Hotline #946

NOTE- The NARP Office will be closed on January 18th for the Martin Luther King holiday

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) put rail safety at the top of its “10 Most Wanted” list of priorities for 2016, reports the Washington Post. The NTSB has been calling for installation of PTC for decades, but the pressing need for the safety system was driven home by the crash of Amtrak Train #188 outside of Philadelphia on May 12, 2015. The agency warned Congress and federal regulators about the potential consequences of delays in installing automatic-braking technology to prevent high-speed derailments and in replacing rail tank cars that carry volatile flammable loads.

The Government Accounting Office (GAO) looked at the business side of Amtrak, noting that its 2012 reorganization into Northeast Corridor, state-supported, and long-distance business lines established a structure to improve accountability for performance, but the rail corporation could do more to accurately demonstrate its results, reports Railway Age magazine. GAO recommends that Amtrak (1) prioritize the adoption of its strategic management system company-wide, (2) improve its financial reporting, (3) detail costs of state-supported routes paid by federal grants and (4) that the Northeast Corridor Infrastructure and Operations Advisory Commission develop criteria to prioritize planned investments. Amtrak agreed with the first recommendation and provided context about the other recommendations.

After New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) unveiled a major plan to renovate and upgrade Penn Station, a New York Times editorial called it a plan “to make a New Yorker perk up.” Beyond aesthetic improvements, the real need is to increase capacity at Penn Station, which was not built to handle 650,000 passengers a day, it added. The test will be to see what flesh is put on these and other proposals that have been flying from the governor’s mouth and press office.

And what will this grand plan cost? Right before Cuomo’s State of the State address, his secretary, Bill Mulrow, announced that his statewide, comprehensive infrastructure program will cost $100 billion, making it one of the largest infrastructure initiatives in the state’s history, according to Real Estate Weekly. With the scale of the projects came questions in terms of funding, since it’s not clear how the state is going to pay for the project.

In his speech, the closest Mulrow got to providing specifics in terms of funding sources related to public private partnerships. “We’re going to use private-public partnerships. We’re going to do design-build contracting. It’s going to be community-involved like we’ve never done before,” he said.

Speaking of infrastructure projects, the Philadelphia Inquirer editorial board is applauding proposals being floated to transform 175 acres in the 30th Street Station area to link two of the city's most vibrant economic centers -- University City and Center City. Plans include adding three walkways across the Schuylkill River and covering much of the rail yard with buildings and waterfront green spaces. One proposal also calls for more shops at 30th Street Station and a new transit center for long-distance buses and high-speed trains.

The goal of restoring Amtrak service to the Gulf Coast is closer now that an Amtrak report shows a number of scenarios in which the Southern Rail Commission could be heading down the right track in bringing passenger rail back, reports Amtrak determined a simple extension of the City of New Orleans line to Orlando would result in the greatest number of riders of all options, generating annual ridership of 153,900, but would include a funding commitment of nearly $10 million.

Retiring Amtrak CEO Joe Boardman predicts the country will see a "more robust" rail system after his departure in September, reports the Here & Now radio program. “It’s a tough job, I guess. For one thing, you’ve got a board of directors here right at Amtrak, but then you’ve got 535 additional directors over on the Hill. There’s been a lot of turmoil at Amtrak in the past,” he said about being the second-longest serving president.

A proposal to rip up track on the Adirondack railroad is pure folly, according to an op-ed in New York’s Utica Observer-Dispatch. “Utica built a magnificent train station that was for the longest time one of the most important facilities of its kind in New York. It still stands today as evidence of our past greatness,” wrote Anthony Garramone. “Why would we throw away an opportunity to have that same station once again be the centerpiece of travel to one of New York state’s most beautiful destinations? A train to Lake Placid would be a gem for not only those from afar but us locally.”

Wake County, North Carolina’s government, along with other local stakeholders, last month unveiled a $2.3 billion plan to expand the region’s transit system and Raleigh city officials came to Charlotte this week for a planning retreat and to discuss that city’s plans for bus and rail transit, reports the Charlotte Observer. Charlotte city officials are scheduled today to give a tour of the Charlotte Transportation Center and explain how bus passengers can make light-rail connections. They are also scheduled to discuss plans to move the Amtrak station from North Tryon Street to a new site uptown.

New York state transportation officials will have to decide whether Schenectady and Saratoga Springs see more passenger rail service, now that a second track between Albany and Schenectady will remove a decades-long bottleneck and allow more frequent service, reports the Times-Union. The service is subsidized by New York state, which will have to decide whether the expense of extending trains that now start and terminate at Rensselaer is worth the cost. The Empire State Passengers Association has advocated for more Saratoga Springs service, said Bruce Becker, the organization's president, and a NARP director.

