Happening Now

Hotline #1,071

June 15, 2018

Hartford Line Ribbon Cutting; Senate Committee Approves $1.9B for Amtrak; NEC Receives New Amtrak Menu; MA Official Issues RFP for Western Rail Service

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New passenger service kicked off today in Connecticut, with Governor Dannel P. Malloy and CT DOT Commissioner James P. Redeker holding a grand opening ceremony for the CTrail Hartford Line. Service begins formally tomorrow, but a VIP train ran from New Haven to the ribbon-cutting ceremony at Union Station Hartford ran today with Rail Passengers Association’s Abe Zumwalt on board. The Hartford event was well attended by local community members and city officials along the route.

“It’s been amazing to see the Hartford Line come to fruition and finally open,” said Zumwalt. ”The ride between New Haven and Hartford was terrific, and the new line sets a tone and national model for other cities and states developing passenger lines to follow.”

Once service begins, passengers can expect faster trains and at a higher frequency. CTrail and Amtrak trains will run on the Hartford Line at speeds up to 110 mph, making a trip from New Haven to Springfield, MA in 81 minutes. Frequency of service will also nearly triple, from 12 to 34 trains each day.

“With the launch of the Hartford Line, Connecticut is taking long-overdue, bold steps to invest in our future – laying the tracks for job growth, business expansion, and the revitalization of our urban areas,” Governor Malloy said in a press release. “Investing in our transportation system is critical to drive economic growth, boost development, create jobs, and improve the overall quality of life for our residents. If we want our state to be competitive and attract the jobs of the future, investing in our transportation system is not optional.”

For the $800 million project, Commissioner Redeker said that cities along the line have already seen, pre-opening, $408 million in development around Hartford Line stations. Financial and real estate experts also expect that home prices could see an upswing for those near and along the route. Home prices in Hartford for example, are still feeling the effects of the last recession and could use the new line to bounce back.

Passenger service will begin on Saturday with free trips for the entire weekend between New Haven and Springfield, MA. Once regular fares are implemented, passengers can ride either CTrail or Amtrak trains for $16 round-trip between New Haven and Hartford and $25.50 to Springfield. Monthly passes will be $210 and $267.75, respectively. Fares will be the same regardless of travel time.

Overall there will be 34 daily trips on weekdays, 12 trips on Saturdays and 13 trips on Sundays and holidays. Trains will run about every 45 minutes during morning and evening peak periods.

Speaking to the challenge in working across state lines with such projects everywhere, at one of the many ribbon cuttings on the ride to Hartford Rail Passengers Association staff heard Governor Malloy “hope that Massachusetts learns a lesson about frequent rail service, and matches our investment!”

Massachusetts plans to begin the initial service extension beyond Springfield later this year.

At the end of last week, the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations approved a $71.4 billion funding bill for 12 months beginning October 1, 2018. The bill includes $2.8 billion for the Department of Transportation to use as needed for rail infrastructure projects.This includes $1.9 billion for Amtrak in the Northeast Corridor and National Network. Though not directly stated, the funding could potentially be used for the development of a new Hudson River Tunnel and a new Portal Bridge on the Hackensack River - known as the Gateway Program. Additionally, the bill provides $262 million for railroad safety and operations, as well as research and development activities.

“Our nation’s continued economic growth is directly impacted by critical investments in infrastructure and community development,” Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said in a press release. “Not only does this legislation assist families in need, but it also funds programs that responsibly support our housing needs and improve our transportation system. I commend Senators Collins and Reed for their bipartisan work on this bill.”

The Senate bill includes a couple of unique provisions that rail advocates have worked hard to secure:

  • Language secured by Senator Joe Manchin to ll ensure Amtrak is required to employ one ticketing agent in every state, which comes after Amtrak announced they were terminating more than a dozen smalltown ticket agents. “When Amtrak announced it was terminating the only ticket agent position in West Virginia, I have been fighting to keep it,” said Senator Manchin. “I know how important having a ticket agent in West Virginia is and removing the agent at the Charleston station will make it harder for Amtrak to attract new customers and retain the ones they already have.”
  • Senators Tom Udall (D-NM) and Jerry Moran (R-KS) successfully included language to stipulate that Amtrak consult with stakeholders before adding conditions to any grant funds, a provision aimed at Amtrak’s recent decision to halt its participation in the effort to preserve the Southwest Chief.
  • The West Virginia Senate delegation--both Senators Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito--secured language to encourage the Federal Transit Administration to work with states to help them maintain rail service providing commuter access to Washington, DC.

