Happening Now

Hotline #1,080

August 17, 2018

Call Your Rep to Secure National Network; NY State Reps Call On Amtrak to Reconsider Toys for Tots; Passenger Rail Makes Progress on PTC; Hartford Line Allows Bikes; LA Metro Implements Security Screening Devices

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.

TAKE ACTION TODAY! Call Your Representative to Pass the Transportation Bill, Secure the National Network

With August halfway done, it’s important that we continue our work in support of passenger rail and Amtrak’s National Network. Members of the U.S. House are back in their home districts for recess, and they need to hear from you that their constituents support the FY2019 transportation appropriations bill. You can click on the link below in blue for help reaching your representative.

When calling your Representative, ask them to support the higher FY19 funding levels and the Southwest Chief provision in the minibus (HR 6147). This is especially important if you live in ILLINOIS, IOWA, MISSOURI, KANSAS, COLORADO, NEW MEXICO, ARIZONA, and CALIFORNIA.

Keep your comments short, to-the-point and non-confrontational and don’t make personal attacks. That is the way to make sure we keep winning this fight!

This request is even more timely given an Amtrak employee advisory for the SW Chief that was distributed this week that announced that no final decisions have been made on the route and that its executives will be touring the line next week. We have Congress on our side, but constituents must advocate loudly for this bill to make sure it isn’t watered down in conference.

In addition to the SW Chief provision, the bill includes robust funding for various Rail Passengers’ priorities:

  • $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 Partnerships for State of Good Repair grants;
  • $10 million for Restoration grants;
  • $9.9 billion for transit formula grants;
  • $2.5 billion for rail transit grants; and
  • $1 billion for BUILD grants.

Please reach out to your Representatives to let them know you support inclusion of the SW Chief provision in the funding minibus and the higher funding levels for passenger rail and transit.

U.S. Reps. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.), John Faso (R-N.Y.) and Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) have asked Amtrak to reconsider its decision to end its partnership with Toys for Tots. The charitable nonprofit runs annual charter trains that allow the organization to distribute toys and Santa Claus.

Amtrak alerted Toys for Tots to the end of the partnership earlier this month, saying its decision is in line with its new guideline to no longer run private and charter trains. Amtrak said its “objective is to operate its core, scheduled train service safely, on time, and efficiently, and must therefore decline to operate this charter.”

The three New York legislators wrote in a letter to Amtrak President and CEO Richard Anderson that, “We are aware that Amtrak has established a new policy for the operation of charter trains and believe it has every right to do so. However, ending this important holiday charter service will negatively affect the neediest in our communities and discontinue a positive charitable action that has brought great recognition to Amtrak's reputation in the eyes of many.”

The representatives also said, “This program is about supporting our community and remembering people who are less fortunate during the holiday season. We ask you to consider the special circumstances involved here and act to preserve this unique and deeply valued Toys for Tots charter.”

Under the new charter train policies from Amtrak:

  • Charter Trains must operate on existing Amtrak routes;
  • Charter Trains must not be one-time trips;
  • Charter Trains proposing to use Amtrak resources such as equipment and crews are subject to the availability of those Amtrak resources without impact on regularly scheduled operations
  • Charter Trains must generate sufficient financial benefit for Amtrak to justify the Amtrak resources and assets;
  • All Charter Train terms and conditions are subject to a final written agreement signed by Amtrak and the commercial charter customer.

So far, there’s no response from Amtrak.

Last week, Rail Passengers Association President Jim Mathews also called on Amtrak to re-think its stance on Toys for Tots.

“We can certainly understand the need to focus [Amtrak] on getting better at its core mission,” Mathews said, noting that Rail Passengers Association supports many of the steps Amtrak is taking to improve its service. However, “while we realize that Amtrak has a lot to do to put its operational house in order, Amtrak has also said it would consider charters and special trains on an individual basis. Abruptly terminating a unique program that simultaneously supports needy kids and our veterans seems unnecessarily harsh. Some other solution should have been worked out. What better example of a worthy beneficiary for ‘case-by-case’ consideration could there be?”

Join Rail Passengers Association and Start Your Career in Transportation!

