Yearly Archives

2006

Commentary

California Is The Winner In November’s Election

Editorial by Noel Braymer

Transportation remains a major issue in the whole country with 70% of transportation measures winning nationwide this November 7th. This is according to the Center for Transportation Excellence in Washington. In California 10 counties were voting to enact or renew local sales taxes that would go for transportation. Tulare County passed a new sales tax. Fresno, Orange and San Joaquin Counties voted to extend existing sales taxes. Sale tax measures for transportation in Kern, Merced, Santa Barbara, and Stanislaus Counties all received majority approval, but failed to win a two/thirds vote required for passage. Marin and Sonoma Counties had a joint sales tax measure. The measure won two/thirds in Sonoma but not in Marin County. The result was the measure failed.

Californians approved over 30 billion dollars in bonds and sale tax revenues that can go towards transportation. To apply for state bond money counties will need matching funds. Many of these projects will also be eligible for Federal funding. But still only if the communities have a local match. When the reality of this hits the counties that don’t have a transportation sale tax, we should see more measures pass with the next election.

Measure 1A was not a bond issue, but makes it harder to tap gasoline tax money for transportation into the general fund. When this happens it disrupts planning for projects that get their funding cut because of “budget emergencies”. This happened for two years in a row just recently. Measure 1B will raise almost 20 billion in bond money for transportation with a share going towards rail and transit. Caltrans Rail Division is budgeted to get $400 million for Amtrak California. Of this, $125 million will go for new cars and locomotives. Los Angeles County is eligible for up to 1 billion in 1B money for transit. There is another 2 billion, part of which can be used for grade separations. The final decisions on spending are yet to be made by the California Transportation Commission (CTC). Measure 1C is money for housing. But this is a bonus for rail service because much of the money is to be spent for housing construction near train and transit stations. There is Measure 1E which is money for flood control. This will protect railroads in areas prone to flooding such as the Sacramento River Delta area.

As great as this new money is, it is not enough to build everything. Transportation projects that agencies have been waiting years for funding will quickly use up these new funds. A good example of this is the COAST DAYLIGHT. This project is no overnight success: it has been in the works for over 10 years. But it could now be running in two years if some track work and additional equipment can be bought. Now there is money for projects like the COAST DAYLIGHT, run-through tracks at LAUS, and reopening the Dumbarton Bridge.

Los Angeles County has the biggest dreams for this bond money. The Mayor of Los Angeles is proposing extending the subway under Wilshire Blvd. “to the sea.” This means to Santa Monica which would require over 10 miles of new subway. That would be about a 5 billion dollar project. There is already the Expo Light Rail Line under construction from downtown Los Angeles to Culver City. In far less time and money it can be extended to Santa Monica. Also fighting for funding are groups in the San Gabriel Valley who want the Gold Line extended east of Pasadena to the edge of western San Bernardino County. There is growing desire for rail service to LAX. There is renewed interest to extend the Green Line the 2 miles into the LAX area. A County Board of Supervisors Member who’s District includes the Crenshaw District wants a light rail line from the EXPO Line to LAX on Crenshaw Blvd. These projects won’t connect LAX to Los Angeles Union Station. There is a need for direct Metrolink service to LAX which would be a low cost project that would serve the entire Southern California region. In addition there is a need to connect the Blue and EXPO Lines at 7th and Flower in downtown Los Angeles with the Gold Line extension one mile away at 1st and Alameda. Also there is now interest in Los Angeles to create a system of Street Car lines as a circulator in downtown Los Angeles.

The reality is even with this new money, spending will have to be based on priority. Those projects with the greatest benefit for the lowest cost should get the highest priority. Not everything is going to be built at the same time. Projects will have to wait, maybe a long time before being funded. Some projects may have to be changed to be more economical. No matter what happens, not everyone will be happy.

(SEE spending plans for the Capitol Corridor in the CCJPA Meeting Report above. -Ed.)

Reports

TRIP REPORT: A Canadian Long Distance Rail Journey

By Bruce Jenkins, RailPAC Director

On Sunday, 9/24/06, my wife and I boarded VIA train #2 “The Canadian” at Vancouver. Sleeping car passengers are required to check in at 1630 (1 hr prior to departure time). You are then entertained on “the patio” (the old platform adjacent to the stub end of the tracks at Central Station) by live music and refreshments. Luggage is deposited in your bedroom, all part of the “Silver & Blue” service. The train is in two sections on adjacent tracks and is connected by pulling out the forward section then backing to the aft section. The total consist comprises 30 cars, made up of 1 baggage car , 2 coaches, 5 dome club cars, 3 diners and 19 sleeping cars. Three locomotives are required, 2 for prime movers and 1 for hotel power. The consist is made up into groups of 3 or more sleepers, dome and diner. The baggage, coaches and a dome are behind the locomotives. The east bound trains dead head about 6 sleepers and one diner to Toronto.

A fair amount of passengers get off at Jasper. However, the diners still have three sittings and the food and service are very good; you just can’t beat that old Canadian charm and friendliness. Meals are now included in sleeper class tickets. The seafood entree’s are excellent, as well as the Bison Prime Rib and Bison Burgers. First class table settings are still de rigueur (china etc). There is an excellent wine list and I never saw one miscreant wearing a baseball cap in the diner. Cocktails are available in the Dome Club Car adjacent to the diner, as well as movies and games for those who find some of the greatest scenery in the world boring.

