Happening Now

Hotline #1,097

December 21, 2018

Amtrak Announces 75 New Diesel Locomotives for Long Distance Routes; Southwest Chief Awarded $9.16 Million Infrastructure Upgrade Grant; One Year After Train 501 Derailment; Congressional Budget Office Suggests Elimination of Amtrak and FTA; Brightline To Start Orlando-to-West Palm Construction in 2019; Milwaukee’s The Hop Provides More Than 76,000 Rides in First Month; Rail Passengers Advocate in Moab, UT

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.

With President Trump’s sharp reversal--saying he will not sign any budget bill that doesn’t include $5 billion for a border wall--we are mere hours away from a government shutdown over the Christmas holiday.

If a shutdown goes into effect, Amtrak will be able to continue normal operations using cash on hand and revenue. If the shutdown lasts longer than a month, the absence of payouts of congressional appropriations would begin to have an effect.

More than 420,000 government employees will work without pay, including the following transportation workers:

  • 53,000 TSA Employees;

  • 54,000 Customs and Border Protection agents and customs offers.

Likewise, more than 380,000 government employees will be furloughed, including the following transportation workers:

  • Around 30 Percent of Department of Transportation employees, roughly equivalent to 18,300 staffers.

In response to record ridership levels, Amtrak announced today that it will acquire 75 new diesel locomotives from Siemens Mobility to replace its aging National Network locomotive fleet. The initial order of locomotives will be used principally to replace the P40 and P42 locomotives on Amtrak’s Long Distance train service. The contract includes the option to purchase more for use on State Supported routes and for future growth.

“These new locomotives will offer increased reliability, more hauling power, improved safety features and lower emissions,” said Amtrak President & CEO Richard Anderson.

“It’s good to see Amtrak making good on its promises to support the National Network,” said Rail Passengers President Jim Mathews. “There’s so much investment needed throughout the system, it’s hard to set the top priority. But new locomotives will provide much-needed help with on-time performance and reliability. Just as important, it demonstrates a commitment to a truly national footprint.”

Amtrak provided other specs for the new locomotives:

The new locomotives will offer the latest safety systems including Crash Energy Management and Positive Train Control. Capable of speeds up to 125 MPH, the locomotives will have 4,400 horsepower capable 16-cylinder Cummins QSK95 diesel engines with modern control systems and Alternating Current (AC) propulsion. The diesel engine will come equipped with the latest Tier 4 emissions technology, reducing nitrogen oxide by over 89 percent and particulate matter by 95 percent, and provide an average of 10 percent savings in diesel fuel consumption

Delivery of the new locomotives will begin in summer 2021, with passenger service beginning in fall 2021. They will power trains used on the AutoTrain, California Zephyr, Capitol Limited, Cardinal, City of New Orleans, Coast Starlight, Crescent, Empire Builder, Lake Shore Limited, Palmetto, Silver Meteor, Silver Star, Southwest Chief, Sunset Limited and Texas Eagle. All locomotives are expected to be in service by 2024. Maintenance activities across the network will be supported by a supplemental multiyear Technical Support Spares Supply Agreement (TSSSA).

The locomotives will be built at Siemens Sacramento manufacturing plant.

The Federal Railroad Administration has awarded $9.16 million in federal funding to install Positive Train Control (PTC) along the Southwest Chief rail line between Dodge City, Kansas, and Las Animas, Colorado. The funding was awarded through the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) Grant Program, part of the FAST Act that Rail Passengers fought hard to enact.

“This federal investment will help to make critical safety improvements along the Southwest Chief line,” said Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO). “Our federal, state, and local governments are committed to preserving this vital component to Southeastern Colorado's economy, and we will continue to partner with them and Amtrak to keep the route running."

“This is another major step in the right direction for transportation for Coloradans, particularly in rural areas,” said Jim Souby, president of the Colorado Rail Passenger Association (ColoRail) and Rail Passengers Board Member. “Many in Congress don't realize how important these passenger rail services are to our western rural communities. This is an important next step in a long campaign and we are honored that Senator Bennet has helped continued his support for our campaign.”

The grant was a joint application between the Colorado Department of Transportation, the Kansas Department of Transportation, local governments in Colorado and Kansas, and Amtrak. Colorado, Kansas, and Amtrak, together contributed 20% ($2.29 million) as the match to the federal government’s 80% ($9.16 million). The grant will fund safety improvements across 179 miles of predominantly single‐track route between Dodge City and Las Animas.

