Uncategorized

RailPAC Board elects new President

Oakland, CA March 9, 2019

The RailPAC Board met today and accepted the resignation of Paul Dyson as President after more than 12 years in the post.  The Board unanimously elected Steve Roberts as the new President.  Steve is a retired veteran of the passenger rail industry and lives in Concord, CA in the east bay area.  Steve has already made his mark at RailPAC as Vice President of Policy and Research.  Paul Dyson was thanked by the Board for his service.  He will remain on the Board and be active in Southern California, as well as continuing to edit the Association’s magazine, Steel Wheels(c).

eNewsletter

Weekly News 2/14/19

Amtrak issues RFP for Amfleet I replacements
Progressive Rail Roading-Jan 21, 2019
Amtrak late last week released a request for proposals (RFP) for a new fleet of single-level passenger-rail vehicles to replace the Amfleet I cars.
Amfleet I cars are used primarily on the Northeast Corridor (NEC) and adjacent state corridor routes.”
.
Inside Penn Station’s Fancy New Amtrak Lounge
Condé Nast Traveler-Jan 23, 2019
Even Traveler’s most avid Amtrak users didn’t know there was a premium waiting space in New York City’s Penn Station, and given the state of it, that’s probably not surprising. In the dark ClubAcela lounge, near tracks 7 and 8, you’ll find several dated blue chairs, a few bags of chips, a soda machine, and a coffee maker. That’s not exactly up to par with the airport lounges we love. (We see you, whiskey bar in the Senators’ Lounge at Zurich Airport.) It’s a good thing, then, that ClubAcela—rebranded as the Metropolitan Lounge—is getting a major makeover in the multi-million dollar renovation of Penn Station and the neighboring Moynihan Train Hall. And lucky for you, we’ve got a look inside the new space, which is set to open in early 2021.

MTA Reaches Deal With Amtrak on Metro-North Expansion Project …
NBC New York-Jan 22, 2019
MTA officials say there is now a deal with Amtrak to move forward on four Bronx stations for Metro-North, with the first ever Metro-North service to New York Penn Station.
The plan calls for new Metro-North stops in Co-op City, Morris Park, Parkchester/ Van Nest and Hunts Point and bring those commuters, plus those from New Rochelle, to New York Penn Station.
Amtrak confirmed the deal in a statement.

Virginia announces additional Amtrak service to Norfolk beginning March 4
Augusta Free Press-Jan 22, 2019
A second Amtrak train service serving Norfolk will debut on March 4, adding a 9 a.m. departure to the current 6:10 a.m. scheduled Norfolk train.
Passenger rail service to and from Norfolk is part of Amtrak’s Northeast Regional train service connecting the Commonwealth to the northeast, offering customers a same-seat trip to and from 17 Virginia stations to Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York City, Boston and other destinations. Additional details regarding schedules and ticket sales are forthcoming.

Amtrak trains could serve Long Island
Albany Times Union-Jan 22, 2019
Some Metro-North commuter trains serving the New Haven line could arrive at Penn Station instead of Grand Central, under an agreement between the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Amtrak and the Empire State Development Corp. announced Tuesday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Amtrak is dismantling 30th Street Station’s iconic flipping board
Billy Penn-Jan 24, 2019
Time has run out for the iconic split-flap departures board at 30th Street Station.
Photos and videos posted to social media Thursday night showed workers in orange vests and hard-hats methodically dismantling the signboard — while it was still running.
Manufactured in Italy by Solari di Udine, the display was the last active one of its kind along Amtrak’s service lines. It does not comply with ADA standards, Amtrak said. The Metro-North transit system had replaced its network of Solari boards by 2014, and New York Penn Station got rid of its flippy board two years ago.

“REFLECTIONS” Snippets of Amtrak’s Foibles
By Rail Provocateur/M.E. Singer
Complementing detailed weekly op-ed stories, I want to offer for further digestion snippets reflecting identifiable foibles created by Amtrak.
Amtrak’s Board of Directors
To elaborate upon my recent publishing in Railway Age re “Fix Amtrak? Fix Its Board First” (17 Jan), we need to appreciate how Amtrak has continued to ignore the vital voice of labor as once exhibited by Charles Luna, the first president of the UTU. It is incumbent upon FRA and USDOT to realize they must find another viable labor leader to place on Amtrak’s Board to offer insight that currently is not available, which explains the lingering safety issues and lack of morale.

