Amtrak Long Distance, Commentary

Amtrak long distance trains: does less than daily make any sense?

Amtrak has recently requested additional funds to cover operating costs and reduced revenue because of the Covid-19 pandemic. A corollary to this request is a plan to reduce long distance service from daily (in most cases) to three or four times a week.

RailPAC President Steve Roberts replies:

Amtrak’s request for funds – How should advocates respond?

Identifying and defining the costs will be critical. Advocates should start first by strictly defining the assumptions and timeframe. The time frame Amtrak says it is addressing is a 9-12 month period (FY21) where overall travel demand remains substantially lower than normal and discretionary travel is dramatically less than has been seen historically. Ridership on the trains will average about 50% of historic norms. Assuming the roll-out of a vaccine or more consistent social protections and the slow continuation of an economic rebound in late winter/spring of 2021, there should be a steady growth in ridership by Summer of 2021. In short, we are looking at a one year event.

On the cost side there is a reason why this is important. It means the estimates of cost savings need to focus on short-term avoidable costs without allocated additives. (Additives are added to direct costs to account for overheads directly link with an activity, i.e. the cost of crew base management shared by many routes accounted for with an additive on for example a conductors salary cost, a specific known cost). When you make a change for only a year you save the cost of the conductor’s salary but the cost of the crew base remains. Any proposal to reduce service needs to focus on short-term avoidable costs – fuel, on-train wages, train supplies, turn around maintenance, etc. The decision should not be made based on fully allocate costs, i.e. backbone costs, that are allocated to train routes as part of the accounting process (A perfectly fine academic accounting exercise but totally useless for deciding tri-weekly vs daily).

Two revenue areas that are important.

The first is connections. It varies by route, but looking at arrivals at the major hubs around 30% of the riders are connecting to other trains. Many are connecting to corridor trains but many are also connecting to other long-distance trains. It is impossible to have all the long-distance trains operate tri-weekly and still have connectivity in Washington, Chicago, LA and Seattle. So that is a big loss in revenue from breaking those schedules. Only daily service can maintain the utility of the National Network.

The second is what is called “claw-back”. Claw back is the percentage of riders who will shift their travel date to match a tri-weekly schedule. Longer distance vacation/leisure travelers are those where the greatest percentage of riders will shift their travel days. For those traveling strictly for transportation, a lower percentage will shift. Sleeping car riders are more likely to shift, 300 to 500 mile coach travelers are the riders least likely to shift but will choose another mode. The key difference driving these differences is that leisure travelers are making longer duration trips with more options for layover days. Shorter distance travelers are making shorter duration trips where adding a day to match a train schedule can add 30% or more to the trip duration. Because there have been numerous instances of LD trains moving from daily to tri-weekly and then daily again Amtrak has data to correctly calculate “claw-back” should it choose to use it.

So why is this important? The answer is who is going to be traveling in FY 21? Will it be seniors taking long circle trips in sleeping cars around America or will it be coach passengers traveling between 300-500 miles on the long-distance trains, strictly for essential transportation, to handle personal business, a medical treatment, to help elderly parents, etc. The level of service required for this type of market in FY 21 is daily service. A tri-weekly train is exactly the wrong kind of service for the market in FY21.

Steve Roberts – RailPAC President

Commentary, LOSSAN, Metrolink/SCRRA, San Diego County

RailPAC comments at Metrolink special board meeting, May 29, 2020

Click here for Metrolink May 29, 2020 meet agenda link showing the Item 8, draft recovery plan.

May 28, 2020

Chair Brian Humphries and Board
Southern California Regional Rail Authority
Los Angeles, CA

SPECIAL BOARD MEETING FRIDAY 29 MAY, 2020 PUBLIC COMMENT

RailPAC, the Rail Passenger Association of California and Nevada has been a consistent supporter of regional rail service since 1978. We particularly welcomed the SCORE program, although we would rather have seen begun it in 1995 . We believe that CEO. Wiggins has put together a strong team capable of finally making Metrolink into a powerful regional transportation service, only to be frustrated and blown off course by Covid 19. But now is not the time to give up. The region still needs mobility and we cannot go back to the 60s.

We support the draft recovery plan in in general and would like to suggest a few additional points.

Health and safety – Consider the removal of some seat rows, b ot h to provide for greater physical separation between passengers and to off er more legroom. As load factors will be down there is no need for the cramped seating we currently “enjoy ”. RailPAC has received many complaints, especially about the Rotem cars, for longer journeys. Making the cars more comfortable will help win back passengers as well as improving separation.

