Happening Now

Hotline #1,089

October 26, 2018

Rail Passengers Association Issues Open Letter to Amtrak Calling for More and Better Trains; RailNation-Miami a Success; NY Gov. Cuomo Presses Trump on Gateway; Fort Pierce and Stuart Submit Proposal for Brightline Station; Schenectady Station Opens Two Weeks Early; Route Between Fort Wayne and Chicago Could See 765,000 per year in 2035

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Updated: October 26 at 5:25 PM Eastern

In an open-letter to Amtrak, the Rail Passengers Association (RPA) CEO Jim Mathews called on railroad management to “seize this moment” to shape the future of the National Network to create “A Connected America” that will meet the country’s transportation needs well into the future.

Addressed to the members of Amtrak's board, Mathews’ letter calls on leaders at Amtrak to lead—not follow—in helping to create a real surface-transportation policy for the U.S. Amtrak management needs to look boldly beyond the National Network and riders of today to assess what kind of country we’re likely to be in 2040 or 2050, and refuse to degrade services or abandon Amtrak communities.

We believe this is an important letter for all Rail Passengers Association members to read, and are publishing the letter in its entirety:

We at the Rail Passengers Association believe that in the U.S. today we have arrived at a unique moment in passenger rail. Passenger rail generally and Amtrak specifically are enjoying some of their strongest support in decades, reflecting the reality that much of the American public is demanding more and better trains. With sharply increased appropriations in Fiscal 2018 and Fiscal 2019, Congress is demonstrating a willingness to make sensible investments in the future of mobility in the United States.

Amtrak, for its part, is looking to the future with renewed energy, contemplating exciting growth plans that could, for example, expand Amtrak along the Heartland Flyer, the Front Range Corridor, and the Los Angeles – Albuquerque corridor, and bring passenger rail back to the Gulf Coast. New CEO Richard Anderson is committed to improving the safety culture at the railroad, as well as finding ways to satisfy the tastes and demands of a new generation of fare-paying riders with improved rolling stock and on-board amenities.

It’s time to seize this moment, to shift away from an “operating” culture to an “opportunity” culture. On behalf of the 40 million Americans who ride intercity and commuter trains, we’re calling on leaders at Amtrak to lead—not follow—in helping to create a real surface-transportation policy for the U.S. Amtrak management needs to look boldly beyond the National Network and riders of today to assess what kind of country we’re likely to be in 2040 or 2050, to shape the future of the National Network and to use the rail mode to tie other modes seamlessly together.

Rail Passengers Association is today calling on Amtrak’s Board, Executive leadership and senior management to support a future with More Trains, Better Trains and A Commitment To Infrastructure Investment –

1. More Trains, Better Trains:

  • Move aggressively on your new growth vision, with more frequencies in dense corridors, new rolling stock and modern safety measures—everything from Positive Train Control to GPS-tracking and modernized procedures for train crews. Amtrak’s new emphasis on 400- to 500-mile corridors is a good idea, positioning Amtrak to fill a unique role that other travel modes can’t fill. By 2045, 89% of Americans are expected to live in urban areas. At the same time, during the next 20 years Baby Boomers are expected to grow the senior population by 30 million people—a demographic that often faces travel challenges from vision, hearing and mobility constraints. Corridors can’t supplant Amtrak’s congressional mandate to serve all Americans, but Rail Passengers Association believes that the mandate also shouldn’t stifle Amtrak from thinking about a robust future, which may look different from today.
  • Fully and enthusiastically embrace a customer-centric view of passenger service, ensuring that trains’ basic services—like toilets and air-conditioning—are reliable and sound while improving the experience for each and every traveler. It is long past time to replace the rolling museum that is today’s Amtrak with modern equipment with lower operating and maintenance costs, which will result in a better deal for the taxpayer as well as the passenger.
  • Eliminate, once and for all, the folly of services operating less than daily. Thrice-weekly service is not a meaningful frequency for modern American travelers and guarantees poor financial performance. Amtrak must start laying the groundwork for a rapid return to a Daily Sunset and a Daily Cardinal service.

