Happening Now

Hotline #1,106

March 1, 2019

Amtrak To Provide Matching Funds For Southwest Chief; 91 Members of Congress Press Amtrak on National Network; Second Train From Chicago To Twin Cities Could Bring $25M To MN; President Trump May Ignite Rail Boom But Not In U.S.; NJ Governor and Trump To Meet On Gateway; Duke University and NCRR Don’t Sign Onto GoTriangle Light Rail; Texas Central Selects Citigroup Inc. and MUFG As Financial Advisers

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 on Facebook and Twitter to stay up to date on all things passenger rail.

Amtrak will match its $3 million TIGER Grant for the Southwest Chief, which is a major victory for passenger rail advocates, and lawmakers in Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico. The funding will be for upgrading the tracks along the route, and it was spurred by the recent passage of FY 2019’s Appropriations Act. The bill included funding for Amtrak and intercity passenger rail and specifically earmarked $50 million towards the Southwest Chief route.

“The Southwest Chief provides travel options for millions of people who rely on the service for work, education, visiting friends and family and more. Not only that, but our recent study on the Southwest Chief showed that it provides an economic benefit of $180 million to Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico,” said Rail Passengers President Jim Mathews, referring to Bustituted: The Socioeconomic Impacts of Replacing Southwest Chief Service Over Raton Pass “That’s why we’re pleased that Amtrak has made the right decision on this critical project. We look forward to working with Amtrak, BNSF, and local communities to ensure the long-term sustainability of intercity rail service along the corridor.”

“Importantly, it was the advocacy work of our members and our staff, along with the great work by U.S. Senators in Kansas, New Mexico and Colorado, that secured the federal funding for the Southwest Chief, and convinced Amtrak to move forward with matching the TIGER Grant,” continued Mathews.

Amtrak is using $3 million of the $50 million set-aside to match a $16 million grant that was awarded to Colfax County, NM. Amtrak said that grant and matching funds will result in an investment of more than $26 million for the Southwest Chief.

“As the divide between urban and rural communities in America continues to expand, passenger rail services like the Southwest Chief are valuable in connecting Kansans to the rest of the country,” said Sen. Moran said in a press release. “Local communities whose residents and businesses depend on Amtrak should be provided the stability of rail service that the Southwest Chief has delivered to them for decades, which is why I am pleased that Amtrak has upheld its commitment to repair, improve and continue the Southwest Chief rail line. I appreciate my colleagues from New Mexico and Colorado and our bipartisan efforts to keep this line in service.”

The TIGER grant involved matching funds from states, cities, BNSF and Amtrak. The passenger railroad said that it will use the federal funding in coordination with these stakeholders to continue needed work on the next route segment in New Mexico. Amtrak is also working on a long-term financial plan with state and local partners.

In response to media reports that Amtrak is looking at reducing service on long distance routes in favor or increased service along short-distance, state-supported corridors, 91 members of the U.S. House of Representatives sent a letter to Amtrak asking for clarification on these reports, and a commitment from the railroad to continuing service to the existing National Network.

The letter, led by House Transportation & Infrastructure Chair Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and House T&I Railroad Subcommittee Chair Dan Lipinski (D-IL), wastes no words in asking the questions that Rail Passengers and our members have been posing over the last 18 months. The letter, which Rail Passengers helped develop, is worth quoting at length:

  • “As you know, Amtrak plays an important role in our national transportation system. Ever year, millions of passenger rely on Amtrak to reach their destinations. This includes the 12.1 million people who traveled the Northeast Corridor (NEC) and the nearly 20 million passengers served by Amtrak’s state-supported and long-distance routes in Fiscal Year 2018.”

  • “Given the benefits Amtrak provides to its passengers, our communities, and our economy, it is crucial that we maintain a viable intercity passenger rail network. Doing so requires that Amtrak provide the quality service its passengers want and expect. That is why we are concerned by recent changes Amtrak has reportedly implemented, such as eliminating station agents at stations that average fewer than 40 passengers a day.”

  • “We have also heard from numerous stakeholder who are concerned about the future of onboard food and beverage services, a feature of intercity passenger rail travel that bolsters ridership by drawing travelers to Amtrak.”

  • “As a quasi-public corporation entrusted with this statutory responsibility, Amtrak must uphold the law. Amtrak cannot seek to circumvent obligations by enacting a series of unilateral changes that harm ridership until the provision of a national passenger railroad becomes untenable. Rather, any changes to the National Network or Amtrak's duty of providing a national service must be sanctioned by Congress alone.”

  • “Will Amtrak continue to maintain current state-support and long-distance routes, until directed otherwise by Congress?”

  • “Is Amtrak considering further changes that would limit the ability of private car owners to travel on Amtrak trains?”

The members of Congress direct Amtrak to respond by today. Rail Passengers will continue to track and report on this exchange as it develops.

President Trump May Ignite Rail Boom

by Sean Jeans-Gail, Vice President of Government Affairs

President Trump has often talked about himself as "a builder," and campaigned hard on addressing America's crumbling infrastructure. So it's no surprise that he's taking up infrastructure again this week.

The location of this latest iteration of Infrastructure Week, however, did come as a shock.

To read the blog in its entirety, please visit: www.railpassengers.org/happening-now/news/blog/president-trump-spurs-rail-boom

Rail Passengers Track Update: Where are we and what’re we working on? This new section will give you updates on what Rail Passengers HQ is up to.

