Happening Now

Hotline #1,056

March 2, 2018

Two-Thirds of Commuter Railroads Could Miss PTC Deadline; South Carolina Amtrak Crash Caused $25 Million in Damages; Batory Sworn in at FRA; Bills in Alabama and Indy Could Fund Transit

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Approximately two-thirds of all commuter railroads across the U.S. could miss the end of year deadline to install Positive Train Control (PTC). This statistic was released in a new report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), and was highlighted during a hearing with the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. PTC, a technology that can remotely monitor, slow or stop trains, has been a struggle for many railroads and transit agencies to implement due to costs, even after Congress extending a 2015 deadline to 2018.

“Here we are three years later, confronting the same thing that we confronted three years ago — that several railroads are not going to be ready. And it’s going to lead to more crashes,” Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), the ranking member of the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, said during the hearing. “When is enough enough?”

The GAO studied 29 different commuter railroads and their efforts towards implementing PTC or at least moving forward with another two-year extension. The GAO found that as many as 19 of the railroads are at risk of missing the December 31 deadline. So far, regulators said, no railroad has requested an extension.

“The findings in the GAO’s study is not a surprise; we have heard for years that rail and transit agencies are struggling to meet the deadline and have limited resources in order to do so,” said Rail Passengers Association President Jim Mathews. “The Rail Passengers Association has long argued in favor of implementing PTC technology, but the idea of shutting down parts of the passenger rail network if the deadline is not met, will not create a safer transportation system for Americans. The way forward is to enforce the PTC implementation deadline, and ensure the FY2019 budget allocates money for infrastructure projects.”

Agencies that could miss the deadline include NJ Transit, Metro-North, Long Island Rail Road, If they do miss, the Federal Railroad Administration could fine railroads as much as $27,000 per day.

“I have repeatedly said that the technology is available and the money has been secured via a billion-dollar federal loan I supported, so there’s simply no reason to delay the implementation of Positive Train Control,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). “It is of the utmost importance that the MTA and LIRR and Metro-North fully install this lifesaving technology ASAP.”

During the hearing, Amtrak President and CEO Richard Anderson said that the company is working with NJ Transit and Metro-North on PTC implementation. Otherwise, Amtrak would ban the use of its tracks, potentially halting service for thousands of passengers who rely on NJ Transit. Anderson has also said previously that Amtrak service would be halted on tracks where PTC has not been installed.

"We will assist our commuter partner, where we can, to reach the deadline or to find viable alternatives to bridge the gap," Anderson said in his testimony to the Committee. "It would not be prudent to force more commuters onto our highways in already congested urban regions; rail remains the best and safer solution."

Anderson also clarified and expanded on a previous statement made at a Congressional hearing last month about Amtrak operating trains, such as the Vermonter, on tracks in areas that are not required to follow the federally mandated PTC deadline.

Anderson said keeping the Vermonter is economically advantageous, and that the company has “an R&D project underway at Amtrak to determine whether we can use technologies from Europe that don't require as much trackside investment but would give us speed restriction and signal location.”

Anderson also said Amtrak is looking into risk-mitigation efforts, such as slower speeds coming up on switches, as well as requiring the conductor in so-called dark areas, to ride in the front of the cab. A dark area is stretch of track that does not have sophisticated safety systems, such as PTC, in place, as well as signal systems that tell an engineer whether the track is clear. Anderson said Amtrak trains currently travel over 222 miles of dark territory track nationwide, about one percent of its routes.

The National Transportation Safety Board said in a preliminary report that the Amtrak train that collided with a CSX freight train caused $25 million in damages. The accident occurred on February 4 in Cayce, SC after a track switch was left in the wrong position when CSX crews were working to install Positive Train Control (PTC) on the lines. As a result, the Amtrak train was diverted onto the wrong tracks, where it hit a parked CSX train, killing two Amtrak crew members.

The overall total in damage of this one accident is more than the cost of every rail accident in South Carolina since 2008.

The NTSB also said in its report that a final cause of the accident has not yet been determined, but PTC, which can automatically slow and stop trains, may have helped prevent the collision. NTSB investigators have reviewed the tracks and rail signals, collected records from that night and interviewed crew members and train dispatchers. The agency even sent a team to CSX’s headquarters in Jacksonville, FL to “investigate the dispatching aspects of the accident, to test the CSX signal system, and to conduct additional interviews.”

