Happening Now

Hotline #1,065

May 4, 2018

Amtrak Turns 47 During Turbulent Changes; NJ Transit Behind PTC Schedule; Brightline To Cover Costs Of Rail Crossings In Some Counties; SBR 3 Gets Updated Website

We Need Your ‘Nose For News’! When you see rail-related news stories, op-eds, editorials, or letters to the editor in your communities, send them along to us! We include them in our social media efforts, along with the weekly Hotline. Send your news items to Bob Brady, [email protected], and we will share it with members. Are you holding a rally, a community meeting, or another kind of rail-advocacy event? We can help spread the word if you send them to us. We can put them on the website, here. Please follow Rail Passengers Association on Facebook and Twitter to stay up to date on all things passenger rail.

Rail Passengers President Jim Mathews visited this week with Amtrak Chairman Anthony Coscia to share our members’ concerns about the future of the railroad and important services and amenities. During a lengthy and wide-ranging conversation, Coscia reiterated Amtrak’s overall commitment to maintaining a national footprint while re-envisioning the railroad for the future, as well as supporting your Association’s involvement in delivering the voice of the passenger to efforts underway inside Amtrak to understand the need for new equipment, new services and amenities. More details of that conversation will appear in the May edition of the Passengers’ Voice newsletter.

With Amtrak’s numerous changes to passenger service over the past several weeks - unstaffing stations, ending charter and special trains and reducing the quality of food service - one could easily overlook that the passenger railroad turned 47 years old this week.

At the Rail Passengers Association, like many of you, we are unhappy with some of the recent changes that Amtrak is setting in motion, and we’re making our concerns known in multiple ways, ranging from meeting with Amtrak directly to enlisting your help in our Mayors’ campaign (see below) and reaching out to key members of Congress. We have significant concerns about long-distance rail service in the U.S. over the next couple of years. We also want a clearer picture of why Amtrak would move in this direction after being appropriated record levels of funding from Congress -- funding that would help modernize infrastructure and provide much-needed upgrades to high-trafficked areas like the Northeast Corridor.

However, taking a step back from these concerns, it remains remarkable that we have been able to ride Amtrak for 47 years, and in doing so, experience the country in a way that truly differs from riding in a car or flying in an aircraft 30,000 feet above the ground.

As Amtrak celebrated its birthday, the railroad highlighted key projects that it is moving forward with to improve current service for passengers. One of the brightest spots that riders have to look forward to is upgraded interiors to 450 coaches for trains serving the Northeast and Midwest. This is a major undertaking that needed to be done so passengers can ride Amtrak in quality, clean and comfortable spaces. The refurbishment of coach cars is in addition to Amtrak’s plan to buy modern train equipment, including new Acela trainsets.

It’s important for all of us as advocates to consider what we have accomplished and what has been secured to-date, not least of which is a record appropriation for Amtrak that includes money tied to the National Network.

Amtrak projects we should applaud include those to enhance Wi-Fi, add Thruway connections, work on IT improvements that could create single-ticketing on mass transit and speed last-mile connections, and the initiative to allow pets and bikes on trains. Amtrak reports that in the last year nearly 50,000 small pets and more than 55,000 bikes--including bikes used by our own Summer By Rail interns!--have traveled along with Amtrak riders.

Some of these may seem like small improvements in comparison to what Amtrak is eliminating, but they are upgrades that some Amtrak passengers have already been able to enjoy.

Bottom line? As frustrating as some of the news can be, your voices ARE being heard: in Congress, with our local elected officials, and at Amtrak.

In positive news, Texas Central has announced that it has reached an agreement with Amtrak to allow for through-ticketing and marketing collaboration for the Dallas - Houston high speed rail corridor currently being developed by the Texas-based company.

“Rail Passengers welcomes this move by both railroads, which will be in the best interest of the passenger,” said Jim Mathews, President & CEO of Rail Passengers Association. “It’s a great example of an innovative way to add connections and frequencies to the National Network, as well as funnel more passengers into National Network trains. This kind of interlining has been done for years in the airlines, and on many non-U.S. train services. It’s about time we started doing it here.”

