Happening Now

Hotline #1,126

July 19, 2019

Fighting Media Bias Against Amtrak; California High Speed Rail Issues RFQ For Track Construction; Catch Up On Summer By Rail 2019; Auto Train Passenger Service Changes; Rail Passengers Tackle Contemporary Dining; Pacific NW High Speed Rail Study; Behind The Scenes of the Wall Street Journal Video; Senate Hearing On Amtrak Board Nominees; House Committee Hearing On FTA Grant Management; NJT Train Cancellations; CAF Delivers Baggage-Dorm Cars; DeKalb Country (GA) Supports Rail; Sunrail Expansion Continues; Anti-Chinese Language May Hurt US Employment; Hiawatha Service Increase Planned

Hotline #: 1126 - July 19, 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.

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

It’s no accident when the same theme crops up across major media at the same time -- and so it is with the newest attack on Amtrak’s long-distance routes. Fox News, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg have all come out in quick succession with stories built around a newer, more subtler message about long-distance than we’ve heard in the past. This time, the thought is that while the long-distance routes are wonderful they lose too much money to enjoy Congressional support, especially as Amtrak gears up to fund an enormous state-of-good-repair backlog on the Northeast Corridor alongside re-fleeting to support new corridor service and replacement of the venerable Superliner fleet.

This is, of course, not the whole truth and messaging like this is orchestrated. Amtrak’s National Network trains are actually enjoying unprecedented congressional support on both sides of the aisle, thanks to persistent advocacy by Rail Passengers staff and members. Congressional members and staff are more frustrated with Amtrak over its behavior in recent years than they are with operating losses.

An opinion piece this week in Bloomberg (“Amtrak’s Long-Distance Routes Lose The Most Money”) was typical of the type.

Rail Passengers CEO Jim Mathews wrote the Bloomberg author on Thursday, and the good news is the columnist is open to more discussion and information.

Here are some excerpts from Jim’s reply:

“I was struck by an assumption that suffuses the entire piece: that it is somehow expected that Amtrak’s long-distance routes should make a profit, and are failing if they do not.

We have reached a point in our national discourse in which every activity is judged on the basis of its P&L. Anything that does not turn a profit is somehow unworthy. But let me suggest a different point of view.

Amtrak does not exist to make a profit. It is not required to make a profit. The lawmakers who set it up never believed it would make a profit. And in 1978, they formally retired the illusion that it could.

The profit argument is a bad one because it misstates the purpose of federal investment and overlooks the significant value that Amtrak creates for the entire country, cities and rural towns alike. (And yes, those quaint Amish you wrote about deserve service just as much as the folks in Philadelphia…along with wheelchair-bound elderly, disabled veterans and the rural poor.)

Amtrak’s routes create value in every community they serve.”

As Jim has said many times before, “There are many things that we spend money on as a country because...well, we want to have a country. Nobody asks if the Air Force turns a profit, nor the Centers for Disease Control or the National Weather Service. But I’m sure glad we have them, and we’ve agreed as a nation that we will spend our money together on things like this so that we can defend ourselves, whether from enemies or viruses or annual Storms-of-the-Century.”

Jim makes the point that the right place to focus attention is not on profits but on value, because Amtrak is a taxpayer-supported enterprise that exists to provide the vital public service of economic development in rural communities across America. The focus should be “on the taxpayers in those small towns collecting the return-on-equity that they deserve for the investment of tax dollars in their prosperity.”

The California High-Speed Rail Authority’s board of directors took a big step towards awarding a $1.65 billion design/build contract for the Central Valley segment of the Los Angeles – San Francisco high-speed rail project, issuing a Request for Qualifications from domestic and international engineering firms.

The Authority hopes to award the contract by Summer 2020, part of the push to meet the 2022 deadline for expending federal grants. The Trump Administration is currently trying to claw back a portion of the grants as part of a political fight between the president and Governor Gavin Newsom. The state is already well under way on construction in the Central Valley, with workers building a separate right of way, including bridges and viaducts.

The winning firm would be responsible to designing, building, and maintaining infrastructure for the 119-mile corridor segment, including track, electrical and signal systems, positive train control, platforms, and electrification systems. The Authority also envisions that the winner of this contract would eventually oversee construction of the entire Bakersfield – San Francisco corridor.

