Happening Now

Hotline #1,007

March 17, 2017

NARP Opposes New Proposed Federal Budget Cuts; Florida Brightline To Start Service in July; Caltrain Executive Director Advocates in D.C.; Texas Bullet Train Encounters Hurdle

Check Out Our Newest Hotline! NARP thanks those members who have sent in industry-related news stories, op-eds, editorials, or letters to the editor from your communities. We include them in our social media efforts, along with the weekly Hotline. Please send your news items to Bob Brady, [email protected], and we will continue to share it with the membership. We also ask members to send events that we can put on the website here. And please follow NARP on Facebook and Twitter.

The Trump Administration released its first proposed general budget this week, which included steep cuts to long distance rail, commuter rail and transit. The “skinny budget” outlined the Administration’s proposal to cut spending – despite campaign promises of major infrastructure investment. Overall, the budget cuts $2.4 billion from transportation, or 13 percent of the previous year’s budget and attacks Amtrak’s long-distance service.

NARP strongly objected that this loss of federal funding will jeopardize access to rail in more than 200 communities nationwide, and it could also result in the loss of tens of thousands of American jobs.

“It’s ironic that President Trump’s first budget proposal undermines the very communities whose economic hardship and sense of isolation from the rest of the country helped propel him into office. These working class communities—many of them located in the Midwest and the South—were tired of being treated like ‘flyover country.’ But by proposing the elimination of Amtrak’s long distance trains, the Trump Administration does them one worse, cutting a vital service that connects these small town economies to the rest of the U.S. These hard working, small town Americans don’t have airports or Uber to turn to; they depend on these trains.”

On close review of the budget, it appears to be modeled on an outline produced by the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation. Infrastructure investment cuts encompasses vital aspects of a strong national rail infrastructure, including:

  • Elimination of all federal funding for Amtrak’s national network trains, which provides the only Amtrak service to 23 states, and the only nearby Amtrak service for 144.6 million Americans;
  • Cuts $499 million from the TIGER grant program, a highly successful program that invests in passenger rail and transit projects of national significance;
  • Elimination of $2.3 billion in funding for the Federal Transit Administration’s “New Starts” Capital Investment Program, which is crucial to launching new transit, commuter rail, and light-rail projects.

For Amtrak specifically, the budget completely eliminates federal subsidies for long-distance Amtrak services. Slashing funding in this way would would severely curtail the country’s national rail network, as Amtrak's 15 long-distance trains offer the only Amtrak service in 23 of the 46 states the railroad serves.

Amtrak President and CEO Wick Moorman previously stated, "These trains connect our major regions, provide vital transportation to residents in rural communities and generate connecting passengers and revenue for our Northeast Corridor and state-supported services. Amtrak is very focused on running efficiently — we covered 94 percent of our total network operating costs through ticket sales and other revenues in FY16 — but these services all require federal investment."

NARP is asking every passenger to stand UP for trains—there are no sidelines now!

We need every American who relies on Amtrak, subways, light-rail, and commuter rail to speak out today. It’s up to Congress to turn this proposal into a real budget. Members of Congress look to see which cuts produce the most pushback from advocacy groups, local officials, and members of the public to gauge where cuts can be made. If we stay silent, these cuts will be enacted into law!

Even an email will take too long. Call now!

If you haven’t participated in NARP’s in-district campaign, NOW is the perfect time to get involved!

NARP is providing you with the tools, but we need your help doing these three things:

  1. Meet with your in-district staff contacts for all three congressional representatives (one representative, two senators), either in-person or over the phone, to ask them to support an infrastructure bill
  2. Importantly: communicate significant points of agreement, disagreement, and intelligence back to NARP staff
  3. Post a photo of yourself visiting + calling your Members of Congress, and post it online using the tag #MyTrainMyTown and #AConnectedAmerica (or email it to us at NARP[@]narprail.org, subject line "My Train, My Town")

To access more advocacy resources, including NARP’s Guide to Engagement, click here.

The first leg of All Aboard Florida’s new higher speed rail service, Brightline, is scheduled to begin carrying passengers in July, between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale. Full operations are expected in August or September, and will run between Miami and Fort Lauderdale.

The announcement, made by Brightline’s Chief Marketing Officer Julie Edwards,

highlights the progress the state has made in meeting demand for alternative travel options in Florida. However, Treasure Coast officials are challenging the second stage of the project, which includes a train running between West Palm Beach and Orlando. The lawsuit from the Treasure Coast seeks to block private activity bonds that All Aboard Florida had planned to use to pay for the construction.

To encourage the line’s progress moving forward, NARP wrote to the Florida state legislature and noted that the lawsuit could significantly harm job creation and economic development for the state. In the letter NARP stated, “There are tremendous benefits this private-sector passenger rail project would bring—not just for the four connected communities—Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, and Orlando—but the entire state. The project will create 10,000 direct construction jobs, and hundreds more permanent operating and maintenance jobs. That will generate over $650 million in federal, state, and local tax revenue. It will also take three million automobiles off the crowded Interstate 95 corridor. By 2030, Florida will have added six million residents, and the state needs to start expanding infrastructure capacity now.”

