High-Speed Rail Moves Forward in U.S.; NJ Transit Reaches Deal with Unions; Amtrak Opens “Metropolitan Lounge” at Chicago Union Station
July 1, 2016
The U.S. House of Representatives was in recess this week, adjourning early following political discord over gun control. The House, along with the Senate, is expected to return on July 5th, but with only two weeks left before political conventions and an overloaded legislative docket, time is running short on a transportation budget bill.
Take part in NARP’s active legislative campaign to help keep the pressure on Congress for new rail funding!
Chicago Union Station has just received an impressive makeover with its new “Metropolitan Lounge” under the direction of Amtrak. The new lounge, located behind and above one of the two grand staircases off the Great Hall, is more than doubled in space. It has added new amenities such as customer service desks, Wi-Fi, and complimentary snacks and beverages. At 13,500 square-feet and with seating for 360, the new lounge replaces the one opened in 1991 in the station’s Concourse, later enlarged to 6,475 square-feet and 90 seats -- far too few for today’s Amtrak ridership. The lounge is available for customers who are traveling in Sleeping cars or in Business class, as well as Select Plus and Select Executive Amtrak Guest Rewards members.
The prospect of high-speed rail in the United States is expanding as projects in different regions of the country move forward, including in California, Minnesota and Virginia. Each at various stages of construction, development of planning, each one offers new opportunities for not only getting passengers from point A to B, but also enhancing economic growth through new jobs, tourism and connecting neighborhoods to metropolitan areas.
High-speed rail in California is moving along as several areas for where the line will run, are under construction. In July, residents and commuters in Fresno will see construction commence for the city’s portion of the high-speed rail line as it runs under Highway 180. Crews will start with building a 40-foot-deep trench under the highway reported the California High-Speed Rail Authority. The Fresno Trench is one of several sites in Fresno and Madera counties where work is happening on the statewide high-speed rail line. Crews also are building major viaducts, or elevated structures, to carry tracks over the Fresno River, Highway 145 and Raymond Road in Madera and over Cedar Avenue and Highway 99 south of downtown Fresno. A new Tuolumne Street bridge is under construction over the Union Pacific railroad freight tracks and the future high-speed rail line in downtown Fresno.
In Minnesota, high-speed rail is turning into a possibility between Rochester and the Twin Cities. North American High Speed Rail Group, through a preliminary study, found no major problems that would prevent the construction of high-speed rail. Currently, the company is proposing to build the line at $4.2 billion, and wants to build it through private money. The project, however, has faced criticism from some NIMBY landowners who live along the proposed corridor.
Virginia is looking forward to advancing Atlantic Gateway transportation projects, through $200 million in federal grants. Overall, the money is a portion of more than $1 billion in state, federal and private investment would help lay the groundwork for high-speed rail through the Southeast by allowing Virginia to acquire CSX’s S Line, an abandoned rail route between Petersburg and the North Carolina border. Specifically in Virginia, the money would add a fourth track to the line between the Potomac River and Alexandria, easing a bottleneck for both freight and passenger rail service, benefiting VRE and Amtrak riders. A third track would be added to the line for about eight miles between the Franconia-Springfield VRE station and the Occoquan River. The program also would accelerate the long-discussed reconstruction of the Long Bridge, the crucial rail link over the Potomac. Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) said that he hopes to hear very soon if Virginia will receive the funding.
NARP Is Asking For Your #SummerbyRail Stories
Taking a train for vacation this summer, maybe this 4th of July? We want to hear about it and see any great photos or videos that you take of your trip.
This invitation to NARP members, and the vacationing American public will continue NARP intern, Elena Studier’s “Summer by Rail” journey, while offering new and exciting adventures from people throughout the country. NARP welcomes stories, videos and images through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram that use #SummerByRail. For the best submissions, NARP will share the new “Summer by Rail” journeys on the Summer by Rail blog.
And in case you missed it, for 38 days, Elena traveled 10,000 miles on the nation’s rail network, with stops in 20 cities in 15 states. Her Summer by Rail internship circumnavigated the entire United States to help highlight how young Americans are demanding mobility options, and choosing to live in communities that cater to people, not cars. Through blogs, videos, and pictures, Elena shared her travel across the networks that connect America’s cities and national landmarks through her blog, “Summer by Rail,” and on Instagram and Twitter.
“Our country has a strong rail infrastructure that people can utilize to easily jump on a train and see the nation—for a weekend trip or an extended vacation,” said Elena, who is a student at the George Washington University in D.C. “Through my trip, I wanted to show how it’s possible to visit major cities like New York, Chicago, Seattle and Los Angeles, as well as national landmarks like the Grand Canyon and Glacier National Park, all by train and bike. And I encourage others, young and old, to try it and see what our country has to offer.”
