Happening Now

Hotline #1,085

September 21, 2018

IL City Officials Meet with Sen. Durbin on Amtrak; Brightline Acquires XpressWest; Amtrak Resumes Service Following Florence; CHSRA Releases Proposed Route for Burbank to Palmdale; 9 Railroads at Risk of Missing PTC Deadline

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.

Beginning October 14, New Jersey Transit will cancel dozens of daily trains to accommodate work on Positive Train Control (PTC) installation, causing service disruptions and delays for its passengers on the already crowded corridor. As part of its outreach to affected passengers, it is offering a 10% discount on all fares. The five lines that will experience reductions in service are the Northeast Corridor, Montclair-Boonton, Morris and Essex, North Jersey Coast, and Main-Bergen County Lines. Work is scheduled to continue through January.

“As a daily rail commuter myself, I fully understand the impact this has on people’s lives,’’ NJ Transit Executive Director Kevin Corbett said in a press release. “That’s why I thought it was so important to offer the 10% discount to our loyal rail customers.”

Corbet also said, “I’m pleased to report that we have made substantial progress on PTC, having gone from just 12% complete to more than 66% complete in the last seven months alone. Further adjustments are necessary as we continue to accelerate the installation schedule. Failure to meet the federal requirements by December 31 is not an option.”

NJ Transit is one of nine railroads that the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) said is at risk of missing the December 31, 2018 deadline to install PTC. If the agency does not have 100% of PTC equipment installed by year’s end, it risked being fined by the FRA.

NJ Transit travel advisories are available online.

Concerns about the future of Amtrak service in Illinois were voiced this week to US Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois by Galesburg Mayor John Pritchard, Macomb Mayor Mike Inman and other city and county officials. During the meeting at Galesburg City Hall, local mayors said they were concerned with recent Amtrak changes and potential changes to service, including the elimination of most private rail service and the ending of Amtrak’s hot meal service on its Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited trains.

The biggest concern that was raised at the meeting revolved around the proposal by Amtrak to institute bus service on the Southwest Chief route. Mayor Pritchard said that the city of Galesburg is not sure how much the city would be affected, but that the proposal, if it were to go into effect, would create an economic loss for the city and surrounding communities.

“Once they take apart the Southwest Chief, we’ll never be able to put it back together,” Pritchard said of the proposed change. “The ridership, I think a good deal of it, will disappear.”

As part of the meeting, Senator Durbin said he plans to meet with Amtrak CEO and President Richard Anderson by the end of the year to share the officials’ concerns about service. Durbin also said he is working with Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-East Moline) to pass the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD) appropriations bill in the U.S. House of Representatives for FY 2019. The bill includes $1.9 billion in funding for Amtrak services, including $1.3 billion for Amtrak’s National Network, which includes its long-distance routes.

“Recent efforts by the Rail Passengers Association and its members have pressed Amtrak to reconsider instituting bus service along the Southwest Chief route,” said Rail Passengers President and CEO Jim Mathews. “Only last week Amtrak’s Executive Vice President and COO Scot Naparstek said in a Congressional testimony that the railroad is developing alternative ways to reach the elevated levels of safety that is needed to keep the entire network intact.”

Naparstek’s testimony also appeared to undermine one of the central rationales Amtrak has put forward for breaking up the Southwest Chief route with a bus-bridge. In its presentation to local officials, Amtrak stated it would “require PTC for this segment for long-term operation,” with an estimated $23 million in installation costs and $3.5 million in annual operating costs.

By identifying “PTC-equivalencies” for main track exemptions, Amtrak is admitting what Rail Passengers has been arguing all year: there are lower-cost alternatives to ensuring the safety of the Southwest Chief’s passengers.

As the House and Senate continue to finalize the details of the FY 2019 transportation budget our advocacy efforts must continue. The September 30 deadline is not far away and Congressional negotiators are still deadlocked over several issues. Now is the time for us to show our support for the communities that depend on the Southwest Chief, as well as the entire National Network.

