Happening Now

Hotline #1,172

June 19, 2020

Rail news for the week ending June 19th

D.C. Office Remains Closed, Rail Passengers Staff Working Remotely

Click here for more information on how this affects your membership.

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The June Passengers Voice Newsletter is now available.

Click here to read the digital version.


If you’re not clicking on our LINKS, you’re missing out!

Do you click our links? As you read the Hotline each week, don’t forget to click through the blue links! Whenever you see text in GREEN that’s underlined, that’s our way of sharing more information with all of you. In stories about the new TRAINS Act, we’re letting you read the actual bill. In our recent stories about Brightline, we’re linking to original news accounts or Miami-Dade government documents about the service. When we try to keep you up to date on the developments in Texas over high-speed rail, we offer links to court documents so you can read in more detail. Just hover your mouse over the green text, click, and enrich your experience...it’s the best way we have to make sure you get the whole picture!


After Marathon Committee Session, Innovative Rail Title Advances to House Floor

After a marathon markup that lasted more than 36 hours across two days, the House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure advanced the $494 billion INVEST in America Act. The bill will invest $58 billion in rail over five years, and institute a series of sweeping reforms to Amtrak governance, operations, and onboard services.

“We applaud the committee for their dedication in passing this exciting passenger rail legislation and urge the full House—and the Senate—to pass it into law without delay,” said Rail Passengers President Jim Mathews. “If enacted, this bill would provide sufficient resources to get Amtrak through the coronavirus crisis without resorting to service cuts that would negatively affect hundreds of Amtrak-served communities.”

The markup was marred throughout by technical problems—the majority of the committee members took part via a web-conference service, to maintain social distancing. It also featured several moments of tension between members, with accusations by Republicans that the majority hadn’t given enough consideration to their proposals. While the Republican members of the committee were, in the main, supportive of the core programs, they took exception to several of the climate change programs Democrats introduced to reduce carbon emissions. Ranking Member Sam Graves (R-MO) blamed pressure from Democratic leadership, noting how these infrastructure spending bills are traditionally an area of compromise between the two parties.

“I know how stuff can get hijacked by leadership,” said Rep. Graves. “I know there are times you can resist that and times when you just simply cannot.”

Rail Passengers Targets Rail Amendments

During the markup, the Committee considered hundreds of amendments, and adopted a number of amendments from both parties, including 34 Republican amendments and 23 Democratic amendments. Rail Passengers tracked key passenger rail amendments across the two day markup—both those that made improvement to programs, and those which would have reduced funding or eliminated key policy provisions our association has worked to advance.

Rail Amendments in the INVEST in America Act

Pence 033 – OPPOSE – Failed by a voice vote: The original version of this amendment eliminated language instructing the Secretary of Transportation when distributing grants to give priority for stations served by commuter rail and Amtrak trains, priority for heavily used stations, and increased the the rural carveout to 25 percent of total funds. The updated version of this amendment, which was voted on, would have merely increased the rural set aside from 15 percent to 30 percent (An earlier statement put out by the Rail Passengers Association incorrectly stated that this amendment would have eliminated eligibility for passenger rail stations; we apologize to Rep. Pence and our members for the error.)

Garcia 064– SUPPORT – Withdrawn by unanimous consent: Creates parity between highway and transit funding.

Mitchell 064 – OPPOSE – Not agreed to by a voice vote: Eliminates the Passenger Rail Improvement, Modernization, and Expansion (PRIME) Grants, an exciting new capital investment program to improve the state of good repair, operational performance, and growth of the U.S. intercity passenger rail network.

Cohen 090 – SUPPORT – Adopted as part of the manager's amendment: Reinstates the recently eliminated dining car service on long-distance routes.

Cohen 091 – SUPPORT – Still tracking: Expands TIFIA financing for Transit Oriented Development by making commercial and residential development eligible for TIFIA (15% cap per year).

Pappas RR – OPPOSE – Adopted as part of the manager’s amendment: Eliminates $100 million per year in funding from Amtrak’s National Network authorization in a newly created fund designed to help states cover the costs of providing state-supported services, and transfers the funding to a RRIF program to subsidize loans to freight rail and passenger rail projects. The Transportation Committee cited lower estimates for state needs.

Graves LA 122 – OPPOSE – Still tracking: Reduces transit formula dollars in FY22 by the amount of coronavirus relief funds the transit agency received from the CARES act in excess of 50% of what the agency received in FY2020.

INVEST in America Act’s Final Passage Targeted for Early July

The full bill is scheduled to appear on the House floor on June 30th, where House leaders hope to pass it before the July 4th recess.

“I urge the rest of my colleagues in Congress to now join us in fighting for a new vision to rebuild our country,” said Chair Peter DeFazio (D-OR). “The time is now to fix our crumbling infrastructure, cut carbon pollution from the transportation sector, and create millions of good-paying jobs in urban, suburban and rural communities.”

Rail Bill Aided by Outside Pressure to Move Infrastructure Package

The INVEST in America Act is expected to pass the full House with strong Democratic support. However, the policies outlined in the bill will face a number of sizable hurdles to clear before they can become law. The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation will need to advance its own counterproposal, and financing committees in both houses will need to find out ways to pay for the ambitious new investment programs.

However, the transportation bills’ prospects may receive an outside boost from other parts of Washington, with the White House and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) both calling for an infrastructure package before Congress adjourns for the year.

