Happening Now

Hotline #994

December 16, 2016

FRA Issues 30-Year Investment Plan; Gateway Project Included In 10-Year Plan From Port Authority of NY and NJ; Congress Passes Short-Term Budget & Amtrak Border Bill; NARP Opens Applications for Next Summer By Rail

Keep ‘em coming! 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.

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) issued a report outlining a 30-year investment plan to build a better and stronger Northeast Corridor (NEC), the result of four years of intensive outreach to the public, stakeholder groups, and local governments.

The FRA found broad agreement among all groups that the NEC’s current capacity is grossly inadequate, and a dramatic expansion in investment and capacity is urgently needed. The plan prioritizes bringing the existing NEC infrastructure to a state of good repair, then adding capacity and frequencies sequentially.

“While we’re unsurprised at the universal demand for more train service, NARP is gratified that the FRA went the extra mile in soliciting the opinions of everyday passengers. This corridor is a vital artery for the entire region, and identifying the right investment strategy will have massive consequences for U.S. economic growth in the 21st century,” said NARP President & CEO Jim Mathews. “We look forward to working with elected officials to provide the predictable, dedicated revenue this project will need to take the next steps. It’s clear that, given the interstate nature of the NEC, a strong federal partner will be required to bring this plan to fruition.”

View a video outlining the new vision: https://youtu.be/44nB1tkPYRI.

The FRA outlined the following steps to increase reliability and provide more options for NEC passengers:

  • Adding new tracks to increase the Northeast Corridor to four tracks in most locations, which would allow for more frequent and faster service. Additional tracks would be added to areas with greater demand.

  • Providing intercity access to Philadelphia Airport so that passengers do not have to change trains at 30th Street.

  • Adding direct and frequent service to Hartford, Conn., and Springfield, Mass.

  • Increasing, and in some cases doubling, the number of regional trains and providing up to five times more intercity trains.

Additionally, the NEC Future recommends the following improvement to travel times:

  • Travel from Boston to New York City would be 45 minutes faster (total time of 2 hours, 45 minutes).

  • Travel from New York City to Washington, D.C., would be 35 minutes faster (total time of 2 hours, 10 minutes).

“The Department of Transportation believes that investing in this vision for the Northeast Corridor must happen—because rail does more than take us places; it provides us with opportunities and connects us to the future,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “While building this recommendation would require significant investment, the cost of doing nothing is much greater. The communities and the economies of the Northeast cannot grow and flourish without significant, new investment.”

How quickly this project advances depends on the ability of federal and state officials, in partnership with Amtrak, to identify funding sources.

In related news, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey took a major step in their 10-year capital draft plan last week by noting it may include funding for Amtrak’s Gateway tunnel. The plan calls for an estimated $29.1 billion in transportation and infrastructure projects, with $2.7 billion going towards the rail tunnel project between New York and New Jersey. Overall, Amtrak’s Gateway Project, which is focused on repairing and expanding rail infrastructure in the NEC, is set to cost $24 billion, and the tunnel itself could cost a total of up to $7 billion. Amtrak’s current rail tunnel is 100 years old and was significantly damaged during Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

Although the draft proposal was not released to the public, Reuters news agency was able to obtain a copy of the plan this week. In review, it is expected that the construction of the tunnel underneath the Hudson river will cause significant traffic congestion for motorists for three years. Despite the congestion, the new tunnel is critical to the future of transportation and the economy in the region, as well as the U.S. Not only does the New York City area generate 10 percent of America’s economic output, the construction of the tunnel is expected to create 200,000 new jobs. In addition, it could generate up to $4 in economic benefits for every dollar spent. Currently, construction on the new tunnel is not expected to begin until at least 2019.

Additionally, as an effort to continue federal support of the Gateway project, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer warned of economic catastrophe should President-elect Donald Trump not echo President Obama’s support of the project. Schumer made his request at a meeting for the Association for a Better New York, which also included Sen. Cory Booker, Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, and Amtrak Chairman Anthony Coscia. Currently, Trump has called for a $1 trillion investment in transportation and infrastructure for the U.S., but rather than using government funding it would be provided as tax breaks to investors. However, this type of investment strategy for public projects would not necessarily support the Gateway project. As a result, Schumer warned that if Trump’s administration does not support the project and it does not move forward, there is a risk of an economic recession once the current tunnel is unuseable.

Congress Passes Short-Term Budget & Amtrak Border Bill Before Adjourning for 2016

Most Members of Congress have left Washington, D.C. for the holiday break, and—save for select pro forma sessions—Congress is nominally adjourned for the year.