Amtrak points out one big strength trains have as the government shutdown wreaks havoc on airports
Business Insider-Jan 25, 2019
Amtrak is chartered as a private corporation— albeit one that gets federal funding.
That means America’s passenger train line, even as it’s typically ignored by lawmakers and the general public, has been functioning as usual amid the government shutdown.
Business as usual, meanwhile, has not been the case at America’s airports.
Hundreds of flights were delayed in New York, Atlanta, and elsewhere on the Eastern seaboard on Friday amid the longest-ever government shutdown. TSA scanners have been calling in sick at work as they go unpaid, leading to huge lines at the airport. And, perhaps most strangely, Kanye West songs have been reportedly blasting at New York City’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK).

What Amtrak’s National System Needs Now
By Noel T. Braymer
Simple changes that improve rail passenger services can have major impacts on ridership and revenues. Yet most of what we see and hear is a philosophy at Amtrak that they can starve themselves to success by cutting service. Even for the simplest things to improve rail passenger service, Amtrak instead waits for someone to give them money to do what should have been done years ago. But even when funding is approved by Congress Amtrak can still be slow to act. A classic case in point is extending the Heartland Flyer which now runs between Fort Worth to Oklahoma City out to Newton, Kansas with additional stops at Arkansas City and Wichita.

“NEVER TOO LATE TO LEARN FROM GIVE ‘EM HARRY: IF YOU CAN’T STAND THE HEAT, GET OUT OF THE KITCHEN”
By M. E. Singer
In response to the op-ed of 21 January in Railway Age by the Chairman of the Rail Passenger Association, Peter LeCody, “RPA: Let’s Set the record Straight,” the position stated by RPA is simply incomprehensible, and unsubstantiated, given the facts. Indeed, as President Truman so wisely intoned to guide our logical thought, “If you can’t stand the the heat, get out of the kitchen.”
The issues identified by many of us who are former members of RPA (NARP) that were never discussed and resolved to our satisfaction, include, at a minimum:

Capitol Corridor To Expand Train Service To And From Roseville
Capital Public Radio News-Jan 22, 2019
Commuter train service to and from Placer County is expected to increase tenfold in the coming years.
Capitol Corridor’s 2019-20 business plan announced Tuesday calls for starting work on an 18-mile stretch of track between Sacramento and Roseville. Currently the Roseville station only has one round trip per day. Two additional trains are planned to serve the route by 2024, with a total of 10 round trips by 2027. Called the “Third Track” project, it’s expected to cost at least $275 million.
Jim Allison, the project’s planning manager, said it will take several years based on funding and other factors.

Microsoft leads charge for high speed rail corridor in Pacific Northwest
FreightWaves-Jan 21, 2019
As congestion clogs the I-5 corridor, business and public policy leaders here have long dreamed of a high speed train connecting the so-called Cascadia Innovation Corridor cities: Portland, Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia.
The dream moved a tad closer to reality last week, when Democrats in Washington State introduced Governor Jay Inslee’s legislation for transportation funding to help create an interstate high-speed rail authority.
The budget proposal reflects growing momentum toward creating a one-hour train service linking cities in the Pacific Northwest.

‘India Set for Transport Revolution 2.0 with High-Speed Rail’
Elets-Jan 23, 2019
What is the mandate of National High Speed Rail Corporation Limited?
The National High Speed Rail Corporation Limited (NHSRCL)has been set up as a special purpose vehicle (SPV) with the partnership of Government of India through Ministry of Railways, Government of Gujarat, and the Government of Maharashtra. The prime objective of setting up this SPV is to immediately take up the Mumbai-Ahmedabad high speed rail project. In future, we will do similar kind of activities in other places as well. The hallmark of this particular project is that we are setting up standards at the same time as high speed rail has never existed in India before. We have to develop all kinds of high speed rail standards in collaboration with our Japanese partners.

Could High-Speed Rail Ease California’s Housing Crisis? See Japan.
CityLab-Jan 25, 2019
A UCLA study says that bullet trains between Tokyo and Osaka helped reduce housing prices. Would that work for San Francisco and Los Angeles?…
Nickelsburg developed the study with California in mind, and he expects to see the same socio-economic sorting if CHSR is completed. The study suggests that high-speed rail could be a boon specifically for workers in the Bay Area and Los Angeles metros that find themselves priced out of increasingly unaffordable central cities. Higher-income workers who can afford urban amenities and rents would be more likely to live in inner cities, Nickelsburg said. Speedier rail might liberate more lower-wage Bay Area workers, many of whom have already migrated to inland exurbs, from their epic commutes.

Devastating: 5 major train crashes this year. Could autonomy help?
ZDNet-Jan 22, 2019
Machine vision tests “thousand meter stare” for train systems as countries extend tracks, increase speeds.
A few high-speed trains in China are about to get an updated set of eyes. That’s thanks to a machine vision system for robots and autonomous vehicles. Perceptin, the company behind the vision system, is touting its device as a key upgrade that could bring semi-autonomy to high-speed trains by allowing them to see 1000 meters down the track.

