Hotline #805 -- April 5, 2013

Updated: April 5, 2013 - 6:05 PM Eastern

 

A public opinion survey done for the United Transportation Union found strong support for Amtrak in three conservative, Republican-dominated districts where service exists.  Less than a quarter of respondents favored eliminating Amtrak funding.

The survey focused on three districts in Illinois, Missouri, and North Dakota.  Even in these traditionally conservative districts—all currently represented by Republicans in the House of Representatives—65 percent said that Amtrak funding “should continue at current levels or increase” when told eliminating federal assistance would lead to  elimination of the service, with only 21 percent of respondents saying they believe funding for Amtrak should be eliminated.

Even among self-identified Republicans, 52 percent said they would like to see current levels or an increase, and only 31 percent said funding for Amtrak should be eliminated.

Other notable findings include:

  • By a 4-to-1 ratio (72-17%), constituents under age 45 support keeping/increasing government funding of Amtrak, versus eliminating funding; the 55 percent positive gap is the highest among all age groups. Those over-age-65 show a 43 percent positive gap, and age 45-64 show a 35 percent positive gap. The gap refers to the difference between those who want to keep/increase funding as opposed to those who want to eliminate funding.
  • Women are more likely to support government funding of Amtrak, with a 50 percent positive gap (68-18% support level) than men, who have a 35 percent positive gap (62-27% support level)
  • By a 3.5-to-1 ratio (69-21%), self-indentified Independents support keeping/increasing government funding. Democrats have a 70 percent positive gap (80-10% support level), and over 50 percent of self-identified Republicans show support for Amtrak funding.

The full survey is available online.

 

NARP issued a press release yesterday congratulating the town of Hope, Arkansas on the inauguration of intercity passenger rail in Hempstead County, after over 20 years of hard work to secure an Amtrak stop at Hope. 

The Texas Eagle was welcomed with a fireworks show when it reached Hope.  The train will connect residents of southwest Arkansas to Little Rock, Dallas, Chicago, and other stops along the route of the Texas Eagle train.  NARP’s release describes the festivities that capped the effort to restore service:

Service in Hope began early this morning, with an estimated 150 business and civic leaders, public officials, and members of the public boarding a train in Hope for a 30-mile trip to Texarkana.  Hope’s train depot was erected in 1912 by St. Louis, Iron Mountain & Southern Railroad, but fell into disrepair.  In the early 1990s, town leaders successfully led a movement to restore the station as a museum honoring former President—and native son of Hope—Bill Clinton.  The community of Hope has been working with Amtrak to make the Hope station a stop for the Texas Eagle since 1993.  The route has seen steady ridership growth over the past decade, and will provide a vital connection to scores of cities in the Midwest and Southwest.

“NARP has supported restoration of service to Hope all along, and we believe this new stop could be the beginning of even more improvements to the proposed Memphis-Little Rock-Dallas rail corridor," said NARP Board Member Bill Pollard, a resident of Conway.  “Not only will the new rail stop improve transportation choices for HempsteadCounty residents, it also positions the County to take advantage of additional frequencies and faster speeds that could be recommended in an intercity passenger rail study underway in the state.”

The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department has initiated a cost-benefit analysis of raising train speeds and adding train frequencies on the Memphis-Little Rock-Texarkana-Dallas passenger rail corridor. 

“Just about everyone in Arkansas knows how bad traffic is on Interstate 40 between Memphis and Little Rock, and building a higher-speed passenger rail service connecting Memphis to Dallas would be cost competitive with widening the highway,” added Pollard.

 

Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) announced April 2 that weekend passenger train service between Boston and Cape Cod will return after a 25 year absence.

Local transportation officials believe the rail service, dubbed the Cape Flyer, will attract tourists and generate economic activity.  The train will run May 24 to September 2, with a one way ticket between Boston and Hyannis costing $20, and a round trip fare costing $35.

“This is a great opportunity to bring more visitors to the Cape and Islands for a car-free experience to enjoy our beaches, restaurants and other attractions that make this region a prime vacation destination,” said Thomas Cahir, administrator of the Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority.

The Commonwealth also believes the train will help ease traffic and reduce pollution on the heavily congested corridor.

“The reintroduction of rail service to Cape Cod during the summer will not only give visitors a more relaxing, enjoyable journey but is a project focused on smart economic development and MassDOT’s GreenDOT goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and promoting healthy transportation options for the Commonwealth,” said MassDOT Secretary Richard A. Davey.

 

U.S. Representative Louise Slaughter of New York announced this week that construction on the Rochester Intermodal Transit Center will begin by the end of this summer, creating a modern gateway to the city and invigorating downtown Rochester.

Rep. Slaughter briefed media on the project, revealing that the New York State Department of Transportation will award a design-build contract by the end of July, with initial construction set to start in August.

The existing Rochester station was erected in 1978 as a temporary facility and is served by the Empire Service, the Lake Shore Limited, and the Maple Leaf.  The $27 million project will bring the station into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and includes retail for passengers. Phase two of the project, as yet unfunded, will bring intercity bus service into the new facility (buses currently use a temporary building across the street from the station site).

