Hotline #1062

Spring Advocacy Summit Sunday; Amtrak Sets Dates For Renewal Work; Amtrak Committed to Preserving New River Train; Brightline Begins Testing In Miami

We Need Your ‘Nose For News’! When you see rail-related news stories, op-eds, editorials, or letters to the editor in your communities, send them along to us! We include them in our social media efforts, along with the weekly Hotline. Send your news items to Bob Brady, bbrady@xenophonstrategies.com, and we will share it with members. Are you holding a rally, a community meeting, or another kind of rail-advocacy event? We can help spread the word if you send them to us. We can put them on the website, here. Please follow RPA on Facebook and Twitter to stay up to date on all things passenger rail.


We are only two days away from RPA’s Spring 2018 Advocacy Summit; ‘Day on The Hill’: Annual Congressional Reception and Meeting. It kicks off on Sunday, April 15 and runs through Wednesday, April 18. There is still time to register for the Summit and take part in many of our great events:

  • Monday’s sessions will include presentations by Amtrak on PTC implementation; by FRA on new grant programs and funding streams; and the lunch will feature a keynote address by Kristopher Takacs - Director of the Washington, DC office of the International Urban Planning & Design Firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
  • RPA’s ‘Day on The Hill’ is Tuesday, April 17. The Annual RPA Congressional Reception will be held from 5:30pm - 7:30pm in the Capitol Visitors Center. Over a hundred Congressional Office appointments have already been made, with more to come!
  • Wednesday’s Council Business Session will include the election of Board Officers & Directors and ‘At-Large’ Council representatives.

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 in 2019 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 calls for ‘Better Rail Now’! Please join us in this effort.

  • Online Event Registration is open with rates to meet your needs through today, April 13. Register now for the full slate of events, or just part of it. Students get a special rate too! Higher rates will apply after today “at the door.”

Over the summer, Amtrak will conduct the second phase of its “summer of renewal” on three critical pieces of rail infrastructure in New York City: the Empire Tunnel, the Spuyten Duyvil Bridge, and Track 19 in New York Penn Station. Work on the Empire Tunnel and the Spuyten Duyvil Bridge will run from May 26 to September 4, while Track 19 work will run from June 8 through July 20.

“Amtrak is continuing to prioritize updating the infrastructure in and around New York Penn Station to improve our service reliability,” Amtrak Executive Vice President and COO Scot Naparstek said in a press release. “We thank our partners for their coordination and flexibility as we continue this important and necessary work.”

The Empire Tunnel and the Spuyten Duyvil Bridge connect Upstate New York and New York Penn Station, and the work will require that Empire Service, Ethan Allen Express, Adirondack, and Maple Leaf trains be rerouted from New York Penn Station to Grand Central Terminal. The Lake Shore Limited will only operate between Boston and Chicago, with New York City and Hudson Valley customers connecting from Empire Service trains at Albany-Rensselaer. This marks the first time that there will be no direct service between New York City and Chicago since Amtrak was created in 1971.

For Track 19 at New York Penn Station, where Amtrak will replace three turnouts and conduct track and tie track replacement, Amtrak is yet to release a modified schedule. However, Amtrak officials have said that the changes will be less severe than last year’s “summer of renewal.”

“We know that many commuters were concerned that the renewal work at Penn Station last year would cause significant changes to their travel schedules,” said Rail Passengers President Jim Mathews. “Fortunately the summer work went smoother than most expected was completed on time. We can expect the same this year as Amtrak completes three more critical updates.”

Additional information and updates on Amtrak schedule changes will be posted on Amtrak.com and Amtrak.com/NYPrenewal.

Elected officials in West Virginia are pushing back against Amtrak’s decision to no longer run charter and special service trains.

After speaking with Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson, U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins (R-W.Va) is optimistic that the railroad is committed to preserving the historic New River Train. Jenkins, and Mike Hall, Governor Jim Justice's chief of staff, spoke with Anderson about keeping the New River Train, which provides an economic boost to the state.