Location: Colorado + California

Rail Passenger Association - Regional Organizer: This is an entry level position intended for candidates at the start of their political organizing career. Candidate will work at the grassroots level to engage existing advocates, build out membership, and develop relationships with legislative and local transportation officials. [Find out more about the position.]

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 nationwide Station Volunteer Program (SVP).

Through this pilot program that will launch this month at various Amtrak stations, we’ll help concerned members like you help to continue to provide a connection to the community and a friendly face for Amtrak passengers.

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO BE TRAINED AND SERVE AS A STATION VOLUNTEER, please send an email with your interest to [email protected] . Please stay tuned for additional information and ways to become a station volunteer.

American Public Transportation Association (APTA) President and CEO Paul P. Skoutelas defended what he called “strong and continuous progress” on installing and implementing positive train control (PTC), even though several agencies likely won’t make the Dec. 31, 2018, deadline for PTC installation.

APTA released an updated look at where commuter-rail agencies stand on implementing this life-saving technology.

The organization closely reviewed information from transit agencies--like SEPTA and Metra--through June 30, and found the following:

  • 91 percent of spectrum has been acquired;
  • 85 percent of 13,698 pieces of onboard equipment have been installed on locomotives and cab cars;
  • 79 percent of 14,083 wayside installations have been completed;
  • 78 percent of back office control systems are ready for operation;
  • 74 percent of 14,847 employees have been trained in PTC; and
  • 34 percent of commuter railroads are in testing, revenue service demonstration, or are operating their trains with PTC.

“Every year, 30 commuter railroads across America safely carry passengers on 501 million trips,” Skoutelas said. “With safety as our number one priority, the commuter railroads are making strong and continuous progress in implementing Positive Train Control.”

Despite the progress, several agencies, such as NJ Transit, will not meet the December 31, 2018, deadline for installing PTC. Agencies that do not meet the deadline will have to qualify for a two-year extension from the Federal Railroad Administration. If approved, commuter railroads must implement PTC no later than Dec. 31, 2020.

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 is now available on the RailNation Miami 2018 Event Page.

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!

San Francisco’s Transbay Transit Center opened on Saturday with a big celebration that was the culmination of decades of planning and construction. The Center is a new intermodal transit hub for the city and will act as a place for people to gather, shop, eat and travel. It currently serves as a bus terminal, and will eventually connect with Caltrain and California’s high-speed rail service.

“Salesforce Transit Center represents San Francisco at our best. It reflects our commitment to innovation, transportation, environmental sustainability, and community development,” San Francisco Mayor London Breed said. “I would like to thank our federal and state leaders, our regional partners, and the Transbay Joint Powers Authority for creating a world-class, technologically advanced, and sustainably built Transit Center for the people of the Bay Area, today and for future generations.”

Mayor Breed was joined by House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and regional, state and federal leaders for the $2.26-billion Center’s opening. The new hub, which spans four blocks and includes four above ground levels and two below ground levels, includes a variety of services and amenities for people, ilke:

  • Pop-up retail
  • Public art program
  • Shopping
  • Restaurants
  • A 5.4-acre public park on the roof

A second phase of construction is set to connect the hub with Caltrain and HSR. The $4-billion Downtown Extension Project will provide underground rail for 1.3 miles between 4th and King and the Transit Center including an underground station at 4th and Townsend. Although completion of the project depends on funding, it’s estimated that the second phase of the Center will be completed in 2028.

#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 or #ViewsFromATrain and tagging @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!

Restrooms on the Hartford Line in Connecticut are now open and available for use. Although the commuter line opened in June, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) said they did not meet the Americans with Disabilities Act standards and ordered the restrooms be locked. The announcement that the restrooms were now open was made by the Connecticut Department of Transportation (CTDOT) after the state renovated the restrooms to meet federal requirements.

The FRA had ruled the restrooms must be closed because of two complaints that were received from the National Disability Rights Network. The cars used on the Hartford Line are 30 years old and have been leased for three years from the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.

Rail Passengers Association Members’ Online 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.

