Northwest Rail Advocates Meeting – June 6, 2015 – East Glacier Park, MT

The National Association of Railroad Passengers, All Aboard Washington and the Association Oregon of Rail and Transit Advocates are hosting the 2015 Northwest passenger rail advocates membership meeting on Saturday June 6 at the Glacier Park Lodge in East Glacier Park, MT. Register for the meeting here or click on the link on the red bar at the top.IMG_2919

The meeting will take place between the morning arrival of the eastbound Empire Builder and evening departure of the westbound train. We are providing advance information so you can make Amtrak reservations and, if you want to extend your trip, hotel reservations. Availability at Glacier Park Lodge is very limited but there are a number of motels in the village, many within a half mile of the hotel and the Amtrak Station; some have station pickup available. IMG_0591

Here’s some hotel information for East Glacier Park:

Glacier Park Lodge: https://reserveglacierdenali.com/Trip-Planner/Lodging and select Glacier Park Lodge for reservations. Limited availability. No Internet access. Rates are about $190 and up. Phone: 406.892.2525.

Dancing Bears Inn (approx. 0.3 mi from Lodge and 0.2 mi from Amtrak): www.dancingbearsinn.com. AAA approved. Rooms available. Online reservation system. Phone: 406.226.4402. Continental breakfast and Wi-Fi. Amtrak station pickup. Rates are about $110-150. The Dancing Bears Inn is offering a discount from its published rates if you call and tell them you are attending the NARP conference on June 6.

Mountain Pine Motel (approx. 0.5 mi from Lodge and Amtrak): www.mtnpine.com. Rooms Available. Online reservation system. Phone: 406.226.4403. Wi-Fi. Amtrak station pickup. Rates are about $60-80.

Jacobson’s Cottages (approx. 0.7 mi from Lodge and Amtrak): www.jacobsonscottages.com. No online reservation system. Phone: 406.226.4422. Amtrak station pickup. Rates are about $70-90.

East Glacier Motel & Cabins (approx. 0.6 mi from Lodge and Amtrak: www.eastglacier.com. Rooms available. On line reservation system. Phone: 406-226-5593. Amtrak Station pickup. Rates about $65-85.

There are also a number of other motels listed at http://visitmt.com/listing/categories_NET/PrimaryResults.aspx?primarysitetype=&CatID=1%7C2&title=Lodging+and+Camping&region=&activities=&agency=&services=&siteid=1&servicecity=east+glacier+park

Many are outside the immediate village area and thus would be more difficult to get to if you arrive on the Empire Builder.

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Moving ahead with Passenger Rail as we enter 2015

I am cautiously optimistic about the continued funding for our Amtrak Cascades service from the Washington legislature and now the Oregon legislature. At the November 15 meeting of the Association of Oregon Rail and Transit Advocates (AORTA) in Eugene, Mr. Hal Gard, head of ODOT Rail, expressed serious concern that legislative funding to keep those trains from Portland to Eugene might not be available. (The majority of the funds to operate our intercity passenger trains comes from passenger fares and purchases, but some state subsidy is still needed.)

IMG_4809A more positive message came from AORTA President Dan McFarling on December 13, when about 18 AAWA members who traveled by train to Portland met with AORTA leaders at their Portland Union Station office. This more positive message was reinforced by Hal Gard in a long and very cordial phone conversation I had with Hal a couple days after the Portland meeting. Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber (D) has sufficient funds in his 2015-17 budget proposal to keep Oregon’s Cascades trains on track. Hal praised the idea of pro-rail legislators from both states cooperating closely for the benefit of our Northwest Corridor. He also complimented AAWA and AORTA for their cooperative and active rail advocacy.

On December 16 I was privileged to have a 90-minute meeting with the founder and Co-chair of the Washington Legislative Rail Caucus (LRC), Rep Luis Moscoso (D-Bothell). A wide variety of topics were discussed. Our meeting could be summarized by the reality that Rep. Moscoso remains fully supportive of our State’s rail programs, has been and will continue to work closely with his Oregon legislative counterparts, and agrees with the push for more intercity passenger rail beyond that provided by the federal ARRA (“stimulus”) monies. A virtue of Luis and the LRC is its fully bi-partisan nature when rail is involved. AAWA and AORTA will be invited to attend proposed joint meetings of LRC and its Oregon counterpart in 2015.