2. Commitment To Infrastructure Investment:

  • Engage creatively and transparently with local communities, state partners, and private industry to find ways to say “Yes” to new service and amenities, rather than “No.” This includes pressing forward without delay on the long-awaited link between Mobile and New Orleans, a project which a recent study showed would produce $216 million in annual economic benefits for Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama despite costing the three states only about $7 million each year. Despite the urbanization of America, by 2045 we’ll still have a significant fraction of Americans living in rural communities, and demographic trends tell us that this population will have a large number of seniors, disabled and veterans who will need the kind of mobility that only rail can provides.
  • Engage in an open conversation with host railroads and regulatorsabout better, less-contentious approaches to shared-use corridors that promote investment in more network fluidity and a better passenger experience.
  • Notwithstanding the search for more cooperative approaches, continue pressing for a private right-of-action so that on behalf of paying passengers Amtrak can hold host railroads accountable for poor on-time performance.

The Rail Passengers Association supports meaningful change. By all means, grow, adapt, evolve and position for a stronger more self-sustaining future. It is time for Amtrak to embrace the new century. But it’s important that no community served today should see their service degraded. Rural America should not be shortchanged by any shifts in service. Amtrak has a mission beyond the balance sheet, a fact enshrined in law. Amtrak should always seek prudent stewardship of public funds. But Amtrak is a taxpayer-supported enterprise, whose core mission is to provide mobility and access to communities that need it and where private industry cannot profitably provide it. That doesn’t mean the nature of that service can’t change, but no community should get worse service. We expect a prudently run but truly National Network.

Millions of Americans believe in the vision of an Amtrak worthy of a 21st Century America. At Rail Passengers Association we call it A Connected America, which will put 80% of Americans within 25 miles of a rail station within 25 years using a combination of high-speed/high-performance, long-distance intercity rail, commuter trains, light-rail, transit and innovative last-mile connections. A Connected America is not only good for passengers but good for business, an economic engine in the communities it serves. We believe passengers should be able to drive, bike, walk or take transit to those stations as they choose, whether traveling for work, school or leisure. They should have the choice of multiple frequencies each day in dense corridors. They should be able to take the train to airports to continue their journeys onward. In short, they expect a modern, frequent, reliable and safe service as part of a robust ecosystem of travel choices, from ride-sharing vehicles and bikes to cars, trains and jetliners. It’s what America deserves.


Jim Mathews

President & CEO

RailNation Miami A Success! Over 100 rail advocates from across the country gathered in Miami last weekend, where they heard from an outstanding line-up of speakers and presenters.

The program got underway on Friday evening with a ‘Fireside Chat’ led by Jim Mathews with former Amtrak President Joe Boardman answering questions live and pre-recorded responses from former Amtrak President David Gunn; Trains Magazine Columnist Fred Frailey and Governor Michael Dukakis.

Saturday’s program included an opening presentation by Joe Boardman on his perspectives on railroad safety. Morning concurrent sessions included ‘Why The Swiss Can Build Big Projects Cheap And We Can't…’ moderated by Sean Jeans-Gail; How To Pay For Infrastructure; Unlocking The Value of Real Estate’ moderated by Abe Zumwalt and ‘Envisioning The Future Of The U.S. Rail Network; which was led by Jim Mathews. The morning concluded with a lively panel presentation ‘Passenger Rail On Freight Tracks’ with Patrick Goddard ( President/CEO - Brightline); Gene Skoropowski (Retired from Brightline & California's Capitol Corridor) and Jay Westbrook (General Manager - Florida Dispatch Company) participating.

Saturday’s lunch special guest was Stephen Gardner, Amtrak’s Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer. Stephen addressed a number of timely topics and he reinforced that Amtrak is committed to a National Network.