Critically, Amtrak appears to have been swayed by the grassroots campaign conducted by Rail Passengers and several allied groups over the summer; dropped its plan for a bus bridge across Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico; and bought into the Southwest Chief preservation project.

“This grant will allow for the expansion of PTC onto part of Amtrak’s route system that does not currently have it and is consistent with our ongoing system-wide safety initiative,” said Ray Lang, Senior Director of Government Affairs at Amtrak. “We would like to thank Colorado for their continued leadership on this important project.”

It has been one year since the fatal Amtrak Cascades derailment in DuPont, Washington, and state transportation officials and Amtrak have now completed implementation of Positive Train Control (PTC) on all Pacific Northwest passenger trains. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said the PTC technology could have prevented the train from speeding through a curve, resulting in the train’s derailment on December 18. The derailment caused numerous injuries and the deaths of three passengers, including Rail Passengers members Jim Hamre and Zack Willhoite.

“We lost two of our dear friends in the Cascades accident, and that could have been prevented,” said Rail Passengers President Jim Mathews. “It shouldn’t take a tragedy to finally get people to wake up. If safety is the number one priority, then we need to act like it. People’s lives literally depend on it. We can’t forget this terrible lesson.”

Amtrak said that the 432-mile stretch of track in the U.S. is now fully equipped and operating with PTC, technology that can remotely monitor, slow and stop trains. The passenger railroad is also requalifying all of its engineers and crews with three months of training to ensure they are aware of the route’s curves and speed limits.

The training will be important moving forward since Amtrak and the WSDOT have been called out for not properly training the engineer of Train 501. The engineer said he was aware that the train was coming upon the curve, but that he missed a warning sign that would have alerted him to apply the brakes. The train ended up derailing at 78 mph in a 30 mph zone.

The derailment also took place on the first day of what was going to be an increase of Amtrak service between Seattle and Portland. It would have utilized a new bypass route south of Tacoma that would improve on-time performance and cut 10 minutes off the travel time. Washington was going to increase service from four to six daily round trips prior to the derailment. However, once the bypass reopens in the spring of 2019, WSDOT said that service will remain at four daily trips.

Jim Hamre Scholarship Fund

In October, the Rail Passengers Association launched the initial phase of donations for the Jim Hamre Scholarship Fund. The fund was named in the honor of longtime Rail Passengers volunteer leader Jim Hamre, who tragically lost his life in the December 2017 Amtrak derailment in DuPont, WA. The goal of the initial phase is to raise $100,000 of what will ultimately be a $1 million fund, which will provide scholarships to young adults who are seeking an education and career in railroad engineering and safety.

If you would like to contribute to the Jim Hamre Scholarship Fund, you can mail a check made payable to the ‘Jim Hamre Scholarship Fund’ and mailed to:

The Rail Passengers Association

1200 G. Street, NW, Suite 240

Washington, DC 20005

What's 58 Years of Amtrak Funding Worth?

By Sean Jeans-Gail, Rail Passengers Vice President of Policy

In a disappointingly predictable move, the Congressional Budget Office has released a report on options for reducing the budget over the next ten years that identifies the elimination of Amtrak and the Federal Transit Administration. Clearly, this document was drafted as a mental exercise in deficit-trimming and will have no real impact on Congressional decision-making. Still, it’s an impressively tone-deaf recommendation, coming as it does when the average American’s commute is steadily getting worse, and the broad, bipartisan understanding that U.S. infrastructure is in crisis.

While the Amtrak cuts are mentioned merely as a line-item, the CBO goes into depth about its rationale for eliminating federal transit support:

The main argument for eliminating the FTA is that the benefits of public transit systems are primarily local or regional and should be financed at the local or state level. If the people who benefit from a transit system bear its costs, it is less likely that too many projects or overly costly projects will be undertaken or that services of low value relative to their ongoing costs will continue to be supported. Relatedly, decisions made on the basis of state or local funding would not be influenced by the greater availability of federal support for capital investments than for operating expenses.

The report drew immediate criticism from transportation leaders. “Eliminating federal funding for public transportation will drastically reduce mobility and job opportunities for Americans and will make our country less competitive,” responded American Public Transportation Association CEO Paul Skoutelas.

In fact, even the writers of CBO’s report don’t seem to have their hearts in it. The very next paragraph outlines the case for transit. [Read the full blog post]

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.

