Happening Now

Hotline #1,123

June 28, 2019

U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation Hearing Produces Noteworthy & Significant Moments; Extension Of Federal Funding For Quad Cities Service Requested; Last Runs Of Hoosier State This Sunday; House of Representatives Passed Budget Bill With $137.1-billion For Transportation; Summer by Rail 2019 Kicks Off; Station Staffing Problems At St. Paul, MN; Amtrak Wants To Raise SEPTA’s Rent; Virgin Trains USA Breaks Ground At Orlando; Empire Corridor EIS Delayed Again

Hotline #: 1123 - June 28, 2019

Tell Us What’s Happening Where You Live’! When you see rail-related news stories, op-eds, editorials, or letters to the editor in your communities, send them along to us! We include them in our social media efforts, along with the weekly Hotline. Send your news items to Joe Aiello at jaiello[at]narprail.org, and we will share it with members. Are you holding a rally, a community meeting, or another kind of rail-advocacy event? We can help spread the word if you send them to us. We can put them on the website, here. Please follow Rail Passengers on Facebook and Twitter to stay up to date on all things passenger rail.

FYI...There will be an abbreviated holiday-week Hotline released on Wednesday, July 3. The next full Hotline will be published on Friday, July 12th.

The July/August 2019 edition of the ‘Passengers Voice’ is now available. Check out the stories on:

This week’s hearing on next steps for Amtrak, held by the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, produced several noteworthy and significant moments, and gave a preview over the shape of the debate that will take place regarding intercity passenger rail in the upcoming surface transportation reauthorization.

While the hearing is well worth watching in its entirety, Rail Passengers highlighted some of the key moments in our coverage of the hearing.

“Our association has been working for a better, more efficient U.S. passenger rail system for over 50 years. We’ve continued the work in the face of tremendous adversity, confident that the facts would ultimately bear out the rightness of our mission,” wrote Rail Passengers President Jim Mathews. “Today’s hearing was a vindication of that work, and proved that many of our policy ideas—ideas that our members have worked tirelessly in support of—now occupy the political mainstream. Our arguments for investing in trains, developed by this Association over the past decade, were coming out of the mouths of Senators of all political stripes, representing Red States and Blue States alike.”

The hearing also featured compelling testimony from Jim Souby, President of the Colorado Passenger Rail Association (ColoRail) and a Council Member of the Rail Passengers Association. Souby laid down a clear and direct case for the benefits that come from public support of passenger rail:

“The way Amtrak evaluates long-distance service, or any of its services, is purely based on metrics related to passenger trips. And the greatest value of the long-distance trains are the economic and social benefits they bring to the communities they serve. [There’s] no doubt that rural communities aren’t going to have as many passengers boarding and alighting on the system as you do in a heavy metropolitan area, but the interesting fact is that in the three states -- Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico -- that the Southwest Chief runs through, the economic and social benefits total $180 million per year. Amtrak asserts that it costs $60 million year over all eight states. And so there’s something wrong with that equation when [Amtrak is] not taking into account the value that [the train] brings. It’s a public transportation system.”

You can see the rest of Rail Passengers breakdown of the hearing on our blog.

The revelations from hearing generated coverage from both trade publications and general media outlets. Similarly to Rail Passengers, Trains’ Bob Johnston focused on a heated exchange between Senator Udall and Amtrak’s Richard Anderson.

“[Amtrak is] wasting resources in proposing to disband the Southwest Chief,” said Senator Udall. “When Congress rejects Amtrak’s corridor plan, it appears that Amtrak will once again be left without a real vision for a national network.”

“I was very discouraged to hear you say you are looking at breaking up long distance routes — that wasn’t in your written testimony quite that strongly,” Senator Udall continued. “While progress has been made, I am confident the threat is not over. I see that Amtrak continues to blame Congress and others for budgetary woes when it’s convenient, yet when tasked with engaging with stakeholders you are slow to do so.”

See Jim Mathew's Message On The Hearing

Witnesses Raise Questions Over PTC Coverage

Trains also highlighted a disagreement over whether Amtrak should go above and beyond what Congress has required for Positive Train Control coverage, with Anderson and safety regulators favoring broader coverage.

Anderson argued that Congress should require PTC or equivalent technology “for all common carrier, regularly scheduled passenger rail operations nationwide.” He did highlight several, lower-cost technologies that could provide equivalent levels of safety.

Jennifer Homendy of the National Transportation Safety Board went even farther, saying the Federal Railroad Administration’s exemptions to PTC on less traveled routes should be eliminated.

“[These exemptions] should all be eliminated; they weren’t authorized in the law,” Homendy told the committee. “An iPad in the cab won’t stop a train if the engineer runs through a red signal.”