Jim Mathews, Rail Passengers President and CEO, spent a very busy, but ‘behind-the-scenes,’ kind of week working on data analysis of National Network trains, preparing information for a Supreme Court filing, writing op-eds on the California High-Speed Rail situation, querying Amtrak on the snow-bound Coast Starlight, and planning for our Spring Advocacy Summit and Day On The Hill -- now only a month away! Jim also traveled to New York City on Wednesday to introduce our new Director of Resource Development, Jonsie Stone, to our charitable marketing partners at Weinstein-Carnegie Philanthropy Group. Finally, Jim is getting ready to make a whole lot of public-speaking appearances. Next weekend, Jim will be at the Rail Passengers Mid-Atlantic meeting in Harrisburg (March 9). The following week Jim speaks to an important meeting in Washington aimed at bringing together passenger- and freight-railroad interests for the common good, the Passenger and Freight Railroads Unite conference, organized by former Surface Transportation Board Chair Dan Elliott (March 14). That weekend, Jim talks high-speed rail at APTA’s High-Speed Intercity Rail Committee meeting in DC (March 17). And after our April 1-3 Advocacy Summit, Jim heads to Las Vegas, New Mexico, for another Southwest Chief rally (April 19). He hopes to see members at one or all of these events!

Sean Jeans-Gail, Rail Passengers Vice President of Government Affairs, attended a number of Congressional hearings on transportation, and met with transportation staffers on the Hill to discuss passenger rail, the National Network, and an in-the-works infrastructure bill.

Rail Passengers Director of Policy Research, Abe Zumwalt, this past Tuesday finalized and published Rail Passengers’ Research Note: Impacts from a Second Train to Minnesota. The paper hit Minnesota just in time for a summary of its findings to be heard in the Minnesota House Bonding Committee. This Research Note is expected to help Minnesota secure funding for another daily train service to Chicago, and is a preview of other Research Notes to come in support of passenger rail policy around the country.

He was also interviewed on KATU (Portland, OR) concerning the stranded Coast Starlight earlier in the week.

Carolyn Cokley, Director of Customer Programs, traveled to New Orleans this week, along with another ACAC member to present the February 2019 Customer Service Award to Train Attendant Stephen Lloreda. Stephen is a Train Attendant working aboard Trains 19 &20, the Crescent who will be celebrating 28 years of Amtrak service in June. He is known amongst his peers and managers alike as a strong leader and quiet professional who inspires everyone who works with him. Manager John Turk describes Stephen as, “the employee that every manager hopes for”. Assignment Clerk Gail George repeatedly stated, “Stephen’s work ethic and dedication to the job has not changed in 28 years. He pulls you in and makes you a better employee.” Stephen’s immediate supervisor, Elijah Brown, Manager OBS overwhelmingly supported the nomination and describes him as the “Leader of the Crew”. Next time you are traveling in a Crescent sleeping car, look out for Stephen and ready yourself for a true example of what outstanding customer service looks like.

Carolyn continues to update features of the Travel Review based upon much of the feedback received from you. New features will be announced shortly.

Rail Passengers Northeast Field Coordinator, Joseph Aiello, was interviewed on Tuesday afternoon by officials from the City of Cambridge’s Community Development Department for a volunteer position on the “Grand Junction Path Design Working Group”. The multi-use path will run along the current rail tracks and connect the BU Bridge and Sommerville. “This is a great opportunity to not only use my local expertise from years working with local development and open space, but to help protect the rail right-of-way for future use.”

The MBTA held a public meeting on Tuesday evening in Cambridge gathering comments on topics like a proposed fare hike and a new “Charlie Card 2.0” payment system. You can read some of Joe’s thoughts here. The rest of the week has been filled with planning RailNation DC, as well as our networking “Beer & Transit” event.

Bruce Becker, Rail Passengers Vice-President of Operations, on Tuesday participated in the New York Public Transit Association's Transit Awareness Day at the State Capitol in Albany. Along with Empire State Passengers Association President Gary Prophet, Bruce met with Senator Tim Kennedy (Chair of the NYS Senate Transportation Committee); Assemblyman Michael Magnarelli (Chair of the NYS Assembly Transportation Committee); members of the policy staff for Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins (NYS Senate Majority Leader) and Bill Hollister (Senior Manager - Amtrak Government Affairs).

Jonsie Stone, Director of Resource Development, and Weinstein Carnegie Philanthropic Group will build off of their initial meeting to create a new fundraising plan. After identifying sixteen potential grant funders, Jonsie will be working to meet submission deadlines over the coming months. If any members have suggestions for potential funding opportunities, Jonsie would welcome the lead. Don’t hesitate to reach out directly.

New Jersey Transit, along with Amtrak, reached a major milestone in helping reduce delays for commuters by completing early construction work for the Portal North Bridge replacement program. The replacement bridge is being constructed due to regular delays caused by the current 109-year-old Portal Bridge malfunctioning over the Hackensack River. It is expected that the new bridge will increase NJ Transit's capacity by 10 percent and allow trains more efficient travel.

"The current Portal Bridge is a frequent source of delays and frustration for our customers," NJ Transit Executive Director Kevin Corbett said in a press release. "With the completion of this milestone on time and on budget, we eagerly await the USDOT's approval of our funding application to maintain forward progress on this vital project. We are one step closer to improving the reliability and predictability our customers deserve as they commute to and from work, school and recreation."

The early construction work project, which ran about $20 million, included:

  • New fiber optic poles to carry fiber optic cable lines that help provide data communications and transmission services to New York City and the surrounding metropolitan area;

  • A utility protection structure to protect a century-old cast iron water main that supplies water to Jersey City;

  • A finger pier to support future construction activities;

  • Two high voltage transmission poles that carry power lines that power trains along this section of the Northeast Corridor; and

  • A retaining wall west of Secaucus Junction to support the new bridge alignment.

