Happening Now

Hotline #1,096

December 14, 2018

Rail Passengers Association Calls Out NSRL Study Flaws; Amtrak Requests Keeping Portal Bridge Closed at Rush Hour; Norfolk Southern Suspends Participation in Passenger Rail Study; Gas Tax Proposed by Illinois Mayors for Transit Projects; NJ Transit to Purchase 113 Rail Cars; OKC Streetcar Opens for Service

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 on Facebook and Twitter to stay up to date on all things passenger rail.


Dear MassDOT: What Are You Waiting For?

By Jim Mathews, President & CEO, Rail Passengers Association

My week began with a plea for some action – finally! – on the vitally important North-South Rail Link project in Boston. On Monday night, I joined former Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis in Boston to testify at a MassDOT public-comment session, and added Rail Passengers’ voice to others who questioned the latest, $17 billion, estimate for the project offered by MassDOT and its consultants, ARUP. The biggest flaw, in my view, is that their inflated estimates (which we think are closer to the $5 billion a Harvard study laid out last year) were paired with nearly zero consideration of the benefits. The result? A study that seems to show a bloated, breathtakingly expensive decade-long project with very few quantifiable benefits.

In MassDOT’s defense, they’re hemmed in somewhat by a process that defines the scope of their studies and the kinds of questions they can consider. But we believe that only means that the process itself should be changed…not that we should make policy on the basis of studies that everyone acknowledges offer only an incomplete picture. The answer from one of the study’s authors, gamely on hand to field questions from the crowd, was particularly dissatisfying. To paraphrase, “assessing benefits is too hard, so we counted mostly costs.” After spending literally years on this study, the taxpayers deserve a better answer than “it was too hard.”

The country deserves a better answer too. Because this is not just a Boston project, or a regional project, or a Massachusetts project. The NSRL is truly a national issue, connecting Maine to Virginia by closing an unconscionable one-mile gap between North and South stations.

And while we’re talking about costs, it’s time we all recognize that the cost of doing nothing…is high. Congestion last year imposed $5.7 billion in costs on Boston commuters alone. And every year we wait to take action, the cost of doing something goes up. Meanwhile, 60 world-class cities around the globe have made these kinds of investments to transform their legacy commuter rail systems into an all-day regional rapid transit system. Anyone who has hopped aboard France’s RER service from Paris can back me up on this. Meanwhile, the benefits haven’t been too hard to quantify in the communities that have made these investments. Toronto? Every dollar they’ve spent has returned $2.60 in value from shorter travel times and cleaner air. That’s a pretty good return, in my book.

Rail Passengers Track Update: Where are we and what’re we working on? This new section will give you updates on what Rail Passengers HQ is up to.

A busy but rewarding week for your President and CEO, Jim Mathews. It began with a quick trip to Boston to speak out at MassDOT on behalf of the North-South Rail Link project. You can read more about that up above. Later in the week, Mathews and Policy VP Sean Jeans-Gail met with the senior team at Amtrak working on customer-facing improvements. We shared our members’ desire for more and better food options, a more seamless electronic ticketing experience, a solution to station-boarding issues, and even some thoughts on new amenities that could find their way into new rolling stock. The team’s response was impressive and encouraging. There are many initiatives in the pipeline to address our concerns -- some of which may begin to roll out as soon as next month -- but we were asked to hold off on releasing the details until contracts can be finalized. That’s fair, but we can’t wait to share the good news! Let’s just say that better food, and more hot options, are on the way. We also this week received explicit assurances that the long-term vision for the National Network is an improved service “with more traditional dining options.”

Sean Jeans-Gail, Rail Passengers Vice President of Policy traveled to Tucson to speak at the newly invigorated All Aboard Arizona’s annual meeting, as well as continued work tracking leadership changes as the new Congress begins to form itself for 2019 and 2020.

Rail Passengers Director of Policy Research, Abe Zumwalt, has already been working on programming for 2019’s Rail Nation meetings in Washington DC and Sacramento, CA. However, most of his time has been preparing a big holiday present to the riders and advocates of the Southwest Chief... it's "under wraps" for now, but look for it soon!

It was a busy week at the Northeast Office. Rail Passengers Northeast Field Coordinator, Joseph Aiello, spent Monday evening with Rail Passengers Association President Jim Mathews and former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis in Boston at the final MassDOT public hearing for the North-South Rail Link feasibility study. The presentation was, in part, a defense of their methodology on the project cost as well as making the “preferred” alignment known (see Jim’s blog this week for more on his thoughts on the meeting).

