Happening Now

Hotline #1,094

November 30, 2018

Gov. Cuomo gets no commitment from White House on Hudson River tunnels, but optimistic about new way forward; FTA announced $281 million in funding for transit projects in Arizona, California, Minnesota and Texas; public meetings begin for passenger-rail service between Portland and Eugene; Brightline receives approval to negotiate for land; the vote that will decide the fate of the Adirondack Scenic Railroad is scheduled; Amtrak had a few Thanksgiving travel mishaps; and Amtrak kicks off long-distance promotions.

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.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York met with President Donald Trump at the White House on Wednesday to discuss the stalled efforts to construct new Hudson River rail tunnels between New Jersey and New York City. The governor emerged from the meeting with no concrete deal for funding, but said the lunch was “productive” and that he is optimistic a deal between the federal government, New York, and New Jersey will emerge.

Cuomo also emerged from the meeting with a completely new plan for managing the project, "breaking the tunnel away from Gateway" Program--a package of NEC projects clustered in the NY and NJ area--and removing Amtrak's representative from the Gateway Project Development Corporation. Amtrak’s representative would be replaced with an as-yet unnamed federal representative. The governor also stated he believed the Trump Administration could take executive action to skip environmental reviews and immediately put the project out to bid to a private-sector construction company.

“The tunnels under the Hudson are critical infrastructure not only for the nation’s economy, but thousands of travelers every day, and we’re appreciative of Gov. Cuomo’s willingness to assume a leadership position,” said Jim Mathews, President and CEO of Rail Passengers Association. “Leadership on this project has been sorely lacking, and recent positive steps taken by Congressional appropriators have been stymied by White House political feuds. If Gov. Cuomo can get things moving, he’ll have earned the thanks of tens of millions of America’s passengers. Any progress is good progress.”

“However, we would discourage him from locking Amtrak out of the oversight process, particularly since Amtrak owns the rights-of-way. As one of the key end-users of the new tunnels, they should be at the table,” continued Mathews. “Amtrak is able to bring a wealth of experience in project oversight, and have kept the existing Hudson River rail tunnels functioning in an increasingly difficult operational environment.”

The governor’s statement does seem to confuse some basic facts about the project, while glossing over other obstacles.

Cuomo suggested President Trump would be able to circumvent the environmental review process. However, the environmental impact statement for the Hudson River tunnels, led by NJ Transit and the Federal Railroad Administration, is well underway, and is only waiting on the FRA for a final EIS and Record of Decision.

Cuomo also suggested establishing an entity to oversee the project, and that Amtrak should be stripped of its role. However, such an entity already exists: the Gateway Program Development Corporation, founded in 2015. While Amtrak does have a seat on the three-person board of the GPDC, the role of chair rotates between other two representatives from New York and New Jersey, and the states have the greatest say in steering the organization. Currently, New York appointee Steve Cohen serves as GPDC chair.

Cuomo questioned Amtrak’s estimate of $13 billion for boring and constructing the new train tunnel, but failed to mention this estimate includes the cost of the two new tunnels, and the cost of rehabilitation and modernization of the two existing tunnels.

Finally, Cuomo leaves it unclear whether removing Amtrak from its project management role would mean seizing Amtrak-owned right of way. While Amtrak has funded and overseen much of the $87 million in planning work and preliminary engineering so far, it may be happy to cede control to New York and New Jersey if it means the project is taken off its hands. However, the railroad is likely to fight back against any takings of its rights of way in New Jersey and Manhattan, which it has invested tens of millions of dollars in preserving.

“Again, Rail Passengers is happy to see Gov. Cuomo inject a sense of urgency and provide new leadership on this essential project,” said Mathews. “But it must be leadership based on a clear and accurate communication of the facts to the public, and a transparent process for moving the project forward. We have clashed with Amtrak during the past year over its failure to communicate openly with its customers on the most difficult questions facing the network. This is a chance for all parties involved to do better.”

