Washington — Edward Wytkind, president of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD), issued the following statement on the progress to build a new Hudson River rail tunnel:
“We are pleased that Governors Chris Christie (N.J.) and Andrew Cuomo (N.Y.) have advanced a joint plan — in a letter to President Obama — to build a desperately needed Hudson River tunnel that serves Amtrak and commuter rail traffic between New Jersey and New York, and links to the entire Northeast Corridor. We applaud the governors for coming together to offer a path forward and thank Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY), Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) for their leadership on this important issue.
“While we will want to review the details of this proposed funding partnership between New York, New Jersey and the federal government, today’s news gives us hope that this looming mobility and economic crisis may be resolved.
“We have long called for investment in a new Hudson River rail tunnel, especially since Superstorm Sandy devastated the region’s infrastructure including these tunnel crossings. Soon, Amtrak will be forced to initiate rolling shut downs of tunnels for major repairs and upgrades. The chaos and economic damage a shutdown of any of Amtrak’s tunnels would cause are immeasurable as commuters and businesses alike would face many years of severe disruptions.
“We want to thank Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx for his persistence. The Secretary’s aggressive effort to bring the parties together kick-started New Jersey-New York negotiations and led to today’s progress.
“We urge the Obama Administration and Governors Christie and Cuomo to reach an agreement quickly on a full funding plan for a Hudson River rail tunnel. This project will put thousands to work, give Amtrak and commuter railroads the infrastructure they need to meet projected growth in traffic and serve as a much needed shot in the arm for our economy.”
Amtrak links the Hudson Valley to the rest of North America. From Hudson and Albany, you can take the train to western New York, to New York City and to Canada. And people do just that: Last year, Amtrak’s Empire Service alone brought more than a million riders through the Hudson Valley, carrying business travelers and vacationers alike. A recent poll suggests that residents of the North Hudson Valley and the Catskills want to keep it this way. Like Americans throughout a wide cross-section of the nation, residents of the 19th Congressional District want more, and safer, Amtrak service.
According to the poll prepared by Dean Mitchell of DFM Research in Minnesota on behalf of the Transportation Division of the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Union (formerly the United Transportation Union), 87 percent of residents would like to see daily passenger rail service increase or remain the same. This support cuts across party lines: More than 80 percent of residents like the idea of additional train service to cities like Boston, Buffalo and Chicago, including 75 percent of self-identified conservatives.
In a time of partisan gridlock and ideological polarization, these numbers are striking. With Congress preparing to rewrite the law that governs Amtrak — which carries more than 30 million passengers each year — elected officials should listen to their constituents and support one of the nation’s most important transportation resources.
A thriving Empire Service doesn’t come for free, but not only do North Hudson Valley residents want Amtrak to stick around — they’re willing to pay for it. Nearly 75 percent of residents, including almost 7 out of 10 Republicans, support funding at the current level or greater, even when told that the federal government subsidizes Amtrak by more than $1 billion per year.
Many of the rail lines used by Amtrak are shared by freight trains, and residents of the Hudson Valley also want to ensure that the rails passing by their towns and homes are safe. One idea that is wildly unpopular in the Hudson Valley is the use of one-person train crews, an unsafe practice that received attention last year when a train operated by a single crew member leveled a town just outside Quebec and killed 47 people. An overwhelming 84 percent of Hudson Valley residents would vote in favor of proposed legislation requiring two-person crews on freight trains, including almost 8 out of 10 Republicans. These numbers are similar to the results of polls around the country, reflecting a strong nonpartisan desire to prioritize safety.
Given the broad public backing for more Amtrak service and two-person crews on freight trains, one might think that congressional approval of expanded passenger rail and increased safety measures was a foregone conclusion. But many other common-sense transportation proposals have languished in Congress over the past several years. While here in the Hudson Valley, Amtrak is supported by residents (and by the local congressional delegation), there is little guarantee that it will continue to get the support it needs in Washington, D.C.
Providing long-term funding to ensure a strong national rail network is not a luxury, it’s a necessity. Because we have failed to invest in a modern rail system, we are lagging behind much of the developed world. While we force Amtrak to use 50-year-old equipment, countries like China are introducing 300-mph train service.
During this dangerous era of austerity in Washington, too often policymakers have offered budgets that attempt to advance an old, tired and inaccurate idea that we can privatize and cut our way to a successful national passenger rail system. It’s time for Congress to listen to the American people and provide the long-term funding for the world-class Amtrak passenger rail network this country needs and deserves.