Summer By Rail Update

Summer by Rail 2019 is well under way, with Chef Madi having completed her tour of the Northeast and Mid Atlantic and continuing south along Amtrak's Crescent. We've rounding up all the coverage below so you don't miss a thing.

To read a recap of the trip so far, continue here.

Be sure to follow along with Chef Madi's journey through all our social media channels: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. And of course, you can find everything over at SummerByRail.com.

Want to help support Chef Madi's trip? Click here to donate.

As expected, Amtrak this week announced on-board service and amenity changes for all Auto Train passengers, to take effect in early 2020.

The release highlighted several positive enhancements for sleeping car passengers, to include the return of complimentary wine with dinner, new dinner and breakfast menus, an upgrade to the sleeping car linens & towels and additional sleeping car capacity & availability.

However, the service and amenities offered to Auto Train coach passengers will be downgraded with the elimination of the currently-complimentary dinner service. Food and beverages for coach passengers will be available for purchase in a new Cross Country Cafe car, offering what was described by Amtrak as an ‘expanded cafe menu of meals, snacks and beverages’. A complimentary continental breakfast will still be served to coach passengers prior to their arrival into Lorton or Sanford. It was also noted that Food Trucks would be available at both Lorton and Sanford, offering passengers food for purchase prior to the train’s daily departures.

In recognition of the service changes, Amtrak will be expanding its ‘Share Fare’ program to include the Auto Train on select dates. ‘Share Fares’ provide discounts of up to 35% off base coach fares for small groups and families traveling together.

Amtrak management has indicated their desire to more clearly delineate travel classes (i.e. sleeper vs. coach) and these Auto Train changes are one step in this initiative. Whether the coach downgrades will negatively impact overall revenues of the popular Auto Train will be closely watched by Rail Passengers.

The Washington State Department of Transportation issued a business case analysis this week for a Cascadia high-speed rail corridor, which would connect Portland, OR, Seattle, WA, and Vancouver, B.C with 250mph train service, with and end-to-end trip taking three hours. Analysts found that the corridor would be a practical and cost-effective means to deal with the growing population and congestion in the region.

The high-speed service would not replace the current Cascades service, but complement it--much the same way the Acela service complements the Northeast Regional.

Commissioned by a coalition of US and Canadian government leaders, and encouraged by businesses in the region, the Ultra-High-Speed Ground Transportation Business Case Analysis provided a number of key findings:

  • Annual ridership would exceed 3 million trips with farebox revenue exceeding $250 million, which could result in one of the best performing rail services in North America.

  • Travel times between each of the three major cities would be less than an hour for each segment, with connections to other transportation modes at all stations.

  • Rail service could begin by as early as 2035.

  • Construction costs could range anywhere from $24 billion to $42 billion (depending on alignment). That’s significantly less than achieving the same capacity through highways or airport expansion; adding another lane to Interstate-5 in both directions in Washington State alone would cost $108 billion.

“The ability to travel each segment between Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver, B.C. in less than an hour will revolutionize the way we live, work, and play in the Pacific Northwest,” said Washington State Governor Jay Inslee. “Moreover, it helps us preserve the natural beauty and health of our region by enabling faster, cleaner, and greener trips between our region’s largest cities.”

Critically, business leaders have already bought into the concept, seeing the corridor as crucial in their ability to compete internationally, to fight rising congestion, attract new workers, and integrate commercial hubs along the Cascades spine. Microsoft is so eager to see the project get underway it contributed $300,000 in funding to the feasibility study.

“This is a bold undertaking that reflects the collective vision of businesses, government officials, and non-profit leaders from across the three jurisdictions,” continued Governor Inslee. “They recognize the transformative potential of improved cross-border collaboration and greater regional connectivity.”

Behind the Scenes of the Wall Street Journal's Video on Amtrak

Rail Passengers is working to ensure that the voices of ALL passengers are heard

July 18, 2019

By Jim Mathews

I know the focus this week has been the ham-fisted rollout of reduced dining options from Amtrak—and rest assured we will be issuing a firm response in the next few days—but I also wanted to point out a video posted by the Wall Street Journal. I think a lot of people probably stopped at the bad headline. And that’s a shame, because if you take time to watch the video there’s a lot of positive information that we managed to get into the video through our conversations with a pair of WSJ reporters.