Afternoon sessions included ‘The Miami SMART Plan’s First Mile/Last Mile Opportunities’ moderated by Joe Aiello; ‘Amtrak's Upcoming Re-Authorization - The Next Opportunity & Challenge’ moderated by Sean Jeans-Gail and ‘Introducing Rail Passengers Association's Station Volunteer Program’ moderated by Carolyn Cokley.

Attendees gathered on Saturday evening at Brightline’s MiamiCentral Station for a benefit reception in support of the Jim Hamre Scholarship Fund. Over $2,200 was generously raised towards the initial $100,000 Fund goal.

It was announced during the Sunday morning Council Business Session that the Rail Passengers Association Fall 2019 gathering will be held in Sacramento, CA over the dates of October 18 - 21, 2019. Other Sunday sessions included a review of the Summer By Rail 2018 intern trip and a lively interchange on ‘RPA's Passenger Experience; What Do We Want To See In The Future?’

Tours held in conjunction with RailNation Miami included a Miami to Fort Lauderdale round trip on Brightline and a visit to the Gold Coast Railroad Museum.

Fall Photo Contest Could Earn You Amtrak Guest Reward Points© and Other Prizes

As leaves across the country turn from green to autumn foliage, now is the perfect time to take and share your photos of what you see outside your train window.

We are asking you, as well as your friends and family, to share their seasonal #ViewsFromATrain on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Of course it will be great to see pictures of the fall foliage, but the landscape can be anything - a city skyline, farmland, a river, a canyon or whatever else you may see outside your train.

Once you submit a photo (or two or three), you are eligible to win a number of different prizes including Amtrak Guest Rewards Points© and Rail Passengers swag.

Be sure to use the hashtag #RailPassengers or #ViewsFromATrain and tag @RailPassengers to show us what you see outside your window.

So don’t wait any longer, hop and a train and start clicking. We can’t wait to see your amazing views.

Speaking of more and better trains, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo called on President Trump to help fund the new Hudson River tunnel as part of the Gateway Program, which would repair and expand the most essential artery in the Northeast Corridor. Cuomo did so as he visited the current Hudson River tunnel which has experienced severe corrosion and damage over the last 100 years, and more recently during Hurricane Sandy. His visit included a direct message to President Trump, and he highlighted specific areas of the tunnel that are at risk of failing.

“Funding the new Hudson River tunnel is essential to the regional economy, as well as the national economy,” said Rail Passengers Association President Jim Mathews. “The project is not just important for the region but for the entirety of the nation since one small issue in New York could have a ripple effect that extends between Boston and Washington, D.C. The federal government needs to hear Governor Cuomo’s message and move forward in supporting the project.”

In his message, Cuomo said the tunnel has experienced “a level of damage that is possible to interrupt service for days and if you lose service of one of these tunnels for one, two or three days you're talking about a devastating impact on the whole Northeast Corridor."

Cuomo also said, “The Gateway project has been talked about for many years. The tunnels themselves are referred to as the North River Tunnels. Many infrastructure projects that we're doing now are to improve the situation. We're doing the John F. Kennedy Airport to make a better airport. LaGuardia Airport to make it a better airport. This project is just to maintain functionality. Replacing the tunnel doesn't improve service dramatically. This is just basic functionality of the infrastructure. And it is a major concern and it is a growing concern.”

The new tunnel is estimated to cost $12.7 billion, and New York state and New Jersey have previously committed to pay for half of the cost of the Gateway Program. This will happen only if the federal government pays for the other half of the project. Unfortunately, the President said he will not move forward with a previous funding agreement that was made with the Obama administration. Trump has said that New York and New Jersey need to fund a greater portion of the project.

B-roll video of Governor Cuomo’s visit is on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l2cut6AhN_4&feature=youtu.be

TransitMatters, a Boston-based advocacy group for public transportation, criticized the recently released North-South Rail Link (NSRL) feasibility study from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT). In the group’s Commonwealth Magazine Op-Ed, TransitMatter calls out that the MassDOT study was done in such a way that the benefits of linking the North and South ends of Boston are dramatically downplayed, while the costs are overestimated, placing a negative light on the entirety of the project.

