Hotline #863 -- May 23, 2014

Congressional House appropriators met May 21 to markup the fiscal year 2015 transportation and housing budget. From the pro-train amendments offered, it’s clear that Representatives heard the voice of passengers who have been bombarding Congress with messages of support for Amtrak and high performance rail.

Key committee actions included:

  • Congresswoman Nita Lowey (D-NY) offered an amendment to add $825 million to fund railroad safety technology, which would help implement the life-saving Positive Train Control technology.
  • Congressman James Moran (D-VA) offered an amendment to increase Amtrak funding by $200 million, restoring it to FY2014 levels. Rep. Moran ruefully acknowledged that $1.4 billion is far too little compared to the need. 
  • Congressman David Price (D-NC) offered an amendment to increase TIGER funding, increasing funds for the intermodal grant program. This would bring funding to levels commensurate with the overwhelming demand demonstrated by states and cities. 
  • Congresswoman Betty McCollum (D-MN) offered an amendment striking restrictive TIGER grant language that, for the first time, restricts program funding to highways, bridges, freight rail and port infrastructure projects—specifically targeting passenger rail and public transit.

Unfortunately, all of these amendments failed through party line votes (28 to 21). While many of the Republicans who make up the committee's majority expressed support for the pro-train amendments—including subcommittee Chairman Tom Latham of Iowa—they were unwilling to break with the official party line.

This means the legislation being drafted in the Senate is even more important. If you haven’t taken part in our campaign to demand a dedicated source of passenger rail funding—which would eliminate need for the kind of year-to-year battles we’re losing in the House at this very moment—please take a few seconds to send your Senator a message.

 

The New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) has proposed a $3.7 billion capital improvement plan in order to improve safety, reliability, and infrastructure maintenance.

The plan allocates $2.5 billion to NJDOT projects that will seek to keep the state’s roadways in a state of good repair, as well as improve the existing bridge and tunnel infrastructure. In addition, it continues funding to Local Aid grants, which will help ease the tax burden of local communities for infrastructure maintenance. The remaining funds will be allotted to New Jersey Transit, the state’s public transportation system.

Speaking of the $1.3 billion which NJT is slated to receive, the agency’s Executive Director Veronique Hakim stated in an NJDOT news release, "This program allows us to continue to deliver safe and reliable services to our customers while keeping the state's transit network in a state of good repair and modernizing our bus and rail fleets.” While some of the funds are slated to go towards infrastructure maintenance, $62 million will go towards new rolling stock, as well as improvements along the Northeast Corridor. Improvements to the NEC would include the “Midline loop” project near Monmouth Junction NJ, which will allow for mid-system reversal of NJT trains above the right-of-way, in addition to station rehabilitations at certain locations, including Elizabeth and Newark Penn stations.

NJDOT Commissioner James Simpson said in the NJDOT releasethat the  program will be an investment in the infrastructure which serves New Jersey residents every day, concluding that “we are focusing our investment dollars on the safety, state-of-good-repair and quality-of-life improvements that make New Jersey an attractive place to raise families and establish businesses."

 

California Governor Jerry Brown has reaffirmed his commitment to California’s High Speed Rail program.

"We can build it,” Governor Brown told theSan Francisco Chronicle. “We can link the north to the south. We can reshape the land use in the Central Valley, where land prices are cheaper. We can do it in an elegant way.”

Brown’s statements were issued within the context of his gubernatorial reelection campaign. Diagnosing the opponents of California’s HSR program with “Lilliputian faintness of heart,” Brown looked forward to his fourth term in office, saying that, "I'm going to build great things, I'm going to do big things, and I'm not going to be intimidated by these fears of things that are part of life."

Governor Brown cited the economic and environmental benefits of the system, stating that, when completed, it would be “a model for the nation.”

The discussion about the proposed high-speed rail system will continue with a series of open houses across southern California this weekend. The events will host discussions accept public comments on the right-of-way alignment of the Los Angeles to Palmdale section of the system, which is slated to be opened in 2029. NAPR members are encouraged to attend these events and offer input. More information on the locations and times of these events can be found here.

 

An economic impact study released Wednesday reports that All Aboard Florida would generate billions for the state’s economy and create thousands of jobs.

According to the study conducted by Miami-based Washington Economics Group, the passenger railway from Miami to Orlando would provide $6.4 billion in the next eight years. That figure includes $2.4 billion in labor income through 2021 and $653 million in tax revenue. It would also create 10,000 jobs during its two-year construction period, along with 5,000 permanent jobs when it’s finished.

"The benefits accrued to the state and to the counties serviced along the corridor go beyond the quantifications of economic impact by encouraging further business development and providing support to key Florida industries such as travel and hospitality, while also improving the mobility of the labor force," said Dr. Tony Villamil, the consultant who prepared the report, to the Orlando Sentinel.

The counties in which the planned stations would be built would get the biggest economic boosts, although counties without stations will still benefit from construction spending and maintenance of the tracks, according to the report. The train is projected to serve eight counties in Florida, including Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Martin, St. Lucie, Indian River, Brevard and Orange counties.

