Happening Now

Hotline #1,092

November 16, 2018

Amazon HQ2 Needs to Fund Transportation; 80% of survey respondents favor the Gateway Project; Amtrak Auditors Reveal $2.3M to $6.4M Could Be Put To Better Use; MTA To Purchase NY’s Grand Central; U.S. Baseball All-Stars Ride a Bullet Train; Thanksgiving Travel Will Be the Highest Since 2005

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.

The years-long competition for Amazon HQ2 put transportation in the spotlight as critics worried about how the influx of people will affect mobility on already crowded systems. Though the HQ2 deal includes an “Infrastructure Fund,” it doesn’t even come close to what Crystal City, Virginia, and Long Island City, New York currently need for transportation, let alone what they will require once Amazon and 50k employees swarm in.

Amazon’s contribution to New York City and State will be $850,000 in annual rent on its new offices, plus “payments in lieu of taxes” (PILOTs). Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen claimed the PILOTs would amount to $1.2 to $1.3 billion, roughly $600 million of which will go towards transit and other infrastructure improvements. The kicker is that this money would be delivered over the next 40 years.

“What it boils down to is corporate citizenship: a business that relies on transportation needs to invest in transportation,” said Rail Passengers President and CEO Jim Mathews. “More to the point, over 200 cities across the U.S. found money for transportation and infrastructure projects in their efforts to lure Amazon HQ2 -- where is that money now?”

If investing in solid public transportation and robust rail links made good sense for communities hoping to lure the tech giant, it might still be good for luring more employers generally. Indeed, data shows that communities which invest in mobility always reap returns.

So everyone who’s not Crystal City or Long Island City -- time to get busy.

The Gateway Project, one of many in need of funding in the areas surrounding the soon-to-be Amazon HQ2 New York office, is well liked. A recent survey revealed that more than 80 percent of randomly-selected residents of New York, New Jersey and northeastern Pennsylvania favored replacing the Portal Bridge in the Garden State and digging a new train tunnel under the Hudson River. An even greater cohort backed having the federal government participate in financing the endeavor.

Despite its broad approval, Trump called off an Obama-era arrangement that would have had the federal government fund 50 percent of the $30-billion price tag. This year, he fought to prevent money in the omnibus spending bill from reaching Gateway. His administration has repeatedly characterized Gateway as "a local project" serving only deep-blue New York and New Jersey.

But, the survey appears to have included Republican-tilting counties that proved crucial to Trump's 2016 capture of the Keystone State and, ultimately, the White House. The president would likely need to duplicate his performance there in 2020 to remain in power which could be good news for the project.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is another in the direct vicinity of the new Amazon HQ2 that is facing a looming budget crisis that could lead to major fare increases or drastic cuts to subway and bus service.

“Until we can get sustainable additional revenue streams, we really have no choice but to look everywhere — including to our riders — to help us fill those holes,” Andy Byford, the subway’s leader, told reporters after a budget presentation to the M.T.A. board on Thursday.

The board will vote in January about whether to raise fares and tolls in March and by how much. Some transit advocates have said the fare increase should be canceled because service is so unreliable. They are urging Mr. Cuomo to instead pass a comprehensive transit funding plan in Albany with congestion pricing at its core.

“The MTA has substantially raised fares every two years since the 2008 recession,” said Rail Passengers Association President Jim Mathews. “Mr. Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio should be ashamed that a public resource under their purview needs to put more of a financial burden on their constituents. Finding billions of dollars in incentives to improve infrastructure is every bit as important to the New York economy as finding billions to lure Amazon to Long Island City.”

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!

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.

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has issued a Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) for the Federal-State Partnership for State of Good Repair Program.

The $272 million in capital grant funding available “will assist in funding capital projects to repair, replace or rehabilitate publicly owned railroad assets, and to improve intercity passenger rail performance,” FRA said. “Eligible projects include those that replace existing assets in-kind; replace existing assets with those that increase capacity or provide a higher level of service; and those that ensure existing assets maintain service while being brought into a state of good repair.”

