Hotline #956

In the wake of the terrorist attacks at Brussels’ airport and subway station, U.S. transit systems, including Amtrak and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) in New York City, stepped up security procedures. Amtrak noted in a blog that Amtrak police are working with law enforcement agencies at the local, state and federal levels, while MTA is working with state police and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) to elevate police presence at subway and rail stations. The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority also beefed up police presence at three rail stations, including L.A.'s Union Station.

In addition, House Democrats urged the Homeland Security appropriations subcommittee to put $105 million aside to help local transit systems improve security following the attacks in Brussels. This represents $20 million more than President Obama’s 2017 budget proposal. However, the overall budget is tiny in comparison to the $7.6 billion requested for aviation security.

Amtrak and the Port Authority are providing $70 million in support for the new Hudson River rail tunnels between New York and New Jersey. The boost in funds will be utilized to fast track an environmental review for the $20 billion Gateway Project. Overall, the Gateway Project would build two new tunnels under the Hudson River to augment the two existing 106-year-old Amtrak tunnels, which NJ Transit uses for all trains going into New York. The project would include constructing two new tracks between Newark and New York for a total of four tracks and building a Penn Station annex.

GoEuro, a travel search engine, ranked 20 countries regarding their high-speed rail networks. Overall, the U.S. was ranked at 19th out of the 20 countries assessed. The criteria used to assess the countries included population coverage by rail, speed of trains (despite that the U.S.’s sole high-speed rail is the Acela in the NE corridor and operates at a top speed 150 MPH), and operating speed. The report highlights that other countries have built high-speed rail lines that bring their major cities closer together, while the U.S. rail system is not as reliable as foreign counterparts.

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.

Following the “Day on the Hill” NARP will honor Senator John Thune (SD) and Senator Roger Wicker (MS) for their leadership in passing the bipartisan FAST Act, the first surface transportation authorization to include passenger rail. The FAST Act has also provided a way forward towards restoration of passenger rail along the Gulf Coast, which has been without service since Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Additional information about the day, as well as the NARP Congressional Reception that evening, is available here. Advance registration to attend the Congressional Reception is required by April 6.

Following the shutdown of Metro in Washington, D.C. last week, Politico highlighted that a large problem with Metro is the “decades-long, tangled relationship with the federal government that helped build it and whose employees depend on it.” The most recent issues of maintenance and safety that Metro has experienced are the direct result of uncertain and interrupted funding from the federal government that started when the service was first proposed. When Congress first approved the Metro system in 1965, Congress pressured developers to keep costs down and forced them to scale back larger plans to just 25 miles at $431 million, with hopes to expand the project.

Reporters were taken on a tour of the construction for the Charlotte Area Transit System in North Carolina this week. The $1.2 billion projected began in January 2014, and service from uptown to the University of North Carolina Charlotte campus is expected to begin in August 2017. Reporters got a peek into the tunnel below North Tryon Street built as part of the 340-foot underpass that will take trains from the median of North Tryon to the final stop at UNCC.

The Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) system will receive $11 million from the California Transportation Commission. SMART will use the funds to buy four more passenger cars as the organization gears up to begin service later this year. Service is expected to start with two-car sets that will hold 318 passengers, but the new cars could serve growing demand and a three-car train can hold roughly 500 passengers.

Ask Congress for A Connected America today!

The bipartisan FAST Act was passed overwhelmingly by Congress. Now, as Congressional appropriators consider the Fiscal Year 2017 budget, they need to hear from all Americans to make sure this bold vision for passenger trains is funded!

Rep. Martin O. Sabo, a long-time supporter of Amtrak and transit in the U.S., passed away earlier this month. He was also a politician in Minnesota, serving as speaker of the Minnesota House of Representatives before winning election to the U.S. House in 1978. He continued to handily win re-elections until announcing his retirement in 2006. Politicians praised Mr. Sabo for his understated manner and ability to deliver millions of dollars to the Twin Cities for road and housing projects, including the Hiawatha Avenue light-rail line and the Minneapolis Veterans Medical Center.

Eight years after voters in Hawaii supported construction of a new 20-mile elevated train line, concerns that were onced voiced years ago could become a reality. Originally projected to cost $4.6 billion, the rail line is now looking at a cost of $6.7 billion that forced an approval of a five-year extension of a general excise tax surcharge to cover costs. In addition, the train, which will take passengers from Kapolei in western Oahu to the edge of Waikiki, is at least two years behind schedule. At this rate, city officials said, it could have the distinction of being, on a per-capita basis, the most expensive transit project in the country’s history. Given the road congestion choking the island’s roadways, coupled with the work that has already gone into the line, even the project’s fiercest critics say the state should finish building the project.

Glen D. Bottoms, executive director of The American Conservative Center for Public Transportation, emphasized that a light rail system for Hampton Roads, VA is a wise choice. Bottoms notes that “Extending light rail will provide a viable transportation alternative where precious few exist and can serve as the backbone for a more comprehensive, synergistic rail and bus system for Virginia Beach and the region.”

Due to increased demand, the Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority (Sound Transit) in Washington State, is adding longer trains to its light rail system. After the agency opened a new $1.8 billion tunnel from Westlake Station to UW and Capitol Hill, platforms and trains have been full at peak times. As a result, the agency will run three-car trains that will alternate with the usual two-car trains.

Less than a week after Sound Transit opened its new service, the agency’s board presented a new proposal that lays out a $50 billion, 25-year plan for mass transit in the area. The plan includes a light rail system to connect Everett, DuPont, Issaquah, West Seattle and Ballard.

Following the release of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s new tax plan last week, representatives from the suburban areas of L.A. County are crying foul. Though the MTA has tried to provide something for every region of the county, many in the outlying areas see the proposal as heavily tilted toward the city of L.A., while other cities are left with little. Overall, taxpayers from across the county, which includes 88 cities, will be asked to pay an additional half-cent tax for projects like a rail tunnel through the Sepulveda Pass, connecting the San Fernando Valley to the Westside by 2033.

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 Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) Board of Directors approved $108 million for the FY 2017 Capital Improvement Program (CIP) in order to keep San Diego’s transit system running. Projects supported by the funds include the purchase of eight low-floor trolleys for $31 million and a new Courthouse Trolley Station for $5.7 milion.

Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) is one step closer to receiving $2.5 billion for an expansion of its current transportation services thanks to approval of new legislation, Senate Bill 369, in this week’s legislative session. The expansion effort will most likely include a light-rail system that runs along the Beltline. Funding for the project would be supported by a half-percent sales tax increase that Atlanta voters first have to approve.

Registration for NARP’s Annual Spring Conference and Council Meeting being held Sunday, April 10 through Wednesday, April 13 at the Sheraton Silver Spring Hotel is now available on the event webpage.

Don’t delay...discounted ‘Early-Bird’ registration ends March 31! The deadline to register is April 6.

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 Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority finalized plans to turn the the historic Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad Terminal in New York into a busy transit hub and commercial center. The plan involves routing Metro Rail traffic onto the ground floor of the complex along its Buffalo River side, with shops and other commercial development on the second floor. Transit planners envision Metro trains ferrying thousands of fans to Buffalo Sabres games and other events, while also attracting significant commercial development to the 140,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor space.

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,, 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.