Happening Now

Hotline #1,068

May 25, 2018

Mathews Meets With Anderson, Gardner; Summer By Rail Launches Saturday; Brightline’s Opening In Miami Sold Out; NTSB To Hold Hearings on Amtrak Accidents; LIRR and NYCT Release Upgrade Plans

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Long-Distance Trains Not In The Crosshairs...For Now

In a wide-ranging meeting with Rail Passengers Association President and CEO Jim Mathews this week, Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson said that there are no immediate plans to suspend service on any long-distance routes. Amtrak Chief Commercial Officer Stephen Gardner, who joined the meeting, added that any changes that might result from failures by commuter agencies to address Positive Train Control issues would be temporary service disruptions.

Both executives sought to ease concerns among rail advocates that Amtrak management is moving towards abandoning service on large parts of the National Network in favor of corridor investments, particularly in the Northeast Corridor. These followed similar assurances Gardner offered to Senators during public testimony last week that put Amtrak on record before Congress that no plans exist for permanent reductions in service through Amtrak’s next authorization in 2020.

PTC adjustments “are not an abandonment strategy,” Gardner noted.

That’s not to say that the nature of Amtrak service won’t evolve or change over time, but both executives stressed that they are pursuing a growth strategy for Amtrak aimed at serving more Americans rather than fewer. Further, Anderson added that there will always be long-distance trains, and that in many cases Amtrak will try to upgrade the experience on these routes--trains Anderson describes as “epic, experiential trains” like the Empire Builder, Coast Starlight or other long-distance services.

However, growth in the near-term and opportunity in the medium term lie in services around the country in corridor segments of under 600 miles, and ideally about 400 miles, Gardner said. This is a “sweet spot” in which multiple daily frequencies can be serviced with an optimized number of trainsets, so that both fares and trip times can be competitive with other modes.

In any case, the long-term shape of the National Network will be determined by Congress, which makes the upcoming re-authorization of the surface transportation bill even more important to Rail Passengers Association and its members. And it’s why we continue to ask Rail Passengers Association members to take part in our Mayors campaign and our continued outreach and education efforts to their local congressional representatives and Senators.

Mathews also asked about several specific concerns raised to him by Rail Passengers Association members, such as the “contemporary menu” now being rolled out on the Lake Shore Limited and Capitol Limited routes, plans for new equipment and rolling stock, and safety.

Anderson and Gardner both told Mathews that Amtrak wants to improve the food offerings systemwide, and Anderson added that the railroad is prepared to spend more money on food to accomplish this. Gardner acknowledged that the Lake Shore/Capitol menu is a work in progress, noting that there is more to be done. Amtrak expects eventually to restore at least one hot-food option to that menu, as well as the ability for Coach passengers to buy meals from that menu in the diner or elsewhere.

Amtrak is looking to renegotiate its food contracts across the system so as to upgrade the quality of the food available, as well as looking at ways to let passengers choose their meals ahead of time, and choose when and where they would like to eat--in the diner at fixed mealtimes, or in their room or at their seat when they want. Amtrak also wants eventually to go cashless, with on-board attendants using point-of-sale portable devices to charge for these items.

Management hopes to get the new-build CAF diners now accumulating in Florida out on the road and into service soon, but Gardner reports that those 11 diners now parked in Hialeah are awaiting parts and modification. Once they are completed, they can go into service.

Speaking of new equipment, Amtrak is ready to move any day now with a Request for Proposals (RFP) to replace the diesel locomotive fleet, and the plan is to move quickly to award the contract and begin getting locomotives built and into service. Gardner told Mathews that Amtrak is looking to issue a Request for Information this summer to poll manufacturers about the availability of single-level trainsets and diesel multiple units, or DMUs, again with an eye toward moving quickly to get equipment under contract and into a delivery pipeline. Next up will be identifying ways to replace the Superliner Is and IIs which are now reaching the end of their reasonable service lives.

Anderson acknowledged that while he had talked in November at the Rail Passengers Association meeting about possibly re-fitting these cars, it has since emerged that they are simply too old and have too many serious concerns--including the need for all new frames--that the answer really is replacement rather than refurbishment. Meanwhile the Amfleet I refresh is nearly finished, and the Acela refresh is beginning to put improved trainsets back out to the Northeast Corridor.

