NARP Meeting Rated Best Ever.
The annual Fall meeting of the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP), which took place in Denver, officially ended Sunday afternoon. It was, by all accounts, the best such event ever, with excellent speakers, productive sessions and more attendees than any previous meeting.
This is an over-simplification, but NARP’s principal mission is to serve as an advocate for rail passengers . . . and that includes commuter rail and transit as well as Amtrak. Much of the time and energy expended by both paid staff and the rest of us volunteers goes to lobbying government at all levels to provide more support for passenger rail. For that reason, much of the focus at these meetings is to better equip NARP members to be effective in their dealings with government officials.
One of the best sessions was led by Jim Souby, who is the head of Colorail, the non-profit organization promoting more and better rail transportation for Colorado. Jim, who is also a member of NARP’s board of directors, is probably the person most responsible for saving the Southwest Chief, the Amtrak train that runs daily between Chicago and Los Angeles.
Brief background: About in the middle of its 2,265 mile route, the Chief travels over a 650-mile stretch of track owned by BNSF railroad. Much of that track has deteriorated over time and because of that and other reasons, BNSF was running fewer freights over the route. Those freight trains were running at slower speeds, of course, which meant the railroad had no interest in spending an estimated $200 million to upgrade that track so two Amtrak trains a day could go through at 79 miles-per-hour.
During his presentation, Jim walked us all through the efforts that ultimately secured commitments for the necessary money from the three state governments. I don’t have the space or the time to go into all they did, but here’s my takeaway on what it took for them to save the Southwest Chief:
*They were patient. They had to be because the whole process took several years.
*They were knowledgable. They knew their stuff and presented their case in clear, simple terms.
*They involved all the key players: mayors, town council members, and civic leaders.
*They were respectful to everyone, but made it clear they would not go away.
The effort by Jim Souby was, in fact, a text book example of how to effectively deal with government. In fact, I urged him to turn the whole story into a book, or at least a paper. Jim says he’s thinking about it.