“This agreement is another important step in the progress of the Texas Bullet Train,” said Tim Keith, Texas Central’s president. “It gives both local and interstate travelers more options and ease of travel not previously available by intercity passenger trains in Texas.”

“Amtrak supports the development of high-speed train service throughout the United States as part of a national passenger rail system, capable of meeting the nation’s transportation needs,” said Stephen Gardner, Amtrak’s Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Office. “When Texas Central’s high-speed line begins operation, the joint ticketing arrangement will benefit Amtrak customers who currently cannot connect by train between Texas’ two largest markets.”

Gardner went on to say the agreement will help close one of the most significant gaps in Amtrak’s route network between North Texas and Houston. Representing the fourth and fifth largest economies in the U.S., the direct rail connection will greatly enhance the utility of the National Network.

The agreement includes:

  • A through-ticketing arrangement that will allow Amtrak passengers to use the Amtrak reservation system to buy a single ticket for travel on both Texas Central and Amtrak trains.
  • Texas Central’s plans to provide a convenient transfer service connecting passengers between Amtrak and the high-speed rail stations in Dallas and Houston.
  • Texas Central’s commitment to acquire certain Amtrak services in the development of the high-speed train, such as training, marketing and sales.

Have Your Voice Heard By Joining Our Amtrak Mayors' Petition Project!

Rail Passengers members and Amtrak customers are working hard to voice their opposition against Amtrak’s recent changes to service over the past few weeks by contacting mayors in communities that Amtrak serves. Amtrak has already made moves to remove Parlour cars, eliminate discounts for veterans, students and AAA members, and change dining car service.

The changes are alarming and that is why we need your help to push back. We have already received support from over 130 members, but the more help we receive the louder our voice will be heard.

Rail Passengers staff are currently advocating for improved Amtrak service from our main office in D.C. and at our regional offices. We're reaching out to Members of Congress and Amtrak management to let them know that Amtrak customers and Rail Passengers members want better from our national railroad service.

As we advocate on behalf of American railroad passengers, we need YOUR help. We’ve launched the Amtrak Mayors' Petition project so that every community served by Amtrak can voice their views on Amtrak’s recent changes.

What do we need from you?

We need you to send emails and to call mayors’ offices as part of this campaign. Contact our policy staff and we will add you to the volunteer pool. We will provide you everything you need: numbers, scripts, and sample emails to promote a petition that makes the following argument:

  1. In light of a record public investment in passenger rail and recent actions by Amtrak management affecting National Network service, Amtrak must report to Congress and Amtrak-served communities how it will invest these funds to ensure continued service to all towns on the national rail system.
  2. We support growing service along densely-populated corridors, but insist it must happen in addition to National Network service, not at the expense of rural and small town passengers.

If you can't participate in our Amtrak Mayors' Petition project, please consider supporting Rail Passengers advocacy work with a special contribution that will help us push back against these disruptive changes.

Your advocacy and generosity is vital to building a modern, efficient rail system for future generations of passengers.

With the recent surge in changes from Amtrak, George Chilson, former chair of the Rail Passengers Association, said during an interview with KDRT radio in Davis, CA, that Amtrak should continue to focus on improving service for customers.

It’s easy to think that the slew of changes could make some Amtrak passengers not only frustrated with the railroad, but also push them away from riding Amtrak in the future. Chilson said that Amtrak should prioritize new equipment and more frequent service for trains, similarly to how it did with the Capitol Corridor in California.

To listen to the full interview, please visit: http://ow.ly/zSwr30jNpAQ.

Massachusetts state Rep. Chris Walsh has died following a battle with cancer. The Framingham Democrat was 66.

His wife, Cindy, said in a Facebook post on Thursday that Walsh died peacefully on Wednesday night. She said her husband had undergone several clinical trials over the past year, “and the cancer got the upper hand.” Walsh was first diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2015.

“The Commonwealth lost a true leader,” said Rail Passengers Association Northeast Field Coordinator Joe Aiello. “More importantly, we all lost a friend. It was hard not to be shaken up this morning when I heard the news. My heart goes out to his family and staff.”