Service coordination – Metrolink’s objective should be to squeeze as much productivity as possible out of every train mile. To accomplish this, we need improvements in coordination between agencies to reduce service overlap and to increase the service available to prospective passengers. This includes coordination with LOSSAN and Amtrak on the coast route, and NCTD Coaster connections at Oceanside.

Increasing service options- One of the big failings of Metrolink is the lack of connections at Los Angeles Union Station (“LAUS”). The necessary reduction in service can be an opportunity to expand the number of stations served from each origin point by timing trains to connect at LAUS, or by combining routes and offering through trains. The same train miles can thus be more productive. The statistics quoted in the recovery plan confirm that Metrolink cannot rely on its “classic” commute patrons alone. The market in Southern California is “everywhere to everywhere”, and Metrolink must start to use its network to better serve the region.

Yours sincerely,
SIGNED
Paul Dyson
Vice President, Southern California.

Central Coast, Coachella/Imperial Valleys, LA Metro, Nevada, North Coast, San Joaquin, Thruway Bus

RailPAC submits letter to San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority in response to proposed cuts to Thruway Bus Network

May 28, 2020

Honorable Vito Chiesa, Chair
San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority
949 East Channel Street
Stockton, CA 95202

May 29, 2020 SJJPA Board Meeting Agenda Item 7, Thruway Bus Network Changes

Dear Chair Chiesa and Board Members.

At this difficult time the Rail Passenger Association of California and Nevada recognizes that with the reduction in ticket revenues those managing the San Joaquin service face tough challenges in keeping the operation solvent. Maintaining the service while balancing cost reductions while maintaining ridership and ticket revenues will represent a major endeavor. And needless to say, after years working to get SB742 passed shrinkage of the Thruway Bus Network is disheartening.

While it is critical to reduce expenses near term, at some point the country and economy will recover. These Thruway bus service reductions should be seen as temporary. As the market regrows the cities that temporarily lose service should still be seen as part of the San Joaquin franchise. Service may take another form than today, but the SJJPA should still keep its broad “border to border” perspective.
RailPAC has reviewed the Thruway Bus Network write-up and has the following comments and recommendations. The overall comments/recommendations are:

  1. A major shortfall of the report is the lack of financial analysis. What are the estimates of the cost savings from this initiative, the ticket revenue losses?
  2. The implementation of changes authorized by SB742 should be accelerated. This period provides an opportunity to develop multiple partnerships, new markets and an expanded bus network;
  3. There are suggestions that there are opportunities for local transit agencies operating parallel routes being able to undertake replacement service. But these agencies are most likely undertaking similar service reductions to save expenses. Some of these service reductions may be routes suggested as Thruway Bus alternatives;
  4. SJJPA staff should undertake a review after 6-months to evaluate the impact of these changes and the success or failure in expanding SB742 to additional routes, developing partnerships with local transit agencies and Greyhound;
  5. At the 6-month review point, an outline of the timeline and strategy for returning full train and restoring Thruway bus service (where partnerships have not been developed) based on the information available at that time regarding the pandemic.

The comments and recommendations on the specific routes are:

• Route 7 – Elimination of stops at Rio Del-Scotia, Leggett and Laytonville; it is not clear how the elimination of these stops save any costs. All are located on two-lane stretches of US 101 which should facilitate stopping with limited time penalty. Also one of the talking points for SB742 was service to rural areas such as these towns. Finally, shouldn’t these stops remain while the Greyhound partnership is negotiated?

• Route 1b – Elimination of service to Long Beach and San Pedro; an interline agreement with LA Metro for its Silver Line and eventually the Blue Line would appear to offer a large expansion in connectivity to replace the bus route. Would it be possible to originate a Silver Line trip at the LAUS bus bays? Otherwise passengers would have to be provided detailed information on the Union Station stops and Silver Line stops. Major cities (i.e. Long Beach) could be shown in the Amtrak reservation system.

• Route 19 – Elimination of service to Hemet/Indio; these discontinuances would leave a large part of the Inland Empire without service. Many communities along the route are underserved from the transportation perspective. Recommend that this change be postponed until a service plan in conjunction with RCTC is developed. In addition an interline agreement Metrolink for the Indio branch is exactly the market opportunity that SB742 was designed to facilitate.

• Route 9 – Elimination of Las Vegas route; this would seem to be an opportunity to develop an interline service with Greyhound; direct Bakersfield to Las Vegas or via Los Angeles. Greyhound already has an interline agreement with Amtrak and one schedule currently stops at LA Union Station.

