Happening Now

Hotline #1,104

February 15, 2019

FY 2019 Transportation Budget Passed Into Law; CA Gov. Newsom Narrows HSR Scope; Virgin Trains Forgoes IPO; NJ Transit Agrees to Pay Amtrak; Amtrak Looking at Connecting Duluth and Twin Cities; Indiana One Step Closer to Allowing Light-Rail In Indianapolis; RTD Technology Under Review Following Derailment; Registration for RailNation In DC Is Open

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 Fiscal Year 2019 transportation budget was passed into law five months late by Congress today averting another government shutdown. The bill includes $2.9 billion for rail and $13.4 billion for transit, along with several key policy riders that Rail Passengers and its members fought for over the past year.

"Today is a great day for our members, who fought long and hard to secure these wins on funding and the importance of passenger trains across the entire US," said Rail Passengers President Jim Mathews. "We'd particularly like to thank our Golden Spike winners in the Senate for their bipartisan work in preserving the Southwest Chief."

[Today’s victory shows just how important our work is. Rail Passengers depends on your generous donations to fight for passengers in Washington. Please give today!]

While rail funding was $218 million less than the record-setting levels in FY2018—largely due to a drop in funding targeted at Positive Train Control implementation via the CRISI grant program—the bill still provides $1.9 billion for Amtrak, equal to last year, and $670 million for rail infrastructure improvements. It also includes several key provisions that Rail Passengers members and our allies fought for, including:

  • A statement from the Congress that that long-distance passenger rail is an essential part of the nation’s transportation system, specifically for rural parts of the country, and should be retained to ensure connectivity throughout the National Network;

  • A requirement to invest in the capital improvements for the Southwest Chief, and a prohibition on the use of these funds to “discontinue, reduce the frequency of, suspend, or substantially alter” the route;

  • The return of discounted passenger fares for U.S. military veterans;

  • Bringing back station agents to any Amtrak station that had a ticket agent position eliminated in fiscal year 2018;

  • Congressional direction to Amtrak to improve communication and collaboration with local partners and take into consideration the unique needs of each community, including impacts to local jobs, when making decisions related to the staffing of Amtrak stations.

The news for transit was largely positive, with the Federal Transit Agency receiving $13.4 billion. That’s a reduction of $67 million below the FY2018 enacted level—but $2.3 billion above the Trump budget request.

We’ve included the key rail and transit details in a post on our blog.

California’s High-Speed Rail Decision is Prudent Politics

But It Tells Us Uncomfortable Things About the State of American Ambition

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

The United States is incapable of building big things.

That is an uncomfortable thing to say about the country you’re from, but in the year 2019 it is an undeniable truth.

In that light, California Governor Gavin Newsom’s announcement that his administration would be narrowing the project’s scope—refocusing on the Central Valley spine between Merced and Bakersfield—may be vexing to advocates, but it’s just good politics.

The project has been beset by outside difficulties and poor internal management: a series of lawsuits by NIMBYs and environmental groups (the latter of whom should know better); an indifferent federal partner in Congress, including an actively hostile contingent within the GOP segment of California’s congressional delegation; a poorly chosen corridor, selected to win political support from Central Valley cities afraid they would be left stranded in favor of the state’s twin economic behemoths, Los Angeles and the Bay Area (and let’s be honest, there’s plenty of historical precedent underpinning that fear). If you want a full rundown of everything that went wrong, Jeff Davis at Eno Transportation has a fair—albeit incomplete—summary of the avoidable mistakes.

Faced with these obstacles, none of which he created and most of which were beyond his ability to solve, Gov. Newsom made the politically sensible decision to adjust the California High Speed Rail Authority’s (CAHSRA) focus to the only segment currently under construction. It eases worries in the state legislature and among the public that the project is spiraling out of control and brings a finish line within touching distance.

And despite the headlines you may have read, the Governor demonstrated clear and unequivocal support for increasing passenger rail service in the state.

[Read the rest of the story on the Rail Passengers blog.]

Rail Passengers Association President Jim Mathews also welcomed Governor Newsom’s revised comments on high speed rail.