With the budget extended through late April, NARP has a much clearer idea about what legislative goals are for the first half of 2017. Stay tuned in the new year to hear more about opportunities to advocate for more and better train service.

Congress Extends Budget Through April 2017

The United States Senate passed a Continuing Resolution (CR) appropriations bill funding through April 28, 2017, by a vote of 63-36. This followed on a bill cleared by the U.S. House of Representatives by a vote of 326-96. President Obama signed the bill into law, averting a government shutdown. As we predicted, Congress extended program funding levels at FY2016 levels. However, due to the budget anomaly secured by NARP advocates in September, Amtrak will be funded at the slightly higher FY2017 levels.

Unfortunately, given the short duration of the bill, the U.S. DOT will likely make partial-year apportionments to grantees, which will hurt rail-friendly programs like New Starts and TIGER. Additionally, the increases authorized by the Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST) Act for FY 2017 remain unfunded, including rail service restoration grants and expansion and upgrade grants.

The timing sets NARP up for an eventful spring meeting, where we will be well-positioned to push for a full-year budget at authorized FAST Act funding levels.

'Preclearance' Bill To Ease U.S.-Canada Rail Travel Clears Congress

The Promoting Travel, Commerce and National Security Act of 2016, a bill that will facilitate travel across the Canadian border, was passed by Congress last weekend. This legislation will improve the future performance of Amtrak’s Adirondack, and is an important step in extending the Vermonter to Montreal. The bill could also have positive ramifications for additional frequencies on the Cascades service, which terminates in Vancouver, B.C. However, passengers on the Maple Leaf between New York City and Toronto will still have to detrain at Niagara Falls for insections.

The bill was supported by a bipartisan, bicameral coalition, including Senators Pat Leahy (I-VT) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and Representatives Elise Stefanik (R-NY-21) and Ann Kuster (D-NH-2).

“This agreement has long been a priority for Vermonters,” said Senator Leahy. “It would make it possible to restore Amtrak service between Vermont and Quebec in the future. It’s a win for Vermont’s economy, and for Canadians who visit Vermont to sightsee, ski, shop and dine. This process has been a true bipartisan effort, at every level of government in both the United States and Canada have been fully supportive and engaged. Now, at last, we can confidently move to the next stages of getting passenger service to Montreal up and running. Many of us can’t wait to hear those first whistles blow.”

The Canadian government will need to pass matching legislation before the a bi-national treaty agreement can go into effect. Canada’s Liberal party has introduced a companion bill, C-23, and it enjoys broad support in the House of Commons. This will allow both governments to ratify the underlying treaty.

Infrastructure Bill Thrown in Doubt

Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) signaled again this week that establishment Republicans may oppose President-Elect Donald Trump’s proposal for a massive infrastructure bill.

“It will be interesting to see how this is put together,” McConnell told reporters. “I hope we avoid a trillion-dollar stimulus.”

Additionally, the Senate GOP leader joined his counterpart in the U.S. House, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), in voicing opposition to using tax reform to pay for additional spending on transportation infrastructure.

“I think this level of national debt is dangerous and unacceptable,” McConnell added. “My preference on tax reform is that it be revenue neutral.”

President-Elect Trump has explicitly called for a trillion dollar infrastructure push, so transportation advocates will have to wait and see who’s vision for the first 100 days of the 115th Congress comes out on top.

In a new safety advisory, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) continued to emphasize the need for passenger railroad companies and agencies to screen train operators for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). The advisory focuses on fatigue and sleep disorders of train operators, and also encourages agencies to install inward and outward facing cameras on locomotives in order to monitor operators. The FRA believes that appropriately installed recording devices are "valuable in revealing crew actions and interactions before, during, and after an accident." Previously in March, the FRA published a notice of proposed rulemaking requesting data and information concerning the prevalence of moderate-to-severe OSA in passenger rail agencies. Most recently, the FRA's concern on sleep apnea was raised in September when an NJ Transit train operator crashed into the station in Hoboken. It was revealed during the investigation that the operator suffered from sleep apnea, which causes fatigue due to irregular breathing when asleep. Following the release of this information, the FRA issued a warning for passenger and commuter railroads to screen for sleep apnea in November.

Further stressing the importance of testing operators for fatigue and sleeping disorders is NJ Transit, which is now testing for symptoms amongst its employees. The testing, which began in October, found that 11 NJ Transit train engineers or operators suffered from fatigue-related conditions. As a result, the agency has temporarily removed the employees from responsibility until they can prove they prove with documentation that their issues are under control. Prior to the Hoboken accident, NJ Transit employees were allowed to keep working as long as they were being treated for their conditions.

