Transit Overhauls Expand Nationwide; DOT Secretary Foxx Pushes for Connecting Communities; NARP Supports CHSRA
June 10, 2016
For years, NARP and other rail and transit advocates have pushed for government officials at federal, state and local levels to focus on developing and revitalizing rail transit throughout the country. Though this effort can sometimes be challenging and arduous at any level, slowly but surely we have seen new projects take hold, succeed and bring new benefits, such as increased mobility, new jobs, economic growth, reduced traffic congestion, and community revitalization.
This is not just an idea however, as we have seen more and more people in communities across the country look to get connected through rail, and other public transit services. LA’s effort to expand the Metro system is a perfect example of putting in the effort and seeing the benefits, but at the same time, LA’s rail expansion is only an example of a nationwide overhaul of rail lines that is being experienced across the U.S. Whether they are brand new initiatives such as Florida's Brightline rail line or California’s high-speed rail, or efforts to expand or restore pre-existing rail lines such as the reintroduction of rail service along the Gulf Coast, each one is part of a greater vision for a national rail network, or, “A Connected America.” Even Washington, D.C., where the Metro system is under constant scrutiny, is now undergoing a 10-month overhaul to ensure the network runs with modern efficiency and safety.
Furthermore, the vision of “A Connected America” is not just supported by NARP or other rail advocates. Connecting U.S. cities and neighborhoods is not a new idea, but it is one that government officials are trying to make a reality, even at the federal level, in order to give everyone opportunities for jobs, economic growth and mobility. Secretary Anthony Foxx of the U.S. Department of Transportation notes that the DOT “is to focus on fixing the broken links that have prevented communities from reaching their full promise of opportunity” and that the transportation infrastructure in the U.S. can start connecting communities by reforming “our standards so that they promote inclusion and help transportation officials serve everyone in town.”
Summer By Rail
In an effort to highlight the connectivity of America’s rail lines, and the importance of developing and expanding rail projects, NARP’s intern, Elena Studier, has taken part in a 38-day, 10,000 mile journey across the country. Elena started her trip on May 15th in New York City using only public transportation, mostly in the form of Amtrak and her bike, affectionately known as Stevie. Elena and Stevie began their adventure with a day of biking in New York before a train ride to Chicago. She’ll continue on to the Pacific Northwest before traveling down the west coast, across the south and back up into the mid-Atlantic.
Elena’s purpose on the journey is to observe and share the ways multi-modal travel using public transportation can be seamless and easy within the United States. Along the way, she’s meeting with transportation officials, Mayors and community leaders, and she’s sharing stories from the communities she visits on how they use and view public transportation options in their respective areas, including major cities like Los Angeles, Seattle, Dallas, Chicago and many more.
Through her exploration, key elements of connectivity by rail and support for rail in various communities, will be shared to her audience via social media channels on Twitter (https://twitter.com/RailPassengers) and Instagram (www.instagram.com/railpassengers) at the handle @RailPassengers, and her blog at www.summerbyrail.com. People interested in Elena’s travels can also follow the hashtags #ElenaAndStevie and #GetRail for regular updates. Follow along and cheer her on!
For a recent update on Elena’s travels and insights, jump over to the U.S. DOT’s blog, Fast Lane, in which Elena provided a guest post.
In an effort to attract riders to their trains, officials for Brightline, the high-speed rail line between Miami and Orlando, are developing train cars that people will enjoy riding on. Overall, officials have made it a point to make the cars more desirable and comfortable for passengers to ride. For example, each seat on a car is equipped with power plugs, bathrooms will be cleaned regularly during trips, aisles are twice as wide as aircraft, windows are large enough for everyone to view through, and to make the ride smooth, the line is utilizing a suspensions systems adapted from Europe. Brightline plans to begin service between downtown Miami and downtown West Palm Beach in mid-2017. The rail line aims to add service to Orlando International Airport.
Passenger rail service along the Gulf Coast is now one step closer to a reality, as the Tallahassee City Commission approved a resolution in support of restoring passenger rail service in the region. Tallahassee is not alone either in the effort, as several cities along the would-be route have supported the effort and encouraged the federal government to revive the line connecting New Orleans to Orlando. Former Mayor John Marks, a member of the Gulf Coast Rail Working Group, the federal transportation panel tasked with analyzing the railway's restoration, said the group is "making significant progress" but has not received a Congressional appropriation.
CALIFORNIA HIGH SPEED RAIL: A BARGAIN FOR MODERN MOBILITY & DEVELOPMENT
by Jim Mathews/President & CEO
The Wall Street Journal is a fine newspaper. I read it most every day and have for decades. As a practitioner of the craft of journalism for more than three decades, I believe firmly that the WSJ is one of the last bastions of quality journalism left on the American landscape. That's why it baffles me that the WSJ can be so completely and consistently wrongheaded on rail issues generally and on high-speed rail specifically.
