Happening Now

Hotline #1,103

February 8, 2019

HSR Included in “Green New Deal”; Give Feedback on Amtrak in New Rail Passenger Travel Review; Registration Open for RailNation; NTSB Calls On Rail Industry For PTC Installation; Amtrak Board Advances Proposals With MTA; Texas Central Advances Plans To Keep Environment Healthy; Virgin Trains One of Five To Submit Plans To Fort Pierce

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.

The House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure kicked off the surface transportation process this week with a hearing focused on how a deficit in infrastructure investment will stunt U.S. economic growth.

“I’m going to focus on the costs of inaction. It has incredibly serious consequences that far, far exceed the costs, were we to belly up, and suck it up a little bit, put up the money that we need and put into place the policies we need, to bring things up to a state of good repair and begin to build out a 21st Century infrastructure,” said Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-OR).

Amtrak’s Richard Anderson spoke before the hearing, emphasizing the economic benefits that passenger train service brings to the communities it serves. He also talked about the importance of the Hudson River tunnels project.

"The benefits of completing this project are immense--it will preserve existing NEC service, improve reliability, add resiliency and system redundancy, and offer substantial environmental benefits. Not tackling this project invites disaster," Anderson said, according to his written testimony. "A closure of just one tube of the North River Tunnel could reduce capacity by as much as 75 percent and force tens of thousands of commuters and travelers onto already congested bridges, tunnels, and highways in both New York City and New Jersey."

Unfortunately, in talking about the the demand that “is clearly there for additional short corridor service throughout the U.S, [including] both additional frequencies for existing routes and establishing new routes between city pairs”--and there clearly IS such demand--Anderson displayed a fundamental misunderstanding of the role long-distance routes play in connecting rural Americans to urban centers and allowing for network fluidity. Rail Passengers is already working with members of Congress to ensure that Congress insists on equal access to the National Network for rural and small town passengers.

The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee will join the fray next Wednesday with its own infrastructure hearing: “America’s Infrastructure Needs: Keeping Pace with a Growing Economy.”

The good news for transit advocates is that there is a broad, growing consensus that U.S. transportation infrastructure requires a massive investment blitz, and that passenger rail is part of the picture. There is, however, no clear understanding on how to pay for this additional investment. Rail Passengers has outlined a number of sensible proposals for new revenue, and we’ll be working with members of Congress to ensure that passenger rail receives a fair share of any boost in funding. You can read more at www.RailPassengers.org/2020.

Recently-elected members of the Democrats’ progressive wing offered their own, ambitious infrastructure plan as part of a “Green New Deal” (GND) which includes a call to construct a national network of high-speed rail lines in the U.S. to make air travel unnecessary, thus reducing harmful emissions from airplanes.

This high-speed rail provision resembles policy proposals that your Association has long advocated--not only for its environmental benefits, but for mobility, efficiency and economic development. And, in this regard, Rail Passengers is a strong supporter of the transportation elements of the GDN. Adding a robust, comprehensive high-speed rail network to the nation’s transportation system would indeed help reduce dependence on air travel and could make it “unnecessary”—which is not to say “non-existent”--in many corridors. We’ve already seen this take place along much of the Northeast Corridor and around the Chicago Hub.

Countries like Japan and Switzerland have clearly established the many benefits of HSR. And while China develops long-term transportation plans, the U.S. is constantly working off of 2- and 5-year stop-gap funding solutions that never address the long-term transportation needs of the country.

The framework for the deal was introduced by freshman-phenom Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, (D-NY) and longtime infrastructure stalwart Senator Ed Markey (D-MA).

Markey and Ocasio-Cortez said they are planning to begin work on legislation for the GND, which will outline the specific projects involved, working with members of Congress to incorporate existing legislation into a comprehensive plan.

Your Rail Passengers Association staff is currently working to get a meeting scheduled with Ocasio-Cortez's office to discuss opportunities for development of passenger rail--conventional, as well as high-speed--to ensure that it is included in the legislation for the Green New Deal.

The Travel Review is Finally Here!