The FRA noted, “selection preference will be given to projects where Amtrak is not the sole applicant; where multiple applicants submit applications jointly; where the proposed federal share of total project costs does not exceed 50%; where non-federal shares consist of funding from multiple sources, including private sources; and where applications indicate strong project readiness.”

Applications must be submitted via www.Grants.gov and are due no later than 5:00 p.m. EST on Monday, March 18, 2019. Prior to the application deadline, FRA plans to provide Web-based training and technical assistance to answer questions from applicants.

Amtrak’s auditors found that an estimated $2.3 million to $6.4 million could be put to better use at Amtrak’s 50 smaller outlying service and inspection sites.

The audit, released Nov. 9, recommends that Amtrak consider the extent to which it can operate more efficiently, including actions such as identifying opportunities to shift work to the service and inspection areas of preventative maintenance facilities, reducing unnecessary full-time positions at sites without a full-time workload, and better managing the amount of overtime that staff incurs at service and inspection sites.

“Any plan that helps make Amtrak work more efficiently and effectively as a business is welcome, but never at the expense of a decrease in services,” said Rail Passengers President Jim Matthews.

2020 Reauthorization

The FAST Act Surface Transportation Bill Expires in 2020, and its replacement could change everything about Passenger Rail in the USA

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. This reflects the reality that much of the American public is demanding more and better trains. It is in this environment that we’re now preparing for the re-authorization of the American passenger rail system next year.

What Does an Authorizing Act Do?

  • Establishes or continues one or more Federal agencies or programs, establishes the terms and conditions under which they operate, authorizes the enactment of appropriations, and specifies how appropriated funds are to be used.
  • Authorization bills create, modify, and/or extend agencies, programs
  • Are Limited in duration: the current Surface Transportation Act, which includes policy and appropriations for Amtrak, expires in 2020.
  • See a presentation about the reauthorization and an upcoming timeline for the 2020 Reauthorization, here.

Our Vision for the Reauthorization

Outlined in Rail Passengers President & CEO Jim Mathews’ open letter to Amtrak management, we see a future with:

  • More Trains: Amtrak should move aggressively on a new growth vision, with more frequencies in dense corridors, new rolling stock and modern safety measures, while eliminating, once and for all, the folly of services operating less than daily.
  • Better Trains: Amtrak should fully and enthusiastically embrace a customer-centric view of passenger service, ensuring that trains’ basic services are reliable and sound while improving the experience for each and every traveler.
  • Commitment To Infrastructure Investment: Amtrak needs to engage creatively and transparently with local communities, state partners, and private industry to find ways to say “Yes” to new service; engage in an open conversation with host railroads and regulators about better, less-contentious approaches to shared-use corridors—while continuing to defend the rights of paying passengers to on-time service by pressing for a private right-of-action to hold host railroads accountable.

Your Association has developed a detailed set of ideas for Congress to consider as we enter the re-authorization discussion. Read those ideas here at this link, and then take the next step: click here to share what YOU want to see from the 2020 Surface Transportation/Amtrak Reauthorization!

Among the hundreds of election-night races and ballot initiatives Rail Passengers Association was following last week, one of the tightest was also a race many rail advocates were watching especially closely -- the losing bid by Wisconsin’s Republican Governor, Scott Walker, to return to office for a third term.

Wisconsin’s Governor-elect Tony Evers (D) hasn’t yet issued a specific statement about public transportation, mass transit or rail since defeating Walker (R) by less than 31,000 votes in last week’s elections. But at least on the campaign trail, Evers’ policy ideas on the surface seem like good news for rail advocates.

“We need to make strong investments in Wisconsin’s ports, airports and railways,” Evers said during the campaign. “A strong infrastructure is more than just patching potholes.”

Last month at a local transportation forum, Evers pledged to make transportation a priority: roads, but also much more. He also had advocated for an increase in the gas tax, but dismissed as absurd an accusation from the Walker camp that he contemplated a $1 hike.

