Happening Now

Hotline #1,105

February 22, 2019

National Network Trains And Corridor Growth Can Co-exist; Trump Administration’s Latest Move Against HSR Breaks Campaign Promises; Amtrak Allows Financially Struggling New River Train To Run in 2019; NJ Transit Called Out On Atlantic City Line; Metra To Buy 15 Remanufactured Locomotives; Indiana’s Proposed Budget Amended To Include Funding For Hoosier Line; Muni To Reduce Delays By 10 Percent

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.

Remember 'National or Nothing'?

National Network Trains And Corridor Growth Can Co-exist

By Jim Mathews, Rail Passengers President and CEO

Many of you probably saw the story from The Wall Street Journal suggesting that Amtrak plans to propose a bold growth plan for service in the Southeast and West, but will gut the existing National Network to make it happen. We talked at length last week with the reporter working on that story, and for those of you who don’t subscribe, here’s how that turned out:

A plan that cuts back service on the long-distance routes, especially one eliminating stops in small rural communities, won’t be politically viable, said Jim Mathews, president of the Rail Passengers Association, a nonprofit advocacy group in Washington.

The railroad, which was chartered by Congress in 1971 to preserve passenger rail service as private carriers dropped out of the business, is charged with operating a national service, Mr. Matthews noted, and representatives and senators from states served by the long-haul trains have proven fierce opponents of efforts to cut back service.

While his group supports new, frequent corridors of intercity service, it won’t do so at the price of the long-distance routes, Mr. Matthews said.

Congress has backed Mr. Mathews’s position in the past, including in the bipartisan spending bill passed this month, which included language urging Amtrak to preserve existing long-distance routes, which serve nearly 5 million riders a year.

Amtrak has floated this trial balloon before. And our answer last year was the same as it is now: of course we support better, more frequent, daylight service into under-served or un-served communities. Enthusiastically. And we’ll fight tooth and nail to get it.

What we reject is the idea that we have to choose between having more and better trains in these fast-growing areas or having a National Network that connects the entire U.S. And we certainly reject the idea that small communities which today depend on Amtrak service as an economic engine should lose their service in exchange for Cincinnati getting to see trains in the daytime.

That’s because as a government-supported enterprise, Amtrak exists to serve not just growing communities, but as much of America as possible. And that includes places like Normal, Ill., Meridian, Miss., Minot, N.D., and Cut Bank, Mt. Let’s face it, if it were profitable to serve Cut Bank, BNSF would be falling all over itself to file with the Federal Railroad Administration to launch twice-daily service through the High Line. Obviously, that’s not happening, and that’s precisely why for decades American citizens – acting through their elected representatives – have continued to support having an Amtrak to operate that service.

Passenger trains make money by generating jobs, retail, mobility, tourism and real-estate development. The communities served get the “profit” rather than Amtrak, and that’s okay. We taxpayers support Amtrak in part because we want these towns to thrive and their citizens to have access to jobs and mobility.

That’s the same message we shared with Amtrak last Spring when we first heard about the idea of boosting service on popular segments. Then as now, we welcomed the idea of new and better service, but sought assurances that this would not come at the expense of the communities and passengers who rely on the service today.

I wrote a letter to Amtrak Chair Anthony Coscia last April, and met again with him last May to share our concerns in person. Mr. Coscia was reassuring, and outlined a vision at that time which, frankly, all rail advocates could support. It would be a shame if Amtrak today is walking back that vision.

First, he told me last May that there is NO plan to dismantle the National Network. Mr. Coscia said that Amtrak recognizes that as a government-supported enterprise, it has a "mission" (his word) beyond the balance sheet, and that top management is "committed to the mission."

Mr. Coscia allowed that over the long horizon, perhaps decades, the overall shape of Amtrak's National Network is likely to change simply based on population shifts, demographic trends and economic growth. We can’t possibly disagree with this, especially as we already begin to see those changes emerge in ridership.

But as of our meeting last Spring, there had been no firm decisions made on what the final shape of "Amtrak 2.0" would look like. Mr. Coscia explained that Amtrak planners, led by CEO Richard Anderson and Chief Commercial Officer Stephen Gardner, were still working on a roadmap of how to get there, a roadmap with a horizon measured in decades rather than months.

