Happening Now

Hotline #995

December 22, 2016

FRA Awards Grants for Gulf Coast Stations; Boy Scouts Support Amtrak Cardinal; CHSRA Begins Search For Train Operator

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]egies.com, 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 Southern Railway Commission announced this week that it has received more than $2 million in federal funding from the Federal Railroad Administration to support repairs and upgrades to stations, platforms and depots in 11 communities along the potential Amtrak Gulf Coast route. The commission worked with states’ congressional delegations in Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi, the FRA, host railroads, and Amtrak to pursue the federal funds to restore passenger rail service in the three states. Funds will be available in early 2017, and the projects are expected to be completed within 24 months of receiving the awards.

Additionally, during the announcement Southern Railway Commission Chairman Gary White stated that he believes Amtrak service along the coast could return as soon as 18 to 24 months from now. The end goal of the commission, as well as Amtrak, NARP, and other passenger rail advocates is to see Amtrak service extend from New Orleans to Orlando, FL, with multiple stops in between.

NARP’s Betsy Nelson was in attendance for the meeting, along with several representatives from the communities that will receive FRA funding.

Passenger rail advocates, including All Aboard Ohio, gained a new ally in the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) in their effort to see daily Amtrak Cardinal service, which currently runs three times weekly between New York Penn Station and Chicago Union Station. BSA Chief Scout Executive Michael B. Surbaugh in a letter encouraged Amtrak President Wick Moorman to shift service to daily operations, noting that the Scouts will have major events coming up in 2017 and 2019. If Amtrak won’t increase to daily service, Surbaugh urged Amtrak to see service increase on a temporary basis during July 2017 when the BSA will begin holding its annual National Jamboree at Summit Bechtel Reserve at Mount Hope, WV. An even larger event will occur in 2019 when the World Scout Jamboree is held at that location, near Amtrak Cardinal stations along the New River Gorge National River, a 70,000-acre recreation area. Amtrak estimates it has enough locomotives and passenger cars to run the Cardinal as often as five days per week.

A new infrastructure task force may be on the horizon from President-elect Donald Trump, which could oversee his federal spending plans for infrastructure in the U.S., according to an individual familiar with the plans. Notably, the task force is “not Cabinet level,” however, it would play a significant role in coordinating among federal, state, and local officials as well as private investors as up to $1 trillion is expected to be invested into the country’s infrastructure. The new task force would also help identify what qualifies as a necessary infrastructure project. Projects could include the repair and upgrade the country’s roads, railways, bridges, bike trails, and other transportation hubs, as well as broadband and transmission lines.

Expected members of the transportation infrastructure task force include Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, senior counselor Stephen K. Bannon, senior adviser Stephen Miller and Gary Cohn, whom Trump also tapped to head the National Economic Council.

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 in March.

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

Support for public transit, and investment in transit projects is growing throughout the U.S., according to findings from the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). In a new study released by the association, nearly 70 percent of respondents favor investment in public transit projects for the repair and improvement in infrastructure, including buses and rail. Additionally, APTA found that 65 percent of those who voted for President-elect Donald Trump also supported greater investment in public transit, while 81 percent of Trump voters opposed cuts to current levels of public transportation investment. APTA's Acting President and Chief Executive Officer Richard White noted that, “While Americans may be divided on the overall direction of our country, we know this much: Voters for both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump support public transportation.”

The California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) took a major step towards operations of the high-speed rail line with the release of a request for qualification for train operator services. The request marks a transition in focus from planning and construction to management of the rail system between San Francisco and Los Angeles. CHSRA’s 2016 business plan called for working with a train operator early in the process to ensure its perspective is considered in the planning and design of civil works, infrastructure, rolling stock and facilities for the project. Selection of a train operator sooner than later will also allow for operational considerations to be taken into account during the planning, design, and construction phases. Following the request for qualifications, CHSRA will issue a request for proposals next spring, followed by selection of the train operator in the summer of 2017.

In addition, CHSRA released its first sustainability report as part of its effort to highlight the agency’s plans for energy, natural resources, infrastructure, and management of communities and businesses. For example, the transit agency has committed to recycling all steel and concrete used during construction and diverting at least 75 percent of all waste from landfills. In addition, CHSRA is taking steps to use recycled materials whenever possible.

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 passenger rail plays in connecting Americans to sustainable transportation. 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, and 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 with 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.

In Connecticut, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal pressed Amtrak to improve the quality of safety equipment at the Walker’s Dock and Elihu Island rail crossings. The cost to upgrade the safety features at these crossings would cost $902,000, and Blumenthal stated that improving safety would be a better use than the multi-million dollar proposal from the Federal Rail Administration (FRA) to reroute Amtrak high-speed lines. According to First Selectman Rob Simmons, who accompanied Blumenthal, trains must blast their horns at the two crossings because Amtrak never installed the necessary safety equipment to notify engineers when there is a person or vehicle in the crossing. Blumenthal said the issue is far more than just the nuisance of the train horns blasting all day and night, and discussed a fatal train-car collision in Valhalla, N.Y., when a car was caught between the two gates and struck by a train. Blumenthal also raised his concern that the FRA is willing to spend millions on the Northeast Corridor Future plan, but is unwilling or doesn’t care to spend less than $1 million to upgrade crossings that could be potentially deadly.