Both the Senate and the House bills are in opposition to the White House, which has threatened to shutdown the government if the spending bill including specific funding for Gateway. The two bills must now be reconciled by House and Senate negotiators and a final version brought up for a vote in both houses or folded into larger omnibus spending legislation.

Three Ways To Support The National Network

In a recent meeting, Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson and Chief Commercial Officer Stephen Gardner assured Rail Passengers Association President and CEO Jim Mathews that management is not moving towards abandoning service on large parts of the National Network in favor of corridor investments.

These followed similar assurances Gardner offered to Senators during public testimony last week that put Amtrak on record before Congress that it had no plans for permanent reductions in service through Amtrak’s next authorization in 2020.

That’s not to say that the nature of Amtrak service won’t evolve or change over time, but both executives said that they are pursuing a growth strategy for Amtrak aimed at serving more Americans rather than fewer.

As passenger rail advocates, we need to be observant of what Amtrak’s changes and new practices all mean -- while gearing up to fight for a national vision in the coming reauthorization with Congress.

As we move forward in support of Amtrak and long-distance trains, there are three ways in which you can support our advocacy work:

  1. Help us send a message to Congress that we want continued support for long-distance routes! Call your members of Congress today!
  2. Get your community involved in the fight to preserve the National Network. Members of Amtrak-served communities can sign on to a petition with the message that we support the railroad’s efforts to grow passenger rail service.
  3. You can also help Rail Passengers in our fight for America's trains through your generous contributions!

So don’t wait, get involved today!

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) hosted its first of three symposia today to address questions and best practice for railroads installing Positive Train Control (PTC). The first symposium was held in Washington, D.C. and focused on how railroads can best meet the December 31, 2018 deadline for implementing the technology that can remotely monitor, slow and stop trains that are speeding and at risk of an accident. It also brought together the FRA’s PTC experts and all 41 railroads congressionally mandated to implement PTC systems.

“The PTC Symposium is the latest effort from FRA to ensure that each and every railroad is aware of their obligations and is equipped to meet the Congressionally mandated deadline,” said FRA Administrator Ronald L. Batory.

FRA will hold two other symposia on PTC issues. The second symposium will be on July 16 and it will delve into best practices for PTC system field testing and interoperability testing. The third symposium is scheduled for August 20, and it will share lessons learned and best practices for PTC Safety Plans.

High-speed rail advocacy group Cascadia Rail held its first Canadian-based meeting to promote high-speed rail between Vancouver and Portland, OR and Seattle, WA. There has already been initial momentum built up for the project, with British Columbia offering $300,000 towards a feasibility study to be conducted by Washington state. In March, the Washington Legislature committed $1.2 million to study the line, which could connected passengers between Vancouver and Seattle in just one hour. It would also include stations in Bellingham, Everett, Seattle-Tacoma Airport, Tacoma, Olympia, and Vancouver, WA.

Despite the current support, Cascadia Rail is pushing for more and wants to continue to lobby officials in the U.S and Canada, as well build a larger member base. Co-founder Jonathan Hopkins said the advocacy group’s “goal is to work with everybody to make sure that a good idea doesn't get put on a bookshelf to gather dust.”

A study in 2017 from Washington on the HSR line estimated that the project could cost $42 billion. The study also projected more than two million annual riders by 2035 and up to three million by 2055.

Durham Bulls Lead The Charge In Urban Redevelopment

By Jacob Wallace, Summer by Rail Correspondent

When we talk about stadiums and cities, one of the most common narratives is that team owners leverage their influence to extract massive tax subsidies or other benefits out of cities at the expense of taxpayers. It’s rare that you can point to an example of a team where investment in their stadium directly leads to redevelopment of an entire neighborhood, yet that’s just what happened with Durham and its minor-league team, the Bulls.

To read more of the new Summer by Rail blog post, and to follow Jacob’s Summer by Rail journey through July 1, please visit www.summerbyrail.com.