The latest provocation from the WSJ fell with a thud on to the editorial page on May 23rd, derisively dismissing the California High Speed Rail project as "California's Bullet Train to Whenever." The editorial claimed that polls show "only 44% of voters favor high-speed rail."
Well, that's nonsense. As our friend, colleague and former NARP Board Chair George Chilson observed, this very selective statistic misrepresents the real findings of the March 2016 statewide survey on the issue, conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California. Let's instead turn to what those surveyed actually said.
The poll reported that 63% -- nearly two-thirds -- of all adults surveyed said the high-speed rail system was "somewhat" or "very" important to the future quality of life and economic vitality of California. Just a bit more than half -- 52% -- favored spending $68 billion over the next two decades to build it. Even those opposed to it, when asked how they would feel if the price came down, came around to support high-speed rail: overall support in that category rose to 66% of adults surveyed and 59% among likely voters.
Impressive on its face, yes. But considering how few Americans have ever personally experienced truly modern passenger rail service, that kind of support is powerful and surprising. In fact, it's even more so considering how hard the WSJ, the highway builders and the NIMBY caucus have worked the propaganda machine to tear down this worthy investment.
Is $68 billion a lot of money? Of course it is. But consider, too, that California is growing. A lot. California’s population is straining the nation’s busiest roads. The California High-Speed Rail Authority is building America’s first 21st century high-speed rail system – 800 miles of rail with 24 stations between San Diego and Sacramento, initially connecting San Francisco and Los Angeles with 200-mph trains. That will cost money, time and engineering effort, but it will cost a lot LESS than doing nothing.
What happens if you don't spend $68 billion on this project? You spend at least $158 billion instead, adding 4,300 new miles of highway lanes, 115 new airport gates and four additional major-airport runways. Some less-conservative estimates put that figure at $272 billion. And even by spending more you do nothing about congestion, nothing about lost time, nothing about highway safety (driving is, on average about 17 times more hazardous than taking a train or flying) and nothing about greenhouse gas emissions.
On the other hand, going ahead with the project generates a total economic return to the state of California of about $8 billion on its initial $2.6 billion investment. The project will create 66,000 new jobs for 15 years as this massive system is built. Each year, the high-speed train will eliminate at least 330,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions.
By delivering a new, better and more reliable mobility choice at upwards of 75% less cost, high-speed rail is a bargain, not a "boondoggle." WSJ calls it a "choo-choo." We call it a forward-thinking and economical strategy for sustaining the prosperity and quality of life of California's exploding population.
It’s an effort that hasn’t been realized yet, but transportation advocates are pushing Austin city officials to move forward with a light-rail system. The nonprofit, Central Austin Community Development, sent a proposal to city officials, requesting that a transportation bond be placed on a November ballot. Specifically, advocates are calling for a $397.5 million, 5.3-mile starter line to connect downtown to North Austin. Notably, the Central Austin Community Development Corporation’s initial proposed line, which would run from downtown’s Republic Square to Crestview Station, via Guadalupe and North Lamar, is nearly identical to the city’s 2000 rail plan, a favorite of mass transit advocates that lost in a heated campaign by fewer than 2,000 votes.
Indiana DOT, in conjunction with Iowa Pacific Holdings and Amtrak, operated a special inspection train between Indianapolis and Lafayette yesterday, in support of continued state funding for the current 4-day-a-week Hoosier State service and to highlight the need for increased frequencies on the route from Chicago to Indianapolis. State and local officials, including Indiana Lt. Gov. Eric Holcomb, spoke at a Lafayette press event and then rode the train back to Indianapolis. Lt. Gov. Holcomb was very impressed with the ride and thoroughly enjoyed the view from the train’s dome car. NARP staffer Bruce Becker & Council Member Cliff Dunn were among the invited guests and Indiana officials were pleased to have NARP’s support on the trip. Ridership on the Hoosier State was up 20% in May 2016 over last year and revenue was up 65%.
In Hampton Roads, VA, the city’s planning commission is moving forward with a plan to develop a new multimodal transportation center, which will include a new Amtrak station and accommodate Hampton Roads Transit buses and provide connections for taxis and airport shuttle. More than $40 million in state and federal grants will fund the project, while the city plans to spend $450,000. The goal of the project is to provide a new and iconic home for Amtrak in the area, with a facility that is more centrally located to populated areas around the city. In addition, the city hopes to reduce traffic on the area’s congested highways.
There are still openings for state representatives on the NARP Council of Representatives in several states. Check out the full list of current vacancies here.
Of particular note, there are multiple vacancies in the states of California, Ohio and Texas. If you live in these states and want to become more active in NARP’s work, this is your opportunity to become involved. 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.