Your Feedback is Important to Improving Amtrak

By Carolyn Cokley, Director of Customer Programs

I am pleased to announce that the Rail Passenger Travel Review is now up and live on our website. For those who have taken recent Amtrak trips and want to provide their feedback, it can be accessed directly at RailPassengers.org/TravelReview.

The Rail Passengers Association will collect passenger feedback from all across the National Network, and results will be summarized, analyzed and reported out to Amtrak--as well as other interested rail passenger providers and transportation advocates.

In addition to launching the Travel Review, we are asking you to help us promote it with other rail passengers as you travel. As you encounter passengers who want to make their positive and negative opinions known, just direct them to www.railpassengers.org/Travel Review. All participants will remain anonymous.

Regular reminders to contribute will be posted in our weekly Hotline, my weekly blog, monthly Passengers Voice Newsletter and will be featured prominently via our social media channels.

Just a few things to remember:

  • The Travel Review takes, on average, less than 10 minutes to complete.
  • Please do not start a Travel Review unless you have already completed a trip. It is important that you be able to report back on all completed aspects of the travel experience.
  • If you travel more than one route to reach your final destination, please fill out a separate Travel Review for each segment of your trip.
  • The Travel Review must be completed in one sitting.

Much care and time has been taken to generate this comprehensive Travel Review, but we do realize that there is room to grow. If you encounter something that needs to be adjusted due to a personal experience, please send me a constructive email to [email protected].

Special thanks to the Passenger Experience Committee for all of the support you have provided in bringing this effort to fruition. Thank you to Board and Council members for your invaluable feedback.

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.

Don’t Miss Out - Register Now!

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, President and CEO, spent much of the week putting the finishing touches on his preparation for meetings next week with Amtrak on new rolling stock. Jim will share our views on passenger amenities, ranging from more and better food choices to bike racks, improved coach seating, WiFi, more support for electronics, better lighting and more. Jim also continued work on the final report of the National Advisory Committee on Travel and Tourism Infrastructure (NACTTI) to DOT Secretary Elaine Chao, on an invited op-ed for the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) on high-speed rail, and on a presentation slated for next month to a combined freight-passenger rail conference in Washington, DC.

Sean Jeans-Gail, Rail Passengers Vice President of Government Affairs, met with new members of Congress to introduce them to rail and transit issues and the work of our Association. Sean also attended the first hearing on the replacement for the FAST Act held by the House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure.

It was “Mini Day on the Hill” week for Rail Passengers Northeast Field Coordinator, Joseph Aiello, in D.C. After spending Monday catching up with fellow staff in the office, Joe was on the Hill all day Tuesday introducing the Association to some of the freshman members of Congress - including the office of his own first-term Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley. While not every office had their dedicated transportation staffer in place, everyone Joe spoke with during his two days on the Hill welcomed the meetings and truly wanted to learn more about who we are and what we do.

This trip has Joe even more energized for RailNation (now less than two months away), noting that we really are hitting the ground running this year at the perfect time. Joe hopes our membership feels the same way and he would love to see us top the 375 meetings that took place at last year’s “Day on the Hill.”

Can we hit 400?

After a quick getaway out west for his wife’s birthday this weekend, Joe will be back to the grind next week doing what we all do best.

The Rail Passengers Association Travel Review is here!! Carolyn Cokley, Director of Customer Programs, worked to complete and post the new the Rail Passenger Travel Review. The Travel Review will allow Rail Passengers to collect important rider feedback from all across the National Network.

Carolyn is asking that all members promote the Travel Review to both members and especially non-members who want to make their positive and negative Amtrak travel experiences known. Just direct them to www.railpassengers.org/TravelReview.

A vast majority of Americans want the Trump administration and Democratic leadership to pass a bipartisan infrastructure bill that will include support for public transit, among other projects, this year. A poll that was prepared by Rasmussen Reports for American Public Transportation Association (APTA) and the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA), found that 88 percent of likely Republican and Democratic voters and 84 percent of those not aligned with either party responded that they want infrastructure legislation. In addition, 96 percent of respondents said that improved roads, bridges, public transit, water systems and the power grid is either "very important" or "somewhat important."

