Hotline #862 -- May 16, 2014

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation held a hearing on May 15 exploring the impacts that transportation investment has on states, local communities, and users of the transportation system.  Unsurprisingly, the mayors in attendance—the elected officials directly charged with meeting the transportation needs of average Americans—were direct and unequivocal in expressing the need for stronger public investment in passenger trains.

These local leaders are on the front lines of the battle to restore America’s infrastructure.  They hear from business leaders that need an efficient transportation network to compete globally and to attract workers.  And they hear from everyday people who rely on trains to get to work on time, and to get home in time to be with their loved ones.  The mayors were clear: right now, Congress is letting both these groups down.

Join NARP in telling the Senate to fund the modern passenger train system Americans need!

Mayor David Martin of Stamford, Connecticut—hailing from the same state as Surface Transportation Subcommittee Chairman Richard Blumenthal—opened by detailing the looming investment needs of major metropolitan regions:

When rail service is effective, it provides economic benefits such as better accessibility to markets, employment, and increased investment. Businesses desire and depend on rail. In Stamford, for example, the commercial vacancy rate in buildings near the train station is about half that of the overall commercial vacancy rate in the city.

Stamfordis home to four Fortune 500 Companies and is the largest financial district in the New York Metro Area outside of New York City. We are unique in that we not only have local residents depending on rail to commute to New York City, but have employees depending on rail to commute to Stamford.

In meeting with executives from these companies, they are universally concerned about the reliability and future of rail service. Unreliable service, frequent breakdowns, and other complications threaten their future growth and it affects Stamford’s ability to both attract and retain new businesses. It also affects the quality of life for residents, especially considering the fact that rail is the primary alternative to traveling on our roadways, which are among the most congested in the country.

Click hereto read all that the mayors had to say in today’s blog post.

Metro-North Railroad is implementing a number of comprehensive reforms to their safety procedures in light of four major accidents which occurred on the railroad during 2013.

According to a federal report, the New York area commuter agency had, over the past several years, fallen into a “deficient safety culture” which prioritized on-time performance over, and sometimes at the expense of, worker and passenger safety. This resulted in a series of accidents culminating in a derailment in the Bronx, which killed four passengers and injured seventy more. According to Senator Chuck Schumer, the report “confirmed our worst fears” about the railroad's safety procedures.

With the assistance of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), Metro-North announced a series of reforms that will seek to increase the safety of the railroad’s employees and passengers alike. These changes include modification of equipment with alerters, devices which monitor engineer response times, system-wide speed reductions, automated track inspections, and in-cab cameras for accident review. In addition, railroad employees are required to participate in quarterly “safety stand-downs,” mandatory breaks during which employees discuss safety protocols as well as C3RS, a new program which will allow employees to report safety hazards anonymously.

New York Representative Nita Lowey (D-17) also urged Congress to fund the President's $825 million request that would assist commuter railroads like Metro-North to install Positive Train Control (PTC), a system which allows for more centralized monitoring and control.

Despite its past shortcomings, Metro-North is looking ahead to improved service in the greater New York area. It plans to hire 800 new employees next year, all of whom will be trained under the new procedures at its newly centralized training center. In addition, the railroad is engaging in a campaign to ensure that all of its existing employees are fully aware of the importance of safety in railroad operations. 

"We are very fortunate to have had the full attention of the teams of experts from the FRA and NTSB that have helped us to improve our safety procedures,” said the agency’s new president Joseph Giulietti. “For our part, we have rolled up our sleeves and gotten to work immediately to make these critical improvements a reality."

The demand for infrastructure funding requested by Transportation Infrastructure Growing Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant applications has once again greatly exceeded the amount of funding appropriated by Congress.

The US Department of Transportation’s highly competitive grant program received 797 grant applications adding up to $9.5 billion in requests, which exceeds the number of last year’s applications by nearly 40%. Only $600 million in funding is available for this round of grants.

Since its genesis in 2009, the TIGER grant program has received more than $115 billion worth of applications, representing over 5,300 projects. The sheer number of applications demonstrates the growing demand for infrastructure investment across the nation and the need for Congress to allocate additional funding for infrastructure in the future.

“TIGER also helps get projects off the ground that might otherwise fall through funding gaps, projects that support economic development and jobs,” said Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx on May 15, “TIGER is just the kind of agile instrument we need to help keep our nation moving forward.”

 

The City of Needles, California recently announced the long-awaited completion of the renovated El Garces intermodal station in its downtown.

The facility was abandoned for years after serving as a Harvey House hotel until 1949 and then a train station until 1988. After significant renovation, the station now offers expanded waiting room and restroom areas and will be served by Amtrak in the near future. The current Needles station had about 8,600 Southwest Chief passengers pass through it last year.

The Needles community celebrated the completion of the station with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on May third. About 400 people took part in the festivities, which included a farmers’ market, an open house for the Needles Chamber of Commerce and an antique car cruise.

Traveler’s Advisory

-          Amtrak NEC service is temporarily suspended (as of 4:41pm today) due to police activity just north of Washington, DC.Amtrak says to expect delays.

-          MBTA will hike up T fares by 5% starting on July 1.This decision will translate to a 10-cent increase for bus and subway tickets, a $5 increase for a bus-and-subway monthly pass, and a $2 increase for a monthly bus pass. Commuter rail rates will also change depending on the zone. More information can be found at www.mbta.com.

-          Amtrak’s Missouri River Runner will operate on a modified schedule on select dates between May 16 and June 21 to allow for Union Pacific to complete track work.Bus service will replace the Amtrak train on these days. The most up-to-date departure times for all trains and substitute buses can be found on Amtrak.com under the “Schedules” tab, free mobile apps and at 1-800-USA-RAIL (1-800-872-7245).

-          Amtrak trains in Michigan will switch to summer schedule on May 19 until August 31. More trains will be added on Sundays and Mondays to accommodate track work west of Kalamazoo. More information on the updated schedule can be found here.

From the NARP Blog

-          President Calls for End of Infrastructure Crisis in Tappan Zee Bridge Speech: The Tappan Zee Bridge is emblematic of so much in the U.S. transportation network. Completed in 1955, it was built on the cheap with a designed life span of 50 years. It was also constructed at one of the widest points of the Hudson River—adding to the cost—to place it outside the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s jurisdiction and ensure that toll revenue would go the state of New York. It currently handles 138,000 vehicles per day, significantly more cars than it was designed to handle, and has been called one of the most decrepit and potentially dangerous bridges in the U.S. [Read More]

-          National Train Day Celebrated Across the Country:National Train Day on Saturday brought out the train-hugger in everyone: from diehard fans to those stepping on a train for the first time. Event participants enjoyed every kind of train-related activity, from boarding excursion trains and equipment displays to meeting their favorite talking train, Chuggington. [Read More]