Happening Now

Hotline #984

October 7, 2016

NTSB Issues Update On Hoboken; Report Claims AVs will Disrupt Rail; Amtrak Releases First National Magazine

In a week since the train accident in Hoboken, NJ, the New Jersey Transit and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) have been moving forward with investigating the cause of the crash. According to a preliminary report from the NTSB, which is based on data pulled from a the train’s data recorder and video, the commuter train was traveling twice the 10 mph speed limit just before it crashed into Hoboken's terminal. The NTSB revealed that the train was traveling at 8 mph and the throttle was in the idle position less than a minute before the crash on September 29. Approximately 38 seconds before the crash, the throttle was increased and reached a maximum of about 21 mph, the agency said. The throttle went back to idle and the engineer hit the emergency brake less than a second before the crash, investigators said. The train’s engineer, who is complying with the NTSB has stated he does not recall the moments leading up to the accident, but has stated that the tracks into the station run slightly downhill, so there would be no need to push the throttle any higher.

The investigation into the accident is ongoing, but NTSB technical experts and other parties to the investigation are scheduled to meet in Washington, D.C., next week to continue reviewing the data and video from the train.

As the investigation continues, NJ Transit officials ordered that a second crew member must stand watch as the engineer pulls a train into that busy terminal. The railroad issued an immediate mandate that the conductor must move to the driving cab of the train to serve as a second set of eyes and ears during the last segment of trips into Hoboken and Atlantic City. Despite the effort to increase safety, critics have stated that the job responsibility will increase by nearly double for the conductor of the train.

Nor is this mandate an effective long-term solution to safety and the implementation of much-need safety technology. Though the NTSB has not concluded the cause of the accident, many experts have said a technology like Positive Train Control (PTC) is designed to prevent just these types of accidents by keeping the train from speeding as it approached the station. The railroads were supposed to install the system nationwide by the end of last year, but Congress extended the deadline three years after railroads said they wouldn’t be ready due to the amount of time and money required to implement PTC. Yet train accidents involving situations that could have benefits from PTC, continue:

Currently, NJ Transit, along with Metro North, plan to implement PTC on its trains by 2018.

Last ReminderRegister Today For The “A Connected America...The Future Has Begun” Advocacy Symposium & Meeting October 14 - 16 In Denver!

Don’t miss out on attending NARP’s Fall 2016 Advocacy Symposium and Membership Meeting, being held in Denver, CO, Friday, October 14 - Sunday, October 16. Complete information and the agenda for this exciting event is posted on the event webpage. Advance Event Registration is STILL open until Thursday, October 13 (after this date all registrations will be processed on site Saturday, October 14). View a full listing of the available registration options and rates.

The weekend kicks off with the Friday evening Welcome Reception in the Main Hall of Denver Union Station. FYI...the Friday daytime tour of the new Denver RTD Rail Lines is now FULL (no additional registrations are being accepted for the tour)!

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 Gary DeFrange, CEO - Winter Park Resorts.

Please be aware 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.

According to a new report from Boston Consulting Group, autonomous vehicles (AVs), such as those being developed by Google, are securing their future, while passenger rail will be left behind. The report, “Will Autonomous Vehicles Derail Trains?” claims that AVs will “constitute a tangible threat to passenger rail within the next one or two decades.” The group made this case by looking at peak hours versus non-peak hours in urban areas. The report states that “Trains will remain the least expensive mode of transportation during peak times in urban areas. But during off-peak hours and in rural environments, they will lose riders to AVs. Rail companies may even end up in a downward spiral: with reduced overall ridership, rail companies’ overall unit costs for all remaining passengers will escalate because of the inherently high proportion of fixed costs in operating a train network.”

NARP believes the conclusion of this report ignores resettlement patterns that have seen young and educated professionals moving to cities and walkable communities. Sprawl is sprawl, whether encouraged by gasoline-powered vehicles or other means, and it is sprawl that these young professionals are rejecting. This ongoing trend has led to steady growth in passenger rail service, with cities and states looking to develop new rail lines and multi-modal stations with rail at the heart of each, and we can expect to see continued growth for years to come. Billions of dollars from governments and private companies are being invested in high-speed rail, light-rail, streetcars and more, nationwide, and if anything, rail agencies will look for new ways to integrate rail with other modes of transportation in the future, whether it’s AVs, buses or bikes. Together, connecting rail with these various platforms throughout the country will truly be the future, not just AVs or just rail.

With Hurricane Matthew projected to hit Florida, and other parts of the southeast, passenger and freight railroads are preparing. Notably, Amtrak announced that it has suspended all service in the Southeast region, while Florida's passenger-rail service SunRail announced that it suspended service on Thursday afternoon. In preparation for the storm, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina officials ordered evacuations of coastal areas as early as Wednesday afternoon in anticipation of hurricane-force wind, heavy rain and flooding. Currently, Hurricane Matthew has made landfall in the U.S. as one of the strongest hurricanes to hit Florida and Georgia in decades.