Sean Jeans-Gail, Rail Passengers Vice President of Government Affairs, met with Congressional transportation leadership this week to discuss the upcoming effort to pass an infrastructure bill, the surface transportation reauthorization, and how those two pieces of legislation will inform each other. The meeting was hosted by the OneRail coalition, a collection of rail industry leaders. OneRail members raised critical issues facing passenger railroads, freight railroads, labor, and manufacturers in 2019.

Jeans-Gail is also working with Rail Passengers Council Members to help develop material for introductory “Rail 101” meetings for incoming members of Congress. The materials developed will be available for general members who are interested in stopping by the district office of their representatives to help educate them on the benefits of passenger rail.

From Rail Passengers Director of Policy Research, Abe Zumwalt: Those of you that have visited the D.C. office (for those of you that haven't: please do, if you're ever in D.C., it's YOUR association) will know that we floor with the Toy Association. I once joked with them that the holidays 'must be their busy time of year,' and as it turns out, it's no joke! As they make sure the presents under your trees are being delivered seamlessly, we are feverishly preparing as our fiscal year ends with the calendar year. Donations count big, right up until the end! In addition to work that will underscore our campaign around reauthorization, I've been pulling the classic non-profit holiday routine. I've been preparing outgoing letters, and will be taking care of checks and phone calls coming to the office after Christmas next week, making sure we get every possible cent in the door before December 31. Please donate today, and write it off your taxes in April!

Rail Passengers Northeast Field Coordinator, Joseph Aiello, made it to D.C. this week to celebrate the holiday with the rest of the staff at a wonderful lunch (a working lunch of course - read Carolyn’s “Synergy” blog this week for more on that). It was the first time, at least in his time working for the Association, that the team was able to all sit down for a meal outside of a conference. Joe was so glad he made the trip.

Transportation for America (T4MA) hosted a presentation from the Governor’s Commission on the Future of Transportation Wednesday morning. The meeting was attended by a who’s-who of transportation policy makers and advocates (Joe spotted a few Rail Passengers members in the audience as well). The Commission’s report is available at: www.mass.gov/orgs/commission-on-the-future-of-transportation. The top recommendation is to “Prioritize investment in public transit” which seems like a no brainer, but let’s see how much this will ring true in 2019.

The last meeting of the year for the North-South Rail Link Working Group was held on Thursday at the Statehouse. It was Joe’s last opportunity to spend some time with Gov. Michael Dukakis before he heads west to UCLA to teach for the winter and spring.

Carolyn Cokley, serving in her role as Director of the Amtrak Customer Advisory Committee (ACAC), continued her work on the ACAC Customer Service Program by reaching out to several Amtrak managers and vetting nominations submitted by ACAC members as they travel around the country. To date, ACAC has presentations lined up for the first six months of the New Year. Once dates are confirmed, ACAC members will present awards to on-board service and station personnel in Los Angeles, Miami, New York City, Emeryville and Chicago.

Bruce Becker, Rail Passengers Vice-President of Operations, returning from Portland, ME after attending the December 14th Trainriders Northeast 30th Annual Meeting rode the Lake Shore Limited from Boston back home to Buffalo; read his blog story on his 'Contemporary Dining' experience. Bruce was in the D.C. office this week coordinating messages going out to Rail Passengers Association members and friends on the importance of making potentially tax-deductible donations to Rail Passengers by December 31st! In addition, Bruce continued to publicize the Lonely Planet 'Amazing Train Journeys' book promotion, which has generated more than $850.00 for the Association so far! And with Rail Passengers Spring 2019 Washington, D.C. Advocacy Summit & Day on The Hill, scheduled for March 31 - April 3, rapidly approaching, Bruce reminds all attendees that discounted Group Guest Room Reservations are now available at the Westin City Center, the event’s host hotel.

All rail passenger lines in Connecticut will have Positive Train Control (PTC) installed by the federal mandated deadline of December 31, 2018. This includes all three passenger lines that operate in the state: the Connecticut Department of Transportation (CTDOT) owns the portion of the New Haven Line between New Haven and the New York state border, while Amtrak owns the Hartford Line between New Haven and Springfield, Massachusetts, as well as Shore Line East between New Haven and New London.

“Safety has always been our top priority and I am pleased to report that Connecticut passenger rail lines will be in full compliance with the new federal requirements,” Transportation Commissioner James P. Redeker said in a press release. “Our rail lines are already exceptionally safe and positive train control provides us with another layer of safety.”

