Happening Now

Hotline #1,102

February 1, 2019

Transportation Shutdown Ends Government Shutdown; APTA Urges FTA To Assist Transit Agencies; Passengers Award ‘Golden Spike’ to Senators from KS, CO, NM; Host Railroads Take OTP Case To Supreme Court; NJ Politicians Call On Trump To Support Gateway; Sen. Manchin Asks Amtrak To Reconsider Private Car Policies; Virgin Trains USA Launches Initial Public Offering; RTD and Uber Partner To Provide Easier Connections

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.

Transportation Shutdown Ends Government Shutdown

by Sean Jeans-Gail, Rail Passengers Vice President of Government Affairs

The government shutdown is over thanks to airport delays. For all the political posturing and negotiations, it was the impending collapse of publicly supported transportation infrastructure that forced a compromise.

After all is said and done, there some important lessons to take away from this. To read what the Rail Passengers Association’s key takeaways are please visit our blog: http://ow.ly/onZi30nufQU.

The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) has called on the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to take immediate action to help public transit agencies reverse the negative effects caused by the government shutdown.

In a letter to FTA Acting Administrator K. Jane Williams, APTA President and Chief Executive Officer Paul Skoutelas and Chairman David Stackrow Sr. requested that the FTA:

  • Process transit agencies' pending requests for reimbursement, beginning with requests for reimbursement of operating expenses or identified hardships;
  • Approve all pending requests for operating assistance and capital project approvals;
  • Certify the State Safety Oversight programs of the four pending applications currently under FTA's review;
  • Issue Fiscal Year 2019 apportionments for FTA programs as soon as possible and before the Continuing Resolution expires on February 15; and
  • Take all other possible actions to help public transportation agencies restore public transportation operations and make critical infrastructure upgrades.

Skoutelas and Stackrow wrote that only a few agencies needed to reduce service during the shutdown, but that agencies had to delay new hires, transfer capital funds to operations, use lines of credit and reserve funds, and incurred significant ridership impacts and revenue loss,

The complete letter is available online.

Passengers Award ‘Golden Spike’ to Senators from KS, CO, NM

Bennet, Gardner, Heinrich, Moran, Roberts, Udall, will be Recognized for Role in Saving Southwest Chief

The Rail Passengers Association is awarding a bipartisan coalition of six senators its Golden Spike Award for their outstanding contribution in saving the Southwest Chief train route, and their service to the tens of millions of Americans who depend upon the national train network.

The Golden Spike will be awarded to Senators Michael Bennet (CO), Cory Gardner (CO), Martin Heinrich (NM), Jerry Moran (KS), Pat Roberts (KS), and Tom Udall (NM). All six played instrumental roles in preventing the enactment of an Amtrak proposal to break up the route and replace the train with a bus line through the three states.

A study done by Rail Passengers and the University of Southern Mississippi found that saving the train prevented $180 million in annual losses to the economies of the three states—from cancelled spending on train operations, fewer visitors, and the lost income from those visitors. Had the “bus bridge” gone through, it also would have imposed an additional temporary loss of $135 million across the Southwest Chief-served communities.

“Senators Bennet, Gardner, Heinrich, Moran, Roberts, Udall all showed tremendous insight to recognize the problem facing their constituents. They acted quickly—and in a bipartisan fashion—to ensure that this disaster was averted,” said Rail Passengers President Jim Mathews. “Unfortunately, most passengers aren’t aware of the crucial role these six senators played in saving their train, nor the hundreds of millions of dollars that will be kept in these communities as a result. I’m hoping the Golden Spike Award shines a bright light on the great work they’ve done for these communities and their constituents.”

The award will be given at the Rail Passengers Association Annual Congressional Reception on April 2nd.

Read the full report here: “Bustituted: The Socioeconomic Impacts of Replacing Southwest Chief Service Over Raton Pass

About the Golden Spike Award

In the Association's 50-year history, the Golden Spike has been awarded to giants in entertainment such as Johnny Cash and Walt Disney for supporting the train industry. Most recently, it has been awarded to elected officials in Congress, like the late Representatives Jim Oberstar (D-MN) and Louise M. Slaughter (D-NY), who have helped push forward new legislation in support of maintaining and furthering passenger rail in the U.S.

Regardless of their background, all recipients have shared a common theme: actions of great service on behalf of America’s passengers.