We boarded VIA #1, the west bound Canadian, in Toronto Thursday 10/5. VIA uses some of the Chateau cars formally used on “The Maritimes” (Montreal/ Halifax) to fill in for shortage of Manor cars. The Chateau cars have one drawing room, and I was lucky enough to reserve one for both legs of my trip. In both the east and west bound trains there were 5 Chateau cars. Fall is the “shoulder” period, meaning lower fares and high demand by tour groups. On the west bound train from Toronto there were about 200 people in tour groups from the UK and they all got off at Jasper to ride the “Mountaineer” and spend time at Jasper, Banff and Lake Louise. So from Jasper to Vancouver the train was pretty empty; there were 4 of us left on my car. Hence it is easier to get a drawing room east bound; I was wait listed for the west bound drawing room for 2 months.

The staff agreed that at this time of year the train takes on the image of a “cruise ship”. The train stops in Winnipeg for service, about an hour. The crew directs the passengers to a new mall about a block away and it is quit a sight to see 500 people marching to buy maple syrup and souvenirs. Winnipeg is also the crew base, so you get a new crew there. Staff does recommend that you travel in the winter if you want the “normal” passenger train consist of 10 to 12 cars.

VIA is CN’s pinata. VIA, unlike Amtrak, has no legal priority (ha) and is shoved into the hole every siding. I awoke one night to witness a container train overtaking us. The 30 car train requires a “saw” movement at some short sidings. Train speed (as close as I could calculate) never exceeded 70 mph even in the plains of Saskatchewan. Due to severe temperature gradients up on the Canadian Shield, CN is replacing many decimated concrete ties with wooden ties. VIA now has equipped their cars with retention tanks so you can flush in the station even though the placards are still in place in the toilets. All sleeping cars have double bedrooms, roomettes, sections and a shower.

We rode Amtrak’s “Maple Leaf” from Toronto to Syracuse roundtrip. Fortunately my travel agent had the foresight to reserve business class for us. Seating was spacious and there is no traffic thru the isle since the car is placed directly behind the locomotive and the rear of the car is the “cafe” The equipment of course is Amfleet, ugly but comfortable. CSX (the UP of the east) treats Amtrak horribly. Down time is made up north of Niagara Falls on smooth CN track (79mph).

I booked my trip thru “Accent on Travel” (Ted and Sylvia Blishek) whose ad we’ve all seen in Trains magazine. They work with Brewster in Canada for VIA, hotels, taxi and airport transfers etc. I highly recommend using their services, so start planning and make your reservations months ahead.

Reports

Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority

at Suisun City Hall

Reported by Russ Jackson, RailPAC Secretary

Capitol Corridor westbound train 729 arrives on time at the Martinez station on October 28. On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving day, the Capitol Corridor carried “a whopping 6,248 passengers,” according to CCJPA Managing Director Gene Skoropowski in a note to RailPAC. “That’s the single highest day for ridership in our history, by a wide margin.” The Capitols will celebrate their 15th Anniversary on December 12 at 12:30PM at the Sacramento train station. (Photo by Russ Jackson)

The best news for the Capitol Corridor, as well as the other California corridors, was the passage of Proposition 1B on November 7. CCJPB Chairman, Roger Dickinson, opened the meeting with a short comment on the positive aspects of the passage, and said that new cars will soon be on order for expansion and capacity improvements, as well as ensuring the reliability of the service. He also welcomed the presence of three representatives from the Union Pacific. New officers for the group were elected: Forrest Williams, San Jose, will be the Chairman starting with the February meeting, and Mary Ann Courville, Dixon, will be the incoming Vice Chair. Sue Greenwald, the Mayor of Davis, was welcomed as the representative from Yolo County. (Notice that the BNSF sent four representatives to the SJVRC meeting on November 9.)

  1. In keeping with the passage of Prop 1B, Managing Director Gene Skoropowski reported on the Capitol Corridor’s funding requests, totaling $252.25 million for state bond money. They will require local matching funds of approximately $800 million, much of which is already identified. The projects are not prioritized, but many of them are in various stages of preparation, so the first priority will be the first project that is ready for funding. The State, through the California Transportation Commission, has said “get us the projects quickly.” The Capitol Corridor will do so. The Projects are:
    1. Bahia Crossover,
    2. Emeryville station and track improvements,
    3. Support for the Dumbarton Rail/Union City station that will allow connection with BART,
    4. Yolo Causeway #24 crossovers at the west end of the causeway,
    5. CP Coast-Great America double track project,
    6. Sacramento-Placer County 3rd main track project planning and design

      The UP wants a passenger train-only third track between Sacramento and Roseville for additional trains. This 3rd track will be needed to meet the CCJPA goal of 10 round trips a day to Roseville. Additional sidings will also be needed past Roseville for 4 round trips to Auburn.