Passenger advocates countered that the absence of PTC on certain low-speed, low-traffic routes shouldn’t be a valid reason to kill a train service.

“Not every single mile of the 1,400 miles of non-Amtrak track that Amtrak runs on should (be required to have) PTC. Specifically,” said Souby. “The New Mexico line used by the Southwest Chief only has one train each way every 24 hours. If in fact it is $500,000 a mile to install PTC, we’re talking about $100 million for that 230-mile line. That’s an extremely costly investment for two trains.”

Rail Passengers agrees with Mr. Anderson that rural passengers deserve the same level of safety as passengers riding on the rest of the National Network. However, we disagree with the view offered by the NTSB, and believe the course of action outlined by Ms. Homendy will result in the termination of several train services. Forcing passengers onto highways, where they have 17 times greater chance of being involved in a fatal incident, only makes Americans less safe. We support the equivalency systems outlined by Mr. Anderson, and will work with Anderson and the Congress to ensure these systems are funded at appropriate levels.

Foot-Dragging On Gateway

In his written testimony, Mr. Anderson chided the Trump Administration for its foot-dragging on the Gateway rail-infrastructure program for New York and New Jersey, which the Administration has slow-rolled since it assumed power in 2017. Rail Passengers applauds Mr. Anderson’s stout stance on Gateway and supports his calls for the Department of Transportation to stop waffling on federal funding and to move a long-awaited environmental review forward.

“We need to get this done and stop the unnecessary red tape. Period,” Anderson said in his prepared remarks.

Rail Passengers could not agree more. We remind our members and the public that fully 20 percent of the nation’s GDP flows through those chokepoints, making this much more than just a local program of interest to New York and New Jersey.

Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), and Representative Cheri Bustos (D-IL), wrote a letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) to issue an extension for federal funding for the Quad Cities service between Chicago and Moline.

The Illinois Delegation’s letter is in response to Governor J.B. Pritzker renewed the state’s financial commitment to the proposed state-supported Amtrak route between Chicago and Moline, providing $225 million in state funding for the project in the recently passed Illinois capital bill.

The letter asks U.S. DOT Secretary Elaine Chao to extend the deadline for Illinois to use $177 million in Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) funding, originally secured in Fiscal Year 2010. The project was delayed when former-Governor Bruce Rauner walked away from the project.

“[The Quad Cities] project maintains strong support and commitment at both the state and local level. With the renewed financial commitment from the State, an extension of these funds will provide the Illinois Department of Transportation and Iowa Interstate Railroad the time they need to finalize negotiations over the infrastructure upgrades needed to convert the tracks for passenger service. Additionally, an extension will grant local communities the certainty they need to plan ahead for the new passenger rail service,” the members wrote in a letter to Secretary Chao.

The delegation also point to the work completed by the City of Moline to convert a downtown warehouse into a multi-modal transportation center and hotel, which will serve as the train’s station.

Sunday, June 30, will mark the last runs of Amtrak’s Chicago to Indianapolis four-day-a week ‘Hoosier State’ service. Amtrak’s tri-weekly New York to Chicago ‘Cardinal’ will continue to provide service on the route after Sunday.

The story of the Hoosier State has an unfortunate history for many years. With the enactment of the PRIIA Act in 2008, federal law required that states like Indiana were required to assume the full funding support for such intrastate corridors. In October 2013, Indiana became the last state in the country to agree to a funding plan, allowing for the train continue in operation.

In an attempt to reduce these costs, Indiana sought alternatives to Amtrak operation and, on June 24, 2014, selected Corridor Capitol, a Chicago-based rail passenger services development company, as its preferred vendor to manage and operate the service. Planning was underway for the company to take over the service as early as October 1, 2014. However, Corridor Capitol did not meet that deadline and Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) discontinued negotiations with the company in November 2014. Amtrak continued to operate the train service under short-term contract extensions while the state considered alternative vendors.

On March 6, 2015, INDOT announced that the Hoosier State would discontinue service on April 1, 2015. The decision was made due to regulations of the Federal Railroad Administration that would have required the state of Indiana to act as a rail carrier, despite the state owning no tracks or trains, which – according to INDOT – would have increased the cost to Indiana taxpayers for no additional benefit. After Indiana appealed to the FRA, the train's operation was extended to April 30, while Amtrak continued to operate the Hoosier State under a short-term agreement while negotiations continued.

On August 2, 2015, INDOT contracted with both Iowa Pacific and Amtrak in order to continue the Hoosier State, with Iowa Pacific responsible for providing and maintaining equipment, food service, and marketing, and Amtrak responsible for providing ticketing services and train operating crews (engineers, assistant engineers, conductors, and assistant conductors). The contract had four option years.