Call your Representative and ask them to retain the Senate Moran/Udall language protecting the Southwest Chief and pass the HR 6147 into law with the funding levels and provisions agreed to by the House and Senate transportation committees.

Rail Passengers Launching Station Volunteer Program

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 a 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 that Amtrak passengers want and need. 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 state- or route -wide 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.

In a major move for passenger rail service in the U.S., private passenger railroad Brightline has agreed to purchase XpressWest in an effort to connect Southern California and Las Vegas with high-speed rail. Brightline is based in Florida and opened its higher-speed rail service in January, and the acquisition is the company’s first venture outside the state.

“Brightline has done an amazing job in Florida, providing quality and reliable passenger rail service that is connecting people to cities in new fun ways,” said Rail Passengers Association President Jim Mathews. “The move to acquire XpressWest is a significant move by the company that will expand its service to a completely new area of the country and help set another example of what passenger rail service in the U.S. can and should be.”

XpressWest is a proposed high-speed rail project that has been supported for its economic benefits to the region - creating jobs and expanding tourism between California and Las Vegas. Brightline will now lead the development, construction and operation of the project, with initial service connecting Las Vegas to Victorville, CA, and a proposed later extension to connect to Los Angeles. Construction is expected to begin in 2019, and Brightline officials said service could begin as early as 2022.

"Brightline's model is setting a new standard for train travel in America," Brightline President Patrick Goddard said in a press release. "We look forward to working with the region's stakeholders to make this vision a reality."

Brightline also said that the first California station is expected to be located in Victorville, but additional stations are being planned. The company is also interested in developing connections to Metrolink and California's future high-speed rail line service between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Nine passenger railroads are at risk of failing to meet the requirements for a Positive Train Control (PTC) extension beyond the December 31, 2018 deadline. The nine railroads at risk include:

  • New Mexico Rail Runner Express,
  • Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority,
  • New Jersey Transit,
  • Altamont Corridor Express,
  • Maryland Area Regional Commuter,
  • Trinity Railway Express,
  • South Florida Regional Transportation Authority (SunRail),
  • Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board (Caltrain), and
  • Central Florida Rail Corridor (SunRail).

The railroads were highlighted by Federal Railroad Administrator Ronald Batory before a panel with the House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials. Batory said that railroads that had installed less than 90 percent of its PTC system hardware as of June 30 are the most at risk of failing to qualify for a two-year extension for PTC implementation.

If the railroads are not able to meet the deadline and do not qualify for an extension, they risk a penalty that should be up to $16,000, as recommended by the FRA.

"For any violation of a federal rail safety statute, regulation, or order, however, the current statutory minimum civil penalty FRA may assess is $853, and the ordinary statutory maximum is $27,904," Batory told the panel. "FRA may assess a civil penalty for each day the non-compliance continues, but FRA may elect to take enforcement action on a one-time basis or each month, quarter, year, or other interval of time during which the noncompliance continues."

The hearing, which took place on September 13, is available online.

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

NEWLY ADDED! - Former Amtrak Presidents Joe Boardman (in person) and David Gunn (via video); along with former Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis (via video) and Trains Magazine Columnist Fred Frailey will be addressing RailNation Miami attendees on Friday evening. Don’t miss this opportunity to hear their unique perspectives on the future of Amtrak. Can’t make the entire event? Individual tickets are NOW available for this special Friday evening session!

RailNation Miami Registration Is Open! Space is limited, so register today!

Detailed agenda, programming and speaker information is now available; it is being updated regularly as more participants are confirmed!

Friday will feature a series of local tours & activities, including an exclusive opportunity to ride a chartered trip on Brightline. Complete information & registration for 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 available via this link. The last date to make room reservations at the group rate is TOMORROW, September 22! Additional event information is posted on the RailNation Miami 2018 Event Page.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) said that its preferred route from Burbank to Palmdale will see HSR service run through Sun Valley, San Fernando, Santa Clarita and Agua Dulce. The route will run for 38 miles and will mostly follow the 14 Freeway through the San Gabriel Mountains. To accomplish the route, it will require crews to build five separate tunnels, several bridges and various sections that would run at-grade. The announcement from CHSRA came during a webcast from Michelle Boehm, the agency’s Southern California regional director.