The series was sparked by an extended conversation Sean and I had with the Journal’s Ted Mann earlier this year. The resulting story (Amtrak Has Lost Money for Decades. A Former Airline CEO Thinks He Can Fix It.) was pretty mixed. It *did* include many of our arguments and research items, including:

  • Even though end-to-end ridership on Amtrak routes over 750 miles is relatively low, they say the train represents the only practical long-distance travel option for some residents of small rural communities poorly served by airlines—and a huge part of those local economies.

  • The rail passengers group has estimated that the Southwest Chief, which runs between Chicago and Los Angeles, creates $180 million in annual economic benefits, or roughly three times what Amtrak pays to run the train each year.

To read the rest of Jim’s blog, click here

The Senate Committee on Commerce will convene a nomination hearing on Wednesday, July 24, 2019 to consider presidential nominations to the Amtrak Board of Directors.

The Committee will look at President Trump’s nomination of former Congressman Todd Rokita of Indiana to be an Amtrak board member. Rail Passengers came out against the nomination based on his habit of voting for amendments that would result in the end of Amtrak service—some nationally, some targeted at specific regions or business lines.

“Our leadership has been skeptical of the many questionable Amtrak board nominations put forward by this administration, and this is a step too far,” said Mathews when Rokita was nominated back in May. “Mr. Rokita may end up saying the right things during his confirmation hearing, but we can say without a doubt that he has no appreciation for the way Amtrak-served communities depend on the National Network to connect them to the rest of America, and hasn’t spent time developing a vision for how Amtrak could better serve America’s passengers.”

If you see your Senator in the list of Senate Commerce Committee members below, please call them and let them know you oppose Mr. Rokita’s nomination based on his voting record. Just phone the United States Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121, and a switchboard operator will connect you directly with the Senate office you request.

Republican Members (Majority)

Democratic Members (Minority)

Wicker, Roger F. (MS), Chairman

Thune, John (SD)

Blunt, Roy (MO)

Cruz, Ted (TX)

Fischer, Deb (NE)

Moran, Jerry (KS)

Sullivan, Dan (AK)

Gardner, Cory (CO)

Blackburn, Marsha (TN)

Capito, Shelley Moore (WV)

Lee, Mike (UT)

Johnson, Ron (WI)

Young, Todd (IN)

Scott, Rick (FL)

Cantwell, Maria (WA), Ranking Member

Klobuchar, Amy (MN)

Blumenthal, Richard (CT)

Schatz, Brian (HI)

Markey, Edward J. (MA)

Udall, Tom (NM)

Peters, Gary C. (MI)

Baldwin, Tammy (WI)

Duckworth, Tammy (IL)

Tester, Jon (MT)

Sinema, Kyrsten (AZ)

Rosen, Jacky (NV)

The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure held a hearing on July 16 to examine why the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) management of the Capital Investment Grant (CIG) Program had ground to a halt under the Trump Administration. As part of the Committee's research into the delays, staff found that the review process has more than doubled, costing local governments more than $845 million in costs stemming from the delays.

The CIG program funds investment in fixed guideway transit projects, including subways, commuter rail, light rail, and streetcars, and has strong bipartisan support. Among the Committee’s most worrying findings:

  • Transit agencies face significantly longer timeframes for decision-making by FTA under this administration: The average number of days to get a New Start project through the final phase grew to 391 days, compared to 172 days prior to 2017.

  • FTA actions have resulted in at least $845 million in extra costs for transit agencies stemming from delays.

  • The federal cost share for New Starts projects is shrinking: The Committee has also been made aware that transit agencies have felt pressured by FTA staff to seek lower federal shares in order to be approved for a CIG grant.

“It’s highly disappointing that the data show the Trump administration defying Congressional intent and being an obstacle, rather than a partner, to state and local agencies,” said Chair Peter DeFazio (D-OR). “These findings should be a wake-up call to FTA, the Department of Transportation and the White House that it must drop its hostility toward transit and follow the law. Congress and the administration should be working together to improve transportation options for all Americans, not making it more difficult.”

FTA Acting Administrator K. Jane Williams called the delays “good governance,” saying they wanted to gather more information earlier in the process to “deliver projects on time and within budget.”

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, began the week with a couple of meetings at Amtrak headquarters -- both planned and unplanned -- with a common theme of customer service and perspectives from the riding public. Topics ranged from Rail Passengers’ plans to expand feedback programs to displeasure over the expansion of the Contemporary Menu service. Jim also responded to a seemingly coordinated spate of news stories in major media questioning the value of Amtrak’s long-distance service, talking with opinion writers and reporters alike. Planning also continues for RailNation: Sacramento in October, as well as arranging visits with local elected and appointed leaders in the South next week when Jim joins Chef Madi Butler for part of her Summer by Rail journey.

