Happening Now

Hotline #998

January 13, 2017

Appointed DOT Head supports enhancing private-public partnerships; Chicago awarded $1 Billion grant for track improvements; SMART offering free rides through July 4; Florida rail service Brighline reveals new trains; Vice President “Amtrak

Hotline #998: Appointed DOT Head supports enhancing private-public partnerships; Chicago awarded $1 Billion grant for track improvements; SMART offering free rides through July 4; Florida rail service Brighline reveals new trains; Vice President “Amtrak Joe” Biden will leave D.C. via train


New Hotline Fresh Off the Press! 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.


Elaine Chao, the appointed head for the Department of Transportation, sailed through her Senate confirmation hearing in which she touted the President-Elect’s infrastructure plan and called for a variety of funding tools to rebuild America’s infrastructure. While she supports Trump’s plan to use private financing to implement the infrastructure plan, she also indicated that the new administration would be open to direct federal spending on transportation, mirroring Trump’s hope of forming greater private-public partnerships.

“As we work together to develop the details of President Trump's infrastructure plan, it is important to note the significant difference between traditional program funding and other innovative financing tools, such as public-private partnerships,” Chao said.

Committee members asked Chao, who didn’t delve into specifics of the plan, to provide deeper insight to the the infrastructure plan within the next 30 days; Chao offered no guarantees, but said she would try.

Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CN) asked Chao for her commitment to meeting a December 2018 deadline to install positive train control, an automated safety technology designed to prevent derailments and crashes.

“I hope to get briefed on this,” said Chao. “And if there is a deadline, as you mentioned, of that particular date, I will look at it very seriously.”

“You have promised,” Blumenthal responded. “And I hope the promise, again, is not just to be briefed but also to take action. Because we've seen in the Northeast the consequences of the failure to implement it in a number of rail catastrophes that have happened.”

The Obama Administration awarded Chicago a $1 billion grant for improvements to two of its main transit lines. The grant will focus on improving tracks between the city and its northern suburbs, renovating four stations, and purchasing new railcars for the lines. The two “L” train lines are some of the most heavily frequented in Chicago and are in need of some major renovations, with tracks and embankments over 100 years old. The funds for the grant will be provided over a nine year period, while $622 million will be raised by local funding through a special transit tax-increment financing district.

New York and New Jersey Port Authority Commissioner Richard Bagger, the former Chief-of-Staff to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, was elected chairman to the newly formed Gateway Development Corporation in its first meeting on Thursday. The move allowed the GDC -- tasked with overseeing planning and design, environmental review, engineering, and construction of Amtrak’s Gateway Project -- to take the first step towards securing low cost loans from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The Gateway Project includes upgrades and expansion of rail infrastructure connecting New York to New Jersey. One of the most important tasks is providing redundancy to the Hudson River Tunnels, a pair of 106-year old tubes which need to be shut down to provide much-needed maintenance. Gateway will also replace the Portal Bridge across the Hackensack River, upgrade the tracks in Secaucus Junction, and expand facilities at Penn Station in New York City.

A deal, brokered in party by Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Cory Booker (D-NJ), secured a commitment from the federal government to funding half of Gateway Project’s $23 billion price tag, with New York and New Jersey matching the remaining 50 percent.

CALLING ALL MEMBERS: Apply for the position of Secretary of the NARP Board

Bill Hutchison has stepped down as Secretary of the NARP Board to help his significant other, Nan, with her health issues. We wish both of them well. Bill has served in various council and board positions in the past and his ideas and insight were appreciated. This now creates a vacancy for the Secretary of the Board, a very important, detail-oriented position. It involves keeping the minutes of our monthly conference calls, organizing our agenda for the meetings and being able to attend two and possibly three face-to-face meetings a year. Board positions are voluntary and are not compensated. The unexpired term is through the April 2018 meeting.

To be eligible to apply you must: (1) Be a dues paying member in good standing of the Association; (2) Have been a Representative or Director for at least one complete term;

(3) Be a registered voter
Please complete and submit this form if you are interested in seeking appointment as the Secretary of the NARP Board of Directors. DEADLINE TO APPLY IS JANUARY 20, 2017

Vice President Joe Biden plans to leave Washington D.C. and return to Delaware after inauguration the same way he has for over four decades, by way of an Amtrak train.Amtrak Joe,” a name he’s acquired over the years for his frequent use of Amtrak, has remained loyal to the train line and has advocated for its use while he assumed his role as Vice President.

Brightline, a high-speed rail line under construction in Florida, revealed their first train set on Wednesday. BrightBlue, which consists of two locomotives and four passenger coaches, will be followed by other train sets with names like BrightOrange and BrightGreen. If all goes according to Brightline’s plans, it will become the first privately owned and operated rail service in over 100 years in the U.S. The service will connect stations in West Palm Beach, Ft. Lauderdale, Miami and eventually Orlando when the service is fully complete by 2018. Brightlight President Mike Reininger expects to serve nearly 5 million passengers a year when the train line is fully completed.