Rep Walsh was an advocate for public transportation in and out of his beloved Framingham and was a regular rider of the MBTA Worcester Line. “The first time I met him was a few years ago at a meeting at the Statehouse for the North-South Rail Link,” Aiello continued. “He was a major reason why we had so much support in the Metrowest and was key for us bringing a town hall event to his district.”

Member Forum Now Open

Rail Passengers Association has opened a new forum for our members on Google Groups. Members can discuss and follow the latest passenger rail-related issues.

Click THIS LINK to sign up. It's free and open to the public, but users must join the group before being allowed to post messages.

NJ Transit Executive Director Kevin Corbett said that the agency is behind schedule on its plans to install Positive Train Control (PTC) technology on its network. As a result, Corbett said during a meeting with Trenton, NJ lawmakers that the agency may request that the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) extend the deadline from December 31, 2018 to 2020.

Corbett said that this option is “called the alternative plan and we are making that evaluation. But if we are going to go that way, we’ll have to move fairly quick on that. We are committed to making sure the FRA is comfortable and that we are in a position with the FRA to operate full service.”

As of December, NJ Transit has only installed the life-saving technology on 11 percent of its systems. The agency has also conducted its first tests of trains with PTC on a revenue service segment from Morristown to Denville, but the FRA could find that NJ Transit has not done enough to qualify for the extension. If NJ Transit does not qualify for the extension, the agency could be severely fined and Amtrak may ban its trains from using the Hudson tunnels into Penn Station.

“NJ Transit now has its back up against the wall. Without appropriate levels of funding to support PTC installation, the agency either has to request a deadline or receive fines from the federal government,” said Rail Passengers President Jim Mathews. “Unfortunately, NJ Transit is not alone in this situation, as many public transit agencies do not have the means to meet the Congressionally mandated 2018 deadline.”

The Rail Passengers Association continues to support a joint application from the Vermont Agency of Transportation and the Genesee and Wyoming Corp.’s New England Central Railroad (NECR) subsidiary for a $1.6 million grant under the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) grant program.

The project will deploy a variety of safety measures along a small but important freight and passenger corridor which today includes a large proportion of un-signalled, or “dark,” territory.

Rail Passengers Association President Jim Mathews, in a support letter sent last week to U.S. DOT Secretary Elaine Chao, wrote that “these safety improvements will protect lives and property, mitigate the risk of major service disruption, and improve throughput and efficiency by eliminating the need for speed restrictions in many areas, benefiting freight shippers and rail passengers alike.”

Rail Passengers Association also said that this same corridor hosts the state-supported Amtrak Vermonter passenger rail service, whose daily trains served nearly 100,000 passengers last year, not only between stations in Vermont but as a vital link between rural Vermont communities and New York City and destinations in Massachusetts. Overall the service connects 32 cities in nine states, including many small and rural communities that are underserved by other modes of transportation.

Officials with All Aboard Florida Brightline have agreed to cover the costs of rail crossing maintenance in counties that have not shown opposition to the higher-speed rail line. The agreement was shared in a letter from Brightline General Counsel Myles Tobin to Rep. Mark Meadows, R-North Carolina as a follow-up to a Capitol Hill hearing last month on Brightline’s eligibility for federal financing and the safety and cost of Florida East Coast Railway crossings.

"As an accommodation, with respect to certain counties that have not opposed the Brightline project, Brightline has agreed to absorb the crossing maintenance cost for a specified number of years," Tobin said in the letter.

The result of Brightline’s decision could save millions of dollars for counties and taxpayers who would have otherwise had to cover the costs. For example, Martin and Indian River counties estimated that maintaining crossing upgrades could cost the counties up to $20 million by 2030.

For counties with officials that have opposed the train service, such as Martin and Indian River which has filed multiple lawsuits looking to stop Brightline, Tobin said the company will not cover the costs.

"We have not agreed to such accommodation with respect to counties who continue to sue us in an effort to impede or delay construction of this project," Tobin said in the letter.

Following Amtrak’s decision to pull staff from several train stations in cities across the country, passengers, staff and advocacy groups are speaking out. The cuts are taking place in Cincinnati, Topeka, Charleston, Marshall, and other stations around the system..