  • Sean Jeans Gail, Vice President of Policy, met with Congressional staffers to discuss ways to advance passenger rail in FY2020 budget legislation, talked with Californian organizations to plan out the RailNation: California advocacy workshop,, and met with stakeholder groups to get them on board with Rail Passengers reauthorization proposals (available for review at www.railpassengers.org/blueprint).

  • Carolyn Cokley, Director of Customer Programs, traveled to East Lansing, MI this week and met with reps from Amtrak, MDOT, CATA and MARP to have preliminary discussions on kicking off a station volunteer program at the station. The meeting was productive and gained buy-in from all stakeholders. Weekly conference calls will take place moving forward to work out all details of the program. We have a tentative date of Saturday, August 10.

  • Joseph Aiello, Northeast Field Coordinator, spent the week working with local advocates on potential rail improvements between Boston and Providence, as well as the North South Rail Link - which will be the main focus of a Boston City Council hearing on July 29th. Joe has also been working with the rest of the staff on RailNation: California and is looking forward to joining Madi in Chicago for the midwest leg of Summer By Rail.

  • Bruce Becker, Vice-President of Operations, met with local Western New York transportation planning officials at a meeting on Wednesday, where the focus was on improving the cross-border rail passenger experience; the potential for future expanded rail service to/from Toronto and opportunities for additional local rail service between the tourist destinations of Buffalo and Niagara Falls.

  • Jonsie Stone, Director of Resource Development, is on vacation this week.

  • Kim Williams, Membership Manager, spent her second week getting familiarized with Rail Passengers Association’s membership database and thinking of new ideas to enhance current member services.

The Rail Passengers Association would like to thank Talgo, Inc our Annual Partner for their support.

A Los Angeles Metro commuter rail report, first commissioned in 2016, is recommending $175 million in improvements to the LA-Burbank-Glendale corridor with a goal of running a train every 30 minutes. The money would be used for track improvements and adding new infill stations to be used by both Amtrak and Metrolink. The 30-min headways was described by Metro staff as a more “modest proposal”, but the report did look at the possibility of more frequent service and ultimately did not recommend them further due to an addition price tag of nearly $700 million.

Ridership estimates for the proposed improvements would add 40,000 new daily riders by 2042 and increase the amount of weekday round trips by 64%.

Cancellations and delays continue to plague New Jersey's rail commuters, a year after similar issues led officials to vow to fix the problem. New Jersey Transit says 373 trains were cancelled in June, a 52% increase from June 2018. Reportedly, an engineer shortage has contributed to the spike in cancellations in recent weeks.

After the first quarter in which cancellations were down 47%, this spike is unwelcome news for beleaguered NJT riders. Mechanical problems and issues with Amtrak's aging infrastructure also have contributed to the woes. Executive Director Kevin Corbett said he's cracked down on abuses of unscheduled engineer absences that snarled operations last summer. NJ Transit didn't give details Wednesday on what effect that's had.

The lack of engineers, combined with mechanical problems, can have a ripple effect on train service. For example, this past Monday, more than two dozen trains on just two of NJ Transit's 12 rail lines were affected, either by being cancelled or delayed by cancellations that caused late or missed connections.

NJ Transit had about 335 engineers on duty last summer but said it needs at least 390 engineers to accommodate service on its 12 rail lines and cover for anticipated absences. The agency has expanded its training program to address the shortfall. One class of 12 trainees graduated this spring, and about 40 more are expected to graduate by early January.

DeKalb Country (GA) Commissioners have narrowly voted to approve a resolution that says heavy or light rail along highly-congested Interstate 20 east of Atlanta should be included in an upcoming Transit Master Plan. This plan, once approved, will become a guidebook as DeKalb works with MARTA and the ATL Board to expansion mass transportation in the county.

The resolution adds a wrinkle to the Transit Master Plan process, which is in the final stages. Consultants have said that DeKalb could increase its sales tax by 1 percent, but that wouldn’t bring in enough money for a new rail line along Interstate 20. They have pushed a bus rapid transit line instead.

