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Hotline #980

September 9, 2016

New Study Confirms Public Transit is Safer Than Driving; Progressive Railroading Highlights Summer by Rail; Amtrak to Keep Late Night Hiawatha Service

A new study by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) provided further evidence public transportation is still the safest way to travel. Overall, APTA’s new report found that taking public transit, such as trains and buses, decreases the chances of an individual being in an accident by more than 90 percent when compared to driving. This is an important stat for the future of U.S. transit, as federal and local governments look for ways to incorporate safe public transportation in and to cities as traffic congestion builds on the nation’s roads. With increased traffic, fatalities from accidents have also increased in recent years. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, more than 35,000 people were killed on U.S. roads in 2015, and increase of 7.2 percent from 2014. To avoid potential accidents and fatalities, public transit is a valuable tool for high-risk groups and more vulnerable populations, such as teens, seniors and impaired or distracted drivers. Taking a bus or train allows commuters to multitask, sleep or avoid driving drunk.

With the final days of summer approaching fast, we get one more opportunity to highlight the unique and inspiring internship that was “Summer by Rail.” Progressive Railroading featured NARP intern, Elena Studier, and her journey across the U.S. to capture firsthand how connected our country really is. As part of her summer internship, Elena traveled for nearly 40 days by train, starting her trip on May 15 from New York City and returned to Washington, D.C., on June 20. She completed the entire 10,000-mile-plus trek using only Amtrak services and her bike, which she dubbed "Stevie." Along the way, Elena met with elected officials, visited state parks, sampled local cuisine and explored historic monuments, and captured her experiences on Instagram, Twitter and her blog. "The objective was to show that you could leave one end of the country by rail and hit dozens and dozens of really cool places without driving," said NARP President and CEO Jim Mathews. "We wanted to show not only that it was possible, but that it was enjoyable — and that it was affordable for someone her age."

As a major advocate and supporter that worked alongside other passenger rail organizations (FRA, Amtrak, CSX and the Southern Rail Commission), NARP is excited to hear that the Working Group designated to review the restoration of Amtrak service in the Gulf Coast, is making significant progress. The group informed lawmakers that their work is moving forward, though they still need to determine cost estimates for restoring service, as well as solutions for funding the initiative. "The region is ready to restore service, not only because its residents hold fond memories of it, but because it is now an economic necessity,” the group said in its update to Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and leaders on the House and Senate transportation committees. Service along the route between New Orleans and Orlando was suspended after Hurricane Katrina caused severe damage to the region’s railroad infrastructure in 2005.

Register Today For The “A Connected America...The Future Has Begun”

Advocacy Symposium & Meeting October 14 - 16 In Denver!

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. Complete information and agenda for this exciting event is now posted on the event webpage and will be updated regularly as the final planning process continues. Event Registration is NOW open along with a full listing of the available registrtation options and rates.

Friday’s activities will include a daytime tour of the new Denver RTD Rail Lines and Maintenance Facility, followed by an evening Welcome Reception in the Main Hall of Denver Union Station.

Saturday’s Symposium will feature speakers and panels of interest to all advocates, including on the following topics:

  • Moving Ahead With Shared Passenger/Freight Corridors

  • Is Transit-Oriented Development The Answer?

  • Sneak Peek At The Future: U.S. Passenger Rail In 2025 And Beyond

  • Solving the Infrastructure Conundrum: The $300+Billion Elephant In The Room

  • Colorado Regional Challenges And Opportunities

  • Fulfilling High-Speed Rail’s Promise

Representatives from Texas Central Railway will give the lunch keynote address.

NARP business sessions will be held on Sunday morning, following by the wrap-up lunch with a prominent Colorado region keynote speaker.

Please beware that due to higher than expected demand, the discounted group rate hotel rooms at the host hotel, the Embassy Suites Denver Downtown, are now sold out. Other category rooms are however available at the Embassy Suites. In addition, there are a number of nearby hotels within walking distance of the Embassy Suites with available rooms and attractive rates. A complete listing of these alternate hotel options is posted on the event web page.

Today, members of the New York congressional delegation announced over $5 million in federal funding to improve the safety of 53 rail grade crossings along Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) lines.

U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, and Congresswoman Nita M. Lowey announced the funds, provided by the Railroad Safety Infrastructure Improvement grant program. Projects include $1.3 million to install new highway traffic signals; $1.9 million to install new CCTV cameras to better study future mitigation measures; and $1.9 million towards roadway and signage upgrades.

Florida’s Brightline successfully completed initial testing of its first Siemens Charger diesel-electric locomotive on a quarter-mile test track in Sacramento, Calif.

“This signifies another major milestone for the production of Brightline’s trains as the company has now approved production for all locomotives currently being built by Siemens,” said Brightline Senior Vice President of Railroad Operations Gene Skoropowski. “Operation of the locomotive and its passing of initial track testing has demonstrated Siemens’ engineering expertise and given us a high degree of confidence that Brightline service will be exceptionally reliable. Brightline will be the only passenger rail service in the country to have such dynamic and modern trains that will offer Americans a new and modern experience in train travel.”

New York City officials are looking to Toronto for advice on how to develop and implement a new waterfront streetcar that will link Brooklyn and Queens by 2024. The advice Toronto officials have given: build dedicated lanes to keep the streetcars from getting trapped in traffic and be prepared for outrage over the loss of street space and parking. This is important advice from Canada’s largest city with commuters who experience traffic jams and delays, yet regularly rely on North America’s largest streetcar system to get around. But many U.S. cities are have and continue to turn to streetcars, which supporters argue are environmentally friendly, less expensive than building a subway and more attractive to commuters than buses. Still, in cities like Washington and Atlanta, new lines have faced a backlash over delays, cost overruns and low ridership.

