While there appears to be some cracks forming between House and Senate negotiators over the surface transportation bill, reports indicate the conference committee is on track to drop a report draft sometime next week.
With the June 30 expiration of current transportation law looming, legislators will have to reach some sort of deal to extend current authorizing law—either through a bill based on the bipartisan bill passed by the Senate (termed MAP-21), or a short-term extension of current law.
With only one week left, it is vitally important to educate legislators on the importance of including the MAP-21’s rail title in the final bill. One of the most vital elements is including Amtrak eligibility for the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement (CMAQ) Program. CMAQ funds go to states for transportation projects designed to reduce traffic congestion and improve air quality. Trains decrease road congestion and emissions quite naturally, so increasing the flexibility of the CMAQ program would provide an important source of funding for Amtrak.
Call your Representative and Senators and ask them to make sure the final surface transportation bill includes a CMAQ program that supports Amtrak service.
It’s been a mixed week for VIA Rail Canada, the government-sponsored national passenger train operator: within days of the railroad’s announcement that it posted revenue gains in Fiscal Year 2011, the Global News published stories indicating many routes and services are on the block in the wake of the Canadian government’s reduction of the company’s operating grant.
VIA Rail issued a statement on May 30th announcing growth in ticket revenue that, in combination with “rigorous” cost controls, could cut $30 million from its operations request to the federal government (that number doesn’t include pension costs).
“As we move forward, we are on track to achieve significant
improvements in VIA's overall performance by 2017,
The press release did hint at financial difficulties stemming from a lagging economy that has negatively impacted the travel market.
“While we faced a challenging first quarter, we are confident that we can meet our performance objectives for 2012,” said President and Chief Executive Officer Marc Laliberté.
The Global News also reported on a number of reductions being considered. It appears the Canadian (Toronto – Vancouver) could be reduced to two times per week during winter months; the Ocean (Montreal – Halifax) reduced to three times per week year-round (instead of the current six); and all service between Gaspe and Moncton faces elimination. Other sources familiar with VIA Rail’s operations report that the North Line between Toronto and Sarnia via Kitchener could be eliminated, along with all Toronto-Niagara Falls frequencies other than the Toronto-New York Maple Leaf, operated jointly with Amtrak.
Canadian passenger train advocates were quick to defend the benefits of properly implemented intercity rail service.
“Efficient passenger rail service, where track
infrastructure exists, is proven to provide passenger service at the lowest
possible level of public subsidy when all costs, including infrastructure, are
taken into account," said Dan Hammond from Transport Action Ontario. "VIA Rail
As of the time of publishing, VIA Rail has declined to comment on the reports.
The PAC in question is Americans for Prosperity, a group helmed in large part by the conservative, billionaire Koch brothers. That a national PAC would pay for an extensive campaign of robo-calls against a regional transit project is yet another indicator of how some groups are looking to keep rail a wedge issue in the lead up to this year's election.
“Loudoun cannot afford this bail-out to rail-station
developers,’’ reads the script of the call, according to the Washington Post. “If the
The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority came under fire from the Washington Post this week for the spending habits of board members. But the Post’s story drew a clear line between the airport authority and the rail project, raising doubt about the veracity of the claims made by American for Prosperity, indicating that the line could be completed without negatively affecting rates for families.
“At the end of the day, five of us have to decide that this is a project worth doing as a county,’’ said Loudon County Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles). “And if we believe that, then we can find a way to make it work without really impacting the tax rate.”
Southern California passengers who will have to pay an extra $20.25 for Metrolink’s monthly pass starting July 1, after Metrolink’s board voted to approve a 7 percent fare hike in an emergency session held on May 30.
This will be the 11th time Metrolink raised fares in the past 14 years, and the highest percentage increase in ticket prices in the commuter railroad’s 19 years of operation.
Metrolink faces a $13 million deficit in this year’s budget. The authority attributes the deficit, in large part, to $4 million in higher fuel costs, $4.2 million in added labor expenses, and $1.2 million for passenger transfer costs.
The seven percent hike will net Metrolink a projected $4.5 million in additional revenue. Metrolink’s Board was presented with a nine percent fare increase which members rejected, fearing that too many passengers would be driven away from the service. The remaining portion of the deficit will be paid by member agencies, which includes the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the Orange County Transportation Authority, the Riverside County Transportation Commission, San Bernardino Associated Governments and the Ventura County Transportation Commission.
Metrolink’s ridership is up 8 percent this year alone, coming on the heels of an 8 percent increase during the previous year. The same soaring gas prices that are straining the Metrolink’s operating budget are driving more and more commuters to use the service, and transit advocates were quick to make the case for strong local support of the system.
"Many Southern California drivers and mass transit
users will rely on Metrolink to get them through what is projected to be a very
tough summer for gas prices,” Bart Reed, executive director of the nonprofit
The Transit Coalition, told the Whittier
Daily News. “Maintaining current
service levels, as well as service additions such as express, weekend and
holiday trains, will provide
Los Angeles County’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority voted this week to approve locking gates for all 85 miles of its rail network, ending the transit systems twenty plus year experiment with the honor system.
Passengers have been expected to do the right thing and buy a ticket since the system’s inauguration in 1990, with patrolling transit police performing spot checks of passengers tickets the only real means of enforcement. Passengers caught riding without a valid ticket were subject to a $250 fine.
The MTA has been investing heavily in expanding the city’s rail network in the past decade, and transit officials expect that better enforcement will net a revenue bump.
"The honor system hasn't worked. "I don't know of any major metropolitan
transit agency in the world that does this,"
The transition will begin on the Red and Purple subway lines this summer, with the aboveground sections following suit.
With a rail system this big, the change won’t come without challenges. Many above ground stations will need to be retrofitted to accommodate the locking gates. Metro also connects with 17 other transit systems; a big hurdle was cleared when the commuter rail operator Metrolink agreed to include Metro’s transponder chips in their tickets, allowing for easy transfers.
“These aggressive enforcement actions against unsafe bus companies send a clear signal: If you put passengers’ safety at risk, we will shut you down,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “Safety is and will always be our highest priority.”
The FMCSA also ordered 10 individual bus company owners, managers and employees to cease all passenger transportation operations, including selling bus tickets to passengers.
Low-cost intercity bus lines have been exploding in recent years, especially in the Northeast and Mid Atlantic regions. But the rush into the market has led to cost cutting measures that can put passenger lives at risk. A series of deadly bus crashes last spring has drawn the attention of federal investigators, who found widespread instances of safety violations in the lead up to this unprecedented shutdown.
Violations included a continuous pattern of employing
drivers without valid commercial driver's licenses, failure to institute alcohol
and drug testing programs for critical employees, and irregular inspection and
repair schedules for the companies’ fleets. The companies were also found to
pressure unqualified drivers to work longer shifts than hours-of-service regulations
permit, putting tens of thousands of passengers at risk to poor fatigued decision
making. The bus companies in question transported
over 1,800 passengers up and down Interstate-95 between
“The egregious acts of these carriers put the unsuspecting public at risk, and they must be removed from our highways immediately,” said FMCSA Administrator Anne S. Ferro. “With the help of multiple state law enforcement partners, we are putting every unsafe bus and truck company on notice to follow the safety laws or be shut down.”
The 2012 Rail
Conference and International Rail Rodeo will take place June 3-6 in
The 2012 conference encompasses all facets of the rail industry including: safety and security, commuter, high-speed and intercity rail, planning, sustainability and finance, capital projects, operations and technical forums. Rail professionals from throughout the industry will share best practices, lessons learned, and effective and timely solutions.
To find out more, check out APTA’s website.