“Unfortunately, the MassDOT study, conducted by the global consultancy Arup, reflects NSRL done wrong. The draft report’s numerous flaws stem from a faulty framework which views NSRL as a stand-alone infrastructure project (rather than the logical end point of a transition to a regional rail system), thereby ignoring the connection between infrastructure and service,” TransitMatters said in the Op-Ed. “The report evidences a peculiar disinterest in international best practice, and assumes the continuation of the same outdated, inefficient, and costly practices which shape current commuter rail service. As a result, the draft report overstates the expense of NSRL by a factor of about two, while woefully understating its benefits. We therefore reject claims that this study is, or should be, the final word on the project’s viability.”

TransitMatters highlights how a study should be conducted to determine the true cost and benefits of the NSRL, and called on MassDOT to find another way to determine the feasibility of the link.

The advocacy group wrote, “We believe that the following course of action is necessary: MassDOT should acknowledge the limitations of Arup’s study and its scope, and, crucially, those of the ridership model employed, with a commitment to identify a more suitable analytical tool. Once this tool is identified, it can be applied to all analyses of the commuter rail system, including the current commuter rail vision study. When that informed analysis is completed, a reassessment of NSRL must occur, guided by knowledge of best operating practices and drawing from conclusions arising from a high-leverage regional rail operating model.”

Rail Passengers Association Members’ Online Forum Now Open!

Rail Passengers Association has a forum for members on Google Groups. Members can share their gripes and their applause, and trade information on 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.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority's (CHSRA) board has certified the final supplemental environmental impact report (EIR) for the section of the high-speed rail line between Fresno and Bakersfield. The Authority's board certified the EIR under the California Environmental Quality Act after hearing a presentation and public comments on the segment. The board also approved a high-speed rail alignment between Poplar Avenue in Kern County and the F Street station location in downtown Bakersfield.

“Today’s decision by the Board of Directors reflects the successful partnership between the Authority and our regional partners to find a path forward in bringing high-speed rail to Bakersfield,” Board Chair Dan Richard said in a press release. “Having a high-speed rail station in Bakersfield will spur new economic activities and development in the region, and tie the Central Valley to Northern and Southern California like never before.”

The EIR provides an analysis of the locally generated alternative route that would extend from Shafter east toward State Route 99 and the existing Union Pacific Railroad tracks. It then moves southward into downtown Bakersfield. The EIR compares this alternative alignment to the alignment studied in 2014 for the Fresno to Bakersfield segment.

Mark McLoughlin, the agency’s environmental services director, said that the route will also cost about $200 million less to build than the original option.

Following the board’s vote, the next step in the process includes the release of a final supplemental environmental impact statement from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). After that, the FRA would consider approving the project and issuing a record of decision under the National Environmental Policy Act.

Based on a preliminary analysis, passenger rail service between Fort Wayne and Chicago could become a real possibility between 2026 and 2030. The analysis says that the route could carry between 387,000 and 765,000 passengers a year by 2035. The total number of passengers will depend on the train’s speed, as well as the number of daily round trips. The analysis looked trains traveling at 79 mph or 101 mph, and either two or four daily round trips. Cities that would be on the proposed route include Valparaiso, Gary, Lima, Plymouth and Warsaw.

The analysis was conducted by consultant firm, HNTB Corp. HNTB found that the estimated capital costs are about $898 million for 79-mph service and $1.2 billion for 101 mph. The estimates include professional services, as well as contingencies for unexpected costs.

Judge Richard Sueyoshi of the Sacramento Superior Court has tentatively rejected arguments by opponents of California's high-speed rail project. The opponents claim that the state has been spending bond money on the project improperly. This is the second time that a judge has rejected the arguments from HSR opponents.

The lawsuit ruled on Thursday centers on a 2016 law passed by the California Legislature related to how the state can spend the bond money. It says the bond money can be spent on projects that would enable high-speed trains, such as electrifying existing rail lines. The arguments is that this language changes what voters expected in the 2008 vote - that the money would be spent on projects that are ready for high-speed train operation.