"I am very encouraged after our call with Richard Anderson that we have a commitment to resolving issues with the New River Train," Jenkins said in a release following his meeting with Anderson. "Amtrak recognizes the importance and more than half-century tradition of the New River Train and the Hinton Railroad Days. Amtrak is willing to make some limited exemptions to its ban on charter trains, and after our call, I feel confident we will be granted this exemption. As Gov. Justice launches a new tourism campaign for the great state of West Virginia, the New River Train will remain one of West Virginia's premier tourist attractions."

Amtrak announced last month that it would no longer run charter and special service trains which put the Collis P. Huntington Railroad Historical Society’ New River Train and the state’s Hinton Railroad Days annual event at risk. The decision would also put tourism dollars at risk for West Virginia around the event. The Railroad Days celebration generates an estimated $3.5 million for the Huntington area and an estimated $1 million for Hinton annually.

“Amtrak’s decision to end the charter and special trains service caught many people off guard and unprepared,” said Rail Passengers President Jim Mathews. “Through letters from local and state representatives and passenger rail groups and historical societies, Amtrak is hearing that we do not want these services to end. They provide millions of dollars to communities, and to lose that economic support would severely hit people who rely on it.”

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) also spoke with U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, who said she would help resolve this change with Amtrak.

“Amtrak’s decision to end charter services would have a particularly devastating effect on the annual New River Train, which runs from Huntington to Hinton for the Railroad Days Festival each year. It’s been running for over 50 years, bringing in millions of dollars for the local economy. The loss of this service wouldn’t just affect organizations like the Collis P. Huntington Railroad Historical Society that operates the service, but local service organizations like Lions Club and Kiwanis that raise much of their funding during this critical time,” Manchin said in a press release.

Members of Congress met with rail industry leaders at a series of hearings this week, with members from the House and Senate examining rail infrastructure and safety needs, and discussing Fiscal Year 2019 funding.

Of primary interest was making sure that recently appropriated rail funds were invested expeditiously--particularly to the Hudson River rail tunnels, a critical chokepoint for commuter and Amtrak trains. At times, the questions from Congress to the Trump Administration were quite pointed.

“I remain angered by the administration’s opposition and very calculated indifference towards the project,” said Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) during an Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation hearing. “This posture from an administration which claims to be infrastructure-centric is totally unacceptable.

It was a bipartisan, bicameral point of focus.

“We’re interested in making sure that the money that’s already been appropriated, particularly for the transit CIG program, has been expended. There’s a lot of backlog,” Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) told reporters. “And then we just want to make sure that the bill that we put together under Sen. Collins’ leadership, that they deploy the money as quickly as possible to appropriate projects.”

Transportation Secretary Chao pushed back against Chairman Frelinghuysen saying “no political pressure is going to take one of those projects, put it at the head of the line, ahead of all other projects, which is what is happening in this particular case.” This continues a head-scratching tactic by the Trump Administration of opposing a project which has strong bipartisan support.

In a separate hearing, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart inquired into the efforts of passenger, commuter, and freight railroads to meet the Positive Train Control deadline.

“There is a huge backlog of expense in bringing these assets to a state of good repair, and every year that we defer the cost and push out those repairs, the costs grow,” said Stephen Gardner, executive vice president of Amtrak. “Between all of the owners of the various systems, we have a huge requirement to keep this incredible asset in service. We’ve done so much. And we’ve doubled the number of travelers. But the need for greater service reliability and capacity is apparent.”

It was a challenge that was echoed by the host railroad representatives.

“The one remaining challenge is interoperability,” said Ed Hamberger, president and CEO of the Association of American Railroads. “Each railroad has different IT systems, different locomotives, and they all have to work together... The technical challenge to make sure interoperability works is to test it in the lab, and then do field testing to make sure communications between those systems can occur.”

