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Hotline #990

November 18, 2016

Amtrak Celebrates Record Earnings and Surge in Ridership; Congress Willing to Support Trump’s Infrastructure Plans; Sen. Blumenthal Urges Action Before Obama Leaves Office

Amtrak announced record earnings for fiscal year 2016, which ended on September 30, bringing in $2.14 billion in unaudited ticket revenue, a $12 million increase over the past year. This record was driven by surging demand for trains; Amtrak carried 31.3 million passengers in the past year, 400,000 more than last year.

Amtrak also noted several contributing factors to the transit agency’s success in 2016, including the addition of cars for lines that saw increased demand or were regularly sold-out; improved on-time performance, and allowing customers to bring pets and bikes on Amtrak routes.

Other notable figures from Amtrak’s financial reports include:

  • Ticket sales and other revenue streams allowed Amtrak to cover 94 percent of its operating costs;

  • Amtrak saw an unaudited operating loss of $227 million, $78 million less than 2015;

  • This is the sixth consecutive year that Amtrak carried more than 30 million customers.

In addition, Amtrak’s new President and CEO Wick Moorman participated in an interview this week with “CBS This Morning” to discuss the country’s rail infrastructure and Trump’s infrastructure proposal, Amtrak’s new Acela trains, and safety and PTC implementation. The interview is available online at CBS.

Following the election of Donald Trump, House and Senate Republican leaders are expressing support for the President-elect’s $1 trillion infrastructure proposal, but disagree on if it will be a top priority once the next Congressional session begins. Part of the disagreement stems from the fact that it is not yet clear how the plan will be funded. The President-Elect’s has expressed support for tax incentives and Public Private Partnerships, which has historically prioritized airports and metro-area toll lanes, disadvantaging infrastructure in rural communities and public transit.

Though not all of Congress can agree on prioritizing transportation infrastructure as a focus, many members of Congress were interested and supportive of the idea to establish a national bank devoted to infrastructure projects. The bank works by offering low-interest loans and other financial assistance in hope of getting investors to support national infrastructure projects. The infrastructure bank is said to be one idea being discussed by Trump’s administration, according to Steven Mnuchin, a member of the Trump’s executive committee. The bank was previously proposed by Hillary Clinton, strongly supported by Democrats, and opposed by Republicans. Nevertheless, a survey by The Hill of more than a dozen Republicans said they were encouraged that the the country’s infrastructure woes were a top concern for Trump and his administration.

After several passenger rail safety incidents over the past few years, and uncertainty surrounding Trump’s infrastructure proposal, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) called on federal regulators to increase safety on U.S. rails before President Obama leaves office. Blumenthal discussed the importance of the Federal Railroad Administration implementing regulations that have been recommended by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). Rules that the senator encouraged implementing include: better inspection practices at commuter railroads, stronger safeguards against engineer fatigue, higher construction standards for trains and a requirement for freight crews to have at least two workers. Blumenthal also discussed how the FRA needs to prioritize the implementation of Positive Train Control (PTC) by placing pressure on railroads to integrate the technology on its lines. Additionally, Blumenthal is not alone in his call for increased safety on passenger rail lines. Only last month, New York Senator Charles Schumer called for the implementation of PTC on a stretch of passenger rail in the states.

In other news regarding PTC, the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), stated this week that commuter railroads are on track to implement the potentially life-saving technology by the federal government’s 2018 deadline. APTA conducted a review of transit agencies and commuter railroads to determine that 22 percent of the more than 3,000 miles of commuter rail in the U.S. are currently using PTC or testing PTC but need final approval from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). APTA also found that of the 3,400 locomotives and cab cars in use, PTC has been implemented on 27 percent. Despite the positive news on PTC implementation, APTA also revealed that funding continues to be a major hurdle for agencies and railroads to implement PTC. Implementation of the remote-braking technology is expected to cost the railroads more than $3.5 billion, and as of October commuter railroads spent more than $1.5 billion on the technology. APTA Acting President and Chief Executive Officer Richard White noted that it is critical for Congress to appropriate additional funding for PTC implementation so agencies can continue to focus on meeting the federal government's 2018 deadline.