• Route 12 – Elimination of Victorville route; RailPAC recommends an effort to reengage with Kern Transit to retain Palmdale and Lancaster ridership.

• Routes 10, 18a and 18b Elimination of service to Santa Barbara and the Central Coast; RailPAC is concerned that the combination of these two initiatives eliminates service to the fast growing Central Coast reducing the San Joaquin franchise. Also there may be ramifications on the political side. RailPAC recommends revisiting doing the combination of both of these initiatives. Which route change saves the most in costs?

As was noted earlier RailPAC understands the challenges that staff faces and we hope our comments are productive. Let me know if you have any questions.

Yours truly,

Steve Roberts, President Rail Passenger Association of California and Nevada

cc: Dan Leavitt, SJRRC, RailPAC Board members

Commentary, High Speed Rail, San Joaquin

RailPAC submits comment letter on California High Speed Rail Authority’s Draft 2020 Business Plan

California High Speed Rail Authority’s Draft 2020 Business Plan was issued February 12, 2020.

The public comment period is open until June 1, 2020

RailPAC’s submitted public comment letter is below:

California High-Speed Rail Authority 
770 L Street, Suite 620
Sacramento, CA 95814

May 21, 2020

Dear CHSRA Board Members:

After review of the 2020 California High Speed Rail Business Plan and the proposed Interim Operating Plan, the Rail Passenger Association of California (RailPAC) recommends the Board adopt both the 2020 Business Plan and proposed Interim Operating Plan at its June Board Meeting.  RailPAC compliments CHSRA on their continued focus on delivering a broad integrated California transportation network with high-speed rail service as its core link.  

RailPAC applauds the statewide reach of the proposed network and the increase in frequencies that will make the rail mode more competitive with the automobile.  The improved and expanded ACE/San Joaquin/HSR network will reach all of California and leverage substantial synergies beyond the current individual systems.  This network also creates the most financially viable option for increased service reducing the required operating subsidy compared to the current standalone ACE and San Joaquin services. 

In addition, the Interim Operating Plan brings true high-speed service to California sooner than any alternative option.  It also demonstrates the potential of high-speed rail while facilitating early testing of equipment and operating systems speeding future expansion of service as future segments are constructed.  Finally, the construction and operation of high-speed rail Merced to Bakersfield will greatly benefit communities and cities in the San Joaquin Valley and allow them to move forward on re-visioning themselves as city center focused transit oriented cityscapes.

Outlined below are a few comments on plan details:

•             Page 64, third bullet, as part of system connectivity at Merced and Bakersfield also note connectivity at the Kings-Tulare HSR station to the Central Coast and eastern San Joaquin cities such as Visalia via the future Cross Valley Corridor plan;

•             Page 72, top column title, should be Memoranda not Memorandums;

•             Page 84, Faster Bay Area Initiative, given the recent pull-back this should be deleted or rewritten into a more generic “Future Funding via Local Initiatives” discussion.

The Rail Passenger Association of California and Nevada is a two-state organization with membership throughout California and Nevada. RailPAC is a strong advocate for an expanded comprehensive public transportation network serving the entire state of California as well as Nevada.. RailPAC is an all-volunteer non-profit passenger rail advocacy group, founded in 1978.

Thank you.

Yours truly,

Steve Roberts

President Rail Passenger Association of California and Nevada

cc: Brian Kelly, CEO California High-Speed Rail Authority
Stacey Mortensen, Executive Director San Joaquin Regional Rail Authority
Dan Levitt, Manager of Regional Initiatives San Joaquin Regional Rail Authority

Caltrain, Commentary, San Francisco

RailPAC co-signs letter highlighting opportunities to cut the costs of extending Caltrain into the Transbay Terminal in downtown San Francisco

    May 14, 2020

    Dear Mayor Breed,

    This letter comes from groups committed to the idea that that getting Caltrain connected to 10 other rail lines and over 40 bus lines in downtown San Francisco would be a major move toward seamless transit and therefore deserving of a high priority.  The attached report discusses opportunities to productively reduce capital costs…..thereby increasing the chances of obtaining the public and private funding needed to build the project. Your help in focusing attention on these cost cutting opportunities, which would neither delay the project nor adversely affect future rail service, would be much appreciated.

    Sincerely,

    Gerald Cauthen

    Co-Founder and President

    Bay Area Transportation Working Group

    Endorsed by:

    Steve Roberts, President of RailPAC

    David Schonbrunn, President of TRAC

    Bob Feinbaum, President of SaveMuni

Subject: Streamlining the Caltrain Extension Project

During these difficult times of shutdowns and reduced resources, it is both necessary and prudent to conserve transit resources wherever and whenever possible.

