Happening Now

Hotline #1,073

June 29, 2018

Sen. Moran Meets with Amtrak; Brightline to Bid on Orlando to Tampa Route; Amtrak Issues RFI for New Fleet; Summer By Rail Concludes Sunday In Seattle

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Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kan) and other elected officials from Kansas, New Mexico and Colorado met with Amtrak staff, including CEO Richard Anderson, after the railroad said it would consider using charter buses between Garden City and Albuquerque, New Mexico instead of keeping passengers on the Southwest Chief. Amtrak said in a proposal that the costs were too high in regards to maintaining the line and installing Positive Train Control (PTC), but Senator Moran is not settling for that position and will push Amtrak to move forward with appropriate levels of passenger service.

The Rail Passengers Association is strongly opposed to the proposal from Amtrak. Association staff are meeting with members of Congress, and we are currently creating a corridor-wide campaign to activate mayors, local officials, and citizens in defense of this rail service.

Senator Moran, along with bipartisan mix of other senators: Pat Roberts (R-Kansas), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.) met with Amtrak to negotiate the $3 million TIGER grant awarded for improvements on the Southwest Chief and the matching funds that Amtrak plans to withhold.

Moran said “The meeting was unsatisfactory” and that the senators “wanted to make it clear that from our perspective they needed to keep their commitment. Nothing came from the meeting that said they were willing to do that. The result we were looking for did not occur.”

“The end result of the meeting with Mr. Anderson and a bunch of his staff was certainly no suggestion that their mind had been changed,” Moran said. “Then the conversation devolved into a slide presentation and conversation by Mr. Anderson about the financial challenges of the system and systemic issues of the current Southwest Chief route.”

Amtrak has said that the implementation of PTC on a 219-mile segment of track that only Amtrak uses in Colorado and New Mexico could cost $55 million, and it does not want to be involved in the installation of PTC on a seperate section of track in New Mexico that is owned by the Rail Runner, which is the host railroad and responsible for installing PTC.

Senator Moran declared that he and other senators will continue to pressure Amtrak on further developments and next steps. Actions that Senator Moran is taking include placing a hold on two nominations for the Amtrak board and placing language in an appropriations bill that would require consultation with affected communities before Amtrak can make any changes to its “terms of service.”

Support The Southwest Chief and The National Network.

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Your generous donations help fund advocacy campaigns, such as the one we are creating in response to Amtrak’s unacceptable Southwest Chief proposal.

Please help us keep up the fight on behalf of America’s passengers.

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Summer by Rail correspondent Jacob Wallace is nearing the end of his 6,000-mile, 19-ballpark trip this weekend with his final stops in Vancouver, B.C, and Seattle, WA. The trip has taken him to MLB, MiLB and small-town stadiums from Miami to Seattle all by Amtrak and other local public transit agencies. Wallace said in a recent interview with The Vancouver Sun that fans complain about traffic and parking in cities with public transit service that doesn’t easily get fans to ball games.

“Where public transportation options are convenient, people enjoy that option, it’s part of the experience of going to a game,” Jacob said.

Other recent stories on the third annual Summer by Rail program and Jacob’s trip include:

The Future Of Chicago Is Upon Us

By Jacob Wallace, Summer by Rail Correspondent

Chicago is one of the only cities you can visit in the US that still has wooden platforms for its transit system. After a century of use, the “L” is certainly old, but shows no signs of slowing down. Despite the rush to the suburbs that gutted cities across the country during the twentieth century, the Chicago Transit Authority has continued to operate throughout the city since it was created by the City of Chicago and State of Illinois in the 1940s. Not only that, but as America takes a renewed interest in building sustainable cities, many local governments are wising up to the idea of maintaining a long term plan to guide development far into the future. Here, the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) fulfills that need.

To read more of the new Summer by Rail blog and to follow Jacob’s Summer by Rail journey as it concludes in Seattle on July 1, please visit www.summerbyrail.com.

Between June 18 and June 24 the new CTrail Hartford Line carried 10,719 passengers., according to ridership numbers shared by Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy and the Connecticut Department of Transportation (CTDOT).

“We know that it will take some time for this new rail service to grow to full maturity and become part of the everyday lives of Connecticut residents, but there is definitely an excitement about this long-overdue train service,” Governor Malloy said in a press release. “At the end of the day, this transit service is about building vibrant communities that attract businesses, grow jobs, and make our state a more attractive place to live, visit, and do business.”

The CTrail Hartford Line runs between New Haven, CT and Springfield, MA, with stops in New Haven State Street, Wallingford, Meriden, Berlin, Hartford, Windsor, and Windsor Locks - all cities that have invested money into stations and development.

“The Hartford Line is a great example of cities coming together for the development and investment in communities through public transit service,” said Rail Passengers Association President Jim Mathews.

