Hotline #867 -- June 20, 2014

Procedural disagreements between Democrats and Republicans kept the Fiscal Year 2015 Transportation-Housing and Urban Development budget from coming to the floor as scheduled this week. Senator Chris Coons (D-DE), however, has introduced an amendment that would increase Amtrak’s funding to $1.62 billion (an increase of roughly $230 million).

Call your senators now to ask them to support Senator Coons’ Amtrak amendment!

"Amtrak is a fundamental part of America's economic infrastructure, especially in the Northeast Corridor,” said Senator Coons. “Senator Murray deserves a lot of credit for her ensuring the Senate's THUD appropriations bill invests solidly in capital improvement projects. I'm grateful to her for that. Amtrak needs nearly $6 billion in capital improvements. Whether it's now or later, this infrastructure debt will need to be addressed. Amtrak is serving more customers and operating more efficiently than it ever has. It is on the right track. Now is when we should be investing in Amtrak's growth."

NARP members have been workingto raise awareness in the Senate about damaging anti-train amendments introduced by the House GOP. These provisions, if enacted, would kill the Sunset Limited and eliminate food and beverage service on the long-distance routes. Early indications suggest passenger advocacy is having an effect, with the Senate organizing in opposition to these awful amendments.

Senate leadership is expected to work on a compromise over the weekend to allow the transportation bill to be brought to the floor as part of a “minibus,” which will also include agriculture and commerce, science & justice funding bills. The bill could come to the Senate floor anytime next week, so ACT NOW to ask your senators to support Senator Coons’ Amtrak amendment!

For the first time in over a decade, the national train network will be receiving new equipment. Amtrak announced this week that a new baggage car has entered field testing.

The new baggage cars will have improved baggage loading and unloading features and even built-in racks to accommodate the growing demand for bringing bicycles on board.

The car being tested is one of four new bagge cars that are a part of a larger order of 130 Viewliner IIcars. These long-distance modern passenger cars include diners and sleepers.

“It is clear that Americans want a national system of intercity passenger rail, and Amtrak is moving ahead to build new equipment to meet customer demand,” said Amtrak President and CEO Joe Boardman in a press release.

This kind of upgrade is merited by Amtrak’s ever-growing long-distance ridership. In 2013, the long-distance ridership set a record by serving 4.8 million passengers.

Amtrak expects the new baggage cars to enter into service by the end of 2014.

 

California Governor Jerry Brown signed a record-setting $156.4 billion budget, increasing government spending by 5.8% in the next fiscal year which begins in July.

This budget was big news for the $68-billion California High Speed Rail project, which now has a significant funding source. The budget includes $250 million for the high-speed passenger train service from San Francisco to Los Angeles, and will give 25 percent of the state’s cap-and-trade revenue to the project going forward. (The cap-and-trade program generates revenue by auctioning off greenhouse gas emission credits.)

Darrell Steinberg, California Senate President pro Tempore, said in a press release, “I was elected to lead the Senate when California was on the verge of bankruptcy. Today, the budget is back in the black with a strong rainy-day fund, an aggressive debt repayment plan, a stabilizing pension system, and is projected to return surpluses for years to come.”

The new dedicated revenue stream will join $3.9 billion in federal High Performance Rail grants, and $9 billion in voter-approved bonding authority.

 

The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) reportedMondaythat ridership on the three transit rail modes has increased in the first quarter of 2014 compared to last year.

The biggest increase was in the light rail ridership, which grew by 3.2%. Overall, 2.6 billion rides were taken on U.S. public transportation in the first quarter of 2014, which is 0.7% less than last year.

“While there was a small decrease in ridership nationally, ridership on rail (light rail, subways, and commuter rail) increased nationally,” said APTA President and CEO Michael Melaniphy in a press release. “Also, bus ridership in small communities increased by 2.1 percent.”

Melaniphy explained that the decline in the overall ridership could have had many causes. First, major winter events negatively influenced the transportation system. Additionally, the price of gas was 15 cents lower than in the first quarter of 2013, causing more people to use cars instead of public transportation. He attributed the increases in specific modes to economic recovery happening around the country, getting more people on the move.

“Since nearly 60 percent of trips taken on public transportation are for work commutes, it’s not surprising to see ridership increases in cities where the economy is improving and more jobs are available,” said Melaniphy.

The complete APTA report can be found here.

 

Matthew Cullen, CEO of Detroit’s M-1 Rail, denied a report in the Detroit Newsthat said the streetcar project was in peril and needed an additional $12 million of federal funds to keep going.

"The construction of the M-1 Rail streetcar will proceed as planned and commence upon City Council approval of our operating agreement. We hope for approval next week," Cullen said in his statement.

"We remain very optimistic about the requested TIGER grant based on the quality of our application, the strong support of the mayor, our congressional delegation and others, the [Obama] administration's focus and commitment to the city of Detroit, and the profound impact of this project for our community," he said.


On Wednesday, Governor Terry McAuliffe announced that the Commonwealth Transportation Board approved a six-year, $13.1 billion transportation improvement plan for Virginia, which gives $3.2 billion to rail and public transportation.

The program reflects the feedback of thousands of residents, local officials and visitors of Virginia who weighed in after a draft program was released to the public in April.

Some highlights of the transportation program include extending the Tide light rail system into Virginia Beach, providing two new passenger trains from Richmond to Norfolk and a second passenger train from Washington, DC to Lynchburg, funding improvements in the Metro 2025 program, expanding VRE platforms, and adding the VRE Potomac Shores station in Prince William County.

 

A study on the possible 200-mile passenger route between Detroit and Holland will be soon commissioned by the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT).

The initial reason for the study is the fact that the Amtrak ridership in Michigan has risen in past 10 years by nearly 300,000.

“Right now, we need to figure out if there is actually a potential ridership along the route before we move this any further,” said MDOT spokesperson Michael Frezell on Moodtv.

The passenger route would mean updating the existing tracks that are now used by freight trains. The study itself has not been started yet but the results are due by May 2015. More information about the route can be found here.

 

The Connecticut Department of Transportation will host two meetings to inform the public about improvements being made to railroad grade crossings along the planned high-speed between New Haven and Springfield via Hartford.

The service will link the Metro-North commuter train and the Amtrak’s high-speed Acela on the New Haven line to New York, and to New London and Boston on the Northeast Corridor. The rail grade crossings will be located in Wallingford and Meriden.

The first meeting will take place at 6 p.m. on Monday, June 23 at the Wallingford Public Library on North Main Street, and the second meeting will be at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, June 25, at the Meriden Public Library on Miller Street.

The New Haven-Hartford-Springfield rail project is expected to be completed in late 2016.

 

Travel Advisory

- All passenger trains on Alaska Railroad returned to their normal schedules today after a track washout disrupted service during the week. Don’t forget – you can save 20% on Adventure Class fares on Alaska Railroad trainsin the summer and winter with your NARP membership!

 

From the NARP Blog

NARP Welcomes New Intern Karl Haljasmets: Hello! My name is Karl Haljasmets and with great joy I will have the opportunity to intern with NARP from June to August this summer. I am from Estonia and received my bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Tartu last summer. In September I started my graduate studies at the Central European University, majoring in global public policy.  A requirement of my degree is to attend two different universities, so after this summer I will move to Barcelona… [Read more]