Some notes from the NARP Fall Meeting

The fall meeting of the NARP Council of Representatives was held in Salt Lake City over the weekend of October 18-19. There were some excellent presentations, and on the whole, I think that NARP is moving in a positive direction. But there is a lot of work to be done yet.

The good news

“We ask all 28,000 members to speak out for advocacy….There’s something about a train that is not only magic, it’s vital.”
— Jim Mathews

I am very impressed with Jim Mathews, the new President (what other nonprofits would call “executive director”) of NARP. I’ll let some of the slides from his introductory presentation speak for themselves. And I had a good private conversation with him that reinforces what he is saying publicly.

EDIT: Jim has kindly shared his presentation with us. PDF download here.

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And according to Larry Scott, the acting president who preceded Mathews, the NARP Board is solidly behind Mathews’ vision. “NARP needs to be proactive, not reactive.”

Joe Szabo, Administrator, Federal Railroad Administration, also had some positive things to say (complete speech here):

  • ‘We need predictable, dedicated funding for passenger rail.” Predictability is key, so they have asked for funding every year, but that funding has not been forthcoming since 2010.
  • On-time performance is a key piece of the success Amtrak had through 2012. We expect 95 percent OTP every day, on every train.
  • Travel is a fundamental civil right. This is not a Democratic or Republican issue, it’s just common sense.
  • The Southwest Regional Plan is the first of a series of planning documents. It was posted on the website yesterday (October 17). States are successfully pursuing the “PacMan approach” with little bites and plans.
  • Safety is central to the FRA’s mission. There have only been 4 railroad fatalities this year so far, down from 26 in 2013.

Ralph Becker, the Mayor of Salt Lake City, also made some good points.

  • Bringing transportation improvements is a war. The people who show up are the people who hate something. The folks who don’t show up are the people who like the changes.
  • Twenty percent will vote against anyone who raises taxes. You have to build your case to overcome that.
  • “Thank goodness for the millennials. They get it.”
  • Hearing from constituents is what will change the minds of elected representatives: constituents who come forward and demand accountability.

Tom Hall, Amtrak Chief of Customer Service, had some blunt, but reasonably positive, comments about customer service in general, and food service in particular.

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The Point of Sale system was delayed due to the TJ Maxx data breach, which required the credit-card processing system to be completely rewritten. It has now been rolled out on the Surfliners, and is to be enabled in the Northeast Corridor within weeks.

One comment that was positively received: if you’re a sleeping-car passenger, please get the steak! The cost of each meal is transferred to the food and beverage account.

The not-so-good news

The administration of NARP is still struggling. The process of converting membership records from the ancient software NARP had been using to a new system has not gone smoothly, which is why many of us have not gotten newsletters and renewal notices in a timely manner. This, in turn, has caused a significant dip in the organization’s income. The NARP staffers I have talked to believe that this problem is on its way to being resolved, but they have asked me to let everyone know that if you have any membership issues, feel free to contact the NARP office, or message me and I’ll pass the information along.

Some of the NARP staff members were asked to do basic presentations about websites and social media, which were snoozers for those of us who know about such things. But it was evident that a lot of the NARP Council members found these presentations eye-openers, which tells me that many on the Council haven’t joined the 21st century yet.

There are still a number of vacancies on the Council, and anyone who is interested in volunteering is welcome to message me to talk about what the positions entail. I hope to find candidates that will expand the diversity of the Council — we have too many old white-haired guys in the group now, myself included.

What comes next

Over the next few months, the various Council committees will be working on some projects to increase the visibility of, and support for, passenger rail.

I will be at the annual membership meeting of the Washington state rail advocacy organization in Centralia, WA, on November 8 and at the western regional NARP meeting / RailPAC annual conference in Sacramento on November 15. Please join me.

As, increasingly, decisions about passenger rail are stymied in DC and being made on the state and local level, it’s imperative that passenger-rail advocates support both NARP and the organization in your state. Please help us out!


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