Hotline #858 -- April 18, 2014

When Florida East Coast announced it was privately funding a fast and frequent train service between Orlando and Miami via the East Coast, there was widespread support for the project from all corners. In recent weeks, we’ve seen a small-but-vocal minority initiate a campaign to kill the train. 

NARP has launched a campaign to rally support for the project, because the fact is: All Aboard Florida represents the best chance Floridians have at having convenient and reliable alternative to the massively congested Interstate 95:

  • Regular train service along the corridor would remove as many as three million cars from regional highways each year, reducing both commuter stress and road fatalities. 
  • With 300 drivers killed in road accidents between 2004 and 2008, I-95 has been ranked as the deadliest highway in the United States—a passenger rail alternative will save lives. 
  • The service will prompt substantial economic development along the length of the line. Nearly one million Floridians live fewer than five miles from the route’s four proposed stations, and travelers take more than 50 million trips a year in the Miami-Orlando corridor.

And this doesn’t even include the tens of thousands of construction jobs created by the line or the 500 permanent positions needed to operate the service.

Join NARP in Taking Action!

The NARP Blog examined some of the specific concerns highlighted by Floridian by Representatives Patrick Murphy and Lois Frankel:

In their letter to U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Anthony Foxx, Murphy and Frankel urged federal policymakers to “appropriately assess” All Aboard Florida’s promised profits with the “safety, economy, and livability” of the communities along the route. Among other things, the Representatives stated that DOT should require All Aboard Florida and its parent Florida East Coast to contribute to the cost of improved grade crossings, structure its schedule in such a way as to not cause undue interference to automobile traffic at crossings, and also account for lift bridges and delays in maritime traffic.

We at NARP would not disagree that safety should be a priority, and we also would not disagree that passenger rail projects should minimize inconvenience to existing modes. But we question whether it is appropriate, as Murphy and Frankel suggest, to require the railroad to contribute an undue share of the cost of infrastructure improvement. The federal government directs tens of billions of dollars every year to highways, and, as we reported to you last summer, programs such as TIGER and HSIPR exist to fund all kinds of infrastructure improvements. Considering that All Aboard Florida has committed a great deal of private capital to this necessary transportation project, it is unreasonable for policymakers to impose further costs on the railroad. Bipartisan support for public-private partnerships in transportation is widespread; and with good reason, as these partnerships typically produce large cost savings and slash project completion time. Representatives Murphy and Frankel, however, appear not to agree with this consensus, and strangely believe that there is no role for public support of a private transportation initiative.

Some residents of Vero Beach have struck a more conspiratorial tone, sending a letter to Republican Governor Rick Scott, who publically supports the project, asserting that All Aboard Florida is putting profit over lives. They go on to say they’ve “connected even more dots” about the parent company, casting the train as doomed to fail, and merely a pretext to gain access to federal loans to pay for expanded freight capacity.

Railroads have always provided the foundation for Florida’s development. More than a century ago, Florida East Coast opened Florida’s Atlantic coast to travelers, tourists, and investors, and laid the foundation for the state’s present economic strength. Today, Florida East Coast will once again harness the power of the railroad to bolster Florida’s economic growth. But that won’t happen unless advocates make a stand for balanced transportation and counter short-sighted local opposition.

 

As part of his “Invest in America, Commit to the Future” bus tour, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx visited the east side of Atlanta’s planned BeltLine project, a ring of transit and trails that is expected to include a 22-mile streetcar loop around the sprawling metropolis.

The Secretary covered the trip in the U.S. Department of Transportation’s FastLane Blog:

At DOT, we were proud to award the Atlanta streetcar project more than $47 million dollars from our TIGER grant program.  We think that was a pretty good deal when you consider the project has generated roughly 15 times that in investments in things like new businesses and new housing.

All that, and the streetcar hasn’t even started running yet.

But there are countless other communities who want to pursue projects like Atlanta, but lack the funds to do it.  As I continue to travel across the country, I’ll be calling on Americans to join me in support of this proposal set forth by President Obama and DOT, which will provide funding for our nation’s roads and bridges and will provide funding for projects like the BeltLine, as well.  $72 billion will be set aside for transit.

You can read the full piece, which includes more pictures of the Secretary’s visit, here.

 

Amtrak, the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT), and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) announced April 14 that they are teaming up to initiate a preliminary engineering study for the rehabilitation—and possibly, the replacement—of the Susquehanna River Rail Bridge. Removing the bottleneck over the Susquehanna River is crucial to accommodating forecasted growth in rail traffic, both locally and along the entire East Coast.

At 108-years-old, the two track bridge, which is owned by Amtrak, is nearing the end of its useful life. The study will examine a number of possible solutions, while considering environmental and community impacts.

“This study is the first step in breaking a major bottleneck along the busy Northeast Corridor, which will ultimately improve trip time and reliability for our MARC passengers and freight shipments to the Port of Baltimore,” said Maryland Transportation Secretary James Smith, Jr. “I want to thank U.S. Senators Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin and Maryland’s entire Congressional Delegation for their hard work and support for federal funding to improve passenger rail service and access to one of our State’s greatest economic engines, the Port of Baltimore.”

