Congress Adjourns for Summer Break with Hearings on Amtrak and High-Speed Rail; Train Operator Screening Test Rule Coming in Weeks; High-Speed Rail in CA Toured
July 15, 2016
As both houses of Congress adjourn for an election-year recess, they’ll leave Washington without passing one of the 12 annual appropriations measures. As NARP has been reporting, ancillary partisan disagreements obstructed a positive, bipartisan transportation appropriations bills that would increase funding for Amtrak, passenger rail, and transit. The Senate had already passed its version, and was simply waiting on the full House to vote before reconciling the bill before sending it to the President’s desk.
The lack of movement on the transportation bill means that it will now have to be included in a short-term budget extension in September, freezing Amtrak funding and leaving the exciting new FAST Act rail programs unfunded.
However, budget gridlock didn’t keep some members of Congress from holding hearings on the status of various transportation and rail programs, and NARP was there to track the action.
On July 12, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation held a hearing on the status of the FAST Act, exploring stakeholder perspectives on its implementation. Senators spoke with Amtrak, which again made a strong case on the need
NARP also attended a hearing held yesterday by the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform. It was chaired by Rep. John Mica of Florida, who—compared to past hearings he’s held on Amtrak—was relatively subdued in his criticism of President Obama’s passenger rail initiatives.
You can read a full description of both hearings over at the NARP Blog.
NARP intern Elena Studier capped her journey with a trip to the U.S. Conference of Mayors 84th Annual Meeting in Indianapolis, IN. Check out the video compiling her entire trip over at Summer by Rail!
The deadline for public comments closed July 8th, regarding a potential rule that would require passenger train operators, as well as truckers to undergo screening for obstructive sleep apnea. The rule is being proposed by the Department of Transportation’s (DOT), Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), noting the importance of safety and that train operators should “be fully focused and immediately responsive at all times.” Following the comment deadline, FRA Administrator Sarah Feinberg testified on the Hill at the House Oversight panel hearing to discuss the final system safety program rule and when the rule will be made. Not wanting to provide a specific deadline, Feinberg stated that a rule could be coming in weeks, as opposed to months.
While members of Congress raised concerns about the country’s rail system and high-speed rail projects at hearings this week, progress is being made on improving our infrastructure and transportation needs every day. Some projects are further along than others, such as California’s high-speed rail which has already started construction, while others, like the Hudson River tunnel project in New York, will soon name an executive director to lead the project. Nevertheless, steps are being taken across the country connect Americans, and you can have a voice in pushing the House into action to provide continued support of our nation’s rail infrastructure. ACT NOW to take part in NARP’s campaign.
NARP Is Asking For Your #SummerbyRail Stories
Taking a train for vacation this summer? We want to hear about it and see any great photos or videos that you take while on 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.
In California, construction of the high-speed rail line is well underway, but for many people it can still be an abstract thought if the development is not front and center. This is why it was important for high-speed rail advocates to take a tour and get a firsthand look at construction in Fresno and Madera on the first stages of the state’s bullet-train project. Groups touring the construction included members of railLA, nonprofit advocacy organization, and since there is no direct rail service between the San Joaquin Valley and Los Angeles, the group had to rely on bus connections before boarding Amtrak’s San Joaquin trains in Bakersfield to continue through the Valley to Oakland or Sacramento.
Though the work for renovating Chicago Union Station will take years and hundreds of millions of dollars, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, along with other transportation officials, named global engineering company Arup, as the project’s engineer for the next phase. The $6 million contract calls for preliminary designs that look at solving numerous problems at the 125-year old Union Station, including overcrowding on the passenger concourse, narrow platforms and foul-smelling air. Recent upgrades to the station, the nation's third-busiest railroad terminal, include a just-opened, two-level lounge for Amtrak's first-class passengers and the shifting of some Amtrak passenger waiting areas to the station's historic Great Hall.
In New York, well-known transportation official, John D. Porcari, is expected to be named the interim executive director of the Gateway Development Corp., which will oversee the development of the Hudson River rail tunnels. Mr. Porcari’s naming would follow other steps to make the new tunnels a reality after New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie pulled the plug on a similar project in 2010 because of budget worries. As deputy transportation secretary, Mr. Porcari served as chairman of the Moynihan Station Development Corp., a New York state entity overseeing an effort to transform a former post office across from Manhattan’s Penn Station into a train hall.