The judge will give a final decision today in court if the lawsuit will be dismissed.

Save the Date

Save these dates ror Rail Passengers Association's 2019 Washington Advocacy Summit, Day on The Hill And Congressional Reception

New Host Location for 2019! Westin City Center at Thomas Circle (3 1/2 blocks from the Metro)

The Agenda Includes:

  • Sunday, March 31 - Afternoon Meetings

  • Monday, April 1 - Summit Speakers and Presentations

  • Tuesday, April 2 - Day on The Hill & Congressional Reception

  • Wednesday, April 3 - Rail Passengers Association Council Annual Business Meeting

Watch for more information online at www.railpassengers.org.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s (MTA) Metro-North Railroad in New York has a new plan to improve the experience of its riders due to the railroad’s aging infrastructure and increased ridership. The plan, known as "Way Ahead," is also designed to help improve Metro-North’s safety, service, infrastructure, and communications. Way Ahead was developed in response to the Metro-North’s growing ridership, changing demographics and evolving customer needs.

“Nothing is more important than the safety and security of our customers and employees, and safety drives all Way Ahead actions,” Metro-North officials said in a press release. “Since 2013, Metro-North has significantly upgraded its infrastructure, reinvigorated its cyclical track maintenance program, and bought new technology to help identify track defects.”

Areas of focus under the Way Ahead program include:

  • Expand TRACKS, Mero-North’s award-winning free community outreach program designed to educate and promote rail safety;

  • Enhance grade crossings;

  • Improve the customer experience in Grand Central Terminal in the evenings and on weekends by creating new Grand Central Terminal customer advocates;

  • Revitalize Metro-North’s aging locomotive-hauled fleet by replacing seats and floors in more than 100 coaches;

  • Bring new, real-time digital train information displays to Grand Central Terminal, including a new, state-of-the-art “Big Board” and new signs at each of the departure gates;

  • Replace the antiquated public-address system in Grand Central Terminal and at outlying stations with a new state-of-the-art system;

  • Take delivery of 66 new M8 rail cars to accommodate increased ridership;

While Metro-North’s plan does a good job of addressing investment needs, it falls short of the revolutionary thinking we’ll need to address the New York Metropolitan region’s transportation infrastructure woes. Rail Passengers endorses the Regional Plan Association’s Fourth Plan, which calls for truly innovative solutions--including a unified, integrated, expanded regional rail network for the NY/NJ/CT region.

The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority plans to begin pulling 10 to 20 percent of its energy use from renewable sources such as solar panels and windmills. The transit agency has issued a request for proposals (RFP) that seeks a company to help SEPTA convert to renewable energy sources without spending additional money on energy. As it stands now, only about four percent of the agency’s energy comes from a renewable source.

"This RFP represents a key commitment of SEPTA's Energy Action Plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation," SEPTA General Manager Jeffrey D. Knueppel said in a press release. "Riding SEPTA is already one of the best ways to reduce your carbon footprint, and with this initiative, SEPTA will advance its position as a leader in environmental sustainability."

Due to its sheer size, SEPTA is one of the largest consumers of energy in its region. The agency’s trains, trolleys, buildings and facilities use about 480,000 megawatt hours a year of electricity. This energy is pulled from the electrical grid, which uses primarily coal, nuclear, and natural gas sources.

New Discounts Add Value to Your Rail Passengers Association Membership!

Whether you are from Bakersfield, Bismarck or Boston, Rail Passengers and MemberDeals have you covered! Wherever you live, work or travel, MemberDeals has discounts available for all Rail Passengers Association members.

Rail Passengers Association’s new partnership with MemberDeals will give members access to exclusive savings on movie tickets, theme parks, hotels, rental cars, tours, Broadway and Vegas shows & more through the members only area of the Rail Passengers Association website. Be sure to check back often as new products and discounts are constantly being added! You must be a member in good standing and be logged in to the Rail Passengers Association website to have access to these internet only discounts.