The preceding column by John Previsich and AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department President Edward Wytkind was published Aug. 6 by the Albany Times-Union.
Politics seem to be more divisive than ever, and campaigns seem to never end. The one thing that unites Americans across political and ideological lines is the need for good transportation options, and their overwhelming support for our national passenger railroad, Amtrak.
Red, blue or purple, recent polls across America in places like Kansas, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Illinois and North Dakota have shown huge support for Amtrak as a necessary transportation link for Americans. In other words, Americans who may disagree on a whole host of issues – from the role of government to the environment and taxes – seem to like their trains and want more of them.
WASHINGTON – Edward Wytkind, president of the AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department, issued this statement in support of U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx’s effort to highlight the importance of investing in America’s surface transportation needs, and applauded the Secretary’s effort to engage transportation labor:
“In today’s economy, where there are too few jobs and too many potholes and aging transit systems, investing in infrastructure is an obvious and desperately-needed step that will keep America competitive. We applaud Secretary Foxx for crisscrossing the United States this week to highlight our crumbling infrastructure and the desperate need to advance a multi-year investment in our surface transportation system.
“We are also pleased that Secretary Foxx reached out to transportation unions as partners in this effort. Today we participated in a thoughtful and productive call with the Secretary during his latest stop in Louisiana and pledged our shared commitment to address the pending insolvency of the High Trust Fund and convince lawmakers that short-term stopgap funding measures will not cut it.
“Transportation should not be a partisan issue. The American people and businesses of all sizes need safe and efficient passenger and freight transportation systems. They know first-hand what it means to live with deteriorating infrastructure and transit systems that face rising demand and badly stressed budgets. “We pledge our full support to the Secretary’s effort to expand our surface transportation system, create millions of jobs and build a legacy we can be proud to pass on to the next generation. We can’t afford to wait.”
A column by SMART Transportation Division President John Previsich and AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department President Edward Wytkind informing lawmakers about the public’s support for Amtrak was published April 16 by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
In response to the column, Missouri State Legislative Director Ken Menges told Previsich and Transportation Division National Legislative Director James Stem, “Your timing was impeccable. Just today (April 16), there was a hearing in the state Senate about a new transportation tax. The proposal has already passed in the House. Also, I am meeting now with a citizens’ passenger rail group about improving passenger rail transportation here in Missouri. Thank you for your leadership.”
The column by Previsich and Wytkind reads:
Stark divisions have defined our national politics for some time. But there are many transportation issues that unite Americans across political lines, and one of those is overwhelming support for passenger rail in this country, and in particular, for Amtrak.
Recent polls in America’s heartland have shown huge support for our national passenger rail system, Amtrak.
Missouri is no exception.
Red, blue or purple, 82 percent of Missourians want to increase or maintain passenger rail service in the state. And seven in 10 want to increase or maintain Amtrak’s current funding levels, according to a survey conducted by DFM Research. The elected leaders who will hold Amtrak’s fate in their hands during this congressional session need to recognize an important fact uncovered by this poll — the support for Amtrak is deep, and it is nonpartisan.
It’s not only in St. Louis and Kansas City that support for Amtrak is high. Even in northern, central and southern Missouri, where ridership is lower – and voters tend to be more conservative – strong majorities say they value passenger rail service and want to fund it.
The polls measure support that has been very real on station platforms for several years. Nationwide, Amtrak ridership is at an all-time high. About 31.6 million passengers rode Amtrak last year, thanks to increased use of routes in all regions, not just in the heavily traveled Northeast Corridor. The railroad’s ridership has set records in 10 of the last 11 years, and is up more than 50 percent since 2000.
Here in Missouri, ridership on all Amtrak lines, including the Missouri River Runner, the Texas Eagle and the Southwest Chief, reached 774,000 last year, up 4.7 percent from 2012.
The Missouri findings mirror those of recent polls in Pennsylvania, Iowa, Colorado, Indiana, Illinois, Kansas and Kentucky. Clearly, Americans understand that a well-financed, well-maintained passenger rail network is essential to an integrated national transportation system.
Investing in Amtrak and the development it attracts is also good business. Since 2010, every federal dollar invested in Amtrak pours $3 back into the economy. That’s why many business leaders understand that long-term economic growth depends on investment in our multi-modal transportation infrastructure – and expanded passenger rail must be part of the picture.