Wisconsin’s passenger advocates and Rail Passengers Association members will watch closely to see what happens next. Wisconsin advocates still remember when Walker stopped a proposed Milwaukee-to-Madison rail service that would have operated with Talgo equipment, a decision that led to Talgo abandoning plans to locate a facility in the state -- taking the jobs and economic boost with them.

Northern California's Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority (CCJPA) and its operating partners Amtrak and Union Pacific Railroad received approval on Oct. 24 to begin fleetwide implementation of PTC.

CCJPA, Amtrak and UP started initial system testing in July by enabling PTC on a limited number of trains that were rotated throughout shared fleets of the Capitol Corridor. The PTC-equipped trains also were rotated along the Amtrak San Joaquins route, which serves California's Central Valley. Installation and testing of positive train control (PTC) is now complete along the entire 170-mile Capitol Corridor route between San Jose and Auburn.

CSX announced its plan to sell 373 miles of track between Pensacola and Jacksonville to the Florida Gulf and Atlantic Railroad, a subsidiary of Rail USA.

Local officials and regional officials said Wednesday they were unsure what the transaction could mean for the future of passenger rail service along the Florida Gulf Coast.

The Gulf Coast Rail Services Working Group, which includes the Federal Rail Administration, the Southern Rail Commission and numerous Gulf Coast cities, has been working to bring Amtrak service back to the region.

The 373 miles of track sold to Rail USA was part of Amtrak's Sunset Limited line, which once ran between Orlando and Los Angeles. Service east of New Orleans ended after Hurricane Katrina damaged tracks in 2005.

New York’s MTA announced some big news: It is buying Grand Central Terminal. In a deal worth $35 million, MTA will also become the owner of Metro-North’s Harlem and Hudson lines.

The landmarked Grand Central Terminal was built by the New York Central Railroad and opened on February 2, 1913. The railroad’s predecessors had previously built the Harlem and Hudson lines in the 19th century. In 1968, the New York Central merged with the Pennsylvania Railroad to create the ill-fated Penn Central Transportation, which went into bankruptcy in 1970. The MTA began leasing the rail assets in 1972.

“By becoming the true owners of the infrastructure that we have long maintained on behalf of the people of New York, we are asserting Metro-North’s permanence as an institution dedicated to public service,” said Metro-North Railroad President Catherine Rinaldi.

Amtrak said Wednesday it will close its Riverside, California, reservation center in January, eliminating all 550 positions at the facility.

In the message, Tim Griffin, Amtrak’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer, said operations in Riverside would be consolidated with its reservation center in Philadelphia.

Griffin’s memo also argued that about 90 percent of Amtrak’s customers now book their travel online and that over the last five years, the number of calls received at contact centers has declined by close to 3 million calls. He wrote that “at our busiest time, only 25 percent of our agents are on the phone at the same time.”

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) issued a “letter of no prejudice” Wednesday for the Minneapolis Southwest Light Rail line. The extension of the Green Line will be built on a timetable that calls for service to commence in 2023.

While the letter makes no promise, no major transit project in the country has ever been denied federal funding after advancing to this stage in the approval process. The FTA is expected to pay roughly half the cost of the $2 billion public works project, the largest in the states history.

The timing of Wednesday’s letter was not a coincidence, said Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin, it arrived just one day before the expiration of the sole remaining construction bid, $799 million from Lunda/C.S. McCrossan.

Lack of funding would have been a major setback to this region’s development aspirations. Southwest represents the next phase of a plan developed and executed by several generations of the Metropolitan Council — under both Republican and DFL governors — to give the region a mass-transit network worthy of the major population center it has become.

Driving Governor Dukakis - A Push for Needed 'Regional Rail'

A Trip From Mattapan to Boston to Lowell in a 1949 Hudson to Highlight the Need for Unified Massachusetts Rail

Former Democratic Gov. Michael Dukakis, who along with former Republican Gov. William Weld heads the North South Rail Link Working Group, will drive from Mattapan through Boston to Lowell on Friday in a 1949 Hudson, a vehicle that is as outdated as parts of the public transit system in Greater Boston.