In addition, on the New Haven Line CTDOT partnered with MTA Metro-North for PTC installation. Metro-North achieved a significant milestone over the summer, implementing civil speed enforcement – a key component of PTC that prevents a train from traveling too fast around a curve or over a bridge. Further, Metro-North has completed installation of all PTC hardware, trained all of its employees, acquired all of the necessary radio spectrum, and has a segment of track on its Hudson Line operating under full PTC.

Sound Transit will be able to move forward with the construction of its Lynnwood Link light rail project after receiving a $1.17-billion Full Funding Grant Agreement (FFGA) from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). The grant is the largest transit grant the FTA has awarded since President Donald Trump took office.

The Lynnwood Link will expand light rail service between Seattle and some northern suburbs, including Shoreline, Mountlake Terrace, and Lynnwood. The project also includes:

  • 8.5 miles of grade-separated light rail,

  • four new stations,

  • 34 vehicles,

  • 1,500 parking spaces,

  • and a new maintenance and storage facility.

It will also connect to the broader Link light rail network, including the existing system from Angle Lake to the University of Washington and the Northgate Link and East Link segments currently under construction.

"The significant Federal investment announced today will improve mobility for thousands of people in the Puget Sound region and provide greater access to jobs, healthcare, and education, among other important destinations," U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said in a press release.

Sound Transit is also approved for up to $658 million in U.S. Department of Transportation credit assistance through the Build America Bureau under the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) program.

Contemporary Dining: Does Amtrak Deliver What It Advertises?

By Bruce Becker, Rail Passengers Vice-President of Operations

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines ‘contemporary’ as: ‘marked by characteristics of the present period’.

So how does Amtrak’s use of the words ‘contemporary’ and ‘dining’ stand up to this definition? This past weekend Bruce rode the Lake Shore Limited from Boston to Buffalo in a roomette and had the opportunity to see Amtrak’s contemporary dining first hand.

To read Bruce’s account of his dining experience on Amtrak, please visit his new blog at: https://www.railpassengers.org/happening-now/news/blog/contemporary-dining.

People looking to take a Brightline train from Orlando to West Palm will have the opportunity to do so as early as the end of 2020. Speaking with the Central Florida Expressway Authority governing board, Brightline President Patrick Goddard said that the company plans to begin construction 30 days after its contractor receives a 30-day notice to build the new route on February 1, 2019. Goddard said he expects the $2.1 billion route to be completed within 36 months.

Goddard also said that Brightline, which will be called Virgin Trains USA next year following a new partnership with Sir Richard Branson's travel and hospitality company Virgin Group, is still negotiating the lease of right of way with the Florida Department of Transportation and CFX for the Tampa to Orlando route. The three organizations have 90 days from November 28 to agree on the lease, but CFX executive director Laura Kelley said there would likely be an extension to the deadline.

Under the new partnership, Virgin Group will be a minority investor. Brightline is to remain under current management and ownership by Fortress Investment Group.

Politicians in Florida are battling over the future of Brightline service in the state, despite the company’s plan to move forward with expanded service. Republican U.S. Reps. Brian Mast and Bill Posey have called on Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to hold off on extending a deadline to issue tax-exempt bonds that are needed to expand Brightline to Orlando. In contrast, other members of Congress, including Mario Diaz-Balart, a Republican from Miami-Dade County, have shared their support for Brightline. Diaz-Balart said “Brightline is one of the most innovative, exciting infrastructure projects I have seen in quite some time.”

In their letter to Chao, however, Mast and Posey wrote “we strongly encourage your agency to take a step back and give Florida an opportunity to shore up its regulations governing these higher speed trains,” Mast and Posey wrote. “This time will also allow the corporation in this ever-changing project, to prove it will have the finances going forward to build all the safety features along the entire route which should be required and are so desperately need(ed).”

Mast and Posey also used a report from the state Legislature's Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability that backed financial and safety concerns from Brightline critics. The report also noted the state Department of Transportation hasn’t used its authority to regulate rail service at Brightline’s expected speeds of between 81 mph and 125 mph.

When asked about the report, Brightline said, “Safety is Brightline’s top priority, which is why we’ve worked closely with the FRA (Federal Railroad Administration), FDOT (the Florida Department of Transportation) and all local jurisdictions along the railway corridor on designing, engineering, constructing and operating the system. We remain committed to working with FRA and FDOT to increase funding for more education and awareness.”