End of the Year Donations for a Connected America

As we enter the last few weeks of 2016, we have been looking back at NARP’s accomplishments this past year. The big programs that stand out are Gulf Coast Rail Restoration, engaging the Surface Transportation Board’s ruling on On Time Performance, and ramping up the grassroots efforts for a Daily Cardinal.

Needless to say, we have been busy! But we cannot accomplish these goals and many others around the US and take them to the finish line without your continued support. NARP wants to make sure that your legacy of “A Connected America” becomes reality.

You can help by making your year-end donation today! It’s easy to do – just log on to your NARP Account and click “Get Involved” then “Donate.”

Does your company match donations? If you’re not sure, check with your Human Resources Department. Once you make your donation, all you have to do is fill out a form and NARP will receive matching funds from 2-4 times your donation amount depending on your company’s policy.

You can also make the ultimate symbolic donation to NARP: consider donating your old car, RV, or boat! It’s easy and a great way to give! Just go to www.narprail.org/vehicle. All the information you need is right there.

Thank you for your support!

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released its 10 “Most Wanted” list for 2017-2018. The list focuses on increasing safety in all areas of transportation within the U.S., including passenger rail, as well as freight transport, general aviation, and driving. For passenger rail and other forms of transit, the NTSB wants to reduce fatigue-related accidents, eliminate distractions for operators, and also end drug and alcohol use that would impair an operator’s performance.

Specifically for rail transit and our nation’s rail network, the NTSB calls for increased and improved safety oversight by railroads, officials and transit agencies. The agency notes that “Ineffective safety oversight is a contributing factor in many rail transit accidents… Without changes in public transit system oversight, accidents will continue to happen.” And recent events have highlighted the need for transit agencies and officials to take action, and move forward with increasing safety on our passenger rail lines. The accident in Hoboken, NJ in September for example, demonstrates the need for increased safety. Positive train control, which can remotely slow or stop trains that are speeding, should have been in place on our rail networks by the end 2015, but Congress voted to extend the deadline for three years to 2018.

The NTSB’s top ten list are:

  • Increase collision avoidance technologies

  • Ensure safe shipment of hazardous goods

  • Prevent loss of control in flight

  • Improve rail transit safety

  • End alcohol and other drug impairment in transportation

  • Reduce fatigue-related accidents

  • Require medical fitness

  • Strengthen occupant protection

  • Expand recorder use to enhance safety

On the heels of the NTSB’s list, the OneRail Coalition, which comprises of several passenger and freight railroad stakeholders that includes NARP, released an new safety paper that analyzed rail data for passenger and freight rail transit within the U.S. The report, “Rail Safety in the United States” highlighted that transportation by rail is far safer than traveling on our nation’s highways thanks in part to increased safety practices and use of new technologies over the past decade. As a result, rail transit accidents of fallen by 31 percent over the last 10 years. This report comes at an important time on our nation’s rail history as lawmakers and transit officials look to implement Positive Train Control (PTC) following a rail accident in Hoboken, NJ in September. At the same time, demand for passenger rail transit is has and continues to increase across the country.

There are still openings for state representatives on the NARP Council of Representatives in several states, including one each in Alabama; Arizona; Delaware; Idaho; Missouri; Nevada; North Carolina; North Dakota: Ohio 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.

Following a review by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) of the Washington Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s (WMATA) work on repairing Metro in D.C., numerous issues have come forth for the transit agency. The FTA’s report found that the cost of Metro’s SafeTrack program, which is designed to repair the network’s infrastructure and train reliability, will be approximately $118.8 million, nearly double the originally proposed $60 million. Nearly $77 million is expected to come from federal grants, but officials at Metro have not yet determined how the agency will pay for $41 million of the project costs. In addition, SafeTrack work was first expected to be completed in March 2017, but WMATA officials now suggest that track work won’t be complete until June 2017. According to the report, slow work on repairs was caused by a lack of coordination between Metro departments, as well as issues over how to balance scheduled maintenance work.

Aside from costs and delays, the FTA’s inspection report also highlighted several critical issues that Metro failed to address regarding planning and safety of the transit system. Findings include that Metro officials did not prepare a program management plan prior to starting SafeTrack, emergency exit pathways were found to be nearly pitch black, there were problems with tracks in rail yards identified after a derailment and a communications failure where a safety work did not respond to calls from crews.

WMATA has also ordered the immediate removal of all 4000-series railcars after it identified a potential safety concern with the automatic train control system.