Rep. David Price (D-NC) also pressed Amtrak on the need to expand service, frequencies, and capacity. He cited the Southeast Corridor Rail Study working group as a model for expansion, with its reliance state-led development and federal capital investment. The working group, which Rail Passenger Association played a role in developing, was recently completed by the Federal Railroad Administration, and is scheduled to be released to the public later this year.


Is Your Mayor Onboard?

As Congress plans ahead for next year's spending, it's critical that local cities play an active part in the process.

Contact your Mayor today!

Just last year, we saw efforts in both Congress and the White House to kill Amtrak's National Network. With a concerted campaign of station rallies, calls, and meetings, passenger advocates were able to turn back these efforts, and secure additional funding for passenger rail in both the House and Senate. Now we need to move these bills across the finish line.

That's why RPA is asking you to write your local Mayor's office and recruit them in the campaign for better train service for all Americans!

Rail Passengers is providing you with materials to help make your argument. Joining our campaign is as easy as clicking a button, so take action today!

Passenger Resources:


Brightline officials began testing the higher-speed train in Miami with plans to begin regular service early May. Once service commences, the train will run from Fort Lauderdale to Downtown Miami. Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said that the Brightline service is a “game changer” for the city, which is looking to attract new businesses to the area. Mayor Gimenez was also accompanied by Brightline CEO Patrick Goddard and Miami Mayor Francis Suarez.

“It helps us along the path of changing our trajectory from being simply a gateway city to being a global city,” Suarez said during a press conference around the testing of trains. “I know a lot of major companies throughout the U.S. and throughout the world are awaiting anxiously the operation of this service in some of their decisions to locate here in the City of Miami.”

Despite the excitement of testing the trains, Goddard said that safety is a priority for the private company. Following recent accidents and deaths of people attempting to cross the railroad tracks as a Brightline train is coming or committing suicide, Brightline employees have pushed safety awareness with local communities.

Goddard said that the company has handed out more than 100,000 safety flyers to schools, businesses and individuals along the tri-county corridor, aired 1,000 public service announcements on radio and TV and placed dozens of safety ambassadors and police officers at crossings.


How Rail Can Save a Stranger in a Strange Land

A Post By New Summer By Rail Correspondent Jacob Wallace

Hi.

I’m Jacob Wallace, and I’m going to be your Summer by Rail guide for the next few months. I’m currently studying abroad in Madrid, and over the course of my semester I have travelled as much as possible, which has opened up the door to all kinds of wild mistakes, from missed meals to missing tickets.

As a young traveler I am eager to learn, and sometimes I accidentally set up situations for myself in which I learn a bit more than I intended to. Case in point: during two recent trips to Vienna, Austria and Valencia, Spain, I managed to book lodging so far out of the city that a quick Google Maps search informed me I’d be walking for over an hour, heavy suitcase in tow, to get there from the center of either city.

What can I say? Student debt has me bargain-hunting.

Considering the whole point of choosing my lodging was trying to keep prices down, I didn’t just want to take an expensive taxi or an Uber if there was any way I could avoid it. Luckily for me, both cities have extensive passenger rail networks.

In Valencia, I had an Airbnb booked all the way in the nearby suburb of Rafelbunyol even though I was spending all my time in the city center for the Las Fallas festival. Were it not for the Metro’s extended hours for the festival, I would’ve been wandering around the city for about 45 minutes finding a taxi stop and fighting for a ride amongst the other festival-goers.

In Vienna, I took the U4 line all the way to its end in Hutteldorf and only had to walk seven minutes to reach my hostel. Imagine, if you will, a lanky American wandering deserted suburban streets with a duffel bag whose shoulder strap, attached with plastic hooks, squeaks so loudly that its echoes reach his hostel long before he does. Now imagine squeaking along for over an hour.

Without the transit rail systems in either city, getting around would’ve been a nightmare.

As I spend a semester studying in Madrid, one of the truisms I most often hear is that European public transportation is far superior to anything that we have in the United States. If we’re being honest, the state of infrastructure in the US has drawn attention for all the wrong reasons: it has become a presidential campaign hallmark to talk about all that needs to be done to fix the system.