It’s worth emphasizing that the governor got the most important fact right: the Hudson River tunnels project is too big for New York and New Jersey to solve on their own, and can’t move forward without federal investment.

“There is no clock ticking because there is no clock," Cuomo stated plainly at a press conference on his return to New York. "So we are nowhere right now. The question is how we would start a clock, start a process… If the president refuses, then the tunnel doesn't get fixed. There is no alternative."

The FTA announced a total of $281 million in additional Fiscal Year 2018 federal funding allocations to five transit projects in Arizona, California, Minnesota, and Texas.

The projects included as part of the announcement are the Tempe Streetcar project in Arizona; the Los Angeles Westside Purple Line Section 3 project and San Diego Mid-Coast Light Rail project in California; the Minneapolis Orange Line Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project in Minnesota; and the Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) Red and Blue Line Platform Extensions project in Texas.

FTA indicated its intent to fund the projects through an updated allocation notice for Fiscal Year 2018 Capital Investment Grants (CIG) Program appropriated by Congress.

Orange County, Calif., hosted a groundbreaking ceremony today in Santa Ana for a new streetcar line. The 4.1-mile OCStreetcar service will link the Santa Ana regional transportation center to a new station in Garden Grove, eventually giving 7,000 passengers a day access to Amtrak, Metrolink and buses. Officials hope to launch revenue service in 2021.

DON’T SLEEP ON THIS! Being an Rail Passengers Association member is now even more valuable!

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 and 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!

Whether you are from Bakersfield, Bismarck or Boston, Rail Passengers and MemberDeals have you covered! Our MemberDeals partnership covers venues, services and attractions throughout the country...take a look to see where there might be savings on fun outings near you!

Remember, if you want to use these great internet-only discounts, you must be a member in good standing AND be logged in to the Rail Passengers Association website. If you need help accessing these discounts email us at [email protected], or call the office at 202-408-8362.

Yesterday, Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) officials began the first of five public meetings to review the draft environmental impact statement for the long term plan for rail service between Portland and the Eugene-Springfield area.

The document outlines two alternatives for the 125-mile service: One would follow the existing Amtrak Cascades route; the other would include a new route between Springfield and Oregon City along Interstate 5.

The former is the preferred option, as indicated by ODOT and the Federal Railroad Administration. The Association of Oregon Rail and Transit Advocates has also endorsed option one on the current Union Pacific right of way given its proximity to metropolitan population density. In conjunction with the 2017 ConnectOregon program, AORTA has additionally endorsed a freight intermodal transfer station along the I-5 Corridor for relief of congestion in the North Willamette Valley. AORTA expects this development can additionally benefit Willamette Valley passenger rail service.

Public input will be accepted through December 6 at the meetings in Oregon City, Albany, Salem and Eugene, and an online portal will be available through December 18.

Metropolitan Council and Hennepin County executives will host federal, state and local officials today at a groundbreaking ceremony for the Southwest light-rail project in Hopkins, Minnesota.

A long anticipated and hard fought extension of Metro Transit’s Green Line service, the $2 billion Southwest light-rail line will be Minnesota's largest infrastructure project. The 14.5-mile route will run from downtown Minneapolis through St. Louis Park, Hopkins, Minnetonka and Eden Prairie. The line will share a 7.8-mile corridor with the Twin Cities & Western Railroad Co. and BNSF Railway Co.

Heavy construction work is expected to start next year and wrap up in 2022, with light-rail vehicle testing to follow in 2022 or 2023.

Public comments for Washington State Department of Transportation’s draft Statewide Transportation Improvement Program will be accepted through December 20.

The proposed four-year program of multimodal improvement projects includes more than 1,500 statewide transportation improvement projects that will use $3.9 billion in federal funds. The projects are compiled from local transportation programs, metropolitan and regional transportation improvement programs (TIPs) and have been identified through state, metropolitan, regional, tribal and local planning processes.

The comment period is the final step of the community engagement process that began locally. Comments received will be sent to the local or regional planning organization for their consideration.

