U.S. Senate Approves Increased Funding for Rail; National Rail Network Needed To Compete on Global Economy
April 22, 2016
Two new reports have highlighted the continued growth and interest in passenger rail service throughout the U.S., in two different areas of the country - the Midwest and New York. The reports, which are described below, highlight that interest in transportation, specifically, commuter rail, is changing in the country and how people want to connect between their homes, work and other cities. This idea of connectivity was highlighted by Parag Khanna, a senior fellow at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore. Khanna’s essay and map in The New York Times, adapted from his forthcoming book “Connectography: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization,” echoes NARP’s idea of “A Connected America,” where a national passenger rail network connects people to cities with new opportunities for employment, economic growth, and even global trade for the entire country. Such a network would help the United States keep pace with other European and Asian countries that are developing multimodal transportation hubs around robust urban clusters with advanced and booming industries.
Despite the U.S. lagging behind other countries in infrastructure investment, our elected officials are moving, albeit slowly, in the right direction. This week, NARP was glad to see that the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee passed a transportation budget that will increase funding for passenger rail to $1.7 billion—$76 million above the FY2016 enacted level! The committee also provided $525 million for TIGER grants (also known as National Infrastructure Investments), $25 million above the FY2016 enacted level; and $2.3 billion for Capital Investment Grants (New Starts). Both programs have been extremely successful in funding investment in rail transit for the U.S.
Critically, all three FAST Act grant programs NARP had targeted received funding. This means important rail projects—such as the Gulf Coast restoration and the Gateway Project on the Northeast Corridor, along with scores of other investments across the U.S.—will be eligible to receive additional federal funding.
However, we still need your help. NARP is concerned about language added at the last minute that will erode the ambitious scope of the Consolidated Rail, Infrastructure and Safety (CRISI) grant program. While the Senate THUD Subcommittee approved $50 million in funding for the program, it also stripped eligibility for passenger specific goals, including investment in stations, upgrades to to reduce train congestion, and enhancements to facilitate ridership growth. These were some of CRISI’s most exciting features, and NARP needs your help to restore them.
Click here to send an email to your Senator asking them to restore passenger eligibility for these funds when the transportation budget bill goes to the full floor!
The first report highlighting the potential growth and demand for passenger rail is from the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission (MIPRC), which released the results of a survey that showed that more than half of Midwestern college students, faculty and staff who responded to a survey would take Amtrak service to school if the train was more frequent. Other notable findings from the report were that nearly a quarter of respondents have taken Amtrak to or from school, while 68 percent said passenger rail is important to the transportation future of the country. Overall, nearly 19,200 respondents at 30 schools across nine Midwestern states participated in the online survey.
The second report highlights the current growth impacting New York City’s subways, which in 2015 reached their highest ridership since 1948. Overall, the MTA New York City Transit (NYCT) logged an annual ridership of nearly 1.8 billion riders, which represents an increase of 0.6 percent over 2014. Between stations, Manhattan and Queens ridership rose 0.9 percent, matching the systemwide increase. Brooklyn and Bronx station entries increased by 1.4 percent and 0.3 percent, respectively. Ridership throughout the city is expected to grow as they add a total of 31 extra round trips on Saturdays and 18 additional trips on Sundays on the line by the fall.
On Friday, April 22, Denver opened rail service between downtown and Denver International Airport. The University of Colorado A Line runs 23 miles, runs every 15 minutes, and is expected to change how people commute to and from the airport, which was originally done by taxis for $70, or on buses. On Saturday, Denver International Airport and community groups will be hosting parties at the eight stations along the new rail line, with a kite festival, food, music and other entertainment scheduled to take place on the open air plaza between Denver Airport and the Westin Denver International Airport hotel. The hotel opened next to the DIA’s main Jeppesen Terminal on Nov. 25, sitting over the commuter rail station.
