Amtrak LogoResponding to increasingly serious delays across the national train network, the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP), represented by the Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC), will file an amicus curiae, or “friend of the court,” brief with the United States Supreme Court in the lawsuit between the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Association of American Railroads.

The brief will argue that a lower court was mistaken in ruling that it is unconstitutional for Amtrak to participate with the Federal Railroad Administration in setting performance standards. These metrics helped ensure that Amtrak’s trains – which operate on tracks owned by the private freight railroads – met minimum standards of service quality, and they were developed in conjunction with the Surface Transportation Board, freight railroads, states, rail labor, and rail passenger organizations. NARP believes that the recent decline in on-time performance by Amtrak trains is at least in part due to lower court’s ruling (U.S. Court of Appeals – D.C. Circuit; Association of American Railroads v. U.S. Department of Transportation, et al., No. 12-5204).

ELPC is undertaking the legal research and will file the brief on NARP’s behalf on a pro bono basis. The case is expected to be argued in late 2014 or early 2015, with a decision expected sometime after that.

“This is one of the most important issues NARP has ever tackled,” said NARP Chairman Robert Stewart. “The standards adopted by the government provided real protection for the train-traveling public. As a consumer organization representing railroad passengers, our primary responsibility is to ensure that the services provided meet the reasonable expectations people have for getting to their destinations on time and safely. NARP is deeply grateful to ELPC for their professional assistance in presenting our views to the Supreme Court.”

WASHINGTON – The National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) presented U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer (R) of North Dakota with the prestigious Golden Spike Award yesterday (April 30) for his strong support of passenger trains and transit, both locally and across the U.S.

Although Cramer has only been in office since January 2013, he’s already played an outsized role in keeping America’s trains on track. The North Dakota native, along with other members of the state’s delegation, shined a spotlight on the oil-by-rail freight train congestion that was causing serious delays to Amtrak’s Empire Builder, which serves as a critical transportation connection to tens of thousands of North Dakotans. The congestion was also causing delays in the shipping of agricultural products by rail, hurting a vital part of North Dakota’s economy.

“I am honored to receive such a prestigious award,” said Representative Cramer. “The Golden Spike carries a rich history in our nation and state. North Dakota is in the eye of the storm as growing demand for rail to move industrial products, commodities and the most precious cargo, people, is highlighting safety concerns like never before. I join my colleagues in insisting on transparency as industry and the government work together to ensure safety is the highest priority on the tracks.”

Cramer’s work helped lead host railroad Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway to add 5,000 crewmembers system wide. BNSF also sent 250 temporary workers, 5,000 rail cars, and 125 locomotives to North Dakota to ease congestion.

“The Empire Builder connects 8.8 million Americans who live within 25 miles of one of the stations. Given the rural profile of many of the 46 towns along the route, this train provides the only transportation alternative to highways, and can be the only way to travel during harsh winter storms. As we documented in a recent survey, the Empire Builder provides a vital connection to hospitals in larger cites, serving as a literal lifeline for passengers,” said NARP Chairman Robert Stewart. “Our members, and all of America’s passengers, thank Representative Cramer for his work to keep the trains moving across the national network.”

NARP is the only national organization speaking for the users of passenger trains and rail transit. We have worked since 1967 to expand the quality and quantity of passenger rail in the U.S. Our mission is to work towards a modern, customer-focused national passenger train network that provides a travel choice Americans want. Our work is supported by over 28,000 individual members.

Going back to the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad in 1869, golden spikes were used by railroads in ceremonies to mark the completion of important projects. In the 1960s, magazine publishes George Falcon, an active early member of NARP, got the idea for the Golden Spike Award from actress Debbie Reynolds, a train lover whose father worked as a conductor on the Southern Pacific Railroad. Since 1984, the NARP Board of Directors Executive Committee has approved all choices for recipients. Past recipients include Ms. Reynolds, Walt Disney, Johnny Cash, and Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

Ross Capon, the face of the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) for 39 years on Capitol Hill, is stepping down from his role as president, and apparently will retire from the organization at year’s end.

Dr. Larry Scott will serve as NARP acting president while the organization conducts a search for a permanent successor. Capon will serve as assistant to the president for the remainder of the calendar year.

Read the complete story at Railway Age.

A combination of bad weather and a large number of oil shipments has been severely delaying Amtrak riders in northern Plains states – and a rail passenger advocacy group is trying to do something about it.

It hasn’t been easy to be a rail passenger lately – especially if you’re traveling on Amtrak’s Empire Builder.

That’s according to the National Association of Railroad Passengers, which says the delays on the route – which runs from Chicago to Seattle and Portland, Oregon – have become unbearable for passengers.

The cause? Heavy freight volumes from the northern Plains states, largely oil shipments.

Read the complete story at Associations Now.

As the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee prepares a markup on rail reauthorization legislation, the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) is urging Congress to embrace a national vision for intercity passenger trains.

NARP is concerned that committee leaders may be moving toward ‘shrinking rather than strengthening the nation’s already-limited passenger train network,” NARP officials said yesterday in a press release.

NARP makes the case that Americans want more trains, citing Amtrak’s ridership growth. The national intercity passenger railroad carried 31.6 million riders in fiscal-year 2013, setting the tenth ridership record in 11 years. However, U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), who chairs the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has questioned the continued funding of some Amtrak long-distance routes.

“What happens to the people that are stranded if Congress kills the long distance trains?” said NARP President Ross Capon. “Because make no mistake: if Congress eliminates operating support for these interstate routes that is what will happen. For many of these communities, it’s their only connection to cities in other states.”

