Happening Now

Hotline #999

January 19, 2017

California high-speed rail project clears important legal hurdle; FTA proposes new signal system regulations; Amtrak to offer extended service for Inauguration, Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor Proposal Generating Opposition

Hotline #999: California high-speed rail project clears important legal hurdle; FTA proposes new signal system regulations; Amtrak to offer extended service for Inauguration, Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor Proposal Generating Opposition


Check Out Our Newest Hotline! 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 California High-Speed Rail Authority announced yesterday that it reached a settlement with Kern County, clearing the final California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) litigation for the Fresno to Bakersfield rail segment. The agreement will allow work to progress in the Central Valley which already features more than 119 miles of active construction.

“This agreement represents our continued commitment to working with all of our partners across the state to resolve issues that allow us to move the program forward,” said Authority CEO Jeff Morales. The Authority also cited the many small business opportunities and jobs that will flow to the Central Valley as a result of the rail corridor.

The high-speed rail link between the Central Valley and Silicon Valley is scheduled to be complete by 2024, with passenger service beginning in 2025.

The settlement is a good news in a week that began with yet another attack from Los Angeles Times columnist Ralph Vartabedian, who reported a draft Federal Railroad Administration risk assessment as a damning indictment of the project. Silicon Valley Business Journal called the claims into question, pointing out that these risk assessment documents are used to identify potential problems in order to avoid them.

“The misleading story inaccurately portrayed a risk analysis document describing a hypothetical scenario as concrete findings,” Authority spokesperson Lisa Marie Alley told the Business Journal. “The figures presented in the risk assessment document by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) are not conclusions or estimates, are not presented as such, and should not be represented as such; they are a projection of things that could potentially occur and are developed as a management tool.”

Federal Transit Administration officials released new regulations designed to prevent transit systems, including Washington’s Metro, from running red lights and putting pedestrians at risk. A FTA companion report studying signal systems in Metro found that operators had not been trained properly to understand the signal systems. The proposed rules create a framework for why overrunning a red signal is dangerous and provides, for the first time, a definition for what is considered a signal overrun. According to the FTA, a signal overrun includes, “a revenue or non-revenue rail transit vehicle passing any signal displaying a visual aspect that indicates to an operator that a train does not have authority to proceed.”

While explaining why regulating the signal system is imperative to transit safety Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx stated, “While rail transit is the safest mode of surface transportation, focus on improving stop signal safety should be a top priority for everyone who is responsible for the safety of transit operations.” The proposed rules would require transit authorities to, “perform a risk evaluation for signal overruns; monitor the roll-out and effectiveness of the strategies they use to prevent such incidents and if necessary, develop a corrective action plan to stop the problem.” The rules are in a public comment period until March 20.

As Washington D.C. braces for an influx of people to attend the Presidential Inauguration this Friday, Amtrak will offer extra trains and seats for customers interested in attending before and after the event. Additionally, Acela Express and the Northeast Regional train will offer extended service between Friday and Monday.

“Our customers who have traveled with us in the past know that there is no better way to get into and out of D.C. during Inauguration week than with Amtrak,” said Jason Molfetas, Amtrak EVP/Chief Marketing and Sales Officer. “Many of the streets into the city will be closed in the days leading up to the Inauguration, and Amtrak takes you right into the heart of the activities. Many of the Inauguration events and festivities are just blocks away from Union Station.”

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.

A $120-billion plan to improve the Northeast Corridor by expanding capacity and cutting trip time is facing opposition from lawmakers in Connecticut and Rhode Island. The opposition claims that the proposed plan would force tracks to cut through farmland, wetlands, and private property along a 35-mile stretch, with trains running at speeds up-to 220 mph. Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Governor Dannel Malloy are opposed to the proposal. Pending approval and implementation, the upgraded and accelerated tracks would add 22 new stations along the northeast corridor, increasing access to Baltimore/Washington International Airport and Philadelphia International Airport.