Elena relied heavily on Amtrak’s National Network to navigate the country, along with her bicycle (nicknamed “Stevie” after her parents’ two favorite singers: Stevie Wonder and Stevie Nicks). As Elena and Stevie traveled from city to city, they met with numerous elected and transportation officials, including Mayor Chris Koos of Normal, IL, and Mayor Knox Ross of Pelahatchie, MS, as well as transit and bike advocacy groups. Supporting groups included Transportation for America, Southern Rail Commission, Adventure Cycling Association, League of American Cyclists, Congressional Bike Caucus, Bike Texas—and many, many more. Each official and group highlighted how their respective city is working toward train, pedestrian, and bike-friendly transportation infrastructure. Elena used a variety of other forms of public transportation to highlight the rich assortment of modes available to travelers, including buses, ferries, trollies, ride-sharing, and more.
Maryland is one step closer to getting a new light rail service, known as the Purple Line. The state’s Department of Transportation (MDOT), Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) and Purple Line Transit Partners, have signed the final financial documents for a $5.6 billion contract for the new line. The contract is for the development, construction, operation and maintenance of the Purple Line, which will service the suburbs north of Washington, D.C. The new line will connect Bethesda to New Carrollton, and will operate through 21 stations that connect four branches of the Washington Metro, three commuter rail lines, and Amtrak's Northeast Corridor.
State officials in California have continuously reassured that the high-speed rail line would not need taxpayers to help operate the service. Officials stated that revenues from the line, once in operation, would provide enough money to support the train, while keeping money available for education and social services. However, The Los Angeles Times received documentation that the state was warned that the high-speed train will need taxpayer dollars to continue to operate, according to Spanish construction firm, Ferrovial. Through a review of 111 high-speed trains from across the world, Ferrovial presented findings to state officials that only three services could make enough money that they didn’t require outside support or subsidies. However, that warning was removed from the final proposal Ferrovial provided to California. Asked about the change in the Spanish firm’s proposal, which came from Ferrovial's Cintra subsidiary, high-speed rail spokeswoman Lisa Marie Alley said the authority had requested a “clarification” because California officials had never before seen the data submitted by the company.
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.
NJ Transit has reached a deal with all rail unions, including the final two unions that the agency has been negotiating with - United Transportation Union Local 60, which represents conductors and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers. Though the details of the agreement were not revealed, this will be the first new contract in five years for the rail unions. The unions were part of an 11-member coalition that reached deals with the agency in March. That came about 24 hours before the deadline for a strike, which would have marked the system’s first walkout in more than 30 years and cripples the region’s commuter traffic. More than 4,000 workers overall are affected by the deals, which came about after a lengthy negotiating process that involved two emergency federal labor boards convened by President Barack Obama.
Officials in St. Louis County, MO, are looking at expanding MetroLink, the light-rail service between Missouri and Illinois. To determine which areas to expand the service to, County Executive Steve Stenger will commission three feasibility studies that include the Daniel Boone Corridor, the MetroNorth Corridor, and the MetroSouth Corridor. Overall, the studies will determine which routes can qualify for federal matching funds for construction.
Lee Wesley Gibson, believed to have been the oldest living Pullman porter, passed away at the age of 106. Gibson began work as a coach attendant with Union Pacific Railroad in 1936 at the height of the Great Depression. He was later promoted to Pullman porter, one of the uniformed railway men who served first-class passengers traveling in luxurious sleeping cars. It was a much-coveted job that improved the fortunes of many struggling African Americans at the time. During a 38-year career, Gibson traveled the country, rubbing shoulders with celebrities and taking pride in the role, though it involved long hours and occasional indignities. Porters were required to respond to the name “George” after the founder of the Pullman Palace Car Co., George Pullman.
New Member Benefits For You, And New Support For Us And Our Work!
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!
Transportation officials in Massachusetts have shared that the cost and timeframe for the South Coast Rail project have increased significantly from when they were originally proposed in 2012 at $2.23 billion and a start date in 2022. Most recently, officials stated that the project would cost $3.4 billion with an opening in 2028 or 2029. Officials were adamant that the project would not be canceled, but have been looking for alternative routes to build the rail line, as opposed to through a protected swamp.
Plans for a light-rail train that would connect downtown Portland, OR to Bridgeport Village has been in the works for years, but a vote in November in the city of Tigard could prevent the project from moving forward it voters say no. The project would cost $2.4 to $2.8 billion in 2025 dollars, reflecting the time when construction would be underway, but the city of Tigard is inclined to oppose mass transit, a position enshrined by voters in the city charter in 2014. Two years before that, Tigard voters approved another measure that requires a vote on any new tax or fee for light rail. Nonetheless, a city-sponsored survey of 403 residents last year found 73 percent favor a high-capacity transit connection with Portland, and most preferred light rail.
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.
A new proposal has come forward in Chicago to convert the Metra Electric District Line into a rapid-transit line with more frequent stops to serve the South Side and suburbs. The proposal has drawn significant interest from Mayor Rahm Emanuel, but the conversion is still a ways off. The proposal would cost hundreds of millions of dollars at a time when transit agencies are already strapped for capital funding. However, it should be noted that the proposed change would be far less expensive than a parallel expansion of the Chicago Transit Authority's Red Line south from 95th Street to 130th Street, which could cost more than $2 billion, which is also being examined.
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 Bob Brady, [email protected], 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.