On January 30, 2017, INDOT announced that Iowa Pacific was no longer able to fulfill the contract and had asked to be released from the contract early, prior to its original end date of June 30, 2017. As a result, the equipment and personnel provided by Iowa Pacific were withdrawn and replaced by Amtrak equipment and on-board services personnel in advance of March 1 run of the westbound train from Indianapolis.

In February 2019, Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb proposed a budget that did not include funding for the Hoosier State. Holcomb said that the train did not have high enough ridership to justify a subsidy. On April 8, 2019, Amtrak announced that unless state funding was provided, the Hoosier State would end on June 30, 2019. The Indiana Legislature ultimately failed to amend the Governor’s budget, thus dooming the Hoosier State to be first train-off in many years and the first train to end service due the PRIAA requirements.

While ‘Cardinal’ service will continue three-days-a-week, the prospects for the return of even daily service are very unclear. The route used is slow (the train trip between Chicago and Indianapolis takes 5 hours vs. roughly 3 hours & 15 minutes by car) and is particularly delay prone in the Chicago area. With no leadership at the state-level to explore other route possibilities or to make meaningful improvements, options are few.

The House of Representatives passed a five-bill funding package for Fiscal Year 2020 on June 25, including a $137.1-billion Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development appropriations bill. The House will now wait for the Senate to advance its budget bill.

“[This bill] makes forward-looking investments in our housing and transportation infrastructure, while ensuring concerted attention to safety, the needs of the most vulnerable, and resilience,” said Representative David Price (D-NC), Chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation. “It will benefit all American communities—urban and rural—and lay the foundation for economic growth and opportunity.”

There were several transportation-related highlights in the bill, with appropriators resisting White House calls to cut funding for rail and transit programs:

  • $3 billion for the Federal Railroad Administration, including:

    • $700 million for Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor;

    • $1.3 billion for National Network;

    • $350 million for Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) grants;

    • $350 million for Federal-State Partnership for State of Good Repair grants;

    • $0 for Restoration and Enhancement grants;

  • $13.5 billion for the Federal Transit Administration, including:

    • $2.3 billion for Capital Investment Grants;

    • $750 million for Transit Infrastructure Grants;

NEC’s Gateway Project Receive Boosts

House appropriators made clear that they view the NEC’s Gateway Project a priority for federal investment, particularly the Hudson River rail tunnels and the Portal Bridge replacement. They knocked down several of the rationales the U.S. DOT has used to deny federal funding, clarifying that any federal loans that states will have to pay back will count as a local share of funding.

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao had argued New York and New Jersey don’t have enough “skin in the game” to receive federal grants, a novel interpretation not applied by previous administrations of either party.

The House also requires the FRA to review all applications for the Federal-State Partnership for State of Good Repair grants, which will benefit Gateway applications made by New York and New, and ties funding for U.S. DOT salaries to successfully distributing grant funding that Secretary Chao has failed to move out the door.

Congress Directs U.S. DOT to Speed Up Investment in Transit

Congress also inserted language requiring Capital Investment Grants for rail transit be spent within a set time frame, language included in last year’s bill. Dissatisfied with the response of the Federal Transit Administration, House appropriators added further requirements: if transit grant funds aren’t distributed to new projects by December 31, 2021, the FTA will be forced to redistribute that money to projects already in the engineering phase, or face consequences.

“If Congress were to relieve some of the pressure to keep these projects moving, we think that the administration would take that as a sign that they can do what they’d like to do, which is to slow down this program and require local communities to pay a larger share of the burden of funding these projects,” Scott Goldstein, policy director at Transportation for America, told Bloomberg Government.

Anti-Transit Amendments Shot Down

Several anti-rail and transit amendments were defeated by bipartisan coalitions looking to maintain improved investment for rail infrastructure:

  • Banks Amendment, sponsored by Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN), was defeated by 287 – 131 vote, as 58 Republicans joined the Democrats in opposition. The amendment would have slashed T-HUD funding with a 14% across-the-board cut.

  • Perry Amendment, sponsored by Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA), was not offered. The amendment would have resulted in an estimated 12 percent cut to all transit formula apportionments in FY 2020.

  • Woodall Amendment, sponsored by Rep. Rob Woodall (R-GA), was defeated by voice vote. The amendment would have removed language clarifying that local funds are considered part of the non-Federal share of the project cost for TIFIA.

“We are encouraged that the House of Representatives rejected the Woodall amendment that would have impacted the way federal loan funds are defined, threatening critical transportation infrastructure projects, and that Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) chose not to offer his amendment that would have cut public transit funding,” said Paul Skoutelas, president and CEO of the American Public Transit Association. “APTA, along with coalition partners throughout the infrastructure sphere, have emphatically told lawmakers that now is the time to invest more—not less—in our nation’s public transportation infrastructure to help our communities provide critical public transit services.

