Happening Now

Hotline #1,078

August 3, 2018

Rail Passengers See Victory in FY2019 Minibus; WSP Hired To Study HSR Between Seattle and Vancouver; Quiet Zones Delayed On Brightline Route; Sen. Schumer Calls on FRA to Hire More Rail Bridge Inspectors

We Need Your ‘Nose For News’! When you see rail-related news stories, op-eds, editorials, or letters to the editor in your communities, send them along to us! We include them in our social media efforts, along with the weekly Hotline. Send your news items to Bob Brady, [email protected], and we will share it with members. Are you holding a rally, a community meeting, or another kind of rail-advocacy event? We can help spread the word if you send them to us. We can put them on the website, here. Please follow Rail Passengers Association on Facebook and Twitter to stay up to date on all things passenger rail.

Passenger rail advocates struck a major victory this week with the U.S. Senate approving $2.5 billion for intercity passenger rail service. The Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies (THUD) Appropriations Act of 2019 will keep Amtrak long-distance service running nationwide, including the Southwest Chief. Prior to approval of the bill, the Southwest Chief was under threat by Amtrak, which proposed substituting buses for rail service in New Mexico, Kansas, and Colorado.

If this bustitution had gone through, the route would have been severely compromised, but the Rail Passengers Association--both staff, council and membership--has been hard at work over the past few months to ensure the National Network remains intact. This week, everyone’s hard work paid off.

We could not have secured this major win without the help of key allies in the Senate. So please join us in saying “thank you!”

Special thanks also goes out to Senators in New Mexico, Kansas, and Colorado, who sponsored the Southwest Chief amendment. Senators Jerry Moran (R-KS) and Tom Udall (D-NM) filed the bipartisan amendment to maintain train service along the established Southwest Chief route, joined by cosponsors Pat Roberts (R-KS), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Michael F. Bennet (D-CO). Their work was also supported by Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Kamala Harris (D-CA).

"As the divide between urban and rural communities in America continues to expand, passenger-rail services like the Southwest Chief are invaluable in connecting Kansans to the rest of the country while also bringing visitors from out of state to our local communities," Senator Moran said in a press release. “I applaud the bipartisan efforts to keep the Southwest Chief operational for our rural communities and will continue working with Amtrak to make certain this route remains available for the Kansans who need it.”

Importantly, the overall minibus funding bill was passed by a 92-6 vote, with no anti-Amtrak amendments filed--showing that the work our coalition is doing is having a positive effect.

The bill includes:

  • $1.3 billion for Amtrak’s National Network,
  • $650 million for the Northeast Corridor,
  • $255 million for Consolidated Rail Infrastructure & Safety grants,
  • $300 million for Federal State Partnership for State of Good Repair grants, and
  • $10 million for Restoration grants.

The bill also includes $9.9 billion for transit formula grants, $2.5 billion for rail transit grants, and $1 billion for BUILD grants.

Please join us in saying thank you to the senators who voted to pass this important legislation!

Support The Southwest Chief and The National Network

Long-distance rail, including the Southwest Chief, has received significant support in the Senate for FY 2019.

Even with the new bill, our advocacy work will continue and your generous donations can help fund forthcoming campaigns that will help us keep the National Network intact.

Please help us keep up the fight on behalf of America’s passengers.

Other ways in which you can support our advocacy work include:

Ongoing improvement projects by Amtrak at Washington Union Station could cost more than expected and be severely delayed due to schedules for projects not being complete, inaccurate cost estimates and risk mitigation plans not being fully developed. This was revealed in a new report by the Amtrak Office of Inspector General (OIG) and Amtrak officials agreed with the report’s findings. Amtrak is spending $296 million over 10 years to modernize Washington Union Station’s concourse, rehabilitate the station’s sub-basement and improve the rail terminal.

The station has been under renovation already, with one project complete and nine remaining - one has started construction, three are ready to begin construction, and five are in the design phase. It is the nine remaining projects that the OIG highlighted as concerns. The report says that challenges in time and budget exist because Amtrak did not follow Enterprise Program Management Office standards and other project management standards for them.

