Happening Now

Hotline #996

December 29, 2016

TEX Rail Receives $500 Million Transit Grant, FRA Plan Includes ReRouting in Maryland; FRA Issues Nearly $16 Million in Civil Penalties

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 Transit Administration announced it will support the TEX Rail project with a $499 million grant through its highly-competitive Capital Investment Grant program. TEX Rail is a 27-mile commuter rail line that will connect downtown Fort Worth with Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW), including stops along the way in fast-growing suburban areas like North Richland Hills and Grapevine.

The FTA outlined its support for the vision:

According to the Census Bureau, the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area saw the second-largest population growth in the nation from 2014 to 2015 – growth that is expected to continue as the regional economy continues to add jobs and opportunities.

All of that growth, while welcome for a dynamic economy, puts a lot of strain on transportation infrastructure. Fort Worth commuters can testify to the difficulty of continuing to rely solely on roads and interstates bursting with traffic.

With TEX Rail, the Fort Worth Transportation Authority (“The T”) is embracing a regional approach to public transportation – not only by connecting with communities throughout Tarrant County and beyond, but also by linking to other transportation options like Dallas Area Rapid Transit, Amtrak, the Trinity Railway Express, and the T bus system.

City officials in Oxford, OH, could spend up to $350,000 in support of a new Amtrak station. The support comes after Oxford City Council members heard a presentation earlier in December that outlined the plans which were prepared by the seven-member Joint Miami-Oxford Amtrak Committee. All City Council members expressed support for having an Amtrak stop in the city and said they were willing to spend money on the project. The proposal would add a stop on Amtrak’s Cardinal Line which runs from New York to Chicago. The eastbound train comes through Oxford in the early morning hours, three mornings a week. There is also a possibility of expansion of service as part of the Hoosier State Line that connects Indianapolis and Chicago. Currently, local people seeking to ride the Cardinal Line can board it in Cincinnati, OH (about 40 miles from Oxford) or in Connersville, IN (about 25 miles from Oxford).


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.

As part of the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) plans for upgrading the Northeast Corridor, major rerouting could take place in Maryland. The proposal for Maryland’s Amtrak line would help shorten travel time for passengers traveling between D.C. and New York, but the work would require significant support from state and federal governments. Overall, the proposal would straighten the route to make it more direct, as well as avoiding two older bridges north of Baltimore. As a result, it would require investment and land acquisitions along existing freight rail and highway corridors in Baltimore, Harford, and Cecil Counties. A price is not currently fixed to the proposed changes in Maryland, but the entirety of the NEC upgrade is expected to cost up to $128 billion. This cost includes $50 billion for all the tracks and track structures needed, and the new stations recommended are estimated to cost up to $8 billion.

In other news from the FRA, the federal agency enforced $15.75 million in civil penalties for fiscal-year 2016. According to the FRA, this is a four percent increase from 2015 and is the highest-ever civil penalty collection rate the agency has enforced in 50 years of existence. More than 6,268 railroad violations resulted in civil penalties. Penalties were issued to both passenger and freight railroads, hazardous materials shippers, and other organizations that violated federal safety regulations. The FRA expects to collect 79 percent of the civil penalties it issued.

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.

With high interest in a higher-speed rail line from Chicago, IL to Columbus, OH, the Northern Indiana Passenger Rail Association (NIPRA) announced that the FRA will conduct an alternatives analysis and solicit public input. The alternative analysis and public engagement process will include an examination of preliminary engineering, technical analyses, service planning, and environmental impacts along the proposed route. The route, with trains initially traveling at up to 75 mph, would also include a stop in Fort Wayne, IN. The top speed of trains could eventually increase to 110 mph. The FRA will provide technical assistance throughout the process. Cities and businesses along the corridor are paying $350,000 for the analysis. The study is to start in January 2017 and is expected to be completed by late fall 2017.

The Kansas City Streetcar Authority (KCSA) is looking to extend the city’s streetcar system to the northern riverfront. To study the feasibility of a potential streetcar extension, a team led by consulting firm Burns and McDonnell has been selected by KCSA. The primary study area for the effort extends from downtown Kansas City, MO, and the River Market to the Missouri River and Berkley Riverfront Park. The area is bounded on the west by BNSF Railway Co. right-of-way.

End of the Year Donations Support A Connected America

As we enter the last week 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.

