TARP News September 2020
Newsletter of the Tennessee Association of Railroad Passengers
Our push to preserve the national network!
We need your help to meet a critical October 1st deadline!

As expected, the COVID-19 pandemic took a terrible toll on passenger rail and public transit systems throughout the United States.

To add further injury, the pandemic happened right after Amtrak reported the best financial performance of the company's entire 50-year existence!

Amtrak is at a critical moment (and so are transit systems!). The pandemic hurt ridership and revenue as much as 95% compared to last year. Although business is growing again and most canceled routes are back in service, our national rail system will become insolvent without congressional help.

The Rail Passengers Associated and other rail organizations are working to promote a COVID-19 relief package to benefit Amtrak and regional transit systems. If a package is signed into law, it could protect thousands of US jobs and keep our rail/transit systems intact for a much-anticipated economic recovery.

Please take a moment this month - September 2020 - to reach out to your elected members of the House and Senate. Encourage them to develop and vote in favor of a rail/transit relief package.

Mention further that you oppose Amtrak's proposal to furlough employees and reduce long-distance routes to tri-weekly service.

The Rail Passengers Association has a page with action items and helpful links, including an example phone script. Click here to see it.

If you have any questions or suggestions on how to take action, or if you need advice or assistance before reaching out, send an e-mail to tarprail@gmail.com.
Long-Distance services going tri-weekly
As indicated earlier, Amtrak management is moving forward with a plan to reduce passenger rail services throughout the network effective October 1, 2020. The plan also involves a furlough of over 1,000 Amtrak employees.

We are fully understanding that Amtrak, just like the airlines, is facing a sharply reduced demand in light of the COVID-19 epidemic. However, we are also aware of the damage that reduced frequencies caused in past experience.

Reduced service will preclude Amtrak's ability recover. As it stands now, almost all of Amtrak's canceled routes are back in service and business is recovering throughout the system. Tri-weekly services instead of daily services could cause Amtrak to lose existing customers, which would inhibit the company's ability to recover.

Amtrak services also contribute to the tourism industry in hundreds of markets, which is also in need of economic recovery. Reduced rail services could slow the recovery of this important industry, which would be counterproductive for all stakeholders - not just Amtrak.

Of equal concern, less-than-daily services will effect the mobility of people who depend on the rail system as a convenient and economical travel option.

We encourage all rail advocates to voice your concerns. We need our rail passenger system to not only recover from a very difficult year, but to also be part of the recovery for communities and industries that are served by the rail system.

[ It's helpful to note that the new President and CEO of Amtrak, Mr. William Flynn, just participated in his first congressional hearing on September 10th. Part of his testimony included an assurance to Congress that the cuts to tri-weekly service are only temporary and that he sees daily train service as essential to the overall success of the Amtrak system! ]

Please take some time this month and contact your elected representatives about this matter. Rural mobility and rail service to the heartland of America cannot be overlooked at a time like this!

Click here to view RPA's Advocacy Guide for the proposed cuts in service.
New cars in service on the Star
The Music City Star is now the WeGo Star with refurbished equipment, a fresh look, and new amenities that made their debut in August!

Although the COVID-19 pandemic took a toll on ridership and revenue, and required the temporary elimination of a round trip schedule, Tennessee's only commuter train is still on the move!

For complete information, log on to www.rtarelaxandride.com/
Nashville organization working to solve transit funding challenge amid pandemic

July 24, 2020: Since the pandemic began, WeGo has seen its ridership cut in half. Now empty seats on WeGo busses and star trains could create an even bigger funding challenge for public transit moving forward.

“It’s easy to look at where we are right now and say maybe we don’t need to worry about more transit, or invest in transit, are people even going to ride it?” said Alexia Poe.

Poe works for Moving Forward, an organization made up of business and community leaders who focus on transit projects in Middle Tennessee.

Poe says a lack of support for transit now could cost Middle Tennessee's economic recovery later.

“What we’ve seen in some research when you look back to the Great Recession of 2009, a lot of the communities and cities that recovered more quickly had better transit structures so people could get going back to work and other areas,” Poe said.

Over the next several months Moving Forward will continue to call for money and a transportation plan that covers not just Nashville, but the entire Middle Tennessee region.

“The one thing that successful transit systems have in common is dedicated funding. That’s something we don’t have here,” Poe said.