However, what’s so remarkable about our train systems in the US is that even in their current state, it’s still possible to have completely unforgettable experiences by rail that can take you to cities across the country.

Over the course of this summer, I’ll be journeying across America documenting how rail and other “last-mile” transportation options can get you just about anywhere you need to go. Along the way, I won’t be turning away from those areas in which help is needed. Rather, I hope to demonstrate that Amtrak and rail in general are a tremendous opportunity. They’re an opportunity for the passengers who can catch unforgettable views on observation decks or pass out in sleeper cars only to wake up several states away from where they started. They’re an opportunity for lawmakers to invest on behalf of travelers and commuters. Most importantly (to me), they’re an opportunity for me to have one heck of a cross-country tour of America. I hope you’ll join me on my journey once I hit the (US) rails.


NJ Transit riders will get a new station in the summer of 2022 in Elizabeth, New Jersey. The transit agency’s board approved a $71 million plan to build a new station that will include longer platforms for more boarding capacity; improving security and communication systems; as well as accessibility for riders with disabilities. Work also includes restoring an existing pedestrian tunnel and plaza area, as well as building new platform canopies and climate-controlled platform shelters.

The project was approved for a $49.2 million contract to Anselmi and DeCicco, which includes final design and construction. The board also approved a $4.7 million construction management services contract with WSP USA Inc.

In addition to the new station, NJ Transit has agreed to borrow train cars from Maryland to help reduce crowding. NJ Transit will begin using the 10 borrowed cars in the coming weeks throughout the agency’s network based on demand. In exchange for the cars, NJ Transit is providing the Maryland Transit Administration an unused locomotive. NJ Transit also approved paying an outside engineering firm $2 million to review and upgrade its rail car maintenance systems.


Join The Transportation for Massachusetts Petition

Passenger rail works best when we have good connections to other modes of travel. And public transit needs champions right now.

Four years of level-funding regional bus networks in Massachusetts have led to service cuts and sharp fare hikes that hit transit-dependent riders the hardest.

So we are proud to be one of 40 organizations and over 1,000 people who have signed the Transportation for Massachusetts petition to properly fund Regional Transit Authorities.

Please join us by signing on today!


Major infrastructure projects are being set up to have a streamlined process for environmental reviews and other permits that will take two years or less. President Trump, U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, and other cabinet members signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that will require federal agencies to commit to working together to make the necessary environmental and permitting decisions within two years.

"The [USDOT] has been vigorously implementing the president's One Federal Decision policy since last August to reduce costs and unnecessary burdens that have long delayed infrastructure projects," Secretary Chao said in a press release. "It is essential for all Federal resource agencies to work together to cut red tape and deliver infrastructure and safety improvements more rapidly and spurring economic growth."

The agreement calls for agencies to process reviews in accordance with four principles:

  • Establish a lead federal agency for the complete process;
  • Commit to meeting the lead federal agency's permitting timetable;
  • Commit to conduct the necessary review processes concurrently; and
  • Agree to automatic elevation of interagency disputes.

The Los Angeles City Council has approved a 30-year contract for $4.9 billion for the design, development and maintenance of an elevated train to Los Angeles International Airport. The unanimous vote by the council will allow construction on the people mover to begin later this year, with service expected to begin in March 2023.

The train will run every two minutes along a 2.25-mile route and it will include three stops in LAX's arrivals and departures area, with moving walkways to connect travelers and employees to each terminal. East of the airport, the trains will connect to a ground transportation hub for shuttles and taxis and a Metro rail station at 96th Street and Aviation Boulevard. Reaching a terminal from the Metro station should take less than 10 minutes on the train.

The contract for the project was awarded to LAX Integrated Express Solutions. The $4.9 billion price tag will be paid for by the airport over five payments between 2019 and 2022.


Do you live in Maryland?

There’s a new chapter of Rail Passengers especially for you, and they need your help!

As early steps, Rail Passengers Maryland was out leafleting to save MARC train service into West Virginia, an effort that succeeded and proved the value of getting involved!