NARP Offers First Student Fellowship

This spring, NARP will offer its first student Fellowship opportunity at the association’s annual Spring Council Meeting and Day on the Hill (April 25, 2017). The Fellowship will include a number of hands-on learning experiences in public policy and administration focused on transportation issues, including opportunities to meet with members of Congress and their staffs, as well representatives from the US Department of Transportation, Amtrak, and various rail trade associations and interest groups.

The Fellowship will be geared towards students whose academic or career interests are in transportation, railroads, political science, public policy, public administration, urban and regional planning, and business or nonprofit/association management. This is an all-expense paid opportunity that will afford students great networking opportunities and a chance to understand the workings of a non-profit. This fellowship is open to both undergraduate and graduate students who are U.S. citizens or legal residents and enrolled as a full-time student as a U.S. accredited college or university.

We are also looking for college and university faculty/staff who can help promote and advertise NARP’s Spring Fellowship Program. If you, or someone you know, can help, please contact Betsy at the email address below.

Applications for the fellowship are available at www.narprail.org/fellowship. Additional information can be requested by contacting Betsy Nelson, Director, Resource Development [email protected].

The Northern Central Texas Council of Governments has chosen Lockwood, Andrews, & Newman Inc. to lead a team to develop a planning study for a high-speed rail station in downtown Dallas. The study will provide the NCTCOG, the city of Dallas, and other agencies involved in developing the high-speed rail service in Texas with information necessary for evaluating potential station locations, examining compatibility with station location and design proposed by Texas Central Partners; and developing a station area plan that advances Dallas’ economic development. As of now there are three high-speed rail corridors in Texas under consideration for development; Texas Central Partners' privately funded Dallas-to-Houston line, the Texas Department of Transportation's proposed Oklahoma-Texas line, and the Core Express Service (CES) route between Dallas and Fort Worth.

The Southern Rail Commission issued Mobile, Alabama, a grant worth $125,000 in order to begin development of a new passenger rail station downtown. Mobile is one of four cities, including Tuscaloosa, Anniston, and Birmingham, to receive grants for train-related projects from the SCR. Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson believes by developing a new passenger rail station, the city will greatly benefit from the hopeful boom in tourism and the added new mode of transportation for its residents.

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 intern can develop their own plan that connects them by rail, bicycle, boat, or foot to any number of potential destinations of their choosing. That could mean they choose to visit Major League Baseball stadiums, national parks, foodie destinations, or state capitals that use passenger rail networks including the national Amtrak network.

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 for 2017, 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.

The Federal Railroad Administration has selected a prefered route for the proposed passenger railway service between Tucson and Phoenix, Arizona. The prefered route known as the “yellow corridor alternative” will utilize established Arizona Department of Transportation and Union Pacific rights of way. The “yellow corridor alternative” appeared to outweigh the other options in almost every aspect and according to the FRA the route was cost efficient and outperformed the others. It would also provide shorter trip times to a larger percentage of passengers and had fewer environmental impacts. In 2013, the expected costs to build the yellow corridor reached $4.5 billion.

The recent train car derailment on the Long Island Railroad has led to unease among three U.S. Senators, who have called on the National Transportation Safety Board to review the implementation of passenger railroads’ testing for sleep apnea amongst its conductors. Senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker (both D-N.J.) and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) are putting pressure on the NTSB for not implementing the necessary testing fast enough.

Make plans NOW to attend NARP’s Spring 2017 Advocacy Summit & Meeting in Washington, DC - Sunday, April 23 through Wednesday, April 26, 2017. NARP’s 2017 ‘Action Day On The Hill’ & Congressional Reception will be held on Tuesday, April 25, 2017.

The Host Hotel is again the Sheraton Silver Spring (MD,) which is located just three blocks from the Metro Red Line Silver Spring station. Discounted group rate room reservations are now available. Don't delay...discounted rooms sold out quickly last year!

And Save These Dates!

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

Birmingham, Alabama; Omaha, Nebraska; Albuquerque, New Mexico; Charlotte, North Carolina; Tacoma, Washington, have been chosen by The U.S. Federal Transit Administration and Smart Growth America to be included in the National Public Transportation/Transit-Oriented Development Technical Assistance Initiative. This initiative offers technical assistance to lower-income communities to create “equitable, compact, mixed-use development” along public transit corridors or near stations. Multiple cities like Kansas City, Missouri, San Antonio, Texas and Stamford, Connecticut have received assistance from the initiative.

The Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit will be offering free rides through July 4th and half off rides through Labor Day. According to SMART’s spokesperson Jeanne Mariani-Belding, train service between Airport Boulevard and San Rafael is scheduled to begin in late spring, while regular fares are expected to resume September 5th.

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.