When asked if Amtrak would continue to run Southwest Chief service as it currently operates beyond September 30, which is when fiscal 2019 ends, Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said there were “too many moving parts” to determine that at this time.

“This is exactly why we did the study on the Southwest Chief’s economic benefits to Colorado, New Mexico and Kansas,” Rail Passengers President Jim Mathews said. “Even though Amtrak dropped its proposal for this year, we needed to show Amtrak, politicians, advocates and community members what the real effects are if a bus bridge were to be instituted by Amtrak between Albuquerque, NM and Dodge City, KS.”

The Albuquerque Journal featured the Association’s study, Bustituted: The Socioeconomic Impacts of Replacing Southwest Chief Service Over Raton Pass, which shows that the Southwest Chief contributes $180 million annually to Colorado, New Mexico and Kansas. New Mexico alone would suffer most with direct economic losses measured at $50 million, while those in Colorado would lose $49 million annually and Kansas communities would suffer a $17 million loss.

Research for the report was conducted by Rail Passengers and researchers from the University of Southern Mississippi’s Trent Lott National Center to determine how life might change for the people who live, work, visit or study in affected towns. Rail Passengers and USM also built a model to account for factors ranging from direct spending to construction, labor, local tax payments and visitation and tourist spending. The model builds on work done by USM and Transportation for America (T4A), and funded by the Southern Rail Commission (SRC), to quantify the economic benefits of rail service for Gulf Coast communities.

Registration Open for 2019's RailNation DC

Blueprint 2020: Be the Architect

Don’t Miss Out - Register Now!

Join the Rail Passengers Association in Washington, D.C. for our annual Spring advocacy conference (April 1 - 3) where we’ll discuss the challenges and solutions to building a better American rail system. With the surface transportation reauthorization kicking into gear, advocates have a unique opportunity to bring about real change. Join us in drafting the blueprint for 21st Century passenger rail in the U.S.

The event will be held at the Westin City Center in downtown Washington, D.C.

Day on the Hill + Congressional Reception

Each year Rail Passengers members meet with hundreds of Representatives and Senators to advocate for better trains and transit. The day will wrap up with a cocktail reception on Capitol Hill where will honor Senators Michael Bennet, Cory Gardner, Martin Heinrich, Jerry Moran, Pat Roberts, and Tom Udall for their role in saving the Southwest Chief.

No Schedules: Regional Rail and the Future of American Passenger Trains

Panelists will discuss the immediate and long-range visions of transforming current transit systems and creating a regional mobility worthy of our 21st century economy. Invited Panelists include Peter Brassard, Chair of the Rhode Island Association of Rail Passengers and TransitMatters member; David Alpert, Founder of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Sustainable Transportation; and T. R. Hickey, Chief Development Officer of Virginia Railway Express.

The View from the Hill: Infrastructure and the 116th Congress

We’ll hear from congressional staffers on the House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure and the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation about the transportation agenda for the 116th Congress and the plans for addressing the transportation crisis in the U.S. in the coming reauthorization.

How to Sell Trains to Your Congressman

Mike Friedberg, a partner at Holland & Knight who specializes in transportation, will give tips on how to best advocate for passenger rail and investment to your elected officials. Mr. Friedberg most recently served as staff director of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials of the U.S. House of Representatives' Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure under former-Chairman Bill Shuster.

Investments, Not Subsidies: How American Long Distance Trains Make Money

Learn exactly how and why American long distance passenger trains create economic benefits that far outweigh their costs, and how the Rail Passengers Association is quantifying the benefits of America’s National Network trains through economic impact. Panelists will include Rail Passengers President Jim Mathews and Dr. Yuanyuan Zhang, Research Professor at the University of Southern Mississippi’s Center for Logistics, Trade and Transportation.

What Can Passengers Do?: Advocacy Strategies That Really Work

There are other Rail Passengers around the country, just like YOU, that have made amazing progress for expanded passenger rail service in their communities. This panel of other Rail Passengers’ Council Members will share success stories, advocacy tips, and strategies for bringing about real change.

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.

