Category Archives: Legislation

The Adirondack Scenic Railroad Decision and What It Means

 

The September 26th ruling from New York State Supreme Court Judge Robert Main, Jr was not only a welcoming for supporters of passenger rail across New York State, but also an act of common sense. I applaud Judge Main’s ruling and the efforts that Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi and others have done to ensure the rails stay in place. Rail advocates have long disagreed with Governor Andrew Cuomo and many others on the plan to remove 34 miles of rail line from Lake Placid to Tupper Lake, as it would destroy a vital transportation artery.

For years I have been part of the argument that the rails should be restored to allow trains to travel the full length of the line from Lake Placid to Utica to connect with buses and Amtrak service. While I understand that the state is under fiscal stress right now, such a dream should stay alive. The railroad brings campers into the Adirondack Park. The railroad has been used in the past to fight fires and even to install and maintain power lines. While the long-term goal to rehabilitate the line would cost millions of dollars, I still think it is a cause worth pursuing, and so does the state, as NYSDOT has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Adirondack Scenic for vital improvements. While the need for trails is an important issue to the Adirondacks (and one I can appreciate), tearing up a perfectly good railroad is an inappropriate way to do so.

In his current frustration,  Adirondack Rail Trail Advocates (ARTA) board member Lee Keet took to the Adirondack Almanack to voice his disappointment, claiming that Judge Main might have been bias in his ruling. Unfortunately, I expect the ruling to be appealed, as the region, the DEC, the DOT and the governor’s office are extremely eager to see the line come to fruition.

I have to disagree. While New York State law is mind-boggling to say the least, Judge Main has been known to uphold the law. Had Main ruled in favor of the APA, DEC, DOT and ARTA, I view it as having opened up a Pandora’s box which could have threatened many tourist railroads operating across the country.

ARTA’s site claims that:

The seasonal tourist train between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake was provided for in the 1995 Unit Management Plan as an experiment that had to prove itself through market development for the benefit of the local economies.  In addition, the operator was committed to upgrading the entire line from Lake Placid to Old Forge to Class III service (60 MPH max) at its expense. This experiment has failed: ridership has never exceeded 14,000 per annum and the New York Department of Transportation continues to expend massive amounts to keep the corridor open and the limited train service running. 

The Adirondack Scenic Railroad operates on a revolving 30-day agreement between the State and the railroad. It is near impossible to get funding and support when the state could tell you at a moment’s that your operating rights are not being renewed. While the state owns the tracks, ARPS (the Adirondack Rail Preservation Society, the Adirondack Scenic Railroad’s parent organization) if I recall correctly owns the equipment to operate. In recent years the organization has gone through an adolescence, paying off debts, bringing in a young and dynamic executive director. Far from an organization without aim, the ASRR has become a far better operation.

As someone who finished high school and college outside of the Adirondacks, the line is dear to my heart. The father of a friend of mine from college has been a longtime volunteer for the railroad. When I came back to the region last fall to ride the train, I had a very delicious lunch at the Downhill Grill. The train made that in part possible.

While I know that many of us will not change the opinions of Keet and others on the railroad, I hope that they can appreciate that there are many of us who believe that preserving the railroad (and a vital part of the region’s past) is the right thing to do, and that a rail-with-trail is perfectly sensible (and also benefits the rail riders as well!). I understand why so many people in the Tri-Lakes support the idea for a trail linking the three villages, and I am strongly in favor of economic development for the Adirondacks and the North Country as a whole. My disagreement stems from the method to achieve that economic development and the trail to drive it. Tearing out a perfectly good rail line, even if it is need of rehabilitation, makes little sense.

What bothers me and other rail advocates is the groupthink in the Adirondacks, that the railroad is a significant nuisance, dishonest entity that does nothing but inconvenience the people it serves. That being said, the Adirondack Scenic Railroad should make a public relations campaign to highlight the benefits the railroad brings to the Tri-Lakes to quell the negative opinion people have of the railroad.

How to advocate for passenger rail with your elected representatives

Several passenger rail advocates were fortunate to meet with Rep. Pramila Jayapal (WA-07) in April while we were at the National Association of Railroad Passengers meeting in Washington, DC.