    7. Sacramento Station new platform and grade separation access, done with UP partnership and a private developer as part of UPRR’s track relocation plans,
    8. Wireless Internet service for the Capitol/San Joaquin fleet of cars,
    9. Martinez to Sacramento operational improvements, including adding additional crossovers as well as adding sidings and new trackage,
    10. Martinez Ozol Yard trackage to improve access to Martinez station, and
    11. In conjunction with the Port of Oakland, extend third and fourth trackage from Emeryville to Richmond and beyond, to facilitate movement of additional freight trains from the Port. In the latter case, the CCJPA is a member of the APTA and the States for Passenger Rail Coalition that are working to ensure that any freight financing has a passenger benefit element included.
  2. The CCJPA heard a report on Security and Safety, reported by its Deputy Director, Finance and Planning, David Kutrosky. Several improvements have been made at stations where trains layover at night. Lighting, video cameras, and a public address/speaker system have already been installed as part of this on-going program. The Sacramento station has a security guard patrolling the site and now has a security desk inside. All law enforcement agencies patrol all the local stations daily, and in case of security alarms have officers stationed there. Amtrak Police now have a dedicated officer riding the trains at random, inspecting the route and stations. The Auburn station now has fencing/ a locking gate, lighting and cameras connected to the Security Desk in Sacramento, which has helped eliminate most of the vandalism/graffiti to the cars there. At San Jose, Caltrain is moving forward with more improvements. The Oakland Maintenance Facility has a program of security upgrades, with over $3 million in state funds provided for fencing, lighting and cameras, to be completed in late 2007. Mr. Kutrosky also spoke of one of his pet projects, the Automated Ticketing Validation Pilot program, which will allow on board Conductors to sell tickets with hand-held units that can accept credit cards as well as cash, with the sale being instantly transmitted back to headquarters for revenue collection reports. Not only is Caltrans interested in this program, but Amtrak is likewise interested. A request for proposal has been prepared, and a vendor could be selected as early as January. A further discussion ensued with board members contributing suggestions regarding the increasing incidents of trespassing, some of which result in fatalities. A recent incident near Richmond had the Coroner’s office halting all traffic for 3 ½ hours, far too long for the circumstances. It was agreed that legislation is needed to prevent unnecessary delays to train traffic, and board member Williams said it should include light rail in the issue. Member Courville said the whole issue includes badly needed grade separations. Her city, Dixon, has had applications in for two of these for some time. RailPAC VP North, Art Lloyd, pointed out that Caltrain has had several fatalities lately, and that their Counties do not hold trains for longer than an hour. He also concurred with the board that more grade separations are desirable, and should be paid for through more highway contributions. The UP’s Tom Mulligan pointed out that these fatality delays affect their trains, too, with the Richmond incident tying up traffic until the next day.
  3. Mr. Skoropowski presented his Manager’s Report, proudly emphasizing what everyone knew, that ridership continues to grow. In October it was 120,074, a 9% increase over last year. He attributed some of that to the increased reliability that the UP has provided, particularly in the peak hours. Revenue is up 6% ($1 million) over FY 05, a new record high. The Revenue-to-Cost ratio is now a record high 46%. All that comes with the addition of the new trains that started in August. On Time Performance is at 77%, but many trains are in the 90% range. However, the UP reported it will have a major maintenance-of-way track project going between Martinez and Richmond in January which will impact performance of trains. While Amtrak itself is operating on a “continuing resolution” basis, with the coming of the new Congress there is optimism that many stalled items related to Amtrak will be resolved. Amtrak President, Alex Kummant, came to California in late October, and spent time reviewing CCJPA operations, and rode Capitol Corridor train 532 (as well as the Coast Starlight). Mr. Skorpowski pointed out that all current construction projects that have funding have now been completed, and they are eagerly awaiting Prop 1B money so “we can continue to advance our capital investment program.”

On other matters, it was announced that the Corridor will celebrate its 15th Anniversary with an event on December 12 at the Sacramento station at 12:30 PM. The Sacramento RT will dedicate the new light rail extension into that station with a celebration on December 8 at 10:00. The next CCJPA meeting will be on February 21, at 10:00 at Suisun City Hall.

On the same day, November 15, the Sonoma-Marin project board (SMART) met, and RailPAC Executive Director, Richard Silver, attended. That project’s combined county proposal for a sales tax was defeated on November 7, with it receiving 66% of the vote when 66.7% was needed, or 200 more votes. Marin County approved it by 55%. Mr. Silver urged the members to not give up on this project, telling them that any politician that knows a project has 66% approval must carry on.

Reports

San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee

Hanford, Calif.; Reported by Bruce Jenkins, RailPAC Director. — The San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee met in Hanford on Nov.9, ’06, chaired by Mayor Harvey Hall of Bakersfield.

Rick Depler of BNSF gave an update on OTP for the valley line for October, a record of 93.7% for Amtrak trains!

DJ Mitchell (BNSF) gave an update on their Maintenance of Way (MOW) project, and Electronic Train Management System (ETMS). MOW is still scheduled for January thru February 29th from Fresno to Bakersfield, where 73,000 ties will be replaced. Most San Joaquin trains will be affected. Note: it was also revealed that UP will do MOW in the same time frame Martinez to Richmond.

The ETMS will be installed on the Ark City Kansas to Ft Worth corridor for a demonstration and to ultimately achieve FRA approval . After approval “we will be free to deploy ETMS and tell California’s Division of Rail that they need to participate in setting up the system. DoR needs to step up and provide funds to equip their trains… We are looking at 2008 for start up.”

PHOTO: San Joaquin train 702, operating as a push train with the cab car up front, arrives at the new Wasco station, the last stop before reaching Bakersfield, on October 11, 2006. On November 26, the Sunday after Thanksgiving, 183 passengers boarded the buses at Bakersfield going to Los Angeles from train 702, 43 on the bus for Oxnard/Santa Barbara, 40 for the Riverside/San Bernardino bus, 15 for the Las Vegas bus, 14 for the Glendale/Long Beach bus, and 13 rode the bus for Van Nuys/Simi Valley. The train 702 consist had 6 cars pulled by one locomotive. (Photo by Russ Jackson)

BNSF will also make other upgrades to their tracks e.g. in the Stockton area where numerous crossovers will see improvements. Double track and crossovers in the Calwa-Bowles area, and hi speed turnouts, concrete ties in areas e.g. Shirley- Hanford, Oakley- Port Chicago, double track in Escalon (3mi) and crossover in Merced. Extended double track (Jastro to Shafter), north of Bakersfield. The Fig Garden siding in Fresno is off the table for now. (This writer and RailPAC Directors Art Lloyd and Bill Kerby, as well as numerous Committee members were impressed that BNSF sent four representatives to address BNSF issues at this meeting. It clearly displays a sense of commitment by BNSF).

