Hotline #747 - February 24, 2012

The meeting will take place on April 23-25, 2012 in Washington, D.C.  NARP’s Day on the Hill will occur on Tuesday, April 24, with a reception to follow that evening.
The February issue of NARP News incorrectly stated the dates for the meeting. NARP regrets the error.
All NARP members are encouraged to attend.

Proponents of the House version of the surface transportation reauthorization were forced to retreat yesterday in the face of overwhelming opposition to a proposal that would have eliminated dedicated funding for public transportation, penalized transit systems that operate rail lines in addition to buses, and reduce Amtrak’s authorization levels.
“House Republican leaders are considering a revamped approach that would retain the Speaker’s vision of linking infrastructure to expanded American energy production, and allow Republicans to stay on offense on energy and jobs,” a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH).
While GOP leadership is downplaying the “revamp,” it is clear that the five-year, $260 billion bill hadn’t garnered enough support from the Republican members of the House.  The overhaul will definitely remove provisions to eliminate the dedicated source of transit funding, and will likely shorten the total length of the bill from five years to two—avoiding many of the funding difficulties.  Boehner’s spokesman indicated the bill will still tie transportation funding to new revenue from opening up more land for oil drilling.
“Now that the Republican leadership has shifted gears, we look forward to their reaching across the aisle and working with us to fashion a true bipartisan surface transportation bill,” said Representative Nick Rahall (D-WV), the ranking member on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.  “We will meet them at the intersection of fiscal common sense and good public policy.”
Over 300 amendments were filed for the bill, an indication of the general level of the dissatisfaction among House Members.  Since the bill never made it to the House floor, none of the amendments were voted on.  Below are all the pro- and anti-Amtrak amendments that were offered—when the revamped version of the bill is reintroduced, these amendments may be refiled.
• Carson (D-IN) #86– strike the decreased authorization levels (this might be withdrawn since it only refers to operating grants and Amtrak’s request is lower than what HR7 would still provide);
• LaTourette (R-OH) #15 – strike prohibition on use of federal funds for outside legal fees in cases involving other passenger rail operators;
• Grimm (R-NY)/Carnahan (D-MO) #141 – strike Section 8106 which requires that “food and beverage service may be provided on Amtrak trains only by a bidder selected by the Federal Railroad Administration;” 
• Jackson Lee (D-TX) #119 – strike certain provsions granting Amtrak’s Inspector General similar powers to those of an inspector general’s office for a federal agency [note: Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee is alphabetized under J.];
• Broun #78 (R-GA) – remove funding for any Amtrak route other than Acela in the NEC;
• Broun #79 (R-GA) –  require GAO to study current losses associated with Amtrak’s long distance services; identify steps required to privatize Amtrak; and,
• Sessions #102 (R-TX) – prohibit funds from being used to subsidize Amtrak lines that operate at a 50 percent loss.

Senate Pushes Opposing Legislation
The Senate, meanwhile, is having problems of its own.  After Democratic leadership failed to muster 60 votes in a procedural vote, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will now have to hammer out an agreement on what amendments will be considered germane on the floor.
The Senate has avoided much of the controversy that has embroiled the House by focusing on a less ambitious, two-year, $109 billion bill that would in large part maintain current levels of funding and programs.  Democratic leadership is hoping to restrict the amount of controversial amendments to the bill to maintain their momentum.
Time Running Out
Congress has until March 31, when current highway/transit authority expires, to get a deal worked out.  Both sides are looking to avoid a short-term extension—the existing authorization has already been extended nine times since it originally expired in September of 2009.  With the Highway Trust Fund running out of money, it is unlikely that a short-term fix will address the fundamental problems inhibiting transportation investment in the U.S.
“An extension doesn’t get you where you need to go in the short term or the long term,” said AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department President Edward Wytkind in an interview with The Hill. “The Highway Trust Fund is reaching a major point of insolvency … you can’t just do an extension, because after the fall, it’ll be running out of money.”

