Happening Now

Hotline #1,063

April 20, 2018

Rail Passengers Association Responds to Amtrak Changing Food Quality; Brightline Officials Defend HSR Service; Chicago’s Metra plans $84.8 million for construction and repairs; Rail Passengers Association Board of Directors Election Results

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 Association on Facebook and Twitter to stay up to date on all things passenger rail.

Amtrak announced suddenly that it will be replacing traditional hot meal-diner car service for sleeping car customers on the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited starting June 1. Rail Passengers Association is against this move, which will degrade the passenger experience and, we believe, has the potential to harm ridership.

Amtrak said in a press release that it will change its menu June 1 and offer the following cold foods:

  • Lunch & Dinner: Chilled beef tenderloin, Vegan wrap, Chicken Caesar salad, or Turkey club sandwich.
  • Breakfast: Assorted breakfast breads with butter, cream cheese and strawberry jam; Greek yogurt and sliced seasonal fresh fruit plate.

While the change was announced just after the conclusion of the Rail Passengers Association annual National Advocacy Summit in Washington, D.C., our Council Members voiced their displeasure on the change in meal service and quality during a general survey of issues facing passengers (see story below). Overall, 97% of Council members polled electronically at the annual business meeting indicated that they do not support downgrading food service on national network overnight trains.

"We understand that Amtrak is under a Congressional mandate to at least break even on food and beverage costs but serving cold meals on an overnight train service has been tried before and it resulted in lower ridership in premium services and was reflected in lower revenue,” said Rail Passengers Chairman Peter LeCody. “Even most airline passengers get a hot meal for dinner on overnight flights. Amtrak management needs to rethink their strategy."

“At a time when Congress has just appropriated a record sum for Amtrak, we can’t understand why Amtrak cutting service in ways that degrade the customer experience, threatening the steady growth taking place on long distance trains,” said Jim Mathews, President of Rail Passengers. “It’s not always just about profits--Amtrak itself conceded that Congress created the railroad to advance important, nationwide public objectives. Our members just had over 350 meetings with members of Congress this week, and if Amtrak executives continue to buy into the persistent and wrong-headed idea that taxpayers should support the ‘profitable’ NEC and cut the ‘failing’ long-distance network loose, we will mobilize those elected officials in defense of America’s passenger rail network.”

Your generous contributions help Rail Passengers in our fight to defend passenger rights.

In light of the change, Railway Age Editor-in-Chief WIlliam Vantuono said the move by Amtrak is worse than airline food considering the fact that airline food is hot. This change, among others -- like removing discounts and parlor cars -- could be “a veiled attempt to drive passengers away” in support of rumored “internal plans within Amtrak to discontinue long-distance trains” and focus on short- and medium-distance services in the NEC, Midwest (Chicago) and California, as well as state-supported trains.

Vantuono also questioned if Amtrak’s recent report card on freight railroads, and Anderson’s statements to a House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure that “Amtrak won’t operate its trains on freight railroad rights-of-way where PTC is not yet operational” are also hints that long-distance trains will disappear.

With the current changes by Amtrak, we hear you.

Regular Amtrak passengers and Rail Passengers Association members are livid and are voicing their frustrations over these changes, which truly do have the potential to drive customers away. We will keep everyone posted on our discussion with Amtrak and Anderson as we move forward, and will push Congress to preserve national network service.

During Wednesday’s Council of Representatives meeting at the Rail Passenger Association 2018 Spring Advocacy Summit, Chairman Peter LeCody gauged the representatives’ thoughts on issues that have been front and center recently. The four issues were:

  1. Amtrak’s idea to reduce service on certain national network overnight trains to less than daily service by expanding shorter segments with more than one round trip daily;
  2. Amtrak's policy of curtailing private charter services and limiting private cars, both of which have shown to be revenue generators;
  3. Amtrak downgrading food and beverage service on national network overnight trains;
  4. Amtrak utilizing new equipment on national network trains rather than refurbished equipment.

As one could imagine, the majority of the 70-plus Representatives overwhelmingly did not support Amtrak on issues 1, 2 and 3. On issue 2, Representatives said that many of the charter and PV moves occur outside of the NEC, and they fear it would have a negative revenue impact on the national network.