Following the recent changes from Amtrak, including meal service, the railroad has released its new cafe menu for the Northeast Corridor. The updated menu provides food options ranging from a hummus and wine and cheese plate to sandwiches featuring Boar’s Head brand deli meats & cheeses, in addition to hot items like pizza, burgers, hot dogs and breakfast sandwiches.

“We are pleased to introduce this new menu featuring Boar’s Head premium products for our customers to enjoy as they travel with us along the Northeast Corridor,” Amtrak Vice President of Product Development & Customer Experience Peter Wilander said in a press release. “The updated menu features premium sandwiches, salads and snacks, along with some gluten-free and vegan choices to enhance the overall Amtrak travel experience.”

The new menu is now available and currently being served on the NEC Regional & Acela trains.

Massachusetts State Officials are now moving forward with an effort to connect Boston with the western half of the state using passenger rail. Governor Charlie Baker said that the state’s Department of Transportation (MassDOT) has issued a request for proposals (RFP) to find a consultant team to study the feasibility of such a rail line. The idea of the passenger rail line has received support from community members, local business, state and city officials, and of course, the Rail Passengers Association.

“Through strong partnerships with federal, state and local officials, we are investing in our existing rail infrastructure, increasing capacity where it is needed, and strengthening the Commonwealth's transportation system,” Governor Charlie Baker said in a press release. “We look forward to reviewing the results of this comprehensive study, and continuing to support projects in all regions of the Commonwealth that provide improved travel options to residents and commuters.”

Once a consultant is selected, their task will be to conduct an 18-month feasibility study on the proposed service, which could extend as far as Pittsfield - nearly 140 miles from Boston.

“Coupled with the opening of the Hartford Line, which will run from New Haven, CT to Springfield, MA, Massachusetts is taking great steps forward to connect communities,” said Rail Passengers President Jim Mathews. “We are excited to learn the result of the feasibility study for the proposed western line, and to see how passenger rail service will expand in New England.”

Baker’s office also announced that a term sheet was finalized with the Connecticut Department of Transportation. This will allow for the start of passenger rail service between Springfield and Greenfield as a pilot program in spring 2019. With that, MassDOT will fund the cost and management of the pilot service which will be operated by Amtrak and conclude in fall 2021. During the pilot program, trains will make two round trips each day and stop at stations in Greenfield, Northampton, Holyoke and Springfield.

A coalition of bipartisan lawmakers in the House introduced the Generating American Income and Infrastructure Act (GAIIN Act) which is designed to provide funds for infrastructure projects in poor communities throughout the U.S. If passed, the new bill would see that the Department of Agriculture sells distressed assets, with 50 percent of the proceeds going to infrastructure projects in poor communities and 50 percent going to paying down the national debt.

“This innovative, bipartisan bill offers a creative way to help our poorest neighborhoods gain employment and critical investments in long-delayed infrastructure projects,” said Rep. William Lacy Clay Jr. (D-Mo.), a member of the Congressional Black Caucus and supporter of the GAIIN Act. “It is also fiscally responsible by taking distressed USDA assets and putting them to work to close the deep disparities that have deprived many urban areas of the vital infrastructure dollars needed to attract new jobs, new businesses and future growth.”

Others to support the proposed bill include Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA), a member of the Republican Study Committee, and Rep. Ted Budd (R-N.C.), who is with the conservative House Freedom Caucus.

The lawmakers also said that the infrastructure projects would be focused in African American, Hispanic and rural white communities, and that they will appeal to Democratic members in the House. The lawmakers estimated that federal agencies currently hold more than $2 trillion in distressed assets. In addition, the GAIIN Act would be a pilot program specific to the Department of Agriculture that could be expanded to other agencies, if successful.

Make plans to attend Rail Passengers Association’s RailNation Miami 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 are now available via this on-line link. In addition, the preliminary agenda, program and event information is posted on the RailNation Miami 2018 Event Page!

Amtrak reached a new milestone with Positive Train Control (PTC) implementation with BNSF Railway. This week, the passenger railroad said in a press release that it will complete implementation on BNSF-owned subdivision tracks and it will be the first use of PTC on host-owned territory used by Amtrak. These subdivisions include service for the Amtrak Southwest Chief and California Zephyr, which will be the first lines to be fully activated with PTC on BNSF routes by the end of August.