NJ Transit said that the timeline for completing the new Portal North Bridge’s construction is dependent on the approval of a funding application by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Second Daily Train Between Chicago and Twin Cities Could Generate $25 Million Annually in Minnesota

  • $47 Million Economic Benefit Felt Across Wisconsin, Minnesota and Illinois

  • 90,000 People Could Shift From Car Travel to Passenger Rail

A second Amtrak train between Chicago and Minneapolis/ St. Paul could bring $25 million annually for the state of Minnesota, according to the Rail Passengers Association. This represents an economic return of eight- to ten- times Minnesota’s annual net spending to support the potential new service, which is an estimated $2 to $3 million annually. In a review of an Amtrak feasibility study, Rail Passengers also found that the overall economic benefit for three states of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois would be $47 million annually -- a return on investment of better than seven-to-one.

Rail Passengers issued a “Research Note” this week -- “Impacts From A Second Train To Minnesota” -- assessing the benefits of new service. Rail Passengers’ work is a follow-on to Amtrak’s 2015 study, “Feasibility Report on Proposed Amtrak Service Chicago - Milwaukee - LaCrosse- Twin Cities (St. Cloud).” Where Amtrak’s study was confined to assessing the feasibility of adding a second train in addition to current Empire Builder service, Rail Passengers took it a step further to assess the total economic benefits of running a second train. Rail Passengers conducted its assessment of Amtrak’s results using the IMPLAN economic-impact planning tool, which examines both direct and indirect economic effects at the county level.

To read more on the report please visit: www.railpassengers.org/happening-now/news/releases/second-daily-train-between-chicago-and-twin-cities-could-generate-25-million-annually-in-minnesota

Or you can read the report in its entirety at: www.railpassengers.org/site/assets/files/8142/rpa_research_note-_new_train_to_mn.pdf

March Newsletter Now Online

Our March Newsletter is now available online. This month shares important updates on registration for RailNation; the on-time performance issue heading to the U.S. Supreme Court; Amtrak’s Richard Anderson emphasizing the economic benefits of passenger train service; how HSR fits into the “Green New Deal,” and much more.

To read the newsletter, please visit: www.railpassengers.org/happening-now/news/rpa-newsletter

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy and President Trump plan to meet in person in hopes of finding a way around the impasse over funding the Gateway program. Murphy said that the two spoke at the annual winter conference of the National Governors Association and that the president is open to further dialogue about the project, which includes the construction of a new Hudson River Tunnel.

“This meeting will be critical to the future of Gateway, as well as the lives of millions of Americans,” said Rail Passengers President Jim Mathews. “The president has shown that he will back down on promises he made to improve our country’s infrastructure, or not move forward with a project due to a grudge. We look forward to hearing if President Trump will be open to a sensible dialogue about the need for a new Hudson River Tunnel to keep the Northeast Corridor up and running.”

The president previously said that New York and New Jersey need to fund a greater share of the cost for Gateway, and the project essentially stalled. The president however showed openness to providing federal support in early February. Trump is also under pressure to prioritize the country’s infrastructure with a Democratic-controlled House that is keen on Gateway and passing a comprehensive instructure bill.

The meeting between Governor Murphy and President Trump is to be scheduled soon.

Registration Open for Rail Passengers’ RailNation DC Advocacy Summit & Day on The Hill

This Year’s Theme Is ‘Blueprint 2020: Be the Architect’

Don’t Miss Out - Register Now!

Join the Rail Passengers Association in Washington, D.C. for our annual Spring Advocacy Summit and Day on The Hill (April 1 - 3) where we’ll discuss the challenges and solutions to building a better American rail system. With the surface transportation reauthorization kicking into gear, advocates have a unique opportunity to bring about real change. Join us in drafting the blueprint for 21st Century passenger rail in the U.S.

The event will be held at the Westin City Center in downtown Washington, D.C.

Monday, April 1st’s Advocacy Summit Sessions Include:

No Schedules: Regional Rail and the Future of American Passenger Trains

In conventional commuter rail systems there is great promise: the new world class standard takes commuter rail and runs it like transit, running often enough not to have to check schedules. Paris and Berlin have done this for decades, and now Toronto is joining them with its Metrolinx expansion. How can we make it happen here in the USA? Panelists include Peter Brassard, Chair of the Rhode Island Association of Rail Passengers; T. R. Hickey, Chief Development Officer of Virginia Railway Express; Moderated by Laurie Schintler, Associate Professor at the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University.

Luncheon Keynote: Ken Hylander, Amtrak Executive Vice President and Chief Safety Officer

Ken Hylander, who joined Amtrak in January 2018, will talk about the challenges of re-setting Amtrak’s safety culture, implementing the principles of a Safety Management System (SMS) at a passenger railroad, the current state of play in Positive Train Control and what aviation has to teach railroading when it comes to safety.

The View from the Hill: Infrastructure and the 116th Congress

We’ll hear from congressional staffers on the House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure and the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation about the transportation agenda for the 116th Congress and the plans for addressing the transportation crisis in the U.S. in the coming reauthorization.

How to Sell Trains to Your Congressman

Mike Friedberg, a partner at Holland & Knight who specializes in transportation, will give tips on how to best advocate for passenger rail and investment to your elected officials. Mr. Friedberg most recently served as staff director of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials of the U.S. House of Representatives' Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure under former-Chairman Bill Shuster.

Investments, Not Subsidies: How American Long Distance Trains Make Money

Learn exactly how and why American long distance passenger trains create economic benefits that far outweigh their costs, and how the Rail Passengers Association is quantifying the benefits of America’s National Network trains through economic impact. Panelists will include Rail Passengers President Jim Mathews and Dr. Yuanyuan Zhang, Research Professor at the University of Southern Mississippi’s Center for Logistics, Trade and Transportation.