Jim Mathews, Rail Passengers President and CEO, continued work on the draft of the final report of the National Advisory Committee on Travel and Tourism Infrastructure to DOT Secretary Elaine Chao and the U.S. Congress. The NACTTI, an advisory panel to DOT created by the FAST Act, includes CEO-level representatives from airlines, aviation, travel providers, rental car agencies, major destination marketers, the cruise industry and airports. Mathews is the only rail representative on the Committee, and was recently re-nominated to a second term.

Sean Jeans-Gail, Rail Passengers Vice President of Government Affairs, met with members of the House Committee on Appropriations to discuss funding for Amtrak and passenger rail in Fiscal Year 2020. He also worked with members of the Council on introductory meetings for incoming members of Congress and the Spring Advocacy meeting.

Abe Zumwalt, Rail Passengers Director of Policy Research, is currently applying elements from Rail Passengers’ recent “Bustituted” study concerning the Southwest Chief, to other route proposals. This time, the tone is positive, as the work is focusing on the proposed addition of another train between Chicago to Minneapolis/St.Paul to supplement Empire Builder service.

Abe also joined Sean Jeans-Gail for meetings with members of the House Committee on Appropriations, and has been preparing content for both of the Association’s RailNation conferences, taking place at the end of March, and in mid-October

Rail Passengers Northeast Field Coordinator, Joseph Aiello, spent Wednesday evening with neighbors and fellow advocates at an MBTA open house that unveiled the station designs for the long overdue Green Line Extension. The GLX is important to Joe because it was the first transit-oriented development project he was involved in when he moved to Cambridge from Chicago nearly 10 years ago - and we are talking about something that has been on the drawing board since 1990! As Joe said, this is long overdue.

Joe will be joining a small number of our members in Washington D.C. next week, taking time to introduce the Association to the freshman class in Congress. Joe is looking forward to this “Mini Day on the Hill” because it will give him time to meet the D.C. staff of his own new Congresswoman, Ayanna Pressley.

Joe, and other Rail Passengers Association staff, have also been hard at work putting together the meeting agenda for the RailNation conference taking place at the end of March.

Carolyn Cokley, Director of Customer Programs for Rail Passengers, is one step closer to launching the Travel Review. Council members will receive the final draft this week for their testing. Final tweaking is being made to ready the webpage for members and non-members to participate. February 4 is set as the launch week. Please stay tuned!

Bruce Becker, Rail Passengers Vice-President of Operations, has been coordinating communication outreach for a number of upcoming regional Rail Passengers meetings, including events to be held on Saturday, March 9 in Schenectady, NY; Harrisburg, PA and Louisville, KY. In addition, Bruce and the entire staff team continues to collaborate on the planning for the upcoming RailNation DC Advocacy Summit, Day on The Hill and Congressional Reception. Newly announced program information has been added today to the Event’s Main Information Page!

Host railroads where Amtrak operates its National Network trains are once again going to court to fight for the right to run unreliable railroads that strand passengers. The Association of American Railroads (AAR) this week asked the Supreme Court to hear its appeal of the case Rail Passengers won last summer in the Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, seeking to put the long-running argument over on-time performance and who gets to measure and enforce that standard on the October 2019 docket.

Rail Passengers is already working with its partners to file our own amicus brief with the Supreme Court later this month. The move comes as no surprise after the DC Appeals court rejected AAR’s efforts to get its case re-heard by the entire Appeals Court rather than the three-judge panel that ruled against them in July.

Read more about this case and why it’s important to passengers on our blog, at: https://www.railpassengers.org/happening-now/news/blog/blame-the-lawyers-part-2/

With the current Hudson River rail tunnel in need of major repairs and calls for a new tunnel to be built under the Gateway project, several lawmakers in New Jersey urged the Trump administration to help fund the rail project. Those who called on the administration included New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, U.S. Senator Bob Menendez, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, Rep. Donald M. Payne, Jr., Rep. Donald Norcross, Rep. Frank Pallone and others. These lawmakers, along with Amtrak Chairman Anthony Coscia, toured the current Hudson River rail tunnel, which was built in 1910 and experienced severe damage from Hurricane Sandy.

“The rehabilitation of the existing North River Tunnel and construction of the new Hudson Tunnel is crucial to the tri-state area, and in particular New Jersey,” Governor Murphy said in a press release. “It is time for the Trump administration to prioritize the needs of commuters and our nation’s economy, and commit to funding the Gateway Program.”