NARP drafted several goals and recommendations for Congress to consider in drafting rail reauthorization legislation. Long-term goals include:

  • expanding service to put 80 percent of Americans within 25 miles of a railroad station within 25 years;
  • constructing at least one dedicated 200 mph high-speed line with operations commencing by 2025;
  • initiating a federal program to strengthen intermodal connections; and
  • improving safety.

Policy recommendations call for including a high-performance rail network in the next surface transportation reauthorization bill and creating a high-performance railroad network account in the Transportation Trust Fund (renamed from the Highway Trust Fund).

The following release was issued June 18 by the National Association of Railroad Passengers.

The National Association of Railroad Passengers announced that it will fight implementation of the House Appropriation Committee’s Fiscal Year 2014 transportation funding levels.

The draft bill, which the subcommittee will consider tomorrow, slashes Amtrak’s budget by a third, threatening Amtrak’s very existence. The bill also fails to include funding for the High Speed and Intercity Passenger Rail Program. Not only does the bill include no new funding for the highly over-subscribed TIGER grants – a competitive, multi-modal program – it rescinds $237 million in previously appropriated FY 2013 TIGER funding that is not yet obligated.

The House proposal denies state and local leaders the resources they need to develop the modern transportation network necessary for mobility and economic growth. It comes as economic experts and the International Monetary Fund criticize the U.S. for plunging ahead with austerity even as low interest rates make borrowing for projects unusually affordable, America’s unemployment rate remains unacceptably high, and the need for transportation infrastructure investment is widely acknowledged.

The House committee’s bill has just $950 million for Amtrak, a 29 percent cut from the final 2013 number ($1,344 million). This includes a $350 million operating grant (21 percent below the FY 2013 level), and $600 million in capital (33.5 percent below FY 2013).

These numbers are even more disappointing when compared to President Obama’s FY 2014 request of $6.7 billion for passenger rail. That request targeted $2.7 billion for current rail service, including $675 million for the Northeast Corridor, $300 million for state corridors, and $800 million for Amtrak’s long-distance routes. The president had proposed moving Amtrak from the discretionary funding pot and reclassifying it as mandatory spending.

“The proposed House budget is extremely disappointing in its unwillingness to tackle America’s growing infrastructure crisis,” said NARP President Ross Capon. “Millions of Americans depend on the U.S. rail network to commute to work everyday, and for millions more Amtrak is a vital intercity connection, allowing them to travel for work and for family. This is especially true in smaller and rural communities where trains serve as the only alternative to driving, connecting residents to essential services in larger cities. Curtailing service at a time of growing demand makes no sense.”

The committee has also trashed the Administration’s proposal to continue development of a National High Performance Rail System. The president proposed $3.7 billion in FY 2014 for the development of world-class high speed rail and upgrades to conventional rail service.

“Elected officials at the local level depend on the Congress to aid them in maintaining and developing the transportation network that is foundational to our community, our economy, and our way of life,” added Capon. “That infrastructure is crumbling, and we are living off the investments made by previous generations. This House budget is another instance of Congress kicking the can down the road. If enacted, it will be a disaster for future generations of passengers.”

The National Association of Railroad Passengers, the U.S. High Speed Rail Association, Californians for High Speed Rail, and the Midwest High Speed Rail Association are urging Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood to support XpressWest’s creation of a Los Angeles to Las Vegas high-speed rail line.

XpressWest currently has loan application pending with the Federal Railroad Administration through the Railroad Rehabilitation & Improvement Financing program.

Congress established the RRIF loan program in 1998 to help support development of the U.S. rail system. Under the RRIF program, the Administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is authorized to provide direct loans and loan guarantees out of a $35 billion pool of revolving credit to help rail projects.

In a letter to LaHood, the four organizations cited the following factors in seeking his support:

•Los Angeles to Las Vegas is the second busiest end-point pair in the United States, trailing only Los Angeles to San Diego. The completion of XpressWest will be a critical step toward meeting the president’s goal of connecting 80 percent of the American public to modern intercity passenger trains within 25 years.

•XpressWest will provide a convenient, energy-efficient alternative to the heavily traveled Interstate-15, a congested and dangerous highway. Mid-desert traffic back-ups are fairly common. The initial 185-mile segment would have the capacity to divert more than 2 million annual automobile trips, saving an estimated 440,000 barrels of oil each year. The train would also provide a safer travel alternative: the Las Vegas to Los Angeles segment of Interstate 15 has been found to be one of the most dangerous highways in America, and a 2010 study found that 1,069 people died in 834 automobile accidents on the road over a 15 year period.

•It will help speed up and enhance the California high speed rail project with extensions to Palmdale (70 miles from Los Angeles; currently served by Metrolink commuter trains) where the two systems will seamlessly integrate, significantly increasing ridership on both systems, and increasing private sector interest in the California system to help fund further extensions.

•It will expand the market for American high-speed rail manufacturing.

•It is consistent with the desire of Americans for good train travel. This is reflected in the fact that Amtrak has set ridership records in nine of the last 10 years. Moreover, as a recent Brookings Institution report noted, Amtrak ridership from 1997 to 2012 at 55 percent grew faster than domestic aviation ridership (20 percent), highway vehicle-miles traveled (16.5 percent), U.S. population (17 percent) and real gross domestic product (37 percent).

“XpressWest is well suited for this program. This project is ready to go today, having already gained environmental clearance and secured the needed rights-of-way. Private investors have already assembled $1.5 billion in funds to support the project.

“With leadership from the private sector, we can be confident the project will be delivered quickly and efficiently, and managed with strong business practices. Because the nation’s high-speed rail network will be created through public-private partnership, this project offers the ideal model starter project to help move the nation’s new rail program forward,” the organizations’ leadership said.