Despite the concern, the OIG said that Amtrak officials have time to correct any forthcoming issues since the projects are only about to enter the construction stage. This means Amtrak will have to update schedules, revise projected costs, and implement risk-mitigation plans.

"Amtrak is already taking steps to improve the oversight that will ensure timely, on budget delivery of these projects," Amtrak spokeswoman Kimberly Woods said in a statement to Progressive Railroading. "Amtrak's project management standards will improve schedules and cost estimates and allow us to develop risk mitigation plans for each of the projects."

Rail Passengers To Launch Station Volunteer Program

Ever since Amtrak de-staffed train stations this year, there has been enormous outcry and opposition to the decision. We understand that Amtrak ticket agents provide more than just customer service.

They are a friendly face that can provide helpful information and directions for travelers, assist those who need help with luggage, and provide an insightful conversation about train travel.

This is why we are organizing a Station Volunteer Program (SVP).

Through a pilot program that will launch in August at various Amtrak stations, a focused volunteer program can continue to provide a connection to the community as well as continue to be a friendly face for Amtrak passengers.

As the pilot program moves forward, we hope that it will provide a service that so many people have come to rely on over the years.

Please stay tuned for additional information and ways to become a station volunteer.

Engineering consulting firm, WSP, has been selected by the Washington State Department of Transportation to prepare an analysis of a high speed route that will connect Vancouver, Seattle and Portland. For its review of the route, WSP will be charged with:

  • Identifying potential corridors,
  • Refining cost estimates,
  • Estimating ridership, and
  • Analyzing lessons learned from previous HSR projects.

“This project is an exciting opportunity to improve communities, grow the economy, and open doors for people and businesses to prosper across an entire region in a sustainable, future-focused way,” Karen Hedlund, WSP’s Project Manager, said in a press release. “Imagine the impact of a large company in Seattle able to access a workforce in Vancouver that is only an hour away, or a person able to live in a rural community outside of Portland, but commute daily to Seattle.”

WSP’s review will take a deeper dive than a previous report by CH2M from last year. The analysis is expected to be completed by July 2019, and is funded by the WSDOT, Oregon Department of Transportation, British Columbia’s Ministry of Jobs, Trade & Technology and Microsoft Corp.

The HSR line is expected to travel at up to 250 mph and reduce travel time between Seattle and Portland or Vancouver to about an hour.

Construction crews have completed repairs on the Spuyten Duyvil Bridge and are putting the bridge back in place with the use of massive cranes. The bridge is located in the Bronx and will reopen for Amtrak service on September 4; mechanical and electrical repairs were needed following Superstorm Sandy several years ago.

While the Spuyten Duyvil Bridge is out of service, Amtrak trains to and from areas in northern New York have to travel to Grand Central Station as opposed to Penn Station in New York. The work affected 30 trains and about 25,000 customers a week.

Make plans to attend Rail Passengers Association’s RailNation Miami 2018 Advocacy Summit & Meeting in Miami, FL, Friday, October 19 through Sunday, October 21. The host hotel is the Hyatt Regency in Downtown Miami.

RailNation Miami Registration Is NOW Open! Don’t delay...space is limited...register today!

Friday will feature a series of local tours & activities, including an exclusive opportunity to ride a chartered trip on Brightline. Complete information & registration for this these fantastic tours and trips will be available by August 9th.

Saturday will include a full day of advocacy presentations, speakers and panels, followed by an evening reception at the MiamiCentral Station complex benefiting The Jim Hamre Scholarship Fund. A separate Saturday evening concert with live entertainment will also benefit the Hamre Scholarship Fund.

Sunday will cap off the weekend with additional presentations in the morning and a closing lunch with a keynote speaker.

Discounted group-rate room reservations are now available via this link. In addition, the preliminary agenda, program and event information is posted on the RailNation Miami 2018 Event Page!