Under the Obama administration, a plan was prepared for the government to pay for half of the $13 billion tunnel project. New York and New Jersey had each committed to paying 25 percent of the costs, but the Trump administration has said that the previous agreement is not official and that both states should pay for a greater portion of the project.

“The Hudson River tunnel project is a vital link for the Northeast Corridor, but it is in need of major repairs and a new tunnel is needed in order to avoid a major breakdown of the region,” said Rail Passengers President Jim Mathews. “The Trump administration needs to work with New Jersey and New York to ensure the rail infrastructure is reliable and safe for commuters.”

“While the Trump Administration has thrown up every imaginable roadblock—and even some no one could have dreamed—to slow Gateway down, we have kept this project alive in the face of overwhelming opposition at the highest level. Our delegation secured $541 million in last year’s transportation appropriations bill for Gateway over the veto threat of the President, and increased funding for the New Starts program after the Administration tried to eliminate it,” said U.S. Senator Bob Menendez, ranking member of the Senate’s transit subcommittee, in a press release. “I will continue doing everything in my power, working alongside Gov. Murphy, to advance Gateway. Replacing the Portal Bridge and Hudson River rail tunnels are national priorities. The safety of the riding public and the region’s economy are at stake. Failure to see this project of national significance completed is not an option.”

February Newsletter is Now Available

Our February 2019 Newsletter is now available for important updates from Rail Passengers staff and news in the passenger rail industry.

Please visit us online to read the February Newsletter.

A new lawsuit alleges that the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has hidden information about plans for a new Hudson River tunnel and is deliberately delaying funding for the Gateway project. The lawsuit, filed by environmental organization known as the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), claims that the Trump administration has prevented the Environmental Impact Statement for the Hudson Tunnel from being published and has slowed down the review process of the project. The lawsuit also claims that the administration has used code words, such as “mushroom,” when referring to the project, and that DOT officials have not fulfilled the NRDC’s Freedom of Information Act request for related documents.

Stephen Sigmund, a spokesman for the Gateway Project Development Corp. did not comment on the lawsuit, but said that the corporation is frustrated over the lack of federal support for the project. In addition to a new tunnel to replace the current Hudson River tunnel, the project includes a new bridge to replace the Portal Bridge in New Jersey.

The NRDC also said, “This FOIA lawsuit should lead to the public knowing the truth—and this urgently needed project moving forward once and for all.”

After canceling service due to a bitterly cold winter storm, most Amtrak Midwest corridor services to and from Chicago have been restored as of today. This includes:

  • Chicago-Milwaukee (Hiawatha Service),
  • Downstate Illinois (Lincoln Service/Carl Sandburg/Illinois Zephyr),
  • Indiana (Hoosier State) and
  • Michigan (Wolverine Service/Blue Water/Pere Marquette).

However, a temporary closure of tracks owned, maintained and controlled by CN railroad near Harvey, Illinois., has delayed service restoration on the route used by Illini and Saluki trains to Carbondale, via Champaign and other stops. Amtrak plans to originate a southbound Illini (Train 393) today to initiate service restoration in this corridor.

This route is also used by the Chicago-Memphis-New Orleans trains. Amtrak is planning to operate a southbound City of New Orleans (Train 59) from Chicago today, but will not be able to operate a northbound City of New Orleans (Train 58) from New Orleans on Saturday, Feb. 3, due to equipment availability.

In a blog post, Rail Passengers President Jim Mathews explored some of the reasons why bad-weather cancellations seem to be happening more frequently. He argues that snowy conditions should not be enough to stop a railroad, because rail has always been the mode that operates when others can’t. But Arctic, sub-zero cold poses a different set of problems that might not be obvious.

Metro North Commuter Service Coming To Amtrak’s Hell Gate Line

“It’s déjà vu all over again”

By Bruce Becker, Vice-President of Operations

The recent announcement that New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Amtrak have come to an agreement which will eventually lead to some Metro North New Haven Line trains being routed on Amtrak’s Hell Gate Line to Penn Station is good news for the rapidly growing, but under-served by rail transit, East Bronx.

The future commuter trains will serve new four stations along the Hell Gate Line in the East Bronx at Hunts Point, Parkchester/Van Nest, Morris Park and Co-Op City.

Interestingly, there has been no mention in the media (at least that I have seen) that this new service will, in part at least, replicate commuter service that served this same area of the Bronx into the late 1930’s!