“Gov. Newsom’s new strategy recognizes the simple fact that the Californian public, while enthusiastic about access to high-speed rail, has lost faith in project managers to deliver it in a reasonable fashion,” Mathews said. “By delivering on 200 mph-plus service along an Initial Operating Segment (IOS), the Authority can restore public trust.

“There is no question that the IOS must eventually connect to major metro areas in the north and the south of the state for it to have value,” continued Mathews. “We expect to hear from the Newsom Administration and the Authority in the coming weeks about developing low-cost paths to connect the IOS to the San Joaquin corridor.”

The Association is eager and willing to work with the Newsom Administration to identify steps—in both the near- and long-term—to effectively deliver a world class passenger rail system to all Californians.

Due to new funding opportunities, Virgin Trains USA has placed its plans for an initial public offering (IPO) on hold and decided to remain a private company. The passenger rail company, previously known as Brightline, said last month that it had planned on an IPO to raise about $500 million that would value the company at about $3 billion.

Virgin Trains USA has backed away from the IPO and said “a number of alternative financing sources became available that allowed us to keep the company private and meet our growth strategies.”

However, the company did not elaborate on what the new financial opportunities are.

“Although details are limited on what funding sources became available for Virgin Trains, the company made a decision that works for its best interest, as well as the interest of its passengers,” said Rail Passengers President Jim Mathews. “Only starting service last year, the passenger rail line is young with growing pains, but we look forward to seeing how the company develops and moves forward with future expansion plans.”

The financial gains that were projected to come from the IPO would have helped Virgin Trains USA pay for its expansion efforts to Orlando and Tampa. Currently the company runs passenger rail service between Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.

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

For Jim Mathews, President and CEO, this week kicked off with Jim leading a long offsite meeting with Amtrak’s executive team in charge of the customer experience. Amtrak is looking for input from your Association as they make decisions about refreshing rolling stock, buying new cars, improving the website and the ticket-buying experience, replacing Quik-Trak kiosks, and working to improve new dining-car menus and food options. It’s a continuous process with many more meetings scheduled, and your Association is making sure that your voice is being heard at the table as the decisions are being made. As the week drew to a close, Jim prepared for some press appearances, worked on statements and policy concerning California’s moves on high-speed rail, and continued leading the effort to develop the final program for the annual Fall RailNation convention, to be held this year in Sacramento.

Jim also welcomed aboard Rail Passengers’ new Director of Resource Development, Jonsie Stone, a 20-year fundraising veteran in the nonprofit arena.

Sean Jeans-Gail, Rail Passengers Vice President of Government Affairs, met with transportation staffers on the Hill to discuss this year’s transportation budget and its effect on upcoming legislation. He also attended hearings on the current push for an infrastructure bill.

Carolyn Cokley, Director of Customer Programs, is reporting more than 160 completed Travel Reviews have been submitted, to date. This week, Carolyn has been busy assessing the questions in relation to the data received to determine their validity and soundness. It is important to ensure that the Rail Passenger Travel Review continues to amass accurate and reliable feedback from rail passengers across the National Network. Carolyn asks that you promote the Travel Review to both members and non-members who want to make their positive and negative Amtrak travel opinions known. Just direct them to www.railpassengers.org/TravelReview.

Bruce Becker, Rail Passengers Vice-President of Operations, this past week participated in the environmental review process scoping meeting for the proposed extension of Buffalo’s popular light rail line. And this weekend, Bruce will represent the Rail Passengers Association at the Western New York Railway Historical Society’s Winter Train Show in Hamburg, NY. Bruce continues to coordinate communication outreach for three upcoming regional Rail Passengers events 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 to the Event’s Main Information Page! Check it out!

It has been almost two years since NJ Transit stopped paying Amtrak for use of the Northeast Corridor between Trenton and New York Penn Station, but the transit agency will now make good on what it owes - $182 million. Following a series of derailments at Penn Station, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie ordered NJ Transit to halt payments to Amtrak, but current Governor Phil Murphy said that will no longer be the case. On more than one occasion, Murphy has criticized Christie for not prioritizing public transit during his years in office.

