Category Archives: Featured

The trains are still running

January will see a new team in the White House. The Congress will still be divided. There haven’t been too many changes in state legislatures.

And the trains will still be running.

But now more than ever, we all need to work together to build bipartisan support for a robust passenger train network. Please join, donate to, and become actively involved in, the National Association of Railroad Passengers, and rail advocacy groups in your area.

And there are many other ways to help.

Trains don’t grow on trees. With your help, we can keep them running!

Trains, Cities, and Equality

For better or worse, trains are inextricably linked to cities, and a healthy passenger rail system depends on vibrant urban areas.

Of course, trains are well-suited to serve locations of all sizes. But they have particular advantages in serving rural areas that have no other service, and in providing direct service to downtowns.

So it’s not surprising that Millennials want trains, and they want to live in cities with good transportation.

Those of us who participated in this year’s NARP Day on the Hill were pleased to discover that we got a much better reception than we did last year. There seems to be a glimmer of hope that we’ll return to seeing support from elected officials representing urban and rural, liberal and conservative districts, as has been the norm in the past.

But modern passenger rail won’t work if it’s surrounded by crumbling, hostile communities and infrastructure. Just like in the 1960s, trains will be left to rot if they are considered to be an urban amenity, and the better-off will retreat behind their gated communities and their locked personal cars.

These scenarios are already happening. Canada’s trains are not doing well because they are perceived as too elitist, despite their serving many places with no other transportation options.

So it’s too soon to expect a wholesale defection from the 20th century’s car- and airplane-centric ways of thinking. We have a lot of work to do.

The first step: Passenger train advocates need to build the largest possible tent. We need to welcome everyone: rich, poor; urban, rural; of all ages, abilities, races, backgrounds and political beliefs. That variety of support is imperative if we are to build a consensus for a modern, reliable, and efficient 21st-century rail system.

Trains need to become the place that people know they can be comfortable, and they need to travel and make connections between vibrant, healthy cities and towns.

–CH

What you can do to improve passenger rail

The recent vote in the House of Representatives shows that, while there is significant support for passenger rail, we have a lot of work to do to build the sort of robust, national rail network this country deserves.

Here are some suggestions for ways that anyone can do to help build that network, adapted from a discussion on Amtrak Unlimited.

  1. Join and support the National Association of Railroad Passengers. Please also join your state and local rail advocacy groups, since decisions on passenger rail are increasingly being made by state legislatures.
  2. Respond to newspapers, television, radio, blogs and social media posts about transportation issues. Correct misinformation whenever possible, and hammer home the point that people do ride trains!
  3. Contact your local, state, and national elected officials, and make sure that they understand how important passenger rail is to those who are not served by other modes, and/or who cannot or will not drive or fly. Make sure that they know about and understand the statistics showing that younger people are choosing not to be dependent on cars.
  4. Talk to your fellow passengers while aboard Amtrak. Encourage them to join NARP and advocate locally. NARP has business cards that you can edit to meet your needs, and print locally or buy online. Many passengers who rely on Amtrak have no idea how service decisions are made, and where the money is coming from.
  5. Testify before your state legislature, and even before Congress, about legislation that affects passenger rail.
  6. Write some emails, and follow them up with snail-mail to your local elected officials, whether or not they are “your party” or not. Hand address the envelope. Sometimes, you may not prevail in the short term, but the lessons to be learned about politics, PR, and back-room dealing will serve you well in the future. In summary, “If rail travel is your passion, at some point, you are going to have to get passionate!”
  7. Foster support for improved passenger rail in other groups you belong to.
  8. Foster diversity among rail supporters. Recruit members and supporters who don’t fall into the traditional “old white guy” railfan demographic.
  9. Word of mouth is gold. Post photos of your train travels on Facebook. Many of your friends will start asking questions and make comments about how fun it looks. The more that these friends start taking the train, the more their friends start doing it because they’ve seen the pictures and/or join them on their next trip.
    Getting the ridership numbers up is a good reflection on Amtrak and can create the demand for more service. Also, getting more people on the trains means more advocates for rail service.
  10. Push back against rail opponents who focus only on “subsidies” and costs. Transportation of all kinds is a public good, and should be evaluated in ways beyond dollars and cents. Steer discussions toward the points that Joe Boardman made recently.
    Amtrak President Joe Boardman…maintains a focus on income statements and balance sheets, but he is not single-minded. He considers equally important a responsibility to provide affordable and reliable intercity rail mobility to rural families, college students, vacationers, an aging population, city dwellers without automobiles, and a growing number of citizens now signaling that they clearly prefer public transportation.
    …Boardman is relentless in educating members of Congress on public opinion polls, validated by Amtrak ridership gains, that voters even in hard-core conservative districts are supportive of federal financial support for Amtrak….
    “Boardman advocates [that politicians] recommit themselves to advance and fund public works projects that have been the foundation of America’s financial, cultural and global strength—transcontinental railroads, inland waterways, an interconnected air travel network, urban transit, the Interstate Highway System, and, of course, a world-class national intercity rail passenger network.”
  11. Push for a robust, truly national system. Much of the country is served by one train a day or less, on one route, and this winter’s disruptions have shown how fragile such a system is. We need multiple daily frequencies on the routes we have, and then alternate routes, so that people can be served even when there are disruptions.
  12. Encourage hotels and convention centers to include train stations on their “how to get here” web pages.
  13. Participate in the many online communities that discuss passenger rail, such as Amtrak Unlimited and others, as well as the many Amtrak-related Facebook communities.

