FROM THE CAB - July 2023

By Martin Wheeler, President, Carolinas Association for Passenger Trains

U.S. HOUSE PROPOSES 80% CUT TO PASSENGER RAIL -- The Carolinas Association for Passenger Trains endorses efforts by the Rail Passengers Association “to rally opposition against a House transportation budget proposal that would slash Amtrak’s funding by 64 percent, threatening present and future service for every intercity train passenger in the country.”

In an announcement to RPA members, severe cuts to several transportation programs were included in a Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD) bill from the House Committee on Appropriation’s draft Fiscal Year 2024 budget. They include:

  • A shocking 92 percent cut to Amtrak Northeast Corridor operating grant.
  • A 68 percent cut to Amtrak’s National Network operating grant.
  • The zeroing out of the exciting new Federal-State Partnership for Intercity Passenger Rail Program, which is being used to upgrade and expand intercity train service across the United States.
  • A 51 percent cut to the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) Program, which funds upgrades to both freight and passenger rail infrastructure and safety systems.
  • An 85 percent cut to Federal Transit Administration’s Capital Investment Grants (CIG), used to fund transit and commuter rail infrastructure (which has been used to help advance some intercity rail projects, such as construction on Amtrak’s new Hudson River rail tunnel).
[You can read more details about funding levels and policy provisions in the bill here.]

The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation advanced the bill by a voice vote this Wednesday. The full Appropriations Committee will take it up next week on Tuesday, July 18th.

Amtrak is warning that $875 million fails "to meet the minimum level Amtrak needs in order to operate its trains, maintain its assets, and ensure a safe railroad in FY 24," and that enacting this budget into law will result in sweeping cuts to service on the Northeast Corridor, State-Supported corridors, and Long-Distance Routes. It would also devastate Amtrak's workforce, which is just recovering from decisions made by Amtrak management to furlough employees during the pandemic, the RPA says.

Rail Passengers is helping lead a coalition of passenger organizations and organized labor groups from across the country, urging Congress to reject the negative vision outlined in the House’s draft bill.

“These cuts would destabilize operations on the nation’s busiest rail corridor and threaten the elimination of Amtrak service for hundreds of cities and small towns across the U.S., impacting as many as 20 million passengers nationwide,” states the RPA letter, which is going to every Representative in the U.S. House. “It would also endanger thousands of operating, construction, and manufacturing jobs; initial estimates indicate 10,000 Amtrak employees alone could be furloughed or separated due to lack of funding. Finally, this bill will halt scores of state-sponsored transit and intercity rail infrastructure projects that will benefit tens of millions of Americans.”

We need YOUR help to speak on behalf of America's passenger about the benefits of investment in Amtrak and passenger trains:

Please write or call your U.S. Representative to protest these proposed cuts!

Write to Congress

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“This proposed budget does not take the task of governing seriously, ignoring the needs of hundreds of Amtrak-served communities in favor of scoring cheap political points,” said Jim Mathews, President and CEO of Rail Passengers Association in a public statement. “We stand ready to work with House and Senate leadership to come up with a responsible budget that preserves essential transportation and economic services.”

“These proposed cuts are all the more infuriating coming at the same time as we’re seeing unprecedented interest in adding and upgrading passenger rail service from cities and towns across America,” continued Mathews. “When the Federal Railroad Administration asked for proposals as part of their Corridor Identification Program, there was a massive response from states across the nation—Red and Blue, North, and South, Heartland and Coastal. We can’t afford to gut these exciting new programs before they even get started.”

The Senate is scheduled to take up its own version of the FY24 transportation budget on Thursday of next week, and we have every reason to expect a better number for rail and transit. However, it's important that passengers let the U.S. House know that voters are paying attention and that they disapprove of this plan to devastate passenger rail service for tens of millions of Americans!

Act now!

NC PIEDMONT PASSENGER SERVICE POSTS 55% ON-TIME PERFORMANCE (OTP) – Not unexpectedly, during the first week (Monday through Sunday), the new schedules presented a few challenges to the NC Rail Division and Amtrak, specifically having less time to prepare trains for their return runs.

As a result, only 31 of the 56 scheduled runs arrived at their destinations (either Charlotte or Raleigh) within 10 minutes of the scheduled arrival times. The calculated On Time Performance (OTP) was therefore 31/56 = 0.55, or 55%.

However, at the time of writing (July 18, 2023), the first three days (representing 24 train runs) of the second week saw 19 trains arrive on time, which produces an OTP of 79% so far.

These are interesting statistics not only for CAPT’s members, but also for the traveling public, since the closer the Piedmont Service gets to an OTP = 100%, the more confidence potential users will have in trusting these trains for their travel through Piedmont North Carolina.