Of the accident, Rail Passengers Association President Jim Mathews previously said, “This is another tragic accident that should not have happened, and should not have resulted in the loss of two lives. It highlights the critical need for Positive Train Control to be implemented and utilized by railroads, which we know many times over, can help save lives. It’s sobering and disheartening to learn that the accident occured while the PTC system was being installed.”

Make Plans NOW To Attend Rail Passengers Association’s Spring 2018 Advocacy Summit and ‘Day on The Hill’: Annual Congressional Reception and Meeting - Sunday, April 15 to Wednesday, April 18, 2018

  • Rail Passengers Association’s ‘Day on The Hill’ is Tuesday, April 17. The Annual Rail Passengers Association Congressional Reception will be held that evening from 5:30pm - 7:30pm in the Capitol Visitors Center.

This is THE opportunity of the year for rail passenger advocates to have their voices heard directly by the decision makers on Capitol Hill. With drastic cuts being proposed for Amtrak and grant programs such as TIGER, it is VITAL that rail advocates make this year’s Summit and ‘Day on The Hill’ the largest event ever. We need to flood ‘The Hill’ with our message that passenger rail matters! Please join in this effort.

  • Event registration is now available!
  • The host hotel is the Hilton Old Town Alexandria, located adjacent to the King Street Metro & Alexandria Amtrak Stations. Discounted group-rate rooms are now SOLD-OUT! Regular market rate rooms are available at the Hilton and a list of other nearby hotels can be found on the Events Page.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao presented support for the White House’s uninspiring and Amtrak-crippling infrastructure plan to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

In defense of the plan, Chao said, “By incentivizing new investment on infrastructure, eliminating overly burdensome regulations, providing support for rural America and streamlining the permitting process, the Department is helping to improve our quality of life and build a better future for all Americans.”

Despite Chao’s testimony, Democratic lawmakers raised objections for the plan, and rightfully so. There is major concern and questions about how $200 billion in federal incentives will generate more than a $1 trillion of investment. In addition, the proposal advances plans to gut Amtrak’s long-distance services by cutting $757 million from the annual Amtrak grant. This would essentially eliminate Amtrak’s long-distance rail network, and force states to fund the routes.

Ranking Environment and Public Works Committee member Tom Carper (D-Del.) said, “I was surprised when I finally saw that the administration’s plan devoted 15 pages to permitting, while the word ‘pay-for’ failed to appear even once. Even once. Maybe I missed it, but I don’t think so.”

Rail Passengers Association previously pointed out that the plan calls on the states to be financially responsible for infrastructure projects. This tactic is one that is not practical and Democrats agree.

“Maybe it’s like the miracle of the loaves and fishes. It did work 2,000 years ago, but I just don’t think it’s going to work here,” Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said during the hearing, in reference to a parable from the Bible.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) also said that the infrastructure strategy appears to be “moving chairs around on the deck of our infrastructure Titanic,” and that the plan would cut certain transportation funds from the department’s budget to be repurposed for a public works overhaul.

President Trump campaigned on a message of bringing America's infrastructure into the 21st Century, but this current proposal fails to do so. In reality, it starves Amtrak, and even cuts the grant program known as TIGER, or Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery. This program has injected more than $5 billion into transportation investments nationwide.

The Rail Passengers Association is asking members to take action and oppose the proposed cuts. Rail Passengers Association has set up an online tool for people to let the White House know directly that they disagree with these proposed cuts.

Visit www.railpassengers.org/whitehousebudget to take action and #Rally4Trains.

Rail Passengers Association Names Colucci To Resource Development Role

The Rail Passengers Association named Mark A. Colucci as Vice President for Resource Development, joining the DC-based Rail Passengers Association professional staff after more than a decade of business development and fundraising success for the American Hospital Association in Chicago.

“Mark is a seasoned, experienced professional with a strong track record and a commitment to our mission here at the Association,” said Rail Passengers Association President Jim Mathews. “One of my most important goals since I came on board in late 2014 has been to find ways to make our members’ efforts locally more effective and to amplify their voices on behalf of the rail-riding public. That can only happen with a strong focus on resource development and fundraising, and we couldn’t be more thrilled that Mark has joined the team to help us carry out our work nationwide.”