January 2019 Newsletter Now Available

Our January 2019 Newsletter is now available online. Get the latest updates from Rail Passengers staff and our recent advocacy efforts and meetings on the NSRL with MassDOT, Amtrak, All Aboard Arizona and more.

Empire Corridor & Maple Leaf Service resumed this past week at Rome, NY, after having been suspended since early July when a small portion of the ceiling in the tunnel leading to the boarding platform collapsed. Temporary safety repairs have been completed allowing for the six daily trains which serve Rome to stop again just in time for holiday travel; permanent repairs are slated to be made later in 2019.

The Adirondack Park Agency in New York is one step closer to removing tracks and developing a rail trail following a decision to adopt an amendment to the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan. The decision could eventually lead to the removal of the tracks that the Adirondack Scenic Railroad would like to return its rail service to -- seasonal service currently runs from Utica to Big Moose. A state judge had blocked a state plan to remove rails between Tupper Lake and Lake Placid in 2017, and had said that the governing law required a rail corridor to include an actual railroad. The new amendment however adds language to the land master plan that says a travel corridor can also include a recreational rail trail.

Overall the state's $8 million plan would take out 34 miles of tracks from Tupper Lake to Lake Placid. The rail bed would then be made into a trail for hikers, bikers, cross-country skiers, and snowmobilers. However, the Adirondack Scenic Railroad, which runs tourist trains, has opposed any loss of rails. The group has even received support from Franklin County, Franklin County Industrial Development Agency, Oneida County, the city of Utica, and the town of Harrietstown.

The amendment will now be sent to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who will decide whether to adopt the new Land Master Plan language, thus allowing the rail removal to potentially occur. However, even if the language is adopted, other legal issues may cloud the state’s plans, including whether property easements originally issued to the railroad in the 1890’s could impact the state’s legal ownership title to segments of the corridor’s land if the rails are removed.

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!

Amtrak construction work at Washington Union station will receive a $19-million grant to help increase track capacity for Amtrak and the Virginia Railway Express (VRE) trains. The funding will go specifically for Track 22, which is currently a storage track for equipment. The grant will help construction crews:

  • Install new track,

  • Rebuild the platform,

  • Restore historic columns, and

  • Build a walkway to provide rider access to the platform via a new elevator, escalator and stairs to the station.

The grant is being provided by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), and revenue service to Track 22 is expected to begin in 2022 for both Amtrak and VRE.

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.

With less than two weeks left of the year, New Jersey Transit will meet the Federal Railroad Administration's (FRA) requirements for positive train control (PTC) installation. By meeting the 2018 deadline, NJ Transit is able to avoid federal penalties and the agency will able to apply for a two-year extension of full PTC implementation on its system.

With the PTC work, the agency has also been able to increase safety levels on its rails for passengers after years of neglect. To spur the agency to improve its service reliability and safety, Governor Phil Murphy ordered a new management plan, as well as an audit. The audit found NJ Transit was in need of leadership, operational and financial changes.

“We promised the people of New Jersey that we would start making it right at NJ Transit and this achievement shows we are doing just that,” Governor Murphy said in a press release. “Make no mistake. There's still a lot of work left to do on PTC, but this is a major step forward as we continue to rebuild our mass transit system.”

To meet the December 31 deadline, NJ Transit crews had to complete several projects including:

  • Installation of equipment on locomotives and cab control cars;

  • Installation of 326 miles of wayside equipment including radios, transponders and poles; and

  • Initiation of PTC testing and employee training.


by Carolyn Cokley, Director Customer Programs

Synergy is defined as the benefit that results when two or more agents work together to achieve something neither one could have achieved on its own. It's the concept of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.

In the spirit of the year end, Rail Passengers Association staff took some well-deserved time this week to share a meal together and enjoy each other’s company outside of the office. The conversation started with the events of the day and general Washington small talk. But, inevitably whenever two or more rail advocates get together, the conversation quickly turned to the National Network.

It happened somewhere after we ordered our meal. Joe started by mentioning a thought he had concerning a challenge before him. Sean responded on how important it was to move forward quickly to have the greatest advantage. Abe agreed with the assessment and mentioned that he had been thinking the same. Bruce, Sam and I agreed, but still did not have a strategy to share.