All Aboard Florida, a subsidiary of Florida East Coast Industries, plans to run 32 daily passenger trains starting in 2016. The train will travel on existing Florida East Coast Railway tracks between Miami and Cocoa, then head west to Orlando on new tracks, serving 9 million Florida residents.

 

With a new grant from the federal Department of Transportation issued on May 20, the Los Angeles MTA Purple Line extension has now received over $2.1 billion in federal funding.

The rapid transit extension, dubbed the “Subway to the Sea,” will extend the existing Los Angeles Metro Purple Line to the proposed Westwood/VA station on the Westside. The federal monies awarded on Wednesday will be used to begin construction on the first phase of the project, which will extend the subway from its current terminus at the Wilshire/Western station to a new station at La Cienega.

The Purple Line extension has long been the subject of opposition from wealthy residents of Los Angeles’ affluent Westside. However, increased traffic congestion in the area has led to a greater push for rapid transit expansion from downtown to areas such as Beverly Hills and Santa Monica. Although proponents hope that construction on the extension can begin by the end of the year, the first phase is not slated to be completed until 2023.

“Where the car used to be king, we say, “Look out, you don't have to get in your car,’” said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti at a ceremony to announce the funding, Business Insiderreported.

 

Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma wrote a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx endorsing the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant application submitted by the City of Wichita to extend the Heartland Flyer.

The proposed extension would provide a direct connection for train passengers between Oklahoma City and Kansas City, Chicago and Los Angeles via the Southwest Chief.

Senator Inhofe wrote:

“Once fully operational, the Heartland Flyer extension will provide improved transportation access for businesses and citizens, create the prospect for economic development, and increase the productivity and dependability of freight movement across a significant region. For smaller communities that will have stops along the line, the extension of the Heartland Flyer would positively impact citizen mobility and connectivity to medical services, educational and employment opportunities, as well as connections to other transportation modes in Wichita and Oklahoma City. In recognition of these opportunities, the Sates of Oklahoma and Kansas are fully committed to the extension.

“Prioritizing funding for this project would have far reaching impacts significantly boosting the region’s overall economic development capabilities as well as the health and productivity of numerous smaller communities.”

Gary Lanman, a NARP Council Member from Oklahoma, had requested that the Senator endorse the Heartland Flyer extension during his visit to the Senator’s office for NARP’s Day on the Hill on April 29.

 

The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority's (SORTA) board approved the transfer of $268,278 in leftover federal grant funds to the Cincinnati Streetcar project.
The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) recently informed SORTA that $876,762 in grant funding awarded to SORTA in 1996 must be used or it would be forfeited. SORTA announced that $608,484 will be used for the Metro bus system, and the remaining amount will go towards the streetcar project, which is the region's only active rail project. Meanwhile, streetcar track work is underway and the system's first phase will be a 3.6-mile loop designed to link major employment centers downtown with Uptown businesses through the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood.

 

May 22nd marked the official start of construction on the Kansas City, Missouri downtown streetcar.

The two-mile, north-south streetcar line will travel along Main Street and connect the growing River Market neighborhood and dining destination to the multimodal Union Station and the Crown Center shopping and entertainment complex.The streetcar will also serve the Central Business District, Crossroads Art District and the Power and Light District—home to Spring Center—as well as numerous businesses, restaurants, art galleries, and educational facilities.

 

France's national rail company Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer (SNCF) ordered 2,000 trains for an expanded regional network that are too wide for many station platforms, a mistake which will necessitate a series of costly retrofit projects.

The railway owners and operators, Réseau Ferré de France (RFF), transmitted faulty dimensions for its train platforms to the SNCF, providing only the dimensions of platforms built less than 30 years ago although most of France's 1,200 platforms were built more than 50 years ago.

Construction work has already begun to reconfigure station platforms to give the new trains room to pass through, but hundreds more remain to be fixed.Repair work has already cost 80 million euros (about $110 million).Transport Minister Frederic Cuvillier blamed an "absurd rail system" for the problem, referring to changes made by a previous government in 1997. "When you separate the rail operator (RFF) from the user, SNCF, it doesn't work,” he told BFMTV.

 

Traveler’s Advisory

-          Four Amtrak trains and one MARC train were delayed on Wednesday night after a tug boat struck the Susquehanna Bridge, preventing the trains from traveling between Cecil and Hartford counties.Normal service resumed at 11:20pm after the bridge had been inspected.

-          Downeaster delays between Brunswick and Boston are expected to end soon.The train will return to its normal schedule in a few weeks after recovering from weather-related track damage over the winter.

-          A rock slide near Moffat Tunnel in Colorado on Sunday has detoured thousands of Amtrak passengers traveling in Colorado and Utah, and is expected to affect service through Monday. Detoured passengers are being transported by charter bus to missed stops.

 

From the NARP Blog

- Join America’s Mayors in Asking Congress for Better Train Service!: 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. [Read more]

- NARP Welcomes New Intern Maxime Devilliers: Hello! My name is Max Devilliers and I am going to be an intern here at NARP this summer! My interest in passenger rail has been passed down to me from past generations of French train advocates, and I am really excited to be working here at NARP… [Read more]