Hotline #950

NARP President and CEO Jim Mathews will join a group of elected officials, industry representatives, community leaders and federal stakeholders on the Gulf Coast Inspection Trip that Amtrak and the Southern Rail Commission are conducting on February18th and 19th. The train will tour the potential rail route between New Orleans and Jacksonville to help local and federal officials get a deeper understanding of the benefits from reintroducing passenger rail service along the Gulf Coast.

Since 2005, NARP has consistently supported the return of passenger rail service along this route. Seven of the 12 communities between New Orleans and Jacksonville have no air service, and four have no intercity bus service, leaving these areas with no public transportation option.

NARP’s role in the Inspection Trip planning is to organize the turnout of large crowds at each of the 14 scheduled stops. It is critical that NARP members come out and show their support for the return of daily service to the Gulf Coast region. Media coverage is expected all along the route, and a strong public showing will have a major impact on whether or not passenger rail service returns to the Gulf Coast. Signs and banners are encouraged. Be sure that your voice is heard- see the trip’s itinerary and other details here. Customized event flyers are available on the trip’s resouce page for each stop and if you are along the route you are encouraged to print these flyers out and post in your community. If you are at a stop’s event please share messages, photos and videos with us, using the #YallAboard hashtag.

Released this week, President Barack Obama’s final proposed budget highlights what a national transportation policy centered on innovation and reducing greenhouse gas emissions could be. The proposal invests nearly $20 billion per year above current spending to reduce traffic and provide new transit options for American families. The budget reaffirms the Administration’s commitment to high-speed rail by investing on average almost $7 billion per year on a competitive basis, with an emphasis on incorporating advanced rail technologies. Of the $20 billion, about $16 billion would be divvied up to metro regions by formula to support maintenance and expansion projects, about 60 percent. Another $3.5 billion would boost competitive grant programs for expansion projects. The budget recommends funding in FY 2017 for Los Angeles’s Westside Subway, Southwest Light Rail in Minneapolis, Albuquerque Bus Rapid Transit, and Honolulu commuter rail, among other projects.

Amtrak submitted comments to the U.S. Department of Transportation's Surface Transportation Board, following the agency’s proposal to measure the on-time performance of freight railways that it frequently shares tracks with only at the end points of train routes. In Amtrak’s comments, the company stated that the new proposal would result in delays at stations that are along its routes and operate on tracks that are owned by freight rail companies being vastly underreported. The company added that "measuring performance only at the endpoints of Amtrak routes takes into account performance at only 10 percent of all Amtrak stations." It also "leaves performance within 24 states unmeasured altogether since those states have intermediate stations but no endpoint stations."

STB Public Comment On Definition of Preference

Through February 22, 2016, the rail-riding public has the opportunity to tell the U.S. Surface Transportation Board what you think regarding whether passenger trains can continue to be given preference in transit on host railroads. The STB is seeking comments from the rail-riding public about a “policy statement” on how it intends to treat the definition of preference.

NARP contends that the STB overreached their administrative powers by issuing a “Policy Statement” on how it will view the need for a right to preference without any input from any outside parties – even though “preference” has already been defined, and periodically reaffirmed, by elected legislators who make the law on behalf of the voting public. The Dept. of Justice and the Dept. of Transportation have also addressed preference on numerous occasions.

This “statement,” which would have effects every bit as binding and far-reaching as an actual rule, was issued without hearing any evidence, without taking any public testimony, and without even undergoing any kind of formal rulemaking procedure. Behind closed doors, regulators are trying to fundamentally change the rules of the game for how Amtrak can press host railroads to honor their legal obligations…going around the intent of Congress as expressed some 30 years ago and consistently reaffirmed in law and court rulings.

Your comments are incredibly important to this rule-making process since regulators will be watching the total number of comments coming in. Generally the STB limits comments to those directly related to the industry, and you can be sure that industry has already weighed in – and continues to weigh in – on these very important points.

NARP Submits Comments to STB for OTP

In its comments to STB regarding the notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) concerning on-time performance (OTP), NARP submitted four recommendations on February 8 that would help regulators ensure that a train’s performance is accurately measured and no passengers’ needs would be ignored.