It is also no surprise that Representatives overwhelmingly supported Amtrak acquiring new and modern equipment, as opposed to refurbished.

Rail Passengers Honor Jim Hamre's Memory with Golden Spike

Hamre Devoted His Life to Passenger Rail and Building Lasting Relationships

The Rail Passengers Association recognized Jim Hamre's life and memory by posthumously awarding him the Association's Golden Spike Award at the Association’s Congressional Reception. Hamre was a strong advocate for passenger rail in the Pacific Northwest as a member of Rail Passengers Association and vice president of All Aboard Washington.

"Jim Hamre epitomized what it means to be a rail advocate and a friend and this award is only a small token of our appreciation for his work," said Rail Passengers President Jim Mathews. "He spent four decades working to improve and increase passenger rail service. Along the way, he built important and long-lasting relationships that helped change the future of Amtrak service in the Pacific Northwest. Jim will be missed."

Hamre lost his life, along with friend and fellow Rail Passengers Association member, Zack Willhoite on December 18, 2017 after Amtrak #501 derailed in DuPont, WA. He had devoted his life to passenger rail, beginning his work as early as the 1970's. Hamre studied at Washington State University when he began working for the Milwaukee Road line from Chicago to Seattle. During the 80's, Hamre worked at the Washington State Department of Transportation and got involved in transportation advocacy work.

“Jim met with me often, and he was always—figuratively speaking, gently and always appropriately—putting his finger in my chest to help me understand what it is that I should do. It is a great loss,” Rep. Denny Heck (D-WA) said during Rail Passengers Association’s Golden Spike Award Ceremony. “And, I want to say this about that one element that could have prevented his death, and that of dozens and dozens of others, Positive Train Control—we ought to all adopt a battle cry: no more excuses, no more delays. And we’re going to get there. And we’re going to get there in part, in very apt and fitting memory and honor of Jim.”

Hamre and Willhoite, as well as Benjamin Graham, lost their lives when Amtrak #501 derailed, but Positive Train Control (PTC) technology could have prevented the derailment altogether. The train was traveling on a new route through Washington state before it derailed, but PTC technology, which can remotely monitor, stop and slow trains that are speeding and at risk of derailment or a collision, was not yet installed.

“Amtrak #501’s derailment was devastating for friends and family of Jim’s, but what made it that much worse was that it was preventable,” Mathews said. “We will continue to work to make sure this life-saving technology is finally put in place.”

Congress had originally mandated that all railroads install PTC on its tracks and trains by 2015. Due to the cost and inability of railroads and transit agencies, Congress extended the deadline to the end of 2018.

In the Association's 50-year history, the Golden Spike has been awarded to giants in entertainment such as Johnny Cash and Walt Disney, as well as Debbie Reynolds, who is credited with the idea for the award a half century ago. Most recently, it has been gifted to elected officials in Congress, like the late Rep. Louise M. Slaughter (D-NY), who have helped push forward new legislation in support of maintaining and furthering passenger rail in the U.S.

Regardless of their background, all recipients have shared a common theme: actions of great service on behalf of America’s passengers. Concerning that exemplar, Jim Hamre deserves recognition among this impressive shared company to the extent that they are lucky to rank with him.

Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson met with Collis P. Huntington Railroad Society and West Virginia officials to determine how both parties can move forward following Amtrak’s announcement that it would end charter and special train services. The society’s New River Train is one of several trains, such as Roanoke Valley, VA’s 611 steam engine, that would no longer be allowed by Amtrak. Many historic rail groups and rail advocates pushed back. The loss of these trains would also harm local economies; the New River Train and related tourism generates about $5 million for West Virginia alone.

The meeting between Anderson and society officials was organized by Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) and U.S. Representative Evan Jenkins (R-WV).

“Collis P. Huntington has been a tremendous partner to Amtrak and has a stellar record with no operational issues or citations,” Senator Manchin said in a press release. “I made sure that Amtrak knew the impact this would have on our economy and local non-profits. Richard Anderson and I both agree that we need to find a solution and I received a commitment from him that they are committed to continuing their partnership with Collis P. Huntington and finding a solution that both sides are happy with.”