Colucci will create, direct, and execute a broad range of resource development and fundraising activities, in an effort to help Rail Passengers Association expand funding and grant support from corporate, foundation, and major individual donors.This type of support is vital to continue and expand efforts such as last summer’s very successful #Rally4Trains campaign to save Amtrak’s National Network trains. Colucci will also be involved in working with the rest of our team to increase membership and improve member benefits.

Most recently Colucci worked in business development for the AHA in Chicago, focusing on Sponsorships & Underwriting,Marketing, and Corporate Memberships. One of Colucci’s many outstanding achievements was his work in pioneering the creative use of philanthropy for marketing return-on-investment (ROI), which benefited the organization, its constituents, the sponsors and several charities.

Colucci also has previous experience working in media for Reed Business brands, MultiChannel News, Variety and Broadband Week, Primedia Business Telephony brands, and on the start-up team for IndustryClick Interactive. There was also a brief stint at the Apple community network start-up TalkCity. On his last tour in D.C. he worked at the American Physical Therapy Association and Montgomery Cable.

Colucci earned his Certified Association Executive (CAE) credential from ASAE in 2012 and holds a degree in Advertising from Michigan State, where he was very active in student government and philanthropy. Colucci will relocate to Washington, DC, and be based at Rail Passengers Association’s DC office.

Rail Passengers Association member Ronald Batory was sworn in this week as the 14th administrator for the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). Batory, who was nominated by President Trump in July 2017, replaces former FRA administrator Heath Hall.

“Ron Batory brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the Federal Railroad Administration during a critical time for rail and passenger safety,” said Secretary Elaine L. Chao in a press release from the FRA. “His 45- year career in the operation and maintenance of railroads will be of great value in helping to implement new safety technology and improve compliance with safety alerts.”

Batory has worked in railroads for more than 45 years. He has worked for the Detroit, Toledo and Ironton Railroad (DT&I), the Chicago, Missouri and Western Railway, and the Southern Pacific Transportation Company. Batory was also the president of the Belt Railway of Chicago from 1994 to 1998, and president and CEO of the Consolidated Rail Corporation from 2004 until 2017.

“Ron Batory is universally respected as a knowledgeable professional with great experience and understanding of the needs of all railroad stakeholders,” said Rail Passengers Association President Jim Mathews following Batory’s confirmation last month. “He is well-versed in the railroad industry, with decades of experience working on passenger and freight rail issues, and eminently qualified for his role at FRA. We look forward to advancing the safety needs of passenger rail nationwide under his guidance at this vitally important agency.”

Over the course of his career, Batory garnered the support of unions and railroads, as well as rail passenger groups and agencies, all of which supported his nomination to head the FRA.

The re-establishment of passenger rail service along the Gulf Coast gained support from the Bay St. Louis City Council in a letter the group wrote to Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant. In the letter, council members lay out a plan for Amtrak service between New Orleans and Mobile, with stops in Bay St. Louis, Gulfport, Biloxi and Pascagoula. Notably, Jacksonville, FL was not included in the list of stops as a shorter route may have a better chance of moving service ahead. The plan also includes a recommendation for the state to purchase train sets that will be used on the potential route.

Knox Ross with the Southern Rail Commission (SRC) said, "Much of the track between Mobile and New Orleans already has positive train control, which has been in the news a lot lately and it's signaled correctly. It's in great physical condition and they [CSX] have indicated to us that this would be a much more preferable option for them as well."

The current plan will utilize $19.7 million in BP oil-spill settlement money to match federal funds for the restoration of passenger rail service to the region, including Mississippi. Amtrak service was canceled following Hurricane Katrina, but the SRC, the Rail Passengers Association, Amtrak, local communities and others, have been advocating for the return of service for years.

Southern Rail Commission continues to lead in passenger rail initiatives

Betsy Nelson

Rail Passengers Association Southeast Field Coordinator

During the SRC meeting today, attention was paid to President Trump’s budget which, in effect, zeroes out long distance passenger rail; Congress is not interested in these draconian cuts, however. Although Congress is intent on continuing funding for Amtrak’s national network, we must continue to make members know of the importance of long distance service to our communities. When they stop hearing from passengers and concerned citizens, funding will be jeopardized.