With that in mind the Bay Area Transportation Working Group (BATWG) has updated its previous statements about the DTX project. There appear to be opportunities to significantly reduce costs without cutting into or otherwise undermining the passenger rail service into the Sales Force Transit Center. We are joined in these recommendations by the two preeminent rail advocacy organizations of California; namely, RailPAC and the Train Riders Association of California as well as by TRANSDEF, SaveMuni and other DTX supporters. These opportunities relate to the 4th and King Station, the proposed Pennsylvania Avenue subway extension, the Tunnel Plug and the subway under Second Street:

1.) The Fourth and King Station: In places where there are busy streets and sidewalks and no private land available, it is usually necessary to create an intermediate fare collection level between street grade and the train level. However in the case of the Fourth and King Station, there is a generous amount of at-grade space including an attractive at-grade existing terminal available between King and Townsend Streets. In this situation it would not be difficult to route people through fare gates and then to an escalator or stairway leading directly to the train level. To access the west end of the station there could be one or more entries along Townsend Street frontage where travelers would pass through fare gates and then descend to train level. Since the first vertical 30 feet of air space at the site between King and Townsend is under Caltrain control, arranging this should not be difficult to arrange. This change would save an estimated $300,000,000.

2.) The Pennsylvania Avenue Subway Extension: At the February 7, 2020 meeting of the Caltrain Joint Powers Board one of the individuals testifying questioned the need for a two-mile long, “$2 billion+” Caltrain subway under a PennsylvaniaAvenue alignment. As the caller implied it would be much cheaper to depress 16th Street and perhaps also Mission Bay Blvd under the existing tracks than dig two additional miles of parallel subway and tunnel.

The SF Department of City Planning’s 4.5 year long RAB study was completed late in 2018. In the early years the RAB planners were loudly critical of all aspects of the TJPA’s design. However, their proposals were discredited one-by-one, and eventually virtually all of them were quietly dropped.

Reportedly intent on showing a positive result for its effort, the RAB team latched onto parochial demands that 16th Street remain at grade and therefore proposed that the existing Caltrain surface alignment be shifted from its current location under the elevated I-280 freeway to a new subway alignment under Pennsylvania Avenue. In an effort to justify this odd decision, the RAB group claimed that the 16th Street underpass would have to be 60′ deep and over 3/4 of a mile long. When asked why the underpass couldn’t be 25 feet deep and 1/4 mile long as most underpasses are, RAB’s Project Manager made a vague reference to sewers in the street, but refused to elaborate. Subsequent written questions and comments on the subject were ignored. The official price put on RAB’s subway extension was “$2+ billion”. An auto underpass at 16th would provide the necessary grade separation without the need of building an entirely new two-mile long rail subway. Building the underpass, with elevated pedestrian/bicycle paths separated from traffic, would allow the surface mainline Caltrain and future high speed rail alignment to remain at grade.. Estimated savings: $1,800,000,000+.

3.) The Tunnel Plug: A few years ago it was decided to add $100,000,000 to the DTX budget to make things easier and less costly if the Pennsylvania alignment were ever built. In the event that it were determined that the Pennsylvania Avenue subway was not necessary the Tunnel Plug could be deleted for an additional savings of $100,000,000.

4.) Subway under Second Street: Second Street is not a particularly busy or fast- moving street, certainly not as jammed with traffic as First and Fremont are. Even so the plan has always been to tunnel most of the Second Street subway. However at the north end of the line where the tracks turn right into the six-track train terminal, the width of the trackway gradually increases to 165 feet. It would be extremely expensive and risky to attempt to tunnel this short section leading into the Sales Force Transit Center. It is estimated that cut and cover excavation at this location could be staged in a manner requiring that only half the street be closed at any one time…and then only until temporary street decking could be put in place. It is estimated that using cut-and-cover methods to excavate this northerly section of Second, as well as the section immediately to the east of the Fourth and King Station where it is too shallow to tunnel, would drop the cost by another $200,000,000.

It goes without saying that the more cost-effective the project the better the chances of attracting the capital needed to build it. We urge you to explore these possibilities.

