June 26, 2020
Rail news for the week ending June 26th
D.C. Office Remains Closed, Rail Passengers Staff Working Remotely
The June Passengers Voice Newsletter is now available.
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. This week we’ve highlighted some of the medical challenges to reopening transportation in the U.S., and linked to a video from Amtrak detailing how they’re keeping trains -- and passengers -- safe. If you don’t click the link you won’t see the video. Whether sharing the actual text of the new TRAINS Act or offering links to court documents for the Texas high-speed rail effort, if you’re not clicking through these links you’re missing out! 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!
Due to the July 4th holiday, Rail Passengers will not release a full version of our hotline next Friday. Please stay tuned to our website, blogs, and social media channels for any & all important passenger rail news.
Senators Criticize Amtrak Over Proposed Cuts
Two coalitions of U.S. Senators issued a forceful response to Amtrak’s coronavirus emergency response plan, sending letters to William Flynn, President and CEO of Amtrak, expressing their concerns over the fallout of the coronavirus plan on American workers and the U.S. transportation network.
Amtrak’s recently announced plan calls for $1.475 billion in supplemental funding while eliminating 20 percent of its workforce and reducing service. This would come on top of funding provided by the CARES Act, where Congress provided Amtrak with $1.02 billion to help the railroad weather the severe drop in ridership and revenue resulting from the coronavirus.
Both groups of Senators recognized the extremely difficult position that the coronavirus has placed Amtrak in, with the pandemic decimating the entire consumer transportation sector in the U.S. Simultaneously, however, elected officials condemned Amtrak’s plan to terminate one out of every five employees, which would put thousands of Americans out of work at a time when millions of Americans have lost their jobs, pointing out that this will undermine support for future rounds of emergency funding.
Amtrak’s emergency plan also calls for reducing the frequency of all National Network long-distance trains (except the Auto Train) to three days per week, eliminating thousands of points of connection and dramatically reducing the utility of Amtrak as a transportation provider, harming hundreds of communities and small towns already devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Working with Rail Passengers Association, Senator Steve Daines (R-MT) sent a bipartisan letter to the president of Amtrak opposing their plan to terminate thousands of employees, putting thousands out of work and reducing frequencies. Sen. Daines was joined by Senators Tom Udall (D-NM), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Mike Braun (R-IN), and John Hoeven (R-ND).
“We are deeply concerned by the downsizing plan outlined in your supplemental funding request and believe it to be contrary to public interest. These cuts would not only dramatically reduce the utility of the nation’s passenger rail network, but would also ignore Congressional intent to expedite economic recovery following the pandemic,” the Senators wrote on June 24. “In your FY2021 supplemental funding request you stated ‘[w]e understand how important Amtrak service is to the nation and, particularly, small communities across the nation where we play a unique role in connecting these communities to the rest of America.’ Your request, unfortunately, does not reflect that understanding.”
Rail Passengers worked with Senator Daines’ office to recruit support from other Senate offices and endorsed the message that Amtrak is an essential service for the hundreds of towns it serves, particularly in rural America.
“I’ve traveled to Montana on the Empire Builder, and I’ve heard from Montanans directly about how they depend on that service. Our members are grateful to Sen. Daines for asking the right questions and for defending the rights of the tens of millions of Americans to access reliable interstate transportation,” said Jim Mathews, President of the Rail Passengers Association. “An economic benefits study our association did found that the Builder is worth $327 million every year to the economies of the states it serves, and the government pays only $57 million every year to run it. There are hundreds of small towns across the U.S. that are a lot like Cut Bank and Whitefish, where Amtrak provides an essential economic lifeline. We’re committed to working with Senators Daines, Cramer, Braun, Hoeven, Bennet, Udall, and Heinrich to make sure these small towns can count on these connections.”
The letter was also supported by labor organizations representing railroad employees.
“On behalf of the 6,800 TCU members at Amtrak, I want to thank Senator Daines for his continued support of Amtrak’s long-distance services and the workers that keep our trains rolling,” Bill DeCarlo, Nat. Vice President & Nat. Legislative Director, Transportation Communications Union (TCU/IAM). “This pandemic is affecting us all—but that doesn’t mean America stops moving, or that Amtrak can use a crisis to levy massive service and workforce cuts on our rural communities.”
A second group of lawmakers, led by Senator Jon Tester (D-MT), also issued a letter expressing dismay at Amtrak’s proposal—which they argued will disproportionately hurt remote communities—and demanding that the railroad commit to a timeline for resuming full, long distance passenger service. Rail Passengers also worked with Sen. Tester to provide certainty for small town Americans.
