Posts Tagged ‘National Association of Railroad Passengers’

Beware of the Rabbits

November 16, 2019

The Rail Passengers Association appears to have launched a public relations initiative to boost its image.

The rail passenger advocacy organization has filled my email inbox this week with daily messages filled with “facts” about its activities.

Last week the chairman of RPA, Peter J. LeCody, took the campaign to a railfan chat list, Trainorders.com.

In his initial post, which was titled, “Why you may be wrong about Rail Passengers Association,” LeCody said he joined the chat list in an effort to “help counter misinformation” about RPA.

He said he acted after some TO members contacted him about what they viewed as “misinformation and comments they considered to be bordering on malicious in many posts.”

LeCody said he wanted to begin a conversation to provide factual information, answer questions and “explain what a member organization can and can’t do and what it can reasonably be expected to do.”

The post had scarcely gone up before the rabbits began coming out of the bushes.

Rabbits are attention grabbing because of the way they dart to and fro. They may be interesting to watch but difficult to catch.

And they are incidental. They distract you from focusing on the important things.

Collegiate basketball coach Bob Knight would tell his players before a game that if they fight the rabbits the elephants are going to kill them.

One of the rabbits was a criticism of RPA for publishing last summer a series of postings on its website written by a summer intern who traveled the country on Amtrak and wrote about food. The intern has training in the culinary arts.

RPA has been sending interns out by rail in recent years and their reports are more entertainment than policy analysis even if RPA sees them as supporting its overall mission of promoting travel by rail.

Does it matter much in the scheme of things that RPA is posting travelogues? No, it doesn’t.

Another rabbit was a criticism of LeCody’s use of the term “third world” to describe Amtrak equipment.

There is a vast difference traveling on equipment that is wearing out, which pertains to Amtrak’s long distance trains, and the type of travel experience described in the Crosby, Stills and Nash song Marrakesh Express with references to animals riding trains with people.

Besides, one poster noted, some so-called third world countries offer better rail service than what Amtrak fields in some parts of the United States.

LeCody should pay heed to that criticism and be more careful in choosing his words.

So, sometimes rabbits can be useful so long you avoid chasing them.

LeCody had a lot to say in his post – maybe too much – but he never explained what exactly that people believe about RPA that is wrong.

RPA, which used to be known as the National Association of Railroad Passengers, has long been a target of criticism.

It’s one of the largest if not the largest grass roots organization devoted to promoting rail service. Being a target comes with the territory and sometimes that’s not fair.

Some of the criticism RPA endures is rooted in disagreements over strategies and tactics.

There are some who want RPA to take a more confrontational approach with Amtrak generally and its CEO Richard Anderson specifically.

If LeCody will use his TO membership to explain why RPA behaves as it does, he might be able to achieve something of value for his organization.

He may not change as many minds as he might wish, but he might be able to achieve a greater degree of understanding about why RPA behave as it does. With that might come more respect.

There is a difference between criticism and attacks that are mere irritants versus those that represent a threat to the well-being of your organization.

Having read the passenger board of Trainorder.com over the past several years I’m familiar with the free-for-all nature of the forum.

Sometimes you’ll find insightful observations or a good conversation; but not always.

I also wonder what RPA has to gain by creating a conversation on a railfan chat list.

The policy makers RPA is trying to influence probably don’t read railfan chat lists let alone take them seriously. If those policy makers are making borderline malicious attacks on RPA, that is a cause for concern.

But why worry about people who don’t have a vote on appropriations and legislation, don’t make transportation policy and don’t have the ear of those who do? Are your critics on TO likely to write to policy makers on your behalf?

RPA might be able to recruit a few people to its cause but just because people are interested in passenger trains doesn’t mean they are interested in devoting much, if any, of their time to advocacy activities.

LeCody would also do well to reconsider his communication strategies if he decides to continue posting on railfan chat lists.

All of what he said he wanted to achieve sounded good until he wrote that he would “not put up with anyone who can only whine about passenger rail issues without offering to pitch in and actually do something to help our association improve the rail travel experience for members and the public.”

He later wrote, “I enjoy constructive criticism. I won’t put up with ‘glass totally empty’ people who have nothing of value to add to a conversation.”

I grimaced when I read those words. Having an edge is not necessarily the best way to win over your doubters and critics.

I don’t fault RPA or any organization for wanting to improve its image with key constituents.

Yet it is not clear what about RPA’s image the organization believes needs improving. I have a hunch about what that might be, but that is for another column.

