March 18, 2016
The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) issued a request for proposals for a privately-financed high-speed rail system. This request included the financing, design, construction, operation and maintenance of a high-speed train system, with a due date of August 31. The FAST Act does not include federal funding for a high-speed rail system, and is designed to gauge interest from the private sector in fully funding and operating a high-speed passenger rail corridor. Potential corridors identified in the RFP include the Northeast, California, Empire, Pacific Northwest, South Central, Gulf Coast, Chicago Hub, Florida, Keystone, Northern New England and Southeast.
Chris Urmson, Google’s director of self-driving cars, said in testimony to U.S. senators that autonomous cars have the potential to revolutionize U.S. transportation to the extent the government would be able to spend less on roads, parking, and public transportation. Overall, advocates of self-driving cars state that the vehicles could free up space on the roads and in urban areas through shared ownership and on-demand car services. This would lessen the demand for parking spaces and structures.
Kevin DeGood, Director of Infrastructure Policy at the Center for American Progress, highlighted the importance of Amtrak to the national transportation infrastructure. According to DeGood,”Amtrak is a national asset that will not be able to continue to provide reliable service or expand to meet future population growth and travel demand without additional investment.” In addition, DeGood points out that unlike other rail services in foreign countries, Amtrak must operate most services on tracks owned by freight railroads, states and other entities. Overall, Amtrak only owns 28 percent of the 21,300 route miles it travels.
Join NARP on Capitol Hill!
NARP members and Council Representatives are preparing for “Day on the Hill” which will take place on Tuesday, April 12 in Washington, D.C. Throughout the day, NARP will meet with our elected officials on Capitol Hill to share our thoughts on passenger rail and urge them to support balanced transportation policies and funding.
Additional information about the day, as well as the NARP Congressional Reception that evening, is available here.
NJ Transit avoided a major strike with its employees by agreeing to provide retroactive pay with the new wage increase the organization will give. Unions representing more than 4,200 employees that transport commuters between New Jersey and New York had threatened to strike if their demands were not met. The new deal gives NJ Transit workers a 21 percent wage increase over 8½ years before compounding. Union leaders also conceded to a new structure for employee health-care benefits that NJ Transit officials had sought.
The Seattle Times released a two-part story on the new light rail system that links major parts of Seattle, including Capitol Hill Station and the University of Washington. The new network, known as Link Light Rail, is projected to accommodate 45,000 weekday passengers by 2021, for a total of 80,000 in a 21-mile system. The $1.8 billion, 3-mile tunnel from Westlake to the UW is funded mostly by local sales and car-tab taxes, plus an $813 million federal grant.
In an unprecedented step, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority shut down its Metro system for 29 hours to inspect the system following a fire on Monday, March 14. According to Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld, 26 areas where electrical cables or the boots that connect them to the third rails were damaged and in need of repair were identified throughout the network. The shutdown impacted more than 700,000 trips, but Metro reopened Thursday morning.
You can read NARP’s response to Metro’s shut down here, which highlighted the need for sustainable levels of funding to prevent future incidents.
Following the Metro shutdown, The Washington Post highlighted five lessons that the U.S. could learn from how foreign countries manage their transportation services and infrastructure. Lessons included Copenhagen’s driverless metro which runs 24/7, as well as Japan’s high-speed trains which could travel between San Francisco and New York City in seven hours.
The bipartisan FAST Act was passed overwhelmingly by Congress. Now, as Congressional appropriators consider the Fiscal Year 2017 budget, they need to hear from Americans to make sure this bold vision for passenger trains is funded!
The National Transportation Safety Board announced that a truck delivering cattle feed caused a train track to shift, resulting in the derailment of Amtrak’s Southwest Chief in Kansas this week. The impact of the truck caused the train tracks to shift up to 14 inches. The train derailed as it traveled 60 mph with 131 passengers and 14 crew members. At least 32 people were hurt.
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.
Phil Goldfeder, an Assemblyman for Rockaway in Queens, NY, announced that the state Assembly’s budget proposal will include support for a feasibility study on the reintroduction of the Rockaway Beach Rail Line, which was discontinued in 1962. The line would run from the Rockaways through Forest Hills into Rego Park, for four miles. The language in the proposal required the study to be conducted by the Metropolitan Transit Authority by March 1, 2017.