The White House is floating a $1 trillion infrastructure investment figure, though they haven’t publicly released any programmatic details.

“Since he took office, President Trump has been serious about a bipartisan infrastructure package that rebuilds our crumbling roads and bridges, invests in future industries, and promotes permitting efficiency,” wrote White House spokesman Judd Deere.

Democratic leadership, meanwhile, plans to roll the INVEST in America Act in a larger $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan designed to provide economic stimulus to the faltering U.S. economy. They expressed hope that they can work with President Trump to find a compromise package that works for both parties.

“The president, we understand, really wants an infrastructure bill,” Pelosi told reporters yesterday. “He talks about it quite a bit, so now let’s get down to what that means.”

In a week where Americans filed 1.5 million unemployment claims, bringing the unemployed total to more than 40 million, Rep. DeFazio emphasized that the ambition of INVEST in America Act was tied, in large part, to addressing the needs of Americans dealing with the present day crisis.

“We are going to need a lot of jobs when we come out of this,” DeFazio concluded to reporters.


CALIFORNIA ACTION ALERT

Help Defend High-Speed Rail

In another attempt to defund high-speed rail in the state, members of the California State Assembly last week adopted HR 97 which requests that the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CAHSRA) delay the awarding of several key contracts regarding the completion of the initial 171-mile construction segment currently under construction in the Central Valley. These contracts include the track construction and electrification of the line, the procurement of electric high-speed train sets, and land acquisitions to continue construction into the cities of Merced and Bakersfield -- all vital steps toward the completion of the route between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

We are asking all of our members and friends in California to write and tweet your legislators to tell them to stand up for high-speed rail and that you oppose delaying the project as directed in HR 97.

You can access our campaign here


Amtrak Sets Service Cutbacks Beginning October 1 to Long-Distance, State-Supported and Northeast Corridor Trains

By Jim Mathews / President & CEO

On Monday, Amtrak started telling employees that they’ll run the National Network trains – mostly – only three times per week in fiscal 2021, as well as cutting back state-supported and Northeast Corridor trains as a “temporary” pandemic response measure in hopes of returning service to prior levels by next summer.

Amtrak will operate 32% fewer frequencies on the Northeast Corridor, 24% fewer on the state-supported services and then slash “most” long-distance trains to three days per week. Only the Auto Train is spared. The Silver Meteor will run four times a week along with the Silver Star, so the stations that those two routes share in common will keep daily service.

Roger Harris, Amtrak’s executive vice president and chief marketing and revenue officer, said it is an “appropriate response” to coronavirus-driven declines in an internal memo that was made public Monday morning.

“The demand for our Long Distance service is down by 70%, even as some U.S. states begin to reopen,” Harris said in the memo. “We expect our systemwide ridership in Fiscal Year 2021 to be only 50% of what it was in 2019.”

He further blamed “low ridership on long-distance trains” for “significantly” increasing Amtrak’s operating losses.

We are not naive. We have been accused in our opposition this week of not recognizing the reality of the decline. But even a cursory glance at Rail Passengers’ blog posts, statements and newsletters in recent months will show that we fully understand that the coronavirus pandemic has left ridership in tatters, and we support -- strongly -- any measures the Congress can take to shore up Amtrak during this terrible time.

But we also know two very important facts which don’t seem to have been addressed in the decision-making: long-distance service has performed better than the other two business lines during the pandemic, and three-times weekly service has been a demand-killer every time it has been tried.

Trains magazine correspondent Bob Johnston pointed out this week that “While ridership and revenue remains suppressed because of the pandemic, long-distance ticket revenues climbed 71%, from $6.8 million to $11.6 million, between April and May. Operating with approximately the same frequencies, Northeast Corridor billing rose about 60% from $1.5 million to $2.4 million, and state supported trains generated less than a 50% increase, from $2.3 million in April to $3.5 million in May.”

So in other words, the long-distance routes generated MORE business during May than the other two business lines. Even with breathtaking declines in ridership on all of the trains it continues to run, declines have been lower in the long-distance area than on other trains. In fact, the VP of the long-distance business unit, Larry Chestler, told us last month that there had been some encouraging upticks in bookings that may signal higher demand is coming.

It’s not even necessary to know your history to know that three-times weekly is a recipe for lower utility and lukewarm demand. This week I told the Washington Post, NPR, CBS News and the Associated Press that “It's no coincidence that the worst-performing trains in Amtrak's system are the two less-than-daily long-distance services. Remaking the entire National Network to emulate this failure is no solution to a temporary — if dramatic — decline in ridership. Working with legislators and policymakers to find a way through is the right answer.”

But if you don’t believe me, let’s go ahead and look back at history, which shows us clearly that three-times weekly doesn’t work. Think back to the mid-1990s, when Mercer Consulting advised Amtrak leaders to throw a few routes overboard, shorten others and take 11 routes down from daily to three or four times per week.

Those moves in Fiscal 1995 took Amtrak’s overall route network down 13% in total miles, and saved $54 million. So far so good, I guess. But the U.S. government watchdog now known as the Government Accountability Office and then known as the General Accounting Office reported to Congress that the following fiscal year Amtrak lost 1.1 million riders -- a 5% ridership drop -- and never saw the savings they had banked on for the 11 routes with reduced service.