“Rural networks could see trains running three days a week instead of seven, and 20 percent of Amtrak employees could lose their jobs,” wrote Tester and his colleagues on June 23, Sens. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Catherine Cortez-Masto (D-NV), and Joe Manchin (D-WV). “Putting the brunt of budget shortfalls on rural America and its workers is unacceptable, no matter the circumstances, but it’s particularly egregious when Amtrak’s long-distance provided double the revenue of state-supported routes or the Northeast Corridor combined in May. If Congress is going to continue funding Amtrak at historic levels, you need to work to ensure this path forward works for places such as Montana, Nevada, and West Virginia alike… For Congress to continue its support for all operations, we need a commitment from Amtrak on what the conditions and timelines of a full resumption of 7-day-a-week service on all long-distance routes would look like, and the costs associated with the reduction and resumption of service.”
We Need You To Sign Up! Amtrak CEO Flynn Live Online With the Washington Post
Amtrak CEO Bill Flynn on Monday morning will appear in a LIVE online broadcast to talk about “The Future of Rail Travel,” and we want our members to sign up in force. Amtrak needs to know we’re watching and listening.
Register at this link: https://amtrak.splashthat.com/
On the registration form, you’ll be asked for Job Title, Company, and state. We strongly suggest that people list their title as Member, and their company as Rail Passengers Assn.
Doing The Math: Three Times Weekly Harms More Than It Helps
A closer examination of Amtrak’s 3X weekly coronavirus strategy for the long-distance routes reveals the railroad will save very little while profoundly damaging the long-distance network’s ability to recover at all.
Rail Passengers Association at-large council member Mark Meyer, a recently retired BNSF railroader, produced an analysis this week showing that inefficiencies from limited economies of scale worsened by drastic frequency reductions will be to blame.
Of course, in some ways this has already been proven before. In last week’s Hotline we reminded everyone that Amtrak’s mid-1990s experiences with similar cutbacks conclusively demonstrated that 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. Meanwhile, the cost savings turn out to be much less than this. You don’t have to take our word for it: the U.S. Government Accountability Office (then known as the General Accounting Office) produced a detailed report on the fiasco. You can read that report here.
Using the Empire Builder, Meyer examined costs associated with operating and onboard personnel, trainsets, stations, facilities and staffing. The results -- which we are turning into a white paper for distribution to Amtrak and Congress -- are startling.
For example, just looking at trainmen and layovers, “while tri-weekly operation reduces the number of trains operated by 57%, the number of crew starts (including layover days) is reduced by only 37 total or 38%,” Meyer notes. For locomotive engineers, crew starts are only reduced 36%. Lost revenue and missed connections will drive lower revenue. Meanwhile crew layovers will grow.
“Crews laying over extra days at away-from-home terminals would likely be overshadowed by ‘quality-of-life’ issues where Amtrak would be forced to deadhead crews back to the home terminal to eliminate stays away from home of two or three days and then deadheading crews back to the away-from-home terminal to protect the next train,” Meyer notes. “While this reduces the ‘crew start’ of a day’s lodging at the away-from-home location, it dramatically increases costs.”
This is because crews are paid for deadheading, and transportation costs for those crews can easily eclipse their wages, depending on distance and mode of transport.
“Excluding consideration for an undetermined amount of revenue loss for less-than-daily operation versus daily operation, it’s very likely that the increased cost of deadheading crews over multiple crew districts could actually exceed the cost of daily operation,” Meyer explained.
Meyer’s work poses many questions about how Amtrak will address these and many other consequences. We intend to ask Amtrak those questions in the coming days.
The Rail Passengers Association continued its successful webinar series this week, this time focused on Colorado’s Front Range and welcomed two regional experts in this month's session. Randy Grauberger, Project Director for the Southwest Chief & Front Range Passenger Rail Commission and James Souby, President of Colorado Rail Passenger Association, spoke to hundreds of attendees about the importance of strengthening these connections not only in the state of Colorado, but the entire region.
"Probably the most visible element of the [Front Range Passenger Rail] Commissions' charge is facilitating the development of front range passenger service,” said Grauberger. “Front Range Passenger Rail will provide a safe, efficient and reliable transportation option for travel between major population centers along the Front Range and create a backbone for connecting and expanding rail and transit options in the state and the region.”