“This poll shows that people overwhelmingly support Democrats and Republicans coming together to invest in the nation’s infrastructure,” APTA President & CEO Paul P. Skoutelas said in a press release. “Americans want to see a bipartisan bill with strong investments in public transit, and other crucial infrastructure because they know it will have wide-ranging benefits for workers, businesses, the economy, and their quality of life.”

The poll also showed that only 43 percent of likely voters approve the use of federal dollars to build “a wall or physical barrier along parts of our southern border to make it harder for people to enter our country illegally.”

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.

One year after an Amtrak train collided with a parked freight train and killed two people, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) called out the rail industry for regularly delaying the installation of technology that could have prevented that accident and others like it. Positive Train Control (PTC) can monitor, slow or even stop trains that are speeding and at risk of an accident, but the technology has been slow to be fully implemented on passenger and freight rail lines nationwide.

Congress first mandated in 2008 that PTC be installed on rail lines by 2015, but the NTSB has been calling on the rail industry to install the technology for 50 years. The deadline was later extended to the end of 2018, while some railroads applied for a two-year extension if they were unable to meet the mandate. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) at the end of December, reported that only four of 41 rail lines have fully implemented PTC.

"PTC's been mandated by Congress, but there's been delay after delay in fully implementing this life-saving technology,” NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt said at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on February 4. “Each day we go without PTC we're at risk for another PTC-preventable accident."

Sumwalt and other NTSB representatives spoke at the Press Club as part of the agency’s unveiling of its transportation “Most Wanted List” for 2019 and 2020, which included PTC installation.

The NTSB’s Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements for the next two years:

  • Eliminate Distractions
  • End Alcohol and Other Drug Impairment
  • Ensure the Safe Shipment of Hazardous Materials
  • Fully Implement Positive Train Control
  • Implement a Comprehensive Strategy to Reduce Speeding-Related Crashes
  • Improve the Safety of Part 135 Aircraft Flight Operations
  • Increase Implementation of Collision Avoidance Systems in All New Highway Vehicles
  • Reduce Fatigue-Related Accidents
  • Require Medical Fitness – Screen for and Treat Obstructive Sleep Apnea
  • Strengthen Occupant Protection

“The 2019 – 2020 Most Wanted List advocates for 46 specific safety recommendations that can and should be implemented during these next two years,” Sumwalt said in a press release. “It also features broad, longstanding safety issues that still threaten the traveling public.”

Overall there are 267 open safety recommendations associated with the NTSB’s Most Wanted List, and the NTSB recommends that 46 of those be implemented over the next two years. The majority of these recommendations, roughly two-thirds of the 267, seek critical safety improvements by means other than regulation. Of the 46 safety recommendations the NTSB wants implemented in the next two years, 20 seek regulatory action to improve transportation safety.

A second Bay Area crossing as a tube or bridge is under consideration by Amtrak and Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART). The second rail crossing would be built to provide passengers a direct connection on the Capitol Corridor between Sacramento and San Francisco. This is not the first time a second crossing has been looked at, as it’s been in consideration for decades. However, the addition of a second regional rail line has been giving the idea new looks from officials.

BART previously sent out a request for a $50 million, 10-year contract for a company to prepare a feasibility study the second crossing. BART will be receiving the bids this week.

The Room(s) Where It Happened

Rail Passengers made 375 person-to-person meetings last year during our Day on the Hill. This year, help us get to 400!

By Joe Aiello, Northeast Field Coordinator

“No one really knows how the

Parties get to yesssss

The pieces that are sacrificed in

Ev’ry game of chesssss

We just assume that it happens

But no one else is in

The room where it happens.”

I have mentioned in a previous blog that I’m a “union brat” organizer by heart, which is why I have a knack for town halls and various outreach events. There is another side of me that really gets a kick out of what I do for a living: I am the grandson of the late Illinois State Senator Norbert Anton Kosinski. It’s because of that section of my DNA that I understand just how important government and policy can be - and just how frustrating it all can be at times (MOST of the time really).