“Amtrak’s highest priority is ensuring the safety of our passengers, our crews and the communities we serve, and full implementation of PTC will make the entire network safer,” said Amtrak Executive Vice President of Safety Ken Hylander. “While we are excited to achieve this milestone, we must continue to work together to activate PTC and make the national railroad network safer.”

Amtrak also said that the railroad will meet the December 31, 2018 deadline for PTC implementation mandated by Congress on all tracks it owns. For routes owned by Amtrak partners that will not meet the deadline, the railroads will be able to receive extensions for installation.

“This is a great step for Amtrak. We have the infrastructure in place that allows them to operate on our network. We have partnered with them on the federal mandate and in some cases beyond the federal mandate to install PTC on subdivisions not required of BNSF. We look forward to continuing that partnership as they roll-out PTC along our routes,” Chris Matthews, BNSF assistant vice president, Network Control Systems said in the press release.

Due to rising costs of a proposed light-rail line in Minnesota, Metropolitan Council officials overseeing the project have agreed to scale back plans for an operations and maintenance facility in Hopkins. The original plan was to develop a facility that would employ up to 180 people over a 180,000 sq. foot facility. With the revised plan that will save $70 million, the facility will now only be 25,000 sq. feet and employ up to 80 jobs. The decision to make the change was due to rising costs in labor and materials--such as fuel and steel--to build the light-rail line that will run 14.5 miles between Minneapolis and Eden Prairie. The project’s cost has moved past $2 billion as a result.

“We are still very supportive of the project and will continue to make the best of the situation we’re given,” said Kersten Elverum, Hopkins’ director of planning and development.

Hopkins had major plans for the new light-rail system and city officials had pushed for transit-oriented development near the Blake Road and downtown Hopkins stops on the line.

The journey for Summer by Rail correspondent Jacob Wallace continues as he explores Toronto today. After this evening’s ballgame between the Toronto Blue Jays and Washington Nationals (MLB), he’ll be on his way to Chicago where he’ll get to see three different Chicago teams play in a matter of three days: the Chicago White Sox (MLB), the Chicago Cubs (MLB) and the Chicago Dogs (independent). During his journey, Jacob has been exploring how our nation’s public transportation network can connect people to events and activities across the country, while also bringing communities together, in his case, looking closely at how public transit can connect people to baseball.

Though the destinations and baseball games are part of the fun, the journey is also important. Jacob is speaking with fellow travelers along the way and highlighting the importance of a national network. You can read some of his Passenger Profiles, here:

Check out some of the other great news stories Jacob has been a part of:

To keep up with Jacob’s journey, visit the Summer By Rail blog, or follow @RailPassengers on Twitter and Instagram.

Member Forum Now Open

Rail Passengers Association has opened a new forum for 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 they are able to post messages.

In an effort that could lead to the reopening of the Dumbarton Rail Bridge, the San Mateo County Transit District in California will partner with Facebook and infrastructure developer Plenary Group to examine the feasibility of moving forward with the Dumbarton Transportation Corridor. Under the new public-private partnership (P3) agreement, the three groups will work together to look at advancing recommendations outlined in the Dumbarton Transportation Corridor Study, like:

  • The establishment of a new rail service along a rebuilt Dumbarton Rail Bridge;
  • Connections to existing commuter and intercity rail services;
  • The enhancement and expansion of bus and shared-ride commute options on the Dumbarton Highway Bridge; and
  • Further exploration of complementary bicycle and pedestrian connections.

“During the past several years, east-west commutes have become significantly more challenging as an increasing number of workers commute from growing East Bay residential communities to jobs-rich areas on the Peninsula,” the Transit District said regarding the new agreement. “The agreement is an opportunity to address this growing traffic congestion by advancing improvements recommended in the Dumbarton Transportation Corridor Study, which was funded by Facebook in January 2016 and adopted by the Transit District Board of Directors in December 2017.”

In addition, the P3 agreement followed the approval of Regional Measure 3, which will increase a bridge toll that will provide $130 million toward Dumbarton Corridor improvements.

