Happening Now

Hotline #986

October 21, 2016

Secretary Foxx Views HSR; SE. Schumer Calls for PTC in NY, Dallas Union Station Reaches 100; Gateway Program Hits Milestones

With several billion dollars of federal stimulus and railroad improvement funds invested in high-speed rail in California through the U.S. Department of Transportation, Secretary Anthony Foxx made a visit to the San Joaquin Valley to get a peek at how work has progressed on the system. More than $3 billion from the Obama administration – much of it from the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act – is being used for work in the Valley to support small and local businesses and employment (85 percent of those employed on the project are local residents). Foxx, accompanied by California state Transportation Secretary Brian Kelly and Jeff Morales, CEO of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, toured several of the sites in Fresno and Madera counties where major construction is underway on the first stages of the statewide high-speed rail project. Sites included the 1,600-foot-long viaduct to carry the high-speed tracks above the Fresno River, Highway 145 and Raymond Road east of Madera; a new bridge and elevated tracks across the San Joaquin River and the Union Pacific Railroad tracks at the Fresno-Madera county line near Highway 99; and the new Tuolumne Street bridge over the future high-speed tracks in downtown Fresno.

Following the train accident last month in Hoboken, NJ, calls for improved safety by politicians and safety advocates have come forth. Most recently, U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer called on the U.S. Department of Transportation to fund installation of a new train safety system, Positive Train Control (PTC), on tracks between Poughkeepsie and Amsterdam in New York. Schumer’s call supports a state grant application for $33.7 million in federal money to purchase and install PTC on the line. As it stands now, the 2015 federal transportation bill extended the PTC installation deadline for freight lines to install the systems from 2015 to 2018, with full operation in 2020. The industry, which called the 2015 deadline unrealistic, says it will meet the new deadline.

Federal Railroad Administration Administrator Sarah Feinberg, who accompanied Schumer on Wednesday at the Schenectady Amtrak station, noted that the only thing standing in the way of implementation of PTC is money. The Association of American Railroads, which represents the freight rail industry, has estimated the cost of implementing positive train control could be $10 billion or more. The federal government expects the freight industry to cover the cost along freight lines.

In regards to the train accident in Hoboken, all but two tracks at the train station opened, and full NJ Transit service has been restored. Overall, six more tracks opened at 4 a.m. Monday, while the Hoboken station's ticket office resumed operations and all regularly scheduled trains are running. However, tracks 5 and 6 will remain closed as the transit agency continues repairs since the Sept. 29 crash of a Pascack Valley line train. Trains entering the station will now reduce their approach speed from 10 mph to 5 mph for added safety.

Additionally, NJ Transit recently named Steven H. Santoro as the agency’s new executive director. With the new position, Santoro was charged preparing a report on where the agency stands on implementing PTC, which some experts say could have helped prevent the Hoboken accident. NJ Transit and other railroads face a 2018 federal deadline to install PTC, but a federal report on PTC progress said NJ Transit lags behind other railroads. Santoro said he was ready to meet the challenges facing the beleaguered agency and to carry out Acting Transportation Commissioner Richard Hammer’s directives. Other tasks for Santoro included a report about the status of extreme weather resiliency projects, which includes replacing the Raritan Bay bridge, building safe haven train yards to store equipment away from flood waters and creating an electric power system to power NJ Transit's core system.

The End of the Year is Near!

The past year has been a productive one for advancing NARP’s goal of “A Connected America,” with excellent work being conducted on Capitol Hill and with state legislatures nationwide. Our work of course, is only made possible by our members and supporters. And together, we have seen progress on both long distance and corridor routes, delivery of new long distance equipment and electric power, and large equipment orders for Amtrak’s next generation Acela fleet.

We have been at the table helping to craft some of the most favorable legislative language passenger rail supporters have ever seen, and we have seen real progress on both public and privately funded high speed rail and transit lines.

In short, we’ve had a great year, but we couldn’t have done it without your ongoing, and generous, support. We have real challenges ahead, however, to ensure that passenger rail delivers on the promise of creating “A Connected America.” And we know you want more and better trains, as well as increased safety technology and regular maintenance of rail tracks and equipment.

So for the end of the year, would you please consider making a donation to our cause to help us achieve a truly national rail infrastructure.

Donations can be made online at: www.narprail.org/get-involved/donate/

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, Senators Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), and Cory Booker (D-NJ), along with Amtrak Board Chairman Anthony R. Coscia and other federal partners in the Gateway Program announced several major milestones. The announcement of the key milestones means that the Gateway Program is moving along at record speed. Overall, notable milestones included the President’s Permitting Dashboard, the concrete casing portion of the Hudson Yards Right-of-Way Preservation Project, and eligibility for Federal grants and financing for Portal North Bridge and the Hudson Tunnel Project, critical components of the Gateway Program. Successes on each of these projects is available online at Amtrak’s website.