That little aside brings me to this week...

To read more of Joe’s blog, please visit us online at: www.railpassengers.org/happening-now/news/blog/the-room-s-where-it-happened.

High-speed rail in Texas took a major step forward with Texas Central’s effort to ensure that development of the line supports the local environment. The company selected Resource Environmental Solutions (RES) to provide ecological mitigation services on the HSR project. RES, the largest ecosystem restoration provider in the U.S., will oversee plans to comply with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' requirements that the project restore, enhance and preserve wetlands, streams and environmentally sensitive habitats along the train's route between Houston and Dallas.

Specifically, RES will select mitigation sites and designs that collectively improve the ecological functions of broad areas, including some near the Trinity River, Navasota River, Spring Creek and Cypress Creek. Texas Central also wants it to be a proactive process with RES working with community leaders to determine opportunities for conservation.

“The elite team of ecologists at RES will help safeguard local ecosystems, and this is one more example of our approach to protect the land and wildlife in a delicate manner,” Texas Central’s project delivery director said. “As Texans, RES understands the importance that Texans place on preserving the natural beauty of our great state, and we are confident that this systematic approach to restoring and preserving sensitive ecosystems will result in widespread improvements across the region and beyond.”

Over the past decade, RES has restored more than 58,000 acres of wetlands, enhanced more than 290 miles of streams and planted more than 14 million restorative trees, according to Texas Central.

Texas Rail Advocates is closely tracking several new bills that have been filed this session and have the potential to halt development of high-speed rail between Dallas and Houston. The number of bills this session may seem like a carbon-copy of the 2017 session when more than 20 bills were filed in the Texas House and Senate to stop Texas Central Railway from proceeding on plans.

The new bills come from a group of legislators with rural districts between Dallas and Houston. Those lawmakers who have filed bills to kill high speed rail include:

  • Senator Charles Schwertner (R) Georgetown
  • Senator Brian Birdwell (R) Granbury
  • Senator Brandon Creighton (R) Conroe
  • Representative Trent Ashby (R) Lufkin
  • Representative John Wray (R) Waxahachie
  • Representative Cecil Bell (R) Magnolia
  • Representative Cody Harris (R) Palestine

One specific bill, filed by Cody Harris who is serving his first term in the Texas House after being elected with a $1 million dollar plus war chest in the rural district, would create a joint committee of House and Senate members to look at the future development of high-speed rail and kill the project. Harris said in a press release that “the purpose of this bill is to put up more roadblocks on the HSR by evaluating the feasibility of creating a statewide high-speed rail initiative through a public-private partnership.” House Bill 1370 states that a committee would meet between sessions to address the feasibility of creating a statewide high-speed rail initiative through a public-private partnership.

“Representative Harris is misinformed on the premise of wasting billions of taxpayer dollars since Texas Central is not accepting any funding from either state or federal agencies to build their high-speed line,” Texas Rail Advocates President and Rail Passengers Chairman Peter LeCody said. “If this was a public project instead of a private-investor led initiative it would probably cost three times the amount to build and take years longer. Mr. Harris should also realize that Texas Central would be a taxpayer to help fund local schools. Letting private enterprise lead the way in Texas with this massive job-creating project to connect the two mega-powerhouse regions is the logical step. The state demographer says that over 80% of Texans now live on or east of the I-35 corridor. This rail project will help unite those regions and allow for more fluid movement in the future.”

Texas Rail Advocates and Rail Passengers will continue to monitor the legislation. For a complete list of the anti-intercity passenger rail bills and comments on the filings from Texas Rail Advocates can be found HERE.

Why Do Myths Persist?

Asking If A Route Is Profitable Misses The Point

Jim Mathews, Rail Passengers President and CEO

Pepsi and Coke. Night and day. Good and Evil. All of baseball and the Yankees. Humans love binary choices. Science has proved time and again that our brains start subconsciously eliminating other considerations until we get to a simple yes or no option. And yet, science has also proved that this often leads us to make bad choices.