Get in on the ground floor, join today, and help them take the message that Marylanders want more rail options to Annapolis! Contact them with direct questions and comments, here.


A new train station serving Metra and Amtrak passengers opened in Joliet, IL after six years of construction. The new Joliet Gateway Center train station replaces Joliet’s Union Station from 1912, and it is part of the city’s new transportation hub. City officials are also planning a bus station southwest of the new 10,000-square-foot two-story train station.

The station includes Metra and Amtrak offices, restrooms, indoor waiting areas on both floors, a rail museum in a lookout tower and stair access to the new Rock Island and Heritage Corridor platforms. The new station also provides commuters with plenty of seating and charging areas for electronic devices. Officials are planning to add a coffee bar in the coming weeks.

Work around the station included improvements for track realignments that will help eliminate a freight train bottleneck and improve safety for commuters. The Joliet station draws about 1,500 Metra commuters each day.

The Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit District (SMART) has been awarded a $22.5 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration’s (FRA) Capital Investment Grants (CIG) program. The funding will go directly towards the transit agency’s work on a 2.1-mile extension of the Larkspur commuter-rail line.

"This project will provide an important multi-modal connection to transit services for those trying to reach their jobs, schools, and homes," FTA Acting Administrator K. Jane Williams said in a press release. "FTA is committed to modernizing these connections to improve safety and reliability for all users."

The extension will run from downtown San Rafael to the Golden Gate Transit Larkspur Ferry terminal in Marin County, providing an alternative to travel on U.S. Highway 101.


$10,000 Sweepstakes for Education Continues Through April 26

RPA kicked off a new sweepstakes in February for college students who can use assistance paying for higher education. RPA 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 pm.


Two important railroad bills on data and information security were passed by the U.S. House of Representatives this week. One bill, called the FRA Safety Data Improvement Act, will ensure greater accuracy and quality of safety data collected and reported by the Federal Railroad Administration. It will also see that the FRA develops a plan and timeline to implement cybersecurity recommendations from the U.S. Department of Transportation's Office of the Inspector General. The bill is sponsored by U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ).

The other bill, known as the STB Information and Security Act and sponsored by U.S. Rep. Paul Mitchell (R-Mich.), would direct the Surface Transportation Board to implement an improvement plan for its information security system as recommended by the U.S. Department of Transportation's inspector general.

“America’s railways are a critical component of our national transportation system and their safety is of paramount importance,” said Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA). “The bills passed today in the House were overwhelmingly approved by the Committee in February and for good reason. Each will build upon our already safe railroad system by addressing important data and cybersecurity challenges.”

As part of ride-sharing company’s new focus and long-term growth plan, Uber is now offering users new ways to get around their cities other than a traditional car. Uber users will be able to use the service’s app to use a bike share service, book tickets for public transit buses and trains, and even rent cars.

Currently, Uber users can reserve and rent Jump bikes in San Francisco, with an expansion of service in D.C. Uber will also launch Uber Rent, its first car-sharing product, beginning with San Francisco. The Uber Rent feature, which is in partnership with car-sharing company Getaround, will let users find cars for short-term rentals using the Uber app. Uber Rent will be available later this month.

Uber has also partnered with Masabi, which has developed a public transit mobile ticketing platform that lets Uber users order a ride to a public transit station and then use the same app to buy a ticket for a bus or train.

The enhanced services were announced by CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, but the company didn’t say when the new transit option would be available in its app. For now, the two companies will focus on integrating the Masabi platform into the Uber app and hope to have a product ready later this year.


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

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


The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has found that the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) can do more to provide guidance to states for the development of transit-rail safety inspection programs. The GAO evaluated both federal agencies to determine their strengths and limitations through their different approaches to rail safety oversight and released the findings in a new report.

The GAO said that the “FTA has not provided states with guidance on how to develop and implement risk-based inspection programs. Though FTA has said that it will develop such guidance, it does not have a plan or timeline to do so."