“This meeting puts us one step closer to running the New River Train this fall through southern West Virginia,” Rep. Jenkins said in a release. "There are still some issues that remain to be resolved, but every single person in the room wants to keep the New River Train running. I will continue to work to ensure the New River Train runs for a 52nd year this fall and am encouraged by the results of today's discussion.”

After the conclusion of the meeting, both West Virginia officials said that it was productive. Rep. Jenkins said that Anderson understands that the New River Train has a 50-year history and economic impact that distinguishes it from other charter trains that Amtrak said have cut into the railroad’s on-time performance, profit margins and customer satisfaction.

The Rail Passengers Association will continue to closely monitor future developments with Amtrak as the company determines how it will move forward with the Collis P. Huntington Railroad Society and other charter trains.

How Rail Can Save a Stranger in a Strange Land

A Post By New Summer By Rail Correspondent Jacob Wallace


I’m Jacob Wallace, and I’m going to be your Summer by Rail guide for the next few months. I’m currently studying abroad in Madrid, and over the course of my semester I have travelled as much as possible, which has opened up the door to all kinds of wild mistakes, from missed meals to missing tickets.

As a young traveler I am eager to learn, and sometimes I accidentally set up situations for myself in which I learn a bit more than I intended to. Case in point: during two recent trips to Vienna, Austria and Valencia, Spain, I managed to book lodging so far out of the city that a quick Google Maps search informed me I’d be walking for over an hour, heavy suitcase in tow, to get there from the center of either city.

What can I say? Student debt has me bargain-hunting.

Considering the whole point of choosing my lodging was trying to keep prices down, I didn’t just want to take an expensive taxi or an Uber if there was any way I could avoid it. Luckily for me, both cities have extensive passenger rail networks.

In Valencia, I had an Airbnb booked all the way in the nearby suburb of Rafelbunyol even though I was spending all my time in the city center for the Las Fallas festival. Were it not for the Metro’s extended hours for the festival, I would’ve been wandering around the city for about 45 minutes finding a taxi stop and fighting for a ride amongst the other festival-goers.

In Vienna, I took the U4 line all the way to its end in Hutteldorf and only had to walk seven minutes to reach my hostel. Imagine, if you will, a lanky American wandering deserted suburban streets with a duffel bag whose shoulder strap, attached with plastic hooks, squeaks so loudly that its echoes reach his hostel long before he does. Now imagine squeaking along for over an hour.

Without the transit rail systems in either city, getting around would’ve been a nightmare.

As I spend a semester studying in Madrid, one of the truisms I most often hear is that European public transportation is far superior to anything that we have in the United States. If we’re being honest, the state of infrastructure in the US has drawn attention for all the wrong reasons: it has become a presidential campaign hallmark to talk about all that needs to be done to fix the system.

However, what’s so remarkable about our train systems in the US is that even in their current state, it’s still possible to have completely unforgettable experiences by rail that can take you to cities across the country.

Over the course of this summer, I’ll be journeying across America documenting how rail and other “last-mile” transportation options can get you just about anywhere you need to go. Along the way, I won’t be turning away from those areas in which help is needed. Rather, I hope to demonstrate that Amtrak and rail in general are a tremendous opportunity. They’re an opportunity for the passengers who can catch unforgettable views on observation decks or pass out in sleeper cars only to wake up several states away from where they started. They’re an opportunity for lawmakers to invest on behalf of travelers and commuters. Most importantly (to me), they’re an opportunity for me to have one heck of a cross-country tour of America. I hope you’ll join me on my journey once I hit the (US) rails.

Rail Passengers Association member and recently-appointed Federal Railroad Administration head Ronald Batory encouraged motorists and pedestrians to be smart around railroad crossings. As the FRA administrator, Batory asked in The Des Moines Register that people obey warning signals and railroad gates to help lower fatalities and injuries. Batory highlighted a shocking, and unfortunately true statistic: that 94 percent of rail-related fatalities and injuries occur at crossings or while trespassing as a train is coming. In addition, about every three hours, a person or vehicle is hit by a train in the U.S.

