Happening Now

Hotline #1,081

August 24, 2018

Rail Passengers Association Releases Report On Amtrak Accounting Deficiencies; FRA Provides $30 Million Grant for NM Rail Runner; SMART Celebrates 1 Year of Service; CHSRA Recycles 99% of Construction Materials; Rail Passengers Association Introduces Passenger Rail Service Notices

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The Rail Passengers Association has published a study that finds the policy debate over the future shape of Amtrak's national network has been distorted by the railroad’s use of fully allocated costs--rather than avoidable costs as required by statute. The adverse outcome of using fully allocated costs is the widespread and incorrect perception that Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor is financially self-sufficient and that Amtrak’s need for taxpayer funding results entirely from its operation of passenger trains in the rest of the nation – the National Network, which consists of state supported regional and federally supported long distance routes.

In the white paper, Rail Passengers Association explains why fully allocated costing, combined with Amtrak’s flawed route accounting system, grossly misrepresents the public cost of providing passenger trains as a mobility choice for the entire nation. Faulty route accounting has, in turn, led to the popular misconception that the abandonment of long-distance trains will eliminate Amtrak’s need for taxpayer funding. The white paper details that the funding needed for the Northeast Corridor dwarfs that of what’s needed for the rest of the nation and explains the history of Amtrak’s route accounting methodology. Further, it demonstrates that if Amtrak applied the more economically sound avoidable costing methodology to assess the performance of its various routes, Amtrak’s leadership team would not be working to replace the current national network with disconnected groups of short distance regional trains serving only a small number of major metropolitan areas.

Passenger rail in New Mexico was awarded a critical $30-million grant from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) for the full implementation of positive train control (PTC). The grant is being provided to the Rio Metro Regional Transit District for the New Mexico Rail Runner Express, which runs 96 miles but has not installed any PTC equipment. The rail line, which links New Mexico cities like Belen, Albuquerque, Los Lunas, and Santa Fe, would have most likely ended passenger service as officials did not have the funding to install PTC equipment.

"The Rail Runner connects rural, native and urban communities in central New Mexico, offering thousands of New Mexicans access to employment, education, health care and service opportunities," U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.) said in a press release. "While positive train control represents a critical safety upgrade, it also carries with it a high price tag that threatened to limit the essential service the Rail Runner provides to central New Mexico."

Udall, along with Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), and U.S. Reps. Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.), Steve Pearce (R-N.M.) and Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-N.M.) wrote the DOT in June to support the Rail Runner and urge the federal agency to provide a grant for PTC installation. PTC technology can remotely monitor, slow and stop trains that are speeding and at risk of an accident.

“The $30 million grant for PTC is a major contribution from the FRA for passenger rail in New Mexico, but it is also another positive sign for passenger rail as a whole in the U.S.,” said Rail Passengers President Jim Mathews. “In recent weeks we have seen that the federal government and our representatives on Capitol Hill support the continued use of passenger rail in the U.S. through PTC grants and language in the recent appropriations bill. Yes, PTC installation is expensive, but ending service or eliminating portions of service such as Amtrak has proposed on the Southwest Chief is not an option for people who rely on these vital services.”

Earlier this summer Amtrak President and CEO Richard Anderson proposed instituting bus service on a portion of the Southwest Chief in New Mexico, Kansas, and Colorado. The U.S. Senate approved $2.5 billion for intercity passenger rail service in the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies (THUD) Appropriations Act of 2019, and has directed Amtrak to preserve service on the Southwest Chief corridor.

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

With only a week left in August, 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! 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.

The grant for the New Mexico Rail Runner was part of a larger approval of grants by the FRA for PTC implementation on railroads throughout the U.S. The FRA has approved more than $203 million in grants for 28 projects in 15 states for both passenger and freight railroads. The funding is coming from the $250 million specifically appropriated under the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018 for the implementation of PTC systems through the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) program.

“These $200 million in grants will help the railroads continue to implement positive train control, a technology that could help reduce accidents and save lives,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao said in a press release.

Some of the passenger rail agencies that received a portion of the funding include:

  • Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board (Caltrain) - $18,693,386
  • Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) - $5,000,000
  • Chicago Rail Link (CRL) - $1,640,925
  • Commuter Rail Division of the Regional Transportation Authority (Metra) - $22,983,308
  • Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) - $20,000,000

The FRA also expects to issue a Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) for applications for PTC grants for the remainder of the funding. Applications for the $46 million in grants will be due 30 days after the NOFO is published in the Federal Register.

“It was our goal to award today’s grants as quickly as possible to help the recipients implement PTC,” FRA Administrator Ronald L. Batory said. “We also encourage eligible applicants to apply for the remaining balance of the PTC CRISI grants after that NOFO is published.”