By approving the resolution, the county commission is making it clear that rail -- and not bus rapid transit -- is the goal. County Commissioner Larry Johnson, the resolution sponsor, said he introduced the measure after hearing from constituents who said they wanted MARTA to make good on a 2012 promise to bring rail to south DeKalb. These residents have been paying into the MARTA system for decades through an existing 1-percent sales tax but have not reaped enough benefits, Johnson said.

In March, nearby Gwinnett County voters rejected a referendum that would have expanded heavy rail up northeast along Interstate 85.

CAF USA in Elmira Heights, NY, delivered two additional new Viewliner II Baggage-Dormitory cars to Amtrak this week. The new cars moved via Rensselaer, NY to Amtrak’s Hialeah, Fl Maintenance Facility, where Amtrak conducts the final acceptance inspections on the CAF-produced cars, in addition to performing any required upgrades and adjustments. A total of 10 bag-dorm cars are being manufactured by CAF. Amtrak has not announced when these cars may enter service, but enough cars must be accepted and tested to re-equip one complete train before they can be utilized.

Also, this past week, Amtrak operated a test train on the Southwest Chief route with the consist including 2 new Charger locomotives, 2 Viewliner II diners, a Viewliner II Bag-Dorm and 3 Viewliner II Baggage Cars. Amtrak Senior Management has hinted in the past at the potential of re-equipping a western train with single-level cars when the Viewliner II sleepers are delivered as a way of creating a rapid service upgrade to a Western train with all-new equipment. A return trip to Chicago for the test train on the California Zephyr route is expected.

A potential ban on using federal funds to buy rail equipment from Chinese government-controlled manufactures could lead to a loss of jobs in western Massachusetts. The ban, tucked into the Congress’ appropriation bill, is aimed at preventing foreign governments from adding security risks into infrastructure. A local side effect of this could be the loss of nearly 260 jobs in Springfield, MA at the CRRC assembly plant where the new MBTA Orange and Red line cars are being built. The current MBTA order is being paid for by state funding, but the hope is that the company could grow their facilities in the area with future contracts that could use federal funds.

State Senator Eric Lesser stated that he felt that people in Massachusetts could be “paying the price” for an international spat coming out of Washington, DC. While local leaders do agree with those in DC that feel that China could pose a security threat, they all share Senator Lessor’s concerns about jobs and the future of infrastructure projects.

CRCC currently holds contracts for transit projects in Boston, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia.

Orlando’s SunRail commuter rail service is advancing efforts for a 12-mile extension to DeLand, FL and is hoping to learn this summer whether it will obtain the needed federal funding, despite some local qualms about the project.

Nicola Liquori, SunRail’s CEO, said she expects to know by the end of August whether the Florida Department of Transportation will get the money needed — in the neighborhood of $34 million — to cover the federal share of the project.

The extension, which will require double-tracking from the current northern terminus of DeBary to DeLand, would complete construction along the 61-mile corridor purchased in 2005. It is estimated to cost $77 million.

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, in a meeting of the Central Florida Commuter Rail Commission, asked Volusia County Chairman Ed Kelley if the county still wanted the Deland Station. Kelley said the county had committed to honor its contract. The county has previously indicated a desire to renegotiate.

Plans are advancing to expand Amtrak’s Chicago – Milwaukee Hiawatha service from seven to ten round trips in the next five years, officials announced Wednesday at a news conference at the Milwaukee Intermodal Station. The effort calls for the addition of one round trip in the next three years, followed by two more in the two years after that, according to Arun Rao, manager of passenger rail for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

This plan for expansion has been a bipartisan effort, proving that alternative modes of transportation are wanted by people on both sides of the aisle. "Governor Evers confirmed his commitment to multimodal transportation with the people's budget," DOT Secretary Craig Thompson said. He also said the 2019-21 budget includes $10 million in bonding and $25 million in segregated funding for Amtrak Hiawatha services. "This funding enables us in the department to qualify for federal funds to improve passenger rail service, providing mobility and transportation choices between Milwaukee and Chicago for both business and leisure," Thompson said.

Hopes of adding those trains had been slowed by opposition in some Chicago suburbs to related infrastructure projects, which had led Illinois officials to withdraw their support for new sidings in Glenview and Lake Forest, IL.

But Thompson, said it should be possible to add to two trips based solely on improvements in Wisconsin. “We believe we can get to nine round trips just through the things we know we can do on our side…getting to the tenth-round trip daily is when we’re going to have to really work with [Illinois] and figure out our options.”

