To paraphrase a well-known former politician, “Here we go again.” The worrying surge in coronavirus infections and deaths, coupled with the effects of the Centers for Disease Control’s July 29th announcements concerning vaccinated Americans’ ability to spread the virus, means we’re faced with another unpleasant decision. But with members’ reluctance to travel, speakers’ reluctance to appear in person, congressional staffs’ reluctance to meet our members in person, and the potential for serious financial exposure, the decision is simply unavoidable.
I’ve decided in consultation with members of your Association leadership to reschedule all in-person meetings until 2022. Once again, we will have to hold an all-virtual meeting as we did in April, conducting our congressional outreach, our informational sessions, and our Council Business via the Zoom platform on a modified schedule.
This was, in some ways, an even more emotionally difficult decision than our pivot to a virtual meeting in April. Like many of you, I had counted on our country being out of the woods by now. I truly miss seeing our members, many of whom I have come to know as personal friends during my time here.
I know many of you looked forward to meeting face-to-face as an Association. You aren’t alone. The staff and I, too, look forward to the Spring Summit and Day On The Hill activities. It puts us front and center with decision makers on Capitol Hill and it gives all of us a chance to share our successes -- and there have been so many in the past few months! But we have to embrace a new way of conducting business, at least temporarily. And all of you have proven that you remain a formidable advocacy force, even when you share the Voice of the Passenger through a laptop screen instead of an in-person chat.
My message today includes details (below) on how we will all move ahead with rescheduling. But I’m also including outlines for what I hope you’ll agree are exciting plans to keep the energy going, to keep our message in front of the people who will decide rail’s future, and to do an even better job of supporting YOU in your efforts to focus on projects in your community that are most important to you, alongside your help fighting for national passenger rail priorities.
Please be sure to read all of this message. I’m sure you’ll have questions, but I’m also sure more than 90% or more of those questions will have answers in the body of this email.
There were many considerations that went into this choice, and we wanted to share some key factors to help you understand our decision-making process:
- Restricted access to Capitol Hill for Congressional meetings: Even before the surge in COVID Delta variant cases, Congress was granting limited public access to House and Senate Office Buildings -- partially due to the pandemic, and partially due to increased security following the Jan. 6 security breach. There is no timeline for a return to pre-pandemic operations. Capitol Hill offices have continued to handle meeting requests through teleconference platforms, with many staffers continuing to work from home.
- Limited venues for reception: With limited access to House and Senate Office Buildings, we would not have been able to host our traditional Capitol Hill reception. Alternate venues around D.C. are running at limited capacity, and tend to be far more expensive than what we usually budget for this event. Finally, an informal survey found many people within the policy world and the broader railroad industry aren’t ready to return to a crowded reception; obviously, sparse outside attendance lowers the utility of the event for our Association.
- Availability of in-person speakers: We heard back from many of the invited speakers that they would be interested in addressing our group, but they would prefer to do so virtually. This aligns with what we’ve seen from other national organizations, the majority of which are continuing to hold events virtually throughout the remainder of the 2021.
- Association members’ concerns: We also heard from a significant number of you that while you had eagerly awaited a return to in-person meetings -- and had even made your Amtrak arrangements well in advance -- the CDC’s new stance in late July has given you pause. A multi-day gathering at a hotel and conference facility requires a base level of attendance to make sense, and for many of you, the worrying coronavirus news would have forced you to choose between your health and safety and supporting your Association. And that’s a position I’m unwilling to force any of you to endure.
RailNation:DC Registration Fee Options
- Defer your registration fee to RailNation:DC 2022.
For those of you who deferred your RailNation:DC 2020 registration fee to 2021, we can once again apply those fees to RailNation:DC 2022, the next in-person event.
If you paid a registration fee in 2021 for the September RailNation:DC event, the fee can be deferred to RailNation:DC 2022, the next in-person event.
Deferring your registration fee locks you in at the 2020/2021 rate no matter what. So, if event registration fees were to be higher in 2022, you would owe the Association no additional fees UNLESS you alter your registration in 2022.