The FRA said it will make decisions for the PTC grants based on several factors, including: economic vitality; leveraging federal funding; using innovative approaches to improve safety and expedite project delivery; and holding grant recipients accountable for achieving specific, measurable outcomes. Preference was also given to projects proposing at least a 50 percent match and those that maximize the net benefits of the grant funds.

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.]

The Pennsylvania State Transportation Commission has approved a revised, 12-year transportation program that will provide $9.62 billion for public transit and passenger rail. Overall, the plan will see the state invest $63.9 billion in its roads, transit systems, brides and airports.

"We and our planning partners developed this update with an eye on striking the right balance between allowing for some limited capacity expansion and taking the needed steps to ensure our existing system is well maintained," PennDOT Secretary Leslie Richards said in a press release. "While we are fortunate to have revenues to support an effective program, we understand that we face challenges to maintain this progress."

The new program will go into effect on October 1 and will provide $9.62 billion for public transit, $319 million for multimodal and $228 million for freight-rail projects from 2019 through 2022. Then, between 2023 through 2026, $8.3 billion will be provided to public transit projects, $348 million for multimodal and $229 million for freight rail. From 2027 through 2030, the plan calls for $9.25 billion for transit, $391 million for multimodal and $229 million for freight rail.

The plan will now be submitted to the Federal Highway Administration and the Federal Transit Administration for review and approval.

The Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) system in California marked its first anniversary of passenger service. The line opened in August of 2017 and has provided service to almost 700,000 passengers. SMART runs 43 miles between Santa Rosa and San Rafael.

"In just one year of service, SMART has been fortunate to have a strong and loyal following," SMART's vice chairwoman Judy Arnold said in a press release.

To celebrate the anniversary, SMART officials hosted a community event last weekend. The event included live music, food truck vendors, and more than 30 exhibitors. The agency also offered free rides for passengers through August 19.

Over the next several years, SMART officials plan to add 27 more miles of rail service. The next step is building a 2.1-mile extension from San Rafael to the Golden Gate Transit Larkspur Ferry terminal in Marin County. The transit agency received a $22.5-million federal grant earlier this year to construct the extension.

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.

The Grover Beach train station is about to receive much-needed improvements and enhancements that will benefit Amtrak passengers, as well as bus passengers. City officials held a formal groundbreaking ceremony to begin the official start of the renovation project.

The renovation project will cost $3.1 million and it will include:

  • Relocating the main entry point for the train station;
  • Building a new bus platform;
  • Adding 40 new parking spots;
  • Adding new pedestrian walkways;
  • Providing more ADA compliant features;
  • Increasing bench seating; and
  • Improving lighting for security.

“The project is a long‐standing priority for the City of Grover Beach and will enhance safety and convenience for all passengers,” Grover Beach Mayor John Shoals said in a press release. “With the expansion and improvements, the train station will continue to be a significant benefit to the city and the region serving all of San Luis Obispo County.”

Construction on the station will begin this month and is expected to be completed by summer 2019.

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 Trip & Tour 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. In addition, a variety of local tours are being offered for spouses while the Saturday sessions are in progress.

Sunday will cap off the weekend with additional presentations in the morning and a closing lunch with a keynote speaker. A trip to the Gold Coast Railroad Museum is being offered in the afternoon (based on sufficient interest).

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!

In a letter to San Francisco Mayor London Breed, the city’s Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) Director Ed Reiskin said he will reduce delays on the Muni Metro rail system and bus service, as well as preventable collisions within the next three months. Reiskin said the agency will make the improvements after Mayor Breed also wrote a letter that criticized the transit agency for poor service during a two-month retrofit of the Twin Peaks Tunnel that the agency should have anticipated. Breed also said that SFMTA officials did not adequately vet construction contractors, nor an electric scooter permitting process that appears to oppose Uber and Lyft service. In the letter, Breed said that the agency would need to improve its efforts in all 12 categories that the City Controller scores to evaluate San Francisco’s transportation systems.

In response to Breed, Reiskin said in the letter that SFMTA is “actively and aggressively working to rectify current service issues and expect noticeable improvements next week.” This includes a plan to reduce gaps on the Muni Metro rail system by three percent, and decrease gaps on key rapid bus routes by five percent. Reiskin also said the agency will reduce preventable collisions by five percent.

“Behind each of these targets is a plan to achieve them,” Reiskin said in the letter. Reiskin also said he would review these plans the next time he meets with Breed.