What other ideas do you have?

Edit: Some additional suggestions from NARP, from the January 2016 NARP Newsletter.

Ways To Help NARP in 2016
Thanks to NARP members, 2015 was a very successful year
for rail supporters. The association’s hard work will continue
in 2016, so we hope you’ll consider helping NARP continue its
work advocating for a strong rail system as part of the national
transportation network. To that end, are a few things you can
do to help the NARP staff during the year. You can see the full
list here: http://bit.ly/1PNFwFR
1. Contact your congressional delegation. In 2015, we asked members to contact key legislators that led to, among other things, the defeat of anti-Amtrak provisions in the rail and transportation bills. If you didn’t send an email or make a
call in 2015, pledge to do so in 2016 when NARP sends eBlasts asking for your help.
2. Work with your local government. Now is the time to focus on grassroots outreach across the national network to
ensure that passenger advocates, mayors and state and local
officials are educated on the importance of rail as part of a
multimodal transportation system.
3. Encourage others to join NARP. “Over the long
term, NARP should have at least 100,000 members nationwide to amplify the voices of all of our citizens who support passenger rail as one of the most effective economic engines ever devised,” said President and CEO Jim Mathews. Tout the benefits of NARP membership and have them join here: http://bit.ly/1mCmqXY
4. Make a donation. Your donations in 2015 helped us
achieve major victories, and we need to keep the momentum
going. You can do this with cash donations, securities and stock
gifts. Go here — http://bit.ly/1OOoX7o — to see all the ways
you can contribute to NARP in 2016. And remember — it’s all
tax deductible!
5. Become a NARP leader. Applications are now being taken for those interested in being elected to the Council of Representatives as an At-Large Representative or those
interested in running for the NARP board (see page 5). The
deadline to apply is 11:59 p.m. (local time), March 31, 2016.
6. Join a local rail organization. NARP President and CEO Jim Mathews has emphasized the importance of grassroots efforts in the coalition for better rail. Check out this list of local groups to join. http://bit.ly/1W8vpvS
7. Become a NARP volunteer. Are you looking to build your resume, add to your creative portfolio, develop new expertise or just trying to make a difference? We have a variety of volunteer openings available across the country right now.
Click here to see the complete list of available opportunities.
http://bit.ly/1UPIf0M

Will Amtrak trains run on time?

Most Amtrak trains travel on tracks that Amtrak doesn’t own. The legislation that created Amtrak in 1970 included a provision that passenger trains should have priority over freight trains. But that provision has expired, and today, passengers often get stuck behind coal, oil, grain and other goods.

Congress tried to rectify this by passing legislation that would create standards of on-time performance to which the private railroads could be held. But that legislation gave Amtrak, in conjunction with the Federal Railroad Administration, responsibility for writing the rules.

Which led to the case argued today in the Supreme Court. Is Amtrak a government agency that has the authority to write regulations, or is it a private entity that would gain unfair advantage over other railroads by such actions?

It’s up to the Supreme Court to make this decision. Congress could also change the law to remove Amtrak’s authority to participate in the writing of on-time performance standards. We’ll see what the decision will be in the upcoming months.

UPDATED: Press coverage of the court’s deliberations:

Priorities for Train Advocates

The mission of the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) is to work for a modern, customer-focused national passenger train network that provides a travel choice Americans want. In order to achieve this goal in the current political environment, what should NARP’s top priorities be in its advocacy efforts?

This is informal, and was not created by NARP. Its results will, however, be shared with NARP’s Council of Representatives during their upcoming meeting on October 17th.

Click here to submit your comments. Thank you!