“Investing in our infrastructure, improving customer experience, and enhancing the safety of the traveling public are among the highest priorities of our Administration,” Murphy said in a press release. “The announcement today establishes a partnership that will achieve these goals now, and lays the financial foundation for continued improvements into the future. After eight years of disinvestment in, and mismanagement of, NJ Transit, collaborative partnerships like the one we are announcing today will go a long way to restoring the agency to its former preeminence.”

NJ Transit is set to pay Amtrak $7 million a month for capital expenses and $3 million for operating expenses. NJ Transit and Amtrak said the owed $182 million, as well as future payments, will go towards current and future infrastructure projects along the NEC to benefit both NJ Transit and Amtrak passengers. This will include the Portal Bridge, which both organizations said they are ready to begin full construction on Portal North as soon as federal funding is secured.

“Moving this partnership between Amtrak and NJ Transit forward is critical for the future of of the Northeast Corridor and establishing a foundation for future infrastructure projects to keep service running safely and reliably,” said Rail Passengers President Jim Mathews.

Viewliner II: An End in Sight

First New Viewliner II Sleeper Car Delivery Expected Next Week

By Abe Zumwalt, Rail Passengers Director of Policy Research

According to a presentation given today at the monthly Washington IEEE luncheon, Amtrak expects delivery of the 1st of 25 new CAF Viewliner sleeping cars next week, after having completed delivery of the first Baggage-Dormitory car, 70 baggage cars, and 24 out of 25 Dining cars that replaced equipment that had been rolling since the middle of the 20th century.

The 25 sleepers, after testing and full delivery, are intended to augment the existing Viewliner fleet of 50, given its relatively “young” age of less than a quarter century in revenue service. Apart from otherwise improved amenities from the new diners and inclusion of versatile bike racks in the baggage cars, this represents the first expansion of passenger capacity seen from the order.

Apart from the “new car” smell, the other noticeable difference with the new Viewliner sleepers will be the absence of toilets in roomettes, bringing the service in line with Western accommodations found on Superliner trains. The consumer satisfaction indicators resulting from the change will no doubt be interesting to review.

To read more on the new sleeper cars, please visit: www.railpassengers.org/happening-now/news/blog/viewliner-ii-an-end-in-sight.

Denver’s Regional Transportation District’s (RTD) use of positive train control (PTC) technology is in question after a light-rail train derailed in January as it sped through a turn during a snowstorm. The derailment resulted in dozens of injuries to passengers, with one women losing her leg. As authorities reviewed the incident, RTD said that their technology for light-rail trains only stops trains, automatically in specific situations. These include running a red signal, entering a specific section of track that could be blocked by another train, or experiencing a safety defect or broken rail.

RTD said the technology, although it exists, does not allow for a train to be automatically slowed down if it is speeding and at risk of derailment.

Laurie Huff, a spokeswoman for the agency said it won’t be known if PTC could have prevented the derailment until RTD and Aurora police complete their investigations. However, Huff did say that the technology currently in place “would not have stopped the train in this instance, as it does not enforce speed restrictions.”

Huff also said that “no technology on the trains now enforces speed in slower areas. This is, however, the direction toward which we are working.”

Registration Open for Rail Passenger’s RailNation DC Advocacy Summit & Day on The Hill

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 Summit and Day on The Hill (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.

Monday, April 1st’s Advocacy Summit Sessions Include:

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.

Luncheon Keynote: Ken Hylander, Amtrak Executive Vice President and Chief Safety Officer

Ken Hylander, who joined Amtrak in January 2018, will talk about the challenges of re-setting Amtrak’s safety culture, implementing the principles of a Safety Management System (SMS) at a passenger railroad, the current state of play in Positive Train Control and what aviation has to teach railroading when it comes to safety.

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.

Tuesday, April 2nd.

Day on The Hill & Congressional Reception

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

Don’t Miss Out - Register Now and Complete Information Here

Who will fill the void if Greyhound stopped running bus service in the U.S.?