The GAO also found that the FTA has failed to develop a process or methodology to evaluate whether state safety agency enforcement authorities and practices are effective. Without clear evidence that state safety agencies' enforcement is effective, states and the FTA may not be able to compel passenger-rail operators to fix safety issues that could pose safety risks.

As part of the report, the GAO recommended that the FTA (1) create a plan, with a timeline, for developing risk-based inspection guidance for state safety agencies, and (2) develop and communicate a method for how FTA will monitor whether state safety agencies' enforcement practices are effective. DOT agreed with our recommendations.

The U.S. Department of Transportation agreed with the findings from the GAO.

The Long Island Rail Road will be testing Positive Train Control (PTC) technology on its Port Washington line between Woodside and Bayside throughout April. The Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), says that with this testing and implementation of the PTC equipment, the agency will meet the federally mandated deadline of December 31.

MTA’s chief safety officer, David Mayer, testified in March before members of the U.S. Senate that the agency’s progress on building PTC on the LIRR in moving along. Overall, 80 percent of the hardware on the rails is in place and 60 percent of the components on trains themselves is installed.

The Long Island Rail Road has named transit veteran Phil Eng as the new head of the agency. Eng replaces Patrick Nowakowski, who is stepping down after a state report last month showed that LIRR performance was the worst it has been in 18 years.

“Phil has shown exceptional leadership and dedication during his time at the MTA, and I know he will bring his enthusiasm for developing a world-class transportation system to the LIRR,” MTA Chairman Joseph J. Lhota said in a press release. “With 35 years of experience in the New York transportation sector, I couldn’t imagine anyone better suited for this position at this crucial time as we work toward creating a robust future for the commuter rail.”

Previously Eng served as the interim head of New York City Transit before the agency brought on Andy Byford. Before that, he was the MTA’s Chief Officer of Operations. He was previously with the state Department of Transportation for more than two decades. There, he worked on the new Kosciuszko Bridge and the LIRR third-track project.


Take Action Now!

Our voices were heard -- the FY2018 Omnibus Appropriations Bill included key passenger rail funding. Though we have passed a major hurdle, we must remain vigilant in our efforts, and continually remind our representatives, and the White House, that passenger rail funding in an infrastructure bill is necessary for the growth and success of our economy.

RPA has set up an online tool to permit riders and members alike to let the White House know directly that they disagree with any cuts to passenger rail funding.

Visit www.railpassengers.org/whitehousebudget to take action NOW!


The Regional Transportation Council in North Texas approved efforts to continue studying the possibility of high-speed rail to connect Dallas, Arlington and Fort Worth, as well as other cities throughout the region including Monterrey, Mexico. The council approved to spend $500,000 on studying the HSR proposal. The money includes a $300,000 federal grant plus $200,000 from metropolitan transportation agencies along the Interstate 35 corridor.

Currently, Texas Central Railway doesn’t have plans to connect other cities to its planned HSR between Dallas and Houston, but surrounding cities want to explore options. Bill Meadows of Fort Worth, who chairs the commission overseeing the proposal, said that French companies, such as SNCF, and Chinese companies are interested in developing HSR lines for other cities such as Waco, Austin, San Antonio and Laredo.

"The French company and the Chinese company are most interested in the 35 corridor," Meadows said. "In terms of passenger demand, they think the corridor from downtown Fort Worth is an intriguing path. I think we will find the traffic is there."

New Jersey Transit is preparing a new rail car contract, and sources close to the project have said that Bombardier will bid on it. NJ Transit officials have said that they are interested in ordering 113 multilevel passenger cars to modernize its aging fleet. In addition, NJ Transit could be looking to purchase an estimated 900 more railcars.

Proposals are expected in June, according to the agency’s website. The deal is expected to range from around $500 million into the billions of dollars, depending on how many, if any, options are exercised, one of the sources said.

Neither officials from Bombardier or NJ Transit confirmed the interest of Bombardier to bid on the rail car contract.


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