“Amtrak officials told us that these problems occurred because (1) while passengers affected by frequency reductions generally adjusted their travel plans to conform with Amtrak’s more limited service in 1995, this rider behavior did not continue into 1996; (2) management did not cut costs as much as planned; and (3) less-than-daily service caused less efficient usage of equipment and other unforeseen problems,” GAO said.

You can read the full GAO report here.

In short, the savings from cutting long-distance frequencies generally don’t follow in line with the magnitude of the cuts. Chopping four of seven daily trains -- a 57% cut -- only means you have 57% fewer opportunities to generate revenue to cover the fixed overhead. Whether those trains will operate at ridership levels sufficient to make up the difference is, admittedly, an open question. But early demand figures suggest some glimmers of improvement.

Let’s make no mistake, smaller and more rural communities will bear the brunt of these reductions. Once again “Flyover Country” will be left to muddle through. These trains which are important elements of a multi-modal transportation system in dense population centers like Philadelphia or Boston or New York are vital lifelines in rural areas. These are places like Chemult, Ore., which produces three times as many annual individual train trips by individual riders than the population. Or Williams Junction, Ariz., with 2.36 times as many trips as residents. Or East Glacier, Mont., which generates 40% more trips than residents. Or Williston, N.D., with a third again more trips than residents. Raton, N.M., Cut Bank, Mont., Marks, Miss., Las Vegas, N.M., the list goes on and on, but I think you get the idea.

Our position remains what it was on May 25th when CEO Bill Flynn alerted Congress that this might be in the works. Like many congressional leaders, Rail Passengers strongly supports the need to get Amtrak through this crisis with additional funds. Also like many congressional leaders, however, we insist that any additional funds appropriated need to buy certainty for workers and passengers alike. Daily train service must be the very minimum service level.

Right now, your Rail Passengers professional staff is working hard to solidify support across the Congress for daily service, including developing a sign-on letter led by our coalition of pro-rail U.S. Senators. Our digital/email campaign is generating tremendous results, reaching 380 House offices and 98 Senate offices. All of you have done great work helping us get this done, sending thousands of messages each day. If you haven’t done it yet, follow this link to add your message to the close to 7,000 already sent. Keep up the pressure!

If Amtrak has a path forward to restoring service, it needs to share that plan with Congress and with us. If Amtrak doesn’t have a path forward, then it needs to explain why anyone should believe the assurances that the move is merely “temporary.” And if Amtrak still believes in the bold vision it outlined for Fiscal 2021 back in February, then it needs to say so.. The whole world is sick right now, but when it gets better it will be time for us to travel again. And Amtrak should assure taxpayers and riders that it still wants to expand and that it will be ready to answer Americans’ demand for more and better trains.

Texas Central Foes Cite Amtrak’s Fiscal 2021 Shortfall to Argue Against Federal Jurisdiction for Houston-Dallas Project

Opponents of the planned Texas Central high-speed rail link between Houston and Dallas are trotting out another new argument -- Amtrak is slashing the long-distance trains whose connections would have qualified Texas Central for federal jurisdiction as a part of the U.S. interstate passenger rail network.

Delta Troy Interests, one of the more vocal groups of Texas Central foes, cited Amtrak CEO Bill Flynn’s May 25 letter to Congress warning about budget shortfalls driven by coronavirus declines. Delta Troy told the U.S. Surface Transportation Board that because Amtrak’s long-distance train service to Dallas and Houston is supposedly “at risk,” Texas Central should be required to submit revised ridership projections to the STB before ruling on Texas Central’s May 4, 2018 Petition to Reopen.

This week, Texas Central crisply countered that argument, filing a reply to the STB noting that “Amtrak’s projected shortfall in FY 2021 has no relevance here. Texas Central passenger service will commence in 2026, six years after the COVID-19 crisis. Moreover, it will require a three-year ramp-up period (until 2029) to reach the long term through-passenger volumes projected by Amtrak’s proprietary ridership model.”

Texas Central notes that Amtrak is saying it hopes to restore service quickly, possibly as soon as the summer, and there is no hint that coronavirus-driven declines would last five years beyond Fiscal 2021.

Delta Troy’s argument attacks what we at Rail Passengers have long believed is a key element supporting Texas Central’s place in a true U.S. interstate passenger rail network -- the availability of easy connections to Amtrak services. Rail Passengers’ analysis, which we shared with the STB, showed that Houston and Dallas passengers would be linked, via a single fare purchase, to some 13,958 Amtrak route miles making any one of 12,256 possible origin-destination pair journeys possible.

Building single-ticket connections between the proposed Houston-Dallas route and the rest of the Amtrak National Network will permit northbound travelers in Houston to buy a single fare to ride TCR’s train and connect with Amtrak’s Texas Eagle, or with the Heartland Flyer via the Eagle. The Houston TCR passenger would thus enjoy single-fare access to any one of 4,753 different journeys on the combined Amtrak-TCR network—access to 5,662 route miles of Amtrak service. Southbound travelers can reach any one of the Sunset Limited’s 22 destinations or even connect to Amtrak’s City of New Orleans or Crescent services, opening up 7,503 potential journeys along 8,296 Amtrak route miles.


