STB Affirms Rights of Rail Passengers; Democrats and GOP Release Transit Platforms; Mobile Joins Support for Gulf Coast Rail Service
July 29, 2016
In major news for Amtrak and passenger rail, the Surface Transportation Board (STB) withdrew a proposed policy statement that would have undercut passenger trains legal right to priority dispatching ahead of freight trains. The proposal would have changed a law that gives Amtrak preference while traveling on freight railroads, and could have resulted in significant delays for passenger trains.
Passenger advocacy groups, including NARP, rallied in defense of Amtrak’s passengers, arguing that the policy statement was a license to put freight ahead of people. The board stated that, in light of this opposition, it determined its proposal failed to meet its goal of resolving broad disagreements between passenger and freight lines, and withdrew the proposal.
The guarantee of passenger train preference was introduced into law more than 40 years ago, soon after Congress lifted a mandate that freight railroads carry passengers. As a condition, Congress required permission for Amtrak to operate on their tracks.
In addition to the decision on preference, the STB also altered a proposal that will define “on-time performance” for passenger trains. The original proposal would have defined OTP for when a train reached its end destination, which would have only taken in about 10 percent of all Amtrak stations. NARP also opposed this definition in a filing to the STB, and was pleased to see that the STB adopted our proposal to measure OTP by arrival times at intermediate Amtrak stations.
NARP Applauds Decisions by Surface Transportation Board
The National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) applauds the two decisions issued today by the Surface Transportation Board (STB), which affirm the statutory preference for passenger trains and recognize the importance of service quality at intermediate stations.
The STB issued two decisions, withdrawing a proposed rule that would redefine Amtrak’s statutory right to preferential dispatch (Docket No. EP 728), and revising a proposed rule to include arrival times at all intermediate stations—as opposed to just the final stop—when measuring On Time Performance (OTP)(Docket No. EP 726).
“On behalf of the 40 million Americans who rely on rail each year for travel and work, NARP congratulates the Board of the STB for coming to the correct decision in these important rulemakings,” said NARP President & CEO Jim Mathews. “The STB plays a crucial role in ensuring that the national rail system operates both fairly and efficiently, and in ensuring that Congressional mandates are respected and enforced.”
Passenger Priority Preserved
In December 2015, the STB issued a proposed policy statement that would disregard individual instances of freight trains being given priority over passengers in favor of a more general, “systemic” approach.
NARP argued against the proposed policy statement, saying it would “fundamentally change the rules of the game for how Amtrak can press host railroads to honor their legal obligations, going around the intent of Congress as expressed some 30 years ago and consistently reaffirmed in law and court rulings.” This rule would’ve made it difficult, if not impossible, to fight against Amtrak trains idling on sidings while freight trains rumble by—an all too common experience for rail passengers.
Amtrak concurred in its STB filing, saying “if a host railroad does not resolve an individual dispatching decision at a rail line, junction or crossing in favor of Amtrak, then Amtrak does not have preference over the freight train in using that rail line, junction or crossing.”
The STB came down on the side of passengers and Amtrak, withdrawing the proposed policy statement, explaining that “in light of the broad disagreement among the interested parties… the Board finds that going forward with its Policy Statement would not advance its original goal of facilitating a more efficient and effective” rail system.
Importance of Intermediate Stations Affirmed
The STB also issued a revised final rule that includes intermediate stations when measuring the quality of rail service. This is a huge win for passengers, because the initial Notice of Proposed Rulemaking measured only when a train arrived at its final station.
NARP contended that “the OTP proposal as laid out in the [proposed rule] is inadequate in several ways, most especially in its apparent inapplicability to 90% of the stations served by Amtrak through using only end-point OTP as a triggering metric. STB’s discussion of its proposed OTP standard sidesteps many important concerns for the fare-paying public, such as what truly constitutes an ‘end point,’ the effect on connections, and the reality of the 30-minute standard when set against existing schedule padding.”
The STB agreed, adopting an “all-stations” approach. The STB new calculations on OTP metrics will go into effect August 27, 2016.
To advance the implementation of Positive Train Control (PTC) for passenger railroads, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued a request for applications for $199 million in competitive grant funding. The funding is provided through the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, and the funding is available for Fiscal Year 2017. The grants will be selected by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and awarded and administered by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). Applications will be accepted until September 28, and eligible applicants include any entity that is eligible to receive grants from the FTA, such as commuter railroads, operators, and state and local governments.
As a major supporter of re-introducing Amtrak service in the Gulf Coast region, it’s exciting to see that the Mobile City Council has unanimously approved a resolution supporting passenger rail in the area. With the decision, Mobile joins a coalition of cities from New Orleans, LA to Orlando, FL that want to bring rail service back to the area. Mayor Sandy Stimpson applauded the move and noted that the re-introduction of rail service, which was halted after Hurricane Katrina, will “facilitate job creation, enhance tourism and reduce environmental and roadway impacts” as it looks to “connect cities across the Gulf Coast, but will also link Mobile to the Midwest, West Coast and across the nation.”
NARP NAMES BRUCE BECKER AS VICE PRESIDENT OF OPERATIONS
NARP announced that Bruce Becker has been hired as the Vice President of Operations for the organization. Becker was appointed to the full-time position by NARP President and CEO Jim Mathews after working for NARP on a consulting basis. In the new role, Becker will oversee NARP’s administrative and membership services, as well as all efforts regarding resource development and planning for national events and meetings.
"I'm thrilled to be a permanent member of the NARP national staff,” said Becker, who has been a member of NARP since 1981. “This position will allow me to make great use of my professional and management expertise for the betterment of the Association, as we strive to reach our goal of 'A Connected America' for all citizens."