That’s where we are in the false “debate” that continues over passenger rail in this country. Whether we're talking about Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor (NEC) versus the National Network of long-distance trains, or passenger trains versus airliners, we're presented with a false choice, and it leads to bad policy. That's because the argument animating this idea never seems to go away: taxpayers should support the “profitable” travel modes and cut the “failing” travel modes.

That argument is an example of an unnecessary binary.

For more of Jim’s blog, please visit us online: www.railpassengers.org/happening-now/news/blog/why-do-myths-persist.

Virgin Trains USA, formerly Brightline, is one of five companies that submitted plans to develop a mixed-use property and station at the Fort Pierce waterfront in Florida. The city submitted a request for qualifications after Virgin Trains asked officials in Fort Pierce, Sebastian, Stuart and Vero Beach to submit proposals that highlighted potential locations for development. Of the four cities, only Fort Pierce and Stuart showed interest in the company’s request. In response to Fort Pierce’s request, companies were to provide detailed qualifications and each company’s submission would be shared on the city’s website today.

The developers who submitted qualifications for the vacant H.D. King location include:

  • Virgin Trains
  • Audubon Development, of West Palm Beach
  • BH3 Management, of Aventura
  • Jeanne Arias, of Fort Pierce
  • Marina View Partners Holding, LLC, also of Fort Pierce

Fort Pierce has said the city is interested in the location becoming home to a new passenger rail station, but also a hotel, a residential component, retail and eateries and a parking garage.

Indian River County officials have argued in a lawsuit that the county should not be required to pay for rail crossing improvements for Virgin Trains, but the county has already spent more than $3 million in opposition and now plans to spend $400,000 more. The County Commission approved that the money be spent on an appeal to a federal ruling that threw out the county's attempt to block Virgin Trains' sale of tax-free bonds to pay for the railroad's extension from West Palm Beach to Orlando. The county made the argument about paying for the crossings in a lawsuit filed last month.

“When Indian River officials talk about costs, they should truly look at what they could be doing to save money, instead of spending millions in opposition to Virgin Trains,” said Rail Passengers President Jim Mathews. “Virgin Trains is making strategic efforts to build and expand its services throughout Florida and elsewhere, and counties should be looking at ways to support and benefit from service.”

Virgin Trains began service in 2018 between West Palm Beach and Miami, and the company is currently planning of the extension. It plans to begin passenger service to Orlando International Airport in 2021.


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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.

Amtrak is working to catalogue and pinpoint all the costs it incurs to handle private varnish by the end of March, paving the way for revised pricing and policies around special movements to be introduced by October.

The Amtrak assessment underway now responds to one of several recommendations Amtrak’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) made this week to Amtrak leadership around special moves, charters and private varnish. OIG’s analysis found that the railroad -- which it contends took in about $3.7 million in private-car-related revenue in Fiscal 2018 -- has a poor grip on costs and revenues stemming from private cars, has no standard operating procedures and only limited parking and safety guidelines.

Meanwhile, the restrictions Amtrak has already placed on private-car owners have pushed many of them to the brink.

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) repeatedly chided 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.

Other private-varnish owners face similar threats to their businesses.

Following the OIG’s report, Amtrak plans to factor realistic costs into pricing decisions, and is pledging to ensure that the prices charged “exceed” the costs for the services delivered.

By the end of June, Amtrak will have established a full profit-and-loss statement for its special movement/private car business, set and published standard operating procedures for private cars, and put in place guidelines and parking permits for private varnish.

The American Association of Private Rail Car Owners issued the following statement in response to the Amtrak IG report:

The Amtrak IG report indicates that management does not know what its costs are. This means that Amtrak could just as easily be overpricing as underpricing. The American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners commissioned a six-month study by a prominent transportation economics consultant. The results of that study indicates that Amtrak's tariff -- even before the May 2018 and January 2019 rate increases -- more than covers Amtrak's costs and provides Amtrak a robust profit margin on a fully allocated cost basis.

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) in D.C. received five recommendations on how to improve its capital planning and how to better track its preventive maintenance goals. The suggestions were made by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), which reviewed WMATA’s capital funds spending and maintenance program between fiscal years 2011 and 2017 after several safety issues occurred and concerns were raised about replacing assets were raised by Senator Mark Warner (D-VA), Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA), and U.S. Reps. Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD).

