Hotline #859 -- April 25, 2014

Photo via Wikicommons (Author: Steve Wilson)

U.S.Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich of New Mexico and Mark Udall of Colorado announced this week they are working to marshal congressional support for investment in long distance trains and the preservation of the Southwest Chief.

The trio of Democrats issued a letter to the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development in advance of the Fiscal Year 2015 budgeting process, urging for a strong level of funding for long distance trains, generally, and for consideration of the threatened Southwest Chief:

“Long distance service remains a critical link for small and rural communities. However, despite their importance, these trains require significant capital investment that has gone unmet.

“As you know, Amtrak has announced a possible reroute of the Southwest Chief due to changing shared-use needs. The potential reroute has raised serious concerns among the affected communities who depend on this service. While all stakeholders are working to find a responsible and reasonable solution that will preserve the current route, how to address the significant capital investment needs necessary to retain the current route remains unclear.

“While we recognize you are operating under very tight fiscal constraints, we hope you will consider the needs of our constituents in this year's Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies Appropriations bill.”

The letter came the same week that it was announced a coalition of Colorado counties, communities and private donors committed to saving the Southwest Chief are joining together to submit an application for a federal grant to fund maintenance work.

Affected Colorado cities and counties have raised $250,000 to help match a U.S. Department of Transportation Transportation Infrastructure Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) Program grant application spearheaded, by Garden City, KS. If the grant is awarded, BNSF will receive funding to repair about 50 miles of the Chief route in Kansas and Colorado.

The list of supporters includes Otero County with $10,000, Pueblo with $100,000, Trinidad with $25,000, La Junta with $10,000, Lamar with $10,000, and Bent County with $10,000.

In addition, BSNF has pledged $2 million, the state of Kansas $3 million, and Amtrak $4 million. The TIGER grant application requests $15 million in federal funds for repairs. So far, the state of Colorado has not contributed.

 

Calling all National Train Day volunteers, new and from years past! If you’d like to utilize NARP materials at your local train day, please sign up using this form. It is important that you complete this form by Wednesday, April 30th so we can mail you everything you need in time for May 10th.

Thank you in advance to our dedicated volunteers who are helping to spread our message to train passengers across the country.

Amtrak is also looking to get people involved on National Train Day activities, identifying just a few of the many ways you can take part:

The seventh annual National Train Day on Saturday, May 10, 2014, has its best-ever slate of programming, with 210 locations in 43 states already signed up to celebrate why Trains Matter. Amtrak welcomes more events by encouraging rail passengers and enthusiasts to host their own National Train Day 2014. Details on each event and information on how to host are posted at NationalTrainDay.com and additional communities are welcome to participate.

Communities in all 50 states celebrated the importance of trains last year by hosting a National Train Day event at local train stations, railroad museums and other locations. 

Fourteen communities have special activities as part of this year's event: Albuquerque; Cary, N.C.; Chicago; Emeryville, Calif.; Jacksonville, Fla.; Kansas City, Mo.; McComb, Miss.; New York; Philadelphia; Portland, Ore.; Rutland, Vt.; San Antonio; Seattle and Washington, D.C.

 

NARP submitted a statement to the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation Housing & Urban Development for the Fiscal Year 2015 budget.

NARP requested at least $3.9 billion for intercity passenger trains. This is a meaningful increase from the $1.39 billion enacted for Amtrak for FY 2014, but falls far short of the $7 to $9 billion a year recommended by the National Surface Transportation Policy & Revenue Study Commission appointed by Republican President George W. Bush.

You can read the full statement here.

 

A study done in partnership between the Rockefeller Foundation and Transportation for America found that a significant majority of young Americans consider access to public transportation a key consideration when deciding to live. The same study, however, found that a majority of millenials—defined as people between the ages of 18 and 34—rated their own cities transit systems as “fair” to “poor,” saying they would like more rail, transit, biking, and walking options.

According to the study, roughly three in four said it is likely they will live in a place where they don’t need a car to get around, while another 66 percent say that “access to high quality transportation” is one of their top three criteria for choosing what city to live in next.

"Young people are the key to advancing innovation and economic competitiveness in our urban areas, and this survey reinforces that cities that don't invest in effective transportation options stand to lose out in the long-run," said Michael Myers, a managing director at The Rockefeller Foundation. "As we move from a car-centric model of mobility to a nation that embraces more equitable and sustainable transportation options, millennials are leading the way."

 

Travel Weekly reports that All Aboard Florida—the Orlando to Miami passenger train service—is on track for a 2016 opening, with construction already underway.

“All Aboard Florida is updating and outfitting the current rail lines in the southern portion of the line and building 40 new miles of track to complete the line to Orlando Airport, located about 20 minutes from the city and its theme park attractions,” writes the travel-themed periodical.  

“Foreign tourists will be able to use the train and make longer stays in Florida without worrying about driving on unfamiliar roads, or looking for bus service or transportation options that are not convenient,” Tadayuki Hara, associate dean at the Rosen College of Hospitality Management at the University of Central Florida, told Travel Weekly. “Business travelers will be able to plan meetings and have complete freedom on the train to work, relax and know they will arrive at their destination and can plan a meeting shortly afterwards. The railroad system is very precise.”

NARP has launched a campaign to support the project, which has recently come under fire from a small but vocal group of anti-development interests.

 

News in Brief:

—The Wisconsin Department of Transportation announced it has received $3.2 million in federal funds for the downtown Milwaukee streetcar project.

—The Niagara Falls City Council voted to approve a $22.7 million contract for the construction of a new multimodal train station, service by Amtrak's Maple Leaf Line and Empire Corridor.

—The Michigan Department of Transportation announced it has contacted train manufacturer Talgo Inc. to investigate the purchase or lease of state-of-the-art train sets. The equipment has been sitting unused following Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s decision to renege on a contract, sparking a legal dispute between the state and Spanish train maker.

—The California High-Speed Rail Authority released the final environmental report for the Fresno-Bakersfield segment of the 220 mph train system that will connect San Francisco to Los Angeles via the Central Valley.

—The Charlotte City Council voted to authorize a $249.8 million extension of the city’s LYNX rail Blue Line, which will expand the system’s footprint and capacity.

 

From the NARP Blog

Top Train Facts for Earth Day 2014: Often what's good for people is good for the planet, too. That’s why we’re celebrating trains today. Trains are a travel choice that’s all around responsible. They ensure mobility for America’s growing population while minimizing harmful impact on America’s beautiful and vital natural resources. Here are the top reasons why trains are worth celebrating on Earth Day. [Read More]

All Transportation is Local: Washington’s current dysfunction has left many transit advocates disheartened about prospects for funding today’s needs and doubtful of any long-term commitment. Budget battles present stark contrasts between grand visions of massively increased federal investment and a huge scaling back of the same, leaving little room for the real action required to address the nation’s transportation needs. What, then, are transit advocates to do, when faced with intractable ideological fights? [Read More]

 

Travelers Advisory

Amtrak announced a slate of special summer fares for passengers who book by this Sunday, April 27, for travel between May 19 and June 30.

Amtrak is featuring travel on the City of New Orleans, Coast Starlight, Auto Train, Southwest Chief, Capitol Limited, and California Zephyr. The offer is valid online only at Amtrak.com for coach travel only.