Of the various options that were considered, the proposed route is set to be the easiest to develop. It is also expected to create the least amount of environmental harm and disruption throughout construction. CHSRA officials said that the proposed route was selected because it created a balance between development and potential impact on the surrounding area.

“Developing the route for HSR service between Burbank and Palmdale has not been taken lightly by CHSRA,” said Rail Passengers President Jim Mathews. “The project is a major undertaking that will provide significant boosts for the economy, jobs and businesses in the region.”

The release of the proposed route also comes ahead of four open houses hosted by CHSRA to discuss the proposed route with the public.

Upcoming meetings include:

  • Monday, Sept. 24: Angeles National Golf Club, 9401 Foothill Blvd., in Sunland, 5:30- 7:30 p.m., for residents of Lake View Terrace, Shadow Hills and Sunland-Tujunga.
  • Wednesday, Sept. 26: Hubert H. Humphrey Recreation Center, 12560 Filmore St., in Pacoima, 5:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m., for northeast San Fernando Valley residents.

Two other meetings are scheduled in Palmdale and Agua Dulce.

Chicago’s Metra system has completed installing Positive Train Control (PTC) components on all of the agency’s trains, as well as its communications and signal systems. With the completion, Metra crews have installed the technology on 528 vehicles and 240 wayside units.

“Implementing Positive Train Control has been a long, difficult and expensive undertaking, and we are happy that we are now seeing it so close to completion,” Metra CEO/Executive Director Jim Derwinski said in a press release. “I want to congratulate the Metra workers whose dedication and expertise got us here today. And I want our riders to know that our already safe system is about to get a whole lot safer.”

The installation of PTC components is one of four requirements that Metra must meet by the end of the year to receive a deadline extension from the Federal Railroad Administration to implement PTC across its system. Metra has already completed or is working to complete the other three requirements. Metra has acquired the needed radio spectrum, and in October it will complete worker training and begin a revenue service demonstration on its Rock Island Line.

Share Your Photos, Win Amtrak Guest Reward Points© and Rail Passengers Association Giveaways

We are asking members, friends and family, and the general train-riding public to share their #ViewsFromATrain on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Prizes include Amtrak Guest Rewards Points© and Rail Passengers Association giveaways.

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 Fall, we would love to see them, share and give you an amazing prize.

Following Hurricane Florence, which caused severe flooding in the Carolinas and affected passenger rail service along the East Coast, Amtrak has started to resume service for several trains that were cancelled last week.

Trains resuming service as of this week include:

  • Crescent service (trains 19 and 20) resumed service over the entire New York City to New Orleans route, including to Greensboro, High Point, Salisbury and Charlotte.
  • Carolinian (trains 79 and 80) and Piedmont passenger trains (trains 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78) between Raleigh and Charlotte.

Other Amtrak services expected to resume include:

  • Silver Meteor from New York to Miami via Rocky Mount and Fayetteville starting on Sunday.
  • Silver Star from New York to Miami via Rocky Mount, Raleigh, Cary, Southern Pines and Hamlet, starting next Tuesday
  • Palmetto from New York to Savannah via to Rocky Mount, Wilson, Selma-Smithfield and Fayetteville starting next Tuesday.
  • Auto Train service starting next Monday.

Amtrak passenger train service in North Carolina was canceled on September 11, three days before Hurricane Florence made landfall on North Carolina’s coast.

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.

Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) officials took a significant step forward in reaching thousands of additional passengers with the approval to expand the rail service north. The agency’s board of directors approved $24 million that will be used to extend SMART service to Windsor, CA. The extension will run three miles north of the station at Sonoma County Airport.