We are happy to announce that our Regional Briefing on the Front Range Corridor will take place on Wednesday, June 24th at 3pm Eastern/1pm Mountain. We will give an overview of the key victories in the newly released TRAIN Act, discuss current advocacy plans in the region, as well as hear a presentation from Southwest Chief & Front Range Passenger Rail Commission Project Director Randy Grauberger.

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Register for the briefing here!

Registration closes June 22nd.


Transit Is Not To Blame

As cities around the country started shutting down in order to stop further spread of COVID-19, the cries to completely halt public transit systems grew louder and louder over fears that trains & buses would only compound the problem. An article co-written this week by former Deputy Administrator of the Federal Transit Administration & commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation Janette Sadik-Khan for The Atlantic points out that our fears may have been outweighing the facts.

A major reason for these worries was a report released in April from MIT titled “The Subways Seeded the Massive Coronavirus Epidemic in New York City”, which stated that the NYC subway was “was a major disseminator – if not the principal transmission vehicle – of coronavirus infection during the initial exponential takeoff of the epidemic during the first two weeks of March 2020”. What is not talked about in this report is the fact that, by the time it was released, MTA ridership has already dropped by nearly 75%. It also doesn’t answer why the suburban sprawl of Staten Island, which doesn't have a rail or bus connection to Manhattan, was the city’s second biggest virus hotspot in April. Was this just a case of anti-city reporting? Over the last few weeks, we have seen the resurgence of this virus in regions not known for their urban transit such as Florida, Iowa, and Nebraska.

Cities around the world, with buisier and more robust transit systems than we have here, were also not seeing the same findings from this MIT report. As noted in the Atlantic article -- Hong Kong, which normally has a daily subway ridership of nearly 13M people (double that of NYC), saw their total cases equal to “one-tenth that of the entire state of Kansas”. So the question has to be asked: if transportation is the villain it has been painted to be, why didn’t cities such as Hong Kong suffer so much more than they did? Maybe it’s less about the transportation itself and more about the culture of the riders, where wearing masks to help with public health is not a new concept.

Read An ‘Essential’ Truth About Transportation Workers

We were never going to be able to completely shutter these systems, even while so many other aspects of our daily lives closed down around us, because they were needed by the very people tasked with fighting the pandemic. We are going to need to rely on buses and trains to help get the economy back on its feet when we finally see the other side of this. This is something that agencies are starting to work on and a big part of that is due to them being able to operate, however limited, throughout this crisis.

Agencies Work To Make Commutes Easier, Bring Riders Back

While there is a very long road ahead to dig out of the massive ridership hole that was brought upon by the pandemic, especially with many employers asking their workers to avoid public transit for the immediate future, some agencies are starting to put together plans to attract those who will still need to use transit. As Rail Passengers President and CEO Jim Mathews wrote in his blog last month, there are “some kinds of work that simply can’t be done on a screen”.

Two examples of this can be seen in Boston (MBTA) and New York (Long Island Rail Road), who both announced new options for riders this week. Officials from the MBTA unveiled two new plans aimed at making commutes easier for those who still need to travel for work, but not on a daily basis. The first is a 5-day “flex pass” for users of the commuter rail which works similar to passes currently available for trains & buses and gives riders the flexibility to use the five days worth of rides over the course of a 30-day time period. The second is the return of a popular pilot program which offered subway-level fares for commuter rail stations stations in Lynn, which would bring the price of a one-way ticket from $7.00 to $2.40. Lynn is just 4.5 miles from the end of the MBTA Blue Line at Wonderland. The MBTA also announced that any rail pass that expired during the pandemic shutdown could be used for the next 90-days.

Officials with the Long Island Rail Road are giving riders an update to its current app that will allow them to find a less crowded train car even before it rolls into the station. Thanks to “load-weight sensors” built into the suspension system of the trains, not only will users of the updates app have this realtime information but it will be made available on the digital boards at the Jamaica station. The color coded system will allow passengers to keep with social distancing safety measures and direct them to specific sections of the platform where they can find the more sparsely occupied cars.

Sleeper Cars provide Stress-Free Travel in Tumultuous Times

In a recent feature, Travel and Leisure promoted the comfort of travelling by sleeper car in the era of social distancing. Touted by Amtrak's Roger Harris as a way of travelling with peace of mind, over a dozen routes offer sleeper cars as a ticketing option which includes meals and plenty of personal space. With the interstate rail network of historic routes, outdoor destinations such as national parks and open air markets, Amtrak sleepers are a great option for anyone looking to enjoy their summer travels while staying conscious and respectful of the current situation.


Member & Donor Notices

  • * Membership renewals and donations are not the same.* When you send in a payment, please let us know how to allocate the funds! If you send us a check without specifying that it is for membership renewal, we have to allocate it as a donation. We receive about the same number of renewal payments and donation payments, so it will expedite processing if you let us know how to mark your payment.

  • * We are unable to provide permanent membership cards, print Thank You letters, or membership/benefits information while the Rail Passengers staff is working remotely.* Luckily, you can print a temporary membership card by creating an account at www.railpassengers.org and selecting “My Account” on the homepage. We can send donations or renewal Thank You letters by email. Contact us at [email protected] to add your email address and receive a Thank You email instead!

  • *Make sure you’ve fully filled out your renewal form before sending it in.* Without all information included, your payment/donation cannot be processed. The information on the form also helps us allocate your contribution.