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) reiterated his calls for CSX to work with local officials to fix the grade crossings in Orange County, New York.

The crossings — one at the intersection of Temple Hill Road and Route 300, and the other at Union and Erie avenues — have experienced "rapid and severe wear and tear" in recent years, according to a press release issued by Schumer's office.

Schumer said that while CSX has made minor repairs at the crossings, longer-term solutions are needed to improve safety.

"We have completed the construction of track panels, which will replace the existing infrastructure at some of the crossings," company officials said in an emailed statement. "CSX will continue working with state and local officials to schedule the necessary road closures to install the panels and repave the asphalt as soon as weather permits next spring. In the meantime, [our] maintenance crews will make some temporary repairs until the repaving can be completed."

December Newsletter Available Online

The Passengers Voice December Newsletter features a roundup of Rail Passengers Association’s 2018 advocacy efforts, as well as a few things we have on our radar as we prepare for 2019.

The December Newsletter also details the Equipment Committee your Association has convened to develop fleet-replacement recommendations for Amtrak; and several upcoming Rail Passengers Association and State Passengers Association events.

The dispute over whether to convert part of the Adirondack Scenic Railroad into a rail trail may be decided in December.

The thirty-four miles of track that runs on state-owned land from Tupper Lake to Lake Placid, New York is currently out-of-service and need repairs. In 2016, New York State proposed a plan to remove the rails on this segment and to convert the stretch into a trail. The volunteer-based railroad responded with a lawsuit, arguing that the railway should be preserved for historical purposes. In September 2017, a court ruled against the state on the basis that the land was designated to act as part of a “travel corridor,” which has long been defined as being either a highway or railroad corridor.

The Adirondack Park Agency will meet on December 13 to vote on a proposed amendment that would redefine a “railroad corridor” as being “for the operation of rail cars or to serve as a rail trail.”

On one side of the argument is Bill Branson, board president of the Adirondack Railway Preservation Society Inc., which operates the tourist-focused railroad. He argues that the state’s attempt to redefine the permitted uses of the “travel corridor”, is similar to the previous actions which resulted in the court decision in favor of continued rail use. He also argues that the railroad has a significant economic impact on the area the railroad runs through, saying that local merchants want the tracks to be restored rather than removed.

On the other hand, people like Tony Goodwin, founding director of the Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates, are in favor of the railroad’s removal. Goodwin says that the 1996 plan for the land contained several options, one of which included dividing it into segments that could be used for a variety of purposes. Goodwin also argues against Branson’s economic argument, asserting that converting the land to enable recreational use would bring in more economic activity.

Brightline is in the news again this week as it obtained approval from the state to negotiate for the land it needs to add higher-speed passenger rail service from Orlando to Tampa. As previously reported, Brightline is partnering with Virgin Group, with the service to be rebranded as ‘Virgin Trains USA’.

The Florida Department of Transportation’s procurement office approved an application from Brightline, giving it 90 days to work out terms with the Central Florida Expressway Authority to build the train service along Interstate 4. Additional negotiations are expected by the privately funded rail service with utilities, local landowners and communities along the route — which would go from Orlando International Airport, through Osceola and Polk counties, to downtown Tampa.

As part of its application, Brightline projects the 88-mile route, which would require 44-foot-wide spaces mostly along Interstate 4, would produce about 16,500 temporary jobs during the three years of construction. It would produce about 1,600 permanent jobs, and stations would be expected in Orlando, Tampa and the Celebration and Lakeland areas.


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 #ViewsOnATrain and tag @RailPassengers.

We can’t wait to see your submissions!

Christmas-themed trains are making their debuts across the country as the holiday fast approaches. Some have been around for years, like the Strasburg Railroad’s 59-year-old “Santa’s Paradise Express,” while some others aim even farther back, like South Dakota’s “1880 Train Holiday Express.”