Quiet Zones on the Brightline route through Broward County in Florida have been delayed until November due to “unforeseen engineering circumstances.” The goal for the quiet zone implementation, which involves enhancing safety features for pedestrian and motorists, was for this summer, but residents will have to continue to hear train horns for a few more months. The challenges posed in Broward involved the need for larger gate houses that had to be custom built, delivered, and installed at crossings with four-quadrant crossing gates.

Along Brightline’s route, quiet zones have been installed and approved at almost every other railroad crossing between Boca Raton and West Palm Beach. Safety upgrades have also been completed in Boynton Beach.

The quiet zones have become essential to the community members living near the crossings, especially since Brightline is increasing daily service offerings. Brightline will increase its weekday schedule, starting Monday, from 11 to 16 round trips. This means that any one railroad crossing will have 32 Brightline trains passing through it Monday through Friday between 5:30 a.m. and 11:10 p.m. In addition to passenger trains, about a dozen freight trains that travel those same tracks mostly overnight.

After Metro-North said it would request an extension for installing Positive Train Control (PTC) technology, Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) asked the railroad to push forward with PTC implementation. If the railroad is not able to meet the December 31, 2018 deadline, then Schumer demanded that Metro-North officials provide a timeline for when they expect installation to be completed.

"Share that timeline with the riders," Schumer said during a news briefing at the New Rochelle train station. "Consumers, customers, riders here in the Hudson Valley deserve safe train service — God knows they're paying enough for it — and it ought to be safe."

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has found that PTC, which can automatically monitor, slow and stop trains, could have prevented numerous train derailments over the years. This includes the 2013 Spuyten Duyvil derailment that involved the Metro-North Harlem Line. The derailment killed four people, injured dozens more and cost the railroad more than $60 million in legal fees.

“The installation of Positive Train Control is imperative to hundreds of thousands of daily commuters and to communities like New Rochelle that rely on a safe and efficient mass transit system. I thank Senator Schumer for his unwavering commitment to getting this lifesaving technology installed and urge Metro-North to be responsive and transparent as this vital process moves forward,” New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson said.

Prior to Metro-North’s proposal to request an extension, the railroad said it would meet the 2018 deadline, but officials said they will meet the Federal Railroad Administration’s threshold for installing equipment and training staff and request a two-year extension this fall.

“Metro-North expects to be in full compliance with the federal PTC regulations. The railroad is maintaining complete transparency, updating the public every month with detailed reports highlighting project status, progress and risks," the railroad said in a statement. "We are working hard to get this done, and have used every possible tool available to expedite PTC implementation.”

#ViewsFromATrain Social Media Contest Continues

We had so many great submissions for our social media branding contest last year, we decided to open a second round for the summer.

The Rail Passengers Association is asking members, friends and family, and the general train-riding public, to share their #ViewsFromATrain on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag #RailPassengers and @RailPassengers.

The pictures should be your own, and should depict what you see outside your train window, whether it’s a photo of countryside, oceans, forests or cities. People who submit photos will have an opportunity to win a variety of great prizes, including 10,000 Amtrak Guest Rewards® Points.

So, if you’re taking a train this summer, take a look out the window and snap a pic or two. We would love to see them!

The Housatonic Railroad Company is beginning work on upgrades to rail tracks between Canaan, CT and Pittsfield, MA.. Although the work is expected to support the full track replacement of freight rail, it could also provide a boost to passenger rail service. It was five years ago that the Housatonic Railroad announced a $200 million plan to restore a passenger service route that would connect the Berkshires to New York City.

William "Smitty" Pignatelli (D-Lenox) said that the track replacement project will help plans currently underway for passenger rail service, but also said passenger service is "not the primary reason for doing this."

As of now, the railroad has started to deliver tracks along the railroad, which will cause delays at every railroad crossing on that route for two weeks. Each crossing will close for 15 minutes, but railroad staff will be on-site to help drivers find detours.