Mr. Coscia described for me the way the concept was beginning to take shape as development focused on corridor services with strong growth potential in lightly served or un-served areas. He cited as examples the entire Southeast U.S., or corridors like Chicago-St. Louis, or Chicago-Minneapolis. He went on to describe the picture as "corridors hanging off the legacy National Network routes like a necklace."

The Network map as it exists today is hardly ideal, and is skeletal at best. "It was not drawn in a way to maximize service to those who need it or to provide value," he told me. "It was to benefit the railroads who were getting bailed out by the creation of Amtrak."

Mr. Coscia then turned to Amtrak’s responsibility as a recipient of federal funds to make sure that the plans for the future serve the maximum number of Americans possible, especially those who need mobility and have fewer options such as the elderly, the disabled and rural residents. He specifically mentioned the elderly, disabled and rural residents, folks for whom we at Rail Passengers spend a lot of time advocating.

Years down the road, there may come a time when the "legacy National Network routes no longer meet the mission," Mr. Coscia told me then, "but looking at the map today I can't identify any that don't."

As a rhetorical device when talking with elected and appointed officials about the value of long-distance trains, I often use “Grandma in Cut Bank.” I did so with Mr. Coscia, underscoring how "Grandma in Cut Bank deserves to have the train take her to Spokane for her medical treatments." Mr. Coscia’s response was that Amtrak’s corridor ideas are about the growth of Amtrak and a vision for the future, but that "doesn't mean that we have to take away that train from Chicago to Seattle if that's the train she needs."

The vision in The Wall Street Journal story doesn’t match that exchange. It has been nearly a year, and things can change. But recent actions by the U.S. Congress suggest that they would support a vision such as the one Mr. Coscia outlined for me last May. Congress appropriates taxpayer dollars every year to Amtrak because it’s a vital and cost-effective tool of economic development. And as most of you no doubt saw last week, not only is Congress repeating the message that a real National Network is important and needs to be supported, but it’s putting its money where its mouth is, appropriating near-record dollars for a second year to advance Amtrak service around the country.

Against that backdrop, it’s clear that Amtrak need not be timid in asking Congress to support growth and new services. There is political and fiscal appetite to do more, and that’s the plan Amtrak should submit. We do not need to choose, especially when the choice offered is a false one. That’s the message I’ve delivered consistently to Amtrak over the past year, and it’s one you can help amplify by getting in touch with your congressional representative or Senator. (Members can find their elected officials by following this link.)

Trump’s Latest Move on High-Speed Rail Breaks Campaign Promises

Americans Need Trump to Fulfill Pledge to Become an Infrastructure President

The Rail Passengers Association has condemned the Trump Administration’s attempt to claw back federal grant money from the California high-speed rail project. This is a direct reversal of Candidate Trump’s promise to use his experience in the private sector to put Americans to work closing the infrastructure deficit between the U.S. and the rest of the developed world—specifically with regards to high-speed rail.

President Trump promised to restore ambition to U.S. infrastructure, but it should be obvious that no one can achieve that goal by blowing up the most advanced rail project in the country—the only one currently under construction. The Association views this as a complete betrayal of the voters, and it’s a betrayal of the more than 2,000 American workers who are right now, today, building this next-generation rail corridor.

The Trump Administration has given the California High Speed Rail Authority until March 5th to counter the points raised in its de-obligation letter. Rail Passengers believes that the White House should have waited to hear the responses to the questions it raised before making a decision. It is also unclear if the Trump Administration has the legal authority to de-obligate the roughly $2.5 billion in federal grants issued to the project.

Your Association looks forward to hearing the Authority’s response to the letter issued by the Federal Railroad Administration, some of which need answering.

However, the Trump Administration should have approached this project with an eye towards helping the project along and finding ways to improve project delivery. Instead, Trump appears to have jumped on a misstatement by California’s Governor Newsom to score partisan points. We urge President Trump to put aside his political differences with Governor Newsom, and become the strong federal partner required to make high-speed rail in America a reality.

Following the letter, Rail Passengers staff tracked down several statements made by President Trump regarding his perceived support for U.S. transportation infrastructure during his campaign for president.