Fresh off the collapse of the last infrastructure talks, transportation leaders in Congress have signaled fresh interest in pursuing a grand infrastructure bargain with the White House.

House Transportation Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) told reporters he is working to re-engage with President Donald Trump, seeing an opportunity in reports that the president has become frustrated with the attitude of his Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, who has persistently shot down any proposals for a significant additional investment in infrastructure.

Interest in infrastructure talks persist in the face of widespread belief that Congress won’t hit the 2020 deadline for the surface transportation reauthorization—or perhaps because of it, with lawmakers looking for an easier way to inject new funds in infrastructure.

Congressional analysts are already predicting how Congress will react to a missed deadline, pointing to the three dozen short-term extensions required during the last reauthorization cycle, while recognizing that the problems facing highways have only gotten worse.

“Even to maintain status quo spending, lawmakers will have to come up with $74 billion to cover a deficit in gas tax revenues from the Highway Trust Fund, with no clear idea where that money might come from,” writes POLITICO’s Tanya Snyder. A six-month extension may be the most attractive option “simply because the Highway Trust Fund can sustain itself until mid-2021 without more money from Congress, according to the Congressional Budget Office.”

Chef Madi will officially kick off Summer by Rail 2019 in Portland, ME this week with a tour of “America’s Favorite Train,” the Downeaster. She will be joined by none other than Wayne Davis for a trip up to Freeport and then a meeting with NNEPRA Executive Director Patricia Quinn. Madi will tour Portland and even get in some lobster fishing while in town. The trip will continue next week in Boston for a ride in a 1949 Hudson with former MA Governor Michael Dukakis to discuss his lifelong advocacy for Amtrak and public transportation. While in the city, she will participate in Chowderfest, host a NUMTOT meet-up, and tour South Boston eateries.

All of this plus attending the country’s oldest Fourth of July parade in Bristol, RI.

Keep track of all of Madi’s adventures on the SBR website (Summer by Rail dot com) & @railpassengers on Instagram/Twitter.

Rail Passengers Track Update: Where are we and what are we working on? This section will give you updates on what Rail Passengers HQ is up to.

  • Jim Mathews, President & CEO, kicked off the week with the executive leadership of Brightline/Virgin Trains USA at the groundbreaking ceremony for their new station at Orlando International Airport’s under-construction Terminal C. It will be the first intercity passenger rail service directly into an active terminal at any major U.S. airport, and the ceremony attracted much of the Florida congressional delegation, local elected leadership -- including Jim’s former colleague on the National Advisory Committee on Travel & Tourism Infrastructure, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer -- and business leaders from throughout Central Florida. Jim also did three media appearances this week to talk about the economic benefits of train service, appearing on Telemundo, CBS Radio News and in Politico.

  • Sean Jeans Gail, Vice President of Policy, assisted Rail Passengers Council Member James Souby in developing his testimony for Wednesday’s Senate hearing, providing data and highlighting key policies from Rail Passengers’ Blueprint for the upcoming rail reauthorization. Sean also helped educate reporters on the economic benefits of passenger train service, and the economics of providing additional service within a network.

  • Carolyn Cokley, Director of Customer Programs traveled this week to Newton Kansas to present an ACAC Customer Service Award to Station Agent Michelle Cook. Michelle invited her husband and 2 children to share in her recognition. Also in attendance was Brian Perkins, Amtrak District Station Manager, Barth Hague, Newton City Commissioner and ACAC member and nominator as well as Newton Mayor Kathy Valentine.

  • Joseph Aiello, Northeast Field Coordinator, is in Portland on Thursday & Friday this week to join in for the official kick off for the 2019 edition of Summer by Rail. Joe will also be playing host when Chef Madi comes to Boston next week as part of the first week of the trip.

  • Bruce Becker, Vice-President of Operations, handled the membership phones at the start of the week and assisted a number of new members to join the Asscociation.

  • Jonsie Stone, Director of Resource Developement, finalized and submitted the two grant LOIs she worked last week as well as started working on another LOI. Jonsie also had several conference calls with RailNation:California sponsor prospects and developed a fundraising email in response to the Senate hearing.

Earlier this month, Vermont Governor Phil Scott signed the state’s 2019 transportation bill that invests more than $600M into the state’s system - which includes $93M for public transportation and funding to extend Amtrak service to downtown Burlington. The bill also includes investment into cutting Vermont’s transit related greenhouse gas emissions.

In a statement after the bill signing, Governor Scott proclaimed that this funding will make transportation more accessible and safer for all residents of the state.

There are only a few more days remaining in the review and public comment period before the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) makes their record of decision (ROD) on the DC to Richmond, VA high-speed rail study.

Virginians for High Speed Rail is collecting public comments in support of the study and asking the FRA to quickly issue the ROD, so that the DC2RVA corridor can be advanced to the construction phase.