In the meantime watch out for the rabbits.

Amtrak Ends AAA, Student Discounts

March 1, 2018

Two popular Amtrak discount fares were eliminated quietly last month.

The passenger carrier removed its American Automobile Association and student discounts, both of which offered 10 percent off on Amtrak fares.

When asked to comment about the changes, Amtrak spokeswoman Kimberly Woods said that passengers seeking discounts should book at least 14 days in advance of travel or look for Amtrak’s Saver Fares.

The student fares had been scaled back, being limited to travel aboard state-sponsored trains.

Earlier, Amtrak had ended its Student Advantage and International Student Identity Card programs, both of which offered 10 percent discounts.

Since early this year, Amtrak has overhauled its fare structure, including increasing the penalties for cash refunds on certain types of reservations.

Amtrak also offers 50 percent off for children ages 2 to 15 (one per accompanying adult) and 10 percent discounts for seniors (age 65 and older), active-duty military personnel with military ID, passengers with disabilities, and members of the National Association of Railroad Passengers (now the Railroad Passengers Association) and of Veterans Advantage.

For the most part, these discounts require reservations to be made at least three days in advance of travel and cannot be applied to Saver fares

They also are unavailable on some trains, including weekday Acela Express trains and 7000 and 8000-series Thruway buses, as well as travel between Toronto and Niagara Falls, Ontario, on the segment of the Maple Leaf operated by VIA Rail Canada.

The remaining discounts apply only to the “rail fare” portion of tickets and cannot be used for accommodation charge for sleeping cars, business class or Acela first class.

NARP Rebrands Itself with New Name, New Look

December 1, 2017

As part of its efforts to rebrand itself, the National Association of Railroad passengers has rolled out a new name and new looks for its website and monthly newsletter.

Now known as the Rail Passengers Association, the group has adopted a logo featuring a stylized passenger car window.

For now the new website can be reached at the old address of www.narprail.org but it can also accessed at www.railpassengers.org

The new name and look were first revealed to the group’s members at its 50th anniversary celebration event held in Chicago in early November.

In a news release, the RPA said its new look will herald “a new age for advocacy for rail passengers in North America.”

RPA also has moved to a larger headquarters office in Washington.

The RPA logo is a landscape-oriented rectangle with two slanted lines in its lower left corner.

RPA said the image “allows the organization to highlight scenes riders would see from their train seat by adding different pictures and photos inside the window.”

RPA head Jim Matthews said the design also allows the group “to show a mix of cityscapes and landscapes inside the rectangle of the logo to create a view out of the imagined window.

“We can even use animation and movement to take advantage of the social media and web-based platforms where we advocate for rail riders. And, we can highlight regional differences and issues that we care about.”

Founded in 1967 as a non-profit organization, the official name of the group remains National Association of Railroad Passengers.

NARP Rebrands Itself Rail Passengers Association

November 20, 2017

The National Association of Railroad Passengers is rebranding itself as the Rail Passengers Association.

The name was rolled out during NARP’s convention earlier this month and the November newsletter will be the first to show off the new name and logo. The newsletter itself has been renamed Passengers Voice.

However, the passenger advocacy group will continue to be formally known as NARP.

The group said the Rail Passengers Association name is a brand name just as Amtrak is a brand name for the National Passenger Railroad Corporation.

A new logo that NARP has dubbed “The Window,” features an outline of a rail passenger car window.

NARP Wants High Court Review of Passenger Ruling

November 15, 2017

The Rail Passengers Association, the new name for the National Association of Railroad Passengers, and the Environmental Law & Policy Center have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review an appeal court decision that reduced the authority of the Surface Transportation Board to set on-time standards for passenger trains.

In the petition, the groups content that without defined standards, freight will be systematically given preference over passenger trains, leading to chronic delays for long distance riders.

NARP is seeking to overturn the appeals court decision that applied a narrow interpretation of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act.

The case grew from a challenge to a section of that law by the Association of American Railroads that was first ruled upon by a Federal District Court for the District of Columbia.

“When the D.C. Circuit nullified Section 207 last year, it took away FRA’s power to develop on-time performance standards. Then the Eighth Circuit this summer interpreted Section 213 in a way that eviscerated the power of the Surface Transportation Board, which was the only agency left to carry out Congress’ assignment to improve on-time performance. The two courts’ moves together have left no agency remaining to fulfill Congress’ statutory mandate in PRIIA to enforce those standards,” said Jim Mathews, NARP president.

