Oakland — By Russ Jackson, Secretary
The 2005 RailPAC Annual Meeting was held on Saturday, February 5, at the Yia Yia Sandwich Shop, Jack London Square Amtrak Station, Oakland. Thirty members attended the spirited session, typical of all RailPAC meetings where lively discussions are always welcome.
After being welcomed by President Noel Braymer and Executive Director Richard Silver, and lunch orders placed, the election of officers and board members was the first item of official business. The bylaws call for some board members to be elected, and the board has the option to appoint others, but all have official status as directors of the organization. We welcomed new directors Paul Dyson, Burbank, Bruce Jenkins, Mountain View, and Dennis Storey, Santa Barbara as directors, and Chris Flescher, Salinas as an Associate director. A complete list can be found on the back page of each issue of the Western Rail Passenger Review. Richard Silver was reappointed as Executive Director to serve another year. The board members present recognized Ric Silver’s many contributions to the organization. Treasurer Jim Clifton reported how the organization is healthy financially, and there is no need for a dues increase again this year.
Director Richard Spotswood, a former Mayor of Mill Valley, a former member of the Golden Gate Bridge Authority board, and currently a columnist for the Marin Independent Journal newspaper, spoke about the future of the Sonoma-Marin commuter line project (SMART), speaking of the funding obstacles ahead, but enthusiastic about the support the program has in the two counties. The project is expected to use DMU vehicles, similar to those purchased by the Sprinter project (Escondido-Oceanside) in San Diego County (which President Braymer reported was at last under construction). Mr. Spotswood also spoke at length of how important public input into these projects is, and its importance to the future of all transportation projects. “A small group of naysayers can doom a project to failure if they become the only public voices speaking about it,” Mr. Spotswood said.
President Braymer then led a spirited discussion of current issues, with the looming crisis at Amtrak over funding (is there ever not one?) the top agenda item as the Bush budget calling for zeroing out Amtrak as we know it had been leaked the day before. There was general agreement that the Congress will act to restore funds to Amtrak, although how much was the big question, and what would Amtrak do if it received a big cut. Some speakers called for the company to work harder to sell tickets to make up for government shortfalls. Members were urged to write their support for Amtrak and passenger rail to politicians everywhere, not just those that are already known as supporters.
RailPAC Associate Director and webmaster of www.railpac.org, Bill Lindley from Phoenix, Arizona, spoke of the impending building of the Phoenix light rail project and the imminent return to service of the West Phoenix UP branch line that carried the Sunset Limited into Phoenix for many years. That line will initially open at a speed restriction of 40 mph. Whether Amtrak will decide to return to that line into the city of Phoenix and abandon the Maricopa station is yet to be decided.
Other topics discussed were the safety of cab cars, following the horrible Metrolink crash a few weeks earlier, as cab cars are in use on Surfliners, San Joaquins, and Capitols in California, as well as on Metrolink, ACE, Coaster and Caltrain. The unique circumstances of that Glendale crash was not a true test of the cab cars, but strengthening them must be investigated. Sacramento Director Marcia Johnston reported the state’s rail program budget for the next year as submitted by the Governor contains no reduction in funding, but that must be watched. Warren Weber, Chief of the Division of Rail at Caltrans has retired, and the interim chief is Bill Bronte. RailPAC has written urging Mr. Bronte be the permanent chief, as he is very qualified to hold the position. And, the long-awaited restoration of the Fresno Amtrak station will be dedicated on Saturday, February 12 at noon. Several RailPAC board members plan to attend. Look for pictures of that event on www.railpac.org in March.