TARP News Summer 2019
Newsletter of the Tennessee Association of Railroad Passengers
Report from Bristol
The Bristol TN/VA Rail Coalition held a special meeting on May 30th at the Bristol Chamber of Commerce. The meeting was organized by Margaret Feieraben, Mayor of Bristol, TN with help from other coalition members.

Ellen Tolton, Director of Economic and Community Development for the City of Bristol, VA, presented the results of an economic impact study on the proposed extension of Amtrak Virginia rail service from Roanoke to Bristol.

The study was based on the results of a 2017 study provided by Amtrak while adding additional data points. The study shows that the service extension would be cash positive as far as train operation and would have a noticeable economic impact on Bristol and surrounding region.

The fact that the train would connect with the mega-region of the Northeast Corridor alone provides a sustainable business flow. Adding the enormous East Tennessee tourism market would be an added bonus.

There are some barriers that need to be addressed. The largest barrier is the Long Bridge over the Potomac River in Washington, DC. As it stands, the bridge is near the end of its intended lifespan and is strained for capacity. A proposal is already in place to build a replacement bridge, but funding sources have not been identified and time is running short. Until a solution is in place, additional train schedules will be very difficult to put in place.

Jarod Pearson, President of Tennessee Association of Railroad Passengers, addressed the group. Jarod gave ideas on how TARP can help the rail coalition network in the region and draw additional support from across the state. The Commonwealth of Virginia has certainly been a huge participant in the expansion proposal, but the project needs greater participation from the Volunteer State.

Jarod suggested that the group look into a short-term solution - a coordinated bus connection - to quickly get Bristol connected to the rail network while larger issues, such as the Long Bridge in DC, are worked out.

The meeting was well-attended and a great networking opportunity. The time is now to advance this proposal and help bring a train to upper East Tennessee!

Ways we can help the Bristol TN/VA Rail Coalition

As TARP members, there are things we can do to help our friends in Bristol.

  • Staff outreach tables at special events in Tennessee
  • Write letters to elected officials in East Tennessee and other parts of the state
  • Attend future meetings and activities of the Rail Coalition

If you want to participate more in this effort, or if you have other suggestions, please send us a post to tarprail@gmail.com.
Report from DC
Tennessee rail passengers were well-represented at the 2019 Passenger Rail Summit and Day of the Hill in Washington, DC.

The Rail Passengers Association (a.k.a. NARP) organized the event.

Our delegation from Tennessee included the following members:

  • W.O. Green - TARP Treasurer and RPA National Council Member At-Large;
  • L. Jarod Pearson - TARP President and RPA National Council Member;
  • Bob Stewart - Former TARP President and Former RPA President

What we did:

We met with staff members from both US Senate offices and with eight of our nine U.S. House offices. The purpose of each meeting was to encourage Tennessee's elected officials to see the national passenger system as a national asset and to invest in a system that grows and thrives.

We want our elected officials to support the national rail passenger system, and we want future growth and expansion to include states with population growth, especially Tennessee. Passenger rail can and should be part of a balanced approach to our nation's transportation and infrastructure needs.

All three of your TARP delegates attending Day of the Hill agreed that the Congressional staff members are by and large more familiar with Amtrak than members we have met with in years gone by.

A large section of congressional staff members have ridden Amtrak and have a favorable view of the service. Two of those members expressed their wish for rail service back home in the district! We wish for that too!

It goes without saying that Tennessee's congressional staff are more than aware of Tennessee' growing traffic headache. The topic came up in every meeting we attended.

We also found that the congressional staff we see these days see Amtrak in a broader context. In other words, people see Amtrak against the backdrop of our nation's infrastructure. And the word "infrastructure" is a loaded term these days.

We sensed a great deal of frustration from both parties when it come to the state of our nation's infrastructure and, sadly, we sensed that neither side knows where to go or what to do first.

Amtrak will soon be up for re-authorization. Most of our congressional staff members are aware of that and are watching closely. We Tennesseans need to watch closely as well.

You phone calls helped!

Back in March we reached out to TARP members across the state asking you to call your elected representatives prior to our arrival for the Day on the Hill.

We did not want to hear from congressional staff that Tennesseans back home aren't reaching out to discuss the national rail passenger system.

Thanks to your phone calls, three congressional staff members voluntarily stated that they are hearing from constituent in favor of expanded Amtrak service! That's exactly what we wanted to hear!

If you haven't yet called your U.S. House member in support of passenger rail service, make a point to do that now! Do you need some advice on what to say or ask? E-mail us at tarprail@gmail.com and we will gladly assist.