“These crashes are avoidable, but the onus is on automobile drivers because trains cannot stop quickly. A train traveling at 55 mph takes a mile or more to come to a stop. Accidents can happen any time — 73% of railroad crossing accidents occur in clear weather conditions. In 2016, railroad crossing fatalities increased compared to the previous year. There were 2,041 railroad crossing incidents in that year alone, and approximately 260 fatalities,” Batory wrote.

Batory also pointed to the FRA’s and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) new awareness campaign titled "Stop! Trains Can't." The campaign will utilize social media, radio and digital ads to target areas at higher risk for crossing accidents. It also will focus on educating drivers in states where the most dangerous crossings are located, as well as in areas in which 75 percent of crashes occurred last year.

In addition to the campaign, Batory also wrote that the U.S. Department of Transportation has partnered with technology companies to add rail-crossing alerts to mobile applications. It is also testing intrusion detection technology to provide advanced warning to trains when a vehicle is on the tracks. The US DOT also is partnering with Operation Lifesaver on other rail safety education initiatives to encourage drivers to make safe choices at crossings.

Brightline officials had to defend the higher-speed rail line’s effort to connect South Florida to the U.S. House Oversight Subcommittee on Government Operations. The company was approved by the federal government to receive more than $1 billion in tax exempt bonds to help pay for its second phase of development - connecting West Palm Beach, Orlando and Miami. Although no action was taken by the Committee, critics like Rep. Brian Mast, R-Palm City and Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) questioned if the U.S. Department of Transportation’s decision to classify Brightline as a highway project was accurate and if the company was really eligible for the taxpayer funding.

“Although Brightline is not a traditional highway in terms of automobiles, it is providing the same, if not more advantages than driving,” said Rail Passenger President Jim Mathews in response to the questions by Committee members. “Critics keep trying to halt Brightline, but it provides high-quality, fast and reliable service that can help take cars off congested roads while providing people an opportunity to sit back and relax as they travel through Florida without the stress of driving.”

Brightline President Patrick Goddard said that the company is seeking the funding in order to “increase mobility in South Florida.”

The committee said it also would leave the record open for two weeks for any more questions to be posed to Brightline.

Join The Transportation for Massachusetts Petition

Passenger rail works best when we have good connections to other modes of travel. And public transit needs champions right now.

Four years of level-funding regional bus networks in Massachusetts have led to service cuts and sharp fare hikes that hit transit-dependent riders the hardest.

So we are proud to be one of 40 organizations and over 1,000 people who have signed the Transportation for Massachusetts petition to properly fund Regional Transit Authorities.

Please join us by signing on today!

States have been asked by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to ready their transit-rail safety oversight programs for certification by no later than September 30, which is nearly six months before the federal deadline of April 15, 2019. The request was made by FTA Acting Administrator K. Jane Williams who said that some projects will be at risk of not receiving the certification. By law, states with operational transit-rail systems, or even systems in the engineering or construction phases, must receive FTA certification for rail safety oversight programs. This includes a total of 30 states and Washington, D.C., but only Colorado, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Ohio, Utah, Virginia and D.C. have received certification. Arizona, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and West Virginia have submitted applications that are under review.

"We still have an additional 15 [states] to go, and some of those are quite complex," she said on a call with media. "We've indicated to all of them that if we don't get [the applications] by the end of September, they could be in jeopardy of not reaching certification by April 15."

The FTA is prohibited by law from granting new transit funds for states that don’t meet the certification deadline.

Is Your Mayor Onboard?

As Congress plans ahead for next year's spending, it's critical that local cities play an active part in the process.

Contact your Mayor today!

Just last year, we saw efforts in both Congress and the White House to kill Amtrak's National Network. With a concerted campaign of station rallies, calls, and meetings, passenger advocates were able to turn back these efforts, and secure additional funding for passenger rail in both the House and Senate. Now we need to move these bills across the finish line.

That's why Rail Passengers Association is asking you to write your local Mayor's office and recruit them in the campaign for better train service for all Americans!

Rail Passengers is providing you with materials to help make your argument. Joining our campaign is as easy as clicking a button, so take action today!