“This one is a special item,” SMART board chairwoman Deb Fudge, a longtime Windsor councilwoman said before the board voted to approve the extension. “It’s the next step to Cloverdale. There better not be any opposition.”

The goal of the board is to fulfill the original goal of SMART rail service - to create a 70-mile passenger service that runs from Cloverdale to Larkspur. Work on the project will begin this fall with the goal of SMART service reaching Windsor by late 2021 or early 2022.

Four vintage passenger rail cars from the original California Zephyr have moved from the West Coast to the midwest to become part of the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad. The four cars have been fully restored and were purchased for $1.5 million from private collectors. As part of the railroad, the cars will make regular runs through the Cuyahoga National Park and special excursions like the Steam in the Valley and the Polar Express.

Bobby Jenkins, the railroad’s director of development, said these cars are a treasure and represent the heyday of luxury travel by rail.

The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad has been around 45 years, with 26 miles of track that carried 214,000 passengers last year.

Join Rail Passengers Association as an Organization

The Rail Passengers Association has created new Organizational Membership categories to allow Businesses & Corporations, Professionals, Public Agencies, Non-Government Entities, Foundations, Educational Institutions, and Government & Policy representatives the opportunity to participate in and support Rail Passengers Association communications and educational activities.

“A Connected America" - Membership Supports the Work That We Do.

Organizational Member Benefits Include:

  • Membership status for multiple staff members
  • Access to Rail Passengers Association's extensive policy document library and professional analysis
  • Consultations with Rail Passengers Association's professional staff on transportation policy issues
  • Access to Rail Passengers Association's extensive policy analysis capabilities and research expertise
  • Marketing, Sponsorship and Underwriting opportunities

For additional information on standard or custom memberships contact: Mark Colucci, VP Resource Development, [email protected].

If you have contact with an organization that would benefit from supporting Rail Passengers Association through membership please contact us to discuss.

Springfield, MA Mayor Domenic Sarno has requested that the Trump administration remove the recently placed tariffs to avoid increased costs on Chinese-built rail cars. Sarno made the ask in a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, and said that the tariffs on Chinese goods, like rail cars, would increase the cost of the product and it would eventually affect the publicly funded projects and penalize taxpayers - not just in Western Massachusetts.

The tariffs are a major issue for Springfield specifically since China Railway Rolling Stock Corp. (CRRC) is building 404 passenger cars for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA). The company opened a rail-car manufacturing facility in Springfield earlier this year to do so.

"It is CRRC's first North American facility and its success is critical to our city and region's economy, bringing back manufacturing and skilled labor to our city," Sarno wrote in the letter. "That success is tied not only to the production and jobs created by CRRC, but the supply chain of smaller local businesses that are feeding the facility and creating good-paying jobs for our residents."

The new facility employs 150 people in Springfield with an average salary of $65,000.

Freight railroad Union Pacific will be making operational changes in October that will help reduce freight rail congestion in the Midwest. The changes for Union Pacific will allow for improved service for Metra trains, which often deal with delays caused by freight trains on the three lines Union Pacific operates for Metra. The freight company has also caused conflicts on other lines operated by Metra, but not as often.

Union Pacific’s new operating plan, Unified Plan 2020, will launch on October 1 and it will be rolled out in phases across the railroad’s network. It will start in the north-south corridor that includes the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, Chicago and Texas. The plan will switch the railroad’s focus from moving trains to moving train cars. This might mean that the railroad will move cars with greater frequency to and from customers, and may involve asking some customers to take or receive cars on more days of the week.

“I think it will reduce the amount of freight congestion that is occurring,” Lance Fritz, CEO, chairman and president of Union Pacific said at a Illinois Chamber of Commerce luncheon. “It doesn’t occur frequently, but it will reduce it.”

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!

In less than 2.5 years, the KC Streetcar in downtown Kansas City, MO has shown its usefulness and popularity, reaching five million rides this past weekend. Since service first began, the KC Streetcar has logged more than 305,000 miles and a daily average ridership of nearly 6,000 people.