Arkansas Rail Passengers Association Council Member, Bill Pollard, who is also Chairman of the Texas Eagle Marketing and Performance Organization (TEMPO) and served nearly 20 years as volunteer Local Revenue Manager for the Texas Eagle, said the plan is based on a standard of 40 passengers per day which is being used as a litmus test for staffing or de-staffing a station.

Pollard said, “When stations such as Marshall and Texarkana have been temporarily unstaffed at various periods in the past, the declines in ridership and revenue exceeded the salary costs of the employees required to keep the stations open.”

Pollard also issued a statement from TEMPO saying that this cutback comes after an unprecedented awarding of federal funding earlier this year.

“This year, Amtrak received a record amount of federal funding, the largest ever received by America’s passenger railroad,” Pollard said. “Amtrak received this historic level of funding because of the bipartisan support of Congress for a nationwide passenger train system. Given that support, it is not appropriate for Amtrak to implement cuts affecting only national network stations without first making an effort to improve ridership at those stations.”

Texas Rail Advocates also oppose Amtrak’s decision to eliminate staffed stations on the route of the Texas Eagle at Marshall and Texarkana.

“This seems to be part of Amtrak’s new cost-savings strategy under CEO Richard Anderson (no relation to the rail advocate and former Harrison County Judge) to cut station staffing and on-board service to the long-distance national network,” Texas Rail Advocates President Peter LeCody, who is also Chairman of the Rail Passengers Association said. “In Amtrak’s last fiscal year the Texas Eagle service had the highest gain in ridership and one of the highest gains in revenue among the 15 long-distance trains. Why in the world would you want to cut service to these cities when you are on the upswing? Replacing the local agent with a caretaker means little to no ticketing or information service available locally, self-service checked bags, and the loss of an interface with tourism to the economies of Marshall and Texarkana. It’s the wrong time and the wrong train to be messing with.”

Amtrak’s decision is set to go into effect in early June.

Rail Passengers President Jim Mathews will be speaking at All Aboard Ohio’s 2018 Spring Meeting on May 12. The Spring Meeting is a great opportunity to learn the latest updates on the state of passenger rail in the U.S., the Midwest, and Ohio. Additionally, attendees will learn about the recent developments in public transit in Columbus / Central Ohio.

Additional speakers and topics include:

  • Curtis Stitt, Executive Director, Ohio Public Transit Association (TENTATIVE)
  • Thea Walsh and Dina Lopez, transportation planners at the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC): Chicago-Lima-Columbus-Pittsburgh corridor planning update
  • Midwest Regional Rail Plan update
  • Federal passenger rail funding boost in the latest omnibus spending bill
  • Ohio state government/rail/transit matters
  • Public transportation funding issues
  • All Aboard Ohio board of direction election

This event is open to the public, but registration is required. Doors open at 9:00 AM.

Spring Advocacy Summit Materials

During the Rail Passengers Association’s Spring Advocacy meeting, we shared important data and materials with key legislators and staff on Capitol Hill on major passenger rail infrastructure projects and issues ranging from our annual Legislative Asks in 2018, NEC infrastructure investment, high-speed rail in the U.S., state of good repair, rural mobility and more.

These colorful one-page fact sheets were produced for our members, outreach and meetings during our 2018 ‘Day on The Hill’ visits, and for future use as we work towards a better national network.

That’s why we’re making them available to you for download to use for any local community meetings or appointments with local elected or transportation officials. They are available at: www.railpassengers.org/happening-now/events/april-meeting-materials.

And, as ever, be sure to reference our 2017 Ridership Statistics for your area and trains!

The California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) has taken a step forward with a new agreement with the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro). The agencies have approved a $76.7 million joint funding agreement for a grade separation project in Santa Fe Springs, CA. The project plans to build an elevated overpass structure at Rosecrans and Marquardt avenues to separate motorist traffic from rail traffic. The crossing has been considered one of the most hazardous grade crossings in the state because it also sees 110 freight trains pass through the intersection of the two streets, as well as Amtrak and Metro trains and 52,000 passenger vehicles.

"Funding for this priority investment within the Burbank to Anaheim corridor will improve freight, local and regional passenger rail service, enhance transit connections, improve safety, and accommodate the introduction of high-speed rail service in Southern California," said CHSRA Chief Executive Officer Brian Kelly in a press release.