Passenger Resources:

Rail ridership on subways and elevated trains fell by 2.1 percent in 2017 based on a new report from the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). Overall, people took 10.1 billion trips on public transit services such as buses and passenger rail throughout the U.S. This represents only a slight decrease of 2.9 percent in ridership from 2016.

“While we are in a time of great change, in part due to technological innovations, public transit remains a critical part of any community’s transportation network,” Paul Skoutelas, APTA president and CEO, said. “Public transportation organizations are revamping their services and experimenting with pilot projects to be more time and cost competitive, and more customer-focused to meet the needs of today’s riders and the growing population.”

A 4.3 percent decrease in bus ridership also contributed to the overall drop. In APTA’s report, the association only found transit ridership increase in four of 29 public transit systems examined: Phoenix; San Francisco; Arlington Heights, Illinois; and Seattle.

Other notable numbers include:

  • Ridership for commuter rail grew in 18 transit systems, but overall ridership dropped 0.2 percent.
  • Heritage trolleys, modern streetcars, and trolleys had ridership grow in 11 transit systems, but overall ridership fell 0.8 percent.
  • Paratransit ridership grew 0.4 percent.

Do you live in Maryland?

There’s a new chapter of Rail Passengers especially for you, and they need your help!

As early steps, Rail Passengers Maryland was out leafleting to save MARC train service into West Virginia, an effort that succeeded and proved the value of getting involved!

Get in on the ground floor, join today, and help them take the message that Marylanders want more rail options to Annapolis! Contact them with direct questions and comments, here.

Chicago’s Metra commuter service plans to use $84.8 million for construction upgrades and repairs through 2018. Projects include Positive Train Control installation, signal systems upgrades, station improvements, track repairs and grade crossing updates, as well as major bridge replacement projects on the UP North and Milwaukee District West lines and construction of a new track segment on the UP West Line.

When broken down, the money will be allocated as follows:

  • $30 million for positive train control
  • $39.7 million for signal system upgrades
  • $20.9 million for track maintenance
  • $12 million for bridge projects
  • $5.5 million for station improvements and
  • $4.5 million for rail crossing replacements.

"Our goal is to be as efficient as possible with the resources available to maintain our rail system and to move forward with the upgrades necessary for the implementation of the positive train control safety system," Metra Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director Jim Derwinski said in a press release.

Funding for Metra’s 2018 construction program is being supported by prior years' capital programs or outside sources, such as local municipalities and Metra's freight railroad partners. Comparatively, Metra's 2017 construction program included $216 million worth of infrastructure improvements.

The Hartford Line, a new commuter rail service that will connect Connecticut and Massachusetts, will start service on June 16 with free train rides. The new service will connect Hartford, MA to New Haven, CT with 17 daily trains and 12 additional trains will run between Hartford and Springfield, MA. The Hartford Line spans 62 miles between Hartford and Springfield and will operate at speeds up to 110 MPH. A one-way trip from New Haven to Hartford will cost a flat rate of $8 and the trip from New Haven to Springfield will cost $12 one way.

"Getting new service on this line has been a monumental undertaking that has taken years of intense coordination to ensure the successful opening of service," said CTDOT Commissioner James Redeker in a press release.

The higher-speed rail line has been in planning and development since 2004, but the project was regularly delayed due to funding constraints until recent years. State officials were able to secure $769 million for project through three federal grants and state funds. In 2017, the State Bond Commission allocated $50 million for the passenger line.

The opening of the Hartford Line will kick-off with a special launch celebration on Friday, June 15. Regular paid service will begin June 18. The line will also provide direct or connecting service to New York City, Boston and stations in Vermont.

$10,000 Sweepstakes for Education Continues Through April 26

Rail Passengers Association kicked off a sweepstakes in February for college students who can use assistance paying for higher education. Rail Passengers Association understands that paying for college is not easy, and this is why the Association is offering one lucky student a chance to win $10,000 for the 2018-2019 school year.

To be eligible to win the sweepstakes, students can nominate themselves, or a student can be nominated by someone else - a friend or a parent, for example. The only criteria is that the winning student must be enrolled in a U.S. accredited college or graduate program for the 2018-2019 school year.