The results of the review were released in a new report at the end of last month, and the GAO recommends WMATA:

  • Establish documented policies and procedures for the new capital planning process that include methodologies for ranking and selecting capital projects for funding in the FY2020 capital budget and for future planning cycles;
  • Create performance measures to be used for assessing capital investments and the capital planning process to determine if they've achieved their planned goals and objectives;
  • Develop a plan for obtaining complete information regarding asset inventory and physical condition assessments, including assets related to track and structures;
  • Conduct a comprehensive risk assessment of the track preventive maintenance program that includes both a quantitative and qualitative assessment of relevant program risks; and
  • Prepare a formal program management plan for the track preventive maintenance program that aligns with the strategic plan, addresses how the program is linked to overall strategic goals and objectives, and includes program milestones and decision points.

Regional Transportation District’s (RTD) G Line is closer than ever to operating passenger service with the completion of two major milestones. The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) approved revenue service demonstration of the G Line, and added the G Line to an existing long-term waiver for the University of Colorado A Line and B Line.

The RTD said that these approvals “represent substantial landmarks in the approval process, which includes several additional steps at both the federal and state levels.” The revenue service demonstration is critical for the line to be certified for its PTC system. It allows the FRA to determine if trains are operating in a test environment or if they are operating in a live, public service environment.

All Weather Transportation?

Snow rarely stops trains, but funding problems always do.

By Abe Zumwalt, Rail Passengers Director of Policy Research

Airport’s Closed and the highway’s packed,

But Amtrak’s running, and that’s a fact

- “Snowstorm Boogie” , Garrison Keillor & Pat Donohue

...at least, until recently, and it represents a missed opportunity. Trains are the closest thing we have to all-weather ground transportation, yet they are not recognized in United States transportation policy for it, nor are they funded appropriately because of it. This needs to change.

Last April, Rail Passengers’ Member Brian Nelson found himself driving through heavy snow from Minneapolis to make his connecting train in Chicago, to get to DC in time for the annual Rail Passengers' spring meeting.His normal ride, Amtrak’s Empire Builder had been cancelled because of the weather. Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad, which owns the majority of the Empire Builder’s route, was operating through the seven-to-twelve-inch snowstorm normally; it was otherwise a routine occurrence for railroading along the nation’s northern tier. It was the kind of weather that the Empire Builder has been slicing through for decades, some of the very conditions that make the sole passenger train in Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, and Idaho an attractive choice.

It was a needless erosion of the train's value statement.

For more on this issue, please visit us online.

A new bill in New Jersey would allow the bi-state agency, the Gateway Development Corp., to not only oversee the development of a new Hudson River Tunnel, but also apply for federal funding. The legislation, which advanced with unanimous approval through the New Jersey Senate committee, was created in response to the Trump administration’s unwillingness to provide federal support for the Gateway program, which includes building a new tunnel for passenger trains between New York and New Jersey. A new tunnel would allow Amtrak to make repairs to the existing tunnel, which is more than 100 years old and has suffered severe erosion due to saltwater during Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

Although President Trump’s presidential campaign was filled with promises for boosting the country’s transportation infrastructure, he previously said that both New York and New Jersey need to fund greater portions of the project’s costs, which is estimated at $13 billion. As a result, the administration has delayed providing federal support.

The president may be softening his tone however. In an interview with media, Trump said that he is open-minded about the Gateway program and that the administration has money set aside for the tunnel.

Trump said, "We have the money set aside but … we haven’t decided to use it yet. I'm speaking to the governor [Andrew M. Cuomo]. I'm speaking with various senators, and we'll see what happens."

Trump’s comments obviously do not commit any federal dollars to the project, but they at least provide a sense that the critical project is no longer being actively opposed by the administration.

Following last week’s news that Amtrak and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) reached an agreement to expand passenger rail service in the region, Amtrak’s board moved to advance a proposal for MTA Metro-North Railroad service to and from New York Penn Station, and a second proposal to study Amtrak service to and from Long Island, NY.