The $76.7 million in funding will come from Proposition 1A, the High-Speed Rail Act that voters approved in 2008. The measure includes $1.1 billion for locally sponsored "bookend" projects. The contribution will also be matched by other local funding sources to complete the $155.3 million project.

The announcement of this critical project comes only a few days after the National Review’s national-affairs reporter John Fund criticized the California high-speed rail project as a boondoggle that is unlikely to move forward despite the costs that have already gone into it.

Fund said about HSR trains that “we should recognize that a continental nation like the U.S. isn’t as suited for them and that our environmental laws make construction very difficult and time-consuming.

“Critics of HSR have often pointed to Mr. Fund’s idea that the U.S. is too big for passenger rail, but for that same reason we need it. Yes the planning and construction are behind schedule, but we are seeing a nationwide demand for public transit and passenger rail service as cities and people look for new mobility opportunities and the change that comes with new mobility,” said Rail Passengers President Jim Mathews. “Brightline in Florida is already becoming a great example of what high-speed and higher-speed train service in the U.S. can and should be - with reliable performance, roomy and comfortable seating, and quality food and beverage service.”

Not only will HSR service be a benefit to riders, but also a benefit to the future of surrounding communities. It will provide economic benefits through construction and its operation. Early estimates predicted a total economic return to the state of California of about $8 billion on the initial $2.6 billion investment. The project will create 66,000 new jobs for 15 years as construction occurs.

“If foreign countries like France, Austria, Japan and others have HSR to connect major cities within their own countries but also throughout Europe and Asia, the U.S. should too,” said Mathews. “To keep pace with these countries and to provide the travel and mobility opportunities that the U.S. will need in the future, we need to act now and continue to support HSR development.”

Make plans to attend Rail Passengers Association’s Fall 2018 Advocacy Summit & Meeting in Miami, FL, Friday, October 19 through Sunday, October 21. The host hotel will be the Hyatt Regency in downtown Miami.

Discounted group-rate room reservations will be available starting May 15. Agenda, program and event information will be posted on Fall 2018 Advocacy Summit & Meeting Event Page!

Watch for more details soon!

The city of Raleigh, NC, along with politicians and state and federal transportation officials, celebrated the opening of its new Amtrak train station. Trains are not expected to begin running through the station for about a month, but the station itself is ready to meet the demand of the 151,000 people who traveled to and from Raleigh in the year ending September 30, 2017. Raleigh Union Station was built out of the former Dillon Supply Co. warehouse, and it includes a 9,200-square-foot waiting room, with high-backed wooden benches like those found in classic railroad stations. The new station is also five times larger than the one it will replace in the current Amtrak station across the tracks.

"One of the great visions for this facility was to create an entryway into downtown," Mayor Nancy McFarlane said Monday to a crowd of hundreds at the station. "And in a sense, that is what we have created — a front door to the city in the heart of the city."

The new station was first proposed in 2010, and was looked at as a place for trains and buses to connect in downtown. And although it's been eight years in development, the bus portion of the station won’t be ready for another four years. The station, which cost $111.4 million to build, includes a new train platform, tracks, an outdoor plaza and an underground walkway.

The number of trains that stop in Raleigh will also grow from eight a day to 10 with the addition of another round-trip Piedmont train between Raleigh and Charlotte starting June 4.

Rail Passengers Launches Updated Website for Summer By Rail

In preparation for our next Summer by Rail journey with correspondent Jacob Wallace, we launched a new and improved blog to help you follow along with his journey.

The blog is still available at www.summerbyrail.com. Once you’re there, you should notice a truly different and unique feel to this year’s cross-country trip. A feel that highlights our focus on how anyone can use passenger rail to get to major events - in this case, baseball.

With a route that runs from Miami, FL to Seattle, WA, Jacob will visit 19 different baseball stadiums between Major League Baseball (MLB), Minor League Baseball (MiLB), and independent leagues. At the heart of the trip, Wallace will explore the connectivity between North America’s transportation infrastructure and our great national pastime.

