PHOENIX - Some Arizona residents are speaking out against a plan to expand the light rail system in Phoenix. The city recently approved a 6-mile expansion that will extend the current system from downtown to the southern part of the city. Construction is expected to begin in 2019, the Associated Press reports.
Last week, more than 200 residents gathered to protest the expansion of the Valley Metro light rail system along Central Avenue, which they believe could hurt businesses along the route, increase property prices, and spur an increase in crime. Supporters of the expansion counter that the new light rail route will benefit residents and the community as a whole. Among those in favor of the project is a local city council member. "It's a very exciting project. There are a lot of people here who will benefit from it, who will get a chance to go to school, get a chance to go to jobs," said Councilwoman Kate Gallego.
WASHINGTON — An amendment offered by two U.S. senators, pressuring Amtrak for its effort to add conditions to its pledge of funding for work on the route of the Southwest Chief, has advanced in the Senate Appropriations Committee.
A Friday news release from the office of Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) said the amendment to the 2019 Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development Appropriations bill, offered by Udall and Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), would “strongly encourage Amtrak to consult with stakeholders before adding conditions to any grant funds.” Amtrak has recently added such conditions to its $3 million pledge to matching funds for a $16 million grant for repair and upgrading of the Chief route [see “Amtrak contribution to ‘Southwest Chief’ grant comes with conditions,” Trains News Wire, April 4, 2018.]
“The Southwest Chief is an engine of economic growth in New Mexico that connects rural communities from Raton to Gallup,” Udall said in the release. “I was pleased when the Southwest Chief received its latest TIGER grant — federal funding that been a big help in making badly-needed improvements to ensure a strong and stable future for the Southwest Chief in New Mexico. But Amtrak is threatening to pull out the rug from the New Mexico communities that are undertaking these critical repairs. That’s why I fought to ensure New Mexico has access to the funding we need and continue to have a say as we work to keep the Southwest Chief chugging long into the future.”
It was the second amendment to the appropriations bill in as many days addressed at recent Amtrak actions. On Thursday, an amendment by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) was added to the bill which would require Amtrak to maintain at least one station agent in every state it serves [See “Senator amends bill to require Amtrak station agents,” Trains News Wire, June 8, 2018.]
June 1, 2018The Rail Passengers Association filed a letter to the Surface Transportation Board (STB) in support of Texas Central’s petition to clear the way for the STB to assume jurisdiction over the Texas high-speed rail project. In the letter, we highlight the truly national effect the through-ticketing agreement between Texas Central and Amtrak would have by allowing passengers access to some 13,958 Amtrak route miles and create the opportunity for any one of 12,256 journeys combining TCR and Amtrak travel on a single ticket.
Also in this week’s Hotline, Amtrak has implemented assigned seating for First Class Acela passengers; lawmakers in Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico have urged Amtrak to fulfil its support of the Southwest Chief; Brightline received a seven month extension to find investors for tax-exempt bonds; and an analysis by APTA highlights that commuter railroads have implemented PTC on 30 percent of commuter rail miles in the U.S.
Lastly, please continue to follow Summer By Rail correspondent Jacob Wallace, who is one full week into his 6,000-mile journey. You can follow his trip at www.summerbyrail.com or on Twitter and Instagram using @RailPassengers or the hashtags #summerbyrail, #SBR2018 and #SummerTraining.
Have a great weekend.
Jim Mathews – President and CEO, Rail Passengers Association
May 9, 2018
RE: Service on Amtrak’s Southwest Chief Route
Dear Chairwoman Fischer, Ranking Member Peters, Chairman Denham, and Ranking Member Capuano:
It has come to our attention that Amtrak’s office of Government Affairs has responded to Congressional inquiries about the status of service on the Southwest Chiefroute with a letter that misrepresents both the value and the cost of this service. Our association represents the passengers and communities that depend on this corridor, and so we feel compelled to provide a broader and more complete context to help members of Congress evaluate the proper next steps to preserve this important transportation service for residents in the 36 communities across 8 states that depend on the Southwest Chief.
[For reference, we’ve included a copy of the letter Amtrak sent regarding the chief at the foot of this email.]