That’s the question being asked by Railway Age contributing editor David Peter Alan. He points to the fact that Greyhound stopped running buses in Western Canada (specifically all bus service east of Quebec City and west of Sudbury, Ontario which is about a seven-hour trip west of Toronto) in October. Though it was reported it would happen, few regional services popped up to fill the gap, and bus service throughout the region remains sparse today.

The same concern is being talked about in the U.S., with many people wondering who will replace cross-country bus service should Greyhound disappear. Alan says that Greyhound may soon run into trouble when it needs to replace its bus fleet, and that is it unlikely Amtrak would step in to make up the service lost to millions of people.

Alan also says that Amtrak does run a similar long-term risk of disappearing, but passenger rail advocates like your Association won’t let that happen. Buses don’t have similar advocacy groups working on their behalf to ensure their future remains strong.

To read in entirety of the issue that Greyhound and Amtrak face, please visit Railway Age online.

The Port Authority of Allegheny County’s transit system, which includes light-rail and bus service, provides a total economic benefit of $929 million annually to Pittsburgh and other areas of Pennsylvania. The findings are part of a new study conducted by Philadelphia firm eConsult Solutions Inc. and commissioned by the transit agency “to show the value of public transit.” The study says that the agency’s operating and capital budgets of $593 million help create for a total output of $929 million, and this also includes 3,600 full-time jobs beyond the agency’s payroll that generate earnings of about $174 million.

Among other findings, the study also shows that Allegheny County’s population is 9.6 percent of the entire state, but it produces 12.3 percent of private employment, 13.3 percent of economic product and 11.2 percent of the state’s general fund revenues.

The economic impact of the transit system also is responsible for $98.4 million in taxes. That includes $42.7 million for school districts; $24.7 million for municipalities (including $17.1 million for Pittsburgh); $12.4 million for the county; and $18.6 million for Pennsylvania.

A preview of the study was given by eConsult Solutions to the Authority’s board. The full study should be finished in the next few weeks.

We're #1?

By Joe Aiello, Northeast Field Coordinator

“A commuter tie-up consists of you - and people who for some reason won't use public transit.” - Robert Brault

Traffic is something that we can all relate to. It doesn’t matter where you live, rush-hour(s) is just a way of life. (I once flew into Chicago on Tuesday at 1pm and sat on the Blue Line while the Kennedy was at a stand-still in both directions). The one thing none of us can agree on though is just who has it worse…

Well, thanks to the INRIX 2018 Global Traffic Scorecard, we now have an answer for this “age old question.”

Sadly, if not completely unsurprising, the title for worst traffic in the country (and 8th in the world!) belongs to my current home of Boston (I know, I know. I’m actually in Cambridge. It’s the “general area” here we’re talking about). This is unsurprising because Massachusetts was recently ranked 45th for infrastructure by US News. But the eye-opening part of this scorecard is that Boston is only one of two US cities even in the top 20 - the other being Washington DC coming in at 20th (though we do have 16 cities in the overall top 100).

To read more of Joe’s blog please visit: www.railpassengers.org/happening-now/news/blog/were-1.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio will not support Governor Andrew Cuomo’s congestion pricing proposal as it currently exists, the mayor said in a testimony before state lawmakers on various issues including transit.

The proposal seeks to generate $1 billion a year to support the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) by creating a toll for vehicles that drive into Manhattan south of 60th Street. Officials has said that money could support $15 billion of capital construction through 2024, which will be critical to the agency’s plan to modernize the city’s subway system. It is estimated that an upgrade to the subway will cost $40 billion over the next 10 years.

Mayor de Blasio said in his testimony that he agrees that it is time to fix the MTA, but that “city governments should not fund a State responsibility and we simply can't. The impact on our capital budget would be devastating, potentially damaging our credit rating and imperiling basic infrastructure like schools, parks, roads and bridges, water and sewer that our constituents, all of your constituents depend on.”

