Happening Now

Hotline #1,067

May 18, 2018

Protests Show Support for SW Chief; Sen. Durbin Calls on FRA to Improve Amtrak OTP; Brightline to Begin Miami Service; FRA To Provide PTC Grants

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City leaders and passenger rail advocates held protests last Saturday to support keeping the Southwest Chief running from Chicago to Los Angeles. City Manager Rick Klein hosted a protest in La Junta, CO and Mayor John Pritchard hosted one in Galesburg, IL. Concerns have been raised over the past couple of weeks that Amtrak might end the Southwest Chief service, leaving many Amtrak customers and Rail Passengers members frustrated.

“La Junta is a railroad town,” said City Manager Rick Klein. “It was built by the railroad, just like the rest of this great nation. You can come into the edge of town on an airline, but to come into the center of the country and its people, you have to take the train.”

Mayor Pritchard also raised concerns we’ve all had recently - Amtrak removing hot meal service on its Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited trains, and eliminating attendants at 15 stations that serve long-distance routes, including the station at Fort Madison, IA. This station is directly after Galesburg on the Southwest Chief line.

In their comments to the gathering protesters, Klein and Pritchard were concerned about a grant match Amtrak promised for repairs on the portion of the Southwest Chief line that runs between Hutchinson, Kansas, and Albuquerque, New Mexico. In October 2017, Amtrak pledged to provide a $3 million match toward a U.S. Department of Transportation TIGER grant to make repairs to the route. Amtrak received a $16 million TIGER grant out of USDOT’s available $500 million for the project.

“The legislature just passed a $2.5 million bill to facilitate rail along the front range to decrease the congestion on our highway,” said Klein. “We were built by the railroad and we are not about to lose it! It’s a great way to see the country. Rural America needs the trains.”

The Rail Passengers Association truly appreciates and thanks everyone for their support during last weekend’s protests along the Southwest Chief route. Your dedication goes a long way in showing Amtrak management, as well as local and federal officials, that Amtrak is a vital part of our communities.

Ahead of the protests, the Rail Passengers Association sent a letter to members of the U.S. House Transportation & Infrastructure Subcommittee on Railroads and the U.S. Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure to highlight the true value of the Southwest Chief.

Rail Passengers Association’s letter was in regard to Amtrak’s office of Government Affairs response to Congressional inquiries about the status of service on the Southwest Chief route. Unfortunately, the letter from Amtrak misrepresented both the value and the cost of this service.

As a result, we provided a broader and more complete context to help members of Congress evaluate the proper next steps to preserve this important transportation service for residents in the 36 communities across eight states that depend on the Southwest Chief.

In a hearing for the confirmation of Amtrak Board Nominee Joe Gruters this past Wednesday May 16th, Senator Cory Gardner submitted our letter to the congressional record while questioning Gruters about his respect for commitments.

To read our letter in its entirety, please visit our blog.

Amtrak Affirms National Network Commitment

By Jim Mathews, Rail Passengers Association President and CEO

After consistent, applied pressure by rail advocates, Amtrak is taking steps to commit publicly to a robust nationwide rail service with a national footprint. Whether speaking individually to our association, offering assurances to congressional staff or testifying before Senators, Amtrak’s leaders would seem to be getting the message loud and clear from the rail-riding public: we expect a truly national network, and one that’s run prudently enough to minimize the need for government investment but not exclusively for profit.

Rail Passengers has been working hard to inform congressional offices about disturbing reports from the states that Amtrak was contemplating diminishing service on mainline National Network trains such as the Empire Builder to focus on short-haul corridors. Following conversations with Rail Passengers Association staff, Republican Sen. Steve Daines of Montana asked Amtrak Chief Commercial Officer Stephen Gardner point-blank whether there were plans to reduce the Builder and whether Amtrak is committed to the Network.

“We do not plan to institute tri-weekly service on the Empire Builder,” Gardner replied in a transportation-related hearing May 16. “Obviously we’re operating under the FAST Act authorization in which Congress authorized our network, any conversations about the broad future of our network is best placed in our authorization context as we approach our next authorization. Amtrak is operating all of our long distance routes, we intend to do that and we will consider any future changes collectively between the Congress, the Administration, and Amtrak as we look at the network ahead.”

This was the strongest public statement yet reaffirming support for a national footprint, a welcome development as rumors began to sweep through the advocacy community in recent weeks. Those rumors, and the absence of definitive efforts to knock them down, provoked former Amtrak chief Joe Boardman to pen an unprecedented open letter in industry publications calling for more transparency as drastic changes are contemplated.