For details on how to enter or nominate a student, as well as rules for the sweepstakes, please visit: www.crowdrise.com/rpascholarship. Nominations will close on April 26 at 11:59:59 pm ET.

Through May 23, Amtrak is offering a friends and family discount for the Pacific Surfliner. Passengers can save 50 percent on up to three tickets when they buy one adult ticket at full price. The discounted tickets are for trains traveling to Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties.

The Regional Plan Association estimates in a new report that it would cost $71 billion and up to 30 years to to develop new tracks and tiers of passenger rail service for the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut metropolitan area. The association’s plan includes: adding 300 miles of new track in the region; dividing the various rail systems into three different tiers: Metro, regional express and trans-regional limited; creating through service at Penn Station; and relieving congestion across the Hudson River, among other recommendations. The resulting system, dubbed the Trans-Regional Express (T-REX), “would provide frequent, consistent service, directly connecting New Jersey, Long Island, the Mid-Hudson and Connecticut, and allow the region’s economy to continue growing,” the association said in its plan.

The overall goal of the association’s plan is to provide “a strategic set of investments, phased over the next few decades” that “combine the Long Island Railroad, Metro-North Railroad and New Jersey Transit into a unified system that vastly improves mobility throughout the region.”

As part of the new system:

  • The Metro tier would be subway-like and run into North Jersey and north to Mount Vernon, Yonkers and Port Chester.
  • The Regional express is similar to the current commuter rail system, only expanded and more frequent.
  • The Trans-regional limited service would sit between the current commuter rail system and Amtrak, allowing more frequent and cheaper service between the region's urban centers.

Rich Barone, Rail Passengers Association's vice president for transportation, said that the cost of doing nothing for the region is too high.

Upcoming Regional Rail Passenger & State Association Member Meetings and Other Events:

Please contact Bruce Becker to have a local, state or regional event or meeting added to the Rail Passengers Association calendar of upcoming events!

Since Brightline began service in January of this year, there have been five deaths on the higher-speed train tracks. Two of those deaths were suicides, while the other three were accidents. However, new toxicology reports on the three accidental deaths revealed that each individual tested positive for various drugs in their systems.

In immediate response to these deaths, Brightline officials began increasing safety awareness efforts for pedestrians and motorists who are unfamiliar with the high speeds of trains and those who might attempt to cross tracks as a Brightline train approaches. The revelation of the toxicology reports will not deter Brightline from continuing its efforts to enhance safety and awareness.

“This is part of a larger and national conversation around mental health and drug addiction,” Brightline said in a statement. “Brightline remains steadfast in its mission on raising awareness about rail safety through engineering, education and enforcement.”

Brightline is currently testing its trains in Miami as it plans to begin service between Miami and Fort Lauderdale in early May. As service expands, Brightline officials have said that the company will continue its outreach plan that began in early 2017. It also will continue working with Operation Lifesaver. Brightline’s outreach campaign includes:

  • Placing Variable Message Signs at high traffic crossings between Fort Lauderdale and Miami
  • Placing PSAs on Creole radio, English and Spanish broadcast and radio channels
  • Deploying safety ambassadors to railroad-roadway crossings to educate drivers and pedestrians about rail safety
  • Hosting trainings for local first responders
  • Distributing more than 12,000 pieces of literature to schools along the FEC Railway/Brightline corridor
  • Training Brightline team members as Operation Lifesaver volunteers.

Members of the Rail Passengers Association leadership’s Board of Directors were elected during this past Wednesday’s Council of Representative Business Meeting.

Chair Peter LeCody was re-elected to a two-year term, as were Treasurer Ken Clifford and Secretary William ‘Cliff’ Dunn. The Association’s Vice-Chairs for the next two years will be Ken Briers (re-elected); Carl Fowler; Thomas Girsch and David Randall. Newly elected Directors include Susan Hadrous; Andrew Lodriguss and Matt Melzer, all of whom will serve three-year terms through 2021. The remainder of the previously elected Directors include George Chilson, Jim Souby, Brian Nelson, Richard Vavra-Musser and Phil Streby. Immediate Past Chair Robert Stewart will continue to advise the Board in an non-voting role.