Despite voicing his opposition, de Blasio said he could support the proposal if certain changes are made. He said that “New York City must be included in developing and implementing any type of congestion pricing scheme. The executive budget proposal cuts New York City out entirely from the implementation, given control of City streets to the MTA, and this will not work.”

The mayor included issuing a hardship exemption for people seeking medical care in some parts of Manhattan and dedicating new funds to capital construction. He also sought funds to extend mass transit to parts of the five boroughs where it doesn’t exist.

Your Feedback is Important to Improving Amtrak

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.

Through the site, the Rail Passengers Association will collect passenger feedback from all across the National Network. 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/TravelReview. All participants will remain anonymous. If you encounter any problems with the Travel Review, or have any questions, please send an email to [email protected]

Just a few things to remember when filling out the Travel Review:

  • 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.

Metro Transit’s light-rail system in Minneapolis set ridership records in 2018, while commuter rail and bus service dropped. The city’s Green Line reached an all time high ridership of 13.8 million, which is up five percent from 2017. The Blue Line also set a new annual record by providing 11 million rides. Despite the light-rail growth, growth for the agency’s Northstar commuter-rail service was flat from the previous year with 787,000 rides. In addition, local and express bus ridership dropped 4.5 percent to 54.6 million. Bus service accounts for more than 70 percent of total transit rides, and it contributed to an overall decrease of 1.3 percent from 2017 to 2018 in transit ridership.

“We’ve seen how investing in transit creates a stronger system that supports our growing region,” Metropolitan Council Chair Nora Slawik said in a press release. “With around 700,000 new people expected by 2040, we need to figure out today how we get in front of the significant increase in transit demand. Our region relies on a comprehensive transportation system that offers mobility options to all people, in order to remain economically competitive and connect people with opportunities.”

Metro Transit General Manager Wes Kooistra said that the agency expected ridership to dip in 2018 because a fare increase and cheaper gas price encouraged people to move from public transit to their cars.

Winners of #ViewsOnATrain Photo Contest

We have received dozens of amazing and unique pictures for our #ViewsOnATrain photo contest. Pictures range 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:

  • Zoe Goldstein, who won a runner up prize for an image of the sunrise near Flagstaff, Arizona taken from the Southwest Chief.

  • 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, who 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.

Valley Metro began testing its light-rail service for the Gilbert Road light-rail extension in Mesa, AZ. The transit agency said that testing will review:

  • Vehicle clearance at stations,

  • The overhead electrification system;

  • Traffic signal coordination; and

  • The operation of the line's switches.

The first day of testing was Thursday and it commenced with a slow-moving train that rain on Main Street from Mesa Drive to Gilbert Road as operational staff walked alongside it. Testing will occur and advance over the next three months on the 1.9-mile route.

Should the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority restore late night hours on its Metro system, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) says it will withhold up to $1.6 billion in funding for transit services in the D.C. area. The federal agency says that the restoration of late night hours poses a safety risk to passengers.

The push to return to later hours comes from local officials, D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), Metro Board Chairman Jack Evans and D.C.'s other voting board member, Corbett A. Price. The group says that Metro has had enough time to improve its maintenance and safety efforts since the transit agency initiated it SafeTrack program in 2016 and began late night repairs to avoid major delays during the day for riders. Metro has said if it returns to the late hours of service, it would be forced to move maintenance work to the middle of the day and it would also risk losing additional riders who feel the burden of the delays.

Should the change take place, the FTA said it could withhold its funding based on the approval process for the Metrorail Safety Commission, which must be federally certified by April 15. The FTA said that Metro’s return to late night service would delay the review process because the agency’s staff would need to review its budget allotments to Metro to ensure they properly align with the transit agency’s safety needs under the new hours. FTA would also need to revisit some of Metro’s previously closed corrective actions “if they were closed based on WMATA’s performance under the current operating hours,” the FTA said.

The Rail Passengers 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’

    • Monday’s lunch Keynote Address will be given by Kenneth Hylander, Amtrak’s Executive Vice President & Chief Safety Officer

  • 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 (To Be Held This Year In Room 106 Of The Dirksen Senate Office Building).

