Happening Now

Hotline #1,082

August 31, 2018

Battle for Southwest Chief Continues; PTC To Be Installed on Cascades Before 2018 Deadline; Brightline Approved To Use $1.75 Billion In Bonds; Passenger Rail Is 18 Times Safer Than Driving in Metro Areas

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A Trains story based on an Amtrak Southwest Chief Town Hall event in Raton, NM reported that Amtrak would not run trains on track unequipped with Positive Train Control (PTC), including routes that have been ruled PTC-exempt by the Federal Railroad Administration. That decision would result in disrupted train service on eight routes.

Following a statement by Rail Passengers demanding a public response from Amtrak, the company has since denied the accuracy of the reporting, stating that “for those carriers and routes operating under an extension or under an FRA-approved exemption, Amtrak is performing risk analyses and developing strategies for enhancing safety on a route-by-route basis to ensure that there is a single level of safety across the Amtrak network.”

The battle for the Southwest Chief, and the long-term battle for a robust and growing National Network, remains one that will be won in Congress. After a meaningful victory of the Senate’s version of the transportation bill, H.R. 6147, which included amendments that direct funding specifically to maintain current levels of Southwest Chief service, now it is on its way to the House, where the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill can be reconciled and sent to the President for signing into law.

We have been asking members to call their Congressional Representatives about H.R. 6147 with an ask for two things:

  1. Pass the bill with all amendments pertaining to the Southwest Chief intact, and
  2. Maintain the funding levels as passed by the Senate and House transportation committees

While the first is still crucial for the Chief’s continued operation, the second has become equally important. The transportation budget is being targeted for cuts as the GOP leadership bends to demands to pay for President Trump’s desired wall along the country’s southern border.

Underlining the importance of providing safer alternatives to highway travel, a horrific crash between a Greyhound bus and a semi-truck took place on Interstate-40 just outside of Albuquerque, New Mexico, killing seven and critically injuring dozens of passengers. While PTC-enabled track is the optimal operating condition for trains, it’s important to remember that passenger rail is already ten times safer than highway travel. “If policymakers are serious about cutting into the 40,000+ automotive deaths that take place in the U.S., expanding access to rail transportation must be part of the solution,” said Rail Passengers President Jim Mathews.

TAKE ACTION NOW! Call Your Representative to Pass the Transportation Bill, Preserve the Southwest Chief and Secure the National Network

Even if you have already called your representatives about the Southwest Chief amendments, it’s time to do it again with a stronger focus on funding levels. Please visit www.railpassengers.org/swc for more details, or call the House of Representatives switchboard at (202) 224-3121.

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.

This is especially important if you live in ILLINOIS, IOWA, MISSOURI, KANSAS, COLORADO, NEW MEXICO, ARIZONA, and CALIFORNIA.

More locally, there are also 65 communities that have signed on to the effort through mayors voicing support for the Southwest Chief. For those of you living in the states along the route and would like to help, please contact Betsy Nelson at [email protected] or call 202-408-8362 extension 3209.

More than a dozen members of Congress urged the Chairman Mario Diaz-Balart and Ranking Member David Price of the House Transportation Subcommittee to include funding for the Southwest Chief in the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD) Appropriations bill for FY 2019.

In the letter, the members said that the House subcommittee should include the Senate amendment to the bill “to provide $50 million for maintenance and safety improvements along the Southwest Chief route.”

Members, including Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM), Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM), Scott Tipton (R-CO) and Paul Cook (R-CA), also wrote that the Southwest Chief is “the only affordable alternative transportation option to highways for our citizens and it provides a critical link to public and private services in larger cities for rural residents.”

The same members of Congress wrote to Amtrak President and CEO Richard Anderson to say they are concerned that the passenger railroad “is considering suspending operation of the Southwest Chief passenger train and instead focusing on a plan to replace long-distance service along this route with bus service”.

The group said they “believe that replacing train service through rural communities with buses undermines Amtrak’s responsibility as a quasi-governmental entity to provide intercity public transportation. In addition, it raises concerns that Amtrak may move to eliminate passenger rail service in other rural communities.”