Please remember, almost every passenger train that operates in the Southeast uses the Washington-Richmond corridor at some point. This corridor will be integral to developing high-quality rail throughout the South and Southeast.

Visit www.VHSR.com/DC2RVA to comment.

For yet undetermined reasons, on at least one recent occasion there has been no Amtrak station staff available at St. Paul, MN to provide ticketing, checked baggage and other passenger services for train #7, the westbound Empire Builder. Amtrak’s website does state that such Amtrak-employee furnished services are available at St. Paul Union Depot seven days a week from 7:00am – 10:30pm. During FY 2018 83,892 passengers used the St. Paul station, generating over $8.6 million in ticket revenues.

Reportedly the total number of Amtrak staff at St. Paul has been reduced due to retirements, with at least one such opening having not been filled to date.

On the most recent occurrence of this problem, passengers boarding #7 at St. Paul received text messages that there would be no station services and that the train crews would provide all assistance. It was specifically noted that checked baggage service for boarding passengers would not be available. The train crew did unload the checked baggage of passengers arriving into St. Paul. It appears that the staffing shortage may not have become known until after train #7 had departed Chicago.

This recent occurrence appears to be an isolated incident and there is no evidence that Amtrak has changed the overall hours of services available at St. Paul.

Rail Passengers is duly concerned by these reports and will continue to monitor the situation at St. Paul and at other staffed stations on the national network closely.

Amtrak wants to raise Philadelphia transit agency SEPTA’s rent for easements along the NEC right of way, and SEPTA earlier this month filed a legal brief to challenge the move. SEPTA’s 30-year lease for property adjacent to the tracks -- for a dollar a year, plus millions of dollars for maintenance -- expired two years ago, and the two agencies have been trying to negotiate a new lease since 2015. Amtrak became involved in 1982, when it acquired the property.

This new legal dispute began in February, when Amtrak asked a federal judge to rule that the easements belong to Amtrak and that if SEPTA wants to stay there they must negotiate a new lease with Amtrak. In court filings, Amtrak says it doesn’t want to kick the agency out, it just wants a new lease for their occupancy charged at “fair market value” -- which in this case is $1.5 million a year, rising two percent a year each year after.

On the other hand, Amtrak noted that in the absence of a new lease, it has the right to develop or even sell the easements. SEPTA contends in a brief to the Surface Transportation Board that what’s happening is illegal.

““Ejecting SEPTA from the stations, limiting SEPTA’s use of the stations, reducing or eliminating commuter parking at the stations, or requiring SEPTA to pay rent in excess of the cost SEPTA incurs to operate the stations would violate the governing law,” SEPTA wrote to the STB.

In our view, SEPTA and Amtrak are both publicly supported entities that taxpayers support to create the preconditions for economic growth. And they are both terribly underfunded. The result is a scrap for every available dollar, as taxpayer-supported entities are forced to behave like shareholder-driven companies.

Amtrak is under tremendous pressure to behave like a profit-driven company rather than an agency with a public mission, and has been roundly criticized in the past for failing to “monetize” assets such as its real-estate holdings and air rights. Now Amtrak is essentially doing what it was asked to do, which is to squeeze every dollar. The result now threatens to snarl the commutes of 11,000 Philly-area commuters every day using 46 SEPTA stations along the right-of-way.

We see this as evidence of a policy problem that can be solved without this dispute: fund these agencies appropriately so that they don’t have to be distracted by legal fights to find needed dollars in the virtual couch cushions.

Virgin Trains USA took another important step forward this week in its $4 billion project to link Miami to Orlando in Central Florida and eventually on to Tampa, with a groundbreaking ceremony at Orlando International Airport for the Virgin Trains/Brightline station at the airport. Rail Passengers President and CEO Jim Mathews was invited as a guest to the ceremony.

Mathews noted that it’s the only U.S. intercity passenger service that will directly serve a major airline terminal -- Virgin Trains USA passengers with flights departing from the under-construction Intermodal Terminal Facility at Orlando will be able to get off right in the terminal and proceed through security to their gates. Although there are many transit links that provide this kind of service, so far no intercity service has done so.

Brightline’s major investor in the project, Wes Edens, was on hand and told the crowd that plans are well underway for a similar link between greater Los Angeles and Las Vegas, Charlotte and Atlanta, and Houston and Dallas. Like Amtrak, Edens is intrigued with the “sweet spot” promise of higher-speed, high-frequency train service along routes that are too short to fly and too long to drive.

“Officially launching construction to Orlando marks a huge milestone for Virgin Trains and the realization of our vision to reinvent passenger rail in America,” said Virgin Trains President Patrick Goddard. “Connecting Orlando and Miami, two of our nation's greatest cities, will provide tremendous economic and environmental benefits that will be an asset to Florida for generations.”