Moving Forward says the Middle Tennessee region is the only area of its size in the country without a local, dedicated source of funding for transit.
They say this limits the region’s ability to receive state and federal funding, which often requires a local match.
MATA hires transportation veteran to serve as chief operations officer
By Corey Davis  – Reporter, Memphis Business Journal

Aug 27, 2020

A veteran in the public transportation industry has relocated from Florida to join the Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA).

Ted Harris will assume the role of chief operations officer. MATA CEO Gary Rosenfeld announced the appointment of Harris on Aug. 25, during the agency’s board of commissioners meeting.

Harris — with nearly 40 years of transportation experience, which includes more than 25 years in the public transportation sector — most recently served as chief customer experience officer at Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority [HART] in Tampa.

At HART, Harris helped create customer service initiatives and oversaw the agency’s fixed route, paratransit, maintenance and safety, and security departments.

New Amtrak Station in the works at Fulton
August 10, 2020: FULTON, KY -- The Fulton County Transit Authority has announced that Amtrak will design and construct a new railway passenger station at the site of the current Fulton station. 

Fulton City Manager Mike Gunn believes a partnership of any kind with Amtrak is a positive for the area. 

“Whether it’s a new station or enhanced services, we are truly proud to have been a part of this project with Amtrak to raise the bar for rail traveling visitors to the City of Fulton,” Gunn said. 

“This station enhancement will be something that improves their customers’ experiences and should bring in traveling visitors to our community which helps drive the region’s economy.”

Train/Truck Collision Damages Historic Depot/Amtrak Station at Newbern
July 15, 2020: An early morning collision between a freight train and a tractor-trailer semi damaged the 100-year old depot in Newbern, Tennessee.

Both the museum section and the waiting room for Amtrak passengers are closed until repairs can be made.

Please note that Amtrak will continue to make scheduled stops at Newbern, albeit with passengers boarding/detraining on the street next to the depot.

Click here to read a local news report with further details.
Change is in the air
By L. Jarod Pearson, TARP President / RPA Southern Division Leader

It’s been six months since I last published a newsletter for TARP, and I honestly can’t believe what all has changed in the world since then!

Change was already in the air for me personally when the Year 2020 began. 

I closed and sold a small business that I owned and operated for 17 years. I built a new house next door to my parents on our family farm, and the week that I planned to move in my father fell ill and required emergency surgery. In the process, we learned that he has cancer, which was an enormous shock to our entire family.

The next month things settled down for a moment, and I was eager to get back to Washington for RPA’s RailSummit 2020 and Day on the Hill. 

With my Amtrak tickets in hand and my hotel reservations on file, COVID-19 hit. Not only were my travel plans canceled, the entire travel industry was turned upside down. Amtrak reportedly lost 95% of riders and had to cancel several trains due to health advisories and collapsing travel demand.

There were more changes that came along, from on-board mask requirements to cashless pay requirements to the elimination of full-service dining on all trains, not just the eastern routes.

And the changes didn’t stop there! 

I tried to get a spring newsletter together and then a summer newsletter; however, before I could get articles and materials together, my information would be out-of-date. The various changes in policies and operations were happening faster than I could keep track! 

Many issues are still unresolved at the moment, and huge challenges are ahead of us regardless of how the November elections turn out.

Truly, change is in the air, but I am convinced that positive things will happen in passenger rail, and very soon.

We simply need to be part of the change and be positive contributors to the cause that we love. All of us need to reach out to our elected representatives and give passenger rail the positive feedback that it needs.

Fall weather is ahead of us now. With that comes the changing leaves and an increased desire to see our country's beautiful landscape. The appeal of the train will be readily apparent and we can expect to see more and people coming back to the rails!

I will be one of those! 

Although I missed my trip to DC this year, I fully intend to take a trip on Amtrak this fall. A relaxing ride with beautiful scenery is the change I need right about now, and it’ll put a positive twist on the Year 2020!

Let’s lead by example! Go for a ride on the rails this season and encourage others to do the same!

If you can't arrange a trip on Amtrak, consider a ride on the Memphis Trolley, Chattanooga's Incline, Nashville's WeGo Star, or one of the tourist railroads in our Volunteer State.

Going for a ride may be just the ticket to make 2020 a better year than it has been so far! Climb on board!


L. Jarod Pearson
TARP President / RPA Southern Division Leader
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