Kenitra Man Tries to Derail High Speed Train to Avenge Brother
Morocco World News-Jan 25, 2019
His brother died when he struck his head on a high speed rail bridge while riding on top of a truck.
Rabat – A man tried to derail the Al Boraq high speed train linking Casablanca to Tangier on Monday by throwing a three-meter tree trunk onto the train tracks.
The gendarmerie arrested the 30-year-old man and recreated the crime scene, according to Moroccan news outlets.

Matthew Flinders: Australia explorer’s remains found in HS2 dig
BBC News-Jan 24, 2019
The remains of explorer Captain Matthew Flinders have been identified by archaeologists working on the HS2 project in a London burial ground.
Captain Flinders led the first circumnavigation of Australia and is credited with naming the country.
Some 61,000 skeletons will be removed from St James’s Gardens, where the station for the HS2 rail route will be built near London Euston station.

UP set income record, advanced Unified Plan in Q4
Progressive Rail Roading-Jan 24, 2019
Union Pacific Corp. today reported record fourth-quarter net income of $1.6 billion and diluted earnings per share of $2.12, up 29 percent and 39 percent, respectively, compared with adjusted results for fourth-quarter 2017.
Reported results include previously disclosed adjustments reflecting the impact of corporate tax reform.
Including those items, fourth-quarter net income totaled $7.3 billion, or $9.25 per diluted share.
UP also reported that, on a year-over-year basis, Q4 operating revenue rose 6 percent to $5.7 billion, freight revenue grew 6 percent to $5.4 billion, operating income climbed 9 percent to $2.2 billion, operating expenses increased 4 percent to $3.5 billion, carloads rose 4 percent to 2.2 million units and the operating ratio improved 1.1 points to 61.6.

Siemens Mobility’s Locomotive Success is Good News for Cummins’  QSK95 Engine System and the Environment
Associated Press Jan 25, 2019
COLUMBUS, Ind.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Jan 25, 2019–2018 was a great year for Siemens Mobility’s popular Charger locomotives, which means Cummins Inc. (NYSE: CMI) employees will be keeping busy over the next few years. That’s because the locomotives will continue to use Cummins’ QSK95 Tier 4 engine systems to help deliver clean, efficient power for passenger trains.


Why are they closing platform access to some platforms at Los Angeles Union Station? What is being done are repairs and improvements one at a time to all of the station’s platforms and canopies. Not only will the repaired canopies look brand new. But as part of the rebuild, asbestos installed in 1939 in the canopies is being removed as hazardous material. Photo by Noel T. Braymer

Editorial: The rail puzzle
Palo Alto Online- Jan 25, 2019
In a race against time, solving the grade-separation problem remains elusive
In Palo Alto, we’re forever in search of perfect solutions to our problems and challenges — ones that satisfy everyone, or at least don’t sharply divide and anger residents.

Palo Alto struggles to find an answer on rail redesign
Palo Alto Online-Jan 23, 2019
Despite widespread recognition that Palo Alto urgently needs to reconfigure its rail crossings to accommodate increasing train traffic, the city’s elected leaders remain paralyzed by indecision when it comes to identifying a preferred solution.

Free bus, train rides offered to furloughed workers
The Almanac Online-Jan 25, 2019
Furloughed federal workers can now take the bus and train for free, the San Mateo County Transit District announced Wednesday evening (Jan. 23).
The workers can ride for free by showing their federal government employee identification cards to bus operators on SamTrans and to conductors on Caltrain, the transit agency said.

VTA begins field work for BART expansion in Silicon Valley
KGO-TV-Jan 21, 2019
SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) –You may notice construction cones on the streets in San Jose.
Crews are out working on the BART expansion on Santa Clara Street between Third and Market. That’s where there will eventually be a new station.
This minor construction is scheduled to last seven weeks. The VTA says it will help with the design phase of the project.
The expansion through Silicon Valley will cost more than $5 billion.

BART approval rating reportedly hits record low
KGO-TV-Jan 22, 2019
HAYWARD, Calif. (KGO) –BART’s approval rating hit a record low amongst customers recently surveyed. The survey was of 5,292 customers and will be presented to the Board of Directors on Thursday.
Customer satisfaction is down to 56 percent this past year– it was at 69 percent in 2016.

Howard Terminal Experiment: Here are the best BART options if Oakland Athletics choose site near Jack London Square
KGO-TV-Jan 23, 2019
OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) –When the Oakland Athletics announced their intentions to build a ballpark on the Howard Terminal site next to Jack London Square, people quickly voiced their concerns over transportation options.
The Oakland Coliseum may not be in the most desirable location, but it does have a massive parking lot and conveniently close proximity to BART.