In addition, federal financing could be in place in two years to build two new rail tunnels under the Hudson River that would augment the crumbling 106-year old rail tunnels used daily by commuters, according to Sen. Schumer. Once in place, construction can start shortly after then. Preliminary estimates are that the Gateway Program will cost $23 billion, a number that that could change after initial engineering and design is done, according to Amtrak officials. A deal between the federal government and New York and New Jersey to fund Gateway was brokered last November, and funding the program will be done by stringing together a network of federal grants, low-interest loans and state funding.

As Union Station in downtown Dallas approaches it’s 100th birthday, city officials and transit advocates are looking forward to the station’s future. Originally opened in 1916 as a major railroad center for Dallas, the station will be renamed the Eddie Bernice Johnson Union Station and develop a new focus to increase overall usage. Today, Union Station services Amtrak, the TRE, DART rail and buses; but it’s still not as busy as it was 60 years ago when it was host to approximately 80 trains per day. But with a resurgence of inter-city travel, Dallas officials are hopeful that the city’s growing population and needs will keep the station busy and as a focal point for public transit.

A major debate is brewing in Buffalo, NY and it centers around where a new centrally located Amtrak station should be located. Overall, three to four sites are being discussed as viable options. City and state officials are weighing a new facility for Canalside, and Rep. Brian Higgins has even floated restoration of the landmark Central Terminal on Buffalo's East Side. Larkinville and Depew also are being examined. Construction crews have been working on the city-owned Exchange Street Station, which experienced a ceiling collapse due to rain, and officials hope to reopen it, but the temporary closure has refocused attention on what type of rail facility should serve Buffalo. Bruce Becker of NARP’s staff (and a Buffalo-area resident) noted that Amtrak needs an outlying station, such as the current facility in Depew, to accommodate long distance trains between New York and Chicago.

However, much more needs to be done before a new train station in Buffalo can be developed. Conclusions from a meeting in Buffalo this week included several steps in the process, such as conducting an impact study, gaining political support from all levels of government, funding to be raised, and an entity to lead the project in Buffalo. In addition, Sen. Charles E. Schumer stated he would push for federal backing once a location is decided.

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.

Texas Central, the private developer of the Texas bullet train, announced that it is sponsoring of a design competition for architecture students from accredited Texas universities to help produce an inspiring vision for the high-speed train passenger stations. Individual students and multi-disciplinary student teams that are actively enrolled in a Texas college or university-level program in architecture, landscape architecture, urban planning, architectural engineering or transportation were contacted before the fall semester and encouraged to take part in the competition. Initial design proposals are due Oct. 31, and will include:

  • A vision statement.

  • Station concepts, with considerations for programming, urban connectivity, use of local materials, environmental sustainability and customer focus.

  • Maximum of three presentations 24” x 36” posters expressing the students’ vision.

  • Five to 10 conceptual design drawings.

Eligible universities include:

  • Texas A&M

  • Prairie View A&M

  • University of Texas at San Antonio

  • University of Texas at Arlington

  • University of Texas

  • Texas Tech

  • University of Houston

  • Rice

Following the review of an environmental assessment for a proposed increase in the number of round trips on Amtrak’s Hiawatha line between Chicago and Milwaukee, the Glenview Board of Trustees votes to oppose the proposal. The assessment was performed by the Illinois and Wisconsin departments of transportation and the Federal Railroad Administration, and looked closely at the potential impact on increasing roundtrips from seven to 10. The proposed Hiawatha round trips would run during off-peak hours, which opponents on the board contend would disrupt freight activity and increase freight traffic in Glenview.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors’ Land Use and Transportation Committee reviewed early sketches of what the city’s future subway network could look like. The preliminary maps, known as San Francisco’s “Subway Vision” places more subway lines throughout the city. The Subway Vision maps were prompted by Supervisor Scott Wiener’s Subway Master Plan legislation, which was passed last fall and mandates the city with “always” planning subway expansion. To that end, the plan sketches out potential new areas for subways based on three sources: prior plans, input from the public and analysis by agencies like the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, the Planning Department, and the San Francisco County Transportation Authority. The final maps will be complete by the end of the year, and currently, San Francisco’s Central Subway is slated to open in 2019, connecting Chinatown with downtown. A proposal to move parts of the M-Oceanview underground is also being studied.

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.

In partnership with the Seattle Seahawks and the Washington State Department of Transportation, Amtrak unveiled a Seahawk-wrapped train that pushes a public-safety message - not to run for the train and risk getting hurt, or worse. The wrapped train features all-pro wide receiver Doug Baldwin and states, “Now I make guys miss and outrun them every game, but I would never, and I mean never, take on a train, because that would be game over.” The train will run on the Amtrak Cascades line to 18 stations including Vancouver, B.C., Seattle and Portland and Eugene, Ore. Additionally, a “Stay Back from the Tracks” blitz is scheduled for January, to prepare people for rail traffic on the new Point Defiance Bypass. Passenger trains will go directly through south Tacoma, Lakewood and DuPont neighborhoods, instead of hugging the Puget Sound coastline.

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.