At 11 a.m. Friday, Nov.16, 2018, Gov. Dukakis will arrive in the rusty 1949 Hudson at the MBTA station in Mattapan, MA (where the trolleys running everyday are as old as the Hudson). At 1 p.m., Dukakis will arrive in the Seaport District at District Hall at 75 Northern Ave, Boston, at 3 p.m., he will arrive at the MBTA station in Lowell, MA.

Joining Gov. Dukakis will be former State Representative John Businger, Vice Chair of the North South Rail Link Working Group, to answer questions about the need for regional rail, the North South Rail Link, and the future of transportation and the economy in Greater Boston with – or without – a link between North and South Stations.

Fixing the MBTA after years of neglect, as the Baker Administration is undertaking, is necessary but not sufficient for the future needs of the economy of Greater Boston.

This 1949 Hudson is a rolling metaphor and is as challenged as the Commonwealth’s commuter-rail system, which for decades has been comprised of separate and disconnected transportation systems. North Station serves Boston’s northern suburbs, and South Station serves the City’s southern and western systems. And never the twain shall meet for passengers, except for a long walk, an Uber or cab ride, or two time consuming MBTA connections.

Observe that this 1949 Hudson was the model that was made famous in the popular movie “Driving Miss Daisy”. Honk the horn and the lights dim. Accelerate in the rain and the windshield wipers stop. The Hudson’s windup clock loses five minutes every day. It's antiquated, like th current MBTA system. Citizen commuters suffer with larger systemic handicaps every day on an MBTA system that has not kept up with the times.

Building the North South Rail Link is a big undertaking but a necessary part of a functioning regional rail system that residents of the area deserves. Today the MBTA is running two old systems. A single link between them, in the form of a North South Rail Link tunnel beneath the city of Boston, would serve commuters, increase housing options for people who travel to their jobs, serve the environment, and contribute to decongestion of our seriously overburdened highways and streets.

Slip-slide conditions delayed Metro-North Railroad's Harlem Line trains earlier this week. Slip-slide issues are created by a slimy substance that is left on train tracks by crushed leaves that get even more slippery after it rains, according to the railroad. That slime can cause a train's wheels to slip or slide along the tracks. The mixture poses no danger to riders but can cause the train wheels to develop flat spots from riding on the rails without traction. Cars that have wheels with flat spots must be quickly taken out of service.

New Jersey Transit has also experienced delays due to “slippery rail” conditions. However, this fall, New Jersey Transit’s go-to explanation for canceling trains has been a “manpower shortage.” State officials have taken several steps to recruit and train more engineers, including waiving a requirement that they live in the state. This seemed to do the trick as New Jersey Transit announced that it received more than 5,000 applications in its quest “to restore the railroad to a full complement of trained engineers.”

Speaking of fall travel conditions, AAA reports that Thanksgiving travel this year will be the highest its been since 2005, estimating that 54 million people -- 2.5 million more people than last year -- will travel for the holiday. Though 48.5 million of travelers are expected to drive, Amtrak experienced its busiest day in history last Thanksgiving, with more than 160,000 travelers on the rails the Sunday after the holiday. This year, it's expecting similar crowds in the northeast, and about 777,000 riders around the country.

Speaking of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, the next Hotline will be delivered on Wednesday, November 21. Following the holiday weekend, the Hotline will be delivered as usual on Friday, November 30.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s (PANYNJ) proposed 2019 $3.3 billion operating budget is available for public comment and review through December 10, and the Port Authority's Board of Commissioners will consider approval on December 13, 2018.

The budget includes:

  • $773 million for safety and security initiatives;
  • $53 million for "operational excellence" efforts, including initiatives to improve Port Authority Trans-Hudson (PATH) operations and funding for strategic planning to address intermodal growth at port facilities; and
  • $52 million for customer service initiatives, including countdown clocks at all PATH stations and cell service at underground PATH stations.