Rep. Moscoso expressed interest In a relatively new pro-rail group called “Solutionary Rail.” Mr. Bill Moyer, Seattle-based leader of that group and I corresponded and plan to meet in person in January, probably at Tacoma’s Freighthouse Square, to discuss issues of mutual interest. I mentioned to Bill that while AAWA gladly works with all individuals and groups who support rail, we do not necessarily embrace all positions that these groups may take and we avoid submerging our relatively small, but well-respected organization within larger entities whose broader agenda may contradict the views of some AAWA members and allies.

In a phone meeting with Bruce Agnew, active AAWA member and leader of the Cascadia Academy, Solutionary Rail was also mentioned, and like with Luis, in a relatively positive light. Bruce has also been involved in researching the idea of future funding for passenger rail infrastructure utilizing public-private partnership, rather than just relying on funding from governments, important though they have been. Ron Pate, head of WSDOT Rail Division, agrees that looking for new means of funding passenger rail infrastructure is positive.

Ron Pate continues leading the strong efforts to build our Northwest Corridor Amtrak Cascades passenger train service. Ron believes Governor Jay Inslee (D) and WSDOT Secretary Lynn Peterson are fully in favor of our rail program. Funding for maintaining the Cascades program is in Inslee’s proposed budget, AAWA is pleased to note. A few weeks ago Former Secretary of State Ralph Munro, Bruce Agnew and I had a most cordial meeting with an Inslee transportation staff person, Ms Robin Rettew. The three of us offered rail as being a green and vital part of our state’s transportation future.

But some rail advocates have been a bit concerned that, while the governor has given strong support to green transportation, with an overwhelming endorsement of electric highway vehicles, rail has not usually been part of Governor Inslee’s public conversation. I have long argued that electric highway vehicles, even if powered totally by such environmentally benign sources as solar, wind, tide, and low-head hydro, are still highway vehicles, with the congestion, road wear, public costs, accidents, scatteration and sprawl that the auto/truck modes promote. I hasten to add that I do support electric highway vehicles, as well as bikes, pedestrians, buses, planes and watercraft, but, because I’m a bone-deep rail guy, get a bit concerned when rail is sometimes not mentioned along with other forms of transportation. (And Ok, the 1950s youth remains in me; I confess I still like big old gasoline using US-made sedans and Harley-Davidsons!)

When with Ron Pate and elsewhere, AAWA praises the work of our Rail Division while gently pushing for more service, east-west through the Yakima Valley as well as for the Amtrak Cascades, and for other rail development and equipment purchases. But we understand that this “push” requires funding from the State or elsewhere. We are not those who favor program enhancements while ignoring the means to pay for it or the staff to administer it.

A final meeting to mention here is a dinner with Mr. Ed Galligan, Executive Director of the Port of Olympia. Rail is vital to the well-being of Washington’s public ports and Washington’s economy. Most intercity passenger train advocates understand that. I told Ed I support a muscle and bone port which moves goods from rail and truck to ship and the reverse. Olympia is one of those and should remain a muscle and bone port, though it’s smaller than such ports as Seattle, Tacoma, and Vancouver (WA and BC). Ed emphatically supports the state passenger rail program, regularly rides the trains, and wants to involve others from his port and other ports in support of passenger as well as freight rail. I look forward to working with Ed, who joined AAWA within a day!

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November 8: All Aboard Washington annual membership meeting

All Aboard Washington’s annual membership meeting will be on November 8 from 1 p.m.-3:30 p.m. in the community room at the Centralia Amtrak Station.

Speakers include Kirk Fredrickson, WSDOT Rail Division, Dan McFarling of the Assoc. of Oregon Rail and Transit Advocates and Cascadia’s Bruce Agnew. NARP board member Jim Hamre will recap the recent NARP council meeting in Salt Lake City and Lloyd Flem will have a post-mortem of the Nov 4 General Election’s probable impact on passenger rail.

Our meeting will again feature AAWA’s silent auction, returning after skipping 2013. The silent auction will run from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. so as not to overlap with the meeting. Auction items include some very high-quality model railroad kits; excellent hard-cover books on railroads and rail history (plus other non-rail topics); overnight stays with meals at two distractive downtown Centralia Hotels (the historic Olympic Club Hotel, and Centralia Square – the remodeled classic Centralia Elks building); and two tickets ($39 each value) to the Seattle Symphony concert on February 21. Many other good items, including a very large, imposing piece of railroad infrastructure.