New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) began a pilot project to reduce energy consumption for the city’s subway system. The project, developed through the MTA in partnership with ABB Group and Viridity, is testing new technology, known as a “value stack approach,” that will use electricity produced by subway trains' regenerative braking systems.

“Rising energy costs necessitate a smarter approach from large transportation entities like ours. They require us to constantly be looking for outside-of-the-box solutions," MTA President Pat Foye said in a press release. "The need to identify more energy efficient ways of operating will only increase in the future and the Smart Battery technology presents a real blueprint for how we can achieve progress."

The technology pilot will begin at a subway power substation in 2019. MTA officials also said that the new technology would help generate revenue through participation in both the Con Edison and New York Independent System Operator demand-response programs.

A new Amtrak station in downtown Schenectady, NY opened two weeks ahead of schedule and it will provide another new benefit to the Empire Corridor. The station is the latest in a line of new stations opening along the route, which runs from Manhattan to Buffalo and Niagara Falls. Niagara Falls opened a new station in 2016 and Rochester's new station opened in the fall of 2017. State officials are working on the final plans for a new station to replace Buffalo's downtown Exchange Street building.

"Schenectady is in the midst of a renaissance and is home to an increasing number of popular destinations, and it is critical that transportation to and from the area is convenient, affordable, and reliable," New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a press release. "The new Schenectady Train Station is a smart investment for the Capital Region, and with modern amenities and historic touches, it will drive tourism and further support the Electric City's downtown revitalization."

Improvements administered by the State in recent years along the Empire Corridor total more than $180 million in investments. The new Schenectady station cost $23 million to develop and funding was provided through combination of state & federal governments and other sources.

New York State rail advocates however point out that the actual passenger train service supported by the State, particularly across upstate New York, has not seen positive changes in many years, with poor on-time performance impacting ridership and limited capacity often leading to multiple sold-out trains on weekends & holidays.

The Coast Rail Coordinating Council has been created as a new coalition that is focused on improving passenger rail service along the coastal route in California. The coalition includes that Santa Barbara County Association of Governments, the San Luis Obispo Council of Governments, the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission, the Transportation Agency for Monterey County and the Ventura County Transportation Commission. To improve passengers rail service, the coalition will focus on frequency of service, speed of trains, reliability and ease of use of trains for passengers, on the coastal route between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Recent Coast Rail Coordinating Council efforts include two rail extension projects already underway to ease commuter congestion on Highway 101 and to boost tourism. The council has also been working with the Caltrans Rail Program, Amtrak and Union Pacific to initiate a new train from downtown San Francisco to downtown Los Angeles.

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!

Two locations in Fort Pierce, FL, were submitted as possible station locations for Brightline higher-speed rail service. Officials with the city provided Brightline with a 139-page proposal that highlighted the potential for the former H.D. King power-plant site and a location on Depot Drive behind a theatre.According to the proposal, the potential number of riders in the area is more than 620,000.

“What I like (about the proposal) is if we had a station, then the train would have to slow down when going through our city,” Mayor Linda Hudson said in regards to attracting visitors to Fort Pierce.

Tourists attractions were also a major part of the Fort Pierce proposal. City officials pointed to a variety of attractions in the area that could lure visitors and help grow the local economy. Local attractions include the Sunrise Theatre, the Downtown Farmers Market, First Data Field, UDT-Navy SEAL Museum and the numerous beaches.

City officials in Stuart, FL have also submitted a proposal to Brightline that outlines three possible station locations. Stuart offered a station at Kiwanis Park, East Coast Lumber or Stypmann Boulevard. Kiwanis Park is west of the tracks while the other options are east.

City officials said in the proposal that each of the locations are are centrally located and are close to existing parking lots and connections to other transit services.

Of the four cities Brightline officials asked to submit proposals for a new station and community support, Fort Pierce and Stuart are the only two to respond. The other two cities Brightline reached out to but will not submit proposals are Sebastian and Vero Beach.