Apply For The Country’s BEST Internship! Summer By Rail, Part Two!

This summer, NARP is giving one college student an opportunity to travel across the country by rail to destinations of their choice, for the greatest internship ever. This is year two of Summer by Rail, and we are encouraging college students to submit an application to see how rail connects and powers America.

The potential intern can develop a plan that connects them by rail, bicycle, boat or by foot to any number of destinations, including Major League Baseball stadiums, national parks, foodie destinations, or even state capitals that use passenger rail networks like Amtrak.

During our first Summer by Rail, NARP sent Elena, a George Washington University student, on a month-long train trip across 15 states and 20 cities. She explored the connections between rail and bikes, ferries, and transit along the way. On her journey across America’s transportation network, she met with mayors and transportation officials, reporters, local cyclists and advocacy groups, and hundreds of fellow travelers.

Applications from college students are due by January 31, 2017, and NARP will make a final selection on March.

Additional information on the internship is available at www.summerbyrail.com.

It is with heavy hearts that we inform you that Art Lloyd, Jr. passed away on December 4th. Many people in NARP and the passenger rail industry knew Art well. He was a NARP board member from the former Region 12, as well as a very important figure for railroading nationwide. In the 1950s he fought to preserve passenger rail service as railroads began to focus on profits from freight rail due to the increased push for highway travel. He spent time with Amtrak, starting in 1971, and was previously the face and the voice of Western Pacific. He will be missed by his friends and family. Services will be at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, December 17, 2016 at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, 178 Clinton Street, Redwood City, CA 94062. Mourners may join the family in a memorial Caltrain ride from Redwood City to Palo Alto on Train #428 at 12:09 p.m.

In a ceremony at the offices of the Fort Worth Transportation Authority, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) provided the Authority with a special announcement. FTA Administrator, Carolyn Flowers announced that the FTA will provide $449 million to help the T complete TEXRail, a 27-mile long commuter rail line. In her presentation, Flowers stated that “fortunately this community has leaders of vision, ones that are willing to face the challenge and prepare for tomorrow.” She also noted that completion of TEXRail will provide an economic boost to the area, as well as help reduce traffic congestion by connecting people to T buses, the TRE and Amtrak. It will also connect people to the DFW Airport as part of an integrated regional system. Fort Worth T President/CEO Paul Ballard was also on hand for the announcement, and said that the next time all the officials meet will be for the ribbon cutting of the rail line on the tracks come New Year’s Eve 2018.

Dan Aykroyd Helps NARP Share The Importance of Passenger Rail

Over the past several months, NARP has been creating a video to help share the continued, as well as growing, importance of passenger rail and connecting Americans to rail service. The increasing demand for rail service in this country is trending upward, and it is evident through rail projects in California, Florida, Texas and elsewhere. Once these projects are completed, they will change and influence how Americans travel, and we wanted to capture the benefits of this change in a new and educational video.

For the development of the video, we collaborated with and used as a spokesperson, actor, comedian and rail enthusiast, Dan Aykroyd. He helps us share the travel, economic, and environmental benefits of passenger rail services, such as the national Amtrak network, light rail service in Charlotte, NC, or upgraded rail lines in Salt Lake City, UT.

With the completion of the video, NARP members are welcomed to not only watch and enjoy it, but to help NARP share it with others so they too know the positive outcomes passenger rail generates. Whether it's friends and family, or local government and transportation officials, you can help spread the word.

The video is on the NARP website at the following link, hosted through YouTube. So please take a few minutes to watch, enjoy and share.

As part of Sound Transit's plans for fund regional transit projects, the agency has finalized the sale of nearly half a million dollars worth of "green bonds." The sale, which totaled $477 million, will help support more than 90 miles of light-rail extensions in the area, while keeping environmental sustainability a priority. The sale of the bonds will also help the agency minimize the amount of money taxpayers would have to pay in order for the area's infrastructure to be built. The most recent sale of green bonds is Sound Transit's second; the agency in August 2015 issued nearly $1 billion worth of the bonds.

This past Tuesday, people were able to catch a quick glimpse of the new QLine streetcar in Detroit, as M-1 took the car out for initial tests. The streetcar traveled down Woodward Avenue in Detroit as part of a series of tests that are being conducted ahead of the line's launch in spring 2017. The three hours of testing consisted of the streetcar leaving its storage location at the Penske Tech Center in Detroit's North End, and traveled south along its 3.3-mile route without passengers to downtown before heading back to the station. According to Dan Lijana, a spokesman for M-1 Rail, the first test went smoothly. Lijana also noted that more than 1,000 tests are planned prior to the start of service, though not all tests will require the streetcar to travel its Woodward Avenue route.