Of course, not everyone has the opportunity to meet with Congressional representatives in person, but Rep. Jayapal has some suggestions, taken from a Facebook Live interview published in Crosscut.

Is the new Resistbot app [which allows a person to text a message and have it show up in a congressional member’s office as a fax] a good way for the public to provide feedback?

Our mailroom tells our office we get the most mail of any congressional district in the country. I think it’s something like 80,000 phone calls, emails and letters that we have received. The most effective thing is when we get a personal message or person’s story. It doesn’t mean you can’t use Resistbot with a standard message. But if you take that standard message and add something that is personal to you and why it important to you, it really makes a big difference. If we see it as part of a campaign, it probably doesn’t have as much impact.

And there are many ways to advocate for passenger rail. Check them out!

Anti-rail amendments fail in US House

All of the anti-Amtrak amendments sponsored by Rep. Posey of Florida and Rep. Sessions of Texas have failed in this evening’s votes, with both Republicans and Democrats supporting rail. Click the links below for a lists of how your representative voted. If they voted for rail, please thank them!

Rep. Sessions’ H.Amdt.407: An amendment to prohibit the use of funds to support Amtrak’s route with the highest loss, measured by contributions/(loss) per rider. This amendment would target the Sunset Limited (Louisiana – California). https://www.congress.gov/amendment/114th-congress/house-amendment/407

Rep. Sessions’ H.Amdt.409: An amendment to prohibit the use of funds to support any Amtrak route whose costs exceed two times its revenues. https://www.congress.gov/amendment/114th-congress/house-amendment/409

Rep. Posey’s H.Amdt.405: An amendment to prohibit the use of funds by the Department of Transportation to take any actions with respect to the financing of passenger rail projects along Florida’s East Coast.https://www.congress.gov/amendment/114th-congress/house-amendment/405

Rep. Posey’s H.Amdt.411 https://www.congress.gov/amendment/114th-congress/house-amendment/411 : An amendment to prohibit the use of funds by the Department of Transportation to authorize exempt facility bonds to finance passenger rail projects that cannot attain the speed of 150 mph.

Rep. Posey’s H.AMDT.413: An amendment to prohibit the use of funds by the Department of Transportation to make a loan in an amount that exceeds $600 million under the Railroad Revitalization and Regulatory Reform Act.

7:24:20 P.M. H.R. 2577 On agreeing to the Posey amendment; Failed by recorded vote: 163 – 260 (Roll no. 313).
7:27:55 P.M. H.R. 2577 On agreeing to the Sessions amendment; Failed by recorded vote: 205 – 218 (Roll no. 314).
7:31:41 P.M. H.R. 2577 On agreeing to the Sessions amendment; Failed by recorded vote: 186 – 237 (Roll no. 315).
7:40:40 P.M. H.R. 2577 On agreeing to the Posey amendment; Failed by recorded vote: 148 – 275 (Roll no. 317).
7:45:53 P.M. H.R. 2577 On agreeing to the Posey amendment; Failed by recorded vote: 134 – 287 (Roll no. 318).

House bill cuts Amtrak funding 40 percent

The House is proposing a 40 percent funding cut for Amtrak in a new passenger rail bill that was unveiled on Thursday by the chamber’s Transportation Committee.

Amtrak has received about $1 billion per year from the federal government since its inception in 1971. But Republican leaders on the panel said the long-overdue rail funding measure would force the company to streamline its operations and survive mostly on the money that is generated by ticket sales.

The bill is unlikely to be approved by lawmakers before this year’s elections.

http://thehill.com/policy/transportation/217411-house-rail-bill-cuts-amtrak-funding-40-percent

The bill also has some odd provisions, including one about boarding procedures, and another about “reinvesting profits from the NEC.”

Amtrak to STB: Investigate CN

Amtrak on Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014, made clear in part its frustration over its own on-time performance by calling on the Surface Transportation Board to look into the matter, specifically as it concerns Canadian National Railway.

“In support of passengers, state partners and its own business operations, Amtrak is taking action to improve the on-time performance (OTP) of its trains that operate over tracks controlled by other railroads,” Amtrak said in a statement. “Under federal law, Amtrak has a statutory right to preference in the dispatching of intercity passenger trains before freight trains.