  • 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). NOTICE: Group Rate rooms at the Westin are now sold out! Regular public rate rooms are currently available online at the nearby Washington Plaza Hotel. However, there Is NO Group Rate or other special arrangement at the Washington Plaza!

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

Unique Travel Opportunities Available Concurrently With The RailNation DC Event:



  • Depart Savannah, GA 3/30 8:20am - Arrive Washington, DC 3/30 7:42pm.

  • Depart Washington, DC 4/3 10:00am - Arrive Savannah, GA 4/3 9:05pm

  • Fare includes 3 Meals each way and Happy Hour for $500 per 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

  • Depart Chicago, IL 3/30 6:40pm - Arrive Washington, DC 3/31 1:05pm

  • Depart Washington, DC 4/3 4:05pm - Arrive Chicago, IL 4/4 8:45am

  • Full meals commensurate to time of day while traveling with drink, snack and hors d’‘oeuvres included offered non-stop while traveling or spotted. Includes 3 nights on board in Washington, DC - 3/31, 4/1 & 4/2

  • Fare per person $1,768.45 on 1st come, 1st reserved basis.

  • To book and send payment, contact Keith R. White at [email protected]

  • This opportunity is limited to 26 persons! Checks must be received & cleared no later than February 28th.

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!

Amtrak is currently reviewing the potential for a passenger rail line that would connect the Twin Ports of Duluth, MN and Superior, WI to Minneapolis/St. Paul. The project, known as that Northern Lights Express Higher Speed Intercity Passenger Rail, has received recent support over the past few years - so much that Amtrak met with Duluth Mayor Emily Larson and Superior Mayor Jim Paine to review options.

Though still early in the process of development, Mayor Larson said the meeting was well attended by Amtrak’s government relations team, and that the passenger railroad wanted “to learn more about our interest and met with many different stakeholders.” She also said that Amtrak officials will return in March for a follow-up meeting.

The project is estimated at $550 million and it would utilize BNSF’s current rail lines to establish stops between Duluth, Superior and Minneapolis. It’s estimated that trains would travel up to 90 mph between stops, while averaging 60 mph overall. As it currently stands, BNSF and Amtrak have had several informal discussions about the project, but no agreements will be made before funding for the project is established.

Operation Lifesaver Inc. (OLI) and Operation Lifesaver Canada will observe Rail Safety Week between September 22 and 29 in the U.S. and Canada. The week-long event, which includes numerous activities with different passenger and freight railroads, is designed to encourage safety for pedestrians and motorists near railroad tracks. The organizations said that every year 2,100 North Americans are killed or seriously injured because of unsafe behavior around tracks and trains.

"Our goal is to get to zero incidents — zero fatalities and zero injuries. The driving force for this organization is saving lives," OLI Executive Director Rachel Maleh said in a press release.

One feature of Rail Safety Week is Operation Clear Track, the largest single railroad safety law enforcement operation in the U.S. During Operation Clear Track, police visit hundreds of railroad crossings at high incident locations to enforce grade crossing and trespassing laws. Officers write warnings to violators and also distribute cards with railroad safety tips to the public.

Passenger Rail Service Notices

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

Track Work Affects Amtrak Cascades on Feb. 20 and 22, 2019

Track work being performed by BNSF between Vancouver and Seattle will affect Amtrak Cascades Trains 516 and 519 as outlined below:

  • February 20: Train 519 may see minor delays

  • February 22: Trains 516 and 519, which normally operate between Seattle and Vancouver will be cancelled. Alternate transportation will be provided, via Buses 3516 and 4519, for all missed stops at Vancouver, Bellingham, Mount Vernon, Stanwood, Everett and Edmonds.

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.

Track Work Affects Service & Schedules for Texas Eagle Train 21/421

Effective Feb. 24 through Mar. 10, 2019, track work being performed by Union Pacific Railroad will affect Amtrak Texas Eagle service.

To accommodate passengers, bus Service between Texarkana and Mineola will be provided

  • Trains 21/421 will detour between Texarkana and Mineola missing stops at Marshall, Longview and Shreveport.