These statements include:

  • "China and these other countries, they have super-speed trains. We have nothing. This country has nothing. We are like the third world. But we will get it going and we will do it properly and, as I say, make America great again."
  • “They have trains that go 300 miles per hour. We have trains that go chug … chug … chug.”
  • “Our airports, bridges, water tunnels, power grids, rail systems—our nation’s entire infrastructure is crumbling, and we aren’t doing anything about it.”
  • “These projects put people to work—not just the people doing the work but also the manufacturers, the suppliers, the designers, and, yes, even the lawyers. The Senate Budget Committee estimates that rebuilding America will create 13 million jobs.”
  • “On the federal level, this is going to be an expensive investment, no question about that. But in the long run it will more than pay for itself.”
  • "We will breathe new life into your very run-down highways, railways, and waterways. We’ll transform our roads and bridges from a source of endless frustration into a source of absolutely incredible pride.
  • “We will build the roads, highways, bridges, tunnels, airports and the railways of tomorrow. This, in turn, will create millions of more jobs.”

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

Sean Jeans-Gail, Rail Passengers Vice President of Government Affairs, met with transportation staffers on the Hill to discuss passenger rail, the national network, and the needs that need to addressed through policy changes. He also worked with Californian stakeholders to respond to recent developments on the state’s high-speed rail project.

Carolyn Cokley, Director of Customer Programs, reports that more than 200 Travel Reviews have been submitted as well as the receipt of more than a dozen emails reporting on the efficacy of the Travel Review. This week, Carolyn has continued to work on modifying the Review based upon many of the communications she has received from members across the National Network. As always, 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. If you have any comments or questions that need to be addressed, please send an email to [email protected].

Rail Passengers Northeast Field Coordinator, Joseph Aiello, spent last Thursday at the Massachusetts Statehouse with the North-South Rail Link Working Group. He also spent some time in the Office of the Clerk of the House discussing the 2019-2020 committee assignments (always need to stay informed on who is leading transportation issues!).

This week took Joe to a couple different fronts; he helped the policy team research and prepare for the California High Speed Rail press release and compiled the mid-week brief that went out to all our members. He was invited to join a call with the TransitMatters team last night as they prepare for a Regional Rail “listening tour” event in Rhode Island - an event that the Rail Passengers Northeast Division will be helping promote. And, he has also been spending time, of course, continuing to prepare for RailNation DC - planning on making it the best conference we have had yet.

Bruce Becker, Rail Passengers Vice-President of Operations, continued to collaborate with the entire Rail Passengers staff on the planning and coordination for the upcoming RailNation DC Advocacy Summit, Day on The Hill and Congressional Reception, April 1 - 3. Over 120 advocates from across the country are expected to attend! Don't miss out; register today! Bruce also coordinated reminder communications for the three upcoming regional Rail Passengers events in Schenectady, NY (Saturday, March 9); Harrisburg, PA (Saturday, March 9) and Louisville, KY (Friday, March 8 - Sunday, March 10).

The U.S. Department of Transportation have challenged statements by sitting members of Congress that the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) loan policies were substantially altered by the Fiscal Year 2019 budget, an interpretation that will impact available sources of federal funding for new Hudson River rail tunnels.

Highlighted in our breakdown of the spending bill last week, $1.9 billion was designated for Amtrak, which is equal to last year, and $670 million for rail infrastructure improvements. This included $650,000,000 for the Northeast Corridor, with up to $5,000,000 of NEC Grants to fund the NEC Commission expenses, and not less than $50,000,000 to bring Amtrak-served facilities and stations into compliance with ADA.

Jerry Zaro, chairman of the Gateway Program Development Corp. and U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) said that the new bill reversed a Trump policy that barred New York and New Jersey from using federal loans toward their cost share of the program, which includes the construction of a new Hudson River tunnel. Zaro also said that the bill stipulated that federal loans repaid with state funds should be considered part of the local share. Trump has previously withheld funding for the project, and said that both New York and New Jersey need to pay a greater share of the total cost.

Representative Jerry Nadler (D-NY 10th District) also celebrated the bill’s passage and said “a significant portion” of the $650 million for Amtrak would go toward the Hudson tunnel.

However the USDOT, in response to a request from Bloomberg, said that “as the FTA has always done, the agency considers the comprehensive funding and financing plan proposed for a project when making its discretionary funding decisions, including any Department of Transportation federal loan requests for the project. In other words, no change was made by this bill to FTA’s loan-consideration policies.”