The rumors also prompted Rail Passengers President Jim Mathews to visit with Amtrak Chairman Anthony Coscia earlier this month, and Coscia offered similar assurances.

Pointing to the recognition that Amtrak is a government-supported enterprise, Coscia said that it has a “mission” beyond the balance sheet, and pledged that top management is “committed to the mission.” Amtrak has a responsibility as a recipient of federal funds to make sure that its long-range plans 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 added.

Years from now, as demographic shifts continue and more migration takes place from rural communities into dense mega-regions, there may come a time when the "legacy National Network routes no longer meet the mission," Coscia said, "but looking at the map today I can't identify any that don't."

Coscia describes the way the concept is beginning to take shape as “corridors hanging off the legacy National Network routes like a necklace,” with development focused on corridor services with strong growth potential such as the entire Southeast U.S., or corridors like Chicago-St. Louis, or Chicago-Minneapolis.

CEO Richard Anderson said as much on April 19 addressing the California Rail Summit: “The future of Amtrak is in these 300- to 400- or 500-mile corridors.” Asked from the audience what that means for the long-distance trains operating today, Anderson acknowledged that “there is a place for the long-distance, ‘experiential’ train….there are some really sort of epic trips that are in the long-distance system (like) the California Zephyr, the Coast Starlight.”

He declared that Amtrak’s “responsibility is to figure out how to keep that experiential piece of the pie in place” while simultaneously “figuring out how we discharge our mission under PRIIA”—the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008—“to serve the short-haul markets.”

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-Illinois.) requested that the Federal Railroad Administration act to ensure that freight railroads like Canadian National (CN) in the Chicago area provide Amtrak right of way in order to improve the railroad’s on-time performance (OTP). The ask was made in a letter to FRA Administrator Ronald Batory from Senator Durbin, who said that Amtrak's Illini and Saluki routes are regularly delayed by CN and that OTP needs to be improved.

“Freight interference continues to be the main driver of passenger rail delays on this route and routes across the country. Canadian National in particular has a long history of holding up Amtrak trains and holding back investments that could improve passenger and freight service in downstate Illinois. The FRA must do more to improve Amtrak on-time performance by practicing rigorous oversight of railroads who fail to live up to their obligations under the law,” Senator Durbin wrote in the letter to Batory.

“On time performance is an issue that the Rail Passengers Association has been advocating and pushing the federal government on for years, so we are glad to see that Senator Durbin is reaching out to Administrator Batory, urging him to take action,” said Rail Passengers President Jim Mathews. “The OTP for the Illini and Saluki that Durbin refers to in his letter was 19.1 percent in March, which means less than 20 percent of trains were on time. This is unreasonable for Amtrak customers.”

Durbin also wrote in his letter that current speed restrictions along 200 miles of the Chicago-Champaign-Carbondale route were put into place as a safety precaution in 2015 after repeated mechanical issues on the route. Since that time there has been little progress toward an agreement between CN and Amtrak to resolve the issues so that the speed restrictions can be lifted.

Three Ways To Support The National Network

We have all seen the changes from Amtrak management that have us concerned that the moves may erode service on Amtrak’s long-distance routes. Rail Passengers members and Amtrak customers need affirmation that the railroad is committed to Amtrak-served communities and a truly National Network.

Right now, the silence from management is deafening, but there are three ways that you can help voice support for the National Network.

  1. Help us send a message to Congress that we want continued support for long-distance routes! Call your members of Congress today!
  2. Get your community involved in the fight to preserve the National Network. Members of Amtrak-served communities can sign on to a petition with the message that we support the railroad’s efforts to grow passenger rail service, but not at the expense of existing Amtrak communities.
  3. You can also help Rail Passengers in our fight for America's trains through your generous contributions!

So don’t wait! Get involved today!

Amtrak board nominee and Sarasota state Rep. Joe Gruters was questioned about Amtrak’s safety and long-distance trains by the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation. Gruters said that safety will be his “top priority” while serving on the board of Amtrak, which experienced several high-profile accidents between December 2017 and March 2018. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wa.) referred to one of those accidents - specifically the December derailment in DuPont in which two Rail Passengers members and another individual lost their lives - and asked that Gruters help keep Amtrak moving forward with PTC.

In response, Gruters said, “PTC is an important technology. I think it’s the most important issue facing Amtrak, and it needs to be the baseline, needs to be the standard.” Gruters also gave support to Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson to increase Amtrak’s focus on safety, which included hiring a chief safety officer that oversees new safety protocols.