Through September 2, 2018, passengers on the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) commuter line can travel the network for only $10 each weekend. The $10 ticket is good for all Commuter Rail lines and all zones on Saturday and Sunday. This includes 130 stations throughout Massachusetts, including North, South, Back Bay, Rockport, Haverhill, Lowell, Wachussett, Worcester, and Plymouth - several of which connect with Amtrak trains.

For more information, visit: www.mbta.com/projects/10-summer-weekends-commuter-rail.

Member Forum Now Open

Rail Passengers Association has opened a new forum for members on Google Groups. Members can share their gripes and their applause, and trade information on the latest passenger rail-related issues.

Click THIS LINK to sign up. It's free and open to the public, but users must join the group before they are able to post messages.

Member Benefit: Newsletter Archives Complete

A new feature for Members: every monthly Newsletter this organization has produced since the beginning of publication in 1969, can be accessed by logging in here. If you have trouble logging in, or cannot reset your password, please contact membership services.

Central Florida’s SunRail opened 17 miles and four new stations for passenger service this week. Considered its southern expansion people can now ride trains to and from Meadow Woods, Tupperware, Kissimmee and Poinciana. Construction of the additional 17 miles and stations began in 2016 and opened on Monday with a new schedule that allows for more train service during midday and evenings.

With the opening of the new stations, SunRail is offering a “First 50 Free” promotion to passengers whose trip originates at any of the four new southern stations. The promotion runs through August 17, and if a passengers is one of the first 50 riders for each train, the round trip is free.

Passengers were also excited for the new extension opening as it now offers people new opportunities for commuting.

“It’s like the first day of school,” Althea Whittaker said to the Orlando Sentinel as she arrived at the Kissimmee Station. Her previous commute to work took an hour, but the train cut the commute in half.

Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) requested that the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) hire more rail bridge inspectors for New York, as well as the entire nation. The call for action comes after 30 tons of concrete fell from an 80-year-old railroad bridge in Syracuse on July 5. No one was hurt during the incident, but it highlighted the fact that only three bridge inspectors are assigned to 3,000 rail bridges in New York and that only one percent of the 70,000 to 100,000 privately-owned train bridges nationwide are audited in any given year.

“After a portion of a railroad bridge collapsed onto a street in Syracuse, it should serve as an eye-opening wake up call for the Federal Railroad Administration that only three people are responsible for auditing 3,000 privately-owned rail bridges that span across New York State – on top of being responsible for all of the rail bridges in over a dozen of other states. It does not take a rail safety expert to know the math simply doesn’t add up. The fact that safety concerns could be slipping through the cracks makes it clear as day that we must increase the number of inspectors and rail specialists that audit these critical links nationwide,” Senator Schumer said in a press release. “I will continue my push for the FRA to hire more train bridge inspectors so we can ensure that private companies are doing their job and keeping these bridges in top-notch shape. Simply put, we should not be waiting for bridges to collapse and fall onto our streets to do something.”

Schumer said that the FRA plays a vital oversight role, ensuring that the owners of the rail bridges focus on maintenance and follow the required load restrictions for each bridge. The limited number of Bridge Safety Specialists and the overall national inventory of rail bridges raises significant concerns about the specialists’ ability to properly audit the bridges and ensure that they meet design and engineering standards, he added.

Upcoming Regional Rail Passenger & State Association Member Meetings and Other Events:

Please contact Bruce Becker to have a state or regional event or meeting added to the Rail Passengers Association calendar of upcoming events!

Denver’s Regional Transportation District (RTD) has started running more test trains at higher intervals on the delayed G Line. The increase in testing follows the Federal Railroad Administration’s clearance of RTD to run up to six trains for up to 10 hours a day on the route. As testing continues, RTD expects to test trains on a regular daily schedule for 21 hours straight.

"We are excited to see G Line testing ramping up," RTD Chief Executive Officer and General Manager Dave Genova said in a press release. "Safety remains crucial during this time, and while we know that people are as excited as we are to see many trains on the alignment, we ask that they keep an appropriate distance and respect the work taking place on their behalf."