Matthews said these decisions have thwarted congressional intent in PRIIA and leaves passengers without any recourse.

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected an STB interpretation that Section 213 of PRIIA, which created two separate “triggers,” each of which require the STB to investigate sub-standard on-time performance.

NARP noted that the AAR had in 2015 asked the STB to create the regulation that defined on-time performance.

NARP said that after the STB sided with passenger group, the railroad industry trade association challenged STB’s authority to regulate the issue.

“This fight has gone on long enough,” Mathews said. “For decades, rail passengers have been left waiting for freight trains to clear the rails. Even acts of Congress haven’t been able to budge them out of the way. We need the courts to now recognize and allow Congress’ goal to be carried out. The law creating Amtrak in the early 1970s codified a deal these railroads made with the American taxpayer: we’ll relieve you of your common-carrier responsibility for passenger service, and in exchange you’ll ensure those passenger trains get where they need to go on time. It has been a battle ever since.”

 

NARP to Celebrate 50th Anniversary

September 28, 2017

The National Association of Railroad Passengers will mark its 50th anniversary in early November with a convention in Chicago.

Amtrak co-CEO Richard Anderson will headline the list of speakers at the event to be held Nov. 2-5 at the Millennium Knickerbocker Hotel.

Anderson is scheduled to speak on Nov. 2. In a mailing to its members, NARP provided a long list of other confirmed and invited speakers, but did not indicate who was reserved and who was not.

The RailNation Chicago event requires payment of a registration fee of $225 for NARP members and $295 for non members.

There will be a Thursday evening reception at an additional cost of $32 per person. A ticket to the Saturday evening celebration dinner will cost $149 per person.

Aside from panel and speak sessions devoted to various topics concerning passenger rail, the event will feature off-site trips to the Museum of Scenic Industry, the Pullman Historic Site and Chicago Union Station.

Further information is available at the NARP website http://www.narprail.org

NARP was founded in Chicago in 1967 by passenger advocate Anthony Haswell, who at one time served as an attorney for the Illinois Central Railroad.

Observers Give Their Take on Amtrak’s new CEO

June 29, 2017

So who is this former airline executive that Amtrak has chosen to take over as its CEO later this year when Charles “Wick” Moorman retires?

Richard Anderson

Richard Anderson was the head of Delta Air Lines, but he also at one time served as a prosecutor and the vice president of an insurance company, United Health.

His father, Hale, worked for the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe in Texas and the family moved multiple times as the elder Anderson held office jobs at posts from Galveston to Dallas and Amarillo.

When he was in college, the younger Anderson’s parents died of cancer and he subsequently had to raise his two younger sisters as he worked to earn college tuition money.

After earning his law degree, Anderson worked in Texas for nearly a decade as a prosecutor.

His entry into the airline industry began in the legal department of Houston-based Continental Airlines.

He would later join Northwest Airlines and became its CEO three years later. As Delta Air Lines was emerging from bankruptcy in 2007, its board of directors asked Anderson to become its CEO, which meant that he succeeded Gerald Grinstein, a former CEO of the Burlington Northern Railroad.

“Richard has a hands-on, roll-up-your-sleeves, let-me-see-how-this-thing-really-works kind of approach,” John Dasburg, Northwest’s former president, told USA Today in 2008.

During his time at Delta, Anderson sometimes sought unconventional solutions to solve problems.

For example, in an effort to cut fuel costs, Delta purchased an oil refinery near Philadelphia in 2012.

Industry reaction to Anderson being named co-CEO of Amtrak – Moorman won’t be retiring until late December – has been mostly positive.

He received unqualified endorsements from Linda Bauer Darr, president of the American Short Line and Regional Rail Road Association, and from Ed Hamberger, the president of the Association of American Railroads.

Jim Mathews, head of the National Association of Railroad Passengers lauded Anderson’s transportation experience.

“NARP is very pleased Amtrak is making the sensible move of bringing in an executive with strong management experience in a customer-service oriented transportation company,” Mathews said.

Former NARP executive director Ross Capon said the fact that Moorman will be Amtrak’s co-CEO through December shows the two men will likely have a good working relationship and that Anderson will be able to learn from Moorman.

Not all advocacy groups were enthusiastic about Anderson’s appointment.

Charles Leocha, chairman of Travelers United and an airline consumer advocate, said in an interview with Trains magazine that Anderson is “a real charger” who “has not been a friend of consumers, but ran an efficient airline as consolidation was completed . . .”