- Consider donating your RailNation:DC registration fees to the Association.
Like many other non-profit organizations, we continue to see real financial impacts from the pandemic, and we would appreciate your generosity. You will receive a tax receipt for your records showing your donation. If you register for RailNation:DC 2022 you will be paying the 2022 event registration rate.
- Request a refund.
If you register for RailNation:DC 2022, you will be paying an event registration rate which could be higher.
The above options only relate to fees paid to the Rail Passengers Association.
Please email Jonsie Stone, firstname.lastname@example.org, with your preference. Include in the subject line RailNation:DC Registration Option. This way, we can be sure we don’t overlook anyone’s responses.
Hotel Reservations Options
The Embassy Suites will cancel September 2021 reservations made to the Association’s block to open those rooms to resell. We suggest following up with the hotel directly to make sure your reservation was cancelled to avoid any no-show fees.
If you booked outside our block at the Embassy Suites, you will need to contact the hotel directly to cancel your reservations. By booking outside the Association’s event block, you may be subject to cancellation fees.
If you booked a room at a different hotel, you will need to contact the hotel directly to cancel your reservations.
Amtrak/Flight Reservations Options
Remember to also reach out to your travel provider to better understand the options available to you. Please make sure you mention that the event you were traveling to attend was postponed due to the surge of the COVID Delta variant in the host city.
For those with Amtrak travel already booked, Amtrak continues to waive all change fees for reservations made before September 6, 2021. Be sure to let them know that you want to rebook (possibly for our March 2022 meeting at the Alexandria Embassy Suites) and get it done before September 6th to avoid any fees or penalties. It’s very important to tell the customer-service agent at Amtrak that you were scheduled to attend the Rail Passengers Association’s Rail Nation:DC event that was rescheduled due to Covid.
Virtual RailNation:DC 2021
If you choose to register for the Virtual Fall Advocacy Summit & Day on the Hill, the registration fee is separate from the RailNation:DC 2021 fee options presented above. On the advice of our Accounting partner, the logistics of addressing the RailNation:DC 2021 in-person registration fee are to be kept separate from registration for the Virtual Fall event.
Sunday, September 19th - Wednesday, September 22nd
For more information and a full agenda,
How to Optimize Your Registration Experience
As noted, Zoom links will be emailed to registered attendees each morning. The email address used to register for Virtual RailNation:DC will be designated as the event email of record to receive these Zoom links. If you use multiple email addresses, please remember which email was used when you registered. Zoom uses that address to recognize you when you sign in. Problems in the past with getting into sessions have often centered on using a different email address than the one with which you registered.
To help direct Association emails to your inbox, please make sure that @narprail.org email addresses are approved in your inbox and not going directly to spam. If you are using Gmail, please check your "promotions" folder each morning, if Virtual RailNation:DC emails are not showing in your main inbox.
Virtual Hill Meetings
Congress will be voting to finalize the passage of its ambitious infrastructure bill in September. With the policies and funding levels largely finalized, now is the time to begin working with your Congressional delegation to highlight projects and corridors that could benefit from the additional intercity passenger rail funding advocates have secured in the infrastructure bill.
On Monday (9/20), Rail Passengers staff will talk about the final shape of federal grant programs, and how you can help liaise between federal, municipal and state officials to ensure your state benefits from future rounds of funding.
Don’t forget to reach out to your Congressional representatives to schedule your virtual meetings for the week of Sept. 19th. Once you secure those meetings, remember to report them to the Association; the meeting submission form can be accessed here.
You will receive a follow up email from staff with more details on our legislative requests for September.
Spring 2022 Meeting Dates/Location
Spring Advocacy Summit & Day on The Hill
March 26, 2022 - March 31, 2022
Embassy Suites by Hilton
1900 Diagonal Rd.
Alexandria, VA 22314
As soon as the Embassy Suites in Alexandria is ready to accept reservations to our room block, we will notify membership.
The staff and I sincerely hope we are able to gather in-person in 2022. While Zoom allows us to “see” each other, we miss sharing in-person time with you!