California fines Muni $120K for cell phone use
Curbed SF-Jan 22, 2019
Prompted by a fatal 2011 train disaster, California has a zero-tolerance policy on personal phone use by SFMTA employees
In a decision handed down in December but public disclosed last week, the California Public Utilities Commission [CPUC] slapped SFMTA with a combined $120,000 in fines over Muni personnel using their mobiles phones on the job.

Open Thread: More SMART Trains for the Bay Area?
Streetsblog San Francisco Jan 22, 2019
With the new rail service breaking the one-millionth-rider mark, is it time to talk about more extensions and applying this strategy in other parts of the Bay Area?
SMART, which started running in August of 2017, is 43 miles long with 10 stations. It cost about $500 million to build, depending how one crunches the numbers. It will eventually be built out to 70 miles.
Even BART‘s “cheaper,” non-electrified, Antioch extension cost around four times as much as SMART per mile to build (and it leaves passengers in the middle of freeway medians, rather than town centers).

Voters approved incentives for density near transit stops—now some projects in jeopardy
Curbed LA-Jan 2019
At least 25 residential projects, with a combined 1,350 units, are now in limbo citywide. The projects were designed to take advantage of incentives that were approved by voters in 2016 to encourage more affordable housing and dense development near transit stops.
But city officials have discovered that the projects are planned for sites with competing land-use plans.
“Thousands of homes… will be held up until this issue is resolved,” said Shane Phillips, director of policy for Central City Association.

Governor Newsom Has an Opportunity to Bring Balance
Streetsblog Cal Jan 17, 2019
There could be three open seats on the California Transportation Commission (CTC) very soon, which gives new Governor Newsom an excellent opportunity to reshape the way transportation funding decisions are made. One commissioner, Jim Madaffer, resigned in January. Two other commissioners, James Earp and Carl Guardino, are also coming to the end of their four-year terms, in February.

Big Data: Want more people to use public transit?
The Boston Globe-Jan 24, 2019
Researchers surveyed households within a half-mile of a new rail line in west Los Angeles, and found increased use of public transit. But women upped their rail trips only half as much as men. And of the women who said they do not use the train, Wired magazine reports, 20 percent cited concerns about harassment or threats to their safety. The study, by researchers at Tamkang University in Taiwan, the University of Southern California, and the University of California at Irvine, underscores the importance of safety in boosting public transit use and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Among the safeguards female riders would prefer, according to other surveys: more lighting in stations, more staff on hand, and more stops near busy commercial centers, where harassment and attacks are less likely to occur.

Apple Pay support coming to TAP system for LA Metro rail and bus networks
9to5Mac-Jan 25, 2019
A planned update to LA Metro’s TAP payment system will see it support Apple Pay on both rail and bus networks. The upgrade – part of a larger program – is currently scheduled for the fall …

First Portion of Blue Line Closures Begin This Week
DTLA News Jan 21, 2019
– The first of a pair of four-month shutdowns along the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s oldest rail line will begin this weekend. The southern portion of the Blue Line, running from the Willowbrook station to the Downtown Long Beach station, will be out of service starting at 4 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 26, as crews work on a $350 million project to increase safety, improve reliability and extend services on the line.

LA Metro to modernize Blue Line, poll public on Union Station project report
Progressive Rail Roading-Jan 21, 2019
The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) tomorrow plans to officially launch of the “New Blue Modernization Project.”
The $350 million project is designed to improve reliability, upgrade safety and enhance the customer experience on the Blue Line, which opened in 1990 and is the authority’s oldest rail line, Metro officials said in an announcement. The 22-mile line runs between downtown LA and downtown Long Beach, California…
Meanwhile, the authority also announced the release of the draft environmental impact report for the Link Union Station project. Metro is accepting public comments on the report through March 4.
The project will change how the regional rail system with Metrolink and Amtrak operates in LA Union Station by converting stub-end tracks into run-through tracks to increase train capacity and provide one-seat rides from San Luis Obispo to San Diego, Metro officials said.

Metro Board Considering Financing Plan for ’28 by 28′ Olympics Transit Initiative
NBC Southern California-Jan 24, 2019
The “28 by ’28” initiative aims to complete 28 key road, transit and bicycle/pedestrian projects in time for the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.
Metro’s Board of Directors will consider a funding and financing plan Thursday for the “28 by ’28” Olympics transit initiative, which includes a congestion pricing proposal under which auto drivers would be taxed or pay a fee to use certain roads or enter specific neighborhoods.
The “28 by ’28” initiative aims to complete 28 key road, transit and bicycle/pedestrian projects in time for the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.