Following the recent surge of changes from Amtrak that have a direct impact on Amtrak customers and communities served by Amtrak, Gruters also received several questions from Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Ms.) about the railroad’s work to improve on-time performance and its support and advancement of regional trains. Wicker also asked Gruters if reintroducing Amtrak service between New Orleans and Orlando is “economically viable.”

Gruters said he would like to find ways to make the route possible based on his background as a certified public accountant (CPA), and that he would like to see the Gulf Coast route “put back into place.”

Kansas U.S. Senator Jerry Moran also asked Gruters about Amtrak’s actions to remove ticket agents, including the one in Topeka.

Moran said, “This past week Amtrak announced that they were eliminating the only position in Topeka, the ticket agent, one employee of Amtrak, the only person that works there, that position is being eliminated. I would ask your cooperation in working with me now before your confirmation and if you become a member of the board to pursue this additional reduction in service. I’ve been involved in trying to help save the postal service and it seems to me too often that we have a circumstance in which we reduce the service, expecting then there to be better days. You cannot reduce service and expect customers to arrive at your doors, and Amtrak is demonstrating that in my view in both instances.”

Gruters, who has a background as a CPA at Paoli & Gruters, co-chaired Trump’s Florida presidential campaign. Gruters previously worked for U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R- Sarasota, and serves as chairman for the Republican Party of Sarasota. He has served on other boards, such as the Florida State University’s board of trustees.

Strangers Meet Through Baseball and Trains

Baseball and Passenger Rail Expanded the U.S. in the 20th Century

What do the Savannah Bananas small-town baseball team and Amtrak’s “Empire Builder” train have in common? They both connect Americans to each other.

“Summer by Rail” (www.summerbyrail.com) correspondent Jacob Wallace is a Texas Rangers fan who understands the communities that form around ballparks. As a student focused on transportation, Jacob knows that transit can do the same. This summer, Wallace will show how baseball and passenger rail are linked as he travels the country by rail, visiting dozens of baseball stadiums, meeting people, and writing about his experiences.

“The history of baseball and railroad are integral aspects of this country. Baseball, like trains, expanded with the country. Baseball, like trains, provides us with a link to 20th century growth, optimism, and communitarian philosophy because it brings us together to celebrate our teams,” Wallace wrote in a blog post for his “Summer by Rail” trip that will take nearly 40 days to go from Miami to Seattle. “We need baseball in a similar way that we need trains - an afternoon or evening at the ballpark provides us with a place to connect and commune with people that we might not otherwise share a connection with. Trains, meanwhile, provide us with a physical connection to places that we might not otherwise share a connection with. It's that ability to connect that made the two so interesting to me in the first place.”

As part of “Summer by Rail,” which launches May 26 in Miami, Wallace will attend 19 different games between teams in Major League Baseball (MLB), Minor League Baseball (MiLB), and independent leagues. At the heart of the trip, Wallace will explore the connectivity between North America’s transportation infrastructure and one of its favorite pastimes. Wallace will use intercity rail and other forms of public transit like bike-share and ride-share services to go from game to game and town to town.

The trip will conclude July 1 at a Seattle Mariners’ home game, but along the way Wallace will travel to Washington, D.C., Detroit, Chicago and Milwaukee to see the Nationals, Tigers, White Sox, Cubs and Brewers, among other MLB teams. Wallace will also visit eclectic minor league teams like the Savannah Bananas, Durham Bulls, Chicago Dogs, and Vancouver Canadians. And, he will ride on some of the most iconic train routes in America, including the brand new “Brightline” route in south Florida, as well as Amtrak’s Silver Meteor, Silver Star, Carolinian, Cardinal, Hoosier State, Wolverine, and Empire Builder routes.

“I love baseball, I love hot dogs, I love warm summer nights. If I didn't enjoy the heck out of baseball, there's no way I'd be bringing myself to 19 games in six weeks. Besides all the other reasons, baseball and trains mix because they're just so quintessentially American, right up there with apple pie,” Wallace, who is a rising journalism senior at American University in Washington, D.C. said in his blog post.

“I’m also excited to see the country by train,” Wallace said. “Meeting riders and seeing the countryside will be an interesting perspective on how trains connect the different parts of our country to each other.”

Along with this blog post, Wallace will share regular updates on his trip about what games he is attending, what public transit services he is utilizing, and profiles of other riders’ views on using public transit to commute to and from ball games.