PANYNJ's proposed $3.7 billion capital budget represents a $300 million increase over the 2018 budget. It carries forward multiple projects to rebuild and replace legacy facilities, maintain assets in a state of good repair and improve the transit system’s resiliency against major storms, authority officials said.

The proposed 2019 operating budget also includes a $3.7 billion capital plan, which allocates:

  • $112 million for PATH's signal system replacement program, and continuation of PATH station and equipment modernization;
  • $89 million for construction and design activities at seaport facilities, including work on the ExpressRail Port Jersey, the Cross Harbor Freight Program environmental review and continued pavement work at the Howland Hook Marine terminal; and
  • $17 million to continue planning activities for the Gateway passenger-rail tunnel project.

A tugboat struck the Portal Bridge, an infamous chokepoint from NJ to NY, hampering the commute for NJ Transit and Amtrak riders on Tuesday. NJ Transit said that the collision caused 45-minute delays for trains that traverse the century-old structure, a two-track, swing-type drawbridge that spans the Hackensack River from Secaucus to Kearny.

In June, the New Jersey Economic Development Authority approved a financing agreement with the NJ Transit Board of Directors, which will provide up to $600 million toward the construction of a new Portal Bridge. The total project cost could come to an estimated $1.5 billion, with funding also coming from the Port Authority of NY/NJ and the federal government.

According to NJ Transit, the project will replace the existing two-track Portal Bridge, which was built in 1910, and replace it with a new, two-track fixed structure about 2.33 miles long. The new structure will have a clearance that accommodates current and forecasted maritime traffic, which will eliminate the need for a moveable span that interrupts rail operations and results in delays due to mechanical failures.

When built, the new Portal North Bridge will allow for a 10 percent increase in peak hour passenger capacity.

Save the Dates! Rail Passengers Association's 2019 Washington Advocacy Summit, Day on The Hill And Congressional Reception - Sunday, March 31st through Wednesday, April 3rd

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

Rail Passengers Association meetings aren’t just for Council and Board Members...they’re for YOU! Whether you’ve been a member for decades or you’re brand-new to Rail Passengers Association...or even if you aren’t a member at all...you should come to Washington in March to make sure YOUR congressional representatives hear directly from YOU about rail and transportation!

The event agenda includes:

  • Sunday, March 31 - Afternoon Committee & Board Meetings
  • Monday, April 1 - Advocacy Summit Speakers, Presentations & Day on The Hill Prep
  • Tuesday, April 2 - Day on The Hill Visiting Congressional Offices & Rail Passengers Association’s Annual Congressional Reception
  • Wednesday, April 3 - Rail Passengers Association Council Annual Business Meeting & Elections (Concluding After Lunch)

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

The cost of constructing the Southern California section of the state bullet train could jump by as much as $11 billion over estimates released earlier this year, though rail authority officials caution that their new numbers assume a more expansive design than is likely to be built.

The Palmdale-to-Burbank section could hit $20.33 billion, up from $14.87 billion in the estimates prepared for the 2018 business plan. The construction of rail from Burbank to Los Angeles could rise to $3.55 billion from $1.25 billion. And the Los Angeles-to-Anaheim section might go as high as $4.8 billion, up from $3 billion.

The new estimates were created for environmental planning that attempts to identify the “maximum possible footprint” for the project, said rail authority spokeswoman Lisa Marie Alley. That is not necessarily what will be built, though the entire design and route of the system has not been selected.

The project has undergone a series of cost increases over the last decade from an original estimate of $33 billion to the current $77 billion. Even at the current cost estimate, the project is about $50 billion short of what it needs for completion.

Brightline has partnered with Rail Events Productions and Warner Bros. Consumer Products to morph select trains into a real-life Polar Express experience. The special train rides kicked off on November 11, and they'll run on select dates through January 1, 2019.