In safety, Anderson is laser-focused not only on Positive Train Control but on leading the industry in implementing an airline-style Safety Management System, or SMS, by the end of the year--a step, he reminds, that is required of Amtrak by FRA regulation following the National Transportation Safety Board’s implementation recommendation. Anderson believes the freight railroads have a "risk-tolerant" mindset and he finds it baffling; "they're perfectly willing to accept that they'll wreck a train every three years."

As a comprehensive, systematic way of assessing individual risks to safe operation and identifying specific mitigation steps for each risk, SMS is proven in the aviation world not only to improve safety but to continuously drive down incidents and risk. It’s why the SMS at Amtrak will identify a range of ways to reach “PTC-equivalent” levels of safety in areas that aren’t fully PTC-compliant. Mitigations include everything from slow orders to spiking or blocking facing-point switches for mainline movement, applying different technologies to assure accurate train location, sending the conductor up to the head or, failing everything else, using buses to move passengers around the affected track segment.

This is Amtrak’s official line. As advocates, we need to be observant of what this all means in practice -- while gearing up to fight for a national vision in the coming reauthorization.

Summer By Rail Kicks Off in Miami on Saturday

Tomorrow in Miami, we are excited to kick-off our third annual Summer by Rail journey with Summer by Rail intern, correspondent and baseball fan, Jacob Wallace.

With a route that runs 6,000 miles from Miami, FL to Seattle, WA, Wallace, 21, will visit 19 different Major League Baseball (MLB), Minor League Baseball (MiLB), and independent league stadiums in the U.S. and Canada. During the 37-day baseball extravaganza, Wallace will utilize public transit with a focus on passenger rail to explore how North America’s transportation infrastructure can connect people with one of the oldest summer pastimes.

“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,” said Wallace, who is a major Texas Rangers fan and a rising journalism senior at American University in Washington, D.C. “Besides all the other reasons, baseball and trains mix because they're just so quintessentially American, right up there with apple pie.”

Starting May 26 in Miami, Wallace will use only public transit, like: intercity rail, bike-share and ride-share services to go from game to game and town to town. Wallace’s first game will be on the 27th when the Miami Marlins face the Washington Nationals at home at 1:10pm.

Jacob will also tour higher-speed rail line Brightline’s new MiamiCentral station before taking the train from Miami to West Palm Beach.

“Our third annual Summer by Rail really brings a unique element to traveling across North America this year,” said Rail Passengers Association President Jim Mathews. “We know people love to attend sporting events in big and small cities, especially baseball in the summer. What people hate though, is the hassle of driving and parking, then waiting to leave after the game. This year’s trip will highlight just how easy and convenient is for fans to connect to Wrigley Field in Chicago or Comerica Park in Detroit using passenger rail and other public transit services.”

The trip will conclude July 1 at a Seattle Mariners game against the Kansas City Royals at 1:10pm, but along the way Wallace will also 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 small-town baseball teams like the Savannah Bananas, Durham Bulls, and Vancouver Canadians to see first-hand how fans utilize public transit to get to and from the ballpark.

In between games, Wallace will meet with elected city officials, transit advocates, and small business owners to listen to the public transit needs and plans for these cities, as well as what tools these communities need to bolster their local infrastructure.

“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,” Wallace said. “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.”

Wallace will share regular updates on his trip, highlights of using public transit, and share other riders’ views on using services like Amtrak.

Updates can be found online at the Summer by Rail blog, www.summerbyrail.com, and on Instagram and Twitter using the handle @RailPassengers. You can also find posts using the hashtags #SummerbyRail, #SBR2018 and #SummerTraining.

All Aboard Florida’s Brightline service to downtown Miami kicked off last weekend to great fanfare and packed trains. Every train for the weekend was sold out, with numerous people asking to be placed on standby. Each Brightline trains can carry 240 passengers and eight round trips were scheduled between Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach over the weekend.

“Brightline service has been and is phenomenal,” said Rail Passengers President Jim Mathews, who rode Brightline earlier this year when it launched in January. “The crowds and the demand from people to ride Brightline speaks for itself, and we are excited about the influence Brightline can have on other higher-speed and high-speed passenger lines nationwide. They have set an example for others to follow.”

Overall, Brightline President and COO Patrick Goddard said the private rail line would have about 8,000 people riding last weekend.

