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Hotline #833

October 18, 2013

In a major victory for passenger train advocates, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) announced Tuesday that the state and local governments along the route had agreed to share the operating costs of Amtrak’s Chicago-Indianapolis Hoosier State. With that, Indiana became the last of the 18 affected states to sign an agreement with Amtrak and assume most of the operating costs of their short-distance trains.

NARP and our allies can celebrate the fact that no existing Amtrak routes or frequencies were lost as a result of the implementation of Section 209 of the 2008 Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act.

Indiana’s contract with Amtrak funds the Hoosier State for a year with an option for four additional months, meaning the train should run through at least February 2015.

NARP members in Indiana contributed significantly to convincing Gov. Pence, who had earlier not sounded positive about saving the train, to save it. They educated the governor and other public officials about the importance of the train—both for the current service and for the potential for faster, more frequent service. NARP thanks you for anything you did, whether it was calling, writing or emailing state officials, attending a rally or meeting in Lafayette, Rensselaer or Indianapolis, or simply talking to people you know about the threat that faced the train—or simply supporting NARP with your membership.

In the statement, Gov. Pence said, “I am pleased that the State of Indiana, in partnership with local communities, was able to reach an agreement with Amtrak to keep the Hoosier State line operating over the next year. This agreement will make Hoosier jobs more secure and preserve an important transportation link for Indiana. I am grateful for the leadership of the Indiana Department of Transportation and the generous support of many of the communities with stops along the Hoosier State line.”

We encourage Hoosiers to join our partners at the Midwest High Speed Rail Association in sending notes of thanks to Gov. Pence.

Amtrak unveiled its fiscal year-end ridership and revenue report for 2013, revealing yet another new record number of passengers carried by the national railroad: 31.6 million. That works out to more than one passenger for every second of the year. This is Amtrak’s tenth ridership record in 11 years. Ticket revenue also reached a record high of $2.1 billion.

Photo by Michael Porter (libraryman on Flickr.com)

Long distance routes had their best ridership in 20 years with 4.8 million passengers, while state-supported short-distance services hit a new record of 15.4 million riders. The Northeast Corridor had its second best year ever with 11.4 million riders, with Northeast Regionals setting a new record in spite of the lengthy disruption caused by Superstorm Sandy in October 2012, along with the Boston bombing in April and the impact of the Metro-North crash between New York and New Haven the day before Thanksgiving.

Amtrak’s press release proclaiming the ridership and revenue figures described the railroad as “an economic engine that returns nearly three dollars to local communities for every one dollar of federal investment (FY 2010-FY 2012). This support has allowed Amtrak to place more than $12.6 billion back into the economy through the purchasing of goods and services and employee salaries to maintain, operate and improve its national network.”

“Amtrak moves people, the economy and the nation forward everywhere the trains go,” President Boardman said in the release. Amtrak Board Chairman Tony Coscia added, “In towns all across America, Amtrak brings economic opportunities for people, businesses and communities to grow and prosper.”

In other US passenger train news:

  • Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) touted the fact that ridership on Amtrak trains in his state has grown more than 99 percent since 2009, hailing his signature transportation legislation that provided funds to enhance passenger rail throughout the state. “It’s clear that Virginians embrace the idea of passenger rail, and we are pleased to be able to continue to expand intercity passenger rail service, most recently to Norfolk, and in the future to Roanoke,” he told the Newport News Daily Press.
  • Amtrak President Joseph Boardman appeared on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal on Tuesday morning (click to watch full video) and answered questions from the host and from callers. While most of the discussion centered on the effect of the government shutdown and debt default threats that were averted with Wednesday night’s passage of a Continuing Resolution that also raised the debt ceiling, Boardman also reiterated that he expects Amtrak will meet Congress’s Dec. 31, 2015 deadline for installing Positive Train Control collision-prevention technology on all track it owns.
  • A labor strike by the unionized employees of the Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART) began at midnight this morningas a 30-hour marathon negotiation session ended without an agreement. BART trains are not operating today and will not operate until a new contract is signed or the parties agree to resume negotiations. BART and the unions representing its employees appear to be close to an agreement on the economic issues (mainly wages and employee contributions to their pensions) that have long been sticking points, but the most recent talks broke down over the agency's call for work rule changes.
  • A report released Wednesday by the National Disability Rights Network found that many Amtrak stations remain difficult to navigate for people with disabilities, and some have “major barriers” that deter them from using the trains. Amtrak spokesman Steve Kulm responded by saying that the railroad has improved accessibility at more than 200 stations in the past four years, and that every Amtrak train has accessible seating and restrooms, with accessible sleepers on all overnight trains. He noted that Amtrak’s ownership of only a small percentage of the stations it serves makes achieving accessibility improvements a challenge.
  • After signing a contract for construction of the initial 29-mile Fresno-Madera section of the nation’s first world-class high-speed rail line, the California High Speed Rail Authority has invited contractors to bid on building the second construction phase of the system’s Initial Operating Segment. This will cover 60 miles from Fresno south to the border between Tulare and Kern Counties near Bakersfield, and is expected to be worth up to $2 billion. Environmental approval for this segment should be granted next summer.
  • The Amtrak Police Department has launched a program that allows passengers and others to report suspicious activity via text message.Tips can be texted to APD11 from a smartphone or 27311 from a standard cell phone. This helps people report something out of the ordinary more discreetly than by making a phone call. In a true emergency, please call 911.
  • The North County Transit District of San Diego County, CA, which owns the line used by Coaster commuter trains and Amtrak Pacific Surfliners south of Oceanside, began a $2 million crosstie replacement project on Oct. 7. Expected completion is Nov. 24. Approximately 9,800 crossties will be replaced at night to avoid interruption of train service, and no train schedules are affected.
  • Sabotage is suspected in the disabling of an Adirondack Scenic Railroad locomotive at Lake Placid, NY, discovered on Wednesday when the unit failed a routine safety test. An inspection revealed that wires inside the locomotive’s electrical box were systematically severed and put back in place, suggesting malicious intent by someone familiar with the electrical wiring of locomotives. This has rendered the railroad unable to operate its regular passenger excursions between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake. The saboteur may be tied to increasingly vocal groups that are pressuring the State of New York, which owns most of the railroad’s tracks, to convert the line into a recreational trail. The railroad is offering a $10,000 reward for any information leading to the saboteur’s arrest and conviction. Call the Lake Placid Police at (518) 523-3306.