Both National Geographic and Reader’s Digest detail scenic journeys to help get you and your family into the Holiday Spirit. The beloved children’s book The Polar Express is recreated in 40 different locations across the U.S., featuring dancing chefs, hot chocolate, elves and Santa himself. Holiday trains are not only for kids, either. In Tennessee, there's a whiskey tasting train ride and in the Grand Canyon, there’s a 2-hour holiday lunch train.

Texas Central said it will break ground late next year on the line between Dallas and Houston.

The train itself is still being designed but will likely be an N700I model train, which is a modified version of the N700 bullet train that Central Japan Railways operates; the added “I” signifies its international usage and intention to be exported. The N700I is likely to be similar to the recently-released N700S, which is lighter and more efficient than the original N700, with one major difference – the Texas train will be eight cars long instead of 16.

The privately funded Texas Central will begin seeking funding after receiving final approval from the FRA. The firm said it already has the opportunity to purchase a third of the land needed and is in the process of negotiating for the rest.

After a year of being hidden behind extensive scaffolding, the iconic 219-foot long skylight in the Great Hall at Chicago’s Union Station has been restored as Amtrak yesterday unveiled its completion of the Great Hall restoration project.

Apart from restoring and water-sealing the magnificent skylight, the project included improved lighting, repainting, and installation of a new ADA-compliant elevator to the Great Hall from Canal Street -- the first time such access has been available.

The restoration was a $22 million project.

Meanwhile, Amtrak has narrowed the master developer pool for the Philadelphia Station redevelopment to four. The list of those who might get to update the historic William H. Gray III 30th Street Station include the teams behind Brandywine Realty Trust, G30 Collaborative, PHL 30 Vision LLC, and PHL.

The preferred developer will be chosen in 2019, and will assist in introducing new amenities, improve transit quality, update retail and commercial opportunities in the station and accommodate anticipated increases in ridership. Amtrak has spent more than $100 million refurbishing the building, improving public restrooms, replacing customer elevators and escalators, and restoring the notable bronze entrance doors.

Duke University and GoTriangle representatives met to address concerns surrounding the upcoming Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit Project. The rail system is intended to connect UNC Hospitals to Duke and N.C. Central universities with other stops along the way, including seven stops that would serve Duke’s campus and medical facilities. Dukes students and faculty are projected to make up about 37 percent of the light-rail ridership.

While Duke’s concerns are not new, several remained unaddressed, including those dealing with the route across Cameron Boulevard and up Erwin Road, according to Duke President Vincent Price. GoTriangle responded on Monday with a memo to President Price that spoke to the concerns about noise and vibrations, but not about the downtown railroad crossing.

Duke’s partnership with the light-rail is critical because the project cannot advance without the school’s support. GoTriangle needs Duke to commit to right-of-way land donations by Dec. 31, which, after years of planning, is quickly approaching.

U.S. Representatives David Price and G.K. Butterfield wrote to Duke’s president last week, urging him and the Board of Trustees to donate land needed for the project. Duke’s Board of Trustees could consider its options in a meeting today.

Did you miss “Giving Tuesday”? Since it falls on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday, we understand if #GivingTuesday might have fallen through the cracks. Don’t worry, we won’t tell anyone that your donation came through a little late. http://www.railpassengers.org/donate

Amtrak today unveiled a social media residency program where selected applicants will ride Amtrak’s long-distance trains and share their experiences on social media.

According to a company press release, #AmtrakTakeMeThere’s residency program aims to “showcases the diversity of Amtrak passengers and their unique train travel experiences.”

Amtrak’s Chief Marketing Officer Tim Griffin notes that “Some of the best travel stories occur on our long-distance trains, and we are looking for travelers to share their real experiences.”

Amtrak is looking for social media content leaders, whose creativity and energy allows them to connect with their followers on a deeper level. Applications will be evaluated based on: writing skills, photography and videography skills, social community engagement and online personality.

Applications advancing from the initial evaluation period will be considered based on the degree to which the Applicant would function as an effective representative of the Amtrak brand, as well as related creative considerations to be determined at the discretion of the Judging Panel.

