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Thank You for Joining our Online Rail Policy Briefing

May 29, 2020

Materials and follow-up from our May 27th online briefing on National Rail Policy and High-Speed Rail.

Thank you to the hundreds of like-minded passengers and fellow advocates who were able to join us this week for our National Briefing Webinar. It was a wonderful event that highlighted an important discussion on where transit goes from here as we approach the "new normal", our policy responses to the coronavirus relief funding bills, as well as the one-on-one chat between Rail Passengers President & CEO Jim Mathews and Congressman Seth Moulton of Massachusetts.

A number of questions were asked in the chat during the webinar and, due to time constraints, we could not get to them all. The DC staff was able to save a selection to answer. You will find those below. If you have any further questions, please contact us.

If you were not able to make it, have no fear -- we are sharing a PDF version of the slide presentation as well as a link to our YouTube channel where you can watch the full event.

As the oldest and largest national organization serving as a voice for the more than 40 million rail passengers in the U.S., we strive to provide the tools you need to advocate for yourself and your community at the local, state, and federal levels. As a small charitable organization, the Rail Passengers Association relies on the generosity of others and we hope you consider supporting us. DONATE TODAY to amplify your voice!

If you are not yet already, please consider supporting us long-term by becoming a member of the Rail Passengers Association.

We hope that you will all join us for our next virtual event in late June as we highlight the work being done in the Front Range of Colorado and Wyoming plus our Mountains & Plains region. Rail Passengers will also welcome another guest speaker.

Make Your Voice Heard

Joe Aiello
Field Coordinator
[email protected]

Answering Your Questions

Q: Where does the Heartland Flyer extension to Newton, KS stand and what do you THINK might be a timeline for that to be implemented, and secondly, where does RPA stand on advocacy for more long-distance trains? In the case of the Heartland Flyer, it would seem like it would make more sense to find federal funding for restoration of the Chicago-Houston Lone Star on that route, rather than trying to cobble together state funding from three different states.
The Oklahoma State House of Representatives passed a resolution on May 13th and endorsed the extension of Amtrak service between Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and Newton, Kansas, through the creation of a multistate partnership between Amtrak and the states. The resolution mirrors a bill passed by the Kansas Senate in March of this year. If Amtrak receives funding for its newly proposed Corridor Development Program in FY2021, we would guess the Heartland Flyer would be a prime candidate for expansion.

A: Rail Passengers is involved in several campaigns to support and improve long-distance service. This includes our response to Amtrak’s FY21 supplemental funding request which has already sent 2,500 messages defending daily service and Amtrak workers, as well as campaigns for a Daily Sunset and a Daily Cardinal. Creating a new long-distance service would take an act of Congress, and we have not seen any elected officials who are willing to introduce legislation with the necessary funding to get a new service off the ground.

Q: Are the restored station agent positions full time?

A: The restored station agents will be part-time positions, with agents working in shifts. Most of the restored stations will feature two part-time agents, with Texarkana, Marshall, and Garden City employing three part-time agents. Cincinnati will employ a "Caretaker Plus," in which there will be a caretaker at the station 24/7, but not an Amtrak employee.

Q: Do the Amtrak cuts include reduction in state-support on those services?

A: States are responsible for payments to Amtrak under the cost sharing structures established in Section 209 of PRIIA. The states that partner with Amtrak fund their portion of the associated costs with a combination of passenger revenue and state funding, which averaged to a 70/30 split between these funding sources in FY 2019. Amtrak’s supplemental federal request includes $260 million for states, which is predicated on temporarily reducing frequencies while the coronavirus pandemic suppresses demand for travel.

Q: Flynn’s FY21 letter includes a proposed legislative proposal for State Flexibility for Federal Funds that would enable the tapping into the Highway Trust Fund for passenger rail. Do you know the genesis of this proposal and wouldn’t this rile up the Highway industry?

A: Specifically, the Amtrak FY21 supplemental requests that any general taxpayer dollars that are transferred to the Highway Trust Fund be eligible for use on other modes, if states so choose. This precedent originated during the Recovery Act of 2008, when Congressional policy makers successfully argued that transfers of general funds to the Highway Trust Fund should not be confined to highways, since they didn’t originate from taxes on gasoline. There have been $141 billion in general fund transfers to the HTF since 2008; it’s long past time that these general fund transfers be eligible for use on whichever transportation project produces the best return on investment. This is something we as an Association have argued repeatedly for in nearly every available communication with Congress.

Q: It'd be great to ask the best metrics we should use to compare rail projects to road and air projects; what is the language we should be using that he has found most effective? Capacity per dollar? Pollution per dollar?

A: Rail Passengers believes the metrics officials use for analyzing ROI should be comprehensive, which is why we created a sophisticated model based on the IMPLAN tool.

Using out model, we are able measure direct benefits in terms of employment, value-added, economic output, and tax resulting from expenditures related to the following:

  • Railway operations and maintenance (O&M)

  • PTC related construction and operating costs

  • Visitor spending

  • Saved travel cost for families.

In addition, indirect impacts are quantified in monetary values, including cost for, or value in:

  • Pollution control

  • Highway traffic fatalities

  • Highway maintenance

  • Forgone trips

  • Residents’ accessibility to higher education institutes, hospitals, and other Amtrak stations

  • Residents with lower income, limited travel options, and travel options subject to adverse weather

You can see this model in action in our economic analysis of the Southwest Chief, which we used to successfully fight a proposal to eliminate end-to-end service on the Chief.