Under the agreement for Metro-North, MTA and Amtrak will continue their joint commitment to the Penn Station Access project, which includes the design and construction of additional rail infrastructure on the Hell Gate Line. Amtrak said that these “improvements are essential in enabling Metro-North service between New York Penn Station, the Bronx and Southwestern Connecticut.” It will also allow for four new stations in the Bronx.

Amtrak’s board also approved the railroad and the MTA to begin planning for direct Amtrak service between Long Island and New York Penn Station. The access would allow for through and connecting service from Long Island to other Amtrak destinations in the region, Northeast Corridor and the nation.

In a blog post from last week, Bruce Becker, Rail Passengers Vice-President of Operations, wrote that “the new service is several years off at best and can only be implemented after the Long Island Rail Road’s (long delayed) East Side Access line opens into Grand Central (now forecasted to occur in late 2022?), thus freeing up track and platform space at Penn Station. This tentative timeline gives the MTA plenty of time to advance the needed improvements on the Hell Gate Line and for the construction of the four new stations.

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.

We are sharing many of these great photos on our Instagram page (www.instagram.com/railpassengers). They include pictures from:

  • James Rogers who took a photo of Green River, Utah from the Amtrak California Zephyr;
  • Paul Russo who submitted a photo of Mount Shasta in California at sunrise from the Amtrak Coast Starlight Train.
  • Jim Fellers was runner up 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.

We are also still looking for more submissions. Photos can be submitted via Instagram, Facebook or Twitter depicting your experience as “The Rail Passenger” and your views from a train. 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.

During a collaboration session the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) provided the next steps that railroads must meet by the end of 2020 in order to have PTC fully implemented. The session included U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, FRA safety experts, and all 41 railroads - passenger and freight - that have been mandated by Congress to install the life-saving technology. The FRA also outlined how it approves and certifies a railroad’s PTC system, and provided railroads with lessons learned based on railroads that are either testing PTC systems or already have it up and running.

"The sooner you get there, the sooner our country will be able to realize all of the safety benefits of PTC," Chao said as she stressed the importance of installing PTC by the end of 2020. "I encourage you to head into these next two years with that goal — to obtain certification and achieve interoperability with your tenant railroads as soon as possible."

This week’s session was the first of six PTC Collaboration Sessions that the FRA will host between now and the end of 2020.

Durham-Orange light-rail advocates rallied together to press Duke University president Vincent Price to resolve the school’s concerns with the project. The light-rail would run 17.7 miles and connect UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill with Duke and N.C. Central universities in Durham, as well as locations in between. For the $3.3 billion project to take off, Duke would have to donate land for the planned route, but Price said he wants assurances and tweaks to aspects of the light-rail before recommending that the school’s Board of Trustees donate the land. Issues raised by Price included the closure of Blackwell Street and the accessibility of the Durham Performing Arts Center, American Tobacco Campus and other related locations. He also noted a concern about ensuring power supply for the school and medical facilities, and protecting the “continuity and safety of research and clinical activities that take place in buildings adjacent to the planned rail line.”

Transit advocate are encouraging the issues to be resolved by the end of February so the project can obtain a federal grant for $1.24 billion.

The rally was sponsored in part by Durham CAN (Congregations, Associations and Neighborhoods), the Coalition for Affordable Housing and Transit, Durham Congregations in Action and the People’s Alliance, and included more than a dozen current and former leaders from Durham and Orange counties.

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:
      • ‘Investments, Not Subsidies: How American Long Distance Trains Make Money’
      • No Schedules: Regional Rail and the Future of American Passenger Trains’
      • ‘The View from the Hill: Infrastructure and the 116th Congress’
      • ‘How to Sell Trains to Your Congressman’
      • ‘What Can Passengers Do?: Advocacy Strategies That Really Work’
  • Just Announced! On Monday Evening noted Rail Tour Operator Carl Fowler will present an engaging optional travel program entitled ‘Switzerland, Scenic Railway Paradise’. Carl’s presentation will benefit the ‘Jim Hamre Memorial Scholarship Fund’. Tickets for this special program are now available!
  • 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). Group Rate Rooms At The Westin Are NOW Sold Out! Regular Rate Rooms Are Currently Available At The Nearby Washington Plaza Hotel Starting At $229 Per Night Single Occupancy

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!