The STB’s proposed definition would consider a train to be “on time” if it arrives at its final terminus no more than five minutes after its scheduled arrival time for each 100 miles the train operated, or 30 minutes after its scheduled arrival time, whichever is less. 30 minutes would be the maximum tolerance allowed, even for national network trains which can travel over 2,000 miles between end points.

More importantly, STB intends to measure OTP only at the endpoints rather than at all stations along a route: in effect, STB is telling Americans in 24 states (those without endpoints, or more than half the states served by Amtrak) that regulators don’t care if your train is on time. Under STB’s proposal, some 90% of Amtrak stations’ OTP would never be measured.

The recommendations on OTP from NARP urged regulators to:

  • Measure on-time arrivals at all stations, not just at the end points; to use a single 15-minute standard at each point along a train’s route, and; to trigger an automatic investigation if trains on a route dip below the OTP standard more than 20 percent of the time.

  • Look more closely at what constitutes an “end point” station, given that there are routes at which intermediate stations constitute end-points for many individual services.

  • Collect and publish data including the effect of degraded OTP on connections, and require statistical reporting by Amtrak detailing when late trains cause passengers to miss connections or when Amtrak is forced to delay departure of trains for connecting passengers. Collected and published data should also include OTP at key “chokepoints” where passenger trains are handed off from one host railroad to another.

  • Use the OTP rulemaking to establish a minimum standard Amtrak must meet to avoid delays caused by equipment failures, and recognize that Amtrak-caused delays contribute to only a small fraction of the total delays reported.

Amtrak President/CEO Joseph Boardman issued an internal Employee Advisory on February 9 to alert Amtrak’s employees across the country that current-year revenues are running below expectations and that cost saving measures will be necessary over the coming months.

In the memo Boardman highlighted that ridership revenue was being hurt across the country by ever-lower gas prices and that recent weather events (the NE blizzard and flooding on the Texas Eagle and City of New Orleans routes) have also contributed to the shortfalls.

In January Boardman directed department heads to trim 3.8% from their FY ’17 budgets and in this week’s Employee Advisory, he directed that there be “a laser focus on reducing or eliminating all discretionary spending that is within our control”. Specific directives included the elimination of non-essential business travel; the delay of non-essential cost-intensive projects and a delay in hiring new employees where possible. Boardman did emphasize that ‘We will continue to make all necessary investments to keep our employees and customers safe.”

Yonah Freemark, a city planner at Chicago’s Metropolitan Planning Council and the creator of The Transport Politic website, wrote an opinion editorial for The New York Times that discussed how New York’s proposed streetcars in Brooklyn and Queens depends on more than just a pair of tracks and new trolley cars. A streetcar line that actually improves quality of life for New Yorkers must be fast, frequent and reliable — all of which require redirecting street space away from private automobiles and toward public transit. The faster and more dependable a streetcar line, the more time it will save riders, and the more likely people will choose it rather than polluting, expensive and congestion-producing options like personal automobiles or Uber.

According to by University of Michigan's Transportation Research Institute, more Americans are relying on public transportation for its ease, low fares and efficiency, as compared to owning and driving a car. Only 69 percent of 19-year-olds have a driver's license in 2014, compared with almost 90 percent in 1983. The percentage of 20-somethings with driver's licenses has also fallen by 13 percent over the past three decades, and fewer Americans in their 30s and 40s now have driver's licenses.

The Illinois Department of Transportation and Amtrak announced in a news release on Friday, February 5 that they have reached an agreement to keep in place existing service levels on state-supported routes at a savings to taxpayers and without having to raise fares on the downstate Illinois routes. “Passenger rail plays a vital role in connecting our state’s great communities and institutions,” Illinois Transportation Secretary Randy Blankenhorn said in the release. “This agreement preserves the service that riders have come to expect while saving taxpayer money and avoiding a fare increase for our downstate routes. We will continue to look out for the public’s best interests in future service agreements with Amtrak.”

Transportation analysts are looking to high-speed rail as a mode of transportation between Las Vegas and Southern California, due to the time and cost it would take to build new highways. Tom Skancke, a ground transportation consultant to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, told authority board members this week that the cost of adding new lanes in each direction for the 113 miles between the Nevada-California border and the first major freeway interchange in California would cost about $879 million in today's dollars. However, since the project would require an extensive environmental impact study that could take as long as 10 years to complete, the estimated cost would balloon to about $1.5 billion before the project could actually start..