The SRC continues to work on several critical projects: bringing back service along the Gulf Coast, split the Crescent in Meridian that will continue west to Dallas/Fort Worth, seek a Baton Rouge-New Orleans commuter service, and further investigate seeing a return of the Gulf Breeze between Birmingham and Mobile. The Commissioners are working closely with their state DOTs, Governors, and other stakeholders to move these projects forward and make the Southeast a model for innovative passenger rail.

In attendance was Robert Smith, Director of Planning for the City of Montgomery, who updated the Commission on the Gulf Breeze feasibility studies. HDR has already completed Phase I, Birmingham – Montgomery, and AECOM has been awarded the contract to complete Phase II between Montgomery and Mobile. Once work begins on Phase II, it is expected to be completed in 6-8 months.

The pending sale of portions of the CSX system are of interest to the SRC and they are closely monitoring the situation. A large portion of the Florida panhandle is up for sale and could affect efforts to restore long distance service east of New Orleans.

A grassroots campaign is being undertaken by the SRC in Mississippi to provide support for investment in more passenger rail; stay tuned on how you, as a Mississippian, can help in this effort.

The SRC meets quarterly and the next meeting will be in Mississippi in early June. Meetings are open to the public. More information on the SRC can be found at www.southernrailcommission.org.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and Amtrak are partnering together to improve passenger safety by testing new security technology. Testing will involve technology that can detect improvised explosive devices, such as suicide vests, that are concealed under clothing or in luggage.

“The partnership between the TSA and Amtrak is critical for the safety and well-being of passengers, as well as employees, at train and transit stations in the U.S.,” said Rail Passengers Association President Jim Mathews. “We have heard for some time that terrorist groups are looking to attack passenger trains, so it is great to see that the federal government is taking action to help prevent attacks.”

The tests will be conducted at New York’s Penn Station in the Amtrak concourse. In a press release, the TSA said it will involve an explosive detection unit that triggers an alarm if an individual carrying or wearing a person-borne improvised explosive device (PBIED) passes by the mechanism. The technology can monitor for metallic and non-metallic devices that block the naturally-occurring emissions emitted by a person’s body.

In addition to Amtrak, the TSA said it has been working with other passenger rail and transit agencies to test security measures, including: NJ Transit, the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority.

The Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) celebrated its new Blue Line light-rail extension with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. The new extension will not open until March 16, but the special event saw CATS providing rides to attendees, including Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles, and University of North Carolina at Charlotte Chancellor Philip Dubois.

During the early ride, Councilman Larken Egleston was impressed with the number of new business that have opened along the extension.

“All the industrial buildings that have been re-used,” he said. “It is really extending what people see as kind of NoDA cultural district.”

Once open, the 9.3-mile Blue Line extension will run from Charlotte's Center city area to the UNC-Charlotte's campus, and by 2035, officials expect 24,500 average weekday trips on the line. The extension was originally slated to begin service in August 2017, but the agency pushed the opening date to March due to construction coordination challenges and other issues.

Track improvements by North County Transit will halt Surfliner service this weekend between Oceanside and San Diego. The agency is calling for an absolute work window (AWW) for rail construction, which is planned for Saturday, March 3 and Sunday, March 4. Regular passenger rail service is scheduled to resume in time for the Monday morning commute.

North County Transit has also outlined additional weekend dates for the 2018-2019 rail closures. Dates are tentative and may change, but include:

  • March 10-11
  • April 21-22
  • October 13-14
  • October 20-21

In Indiana, House Bill 1080 is gaining support from lawmakers who are interested in allowing Indianapolis to develop passenger rail service. The bill was introduced by State Rep. Justin Moed (D-IN), and if approved, the new bill would repeal a state law that prevents counties in and around the Indianapolis metro area from developing and operating a light-rail line. Support has been shown for the bill as it was approved in a 7-2 vote by the state Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Transportation this week, and the Indiana House Roads and Transportation Committee approved it in January, in a 90-5 vote.

Following January’s approval, Moed said in a press release, “This is no longer Naptown. Downtown Indy has grown. It’s alive. There are new restaurants, things to do. This a growing city people are looking at moving to. We just need to make sure the city of Indianapolis and central Indiana have all the tools they need to grow.”