The extensive train testing is required to examine the communication signaling along the G Line, as well as the effectiveness of the communication technology in place at each of its 16 at-grade railroad crossings. If the technology passes testing, RTD can begin passenger service and could implement quiet zones. RTD conductors will sound horns throughout testing.

Official start dates for the full service simulation and passenger service are not yet known.

Apple Maps is expanding its services by including new public transit directions for several U.S. cities in Pennsylvania, Texas, Washington, and Oregon. The directions now include public transit service throughout each of the states and make it easier for travels to navigate the U.S.

Apple has also expanded its map services in Canada for VIA Rail. Popular lines include the Canadian that runs between Toronto and Vancouver and the Ocean running from Montreal to Halifax. There's also a Corridor service between Ontario and Quebec, and several adventure routes offering transportation to rural areas.

Transit directions were first added to Apple Maps in 2015 with the launch of iOS 9, but the company has been expanding its reach ever since.

Openings Available For Rail Passengers Association State Council Representatives

The following vacancies now exist for state representatives on the Rail Passengers Association Council of Representatives: Alabama (1 opening); California (7 openings); Idaho (1 opening); Illinois (1 opening); Louisiana (1 opening); Massachusetts (1 opening); Minnesota (1 opening); North Dakota (1 opening); Ohio (2 openings); Pennsylvania (1 opening); Washington State (1 opening); Wyoming (1 opening)

If you are interested in becoming more involved in passenger rail advocacy and serving in a Rail Passengers Association leadership role, this is your opportunity to be considered for an appointment by the Board of Directors to an open state representative seat. There is no deadline to apply and submissions will be considered on a rolling basis as they are received.

Please review the position responsibilities & required qualifications and complete & submit a Candidate Information Statement if you would like to seek a position.

Vancouver’s TransLink rail transit system gained a high profile fan this summer. After a playful exchange on Twitter, actor Seth Rogen agreed to voice onboard and station announcements for the Canadian transit system.

“I’m from Vancouver, British Columbia and I’m very proud to be from Vancouver. I grew up taking transit my whole life and I still use public transit when I’m in the city,” said Rogen. “I take the Canada line all the time, I go to the Richmond Night Market a lot and parking there is incredibly difficult and I live downtown... when the opportunity came up to be a voice on public transportation I was thrilled.”

Do You Know a ‘Celebrity’?

Rail Passengers Association is looking for people with national star power who will agree to lend their names and faces to a campaign in support of more and better passenger trains. Dan Aykroyd has done a brief video for us, and we’re looking for more celebrities to turn this into an ongoing campaign.

If you personally know someone who has attained celebrity status—an old college roommate who’s become a movie star perhaps, or maybe a former next-door neighbor who’s now a big league ballplayer—let us know. Please email Jim Loomis at [email protected]

If you have closely followed media coverage of the high-speed rail project in California, you are well-aware that it does not shine a positive light on the project. In a story from The Los Angeles Times this past week, reporter Ralph Vartabedian reiterates one side of the story that makes the project appear as if it is a complete mess and that the state is wasting billions.

This is not to say that the HSR project does not have its challenges, but it is not without its benefits either. These were fairly portrayed in a New York Times story that was also released this past week.

For an in-depth look at how two sides of the same project are portrayed, please visit Streets Blog California’s new post. The post even states, “If you only read one high-speed rail article this week, we recommend the piece in the NYT, which paints a much more balanced picture of a project that has faced a lot of adversity, but is getting built anyway.” It’s getting built because it is important to the economic future of California and its ability to connect people throughout a state.

Metro Transit in St. Louis began MetroLink light-rail service on July 31 to its newly opened Cortex station. It is the agency’s first new light-rail station in more than 10 years and is centrally located in the Cortex Innovation Community, a technology and bioscience research center.

Metro Transit officials held a dedication ceremony at 10 a.m. to signal the opening of the $15 million station. The Cortex MetroLink Station was supported through public and private funding. The U.S. Department of Transportation provided a $10.3 million TIGER grant to help construct the station in 2014, and the other costs were covered by the Cortex Innovation Community and local partners, including Washington University.