L.A. Metro Committee Supports Next Foothill Gold Line Phase To Pomona
Streetsblog LA Jan 18, 2019
Yesterday, Metro’s Construction Committee voted to support extending the Foothill Gold Line to Pomona. Though final phasing and funding details still need to be nailed down, Foothill Gold Line construction is expected to get underway later this year.
The Foothill Gold Line phase 2B is a complex project. It will be 12.3-miles long, extending from the current Gold Line terminus in Azusa to the city of Montclair, just across the L.A. County border in San Bernardino County.

San Elijo Track Project Nears Completion; Chesterfield Re-Opens
Patch,com Jan 24, 2019
ENCINITAS, CA – Construction crews with the San Diego Association of Governments closed in on finishing the San Elijo Lagoon Double-Track Project Wednesday by re-opening the Chesterfield Drive rail crossing in Cardiff-by- the-Sea.
SANDAG also announced that a second railroad track went into service earlier this month. Both milestones are signs that the $76.8 million double- tracking project is reaching its end.
Once completed, according to SANDAG estimates, the project will have added 1.5 miles of a second railroad track between Cardiff-by-the-Sea and the San Elijo Lagoon, a new concrete rail bridge over the San Elijo Lagoon inlet and various infrastructure improvements along the new rail sections.


As part of the changing scenery along the railroad rights of ways in California is the growing construction of new housing. This is the view just north of the Laguna Niguel /Mission Viejo Metrolink Station. This is replacing the typical views of old warehouses, outdoor storage lots and old industrial buildings at least in the more populous areas of California. Photo by Noel T. Braymer

Opinions expressed in this enewsletter are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the Rail Passenger Association of California.

The RailPAC Mission: Passenger Rail advocacy, Publications…both print and electronic, Representation at regional meetings, and Rail education.
Join us! More memberships increase our strength in presenting the case for rail to policymakers at all levels!

You can send your comments to me at nbraymer@railpac.org

For those who would like an additional copy of the eNewsletter with plain text (minus photos and graphics) just email me at nbraymer@railpac.org with your name and email address. NB

If you are not a member, go to RailPAC Membership…Join Us! to get information about RailPAC and a FREE copy of our regular newsletter .

For information about RailPAC, contact Membership
Write:
RailPAC
c/o Marcus Jung
PO Box 22344
San Francisco, CA 94122
Email us at info@railpac.org

Call at (415) 7-TRACK-2
(415) 787-2252

Commentary

RailPAC response to Newsom speech

 

RailPAC Response to Governor Newsom – February 13, 2019

The Future of Modern, Efficient, Intercity Passenger Rail in California

RailPAC supports Governor Newsom’s action in changing the leadership of the High -Speed Rail Authority.  After a decade it is clearly time for a change.  Reprioritizing the high-speed rail project toward the completion of an operable segment (Merced to Bakersfield) with direct connections to Northern California’s other rail services, is a positive development bringing clear achievable goals to the project.  This focus should advance the timeline for public operations and in doing so will bring improved rail service and transportation capacity to California travelers, especially those residing in the San Joaquin Valley.

 

However, we are concerned that his comments seem to indicate that he would be satisfied with a segment within the San Joaquin Valley that would not connect to any of the four largest cities in the State.  Such a route would have little prospect of covering its operating costs.  We believe that the minimum system that would deliver significant transportation benefits would be San Francisco to Bakersfield.

 

RailPAC also strongly supports, as part of the refocus, a process to initiate the connection between the San Joaquin Valley and Silicon Valley.  The San Joaquin Valley needs the link to jobs and major international airports, and the Peninsula needs access to the workforce and the housing in the San Joaquin Valley.  The Governor should put pressure on Silicon Valley business to help finance the link, as well as the federal government.  While we agree with the Governor that it will take time; that is all the more reason to start as soon as possible.  This is especially true given California’s growing economy and projected 25% population increase in the next 30 years.

 

RailPAC has always championed the careful stewardship of public transportation funds.   As such RailPAC applauds the Governor’s initiatives to dramatically improve the project’s oversight, transparency and governance.   One issue that needs to be addressed, and one that affects housing projects as well, is the barrage of lawsuits that delay and drive costs for vital infrastructure initiatives.

 

Meanwhile in the south, work should continue modernizing Los Angeles Union Station for both regional and intercity rail, and the elimination of bottlenecks on the main regional routes.  RailPAC believes in the creation of robust regional passenger rail networks in both northern and southern California, to linked by a new, efficient, high speed route in incremental stages.

 

The Rail Passenger Association of California and Nevada is a 501c3 volunteer group that, since 1978, educates the public about the benefits of passenger rail transportation.