Following the launch of service to Miami, some members of Florida’s congressional delegation wrote letters to U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao in support of providing Brightline with $1.15 billion in federally-authorized tax-exempt bonds. The bonds are to help Brightline fund the expansion of higher-speed rail service to Orlando, the next phase of the rail line. Brightline and bond supporters who signed the letter to Chao include Republicans John Rutherford, Dennis Ross, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Carlos Curbelo and Democrats Darren Soto, Lois Frankel and Frederica Wilson.

In the letter, they said that the Brightline service is “transformative” and a “project of national and regional significance.” Members also wrote that they “are concerned that financing programs created by Congress with the express goal of encouraging private investment in projects that serve a public purpose are under attack by certain interests attempting to undermine this project.”

Despite the growing popularity, support and transit benefits of Brightline, there are several political officials who continue to oppose the service. Last week, U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) wrote Secretary Chao to request that the federal government withhold the bonds. Meadows’ letter was signed by Florida Republican Congressmen Brian Mast, Bill Posey, Ron DeSantis and Matt Gaetz. Meadows is the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee and previously said he does not agree with Brightline receiving the bonds during an April 19 hearing that was requested by Mast. Both Mast and Posey represent districts that cover the Treasure Coast, where opposition said that Brightline service will create unsafe conditions at rail crossings and that the line shouldn’t be eligible for federal assistance.

“So far, opposition to the progress of Brightline has been kept at bay. The U.S. DOT has not yet voiced a response to either letter, or the overall request of the opposition to oppose the bonds. We will be keeping a close eye on the federal government’s response. Until then, we look forward to a Brightline service that will connect to Orlando in the coming years,” said Rail Passengers President Jim Mathews.

Why Commuter and Long-Distance Rail Need Each Other

A New Blog by Summer by Rail Correspondent Jacob Wallace

When you think about rail in the past, how do you envision it?

Is it the romantically wood-paneled, chandeliered, crystal and velvet private cars that carried robber barons on scenic trips across the country? Or maybe the long lines of efficiently-packed cattle cars of the Midwest that ended the golden age of the cowboys?

How do you envision rail now? Is it the subway or light rail cars that shuttle large crowds from one place to another, practically but impersonally?

All of the above is true for me. As our country continues to debate the future of Amtrak policy, local operators have quietly created a patchwork of passenger rail lines in dense metropolitan areas across the country, changing the way we use and think about rail.

Passenger rail has a long history; in fact, the motorized urban streetcars we see today started as horse-drawn buggies pulled along iron rails that first came to America in the 1830s. Since then, we’ve moved slowly from animals to steam and coal to electricity to propel people at faster speeds between cities, and as a result Americans in many metropolitan areas around the country can use rail as a means of transportation either between other cities or as their daily commute.

Defining what commuter rail and long-distance rail are can be hard sometimes. For instance, you can take the Keystone service all the way from Harrisburg, PA to Philadelphia, but despite the difficult commute that would entail some agencies, such as the Federal Transit Administration, it’s still classified as a commuter rail line.

The federal government defines long-distance rail lines as service corridors over 750 miles.

These lines are generally legacy lines, constructed by private enterprises from the earliest days of the railroad in America back in the middle of the 19th century. Today they’re operated by Amtrak, formed in 1971 to support a failing passenger rail industry in order to ensure its continued existence.

Commuter rail lines in America, by and large, are either former privately owned lines nationalized as they were losing money and then gradually devolved to municipal and regional authorities, or newer lines created to ease car traffic congestion and connect suburbs to the cities they surround.

The way we talk about these two forms of rail is completely different. Commuter rail is as exciting, new and sexy as public transportation can get, while long-distance rail is considered old, plodding, and a vivid illustration of our nation’s issues with infrastructure. Plenty of pixels have been devoted to articles proclaiming Florida’s Brightline commuter rail as the future of transportation, for example, in part because it’s the first privately funded line in operation in decades. While the line’s success could provide a model for new privately operated lines in other areas in the country, it isn’t necessarily a foolproof method for building the future of rail. And it isn’t a model that will be easily replicated in the hundreds of rural communities that depend on Amtrak’s long-distance trains.