The Albany Times-Union reported this week that the Tier One Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) focused on improvements for New York State’s Empire Corridor are facing another delay after the completion date for the EIS was pushed back yet again.

According to the Federal Infrastructure Projects Permitting Dashboard, the Federal Railroad Administration now has a target date of May 8, 2020 to complete and release the study & final record of decision. Only three weeks ago the target date had been listed as being July 31, 2019!

This EIS process is now in it's tenth year, having originally gotten underway back in the summer of 2010. Rail Passengers’ Vice-President of Operations Bruce Becker, who has been a passenger advocate on the study’s Advisory Committee from the beginning, will be composing a blog “How Not To Advance Corridor Planning”, which will detail the sorry state-of-affairs which have occurred (but mostly not occurred) over the past ten years. Watch for this coming next week!

New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) is calling on top executives from Kawasaki Rail Car, Inc. to its July board meeting to provide answers about the ongoing delays in delivering Long Island Railroad’s (LIRR) fleet of next-generation train cars.

LIRR awarded Kawasaki a $1.8 billion contract in September 2013 to design and manufacture M9 cars. The cars will help LIRR accomodate surging ridership and replace the aging fleet of 1980s railcars.

The initial delivery of 92 cars were scheduled to be delivered in September 2017, but Kawasaki has been besieged by manufacturing and design issues. LIRR President Phillip Eng said 75% of the problems have been addressed by Kawasaki, and that the railroad has decided to exercise a contractual option for an additional 110 cars. Still, the LIRR board is committed to “holding Kawasaki accountable” for the delays, keeping the lines of communication open and withholding payment until delivery.

Our Best Fall Meeting Yet! Make Plans Now For RailNation:California in Sacramento, Friday, October 18 - Monday, October 21.

Planning has been in high gear for the past few months, and we think this is truly going to be our best meeting yet! Over the four-day gathering, passenger rail advocates from across the country will take in area tours and trips, in addition to participating in Saturday’s all-day Advocacy Symposium. Great speakers will talk about both history and the future, and real hands-on workshops will give you the tools you need to go back home and fight for passenger rail! The Association’s Council of Representatives will hold its fall business meeting on Sunday morning.

Meeting Registration Is Now Open and Tour & Trip Tickets Are Also On Sale!

Discounted Group Rate Room Reservations at the host hotel, the historic Sheraton Grand Downtown, are also available. Supply is limited...reserve your room today!

Be sure to check out the RailNation:California event page more information, the current agenda and further details.

With the planning for Saturday’s Advocacy Symposium program now underway, a Call for Speakers is now open. RailNation:California could be your opportunity to present directly to activist passengers and commuters who rely on rail and fight for sustainable rail transportation in the U.S. We’ve designed three conference tracks - Inclusion & Equity, Making Change Happen and What Passengers Want - to look at rail travel’s challenges and opportunities today…and tomorrow. See the linked information for details on these tracks and for a perspective on the types of topics Rail Passengers Association would like to see covered, but we also warmly welcome session proposals that may stretch the essence of the three topics. We want to hear from you! The deadline for proposal submission is June 30!

Nominations are also open for the 2019 Ross Capon Citizen’s Advocates Award to be presented during RailNation:California. The deadline for nomination submissions is August 1, 2019

Great sponsorship opportunities have been developed for RailNation:California. Please send Jonsie Stone ([email protected]) contact information for any organizations/individuals you think Rail Passengers Association should contact to discuss supporting the event.

And to make all of this a success, we need volunteers for the event! Check out these volunteer opportunities and let us know if you can help! Event volunteers who complete their agreed upon duties will receive 300 Amtrak Guest Rewards points as our ‘thank you’!

And just announced as a component of RailNation: California, an intensive, ‘Hands-On’ Advocacy Workshop, lead by Rail Passengers’ Vice-President of Policy Sean Jeans-Gail, will be held on Friday, October 18, from 1:00pm to 5:00pm.

This optional session will help advocates answer the question “I’m just one person, what change can I affect”?

Through this hands-on, interactive and engaging Advocacy Workshop attendees will be provided with the tools to advocate and hopefully change their perception of impact. Learning from the best in transportation advocacy at the local, state and national levels, attendees will leave with a tool-kit to help them educate, inform and communicate with others as to their cause.

The Workshop is $20.00 per person and advance registration is required. Space is limited!

Upcoming Regional Rail Passenger & State Association Member Meetings and Other Events:

Please contact Bruce Becker to have a state or regional event or meeting added to the Rail Passengers calendar of upcoming events!

Watch your Mailbox!

As you know we got behind on sending out membership cards. Thanks to the help of CNP Staffing we’ve been able to catch up. We’ve already made one dropoff at the Post Office and will make another next week. We appreciate your patience as we worked to address the backlog! If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to call the office.