Joe also spent Thursday at the State Transportation Building listening to a presentation from the MBTA Rail Vision Advisory Committee. The focus was on the potential “Tier 2” service alternatives for the current system - including DMU/EMU urban rail, regional rail, system electrification, and modernization of the existing infrastructure. On Friday, Joe joined Rail Passenger Vice-President of Operations Bruce Becker and RI Council Member Steve Musen in Portland, ME at the 30th Annual TrainRiders/Northeast Meeting celebrating the 17th Anniversary of the Downeaster.

Carolyn Cokley, serving in her role as Director of the Amtrak Customer Advisory Committee (ACAC), presented the December 2018 ACAC Customer Service Award to Amtrak Sleeping Car Attendant, Train 48/49 Carlos Aguilar. Nominations for the award are submitted by traveling ACAC members and vetted by Amtrak managers. The ACAC Customer Service Award is the only award presented to Amtrak employees by Amtrak passengers. The award is presented to an on-board service, reservation sales or station employee once a month and recognizes outstanding customer service.

Carolyn also participated in productive conference calls with Amtrak managers and local transit advocates in Columbia, SC and Niles, MI regarding the Station Volunteer Program. A training agenda has been finalized for the Amtrak-led training session rescheduled for Saturday, January 19, 2019 in Niles, MI. Seventeen volunteers will undergo a two-hour training in preparation for the official rollout of the program on February 1, 2019. Transit advocates in Columbia, SC interested in providing improved transit services to the residents of the Midlands have reached out to Rail Passengers Association regarding kicking off a Station Volunteer Program.

Bruce Becker, Rail Passenger Vice-President of Operations, participated in a conference call on December 8th with the Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers Executive Committee to explore partnership opportunities for a joint membership program. Bruce encourages other state or regional advocacy organizations potentially interested in such membership program opportunities to contact him at [email protected].

Bruce also coordinated the launch of the Lonely Planet 'Amazing Train Journeys' book promotion, which has generated more than $500.00 for Rail Passengers in the first week of sales. And in collaboration with Association Treasurer Ken Clifford, Bruce is facilitating two year-end stock donation transfers. If you are also interested in making a donation of stock in support of the Association's goals, Bruce will be pleased to assist you.

Amtrak has called on the U.S. Coast Guard to keep the New Jersey Portal Bridge closed during morning and afternoon rush hour to prevent major delays. The 108-year-old bridge over the Hackensack River connects Amtrak and NJ Transit passengers between New Jersey and New York, but it often gets stuck when it is opened for maritime ships and pleasure crafts. A recent incident on October 30 saw service disrupted for 16 Amtrak trains and 148 NJ Transit trains, carrying 80,000 passengers.

Amtrak’s Paul DelSignore wrote in a letter to Coast Guard commander Chris Bisignano that “the existing regulations require Amtrak to open the bridge for marine traffic during commuting rush hour peak train traffic, so long as the railroad is given one hour’s notice. This requirement can create and has created great inconvenience to large numbers of rail passengers.”

Amtrak’s request to the Coast Guard comes only a few weeks after Governor Philip Murphy and Senators Robert Menendez and Cory Booker asked the Coast Guard to also help prevent rush hour delays. The problems with the Portal Bridge on October 30 spurred the officials to call on the Coast Guard to change when it opens the bridge.

“Although a new passenger train bridge is shaping up to replace the Portal Bridge in the coming years, there is no immediate solution to the delays the bridge currently causes,” said Rail Passengers President Jim Mathews. “Maritime traffic may not agree with the the recent requests from Amtrak and New Jersey officials, but they would not have been made if the Portal Bridge was not a major issue for passengers throughout the Northeast Corridor.”

As part of its request, Amtrak asked that the Coast Guard also require a 24-hour notice for all openings of the bridge. Amtrak said that it recognizes that maritime traffic on the River has declined in recent years, opening 14 times in 2017 and 15 times in 2018, compared to 210 times in 2015 and 173 times in 2016. These declines can be attributed to Amtrak restrictions on the bridge’s movements during the periods of heaviest train traffic, requiring an hour’s notice for an opening during the morning and evening rushes, but the accommodations do not account for the aging bridge’s malfunctions.