To read more of our insights on the new MTA/ Amtrak agreement, please visit our blog online.

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) has sent a second letter to Amtrak President and CEO Richard Anderson on the railroad’s recent policy changes towards private rail cars, specifically the New River Train from the Collis P. Huntington Railroad Historical Society. Manchin first wrote Anderson in April 2018 after Amtrak said it would no longer run private and charter trains on its network. The new restriction became a major issue for some organizations, including the society, which runs the New River Train between Huntington and Hinton, WV. The train was a major source of economic support for the area, but the Historical Society has been forced to close its doors and no longer run the train.

Manchin called on Amtrak to reconsider the policy in his newest letter: “For more than 50 years as the focal point of the Railroad Days Festival, the New River Train has been at the heart of West Virginia’s proud railroading history. From providing jobs to bringing people from across the country to visit our beautiful state, railroads are still vital to the Mountain State today. That’s why I find it so disheartening to see the impacts of these decisions. I am committed to doing whatever I can, legislatively or otherwise, to save the traditions and communities threatened by these policies. I stand ready to work with you to keep West Virginian’s proud railroad history alive.”

Manchin also said that Amtrak continues to justify its policy changes by arguing that they achieve cost savings and improve on-time performance, but it has failed to provide any statistics that corroborate its argument.

The full letter is available online.

In a special feature, The Wall Street Journal wrote: Oklahoma City is among a recent wave of cities, including Atlanta, Cincinnati, Kansas City and Tucson that have installed streetcars to give their downtowns an economic boost, a more modern look and make neighborhoods more walkable and attractive to millennials and seniors.

Unlike most of the others, though, Oklahoma City installed its streetcars without federal help, using a financing tool the city adopted more than 25 years ago to develop its downtown without taking on debt.

Since Oklahoma City launched its fleet of seven sleek streetcars in red, blue and green on a 4.8-mile loop last month, people have taken more than 100,000 rides. Some are using the streetcar to get to midday meetings, or as part of their daily commute. Others are still riding it for the novelty.

When in DC

So, you've gotten off of your train at Union Station. Now what?

Abe Zumwalt, Director of Policy Research

If you’re not planning on coming to our meeting in April, you should. You, yourself, can positively impact passenger rail service in the United States. Plus, you get the added bonus of staying in our Nation’s Capital, as we've managed to secure a good rate at the Westin right in Downtown DC.

However, on that last point, I have a recommendation. If you go see the monuments, ever, in this new Rome of ours, I have a piece of advice. Don’t walk. Don’t take a cab. No, when you get off of your train at Union Station, grab a bike!

Read more in our new blog at: www.railpassengers.org/happening-now/news/blog/when-in-dc.

All Sounder commuter trains between Lakewood and Everett, WA are now fully equipped with Positive Train Control (PTC) technology. Sound Transit reached the safety milestone this week and said that the technology will only make the agency’s trains safer for its 17,000 weekly passengers.

“Even without positive train control, commuter rail is an extraordinarily safe way to travel — far safer than getting on any interstate or major roadway — but with PTC we’re going to make a safe system even safer,” Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff said in a press release.

Sounder trains between Everett and Seattle began testing PTC, which can remotely monitor and stop or slow trains, in June of 2017. Sounder trains from Tacoma to Seattle also began testing PTC later that summer. Early testing of the system was hit hard with issues, and engineers were only able to use the system on 56 percent of trips. With the milestone reached, Rogoff said that PTC works on “more than 99 percent” of Sounder trips.


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.

The Regional Transportation District (RTD) in Denver and ride-hailing company Uber, have partnered together to provide people with easier connections. Users of Uber will soon have access to RTD transit routes and times within the company’s app.

“We know it’s important to remain an innovator, and to stay pace with the needs of our customers,” RTD CEO and General Manager Dave Genova said. “We truly are the regional mobility integrator at the heart of an inter-modal transportation ecosystem."

Uber users will be able to use a “transit” option on their phones after they choose a destination. They will be shown nearby routes and walking directions. In addition, users will be able to purchase RTD tickets through the Uber app.