Other notable stats that highlight the popularity of the streetcar include:

  • Each streetcar averaged 76,282 miles and 34,673 trips per vehicle;

  • July 2018 was the highest ridership month to date with 262,593 total rides, which is an increase of 31,000 rides from the previous July.

Due to the demand for service, the KC Streetcar Authority has ordered two more streetcar vehicles for the downtown route. Those vehicles should arrive in 2019. The Authority, as well as the City of Kansas City, the KC Area Transportation Authority and Port KC, are also planning for future streetcar extensions north towards Berkley Riverfront as well as the Main Street Extension to UMKC.

Passenger Rail Service Notices

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

Amtrak is preparing to accommodate a surge in travelers for Thanksgiving.

Amtrak is prepared to operate every available passenger railcar in its fleet. This means Amtrak is adding extra trains for more seating on the Northeast Corridor (NEC) and Midwest routes, and is adding extra cars to existing trains along the West Coast.

  • On the NEC, Amtrak Acela Express and Northeast Regional trains will operate full and extended schedules with additional frequencies and added capacity during the Thanksgiving week.
  • Additional NEC trains, including the Keystone (New York – Harrisburg), will require reservations in advance of travel.
  • Hiawatha trains will also require reservations between Nov. 20 and Nov. 25.
  • Additional capacity will be added to the Capitol Corridor, San Joaquins and Pacific Surfliner routes.
  • During the holiday period, the Pacific Surfliner service will also require reservations between Nov. 21 and Nov. 25.
  • The San Joaquins train will require reservations between Nov. 18 and Nov. 26.

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.

Downtown Denver Light Rail To Shutdown

  • The Regional Transportation District will be doing repairs to its downtown Denver light rail network, necessitating the shutdown of four of those lines.
  • The D, F, H and L lines will be closed starting 8 p.m. Friday until 3 a.m. September 24, as work crews replace tracks and components associated with RTD’s original light rail service.
  • The work will cause the suspension of light rail service between the 30th and Downing and the Theatre District/Convention Center stations. Shuttle buses, supplemented by charter buses, will substitute for the trains during the 10-day closure.

For a planned Silver Line extension in the greater D.C. area, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) is seeking a company to operate and maintain new trains, stations and facilities. WMATA officials have issued a request for proposal (RFP) that also includes work for maintenance of rail cars assigned to the Silver Line, track and infrastructure, and the Dulles Rail Yard, as well as administrative functions that are necessary for supporting WMATA operations of the line.

"We are leaving no stone unturned as we look for opportunities to maintain transit service for the region and protect jobs, all while living within our means in light of what our funding jurisdictions can afford," WMATA General Manager and Chief Executive Officer Paul Wiedefeld said in a press release. "Competitive contracting is one tool to hold down pension cost growth, while providing quality service for customers."

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority is building the $2.7 billion Silver Line extension, which could begin service as early as 2020. The extension will extend further into Virginia and expand WMATA’s reach in the expanding D.C. metro area. It will run 11.7 miles through Reston, VA to Dulles International Airport and Loudoun County, VA.

Proposals will be due on January 15, 2019. Metro will evaluate each vendor based on the best value, with a contract award expected in Spring 2019.

Amtrak has now made available tickets for its Winter Park Express train that runs from Denver Union Station to Winter Park Resort. The popular service carried nearly 30,000 customers last year.

Note the changes for 2018! Amtrak is actually marketing this service early, and has increased the number of trips to 32. The service was financially successful in past years, and actions are speaking louder than words that this is being recognized.

The 2019 Amtrak Winter Park Express schedule begins on Friday, Jan. 4, and the train will run each Saturday and Sunday through March 31. The service also includes round-trips on the first two Fridays of each month, January 4 and 11, February 1 and 8, and March 1 and 8.

Tickets, starting at $29, are available for purchase at: Amtrak.com/WinterParkExpress.

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.