  • *Save us postage!* If you respond to one of our membership renewal or donation letters, you can save us money on postage if you apply your own stamp to the reply envelope. Every little bit helps!

  • *The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act includes new tax incentives for charitable giving.* We’ve provided a quick overview here and encourage each of you to seek advice from a financial planner.

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Looking for that perfect Father’s Day gift? Shopping through AmazonSmile is an easy way to show your support for the Rail Passengers Association. 0.5% of your eligible purchases will be donated directly to Rail Passengers. Happy Shopping!

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Did you know many companies offer a matching gift program? This is an easy way to increase the impact of your Rail Passengers Association donation/membership dues. Please check with your HR professional to see what options are available to you. Matching gift benefits may even apply to retired employees. If you have any questions, please send Jonsie Stone an email at [email protected]


#ICYMI - In Case You Missed It: This Week’s Social Media Highlights

Chime in and make your voice heard in support of the advancement of passenger rail. Follow along and join the conversation via Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and our blog posts on RailPassengers.org

This week we discussed Amtrak cuts, BART expansions, changes to VRE, and much more!

Top Comment of the Week:

“If we don't prop these public services up now and continue building on them, then we won't have a functioning society to return to when things are safe. This is not a time for capitalist market demand reasoning - it simply doesn't apply in this climate.” - Matt Stern

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If you are working with a local organization and have news you would like to share, please reach out and let us know by emailing Madi Butler ([email protected]) with links to your press release, blog, or article.

Are you holding a community meeting, networking opportunity or another kind of rail-advocacy event? We can help spread the word if you send them to us. Email Joseph Aiello (j[email protected]) We will include those updates in our coverage and put them on the website here.


Rail Passengers Track Update

Where are we and what are we working on? This section will update you on what Rail Passengers HQ is up to...even when we’re all working online or from home!

  • Jim Mathews, President & CEO, gave more than a dozen press interviews regarding Amtrak’s contention that its only way through the coronavirus crisis is to slash long-distance service to three times weekly. Jim also monitored developments in the INVEST in America Act, and worked on internal administrative issues.

  • Sean Jeans Gail, Vice President of Policy, spent his week tracking all 36 hours of the Transportation Committee’s mark-up of the INVEST in America Act! He also worked with allied offices and members to support key amendments, and worked with Senate allies to develop a plan that would allow for daily service to continue throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

  • Carolyn Cokley, Director, Customer Programs, has been working on the Station Volunteer Program and is happy to report that station volunteers will be restaffing the East Lansing station effective Friday, June 26. CATA has reopened the station and Amtrak is pleased that the volunteers will be returning. Facial masks, social distancing and frequent handwashing will be observed by all volunteers. Carolyn will be reaching out to many of you as the program continues to expand into more cities across the country.

  • Joseph Aiello, Field Coordinator, spent time this week working with fellow advocates in California on a high-speed rail action alert. Joe has also been working with the rest of the staff in preparation of next week’s Front Range webinar.

  • Madi Butler, Grassroots Organizer, finalized plans for upcoming webinars, met with members and city officials in Houston, and was a featured guest of “On the Rails with Forrest Whitman”. We will provide a link to the interview when it airs.

  • Jonsie Stone, Director, Resource Development, created two email solicitations focusing on Amtrak’s announcement of reducing long-distance trains to a three-day-a-week service. Thank you to everyone who donated. To view the email sent Thursday and to contribute, click here. Jonsie also collaborated with our Finance team to prepare for the annual audit.

  • Kim Williams, Membership Manager, updated our Frequently Asked Questions page, processed payments, met with the Membership Subcommittee, and developed ideas to recruit new members interested in intercity and commuter rail.


May 27th marked the beginning of a series of online events for anyone who wants to keep informed, stay involved, and upgrade their personal organizing and advocacy skills. The idea is to give you the knowledge, the background, and the practical tips you’ll need to help us carry on this work from wherever you are. We’ve already started developing a series of programs to cover the following:

  • Corridor Spotlights: Our field team will coordinate with our Council Members and local groups to provide regional updates on corridor development initiatives, speakers from state rail groups to help provide vital local context, and opportunities to get personally involved at the local level. Our next briefing on June 24th will examine the work being done on the Front Range Corridor.

  • Online Advocacy 101: Focusing on communications and messaging, our team will provide a walkthrough of best practices for engaging an audience using the new digital tools and social media, gaining the attention of policy makers through online channels, free online platforms for hosting regional meetings and conferences, and more.

  • Transportation Stakes in the 2020 Elections: The policy staff will walk you through potential outcomes in the 2020 general elections and their projected impact on transportation policy at the federal level, key national- and state-level races to watch, and any state and local transit initiatives on the ballot [Rail Passengers is a 501(c)(3) and is prohibited by law from endorsing any political candidates].

Our team wants to hear from you about any additional topics you’d like us to cover:

  • Is there a specific corridor or region you’d like us to focus on?

  • Have an idea for a campaign, but need to see how the policy team would go about creating a communications strategy and ground game?

  • Do you have questions about how a federal grant program works?

Help us understand what you need to be a more effective voice for passengers in your region! Please reach out to Joe Aiello ([email protected], Subject: Webinar Topics) with topics and questions you’d like addressed in any upcoming Rail Passengers briefings.

We look forward to working together to represent the interests of America’s passengers over the coming months!