The rides will start in Fort Lauderdale, traveling north for a 62 minute journey. Those from Miami and West Palm Beach can also purchase a discounted, special “sleigh ride” Brightline ticket to Fort Lauderdale to access the experience.

On-board, there will be hot chocolate and cookies, served by dancing chefs and carolers. And, along the way, you will meet Santa and his special helpers, following along to the Polar Express tale read aloud. Guests will also get to take a golden ticket and silver sleigh bell home. And, of course, guests are encouraged to wear pajamas for a cozier trip. Fort Lauderdale station will feature a special activation by the Museum of Discovery and Science, where guests may write a letter to Santa.

Tickets are $60 for children ages 2 to 11 and $65 for those 12-and-over. Tickets and more information can be found online, ftlthepolarexpressride.com.

Rail Passengers Association LAUNCHES NEW PHOTO CONTEST: #ViewsOnATrain

This time last year, we announced our rebranding, a move that formally took us from being The National Association of Railroad Passengers to The Rail Passengers Association. Our former name was a mouthful and didn’t succinctly get to the point of who we are, and what we’re about.

Our old logo always had a train in it, even though we’re not a railway. Our new logo is the very window you look out of as a passenger.

We started our #ViewsFromATrain photo contest because we wanted you, the rail passenger, to be a part of our new identity. We’ve been astounded by the quality of the photo submissions that we’ve received! From the ocean views of the Pacific Surfliner, to the mountain snow on the Coast Starlight, to the Chicago skyline on the California Zephyr, you all have wowed us with the views you’ve seen from the train.

The original parameters of the contest required photos to be of something that could be seen through a window. However, we’ve received quite a few submissions that, though they didn’t necessarily adhere to the rules, really inspired us and ultimately led us to the decision to expand the contest.

We are now asking you to submit photos of #ViewsOnATrain. This could be of you preparing for your train journey; of your children admiring the view from a moving train; of the crowd waiting on a platform; or of you standing under the departures board at Grand Central.

Photos can be submitted via Instagram, Facebook or Twitter depicting your experience as “The Rail Passenger”. Rail Passengers Association executives will be judging the photos, and the winners’ images will be used as part of our new visual identity on our website, in our monthly newsletter, on social media, and more!

Grand prize winners will receive of 10,000 Amtrak Guest Rewards® points.

Runner-Up photos will also be awarded, including Rail Passengers gear.

When submitting your photos on social media, be sure to:

  • Use the hashtag #TheRailPassenger, and
  • Tag @RailPassengers

Though these new images won’t be placed into our window logo, we still want to put your experience at the heart of our new identity and will use these images in other ways.

Feel free to get creative! Here are some tips for a great submission:

  • Use high-resolution, dynamic imagery
  • Tell a story through engaging content
  • Use travel-oriented imagery

We can’t wait to see your submissions!

Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal has stepped into the controversy over inadequate train service on the Hartford line. Senator Blumenthal wrote to Amtrak’s president and CEO, Richard Anderson, to express his concern over the situation.

In his letter, the senator urges Amtrak to work with the Connecticut Department of Transportation to find immediate and long term solutions to the overcrowding. He also raises concern about recent track work on Shoreline East, which has led to delays and cancellations that he says have left passengers stranded, sometimes for hours. Blumenthal asks Amtrak to provide to his office by December 7, documentation on how it intends to resolve the issues.

The Connecticut Department of Transportation (CTDOT) has announced the launch of the Transit Rewards Program. The new program rewards riders who use the CTfastrak bus rapid transit system, Hartford Line rail service, or Shore Line East rail service with discounts or special offers from participating businesses that are accessible by these services. Riders can easily redeem their rewards by showing their transit ticket/pass or a transit rewards coupon at time of purchase. A list of the rewards and coupons is available at www.CTrides.com/TransitRewards.

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!