The letter urged Amtrak to find ways to use grants and funding to maintain the route. Specifically, the letter asked Anderson to “uphold its commitment to the TIGER IX Grant,” and to seek “funding through the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) Program.”

Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) and Amtrak officials confirmed they will complete Positive Train Control (PTC) technology installation on the Amtrak Cascades route prior to the federally mandated deadline of December 31, 2018. This includes the Point Defiance Bypass where an Amtrak train derailed last December in DuPont, WA and killed three passengers. Two of the passengers who lost their lives, Jim Hamre and Zack Willhoite, were members of the Rail Passengers Association.

“This derailment and loss of life was preventable if PTC had already been installed on the route,” said Rail Passengers President Jim Mathews. “It is unfortunate that it has taken this derailment, and other crashes, to get real action going on PTC implementation.”

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) officials have said that PTC could have prevented the derailment in DuPont when the Amtrak train was speeding through a curve. Amtrak said it expects to resume service on the bypass between Tacoma, Lakewood, Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) and DuPont next spring.

WSDOT said the time frame allows for crews to monitor how PTC is working on the current Amtrak Cascades route before passenger-rail service officially returns. The schedule also allows time for the NTSB to complete its investigation and issue recommendations related to the derailment.

Florida’s higher-speed rail service, Brightline, received approval to use a $1.75-billion bond from the Florida Development Finance Corp. (FDFC). The bond will help pay for the infrastructure development of the line in Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Brevard and Orange counties. The service is expected to reach Orlando in 2021, which will connect with West Palm Beach and Miami. Brightline crews plan to begin work on the Orlando extension this year.

"We appreciate the FDFC board's continued support in the private activity bond process and the members' recognition of the significant economic impacts Brightline will have on the state," Brightline President and Chief Operating Officer Patrick Goddard said in a press release. "This is another important step forward for our Phase 2 extension to Orlando, and we look forward to executing this transformative vision of privately funded intercity passenger rail."

Private activity bonds are designed for private infrastructure projects, like Brightline, that offer a public benefit. These bonds are not supported by federal, state or local governments and taxpayers are not at risk for financing them.

“Brightline’s service is a step above the rest and it deserves the opportunity to expand and connect other areas of Florida,” said Rail Passengers President Jim Mathews. “I have personally taken the Brightline train and it is a service that combines the best of air and rail travel. We look forward to seeing Brightline connect to Orlando, and hopefully Tampa in the near future.”

The Orlando station will be located at the Orlando International Airport's new Intermodal Terminal Facility. Brightline has also participated in Florida’s request for proposals earlier this year to connect passenger service to Tampa.

Rail Passengers Launching Station Volunteer Program

Communities across America have been impacted by the de-staffing of their train stations. Amtrak ticket agents provide more than just customer service. They are a friendly face that provides helpful information and directions for travelers, assists those who need help with luggage, supports the special needs of passengers and provides insightful conversation about train travel.

Ever since Amtrak de-staffed more train stations this year, there has been an enormous outcry and opposition to the decision and Rail Passengers Association is stepping up to fill the void. Rail Passengers is launching its Station Volunteer Program in five states. Through the pilot program, that will begin rolling out this Fall, Rail Passengers Association will help concerned members like you and the communities you live in to organize and continue providing that special connection for Amtrak passengers. A knowledgeable and informed volunteer can answer travelers’ questions about Amtrak trains and services, promote rail advocacy, highlight local attractions, foster a spirit of hospitality and promote an inviting atmosphere at the station.

We are piloting in Alabama, Florida, Illinois, Michigan and Texas. Subsequent rollouts are being planned for Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota and North Carolina. A station volunteer program may be coordinated at the city level, or have a broader scope that addresses the needs of multiple communities along an Amtrak route.

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.