Jim continued to move the conversation forward by challenging us to brainstorm further. The conversation continued through the appetizer and just before the main entree was brought to the table, the conversation went from no strategy at all to a couple of very strong concepts of how to proceed. While we ate our meal, we continued to brainstorm and build on the proposed concepts by incorporating each other’s thoughts and ideas. By the time we finished our meal, we found ourselves with a working concept to build on and move forward with.

On the Metro ride back to the office, my mind drifted to what exactly we had accomplished over a lunch and how important it was for us to all be in the same room at the same table with a challenge to be met. We were able to feed off each other’s energy in a relaxed environment without the interruptions that often come inside the office. It was quite remarkable. Could this have been accomplished in the Rail Passengers Association conference room, yes. Would it have been as efficient and left us with this tremendous feeling of satisfaction and camaraderie, no.

We have accomplished so much this year in support of our members and the National Network, and I look forward to 2019 and moving more needles forward.

Efforts have begun to build community support in Utah to bring passenger rail service throughout the state. Mike Christensen, executive director of the Utah Rail Passengers Association, hosted a Moab Transit Authority Study Committee meeting as one of the first steps to bring passenger rail to Moab.

Christensen, and other rail advocates support an Amtrak route that would connect the Wasatch Front north to Logan, southwest to Cedar City and southeast to Grand Junction. As it stands now, the only foreseeable way to connect Moab on the route is via motor coach from Green River. However, Christensen said he can see Moab eventually being connected by rail, but that priority number one is establishing the main route. Moab was one of several stops Christensen is making in Utah in order to build support for rail service in the state.

Rail Passengers Blog and Forum Updates

Our blog has several new updates from Rail Passengers staff. Some are already included within the Hotline, but other recent posts include:

Also 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.

Passenger rail and other public transit agencies throughout the U.S. will be able to improve accessibility for riders through new grants from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). The FTA has awarded $16.6 million in grants through the federal agency’s Pilot Program for Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) Planning. The funding will specifically go towards helping communities develop new or expand existing public transit systems, and provide greater access for passengers.

"Convenient and safe access to public transportation can improve mobility," FTA Acting Administrator K. Jane Williams said in a press release.

A sample of transit agencies receiving grants from the FTA include:

  • The Maryland Department of Transportation will receive $2 million to plan for TOD along the Maryland Purple Line, a 16.2-mile light rail project under construction linking Montgomery and Prince George's counties;

  • Metro in Portland, OR will receive more than $1 million to work with the city to identify affordable housing, economic development and business stabilization opportunities along a proposed 2.3-mile streetcar extension to Montgomery Park;

  • The Jacksonville Transportation Authority in Florida will also receive more than $1 million to plan for TOD along the Ultimate Urban Circulator, a project that would turn the existing Skyway monorail system in Jacksonville into an autonomous circulator;

  • The Kansas City Area Transportation Authority in Missouri, $250,000 to plan for TOD along the 17.7-mile Rock Island Railroad Corridor, where a fixed guideway project is being planned to connect three major cities in the Kansas City region.

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 continue working towards keeping and improving rail travel in America. We love hearing from our members and we appreciate all your inquiries! Keep them coming!

For the first time since Amtrak President and CEO Richard Anderson was appointed to lead Amtrak, the passenger railroad has contributed an Op-Ed to Railway Age. Railway Age’s editor William C. Vantuono said that the contribution from Stephen Gardner, Senior Executive Vice President of Amtrak, is a sign “that the wall of silence” could be coming down.

In the op-ed, Gardner countered against the last eight months of Railway Age op-eds - many of which “focused on long-distance trains, which account for only 15% of Amtrak ridership, and their dining car food. Most of the others depicted Amtrak as a ‘failure’ facing ‘the sword of Damocles.’”

Gardner wrote that many of these recent op-eds, however, ignored important facts that would point to Amtrak building on recent successes, not failures. These include:

  • Amtrak’s financial performance in FY 2018 was the best in its 47-year history.

  • Amtrak covered 95% of its operating costs from revenues last year.

  • Amtrak’s financial performance compares favorably to international railways that receive much higher levels of public funding.

  • When Amtrak acquired the Northeast Corridor (NEC) from its private owner, the bankrupt Penn Central Railroad, revenues covered less than half of its operating costs. Last year, the NEC generated a $526 million operating surplus for reinvestment in NEC assets.


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!

Immediately after starting his job as Amtrak’s new executive vice president and chief safety officer (CSO) in January 2018, Kenneth Hylander reviewed the railroad’s existing safety policies and procedures and how they were — or, in some cases, were not — carried out. This was essential to his and Amtrak’s number one goal - improving safety.