Transit projects across the country have not received federal funding and have stalled development due to the Trump administration not allocating the $1.4 billion that was approved by Congress, Transportation For America (TFA) officials said. Overall 17 projects in cities like Dallas, Sacramento, Reno, Minneapolis/St. Paul and others have not received any federal support from the Federal Transit Administration (FRA), which has the authority to approve and distribute funding. As a result, TFA said that workers are waiting to hear about jobs, costs of materials are rising, and travelers are “left wondering when FTA will do their job and get these projects moving.”

“When it comes to funding for infrastructure, this administration has repeatedly made it clear they expect states and cities to pick up part of the tab,” Beth Osborne, Transportation for America senior policy advisor said in a blog post from the advocacy group. “Yet these communities are doing exactly what the administration has asked for by committing their own dollars to fund these transit projects—in some cases, going to the ballot box to raise their own taxes—and yet still the administration does nothing.”

TFA, city and state officials, and other transit advocacy groups are awaiting word from the administration on when major funding will be provided this year for important projects.

TFA is keeping a close eye on the timeframe, having placed a clock on its website that is counting the time since March 2018 - when funding could first be allocated.

To see the full list of projects TFA said are awaiting federal funding and the counter, please click here.

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!

Portland, OR will have a Southwest Corridor light rail line run 12 miles down the center of Southwest Barbur Boulevard. Although not a final approval for the light-rail, the city’s steering committee voted to support the proposed route, which was also the Metro regional government’s preferred line. In addition to light rail, the plan also calls for miles of continuous bike lanes and pedestrian sidewalks on Barbur.

Up next, the Metro’s council will have to vote on the plan this fall, and the light rail system is set to be a major topic in a metrowide transportation bond package in 2020. The cost of the project is estimated between $2.6 billion to $2.9 billion. If approved, the line could be up and running in 2027.

The “Fast Forward” plan by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's (MTA) New York City Transit is estimated to cost $40 billion over the course of 10 years. The plan to repair and upgrade the city’s subways and buses was first revealed in May, but it was released without a cost associated with it. The rail portion of the project will involve upgrading the city’s subways system's signals and track infrastructure and installing communications-based train control on 16 lines.

The cost estimate was released by NYCT President Andy Byford in a YouTube video that was shared to employees of the agency.

"My job now is to go out and get the funding we know we need in order to transform this subway, to make the subway accessible, to transform our bus network," Byford said. He added that although it’s $40 billion in 10 years, his goal is to deliver a world class transportation system in less than 4,000 days.

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.

A new portable passenger screening technology will debut at Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) stations to help keep passengers and employees safe. The new equipment, known as a Thruvision TAC-TS4 portable terahertz millimeter wave passenger screening device, was used in partnership between Metro and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) during a test and evaluation period. Metro bought the equipment and the devices will be placed at Metro stations to help detect weapons and explosives.

“TSA applauds the leadership of L.A. Metro for its proactive efforts to evaluate, procure and use state-of-the-art technology designed to detect potential threats to the transit system,” TSA Administrator David Pekoske said in a press release. “TSA is pleased to have been a partner during the evaluation and testing process, which ultimately led to the purchase of a recommended system to help detect and deter potential acts of terrorism while keeping the traveling public safe.”

When in use, the new devices identify objects that block the naturally occurring waves produced by a person’s body. When an object, such as a weapon, is hidden on a person, the person’s waves are blocked and detected by the system’s software.

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]

Following complaints from several bicyclist groups, the Hartford Line will allow passengers to start bringing their bikes on the trains this Saturday. Advocacy groups such as Bike Walk Connecticut and the Connecticut Bicycle Coalition have been pushing the Connecticut Department of Transportation (ConnDOT), which operates the commuter line, to change its previous policy of only allowing collapsible bikes on trains.

Richard Andreski, the public transportation chief of ConnDOT said that each Hartford Line train will allow passengers to store up to 20 bicycles on board. Andreski said passengers can drop their bikes off at the designated bike-only train car when they board. The specific bike-only car will be at the end of each train.

Andreski said the ConnDOT is also working on a permanent solution of installing bike racks on each of the Hartford Line trains. The bike-only car is just a temporary solution.