Muni light-rail service in San Francisco was restored in the Twin Peaks Tunnel after the completion of two months of repair work. San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) crews made upgrades to the Twin Peaks tunnel, which will make travel through it safer. Rehabilitation work has also allowed for trains to travel at faster speeds and add capacity for the two-car K/T trains.

“We are very thankful to our Muni riders, construction crews, neighbors, operators and SFMTA staff,” Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin said in a blog post from SFMTA. “Your patience and dedication to this project mean we all have new tracks and a safer, more reliable, Twin Peaks Tunnel for everyone to enjoy”.

The rehabilitation work took two months and cost $40 million. Construction crews also completed seismic reinforcements and fire safety enhancements to protect the tunnel's structure and stability. They also installed four track crossovers to enable trains to switch from one track to another during delays. The crossovers are expected to boost overall train operations by adding flexibility.

Brightline officials have upped the train’s travel experience and food selection with the release of new Select service that is “designed for leisure and business travelers seeking a premium travel alternative.” The new Select service is now available and it includes:

  • Inclusive station parking;
  • Select Lounge service in the three South Florida stations;
  • Curated food and beverage items throughout the day including an unlimited complimentary breakfast;
  • Self-serve wine and champagne stations;
  • Imported Italian charcuterie and cheese served with freshly-baked bread;
  • Coffee, assorted teas and an assortment of PepsiCo products and bottled water;
  • During the weekends, lounges will feature special surprises for guests, like a mimosa or Bloody Mary station.

“We are reimagining train travel based on the feedback and interest of our guests,” Brightline's President and COO Patrick Goddard said in a press release. “It's more than connecting cities and people but providing a hospitality focused approach to transform the journey. The new Select service has been thoughtfully designed and implemented, from the wine selections to the on-board food offerings.”

Business services and amenities are also available in the Select lounges, including independent work stations, complimentary wireless printing and scanning, stationary supplies, iPad usage, magazines and newspapers.

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!

Commuter- or intercity- rail travel in major metropolitan areas is 18 times safer for passengers than it is to travel by automobile. This data was provided in a new report from the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) and advocacy group Vision Zero Network.

"One of the most powerful traffic safety tools a city can employ to eliminate deaths and injuries due to road traffic crashes is its public transportation system," said APTA President and CEO Paul Skoutelas in a press release. "It takes just a modest increase in public transit use to result in a dramatic decrease in traffic fatalities."

Overall, the analysis, titled Public Transit is a Key Strategy in Advancing Vision Zero and Eliminating Traffic Fatalities, found that metropolitan areas with public transit service that log more than 40 annual transit trips per capita have a traffic mortality rate that is 40 percent lower than in metro areas with only 20 transit trips per capita.

“Every day 100 people die due to traffic crashes on America’s roads, and increasingly communities are committing to Vision Zero because they believe that everyone deserves to be safe on our streets,” said Leah Shahum, Founder and Director of the Vision Zero Network. “Investing in strong public transit systems helps communities improve safety for everyone on the roads. For too long, we have undervalued the significant safety benefits of robust public transit networks, so we look forward to stepping up cooperation to grow public transit and safety together.”

The report also found that the connection between higher public transit use and lower traffic fatalities is especially strong in metro areas with populations over two million. For the 34 metro areas studied with more than two million residents, the statistical relationship is stronger than for areas with populations between 500,000 and two million.

Metropolitan areas that the analysis reviewed include:

  • New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA
  • San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA
  • Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA-NH 4
  • Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV
  • Urban Honolulu, HI
  • Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD
  • Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI
  • Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA
  • Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, OR-WA
  • Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA
  • Baltimore-Columbia-Towson, MD

It has been 161 days since the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) has been allowed to distribute $1.4 billion for transportation projects throughout the U.S. but has declined to do so. In addition to the $1.4 billion, USDOT has distributed less than half of the $925 million Congress appropriated for new transit projects in May 2017.

Congress has now given USDOT more than $2.3 billion over the last two years for transportation projects. Without the appropriate funding, several critical projects are at risk.