Sincerely,

Gerald Cauthen

Antelope Valley Line, CalSTA TIRCP, Commentary, Metrolink/SCRRA

RailPAC Commentary on Metrolink Antelope Valley Line Improvements

RailPAC has been urging LA Metro and Metrolink to double truck the line between Burbank and Santa Clarita for more than two decades.  We finally have a down payment from the State, with some matching funds from other sources.  Why am I less than excited by this news?  Two and a half decades have passed since the start of Antelope Valley service after the Northridge earthquake, during which time hundreds of millions of dollars have been poured into widening Interstate 5 and State Route 14.  This weekend (April 25) Burbank Boulevard is closed while the bridge over I-5 is demolished for the second time to accommodate two more freeway lanes.  Meanwhile Metrolink has struggled for over twenty years with a predominantly single track railroad with consequent lack of capacity to build a robust, reliable service.

The 2020 Transit and Intercity Rail Capital Program (TIRCP) award still leaves single track between Sheldon Street and San Fernando/Sylmar station.  Between Van Nuys Boulevard and San Fernando Metro intends to build the East Valley light rail in the Metrolink right of way, and I am very concerned that they will use this as an excuse to defer this last bottleneck indefinitely.  In my view the Light Rail route is a mistake and a high risk idea, given that the route also hosts 15,000 ton Union Pacific rock trains from Little Rock on the Palmdale cutoff.  No doubt the consultants have demonstrated that it is possible, in theory, to run a certain number of frequencies over that single track, just as they have with Raymer Bernson on the Coast route through the San Fernando Valley.  The problem is that Metrolink has demonstrated that it is almost impossible to run an on time service in an urban area with poorly protected grade crossings and unreliable equipment.  Thus an early delay to the service will result in late trains all day.

In the report presented to the Metro Board in 2019, the route is broken up into sections for costing purposes.  The two gaps in double track that will be left after this round of construction are priced as follows:

Sheldon to Van Nuys Blvd.: $67 million.

Sylmar to Van Nuys Blvd. including Sylmar station: $47 million

It’s a lot of money for a little over 5 miles of track with no property acquisition.  One certainly wonders if it would be less if the contract were to be let as a single project from Burbank to Sylmar now, rather than break it into segments and then come back in a few years to bridge the gap.  I can only guess at the mobilization, demobilization and general overhead costs of multiple stages versus a continuous program.

But still, it’s a step forward.  It’s hard to believe that it has been 25 years since Mike McGinley and his team threw up some “instant” stations and bootstrapped a service while Caltrans rebuilt the 5/14 interchange.  These 25 years have been wasted, the agencies failing to capitalize on growing rail traffic and instead continuing the failed policy of investing in more lanes on the parallel freeway.  Let’s hope this investment will be successful in growing the passenger count, and not be too little, too late.

Paul Dyson

Vice President, South, RailPAC

Antelope Valley Line, CalSTA TIRCP, Central Coast, Electrification, LOSSAN, Metrolink/SCRRA, Rail Technology, San Diego County, Technical and Rolling Stock

2020 Transit and Intercity Rail Capital Program (TIRCP) Grants Awarded

This past week the California State Transportation Agency announced the 2020 grants distributed as part of the Transit and Intercity Rail Capital Program (TIRCP). Created by SB 862 in 2014, the TIRCP utilizes revenues from the State of the California’s cap-and-trade program and vehicle registration fees to fund capital projects that reduce greenhouse gases (GHGs) and increase transit and rail ridership.

More information is available on the TIRCP website.

Two major 2020 TIRCP awards for intercity and commuter rail were $107 million for improvements to Metrolink’s Antelope Valley Line (see RailPAC 4/26/2020 commentary), and $38.7 million to LOSSAN for new maintenance facilities in San Luis Obispo and San Diego counties along with overhaul and modernization Pacific Surfliner railcars.  Detailed description of these two major rail project awards are quoted below from the 2020 TIRCP Detailed Project Award Summary. A particularly positive detail in the San Luis Obispo maintenance facility description is where it was noted that “facility is also supportive of future service expansion to northern California once additional investments are made in improving the infrastructure on the Central Coast.”  This is one of the many small steps to build the foundation for frequent Central Coast – Bay Area service, which RailPAC has long supported.

Another TIRCP grant awarded to San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), with San Diego MTS & North County Transit District, includes $4.9 million in funding for Del Mar Bluffs Stabilization Project, which is critical to a reliable and safe corridor for passenger and goods movement.  This TIRCP funding will “expand the work achieved by Phase 5 of the Del Mar Bluffs Stabilization Project, in combination with other federal, state and local funds committed and being pursued for the project”.

Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LA Metro) and Southern California Regional Rail Authority (Metrolink)

Project: Metrolink Antelope Valley Line Capital and Service Improvements

Award: $107,050,000

Total Budget: $220,850,000

Estimated TIRCP GHG Reductions: 584,000 MTCO2e

The proposed Metrolink Antelope Valley Line Capital and Service Improvements Project will add targeted capacity-increasing infrastructure on the Antelope Valley Line, increase service in step with new capacity, and assess the feasibility of rail multiple unit and zero-emission propulsion service through a pilot project on the Metrolink Antelope Valley Line. The 4 infrastructure projects included allow Metro to initiate regular 60-minute, bi-directional service, followed by introduction of regular 30-minute bi-directional service from Los Angeles Union Station to Santa Clarita, in deployment waves that accelerate delivery of new service as planned under the Southern California Optimized Rail Expansion (SCORE) program.

The 4 infrastructure projects include:

1. Balboa Double Track Extension

2. Lancaster Terminal Improvements

3. Canyon Siding Extension

4. Brighton-McGinley Double Track

This award builds on the investment in Phase 1 of the Southern California Optimized Rail Expansion (SCORE) Program awarded in 2018 and expands those benefits. This award accelerates delivery of key AVL Projects, which provide regional “bookend” capacity for state-supported Intercity and High-Speed Rail, as well as significantly advances the County’s ability to integrate the regional rail system into the Metrolink station communities.

In addition, this project includes funding for a zero-emission rail multiple unit (ZEMU) equipment pilot to assess potential to provide more cost-effective and flexible rail service and reduce the carbon and emissions footprint of rail service. The ZEMU pilot tests rail technology in one of the more challenging Metrolink corridors due to topography, density, temperature variations and elevation differences between Lancaster and Los Angeles. If the pilot project is successful on this corridor, it will bode well for ZEMU operations throughout the entire Metrolink regional rail network and help provide data and performance measurements useful to other agencies in California seeking to implement similar ZEMU rail technology. Technical assistance will be provided by the California Department of Transportation to integrate rail demonstration pilot efforts with statewide rolling stock planning.

Over 1 million residents of the 3.3 million residents in the census tracts in the Antelope Valley station catchment areas are from Disadvantaged Communities. The AVL investments will improve rail mobility and access for these priority populations to major employment centers and other regional destinations, including Hollywood Burbank Airport.

Due to the extended timeline for delivery that goes beyond this cycle’s 5-year program (completion date: 2027), the project is expected to receive allocations over the life of the implementation schedule.

Los Angeles – San Diego – San Luis Obispo Rail Corridor Agency (LOSSAN)

Project: Building Up Control: LOSSAN Service Enhancement Program

Award: $38,743,000

Total Budget: $87,196,969

Estimated TIRCP GHG Reductions: 325,000 MTCO2e

Designs and constructs two new maintenance facilities in San Diego and San Luis Obispo that enable longer trains and better departure times to be operated out of both locations, contributing to both frequency and ridership growth for the Pacific Surfliner. Aligned with needs identified in the 2018 State Rail Plan.

Provides funding for design and construction of a dedicated maintenance, support and storage location for the Pacific Surfliner service in National City, at the southern end of the LOSSAN rail corridor. The facility will allow storage and maintenance of additional and longer trains (up to 7 7-car trains, or equivalent), increasing the efficiency and ridership of services into San Dan Diego. It also will move primary maintenance activities away from the Santa Fe Depot in San Diego, which is primarily surrounded by residential and commercial land uses. In addition, this new facility can be utilized by COASTER service to support service expansion goals within San Diego County, supporting additional opportunities for integration and connectivity to the regional transit network.

Provides for design and construction of an expanded maintenance and layover facility south of the station in San Luis Obispo, allowing for the storage and maintenance of additional and longer trains (up to 4 7-car trains, or equivalent). Allows for train movement between maintenance facility and station without impacting mainline passenger and freight train operations. Facility design and construction will be coordinated with the City of San Luis Obispo to integrate the facility into the community plan for the roundhouse district and provide the opportunity for the City to connect the surrounding development within the district to the station in San Luis Obispo by way of a pedestrian and bike trail that will also provide a natural barrier between the facility and the existing and planned developments within the district. Ability to maintain more trainsets in San Luis Obispo is aligned with the State Rail Plan and allows for better departure times that capture higher ridership. Facility is also supportive of future service expansion to northern California once additional investments are made in improving the infrastructure on the Central Coast. The San Luis Obispo investment is coordinated with additional investment through Proposition 1B and the State Transportation Improvement Program, reflected in the project matching funds.

As part of the overall scope of this project, state funding from the Public Transportation Account will be used to enhance the condition of the Pacific Surfliner fleet, providing a fleet that has improved reliability and meets customer expectations. Technical assistance will be provided by the California Department of Transportation to integrate maintenance facility planning with statewide rail planning, facility development, and fleet deployment efforts.