A draft environmental impact statement was released by the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT). The statement outlined two alternatives for a proposed 125-mile passenger line between Portland and the Eugene-Springfield region. One of the proposed routes would follow the current Amtrak Cascades route. The second option would include a new route along Interstate 5. The ODOT and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) have identified the first option as the preferred alternative. After a public comment period that includes five meetings between November and December, the ODOT and the FRA will choose a final preferred alternative.

Passenger Rail Service Notices

Current and upcoming service notifications that could affect affect upcoming train travel include:

CATS Service Reopens

Two rail services are now up and running again after Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) crews completed repair work following damage caused by Hurricane Michael. A fallen tree had damaged overhead wires, but on Monday the transit agency returned the Lynx Blue Line light rail and the Gold Line streetcar to full service.

During the repair work, passengers had to use buses that have been set up to link the Blue Line stations that have been out of service between the Scaleybark and Sugar Creek stations. Passengers transferred from the train to the bus or vice versa to get to their final destinations.

East Lansing Amtrak Station to Lose Staffed Ticket Window

The Amtrak station in East Lansing, MI will no longer have a staffed ticket window as of October 29, 2018. Amtrak’s Blue Water trains will continue to serve the station daily. Customers will still have access to the station’s waiting area and restrooms for the following trains each day:

  • Westbound Train 365 — starting at 7 am

  • Eastbound Train 364 — starting at 8 pm

Track Work Affects Select Carolinian and Piedmont Trains

Track work being performed by Norfolk Southern and North Carolina Department of Transportation will affect Carolinian and Piedmont service on select dates beginning October 29 through November 15.

  • Monday through Thursday October 29 - November 1; November 5 - November 8; November 12 - November 15

Carolinian Service

  • Train 80 will depart Charlotte at 5:45 am and operate one hour earlier at all stations between Charlotte and Cary. At Raleigh station the train will hold for the normal scheduled departure time of 10:13 am.

Piedmont Service

  • Trains 75 and 76 which operate between Charlotte and Raleigh, are cancelled. Alternate transportation is not provided.

  • Train 74 which operates between Charlotte and Raleigh, will operate between Charlotte and Burlington only. Alternate transportation will be provided between Burlington and Raleigh stopping at Durham and Cary. Bus 3074 will depart Burlington, Durham, Cary and Raleigh at the normal times. Bus 3074 will remain at Burlington for Train 74’s customers.

  • Train 77, which normally operates between Raleigh and Charlotte, will operate between Burlington and Charlotte only. Alternate transportation will be provided on Bus 3077 for intermediate stops at Cary and Durham. Bus 3077 will operate 30 minutes earlier between Raleigh and Burlington, departing Raleigh at 2:30 pm.

All trains will operate normally Friday – Sunday November 2 through November 4 and November 9 through November 11.

Track Work Affects Amtrak Cascades and Empire Service Trains

Track work being performed by BNSF Railroad will affect Empire Builder Trains 7 and 8, and Cascade Service Trains 516, 517, 518 and 519 on October 26 and 27.

Friday, October 26

Amtrak Cascades Service

  • Train 518, which normally operates between Portland and Vancouver, will operate between Portland and Seattle only. Alternate transportation will be provided for all missed stops at Seattle, Edmonds, Everett, Stanwood, Mount Vernon, Bellingham and Vancouver on bus 3518.

Saturday, October 27

Empire Builder

  • Train 7 which operates between Chicago and Seattle will terminate at Edmonds. Alternative transportation will be provided for all missed stops at Edmonds and Seattle.

  • Train 8 which operates between Seattle and Chicago will originate at Everett. Alternative transportation will be provided for all missed stops at Seattle and Edmonds.

  • Amtrak Cascades Service

  • Trains 517 and 518 which normally operate between Portland and Vancouver, BC, will operate between Portland and Seattle only. Alternate transportation will be provided for all missed stops at Seattle, Edmonds, Everett, Stanwood, Mount Vernon, Bellingham and Vancouver via bus 3517 and 3518.