These projects include:

  • Albuquerque, NM Central Avenue BRT
  • Dallas, TX DART Red & Blue Line Platform Extensions
  • El Paso, TX BRT Extension
  • Jacksonville, FL Southwest (Purple Line) BRT
  • Los Angeles, CA Purple Line Extension (LRT), Section 3
  • Minneapolis, MN Blue Line (LRT) Extension
  • Minneapolis, MN Green Line (LRT) Extension
  • Minneapolis, MN Orange Line BRT
  • New York City, NY Canarsie (L) Line Improvements
  • Orange County, CA Streetcar
  • Reno, NV Virginia Street BRT
  • Sacramento, CA Riverfront Streetcar
  • Seattle, WA Lynnwood LRT extension
  • Seattle, WA Madison Street BRT
  • South Shore (IN/IL) Commuter Rail Double Tracking
  • St. Petersburg, FL Central Avenue BRT
  • Tempe, AZ Streetcar

For more information on this issue, please visit Transportation for America: http://t4america.org/transitfundingdelays/

Social Media Contest Continues

We are still asking members, friends and family, and the general train-riding public to share their #ViewsFromATrain on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

Just use the hashtag #RailPassengers or #ViewsFromATrain and tag @RailPassengers to show us what you see outside your window.

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, or maybe you plan to this Labor Day weekend, we would love to see them, share and give you an amazing prize.

In North Carolina, the Durham County Board of Commissioners approved $57.6 million that will go towards a funding gap for the $2.5-billion Durham-Orange light-rail project. The additional funding was required after the state's General Assembly changed the funding makeup for the project earlier this summer. The state was originally set to cover 10 percent of the cost for the light-rail, but the General Assembly voted to limit the maximum state contribution to $190 million.

Without the matching financing in place, the project would not be able to secure a commitment from the federal government for half of the $2.5-billion required for the light rail system. GoTriangle, which oversees the project, has said that without federal cash it was unlikely the project could move forward.

Wendy Jacobs, Chair of the Durham County Board of Commissioners said in a press release, “Durham County continues to remain committed to working closely with our Orange County partners for the successful implementation of the Durham Orange Light Rail Project which will provide an important transportation option and better connect the people of our communities to jobs, healthcare and education.”

The 17.7-mile Durham-Orange light-rail line would run from University of North Carolina hospitals in Chapel Hill to North Carolina Central University in Durham. The route would also include 18 stations.

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.

Illinois and Tennessee have received certification from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) for their rail transit State Safety Oversight (SSO) Programs. The Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) is responsible for providing safety oversight of the Chicago Transit Authority heavy rail system. IDOT is also jointly responsible with the Missouri Department of Transportation for providing safety oversight of the Bi-State Development Agency St. Louis Metro light rail system. The Tennessee Department of Transportation is responsible for providing safety oversight of the Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority Lookout Mountain inclined railway and the Memphis Area Transit Authority trolley system.

"FTA is pleased that Illinois and Tennessee have developed safety oversight programs that meet federal certification requirements and will strengthen rail transit safety," FTA Acting Administrator K. Jane Williams said in a press release. "With certification, transit agencies in Illinois and Tennessee can continue to receive federal funding."

With Illinois and Tennessee receiving certification, 24 out of 30 states have achieved SSO Program certification. Federal law requires states with rail transit systems to obtain FTA certification of their SSO Programs by April 15, 2019.

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 U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) approved $88 million in grants for security at transit agencies in the U.S. The grants are designed to help increase safety and protection of passengers and facilities against acts of terrorism.

The grants include:

  • $6.2 million for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro);
  • $5.4 million for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority;
  • $6.8 million for the Bay Area Rapid Transit;
  • $6.9 million for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority;
  • $10.7 million for the Chicago Transit Authority; and
  • $18.3 million for the New York City Police Department to patrol the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's system.

The $88 million in grants for transit security is part of the federal agency’s final allocations of $345 million for six Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 DHS competitive preparedness grant programs.