Recently quoted in Huffington Post, Rail Passengers Vice President Sean Jeans-Gail also presented, keeping all attendees up to date on the legislative strategies to address Amtrak's announced fall service cuts due to COVID-19.
If you were not able to attend this month, have no fear. You can watch the event in its entirety above, or you can find it on our website at https://railpassengers.org/webinars along with all our other informational videos.
We hope that you will all join us for our next virtual event on July 22nd at 3pm eastern as we highlight the INVEST in America Act. There will be a presentation by Rail Passengers’ Staff & a guest speaker, plus we will answer YOUR questions in a full session Q&A. Please submit your questions to Madi Butler at [email protected] with the subject “INVEST Act Questions”
Call your Representative to voice your support of the rail title in INVEST in America Act (H.R. 2):
Votes scheduled for June 30th - July 2nd
Capitol Switchboard - (202) 224-3121
Demand that additional funds for Amtrak in FY2021 be tied to keeping workers and running daily trains:
July 8th markup for House T-HUD
Mid-July for Senate T-HUD
Use our Voter Voice portal to connect with your election officials at RailPassengers.org/Action
Making Passengers Feel Safer While Also Making Them Actually Safer
By Jim Mathews / President and CEO
During a week in which the U.S. recorded more new COVID cases than we have in any other week since the pandemic began, Amtrak is positioning itself – wisely – as a safer travel alternative as we all wait for better coronavirus treatments and, ultimately, a safe and effective vaccine.
The railroad this week put its medical director Dr. Ann Kuhnen front-and-center in a video to explain in detail what Amtrak is doing to keep its trains and stations clean and its passengers safe.
(CLICK THE IMAGE ABOVE TO WATCH THE VIDEO)
The video shows passengers tangibly what’s being done to disinfect trains, to promote social distancing protocols in coaches and to keep food-service close to contact-less. It’s not slick advertising, but instead more of a factual review. It’s comforting and effective.
Coupled with new advertisements promoting the ability to isolate in sleeping accommodations aboard long-distance trains, Amtrak is highlighting features of rail travel that makes it uniquely suited to travel during a period of heightened risk.
These characteristics also position passenger rail and Amtrak to be important contributors to stabilizing our pandemic-battered economy by facilitating re-opening and travel that is safe and not reckless.
Congress and the members of the Transportation Research Forum heard from another expert this week that the U.S. air travel system, while doing its best, is behind the curve when it comes to pandemic preparedness. Heather Krause of the U.S. Government Accountability Office told a TRF webinar that airports’ and airlines’ patchwork, piecemeal approach illustrate the need for a national preparedness plan to understand rules, responsibilities and communication among all the entities.
Five years ago, GAO recommended such a plan, urging the U.S. Dept. of Transportation to take it up in the wake of an Ebola outbreak. DOT instead tried to punt to Homeland Security. As of today, there’s still no plan and no group put together to work on one, GAO says.
Krause told lawmakers this week that the U.S. needs the aviation and public-health sectors to come together to develop ways to mitigate risk. She noted that the hearing at which she testified featured discussion about disinfected aircraft, discussion of various air circulation strategies – but still more needs to be done to understand what works best.
We reported in the June 5th Hotline that Rail Passengers has taken a leadership role in trying to make what Krause suggests happen for the entire U.S. transportation network. On June 4, alongside Federal Railroad Administrator Ron Batory, I co-hosted an initial briefing for some 60 railroad leaders, engineers and regulators from FRA, the Federal Transit Administration, and other agencies, with a goal much like that Krause outlined this week.
Our goal was to open a channel of communication so that industry and regulators, who are trying to navigate compliance and safety, can talk with medical and public-health professionals who now believe that cleaning the air that passengers and crews share is the key to keeping the transportation network safe enough not only to re-open but at a level of safety that gives the traveling public the confidence to return.
We convened an interdisciplinary group of medical and public-health engineering professionals from Texas A&M University, Auburn University, Purdue University and the U.S. Air Force’s Air University.
Our group explained the clean-air strategy to some 60 attendees from the Federal Railroad Administration, the Federal Transit Administration, the Dept. of Transportation, Amtrak, the American Public Transportation Association and more than a dozen commuter railroads from around the country.
Our group strongly supports traditional steps such as social distancing, contact-tracing, aggressive testing, isolation, surface disinfection and expanded use of PPE – especially individual travelers and crews wearing masks. But they also told the regulators and operators that by themselves this is not enough, especially given that the latest science suggests that COVID-19 transmission is primarily airborne rather than through surface contamination.