What Can Passengers Do?: Advocacy Strategies That Really Work

There are other Rail Passengers around the country, just like YOU, that have made amazing progress for expanded passenger rail service in their communities. This panel of other Rail Passengers’ Council Members will share success stories, advocacy tips, and strategies for bringing about real change.

Tuesday, April 2nd.

Day on The Hill & Congressional Reception

Each year Rail Passengers members and other advocates meet with hundreds of Representatives and Senators to advocate for better trains and transit. The day will wrap up with a reception on Capitol Hill where we will honor Senators Michael Bennet, Cory Gardner, Martin Heinrich, Jerry Moran, Pat Roberts, and Tom Udall for their role in saving the Southwest Chief.

Don’t Miss Out - Register Now and Complete Information Here

New York City’s subway passengers are seeing fewer delays and better on-time arrival to their destinations since the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) implemented its Subway Action Plan in 2017. In January of this year, the subway system saw 42,348 weekday delays and an on-time performance 76.7 percent. Compared to the same time last year, there were 76,287 delays and an on-time performance of 58 percent. January 2019’s numbers are the best the agency has seen in four years.

“Our concerted efforts are paying off in the form of fewer delays, less waiting, faster trips and an overall better experience for our customers,” MTA New York City Transit President Andy Byford said in a press release. “These are sustainable improvements resulting from the Subway Action Plan, but we’re also limited by an aging infrastructure - in order to achieve the subway system that New Yorkers deserve and that Transit employees are capable of delivering, we need sustainable, adequate funding through means such as congestion pricing.”

The MTA’s Subway Action Plan work has included:

  • Clearing more than 40,000 street grates to prevent ingress of litter and leaves that build up on the track, causing fires and clogging drains;

  • Sealing more than 4,000 leaks to prevent water ingress that causes power and signal problems, deterioration of track and other equipment;

  • Repairing almost 20,000 minor track defects that if not repaired can cause delays;

  • Repairing or rebuilt more than 1,700 signal components, drastically reducing the backlog of issues that can disrupt service; and

  • Repairing door control units on over 1,000 cars in our oldest fleets to improve reliability of this critical component that cause 40 percent of car breakdowns.

Despite the work and success of improving service, the MTA said it “is in a dire financial position.” The agency has a an expected operating budget deficit of $500 million by 2020, and a $1 billion deficit by 2022. The MTA also has zero funding allocated for its next capital plan (2020-2024).

For their Subway Action Plan work to continue, the MTA said “it is absolutely necessary to pass congestion pricing” which includes a tolling system for vehicles entering Manhattan. It also needs to secure additional and recurring funding from city and state partners. Without the financial support, it is expected that fares would increase by 30 percent.

At What Cost?

Are we seeing value in fare hikes?

By Joe Aiello, Northeast Field Coordinator

This is beginning to feel like I’m in the 3rd Inning of a Ken Burns’ documentary. First I wrote about making the hard choices, then I covered the need for vision - and now I’m hitting on the price we pay for service.

(Next week it will be about the all-time greatest first basemen, I promise)

The news broke this week (while all eyes were on the Rayburn HOB) that the MTA board in New York approved a bi-yearly hike that would keep the base fare at $2.75, but raise the price of monthly passes and eliminate the MetroCard bonuses.

This would also raise the price of a commuter rail ticket by 4%.

To read our take on the new plan by the MTA, please visit: www.railpassengers.org/happening-now/news/blog/at-what-cost.

Your Feedback is Important to Improving Amtrak

The Rail Passenger Travel Review is now up and live on our website. For those who have taken recent Amtrak trips and want to provide their feedback, it can be accessed directly at RailPassengers.org/TravelReview.

Through the site, the Rail Passengers Association will collect passenger feedback from all across the National Network. Results will be summarized, analyzed and reported out to Amtrak--as well as other interested rail passenger providers and transportation advocates.

In addition to launching the Travel Review, we are asking you to help us promote it with other rail passengers as you travel. As you encounter passengers who want to make their positive and negative opinions known, just direct them to www.railpassengers.org/Travel Review. All participants will remain anonymous. If you encounter any problems with the Travel Review, or have any questions, please send an email to [email protected]

Just a few things to remember when filling out the Travel Review:

  • The Travel Review takes, on average, less than 10 minutes to complete.

  • Please do not start a Travel Review unless you have already completed a trip. It is important that you be able to report back on all completed aspects of the travel experience.

  • If you travel more than one route to reach your final destination, please fill out a separate Travel Review for each segment of your trip.

  • The Travel Review must be completed in one sitting.

The New York State Department of Transportation has set out and accomplished several major tasks for the preparation of future higher-speed rail service. The items completed by the state include:

  • A second track between Albany and Schenectady,

  • A fourth platform track at the Rensselaer station,

  • Positive train control on tracks south of Rensselaer,

  • Signal and grade crossing improvements south of Rensselaer and

  • New stations at Rochester & Niagara Falls, both with high-level platforms.

The list was shared by Ron Epstein, executive deputy commissioner at the state agency, but he did not say how the state will proceed with its plan to increase train speeds and train frequencies between Albany and Buffalo. A long-delayed final environmental impact statement is expected to be completed this spring, and it will it position the state to seek any federal funding that becomes available for high-speed rail projects that it would like to pursue. The most expensive of five alternatives New York is considering is a dedicated corridor that would see trains travel up to 125 mph. It would cost an estimated $14.7 billion, based on the draft environmental impact statement from 2015.