Moed has also said that the bill is necessary if Indianapolis is to compete for major employers looking to locate their businesses in the area. For example, Amazon is reportedly considering Indianapolis as a home for its second headquarters.

$10,000 Sweepstakes for Education Underway

Rail Passengers Association kicked-off a new sweepstakes in February for college students who can use assistance paying for higher education. Rail Passengers Association understands that paying for college is not easy, and this is why the Association is offering one lucky student a chance to win $10,000 for the 2018-2019 school year.

To be eligible to win the sweepstakes, students can nominate themselves, or a student can be nominated by someone else - a friend or a parent for example. The only criteria is that the winning student must be enrolled in a U.S. accredited college or graduate program for the 2018-2019 school year.

For details on how to enter or nominate a student, as well as rules for the sweepstakes, please visit: www.crowdrise.com/rpascholarship. Nominations will close on April 26 at 11:59:59.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) is interested in developing a new rapid transit line between New Jersey and Manhattan, and plans to hire a consultant to study its feasibility. The Authority issued a request for proposal in February, and asked bidders to review different options on making the line a reality, including past transit proposals, as well as the extension of the No. 7 subway line to Secaucus Junction station. These projects would also run in conjunction with other proposed and ongoing projects, such as the Gateway Program and new Hudson rail tunnels, additional floors to the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan and extensions of PATH service, as the Authority predicts extensive growth in demand over the next 30 years.

"The bigger picture, is the critical need to expand trans-Hudson capacity in the long term, post-2040, to meet rising passenger demand," said Rick Cotton, Port Authority executive director, who predicts a 38 percent to 50 percent growth in population over the next 30 years.

The New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers has voiced its support for the Authority’s proposed projects, including the extension of the subway to Secaucus.

"A subway link to New Jersey stands on its own merits," said Douglas John Bowen, a spokesperson for the Association. "We see a '7 to Secaucus' subway extension offering superior access to Bergen and Passaic county residents, serving a potential population base larger than that of North Dakota."

Once a consultant is hired by PANYNJ, it will have 18 months to develop and propose recommendations on the projects.

Lawmakers in Alabama are pushing new legislation that would allow the state to support public transportation projects. As it stands now, Alabama is one of five states in the U.S. that does not allow for state funds to support public transit. The legislation that could make funding a possibility are Senate Bill 85 and House Bill 10, which are sponsored by Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, and State Rep. Jack Williams, R-Vestavia.

The bills are gaining support from community members as well. Alabama Arise Citizens’ Policy Project held a press conference this week to champion the legislation. At the event, both Smitherman and Williams spoke about the benefits of transit projects receiving state support.

“The State constitution says that the transportation money can only go to roads and bridges,” Smitherman said. “President Obama had money in there for public transportation and high speed rail. That is money we could have accessed. If we can get funds, we can get as much as an 80:20 match.”

“There are jobs we need to fill, and people who need jobs,” Williams said. “They need to connect. One way to do that is through public transportation. There is an opportunity that our state has not been able to take advantage of because we did not have funds to match federal dollars. This does not create a line item in the budget, but it creates a pot that funds can come into to support public transportation. This will allow us to have greater opportunities to enhance public transportation for the people of Jefferson County and the people of Alabama.”

Smitherman has gotten his bill through its Senate Committee. Rep. Jack Williams said that getting the bill on the House calendar will be where the challenge is.

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

  • Saturday, March 10 - Empire State Passengers Association & Rail Passengers Association Annual New York State Meeting & Lunch - Schenectady, NY
  • Saturday, March 10 - Galveston Railroad Day - Galveston, TX
  • Saturday, March 24 - Rail Passengers Association New England Regional Meeting - Boston, MA
  • Saturday, March 24 - Iowa Association of Railroad Passengers - Grinnell, IA
  • Saturday, April 14 - Delaware, Pennsylvania & New Jersey Rail Passengers Association Regional Meeting - Philadelphia, PA

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

Opponents of passenger rail, especially in California, have claimed that people would prefer to drive cars or fly planes rather than take Amtrak or high-speed rail. The Rail Passengers Association and other advocacy groups strongly disagree with this assessment, as does a recent story from Joe Mathews, a writer for the Connecting California column at Zócalo Public Square. In a recent Op-Ed to The Desert Sun, Mathews shared his experience on Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner, in which he had trouble getting to his children, who were in the cafe car, due to the crowds of people enjoying their ride.