Stuck at Home for Awhile? Grab a Copy of Lonely Planet's ‘Amazing Train Journeys’ and Support Your Association at the Same Time

If you’re spending more time than you used to at home waiting for the “All Clear” to start hitting the rails again, why not order yourself a copy of Lonely Planet’s ‘Amazing Train Journeys’ guidebook to pass the time? It’s not only a gorgeous and fun book, but 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! You win and we win!

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!



Get Your Own ‘Rail Passengers’ Signature Federal Credit Union VISA Card!

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We are excited to announce our recent partnership with Signature Federal Credit Union. Rail Passengers members now have access to a full service, nationwide federal credit union with extensive product and service offerings. Signature FCU also becomes the exclusive provider of the Rail Passengers Association-branded Visa credit card with our logo, which supports our work by giving back to our organization, and gives you 1 point for every $1 you spend to redeem for travel and merchandise. The card has no annual fee, no balance transfer fees, no foreign transaction fees, and has a very low interest rate.

Gifts from Donor Advised Funds

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If you have a donor advised fund, please consider recommending a grant from your fund to be the Rail Passengers Association. It is a great way to maintain flexibility with your support throughout the year. For more information, go to http://myimpact.railpassengers.org/daf. As always, please feel free to contact Jonsie Stone if you have any questions.

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



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Upcoming Events

go to railpassengers.org/events for more events and information

Due to the current situation with the COVID-19 outbreak, many meetings around the country are being postponed and rescheduled for later dates. Please check our events page for updates and information.

Please contact Joe Aiello ([email protected]) to have a local, state or regional meeting added to the Rail Passengers calendar (print and on-line) of upcoming events!


Amtrak Passenger Service Notices

Track Work May Impact Capitol Limited Schedule

Effective Monday through Thursday June 15 through July 2, 2020

Due to track work being performed by CSX, Capitol Limited service may be affected as described below:

Monday-Thursday, June 15 through July 2

Track work will be performed from 8:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. between Pittsburgh and Connellsville. If Train 30 is more than sixty minutes late departing Pittsburgh, schedule changes will be as follows:

  • Trains 29 and 30 will terminate and originate at Pittsburgh. Alternate transportation will be provided between Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C., making stops at Pittsburgh, Connellsville, Cumberland, Martinsburg, Harpers Ferry, Rockville and Washington, D.C.

  • Buses will discharge passengers only.

  • Trains 29 and 30 may see delays up to 30 minutes when operating through the trackwork area during this time.

Pacific Surfliner and Coast Starlight Weekend Service Changes

Effective June 20 and 21, 2020

Due to a scheduled track closure, the Pacific Surfliner and Coast Starlight service will be adjusted as shown below:

Pacific Surfliner Northbound Trains, Saturday-Sunday, June 20 and 21:

  • Train 763, which normally operates between San Diego and Goleta will terminate at Los Angeles. Bus 4863 will operate in place of Train 763 from Los Angeles to Oxnard and Train 1763 will operate from Oxnard to Goleta. Regular connecting bus service will operate between Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo.

  • Train 777, which normally operates between San Diego to San Luis Obispo, will terminate at Los Angeles. Bus 4877 will operate in place of Train 777 from Los Angeles to Oxnard and Train 1777 will operate from Oxnard to San Luis Obispo.

  • Train 785, which normally operates between San Diego and Goleta, will terminate at Los Angeles. Bus 4885 will operate in place of Train 785 from Los Angeles to Oxnard and Train 1785 will operate from Oxnard to Goleta. Regular connecting bus service will be provided between Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo.

  • No alternate transportation will be provided to missed stations of Glendale, Burbank Airport, Chatsworth, Simi Valley, Moorpark or Camarillo.

  • Buses will depart all stations earlier than the normal schedule. Trains traveling north of Oxnard depart later than the normal schedule.

Pacific Surfliner Southbound Trains, Saturday-Sunday, June 20 and 21:

  • Train 768, which normally operates between Goleta and San Diego, will originate at Los Angeles. In place of Train 768, Train 1768 will operate from Goleta to Oxnard and operate as Bus 4868 from Oxnard to Los Angeles. Regular connecting bus service will be provided between San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara.

  • Train 774, which normally operates between San Luis Obispo and San Diego, will operate as Train 1774 from San Luis Obispo to Oxnard, as Bus 4874 from Oxnard to Los Angeles and as Train 774 from Los Angeles to San Diego.

  • Train 796 which normally operates between Goleta and San Diego, will originate at Los Angeles. In place of Train 796, Train 1796 will operate between Goleta and Oxnard and Bus 4896 will operate from Oxnard to Los Angeles. Regular connecting bus service will be provided between San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara.

  • No alternate transportation will be provided to missed stations of Glendale, Burbank Airport, Chatsworth, Simi Valley, Moorpark or Camarillo.

  • Buses will depart all stations earlier than the normal schedule. Trains traveling north of Oxnard depart later than the normal schedule.

Coast Starlight, Saturday-Sunday, June 20 and 21:

  • Trains 11 and 14, which normally operate between Seattle and Los Angeles, will be cancelled between Oakland and Los Angeles, missing intermediate stops at San Jose, Salinas, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Oxnard, Simi Valley, Van Nuys and Burbank.