Go West, Young Man

It's Time for Western MA to Have a Stake in the System

By Joe Aiello, Northeast Field Coordinator

In 2017, Massachusetts State Senator Eric Lesser brought a number of constituents to Boston from Springfield in order to promote bills that were being discussed at the time for a proposed “high speed” route between Boston, Worcester, and Springfield - the three largest cities in the Commonwealth. I, in my role then as Rail Passengers’ Council Member, joined the chorus of voices advocating for this route.

A portion of my testimony on this topic said, “If the current White House administration has its way, Amtrak long distance service could be gutted and Springfield would lose it’s only current rail connection to Boston via the Lake Shore Limited. Senator Lesser’s plan for a high speed line between the two cities could be the only link that anyone west of Worcester has to the coast. The Commonwealth must step up to fill in this gap, even if the threat from DC remains just that.”

While thankfully, for now, the threats against the National Network have subsided - work still remains to give the taxpayers in Western MA a stake in the system.

To read more please visit our blog: www.railpassengers.org/happening-now/news/blog/go-west-young-man.

A newly proposed bill could make it easier for states to fund their share of infrastructure projects. U.S. Rep. Tom Malinowski’s (D-N.J.) Transportation Funding Fairness Act of 2019 (TFFA) would allow states to attribute federal Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) and Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing (RRIF) loans to their share of jointly funded large-scale infrastructure projects. This is in contradiction to the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) current rule that loans may not be counted as part of states' share of infrastructure financing.

"The TFFA will clear one of the obstacles the administration has placed in the path of building Gateway and other similar projects around the country," Malinowski said in a press release. "Funding for infrastructure is one issue on which I think the Congress can make progress this year, and this bill can be an important part of that effort."

Malinowski pointed to the Gateway project for New Jersey and New York as an example of two states that would benefit from the new legislation.

Winners of #ViewsOnATrain Photo Contest

We have received dozens of amazing and unique pictures for our #ViewsOnATrain photo contest. Pictures ranged from views of the country’s beautiful landscape - mountains, rivers, lakes, canyons and more - to the people we see and meet on trains to views of major metropolitan skylines.

Winners of the latest round of the photo contest include:

  • Jim Fellers was runner up prize in the photo contest with an image of Lake Champlain from a southbound Adirondack train;
  • Wayne Senville, who took a photo of the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge over the Hudson River from a southbound Empire Corridor train;
  • Grant Haynes shared a pic of Montana, which he took from an Empire Builder train; and
  • Bill Wrenn took a photo of Barstow, California, from the Southwest Chief.

Winning photos can be viewed online at our Instagram page: www.instagram.com/railpassengers.

We are also still looking for more submissions. 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!

When submitting your photos on social media, be sure to use the hashtag #ViewsOnATrain and tag @RailPassengers.

The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority’s (SEPTA) board has approved awarding HNTB with a preliminary design contract as part of the agency’s effort to connect the region’s three largest job centers and provide easier trips for commuters. The initial $7.2 million contract is for the extension of Norristown High Speed Line (NHSL) by 4.4 miles to King of Prussia and it will include five stations.

"SEPTA has to look at ways to increase capacity and expand the system to meet current demand and support future growth," SEPTA Board Chairman Pasquale T. Deon Sr. said in a press release. "The King of Prussia Rail project represents the type of investment that can transform mobility - figuratively and literally forming the backbone of an already thriving community."

The current contract is for Phase I of the project, and SEPTA said it will “progress the engineering and architectural design from the conceptual Locally Preferred Alternative (LPA), completing 15 percent of the total design (Phase I).

A second phase is also under consideration and would continue advancing engineering to 30 percent complete. Phase II could be worth up to $27 million, based on available funding.

The RailPassengers Spring Advocacy Summit in Washington, DC, is for ALL Rail Passengers...including YOU!

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 Late Board Meeting open to all attendees
  • Monday, April 1 - Advocacy Summit Speakers, Presentations & Day on The Hill Prep
    • Confirmed programming includes sessions on:
      • ‘What Can Passengers Do?: Advocacy Strategies That Really Work’
      • ‘How to Sell Trains to Your Congressman’
      • ‘The View from the Hill: Infrastructure and the 116th Congress’
      • No Schedules: Regional Rail and the Future of American Passenger Trains’
      • ‘Investments, Not Subsidies: How American Long Distance Trains Make Money’
  • Just Announced! On Monday Evening noted Rail Tour Operator Carl Fowler will present an engaging optional travel program entitled ‘Switzerland, Scenic Railway Paradise’.
  • 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 Noon)

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 MAY Still Be Available! But, room supply is now very limited! Don’t miss out; make your reservation today!