Also in Colorado, U.S. Senator Michael Bennet congratulated the Colorado Transportation Committee for its approval of a $1.5 million grant for reinstating the Ski Train between Denver and Winter Park Resort. The restoration of the train has been a key goal of ColoRail, and tomorrow Winter Park CEO Gary DeFrange, a ColoRail member, will be attending the group’s Denver meeting. There, he will accept ColoRail’s symbolic matching donation from ColoRail President & CEO Jim Souby, who is also a NARP Council Member, that will go to help restart the service.
Negotiations for reintroducing the train are taking place between Winter Park, Union Pacific, and Amtrak, with a goal of starting service in 2017. Before the service ended in 2009, the Winter Park Ski Train brought passengers 56 miles from Denver's Union Station to Winter Park Resort. There have been collaborative efforts to reinstate the train and last year, a sold-out special trip was completed in honor of Winter Park's 75th anniversary.
NARP COUNCIL OF REPRESENTATIVES ELECTS PETER LECODY AS NEW CHAIRMAN
TWO-YEAR TERM TO FOCUS ON A CONNECTED AMERICA AND MULTIMODAL TRANSPORT
Washington, D.C. – During the National Association of Railroad Passengers’ (NARP) Council of Representatives last week, Peter LeCody was elected as the organization’s new Chairman. LeCody will serve a two-year term and assumes the role from Robert J. Stewart, who served for the past six years.
“I am humbled and honored that the Council has elected me as Chairman of NARP, a vital link that connects the rail-riding public to our elected officials,” LeCody said, who hails from Dallas, TX. “I’m eager to get to work and to continue pushing for the modern, first-class passenger rail network that Americans want and need.”
LeCody, 68, most recently served as Board Vice-Chair of NARP, before being elected Chairman. While in this position, LeCody represented his home state of Texas on the Council for many years and has become an integral part of the association and has helped the organization shape its goals for the future of passenger rail and multimodal transportation in the United States.
“The U.S. is on the verge of something great in rail transportation, following the passage of the Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act. Increasing funding under this legislation will help cities, states and regions develop rail and other mass transit services and allow for Americans to travel on a truly national multimodal transportation network,” said LeCody.
In addition to his position with NARP, LeCody serves as President of Texas Rail Advocates (TRA), a grassroots organization covering freight and passenger rail issues in Texas and the Southwest. During this time he served on the steering committee for the Texas Department of Transportation Rail Division for three years, and as a member of the Texas Transportation Commission I-35 Corridor Advisory Committee for five years. Prior to taking over as TRA President, LeCody served as the Subcommittee Chair for the Regional Transportation Task Force for the city of Coppell, TX. He has been a Dallas business owner since 1987.
“Peter brings a wealth of experience and passion to this position,” said Jim Mathews, president and CEO of NARP. “He has been an active member in NARP for years, and he has played key roles in advocating for passenger rail in Texas and on Capitol Hill. We are excited to have his guidance as we move forward.”
LeCody has previously received the Champion of the Rails award from Amtrak President Joe Boardman, an award which recognizes non-Amtrak employees who have successfully completed a project to enhance the quality or safety of passenger rail services.
His twitter handle is @railadvo.
The Gulf Coast Rail Working Group, tasked with analyzing and developing a plan to reintroduce commuter rail in the Gulf Coast region, is pushing forward with their efforts. The group will receive $500,000 over two years to create a plan for Congress that will determine specific improvements need for infrastructure, rail service model and the total cost, according former Tallahassee Mayor John Marks, who acts as the Florida liaison to the group. In addition to determining potential annual ridership and cost, the working group is looking at the conditions of stations throughout the mostly rural route. Some need major upgrades, some are not up to current American Disability Act standards, and some places without a stop are looking to join.
Passenger rail service between San Antonio and Austin is still a possibility for the Lone Star Rail District, which has four new alternative ideas after Union Pacific said it would not participate in a proposal. The alternatives all involve the I-35 corridor and include: "the SH130 corridor, the abandoned MoKan rail alignment, and new right-of-way parallel to the Union Pacific mainline, as well as hybrids of these options." According to the District, the project is halfway through the implementation process, while it expects to complete the environmental study by 2018.