Amtrak’s request includes no bridge openings from 5 a.m. to 10 a.m. and from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Commander Bisignano said that the extended hours of restrictions might be acceptable “to the marine community,” but he was not sure about the request for 24 hours’ notice. Commander Bisignano also said that the Coast Guard will contact mariners who use the river to collect their response to the rule change.

Rail Passengers Partners With Lonely Planet Guides

They’re the biggest travel-guide book publisher in the world. And now, they’re teamed with us here at Rail Passengers to support our work on behalf of the American rail passenger!

For the month of December, if you buy a copy of Lonely Planet’s Amazing Train Journeys guide, Lonely Planet will donate 15% of the proceeds to your Association. Every donation helps us keep working for More Trains, Better Trains and a commitment to better infrastructure.

Through this beautiful book, you’ll experience 60 of the world’s greatest and most unforgettable train journeys, from classic long-distance trips like Western Canada’s Rocky Mountaineer and Darwin to Adelaide’s The Ghan, to little-known gems on regular commuting lines. It’s the culmination of asking more than 200 travel writers for their absolute favorites.

Some are epic international adventures, others are short suburban routes along stunning coastline. There are incredible feats of engineering, trains that snake their way through mountain peaks, and even those which have achieved Unesco World Heritage status.

More than just a collection, each profile will give you the practical information you need to experience one or more of these epic journeys yourself -- including ticket options, timetables and stops, plus inspiring photos and illustrated maps. It’s all here!

Amazing Train Journeys is available as a book, e-Book or in both formats at a low combination price. And your purchase helps supports your Association’s mission too! Remember, Lonely Planet is contributing 15% of all Amazing Train Journeys sales in December to Rail Passengers! You can order copies by clicking here!

Norfolk Southern has suspended its participation in a study to bring Amtrak service to the New River Valley in Virginia. The study was set to review specific improvements needed for passenger rail service to begin in the area, and unfortunately, Norfolk Southern owns a portion of the track that needed to be studied.

“The track is owned by Norfolk Southern … and they have told us that they are reluctant to talk to us now about extending passenger rail due to problems in their freight network, especially south of Virginia,” Michael McLaughlin, Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation’s chief of rail transportation said. “And they want time to fix those freight problems before they have a discussion with us about adding passenger service.”

The specific stretch of track that is now off limits for the $350,000 study lay near the Christiansburg Aquatic Center. This also happens to be the location that advocates in the New River Valley Rail 2020 group have pushed for a new Amtrak station.

Local officials plan to do what they can to advance Amtrak service in the area without Norfolk Southern, but the freight railroad’s involvement is critical for the completion of the study.

A Soul-Crushing Vision for American Commuters

By Sean Jeans-Gail, Rail Passengers Vice President

I had the opportunity to speak at a meeting held by All Aboard Arizona last weekend, updating them on the work Rail Passengers is doing to prepare for next years’ surface transportation reauthorization in Congress. It’s a tough subject matter to give a presentation on, frankly—dense with policy jargon, discussions of the structure of federal agencies and programs, and scores of acronyms. But it’s an important topic to educate advocates on, because this piece of legislation will provide the tools to achieve the vision for the kind of passenger rail system we’re trying to build in America.

Which brings me to a related problem: with limited time to discuss the policy solutions needed to build a better rail system, there’s very little time to discuss what precisely this better rail system should include. Fortunately, the other speakers on the schedule did a wonderful job of describing a positive, forward looking vision. I was joined by Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild, Amtrak’s public relations manager Marc Magliari, Rail Passengers Board Member George Chilson, and Arizona State Senator Steve Farley, who all offered compelling examples of what a 21st Century American passenger rail network should look like. Topics included the economic benefits that Amtrak service brings to Tucson; the need to develop a rail transit connection between Tucson and Phoenix, a corridor currently choked by car congestion; work Amtrak is doing to bring daily service to the Sunset Limited and Cardinal; and how increased frequencies would benefit cities and towns in the rapidly growing southwestern US.

As we prepare for the transportation reauthorization, it’s great to see that local officials are making ambitious plans for what comes next. The current transportation system is broken—in its funding structure and its underlying intent—and we must give these regional leaders new policy tools if they are to build a future-ready transportation system.