“Right now we are seeing an Administration playing games over the future of a national transportation infrastructure project that, if it were to collapse, would negatively affect the lives of hundreds of millions of people and bring the U.S. economy to a standstill,” said Rail Passengers President Jim Mathews. “There is no reason for the Trump Administration to continue to backpedal on the president’s campaign promise to build a robust and modern transportation infrastructure in the U.S. There is just too much at stake.”

March Newsletter Now Online

Our March Newsletter is now available online. This month shares important updates on registration for RailNation; regarding on-time performance issue heading to the U.S. Supreme Court; Amtrak’s Richard Anderson emphasizing the economic benefits that passenger train service; how HSR fits into the “Green New Deal” and much more.

To read the newsletter, please visit: www.railpassengers.org/happening-now/news/rpa-newsletter

Chicago’s Metra will purchase 15 remanufactured locomotives to replace its aging fleet and increase reliability for its passengers. The $70.9 million contract, approved by the Metra Board of Directors, is for reconfigured EMD SD70MAC freight locomotives that will be upgraded to meet U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Tier 3 emissions standard. There will also be a 34 percent increase in horsepower and an upgrade to microprocessor-controlled brake systems. The newly configured locomotives will be known as SD70MACH locomotives.

“Our goals with this locomotive purchase are to increase reliability and improve the state of good repair on our system,” Metra CEO/Executive Director Jim Derwinski said in a press release. “These like-new locomotives will be replacing some of the oldest locomotives in our fleet, and we would expect to see a significant increase in reliability as these newer locomotives are introduced.”

Overall, about 70 percent of Metra’s current fleet of 147 locomotives are rated in marginal or poor condition so the purchase is critical to providing Metra riders a quality commute. The contract with Progress Rail Locomotives of La Grange includes options to buy up to 27 additional locomotives, if funding is available.

A congestion pricing system that would benefit New York City’s subways could be created and put in use within two years, which is a much shorter timeline than other major cities that have implemented similar systems. Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) President Patrick Foye spoke at a Senate hearing and said that the city’s plan wouldn’t be a “piecemeal approach.”

The tolling system, which was proposed by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, would charge a fee to vehicles that enter Manhattan south of 60th Street. Through 2024, it is estimated that the congestion fee would generate $15 billion in capital improvements, with a significant portion of money going to the city’s subway system and some funding to support improvement to the Long Island Rail Road.

Andy Byford, president of the New York City Transit Authority, said that it would cost $40 billion over 10 years to upgrade the city’s subway system and decrease service delays.

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

An amendment to Indiana’s state budget by State Representative Chris Campbell to include funding for the Hoosier State Rail Line was voted down by 59 nays to 35 yeas.

Campbell’s amendment requested $3 million in funding for the future of Amtrak’s Hoosier State line, which is now in question since the proposed budget cut all annual funding for the line. The budget is set for $34.6 billion in spending over the next two years, but none of the money has been allocated to the Hoosier State as state legislators say the ridership has not been at expected levels. In addition, community leaders who have been giving a combined $500,000 over the past five years to keep the Hoosier State running are also not planning to support the line.

Arvid Olson, head of Greater Lafayette Commerce’s transportation committee, said local leaders along the 196-mile route already knew they would have a difficult time preserving state money for the passenger linge when Gov. Eric Holcomb stripped the cash from his proposed budget in January. The Hoosier State has state funding through June 30, 2019, but Olson said that the loss of the Hoosier State could hurt the economies of local communities along the route. Olson also said that if the train does lose funding and disappear, it would “be very expensive, if not impossible, to get back.”

It continues to be big news for local communities that the Southwest Chief will receive $50 million under the FY 2019 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related (THUD) Appropriations Act. That’s because the Southwest Chief is critical to millions of people who live in Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico and other states that are linked on the route. The funding also highlights the important work that was accomplished by several senators, including Cory Gardner (R-CO), Michael Bennet (D-CO, Jerry Moran (R-KS), Pat Roberts (R-KS), Tom Udall (D-NM), and Martin Heinrich (D-NM), as well as passenger rail advocates, who pushed the legislation through to keep the Southwest Chief intact and running.

It was last year that Amtrak leadership proposed a plan to implement bus service between Albuquerque, NM and Dodge City, KS.

Your association and other rail advocates pushed against the proposal and said that a bus bridge could lead to the end of the Southwest Chief, while also causing great economic losses throughout the region. The Rail Passengers Association’s recent study that showed that the bus bridge would have caused a loss of $180 million annually between the two cities.