New blog posts can be found online at www.summerbyrail.com, or on Instagram and Twitter using the handle @RailPassengers.

Passenger railroads, as well as freight, will receive a boost in funding from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to continue implementation of positive train control (PTC). The federal agency issued a notice of funding opportunity for $250 million in grants that can be used for a variety of projects related to installing the life-saving technology.

“These funds are part of the Department’s ongoing efforts to strengthen our country’s rail safety by helping railroads to more rapidly deploy positive train control systems,” Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao said in a press release.

The FRA said grant money can be used for:

  • back-office systems;
  • wayside, communications and onboard hardware equipment;
  • software; equipment installation;
  • spectrum;
  • any component, testing and training for the implementation of PTC systems;
  • and interoperability.

“The available grants will go a long way to help many passenger rail agencies that have been struggling to implement PTC due to financial limitations,” said Rail Passengers President Jim Mathews. “We highly encourage transit agencies to take action now and get their applications in to receive this grant money. Installation of PTC can save lives.”

Applications for PTC systems deployment funding under this solicitation are due no later than 5:00 p.m. EDT, 45 days after the date of publication in the Federal Register. These grants form part of the funding available under the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) Program.

Despite the amount provided in the grants, Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), the top Democrat on the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) spending panel, criticized the lack of funding. Reed said that the amount was the bare minimum the FRA could provide in PTC grants, out of a possible $593 million in consolidated rail infrastructure and safety improvements grants that Congress appropriated for fiscal 2018.

The latest data from passenger railroads shows that PTC systems are only in operation on 25 percent of required route miles, up one percent from the previous quarter. The data is for the first quarter of 2018 and was released by the FRA.

FRA Administrator Ron Batory presented the data to the U.S. Senate’s DOT spending panel which met on rail safety. Overall, 12 railroads (passenger and freight) look like that will not meet the 2018 deadline for PTC installation 2018, and it is likely they will not meet the criteria for an extension.

Fourteen passenger railroads have installed 100 percent of the hardware necessary for PTC system implementation as of March 31. Six other railroads — Altamont Corridor Express, Central Florida Rail Corridor (Sunrail), Consolidated Rail Corp. (Conrail), Maryland Area Regional Commuter (MARC), MTA Metro-North Railroad and South Florida Regional Transportation Authority (Tri-Rail) — increased their percentage of hardware installation by more than 10 percent since fourth-quarter 2017.

Higher-speed rail line Brightline and ride-sharing company Lyft have partnered together to provide riders seamless first and last-mile services to Brightline stations. The new service will officially launch on May 19, and it coincides with the commencement of passenger service to Brightline’s station, MiamiCentral.

"By partnering with Lyft, we're able to ensure that each of our guests will enjoy a seamless journey," said Brightline Chief Commercial Officer Ravneet Bhandari.

The agreement between Brightline and Lyft is for three stations - Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach. Each will function as a designated pickup and drop-off zone for Lyft customers.

“With the addition of Brightline and this tremendous partnership, passengers will be able to better move between major cities in our region,” said Sam Cohen, Florida general manager for Lyft. “And we’re able to continue pursuing our goals to reduce personal car ownership and single occupancy vehicles, making Florida more livable for all.”

Make plans to attend Rail Passengers Association’s RailNation Miami Fall 2018 Advocacy Summit in Miami, FL, Friday, October 19 through Sunday, October 21. The host hotel is the Hyatt Regency in downtown Miami.

On-Line Discounted Group-Rate Room Reservations Are Now Available!

In addition, preliminary agenda, program and event information is now posted on the RailNation Miami 2018 Event Page!

Brightline is all set to begin service to Miami this weekend and people are excited. To celebrate the start of passenger service in Miami and the grand opening of the MiamiCentral station, Brightline officials cut ticket prices to $3 and $5 for regular and Select seating respectively this weekend. But as of Thursday at 7 a.m., tickets are nearly sold out.

Some tickets were still available on the 7 a.m. weekend trains departing West Palm Beach for the Miami station. There were also seats on the 9 p.m. Saturday train and on the 7 p.m. Sunday train, both traveling from West Palm to Miami.

Other than these few seats, the trains are packed and ready to go.

“Brightline is doing an amazing job representing and advancing passenger rail service in the U.S.,” said Rail Passengers President Jim Mathews. “The start of service and the opening of MiamiCentral will continue to change how people commute, live and work in Miami.”