It was all the more disheartening, then, to come back to DC and see the Washington Post editorial board advocate for Maryland’s expensive new road building plan:

WHEN GOV. Larry Hogan (R) last year proposed a $9 billion blueprint to widen the Beltway, Interstate 270 and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway by building more than 100 miles of toll lanes — potentially one of the most audacious public-private partnerships in the nation — the project was attacked as politically opportunistic, a boondoggle that would wreck neighborhoods and harm the environment. Nonetheless, Mr. Hogan’s plan has advanced, impelled by one undeniable fact known to hundreds of thousands of daily commuters who crawl along those roadways day after soul-crushing day: Suburban traffic long ago outstripped highway capacity.

It will get much worse in the coming decades. The Washington region is expected to grow by 1.5 million people by 2045, to nearly 7 million. No matter how much new investment is poured into transit — we hope it’s a lot— demand for new roadways will soar. If you doubt that, think of Uber, Lyft and self-driving cars, and consider this: Car usage nationally is expanding at roughly twice the rate of population growth.

Here, we see the WaPo board clearly identifying a real problem—a hundred million Americans making the soul crushing commute to work, trapped for hours in their cars—and then presenting the following solution: bulldoze neighborhoods to make room for more highways.

This is a complete failure of imagination and ambition. The current funding model for highways was designed in the Eisenhower Administration to construct an interstate road network; that job is done. It is time to build something new.

And there are plansmany of them—that envision a better future than nudging along in a steel box for hours each day. If the old guard is unwilling to support these plans, they should step aside and let others do the work. As we think about creating a 21st Century toolbox for transportation planners, Rail Passengers is committed to supporting the visionaries.

You can find more about our plan for the reauthorization at www.RailPassengers.org/2020.

A new gas tax has been proposed by city mayors in Illinois in an effort to increase funding for transportation projects in the state. Illinois’ gas tax has not increased since 1990, but Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and other mayors from the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus called for a statewide capital bill that would include a 20 to 30 cent per gallon increase. The funding would go towards fixing roads and bridges throughout the state, as well as public transit projects.

“For Illinois to maintain its status as the transportation hub of the nation, we need to make major infrastructure investments to support our transportation systems,” Emanuel said in a press release. “In addition to critical funding to replace aging roads and bridges, sustained, flexible revenues need to flow directly to public transit. As the backbone of our larger transportation network and a stimulator of economic development, transit needs a dedicated, reliable revenue source so that we can continue to modernize and grow the system.”

Officials said that an increase of 20 to 30 cents in the gas tax would help offset decades of under-investment that has created a $24 billion need in added revenue through 2050 to maintain the current system, without addressing the backlog. Another $32 billion is needed to improve the condition of, enhance and expand the current system.

A capital bill has not been approved in Illinois since 2009, and the newly proposed one is based on five principles:

  • sustainable funding to create reliable, stable revenue streams that are not speculative or inadequate;

  • multimodal transportation not only across the region’s road network, but also across the transit, bicycle, and pedestrian networks;

  • return on investment ensuring that investments reflect where the funding comes from;

  • performance, ensuring vendors are held accountable for delivering; and

  • benefits-based to reflect all transportation users' contribution to improving our infrastructure, no matter how they travel.

The MAPS 3 Oklahoma City Streetcar opened its doors and began passenger service today following a ribbon cutting celebration. From voter approval to the opening, the $136 million project took nine years to complete, only 22 of which consisted of actual construction. Despite the time and cost, the streetcar is opening debt free and it is a major step forward for the city in its effort to improve public transit, downtown walkability and the local economy.

“This is a historic day decades in the making,” Mayor David Holt said in a press release. “Our streetcar will be an important economic development tool for our entire city, accommodating visitors and residents alike. It will encourage walkability downtown, answer the question of how residents and visitors will circulate downtown once they arrive, and will inspire private investment all along the route. Already we’ve seen $1.6 billion invested since the route was finalized, and we have every reason to believe that more will follow once the streetcar is open. The possibilities are endless and exciting.”

The streetcar will be free through January 5, but afterwards fares will be $1 for a single ride, $3 for a 24-hour pass, $32 for a 30-day pass and $384 for an annual pass.

YOU CAN USE YOUR MEMBER DISCOUNTS FOR HOLIDAY GIFTS! Your membership is more valuable than ever!