Contact: info@railpac.org

Paul Dyson, President 818 371 9516

 

Commentary

Newsom cuts High Speed Rail – or does he?

Paul Dyson writes:

The dust hasn’t settled yet on the State of the State speech, and over the years I have become a committed believer in letting the dust settle.  The initial reaction from many is that HSR is dead, but I don’t think the story is over.  In the next few days RailPAC will be contacting State and other officials to try and get the inside story.  The Los Angeles Times is already using the word “postponement”, and that’s the way it’s beginning to look for us.  Keep in touch with RailPAC as we provide an in depth analysis in the next few days.  There is more to this than the headlines.

https://www.latimes.com/politics/la-pol-ca-governor-gavin-newsom-state-of-the-state-20190212-story.html

Uncategorized

Resuming Normal Service

Paul Dyson writes:

A combination of illness and other distractions has caused this site to be neglected for too long.  In addition the 1st Quarter edition of Steel Wheels has only just arrived at the printers.  And to add insult to injury Noel Braymer’s weekly eNews has been blocked thanks to a minor typing error.  Noel is battling to restore service and hopes to be back in circulation very soon.

Meanwhile passenger rail advocacy has not died in California.  We’re gearing up for an “interesting” year during which we’ll be raising the topic of ownership of the Coast Line between Moorpark and San Jose.  We’re also trying to get the nonsense of the Perata bus bill repealed, and we hope, politely as we can, try and stop these corridor agencies from running ill conceived “express” services.

Thank you all for your loyal support.

 

 

Reports

Capitol Corridor JPA Board Meeting November 14 – Doug Kerr

I attended the November 14 Capitol Corridor JPA Board meeting in Oakland.  Here is a summary:

  • Election of Chair Rebecca Saltzman and Vice-Chair Don Saylor for 2-year term: 2019-2020.
  • Approved 2019 meeting schedule, next meeting February 13, 2019, 10AM, in Suisun City.
  • Capitol Corridor FY2018 Performance:

o   Records were set for annual ridership (1.71M passengers; +6.2% vs FY 17), revenues ($36.2M; +6.6% vs FY 17), and System Operating Ratio (58%; +1.8% vs. FY 17).

o   After substandard service reliability in the middle months of FY 18, on-time performance (OTP) rebounded to levels of 93%-95% in the last three months to close out the year with a systemwide OTP of 90%, finishing in 2nd place for service reliability in the Amtrak national system.

o   The rating for Customer Satisfaction was 86% Highly Satisfied, a two-percentage drop as compared to FY 17 due to earlier substandard OTP.

  • A presentation was made regarding a Second Transbay Rail Crossing.  Travel demand will exceed capacity (all modes) sometime between 2030 and 2040 depending on economic and population growth.  CCJPA was awarded $1 million in 2018 Transit and Intercity Rail Capital Program (TIRCP) funding for the network planning and related analyses relating to the planned second transbay rail crossing that would include BART and conventional passenger trains.  The Board approved a $600,000 contract with Bay Area Council Economic Institute to perform economic and market studies to support the Crossing.
  • An interesting fact brought out at the meeting:  The 21 county area stretching from Monterey to east and north of Sacramento would amount to the 15th largest economy in the world if an independent country.
  • The Board approved adoption of BART’s Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) Program as Capitol Corridor’s program.
Reports

San Joaquin JPA Board Report November 16 – Doug Kerr

I attended the November 16, 2018 San Joaquin JPA Board Meeting in Merced.  Here is a summary:

  • Administrative items were approved including moving expense items from one budget account to another.
  • The Board gave recognition to board members Don Tatzin and Tom Blalock who will be leaving the Board due to retirements.
  • The City of Oakley gave a presentation on recent downtown improvement projects in the vicinity of the upcoming new San Joaquin stop at Oakley.
  • Schedule changes were discussed.

o   A Temporary Schedule Change Targeted for Dec 17th:

o   Start the early morning express at 4.45AM (20 min. later) and arrive in Sacramento at 7:56AM.

o   Friday-Sunday, extend train 718 (last train out of Oakland) that currently stops in Fresno, all the way to Bakersfield

o   Friday-Sunday, run both Sacramento-bound trains from Bakersfield (Arriving in Sacramento at 11:15AM and 3:24PM.

o   A full review and analysis of the schedule including On Time Performance issues, train meets, schedule padding, and connections in Los Angeles  will be done with the goal of a permanent schedule change sometime in April.