For their efforts in securing the future of the Southwest Chief, Rail Passengers will present the six senators with the Association's Golden Spike award.

“Unfortunately, most passengers aren’t aware of the crucial role these six senators played in saving their train, nor the hundreds of millions of dollars that will be kept in these communities as a result,” he said. “I’m hoping the Golden Spike Award shines a bright light on the great work they’ve done for these communities and their constituents.”

The award will be given at the Rail Passengers Association annual Congressional reception on April 2.

The Scranton Rail Restoration Coalition launched yesterday to advocate for passenger rail in Northeast Pennsylvania. Rail Passengers Association member Tyler Kusma started the grassroots group in an effort to restore the Lackawanna Cut-Off project and extend it to Scranton; to add train service between Philadelphia, Lehigh Valley and Scranton; and to add service between Binghamton, Scranton and New York City.

Petitions to show your support for these projects can be found on the Coalition’s webpage, http://scrantonrail.com/

New Jersey officials are calling on NJ Transit to open the Atlantic City Rail Line or to provide answer on why the line is still closed. Sen. Bob Andrzejczak and Assemblymen Bruce Land and Matt Milam criticized NJ Transit in a statement last week that about the line, which has been closed since September 2018. NJ Transit stopped service on the route, which runs from Atlantic City to Philadelphia, when the agency was focused on completing installation of Positive Train Control equipment.

NJ Transit said it plans to resume service in the second quarter, and did not want to rush resuming service should there be equipment issues and testing.

However, the statement claimed it was “more of the same” from the agency. “More vague assurances that the line will reopen at some undefined time in the second quarter, a minimum of three months after Executive Director Kevin Corbett promised the line would reopen,” the statement said. “More hollow words of sympathy and understanding of how this is impacting the everyday lives of South Jersey residents.”

During closure of the Atlantic City Rail Line, which carries 2,000 passengers a day, riders are receiving 25 percent discounts on tickets for alternate bus and rail lines.

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/Travel Review. 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.

Sound Transit and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) invite Seattle residents to comment on route and station alternatives for the West Seattle and Ballard Link Extensions project. Comments can be shared via mail, email or phone. In addition, Sound Transit will hold open houses on February 27-28 and March 7, and maintain an online open house until March 18.

Sound Transit said the responses will help the agency determine which alternatives to study in an upcoming environmental impact statement (EIS). After the agency's board identifies the alternatives to evaluate in the DEIS, the project will advance to the final EIS phase, which is expected to be completed in 2022. The board then will select the project to pursue and seek a record of decision from the FTA.

The West Seattle and Ballard extensions are expected to be completed in 2030 and 2035, respectively. The projects also would include a new tunnel in downtown Seattle to help speed operations as light rail expands to Northgate, Bellevue, Redmond, Lynnwood, Federal Way, Tacoma, Everett and other communities in Washington.

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:

  • Mandy Baldwin, who won a runner up prize for a photo of the dining car/view from a trip she recently took on the Empire Builder with her mom. Manda shared that her mom hadn’t ridden a train in over 50 years and “LOVED that trip”.
  • 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.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency said that it will reduce delays on the city’s subway system during peak hours by 10 percent. The goal was presented in a new plan that outlines the agency’s goal to decrease delays in which passengers are brought to a stop for 20 minutes or longer. Julie Kirschbaum, acting director of transit for Muni, said the goal is to drop the 20-minute or longer delays down to four per month.

The plan will be a challenge for Muni, as the agency’s rail system has struggled over recent years to keep up with demand on modernization - Muni has already had three major delays in February. The agency is also stressing to get the fixes done quickly, with Kirschbaum saying that ride-hailing services like Uber or Lyft can easily take away their ridership.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo nominated the former head of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to join the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board. Sarah Feinberg service as Administrator for the FRA from 2015 to 2017. Feinberg’s nomination must be approved by the state Senate and, if approved, she would replace real estate executive Scott Rechler, who is leaving the board.

Three more seats are also in need of nominees. These include seats representing Dutchess and Rockland counties, and a seat representing the Long Island Railroad Commuter Council. Earlier this month, Cuomo nominated real estate developer David Mack to a seat representing Nassau County.