We continue to believe strongly in our recommendations to increase air turnover with fresh outdoor air and increase air turnover with fresh air from existing ventilation systems, to install physical barriers between people where they share air, to provide directional air flow as a virtual barrier between passengers and others, and to mitigate air flow hazards in public indoor spaces like bathrooms and elevators by stepping up filtering of shared indoor air with virus/bacteria/mold-killing technologies using ultraviolet light, ceramic filtration, or both.
We also support installing pathogen-scavenging technology that provides a continuous level of protection using ionized compounds (vaporized low-level Hydrogen Peroxide, Hypochlorous Acid, etc.), repurposed to target aerosolized or vaporized COVID-19, as well as other pathogens that may be encountered in the future.
We’ve reached out to GAO’s Krause and hope to include her in our efforts.
New York’s MTA Warns of Layoffs, Service Cuts Absent Federal Aid
New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority is warning lawmakers that, absent a second infusion of billions of dollars in emergency coronavirus funding, dramatic drops in ridership will force cuts to its workforce, reductions in service, and a massive increase in debt. MTA officials estimate the nation’s biggest transit agency could be facing a $10.3 billion deficit between now and the end of 2021.
“This is a four-alarm fire,” MTA’s CEO Pat Foye told board members. “We are facing the most acute financial crisis in the history of the MTA.”
The global pandemic, which hit New York City especially hard, has led to a 40 percent drop in the MTA’s ticket revenue. MTA is looking for an additional $3.9 billion in relief funding for the remainder of 2020, on top of $3.8 billion in assistance from the CARES Act.
Officials are being clear that every option to lower costs is on the table, both with and without additional rounds of funding. That includes layoffs, wage freezes, and reductions in maintenance spending. The MTA has already put its $51.5 billion five-year capital program on hold.
As New York City workers begin to head back to work, it highlights the stakes involved in keeping the system afloat. The subway carried 4.9 million passengers last work week, an 11% increase over the previous period. While that’s still well below historical averages, it shows that a functioning MTA will be a key element to getting the country’s economy back on track.
“We urgently need federal aid to keep service running and protect our historic capital program, which will put New Yorkers back to work and deliver the upgrades needed to bring the MTA into the 21st century,” Foye told MTA board members. “There is no time to waste. We need help and we need it now.”
NJ Transit Trains Return to Full Service
NJ Transit trains and light rail service will return to a regular weekday schedule on July 6 for the first time in three months since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
Gov. Phil Murphy made the announcement at his Wednesday press briefing stating, “NJ Transit is taking this step now – before ridership increases to higher levels with businesses and offices coming back online to provide the runway it needs to properly communicate its social distancing protocols among commuters, so they can have trust in NJ Transit to safeguard their rides to and from work,” Murphy said.
The state’s bus service has already been running on a full weekday schedule since June 8 and now it is time for the rail and light rail to take steps to progress from a modified, weekend schedule. The modified schedule was put in place following a 95% reduction in ridership after travel bans and work from home orders were put in place. The steps come as Gov. Murphy announced another phase of business openings this week.
What does remain in effect is Executive Order 125, mandating wearing facial coverings on NJ Transit and reducing capacity by 50% on trains and buses to allow for social distancing. Administration officials went on to say that rail and bus capacity will be monitored and the order will be adjusted as needed.
Riders can read about NJ Transit’s full plans for resuming service and safeguarding riders online at www.njtransit.com/recovery.
Pere Marquette Trains Return Next Week
In response to anticipated demand, beginning June 29 and 30, Amtrak and the Michigan Department of Transportation will restore the daily Pere Marquette. Round-trip trains will travel between Chicago and Grand Rapids. Returning service was temporarily suspended back in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The train will originate in Chicago on June 29 and both Trains 370 & 371 will operate starting June 30. Train 370 departs Chicago at 6:30 p.m., St. Joseph/Benton Harbor at 9:14 p.m., Bangor at 9:50 p.m., Holland at 10:33 p.m. and arrives in Grand Rapids at 11:34 p.m.
Train 371 departs Grand Rapids daily at 6:00 a.m., Holland at 6:49 a.m., Bangor at 7:32 a.m., St. Joseph/Benton Harbor at 8:10 a.m., arriving in Chicago at 9:08 a.m. All times Eastern, except Chicago, which is in the Central Time Zone. Business Class and café service will also be available.