There are lots of why questions when it comes to rail: Why can’t my train run on time? Why not just turn our railroads into maglevs or Hyperloops, like Elon Musk wants us to? The answer to many of these questions is that the infrastructure required to build and maintain railroads is different than for, say, cars. Because freight rail companies own many of the lines that passenger rail uses today – Amtrak owns only 600 out of the 21,000 miles of track it operates on, or about 3 percent – a lot of planning and coordination goes into determining how, where, and when passenger rail companies can use these private lines, which is a lot less financially daunting than building brand new tracks for every new rail line we’d like to run.

Commuter rail and long-distance rail don’t succeed at the others’ expense, however. Over the last 20 years, Amtrak’s long-distance rail ridership has actually been steadily expanding, in part because the pickup in creating commuter rail systems meant passengers travelling long-distances on Amtrak could transfer to local lines to get to their final destination.

In order for both forms of rail to succeed, the patchwork of local entities that make up commuter rail must create systems that work best for the tracks and people in their own regions, so that long-distance rail can bring people to places they want to go. In the end, while long-distance lines can’t use the same tactics to expand as their more nimble commuter counterparts, any new passenger rail line is a win for the passenger, as our country’s railroads become increasingly interconnected.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has scheduled a two-day hearing in July that will examine the Amtrak Cascades derailment in DuPont, Washington, on December 18, 2017, and the Amtrak collision with a freight train on Feb. 4 near Cayce, South Carolina.

“We have paid close attention to these accidents over the past several months, especially the DuPont derailment. It cost the lives of two Rail Passengers Association members, Jim Hamre and Zack Willhoite,” said Rail Passengers President Jim Mathews. “We look forward to listening to the testimonies of the agencies and companies involved.”

The hearing is open to the public and will include testimony from the Federal Railroad Administration; the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers; the Brotherhood of Locomotives Engineers and Trainmen; the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen; CSX; Sound Transit; Amtrak; the Washington State Department of Transportation; and the Washington State Utilities and Transportation Commission.

The hearing will take place on July 10 and and 11 in Washington, D.C., and it can be watched live via webcast.

The U.S. economy could experience a loss of $340 billion over the next six years if the country’s $90 billion public transit repair backlog isn't addressed soon. These numbers are from a new report, The Economic Cost of Failing to Modernize Public Transportation, by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) and prepared by the Economic Development Research Group, Inc. The total economic loss was determined by calculating the potential decreases in worker efficiency and productivity, as well as losses in household income, caused by public transit delays and disruptions. The loss in revenue would translate to a $180 billion in the country's cumulative gross national product and a $109-billion loss in household income.

“Our failure as a nation to address America’s public transit modernization needs has wide-ranging negative effects because lost time in travel makes a region’s economy less productive,” APTA President and CEO Paul P. Skoutelas said in a press release. “Congress has an opportunity in the current fiscal year 2019 Appropriations process to help address the nation’s aging public transit infrastructure.”

To complete the report, the Economic Development Research Group reviewed the public transportation modernization needs nationwide and performed in-depth case studies of six transit systems:

  • Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA),
  • Chicago Transit Authority (CTA),
  • Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA),
  • Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA),
  • San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), and
  • Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA).

The report also examined modernization needs in bus and bus facilities which were applicable to systems like the Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA).

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has made $25.8 million in grants available for support of transit planning and development. The grants are being provided through the FTA’s Pilot Program for Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) Planning. Through the funding, the FTA will help support transit ridership, multimodal connectivity, and mixed-use development near transit stations.

"It is important for communities and transit agencies to comprehensively plan their public transportation systems to improve mobility and access to transit," FTA Acting Administrator K. Jane Williams said in a press release. "This program is an excellent opportunity for cities and towns to maximize transit-oriented development around their transit systems and ensure they are capturing the value associated with transit."

Eligible applicants include FTA grantees that are either a project sponsor of an eligible transit project or an entity with land use planning authority in an eligible transit capital project corridor. Applications will be accepted until July 23, 2018 at 11:59 pm.

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!

The Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) in New York is planning a major revitalization project that will help repair the service’s infrastructure, increase efficiency, and better serve its riders. A major goal of the project, known as Forward, is to increase the railroad’s on-time performance (OTP) and customer experience. In 2017 LIRR hit its worst OTP in nearly two decades according to a report from local newspaper Newsday.

“LIRR Forward is the first formal step in a new direction that will help us anticipate our problems before they arise, set standards on how to quickly and correctly respond to the challenges we face, to deliver what our ridership expects of us – which is safe, reliable service bolstered by timely, accurate and effective communication,” LIRR President Phil Eng said in a press release.