Last week Amtrak revealed that it plans to extend some version of the Contemporary Menu modified dining service to all long-distance trains operating east of the Mississippi River beginning October 1. While it is supposed to be different from what is now on the Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited, we don’t really know how or why it will be different. Meanwhile, problems with availability, choice and dietary restrictions have soured the perceptions of many repeat riders.

Amtrak is trying to balance modern tastes and sensibilities with a long-distance ridership which, in large percentages, does not share those tastes and sensibilities. As a result, the reviews have been mixed. Even so, it’s important to acknowledge that there are passengers who like the new food even if they aren’t thrilled with the presentation.

One Rail Passengers member told us last week, “The food honestly is both better, tastier and more in line with how I eat when I am dieting like now and how my kids eat. Plus I like the dedicated lounge space in between meals.”

Others, however, find it terrible. And satisfying both camps is a near impossibility.

Rail Passengers’ DC staff has already reached out to Amtrak leadership on the issue, and they have asked us for detailed information on what improvements might be made.

Citing customer surveys, Amtrak says customers want meals that are less heavy, and want to be able to eat when and where they choose rather than at fixed mealtimes. Rail Passengers doesn’t object to these aspirations, but we also have real concerns about shortcomings in the way the Contemporary Menu has been handled to date on the Capitol and LSL.

There are far too few choices in the existing Contemporary line-up, for example. Members also tell us that kosher options are a problem, as are options for those with food allergies or sensitivities like gluten intolerance. There aren’t enough hot options. We’ve also heard from many of our members about entrees running out very early in the dining service.

One of Rail Passengers’ most serious objections is the apparent disregard for the coach travelers, who will have no access to even the limited dining service in this new model.

We have raised these issues with Amtrak and will continue to raise them. We’ll also offer to do focused work with Amtrak and the Food & Beverage team to address the shortcomings as we see them.

Is the dining service the single overriding issue as we approach the next five-year surface-transportation authorization? No, but it certainly ranks high on the list both as a driver of business to the train and as a humane amenity for those who will spend hours on the train with no other way to eat. Rail Passengers will keep pressing for more detail on the new service and to try to influence how it is eventually executed.

Rail Passengers’ fundamental position is unchanged. We agree with the need for a more flexible dining service, with more choice for passengers – choice about what to eat, where to eat, and when to eat it – but we think the Capitol and Lake Shore experiences need more improvement before going out to more routes.

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.

Confirmed event speakers include:

  • Yvonne Burke - Amtrak Board Member (Keynote Address On Saturday)

  • Chad Edison - Deputy Secretary for Transportation - California State Transportation Agency

  • Jim Allison - Manager of Planning - Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority

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

FYI...Discounted Group Rate Room Reservations at the host hotel, the historic Sheraton Grand Downtown, are now SOLD-OUT! A list of alternative nearby hotels and rates is now available! Please note there are NO special arrangements with any of these alternative hotels.

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

Reminder...Nominations are 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 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 as an optional 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 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:

  • Saturday, July 20 - Carolinas Association for Passenger Trains Summer 2019 Meeting - Columbia, SC

  • Monday, August 5 - Rhode Island Association of Railroad Passengers Summer 2019 Meeting - Warwick, RI

  • Saturday, August 10 - Empire State Passengers Association Meeting & Lunch - Utica, NY

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


Auto Train Enhancements

Effective by 2020

Over the next six months, Amtrak will be introducing several changes and enhancements to the Auto Train customer experience as outlined below.

Sleeping Car Customers:

  • More room availability, including Roomette, Bedroom, Family Bedroom and Accessible Bedroom

  • Upgraded bedding, towels, linens and other pleasantries added to every room

  • New sleeping car menu for dinner and breakfast

  • Complimentary red or white wine with dinner

  • Complimentary meals offered exclusively for sleeping car customers beginning January 15, 2020

Coach Class:

  • Introduction of the Cross-Country Café for Coach customer dining, offering an expanded café menu of meals, snacks and beverages for purchase

  • Effective January 15, 2020, Coach class tickets will no longer include complimentary dinner service

  • A complimentary continental breakfast will be available for Coach customers in the Cross-Country Café prior to arrival in Lorton or Sanford

  • One-way fares for Coach remain low, starting at $89 + cost of vehicle

Updates to Service by 2020:

  • For those customers traveling in small groups: Share Fares will be expanded to include Auto Train on select departures, offering discounted travel up to 35%

  • For those customers who can pack more into their car: the introduction of an ‘Oversized Vehicles’ fare for minivans, full-size pick-up trucks and SUVs with 3+ rows

  • An opportunity for complimentary priority offload: Amtrak Guest Rewards Select Executive members will now receive a complimentary priority offload coupon as part of their tier member benefits.