In a major first for Amtrak, the passenger rail agency released its first national on-board magazine, The National. The new publication is part of Amtrak’s recent efforts to provide superior service and experience to its 30 million annual customers. The free magazine is available in seatbacks throughout the Amtrak network, and a digital site for the publication is available to customers as well. The National includes original content from local and international authors, such as travel essays, fiction, poetry, and fine-art photography. A series of recurring editorial themes will include:

  • Rail Life – Vignettes featuring people, places and experiences across the country
  • Made in America – Profiles of American companies
  • The National Conversation – Pop culture Q&A
  • Next Stop – In-depth feature on an effort to preserve or highlight an important piece of American culture or history
  • Photography Highlight – fine art photographer documenting unique elements of Amtrak train travel
  • Train of Thought – A personal essay related to train travel

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.

Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) is looking at five different financial scenarios in order to best provide a subway downtown and an east-west rail line to the north. One of the five scenarios includes an option for a shortened suburban rail line. The DART board will study these proposals in preparation for a vote on the agency's 20-year financial plan Oct. 25. The plan will define the scope and timeline of a second downtown rail line dubbed D2 that many want built as a subway and the long-delayed Cotton Belt corridor that would take riders from DFW International Airport to Plano. Some board members have criticized DART staff for focusing on the suburban project without presenting details about how the Cotton Belt could be phased in to devote more debt to a subway downtown. Top executives at DART maintain that the agency can do both at the same time, as long as federal authorities disburse $650 million for D2. DART would take out about $1 billion in debt to pay for the Cotton Belt.

Recent reports from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) have revealed the challenges federal inspectors have encountered while conducting safety checks for the Washington, D.C. Metro. The reports from FTA, which includes inspection data released by the FTA last week, reflect some Metro employees’ apparent skepticism of the FTA, but also call attention to the learning process that federal oversight has ushered in. Overall, there have been several incidents of WMATA employees refusing to let FTA inspectors conduct safety checks, unless they used their Metro SmartCard – though FTA credentials grant permission for federal inspectors to conduct checks. The FTA reports shed light on recurring miscommunications between Metro employees and federal inspectors over the course of the year. In February, for example, an operator denied access to an inspector who presented his credentials and said he’d like to ride in the cab of the train. The operator’s reply: get permission from “central”, referring to Metro’s Rail Operations Control Center.

You Win! And So Do We! Benefits Enhance Your Membership And Support Our Work!

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!

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.

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.

Cincinnati City Manager Harry Black complained to the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) about schedule delays and wait times on the new Cincinnati streetcar, despite strong ridership and revenue for the service, and hinted in a letter to SORTA that the city might take legal action if the streetcar continues to run behind schedule and passengers wait more than 15 minutes at stops. SORTA hired private company Transdev to run daily operations and correct the delays. Black noted that if the wait-time issue is not resolved, the city "will not hesitate to use its express authority under the Transdev contract to protect its interests." Regardless of delays, ridership and revenue have been high. Ridership on the streetcar between Sept. 12 – the first paid day of streetcar operations – and Sept. 25 show 70,292 rides, according to SORTA reports. And that's brought in $47,755, more than anticipated. That's nearly a quarter of the total amount ($196,875) needed by the end of the year. The growing pains stemming from the new service’s overwhelming popularity are good problems to have, notes All Aboard Ohio Vice Chair Derek Bauman. Bauman was interviewed live Friday morning on Cincinnati Fox 19 about “how to make a very good streetcar even better?”

This week, the Southeast Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) returned its Regional Rail service to its normal schedule following three months of repairs to defective rail cars. Although not all of the 120 Silverline V Cars have been repaired following the discovery of a structural defect, 50 cars have been returned to service. Combined with SEPTA’s efforts to lease cars from other agencies, SEPTA has been able to transition back to its regular schedule. Overall, all but one of the transit agency's 14 lines will operate on schedules that were supposed to be in effect since June 19. The Media/Elwyn Line will run on a new schedule, effective Sunday, following the completion of a planned construction project.

City officials in Birmingham, AL stated that the new Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority (BJCTA) bus station will open this December. Once open, the station will act as the first phase of a new multi-modal effort for the city to improve upon its public transit system. The new facility is touted as a new front door to Magic City that will bring the city and regional public transit systems together at one location. The second phase of the building includes new facilities for Amtrak and Greyhound, and is scheduled to open in March 2017. The initiative, which will cost $32 million overall, began construction in 2014.

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.