The new downtown Union Station in Raleigh, NC will open on June 27 and will finally provide people with access to Amtrak passenger rail service. The opening of the $111 million station was pushed back due to a couple of issues that delayed the opening from late 2017, to April, then to May and then not until the end of June. A passenger platform and the main vehicle entryway into the station both had to be worked on.

Allan Paul, deputy director of the N.C. Department of Transportation Rail Division said the issue pertained to the slope of the passenger platform because it did not meet Amtrak or federal requirements to meet the Americans with Disabilities Act regulations. Guidelines maintain that the slope can be no more than two percent, which is not too steep for strollers, wheelchairs and other wheeled objects to roll off the platform.

As for the entryway, where West Street descends then turns into a drive under a set of tracks and comes up in a circle in front of the building, the area is not ready because of late work on drainage.

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

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

In an effort to save the Amtrak station agent job in Marshall, TX, nearly 600 people signed a petition given to state and federal representatives. Community members in the area have been working to reverse the railroad’s April 27 decision that would eliminate the position. The ticket agent position it set to be terminated on June 29.

“The First Amendment of the Constitution (forges) the right for citizens to petition members of Congress,” former state Senator Harrison County Judge, and fellow Marshall Depot board member Richard Anderson said in a press conference regarding the petition. “In a representative democracy, such as ours, we don’t get to vote on the issues, we elect an individual to vote for us. That right of petition to a member of Congress is what’s being demonstrated here today.”

Anderson presented the petition to representatives from the offices of Senator Ted Cruz, Congressman Louie Gohmert, State Representative Chris Paddie and Senator John Cornyn. In total, the petition included 580 signatures but after the meeting, another 33 people signed on.

Marshall Mayor Larry Hurta also showed support for the ticket agent by reading from a city-issued proclamation. It was issued by the state on May 10 in support of saving the position.

All Aboard Florida’s (AAF) Brightline will host a public hearing on June 19 on the environmental effects of the forthcoming passenger train service to Orlando. Counties on Brightline’s route, including Orange County, have opposed the train’s development and the goal of the meeting is to opening discuss how Brightline will complete its second phase of development and run the train between downtown Miami and Orlando International Airport.

Concerns raised focus on what will happen to the land that Brightline will develop on. For example in Orange County, Brightline will run along 428 acres that includes 162.42 acres of wetlands. The landowners are the Central Florida Expressway Authority and Salt Lake City-based Farmland Reserve Inc. Other portions of the future rail corridor are on or adjacent to property owned by the Central Florida Expressway Authority along State Road 528, also known as the Beachline Expressway.

Opponents have urged the U.S. Department of Transportation to take another “hard look” at the environmental effect of Brightline and said that the U.S. DOT has "acted as its cheerleaders, deferring to AAF as to the scope of environmental analysis."

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.

Due to a tunnel collapse in May in Oregon that is taking longer than expected to reopen, Amtrak will have to continue busing Coast Starlight passengers between Eugene and Klamath Falls through June 20. The train will still leave Tacoma, heading south for Los Angeles, but Eugene is as far as the train can travel. The tunnel was undergoing maintenance work by Union Pacific in May when parts of the ceiling fell and disrupted service.

Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said that passengers should be aware when booking tickets that they will switch to a bus, in addition to the trip taking more time. Passengers depart the train and board buses in Eugene for Klamath Falls, where they then board another Amtrak train headed for California. Northbound passengers make the same trip in reverse.

"It certainly is not convenient but they are certainly working on it," Magliari said.

Oregon has obtained certification from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) for its rail transit State Safety Oversight (SSO) Programs. The Oregon Department of Transportation was required to receive the certification for safety oversight as it oversees the TriMet light rail and the Portland streetcar systems.

"FTA is pleased that Oregon has developed a safety oversight program that meets federal certification requirements and will strengthen rail transit safety in the state," FTA Acting Administrator K. Jane Williams said in a press release. "With this certification, transit agencies in Oregon can continue to receive federal funding."

Following the certification, a total of 14 states have received federal approval with 16 states still being required to received the FTA’s certification. Federal law requires states with rail transit systems to obtain FTA certification of their SSO Programs by April 15, 2019. If a state fails to meet the deadline, FTA is prohibited by law from awarding any new federal transit funds to transit agencies.