Senator Mikulski is the recipient of the 2014 NARP Golden Spike Award, which will be conferred later this month at NARP’s national meeting in Washington, D.C.

 

NARP submitted a statement on the Fiscal Year 2015 transportation budget to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development last week.

NARP outlined a pressing need for $2.45 billion for current intercity passenger train service, and $2.3 billion for intercity passenger train improvements and commuter railroad positive train control. You can read the full statement here.

 

The Association of American Railroads (AAR) released a report saying that a year-long moratorium on installation of 20,000 antenna’s—imposed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)—has significantly delayed implementation of Positive Train Control (PTC), a life-saving technology capable of preventing broad range of train accidents.

The FCC directed railroads to suspend installation until the antennas were “assessed through the FCC’s environmental and historical evaluation process.” The AAR is warning that only 20 percent of the PTC network will be in place by the end of 2015, the legislatively imposed deadline.

“Everyone in the industry is greatly frustrated at the inability to move forward and do what we need to do to advance PTC installation,” said Association of American Railroads President and CEO Edward R. Hamberger. “It’s been two steps forward, three steps back for months and we simply don’t have the certainty we need to move ahead and get PTC tested, fully functioning, certified and ready to go.”

Meeting the deadline has generally been understood to be out of the reach of the Class 1 railroads, and lawmakers have been deliberating over granting an extension. However, congressional gridlock has prevented lawmakers from taking up this issue. NARP has stated that it will abide by an extension as long as PTC is implemented correctly, with systems in place to prevent front- and rear-end collisions.

 

A California state appeals court denied a request by the California High Speed Rail Authority to dismiss a lawsuit that asserts the project fails to comply with Proposition 1A language.

The decision sets up a potential trial over whether the so-called “blended approach,” wherein the high speed system will share tracks with commuter trains to access the terminal in the densely populated San Francisco Peninsula, complies with language in a funding bond that voters approved in 2008.

"We are confident that we are complying with the law and are moving forward to create jobs and clean transportation by building Californian's high-speed rail system," said Authority Chairman Dan Richards in a statement after the ruling. "Transformative projects historically have faced obstacles and we will continue to oppose all efforts to delay the high-speed rail program."

 

News In Brief

The Massachusetts State House passed a $13 billion transportation bill that includes $2.3 billion to bring MBTA commuter rail service to the South Coast, an extension of the Green Line to Medford, and upgrades to Boston South Station.

NARP reported on this proposal, put forth by Governor Deval Patrick, back in January.

ConnecticutGovernor Dannel Malloy proposed a five-year transportation improvement program, which includes millions to improve the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield rail corridor and commuter service connecting residents to New York. Unfortunately, no money was publically identified for Amtrak’s Connecticut River Bridge replacement project in Old Saybrook.

A study released by the HNTB design firm found that a Baton Rouge – New Orleans passenger rail corridor would serve as an attractive and convenient transportation alternative for 1.4 million residents in the region.

HNTB’s Baton Rouge-New Orleans Intercity Rail Feasibility Study found that “a convenient alternative for the 1.4 million people who live in the booming parishes along the rail line. Passenger train service would allow riders to work during commutes, offer an evacuation route during hurricanes, especially to Baton Rouge hospitals, and supply easy connections to events, such as LSU and New Orleans Saints football games, Mardi Gras, and Jazz Fest.”

The Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) agency in Southern California announced that two new Diesel Multiple Unit (DMU) trains have passed factory tests in Japan, are being transported to the United States.

SMART will receive two DMUs as part of an order of seven, with an option to buy 80 more units. The trains will undergo on-track testing in Illinois—home to manufacturer Nippon Shoryo’s domestic plant—and additional testing by the Federal Railroad Administration in Colorado.

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) kicked off service for its new series of fuel-efficient locomotives at Boston North Station on April 16.

The locomotive, one of 40, began operations on the Haverhill Line. The new equipment is critically needed, with the MTBA relying on locomotives 35 to 40 years old.

 

From the NARP Blog

How Valuable is the Northeast Corridor to Our Economy?: When looking at infrastructure investment—especially for megaprojects that cross multiple jurisdictions—it’s important to look at the case business case for investment. How much will this project cost to complete? What are the alternatives? What is the cost of not improving this infrastructure? [Read More]

What Do Young People Seek in a Place to Live... and Stay?: We’ve long known that young people are choosing to live in cities in increasing numbers. Recent research shows that beyond just moving to urban areas, they’re staying put, and “settling down” is no longer synonymous with “suburbs.” [Read More]

 

Passenger Advisory

The MBTA announced that weekend service on the Fitchburg Line will be suspended for stations west of Brandeis/Roberts between Saturday, April 26, and Sunday, June 29. The authority will also be running amodified schedule between Brandeis/Roberts and North Station. The suspension will allow improvement work to take place.