What we learned:

In addition to Day on the Hill, our conference in DC included a Passenger Rail Summit where we heard from industry representatives as well as the RPA/NARP staff who work out of our Washington, DC office.

We learned that operational changes in the freight rail industry are doing serious harm to Amtrak on-time performance on certain routes. At present all parties as well as the Federal Judiciary are working through some tough issues. One of the biggest legal questions is whether or not Amtrak is legally able to establish and impose minimum performance standards on train that operation on freight-owned rail lines. It is clearly established in the law that passenger trains have preference, but who has the authority and oversight on that issue? We are following that issue closely here at TARP and we have staff at RPA/NARP who are directly involved in the discussion.

In the meantime, Amtrak management representatives reported that they are building good working relationships with the freight railroad companies. Hopefully some of these issues can be resolved at the local level while the bigger issues get worked out at higher levels.

We heard a number of presentations on Amtrak's equipment situation. It's difficult to procure new equipment in the United States due to extensive regulations and the a lack of manufacturers and vendors. We are making progress in spite of that.

This summer we expect to see a new generation of Viewliner sleeper cars begin operating on eastern long-distance routes. This summer a new project is under way to refurbish the existing Amfleet II long-distance coaches that operate on Eastern long-distance routes.

The next generation Acela equipment is in the works, and so is a new fleet of equipment to replace older sets on the Midwestern regional routes.

We believe that our time in DC was time well spent. We invite and encourage any and all interested TARP members to join us next year. Your presence and your participation will be extremely helpful to our cause!
We have a new connection!
At long last we have a new Amtrak Thruway Bus Service that connects Nashville with Amtrak's Crescent in both directions at Birmingham!

TARP has been advocating for this service since construction started on Birmingham's $33 million dollar Gateway station.

Gateway station bring Amtrak's Crescent (train #'s 19 & 20) under the same roof as Greyhound, Megabus, and local MAX transit service. The facility also features a cafe and free parking.

The Nashville Thruway connection allows a seamless and guaranteed bus/rail connection. The service makes Amtrak a more appealing option for passengers traveling between Nashville and the various cities served by the Crescent , including:

  • New York (Penn Station)
  • Newark, NJ
  • Philadelphia, PA
  • Baltimore, MD
  • Washington, DC
  • Charlottesville, VA
  • Lynchburg, VA
  • Charlotte, NC
  • Greenville, SC
  • Atlanta, GA
  • Tuscaloosa, AL
  • Meridian, MS
  • Hattiesburg, MS
  • New Orleans, LA

The Thruway connection also includes a stop at Huntsville, AL, which will reach potential Amtrak passengers in a region of over one million people. (The Huntsville stop is accessible to parts of Middle Tennessee we well.)

Schedules, fares, and reservations for service to and from Nashville and Huntsville are now showing at amtrak.com and at 1-800-USA-RAIL.
Main Street Trolley is still in motion!
We are pleased (and relieved!) to report that the Main Street Trolley in Memphis has been back in service for over a year now with no mechanical failures!

Between April 2018 and 2019 there were over 372,000 boardings. The trolley's four-year absence took a toll on the Main Street tourism industry, but the restored service is giving it a necessary boost.

TARP will soon give a report on progress at Main Street Station and other projects that will benefit West Tennessee.
My trips to and from DC on the Crescent
By L. Jarod Pearson, TARP President & RPA National Council Member

I always choose Amtrak when I make my annual trip to Washington, DC for RPA's Day on the Hill.

Taking the train makes sense to me on several levels. For starters, I feel somewhat obligated to take the train because I'm going to DC to meet with elected representatives about our national rail passenger system. At an entirely different level, I enjoy train travel. It's a way for me to unwind, untangle my thoughts, and decompress a little.

For Tennesseans in my part of the state (near Chattanooga), Atlanta should be the logical place to pick up the Crescent and make the overnight journey to Washington. However, my experience catching the train in Atlanta in 2017 was more adventure than I had bargained for!

Anytime I go to Atlanta I allow an extra two hours of driving time because of Atlanta's notorious traffic problems. The extra two hours for this particular trip in 2017 was hardly enough. I have never in my entire life of driving seen such horrible traffic conditions!

A bridge was out of service in the Atlanta area, and I-75 turned into a 90-mile parking lot. I used my phone app to find an alternate route only to find that the alternate routes were jammed with just as many drivers trying to get around the mess.