It is satisfying to know that Amtrak will continue to take extra steps to maintain train travel safety, including limiting bookings to less than half of capacity to maintain physical distancing onboard trains. Reservations are required for Amtrak trains on this route, excluding holders of Multi-Ride Tickets. Tickets can be purchased via Amtrak.com, the mobile app or by calling 800-USA-RAIL.
In addition to aggressive steps to disinfect stations and trains, additional Amtrak measures deliver a New Standard of Travel by including the following:
Facial coverings: Amtrak requires anyone in stations, on trains and Thruway Buses wear facial coverings in accordance with The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Cashless service: Amtrak is temporarily accepting only cashless payments in stations and on trains.
Physical distancing: Signage has been displayed at the busiest stations to indicate safe distances in high customer traffic areas such as waiting rooms, ticket offices, base/top of escalators, lounge entrances, etc. In addition, clear protective barriers have been installed at stations where there were no barriers.
Visit Amtrak.com for more information about how Amtrak is maintaining a safe environment.
Cost Overruns Threaten Purple Line Partnership
Purple Line Transit Partners (PLTP), the consortium of companies charged with financing and operating the 16-mile rail line project in Maryland, told state officials this week that they were prepared to “dissolve the project’s entire 36-year partnership” in the next two-months if a deal could not be reached on a cost dispute with the state. The overall project, which runs between Bethesda in Montgomery County and New Carrollton in Prince George’s County, is about 40% complete.
At the heart of the problem between PLTP and the state of Maryland is who is picking up the tab for nearly $755 million of additional expenses to the $2 billion project. The contractor has stated that, due to construction delays, it would take an additional 2.5 years from the targeted 2022-2023 opening before service could be running. The consortium, a joint venture of Meridiam, Star America and Fluor, does remain committed that a deal can be reached before August 20th so that the project could continue. PLTP chief executive Peter van der Waart said that he “continues to be encouraged by recent discussions” between the parties. State officials and lawmakers also hope to see an agreement reached but, as Montgomery County Council member Tom Hucker stated, the state should explore all legal avenues against PLTP if the deadline passes without a deal.
Station Volunteer Spotlight
Standing up Station Volunteer Programs across the country has been a very positive and very successful undertaking for the Rail Passengers Association. We have had the great pleasure of meeting and interacting with men and women who not only want to give back to their communities but also want to learn and engage in passenger rail issues.
While the program has been on hiatus as a result of the coronavirus, the success of the program is overwhelmingly due to the hard working, dedicated men and women who have stepped up to volunteer in their communities.
The Volunteer Spotlight is a new addition to the weekly Hotline and its purpose is to highlight who these volunteers are; to share their commitment and to engage others on the value of volunteerism.
Mrs. Honey Bentley is retired from the Lansing Board of Water and Light in Lansing, MI and is a passionate volunteer for her community. For over 30 years Honey has helped coordinate Silver Bells in the City, the Chili Cookoff, Adopt a River, and the Community Gardens.
“I love to volunteer my time, Honey says. There are several reasons why I volunteer including giving back to the community. Volunteering gives me the opportunity to get out of the house and spend time with different groups and people within the community in which I live”.
Honey has been married for 43 years and has three children and nine grandchildren and they are another reason why she volunteers. “I encourage my grandchildren to help, so they understand the importance of volunteering and to not be afraid”.
This effort is truly a family affair. Honey’s sister Kim is also a volunteer at the Lansing Station. “My sister Kim and I sailed to Europe last year on the Queen Mary and we took a 3-month trip traveling via Europe’s rail service. I believe the United States has a lot to learn on what a supported rail service can look like.
Honey, her sisters and mother.Honey in red. Kim in blue.
We are unable to provide permanent membership cards, paper dues/donations 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.
Don’t forget, 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!
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]
Even A Flawed Study Shows Washington’s East-West Rail Proposal Holds Promise
Though you wouldn't know it from the headlines, data from a newly released study of East-West service in Washington State suggests the proposed service would generate good ridership and holds the potential for even better performance and financials.
The study concluded that the East-West route would suffer "low expected ridership." But that conclusion was based on misleading comparisons, questionable assumptions on competitiveness with other modes and an incomplete assessment of how variables like traveler preferences, additional frequencies, and local funding sources might change the results.
That "low-expected ridership" talking point "is not borne out by the study’s own estimates," noted Rail Passengers Association affiliate All Aboard Washington, which was nominally a part of the work group named to oversee the study but which -- like the other stakeholders -- was offered only minimal detail as the study progressed. AAWA staffer Luis Moscoso reports that the group only had one very short meeting during the entire study process.