Bruce Becker, vice president of operations for the Rail Passengers Association, said the improvements touted by Epstein were significant. However, while all of these are good things and needed to be done, for New York to implement any possible definition of higher-speed rail, it will require a vastly higher level of investment and commitment by the state.

Amtrak to Long Island

An Historic Opportunity!

By Bruce Becker, Vice-President of Operations

Last month’s agreement between New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Amtrak paving the way for future commuter service along Amtrak’s Hell Gate Line in the East Bronx also included a commitment by both parties to explore providing direct Amtrak service to points on Long Island in the years to come. The potential of future one-seat intercity rides to points off the Island for the over 2.8 million residents of Nassau and Suffolk Counties is perhaps the real history-making aspect of the landmark agreement.

Rail service on Long Island dates back to the mid 1830’s when a combination of rail and boat routes was thought to be the only viable alternative to horses & stagecoaches for travel between New York & Boston. Unfortunately for Long Island, an all-land rail route along the Connecticut shore line was soon found to be feasible, which effectively ended the prospects of any early through ‘intercity’ service.

To read more of Bruce’s blog, please visit: www.railpassengers.org/happening-now/news/blog/amtrak-to-long-island.

A new 10-point plan to reorganize the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) could see the agency’s six transit operations centralized and receive a dedicated source of funding; among other action items. The plan was proposed by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. Under the plan, the goal would be to provide regular funding for the MTA in order to continue improvements in on-time performance, decreases in delays, and maintenance and upgrades. In addition the two political officials included the governor’s proposed congestion pricing system of establishing tolls to enter Manhattan as part of the plan.

MTA Acting Chair Fernando Ferrer said that the plan “addresses the fundamental challenges the MTA faces – a need for organization-wide reform, cost cutting, additional revenues, and increased efficiency. This proposal is a holistic cure for much of what ails the MTA... It builds on work we are already doing to improve service through aggressive action like the Subway Action Plan; reduce costs through innovative procurement and development models like those used on the LIRR Third Track and Double Track projects; and reduce spending through a mandate to all operating agencies.”

A breakdown of the proposed 10-point plan will see the MTA:

  • Develop a reorganization plan to to centralize common functions among the MTA's six entities: New York City Transit, Long Island Rail Road, Metro-North Rail Road, MTA Capital Construction, MTA Bus and SI Railway.

  • Include a congestion pricing financing model to be supplemented with state and city revenue from a fixed amount of the new internet sales tax derived from sales in NYC with a growth factor, and a percentage of the state and city revenue from the cannabis excise tax.

  • Control fares for public mass transportation in future years through cost containment actions and improved management.

  • Modify all board appointments so that terms end with appointing elected officials' tenure.

  • Partner with state and city officials to combat fare evasion.

  • Undergo an independent audit no later than January 2020 to determine actual assets and liabilities.

  • Have its capital plan reviewed by a committee of transportation, engineering and government experts who have no existing financial relationship with the MTA.

  • Have all major construction projects and planned projects pursued as "design build.

  • Immediately expedite the completion of the Subway Action Plan including signal repair, water management, station enhancements, rail welding, friction pad installation, increased refurbishment efforts and other service improvements.

  • Work closely with the governor and mayor, as well as state Legislature to effectuate provisions in the plan.

Winners of #ViewsOnATrain Photo Contest

We have received dozens of amazing and unique pictures for our #ViewsOnATrain photo contest. Pictures range from views of the country’s beautiful landscape - mountains, rivers, lakes, canyons and more - to the people we see and meet on trains to views of major metropolitan skylines.

We are sharing many of these great photos on our Instagram page (www.instagram.com/railpassengers). They include pictures from:

  • Mandy Baldwin, who won a runner up prize for a photo of the dining car/view from a trip she recently took on the Empire Builder with her mom. Manda shared that her mom hadn’t ridden a train in over 50 years and “LOVED that trip”.

  • Zoe Goldstein, who won a runner up prize for an image of the sunrise near Flagstaff, Arizona taken from the Southwest Chief.

  • James Rogers, who took a photo of Green River, Utah from the Amtrak California Zephyr;

  • Paul Russo who submitted a photo of Mount Shasta in California at sunrise from the Amtrak Coast Starlight Train.

  • Jim Fellers, who was runner up in the photo contest with an image of Lake Champlain from a southbound Adirondack train;

  • Wayne Senville, who took a photo of the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge over the Hudson River from a southbound Empire Corridor train;

  • Grant Haynes shared a pic of Montana, which he took from an Empire Builder train; and

  • Bill Wrenn took a photo of Barstow, California, from the Southwest Chief.

We are also still looking for more submissions. Photos can be submitted via Instagram, Facebook or Twitter depicting your experience as “The Rail Passenger” and your views from a train. Rail Passengers Association executives will be judging the photos, and the winners’ images will be used as part of our new visual identity on our website, in our monthly newsletter, on social media, and more!

When submitting your photos on social media, be sure to use the hashtag #ViewsOnATrain and tag @RailPassengers.

Following the recent news headlines that have raised questions about delivering the full construction of the high-speed rail project in California, Jim Mathews, President and CEO of the Rail Passengers Association, wrote about the struggles and hurdles of the project.

Mathews also underlined that ultimately the long-term benefits of high-speed rail are clear and the project should not be rejected.

To read Mathews’ full take on high-speed rail in California, please visit Global Railway Review at: www.globalrailwayreview.com/article/78254/california-hsr-reboot-not-reject.

Passengers with the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) will be able to catch commuter trains at the newly opened Blue Hill Avenue Station. The station opened following 24 months of construction. The station will service Fairmount Line passengers, and it is located 6.5 miles from South Station and a quarter mile from Mattapan Square. It features a center-island platform and two covered, fully accessible pedestrian ramps.