Event Registration is NOW OPEN! Please visit the Event Page for complete information!

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!

Virgin Trains USA, formerly known as Brightline, plans to raise more than $600 million through selling stock options to help fund the private rail line. Virgin Trains will offer investors more than 32.5 million shares of stock at $17 to $19 per share once the company begins trading on NASDAQ later this month.

Brightline currently operates service between Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. Plans to expand to Orlando will cost an estimated $1.9 billion. The company has also proposed a $1.7 billion expansion from Orlando to Tampa that would include a station near Orlando’s theme parks.

Executives said that the money raised through the initial public offering will pay for or reimburse costs associated with the existing $2 billion Miami to West Palm Beach route. In a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the company said that it also expects to raise additional debt and equity capital to pay for future development activities that include the expansion to Tampa, with service starting in 2021 with an estimated average fare of $35 per passenger.

Dan McNichol, former chief spokesperson for the Big Dig in Massachusetts, said that Boston has been divided by its own rail system for far too long, and it’s time to press on with the North-South Rail Link. McNichol and former Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis have pressed current Governor Charlie Baker to move forward with connecting Boston’s North and South stations, but to no avail, “despite the fact that a multitude of political leaders in the commonwealth — including both U.S. senators, 30-plus mayors and Massachusetts Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo — and 10 U.S. House representatives in New England believe the NSRL is New England’s single most important transportation project.”

In a special opinion piece to WBUR radio, McNichol said that there are three main reasons why Baker should support the NSRL. These include equity, economic and environmental and focusing on these three areas are critical to uniting Boston with the NSRL.

Passenger Rail Service Notices

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

Track Work Affects Carl Sandburg Trains 381 and 382

Due to track work being performed by BNSF on January 29, Carl Sandburg service will be affected as outlined below:

  • Train 381, which normally operates between Chicago and Quincy, will terminate at Galesburg. Alternate transportation will be provided for all missed stops at Macomb and Quincy via Bus 3381.
  • Train 382, which normally operates between Quincy and Chicago, will originate at Galesburg. Alternate transportation will be provided for all missed stops at Quincy and Macomb via Bus 3382.
  • Eastbound Bus 3382 will depart Quincy at 4:30 pm and operate 60 minutes earlier than the train schedule.

Pacific Surfliner Weekend Service Changes

Through February 10, 2019 track work being performed by North County Transit District will affect Pacific Surfliner service:

Friday, February 8

  • Train 590 will be cancelled. Passengers can make reservations aboard other Amtrak trains.
  • Bus service will be provided from Los Angeles to San Diego, making stops at Oceanside, Solana Beach, Old Town San Diego and San Diego Downtown. No alternate transportation will be provided to Fullerton, Anaheim, Santa Ana, Irvine and San Juan Capistrano.

Saturday and Sunday, February 9 - 10

  • Trains 562, 583, 1565, 1566, 1569, 1572, 1573 and 1590 will be cancelled. Passengers can make reservations aboard other Amtrak trains.
  • Southbound Train 782 will terminate at Los Angeles. No alternate transportation will be provided between Los Angeles and San Diego. Passengers can make reservations aboard other Pacific Surfliner trains.
  • Southbound Train 796 will terminate at Los Angeles and bus service will be provided for all missed stops.
  • Southbound Trains 580, 768, 774, 792, 1564 and 1584 will operate normally to Irvine, where bus service will be provided from Irvine to San Diego. Express buses will run from Irvine to San Juan Capistrano, Oceanside, Solana Beach, Old Town San Diego and downtown San Diego only.
  • Northbound Trains 591, 595, 763, 777, 785, 1579, 1761 and 1767 will originate in Irvine. Bus service will be provided from San Diego to Irvine to connect with the trains listed above, with the exception of Train 1761. Buses will depart downtown San Diego, Solana Beach, Oceanside and San Juan Capistrano earlier than the train schedule to allow time to connect with trains in Irvine.
    • Buses will not pick up at Old Town San Diego. Passengers can take the trolley to downtown San Diego to board buses to Irvine.
    • Bus service will not be provided to connect with Train 1761.
    • Metrolink will honor Amtrak tickets between Irvine and Los Angeles.