President & CEO
Rail Passengers Association
CC: The Honorable John Thune
The Honorable Bill Nelson
The Honorable Bill Shuster
The Honorable Peter DeFazio
The Honorable Pat Roberts
The Honorable Jerry Moran
The Honorable Roger Marshall
The Honorable Lynn Jenkins
The Honorable Ron Estes
The Honorable Michael Bennet
The Honorable Cory Gardner
The Honorable Dianna Degette
The Honorable Jared Polis
The Honorable Scott Tipton
The Honorable Ken Buck
The Honorable Tom Udall
The Honorable Martin Heinrich
The Honorable Michelle Lujan Grisham
The Honorable Steve Pearce
The Honorable Ben Lujan
Message from Amtrak in response to Congressional inquiries regarding the status of the Southwest Chief:
The Southwest Chief is unique in that it is the only route operated by Amtrak on its entire National Network where there is a significant section of infrastructure owned by a host (BNSF) and that is solely used by Amtrak and no other railroads. This Amtrak-only portion of the route is between Jansen, CO and a location called “Madrid” (about 20 miles west of Lamy), NM. As a result, the full maintenance costs attributable to this section of rail fall to Amtrak. Amtrak’s maintenance costs on the solely-used sections total are approximately $3 million per year. Critical capital investments on the line require more than $50 million in the coming years.
Those costs do not include positive train control (PTC) installation and implementation costs, which would also be incurred, or solely reimbursed, by Amtrak, as we look to expand the application of this vital safety technology across our network. Given the broad investment needs of Amtrak’s National Network, these are costs that Amtrak cannot afford to pay.
In October 2017, Amtrak provided a letter to Colfax County Commission clearly explaining that it qualified its financial commitment to the latest TIGER application with the following:
Amtrak will offer a $3 million match towards the project costs if the grant application for the requested amount is successful. Before Amtrak will fulfill this contribution, a comprehensive financial plan and accompanying commitments by relevant states and BNSF for the remainder of the infrastructure investments and associated additional maintenance costs for this route in New Mexico must be completed. Amtrak is prepared to assist the states and BNSF in developing and completing such an agreement.
Amtrak is not prepared to address these substantial infrastructure needs for this segment of the Chief on piecemeal basis, particularly on a right of way that it does not own.
If the states and local communities desire to retain this segment for operation, there needs to be a comprehensive plan and commitments from other stakeholders and it must address the long term viability of the route, from Hutchinson, KS to Isleta, NM, in order to ensure the route’s performance doesn’t degrade. For example, BNSF has agreed to pay the ongoing maintenance costs for the Kansas and Colorado portions of the route once the improvements funded by TIGER were made.
To put this financial concern of Amtrak in context, of the 19 million riders on the National Network in FY 2017, the ridership of the Southwest Chief represented only 364,000, and it is steadily decreasing. In addition, the Chief produced more than $50 million per year in operating losses, a cost recovery of only 47.9% in FY17, and an operating subsidy of $148 per passenger. Further, the Chief ran an all-stations on-time performance of only 45.5% last year with trains that were almost 40% empty. These numbers do not reflect the type of service our customers, and your constituents, should expect.
Amtrak will keep you updated on our plans as we consider the future of this portion of the route and if the states, local municipalities and the freights put forward a comprehensive plan for the company to review.
AzTA ADVOCACY FEDERAL TRANSIT ADMINISTRATION APPORTIONMENTS
The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has posted its annual apportionments online in 19 detailed tables.
The FTA apportionments distribute $13.4 billion for public transportation in fiscal year 2018 pursuant to the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2018 (P.L. 115-141, Division L). The funding includes formula and competitive funding for FTA grant recipients.
WHITE HOUSE RESCISSION REQUEST
Today, President Donald Trump proposed to rescind $15.4 billion from 38 prior-year appropriations, including $100 million of prior-year public transit formula grants and intercity passenger rail competitive grants. The President also proposes to rescind $179 million of prior-year highway funding. Rescissions are cuts to Federal funding. Therefore, pursuant to the request, the President proposes to cut $279 million of prior-year surface transportation funding.
APTA recommends that, instead of rescinding funds for public transportation and intercity passenger rail, these funds should be used to address the current $90 billion state-of-good-repair backlog for bus and rail systems.
The rescissions include the following public transit and intercity passenger rail budget accounts:
Finally, President Trump is reported to be developing a subsequent rescission request that will include rescissions from the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018 (P.L. 115-141), which could include additional proposed rescissions to the Transportation Appropriations Act.