Zoe Richmond, Executive Director of Operation Lifesaver (OL) made a well received presentation. It was brought out that California is #1 in the nation for trespass issues and #4 in the nation for grade crossing fatalities. Central Valley incidents are increasing. OL is seeking people who speak Asian languages and elected officials to appeal to ethnic farm workers, professional drivers, law enforcement and civic bodies. Merced County will be the educational “guinea pig” for this program.

Larry Miller (Fresno County) reported that he had met with Jerry Wilmoth (UP) regarding Train service for Merced, Tulare, Bakersfield (old SP line). UP sounded encouraging and that a meeting will be scheduled in Omaha.

Jonathan Hutchinson (Amtrak) reported that San Joaquin ridership was up 5.5% and revenue up 11.9%, 2.7% of delays were caused by rolling stock problems. He added if S1516 (80/20 funding) should pass in the U.S. Congress “we will see an exponential increase in rail travel and California is the leader”.

Bill Bronte (Chief, DoR) appealed to the Committee (and all the other groups e.g. Capitoll Corridor, Coast Rail, ACE, LOSSAN, PJPB etc) for another joint letter like the one they they submitted at APTA to support 80/20 funding. If there is success then the state can get credit for the $1.7 B already spent. “California is the success story.”

Commentary

No Way To Build A New Airport

By Noel Braymer, Editor, Western Rail Passenger Review

San Diego no longer calls itself “America’s finest city.” As it is, San Diego is trying to avoid being called America’s most corrupt city. There is of course former San Diego Congressman Randy Cunningham who pleaded guilty to corruption. A City Councilman and Deputy Mayor of San Diego were convicted of accepting bribes from a strip joint owner last year. The city pension plan is 2 billion dollars in the red and under Federal investigation. The Mayor during this time was Dick Murphy, who was re-elected on a technicality despite his write-in challenger getting slightly more votes in December 2004. However Mayor Murphy resigned in disgrace by July 2005. Dick Murphy ran for Mayor claiming he was going to get things done. On the top of his agenda was a new airport to replace Lindbergh Field. A small old airport of 660 acres, it is not able to handle fully loaded jumbo jets and has no room to add a second main runway to handle future expected air traffic growth..

Under Mayor Murphy, a new Airport Commission was created to take over control of Lindbergh Field from the Port Commission with sweeping new powers. For over 4 years more studies were commissioned to study every possible airport site. After years of studies and millions of dollars spent the result is Prop A on this November Ballot. Prop. A is a non-binding measure to see if there is voter support to build a new 3,000 acre airport out of a part of the 23,000 acre Miramar Marine Corp Air Station north of downtown San Diego. Prop A and the whole airport selection process was a waste of time and money. The Military has made it clear they are opposed to any joint use of Miramar. The residents around Miramar are firmly opposed to the idea and a local Congressman sponsored Federal Legislation to prohibit the joint use of Miramar that passed. All five San Diego County Congressmen are opposed to using Miramar for a public airport.

It is becoming next to impossible to build a new airport near a populated area. The reality is, in California there will have to be smarter use of airports and air space. Much of the commercial air traffic in San Diego is very short haul, under 200 miles and often in small commuter planes. Getting better use of scare airport capacity can be as simple as using fewer, bigger planes. Congestion on the ground is as big an issue as in the sky. Lindbergh Field is next to the Coaster and Trolley Tracks. Extending the Trolley to the airport and having the Coaster connect to serve Lindbergh will make it possible for the airport to handle bigger crowds without adding more parking or overloading roadways.

Rail service can connect airports together, reducing the need for many short haul flights and make more distance airports practical for air service. From downtown San Diego the only non-military airports capable of handling jumbo jets are 16 miles away next to the Mexican border. One is Brown Field and the other is the airport for Tijuana. Either airport could be connected by an extension of the Trolley, possibly with express service from Lindbergh Field and downtown San Diego. It would not be practical to use either airport to replace Lindbergh. But they could be used to supplement Lindbergh for flights using jumbo jets. This could reduce pressure on LAX which is where many flights out of San Diego are headed.

San Diego is not alone with airport problems. Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) serves all of Southern California for most International and many cross country flights. But LAX is at near capacity now and there is overwhelming opposition to expanding it. Palmdale is one of the few airports that wants to expand. The problem with Palmdale is getting there. Local leaders in the San Fernando Valley and Palmdale are organizing a coalition to improve rail service to the Palmdale Airport. They are looking at improved Metrolink service, a high speed corridor or even a shortcut with a long tunnel east of downtown Los Angeles. The 70 miles trip from downtown Los Angeles to Palmdale is caused by the need to go around mountains heading to the west and north. Palmdale is actually due east of downtown Los Angeles. Such an improved rail link would do more than carry people from Los Angeles to the Palmdale Airport. It would create connections to most of the entire region.

Commentary, Reports

My Meeting With Amtrak President Alex Kummant

By RailPAC President Paul Dyson. — I met with Mr. Kummant for 45 minutes at the Amtrak Offices in Washington D.C. Joining the discussion were Cliff Black, Amtrak Director of Media Relations and Marcus Mason, Senior Director of Government Affairs of Amtrak. My meeting was very cordial and covered a wide range of topics. This ranged from the lessons of British Railways privatization to dealing with the Union Pacific. Also covered were specific issues such as NEC infrastructure costs, the long distance trains, and California Corridors.

Photo by Amtrak’s Cliff Black for RailPAC

Obviously Mr. Kummant is very new to the position and to passenger railroading, and he is the first to acknowledge that he has a lot to absorb. I was impressed that he referred to a railroad atlas when I made a specific reference to a route; I’ve worked with too many railroaders who pretend they know everything. However, he certainly doesn’t seemed daunted by the challenges, and has the attitude of any good executive taking the helm of a corporation; that it’s his job to grow the business and improve the bottom line.