Track Work Affects Service for Carolinian and Palmetto Trains

Through March 7, 2019, CSX Transportation will perform track work on the railroad, causing approximately 30-minute delays and schedule changes along the route.

Monday - Thursday, January 21 - 24 and February 4 - 7

  • Palmetto Service: Trains 89 and 90 will operate between New York and Washington, DC, only. Trains are cancelled between Washington, DC and Savannah with no alternate transportation provided.

Other Delays

Monday through Thursday between January 15 and March 7, Trains 52, 52, 89, 90, 97 and 98 can expect approximately 30 minutes of delays between Rocky Mount and Fayetteville.

Track Work Affects Sunset Limited and Texas Eagle Trains

Due to track work being performed by Union Pacific Railroad between San Antonio and El Paso through March 9, service for Sunset Limited and Texas Eagle Trains 1, 2, 421 and 422 will be adjusted as outlined below:

Train 1/421

  • Normal schedule from New Orleans to San Antonio and Chicago to San Antonio
  • Depart San Antonio at 2:15 am, 30 minutes earlier than scheduled
  • Depart Del Rio at 7:19 am, 90 minutes later than scheduled
  • Depart El Paso at 4:47 pm, 3 hours later than scheduled
  • Arrive in Los Angeles at 8:40 am, 3 hours and 5 minutes later than scheduled

Train 2/422

  • Depart Los Angeles at 7:26 pm, 2 hours and 34 minutes earlier than scheduled
  • Departs El Paso at 12:51 pm, 2 hours and 44 minutes earlier than scheduled
  • Departs San Antonio at 6:25 am, then runs normal schedule from San Antonio to New Orleans and San Antonio to Chicago

Trains Cancelled January 17 through February 17

  • Train 1 departing New Orleans January 21 and 28, February 4 and 11.
  • Train 421 departing Chicago January 20 and 27, February 3, 10 and 17.
  • Train 2/422 departing Los Angeles January 20 and 27, February 3, 10 and 17.
  • No alternate transportation will be provided on these dates.

Trains Canceled February 17 through March 9

  • Train 1 departing New Orleans February 18, 25 and March 4.
  • Train 421 departing Chicago February 24 and March 3.
  • Train 2/422 departing Los Angeles February 24 and March 3.
  • No alternate transportation will be provided on these dates.

New York City subway passengers can look forward to riding in new passenger cars after Bombardier has corrected several performance issues and resumed deliveries of R179 subway cars. Last week, New York City Transit (NYCT) President Andy Byford said that the agency was experiencing far too many issues with the new Bombardier train cars, and until the problems were remedied, NYCT would no longer accept them.

“We have delivered over 162 cars to date; some are in testing, some are in the process of being accepted by the customer, and others are available for service,” Bombardier spokesman Eric Prud’Homme said.

In total NYCT has ordered 300 of the new subway cars.

To capitalize on nationwide news coverage that passenger rail lines were purposely set on fire during the winter storm in Chicago, Metra used Twitter to highlight the transit agency’s need for reliable funding to support passenger rail service.

Metra said that it unveiled a $5B plan for capital improvements, but Illinois hasn't passed a capital funding bill in a decade. Nearly half of the agency’s assets are in marginal or worn condition, and its railcars and locomotives are some of the oldest in the nation.

The agency said that it, along with the Regional Transportation Authority, Chicago Transit Authority, and Pace Suburban Bus “identified a strategic plan to provide reliable, competitive transit service for Chicago and NW IL.”

Rail Passengers Association Board Director Elections

Nominations are now being sought from qualified Rail Passengers Association members interested in being elected to one of two available Board Director positions at the upcoming Council of Representatives Annual Business Meeting being held on Wednesday, April 3, 2019.

These Board Director positions are for three-year terms, ending in April 2022.

For more information on how you could make a difference as a Rail Passengers Association Board Director, please review the position’s required qualifications, description, duties and responsibilities.

If you are interested in seeking a Board Director position, you must complete and submit a Candidate Information Statement by the March 31, 2019 deadline. Questions may be directed to either Board Chair Peter LeCody at [email protected] or Vice-President of Operations Bruce Becker at [email protected].

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); Texas (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.