  • Passengers traveling to Marshall, Longview and Shreveport will stay on the train through to Mineola where they will detrain and board Amtrak Thruway Bus 6121 to their destination. Bus 6121 will originate at Mineola instead of Longview.

  • Passengers scheduled to connect with thruway service at Longview will also detrain at Mineola. Thruway Bus 6021, Houston Service, will board passengers at Mineola instead of Longview.

  • Passengers scheduled to board at Shreveport, Marshall and Longview will be picked up by Thruway Bus 6421 and carried to Mineola to board Train 21/421.

Note- Train 21/421 may be delayed up to 15 to 20 minutes at Mineola to hold for connecting buses.

Pacific Surfliner Weekend Service Changes for Friday, Saturday and Sunday Mar. 1 through 10, 2019

Track work being performed by North County Transit District will affect Pacific Surfliner service, on the dates shown below:

  • Fridays, Mar. 1 and 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, Mar. 2-3 and 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.

Please note: There will be no checked baggage or express service south of Santa Ana on the dates shown above. Alternate bus service will not serve San Clemente Pier.

A state law that prevents the development of light-rail transit in Indianapolis could soon be removed if state officials pass a new bill from Indianapolis Democrat Justin Moed. House Bill 1365 passed the Indiana House and it clears the way for light-rail construction in seven Indiana counties if it also passes the state Senate. This is not the first time that the state looked to end the law banning light-rail. A similar bill was passed in 2018, but it was not approved in the Senate after Mike Delph, R-Carmel, added an amendment that would have required Marion County to first fix its potholes.

Moed said that he believes there is a good chance the law will pass the Senate since Delph is no longer a state legislator. Moed and other supporters of the bill also said that the law gives voters a chance to decide if mass transit projects like light-rail are worth pursuing since the the bill would allow a choice to be made. Without the legislation, there are no opportunities for light-rail projects to even be considered.

Nearly $57 million in federal grant money has been awarded to 18 rail projects by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) under the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) program. The funding is to help passenger and freight railroads increase safety and reliability on their rail infrastructure.

“We’re extremely pleased that the CRISI grant program directs much-needed critical investment to rural America,” FRA Administrator Ronald L. Batory said in a press release.

CRISI funding for passenger related improvements includes:

  • The New York State Department of Transportation will receive up to $6,363,000 to rebuild three bridges on Amtrak’s Empire Corridor south of Albany;

  • The Vermont Agency of Transportation will receive up to $2,082,519 to construct slope stabilization measures along 80 miles of the New England Central Railroad line used by Amtrak’s Vermonter;

  • The Wisconsin Department of Transportation will receive up to $5,050,000 to construct a second platform serving Amtrak riders at the Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport;

  • The Illinois Department of Transportation will receive up to $5,083,719 to reconfigure the Lenox interlocking in Mitchell, Illinois, to increase the speed and operational flexibility for Amtrak’s Chicago to St. Louis passenger trains and freight trains.


Rail Passengers’ 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.

Passenger rail between North Adams, MA and Boston is under consideration with a newly proposed bill from state Senator Jo Comerford, D-Northampton. The bill would approve the state to conduct a feasibility study on the route, which currently runs freight service between the two cities. The feasibility study would review costs, project ridership levels and effects of running a passenger line to nearby towns. Comerford said that a new passenger line connecting North Adams and Boston would be a great benefit for Western Massachusetts - specifically its work force and housing market. The drive is more than 2.5 hours between cities, but the passenger line would provide an opportunity for people to relocate with easy access to jobs in Boston.

The future of the proposed line will also depend greatly on the ridership of two new rail services that are under construction and will serve towns in the area. This summer a pilot program will see passenger service connect Greenfield, Springfield and New Haven, CT. In the summer of 2020, a second pilot program will provide service between New York and Pittsfield. Comerford said should ridership be low for these pilot programs, it’s likely that the North Adams to Boston route will not gain enough support.

Comerford’s proposal will now go to committee hearings and a vote, but dates have not been established.

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.