Vermont's Agency of Transportation has finalized a study on the feasibility of commuter rail service that would link Burlington, the state's largest city, with St. Albans to the north and Montpelier to the east. The study, released to the public on January 18, offered what it termed “conceptual” possibilities for the service. One scenario would provide a total of six round-trips each weekday, the other 11. The study pegged operating costs at $4.9 million for the former and $8.9 million for the latter scenario, not including the cost of liability insurance. Capital costs for the service would run between $301-$363 million, assuming, among other things, six or seven locomotive-hauled train sets, each with six passenger cars.

While the study was still in draft form, commenters sought consideration of diesel multiple units as a means of shaving capital and operating costs. The finalized study added some mention of DMUs, but noted – incorrectly – that “currently (as of January 2017) there are no DMUs in operation in the United States,” and did not include DMUs as an assumption in any of its scenarios' cost accountings.

Reacting to the project's anticipated capital budget in a December interview, state representative Dave Potter, Transportation Committee vice chair in the Vermont House of Representatives, predicted that the project would only proceed incrementally, if at all, given the upfront costs.

Passenger rail advocates are skeptical of the cost estimates, however, the refusal to give DMUs serious consideration was a main point of contention. As examples of exaggerated costs, veteran Vermont rail advocate Carl Fowler pointed to the study's insistence on high-level platforms and its call for two stations in Montpelier, as well as the DMU issue.

“The study is severely flawed by careless editing and contains substantial numbers of misstatements. It's like they did 52-card pickup,” he said, describing the study – performed for the Vermont agency by Boston-based HDR - as, “done to give the Legislature a rationale to proceed no further.”

He expressed support for the alternative of further extending Amtrak's Ethan Allen Express - already slated for extension from its current Rutland terminus to Burlington in the next four years - to either St. Albans or Montpelier. If the Ethan Allen were to reach Burlington from the south in the late afternoon and leave for the south in mid-morning, he said, the further extension, “could provide an experiment with commuter rail at very low cost.”

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].

Even though Missouri lost a half a million dollars in funding due to budget cuts, the Amtrak service is expected to run through the state without a hitch. According to the director of multimodal programs at the MIssouri Department of Transportation Michelle Teel, frequent users of the Missouri River Runner Train line should expect a fully operational service. Currently, Missouri pays Amtrak $9.6 million to operate two trains that run from St. Louis to Kansas City, and as a result of budget cuts will now owe the passenger rail $500,000, as of July 1. A possible negotiation may fall upon fare hikes as an option to compensate for the funding gap.

The City of Cleveland has been granted an extension by the Federal Transit Administration to pay back multi-million dollar grant for a breach of contract. The Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority is expected to pay the FTA $12 million due to city officials closing the Public Square preventing buses from traveling through.

Two Weeks Left to 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 San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority would like to add another train service,The Sacramento Morning Express, between Fresno and Sacramento. The train line already runs two daily roundtrips between Bakersfield and Sacramento and five daily roundtrips between Bakersfield and Oakland. Before the Authority will move forward it would like to receive customer feedback to plan the most efficient route possible. If you live in the area and would like to participate, fill out the survey here.

Minneapolis’ Metro Transit Green Line saw a 2.5 percent increase in ridership in 2016 compared to the previous year. The line has seen an increase in its ridership for the second consecutive year and recorded 12.7 million rides in 2016. The line averages a weekday ridership of 39,386 rides and is nearing its initial projection of 41,000 weekday rides by 2030.

Miami University (Ohio) had committed to matching the city of Oxford, Ohio for $350,000, to pay for an Amtrak stop. The train stop will provide greater access to the city for students, their parents, and Miami Alumni. Currently Amtrak’s New York-to-Chicago line passes through city.

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

The Phoenix South Central Light Rail is expected to be completed by 2023. The Federal Transit Authority granted the extension environmental approval which will allow the the final design components to begin. The proposed five-mile project will connect with the current light rail system in downtown Phoenix and run south to Baseline Road.

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.