The trip will start on May 26 with a Miami Marlins game and it will conclude July 3 at a Seattle Mariners game. Along the way Wallace will travel to Washington, D.C., Detroit, Chicago and Milwaukee to see the Nationals, Tigers, White Sox, Cubs and Brewers, among other MLB teams. Wallace will also visit minor league teams like the Savannah Bananas, Durham Bulls, and Vancouver Canadians.

In between games, Wallace will meet with elected city officials, transit advocates, and small business owners to listen to the public transit needs and plans for these cities, as well as hear about tools these communities need to bolster their local infrastructure.

Wallace will share regular updates on his trip, highlights of using public transit, and stories that share other riders’ views on using services like Amtrak or other public transit services to commute to and from ball games. These updates will be available at www.summerbyrail.com as well as on Instagram and Twitter using the handle @RailPassengers.

So grab some peanuts and cracker jacks, and follow along for the trip of the summer.

The proposed Wave streetcar that would run in downtown Fort Lauderdale is still a possibility as the low bidder for the project is seeking to reduce its bid to an acceptable figure. Just last week the proposed cost of the streetcar system came in too high for the second time and could have put an end to the proposal as cities and counties can withdraw funding if costs are exceeded.

For example, Fort Lauderdale and Broward County officials can legally withdraw from the project if the contract price exceeds $142.5 million. As a result, Prince Contracting/Delta Railroad Construction is redoing its $144.7 million bid to reduce the proposed cost. Should the proposed bid drop below $142.5 million, the city will have a hard time getting its money back, and may have to breach contracts to withdraw from participation. As of right now, the city has contributed $33 million. If the city is able to legally back out, it has a “reasonable likelihood” of recovering $20 million.

The Wave, a 2.8-mile loop proposed for downtown Fort Lauderdale, is a project of the state Department of Transportation, with financial contributions from the federal government, the county, the city and the Downtown Development Authority.

The FrontRunner commuter-rail service in Utah hit its 10th anniversary on April 26. The 89-mile rail system, which is run by the Utah Transit Authority (UTA) has provided rail service to more than 31 million riders since it opened.

"The fact that UTA is operating FrontRunner by ourselves is a significant accomplishment that is not an industry norm," said UTA's Commuter Rail General Manager Bruce Cardon in a press release. "Because of our ability to train our own people and develop our own system, I'm confident that this is the nation’s lowest cost commuter rail system when you look at cost per service mile."

Since it opened, the FrontRunner has seen continued success. In 2012, the initial FrontRunner system was expanded with eight new stations between Salt Lake City and Provo. In addition, UTA is now looking to increase service by acquiring funding and property in order to add a second track, as well as electrifying FrontRunner and expanding the system from Santaquin to Brigham City, Utah.

Medical Student Awarded $10,000 For Education By Rail Passengers

Steve Grado Jr., a third-year medical student at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, has won $10,000 from the Rail Passengers Association’s sweepstakes. Steve was entered into the sweepstakes by his father, Steve Grado Sr.

“We know that there are thousands of college students across the country who could use assistance paying their tuition,” said Rail Passengers President Jim Mathews. “And we are truly excited to be able to award support to Steve and help him as he earns his medical degree from the University of Mississippi Medical Center.”

The Rail Passengers Association launched the sweepstakes in February, with Grado being selected as the recipient after the campaign ended on April 26. Watch soon for a check presentation by the Rail Passengers Association to Grado in Jackson, MS!

Amtrak’s inspector general found that there are severe security weaknesses at Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station and Penn Coach Yard that are putting passengers and employees at risk. The report said that the station, which served more than 4.4 million people in 2017 through Amtrak, SEPTA and NJTransit, does not properly establish setup for monitoring who enters and who leaves the station or securing the station in an emergency.

A major part of the problem is that the station’s infrastructure is broken - exterior doors do not and cannot be locked and cameras do not work. For example, the report says that the doors can’t be locked because they aren’t equipped with locks or because officials don’t have keys. The report also said that Amtrak has been looking to correct the problem but it doesn’t have appropriate levels of funding to do so.

Other issues the report found include:

  • Too many employees, even some from across the country, have access to areas such as offices that they do not need access to.
  • Outside in the rail yard security is not a priority due to:
    • Damaged fences
    • No gates at the entrance to the yard
    • No regular patrols
  • Video cameras both in the station and the rail yard weren’t all functioning.

Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) said the report highlights the need for additional funding to improve safety measures for the railroad.

“Amtrak has been underfunded for years, and this is one more example why we need to invest in our national infrastructure and Amtrak,” Casey said.

Sound Transit plans to give up surplus property around its Link Light Rail stations for affordable housing development. The decision was made by the transit agency’s board of directors, which approved a new policy after an 18-month process to adopt the policy. The new regulation states that Sound Transit must offer up 80 percent of any surplus property surrounding the light rail stations for affordable housing projects, while working with communities for equitable transit oriented development (TOD). The measure also mandates that developers utilizing surplus property around light rail stations set aside 80 percent of their residential units for tenants earning 80 percent of the areas median income or below.

“Two of the biggest problems facing residents of the Puget Sound region are traffic congestion and the lack of affordable housing,” Snohomish County Executive and Sound Transit Board Chair Dave Somers wrote in a press release. “With this new equitable transit oriented development policy, we will be able to make progress on both of these challenges.”

Overall goals of the new policy also include:

  • Increase the value and effectiveness of transit by increasing transit ridership.
  • Support implementation of state, regional and local growth plans, policies and strategies.
  • Make equitable TOD an integral component of and supportive of transit project planning and delivery.
  • Engage a broad cross-section of the public, reflecting diverse communities.
  • Encourage creation of housing options near transit with priority given to affordability.
  • Encourage convenient, safe multi-modal access to the transit system, with an emphasis on non-motorized access.

Upcoming Regional Rail Passenger & State Association Member Meetings and Other Events:

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

Although Amtrak is making several changes to service that customers find misguided and unwanted, the railroad is planning to expand travel options in North Carolina. On June 4, Amtrak will begin operating an additional daily roundtrip, fully funded by the State of North Carolina, on the Piedmont Line between Charlotte and Raleigh, where a new train station will soon enter service. The new trains will make for a total of four round trips a day on the route which includes stops in Cary, Durham, Burlington, Greensboro, High Point, Salisbury and Kannapolis.

The Southern Arizona Transportation Museum will host “Train Day at the Depot” in Tucson, AZ on May 12. The event is free for visitors and it will include a variety of activities, including live musical entertainment, crafts, rides, model trains and more. It will also include a presentation by passenger rail advocate Tony Haswell.

The event will run from 10am - 4pm, next to the Amtrak station in Tucson.

Openings Available For Rail Passengers Association State Council Representatives

The following vacancies now exist for state representatives on the Rail Passengers Association Council of Representatives: Alabama (1 opening); California (7 openings); Delaware (1 opening); Florida (1 opening); Idaho (1 opening); Illinois (1 opening); Louisiana (1 opening); Massachusetts (1 opening); Minnesota (1 opening); North Dakota (1 opening); Ohio (2 openings); Pennsylvania (1 opening); Vermont (1 opening); Washington State (1 opening); Wyoming (1 opening)

If you are interested in becoming more involved in passenger rail advocacy and serving in a Rail Passengers Association leadership role, this is your opportunity to be considered for an appointment by the Board of Directors to an open state representative seat. There is no deadline to apply and submissions will be considered on a rolling basis as they are received.

Please review the position responsibilities & required qualifications and complete & submit a Candidate Information Statement if you would like to seek a position.

The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) issued a final request for proposals (RFP) to Chicago Rail Constructors, Kiewit Infrastructure Co. and Walsh Fluor. The three teams were shortlisted for the $2.1 billion project by CTA at the end of 2017 following an initial request on the project.

"We are well into a comprehensive process to find the most qualified builder to construct this project, which is one of the biggest modernization projects in CTA history," said CTA President Dorval Carter Jr. in a press release.

The modernization project consists of reconstructing the four oldest stops on the Red Line - Lawrence, Argyle, Berwyn and Bryn Mawr stations. A rail bypass will also be built north of the Belmont station to clear a 100-year-old junction where Red, Purple and Brown line trains intersect.

CTA officials said pre-construction work will begin this year and that it will continue through the rest of this year and into 2019. Major construction is slated to begin in the second half of 2019.