NARP’s “Day on the Hill,” Presidential Candidates on Mass Transit, CHSRA’s New Plans
April 15, 2016
Following NARP’s “Day on the Hill” on April 12th in Washington, D.C., president and CEO Jim Mathews and NARP Chairman Bob Stewart presented U.S. Senators John Thune (R-SD) and Roger Wicker (R-MS) with the prestigious “Golden Spike” Award at the organization’s annual Congressional Reception. The award was presented to to the two senators for their leadership in passing the bipartisan Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, the first comprehensive surface transportation bill to include funding for passenger rail and was signed by President Obama in December 2015.
The FAST Act is critical for rail projects across the country, as politicians and commuters know that developing and maintaining a strong transportation infrastructure is not only important, but also expensive. The FAST Act creates a number of much-needed investment programs for rail, providing avenues to expand the national network and address years of underinvestment in rail infrastructure. Significantly, it creates a working group to identify a path forward to restore passenger rail along the Gulf Coast, where service was discontinued following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Senator Thune serves as the chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, which has jurisdiction over rail, and guided the bill from committee to final passage. Senator Wicker—along with Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ)—oversaw the drafting of the rail title.
Investment in passenger rail provides an array of benefits that are often worth the cost, including job growth, economic expansion, and environmental conservation. Support can easily run into the billions of dollars depending on the scope of the project, but without funding, a rail network can easily fall into disrepair if representatives on the Hill, governors or state legislatures deem mass transit expenditures wasteful. This is an important point that presidential candidates should address further as they continue their campaigns across the country. When looked at closely, each candidate differs in their perspective for mass transit. Regarding Republican candidates, Ted Cruz said he would end the New Starts Transit Program, while Donald Trump has noted that the U.S. national rail network falls far behind the capabilities of foreign countries. In terms of Democratic candidates, Bernie Sanders is pushing for $1 trillion over five years on infrastructure investments, which will also include mass transit projects. Hillary Clinton is looking at $275 billion over five years, also for infrastructure and mass transit.
Washington, D.C.’s Metro system is a striking example of how a rail network can fall into disrepair, especially after marking its 40th birthday last month after the systems experienced a series of malfunctions, fires, and shutdowns. Zachary M. Schrag, a history professor at George Mason University and the author of The Great Society Subway, which came out around Metro’s 30th anniversary in 2006, states that Metro’s revitalization to its “glory days” could cost billions of dollars. Though the bones of the system are still good, Metro is need of funding to properly maintain and repair the aging network, but the problem of not having a better plan in place to obtain these funds remains a challenge for the city.
To increase funding support for Metro, Jack Evans, the chairman of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority requested that congress provide $300 million per year as an equal partner like D.C., Maryland and Virginia. The request was highly contested with members of the hearing calling for another hearing on Capitol Hill in 90 days before decisions are made. Despite funding problems, this week, Metro retired the oldest cars in its fleet - the 1000-series cars from the 1970s - as the agency has been replacing them with the new 7000-series that began service in April of last year.
A Successful Day on the Hill
Nearly 100 NARP members and Council Representatives spent April 12 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., meeting with numerous elected officials and their transportation staffers. Over 300 separate appointments were held! Throughout the day we shared our thoughts on passenger rail and urged officials to support balanced transportation policies and funding.
As part of our key messages, we focused on encouraging Congress to full its promise for A Connected America and implement the programs required to develop a national passenger rail network. This included asking Congress to:
Fully fund and implement the passenger rail programs created by the FAST Act.
Make modern passenger rail service available within 25 miles of 80% of Americans in 25 years.
Fulfilling the promise of the FAST Act’s multi-year rail authorization will allow state and local governments, railroads and Amtrak to make critical investments in rail infrastructure, fleet modernization, expansion of current services and meet growing demand.
Additional information about NARP and our messages to Congress is available here.
The California High-Speed Rail Authority released the latest plans for the state’s high-speed rail network, which included newly proposed and revised routes of the train. Under the new plan, the rail line would remain above ground through most of Los Angeles, while engineers propose to bore tunnels under mountains as the northeast end of the San Fernando Valley, and drill tunnels from Acton to the San Fernando Valley. Overall, the new plans are being reviewed and public comments are being heard, but the Authority is trying to reduce costs by looking at all route alternatives for the rail line.
During a public forum however, community members in the San Fernando Valley voiced their concerns over some of the proposed routes. Critics of the plan noted that the plan would create urban sprawl, damage agriculture, and fail to connect to current transportation systems. Union leaders representing a variety of skilled laborers noted that if the project didn’t move forward, there would be significant job loss and damage to the area’s economy.
Peter LeCody of Dallas, TX Elected Next NARP Chairman...
During this past Wednesday’s NARP Business Session, NARP Council Representatives elected Peter LeCody of Dallas, TX, as the next Chairman of NARP. Peter assumes the Chair role from the outgoing Bob Stewart who has served for the past six years. Peter has most recently served as a NARP Board Vice-Chair, in addition to representing the state of Texas on the Council for many years.