Riders who will travel through the Blue Hill Avenue Station can visit mbta.com for more information.

The Rail Passengers Spring Advocacy Summit in Washington, DC, is for ALL Rail Passengers...including YOU!

The dates are set for Rail Passengers’ RailNation: Washington 2019 Washington Advocacy Summit, Day on The Hill And Congressional Reception - Sunday, March 31st through Wednesday, April 3rd - and we hope to see YOU there! This year’s theme is: ‘Blueprint 2020: Be The Architect’

Rail Passengers meetings aren’t just for Council and Board Members...they’re for anybody who wants our country to invest in More Trains, Better Trains and a Commitment to Infrastructure. Whether you’ve been a member for decades or you’re brand-new to Rail Passengers...or even if you aren’t a member at all...you should come to Washington in March to make sure YOUR congressional representatives hear directly from YOU about rail and transportation!

We’re building informative sessions and hands-on workshops to make you a better advocate in your hometown. You won’t want to miss it.

The event agenda includes:

  • Sunday, March 31 - Afternoon Late Board Meeting open to all attendees

  • Monday, April 1 - Advocacy Summit Speakers, Presentations & Day on The Hill Prep

    • Confirmed programming includes sessions on:

      • ‘Investments, Not Subsidies: How American Long Distance Trains Make Money’

      • No Schedules: Regional Rail and the Future of American Passenger Trains’

      • ‘The View from the Hill: Infrastructure and the 116th Congress’

      • ‘How to Sell Trains to Your Congressman’

      • ‘What Can Passengers Do?: Advocacy Strategies That Really Work’

    • Monday’s lunch Keynote Address will be given by Kenneth Hylander, Amtrak’s Executive Vice President & Chief Safety Officer

  • On Monday Evening noted Rail Tour Operator Carl Fowler will present an engaging optional travel program entitled ‘Switzerland, Scenic Railway Paradise’. Carl’s presentation will benefit the ‘Jim Hamre Memorial Scholarship Fund’. Tickets for this special program are now available!

  • Tuesday, April 2 - Day on The Hill Visiting Congressional Offices & The Rail Passengers Annual Congressional Reception (To Be Held This Year In Room 106 Of The Dirksen Senate Office Building).

  • Wednesday, April 3 - Rail Passengers Council Annual Business Meeting & Elections (Concluding By Noon)

There’s also a new Host Hotel for 2019...the Westin City Center at Thomas Circle (3 1/2 blocks from the Metro). NOTICE: Group Rate rooms at the Westin are now sold out! Regular public rate rooms are currently available online at the nearby Washington Plaza Hotel. However, there Is NO Group Rate or other special arrangement at the Washington Plaza!

Event Registration is NOW OPEN! Please visit the Event Page for complete information!

Unique Travel Opportunities Available Concurrently With The RailNation DC Event:



  • Depart Savannah, GA 3/30 8:20am - Arrive Washington, DC 3/30 7:42pm.

  • Depart Washington, DC 4/3 10:00am - Arrive Savannah, GA 4/3 9:05pm

  • Fare includes 3 Meals each way and Happy Hour for $500 per person round trip

    • This is less than Amtrak's "flexible rate" for the same trip and we guarantee the food and comfort level are much better!

  • To book or get more information, send an email to [email protected] or call 706-326-0014

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

  • Wednesday, March 6 - All Aboard Minnesota ‘Rally for Trains’ - St. Paul, MN

  • Saturday, March 9 - New York State Passenger Rail Advocates Meeting & Lunch - Schenectady, NY

    • Confirmed Speakers:

      • Congressman Paul Tonko (D-NY20)

      • Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy

      • Michael Wojnar - Deputy Secretary For Transportation - Office of Governor Andrew Cuomo

      • Bill Hollister - Government Affairs Senior Manager - Amtrak

      • Donald Corkery - Director of Training (Ret.) - Long Island Rail Road

      • Bruce Becker - Vice-President Operations - Rail Passengers Association

  • Saturday, March 9 - Rail Passengers Association Mid-Atlantic (Northern Region - DE, NJ & PA) Meeting & Lunch - Harrisburg, PA

      • Featured Speaker - PennDOT Deputy Secretary Jennie Granger

  • Saturday, March 9 - Kentucky Rail Passengers Meeting - Louisville, KT

  • Thursday & Friday, March 14 & 15 - Passenger & Freight Railroads Unite Conference - Washington, DC

  • Monday, March 25 - Rhode Island Association of Railroad Passengers - North Providence, RI

  • Saturday, April 13 - All Aboard Arizona Spring Passenger Rail Summit - Mesa, AZ

  • Saturday, May 18 - Rail Passengers Northwest Division Meeting - Cut Bank, MT

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


The development of light-rail for Durham and Orange counties in North Carolina has come to a halt after officials with Duke University and North Carolina Railroad (NRCC) said they would not sign a cooperative agreement required to secure federal funds for the project. The deadline for the agreement was February 28.

In a letter alerting the transit agency of its decision, Duke University President Vincent Price, Executive Vice President Tallman Trask and Chancellor for Health Affairs Eugene Washington said “It has unfortunately not been possible to complete the extensive and detailed due diligence, by the deadlines imposed by the federal and state governments, that is required to satisfy Duke University’s, legal, ethical and fiduciary responsibilities to ensure the safety of patients, the integrity of research, and continuity of our operations and activities.”