To deliver on what the people of Missouri want will require more federal investment and an end to the political attacks on Amtrak and its employees that seem to spring up annually. Amtrak is operating with infrastructure that was built in the middle of the last century, and yet Americans continue to ride on Amtrak in record numbers – and to tell Congress they want and need more rail service.
But a well-funded and accessible Amtrak system isn’t all that Missourians say they want. They also want the freight trains that traverse annually across Missouri carrying 16 million tons of freight (including more than 24,000 carloads of chemicals) to be as safe as possible. About 8 in 10 Missourians agree that one-person freight train crews should be barred in favor of mandatory two-person crew operations. This is not an academic debate. There are single-member freight train crews out there — in fact, last year’s fiery crash of a freight train in Quebec was run by a one-person crew. Fortunately, legislation is pending before Congress that would make two-person crews mandatory, just the way Missourians would have it.
Political views and ideology aside, the people of Missouri clearly want more Amtrak service, not less. They also want freight trains that are safe and properly crewed. It is time for lawmakers, with the rewrite of federal rail laws now pending, to tone down the partisanship and start listening to what Missourians and the vast majority of Americans are saying.
With the support of the SMART Transportation Division, AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department President Edward Wytkind has written a letter to Administrator Peter Rogoff of the Federal Transit Administration.
The letter, on behalf of the 32 member union’s that make up the TTD, offers support of the agency’s efforts to regulate the safety of public transportation that was authorized by Congress in the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), that was signed into law by President Obama on July 6, 2012.
Funding surface transportation programs at over $105 billion for fiscal years 2013 and 2014, MAP-21 is the first long-term highway authorization enacted since 2005.
The text of Wytkind’s letter is below.
Dear Administrator Rogoff:
On behalf of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO, I write in response to the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) addressing several issues relating to the new Public Transportation Safety Program (National Safety Program) and the requirements of the new transit asset management provisions as established by MAP-21. By way of background, TTD consists of 32 affiliated unions, including several that represent public transportation workers.
We support the agency’s efforts to carry out its authority to regulate the safety of public transportation, a new and important responsibility authorized by Congress in MAP-21. TTD expressed support for this authority when the Administration proposed it in 2009 and when Congress considered its inclusion in MAP-21. We appreciate that FTA published an ANPRM to begin implementing this new responsibility, and we offer the following recommendations on the Public Transportation Agency Safety Plan specifically.
As the agency explains, 49 USC § 5329(d)(1) requires transit agencies receiving § 5307 Urbanized Area Formula funds or § 5311 Rural Area Formula funds to certify that they have in place a Public Transportation Agency Safety Plan (Transit Agency Safety Plan or Plan). These Plans must include certain minimum elements, such as requiring that the board of directors approve the Plan and any modifications; establishing performance targets based on national safety performance criteria and state of good repair standards; and creating a comprehensive staff training program for operators and those responsible for safety.
We believe these Plans will help improve safety, but in order for them to be truly effective and complete, agencies must incorporate the input of transit labor. Transit workers are on the frontlines of the day-to-day operations and know better than anyone the system’s schedules, routes and technology and employee responsibilities. Their knowledge of the unique and real-world challenges of the workplace offers invaluable expertise that can be helpful in identifying and evaluating system safety risks, finding ways to minimize public exposure to hazards and assisting a transit agency in meeting the other statutory minimum Plan requirements. Transit agencies would be hard-pressed to replicate the unique knowledge of frontline workers, and we believe transit labor must play a significant role in the creation and adoption of these Plans.
We also recommend FTA to require transit agencies to address a growing concern for this sector: assaults on transit workers. These workers regularly interact with the public in their day-to-day tasks and are vulnerable to abuse from unruly passengers. In particular, threats of physical danger to bus drivers are now commonplace, causing unacceptably high rates of injury and worker anxiety. These assaults also pose serious safety risks to bus riders, as passengers may become involved in an altercation when the violence spreads within the close confines of a bus. And when attacks occur while a bus is in operation, the driver may become distracted and lose control, posing danger to passengers, pedestrians and other motorists on the road.
Various solutions to this problem have been proposed, such as vehicle design changes that include the installation of plexiglass partitions to separate drivers from passengers, as well as the presence of uniformed police officers aimed at helping to deter attackers and improving enforcement. Given that violence is a serious safety concern, FTA should require transit agencies to address this issue in their Transit Agency Safety Plans.