Benefits already being felt in the communities include:

  • Millions of dollars in transit-oriented development

  • An annual reduction of some 1.5 million vehicles from the I-91 corridor

  • A reduction of vehicle miles driven of more than 100 million miles annually

  • A savings of more than 3.5 million gallons of fuel annually

  • An estimated 13,000 construction and related jobs

Amtrak issued a Request for Information (RFI) from rail car manufacturers for the eventual replacement of the railroads current Amfleet I cars. Amtrak said that the RFI seeks information on various rail cars, including coach cars, trainsets and self-propelled units. Following a review of the information provided from manufacturers, Amtrak will then release a Request for Proposal in 2019 for specific replacement vehicles.

“New equipment will provide our customers with a more modern experience, while improving ride quality and reliability,” Amtrak Vice President of Corporate Planning, Byron Comati said in a press release from the railroad.

Amfleet I is currently 40 years old and in need of replacement, despite being part of Amtrak’s efforts to replace vehicle interiors. The fleet includes single-level passenger cars used primarily on routes east of the Mississippi River such as the Northeast Regional, Keystone, Carolinian and Illinois Service Trains.

“The US rail fleet is in desperate need of modernization and we applaud Amtrak for taking steps to acquire new equipment,” said Rail Passengers President Jim Mathews. “We encourage Amtrak to work with appropriate stakeholder groups to ensure America’s passengers are given access to the safest, most reliable equipment on the market in a timely manner.”

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.

Friday will feature a series of local tours & activities, including an exclusive opportunity to ride a chartered trip on Brightline. Saturday will include a full day of advocacy presentations, speakers and panels, followed by an evening networking event & fundraiser with entertainment. Sunday will cap off the weekend with additional presentations in the morning and a closing lunch with a keynote speaker.

Discounted group-rate room reservations are now available via this link. In addition, the preliminary agenda, program, tour and event information is posted on the RailNation Miami 2018 Event Page!

Brightline said it will submit a proposal for the development of a higher-speed rail extension between Orlando and Tampa. Brightline President and Chief Operating Officer Patrick Goddard said that the Tampa area is a “natural extension” the company, which now operates service from Miami to West Palm Beach. It will also begin service to Orlando in 2021.

“Our state's residents, visitors and economy will benefit tremendously from a fully connected passenger rail system that includes our current operations in South Florida and our future line to Orlando,” Goddard said in a prepared statement. “We are currently engaged in the (request for proposal) process, which is the first step needed to extend the system to the Tampa Bay region.”

The announcement comes after Florida Gov. Rick Scott said that the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) and the Central Florida Expressway Authority (CFX) started the process to consider proposals for the construction and operation of a passenger rail line between the two cities. The process began after Brightline submitted an unsolicited proposal to establish the extension and operating the line along the CFX right of way. As a result of Brightline's proposal, the FDOT initiated an open procurement process so any private entities could apply.

“This is an exciting opportunity for Orlando, Tampa and our entire state. When I became Governor, the Obama administration was trying to use federal taxpayer dollars to pay for a rail connection that had an extremely high risk of overspending taxpayer dollars with no guarantee of economic growth. This is exactly what we’re seeing in California, a state which took this bad deal from Obama, and in Connecticut where taxpayers had to shell out hundreds of millions of dollars for their rail line,” said Governor Scott in a press release. “Instead of placing taxpayers on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars, our goal is for the private sector to invest in this project. Through private investment, we ensure that this major project has zero financial risk to Florida taxpayers.”

Governor Scott admitted that he said no to $2 billion in federal support from the Obama administration in 2011, which would have funded the construction of a high-speed rail line between Orlando and Tampa. Speaking to this decision, Governor Scott said he was concerned that the project would have had "an extremely high risk of overspending taxpayer dollars with no guarantee of economic growth.”

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) will receive $225 million in federal funding for the agency’s Green Line light-rail extension (GLX). The support is the second installment of a $996 million full funding grant agreement signed in 2015 with the U.S. Department of Transportation.

In addition, Governor Charlie Baker, along with U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao, Massachusetts Transportation Secretary and CEO Stephanie Pollack, and MBTA General Manager Luis Manuel Ramírez broke ground on the the $2.3 billion GLX project.

"The Green Line Extension project will improve mobility, access to jobs, schools and the quality of life for tens of thousands of passengers in the Boston area," Secretary Chao said in a press release.

The groundbreaking event took place in Somerville, MA at the future location of the Union Square Station. Once completed in January 2022, the GLX will run 4.7-miles from Cambridge to Medford, MA.

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.

Member Benefit: Newsletter Archives Complete

A new feature for Members: every monthly Newsletter this organization has produced since the beginning of publication in 1969, can be accessed by logging in here. If you have trouble logging in, or cannot reset your password, please contact membership services.

Officials in North Carolina had to postpone the opening of Raleigh Union Station again. Amtrak had planned to begin service on Wednesday, but work on the station’s platform was not completed in time. The slope of the platform does not meet Amtrak and federal specifications and Americans with Disabilities Act regulations. The slope is currently one percent too steep; the slope cannot be more than two percent, which is just enough to allow water to roll off, but not so steep for wheeled objects like strollers and wheelchairs to roll. Fixing the slope has involved adding additional concrete in some spots, but has been slowed due to warm temperatures.