    • Train 11 will terminate at Oakland and Bus 4796 will hold for connecting passengers. Train 14 will originate at Oakland.

    • Travel between Los Angeles and Oakland, via Bakersfield, may be booked using Amtrak San Joaquins and Thruway bus service.

    • Travel to most of the missed intermediate stops between Los Angeles or Oakland may be booked using a combination of Amtrak Capitol Corridor and/or Thruway bus service.

San Joaquins Service Schedule Changes

Effective June 29-30 and July 7-29, 2020

Please be advised that the San Joaquins service will operate on limited schedules until further notice. Additionally, track work will affect service on June 29, 30 and July 7 through 29.

Train Service Changes

  • Trains 701, 702, 703, 704, 714 and 717 and Thruway Bus connections are cancelled.

  • Thruway buses 3512 and 3519 between Bakersfield and Las Vegas are cancelled.

  • Please visit https://amtraksanjoaquins.com/amtrak-san-joaquins-covid-19-serviceadjustments/ for the most up to date Thruway schedules.

  • Café car service is suspended effective March 26. Complimentary snacks and water will be available.

Track Work Affects Service June 29, 30 and July 7 through 29

  • Train 718, which normally operates from Oakland (Jack London Square) to Bakersfield, will terminate at Wasco.

    • Amtrak Thruway Bus 5818 will originate at Wasco and provide alternate transportation between Wasco and Bakersfield.

  • Train 711, which normally operates from Bakersfield to Oakland (Jack London Square), will originate at Wasco.

    • Amtrak Thruway Bus 5811 will provide alternate transportation between Bakersfield and Wasco. Bus 5811 will depart all station stops from San Diego to Bakersfield 15 minutes earlier than normally scheduled.

Station Changes

  • Station buildings at Fresno, Hanford, Merced and Modesto are closed, until further notice. Customers boarding at these stations should proceed directly to the train and may purchase tickets onboard from the conductor.

  • Bakersfield, Stockton, Sacramento, Emeryville, Martinez and Oakland will operate with reduced staff and hours.

Empire Service and Maple Leaf Schedule Changes

Effective June 12 through 19, 2020

Due to trackwork being performed between Niagara Falls and Buffalo-Depew, Empire Service and Maple Leaf schedules are affected as outlined below.

Friday, June 12

  • Trains 281 and 283 will detour between Niagara Falls and Buffalo-Depew, missing the station stop at Buffalo Exchange.

Saturday through Friday, June 13 through 19

  • Trains 64, 281, 283 and 284 will detour between Niagara Falls and Buffalo-Depew, missing the station stop at Buffalo Exchange

La Junta, CO, Station Waiting Room Temporarily Unstaffed

Effective June 12, 2020

Effective Friday, June 12, the La Junta, CO, station will be unstaffed.

The waiting room will be open to passengers prior to train departure.

Friends and family picking up arriving passengers are not permitted in the station and are asked to wait in their vehicles.

San Francisco-Emeryville, CA, Thruway Buses Resume Service

Effective June 15, 2020

Amtrak Thruway bus service will resume some service between San Francisco and Emeryville, CA, on a reduced schedule, effective Monday, June 15, as outlined below:

Bus Service Changes:

  • Buses 5005, 5006, 5011, 5014, 6011 and 6014 will connect with California Zephyr and Coast Starlight trains at Emeryville.

  • Buses will only stop at the San Francisco Salesforce Plaza and Emeryville stations. Buses will not stop at the Oakland Jack London station.

  • Sales will be limited to maintain social distancing.

Grand Forks, ND, Platform Replacement and Station Renovation

Effective Immediately

Please be advised that work has started at the Grand Forks station to replace the platform and remodel the restrooms to make them ADA compliant.

The project is estimated to be completed in 6 months. During the construction, there will be fencing around the station and the platform, limiting normal access to the station. The project will be performed in two phases, with access to the station limited during both. Portable restrooms will be available next to the station building.

Please use caution and allow extra time to arrive at the station.

Pacific Surfliner and Amtrak Thruway bus service will resume some service, on a reduced schedule effective Monday, June 1

Train Service Changes:

Three trains in each direction will operate north of Los Angeles. Two will end in Santa Barbara/Goleta and one will extend up to San Luis Obispo. Thruway bus service will provide supplemental departure options connecting trains in Santa Barbara and Los Angeles.

Southbound:

  • Beginning June 2, Train 774 will operate from San Luis Obispo instead of Los Angeles.

  • Thruway bus connections will be retimed to improve spacing of departure options and shorten layovers.

    • Two bus trips will operate between Oakland to San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara. One bus trip will operate between Santa Barbara and Los Angeles.

  • Trains 562, 566/1566, 572/1572, 578, 590/1590, 782 and 792 remain canceled.

Northbound:

  • Train 777 will terminate in San Luis Obispo instead of Goleta.

  • Train 785 will terminate in Goleta instead of Los Angeles.

  • Thruway bus connections will be retimed to improve spacing of departure options and shorten layovers.

    • One bus trip will operate between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara and two bus trips will operate between Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo to Oakland.

  • Trains 561/1761, 565/1565, 569/1569, 573/1573, 583, 591/1591, 595 and 759 remain canceled.

The Coastal Starlight, the long-distance Amtrak train, will continue to operate one trip daily through San Luis Obispo.

Amtrak requires all passengers to wear face coverings at stations and on trains.