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.

A south Phoenix light-rail line is on the fast track to construction, under a plan to accelerate the city’s long-delayed expansion of the transit system. The roughly 5-mile extension along Central Avenue — from downtown to Baseline Road — likely will be the first to get a major boost from Transportation 2050, the $31.5 billion transportation plan passed by Phoenix voters last summer. Residents started paying a higher sales tax this year to fund bus, street and light-rail improvements through 2050.

The New York State Department of Transportation is seeking bids from contractors for a $15 million train station that will be built in Schenectady, New York. The bids documents highlight a two-story, 10,630-square-foot building that will be built on the site of the current Amtrak station. The department is accepting bids until March 3.

Group rate hotel room reservations are now available for the Spring Council and Membership Meeting being held Sunday, April 10 through Wednesday, April 13 at the Sheraton Silver Spring Hotel. Click here to make your room reservations. Complete current information on the meeting can be found here. The meeting registration packages and on-line form will be available starting February 19th.

Bruce Siceloff of the Charlotte Observer noted that North Carolina is not building high-speed rail, but “what North Carolina is building instead might be called better and better rail.” The Department of Transportation is in a furious pitch of construction this year all along the state’s railroad tracks between Raleigh and Charlotte, a project known as the Piedmont Improvement Program. By the time the $520 million program is finished in 2017, DOT will have closed nearly 40 street-level rail crossings to make train and car travel safer. Crossings on a dozen roads will be replaced with bridges. Two more trains will begin making the daily round trip between Raleigh and Charlotte – bringing the total to five. That means the state’s two biggest cities, and seven stops along the way, will be linked with Amtrak service running every three hours during the day.

The Ohio Department of Transportation plans to move on from a Cincinnati-area commuter rail proposal, despite already spending $4.5 million during the project’s planning stages. The project will now most likely be abandoned, unless local leaders can find a new government sponsor or come up with nearly $400 million on their own. The decision was based on a lack of public interest and the presence of other pressing transportation needs in the state. In a memo to local leaders, ODOT Chief of Staff Matthew McAuliffe said that “it is not currently in the public's interest for ODOT to expend any additional funding for the next stages of this project.” The proposed Downtown-to-Milford rail line would have cost between $337.5 and $394.6 million.

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.

In addition, nominations are now being sought from those members interested and qualified in being elected as an Association Officer (Chair; 4 Vice-Chairs; Treasurer & Secretary) and for the 8 Director positions. The Officers and Directors are elected by the Council of Representatives at the April meeting. For more information on these positions including duties, responsibilities and required qualifications, go here. For an Officer & Director Candidate Information Statement form, go here.

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

The proposed OC Streetcar is one milestone closer to becoming the county’s first modern light-rail system, after President Barack Obama included $125 million for it in his proposed federal budget for the 2016-17 fiscal year. Inclusion of the 4.15-mile streetcar in Santa Ana and Garden Grove in the president’s $4.15 trillion budget puts the project in the pipeline to receive nearly half of its total cost from federal funds. If the OC Streetcar remains in the budget Congress is supposed to approve by Oct. 1, the Federal Transit Administration will within the next two years consider a full-funding grant agreement with the Orange County Transportation Authority that finalizes the total from the New Starts program.

The Metro Atlanta Chamber released a new report that states expansion of the city's transit options would inject more than $5 billion into the economy and create thousands of jobs. The report focuses on three proposed MARTA expansions: the Clifton corridor, Georgia 400, and along Interstate-20 Eastbound toward the Mall at Stonecrest. It also includes a fourth set of projects, yet to be named.

Nearly 45 years ago, Muni trains boldly went where no San Francisco train had gone before: underground. Today, the underground network only travels underneath Market Street and Twin Peaks. But that's about to change. SFMTA unveiled the newest design of the subway — one that would see the M-Ocean View train dip down from West Portal Station into the earth. The train would remain underground through the rest of its route to Parkmerced, and help thousands of commuters.

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 send your news items to Will Hubbard,, and we will continue to share it with the membership. We also ask members to send events that we can put on the website, here. And please follow NARP on Facebook and Twitter.