Construction is scheduled to be substantially completed in 2015, and fully completed in 2016.

 

The Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon (TriMet) announced last week the Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail Transit Project reached a new jobs milestone this month by creating more than 5,000 jobs.

Preliminary engineering on the project began in March 2009, and construction is currently 40 percent complete. The light-rail project has created 2,749 direct jobs, with 1,816 on-site construction jobs and 933 professional and technical jobs.  The transit investment also led to the creation of 2,511 indirect jobs, mostly based in Oregon and WashingtonState.

“We’re thrilled that the planning and construction of the region’s sixth light rail project is providing job opportunities for local workers and firms,” said TriMet Capital Projects Executive Director Dan Blocher. “This project is making a real difference to our local economy, while we expand and improve our transit system.”

The $1.49 billion extension will add seven miles of track and 10 stations, connecting downtown Portland, Portland State University, the south waterfront, southeast Portland, the city of Milwaukie, and North Clackamas County.  The project includes a “first of its kind” multi-modal bridge—closed to cars and trucks—dedicated exclusively to light rail, buses, bikes, pedestrians, and a future Portland Streetcar extension over the WillametteRiver.

 

Amtrak has prepared an Environmental Assessment for the construction of an underground concrete casing in New York City to preserve a right of way for the future expansion of rail service on the Northeast Corridor.  The concrete casing is part of the Gateway Project, which will build another rail tunnel under the Hudson River between New York and New Jersey.

While Congress has yet to identify funds for the construction of the Gateway Project, Amtrak is already running at capacity through the New York City chokepoint, and will need to expand access if any improvements and expansions to service are to take place.  The Federal Railroad Administration has outlined the details of the project:

The right-of-way preservation is proposed at this time since a real estate development corporation, under an agreement with the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) and the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), is constructing a development in the area above Hudson Yards. This development (referred to as the overbuild project) has all necessary local and state approvals and started construction in the southern portion of Hudson Yards (south of proposed Project site) in December 2012.

Amtrak proposes to construct the concrete casing in conjunction with the overbuild project to preserve a viable location as an option for a future tunnel into Penn Station, New York. Once the real estate developer has built the immense foundations and platform for the overbuild project, it will be infeasible for Amtrak to construct a tunnel underneath the overbuild project. The proposed underground concrete casing involves construction of an underground rectangular structure that is 800 feet long, 50 feet wide, and approximately 35 feet high. Amtrak anticipates constructing the proposed Project using federal funding.

Comments regarding the Environmental Assessment are being accepted by Amtrak.

 

The Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force announced yesterday that all federally funded Sandy-related rebuilding projects will need to meet a new, uniform flood risk reduction standard to protect coastal communities from future storms and to better utilize public investments.

The new standards will focus on elevating where possible, and flood-proofing structures that are too difficult to raise.  Elevation standards will require structures to be one foot higher than the Federal Emergency Management Administration’s (FEMA) current flood risk guidance.  For example: an Amtrak-owned electrical plant in New Jersey that was knocked out by the storm will be raised by one foot, for an approximate cost of $25 million.  Stricter standards will also be applied for flood-proofing sensitive building elements that cannot be raised—like boilers and electrical systems.

The Task Force explained the rationale behind the new standards in a press release:

The standard, which is informed by the best science and best practices including assessments taken following Hurricane Sandy and brings the federal standard into alignment with many state and local standards already in place, takes into account the increased risk the region is facing from extreme weather events, sea level rise and other impacts of climate change and applies to the rebuilding of structures that were substantially damaged and will be repaired or rebuilt with federal funding. As a result, the new standard will require residential, commercial, or infrastructure projects that are applying for federal dollars to account for increased flood risk resulting from a variety of factors by elevating or otherwise flood-proofing to one foot above the elevation recommended by the most recent available federal flood guidance.

This is the same standard that many communities in the region, including the entire state of New Jersey, have already adopted – meaning federally funded rebuilding projects in the impacted region often already must comply with this standard.  In fact, some communities require rebuilding higher than this minimum standard and if they do so, that stricter standard would supersede this standard as the minimum requirement.

“President Obama has called on us to invest in our nation’s infrastructure—and that includes ensuring that our transit systems, roads, rails and bridges are built to last,” said Transportation Secretary LaHood. “The flood risk reduction standard is a common sense guideline that will save money over the long-term and ensure that our transportation systems are more resilient for the future.”

The new federal standards will not be retroactive, but will be applied to future projects that rely on federal funding where the damage exceeds 50 percent of the value of the structure.

 

Amtrak launched a new blog last month to create a new channel to connect with passengers, and is encouraging the public to comment on Amtrak’s activities and share their favorite parts of train travel.

All Aboard will be updated regularly with news, promotional deals, historical features and photos, and some behind-the-scenes looks at Amtrak’s operations.

"Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram can be somewhat limiting in terms of the stories you can tell," Julia Quinn, Amtrak's director of social media, told Ragan. "Telling a great story that's coming out of our engineering department with a Facebook post and a couple of pictures really just wasn't doing that story justice. We wanted to provide our customers with a deeper look at what's happening here at Amtrak."