For the first time in my years of train travel, I was grateful to find that the northbound Crescent was over two hours late that day. I barely made it to the station before the late train pulled in. Fortunately on Amtrak, and unlike the airlines, you don't have to check in or clear security. If Amtrak had airline-style boarding procedures, I would have been completely out of luck that night.

For all the convenience and relative ease of train travel, the Atlanta station is a real problem. The facility is too small for the load it carries! When the train pulls into the station the staff spring into serious crowd control mode.

The staff must speak loudly above the noise level to get all outbound passengers to stand back and make a pathway for the inbound passengers to get from the platform to the street. Passengers needing to claim checked luggage add more trouble complication to the mix.

As the inbound crowd exits the facility to the small parking lot and narrow street access, the outbound crowd has a new challenge to negotiate. Passengers have to either descend a steep and narrow stairway with their luggage in hand or ride a painfully slow elevator. Both lead to a narrow platform below that then requires a steep climb up to an Amfleet coach or Viewliner sleeper.

To add insult to injury on this trip in 2017, the dining car was closed by the time everybody got on board in Atlanta. Knowing that this could happen, I would have appreciated the opportunity to stop at a restaurant along the way and grab a quick meal, but my worries about the traffic made me avoid stopping. Likewise it would have been nice to purchase a quick meal at or near the station; however, there's no restaurant in or near the Atlanta station.

As stressful as things got in and around Atlanta, everything was fine once I boarded the Crescent. The previous five-and-a-half hours of traffic, chaos and confusion was replaced with a comfortable seat and a quiet space on board the train. Although the dining car was closed, the lounge car was still open. I was able to purchase a sandwich and a "spirited beverage" and then take start to unwind. When I arrived in DC the next morning I was refreshed and feeling much better.

My experience in Atlanta prompted me to try something else on my next trip to DC. When the 2018 Day on the Hill came around, I decided to try out the new Birmingham Gateway station instead. I made the three-hour drive to the "Magic City" with no traffic problem at all. I parked my car in the just-completed and free long-term parking lot at the station. I was able to roll my luggage two blocks over to the new Amtrak/Greyhound facility without hassle, and I walked into a waiting room that's large, bright, and relatively quiet compared to Atlanta.

Boarding the train there requires going up a set of stairs, and the pre-historic elevator at Birmingham is just as slow as mid-1990's elevator in Atlanta. However, the boarding experience was still much easier at Birmingham.

Another benefit of taking the train out of the Magic City is getting an early seat in the dining car before the Atlanta crowd gets on board. This is especially helpful if the northbound train is running late!

This year, in 2019, I decided to give my trip to DC a little more variety. I definitely wanted to leave from Birmingham, but this year I decided to try the Greyhound bus connection out of Huntsville (that just recently became an Amtrak Thruway Bus connection). Huntsville, Alabama is only 59 miles from my home. Returning home I decided to get off the train Atlanta, transfer over to the Atlanta airport, and ride the Groome shuttle to Chattanooga, which is 60 miles from my home.

The trip to DC was one of the best ever. The bus ride from Birmingham was simple and pleasant. Getting from Greyhound to Amtrak was as easy as walking from one side of the Gateway lobby to the other. The Crescent arrived only a few minutes late. I had time for a quick nap before my 5:30 p.m. dinner reservation. Dinner in the Viewliner dining car was awesome, as expected. I arrived at DC very refreshed.

The return trip was a little more adventurous because I decided to get off the train in Atlanta. I chose this itinerary was because I could be back home in Cowan about 5 hours earlier than if I returned to Birmingham on the train and then taken the bus back to Huntsville.

The Atlanta station was crowded, but friendly nevertheless. Unfortunately, when I got out to the Peachtree Street I learned that the MARTA bus route no longer stops in front of the Amtrak station. I joined a small group of frustrated fellow rail passengers who had to walk about 4 blocks over to the nearest stop. I don't know who is to blame for this change, but there's no excuse for it whatsoever! I boarded the bus, transferred to the MARTA electric train, rode to airport, transferred to Groome, and made my way back home.

At the end of my 2019 trip on the Crescent I can say the following: the Crescent provides a very useful service for trip to Washington. The new bus connections at the new Birmingham station make the service even better. The dining car is a huge plus, and so is the daytime scenery. However, the Crescent needs a better station in Atlanta, and Atlanta needs better access to their relatively popular train service.

The Crescent is a train we can be proud of. A new station in Birmingham has made it even better and more accessible to some Tennesseans. However, what we really want and need are rail routes that serve Tennessee directly!
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