Federal transportation officials were in Dallas yesterday to visit three stations along the city’s 28-mile Green Line light rail expansion project.  They were promoting the transit oriented development that has shot up along the line, providing an economic boost for the region.
“President Obama called on us to rebuild America by putting people back to work constructing projects that are built to last, like the Dallas Green Line,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “All across Texas, there is work like this to be done that will improve our transit systems, highways, railways and airports for years to come. At this make-or-break moment for the middle class, we can afford to do no less.”
The Dallas Area Rapid Transit authority estimates that the Green Line project is expected to provide $5.6 billion in economic impact and help create 48,000 long-term jobs in the North Texas region.  One product of the line is a $3 billion relocation of the Parkland Memorial Hospital—a teaching and training facility for the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center—which is moving to be closer to the Green Line’s Medical District/Parkland station.
“The economic development along the Green Line is remarkable and it’s happening in other cities across the country where local officials have embraced transit choice,” said Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff. “Better access to jobs and state-of-the-art medical facilities at Baylor University and Parkland Memorial really mean a better quality of life for Dallas residents.”

New Jersey’s Historic Sites Council voted yesterday to table the application filed by New Jersey Transit to remove 460 feet of historic train tracks leading to Princeton University’s station on the Princeton Branch commuter rail line (nicknamed “the Dinky”).
Princeton University is attempting to move forward with a plan to convert the historic train station into a restaurant and café as part of a larger arts/transit neighborhood renovation.  The plan requires moving the station 460 feet south to a new location further away from the center of town. 
Representatives of NJ Transit, Princeton University, local NARP Council Members, a Save the Dinky advocacy organization, and local residents appeared before the board to argue the merits of the plan.  The Historic Sites Council—which serves in an advisory role to the Department of Environmental Protection on issues of historic import—does not actually have a say over what happens to the station; Princeton University owns the station, and its decisions are not subject to the Historic Council’s oversight.  NJ Transit, however, will need the council’s approval before it can remove the 460 feet of tracks—which have been part of the line since 1865—leading to the Dinky station and an adjacent freight station (the station itself dates to 1918).
In a written statement submitted to the council, NARP President Ross Capon argued against the move:
“Moving the Dinky so far away from the campus and town center that one may as well drive all the way to Princeton Junction to catch a train only serves to increase automobile dependence in an era when rising gas prices and worsening congestion threaten to severely hamper our way of life if we remain wedded to this one mode.  The convenient connectivity that the Dinky now offers the Princeton community greatly enhances the community’s freedom of mobility – a benefit that will become even clearer as time goes on.”
The council ended up tabling the question until litigation had a chance work its way through the courts.
“Since this matter is under litigation, I think our consideration of it is premature,” said council member Constance Greiff. “I would like to see the (legal) matter resolved before we’re asked to take a position.”

A deadly train crash in Argentina claimed the lives of 49 people yesterday, injuring over 400.
The eight-car train was operating on a line in Bueno Aires during the morning rush, packed with more than 1,200 passengers on their morning commuter.  Verbal accounts from passengers indicate that the train was showing signs of trouble in attempts to stop at previous stations, overshooting platforms in some cases, and missing one station entirely.
Recordings indicate that the train was only traveling around 12 mph when it crashed into the metal shock absorbers at the end of the line.  While the locomotive was heavily damaged, the much lighter passenger cars fared much worse, with the passengers in the first two cars getting the worst of it.
“That’s a very slow speed” to cause so many deaths University of Southern California engineering professor Naj Meshkati told the Associated Press. “It’s important to look at the age of the cars.”
The Trains of Buenos Aires (TBA) company offers very low fares, but some officials have warned that there has been a tradeoff in maintenance and safety.  TBA has kept capital costs down by purchasing outdated castoffs from other transit systems, and uses hundreds of Japanese rail cars manufactured in the 1960s.
The crash was Argentina’s deadliest rail accident since February of 1970.

Hotline #747
February 24, 2012
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