Yet despite concerns regarding the streetcar in New York, it has received welcomed support from local residents, according to an advocacy group known as Friends of the BQX. The report shows that voters in seven City Council districts along the route back the project, 74% to 16%.

Engineers for Sonoma Marin-Area Rail Transit are working hard to figure out several issues before the service opens at the end of 2016. SMART’s engineers have stated that they are working to integrate and coordinate all the various new technologies being tested and so they run smoothly once service begins. Some of the pieces engineers are working through including testing the trains, which began in August and have so far, reached a speed of 30 mph, though they are expected to reach 79 mph. The section of track between Santa Rosa and San Rafael, where the line will first open, is known as “dark territory,” as there was previously no signaling system. SMART had the fiber-optic cable installed along the train track in exchange for access to the right-of-way. Other technical challenges include the new continuous welded steel track that was covered in mill scale, a flaky surface found on hot-rolled steel. SMART engineers had to use a grinder to shave off mill scale because train wheels require clean electrical contact with rails in order to communicate with signals that stop traffic from traversing the track while the train goes by. Despite these challenges, SMART officials are optimistic about starting service in 2016.

There are still openings for state representatives on the NARP Council of Representatives in several states, including one each in Alabama; Arizona; Delaware; Hawaii; Idaho; Louisiana; Missouri; Nebraska; Nevada; New Jersey; North Carolina; North Dakota: Ohio (2 Seats) 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.

Amtrak has recently announced that passengers traveling between Chicago and Milwaukee in the evening don’t have to worry about their travel plans. Amtrak has decided to continue late night Hiawatha Service on Saturday nights. Amtrak was considering canceling the late night service, but decided against it as a trial period showed that the later service received higher ridership than the early morning trains. With service remaining intact, Train 343 will depart from Chicago at 11:10 p.m., and Train 344 will depart from Milwaukee at 10:40 p.m. Until further notice, these Saturday evening trains replace Trains 329 & 330, which continue to operate on weekdays.

Following a $91 million effort to rebuild locomotives that were originally manufactured between 1989 and 1992, Chicago’s Metra has returned the first rebuilt locomotive to service. The remanufacturing initiative is expected to extend the life of the locomotives by 10 to 13 years, and the trains will feature a new high-voltage cabinet with a microprocessor system, remanufactured engines upgraded to stricter emissions standards, and new and reconditioned accessories. The cars' trucks will also be rebuilt with new wheels and positive train control components to increase safety for passengers. By the end of 2016, the railroad will have renovated about 70 cars in-house and plans to expand its rehab facility to service more cars each year.

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 https://TravelersUnited.org/welcome-narp/

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 Cincinnati streetcar is opening this weekend, ahead of schedule and under budget. The new streetcar, known as the Cincinnati Bell Connector, comes 65 years after the city removed its original service. The streetcar will run on a 3.6-mile loop and connect passengers to the city’s businesses and restaurants. In addition to the new service, streetcar supporters are already pushing for an extension of service to Uptown. However, Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley does not support the streetcar and tried to stop its development during his electoral campaign.

As Washington, D.C.’s Metro pushes forward with maintenance and repairs of its rail system, officials are considering permanent cuts to late-night and weekend service in order to keep up. The Board of Directors agreed to send proposals for service changes to public hearings in October, with the board expected to make a final decision at the end of the year. Any approved changes would begin next July. Metro officials are considering several different options for service, but following the announcement, 40 elected officials, primarily from Montgomery County in Maryland, sent a letter criticizing Metro's proposal to permanently end late-night service. In the letter, leaders stated that they are "extremely concerned about the long-term effect of... service changes."

The move also angered business leaders who have invested private capital in transit-oriented development predicated on frequent, reliable metro service.

"The elimination of late-night Metro service would return Downtown to the year 1999, the last time Metro closed at midnight. That year, the decision was made to extend service hours until 1am on Friday and Saturday nights. Later, in 2007, with strong support from the business community, late-night weekend service was further extended to 3am as Metro’s leadership leveraged private sector investments in the downtown late-night economy,” said DowntownDC business improvement district Executive Director Neil Albert. "Late-night Metro service enables customers to travel to and from bars, restaurants, theaters, and the Verizon Center safely, efficiently and affordably. The service is essential to the many workers who form the backbone of Downtown's late night economy; security guards, restaurant and hotel workers and maintenance staff.”

Register now for the joint membership meeting for NARP & RailPAC, being held Saturday, September 24th at the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento.

Speakers will include NARP’s Chairman Peter LeCody and President Jim Mathews, Former Assembly Member Roger Dickinson of Sacramento, and Jeff Morales, CEO of the California High Speed Rail Authority. The museum features 21 restored locomotives and railroad cars, some dating back to 1862.

While the N.C. Department of Transportation has developed plans to build toll lanes to help keep up with the surge of new residents commuting in the Charlotte region, Charlotte officials are investing heavily in public transit. Notably, the Charlotte Area Transit System is scheduled to open in the summer of 2017 an extension of the Lynx Blue Line, a light-rail line that first opened in 2007. The $1.1 billion extension will run from uptown to UNC Charlotte. It will complete the Blue Line, and allow people to take rail transit from the I-485/South Boulevard station in south Charlotte to UNC Charlotte, a 20-mile trip. In addition, the city opened a short 1.5-mile streetcar line in uptown last summer and the city plans to build another 2.5 miles of streetcar track in the next three years, which will be part of a larger 10-mile streetcar line that would run from Beatties Ford Road to the site of the old Eastland Mall in east Charlotte. CATS also wants to build rapid transit near or along Independence Boulevard and a commuter train to Lake Norman. The transit system doesn’t have money for either project, and it’s possible local officials could begin discussing in 2017 a new tax to raise money for transit.

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.