Cardinal, Empire and Keystone Service Schedule Changes

Effective July 1 through Aug. 30, 2019

Due to extensive track work schedules are being adjusted to reduce the number of trains operating through NY Penn Station during rush hour periods.


  • Train 640 will operate from Harrisburg to Newark, only. No alternate transportation will be provided from Newark to New York.


  • Train 51 will depart New York 35 minutes earlier than scheduled, at 6:10 am, and will resume normal schedule at Philadelphia.

  • Trains 63 and 69 will run combined from New York to Albany- Rensselaer on weekdays and will run on their separate, regularly scheduled times on weekends and July 4.

  • Train 63 will depart Albany 20 minutes later than scheduled on weekdays and 25 minutes later than scheduled from Niagara Falls.

  • Train 69 will depart at the scheduled time from Albany on weekdays

  • Train 643 will originate in Newark, with no alternate transportation provided from New York.

Capitol Corridor Service Schedule Changes

Effective June 17, 2019

Please be advised that the Capitol Corridor will introduce a new schedule for service effective Monday, June 17.

The schedules of most trains and many buses will be adjusted by anywhere from 1 to 15 minutes. To learn more about this change and view the new train and bus schedules, please visit www.capitolcorridor.org/news.

Lake Shore Limited Trains 448 and 449

Track Work Affects Service Sunday through Thursday

May 19 through August 1, 2019

Attention Amtrak Passengers:

Track work being performed by CSX will affect Trains 448 and 449 between Albany and Boston, as follows:

Train 448 Albany – Boston Service: May 19-23, 27-30; June 2-6, 9-13, 16-20, 23-27, 30; July 1- 3, 7-11, 14-18, 21-25, 28 - August 1. Bus service will operate from Albany to Boston on the above dates.

Customers who are traveling to Pittsfield, Springfield, Worcester and Boston (South Station) will get off the train at Albany on the dates above. At Albany, bus service will be provided to and from all stations listed above. No alternate transportation will be provided for missed stop of Framingham. Passengers traveling to Back Bay will be bussed to Boston and then may take an MBTA or Amtrak commuter train between Boston and Back Bay.

Holiday Exceptions:

  • Independence Day Train 448 will operate normally to Boston on July 4

Train 449 Boston – Albany Service: May 20-23, 28-30; June 3-6, 10-13, 17-20, 24-27; July 1-3, 8-11, 15-18, 22-25, 29 - August 1

Train 449 will not operate between Boston (South Station) and Albany on the dates above. Passengers boarding at Boston (South Station), Worcester, Springfield and Pittsfield will be provided bus service to Albany. No alternate transportation will be provided for missed stops at Back Bay and Framingham. Passengers traveling from Back Bay will have the option of boarding at Boston or traveling on alternate dates.

Boston (South Station) and Worcester

  • Passengers at Boston South Station should go to the Amtrak Information Desk for instructions on boarding the buses.

  • Passengers at Worcester will board the bus at the main entrance in front of the station. Boarding will not occur at the Bus Terminal.

Please Note: There will be no Business Class or sleeping car service to/from Boston during this period.

Travelers’ Tip For The Week

I had the pleasure of getting out of the office this past week and riding the rails. I rode four trains in five days and enjoyed every minute of it. As usual, Amtrak onboard and station personnel was a pleasure to encounter and ride with. In my tip for this week, I am passing on a piece of information that I was reminded of on this recent trip.

Another passenger and I both boarded Train #29 in Washington, DC. and both of us was ticketed to transfer to Train #3 in Chicago. Upon boarding the SWC, her name was not on the attendant’s manifest. She, of course showed her eTicket and receipt and the attendant again reconfirmed that she was not on the manifest. He allowed her to board, placed her in the roomette two doors down from me and called the conductor to attempt to resolve the problem. I kept my door open so I could monitor what was happening and after going around a couple of times, the conductor advised her to contact the call center to see if they could shine some light on the situation.

Long story short, her ticket was not scanned departing Washington and as a result the rest of her trip cancelled. I myself learned this very valuable lesson some years ago because it also happened to me. I am very glad that I was privy to this recent situation as it has reminded me how important it is to make sure that the conductor always scans your ticket.

To ensure that you have the best travel experience possible, the onus is on you to make sure your ticket is always scanned and never forget to keep a hard copy of your ticket with you.

Safe travels!

Have a ‘Travelers Tip’ you would like to share or have a question/topic you would like us to address, please drop us a message at [email protected] - Attention ‘Travelers Tips’.