  • A resolution was passed to reinstitute the Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center (ARTIC) as a Thruway Bus Stop as well as Remove San Juan Capistrano as a Thruway Bus Stop on Route 1 and to Relocate the Vallejo Thruway Bus Stop on Route 7 to the Curtola Park & Ride Transit Facility.
  • Staff presented a short analysis of Thruway Route 7 which serves Santa Rosa, Healdsburg (where I live) and the North Coast.  There is a push to increase ridership on this route with the first step being the attached flyer.  I mentioned during public comment that the three county (Mendocino, Humboldt, Del Norte) population is less than 250,000 so there is a limited market to draw from.  That said, the bus route is a very important connection to this often forgotten part of California.  I offered to help staff in any way I could.  Staff presented the idea to move bus stops to SMART train stations in Sonoma County, a position RailPAC should fully support.  There was then a discussion of the Perata Law which would prohibit North Coast bus passengers from transferring to SMART.  Yet another reason to change or eliminate this law.
  • Updates were given by staff on various projects and improvements.

 

The next SJJPA meeting will be held January 25, 2019 in Fresno

Commentary, High Speed Rail

High Speed Rail Board Comes to Burbank

CHSRA Board Meeting November 15, 2018 Burbank

While I was not able attend the recent Board meeting of the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) I did view the video and as President of the Rail Passenger Association of California (RailPAC) I wanted to provide my impressions of the meeting and public comments.  The overall emotion projected by the public was one of being overwhelmed, stressed and thrust into a universe they did not chose.  However, the reality we face, traffic and gridlock, is the result of decades of independent decisions from the first subdivision in the San Fernando Valley, the arrival of Mulholland’s water, growth of the movie industry, the aerospace industry, the impact of freeways in generating suburban sprawl, etc.  California is the 5th largest economy in the world and much as we might want we can’t roll back the clock or freeze it in place.  I think a comment made by a landowner at Northern California CHSRA Board sums up the situation pretty well.  That landowner, who is losing part of his property to high-speed rail, said “there is no good route; there is only the least worst route.”  That phase applies not only to the route segments in Southern California but to the choice of high-speed rail made in 2005.  Other mode improvements, more highways, more airport runways, maglev and the no project alternative, all were found wanting.  High-capacity, high-speed rail was found to be the option with the greatest benefits with the least impact on the environment.

So in dealing with the statewide issue of infrastructure investment, the task falls to the public along the Southern California high-speed rail route segments working in collaboration with Authority staff to address key lineside issues.  Making the current situation worse is that while the high-level regional trade-offs have decided that the Refined SR-14 and existing rail corridors is the” least worse route”, the local neighborhood impacts, the ones that really impact people’s lives (noise, concerns regarding vibration, Valley Fever, dust, wildlife impacts, etc.), are now front and center.

Resolving these issues with design strategies and mitigation is the key task in the next phase of the environmental study.  The public provided excellent input on the issues and they are to be congratulated.  RailPAC encourages members of the public to remain involved because the result will be a better less impactful railroad.  As Chair Dan Richard and Board Member Tom Richards outlined at the end of meeting, this type of collaboration has taken place in the San Joaquin Valley with projects to improve wetlands, easements to protect farmland from development, replace old polluting diesel water pumps, tractor and bus engines with new cleaner engines, initiatives to protect wildlife, etc.  This effort is collaborative requiring creativity and compromise.  So using the San Joaquin example, the focus now should be on how to develop designs and mitigations that offset the rail line’s local impact.  For example, is there critical wildlife habitat now in private hands that could be protected?  What is the best location for the Santa Clara River bridge supports, how can dust be minimized, how can homeowners achieve confidence in the risk of tunneling under their homes, etc.
1.

Ironically, the greatest threat to wild areas and equestrian neighborhoods is auto driven suburban sprawl with its huge demands for space.  The pressure for more land is tremendous and history clearly shows that what might be safe now may in fact not be.  High-speed rail and improved commuter rail with its focus on urban core development may, in fact, be the best ally to rural landowners and those who want to protect wildlife.

Finally, I was disappointed by the statements provided by national, state and local public officials.  In my opinion they did not show the leadership and creativity that the issue requires.  All claim to support efforts to improve transportation and fight carbon emissions, yet when a transformative project is presented to deal with these issues, they uniformly supported the politically safe option, an extremely expensive tunnel from Sunland to LA.  These legislators are creating false hope for their constituents.  A full-length tunnel will not generate the benefit that justifies the cost and potentially leaves in place the current rail line with surface crossings, blaring warning horns and diesel exhaust.  The current CHSRA proposal is the “least worse” option.  It focuses at improving the corridor as a whole eliminating dangerous grade crossings and warning horns, with targeted mitigation of noise issues.  RailPAC also feels the project lays the foundation for converting Metrolink and Amtrak trains to clean electric traction.  By integrating high-speed rail tracks and current rail tracks into one unified high-capacity 4-track rail line, additional Metrolink and Amtrak service can be operated.  RailPAC recommends stakeholders between Burbank and Anaheim also should work with Authority staff and begin focusing on targeted on affordable mitigation and tradeoffs.