If you have any questions about donations, please call or email Betsy Nelson at 509-879-8012 or [email protected]. Don’t forget that year-end donations must be made by December 31 to be considered tax-deductible for the 2016 tax year.

Thank you for your support!

The Maryland Transit Administration is making traveling with a bike easier for commuters on Maryland’s MARC trains. The transit agency will install multiple bike racks on its trains for passengers who plan to travel with their bikes. According to officials, there will be at least one bike car for every train serving the three MARC lines that run between Baltimore and Washington, D.C. In addition, the agency wants to provide riders with a first- and last-mile solution for commuters and offer an alternative transportation option as more people start biking in Baltimore and Washington.

The Solutionary Rail book, a blueprint for a steel interstate that joins passenger rail, freight rail, and utility transmissions, is now available for purchase. The book offers an antidote to the current division in our country and a platform for communication between the many sectors of this society whose lives intersect with the railroads. The author, Bill Moyer, presented to the NARP Council during our Fall meeting in Denver.

The Solutionary Rail book describes how we draw people together across differences to:

  • Electrify U.S. rail lines, starting with the Northern Transcontinental from Seattle to Chicago (and more).

  • Power the trains with renewable energy, abundant in large swaths of middle America.

  • Utilize railroad rights-of-way to transmit renewable electricity to urban centers.

  • Make improvements to tracks and scheduling to improve service and better the lives of workers.

  • Lure freight off trucks and airplanes, undermine the profitability of fossil fuel transport, and displace that cargo with high value freight - resulting in better passenger service as well.

Solutionary Rail is hosting a gala event to launch the campaign on January 7 -- RSVP HERE. NARP members and affiliates are invited to attend the Solutionary Rail Campaign Gala Launch at Tacoma's gorgeous and historic Union Station. The event is 3-5pm Saturday January 7, 2017 at Union Station in Tacoma, WA.

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

Last week, the New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers wrote a letter to Amtrak President and CEO Wick Moorman. The letter, which is the second sent by the association, requested that Amtrak plan a stop at the Frank R. Lautenberg Rail Station in Secaucus, NJ. NJ-ARP notes that the station “brings together most of NJ Transit’s rail lines” and adding an Amtrak stop at the station could add 1.4 million potential customers to the rail agency. NJ-ARP also highlights Amtrak’s Keystone train as a potential option.

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) and Boston Carmen’s Union Local 589 have finally reached a new collective bargaining agreement after several months of negotiations. According to the transit agency, the new agreement "will save the MBTA $80 million over the next four years and more than $750 million over the next 25 years while also fundamentally reforming overtime and other long-standing work rules to lower MBTA costs and improve productivity." The agreement, which runs from January 1, 2017 through June 30, 2021, "protects certain elements of core work currently performed by Local 589 members, such as operating buses and subway vehicles," according to the MBTA.

Post-Holiday Shopping Can Save You Money AND Support Our Work!

Your post-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.

It was announced this week that the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) will install free Wi-Fi on the city’s Metro system. Implementation of the Wi-Fi will start in the summer of 2017, with expected completion in 2018 for all Metro stations. Metro decided to move forward with the Wi-Fi after a pilot program tested free public Wi-Fi will at six Metro stations and received positive feedback from riders. The stations: Metro Center, Gallery Place, Judiciary Square, Union Station, Archives, and L’Enfant Plaza, will continue to have uninterrupted Wi-Fi service.

Metra riders at Chicago Union Station often breathe in high levels of pollution caused by diesel trains. Metra has tried to improve the cleanliness of its trains over the years, but often experienced delays in implementing cleaner systems. In 2017, Illinois will collect nearly $100 million for anti-pollution projects from a federal legal settlement with Volkswagen, the German automaker that installed secret software in nearly a half-million diesel vehicles to make them appear cleaner than they actually were. The settlement between the state and the automaker notes that the money must be used to reduce lung- and heart-damaging nitrogen oxides emitted by diesel trains, buses, ferries and equipment. Governor Bruce Rauner has not stated if the money will be spent on trains, but Metra, the Chicago Transit Authority and other potential recipients already are working with the administration to secure a share.

Happy New Year from the NARP Staff! (Programming note: Next week’s Hotline will return to regular schedule on Friday, January 6, 2017)