“DHS is committed to building a culture of preparedness with our government, private sector, and nonprofit partners nationwide so we are ready when disaster strikes,” DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in a press release. “The DHS grant programs are flexible by design and purposed to help address our evolving risk environment. Response and recovery to catastrophic events strain our communities’ logistics, supply chains, communications, and staffing capacities. When these events occur, time is our most valuable resource. That is why our preparedness grant programs build and sustain critical capabilities today, so we will be ready tomorrow.”

Passenger Rail Service Notices

Current and upcoming service notifications that could affect your train travel include:

Track Work To Effect Carolinian, Silver Star and Piedmont Service

  • Track work being performed by Norfolk Southern and North Carolina Department of Transportation will affect Carolinian, Silver Star and Piedmont service on select dates between September 10 and September 23. These include:
    • Monday, Sept. 10 through Thursday, Sept. 13: Carolinian Service Trains 79 and 80 will run between Raleigh and Charlotte, only. Trains are cancelled between New York and Raleigh with no alternate transportation provided.
    • Sunday, Sept. 16: Train 92 will operate as Train 1092 and will depart Miami at 9:05 am, 2 hours and 45 minutes earlier than currently scheduled. Train 1092 will operate earlier through to New York.
    • Monday, Sept. 17: Carolinian Service Trains 79 and 80 are cancelled with no alternate transportation provided between New York and Charlotte. Piedmont Service Trains 73, 74, 75, 76, 77 and 78 will be cancelled with no alternate transportation provided between Raleigh and Charlotte. Train 91 will operate normally.
    • Tuesday, Sept. 18: Carolinian Service Trains 79 and 80 will operate between Raleigh and Charlotte, only. No alternate transportation provided between New York and Raleigh.
    • Wednesday, Sept. 19: Piedmont Service Trains 74 and 75 will be cancelled with no alternate transportation provided between Raleigh and Charlotte.

Saluki Train 393 To Depart Later Monday through Friday

  • Tuesday, Sept. 4 through Friday, Sept. 21: Train 393 will depart all stations one hour and 15 minutes later on weekdays only, due to track improvements being performed by the Canadian National Railway. Train 393 will run on this later schedule from Chicago to Carbondale.
    • Please note: The schedule for Train 393 will not change on Saturdays and Sundays.

BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport Station Waiting Room Relocated

  • BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport station began 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.

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.

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) will commence construction work on a new project for the Green Line in October. The project will include the installation of 25,000 feet of track and 6.5 miles of modernized signal infrastructure along the Green Line's D Branch. MBTA crews will also replace jointed rail with continuous welded rail, and replace special trackwork between the Beaconsfield and Riverside stations.

"Investing in core infrastructure like track and signals is a major focus of our efforts to restore the MBTA to a State of Good Repair," MBTA General Manager Luis Manuel Ramírez said in a press release. "While we understand there may be some impacts during this work, we are doing our best to strike a balance that minimizes the inconvenience for our neighbors, and leads to service improvements for our Green Line customers."

The replacement work is estimated to last through December 2020, and once complete it will decrease delays and boost reliability on the Green Line. The MBTA will be able to remove current speed restrictions on the D Branch.

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 San Diego Metropolitan Transit System (SDMTS) received its fourth consecutive perfect score from the Federal Transit Administration in its triennial review of operations and funding use for it services, including a 54-mile light-rail system. The FTA’s review analyzed compliance in 20 areas, including maintenance, safety and security, financial management and equal employment opportunities. Four perfect scores in a row for the transit agency reflects 12 years in which the FTA has found no issues or problems with how SDMTS manages federal funding and their respective programs.

"The triennial review is a demanding process that looks into every aspect of the MTS operation," SDMTS Chief Executive Officer Paul Jablonski said in a press release. "Continuing a track record of perfect scores is a testament to the effort our staff puts into the everyday operations and to the attention to detail."

A major aspects of SDMTS' preparation for the FTA review was the introduction of a new asset-tracking system. In 2016, the transit agency changed from operating multiple financial and asset-tracking systems to operating one transit asset management program, called the SAP Enterprise Planning system.