NARP’s Floridian members can voice their opinions on the proposed regulations, and help show that the Brightline project supports a stronger economy and provides more transit alternatives for the state.

Caltrain Executive Director Jim Hartnett traveled to D.C. this past week to advocate for the Caltrain Peninsula Corridor Electrification Project (PCEP). Caltrain won’t know if it will receive $647 million in federal funding until this summer, after the Trump Administration delayed a full funding grant agreement last month. After Hartnett met with government officials, he stated that he is "optimistic that the agency's electrification project is exactly the kind of investment that the Trump administration is hoping to move forward." Trump previously said his administration is looking for projects that can begin work within 90 days of receiving federal funding.

Hartnett also invited Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to visit San Carlos, CA, to see the project, meet with local stakeholders, and learn about the local and regional economic benefits it will provide.

Previously, NARP’s President and CEO Jim Mathews wrote to Secretary Chao, to highlight the job-creating power that the electrification project holds. There are two things you can do TODAY to help save the electrification of Caltrain:

  1. Sign this WhiteHouse.gov petition by March 20th to force the Administration to respond (this action is available nationally);
  2. Send a letter to your California state representatives and mayor to apply pressure on the federal delegation (this action is for Californians only).

Register TODAY to attend NARP’s Spring 2017 Advocacy Summit & Meeting in Washington, DC - Sunday, April 23 through Wednesday, April 26, 2017. NARP’s 2017 ‘Action Day On The Hill’ & Congressional Reception will be held on Tuesday, April 25, 2017.

With the release of President Trump’s budget which would eliminate all national network train service to over 200 cities and towns across the country, this year’s ‘Action Day On The Hill’, will be of critical importance. The Advocacy Summit’s theme, ‘My Town, My Train,’ will serve to highlight the vital connection between grassroots advocacy and passenger rail service in communities across the country.

EVENT REGISTRATION is now open! Early registration rates are available through April 7.- higher rates will take effect after this date and for all on-site registrations. Visit the Event Page for complete registration information, the most current agenda and other details of this great advocacy opportunity.

The Host Hotel is again the Sheraton Silver Spring (MD), which is located just three blocks from Metro’s Red Line Silver Spring station. FYI...Discounted group rate rooms are now sold out! Regular rate rooms at the Sheraton are available on all nights. Information on other available nearby hotels in Silver Spring can be found on the Event Page.

And Save These Dates!

NARP’s 2017 Passenger Rail EXPO And 50th Anniversary Celebration - Chicago, IL

  • Thursday, November 2 to Sunday, November 5, 2017
  • Four days packed with an exciting array of presentations, speakers, exhibits, tours, and events
  • Celebrating NARP’s accomplishments over the past 50 years and looking ahead to the future of passenger rail in the United States
  • Host Hotel: Millennium Knickerbocker
  • Hotel Reservations and Event Registration Will Open In Early May

A new budget provision in the Texas Senate jeopardizes planning efforts for the Dallas-Houston bullet train being developed by Texas Central Partners. The legislative rider introduced Wednesday prohibits the Texas DOT from spending money to plan, build or operate a high-speed train. Texas Central opposed the new measure as it will limit the ability to coordinate with the State on planning, engineering and construction. The company has said it will not take state funds to develop the 240-mile line, and it will continue to work with the legislature. The budget measure passed with only one dissenting vote from Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas.

Although the process is still early, Norfolk, VA, is one step closer to expanding the city’s light-rail system, known as The Tide. A Hampton Roads Transit subcommittee recently voted to recommend that the engineering firm HDR conduct a $1.4 million, one-year feasibility study. The review will specifically assess the best route to extend The Tide to Norfolk Naval Station.

Officials noted that HDR will analyze several of the “severe challenges” that come with expanding the line. The challenges Planning Director Ray Amoruso cited include deciding to go over or under existing railroad tracks, and crossing the Lafayette River, which is prone to flooding. In addition, placement of overhead light rail wires will be assessed. HDR is expected to be approved by the full Hampton Roads Transit board on March 23, with work beginning in April.

Officials from the city of Tampa, and the Florida State Department of Transportation (FDOT), are considering further revitalizing the city’s streetcar due to expansion of Tampa’s downtown. The original streetcar in Tampa ran for 53 miles and carried 24 million passengers at its height in 1926. The line closed in 1946, due to noise complaints and interference with car traffic. But new data shows that demand exists. Over the past two decades, the city has seen significant growth in its residential population, as well as employment opportunities. Last year Hillsborough Area Regional Transit buses carried about 14 million passengers, in a county of more than 1.3 million people; in 1926, Tampa’s population was only 101,000 people.