The plan includes updates to 10 switches that caused almost half of LIRR's 205 switch failures last year. It will also involve crews conducting comprehensive joint inspections and upgrades on 370 track circuits, clear 180 miles of overgrown vegetation along LIRR's right of way and the installation of 14 additional third rail heaters to prevent power failures during snowfall.

LIRR also said that the plan is continually evolving. LIRR will use it as a methodology for analyzing service and potential improvements in the future. The plan also identifies the root causes of system malfunctions and details steps to fix them.

The New York City Transit (NYCT) also revealed its new modernization plan that the agency will implement to upgrade the city’s subways and buses. The plan, "Fast Forward: The Plan to Modernize New York City Transit," will focus on the subway system's signals and track infrastructure to provide passengers with better and more efficient service.

NYCT President Andy Byford said in a letter, “While our immediate priorities are to stabilize the subway via execution of the Subway Action Plan, to arrest the decline in bus ridership and to make existing facilities work better for those with accessibility challenges, we need to go further. Now is the time to think big and transform our network so it works for all New Yorkers. NYCT must be completely modernized from top to bottom and not just in the area of infrastructure.

Under the plan, NYCT officials want to install communications-based train control on five additional lines. Within 10 years of the plan’s rollout, NYCT wants to install the controls on 11 more lines. The signal update will require the refurbishing or replacing power systems, shops, yards, cars and other supporting infrastructure. The plan also calls for accelerating work to make the subway system fully accessible and updating NYCT's bus fleet.

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) will host a webinar to assist railroads and transit agencies apply for $250 million in funding to support Positive Train Control (PTC) implementation. The webinar will be held June 4 from 12:30-1:30 pm and the FRA will provide information about the available funding and how each agency can apply. Webinar registration is available at https://www.fra.dot.gov/Page/P1117, and FRA encourages participants to submit questions in advance.

Applications for the funding are due July 2. The $250 million in grant funding under the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) Program was authorized by the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, and funded through the 2018 Consolidated Appropriations Act.

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

Discounted group-rate room reservations can be found online and are available now. In addition, preliminary agenda, program and event information are now posted on the RailNation Miami 2018 Event Page!

A new bill that would increase safety and help reduce violence on passenger rail services was introduced by U.S. Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and John Hoeven (R-N.D.). The bill, known as the Passenger Rail Crew Protection Parity Act, would offer crew members of passenger trains the same federal protections provided to airline crew members. This means any assault or intimidation of a rail crew member would be a federal offense.

The bill was introduced on May 16, the one-year anniversary of Amtrak conductor Michael Case’s shooting in Illinois. Case spent 10 weeks in the hospital after being shot on May 16, 2017. Case’s shooting is one of 73 recorded assaults on Amtrak crew members since 2015.

“No one in America should experience what Amtrak Conductor Michael Case endured while just doing his job. We are all entitled to work in a safe environment, one that is free from violence, harassment and intimidation,” Duckworth said in a press release. “I’m proud to be working with Senator Hoeven on this bipartisan legislation that will help better protect rail crewmembers and improve public safety.”

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) will test discounted service on its commuter line, the T, in hopes to increase weekend ridership. On June 9 the agency plans to offer riders a $10 fare that will allow for unlimited rides on the weekend to anywhere on the commuter rail line. The MBTA estimates that about 120,000 passenger trips take place each weekday, but only 16,600 trips on Saturdays and 9,000 trips on Sundays.

"We look forward to testing this pilot program as we work to determine if there is an untapped market for weekend Commuter Rail service," MBTA General Manager Luis Manuel Ramírez said in a press release. "There is plenty of capacity on our weekend trains, and we’d be happy to fill those seats with families and others traveling in and out of Boston this summer."

The trial will run through Labor Day weekend and it will offer some riders more than a 50 percent discount on tickets depending on how far they travel. The discount will not apply to the CapeFlyer, which provides seasonal weekend service to Cape Cod.

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.

It should come as no surprise that the majority of Americans believe that the Trump administration is not providing enough attention to the country’s transportation infrastructure. A new poll from Monmouth University revealed that 55 percent of Americans said that the president is not providing infrastructure the attention it needs. In addition, the report said that if an infrastructure plan is not passed, 53 percent of Americans would blame both the president and Congress equally.