Project benefits are enhanced through complementary service improvements in the corridor awarded in previous years, which includes investments in signal optimization and various capital improvements which prepares the corridor for higher frequency services to be introduced by the Pacific Surfliner.

Due to the extended timeline for delivery that goes beyond this cycle’s 5-year program (completion date: 2026), the project is expected to receive allocations over the life of the implementation schedule.

Commentary

Coronavirus Relief Package Includes $1 Billion for Amtrak, $25 Billion for Transit Agencies

In late March 2020, RailPAC was one of over 240 signers from across the country (including elected officials, cities and organizations) on a letter written by Transportation for America (T4America) and the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).  The letter urged Congress to provide $13 billion in emergency funding for public transportation and passenger rail service.

Due to critical social distancing practices required to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, public transit and passenger rail agencies are experiencing significant decreases in ridership and farebox revenue while simultaneously incurring increased costs for additional cleaning.

The full letter is available to view here.  , and click here for more information on T4America’s admirable efforts to help secure this funding.  

Thankfully, the emergency funding which has since been awarded by Congress for transit and passenger rail meets or exceeds the amounts requested by both the national Rail Passenger Association and the American Public Transit Association.  It also includes help for states to offset lost ticket revenue from their state-supported passenger rail services.

Below is a good summary of the CARES act, quoted from the Rail Passengers Association’s March 27th weekly news:

Coronavirus Relief Package Includes $1 Billion for Amtrak, $25 Billion for Transit Agencies

The U.S. House voted to send the CARES Act to the president’s desk this afternoon, enacting a $2 trillion coronavirus relief package into law and providing critically needed financial assistance to rail and transit operators across the country. The bill (H.R. 748) provides Amtrak over $1 billion in aid to weather the precipitous drop in ridership, and directs $25 billion to the nation’s struggling transit providers—the largest single-year transit appropriation in U.S. history.

“I want to thank the members of Congress who supported this aid package for rail transportation on behalf of the more than 40 million passengers in the U.S. who depend on passenger rail to work and travel—whether it’s intercity, commuter, or transit,” said Rail Passengers President & CEO Jim Mathews. “While addressing the health crisis will always be the most important part of our response, it’s important that we all understand the gravity of the current moment for our nation’s infrastructure. If we want these services to be there when we start traveling and commuting normally, then the time to act is now.”

The funding directed by Congress to intercity rail operators and transit agencies in Phase 3 legislation meets or exceeds the levels outlined in the Rail Passengers’ COVID19 request. This financial aid includes:

Amtrak Grants – $1.018 billion

Northeast Corridor – $492 million;

National Network – $526 million;

State Supported Corridors: $239 million

Mass Transit Grants – $25 billion

Urban Area – 13.9 billion

Rural Area – $1.8 billion

State of Good Repair – $7.6 billion

Fast-Growth & High-Density State – $1.7 billion

We’re actively tracking any additional needs at RailPassengers.org/COVID19 , and will continue to work with Congress to ensure that these systems are able to return to full service once travel restrictions are eventually eased.

CA Rail Statistics, Commentary, Editorials, High Speed Rail, Issues, Rail Technology, Technical and Rolling Stock, Tracking Rail News

President’s Commentary – Key RailPAC priorities for 2020

By Steve Roberts – RailPAC President

[Originally published in Steel Wheels, 1st Quarter 2020]

Greetings!

In early January, members of the RailPAC Board developed options and came to a consensus on RailPAC’s policy priorities for 2020.  The two major ground rules were that the priorities had to be focused and actionable in 2020.  A list of about a dozen initiatives was consolidated and prioritized into four key priorities with two additional initiatives RailPAC will be following, but don’t appear to require RailPAC to take the lead.  RailPAC can offer support if the opportunity arises.

The four key 2020 RailPAC priorities are:

Surfliner Service Crisis and Vision – The recent collapse of the cliff at Del Mar clearly shows the threat of rising sea levels and more intense storms to Surfliner/Coaster service.  There is no future for the Surfliner/Coaster route at its current location.  Given the magnitude of relocation project, it needs to start now.  And the collapse of the cliff at Del Mar is not the only threat. The route is also threatened by the same forces at San Clemente.  In addition, the Surfliner route has not developed an expansive vision that would deal with both the climate change issue along with dramatically re-imaging the rail line as an faster, electrified, high-frequency, high capacity service that would incent transit oriented development, generate maximum ridership and contribute to enhancing travel capacity within the Southern California megaregion. Southern California RailPAC’s members are focused on calling attention to the immediate threat to the route as well as championing the development of a robust long-term vision of an interconnected high-performance auto competitive passenger rail system. 