Joe Mathews said, “The Pacific Surfliner that day was mobbed, with every seat taken and passengers standing in the aisles and stairwells. So when I took those two hungry boys in the direction of the café car, the crowds were so thick I couldn’t squeeze through. The boys, now nine and seven, are very skinny and insisted on continuing on, despite my pleas, beginning a memorable adventure.”

Mathews also said, “All told, Amtrak carries 12 million riders in California each year. Amtrak would like to accommodate more of us, but service is limited by the lack of tracks and the fact that Amtrak must share tracks with commuter rail and freight. Amtrak even publishes guidance on its website on how to avoid the crowds. Among the advice for the Pacific Surfliner: avoid riding on Fridays and Sundays, when trains are especially crowded. While train deniers have dominated the public conversation about rail’s future in California, the sardine-like state of Amtrak California suggests that high-speed rail would be popular.”

And he is right. Based on Mathews’ story and the number he highlights in his Op-Ed, there is no reason to believe that people wouldn’t continue to fill Amtrak trains or ride the HSR once it’s built. We need more transportation options, not fewer, in California and throughout the U.S.

Local officials and community members celebrated the grand opening of the Birmingham Intermodal Facility. The special event, which included performances by American Idol winners Taylor Hicks and Ruben Studdard, marked a new era of transit for the city.

“It’s a new day for transportation in Birmingham. Improvements are on the way, beginning with the new beautiful intermodal facility,” said Birmingham Jefferson County Transit Authority (BJCTA) Executive Director Barbara Murdock. “We are so excited that Greyhound will be a part of this journey.”

The new $32 million station spans three blocks and is a small hub for services and people traveling to and from the city. The facility includes a new Amtrak station, Greyhound service, BJCTA offices, a police substation, MAX Transit's downtown central station and Olivia's Transit Cafe.

“This is a big moment for Birmingham, and the surrounding community,” said Rail Passengers Association President Jim Mathews. “The opening of the Birmingham Intermodal Facility will help spur additional growth in the city for businesses and tourism. It’s an exciting time for transit in the city.”

The new Amtrak station opened on last Tuesday, with Greyhound service having started on February 21. MAX Transit's downtown central station and Olivia's Transit Cafe opened over the summer.

2018 ‘At-Large’ And Board Nominations Open

Rail Passengers Association/NARP is inviting members in good-standing to consider running for one of the up-to 10 available ‘At-Large’ positions on the Council of Representatives. These positions are for two-year terms. Elections will be held at the Council's Annual Business Meeting on Wednesday, April 18, 2018 in Alexandria, VA. For more information on the ‘At-Large’ positions, including the duties, responsibilities and required qualifications, and to submit a self-nomination, go to: http://ow.ly/Yxzs30hxl4P.

Self-nominations are also now being sought from qualified members interested in being elected by the Council of Representatives to an Association officer position (Chair of the Board; one of four Vice-Chairs; Treasurer or Secretary) or to one of three available Board Director positions. Board officer positions are for a two-year term and the Board director positions are for a three-year term. For information on Board Officer & Director positions, including the duties, responsibilities and required qualifications, and to submit a self-nomination, go to: http://ow.ly/LGSj30hxlaf.

The deadline to submit Candidate Information Statements is March 31, 2018.

The 2018 - 2020 State Representatives on the Rail Passengers Association Council of Representatives have now been announced. There are still a number of state representative openings available (as noted in the listing) and qualified Rail Passengers Association members in the applicable states are encouraged to consider seeking appointment to these positions. Please contact Bruce Becker for more information if you are would like to be considered.

Amtrak was awarded a new five-year contract by the Maryland Department of Transportation Maryland Transit Administration (MDOT MTA) to continue providing train operations services for the MARC Penn Line commuter trains operating between Washington, D.C., and Perryville, MD.

“Commuter contracts help Amtrak expand our business and meet our financial goals,” Amtrak’s Chief Commercial Officer Stephen Gardner said in a press release. “MDOT MTA selecting Amtrak for this contract speaks volumes about the high-quality service we have provided over many years to Maryland and MARC passengers, and the strong operating relationship we have developed with MARC during that time.”