New Grand Prize Winner for Social Media Contest

Josh Stephens from Santa Cruz, California, submitted the latest Rail Passengers Association #ViewsFromATrain Grand Prize winning photo. Stephens captured this dynamic shot from the California Zephyr outside of Chicago, Illinois. His photo caption sums up our thoughts perfectly: “If you were ever trying to discover the states you haven’t seen, the railways are a great place to start.”

Although Stephens just won a grand prize, we have more prizes to give away.

We are still 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 have taken a train this summer and captured some great photos, we would love to see them!

Significant construction of the Tempe, AZ streetcar is set for this fall after the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) gave Valley Metro its approval on the project in a letter. Up until now, only preliminary construction and underground utility improvements were allowed by the agency. With the go-ahead from the FTA, Valley Metro crews can now begin work on the rail trackway, power systems and street improvements for the streetcar.

“This milestone would not have been possible without the support of our federal delegation and officials at FTA, for which we are grateful. With this approval, we can now move forward to keep this project on budget and on schedule,” Tempe Mayor Mark Mitchell said in a statement. “Many, including advocates in the local business community, have been working tirelessly to see this project come to fruition for the betterment of our community’s quality of life and economic sustainability.”

Once the streetcar is complete in 2021, its route will run three miles along Rio Salado Parkway, down Mill Avenue and along Apache Boulevard around Arizona State University. The project will cost $200 million, and funding is being provided through federal, regional and local sources, including $13 million in contributions from property owners along the streetcar route. Valley Metro is also planning to secure a funding agreement with the federal government next year.

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.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHRSA) continues to limit the negative environmental effects of building the high-speed rail line by recycling 99 percent of all construction materials. As a result of its recycling efforts, the Authority has prevented 118,000 tons of waste material from being placed in landfills.

This achievement, as well as several others, was included in the Authority’s latest Sustainability Report. The annual review provides a look at the Authority’s efforts in 2017 to sustainably design, build and operate the HSR service.

"Our goal is to create the greenest infrastructure project in the nation, both in its operations and its construction," Brian Kelly, CHSRA's chief executive officer said in a press release. "Sustainability is at the core of our mission and is one of the values that guide our work."

The report also highlighted that CHSRA:

  • Continues to use equipment that satisfies the Environmental Protection Agency's Tier 4 emissions standard. This helps reduce nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide and particulate matter emissions, according to the agency.
  • Worked with Tree Fresno and Cal Fire to launch the Authority’s Urban Forestry Program. This saw elementary and middle-school students plant 200 trees at the West Fresno Middle School this year in the Central Valley.
  • Works with small businesses, including dozens of companies located in disadvantaged communities.
  • Commits to using 100 percent renewable energy to power the HSR line.
  • Preserved more than 2,500 acres of natural habitat.

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!

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) will begin infrastructure improvement work on its Worcester Line starting tomorrow, August 25. The project will include replacing 38,000 feet of rail, which it expects to complete by October 20. As a result of the work, three trains will depart 10 minutes later than normal and some trains may see between five and 10 minute delays over the next eight weeks.

“Ongoing investments to upgrade our system will lead to further improvements in the reliability of our service,” MBTA General Manager Luis Manuel Ramirez said in a press release. “We recognize that this essential work will impact certain trains and cause inconveniences, and we appreciate our customers’ patience as we make these core investments in our system.”

The majority of the rail replacement will be performed near Back Bay Station in Boston. Additional work will take place between the Wellesley Hills and Wellesley Square stations. The work will be performed by MBTA crews, as well as the agency’s contractor, Keolis Commuter Services.

Seattle’s Chinatown International District is set to become a new light rail hub, connecting Bellevue, West Seattle and Ballard over the next five to 17 years. To make this hub happen, Sound Transit officials have said they plan to expand station operations by building a new one next to the current station.

Cathal Ridge, Sound Transit’s central corridor director said that this would require crews building the station below major roads in the District, including 5th Ave. and 4th Ave. However, these options would disrupt business and traffic as work is conducted.

These options, including an option to go deeper underground using a boring machine, are currently being studied be Sound Transit.

Passenger Rail Service Notices

Rail Passengers Association is aware that our members regularly travel on passenger rail services throughout the country. Our goal through Passenger Rail Service Notices is to help keep you informed of any potential delays or conflicts during your trip.

Provided below are several upcoming service notifications:

Northeast Regional and Acela Express

  • Track work will take effect August 25-26, 2018 and Amtrak passengers can expect some minor schedule changes. Please check Amtrak.com for details, but affected trains include:
    • Northeast Regional Trains 87, 88, 96, 99, 124, 126, 131, 132, 140, 143, 145, 147, 149, 150, 154, 155, 157, 158, 159, 161, 162, 168, 189, 194, 195.
    • Crescent Train 19.
    • Acela Express Trains 2205, 2208, 2213, 2215, 2222, 2224, 2248, 2252, 2254, 2256, 2257, 2260.

BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport Station Waiting Room Relocated

  • BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport station will begin renovation work on August 27. The work will force the station to close and Amtrak passengers will have to use a temporary station located at the north side of the facility. It will include staffed ticket offices and an ADA accessible seated waiting room. Signage on the platforms will direct customers to the temporary station. The taxi pick up location will be outside the temporary station and service to MARC and Amtrak trains will remain unchanged.

Track Work Affects Carl Sandburg Trains 381 and 382, and Illinois Zephyr Trains 380 and 383

  • BNSF track work that began today, August 24, and will continue through tomorrow, August 25, will affect Carl Sandburg and Illinois Zephyr service as follows:
    • Friday, Aug. 24: Train 381 and 383, which normally operate between Chicago and Quincy, will terminate at Galesburg. Alternate transportation will be provided for all missed stops at Macomb and Quincy via Bus 3381 and 3383. Train 382, which normally operates between Quincy and Chicago, will originate at Galesburg. Alternate transportation will be provided for all missed stops at Quincy and Macomb via Bus 3382.
    • Saturday, Aug 25: Train 380, which normally operates between Quincy and Chicago, will originate at Galesburg. Alternate transportation will be provided for all missed stops at Quincy and Macomb via Bus 3080. Eastbound buses will arrive and depart all stations earlier than the train schedule.

Rome, NY Amtrak Station Closed Effective Immediately

  • Due to infrastructure repairs, the Rome, NY Amtrak station is closed indefinitely. During the repairs, Amtrak customers will not have access to the station and trains will not stop at the station. Customers may use Utica or Syracuse stations to ride Empire Service trains.

Concerns about the future of Amtrak’s Cardinal service continue as the service remains temporarily unavailable in New York. The train is supposed to run between New York and Chicago, but in March Amtrak truncated service due to repair work at New York’s Penn Station. With the repairs in effect, the train only connects between Chicago and Washington, D.C. Since March, Amtrak has not provided any updates on when service to New York would return.

This has Rail Passengers member Chuck Riecks and other members of the Charleston West-Virginia-based Friends of the Cardinal concerned that the temporary service suspension will become permanent. The Cardinal travels through West Virginia, but Riecks said he believes Amtrak’s current thinking is to “sectionalize” the long-distance trains, dividing them into shorter segments (750 miles or less). This reorganization would require states to financially support the sections that run through their area. If this were to happen, the Cardinal could be broken up into several trains, including one from Huntington to Washington, D.C., supported by West Virginia and Virginia. Other new trains might travel from Huntington to Cincinnati and Cincinnati to Chicago.

Riecks said, “Making this change would probably negate such services as sleeping cars and full diners. To say nothing of causing a passenger from Huntington who wishes to go to Chicago to change trains at least twice. This is not a new idea. It was proposed in the [President Ronald] Reagan years and then abandoned. But, current Amtrak managers seem to believe this is the way to go.”

The Friends of the Cardinal are urging everyone who believes passenger rail service is important to speak up and tell their elected officials, both in Washington and locally, that the Cardinal should be preserved and expanded to daily service.

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.

The Greater Reading Chamber Alliance in Pennsylvania is interested in restoring passenger rail service from Reading to Norristown. The route would run along the Schuylkill River to either Reading at the Franklin Street Station or to Wyomissing, and it would allow passenger to easily connect from Berks County to Philadelphia by rail.

Pamela Shupp, executive vice president of the alliance, which hosted its first passenger rail committee Tuesday, said, "We've got private companies saying it is important for us to pull this out, take another look and lift it up as a priority. This is not just an economic-development priority, this is a community development priority.”

“Take another look” means that advocacy groups have been pushing for the rail service for 37 years, but have not been able to make it reality. The last Berks passenger train left Franklin Street Station on July 1, 1981. The service was operated by the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority under contract with Conrail, but was not profitable.

Though discussions are early, one of the first steps will be to conduct a feasibility study of the route. There have been several in the past and each one said a train is possible, but they did not provide a financial plan to make it happen. Passenger service would most likely utilize Norfolk Southern's current track, and the freight railroad is requiring a study before advancing the project.

The Milwaukee Streetcar made its first daylight end-to-end route test through the help of employees and packages of bottled water. This included the service’s training class and staff running the streetcar for the 2.1-mile route with 20,000 pounds of ballast to simulate the car at max capacity. Ballast was made up of people, as well as packages of water bottles.

The run marks a major milestone for the service, but the streetcars must log more than 620 test miles before it can start carrying passengers. The streetcar is set to open its doors in November.