Rail Passengers’ 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 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 website. If you need help accessing these discounts email us at [email protected], or call the office at 202-408-8362.

NJ Transit riders have more room to look forward to over the next few years as the transit agency’s board approved the purchase of 113 new rail cars. The new cars will increase seating capacity on a 12-car train from 1,380 to 1,552 seats. The cars will be purchased from Bombardier, and the order includes 58 multilevel power cars, plus 33 cab and 16 trailer cars, and six trailer cars with restrooms. NJ Transit also retains options to buy an additional 636 cars to replace its remaining single-level cars and accommodate future ridership growth.

"This historic purchase is the perfect example of how [we are] reclaiming [our] position as a national leader in transportation," NJ Transit Executive Director Kevin Corbett said in a press release. "The new self-propelled multilevel cars break new ground in railroad technology and we’re proud that NJ Transit is leading the way."

NJ Transit also said that the order is the agency’s largest car procurement in recent years, and it includes the first self-propelled multilevel cars in the U.S. The new cars are set to begin testing in 2022 and enter service in 2023.

VIA Rail passengers in Canada will also see new trainsets and enjoy more room along the Quebec City–Toronto–Windsor corridor. VIA Rail has agreed to purchase 32 intercity trainsets from Siemens Canada for $741 million. The new equipment is schedules to enter service in 2022, and will replace VIA Rail’s older fleet in the corridor (some of which date back to the 1950s). With the new trainsets, VIA Rail will also increase rider capacity for a total of 9,100 seats.

VIA Rail Canada said that the new fleet will be equipped with some of the following key features:

  • Improved comfort for travelers: LED lighting, USB ports, wide seats, quiet-zones, new interior design elements, bike storage, flexible luggage space.

  • Enhanced universal accessibility features designed to exceed accessibility standards: multiple spaces for wheelchairs and other mobility devices on the trains, braille seat numbering, companion seating, at-seat emergency call buttons, larger fully accessible washrooms, integrated mobility device lift.

  • Enhanced safety features exceeding the latest safety standards.

  • Improved locomotive engines meeting EPA - Tier 4 emission standards.

  • Bi-directional operation will lower operating cost while yielding more passenger capacity.

BNSF Tells-All!

How Wall Street is making passenger trains late, what private railroads like about Amtrak, and more from BNSF CEO Matt Rose

By Abe Zumwalt, Rail Passengers

Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) is defined as a class I railroad, operating around 32,000 miles of track across the American West. If you’ve ridden the Empire Builder, Coast Starlight, Southwest Chief, or any number of services in Washington State, clear across to Illinois or Texas, you’ve ridden on BNSF tracks. Though they bear resemblance to the other four Class I railroads operating in the United States, there is one crucial difference: BNSF was bought outright in 2009 by Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway, while the other four are publicly traded on the stock market.

Railway Age’s in-depth “Less is NOT Better!” interview with CEO of BNSF Railway Matt K. Rose is a must read. Seemingly more at liberty than in the past to discuss the industry on the eve of his retirement, he offers astonishing insight.

To read our three important takeaways from the interview regarding passengers, please visit our blog at: https://www.railpassengers.org/happening-now/news/blog/a-private-railroad-tell-all.

Rail Passengers Forum and Blog Updates

Please make sure you visit railpassengers.org/forum and take a few moments to share your thoughts with us various passenger rail topics.

You will need to sign up though a Google/Gmail account, but the forum is “in house” now.

This week our blog has several new updates from members of the Rail Passengers staff. A few of them already included in the hotline, but other recent posts include:

You might have noticed some familiar names posting the last couple of days. If you haven’t, what are you waiting for? Here are some recent topics we’ve covered on the blog:

Rail Passengers Question

Do you have a relationship with the local office of your congressional representative?

Yes - I share my views regularly about passenger rail and transportation

No - I generally don’t (or haven’t) contacted my local district office

Submit your answers via email at [email protected].

The Minneapolis City Council has approved the Minneapolis 2040 Plan that takes a bold approach to transportation by eliminating minimum parking mandates, banning new gas stations and drive-thrus, forbidding auto-oriented land uses by metro stations and discouraging surface parking lots, and other measures. The plan will help shape how the city will grow and change over the next two decades so all residents can benefit.”