Interested participants can fill out the short application on the #AmtrakTakeMeThere webpage starting at noon ET Saturday, Dec. 1. The application will be available until midnight ET Thursday, Jan. 31, and winners are expected to be announced in early Spring 2019.

Amtrak is kicking off a marketing push for its long-distance services with a Roomette sale.

If you’re a fan of Amtrak long-distance travel, you’ve probably had that experience of wishing you could afford a sleeper fare for two so you could take a skeptical friend with you to show how great a long-distance trip can be. Amtrak starting next week is going to make it really easy: for an eight-day stretch starting December 4th, the railroad will promote Roomettes systemwide (except for AutoTrain) with a “Companion Rides Free” flash sale.

Passengers can begin booking these rooms on December 4 for travel between January 7 and May 23 next year. Unfortunately, your Rail Passengers Association discount won’t apply, nor will any other discount apart from Senior fares. Not all trains will have rooms available. And you can’t upgrade from that fare to a Bedroom. But bringing someone along for free in a Roomette still makes this a great -- and unusual -- sale.

Come To Washington In March To Make Your Voice Heard! Rail Passengers Association's 2019 Washington Advocacy Summit, Day on The Hill And Congressional Reception - Sunday, March 31st through Wednesday, April 3rd

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!

We’re building informative sessions and hands-on workshops to make you a better advocate in your hometown. You won’t want to miss it.

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 By Lunch)

There’s also a new Host Hotel for 2019...the Westin City Center at Thomas Circle (3 1/2 blocks from the Metro)

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

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:

Empire Service Modified Weekend Schedule

Amtrak is modifying service December 1 and 2 between Poughkeepsie and Croton‐Harmon due to a Metro North Railroad improvement project

  • Eastbound Trains 48/64/68/238/252/254/256/260/280/284/288/292/296:
    • Amtrak train schedules have been lengthened 11 – 21 minutes between Yonkers and New York – Penn Station.
  • Westbound Trains 233/241/253/259/261:
    • Amtrak trains operating between New York – Penn Station and Albany only have their schedules lengthened, arriving/departing 15 minutes later at Poughkeepsie, Rhinecliff, Hudson and Albany. All arrivals/departures from New York‐Penn Station and Croton Harmon are unchanged.

An Amtrak train traveling south of Albany, NY separated the day before Thanksgiving, leaving hundred of holiday travelers stranded for over three hours.

The Montreal to New York ‘Adirondack’ was reportedly traveling at over 100 miles per hour, when the train separated between the first two coaches. "Following the separation, the train's safety systems functioned as designed and immediately stopped both sections of the train at a safe distance. Separation of train cars is rare, and we are actively investigating this incident," Amtrak said in a statement.

The train remained disabled until Amtrak brought in another trainset to transfer the stranded passengers on to. None of the 287 people on board were injured.

Since there were no injuries or a derailment, the National Transportation Safety Board will not investigate board spokesman Nicholas Worrell said. However, New York State Police are investigating the incident, and Amtrak said the cars involved in the incident will receive a full inspection.

It didn’t get much better for those traveling from Washington, D.C. to Boston on Sunday following Thanksgiving, either, as Amtrak passengers were trapped for 6 hours after their train got stuck in Queens.

Acela #2230 operated on schedule to New York City from Washington, DC and departed New York's Penn Station for the northerly half of its journey on time at 9:40 a.m. But shortly after the train crossed under the East River from Manhattan into Queens, damage to an overhead power supply line forced a delay of more than six hours, that led to the disabling of the restrooms and the loss of air conditioning aboard the soon sweltering train.

The train and its 299 passengers finally arrived in Boston at 8:19 p.m. — six hours, 44 minutes after its scheduled arrival time of 1:35 p.m. An Amtrak representative told Business Insider that there were no injuries and that "customers were accommodated with food and non-alcoholic beverages."

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.