Unique Travel Opportunities Available concurrently with the event:

  • MARCH 31 - APRIL 3
    • SAVANNAH TO WASHINGTON on the DEARING Historic Railroad Car
      • Depart SAV 3/30 8:20 am Arrive WAS 3/30 7:42 pm.
      • Depart WAS 4/3 10 am Arrive SAV 4/3 9:05 pm
      • Fare includes 3 Meals each way and Happy Hour $500/person round trip (this is less than Amtrak's "flexible rate" for the same trip and we guarantee the food and comfort level are much better!)
      • To book or get more information, send an email to [email protected] or call 706-326-0014
    • CHICAGO TO WASHINGTON on Private Rail Cars Hollywood Beach and Cimarron River
      • Full meals commensurate to time of day while traveling with drink, snack and hors d ‘oeuvres included offered non-stop while traveling or spotted.
      • Fare PP $1,768.45 on 1st come, 1st reserved basis.
      • Lv CHI 3/30 #30, Ar WAS 3/31 with three nights l/o while spotted,
      • 3/31, 4/1-2, Lv WAS 4/3 #29.
      • To book and send payment: Mr. John Owen at [email protected] Please HURRY! Limited to 26 attendees. Car data: www.cimriver.com & www.privatecarhollywoodbeach.com
      • Checks must be received/cleared no later than Feb.28th.

METRO Houston passengers will soon ride new light-rail vehicles after the agency ordered 14 new S70s from Siemens Mobility. This is the third order METRO has made from Siemens for the S70 low-floor LRVs, and brings the total amount ordered to 51. Passengers will experience several new features, including new-and-improved modern design and a centralized low-floor configuration for better access between all doors along the length of the vehicle. In addition, the LRVs will provide more accessibility, particularly for wheelchairs and strollers, and wider aisles will optimize passenger flow.

“We're proud to support Houston's METRO since 2004 as they deliver environmentally-friendly and efficient transportation options to one of the largest cities in the U.S.,” Sabrina Soussan, CEO of Siemens Mobility said in a press release. “With a growing population, it's important to constantly improve availability and passenger experience and we're confident that our light rail vehicles will support the city's expansion and sustainability goals.”

The Silver Line extension in Virginia is now one step closer to carrying passengers after two-car trains were run between the Innovation Center Station past Dulles International Airport to the end of the aerial guideway west of the airport. The trains were used to polish and remove rust from the third rail, which carries the electric current that powers the cars operated by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA). The cars’ contact with the third rail can remove any rust that can accumulate on rails that are not used often.

This marks one of the first steps in getting the trains to carry passengers when the line opens in 2020 and connects Reston with Ashburn. The next step is two additional trains will be brought in for safe-braking tests to officially start the “dynamic testing” process that must be completed before riders can board. This phase of the testing process is expected to take several months.

Passenger Rail Service Notices

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

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 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.

The Rio Metro Regional Transit District has been awarded $2.5 million from the the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) to assist with the installation of PTC equipment on the New Mexico Rail Runner Express. The federal funding will specifically go towards the installation of 26 towers along the 97-mile rail line, and nine cab cars, 13 coach cars, and 15 stations equipped with the Wi-Fi enhancements required for PTC systems.

"I'm proud to have fought for important federal investment in PTC to ensure that the Rail Runner delivers the highest standards of safety for the thousands of New Mexicans who rely on it to travel and commute each year," U.S. Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) said in a press release. "But we still have a long way to go before we secure funding to fully implement this system."

Udall, along with Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM), and U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM), had announced the funding, but also said that they are aware the rail line needs additional funding to complete PTC installation. Udall, Heinrich and Luján said they will continue fighting for funding to upgrade the Rail Runner and keep it safe and reliable.

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.