"The ridership projections suggest up to 205,000 yearly riders for the twice-daily service between Seattle and Spokane, though this number varies, depending on which option is ultimately selected," AAWA said. "The study compares these estimates to ridership for services such as the Amtrak Cascades and North Carolina’s Piedmont/Carolinian, both of which have more daily round-trips than the one to two proposed by the East-West study."
AAWA goes on to point out that "what the study does not state, despite providing the data to support it, is that the East-West service would perform remarkably well given the population density of the areas it would serve, and long run times. In fact, a key insight from the data provided is that this corridor is likely to benefit from more frequencies than are currently being studied. Amtrak route performance data shows that corridor ridership grows considerably once at least 6-8 daily round trips are offered. We assert that more frequencies would significantly increase East-West ridership and, therefore, should be studied at levels similar to the Carolinian/Piedmont and Cascades corridors.”
#ICYMI - In Case You Missed It: This Week’s Social Media Highlights
If you aren’t following along on social media, join us via Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and our blog posts on RailPassengers.org We are covering all the breaking news America’s passengers need to stay informed on local, regional, and national issues.
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 ([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, spent most of the week submerged in the details of dozens of amendments to rail-related provisions in the INVEST In America Act and the TRAINS Act, while also participating in a webinar focusing on Front Range Passenger Rail. He also responded to press requests for interviews on Amtrak’s proposed service reductions and layoffs and worked with Policy VP Sean Jeans Gail to help secure Senate support to push back on cutbacks.
Sean Jeans Gail, Vice President of Policy, briefed members on the proposed service reductions and layoffs included in Amtrak’s emergency coronavirus response plan during Rail Passengers’ Wednesday webinar, and Rail Passengers legislative strategy to protect essential levels of service and workers. Jeans-Gail also worked with several Senate offices to issue a message to Amtrak’s president, and ensure that there are clear guide rails included in any Congressional funding for Amtrak in FY2021.
Carolyn Cokley, Director, Customer Programs, continues working with locations regarding station volunteers. Carolyn is also continuing to build the custom forms necessary to support the Working Focus Group.
Joseph Aiello, Field Coordinator, worked with the rest of the office staff to prepare for and launch our successful Front Range Regional Briefing webinar this past Wednesday. Joe has also been busy assisting the rest of the policy & field team on a number of different fronts.
Madi Butler, Grassroots Organizer, spent the week preparing Webinar materials, and meeting with Members, partner orgs, and officials in Texas, Arizona, and California.
Jonsie Stone, Director, Resource Development, spent the week researching community foundations with service areas near Station Volunteer programs, processing donations and membership dues, and addressing Association administrative needs.
Kim Williams, Membership Manager, updated our Frequently Asked Questions page, assisted with the 2020 Board of Directors elections, processed member payments, and responded to member inquiries.
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!
Last Chance! Lonely Planet will be Closing! Grab a Copy of Lonely Planet’s ‘Amazing Train Journeys’ before July 1st 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!
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
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.
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
Holdrege, NE, Platform Replacement Service Temporarily Suspended
Effective July 1, 2020
Please be advised that Amtrak is temporarily suspending service to Holdrege, NE, for the construction of a new accessible platform at the station.
The project is estimated to be completed in 3 months. During the construction, there will be no access to the station or platform.
Service in central Nebraska by the California Zephyr continues at Hastings (approximately 60 minutes east) and at McCook (approximately 75 minutes west) while Holdrege construction is underway.
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.
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 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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: Updates to Service
June 23, 2020
At this time, various states are undertaking specific safety precautions at stations for any passenger 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, the following services have been temporarily suspended 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)
Pere Marquette (Chicago – Grand Rapids) – Returning eastbound only on 6/29, full service on 6/30
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)
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 your train. Café service will also be suspended on select trains. Other services may be impacted as circumstances change.
If you have a reservation on a train that has been modified you 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, you can log in to your account, go to ‘Modify Trip’ on Amtrak.com, or find the reservation from your account on the home screen in the Amtrak app. A fare difference may apply to a new itinerary. If you want to cancel your reservation with no fee, 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.
"I’m so proud that we came together in bipartisan fashion in the Senate to keep the Southwest Chief chugging along, and I’m grateful for this recognition from the Rail Passengers Association. This victory is a testament to what we can accomplish when we reach across the aisle and work together to advance our common interests."
Senator Tom Udall (D-NM)
April 2, 2019, on receiving the Association's Golden Spike Award for his work to protect the Southwest Chief