To earn the business, Amtrak competed against other bidders for the MARC business over the past year. Amtrak said it was awarded the contract in part to the agency’s “technical proficiency, which was rated highest among all the bidders.”

Nonprofit advocacy group, TransitMatters, released a new report that proposed the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) run trains every 15 minutes between downtown Boston and nearby stations, and every 30 minutes for stations further out. The proposal comes at a time when MBTA officials are looking at new ways to run the rail service and meet the growing and modern needs of the greater Boston area.

“The commuter rail runs in a very 1950s, ‘Mad Men’ sort of way, where the father went into town in the morning and came back in the evening,” said Jarred Johnson, a member of the advocacy group. “We need to think about a system that runs all day both in to the central business district and out.”

In the report, TransitMatters suggests a transit system that runs like a regional rapid transit network that would require electrifying the entire commuter rail system. It would also require replacing the existing diesel fleet with new electric train cars, and raising the height of platforms across the system. These actions could speed up trip times by up to 40 percent.

Southeast Regional Newsletter

Keep an eye out for the March Southeast Regional newsletter. Rail Passengers Association members who live in the Southeast region can expect the newsletter to arrive in their inboxes this weekend from Rail Passengers Association’s Southeast Field Coordinator, Betsy Nelson.

The Rail Passengers Association attended TransporationCamp South last saturday, held in Atlanta on the Georgia Tech campus. A discussion point of the event, which connects people in transportation and technology, was the Nashville Transit Ballot Initiative and opposition that has been raised by the Koch brothers. In May, voters will be able decide if they want to support a $5 billion transit plan to create a network of light rail and bus rapid transit routes in Greater Nashville. When adding operational costs, maintenance and funds to improve the city's existing bus system, the total price tag would be $8.95 billion. Mayor Megan Barry has spearheaded the initiative, with support from the Nashville Chamber of Commerce.

However, political opponents known as the Americans for Prosperity, are trying to put a stop to the initiative passing. The group, supported by billionaire brothers David H. Koch and Charles Koch, created a "Stop the Train" campaign and website, that urges people to oppose the plan.

Kelly Brockman, a spokesman for the Transit for Nashville Coalition, previously called out the Americans for Prosperity's opposition for the transit initiative, which would create jobs and economic benefits for the area.

"They have used dark money to tear down public schools, undermine public safety, and fight against better public transportation options for people across the United States," Brockman said earlier this year.

Nashville Congestion (Are we the next Atlanta?)

By Betsy Nelson

Rail Passengers Association Southeast Field Coordinator

I had a fantastic time attending my first TransportationCamp at Georgia Tech. It’s an “unconference,” but more on that at another time. If you have the opportunity to attend a TransportationCamp in your area, I highly recommend it.

I’m going to share with you an abbreviated overview of the Nashville Transit Referendum to be voted on in May. This is big and bold project that Nashville is desperately in need of. Over 80 people each day move to Nashville and there are over 20 births each day; that’s a burden to Nashville’s transportation infrastructure. In addition, Nashville is one of the nation’s top tourist destinations and is the number one location in the U.S. for bachelorette parties (beating Vegas)!

The $5+ billion referendum will encompass bus and rail transit making it easier to enjoy Nashville whether you’re a resident or a tourist. Included in the cost is enhanced bus service and Rapid Bus which is not quite full BRT quality. Enhanced service will mean more routes, more frequency, and longer hours. Rapid Bus will be all electric, have level boarding, and mostly operate in dedicated lanes.

Light Rail service will also be enhanced on the Music City Star. The biggest piece will be a 2-mile tunnel through downtown Nashville for buses and light rail, allowing for unimpeded travel across town and keeping buses and light rail from interrupting current downtown traffic patterns.

Funding will mostly come from a ½ percent sales tax increase to begin in July 2018 and an additional ½ percent sales tax increase to be added in 2023. With 47% of sales tax revenue coming from residents outside of Nashville and Davidson County, this puts much of the burden on commuters and tourists rather than residents alone.

Please support Nashville’s Transit Referendum. For more information, please contact Betsy Nelson at [email protected].