In a separate letter, NCRR Chairman Michael Walters and President Scott Saylor said before the agency can sign onto the project, GoTriangle has to resolve other issues, including, "(1) the lease fee; (2) the performance guarantee payment provisions; (3) indemnification; and (4) engineering plans."

In response to the news, GoTriangle said in a statement that it is reviewing other options on how to move the project forward: “For more than a decade, and more intensely over the past year, GoTriangle and local elected officials have worked closely with the university to address concerns so Duke’s action today is especially disappointing. This is a major setback for the Durham and Orange County communities and the entire Triangle region. GoTriangle will work with the elected officials in Durham and Orange counties and the Federal Transit Administration to assess all available options and decide upon a course of action.”

Ahead of the agreement deadline, GoTriangle said that meetings with Duke officials began to show complications despite having partnered together for 15 years. The transit agency’s report also said that Duke staff members rarely attended meetings after 2015 delayed critical information about their needs, and only in recent months raised concerns about how the light-rail system might affect sensitive medical and research equipment.

The report, “D-O LRT and Duke: A Brief History,” was provided to The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun by GoTriangle spokesman Mike Charbonneau.

Passenger Rail Service Notices

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

Additional Northeast Regional Service to Norfolk, VA

Starting March 4, there will be two additional weekday trains arriving and departing Norfolk, as well as an additional train on Sundays. This will have a minor impact to other Northeast Regional train schedules as outlined below.


  • Train 84 will now depart at 6:15 am Monday through Friday

  • Train 94 will now depart Norfolk at 9:00 am


  • Train 71 on Saturdays will be replaced with Train 87

  • Train 87 will now continue to Norfolk on Saturday and Sunday, arriving at 11:36 pm

  • Train 93 will now operate to Norfolk, instead of Richmond, arriving at 10:31 pm

    • Train 93 will now operate Monday through Friday, replacing Train 83

  • Train 95 will now operate to Norfolk instead of Newport News, arriving at 7:04 pm

  • Train 125 will now terminate at Newport News

City of New Orleans Trains 58 and 59 Busing Between Jackson and New Orleans

Please be advised that CN railway closed the route used by Amtrak City of New Orleans due to flooding until further notice. Amtrak-chartered buses are being provided between Jackson and New Orleans as substitute transportation for Trains 58 and 59.

Normal train service will resume as soon as possible. Passengers will be provided bus service in both directions between Jackson, Hazlehurst, Brookhaven, McComb, Hammond and New Orleans. Passengers traveling north from New Orleans are asked to arrive at Union Passenger Terminal by 12:15 to board the buses.

Sebring Station Temporarily Closed

From Mar. 7 through 9, 2019 Sebring Station will be temporarily closed. Passengers planning to travel to Sebring will detrain in Winter Haven with no alternate transportation provided to Sebring.

The station will reopen on Sunday, Mar. 10 and normal service will resume.

Track Work Affects Service for Carolinian and Palmetto Trains

Through March 7, 2019, CSX Transportation will perform track work on the railroad, causing approximately 30-minute delays and schedule changes along the route.

Monday through Thursday between January 15 and March 7, Trains 52, 52, 89, 90, 97 and 98 can expect approximately 30 minutes of delays between Rocky Mount and Fayetteville.

Track Work Affects Sunset Limited and Texas Eagle Trains

Due to track work being performed by Union Pacific Railroad between San Antonio and El Paso through March 9, service for Sunset Limited and Texas Eagle Trains 1, 2, 421 and 422 will be adjusted as outlined below:

Train 1/421

  • Normal schedule from New Orleans to San Antonio and Chicago to San Antonio

  • Depart San Antonio at 2:15 am, 30 minutes earlier than scheduled

  • Depart Del Rio at 7:19 am, 90 minutes later than scheduled

  • Depart El Paso at 4:47 pm, 3 hours later than scheduled

  • Arrive in Los Angeles at 8:40 am, 3 hours and 5 minutes later than scheduled

Train 2/422

  • Depart Los Angeles at 7:26 pm, 2 hours and 34 minutes earlier than scheduled

  • Departs El Paso at 12:51 pm, 2 hours and 44 minutes earlier than scheduled

  • Departs San Antonio at 6:25 am, then runs normal schedule from San Antonio to New Orleans and San Antonio to Chicago

Trains Canceled February 17 through March 9

  • Train 1 departing New Orleans February 18, 25 and March 4.

  • Train 421 departing Chicago February 24 and March 3.

  • Train 2/422 departing Los Angeles February 24 and March 3.

  • No alternate transportation will be provided on these dates.

Track Work Affects Service & Schedules for Texas Eagle Train 21/421

Effective Feb. 24 through Mar. 10, 2019, track work being performed by Union Pacific Railroad will affect Amtrak Texas Eagle service.

To accommodate passengers, bus Service between Texarkana and Mineola will be provided

  • Trains 21/421 will detour between Texarkana and Mineola missing stops at Marshall, Longview and Shreveport.

  • Passengers traveling to Marshall, Longview and Shreveport will stay on the train through to Mineola where they will detrain and board Amtrak Thruway Bus 6121 to their destination. Bus 6121 will originate at Mineola instead of Longview.

  • Passengers scheduled to connect with thruway service at Longview will also detrain at Mineola. Thruway Bus 6021, Houston Service, will board passengers at Mineola instead of Longview.

  • Passengers scheduled to board at Shreveport, Marshall and Longview will be picked up by Thruway Bus 6421 and carried to Mineola to board Train 21/421.

Note- Train 21/421 may be delayed up to 15 to 20 minutes at Mineola to hold for connecting buses.