There are still openings for state representatives on the NARP Council of Representatives in several states, including one each in Alabama; Arizona; California; Delaware; Hawaii; Idaho; Iowa; Louisiana; Massachusetts; Missouri; Nebraska; Nevada; New Jersey; North Carolina; Ohio (2 Seats); Texas (2 Seats); West Virginia and Wyoming. Check out the full, up-to-date, list of current vacancies here.
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.
In an effort to make the trip from Washington, D.C. and New York City more efficient and faster, and help reduce expected congestion on highways over the next 20 years, the Federal Railroad Administration is studying various route changes. Of new ideas, U.S Senator Richard Blumenthal told Amtrak Vice President Stephen Gardner that he supports long-term improvements to Amtrak's heavily used but aging Northeast Corridor, but running train tracks through the center of historic villages near Connecticut's shoreline doesn't make sense. The proposal that Blumenthal opposes is actually among the least disruptive ideas that the FRA is considering. The more expensive alternatives involve a new tunnel under Long Island Sound from Long Island to Milford, and another would create an all-new railbed cutting diagonally across Connecticut from Danbury through Waterbury and Storrs to Massachusetts.
In an effort to highlight the time required and difficulty in identifying stress fractures on their Silverliner V railcars, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) allowed media to tour their maintenance facility. In addition to the tour, SEPTA allowed media to examine the railcars and the equalizer bar that sits atop the bearing seat on the axle of one truck. Even with close examination, it was impossible to people to see the 1/64-inch-wide fracture. Due to the fractures, SEPTA removed more than 100 cars from service less than a month ago, which has caused significant crowding and delays for passengers. For a short-term solution, until the Silverliner cars are replaced or repaired, SEPTA is working with the Maryland Transit Administration to obtain an additional six to eight cars, for which a locomotive would need to be borrowed from Amtrak.
With a public-private group leading the way on providing transportation recommendations for the Pittsburgh area by the end of the year, the Regional Transportation Alliance took it upon themselves to ask the public what changes they would prefer. Unsurprisingly, 46 percent of respondents stated improved public transit as their top priority. The survey asked community members in a 10-county area, and the survey, which identified 17 different areas of interest, is one tool the group will use to formulate new recommendations. The alliance is an outgrowth of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission, the 10-county agency that reviews transportation projects. After Pennsylvania passed a transportation funding program, Act 89, in 2013 to upgrade existing roads, bridges and public transportation, the commission suggested a similar regional group be formed to recommend new transportation initiatives.
Residents of the greater Pittsburgh area, are not alone in their desire for improved transit. The Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance, which surveyed 500 residents in Las Vegas, found that a high-speed rail system linking Las Vegas to Los Angeles was deemed the “most beneficial to improving daily life.” Previously, XpressWest was supposed to start construction by late fall on the first leg of an $8 billion high-speed line connecting Las Vegas to Victorville, California, but that date was pushed to early 2017. A streetcar running through downtown Las Vegas ranked second on the survey, and a recent Regional Transportation Commission transit analysis listed light rail or an elevated expressway as potential transit modes to reduce traffic between McCarran International Airport and the Strip.
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!
In Florida, city commissioners in Miami’s South Beach are eagerly working towards the development of a $380 million light rail loop. In a big step forward, the city voted to negotiate an interim agreement with French rail company, Alstom, which submitted a proposal last year to build a streetcar system that would be one-third of a future rail system that would connect to downtown Miami. The city used that proposal as the basis for a bidding process that attracted Alstom and two other teams who competed on the basis of their designs and technologies for a streetcar — not the price. Although no contract was signed, other competing teams protested the agreement, noting that Alstom’s proprietary technology would prevent the Beach loop from connecting to a future rail system across the MacArthur Causeway.
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.
In one month, the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority (RTA) will open the new North Rampart Street streetcar line. The new line is a 1.6 mile extension that will connect New Orleans' French Quarter and Treme neighborhoods to the Loyola and Canal Street lines. Currently, construction teams are putting the final touches on the project by laying asphalt, curb-to-curb, which will take place one lane at a time.
Within its first full month of operations, the new Expo Line has helped increase ridership for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro). Overall, Metro saw average weekday ridership increase from 29,047 in April to 45,876 in June. There were similar gains on weekends, especially on Sundays — with the number of average estimated boardings each Sunday rising from 15,965 in April to 35,995 in June.
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, 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.