For the grand opening of MiamiCentral, Brightline is hosting several events that include an appearance by Miami Heat player Udonis Haslem and a performance DJ Irie.

Come Monday, introductory one-way fares from West Palm Beach to Miami will be $15 for a regular ticket and $25 for a Select seat.

The proposed cost of the Southwest Corridor light rail line in Minnesota will now cost more than $2 billion due to delays and increases in labor and commodity costs such as steel and fuel. The Metropolitan Council, the regional planning and transit agency that oversees the proposed 14.5-mile line, released new cost estimates that added $145 million to the total cost of the project. Despite the increases in cost, Alene Tchourumoff, chairwoman of the Metropolitan Council said that the light-rail line and investment in public transit is still needed in the area.

"I still think it's an important project for our region," said Alene Tchourumoff, chairwoman of the Metropolitan Council, which will build and operate the Southwest line. "We know our region is expected to grow by 700,000 people, we need to continue to invest in a transit system, not by just expanding the highway network, we're talking about an entire transportation system that is multimodal."

The increase in cost is said to correlate with price increases for commodities. For example, the transit agency said that raw steel prices have risen 40 percent since last summer. In addition, several disputes have also added to the cost of the project over the years. This includes court fights with neighbors and the railroads over where the line would run.

Five years ago, the original estimate for the line was $1.3 billion. The Met Council also sent a second round of requests for construction bids to build the line earlier in May. The agency threw out the first round of proposed bids, and said they were too high - between $796.5 million and $1.08 billion.

The Rail Passengers Association continues to support a joint application from the Vermont Agency of Transportation and the Genesee and Wyoming Corp.’s New England Central Railroad (NECR) subsidiary for a $1.6-million grant under the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) grant program.

The project will deploy a variety of safety measures along a small but important freight and passenger corridor which today includes a large proportion of un-signalled, or “dark,” territory.

Rail Passengers Association President Jim Mathews, in a support letter sent last week to U.S. DOT Secretary Elaine Chao, wrote that “these safety improvements will protect lives and property, mitigate the risk of major service disruption, and improve throughput and efficiency by eliminating the need for speed restrictions in many areas, benefiting freight shippers and rail passengers alike.”

Rail Passengers Association also said that this same corridor hosts the state-supported Amtrak Vermonter passenger rail service, whose daily trains served nearly 100,000 passengers last year, not only between stations in Vermont but as a vital link between rural Vermont communities and New York City and destinations in Massachusetts. Overall the service connects 32 cities in nine states, including many small and rural communities that are underserved by other modes of transportation.

The 34th St-Penn Station subway complex in New York is set to receive several renovations and improvements. The MTA New York City Transit (NYCT) released its improvement plans for the station and they include a variety of fixes and upgrades that passengers will appreciate, like:

  • Fixing and stopping leaks;
  • Structural steel and concrete infrastructure repairs for station entrances, walls and ceilings;
  • Upgrades to electrical systems;
  • Refurbished entrances with new stairs, railings, lighting and electronic signage;
  • New flooring in mezzanine areas; and
  • Upgrading to two mezzanines with glass barriers, security cameras, LED lighting, and enhanced signage for easier navigation.

"Penn Station is a critical hub in the regional transit network, and the two subway stations within this complex are two of the busiest in our entire subway system," NYCT President Andy Byford said in a press release. "We simply cannot afford to have a major connection point like this fall into disrepair. This hub especially needs to be state-of-the-art, clean, and easy to navigate — and it will be, once this important work is complete."

Work is slated to begin May 20 and continue for about eight months. Officials said that affected station entrances for 34 St-Penn Station, A, C and E will be closed one at a time to allow for continued customer flow into and out of the station.

Brightline and freight train horns are no longer sounding in West Palm Beach, FL as quiet zones went into effect for the city. Freight trains had been blasting horns for the past several decades on the Florida East Coast Railway tracks, and in January Brightline trains began sounding as well. When Brightline began operating in January, higher-speed trains began running up to 22 times per day between downtown West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale. The horns stopped blasting however at 11:59 p.m. Monday between 15th Street and the southern city limits.

Jim Kovalsky, the president of the Florida East Coast Railway Society said the quiet zone marks a “historic change” but it also means that safety is a top priority for pedestrians since horns will no longer be sounding.

“It is really important that people realize now more than ever you can’t be on the tracks,” Kovalsky said.