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:
      • ‘What Can Passengers Do?: Advocacy Strategies That Really Work’
      • ‘How to Sell Trains to Your Congressman’
      • ‘The View from the Hill: Infrastructure and the 116th Congress’
      • No Schedules: Regional Rail and the Future of American Passenger Trains’
      • ‘Investments, Not Subsidies: How American Long Distance Trains Make Money’
  • 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!

A new opportunity to link Asheville, NC to the National Network is under consideration by the chairman of North Carolina House Transportation Committee, John Torbett (R-Gaston). For years passenger rail advocates, as well as members of the city council and other local governments, have encouraged the city to reconnect to Amtrak service after Asheville lost service in 1975. Since that time, numerous proposals have come and gone, but under consideration now is a request for two years of funding of up to $890,000 to cover expenses for an Asheville-to-Salisbury bus run by Amtrak.

Although the proposal is only for a bus connection, officials hope that it would eventually lead to rail service returning to Asheville in the near future. Torbett said that the General Assembly is waiting to start serious finance discussions until Governor Roy Cooper presents his proposed budget, which could happen in March. If funding is approved by Cooper, bus service could start in 2020.

New York's final version of the Environmental Impact Statement for a high-speed rail initiative to link Albany and Buffalo is overdue and no information about it is available. Gary Prophet, president of the Empire State Passengers Association (ESPA), said that he inquired about the EIS, but that he “couldn't find out anything." The only information he received was that the final EIS was due to be released soon; the Federal Railroad Administration’s website says that it will be released in 2019. A major reason for the final EIS to be considered late is the fact that the FRA and the state Department of Transportation completed a draft EIS in January 2014.

The goal of the proposed higher-speed route is to bring train speeds up to at least 90 mph, up from 79 mph, which is what ESPA sought in an agreed plan. However, state officials wanted 110 mph but CSX, which owns the rail lines Amtrak would run on, pushed back on the speed. As a result of the dispute, the plan has not come to fruition.

A higher-speed train line would be a great improvement for travelers between the two cities. Travel by car takes more than four hours, while the current train service takes more than five hours. Flights between the two cities does no exist.

Passenger Rail Service Notices

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

Northeast Corridor Service Schedule Change

Effective February 23, 2019 minor schedule changes will affect Northeast Regional and Acela Express trains. Schedule adjustments of approximately 2 to 25 minutes will be made between Boston and New York to accommodate track work on the Mystic river bridge.

For the most up to date schedule information and reservations, visit Amtrak.com or call 1-800-USA-RAIL (1-800-872-7245).

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 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.
      • Metrolink will honor Amtrak tickets between Irvine and Los Angeles
      • Bus service will not be provided to connect with Train 1761.
      • Buses will not pick up at Old Town San Diego. Passengers can take the trolley to downtown San Diego to board buses to Irvine.

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.

All 41 railroads that are mandated to implement Positive Train Control (PTC) equipment either met the 2018 deadline for full installation or submitted requests for a two-year extension by meeting specific criteria. The updated was provided by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) in a new report that reviewed railroads' self-reported progress on PTC technology, which can monitor, slow and stop trains. It also found that PTC is in operation on 46,000 out of 58,000 route miles that are required to have the technology. PTC systems are also currently in revenue service demonstration on an additional 288 route miles.

As for the December 2018 deadline that was mandated by Congress, only four railroads fully implemented PTC systems. The railroads were the North County Transit District, the Southern California Regional Railroad Authority or Metrolink, the Port Authority Trans-Hudson Corp., and Portland & Western Railroad.

The other 37 railroads met the six statutory criteria that were required by Congress for them to qualify for an extension. As of December 31, 2018, 33 railroads had submitted a written notification formally requesting FRA’s review and approval of an alternative schedule and sequence, and as of February 11, 2019, FRA has formally approved 25 requests.


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.

Officials with Virgin Trains USA’s Brightline are requesting an additional $950 million in tax-exempt bonds for its planned extension to Orlando. If Brightline were to receive the bonds, they would be in addition to the $1.75 billion bonds that were approved in August, 2018.

“We will continue to fund our project to Orlando through a combination of debt and equity,” said Ben Porritt, Brightline’s senior vice president of corporate affairs.

The Florida Development Finance Corp. is planning a hearing in Tallahassee on March 1 to approve the request for the bonds.

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.