Hylander’s role and ability to create a culture based on safety was essential to Amtrak since the passenger railroad was involved in two major incidents - the December 2017 derailment in DuPont, WA that killed three people and injured 70, and the February 2018 collision of an Amtrak train that was diverted from a main track into a CSX train parked on a siding in Cayce, SC, killing two Amtrak employees and injuring more than 100 other people.

After Hylander completed his review of Amtrak’s safety policies, he concluded that the railroad needed to redraft its policy to emphasize that every employee is responsible for operating safely on the job. In March, Amtrak's board adopted a resolution that committed the organization to being the "safest passenger railroad" in the nation. Soon after, CEO Richard Anderson and other Amtrak executives sent a letter to all employees stating the railroad’s pledge to operate safely. Then in April, the board officially updated the railroad’s safety policy.

To read the complete interview and in-depth story on Hylander and Amtrak’s effort to reshape its safety culture, please visit Progressive Railroading online.

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! This year’s theme is: ‘Blueprint 2020: Be The Architect’

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!

Milwaukee’s new streetcar, The Hop, provided 76,125 total rides in its first month of service. Excluding the 16,409 riders who took The Hop during the service's opening weekend from November 2-4, the streetcar averaged a daily ridership of 2,297.

The first month’s ridership is a sign of success for the streetcar, and the city, which hopes The Hop will provide transit and economic benefits to local businesses. The streetcar currently operates on a 2-mile route that starts at the Milwaukee Intermodal Station and runs to downtown.

Passenger Rail Service Notices

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

Checked Baggage Service To End On Trains #448 & #449

Effective January 7th, checked baggage service on the Boston section of the Lake Shore Limited will end, thus also ending all checked baggage service at Springfield, MA. Checked baggage has not previously been available at Framingham, Worcester or Pittsfield.

Checked baggage service will continue to be offered at Boston’s South Station, but only on Northeast Corridor trains #65, 66 & 67 which operate south to New York and beyond. Trains #48 & #49, the New York section of the Lake Shore Limited, will continue to offer checked baggage service between New York and Chicago and at other staffed stations along the route.

Amtrak has stated that storage space will be made available in the Boston section’s sleeping car to accommodate sleeping car passengers oversize luggage which may not fit into their room, but this storage space will not be considered ‘checked baggage’ and will not be available to coach passengers.

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.

Paoli, PA Platform Construction

As part of ongoing construction, effective on Monday December 31, 2018 all
Amtrak trains will board from the temporary high-level platforms until further notice. Please use caution when walking or driving around the station as this is an active construction zone.

Alton Station Service Changes Beginning December 31, 2018

The Alton, Ill., Station at 1 Golf Road will have expanded hours of ticket window operation starting Monday, December 31, 2018. This service improvement is the result of a realignment of Amtrak staffing in the area and the support of the Illinois Department of Transportation, which sponsors the Lincoln Service trains, and the City of Alton, which owns the Regional Multimodal Transportation Center.

Station Ticketing and Services

  • The Amtrak Ticketing and Passenger Services will be available daily from 7:00 a.m. to 6:45 p.m.

Waiting Room

  • Customers will now have access to the station waiting area and restrooms daily from 5:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

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

  • Train 391 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

As of Monday, December 17, 2018 Amtrak San Joaquins has adjusted 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. 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.

The first pair of new subway cars for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s (MBTA) Orange Line have been completed. The two vehicles are the first of the 404 subway cars that CRRC MA is manufacturing for the MBTA. Overall CRRC MA will produce 152 subway cars for the Orange Line and 252 for the Red Line.

"Since taking office, our administration has prioritized improving the core infrastructure of the MBTA and over the next five years, the MBTA is planning to invest $8 billion to continue these efforts" Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker in a press release. "By completely replacing the fleets of the Orange and Red lines, and significantly upgrading signals, the MBTA will improve reliability for riders."

Governor Baker, Springfield Mayor Domenic J. Sarno, and officials from the MBTA, Massachusetts Department of Transportation and CRRC MA were on hand at the manufacturing facility in Springfield, MA to see the vehicles up close.

The MBTA said the new cars will feature stainless-steel car shells that incorporate laser-welding technology for a better exterior finish; crash energy management for enhanced customer and operator safety; LCD monitors for customer information; and train-to-wayside communications via a wireless network for monitoring and detection of potential maintenance needs.

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.