West Palm is the first of six cities in Palm Beach County to establish the quiet zone along Brightline’s route. Lake Worth’s is also scheduled to start quiet zones next Monday. Four other cities — Lantana, Hypoluxo, Delray and Boca Raton — are also eligible to apply for the quiet zone designation. It takes federal officials 21 days to review a city’s plan and decide whether safety upgrades meet the requirements to allow train operators to stop blasting their horns at crossings.

Member Forum Now Open

Rail Passengers Association has opened a new forum for our members on Google Groups. Members can discuss and follow the latest passenger rail-related issues.

Click THIS LINK to sign up. It's free and open to the public, but users must join the group before they are able to post messages.

The board for the California High Speed Rail Authority approved the agency’s new business plan, which included a revised cost estimate of $77 billion for the high-speed rail line. The plan is the first under new CHSRA CEO Brian Kelly and it was updated in March to reflect changes in cost and timing for the project. Some figures that changed in the new plan include lower estimates in ridership and revenue projections, and an increase in cost for the entirety of the project. In addition, officials with the Authority said the agency doesn’t have enough available funding to complete an initial segment of the train between San Francisco and the Central Valley.

Kelly said that he wants the State Legislature to approve a financing plan that would allow CHSRA to borrow money for construction against revenue from the state’s cap-and-trade program that places charges on the release of greenhouse gases. Twenty-five percent of the revenue from the program is now designated for high-speed rail, but that won’t provide enough up-front money to complete the project. Kelly is asking lawmakers to extend cap-and-trade to 2050, beyond its current expiration date of 2030.

Maryland received certification from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) for it’s transit-rail state safety oversight (SSO) program for the Maryland Transit Administration’s heavy and light rail systems in Baltimore. With this certification, 12 states and Washington, D.C. have been approved by the FTA and meet statutory requirements, including establishing an agency that's financially and legally independent from the transit agencies it oversees.

“The FTA is pleased that Maryland has developed a safety oversight program that meets federal certification requirements and will strengthen rail transit safety in the state,” FTA Acting Administrator K. Jane Williams said in a press release. "FTA is doing all we can to help states certify their safety oversight programs so transit agencies can continue to receive federal funding for the safe movement of millions of people every day."

Thirty states and D.C. are required by the FTA to receive certification for the SSO programs by April 15, 2019. States that fail to meet the certification deadline risk the loss of federal funds.

Separate from the certification, the FTA said that Maryland, Virginia and D.C. are expected to jointly submit to an SSO Program certification application for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) Metrorail system, which will be overseen by the Metrorail Safety Commission.

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

  • Saturday, June 2 - Empire State Passengers Association Working Group Meeting - Schenectady, NY
  • Saturday, June 9 - Delaware, New Jersey & Pennsylvania Regional Meeting - Philadelphia, PA

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

The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation recommended an increase in Amtrak service between D.C. and Richmond, as well as adding to Virginia Railway Express service to provide commuters an alternative to driving on I-95. The recommendation was presented to a Commonwealth Transportation Board subcommittee, and it included comments asking the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to support building an additional track from Arlington to Ashland.

Two new tracks would be built between Arlington and D.C. after separate plans for an expanded Long Bridge are completed in coming years. The District Department of Transportation and Federal Railroad Administration expect to identify a recommended design and layout for the project later this year for additional public comment.

Sound Transit has been awarded $75 million in grants by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) for its Hilltop Tacoma Link extension. The funding is provided through the federal agency’s Small Starts grant program and will help Sound Transit develop its planned 2.4-mile extension.

"Tacoma will continue to attract more and more people and jobs in the coming years," Sound Transit board member and Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards said in a press release. "The expanded Tacoma Link system will improve transportation around the city and connect riders with regional light rail, Sounder trains and bus service at the Tacoma Dome."

The Hilltop Tacoma Link extension will cost $217 million and it will include construction of six new stations. Construction is set to begin this fall and service will begin in 2022.

Openings Available For Rail Passengers Association State Council Representatives

The following vacancies now exist for state representatives on the Rail Passengers Association Council of Representatives: Alabama (1 opening); California (7 openings); Delaware (1 opening); Florida (1 opening); 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); Vermont (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 Association 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.

A second streetcar was delivered to Milwaukee as the city continues to prepare for the launch of service, known as “The Hop.” This streetcar, as well as the first one the city received, will need to complete 1,000 hours of testing before service can begin in November. On-street testing of both streetcars will take place on West St. Paul Avenue, with testing along the full initial route will begin this summer.

Once service begins, rides will actually be free for the first year as the Potawatomi Hotel and Casino agreed to a $10 million sponsorship of the streetcar.