We will be able to accept credit cards for payment this year. Everyone is encouraged to attend and bid high for distinctive holiday gifts.

Both McMenamin’s and Centralia Square, along with Talgo, are sponsors of our meeting. We suggest lunch on your own before the meeting at one of our sponsors or other nearby establishments.

Use our Northwest trains to and from the meeting. Suggested trains: To Centralia from the north, Amtrak #501 or #11. Back home , Amtrak #516. To Centralia from the south, Amtrak #500. Back home, Amtrak #507.

Hope to see you in Centralia on November 8.

 

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AAWA goes to Yakima – Sept 13

All Aboard Washington will be meeting on Sept. 13 in Yakima. The meeting will be noon-3 p.m. at Russillo’s Pizza and Gelato, 32 N Front St. Russillo’s is in the former Northern Pacific Railway Station.

Our speakers include Rep. Norm Johnson (R-Yakima) and former Yakima Mayor Paul George (who is running for a seat in the State House of Representatives). We’ll also hear from Yakima Trolley’s Karl Pasten. Other speakers are pending.

The emphasis for our annual east-of-the-Cascades meeting will continue to be our push for east-west daytime passenger rail service.

After the meeting we’ve chartered the Yakima Trolley. Fare will depend on how many people join us for the ride.

Please join us for our Yakima meeting on Sept. 13.

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All Aboard Washington outreach at Tacoma Rail and Harbor Days

Our two outreach events at the end of August were very successful in bringing the message of intercity passenger trains to hundreds of people.

Tacoma Rail’s Open House (and Centennial Celebration) Saturday August 23 attracted a large crowd, much of which were families with young children. The AAWA table, staffed by George Barner and me 10-12, Jim Hamre and Zack Willhoite 12-1:30, offered our AAWA material, and that from NARP, WSDOT, Amtrak, and Talgo. We had a prime location near the entrance. Adults and children readily took the material, which virtually ran out by 1 PM.

AAWA table at the Tacoma Rail open house (Photo by Zack Willhoite)

Nearly all guests had some interest in trains, even if the interest was primarily the train ride in Tacoma Rail’s four passenger cars touring the port, touring their locomotives and caboose, or viewing the N-Scale model railroad. To many who approached our table, we had to explain who we were, in some cases introducing people to the fact Western Washington has intercity passenger trains! We gave information about routes and the advantages of trains. Some expressed interest in joining AAWA, but it seemed many were there mainly for a fun outing with kids and grandkids. Still worthwhile and I recommend we repeat the Tacoma Rail Open House every year.

The three-day Olympia Harbor Days, August 29-31, also attracted large crowds, except for a time Saturday afternoon, when a deluge of rain chased guests and many vendors away. During the times I staffed our table each day, I perceived a surprisingly large number of people who knew about our Amtrak Cascades service, had ridden and liked riding trains, agreed we should have more. A decent number showed interest in joining AAWA. Read More »

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Station developments around the Northwest

Here’s an article from the September/October 2014 All Aboard Washington newsletter.

Tacoma

With the Pt. Defiance Bypass Project – which relocates Amtrak service through Tacoma from the Pt. Defiance line to the line used by Sounder to Lakewood – advancing, the Amtrak station for the city needs to be relocated to Freighthouse Square, where Sounder now stops. WSDOT has been working diligently with Tacoma Dome District stakeholders, Sound Transit, Amtrak, the City of Tacoma and All Aboard Washington (the advocates for the passengers).

Many locations in Freighthouse Square were analyzed and reduced to three options: the east end, the west end and a central location just west of the Sounder station area. Some in the neighborhood favor the east end but this location has many negatives. The major issues with the east end: a quick analysis by WSDOT indicates construction costs would be higher; annual operating costs are about double the other locations (which are estimated at $800,000 to $1 million); and the east end is the least desirable location for passenger convenience and comfort and for Amtrak operations.

WSDOT has selected the central location as the preferred alternate. This option will be forwarded to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) as a compromise that meets the expectations and requirements for an Amtrak station. WSDOT will continue to work with stakeholders during the design phase for the central location. A public meeting will be scheduled to share design concepts and to gather ideas on several design elements. Once approved by the FRA, construction will start in late 2015 or early 2016.

All Aboard Washington will continue to represent the needs and concerns of the rail passengers, which, after all, are the whole reason the trains and stations exists.

Read More »

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