The meeting is ON, from Sunday, March 27 to Wednesday, March 30. But please, be prepared to be flexible. That’s the short answer. The dates won’t change, but the details might. Whenever things change, we’ll send out emails and I’ll post a new blog post and an update in the Hotline. It will be important to keep your eye on those channels as the dates approach.
I promise we’re not trying to keep the details a secret. But as with seemingly every previously normal endeavor, the continuing disruptions posed by the coronavirus pandemic are making it hard to plan for anything, whether it’s your child’s birthday party, a train trip, or a business meeting. This is no different. Many details continue to change as we approach the dates, and we’re doing our best to nail things down.
In mid-November we were full-steam ahead on the Spring Meeting reverting to its normal in-person format. Then the Omicron variant came roaring around the world, and as I write this today hospitalizations in the U.S. stand at their highest level since the pandemic began nearly two years ago.
Moreover, a little more than a year after the Jan. 6 attacks on the Capitol, many congressional offices are not eager to throw open the doors to hundreds of visitors...whether they’re vaccinated and wearing masks or not.
As recently as this week, the team here in DC was checking on whether we would be able to host our Golden Spike reception in the fabulous “Gold Room” on Capitol Hill as we have in years past. So far, the answers are not encouraging. And of course, last week Amtrak had to cut its schedules to cope with an Omicron surge, with service due to be restored literally in the middle of our planned event. If you were planning to take Amtrak to an event aimed at advocating for better Amtrak service...well, I suppose we all see the irony.
Considering all of the above, I’m confirming that we are planning to hold an in-person event, as scheduled, at the Embassy Suites in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia, coupled with a legislative day to press our issues in Congress. And there are a lot of issues to press.
But will the event look the same as it did in 2019? No. Will we be able to send hundreds of people to conduct many hundreds of meetings in a single day in the halls of Congress? Probably not. There will be receptions, but they may be smaller. There will be Hill visits, but they may be a mix of virtual/online and in-person, and conducted with smaller groups of delegates based on the rules in place with congressional offices and the Capitol police. There will be great speakers, but there will be fewer of them. And some of them may wish to remain remote and address us on a screen.
Nonetheless, there will be plenty of red meat and potatoes as well as a rainbow of options for my vegans at RailNation:DC 2022 to justify participating with us. We’re adjusting the format of the meeting to give the Council more time to conduct in-person business, and to create more opportunities for real hands-on workshops to help all of us sharpen our advocacy skills. It’s especially important as Zoom meetings become the norm to understand how best to use this technology to conduct congressional visits, and how to avoid common pitfalls. We’re taking advantage of the opportunity of having all of you together to set up some mechanisms to get your help as we fulfill the roles Congress envisioned for us in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law – contributing to service restoration studies, studies on making triweekly trains daily, and the working group on food and beverage and onboard customer experience. Your hardworking legislative and policy team will update you with the latest on implementation of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, and on the prospects for accompanying appropriations. The Federal Railroad Administration – flush with the lion’s share of passenger-rail grant funding to hand out during the next five years – will update us on the new rail programs created last year in our historic legislative victory. We’ll also get Amtrak updates on important items such as new equipment, rolling stock, locomotives, refurbishments, and stations.
You can register for the conference now and book your room now at the Embassy Suites by visiting our Events page or by clicking on this link. Please don’t wait to do this. A lot of the decision-making around the details of this meeting will be driven by the ratio of in-person attendees to virtual/digital, so if you’re planning to be in person register today. Book your room through our dedicated page so we get credit for the booking. Our room block opens on Saturday, March 26th and runs through Wednesday, March 30. And yes, I did put a note in our file with the hotel to give our attendees preference for getting rooms that overlook the tracks at the Alexandria station!
We just won forty years’ worth of passenger rail victories in one eventful summer in 2021. Now the hard work begins, implementing, getting service on to the map, getting improvements into the pipeline, and keeping those gains from being clawed back by future Congresses. We need you now more than ever to be part of this work, and that’s whether you’re a Council member, a regular member, a donor or supporter, or just someone outside our organization who really cares about passenger rail. Attendance is open to anyone, and this is a great chance to come be part of the next big step in U.S. passenger rail!