Renovation and maintenance of a train station is vital to future success of providing passengers with timely and comfortable experiences, even if it means changing the original design and layout of a building that could be a city’s landmark. Union Station in Chicago, which first opened in 1925, is no different. Redeveloping the building is critical to the long-term growth and success of Chicago’s central business district. Overall, Amtrak can add people and value to the station, along with much needed revenue to finance capacity improvements. Not only would Amtrak generate revenue from this activity, but the additional people the development would bring would add life and vitality to this corner of the loop—an important benefit in and of itself.
Ever wonder about the music playing in the background at Penn Station in New York City? Maybe you’ve never heard it before, but Amtrak has been playing classical music over loud speakers since 1990 in an effort to keep passengers calm and to deter crime. Beethoven or Mozart might be hard to hear over the hustle and bustle of passengers hurrying to their trains, but volume varies, as do the tempos — louder and bouncier during the morning and evening, less so at other times. Notably, the people who decide which music to play, have never been to Penn Station, and don’t even live in New York. Rather, the controllers of the music work 1,500 miles away in Austin, TX for Muzak, which was bought by Mood Media, a programming giant, in 2011.
NARP members, please support our newest partners as they support us!
Travelers United, the only non-profit membership organization that acts as a watchdog for traveler rights, now offers free reciprocal membership to all NARP members! To check out benefits and get the low-down on your passenger rights, visit TravelersUnited/Membership .
Amtrak Vacations, a premier tour operator offering first-rate travel packages combining great destinations and train travel, is now offering all NARP members a 10% discount on the rail travel portion of any package booked, along with a 5% discount on parent company Yankee Leisure Group’s Unique Rail Journeys packages across Europe! Better yet, go watch a recorded webinar co-hosted by Amtrak Vacations and NARP to learn about a special offer worth up to an additional $400 off certain rail-travel packages! Click here to watch the recorded webinar, or copy and paste this URL into your web browser: https://youtu.be/uiETYMKziWA , and to learn more about Amtrak Vacations please visit http://www.amtrakvacations.com .
If you buy anything from online retailer Amazon.com, sign up for Amazon Smile so that a portion of your purchase price is donated to support NARP! The price you pay for your items does not change, but every purchase helps your Association as we do the work you want done for A Connected America! Visit http://www.narprail.org/get-involved/donate to learn more.
VSP Individual Vision Care now offers specially discounted individual and family insurance plans exclusively for NARP members that typically save hundreds of dollars on your exams, glasses and contacts. In addition, as a VSP member you -- or any family member you designate -- can also enjoy savings of up to $1,200 per hearing aid through VSP’s TruHearing plan. When you sign up for a VSP plan through our website, you not only help yourself and your family with significant savings and great benefits, but you help support NARP’s work as well! Click here to enroll today!
The long-sought addition of a 18-mile second main track between Albany and Schenectady, NY got underway this week when Amtrak’s automated Track Laying Machine (TLM) started on the installation of new cement ties and welded rail. This segment of the Empire Corridor, which sees twelve passengers trains a day, has been a major choke point for over 25 years and has often contributed to significant delays. The new second track will have a top speed of 110mph when it enters service in 2017. This project is one of several improvements in progress across NY’s Capital Region, including a new Schenectady station; a fourth track at the busy Rensselaer station; lengthened platforms at Rensselaer and new signal systems along the entire route segment between the two cities.
The new downtown streetcar in Kansas City has been such a success after just one month of use, that rail advocates are already pushing for a new extension of the system. A new proposal was brought forth to the Jackson County Circuit Court that requests the streetcar service, but a lot needs to be accomplished before it can move forward. This includes approval from voters living within that bigger taxing district — but it could eventually result in streetcars running 3.75 miles farther south on Main Street to just past the Country Club Plaza, at a capital cost of about $227 million. In addition to this proposal, a second has emerged that calls for a city-wide light-rail plan. The plan calls for a $2 billion system that would run from the airport to south Kansas City.
Make plans now to attend NARP’s Fall 2016 Advocacy Symposium and Membership Meeting, being held in Denver, CO, Friday, October 14 - Sunday, October 16. Preliminary information and agenda for this exciting event is now posted on the event webpage and will be updated regularly as the planning process continues.
Discounted group rate hotel rooms at the host hotel, Embassy Suites Denver Downtown, are now available. Click Here for a direct link to NARP’s group reservation page.
Rail projects in Vermont will receive $33.4 million, as part of a $612.6 million transportation budget for FY2017. The budget was approved by Gov. Peter Shumlin, and will invest $4.1 million of state and federal funds into track and bridge improvements on the Western corridor between Burlington and Rutland. The budget will continue state support for Amtrak's Vermonter and Ethan Allen routes, and will invest in the expansion of the Ethan Allen service to Burlington.
In Celebration of 40 Years of operation, the New York Transportation Museum is throwing an all-ages block party above its subway station home on Schermerhorn Street in Brooklyn. Games, entertainment, and vehicles from their vintage bus fleet will keep the party going all day! Free admission will be available to the museum all afternoon.
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.