CAPT is considering making this information easy to look up on its website. What do you think of this idea?
David Robinson, Vice President-NC

RAIL FEASIBILITY STUDY PLANNED -- The Central Midlands Council of Government in partnership with its member governments, Central Midlands Transit (COMET), and the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) is planning to conduct a feasibility study for passenger rail service from the City of Columbia to five study end points -- Atlanta, GA; Charleston, SC; Savannah, GA; Charlotte, NC; and Raleigh, NC.

The study will examine the speed, frequency, and reliability necessary to be a competitive option for travel along each of the five corridors. The study shall examine and evaluate the costs and economic opportunities related to establishing rail service between the City of Columbia to the study end points of Atlanta, GA; Charleston, SC; Savannah, GA; Charlotte, NC; and Raleigh, NC.

The following study items are to be included, but not limited to: (i) the projected capital costs; (ii) the projected operating costs and revenue estimates; (iii) the projected ridership levels; (iv) the prospect of operating rail service on existing rights of way and other operational issues; (v) an estimate of the environmental impact and benefits; (vi) an analysis of community impact and benefits; (vii) the potential sources and availability of federal, state, local and private sector funding; and (viii) the resulting economic, employment, social and cultural benefits to Central Midlands region and the State of South Carolina as a whole.

This study will closely examine the statewide and regional economic and environmental benefits as well as any associated implementation challenges and identify all necessary improvements to support passenger rail service between the City of Columbia and the study end points.

The project limits for this study and for potential infrastructure improvements sit between the City of Columbia and the study end points of Atlanta, GA; Charleston, SC; Savannah, GA; Charlotte, NC; and Raleigh, NC; as well as any additional right-of-way that may be necessary to accommodate maintenance, adjust alignments, or otherwise support the examined future passenger service.

The selected CONSULTANT will be directed and monitored by the Central Midlands Council of Governments (CMCOG). As part of the public involvement process, a study Working Group will be developed, which will be finalized as part of the study process. The CMCOG project manager will be the primary interface between the CONSULTANT and the Working Group. The final product will be in the form of a report that includes all tasks outlined in this scope. The overall study report is expected to take fourteen (14) months from issuance of a Notice to Proceed (NTP).

RAIL ODYSSEY AWAITS CAPT BOARD MEMBER -- As a young boy, Tommy Thomas remembers “one of the things I liked about Thanksgiving (almost as much as the feast my mother prepared) was that it meant Christmas was only a month away and the tree would soon be up.” The CAPT board member anticipated “what presents I might get from Santa (or anyone else)” and would begin to build a countdown of the “shopping days left,” which seemed agonizingly long.

Fast forward to 2023, and Thomas feels very blessed and fortunate to be a little less than a month away from an experience for which the anticipation is beginning to build and the arrival of the actual date will find him “like a little kid at Christmas”: A two-week cross-country Amtrak adventure to and from Portland, OR, will begin and end in Selma, NC.

This odyssey will employ four different Amtrak routes, include a National Park visit, and involve a week-long stay in Portland, OR, for the U.S. Senior Women’s Golf Open Championship.

On August 15, Thomas will board the northbound Amtrak Carolinian in Selma. After overnighting in DC, he’ll board Amtrak’s Cardinal for a trek through the Appalachians and the states of Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio, and Indiana into Chicago. A few hours’ layover in Chicago Union Station will be followed by Thomas climbing aboard Amtrak’s legendary Empire Builder.

The Empire Builder takes its passengers north to Wisconsin and Minnesota before beginning a westward journey through North Dakota and into Montana. After two overnights and 1,547 miles, Thomas at Montana’s Glacier Park Lodge for a night prior to a Red Circle Tour of the Glacier National Park.

The train splits in Spokane, WA into the “Baby Builders” (the north segment goes to Seattle)—"I’m really looking forward to the ride on the southern segment through the Columbia River Gorge to Portland, where I will perform my duties as a United States Golf Association (USGA) scoring official for the tournament at Waverly CC near Lake Oswego,” Thomas said.

On the afternoon of the August 28, the CAPT board member will hop on the Eastbound Empire Builder for the return trip back to Chicago. Amtrak’s Capitol Limited will then take Thomas 780 miles back to the nation’s capital, traveling across northern Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. In DC, Thomas is to reboard the Carolinian, arriving in Selma on September 1.

“Whew! What sights I’ll see and new friends I’ll make! And here’s hoping that any unforeseen delays will be short, and schedules are reasonably adhered to,” said Thomas, who will compile highlights of the epic two week train trip for the September issue of From the Cab.