Hiawatha Service Resumes Operation Reservations Required

Effective June 1, 2020

Effective June 1, Hiawatha trains will resume service on a modified schedule and reservations will be required.

Hiawatha Trains 332 and 339:

Will restore a round trip between Milwaukee and Chicago in response to anticipated increased demand. Empire Builder Trains 7/27 and 8/28 will continue service at all Hiawatha stops to provide morning and afternoon departures daily.

Safety Precautions:

  • Disinfecting stations and trains aggressively

  • Facial coverings are required for all customers in stations and on trains and thruway buses

  • Temporarily only accepting cashless payments

  • Reservations are temporarily required to maintain physical distancing, excluding holders of Multi-Ride tickets.

Keystone Service and Pennsylvanian Operation Resumes

Reservations Required

Effective June 1, 2020

Effective June 1, Keystone Service and Pennsylvanian trains will resume service on a modified schedule and reservations will be required.

Keystone Service: Modified service will include nine weekly roundtrips and six roundtrips on weekends, operating temporarily between Philadelphia and Harrisburg, only.

Pennsylvanian: Modified service will include one daily roundtrip operating normally between New York, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

Safety Precautions:

  • Disinfecting stations and trains aggressively

  • Facial coverings are required for all customers in stations and on trains and thruway buses

  • Temporarily only accepting cashless payments

  • Reservations are temporarily required to maintain physical distancing, excluding holders of Monthly and 10-trip tickets.

Travel Tip of the Week

Amtrak Essential Service Plan

June 17, 2020

At this time, various states are undertaking specific safety precautions at stations for customers arriving from out of state. Check with each state for specific guidance. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has urged residents of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut to refrain from non-essential travel for 14 days.

Amtrak service continues to operate on the Northeast Corridor, providing essential services during this challenging time. While Amtrak continues to operate, we have temporarily suspended the following services due to reduced demand.

Operating on a reduced schedule:

  • Acela (Boston – Washington, DC)

  • Adirondack (New York – Montreal): No service north of Albany

  • Amtrak Hartford Line (New Haven, Conn. – Springfield, Mass.)

  • Amtrak Thruway Bus routes

  • Capitol Corridor (San Jose – Sacramento)

  • Carolinian (Charlotte – New York)

  • Cascades (Eugene – Vancouver, B.C.): No service north of Seattle

  • Downeaster (Boston – Brunswick, Maine)

  • Empire Service (New York – Niagara Falls)

  • Ethan Allen Express (New York – Rutland, Vermont): No service north of Albany

  • Illini/Saluki (Chicago – Carbondale)

  • Illinois Zephyr/Carl Sandburg (Chicago – Quincy)

  • Keystone Service (Harrisburg – New York)

  • Lincoln Service (Chicago – St. Louis)

  • Maple Leaf (New York – Toronto): No service west of Niagara Falls, New York

  • Missouri River Runner (St. Louis – Kansas City)

  • Northeast Regional (Boston – New York – Washington, DC – Virginia)

  • Pacific Surfliner (San Luis Obispo – San Diego)

  • San Joaquins (Bakersfield – Oakland and Sacramento)

  • Silver Meteor/Silver Star (New York to Miami)

  • Valley Flyer (New Haven, Conn. – Greenfield, Mass.)

  • Vermonter (Washington – St. Albans): No service north of New Haven (Monday – Saturday) and no service on Sundays

  • Wolverine (Chicago – Pontiac)

Suspended services:

  • Pere Marquette (Chicago – Grand Rapids)

  • Piedmont (Charlotte – Raleigh)

What to Expect

Due to service reductions, some stations may not be staffed. If the station is closed, customers should proceed directly to the platform to board their train. Café service will also be suspended on select trains. Other services may be impacted as circumstances change.

Travel Changes

Customers with reservations on trains that are being modified will be contacted and accommodated on trains with similar departure times or on another day.

Ticket Changes and/or Cancellations

Amtrak is waiving change fees for reservations made before August 31, 2020. To modify a reservation, customers can log in to their account, go to ‘Modify Trip’ on Amtrak.com, or find their reservation from their account on the home screen in the Amtrak app. A fare difference may apply to a new itinerary. If customers want to cancel their reservation with no fee, they must call 800-USA-RAIL and speak with an agent (not available via Amtrak.com or the app).

TravelReview Feedback Card

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]

Looking Beyond Pandemic: The Work Continues

Even before the coronavirus outbreak, 2020 was shaping up as a critical year for the future of American passenger rail. With Amtrak ridership down more than 90% and rescue packages taking shape for intercity passenger rail, private operators, mass transit and airlines, there is a risk that when the crisis is over critically needed investment capital will be cut off -- and the legislative gains we have spent five years setting in motion could be squandered.

Amtrak is quasi-public corporation, with the federal government providing a significant portion of the railroad’s annual operations and capital budget. The current funding authorization expires at the end of FY2020, and in 2020 the Rail Passengers Association will be leading efforts in the courts and on Capitol Hill to ensure that America’s passenger rail service continues to thrive. We will fight to sustain our vision of “A Connected America” where all of us, rich or poor, rural or urban, are linked together.

We’re committed to this work and ready to take action, but we can’t do it alone. As we gear up to fight for passenger rail’s present and future, please consider donating to support this critical work.

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