This vision of a future transportation network that is not auto-centric will contribute to erasing disparity in the city, providing families and individuals with affordable housing, combating homelessness, early detection for mental health issues, closing economic and racial gaps, and--of course--granting more people greater access to public transit.

Another part of the plan eliminates zoning for single family homes and allows for adding new housing alternatives that will help reduce costs. In addition, the 2040 plan will see more homes built around transit, including METRO light rail and buses lines. To give more people access to transit, “corridor districts” will allow for upzoning - larger apartment buildings and more housing. This will include triplexes citywide, buildings of at least 10 stories downtown and multi-story developments in the corridors.

Overall the 2040 plan is broken up into 14 goals and 100 policies for the next 20 years.

Office Corner: We want your membership to be as seamless as possible with the Association, but it’s not always possible when things break or items are delayed. We’ve received a few Frequently Asked Questions this week via phone and email. Here are a few updates to answer any questions you may have.

Why did I get a renewal notice when I already renewed?

  • We are still working to fix the overlapping renewal requests. Please continue to reach out to us via email at [email protected] or call 202 408-8362 with any issues or concerns. We are happy to help update your information and research the facts to resolve any issues.

Where’s my membership card?

  • We appreciate your patience as we work to catch up on new membership cards. They are going out as fast as we can process and print them.

Can I share my passenger rail story with you?

  • It's the time of year when we reminisce and spend time with family. We've had some very nice calls this week from members telling us of their travels and sharing their memories of growing up traveling by train. Thank you for taking time out of your schedules to talk to us and for continuing to support The Rail Passengers Association. In doing so you allow us to continuing working towards keeping and improving rail travel in America. We love hearing from our members and we appreciate all your inquiries! Keep them coming!

A bipartisan group of 37 members from California’s congressional delegation signed a letter asking Amtrak to reconsider closing its Riverside reservation center. Amtrak said it would close the center on January 18, which led angered employees and the Transportation Communications Union to gather support from community members and local politicians.

In addition to the letter from the California delegation, about 100 people gathered in Riverside to protest Amtrak’s closure plans. The protesters also held a brief march that included a pass-through of the City Hall lobby.

Ken Calvert (R-Corona) also wrote Amtrak in a separate letter. Calvert asked Amtrak to delay the shutdown for at least six months to allow for Congress to weigh in and also give employees time to make decisions about relocating to Philadelphia.


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!

More than three million passengers have taken a ride on the DC Streetcar since it opened its doors on February 27, 2016. The milestone was reached on December 11, 2018, just under three years from when the H Street/ Benning corridor opened. Over the past several years, the corridor has continued to see growth in new apartment, retail and restaurants.

“Mayor Bowser’s top priority when we launched DC Streetcar was to deliver a system that was safe and would create new transit options for residents and visitors of our ever growing city,” DDOT Director Jeff Marootian said in a press release. “The ridership numbers and tremendous economic development we’ve seen along the H Street corridor support the decision to move forward with the project.”

DDOT officials are currently looking to expand the 2.4 mile DC Streetcar system. Efforts are in the planning and design stages, but more information on the Benning Road Extension is available at the the project webpage.

Have You Ever Said ‘I Wish My Congressman Would Support Trains’? Well, Why Not Come To Washington This Spring To Make Your Voice Heard!

The dates are set for Rail Passengers’ RailNation: Washington 2019 Washington Advocacy Summit, Day on The Hill And Congressional Reception - Sunday, March 31st through Wednesday, April 3rd - and we hope to see YOU there!

Rail Passengers meetings aren’t just for Council and Board Members...they’re for anybody who wants our country to invest in More Trains, Better Trains and a Commitment to Infrastructure. Whether you’ve been a member for decades or you’re brand-new to Rail Passengers...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 & The Rail Passengers Annual Congressional Reception

  • Wednesday, April 3 - Rail Passengers 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). Discounted Group Rate Room Reservations Are Now Available!

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

Other 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 calendar of upcoming events!

Passengers passing through the 30th Street Station in Philadelphia may continue to see the iconic flipboard despite Amtrak saying it would replace it with a modern digital screen. After Amtrak said it would update the flipboard, numerous passengers that felt nostalgic about the ‘70s-era flipboard asked the railroad to keep it.

Even U.S. Representative Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.) reached out to Amtrak to see what was possible. Boyle said that during a phone call, CEO Richard Anderson “was very receptive” to retaining the flipboard in some form. Boyle said that Anderson said Amtrak could either refurbish the flipboard or replace it with a new model that would be integrated into Amtrak’s computer network.