Amtrak announced this week that Business Class service will be available on the Crescent between New York City and New Orleans starting April 1st. Offering reserved seating in a Business Class-only coach, passengers opting for this intermediate service level will also enjoy complimentary coffee, tea and other non-alcoholic beverages, along with online access to digital newspapers. Reservations for this new service on the Crescent are now available.
In recent months Amtrak has also introduced Business Class on the Coast Starlight, Auto Train and Cardinal. Additional national network trains are expected to gain the service during 2016.
The Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) experienced a mechanical shortage in its system as rail cars received 2,000 volts of electricity from its third rail, instead of the standard 1,000 volts. As a result, BART shut down the rail system in the specific section to inspect the rails, which caused delays for passengers. According to BART representatives, the agency is not sure when the system will be up and running at 100 percent. Currently, the agency is considering floating a $3.5 billion infrastructure bond on a November ballot. WIRED has more on the self-inflicted nature of the problems affecting the region.
A list of the newly elected state representatives serving on the NARP Council of Representatives for the two-year term starting March 1, 2016 is available here.
There are still openings for state representatives in some states. Check-out the full list of current vacancies here. If you are interested in being considered for an appointment to an open state seat by the Board of Directors please complete this Candidate Information Statement.
The Redlands Passenger Rail Project by the San Bernardino Associated Governments (SANBAG) in Highland, CA has entered the Final Design Phase, and is being designed to address growing transportation needs in the area. Once the rail project is completed, it’s expected to attract and retain business and employers, which will help grow the local economy in the region. Residents will also be able to commute to Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego as the line will connect to Metrolink at the new San Bernardino Transit Center.
Don’t delay...discounted ‘Early-Bird’ registration ends March 31!
The current agenda for the meeting is now posted and information on NARP’s ‘Day on The Hill’ can be found here. Of special note on the agenda is that retiring Amtrak President/CEO Joseph Boardman will be address the group at lunch on Monday, April 11
Group-rate hotel room reservations at the Sheraton are now closed. Near-by hotel options with available rooms are listed on the event webpage.
The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Authority is pushing for public transit funding to build a Sepulveda Pass rail tunnel, as well as a toll road. The agency hopes to build the systems in order to relieve traffic congestion on the 405 Freeway. The Authority is pushing for the funding to be included under a sales tax measure that will go before voters in the fall. Other first-in-line Valley transit projects include a light rail line from Sylmar down Van Nuys Boulevard to Sherman Oaks, and grade separations aimed to speed up Orange Line bus rapid transit across the south Valley.
Amtrak took delivery of 3 new single-level ‘Viewliner II’ cars from CAF USA, based in Elmira Heights, NY, on March 15. One each of the hopefully soon-to-produced diners, sleepers and baggage-dormitory cars will now enter testing (which reportedly may include limited revenue service use) over the coming months.
Views of the new cars on route from Elmira to Amtrak’s Albany-Rensselaer Maintenance Base courtesy of the Empire State Passengers Association - Diner 68000 ‘Albany’; Sleeper 62500 ‘Portage River’ and Baggage-Dorm 69001
Following the passage of state legislation in Georgia, MARTA expansion in Atlanta is a priority for Mayor Kasim Reed. The bill would let city voters decide whether to pay an additional half cent to add more rail service within the city limits. The half cent tax, which would be in addition to a 1 percent sales tax already paid by voters, could provide $2.5 billion for MARTA. The Senate could vote on the measure next week.
FINAL REMINDER...NARP is inviting members in good standing to consider running for 10 ‘At-Large’ seats on the Council of Representatives, the association’s volunteer governing body. ‘At-Large’ representatives will be elected at the upcoming April meeting and will serve a two-year term.
Any NARP member who has paid dues by the time of the April meeting, 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, plus the 10 ‘At-Large’ reps and the Officers & Directors. 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. Submissions by mail must be postmarked no later than March 31, 2016.
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, email@example.com, 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.