Regarding the political climate and the demands for more private involvement with passenger rail, Mr. Kummant asked me to prepare some notes on the results of privatization of British Railways. While there have been some improvements in services in the UK the overall public subsidy has increased four fold, a fact often overlooked this side of the pond. We both agreed that passenger rail is on the public agenda as it has not been for many years and that there is a great opportunity for growth. We also agreed that Amtrak and its supporters should do more to tout the progress of rail, particularly to quote passenger miles rather than just ridership.

I explained that RailPAC is in effect a coalition of many interests, including high speed rail, long distance trains and corridors. I pointed out that RailPAC’s overriding concern has been to present proposals that are realistic and that represent value for the taxpayer’s dollar. I also told him that the western states feel strongly that the long distance train network and western services are under invested compared to the NEC. California in particular has spent state tax dollars for our own rail program while at the same time we send federal tax dollars that are spent on the Acela program, so we pay twice. Mr. Kummant said that he wanted to come to California and to work with our officials on some initiatives to “redress the balance”. He believes in incremental improvement and that 100 mph corridors are marketable. We spoke of the San Joaquin Valley cities as being in need of more service and having great potential.

Mr. Kummant believes that his experience with Union Pacific will be a valuable asset, as he “understands how they think”. He believes that the organization is changing under new CEO Jim Young, although the fear of open access remains. There are major investments in infrastructure in the pipeline for UP, although in the short term that could cause disruption to the long distance trains.

We also spoke of the need for investment in rolling stock and the difficulty in putting together a large enough order to interest a car builder. I mentioned my experience in the railcar leasing business and our interest some years ago in finding the rail equivalent of the 737. Mr. Kummant is very interested in private financing of rolling stock, with perhaps a “Fannie Mae” type of structure whereby the government is a guarantor of last resort.

The discussion turned on the long distance trains. I believe Mr. Kummant views these as having potential for improvement and development, possibly with participation from tour operators, cruise lines and others with their own vehicles as part of the consist. I mentioned that our group and many others would fight to keep the long distance trains, and that reducing the network would only add costs to the remaining trains. We agreed that the easiest part of a service to get rid of is the revenue; the costs have a habit of sticking around.

Reports

RailPAC North October Meeting Report

Reported by Russ Jackson, RailPAC Secretary — A crowd of over 35 people participated in the first RailPAC meeting to be held on the Peninsula, this one at the Samtrans office in San Carlos. Many were regular Caltrain riders, as well as Amtrak riders. RailPAC VP North Art Lloyd hosted the meeting, also attended by several RailPAC Directors, with VP South James Smith and former Treasurer Jim Clifton joining us from Southern California. It was a successful meeting with many good questions from those attending! This report with pictures from the event will be in the November Western Rail Passenger Review, and on railpac.org after November 1.

Mr. Lloyd (right) opened the meeting by introducing featured speaker, Bob Doty, the acting Chief Operating Officer for Caltrain, who also supervises construction and planning for the railroad. Art mentioned how much Caltrain has improved, in that there are now 96 trains daily on this busy commuter service that dates back to the 1800’s when the Southern Pacific first built the line.

CALTRAIN PLANS

Mr. Doty emphasized how much easier it is to operate a railroad when you own it, which the Caltrain JPB does, between downtown San Francisco and San Jose, and that the US is far behind the rest of the world when it comes to developing commuter rail, “which is the safest method of travel. We need to get more trains on the rail, and more bodies in the seats,” he said, introducing a presentation of the growth plans for Caltrain, “Project 2025,” with the strategy being to improve safety, reliability, and allow for future expansion.

Caltrain was “reinvented” two years ago, and now has its regular schedule, the “baby bullet” limited stop trains, and new trackage. Mr. Doty noted that ridership did not drop when gas prices dropped, and that revenue is on target to be over $30 million. A 15% reduction in end to end running time has generated a 25% increase in ridership and a 10% increase in revenue over the last two years, with NO increase in employees or new equipment. Earned revenue per employee (productivity) is up, and On Time Performance is back to 99% regularly after falling when capacity was reached three and four years ago. Adding additional capacity can take ridership an additional 16,000 riders daily. All these improvements are proof, as Mr. Doty said, that you cannot cut your way to a balanced budget. (Is Amtrak listening? -RJ)

A capital improvement program, with the continuing goal of “State of Good Repair,” with ongoing maintenance, bridge replacement because some are 100 years old, the “north terminal improvement” at 3rd & King in downtown San Francisco, other stations improvements, fencing, crossovers, etc., are continually underway to make it “passable.” “South terminal improvements ” at San Jose Diridon station, improving the bottleneck between that station and Santa Clara, new platforms there because the dwell time is too long and clogs the movement of trains, as does trying to solve the problem that putting bicycles on the trains delay movements! New cars will be necessary, “that have more than one door,” to solve dwell time problems.

“Current levels of service cannot meet future demand with diesel locomotives,” Mr. Doty said, leading into his advocacy of electrifying the railroad. New electric locomotives would be necessary for the eventual extension into downtown San Francisco by tunnel, of course, “and that’s gotta happen.” Electrics would reduce the running time even further, lower operating costs, and allow even more trains per hour thereby increasing capacity. Current plans are to electrify only from San Francisco to San Jose. Planned service south to Gilroy and, if Monterey County finances its planned expansion soon, to Salinas, and across the Dumbarton Bridge to the East Bay would be diesel, which would have to be integrated into the electrified train schedules.

Electrification is now mandated by the Caltrain JPB, “so it will happen eventually.” By the end of 2008 that board must say what improvements to make and when; Mr. Doty said, it will help the US join the rest of the world.