In addition, Blumenthal released a statement opposing the FRA’s proposal to run a passenger rail line through Old Lyme, as part of the agency’s NEC Future plan. The FRA’s preferred alternative would shift the main rail line northward, west of the Old Saybrook Station and run through several Connecticut and Rhode Island shoreline communities before reconnecting to the existing segment in Kenyon, Rhode Island. This route was first proposed by the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center in Cambridge, MA in the mid-1990s, and was highlighted by the potential to be non-time competitive with airlines. Amtrak examined this 50-mile bypass as part of the NEC electrification project and concluded that, while beneficial, there was no money available to fund the (then) $800 million outlay.

The FRA prefers this route because the existing shoreline route contains a number of sharp curves that would be difficult to straighten from an engineering perspective and are extremely costly. (The existing shoreline route would continue operations in the FRA’s plans and would even receive infrastructure upgrades, but would not see Tier 1 high-speed rail service.)

Many residents of Old Lyme oppose the line running through their backyards, and they’ve found a powerful ally in Senator Blumenthal, who stated, “I am going to fight with every ounce of energy and power to stop this half-baked, hare-brained proposal. Make no mistake: it can and must be stopped. A rail line that avoids urban downtown areas and proceeds through historic and environmentally sensitive areas is a non-starter—dead on arrival.”

Senator Blumenthal has not proposed an alternative to the Old Lyme reroute. Without an alternative, rail service between Boston and New York City would continue to suffer from congestion and poor trip times.

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!

This week the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), released a safety recommendation to tech and navigation companies like Waze and Mapbox, to implement locations of railroad grade crossings into their services and mobile apps. Specifically, the NTSB recommends that more than 200,000 grade crossing locations be included in digital map services in addition to services providing alerts of grade crossings for when drivers approach them. The safety recommendation comes after the NTSB reviewed a crash in which a mapping app played a possible role in taking a driver to a grade crossing where a commuter train crashed into it after the driver got out. Additionally, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has lobbied technology companies for 18 months to add alerts for grade crossings. The FRA has contacted 11 technology companies, including Apple and Microsoft, to integrate its location data of grade crossings.

Following the crash, Google agreed to add audio and visual warnings to Google Maps, based on grade-crossing location data. However, Google has not yet included that feature, even though it has updated the app more than two dozen times for the iPhone since then. The NTSB also noted that Apple and three other companies had also agreed to add crossing data, but the board was uncertain when the companies would do so. As a result of delays to implementing the safety features, FRA administrator Sarah E. Feinberg in September discussed how several recent deaths at rail crossings were not from drivers trying to “beat the train” but were “situations where the driver lost situational awareness, or there weren’t sufficient protections in place to protect the vehicle or provide adequate warning to the driver.” Feinberg chided technology companies for procrastinating on integrating data into mapping applications that “will save many lives.”

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

New York City has more than just the new year to celebrate on January 1, 2017, with the opening of the long-awaited Second Avenue subway. Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) Chairman Thomas Prendergast, along with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, announced the planned opening at the Museum of Modern Art this week. To celebrate the opening of the subway, the MTA is planning a ceremonial ride on December 31. The subway has been under construction since 2007, and the subway line’s $4 billion first phase will run from 63rd Street to 96th Street along Manhattan’s East Side. Its three new stations are expected to reduce crowding on the nearby lines along Lexington Avenue. Additional planned phases for the subway will include new stations along second Avenue as part of the project, though it has been the subject of much criticism for its high cost.

In unfortunate news, a fire destroyed the historic Amtrak train station in Berlin, CT. The 116-year-old station was set to be restored for its historical significance. The station was opened to the public in 1900 and was an active passenger depot until this year. The station was going to be restored through $1.8 million in state and federal grants, while being paired with a new building as a passenger station. Officials stated they will assess the damage and determine what steps can be taken moving forward.

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 New Jersey, two NJ Transit riders are on the verge of becoming board members for the agency. A bill proposed by State Senator Raymond Lesniak, D-Union, was passed 36-0 by the Senate this week and heads to Assembly. The bill will expand NJ Transit's eight-member board to 10-members by adding a bus commuter and a rail commuter as full, voting members. The bill received the endorsement of major commuter groups, including the New Jersey and Delaware Valley Associations of Railroad Passengers and the New Jersey Commuters Action Network. Matt Walters, co-founder of the New Jersey Commuters Action Network, noted that having two regular commuters on the board would allow them to provide monthly, first-hand accounts of reasons why the governor and legislature have to come together to provide dedicated funding for the third-largest transit system in the country.

In Michigan, the Grand Rapids City Commission released a new master plan that focuses on the future of transportation in the city, including bikes, buses and streetcars. Before releasing the Vital Streets plan, a team within the commission researched and collected input and feedback from community members and transportation groups to identify the most important projects, per street, in the city. Most notably, the plan outlines the mode of transport that major roads are best suited for -- whether it be bicycles, trucks, mass transit, bikes, or streetcars or a blend of all. Overall, the Vital Streets plan will guide the city's $22 million planned investment in city streets throughout the next 15 years after voters approved an extension of the city's income tax.

GoTriangle, the agency in North Carolina leading the development of the Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit Project, announced that the Federal Transit Administration approved adding a station at N.C. Central University (NCCU). With the addition of the station, the light-rail system will stretch 17.7 miles from UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill to NCCU in Durham. The new station allows the line to service three major universities (Duke, UNC and NCCU), and is expected to carry nearly 27,000 passenger trips per day by 2040.

Happy Holidays from the NARP Staff! (Programming note: the next Hotline will be posted on Thursday, December 29, 2016.)