“Despite the fact that the White House has declared an ‘Infrastructure Week’ many times over the past year, the American public sees very little concrete evidence that this is a priority,” Monmouth Director Patrick Murray said in a press release for the report.

The report also found:

  • 26% of Americans said Trump is giving an appropriate level of attention to infrastructure,
  • 4% said Trump is providing infrastructure too much attention,
  • 62% said the federal government is not spending enough on transportation infrastructure projects in their local area,
  • 19% said the government is not spending enough locally, and
  • 9% said the government is spending too much.

Monmouth surveyed 803 individuals for the report, which was conducted between April 26 and April 30 by phone. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) released a draft capital investment plan that will cover fiscal years 2019 to 2023 and includes highway, aeronautics, rail and transit investments. The plan calls for a total of $17.3 billion that will be divided into key areas for improved service, modernization and expansion.

Specifically, MassDOT officials said that the funding would be broken down as follows:

  • 57 percent of the total will be spent on improving the reliability of the state's transportation system,
  • 19 percent would be allocated toward modernizing existing assets to better accommodate growth,
  • 13 percent has been set aside for physical expansion of the state's transportation network.

For anyone who is interest, MassDOT has begun to hold meetings for public opinion input on the plan. The last meeting will be held May 31.

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!

Amtrak is planning to install lactation suites for nursing mothers at stations in Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia and Chicago this summer. The railroad will also be installing a suite in New York Penn Station in the fall.

“These new lactation suites demonstrate Amtrak’s ongoing commitment to better accommodate the needs of our customers and their families while traveling with us,” Amtrak Vice President of Stations, Facilities, Properties and Accessibilities David Handera said in a press release. “It is important for Amtrak to provide mothers with a secure, clean, dignified and private space.”

The suites are designed by Mamava, and they are a self-contained, mobile pod with benches, a fold-down table, an electrical outlet for plugging in a breast pump, and a door that can be locked for privacy.

The redevelopment of Amtrak’s holdings around the 30th Street Station in Philadelphia are moving forward once again. Known as the 30th Street Station District Plan, Amtrak wants to hire a master developer that will enhance the shops, office space and mechanical systems available in the station. The plan could eventually call for capping and developing nearby rail yards.

Amtrak had previously announced a “Request for Qualifications” from developers wanting to lead the project last summer. The railroad put a hold on the project last October after city officials expressed interest in using nearby sites for Amazon’s proposed second headquarters.

The Massachusetts’s state Senate approved an amendment to legislation that will allow for the study of high-speed rail between Boston and Springfield, with an extension to Pittsfield. As part of the study, the state’s Department of Transportation (MassDOT) will conduct a study to evaluate capital and operating costs, ridership levels, operational issues, environmental and economic impacts, and the availability of funding.

"We owe it to all four counties to make sure the entire four-county region of Western Mass. is included in the analysis," said Sen. Eric Lesser, D-Longmeadow, who sponsored the amendment.

The amendment will next need to be approved by the House, then be signed by Gov. Charlie Baker. The Senate has passed similar amendments several times before but they have never made it through the legislative process.

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.

Amtrak is now offering a 25 percent discount for tickets on its Acela service. The discount is available to customers who purchase tickets 21 days in advance of their departure date. Acela service runs between Boston and Washington, D.C., and prices are available exclusively for one-way Acela Business Class fares.

If you do ride Acela over the next several months, you should see and experience renovated train interiors. Amtrak is working to upgrade the quality of their Acela fleet with a more modern feel that is also more comfortable for passengers to ride. The renovation work will take 14 months to be completed on all 20 Acela trainsets, which includes 100 Amtrak cars and 6,080 total seats.

“Customers expect a premium experience when they board an Acela Express train, and these updated interior features will provide a more comfortable, refreshed look and feel – whether you want to relax, move about freely, work or play,” Amtrak CEO and President Richard Anderson said in a press release.

Amtrak released an upgrade timeline for when customers can begin to expect the upgrades to rollout:

  • May 2018: The first trainset will be refreshed and returned into revenue service;
  • June 2018: The second trainset will be refreshed and returned into revenue service
  • June 2018 – July 2019: One trainset will be refreshed every three weeks.

In addition, with Amtrak set to receive a brand new fleet beginning with testing in 2019, the current flett of Acela trains will be removed from service in 2022.