THE COAST DAYLIGHT

Art Lloyd spoke about the plans for the implementation of the state-sponsored “Coast Daylight” train which will run from downtown San Francisco to Los Angeles daily. “I think it will happen as early as 2008,” he said, “if Proposition 1b passes on November 7.” Operating funds for the train are in the 2007-8 Caltrans proposed budget, “the funds are all there, but there are capital improvements that must be made and additional equipment made available… April 30, 1971, was the last SP-operated Coast Daylight,” Mr. Lloyd remembered, “which was replaced by the existing very popular Coast Starlight or as we often know it, the Coast Starlate. There is big demand for the train originating/terminating in downtown San Francisco.” (On time performance of 11/14 has improved considerably in the last month. -RJ)

The new Coast Daylight could use Superliner equipment, which the state of California is negotiating to buy from Amtrak. These are wreck-damaged cars that Amtrak does not have the funds to repair, but again, funds for these cars and their repairs are contingent on passage of Proposition 1b. Currently the train operates with Horizon fleet cars between Los Angeles and San Luis Obispo as trains 798/799. The new trains on the full route would depart Los Angeles and San Francisco daily, with the northbound train taking a Metrolink slot and the southbound train a “baby bullet slot, 8:16 AM,” on the Peninsula. Caltrain has approved this, and Samtrans is expected to do so shortly. Amtrak would adjust the Coast Starlight schedule so it would not conflict with the Daylight. Meal service on board would be like that available on the San Joaquins. Union Pacific is demanding the line be upgraded to CTC (Central Traffic Control) from Salinas to Santa Margarita, while Mr. Lloyd has been pointing out that using spring switches as the BNSF does would be a far less costly improvement and accomplish the same thing on a line that carries only four freight trains daily now.

“QUALITY” IS VITAL

RailPAC VP South James Smith spoke about the need for our group and all rail advocacy groups to expect a quality product from Amtrak and any rail service provider. He, and this writer, spoke of the food service available on the long distance trains, and how if there is any further reduction in on board amenities and quality the line will have been crossed and diminished quality means potential loss of ridership and revenues.

Reports

2006 Passenger Trains On Freight Railroads Conference

Report by Paul Dyson, RailPAC President — This was my first opportunity to attend this event although it’s in its thirteenth year. The Conference was organized by “Railway Age” Magazine and held October 16 – 17 in Washington, DC. Almost all of the major freight railroads attend as well as Amtrak, and in addition there are delegates from APTA, commuter agencies, suppliers, overseas railroads, (East Japan Railway Company, for example), engineering companies, consultants, and a few public advocates such as myself. My overall impression was that this was a group of professionals with a lot of experience in the industry.There were 13 sessions, an opening keynote address, and two lunchtime speakers. I intend to summarize the highlights that are of greatest interest, and end with a list of the panels. If anyone would like more information about any particular presentation I’d be glad to share whatever I have.

The meeting was opened by Bill Crosbie, Amtrak’s Senior Vice President of Operations. He gave a no holds barred summary of Amtrak’s dismal on time performance and laid the majority of the blame squarely at the feet of the freight railroads. He said that as an officer of the corporation he was duty bound to seek redress from those responsible. Even though Amtrak had resisted taking the path of legislation, litigation, or a news media campaign, all of those options remain available. Amtrak has gone as far as they could with schedule adjustments (extended running time), as these are counter productive commercially and add to operating expenses. The key areas being addresses in the “get well plan” are slow orders and dispatching. I’ll be interested in seeing what direction Crosbie’s new boss takes in dealing with this critical issue. One also wonders why Amtrak has not been more aggressive over the past 5 or more years. This situation did not develop overnight.

Railroad Capacity Studies: What’s involved? (NS, BNSF, CSX).

The short message from this session is that the freight railroads aim to keep tight control over this process. Their select consultants will use their chosen software and the results are proprietary to the railroad. Don’t bother showing up with your own analysis! The freights’ other key issues are indemnity and user fees. No free rides here. There has to be sufficient infrastructure to coexist. BNSF was most informative. They are undertaking a passenger/freight segregation project in the Seattle area, effectively creating parallel main lines. To me most interesting is their use of number 24 turnouts to increase train speeds through terminal areas. The CSX/State of Florida corridor project was described by CSX. This involves the creation of a passenger plus on line freight corridor and an all freight corridor using the old SAL and ACL routes through the state. (See the Florida DOT web site). Legislative Report: Railway Supply Institute.

Everyone is awaiting the election results. A lot of unfinished business.

APTA Safety Standards Task Force: APTA

Tom Peacock held up Southwest Airlines as an example of using standardized equipment to improve training, safety and of course to cut costs. Raul Bravo gave a detailed presentation on the crash energy management design for the new SCRRA cars to be built by Rotem. The system improves survivability of an accident from 12mph to 18 mph, and up to 30 mph if all cars are fitted. The couplers on existing cars can be retrofitted to provide some of the benefits of the system.

Shared Use LRT and Freight: Bombardier, Conrail and Booz Allen Hamilton.

This was an excellent presentation about the NJT River line, which has similarities with the San Diego Trolley but has much more on line freight. The passenger operators want earlier first trains and later last trains, while the freight operator, Conrail, needs as much track time as possible. This has lead to some creative solutions, including starting the first passenger train from a station at the mid point of the line, leaving the southern end open to freight an a critical additional half hour.

The Capitol Corridor Story: CCJPA and UP.

This was Gene Skoropowski firing on all cylinders, and telling about the recent service expansion with justifiable pride. However, he did not hold back from criticizing UP for operational snafus, indicating that there is still a lot of room for improvement, especially with dispatching. He concluded with an impassioned plea for more investment in intercity rail. “If not now, when?”

Supporting Passenger Rail with a Political Action Committee: Levin/Gillespie.