Your Feedback is Important to Improving American Passenger Trains

As you travel, please help us promote the Travel Review with other rail passengers. As you encounter passengers who want to make their positive and negative opinions known, please direct them to www.railpassengers.org/Travel Review. All participants will remain anonymous. If you encounter any problems with the Travel Review, or have any questions, please send an email to [email protected]

Do You Need More TravelReview Feedback Cards?

Please help us to spread the word. We need your help in engaging other passengers when you travel and let them know that their feedback is welcomed by RailPax. To facilitate this sharing of information the TravelReview Feedback Card is now available for you to download and print for regular usage. The card can be given to fellow passengers to introduce the work that RailPax is doing as well as our desire to have their feedback. The cards can also be left behind in stations as you pass through.

The template is in a .pdf format and will open in Adobe document cloud. First download the file and save it to your desktop for easy access. Then print as needed. The original template is formatted for Avery 5871 or 5371 cardstock which are both 2” x 3½” business card formats. Any brand cardstock should function as long as the dimensions match.

If you experience any problem in accessing the file, please send an email to [email protected]

Planning a summer vacation including trains (and who wouldn’t be?), then you need a copy of Lonely Planet’s ‘Amazing Train Journeys’ guidebook! And with every purchase Lonely Planet will donate 15% of the proceeds to your Association, to help us keep working for More Trains, Better Trains and a commitment to better infrastructure.

Through this beautiful book, you’ll experience 60 of the world’s greatest and most unforgettable train journeys, from classic long-distance trips like Western Canada’s Rocky Mountaineer and Darwin to Adelaide’s The Ghan, to little-known gems on regular commuting lines. It’s the culmination of asking more than 200 travel writers for their absolute favorites.

Some are epic international adventures, others are short suburban routes along stunning coastline. There are incredible feats of engineering, trains that snake their way through mountain peaks, and even those which have achieved Unesco World Heritage status.

More than just a collection, each profile will give you the practical information you need to experience one or more of these epic journeys yourself -- including ticket options, timetables and stops, plus inspiring photos and illustrated maps. It’s all here!

Amazing Train Journeys is available as a book, e-Book or in both formats at a low combination price. And your purchase helps supports your Association’s mission too! Remember, Lonely Planet is contributing 15% of all Amazing Train Journeys sales to Rail Passengers! You can order copies by clicking here!


MemberDeals is excited to offer Rail Passengers members exclusive discounts for Universal that are not available to the public! https://memberdeals.com/railpassengers/pages.php?sub=usf&login=1

New Harry Potter experiences await you in Orlando.

  • The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™ is welcoming an epic new addition—an extraordinary new adventure that’s taking flight at Universal Orlando Resort on June 13, 2019. In this amazing place you can step inside the story on the streets of Diagon Alley™ where hidden dangers lurk far beneath Gringotts™ bank. Travel to the village of Hogsmeade™ and into Hogwarts™ for a spellbinding journey through the skies. Soon, you’ll be able to experience the wizarding world like never before—joining Hagrid™ as you fly beyond the grounds of Hogwarts™ castle and soar into the Forbidden Forest to discover rare magical creatures on an all-new thrilling roller coaster. For discounted tickets visit; https://memberdeals.com/railpassengers/pages.php?sub=usf&login=1

  • For the first time ever, join Hagrid™ as you fly deep into the Forbidden Forest, beyond grounds of Hogwarts™ castle, on a twisting roller coaster ride to discover the rarest magical creatures at Universal Orlando Resort™. For discounted tickets visit https://memberdeals.com/railpassengers/pages.php?sub=usf&login=1

Remember, if you want to use these great internet-only discounts, you must be a member in good standing AND be logged in to the Rail Passengers website. If you need help accessing these discounts email us at [email protected], or call the office at 202-408-8362.

Openings Available For Rail Passengers State Council Representatives

The following vacancies now exist for state representatives on the Rail Passengers Council of Representatives: Alabama (1 opening); California (6 openings); Idaho (1 opening); Illinois (1 opening); Louisiana (1 opening); Minnesota (1 opening); North Dakota (1 opening); Ohio (2 openings); Pennsylvania (1 opening); Utah (1 opening); Washington State (1 opening); Wyoming (1 opening)

If you are interested in becoming more involved in passenger rail advocacy and serving in a Rail Passengers leadership role, this is your opportunity to be considered for an appointment by the Board of Directors to an open state representative seat. There is no deadline to apply and submissions will be considered on a rolling basis as they are received.

Please review the position responsibilities & required qualifications and complete & submit a Candidate Information Statement if you would like to seek a position.

Where were the today's Hotline Banner photos taken?

  • Between Niagara Falls and Hamilton, Ont., from a GO Transit Weekend Excursion Train, which travels through the beautiful wine country of southern Ontario! Yes, that is Lake Ontario in the distance with Toronto on the horizon. (Credit - Bruce Becker)