All customers will now have a wider variety of food options prior to travel with the introduction of food trucks on-site in Lorton and Sanford for all departing customers.

Keystone Service Schedule Changes

Effective through Sept. 6, 2019

Due to track work being performed along the Keystone Service line, some schedules will be affected through Sept. 6 as outlined below.

Eastbound Weekdays

  • Train 600 will operate 5 minutes later from Elizabethtown to Philadelphia

  • Train 648 will operate 5 minutes earlier from Harrisburg to Paoli and will arrive on time into Philadelphia.

  • Train 650 will operate 5 minutes earlier from Harrisburg to Paoli and 1 minute earlier into Philadelphia

Eastbound Weekends

  • Train 612 will operate 10 minutes later from Harrisburg to Philadelphia

  • Train 670 will operate 3 minutes later from Harrisburg to Philadelphia

Westbound Weekdays

  • Train 641 will operate 5 minutes later from Elizabethtown to Middletown and 3 minutes later into Harrisburg

  • Train 643 will operate 4 minutes later from Elizabethtown to Harrisburg

  • Train 651 will operate 4 minutes later from Elizabethtown to Middletown and will arrive on time into Harrisburg

Westbound Weekends

  • Train 611 will operate 5 minutes later from Elizabethtown to Harrisburg

  • Train 661 will operate 3 minutes later from Elizabethtown to Harrisburg

Elizabethtown Station Boarding

  • Track 2 will be closed for boarding effective July 22, 2019

  • Passengers traveling to Harrisburg will need to board on Track 1

Southwest Chief - Train 4

Effective Monday, July 22, 2019

To improve reliability, Amtrak’s Southwest Chief schedule will be adjusted as follows:

Beginning Monday, July 22

Train 4 will operate 10 minutes later from Barstow to Gallup. It will operate on the current schedule from Albuquerque to Chicago.

Summit Station Boarding Track Changes

Effective July 24, 2019

Due to Metra resurfacing the platform at the Summit station, the north side platform will be closed as of July 24.


Passengers traveling to and from Chicago will need to board and detrain on the south side platform, closest to the parking lot.

St. Cloud Station Parking Lot Temporarily Closed

Effective July 25, 2019

Please be advised that the St. Cloud station parking lot will be undergoing improvements beginning July 25.

During this time, the parking lots will not be accessible. All passengers will need to find street parking. Passengers will have access to the station by foot during the project.

See image below.

Carolinian Trains 79 and 80

Palmetto Train 89 and 90

Silver Star Train 92/1092

Effective July 21 through September 19, 2019

Due to track work being performed by CSX, the following trains will be impacted.

Sunday through Wednesday, July 21 – September 18

  • Silver Star Train 92 departing Miami on Sundays through Wednesdays will be numbered 1092.

  • Train 92 will operate on a later schedule Miami to New York. o Departs Miami at 1:50 p.m., 2 hours later than the current schedule.

    • Departs Jacksonville at 2:03 a.m., 3 hours later than the current schedule.

    • Departs Savannah at 5:22 a.m., 4 hours later than the current schedule.

  • Train 92 will stop at Wilson, NC.

  • Train 92 will operate normally Thursday through Saturday.

Monday through Thursday, July 22 -September 19

  • Carolinian Trains 79 and 80 will operate between Raleigh and Charlotte, only.

    • Trains are cancelled between New York and Raleigh, with no alternate transportation provided.

    • Trains will operate normally Friday through Sunday.

  • Palmetto Train 89 will operate normally between New York and Richmond. It will depart Richmond at 1:29 PM, 1 hour later than the current schedule.

    • Will operate on a later schedule through to Savannah.

    • Will operate normally Friday through Sunday.

Wolverine Service Trains 353 and 354

Effective July 16 and 17, 2019

To accommodate scheduled track work and bridge replacement on Amtrak’s Michigan Line, the Wolverine Service schedule will be adjusted as follows:

Tuesday, July 16

  • Train 354, which normally operates between Chicago and Pontiac, will operate between Chicago and Albion. Alternate transportation will be provided for all missed stops at Jackson, Ann Arbor, Dearborn, Detroit, Royal Oak, Troy and Pontiac via Bus 3354.