Bennett Levin is best known for running restored passenger equipment. He and Tom Gillespie feel that a “PAC” is needed to channel political contributions in a way that organizations such as NARP are unable to because of tax status. More information is available on www.passengerrailtoday.com.

Grade Crossing Closure Assessment Modeling: FRA

The FRA presenter, Karen McClure, has developed a software model (Grade Dec.net) that helps evaluate options for crossing closures. This was an excellent technical presentation. More information is available on the FRA website.

Operations Planning: Rodney Dangerfield or Aretha Franklin? R.L. Banks and Associates.

Charles Banks made some very good points about the lack of sound operations planning causing major problems for the start up of services. There is a bias towards solving problems with capital expenditure rather than good operating discipline (one of my pet themes), which can result in duplication of facilities and stranded investment.

Restructuring Passenger Rail, Any Good Ideas Out There? APTA, NS, CCJPA, Railway Age, Consultants.

This was a lively session with a lot of input from the floor. There was a consensus that NEC infrastructure funding needs to be restructured and taken out of Amtrak’s accounts. Amtrak should pay a user fee to run its NEC trains. I made my usual point that California has a state taxpayer funded rail program and our federal taxes pay for the NEC.

Other Points: Tort liability is so high that it stifles growth of existing service and new projects. There is a need for limits or else the present momentum will be lost. Various types of tax credit bonds were discussed as well as the Trent Lott proposal for tax credits for rail infrastructure. If passed, this legislation should be extended to include passenger rail investments.

Shafer, NS: Explore privatizing the “first class” services on the long distance trains.

Skoropowski: USDOT should pay the access charges to freight railroads, and should establish a capital fund for joint freight and passenger infrastructure projects. Payments to freight railroads should be performance adjusted.

Vantuono (Railway Age Editor): believes that the freight railroads would do a better job of operating the passenger services on their own lines. Also the industry and its supporters should do more to educate the public of the role and accomplishments of both freight and passenger rail.

Caltrain Project 2025.

Bob Doty was unable to attend so Bill Vantuono ran through his presentation slides. This presentation will be made to the RailPAC Meeting October 28 in San Carlos. A report will be included with the meeting report on this month’s website.

Building Toronto Airport Link: Railway Assoc. of Canada, Hatch, Mott McDonald.

This project is of particular interest as there are always debates about how best to serve airport workers and passengers. Toronto is proposing a branch line off one of the GO Transit commuter lines (the Georgetown Corridor) and a private group will operate the trains using 50-year-old refurbished Budd railcars. However, with airport trains planned to operate every 15 minutes together with extension of the commuter trains to all day operation there is considerable neighborhood opposition which has resulted in a government mandated environmental revue. An interesting statistic about Lester Pearson Airport: 80,000 daily users, only 13,000 are to/from Toronto, the rest are in transit.

Business Model for a Successful PPP: Great Western Partners.

Paul Lundberg cited the Chicago Metra suburban rail operation as a successful public-private partnership between the freight railroads (operators of the trains) and the public agency that contracts with them. Costs per passenger trip (BNSF $4.05, UP $6.37,) compare well with NJT at $8.47 and LIRR at $14.43.

Equipment Choices, Pros and Cons: PB Transit, LTK, and STV.

Much of this discussion centered on locomotive and equipment types for the NE commuter services. There was some discussion about dual mode multiple units which can give a single seat ride on non-electrified lines which connect with electrified services, e.g. the Raritan Valley line of NJT. The panelists warned that these options are expensive, especially if produced in small quantities. I asked about the possibility of a 737 equivalent for the western states. The Bombardier bi-level is the only vehicle that has been produced in any quantity in recent years. Could it be the basis for an inter-city vehicle?

The Colorado Railcar DMU was discussed. This is an FRA compliant vehicle. The biggest problem for the development of this technology is the FRA regulations, which preclude the importation of successful designs unless they can be used in a segregated environment. In the USA the most cost effective configuration is diesel push-pull.

Summation:

It was heartening to see a concentration of energy and brainpower directed towards the expansion of passenger rail. I’d like to see other members of our group be able to attend next year.

Reports

Amtrak 4, 3, and Me: I’m Impressed!

A Trip Report for October 7-11, 2006. Commentary and Photos by Russ Jackson, RailPAC Secretary.

After the successful RailPAC meeting in Fullerton, CA, on October 7 it was time for me to return to Los Angeles Union Station (parking in the MTA Building garage was suggested by James Smith) and prepare to board Train 4, Amtrak’s Southwest Chief to Albuquerque and Lamy, New Mexico. Because I now live in Northern California I don’t get to go to Phillippe’s restaurant near LAUS very often, so I went there for dinner. Soon Surfliner train 583 arrived at LAUS and RailPAC VP Smith and Associate Director Ken Ruben were there, having traveled back after the meeting.

Train 4 to Lamy.

The trainset was at the platform on time, and I boarded Coach 412 where Attendant Carolyn was greeting passengers. She was friendly, efficient, and very helpful to all her passengers throughout the trip. I was ticketed for a lower level coach seat, as it’s quieter down there and is available to older passengers like me. There were three other passengers down there, so we each had a full seat to ourselves for the overnight trip. There was time to inspect the condition of the car and it appeared to be one recently out of the shop, as was the Lounge Car on this train. They looked to be in very good condition, and the renovated Lounges with tables at one end are in great shape. I understand that a new upper-level galley and dumbwaiter are being installed in the first of the 13 Superliner I dining cars being converted to new diner-lounge configuration by Amtrak at its Beech Grove shops. It’s just a shame (it should be a crime) the project to renovate all the Superliner I cars is taking so long. Andrea, the Lounge Car attendant had a cold, but cheerily stayed on the job working her assigned hours all the way.