A proposed light rail system in Las Vegas would link the airport, the Strip and downtown Las Vegas, reports the Las Vegas Sun. It’s a critical connection that would benefit both the economy and the tourist experience, said a local transportation official. And it’s the best type of transit to accomplish that goal, according to David Swallow, senior director of engineering and technology with the Regional Transportation Commission.

NARP is inviting members in good standing to consider running for 10 open seats on the Council of Representatives, the association’s volunteer governing body, for two-year terms. The next election for seats is for the term starting March 1, 2016.

Any NARP member who has paid dues for at least one year, is at least 18 years of age and is a U.S. resident is eligible to run. The Council consists of 112 elected state representatives. The Council of Representatives represents the overall NARP membership in setting and approving the overall policy and direction for the association. For more information, click here. For an 'At-Large' Representative Candidate Information Statement form, go here.

The deadline for submission is 11:59 p.m. (local time) on March 31, 2016. It must be postmarked no later than March 31, 2016.

A group of private and public funders in Minnesota and Wisconsin have committed $660,000 to further high-speed rail service between the Twin Cities and Chicago, reports MPR News. The funders include the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, the Ramsey County Regional Rail Authority, the La Crosse Area Planning Committee, and the Minnesota High Speed Rail Commission.

At the NARP Fall Meeting’s Millennials workshop, one thing that attendees wanted to see in a 21st century transportation system was Wi-Fi aboard all modes of public travel. Right after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced his ambitious plans for Penn Station, he also announced that the entire New York City subway system will have Wi-Fi by the end of the year, reports TimeOut New York. And there will be phone charging stations in train cars and buses, it added.

NARP Chairman Robert Stewart and Director of Special Projects Bruce Becker manned a NARP booth at last weekend's New York Times Travel Show, held at the Jacob Javits Convention Center. Show attendees learned about NARP's goal of expanded and improved passenger rail service for the U.S. and the benefits of becoming a NARP member. In addition, Stewart and Becker distributed Amtrak materials and answered many questions on traveling by train. For the fourth consecutive year, Stewart was a co-presenter during the Show's Rail Travel Seminar. On Saturday, Becker participated in an 'Ask The Expert' panel focused on tourist destinations accessible by rail across New York State.

Through train service between Boston and Chicago on the Lake Shore Limited route is currently slated to resume in early February. Since the spring of 2015 Amtrak has been operating a coach-only stub train between Boston and Albany-Rensselaer, forcing through passengers to have to change to or from the New York section of the Lake Shore. Direct sleeping car service to and from Boston has not been offered during this period. Construction of a new fourth platform track at the busy Albany-Rensselaer station necessitated this temporary service reduction.

In the past two years, passengers on Texas Eagle trains have experienced delays or been forced to ride on buses due to construction of a third north-south mainline track in the Fort Worth, Texas, Tower 55 project, the higher speed rail construction between Chicago and St. Louis and significant weather events on the route.

So to celebrate the completion of track upgrades and anticipated reduction in track delays in 2016, the Texas Eagle Local Revenue Management team, in conjunction with the Texas Eagle Route Director and Amtrak Central Division Marketing, will begin a special promotion for passengers between January and March 2016.

Passengers will receive a free companion rail fare when they buy one regular (adult) fare. The ticket must be purchased at least one day in advance of travel between January 5 and March 15, 2016, for travel between January 6 and March 20, 2016. These fares may be upgraded to a sleeper after paying for an accommodation charge. The promotion is valid for travel only on the Texas Eagle. It is not valid for local travel between Chicago and St. Louis, or for local travel between San Antonio and Los Angeles. Fares are subject to availability, and seating is limited. Please use discount code V344 when booking the fare.

Buzzfeed did a great story on Derek Lowe, a 24-year-old San Francisco-based engineer who did a trip across the country via rail. He spent $429 on a train ticket that took him from coast to coast in 15 day, with stops in Salt Lake City, Denver, Chicago and New York City.

Amtrak is again offering a winter-season special $90 roundtrip weekend fare on the Adirondack service between New York and Montreal and other intermediate points. Valid for sale through April 25th and for travel until April 28th, this special offer is available for travel Thursdays through Mondays only. Other conditions and black-out dates apply; for complete information, click here.

Amtrak is now offering a Northeast Regional Winter Sale, featuring 25 percent discounts on many Northeast Service trains when tickets are purchased at least seven days in advance. Valid for purchase through January 24 and for travel through January 31, the sale features $49 fares between New York and Washington and New York and Boston; through Boston to Washington fares are only $79. Similar discounts are available between all intermediate locations. Other conditions apply; for complete information, click here.

NARP thanks those members who have sent in industry-related news stories, op-eds, editorials or letters to the editor from your communities. We include them in our social media efforts, along with the weekly Hotline. Please continue to send your news to NARP’s communications director ( and we will continue share it with the membership. We also ask members to send events that we can put on the website, here. Finally, please follow NARP onFacebook and Twitter.