Wednesday, July 17

  • Train 353, which normally operates between Pontiac and Chicago, will operate between Battle Creek and Chicago. Alternate transportation will be provided for missed stops at Pontiac, Troy, Royal Oak, Detroit, Dearborn, Ann Arbor and Jackson via Bus 3353.

  • Bus 3353 will not connect to Train 353 and will not stop at Battle Creek, Kalamazoo, Dowagiac, Niles, New Buffalo and Hammond-Whiting.

Please note: Bus schedules will follow train schedules

Adirondack Service Schedule Change Trains 68 and 69

July 15 through Aug. 30, 2019

Due to anticipated Canadian National Railway heat restrictions this summer, Amtrak Adirondack service will have schedule changes in Canada from July 15 through Aug. 30.


Train 68 will depart Montreal 10 minutes earlier, arrive 10 minutes earlier at St. Lambert and arrive at current time in Rouses Point.


Train 69 will depart St. Lambert 10 minutes later and arrive 10 minutes later in Montreal.

Adjusted Empire Service During Saratoga Race Season

July 13 through Aug. 31, 2019

Beginning July 13, Empire Service will run revised schedules on Saturdays and Sundays to accommodate travel during the Saratoga Race Season, as outlined below.


  • Train 296 will operate Saturdays and Sundays departing Saratoga at 6:47pm for Albany, Hudson Valley points and New York City


  • Train 295 will operate on Saturdays and Sundays arriving at Saratoga at 6:50pm from New York City and points south.

Same-day weekend round trips to/from New York to Saratoga are possible utilizing northbound train #69 and southbound #296

Empire Service, Ethan Allen Express, Lake Shore Limited and Maple Leaf Schedule Change Effective July 1 – Sept. 28, 2019

Due to ongoing trackwork performed by Metro-North, Empire Service, Ethan Allen Express, Lake Shore Limited and Maple Leaf schedules are affected as outlined below.


  • Trains 48, 64, 238, 244, 250, 252, 254, 256, 260, 280, 284, 290 and 292 will operate 5 to 15 minutes later than originally scheduled.


  • Trains 49, 233, 253 and 259 will operate 10 minutes earlier or 10 minutes later than originally scheduled. For detailed schedule changes, and the most up to date times, please visit Amtrak.com

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.

Travelers’ Tip For The Week

Here's some essential information that you'll need if you have to change your ticket

Any reservations made online, through the Amtrak App or in a station can be changed at Amtrak.com, anytime you want/need. Going online or using the Amtrak app allows the freedom to make quick and easy changes to any existing reservation. Changes to departure or arrival dates and times or upgrades to seat or sleeping accommodations can be easily made if your travel plans are disrupted. Changes can only be made if there is an email address attached to the reservation. Once the change is complete, the ticket barcode automatically updates, so you don’t have to reprint the ticket. If you skip the paper route, you can simply show the PDF barcode to the conductor from your phone or tablet.

Changing Reservations on Amtrak.com

If you booked online at Amtrak.com, you can easily change your reservation online.

  • If you made your reservation while logged into your Amtrak.com account, simply log into your account to begin the modification process.

  • If you made your reservation on Amtrak.com as a guest, you'll need your reservation number and the email address or telephone number used while making the reservation to make changes.

Changing Reservations through the App

On the app Home screen, you will see your upcoming travel listed, along with a form to retrieve other reservations. From here, there are two ways to change your trip.

  • On the Home screen that includes the barcode, tap “Trip Tools”, then select “Modify Reservation”.

  • Enter a reservation number and an email or phone number to retrieve the reservation details, then tap “Change Trip” right below the barcode.

If you don't see the change button, your reservation may not be changed through the app.

Amtrak doesn't charge a ticket change fee, but other fees may apply.

Changing Seat Assignment (Select Acela Express Trains Only)

If your trip includes one of the select Acela Express trains that offers assigned seating, you may select a different seat at any time. Go to Modify Trip on Amtrak.com or find your reservation in the Amtrak app to view or change your seat assignment. You can always call 800‐USA‐RAIL or talk to an in‐station agent. When your seat assignment change is confirmed, you will receive an updated eTicket.

Safe travels and enjoy the summer.

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); 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.