Pacific Surfliner Weekend Service Changes for Friday, Saturday and Sunday Mar. 1 through 10, 2019

Track work being performed by North County Transit District will affect Pacific Surfliner service, on the dates shown below:

  • Fridays, Mar. 1 and 8:

    • Train 590 will be cancelled. Passengers can make reservations aboard other Amtrak trains.

    • Bus service will be provided from Los Angeles to San Diego, making stops at Oceanside, Solana Beach, Old Town San Diego and San Diego Downtown. No alternate transportation will be provided to Fullerton, Anaheim, Santa Ana, Irvine and San Juan Capistrano.

  • Saturday and Sunday, Mar. 2-3 and 9-10:

    • Trains 562, 583, 1565, 1566, 1569, 1572, 1573 and 1590 will be cancelled. Passengers can make reservations aboard other Amtrak trains.

    • Southbound Train 782 will terminate at Los Angeles. No alternate transportation will be provided between Los Angeles and San Diego. Passengers can make reservations aboard other Pacific Surfliner trains.

    • Southbound Train 796 will terminate at Los Angeles and bus service will be provided for all missed stops.

    • Southbound Trains 580, 768, 774, 792, 1564 and 1584 will operate normally to Irvine, where bus service will be provided from Irvine to San Diego. Express buses will run from Irvine to San Juan Capistrano, Oceanside, Solana Beach, Old Town San Diego and downtown San Diego only.

    • Northbound Trains 591, 595, 763, 777, 785, 1579, 1761 and 1767 will originate in Irvine. Bus service will be provided from San Diego to Irvine to connect with the trains listed above, with the exception of Train 1761. Buses will depart downtown San Diego, Solana Beach, Oceanside and San Juan Capistrano earlier than the train schedule to allow time to connect with trains in Irvine.

      • Buses will not pick up at Old Town San Diego. Passengers can take the trolley to downtown San Diego to board buses to Irvine.

      • Bus service will not be provided to connect with Train 1761.

      • Metrolink will honor Amtrak tickets between Irvine and Los Angeles

Please note: There will be no checked baggage or express service south of Santa Ana on the dates shown above. Alternate bus service will not serve San Clemente Pier.

The New Hampshire Department of Transportation can use federal funding to complete a study of the Capitol Corridor commuter rail project, which would run from Boston up to Manchester. The state Senate approved Senate Bill 241, and it allows the NHDOT to use $4 million in federal funds to complete the study, which is included in the governor’s 10-year transportation plan.

The study would examine several aspects of the Capitol Corridor project. A new study will conduct an analysis of engineering, environmental and geotechnical aspects of the project and develop a financial plan for expanding passenger rail from Boston to New Hampshire. The study would be a follow-up to a 2015 study that found a range of economic benefits, including the creation of 5,600 permanent jobs and 3,400 construction jobs tied to associated real estate development.


Rail Passengers’ partnership with MemberDeals will give members access to exclusive savings on movie tickets, theme parks, hotels, rental cars, tours, Broadway and Vegas shows and more through the members only area of the Rail Passengers website. Be sure to check back often as new products and discounts are constantly being added!

Whether you are from Bakersfield, Bismarck or Boston, Rail Passengers and MemberDeals have you covered! Our MemberDeals partnership covers venues, services and attractions throughout the country...take a look to see where there might be savings on fun outings near you!

Remember, if you want to use these great internet-only discounts, you must be a member in good standing AND be logged in to the Rail Passengers website. If you need help accessing these discounts email us at [email protected], or call the office at 202-408-8362.

After 36 hours of being stranded, 183 passengers on board an Amtrak train were rescued. The train was originally left on Sunday for Los Angeles, but arrived Tuesday afternoon in Eugene, OR. Along its initial trip, the train became stuck due to a fallen tree on the tracks and severe snowfall.

"The heat and the plumbing were still working, so it was not a dangerous situation, but certainly an unpleasant one," Rail Passengers Association’s Abe Zumwalt said.

To rescue the stranded passengers, crews worked around the clock to clear the track. Once able, a Union Pacific locomotive began pulling the Amtrak train back to Eugene.

While it looks as if the passengers were well cared-for and fed, most were frustrated by a lack of real information about what was happening and what they might expect. Mother Nature did her worst and it would have been unfair to expect exact answers as crews did their work. But regular updates, at a minimum, were certainly warranted and passengers shouldn’t be left guessing about their fate. Rail Passengers has made some inquiries to Amtrak on this issue.

Citigroup Inc. and Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group (MUFG) have been selected by Texas Central as the company’s financial advisers and capital-raising leads for the high-speed rail project. In their roles, the two banks will assist Texas Central in securing funding through various fundraising efforts for the private project, which will link Houston and North Texas in 90 minutes. Citi will serve as the sole global coordinator and lead financial adviser, while MUFG will be a co-global financial adviser. The two financial groups will assist in securing the debt and equity to finance the project.

Rail Passengers Association Board Director Elections

Nominations are now being sought from qualified Rail Passengers Association members interested in being elected to one of two available Board Director positions at the upcoming Council of Representatives Annual Business Meeting being held on Wednesday, April 3, 2019.

These Board Director positions are for three-year terms, ending in April 2022.

For more information on how you could make a difference as a Rail Passengers Association Board Director, please review the position’s required qualifications, description, duties and responsibilities.

If you are interested in seeking a Board Director position, you must complete and submit a Candidate Information Statement by the March 31, 2019 deadline. Questions may be directed to either Board Chair Peter LeCody at [email protected] or Vice-President of Operations Bruce Becker at [email protected].

Openings Available For Rail Passengers State Council Representatives

The following vacancies now exist for state representatives on the Rail Passengers Council of Representatives: Alabama (1 opening); California (6 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); Texas (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 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.