Richard Rudolph, the president of the Rail Users Network, said Amtrak needs someone who knows railroads, knows how to run a company and can stand up against Congress and President Donald Trump.

Also expressing skepticism was former Amtrak President and CEO David Gunn.

“If he can’t coax people at Amtrak who know how to run a railroad out of their fox holes, he’s doomed,” Gunn said in an interview with Trains. “And you have to convince them you have a plan that makes sense operationally and is not driven by politics.”

Gunn said the best hope is that Anderson has some knowledge of railroad operations.”

Jackson McQuigg, a railroad historian and passenger advocate based in Atlanta, told Trains that he sees in Anderson a man with a demeanor similar to that of W. Graham Claytor Jr. between 1982 and 1993.

“He had a stellar reputation in Atlanta and cared about the city and its history,” McQuigg told Trains.

While at Delta and Northwest, McQuigg noted, Anderson had a reputation for being a tough guy who wasn’t afraid to mix it up with the airline unions.

“Maybe that bunch in the White House will listen to him,” McQuigg said of Anderson. “It will be interesting to see if that happens or if Anderson presides over dismemberment instead. All I know is that the long-distance trains had better be preserved or the whole thing will go up in political flames.”

NARP Plans Rallies for Amtrak Long-Distance Trains

June 9, 2017

The National Association of Railroad Passengers is planning a series of rallies across the country on June 23 to drum up political support for saving funding for Amtrak’s long-distance trains.

The Trump administration has proposed ending funding of long-distance service in the fiscal year 2018 federal budget, which NARP says would end intercity rail passenger service at 220 communities in 23 states.

“If Congress enacts this budget, our national passenger rail network will largely cease to exist,” NARP President and CEO Jim Mathews says. “Communities and rail passengers need to clearly and loudly tell Congress that our communities and citizens rely on trains as important travel options.”

More information about the rallies is available at www.townswithouttrains.com.

Endangered Transit Projects Listed

March 27, 2017

News media accounts indicate that the “skinny budget” recently released by the Trump administration would put at risk 16 transit projects in the United States.

The projects include: Phoenix Light Rail; Los Angeles Westside Subway Extension (Section 3); San Jose and Santa Clara BART Silicon Valley extension (Phase 2); Santa Ana/Garden Grove Streetcar; Fort Lauderdale Streetcar; Lake County, Indiana Commuter Rail; Maryland Purple Line; Minneapolis Light Rail (Blue Line); Minneapolis Light Rail (Southwest); Durham-Chapel Hill Light Rail; New York – New Jersey Hudson Tunnel; New Jersey Portal North Bridge; New York Second Avenue Subway (Phase 2); New York Bus Rapid Transit (Woodhaven Boulevard); Seattle Light Rail (Federal Way); and Seattle Light Rail (Lynnwood Link Extension).

The projects are at risk because they lack “full funding grant agreements,” which are needed in order to receive a New Starts grant from the Federal Transit Administration.

The National Association of Railroad Passengers said if the funding rule proposed in the budget is enacted, these projects would either have to seek other funding sources or they would not be built.

NARP noted that the budget’s call for end federal funding for Amtrak long-distance passenger trains would end rail service to 220 communities nationwide. Those trains last year carried 4.6 million passengers.

NARP Decries Amtrak, Public Transit Funding Cuts

March 17, 2017

The National Association of Railroad Passengers said Thursday that the Trump administration budget for Amtrak for the fiscal year 2018 appears to have been adopted from a model proposed by the conservative Heritage Foundation.

The administration described the budget blueprint as a “skinny budget” and it contains few program details.

NARP contends that while President Donald Trump has talked up the need for transportation infrastructure investment, “his administration’s first budget guts infrastructure spending, slashing $2.4 billion from transportation. This will jeopardize mobility for millions of Americans and endanger tens of thousands of American jobs.”

The budget, which must be approved by Congress, would end all federal funding for Amtrak’s national network trains.

NARP said this would leave 23 states, including Ohio, without rail passenger service.

The Trump budget would also cut $499 million from the TIGER grant program, which has been used to advance passenger rail and transit projects and eliminate $2.3 billion for the Federal Transit Administration’s “New Starts” Capital Investment Program, which is used to fund the launch of transit, commuter rail, and light-rail projects.

Political analysts have noted that no budget proposal sent to Congress has emerged without changes.

It is likely that transportation advocacy groups will lobby Congress hard to restore the funding that Trump wants to cut.