Hotline #957

USDOT Shifts Postion on OTP, Boardman Talks Amtrak's Future, WMATA Looks to Restore “World-Class” Quality

In the second round of comments submitted by Amtrak to the Surface Transportation Board (STB) regarding on-time performance (OTP) measurement for passenger rail, the U.S. Department of Transportation has shifted to back NARP’s position that all stations should be subjected to on-time standards.

After an initially ambiguous statement during the initial February 8 deadline, the U.S. DOT seemed swayed by arguments made by Amtrak and passenger rights groups such as NARP. U.S. DOT deputy general counsel Kristin Amerling wrote that the department “shares the view that all passengers, not just those at endpoints, should be the beneficiaries of reliable service.”

The Association of American Railroads (AAR) doubled down on their attempts to upend existing standards, claiming that an “all-stations metric would create false positives for investigation because of the back-loading of recovery time in many of Amtrak’s schedules.”

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 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.

At a meeting held by OneRail, an industry-wide coalition of railroads and advocacy groups of which NARP is a part, Amtrak president Joe Boardman talked about the opportunities and challenges that will face his successor.

Boardman warned that Amtrak is losing strategic ability—through the greying of its workforce, and through persistent lack of federal funding for the strategic investment plans Congress has required of it. He also argued that the mentality that you can cut your way to a better rail system is wrongheaded, and needs to roundly rejected.

Boardman praised the work done by Amtrak’s frontline workers, saying the next CEO of Amtrak should put their faith in these workers expertise and dedication to safety. Simultaneously, he cautioned that Amtrak’s must constantly be reminded about the importance of investing in a strong national network that serves all Americans.

Asked about Amtrak’s status as a for-profit corporation, he said it’s entirely reasonable to expect a publicly-funded organization to maximize efficiency and cost-effectiveness. But he emphasized that Amtrak will never make a profit -- just like highways and the air system don’t make a profit.

Don Phillips, a reporter for Trains Magazine, published a letter from Gene Skoropowski, Senior Vice President of Passenger Rail Development for All Aboard Florida--and former NARP Director--which he wrote in response to a column by Phillips that suggested Skoropowski consider becoming the next head of Amtrak. Noting that he is too old to take over the passenger rail agency, Skoropowski provided a list of younger candidates who he thought would be capable of leading Amtrak into the future. The “new generation” has the youth, energy and “political and operational savvy” to change Amtrak, according to Skoropowski. Please note that this article is subscription only and a link online is not available.

The California High Speed Rail Authority is facing increased scrutiny regarding the potential for increased costs. According to leaked documents from the state of California and contractors, the agency could see costs increase hundreds of millions of dollars due to change orders and other claims from construction companies and railroads. The Los Angeles Times asked about the notices, but state officials said the documents are not yet official claims or demands, and should not be considered final.

The costs outlined in the documents are associated with the first 29 miles of the high-speed train system, which will run from Madera to Fresno. The documents reveal that larger claims and change orders could cost between 10 and 30 percent above the original estimates, with smaller claims providing additional costs.

Meanwhile, the Public Policy Institute of California released the results of a statewide poll, which found that the majority of state residents are in favor of high-speed rail. Overall, 52 percent of adults and 44 percent of voters continue to favor building the high-speed rail network. This represents an improvement over the past few years, where persistent political attacks and an absence of visible construction eroded support for the project.

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 8.

In an effort to improve safety and restore the transit system to its original “world-class” quality, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s (WMATA) top officials warned that entire rail lines could be shut down for up to six months. This is due to a high level or needed repair throughout the entire Metro system, which will cause significant congestion for daily commuters. Metro officials made the announcement as they spoke to 100 government officials, business executives and transit experts at an invitation-only “summit” called to mark the 40th anniversary of Metro’s opening.

U.S. Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Tim Kaine (D-Va.) asked members of Congress to fully fund WMATA in order to help the agency correct safety problems. The request is for WMATA to receive $150 million in federal funding for FY 2017, and money would be targeted at providing repairs for rail cars, facilities and overall infrastructure.