Amtrak said in November that it was interested in replacing the flipboard, but the passenger railroad has not yet requested proposals for a replacement board. This will not occur until January, but regardless of timing, Amtrak will have to replace the board. The flipboard’s manufacturer, Italy’s Solari company, no longer produces replacement parts and the flipboard is becoming impossible to maintain due to its age.

Passenger Rail Service Notices

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

Keystone Service and Pennsylvanian Trains 42 and 43 Holiday Service

Reservations will be required on all Pennsylvanian and Keystone Service trains (including Philadelphia to Harrisburg service) on the following dates:

  • Friday, Dec. 21 through Friday, Dec. 28

  • Monday, December 31, 2018 through Tuesday, January 1, 2019.

Reservations will not be required for monthly and ten-ride ticket holders.

Wilmington, DE Station Access during Area Construction and Public Parking Lots

Starting December 14, street construction will continue on Martin Luther King Boulevard in Wilmington, DE. Front St. will be closed in front of the Amtrak Train Station between French Street and Walnut Street.

The City of Wilmington will close both East Front Street and MLK Boulevard, to expand the street from two lanes to three lanes. Customers will have to turn onto French Street to drop off and pick up customers.

Additional information includes:

  • Rental Return Lot: The rental car return lot will be relocated to 110 South French Street. Customers who need to return their rental vehicle will have to access the lot by driving down South French Street and turn left into the rental return lot.

  • Parking lots: Lots closest to the station fill up early.

  • Additional Public Parking: is available 24 hours at the Double Tree Hotel 700 North King Street, Wilmington Delaware 19801 and until 7:00 p.m. at the Wilmington Court House 500 North King Street, Wilmington DE 19801.

Saluki Service Trains 390 and 391

Due to track improvements being performed by Canadian National Railway and CSX, Trains 390 and 391 will be affected on Tuesday December 18, 2018 as follows:

  • Train 391 which normally operates between Chicago and Carbondale, will terminate at Champaign, IL. Alternate service will be provided as described below.

  • Train 390 which normally operates between Carbondale and Chicago, will originate at Champaign, IL. Train 390 will depart at 10:45 am, which is 31 minutes later than the normal schedule. Train 391 will operate the later schedule at all stops Champaign through Chicago. Alternate service will be provided as described below.

San Joaquins Service Enhancement

Effective Monday, December 17, 2018 Amtrak San Joaquins will be adjusting its schedule to better accommodate weekend leisure travelers on trains 718 and 1701, as well as provide boarding and travel time relief to early morning travelers on train 701.

  • Train 701, which normally departs Fresno at 4:25 am will depart at 4:45 am starting on Monday, December 17. The train will now arrive Sacramento at 7:59 am.

  • Train 718 will now provide full corridor service from Oakland to Bakersfield with a shorter bus ride to Los Angeles on Fridays, Saturdays and the day before holidays. Train 718 will be renumbered as train 1718 on these days.

  • Train 1701 will now provide full corridor service from Bakersfield to Sacramento with a shorter bus ride from Los Angeles on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays.

More than 200 transportation projects in California will get a major boost in state funding now that $600 million has been allocated to various projects by the California Transportation Commission (CTC).

The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) said the funds will support major transportation projects in the state including:

  • $80 million from the Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017 to help fund highway improvements, including bridges and intelligent transportation systems.

  • $29.8 million for Metrolink's intercity rail capital program which includes design work on Orange, San Bernardino and Ventura line improvements.

  • $11.2 million for the Monterey County Rail Extension project for signalized access to the Salinas train station via an extension of Lincoln Avenue.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is denying New Jersey Transit $300 million that the agency and local officials requested to help pay for damages from Hurricane Sandy. FEMA has now denied the request for funding twice, but New Jersey has appealed the rejection. If the government continues to deny the state the funding, the issue could end up in court.

The disagreement on the funding has been going on for sometime, and U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said that NJ Transit is entitled to the federal money under legislation he wrote years earlier as chairman of the Senate mass transit subcommittee.

FEMA spokeswoman Lizzie Litzow said the state’s appeal is currently under review.

Openings Available For Rail Passengers State Council Representatives

The following vacancies now exist for state representatives on the Rail Passengers 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 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.