Attached is a link to the specific proposed rescissions to FTA Formula Grants and FRA Intercity Passenger Rail Grants
Source: American Public Transportation Association
Americans took 10.1 billion trips on public transportation in 2017, according to a report released by the American Public Transportation Association. Commuter rail and light rail ridership remained steady, with many public transit systems showing increases. Compared to public transit ridership in 2016, there was a 2.9 percent decrease in ridership as bus ridership declined by 4.3 percent.
“While we are in a time of great change, in part due to technological innovations, public transit remains a critical part of any community’s transportation network,” said APTA President and CEO Paul P. Skoutelas. “Public transportation organizations are revamping their services and experimenting with pilot projects to be more time and cost competitive, and more customer focused to meet the needs of today’s riders and the growing population.”
Public transportation is an integral part of the new mobility transportation system and public transit systems are partnering with other transportation companies to offer first mile and last mile transportation to public transit stations. In Tampa, Florida, Hillsborough Area Regional Transit has a program called HyperLINK. This innovative partnership between HART and a local transportation company provides rides to local bus stations within a three-mile radius. A customer can call HART or use the HyperLINK app to book a trip. Read full article
Source: American Public Transportation Association
An album by ken.briers
Many of the Council Representatives that attend the 2018 Rail Passengers Association Advocacy Summit and Day on the Hill are featured in this photo compendium.
We begin with a few shots of Sunday afternoon’s meeting of the Board of Directors on April 15. The Rail Passengers board believes in transparency and opens meetings to all members that want to attend.
Following the meeting there was a Dutch treat dinner shared by Board members and their spouses.
The next photos reflect presentations at the Monday Summit sessions on April 16. Council Representatives and Rail Passengers Association members heard from representatives of Amtrak and the Federal Railroad Administration, a luncheon presentation on transit oriented development and afternoon sessions from field organizers and active council representatives. Attendees heard a briefing from a Congressional transportation staffer and broke up into Division meetings at the end of the afternoon.
Monday evening’s reception for the Heritage Circle and Silver Rails members was held on the private car Dearing, at Union Station. The event recognizes those who have gone above and beyond in helping Rail Passengers Association financially with larger donations, membership dues or planning for RPA in their will.
Tuesday April 17th's Day on the Hill culminated with The Capitol Hill Reception, honoring fallen Board member Jim Hamre and featuring his mother and his Congressman, Dennis Heck
Wednesday’s session featured recognition awards presented to outgoing Board members, and a Jack Martin award to George Chilson. Board elections and election of Council At-Large positions were announced.
Numerous Council members are pictured making comments during the Wednesday business meeting and finally there are some shots of regional groups caucusing at the farewell lunch.
Please enjoy and circulate!
(Thanks to Phil Streby and Sean Jeans-Gail for picturing me a couple of times!)
Many of you know that Adam Auxier and myself have a history of providing private car excursions over the past fourteen years.The current trip this month from Chicago to Albany and Montreal is sold out but we have one planned for May 2019. The trip begins May 11th 2019 in Emeryville CA (San Francisco) on the California Zephyr and goes to Chicago with a stop in Denver.With the recent Amtrak changes this may be our last trip. Feel free to call me 308 379 8185 with any questions.
Here are the links for trip details and prices and photos and specs on the private cars:
May 4, 2018The past few weeks have been a bit turbulent as Amtrak continues a slew new changes that have a direct effect on valued customers and Rail Passengers members. With all these changes taking place, it’s almost possible to miss the fact that we have had 47 years of Amtrak service, as of this week.
Has it all been an easy ride? No, it sure hasn’t. But it has been a ride that we have enjoyed over the years. If we didn’t truly want and need Amtrak, these changes wouldn’t frustrate us the way that they do.
As we look to the future of passenger rail in the U.S. and consider where we want Amtrak to go, please consider supporting our Mayor’s Petition. We can use as much support as possible to reach as many communities served by Amtrak as possible, and to tell their mayors to fight for keeping Amtrak a quality and reliable service for its customers.
Also in this week’s Hotline, Brightline will pay for rail crossing maintenance for counties that have not opposed the higher-speed train’s development, the Southern Arizona Transportation Museum will host “Train Day at the Depot” in Tucson, NJ Transit is behind schedule on PTC implementation; and Amtrak’s inspector general found that there are severe security weaknesses at Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station and Penn Coach Yard.
Have a good weekend.
Jim Mathews – President and CEO, Rail Passengers Association