Becker worked in the hospitality industry prior to working for NARP, serving in a variety of management and operation roles with restaurants, national hotel chains and numerous private country clubs. As a member of NARP, Becker most recently served as a Board Vice-Chairperson before he started to consult with NARP in May 2015. He also has volunteered as President of the Empire State Passengers Association for the past 14 years.
“Bruce brings with him years of knowledge and passion for passenger rail and public transportation, and combined with his background in hospitality management and membership organizations, he is a true asset to NARP,” said Mathews. “We are excited to have him working with us as the Association continues to push for a modern national rail network.”
With a strong interest in rail, Becker has traveled throughout the U.S., Canada, and in foreign countries by rail, but his first train ride was at 3 months old. He grew up in a railroad family in upstate New York, where he gained both his understanding of railroad operations and his appreciation for sound public transportation policy. Becker has a B.S. in Business Administration from Bryant University, Smithfield, RI.
As the Democratic and Republican parties campaign for the presidential election, it will be important to closely examine how their platforms view funding for public transit and the country’s transportation infrastructure. If implemented, these visions for transit and infrastructure could shape our country for years to come.
The Democratic Platform, which was released this week, favors increases in federal spending for passenger and freight rail, as well as funding for roads, bridges, public transit, and airports. The platform also looks to increase support for building bicycle and pedestrian hubs for urban and suburban areas. Clinton has previously called for new investments in the country’s transportation system and infrastructure, but now the plan would establish an infrastructure bank that provides loans and financial assistance to support infrastructure and transportation projects. The Democrat’s plan also supports the interest tax exemption on municipal bonds, which Democrats say can stimulate billions of additional dollars in infrastructure investments. With limited details available for how the Democrats would fund the initiatives, the Clinton’s proposal would allocate $25 billion for the bank.
The Republican Platform, approved last week, looks to cut spending for the federal government on mass transit projects, noting that mass transit is “an inherently local affair that serves only a small portion of the population, concentrated in six big cities.” Notably, this plan is in contradiction to Donald Trump, who has previously stated that the U.S. should invest in projects like high-speed rail. The GOP’s plan would focus on keeping money with the Highway Trust Fund towards road construction and other surface transportation projects that support cars and highways. The plan also notes that other projects, such as bike-share programs, sidewalk improvements, ferry boats and other initiatives should be supported through others sources. The GOP platform said it would help encourage more private sector investment in infrastructure by eliminating regulatory hurdles.
A summary of both parties’ platforms can be found online.
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!
Several mass transit projects have been announced as recipients of the latest Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) VIII grant awards, which are provided by the U.S. Department of Transportation. States receiving grants include Illinois, Mississippi, New York and Rhode Island. Grants include: $25 million for a transit gateway project at the Garfield Green Line L station in Chicago's Washington Park neighborhood; $14 million to Springfield, Ill., to construct underpasses at Ash and Laurel streets as part of a plan to consolidate the 10th Street rail line; and $13.1 million to Rhode Island for a project to build a new train station to serve Pawtucket and Central Falls.
Public and transportation officials, as well as local residents, expressed excitement for the opening of the new B-Line commuter rail service, which will run from Denver Union Station to the the southeastern edge of Westminster. Finishing the six-mile line was seen as a big accomplishment for bringing additional rail service to the area, but officials noted that they don’t want to stop at Westminster. Officials hope to extend the B-Line through Boulder and Longmont, which will run 44 miles. However, due to a lack of immediate funding, the B-Line will not likely reach these cities until 2030.
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; North Dakota: 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.
If you’re looking for something to read on your Amtrak travels this fall, the company will be releasing a new national magazine, known as “The National.” The publication is part of Amtrak’s effort to give the organization a more upscale travel image. The magazine will be bimonthly, and will focus on life in America and traveling by rail, which an emphasis on stories about people on the train. “The National” will replace Amtrak’s current magazine, “Arrive,” which was focused on celebrities and regional big-city destinations, and only available in the Northeast.
All Aboard Florida (AAF), which will launch Brightline passenger rail service between Miami and Orlando in 2017, is exploring extending the service as far north as Jacksonville. In an effort to make this a reality, AAF formed an affiliated company called AAF Jacksonville Segment LLC, which now allows AAF to secure rights to run a passenger rail service on the Florida East Coast Railway line between Jacksonville and Cocoa. If AAF does extend Brightline to Jacksonville, it would add an additional mode at a new multimodal transit center scheduled to open in 2019.
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. Event registration will open on August 5th!
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.
The City of Niagara Falls will host a “Niagara Falls Amtrak Community Day” on Saturday, July 30 for the public to come visit and see the unveiling of the new Amtrak train station from 11:00am to 4:00pm. The event is considered a “sneak preview” of the station, as the city does not yet have a lease in place with Amtrak to operate trains in and out of the new station yet. But, it is hoped that Amtrak will start operating trains at the new station by the end of summer. The new station complex, which includes an interpretive Underground Railroad museum and border inspection facilities, cost $43 million and took more than ten years to develop and complete. The station features a high-level platform which will greatly aid passengers. The Amtrak Exhibit Train will be part of this Saturday’s free public event and other family-friendly activities will be offered.
For more than five years, NJ Transit and employee labor unions negotiated for terms for new contracts, but the battle has finally come to an end. The board of NJ Transit voted unanimously to approve new contracts with the agency’s two largest unions, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and the United Transportation Union Local 60, who together represent about 40 percent of NJ Transit’s unionized workforce. Though details of the contracts have not been released, they are expected to include pay increases and benefit changes that could cost more than $183 million over the next two years. The new contract does not guarantee NJ Transit many years of labor peace, as the contract approved by NJ Transit’s board lasts only until 2019.
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@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.