  • Trains 516 and 519 which normally operates between Seattle and Vancouver, will be cancelled. Alternate transportation will be provided for all missed stops at Seattle, Edmonds, Everett, Stanwood, Mount Vernon, Bellingham and Vancouver via bus 3516 and 3518.

Track Work Affects California Zephyr Trains 5 and 6

Due to track work being performed by Union Pacific Railroad, Trains 5 and 6 will operate as described below on October 28:

  • Train 5: Normally operates between Chicago and Emeryville. The train will operate between Chicago and Reno only. Alternate bus transportation will be provided between Reno and Emeryville. The buses will operate on the normal schedule of train 5, serving the missed stops of Truckee, Colfax, Roseville, Sacramento, Davis, Martinez and Richmond.

  • Train 6: Normally operates between Emeryville and Chicago. The train will operate between Reno and Chicago only. Alternate bus transportation will be provided between Emeryville and Reno. The buses will operate on the normal schedule of Train 6, serving the missed stops of Truckee, Colfax, Roseville, Sacramento, Davis, Martinez and Richmond.

Two new lawsuits against Amtrak came forward in regards to the derailment in DuPont, WA in December 2017. The lawsuits were filed in the U.S. District Court of Western Washington by Phillip Riedel, widower of passenger Benjamin C. Gran, and passenger Daniella Fenelon who was injured during the derailment. There are more than 20 other complaints filed for about 30 passengers who were on the Amtrak train that was speeding by 50 mph through a curve and derailed onto Interstate 5. In addition to Gran, two other passengers lost their lives in the derailment - Zack Willhoite and Jim Hamre. Both were members of the Rail Passengers Association, and Hamre was serving as a Board Member at the time of the accident.

David Beninger, one of the attorneys handling multiple cases associated with the derailment, said he is looking for an explanation on why the Amtrak Cascades train 501 began passenger service before positive train control (PTC) was installed. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) still has to release a final report, but has said previously that PTC could have helped prevent the derailment by remotely slowing or stopping the train.

The lawsuits also claim that the train's engineer did not have an appropriate level of training to operate the train and that its assistant conductor was not certified or qualified to perform his job.

Negotiations between Amtrak and Metro-North, regarding a rail line that would provide Metro-North commuters to Manhattan’s West Side, have deteriorated over recent months. Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) official have said that the issue is due to demands from Amtrak that are delaying the opening of bids for the design of the Penn Station Access Project by six months.

Amtrak’s demands center around property that the railroad owns and MTA wants to utilize. This includes the Hell Gate right of way, which Amtrak trains use to access Penn Station. Amtrak wants to collect access fees for use of the Hell Gate, in addition to what the MTA has already agreed to pay as part of a federally-mandated cost-sharing deal, Janno Lieber, the chief development officer for the MTA, said in an interview with The News Journal. The MTA has also opposed Amtrak’s recent demand that the agency pay for the bulk of the cost to replace the Pelham Bay Bridge, a 111-year-old Amtrak-owned span that crosses the Hutchinson River in the Bronx.

“The MTA is going to build this,” Lieber said. “The MTA is going to pay for it. Amtrak is getting a new railroad ... They’re getting all this for free and we need a commitment that they will allow us not just to build them a new railroad but to operate on that once we’re done."

If plans are to move forward, the project will include:

  • After New Rochelle, New Haven Line trains would split, with some taking the existing route to Grand Central and others taking a new route along the Hell Gate Line to Penn Station.

  • Six Sound Shore towns -- New Rochelle, Larchmont, Mamaroneck, Rye, Port Chester and Harrison -- would be able to access the route to Penn Station.

  • Four new stations would be built in the Bronx in Co-op City, Morris Park, Parkchester and Hunts Point.

  • The project would come online in the years after the East Side of Manhattan is opened to Long Island Rail Road trains, which currently use Penn Station as their Manhattan hub.

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 (6 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.