The Rail Passenger Association of California concurs with the Board’s vote on Thursday November 15th and supports the forward movement on high-speed rail in California.

Paul Dyson, 11/19/18

Amtrak National Network Campaign 2018, Commentary

Southwest Chief – Too Early to Claim Victory

Some of you may have received a post from Jim Mathews of RPA claiming a victory in the fight for the Southwest Chief.  We urge caution and continued vigilance.

Here’s a more realistic assessment from Evan Stair from Passenger Rail Kansas:

THE TRUTH COMES OUT – BUS BRIDGE WAS NOT FOR SAFETY

Apparently, and we already knew this, Amtrak was proposing a bus-bridge to reduce costs, not for safety reasons. When will profitability deception end?

Amtrak was created in a tailspin. It now seems to be ignoring the will of a bipartisan, bicameral group of federal lawmakers who are not asking it to make a profit, but to continue operating services defined in federal code.

Congress, aka representative government, should make decisions regarding what US passenger rail services are operated, not the OIG. The OIG here seems to support Amtrak’s tailspin business plan. Is the OIG, Amtrak board, and Amtrak executive staff still running on 47 years of momentum that says it must cut its way into oblivion?  What a circus.

Page 19 of OIG report:

“To help stem long-distance operating losses and to further increase the company’s utility for the traveling public, the company’s corporate planning group is reassessing the entire nationwide route structure. However, adjusting the route structure in ways that would reduce operating losses could be difficult. Making these changes will require balancing the company’s historical role of providing reliable intercity passenger rail service on a nationwide basis against the need to operate efficiently. For example, the company is considering a plan to eliminate part of its service on the Southwest Chief route between Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Dodge City, Kansas, and instead to bus passengers between the two cities. The company has identified the Southwest Chief as among the routes that generate the most losses—almost $56 million in FY 2017. As the company proceeds with its strategic assessment, it will likely encounter similar difficult choices that have substantial cost and customer service implications.”

Amtrak OIG Report Link:

https://amtrakoig.gov/sites/default/files/reports/OIG-SP-2018-011%20Management%20Challenges%20FY2019%20and%202020_0.pdf

For those of you who are on Facebook, watch Amtrak COO Scot Naparstek, continue to tell US Senator Tom Udall that Amtrak does not want the $16 million TIGER IV Grant… Amtrak just wants to continue discussing the matter.

https://www.facebook.com/senatortomudall/videos/290443504898417/

Evan Stair,President,Passenger Rail Kansas,Passenger Rail Oklahoma

The key here is Naparstek’s refusal to affirm that Amtrak will contribute the $3 million match to the TIGER grant so that work can begin on upgrading the track between Dodge City and Albuquerque.  As I read it, Amtrak is hoping that the so called “victory” will evaporate in the coming months through the budget and committee process so that Amtrak can continue with their policy of truncating the route.  Listen carefully to Naparstek’s answers, keeping in mind Anderson’s policy statements from the April Los Angeles summit.  There is no firm commitment to anything.  Amtrak “plans” to run the Chief until September 30, 2019, but of course plans can change.  Amtrak clearly does not say that they will honor their commitment of the $3 million and work with the other stakeholders to fix the infrastructure.

So where does RailPAC stand?  In the last issue of Steel Wheels Dick Spotswood called for Amtrak to be split, putting the Northeast Corridor (“NEC”) into a separate organization.  Remember that when Amtrak was created the NEC was still in private hands and was only dumped on Amtrak as a result of the bankruptcy of the northeastern railroads, notably PennCentral. No other entity wanted this extremely costly piece of infrastructure that had suffered from years of deferred maintenance.  Well, instead of sucking the lifeblood from the national passenger train network, it’s time for the NEC to find a new sugar daddy.  We MUST do all we can to ensure that business as usual does not rule policy decisions to be taken next year when re-authorization is due.  Simply renewing Amtrak’s current mandate and throwing money at them will not give us the service that we desire.

We have had preliminary discussions with like minded groups regarding forming a Steel Wheels Coalition to fight this battle, especially for the western states.  I’ll be traveling to Topeka Kansas next week for a rail summit with leaders from New Mexico, Kansas, Colorado and other states to seek common ground. Our success in bringing about the passage of Senate Joint Resolution 30, and language in the California State Rail Plan,  reassures me that at least California is firm in its support for the National Network.

Paul Dyson

pdyson@railpac.org