“Today’s action is being taken in an abundance of caution and, while we believe that the risk is small, it is a risk I am unwilling to take,” said Metro CEO Paul J. Wiedefeld.

Across the country, Amtrak has several development projects moving forward in an effort to bring quality passenger rail service to cities. Three such projects include the development of train stations in Baltimore, Philadelphia and Middletown, PA.

  • In Baltimore, Amtrak named the three teams that it will compete for the redevelopment of the city’s Penn Station and other nearby properties. The firms that will propose development plans include Penn Station Partners, which is led by Baltimore's Beatty Development Group, the developer of Harbor Point; Peebles-AZ Baltimore Penn, which is led by the Peebles Corp., a private company based in Florida; and Brandywine Realty Trust, a real estate investment trust headquartered in Pennsylvania, which has been working on the station redevelopment at 30th Street in Philadelphia.

  • In Philadelphia, Amtrak is seeking a developer for a site near 30th Street Station that Brandywine Realty Trust previously proposed as the location of an office tower. The three-quarter acre of land parcel has since been absorbed into the 30th Street Station District Plan, a decades-long proposal for 18 million square feet of development and acres of open space to be largely built over Amtrak's sprawling rail yard in the area.

  • Developers visited the site of the new Middletown Amtrak station this week to look at parking and commercial space. Overall, PennDOT is seeking a developer to design and maintain a pedestrian bridge, a parking lot for 400 vehicles near the station site, a street extension to the station, possible commercial/retail development, and maintain the project site for at least 30 years. Work on the new station and platform, estimated to cost $24.4 million, is expected to start late in 2018.

Save These Dates!

Spring 2017 Advocacy Summit & Meeting - Washington, DC

  • Sunday, April 23 to Wednesday, April 26, 2017

  • NARP’s ‘Action Day On The Hill’ & Congressional Reception – Tuesday, April 25, 2017

  • Host Hotel: Sheraton Silver Spring (MD)

NARP’s 50th Anniversary Celebration – Chicago, IL

  • Thursday, November 2 to Sunday, November 5, 2017

  • Four days packed with an exciting array of presentations, speakers, exhibits, tours, and events

  • Celebrating NARP’s accomplishments over the past 50 years and looking ahead to the future of passenger rail in the United States

  • Host Hotel: Millennium Knickerbocker

Following a private session for the New Jersey congressional delegation, in which the Hoboken, NJ train accident was discussed, it was revealed that the engineer during the accident had undiagnosed sleep apnea. Though sleep apnea may cause individuals to feel tired and drowsy when awake, the diagnosis does not mean the engineer fell asleep while in charge of the train. The National Transportation Safety Board received the information and will include it in their review of the accident from September 29th. NJ Transit confirmed that the agency has a screening to test for sleep apnea, which occurs when an individual’s breathing pauses or becomes shallow when asleep. Notably, the engineer in a 2013 commuter train accident in New York City also had sleep apnea and said he felt "dazed" as his train derailed going 80 mph on a 30 mph curve.

According to officials in Moline, IL, passenger rail service is expected to return by early 2018, as track work is heading into the home stretch. By January 2017 the last stages of construction for the rail line will begin. At the same time, The Q, a multi-modal station and hotel located in downtown, is getting set to begin construction and welcome passengers. The hotel itself is expected to be completed and open by June 2017, six months ahead of the rail line completion date.

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.

The high-speed rail project that is proposed to link Dallas and Houston, has gained additional support from the Plano City Council, despite not having a station. Council members agreed that the development of the HSR line would provide needed opportunities for the region’s economy, while also reducing traffic congestion on Interstate 45. And though residents in Plano will not have direct access to the HSR service, people can commute from the DART station to downtown Dallas and be in Houston in two hours.

City officials, transit agency representatives and passenger advocates in Buffalo, NY are debating several potential sites as the new home for a new train station in the city. As the discussion goes on, three specific sites have stood out as strong contenders: Canalside, a short distance from the current station on Exchange Street; the Central Terminal, where Amtrak last operated trains in 1979, and the Larkinville neighborhood in Buffalo. The Buffalo News provides on overview of each the three potential sites and reasons why, or why not, each one could be selected. Before a site is selected, the city will study the sites over the next six months to determine which is most suitable for a new station.

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.