Amtrak said it specifically “is seeking an investigation of Canadian National Railway (CN) for causing unacceptable train delays on the Illini/Saluki service that uses the CN line from Chicago to Carbondale, Ill.” Amtrak notes that on-time performance of such service “was 49% for the quarter ending June 30, and just 42% for the prior quarter. In fact, the OTP for this state-supported service has been below 80% for three solid years and below 60% for most of that time.”

Amtrak said it is “taking this action under Section 213 of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act (PRIIA) which mandates that the STB initiate an investigation upon the filing of a complaint by Amtrak if the OTP of an intercity passenger train falls below 80% for two consecutive quarters.”

From Railway Age

Poll: WI residents support passenger rail

Time to badger Congress for Amtrak expansion

In Wisconsin, 85% of residents say they want Amtrak funding increased or maintained at current levels, according to a new survey.

It’s been more than 150 years since railroad fever first brought rail service to the Badger State. And while just about everything else has changed in the last century and a half, one thing hasn’t: Wisconsinites still love trains and in particular are fans of our national passenger railroad, Amtrak.

new survey of Wisconsin residents sends a clear message that expanding Amtrak service must be a part of the state’s transportation future….

And those views transcend party politics and labels. Indeed, one of the only places where Amtrak is not in demand is in Congress, where some lawmakers are still peddling unpopular budgets for Amtrak that would bankrupt the railroad.

With Congress preparing to rewrite the law that governs Amtrak, now is the time for elected officials to listen to their constituents.

In Wisconsin, 85% of residents say they want Amtrak funding increased or maintained at current levels, according to the survey. Very few want to see its funding eliminated. Nearly three out of four Wisconsin residents want the option of additional service to Minneapolis-St. Paul and Chicago. There is overwhelming support for expanded service across all demographic groups, all of whom have no problem with the $1 billion yearly federal investment in Amtrak, and many who would like to see it expanded.

Interestingly, the strong support for Amtrak in Wisconsin comes despite the fact that residents currently have limited rail service options. Nearly 80% said they have not been a passenger on Amtrak in the past two years; no surprise here given that the carrier provides only one long-distance train and one corridor service. These views also contrast with Wisconsin’s governor, who, in 2011, sent $850 million in already approved passenger rail funds back to the federal government.

The popularity of Amtrak transcends blue state/red state divisions, offering a striking example of nonpartisan pragmatism that elected leaders would do well to emulate. In fact, Amtrak’s favorable/unfavorable rating was 66%-18% among Republicans and 67%-21% among conservatives. After all, providing passenger rail service is not a Democratic or Republican issue; it’s a public interest issue.

Senate’s proposed transportation bill disappoints, but there’s more to come

The future of national transportation policy is pretty much like the present of national transportation policy, if the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee has its way: underfunded and highway-centric.

The bill released by Senator Barbara Boxer’s EPW Committee yesterday… rejects pretty much everything the Obama administration put forth in its bill, including permanent funding for TIGER and the elimination of red tape that prevents states from tolling interstates. The administration called for spending $302 billion over four years, while the EPW bill envisions a $265 billion budget over six years — although that figure does not include transit or rail.

And that’s part of the problem. The administration put forward a comprehensive, multi-modal transportation bill proposal. But in the Senate, the process is shepherded by EPW, and EPW only writes the highway component of the bill, then hands it over to the Banking Committee for the transit piece and the Commerce Committee for the rail and safety piece. And of course, nothing at all will happen unless the Senate Finance Committee can find a way to pay for it.

Streetsblog

GROW AMERICA keeps rail passengers moving forward

From the US Department of Transportation’s FastLane blog:

Last Tuesday, it was a privilege to be able to send Congress the GROW AMERICA transportation bill, our comprehensive plan to create millions of good new jobs building the transportation system America will need to remain competitive in today’s economy. And it was an honor to cap the day by addressing the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) annual citizen advocacy event, “NARP Day on the Hill.” Continue reading GROW AMERICA keeps rail passengers moving forward

President Proposes $19 Billion for Rail; Let’s Make it Happen!

The proposal to provide $19 billion for improved rail service needs us to be active supporters and lobbyists if it’s going to happen. We’d like to turn this site into an online community where we could share information and ideas, and encourage people to become active spokespeople for better train service. We can also support NARP and the local rail advocacy organizations in their efforts.