Urban planners in Miami, FL are looking to bring commuters to and from suburban areas through a $375 million project focused on mass transit. Overall, the city is attempting to invest in a transportation infrastructure that is similar to mass transit in European and Asian countries, and utilizes a light rail network. As part of the the effort, Miami has attracted rail car designs from Hitachi, which has already proposed light rail cars for the city, and plans to expand its market share in the United States.

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!

Amtrak unveiled a new plan to renovate Washington, D.C.’s Union Station, the major transit station in the city. The $50 million plan includes an effort to expand the intercity and commuter-rail concourse by 20,000 square feet. The renovations are expected to improve commuters’ experience traveling through the concourse with greater accessibility, circulation and access to multimodal transportation. The project marks the first set of improvements being undertaken as part of Washington Union Station's "2nd Century" plan, a comprehensive initiative comprising multiple projects.

As part of the $89.1 million Point Defiance Bypass high-speed rail project in Washington state, construction of the new Amtrak Cascades station in Tacoma’s Freighthouse Square will begin in June. The station will serve Amtrak Cascades trains and Amtrak’s Coast Starlight long-distance service. The station also is adjacent to the Sound Transit station in Freighthouse Square and across the street from the Pierce Transit Tacoma Dome Station, helping to create a multi-modal hub for residents and travelers. The station is scheduled to open in fall 2017.

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.

Last week, officials with Amtrak, CSX, the Federal Railway Administration, U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker’s office and cities in the Gulf Coast region, met in Biloxi, MS to move forward with plans to restore passenger rail service in the area. The group will be working to pull together materials to establish a preferred route, infrastructure and repair needs, costs of restoring train service, and the sources for funding the train. The group is currently suggesting daily round-trip train from New Orleans through south Mississippi to Mobile, AL, and a long-distance train that would connect from New Orleans to Orlando, FL, through Jacksonville, FL.

The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) will receive $255 million as part of a Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) loan from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). In an effort to meet growing demand from riders, CTA will use the funding to buy 490 new railcars in order to replace approximately one third of their current fleet. CTA previously received $199 million in TIFIA loans for a track upgrade project and a bus and rail terminal rehabilitation.

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.

On-Line registration ends Friday, April 8. After this date, all registrations will be on-site ONLY at the Sheraton Silver Spring on Monday, April 11. On-Site registrations will incur a surcharge.

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.

Siemens’ first high-performance Charger diesel-electric passenger locomotive will soon begin testing and qualification after rolling off the manufacturing floor. The new locomotive is engineered to travel at speeds of 125 mph, while at the same time providing reduced noise and emissions through the Cummins QSK95 engine. Siemens is currently building 69 Chargers for transportation agencies in states nationwide, including Illinois, California, Maryland, Florida and more.

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 May 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 May 15, 2016, for travel between January 6 and May 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.

Rep. Jim Knoblach, GOP chairman of Minnesota’s State House Ways and Means Committee, is expected to introduce a proposal that will expand Northstar rail service to St. Cloud, MN. Notably, the bill does not include any funding for expanded service, but Knoblach expects that trains could run the additional 27 miles to the Amtrak station in St. Cloud without generating additional costs. However, Minnesota transportation officials disagree, believing that the additional miles will cost up to $50 million.

Sound Transit officials in Seattle announced that their efforts on the Light-Rail Tunnel Project have hit a new milestone - the tunnel boring machines working their way south from the future Northgate station to the University of Washington station have gotten two-thirds of the way towards their destination. Tunneling with the tunnel boring machines is expected to be complete by the end of this year. Tunnel finishes and cross passages, which connect the train tunnels and provide emergency exits, are scheduled to be complete by the first quarter of 2018.

Friday, April 1st marked the 40th anniversary of the start of operations of Conrail on April 1, 1976, created by Congress in 1974 with the passage of the Regional Rail Reorganization Act. The Conrail legislation lead to the transfer of ownership of the Northeast Corridor to Amtrak and the formation of Metro North and New Jersey Transit's rail operations over the following decade.

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.