com, use our free mobile app, speak with station personnel or call 800-USA-RAIL (1-800-872-7245).

  • Use eTicketing to avoid ticket counter lines.

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

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

  • Amtrak customers must produce valid photo identification when requested; including the following instances:

    • Obtaining, exchanging or refunding tickets Storing baggage at stations

    • Checking baggage

    • Onboard trains, in response to a request by an Amtrak employee

    • Visit Amtrak.com for complete details on Amtrak’s ID requirements.

Travel Tips

Have a safe and Happy Thanksgiving.

Amtrak Police Department

2019 Thanksgiving Holiday Vigilance

During the Thanksgiving holiday, Amtrak experiences the five busiest travel days of the year, and many stations will be crowded with large groups of customers traveling during this time. In response to this holiday, Amtrak Police Officers, along with state, federal, and local law enforcement partners will be enhancing patrols at stations and facilities, on board trains, and along the right-of-way.

In addition to increased police presence, Amtrak employees are being asked to increase their awareness during the performance of their normal daily duties. These increased attentions help to ensure the safety and security of the traveling public, employees and the rail transportation system.

Report suspicious items, persons, behavior or activity immediately to the Amtrak

Police Department by approaching a uniformed officer, calling (800) 331-0008,

sending a text to APD11 (27311), or by calling 911.

Criminals or terrorists often engage in surveillance before committing a crime or attack. Suspicious behavior may be defined as anyone who is

  • in an unauthorized or restricted area;

  • on Amtrak property without proper ID, uniform or safety gear;

  • loitering, staring, or watching employees and customers;

  • conducting unusual, repeated, and/or prolonged observation of a building (e.g. with binoculars or video camera);

  • taking notes or measurements;

  • counting paces;

  • sketching floor plans; and

  • questioning individuals at a level beyond curiosity about a building’s purpose, operations, security procedures and/or personnel shift changes, etc.

Have a safe and Happy Thanksgiving.

Your Feedback is Important to Improving American Passenger Trains

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]

Do You Need More TravelReview Feedback Cards?

Please help us to spread the word. We need your help in engaging other passengers when you travel and let them know that their feedback is welcomed by RailPax. To facilitate this sharing of information the TravelReview Feedback Card is now available for you to download and print for regular usage. The card can be given to fellow passengers to introduce the work that RailPax is doing as well as our desire to have their feedback. The cards can also be left behind in stations as you pass through.

The template is in a .pdf format and will open in Adobe document cloud. First download the file and save it to your desktop for easy access. Then print as needed. The original template is formatted for Avery 5871 or 5371 cardstock which are both 2” x 3½” business card formats. Any brand cardstock should function as long as the dimensions match.

If you experience any problems in accessing the file, please send an email to [email protected]

Lonely Planet's Amazing Train Journeys

Planning a holiday-season vacation including trains, or looking for a great holiday gift idea, then you need a copy of Lonely Planet’s ‘Amazing Train Journeys’ guidebook! And with every purchase Lonely Planet will donate 15% of the proceeds to your Association, to help us keep working for More Trains, Better Trains and a commitment to better infrastructure.

Through this beautiful book, you’ll experience 60 of the world’s greatest and most unforgettable train journeys, from classic long-distance trips like Western Canada’s Rocky Mountaineer and Darwin to Adelaide’s The Ghan, to little-known gems on regular commuting lines. It’s the culmination of asking more than 200 travel writers for their absolute favorites.

Some are epic international adventures, others are short suburban routes along stunning coastline. There are incredible feats of engineering, trains that snake their way through mountain peaks, and even those which have achieved Unesco World Heritage status.

More than just a collection, each profile will give you the practical information you need to experience one or more of these epic journeys yourself -- including ticket options, timetables and stops, plus inspiring photos and illustrated maps. It’s all here!

Amazing Train Journeys is available as a book, e-Book or in both formats at a low combination price. And your purchase helps supports your Association’s mission too! Remember, Lonely Planet is contributing 15% of all Amazing Train Journeys sales to Rail Passengers! You can order copies by clicking here!

Nominations Open For 2020 Election Of Council Of Representatives Members

Last Reminder - Submission Deadline Is Sunday, December 1st

Rail Passengers’ is inviting all members in good standing to consider running for seats on the Council of Representatives, the Association’s volunteer governing body. The next election for state positions on the Council will occur in January 2020 and will be for a two-year term starting March 1, 2020. Any Rail Passengers Association member, who has paid membership dues for at least one year, is at least 18-years of age and is a U.S. resident is eligible to run.

The Council includes 112 elected state representatives. The number of representatives per state is determined by an equally weighted ratio of the number of Rail Passengers Association members in a given state and the state’s number of U.S. Representatives. Every state has at least one state Council Representative. The certified number of Council seats to be elected per state in January 2020 can be found on the Rail Passenger website at ‘2020 Council of Representatives Election’.

The Council of Representatives represents the overall Rail Passengers Association membership in setting and approving the overall policy & direction for the organization. The Council elects the Officers and Board of Directors of the Association, in addition to electing up to 10 ‘At-Large’ members of the Council. Serving on the Council is a great opportunity to collaborate with others who have a common interest in actively improving passenger rail service across the country. Council members are expected to engage in advocacy activities at the local, grassroots level, to advance the Association’s goals and they also represent local needs, issues and activities at the national level.

The Council of Representatives meets in-person twice per year; in the spring of each year in the Washington, D.C. area, and in the fall of each year at varied locations across the country. Council members are responsible for their own travel & meeting expenses to attend these gatherings, but they may be able to deduct these expenses on their tax returns. Incumbent Council Representatives who are seeking re-election must have attended (or been represented by an alternate) at least two of the four Council meetings held during the March 1, 2018 - February 29, 2020 term.

Members interested in running for a seat on the Council must complete and submit a Candidate Information Statement for review and qualification by 11:59 p.m. local time on December 1, 2019. The Candidate Information Statement is available on the Rail Passengers website or by requesting a printed copy from the Rail Passengers’ DC office.

Complete information on serving on the Council of Representatives; detailed specifications on the election procedures and the Candidate Information Statement can be found on the Rail Passengers website at ‘2020 Council of Representatives Election’.

The Rail Passengers Association is only as strong as the volunteer leaders who step up and share their time & talents in working towards our collective goals. Please consider becoming one of these leaders and help make a difference in the future of passenger rail.