Raleigh Union Station was first expected to open in 2017, which was pushed back until May of this year. That opening was then pushed off until early June. As it stands now, the N.C. Department of Transportation said that service will not begin until July.

From Model To Model Fan – The Brewers’ Own Front Row Amy

By Jacob Wallace, Summer by Rail Correspondent

Amy Williams, aka Front Row Amy, has been attending Brewers games in person over the course of the decade or so, and has quickly become one of the team’s most recognizable and dedicated fans. Seated in her signature front row seat, for which she owns a season ticket, most games, she will remain intently scoring each and every pitch. Her dedication is hard to match: she drives an hour and a half each way from her home in Oshkosh to Miller Park for almost fifty games a season.

To read more of the new Summer by Rail blog post about Amy Williams, and to follow Jacob’s Summer by Rail journey as it concludes in Seattle on July 1, visit www.summerbyrail.com.

Transportation hubs in the U.S. will get a boost in security with the approval of the Securing Public Areas of Transportation Facilities Act of 2018. The House has passed the bill, which would allow the Department of Homeland Security to enhance safety at passenger rail stations and airports through public-private partnerships.

“In the United States and around the world, terrorists continue to target transportation systems. As heightened security has made attacks against aircrafts more difficult to carry out, terrorists have turned their attention to soft targets, such as the crowded public areas of airports and other transportation facilities,” the bill’s sponsor U.S. Rep. Donald Payne Jr. (D-N.J.) said in a press release. “In recent years, we have seen attacks in public airport areas in Los Angeles, New Orleans, and Fort Lauderdale, and last year, we witnessed an attempted bombing of a public surface transportation facility in New York City.”

The bill will now need to be passed by the U.S. Senate before moving to the White House.

After Alabama Governor Kay Ivey declined to support the reintroduction of Amtrak service last week, she removed Southern Rail Commission appointee Jerry Gehman from his position. Gehman was appointed to the commission by former Governor Robert Bentley in 2016 and has been a strong supporter for restarting Amtrak service in the region after it was halted following Hurricane Katrina. Governor Ivey made his termination from the commission “effective immediately” in a letter to SRC Chairman John Spain.

Gehman said that he hopes the reintroduction of service between Mobile and New Orleans can still be possible in the future, “But in the state of Alabama, given the governor's rejection letter of the passenger rail possibility that existed ... and given the tenor of her comments, I don't see it being a viable option during this governor's tenure." Gehman also said he encourages the governor to reconsider her position, but doesn’t believe that will happen as no one in her administration has consulted with the commission on how to advance Amtrak service.

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!

New York will now be able to explore several different alignments for the proposed AirTrain LGA connection between New York City and LaGuardia Airport. Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation that will allow for various alignments to be reviewed during an upcoming environmental review of the project. The AirTrain connection would link the airport and midtown and the 30 minute trip will be made up of a 16-minute trip on the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) between Moynihan/Penn Station or Grand Central and Willets Point, followed by an approximate 6-minute trip from the Willets Point Station to LaGuardia.

"AirTrain LGA will set an example of comprehensive transit infrastructure for the rest of the nation, and will pay dividends for decades by connecting riders to transit hubs across the Metropolitan area, boosting passenger growth across all airlines, and providing a more efficient means of travel for generations to come," Governor Cuomo said in a press release.

If the project moves forward, AirTrain LGA advocates said that the line would help reduce congestion on the roads by promising a trip in under 30 minutes between LaGuardia and New York Penn Station or Grand Central Terminal. Construction is anticipated to start in 2020 and conclude in 2022.

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); 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); 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.

Construction of the initial route of Milwaukee’s streetcar, known as The Hop, has been completed. With the route set, officials from the Milwaukee Department of Public Works (DPW) said that the project is on time and on budget, with service set to start in November.

"The substantial completion of construction is a cause for celebration and a major milestone on the path toward bringing streetcar service to our city," said Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

Two streetcars have already been delivered to the city by Brookville Equipment Corp., with the remaining three to be delivered over the next few months. Once service is up, The Hop will run a 2 mile route between Milwaukee's East Side and the Milwaukee Intermodal Station downtown.

Executive Director of New Jersey Transit, Kevin Corbett, said the agency will not be able to meet the federally mandated December 31 deadline for installing positive train control (PTC). NJ Transit will now request a two-year extension from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). In order to be granted the extension by the FRA, NJ Transit will need to have installed 85 percent of all PTC hardware in place by the end of 2018.

Corbett said that he expects PTC, which can remotely monitor, slow and stop trains that are speeding, will be fully installed by Thanksgiving of 2020. However, how NJ Transit’s lack of PTC completion is unknown. Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson previously said that Amtrak could ban any railroad that did not complete PTC installation by the end of the year. Amtrak said that it is continuing to work with NJ Transit to complete the PTC installation.