In addition, the Council elected 10 ‘At-Large’ members to serve for the next two years: Stephen Adams, Kendall Allen, William O. Greene, Penny Jacobs, Michael Jankowski, Jan Lindberg, Mark Meyer, Kent Patterson, Ron Schneider and Steve Strauss.

Congratulations to all!

Mathew Sturges has been appointed the new deputy administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). The appointment was announced by U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. The US DOT said he “will be a key member of the FRA’s senior executive management team responsible for helping lead the agency’s safety regulatory activities, federal investments in freight and passenger rail, as well as legislative initiatives to advance the Administration’s priorities.”

FRA Administrator Ronald Batory also said in a press release, “I am excited to welcome Matt to the FRA executive team. He brings a wealth of Capitol Hill experience to FRA that will be an asset when dealing with some of the agency’s most pressing policy issues.”

Sturges previously served as majority staff director of the U.S. House of Representatives' Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I), where he directed legislative oversight and authorization efforts related to all modes of transportation. He also worked as deputy director of government affairs for the Republican National Committee, as well as director of coalitions for the House Republican Conference led by U.S. Rep. Deborah Pryce (R-Ohio).

Take Action Now!

Our voices were heard -- the FY2018 Omnibus Appropriations Bill included key passenger rail funding. Though we have passed a major hurdle, we must remain vigilant in our efforts, and continually remind our representatives, and the White House, that passenger rail funding in an infrastructure bill is necessary for the growth and success of our economy.

Rail Passengers Association has set up an online tool to permit riders and members alike to let the White House know directly that they disagree with any cuts to passenger rail funding.

Visit www.railpassengers.org/whitehousebudget to take action NOW!

Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities, an environmental group in Traverse City, MI is leading the efforts on a feasibility study that will look at connecting the area to Ann Arbor, MI. Passenger rail advocates have been pushing for a line that would run through the state for years, but movement has been delayed with freight trains being the only ones running on the route. And although a permanent train route is still years away, train advocates are eager to begin testing trains with a goal of running speciality trains during the summer of 2019.

“It could provide options for baby boomers moving up to the region and for college students at Baker, Alma, CMU, U of M,” said Jim Bruckbauer, deputy director of the Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities. “We see the potential for what this can do for the downtowns between Traverse City and Ann Arbor - Owosso, Clare, Cadillac.”

The nonprofit group has raised $100,000 to conduct the study from a variety of sources including the federal government, the Michigan Department of Transportation, the National Association of Realtors, Rotary Charities of Traverse City and municipalities along the proposed route. The study should be completed this summer, but preliminary results of the ongoing feasibility study suggest a passenger train, called A2TC, connecting the two cities would attract widespread ridership. Projections that show tourism in Traverse City and surrounding areas is expected to double from six million visitors a year to 13 million by 2045.

White House budget chief Mick Mulvaney has been urged in a letter from 27 House Republicans to nix the funding in the recent omnibus spending bill that could provide support to the Gateway Program. Although the spending package does not specifically grant money to the Gateway Program, their request asks Mulvaney to press President Trump to withhold the funding as it is left open for how it would be used in the Northeast Corridor. The Gateway Program includes the development of a new Hudson Tunnel between New York and New Jersey, as well as the repair of the current tunnel which was severely damaged during Superstorm Sandy.

As part of Rail Passengers advocacy summit in DC, our members spoke out against the passage of any recisions to rail infrastructure programs.

“Congress passed the spending bill in order to provide passenger rail services and related infrastructure the funding boost needed to provide people with better train service,” said Rail Passengers President Jim Mathews. “The request to withhold funding, much like the White House’s proposed infrastructure initiative, will hinder the development and future of the national rail network, as well as the national economy.”

The letter says, “We urge you to advise the president to include in his message rescissions of budget authority from the appropriations accounts in the Consolidated Appropriations Act (‘the Act’) that could provide funding for the Gateway Program."

Those who signed the letter include House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), caucus co-founder Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Rep. Ted Budd (R-N.C.). The request includes $388 million from the Northeast Corridor Grants, $225 million from the Federal Transit Administration's State of Good Repair partnership account, and $400 million allotted for State of Good Repair grants.