In 2002, a mini-version of the city’s original streetcar was implemented on 2.7 miles of track, and it carried just under 300,000 riders a year. Now, FDOT will invest $1 million on a feasibility study for further expansion of the line. The city will also put in $677,390. Officials noted that a full plan, which would include identifying grants or other funding sources for the streetcar, is expected to take until the summer of 2018.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) has partnered with Charlotte Area Transit System, GoTriangle, and nine other local transit agencies along the Raleigh-to-Charlotte Amtrak route, to provide free transit rides and transfers to train riders. The promotion, “NC by Train,” will begin March 18th and free passes will be made available to passengers on Amtrak's Piedmont and Carolinian trains. For specific cities in which riders can pick up passes, visit www.NCBYTRAIN.org.

In Massachusetts, government officials are looking for ways to cut costs in the state’s 2017-2018 budget, by curtailing commuter rail service. One idea that was proposed by Governor Charlie Baker and Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack was to suspend the MBTA’s weekend service on the South Shore for a year. The suspension would allow for the agency to upgrade rail lines and save $10 million during that period. Despite the opportunity to help close a $42 million gap in the budget, some mayors in impacted communities have concerns about reduced service.

For example, Mayor Joseph Sullivan said that suspended service could push rail passengers to other forms of travel. Sullivan, who is on the state transportation department's board of directors said, "there is a cost associated with weekend service." But, he added, "there is a value of having the (weekend service), and I don't know how you grow ridership if you don't have access." Sullivan would support maintaining Saturday service, while ending Sunday rides, if necessary.

Upcoming Regional NARP and State Passengers Association Member Meetings

Please contact Bruce Becker to have a local, state or regional meeting added to the NARP calendar of upcoming events!

For the fourth quarter of 2016, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) found that the passenger rail industry made a slight increase on Positive Train Control (PTC) installation, largely due to progress by Amtrak. The life-saving technology, which can remotely monitor and slow or stop trains, has been activated in 24 percent of all rail lines, up from 23 percent in the previous quarter. In a press release, the FRA noted that the one percent increase was associated with Amtrak’s efforts to install PTC on 41 percent of its locomotives, up 12 percent from third quarter 2016.The FRA report includes railroad-by-railroad quarterly data on track segments completed, locomotives equipped, employees trained, radio towers installed, route miles in PTC operation, and other key implementation data. For several years, NARP has been calling for passenger rail lines to implement the technology, which is subject to an unfunded mandate as well as deadlines set by Congress.

The results of six days of research and community workshops in Chapel Hill, NC, confirmed what NARP and other public transit agencies have advocated for years – that public transportation investment and development can promote growth for communities and economies. In Chapel Hill specifically, the Town Council is looking at the development of 18 light-rail stations along the 17.7-mile light-rail transit line, and wanted to collect a series of ideas and development suggestions. Four factors that were important to community members and development projects were emphasized in the findings. The factors included connectivity, local character, economic development and equity. Suggestions made for real estate development projects around light-rail stations included: smaller-scale residential buildings, retail stores, office buildings and parking garages.

And the Fellowship Recipient is …... Jonathan Hinely!

The NARP Fellowship recipient is Jonathan Hinely, a senior Political Science major at Francis Marion University in Florence, South Carolina. Congratulations Jonathan! Don’t forget to tune into our Spring Advocacy Summit and Day on the Hill as we look forward to welcoming Jonathan at both events! A very big thank you to all that applied and our NARP membership who helped spread the word to students across the country!

On Thursday, Chinese rail-car builder, CRRC Sifang America, broke ground on a new $100 million rail-car manufacturing facility. The assembly plant will be built in southeast Chicago, and it is the first of its kind to be built in the city in 35 years. With the groundbreaking, construction will begin and the plant is slated to open in 2018. The facility will assemble new 7000-series cars for the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) and provide employment for 170 skilled workers. Overall, CRRC is set to build more than 840 cars, over 10 years, at a cost of $1.3 billion.

A new proposal in Las Vegas would provide momentum for development of a multibillion-dollar light rail system to link McCarran International Airport with the Las Vegas Strip. The proposal to the state’s Senate Transportation Committee from the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada was developed over two years. It includes plans for a light rail system, as well as renovations for pedestrian bridges or wider sidewalks on the Strip. The plan also considers high-capacity transit options to connect residential neighborhoods, college campuses, Sunrise Hospital and shopping hubs. If approved by the state, local officials would be granted permission to seek tax hikes or federal grants to finance an expanded portfolio of major transportation developments.

Nominations are now being sought from qualified NARP members interested in seeking election to one of three available Board Director posts at the upcoming April Meeting. These positions will be for three-year terms, ending in April 2020. For more information on how you could make a difference as a NARP Board Director, please review the specific duties, responsibilities and required qualifications. If you are interested in seeking a Board Director position, you must complete and submit this Candidate Information Statement by the March 31, 2017 deadline.

There are openings for state representatives on the NARP Council of Representatives, including one each in Alabama; Arizona; Florida, Hawaii; Idaho; Missouri; Pennsylvania, Nevada; North Carolina; North Dakota: Ohio, Virginia (2 openings) and Wyoming. Check out the full, up-to-date, list of current vacancies here.

If you live in one of these states and want to become more active in NARP’s leadership and work, this is your opportunity to become involved. If you are interested in being considered for an appointment to an open state seat by the Board of Directors please complete this Candidate Information Statement.