The Council also elected the following Officers & Directors:
Vice-Chairs: John Delora of Michigan, Carol Haslett of Ohio, Jim Loomis of Hawaii and Chuck Riecks of West Virginia
Treasurer: Ken Clifford of Ohio
Secretary: Bill Hutchinson of Florida
Directors: Ken Briers of Washington, DC, George Chilson of California, Jim Hamre of Washington State, David Randall of Illinois, Steve Salatti of New York, Jim Souby of Colorado, Richard Vavre-Musser of Michigan
To round out the Council of Representatives for the next two-year term, the following 10 ‘At-Large’ Representatives were also elected: Richard Arena of Florida, Duane Chattin of Indiana, W. O. Greene of Tennessee, Charles Hamilton of Washington State, Malcolm Kenton of Washington, DC, Dennis Lytton of Washington, DC, Matt Melzer of Minnesota, Jishnu Mukerji of Florida, Ron Schneider of Kentucky and Daniel Zimny-Schmitt of Colorado.
Congratulations to all...
City planners in Los Angeles are looking to spruce up and attract new crowds to Union Station by making the subway stop more than just a subway stop. Overall, officials wants to revitalize Union Station much like the city is being revitalized, and renovate the building as an entertainment hub. This effort would include Union Station hosting concerts, leasing retails space and improving restaurant offerings. The goal is to turn the station from a transit hub to a destination that provides a commercial and cultural impact on the city.
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!
Following recent terrorist attacks, including the attack at the subway station in Brussels last month, there has been heightened security concerns at stations throughout the U.S. Despite concerns, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has reassured that several agencies have taken the necessary steps to provide a safe and secure service for commuters. The TSA commended 13 transit and passenger-rail agencies for achieving the TSA's highest rating for transit security, known as the “Gold Standard.” This is given to transit agencies and passenger railroads that achieve the highest rating on the administration's 2015 Baseline Assessments for Security Enhancement (BASE) and for building a strong security program. Agencies with rail operations that achieved the Gold Standard in 2015 include Amtrak, Miami-Dade Transit, MTA Metro-North Railroad, MTA New York City Transit, Port Authority Trans-Hudson Corp., Regional Transportation District of Denver, Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, New Orleans Regional Transit Authority, North County Transit District of North San Diego County, Port Authority Transit Corp. and Metro Transit.
In an effort to increase safety for riders on its light rail system, NJ Transit will soon finish installing interior audio and surveillance technology on its trains. Overall, commuters have grown accustomed to surveillance equipment monitoring their movements following 9/11 and other recent terrorist attacks. But questions have been raised, and unanswered, about NJ Transit recording all conversations, and for how long the conversations are kept for. Currently, video and audio devices have already been installed on the River Line light rail vehicles and are being installed on the Hudson-Bergen and Newark Light Rail. To keep passengers aware, all light rail vehicles that are equipped with surveillance have signs informing customers of their presence.
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 Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) will begin utilizing Positive Train Control (PTC) technology on its Warminster Regional Rail line next week. The use of PTC by SEPTA follow’s the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) granting permission to SEPTA to begin operations with PTC. Along with SEPTA, Amtrak and MetroLink in California use PTC, which is a system that is designed to reduce accidents through the use of GPS and monitoring that can stop a train automatically before certain types of accidents. SEPTA spent seven years and more than $320 million designing, installing and testing the technology, plus training employees.
Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) is moving forward in improving its railcar fleet by starting dynamic tests on its new “Fleet of the Future” cars. Provided testing goes as planned, BART will put the new cars into service in December. Testing including 29 performance measures and covers propulsion, brakes, wheel to axle resistance, noise and electromagnetic compatibility. This will be followed by night-time testing on the network. The transit cars being built by Bombardier Transportation under a $2.5 billion contract with BART.
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.
In an effort to complete its project of a transit hub that will connect 11 transit systems in eight Bay Area counties, San Francisco will borrow $260 million. Rising construction costs have added $700 million to the development of the Transbay Transit Center, which is considered a vital part of the region’s transportation system. The transit center, funded with a mixture of sources including federal grants and loans, sale of prime downtown property and local taxes, is scheduled to open its first phase, a new bus depot, next year. A second phase, which could cost nearly $4 billion, would bring in regional Caltrain lines and a proposed high-speed rail.
In the recently released plans for Maryland’s Purple Line, it was revealed that the railcars will be the longest used in the U.S. At 136 feet long, the trains built by Spanish company CAF, will be 2 feet longer that other trains used. With the longer railcars, the Purple Line will provide several advantages over multiple short ones: increase capacity by 10 percent, reduction in wasted space between cars, less expense per ride, and ease for commuters to walk through a single car to find a seat.
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, firstname.lastname@example.org, 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.