Passenger Rail Service Notices

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

Hiawatha Service Reservations Required During the Thanksgiving Holiday Travel Period

To better accommodate the increased number of travelers expected during the busy Thanksgiving holiday period, reservations will be required on all Hiawatha Service trains from Tuesday, Nov. 20, through Sunday, Nov. 25. During this period, your ticket will only be valid on the train number shown on your ticket or boarding document.

Monthly or 10-ride ticket customers are exempt from the reservation requirement, but seating for these customers is not guaranteed.

During the Milwaukee streetcar’s opening weekend, riders took 16,409 trips on its initial 2.1-mile downtown route. Everyday ridership is not expected to be as high, but officials estimate it could reach about 1,800 daily trips.

The Hop is expected to expand its current route to the east side of the city by 2020. The entire project cost $128 million and is funded through federal and local funds.

For riders, trips on the streetcar will be free for the first year because of a 10-year sponsorship deal the city struck with the Potawatomi Hotel and Casino worth $10 million.

On Nov. 9 and 10, community members in Niles, Michigan, marked the first case of the Rail Passengers Association's Station Volunteer Program, targeted to help guide passengers, greet inbound trains, and provide additional support services. Rail Passengers Association worked with Niles officials, community members and Amtrak managers on the pilot program meant to showcase that there is a need volunteers can help address at stations that were de-staffed by Amtrak earlier this year.

“When Amtrak management decided to remove staff from 15 stations nationwide, there was serious concern from local city officials, rail advocacy groups and passengers about the future of the National Network and people’s’ ability to easily travel between stations,” Jim Mathews, Rail Passengers Association president and CEO, said. “Our Station Volunteer Program is a response to the hole that Amtrak has created, and these volunteers have pulled together to provide as much assistance as possible.”

While Michigan is serving as the pilot location, Rail Passengers Association has also partnered with officials in Alabama, Florida, Illinois, and Texas to launch local volunteer programs. The association has also planned rollouts of the program in Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, and North Carolina in the coming months.

November Newsletter Available Online

The Passengers Voice November Newsletter features an open letter from Rail Passengers Association CEO Jim Mathews to Amtrak’s Board. In it, Mathews calls on Amtrak management to “seize this moment” to shift from “an operating culture to an opportunity culture,” and lead the process of creating a U.S. surface transportation policy.

The November Newsletter also includes how the stalled transportation funding bill might affect the National Network, a recap of a successful RailNation:Miami, and several upcoming Rail Passengers Association and State Passengers Association events.

And in conjunction the RailNation Miami recap, the speaker presentations and session videos from the event are now available for viewing.

A newly released video takes us behind-the-scenes of Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station restoration project. Amtrak’s project will include the renovation of the West Plaza on the 30th Street side of the station, restoration of the building façade, installation of new interior and exterior station signage, renovation of the retail area restrooms and replacement of the 1930s-era elevator equipment.

These upgrades aim to improve the passenger experience, address long-term infrastructure needs of the nearly 100-year old building, and improve pedestrian mobility in and around the facility. All of which are incredibly important, since more than 4 million passengers travel to and from the train station each year, making it Amtrak’s third busiest hub in the nation.

The Major League All-Star team was in Japan for their All-Star Series, and had the opportunity to travel from Tokyo to Hiroshima to Nagoya by bullet train.

"It feels like you're on the moon," Reds third baseman Eugenio Suarez said. "It's so smooth. It's unbelievable how fast it goes. It's amazing."

Bullet trains -- known in Japan is Shinkansen -- travel at around 200 mph, quadruple what a New York subway reaches at its highest speed, and boasts an average delay of a mere thirty-six seconds.

The players surveyed agreed that California makes sense as a state that could benefit from a bullet train system, given how large it is and how many big cities are located there. The Dallas-Houston commute was also mentioned, as was Cincinnati-Cleveland.

But others are thinking bigger picture, such as Hoskins, who's all in favor of a Northeast-Midwest bullet-train commute and beyond. "New York to Chicago, Chicago to Dallas. Dallas to San Francisco, L.A.," he said. "Some of those longer trips. Seems easy to me."

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.