At the request of CSX in order to accommodate extensive planned trackwork, Amtrak is cancelling one Empire Service round-trip between Albany-Rensselaer and Niagara Falls, NY four days a week starting this Sunday, April 24, running through July 13. Westbound train #281 will not operate beyond Albany-Rensselaer Sundays through Wednesdays and eastbound trains #280 and #284 are replaced by a newly-scheduled #282 on Monday through Wednesday mornings from Niagara Falls. Regularly scheduled service across upstate New York will be provided on Thursdays, Fridays & Saturdays. The Empire State Passenger Association has questioned this service reduction, which was approved by New York’s Department of Transportation, just as the busy spring and summer travel season is getting underway.
The California High-Speed Rail Authority’s new business plan is moving forward with its efforts to develop rail service in Merced and Bakersfield as soon as possible. Two proposals were put forth, with both receiving support from delegations from each of the communities. The proposed plans were not finalized during the Authority’s board meeting, but the plans will be final before they are submitted to the California Legislature on May 1.
Amtrak has announced that it is ending the publication of a printed National System Schedule, effective immediately. The currently released ‘Winter/Spring 2016’ edition will be the last one available in print form. A comprehensive PDF-version National System Schedule will continue to be available on Amtrak’s website and individual route schedules will still be printed and made available at ticket offices & on trains. Reportedly, Amtrak is exploring producing a new printed promotional piece for general informational purposes, which would high-light Amtrak’s route system and trains, but not contain specific schedule information.
The city of Bristol, VA received a new $100,000 grant to assist with funding for a passenger rail viability study that will look at the feasibility of bringing Amtrak to the area. The new grant will be combined with a $250,000 grant received last year from the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission, and the expectation is to link rail service from Roanoke to Bristol and possibly linking to cities in Tennessee, Georgia and Kentucky. The study is expected to be completed by the end of 2016, in advance of the 2017 Virginia legislative session.
A list of the newly elected Board Officers & Directors and At-Large Representatives serving on the NARP Council of Representatives is available on the NARP website. Contact Information for all elected representatives is available to NARP members.
There are still openings for state representatives in several 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 complex history of New Jersey Transit continues following the announcement that William Crosbie, who was announced as New Jersey Transit’s new Executive Director in early April, has removed himself from the position. Publicly, Crosbie cited concerns about relocating his family from Virginia to New Jersey. NJ Transit is surprised by the move, but rumors speculate that Crosbie was concerned about his contract, with a new governor to be elected in 2017 who could choose to appoint their own Executive Director. As a result, NJ Transit will have to restart its search for a new candidate.
New Dining Menus were introduced by Amtrak this past week. Of particular note is the addition of four new hot entrees being offered on the Cafe Car Menu of the diner-less Silver Star. NARP has been pressuring Amtrak to add such entree-style items. In addition, the Cardinal and City of New Orleans now offer in their full-service, sit-down dining areas a selection of new entrees and items which are part of Amtrak’s ongoing efforts to improve quality & service, while reducing food & beverage operating costs as mandated by Congress.
And a breakfast favorite returns with traditional railroad french toast now an option on most full-service dining cars.
Appropriate funding and support for passenger rail is critical, and without it, services are often reduced or cut completely. About 77,000 people each year ride the Heartland Flyer, Oklahoma’s Amtrak rail service. Despite the fact that thousands rely on the train service, lawmakers and the Oklahoma Department of Transportation may cut the service due to the state’s budget crisis, and the need for the state to save money. Whatever the Legislature decides about the Heartland Flyer, it likely won’t affect plans for the Eastern Flyer between Oklahoma City and Tulsa. That project is being designed to run without state support. A six-month trial of that line is expected to begin before 2019.
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.
It’s often said that development of passenger rail in or between cities can connect and develop businesses, resulting in increased economic growth for communities. This holds true in Minneapolis, where development along the Metro Transit’s Green Line light rail has reached $4.2 billion in value - a full $1 billion more than officials predicted in the fall of 2015. The Twin Cities region is experiencing similar development growth along the planned Southwest Light-Rail Transit route, which is an extension of the Green Line. The Metropolitan Council has estimated $430 million in development, underway or finished along that route.
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.