California High Speed Rail Funding Strategy – Even though this initiative is one to watch rather than take the lead, Board members clearly felt it had high importance because of the magnitude of the HSR program. This initiative is both complex and challenging.  It is challenging because, unlike most discussions which often take place at the staff level (which RailPAC can influence with information), the high-speed rail funding discussion is taking place at the highest levels of the Newsom administration and legislature.  Add in the attempted “claw back” of funds from the administration in Washington and as they say “this is way above my pay grade”.  It is complex because all of the discussions and the power plays are happening legislator to legislator with only flashes of light as legislators on both sides make their cases or work behind the scenes for a compromise.  RailPAC will keep members updated and stand ready to weigh in on this issue at the appropriate time.

Daily Sunset Campaign – One thing I think all RailPAC members can agree on is tri-weekly service for a long-distance train route generates sub-par ridership and ticket revenue results.  So not surprisingly, this initiative was identified as a key priority for RailPAC in 2020.  Building on the grassroots outreach over the past few years by advocates along the I-10 corridor, 2020 will see a new phase of the daily Sunset Limited campaign.  Details are outlined in an article on page XX of this issue of Steel Wheels.                

SCORE/Metrolink Vision – SCORE, Southern California Optimized Rail Expansion program, is a $10 billion capital program that will upgrade the Metrolink system, adding additional tracks, grade separations, signal work and investments to facilitate zero-emissions operations.  Currently Metrolink is working on rail operations modeling; development of design alternatives, identifying and prioritizing proposed capacity improvements, undertaking preliminary engineering and the environmental assessment for the proposed projects.  SCORE service goals would deliver faster, more reliable service with greater frequencies system wide and high frequencies within the core network.  This initiative will be being championed by RailPAC’s Southern California members who are especially focused on developing a robust long-term vision of an interconnected high-performance auto competitive transit system.  Near-term goals for these members is advocating for the timely completion of the third main track Hobart to Fullerton including the Fullerton interlocking project, double tracking of the Antelope Valley and Ventura lines and a new station at Pacoima.

Initiatives being monitored:

Several initiatives proposed as 2020 priorities were not rated as highly as the others listed above but they still are important.  These are:

Dumbarton Transportation Corridor (Dumbarton Bridge) – The Dumbarton Transportation Corridor is a critical connection linking San Joaquin Valley and East Bay housing to job centers in southern San Mateo County and northern Santa Clara County.  The current highway bridge is at or near capacity with job growth continuing.  Building a replacement rail line and bridge utilizing the current rail right-of-way would add substantial cross bay capacity to this corridor while facilitating connections and/or direct service from several existing high-capacity transit operators – Bay Rapid Transit District (BART), Caltrain, Capitol Corridor and Altamont Commuter Rail (ACE).  From the transit perspective the lack of service on this corridor represents a critical gap in network connectivity.  Because of these connectivity benefits, RailPAC considers this an important priority.  Currently the project is undergoing the Environmental Review Process so advocacy opportunities are limited until the report draft is completed.  RailPAC’s Northern California members will be monitoring this project.

Mental Health/Homelessness/Security – For riders on intercity and commuter rail their “final mile” is most likely on transit and/or walking.  In addition to being concerned about this as a social justice issue, RailPAC members are also concerned about how mental health and homelessness impacts the perception of security both on-board and around transit stations.  This perception results in lower ridership and thus reduces the community benefits from the large investments in transit systems.  There appear to be several initiatives underway in Sacramento in an attempt to address these issues.  While RailPAC has no expertise to offer solutions to mental health and homelessness, RailPAC can comment on the impacts of failing to address these issues.  RailPAC will stand ready to support any legislative action around these issues.

Freight Rail Carrier Cost Shifting – This priority focuses on actual and proposed changes in rail freight operations, long-mega trains and single person operator freight trains that potentially have significant negative public impacts.  The issue is not so much the changes to operations, but the implementation of these changes without the investments by the freight railroads to mitigate the potential public impacts of these changes; i.e. blocked crossings and delays to passenger trains.  In effect the freight railroads are shifting the costs of these operational changes, which should be internal and borne by the carriers, to the general public.  While RailPAC has no expertise in the specifics of rail freight operations and investments to mitigate the negative impact of these operational changes, RailPAC can attest to the public costs of these changes.  RailPAC will stand ready to support any legislative action around these issues.