End of the Year Donations Support 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 hard work for “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”; by sending a check to NARP, 505 Capitol Ct, NE, Suite 300, Washington, DC 20002 or by calling the NARP office at 202-408-8362!

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 U.S., like many other countries over the past few years, has realized that passenger rail trains and stations have become potential terrorist threats. Most recently, the potential for an attack emerged last week in Southern California with the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority as a target. The FBI announced that there was a serious warning of a bomb threat for December 6th, at the Metro Red Line's Universal City Station. Thankfully, the threat was never carried out, but it highlighted that the U.S. has been fortunate to not yet experience a successful attack on our rail networks. Despite the infrequency of attacks on rail in the U.S., local law enforcement and other experts say mass transit systems are vulnerable.

Following the threat in LA, and in an effort to protect and prevent potential domestic terrorist attacks, U.S. senator Charles Schumer called upon the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to cross-check transit employees against the terror watch list. Schumer, a Democrat for New York, stated that the checks would apply to employees of Amtrak, the Long Island Rail Road, Metro North and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Additionally, this push from Schumer is nothing new. According to the senator, a 9/11 Commission Report recommended that background checks take place a decade ago, but the TSA attributed delays in implementation to “the complex federal rule-making process.”

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)

  • Room reservations will be available starting in early January 2017

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

Despite a new lawsuit from opponents of California’s high-speed rail, the rail authority’s board approved unlocking state bonds in order to provide billions of dollars in support of the project. The board voted 7-0 to provide funds that will allow for continued construction of the Central Valley and San Francisco-San Jose segments. The bonds equate to $3.2 billion: $2.6 billion for a 119-mile leg connecting Fresno to Madera and $600 million to electrify a 55-mile stretch of existing Caltrain tracks in the San Jose Peninsula that will eventually connect with high-speed rail. The funding from the bonds was needed in order for the state to meet its required obligation to match federal funding. However, a lawsuit was also submitted this week which challenged bill AB1889, changed previous laws to allow high-speed rail bonds to be spent on electrification. The lawsuit claims that the change in legislation was unconstitutional.

The first of Brightline’s new trainsets arrived in Florida this week, and highlighted the next steps for the rail system. The trains, built by Siemens, left the manufacturing plant in Sacramento, CA last week and were pulled across the country by a Union Pacific locomotive. The trains traveled through major metropolitan areas including Houston and New Orleans, before rounding out their trip in Miami. Next up for Brightline is testing the new trains before service begins, which is expected to start in approximately six months.

You can watch a special video on the new cars and rail system from Brightline on YouTube.


Holiday Shopping To Save Money AND Support Our Work!

Your holiday shopping can help to support your Association. 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!

NARP signed an agreement with Travelers United, the only non-profit membership organization that acts as a watchdog for traveler rights, to offer 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.

In North Carolina, public agencies and county commissioners are looking for ways to find money and continue funding transit projects, including the the $1.87 billion Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit Project. Most recently, GoTriangle, a public agency that provides regional bus service to Wake, Durham and Orange counties, proposed and was approved to create a new nonprofit organization in order to raise needed funds for public transit projects. With the nonprofit, the agency can accept tax-deductible donations from individuals and groups, including foundations and developers to support projects like light-rail. GoTriangle officials estimate that the nonprofit could raise up to $20 million in donations over the next several years.

In addition, county officials in both Orange and Durham have agreed to support the transit projects. The Durham County commissioners for example, voted unanimously this past week to sign a non-binding letter agreeing to help find up to $135 million more in local funding to help fill a $254 million funding gap. Orange County officials agreed to help find up to $40 million more in local funding. The funding will go to supporting the 17.5-mile line from UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill to N.C. Central University in Durham.

Transit and government officials are looking to move forward with expanding and modernizing Northwest Indiana’s passenger rail service. Through the South Shore Line, the state is looking to receive $400 million in federal support for two rail projects. If the funding is received, the federal money would cover half the construction costs of the South Shore's $615 million West Lake Corridor project. The remaining funding would be directed to covering half the cost of Double Track NWI, which would add a second track between Gary and Michigan City and run up to $270 million. South Shore Line officials hope that once the funding is approved, construction on the projects would integrate Northwest Indiana's workforce more deeply into the Chicago economy, create jobs and grow wealth in the region. An early estimate for the new services to start is 2022.