In addition, we note that bus operators also face occupational health problems that may cause safety concerns. Drivers are sometimes forced to work several continuous hours without a restroom break, as many transit agencies do not provide suitable time or facilities for drivers to use a restroom. As a result, drivers may not be focused solely on the road, potentially jeopardizing the safety of passengers and other drivers. Transit agencies across the country must begin addressing this concern and FTA should require that they include in their Plans steps to correct this problem.
With regard to the implementation of these Plans, FTA seeks comments on transit agencies’ use of a risk-based analysis approach. Specifically, FTA states that “a risk-based analysis can be applied in analyzing human factors such as employee fitness for duty (e.g… not suffering from acute or cumulative fatigue…).” In order to be well-informed, a fitness for duty risk-based analysis must assess all underlying health and fitness contributors, organization of work and specified safety outcomes. For example, we agree that fatigue poses serious safety concerns, but transit agencies adopting a risk-based analysis approach must assess the underlying factors contributing to fatigue, such as long split shifts or loopholes that contribute to excessive hours on the road. Without full consideration of all factors, an analysis may be shortsighted and compromise the effectiveness of a Transit Agency Safety Plan.
Our nation’s public transportation systems play a vital role in connecting Americans to their place of work, grocery stores, medical facilities, and countless other destinations. With the support of the workers we help represent, public transit agencies provided more than 10 billion unlinked passenger trips in 2011, indicative of the ridership increases we’ve seen in recent years. As Americans continue to rely on public transit for mobility, these systems must operate at the highest standard possible to ensure the safety of its riders. The development of Transit Agency Safety Plans will help improve transit safety if they meet the requirements set by FTA and those we recommend above.
We appreciate the opportunity to comment on this ANPRM, and we hope FTA will take our views into consideration.
While politicians can’t agree on much, Iowans and the majority of Americans surely agree on one thing: They want more Amtrak service, not less.
On the heaviest traveled passenger rail corridor in the nation, the Northeast Corridor, Amtrak keeps breaking ridership records. But the untold story is that in a large swath of less-traveled rail corridors in middle America, including Iowa, people want Congress to keep investing in and expanding Amtrak service.
It is time for Congress to listen and stop pursuing risky defunding and private contracting schemes.
Amtrak recently reported that its trains carried a record 31.6 million passengers last year, up from 20 million in 2000. And ridership on the California Zephyr and Southwest Chief lines, which traverse Iowa across southern counties, also saw a healthy spike in ridership.
No wonder a new poll of Iowans conducted by St. Paul, Minn.-based DFM Research shows that more than seven out of 10 residents in Polk County and the southwestern counties of the state want to increase federal government investment in Amtrak, or at the very least keep it the same.
So why are some in Congress constantly pointing to federal spending on Amtrak as wasteful?
If members of Congress listen, they will hear a message loud and clear on an issue that is a vital part of every American’s life. Whether they live in red or blue states, in crowded cities or rural areas, in southwestern Iowa or in Polk County, are Republicans or Democrats, old or young, Americans want to ride Amtrak.
In Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District that encompasses Des Moines, the message couldn’t have been any clearer. Among Democrats, the keep-or-increase percentage rises to 87 percent, while 64 percent of independents agree and a hefty 59 percent of Republicans agree.
Even among those who have not ridden Amtrak in recent years, 72 percent want to keep or increase the passenger railroad’s federal funding.
These findings aren’t limited to Iowa. In six middle-America states — Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Colorado, Kansas and Missouri — 70 percent of the people say they want more Amtrak service, and they want the government to fund it.
In other words, Amtrak isn’t a blue state thing or a red state thing. It is an American thing.
Tens of thousands of Iowans who value their Amtrak service are increasingly taking the train each year and seek more connections to cities such as Chicago. The business community has joined the choir as well, understanding that passenger rail expansion is good for business and job creation. And for good reason: For every $1 Iowa spends in this sector about $4 is injected back into the state’s economy.
This is a no-brainer during the still anemic economic recovery.
Members of Congress need to get that message, and get it fast, as they prepare to rewrite the law that governs and funds Amtrak and that will decide who in Iowa and other parts of middle America will get to keep their service or ride new train service.
Americans’ appetite for Amtrak service is growing regardless of their political views. This train has long left the station, and the American public is on board.
The preceding column was co-authored by SMART Transportation Division President John Previsich and AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department President Edward Wytkind. It was published Oct. 28 by the Des Moines Register.
Edward Wytkind, chairman of the AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department, testified April 24 before the House of Representative’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Panel on 21st century freight transportation.