We were out ON TIME, with no delays anymore for freight cars to be attached, and were speedily enroute to Fullerton. A large crowd boarded there, as did a small group at Riverside. Most of these passengers were going to Albuquerque! I later found out the annual Balloon Festival was underway in that city, but for many it was a personal destination. Before we got to Barstow sleep took over and I awoke going across the Northern Arizona desert. At Williams Jct. we were down about a half hour, and several passengers detrained to be greeted by the Grand Canyon Railway van. At Flagstaff we were a half hour late. Many ons and offs there, too. One thing even a casual observer should notice is the importance of the intermediate stations along the route of these long distance trains. EACH ONE was a destination for passengers on this train and on #3 returning! How else could people “get there”? Car? Yes, but what if that was not an option? Take the train, and they do.

Breakfast

Winslow is a very busy BNSF yard these days and #4 had slow moving through it. There were passengers waiting to board our train at the station, which is part of the former Fred Harvey Hotel “La Posada,”open for tourists again and doing well. Breakfast was served in the Dining Car shortly thereafter, and I went in at about 7:00 as we passed through the historic Route 66 town of Holbrook, to at long last sample the “Simplified” cuisine. The breakfast menu had 5 items to choose from, and I picked the “Bob Evans” Breakfast Scramble, partly because it came with a half order of a favorite, “Railroad French Toast.” While it was obvious that the meals were prepackaged mine turned out to be quite tasty. I must say, however, that if more cutbacks are made to food service in the future the borderline for quality will be quickly crossed. The three companions at the table were interesting; one, a young fellow from Australia, was traveling to Toronto and New York visiting museums. The gents across the table had the oatmeal, which was “watery and flavorless” in their words. No big complaints were heard, however, and the service was excellent as there were two waiters and a Lead Attendant working every efficiently.

Albuquerque

Gallup, New Mexico, with its Navajo Indian culture and restored station/museum was the beginning of very rough riding track, and the BNSF has a massive maintenance project on that section of their “Transcon” double track route that will eliminate the problem. While we had some speed reductions, BNSF Dispatch weaved our train through the waiting freight traffic quite expeditiously with no waiting. This track project goes from Gallup to the Dailies Junction, where Amtrak diverges onto the Albuquerque line. We arrived in Albuquerque at 11:35 AM, 45 minutes EARLY! Waiting on the platform was RailPAC Associate Director and New Mexico Rail Passenger Association President, Jon Messier. It’s always great to visit with Jon and he had much to show. Being Sunday, the new Railrunner commuter trains were not running, but a trainset was available for picture taking, and a photo appears later in this report. A full report of what’s happening in the “Land of Enchantment” will be posted on this website next month.

Departure from Albuquerque was ON TIME at 12:45, and we were on to Lamy, the AT&SF and Amtrak station for New Mexico’s capital city Santa Fe. The photo above shows what’s new at the Lamy station: a restored Atlantic Coast Line diner is open for lunch, operated by the same caterers that service the Santa Fe Southern tourist train. In the background is the reopened “Legal Tender” bar and restaurant, which is also a rail museum. A signal failure north of Bernalillo had caused us to arrive 30 minutes late, however, my sister Suzanne Snow and her husband Bob were on hand for the greeting and we were off for Sunday dinner at the historic Harvey House Hotel and restaurant, “La Fonda” in downtown Santa Fe before going to their place in Abiquiu. During the visit I was asked by many of their friends about when the Railrunner was coming to Santa Fe, and based on what Jon Messier had said, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson is determined it will be in 2008. Interest is very high. .

Train 3 Back To Los Angeles.

While the great visit was a short one, including participating for the first time in a yoga class taught by Suzanne, we were back at Lamy on October 10 for me to catch Train 3 which was arriving from the east ON TIME! I was welcomed aboard Coach 311 by Attendant Steve, and was seated in the same seat location on the lower level. Arrival in Albuquerque was at 3:35, a half hour early, and Jon was there on the platform again for more train talk and see the 4:10 departure of the Railrunner on that Tuesday afternoon. The picture of that departure is below. Notice a nice crowd is waiting for early boarding including one passenger who arrived on a bicycle. They’re beginning to “get it” in Albuquerque.


The Railrunner

Our Albuquerque departure was ON TIME at 4:35, with a large group of people boarding, a large group was reserved at Gallup, and another at Flagstaff; all heading for Los Angeles. There were more people downstairs this time, with a lady going to Winslow, a couple that boarded at Albuquerque going to Fullerton, a man going to Kingman to board the Las Vegas bus, and a couple getting off at Needles. I did have the seat to myself for the overnight trip. I would estimate that this train, and train #4 eastbound, hit over 80% Coach occupancy at Albuquerque. That station is a definite destination for Amtrak, and now that the State of New Mexico will own the track up as far as the Colorado border (more next month) there is no excuse for Amtrak to take the Southwest Chief off this line.

Problem Arises

Unfortunately, this was Coach 34047, a Superliner I that had not been renovated yet. And it showed. Boy, did it: All 5 toilets on the lower level were not functioning due to a mechanical condition, not because of passenger plugging. A mechanic had boarded at Albuquerque but was unable to correct the problem, so all passengers in our Coach had to use the other Coaches, all of which had fully functioning toilets. A nuisance, particularly for some of the others traveling downstairs, but fortunately the other cars remained functional into Los Angeles. The rough riding track was uncomfortable again, and several folks were bounced around a bit but everyone kept their humor that I saw. The BNSF continued to weave us through their heavy traffic as we slammed into crossovers nearly at speed, saw several freight trains stacked up waiting for us, and I couldn’t help thinking about how different that was from the Union Pacific’s reputation on other Amtrak long distance trains.

Dinner On #3

Dinner reservations were taken quite efficiently, and I chose 6:00. At 5:45 I was waiting in the Lounge car and was called to dinner early. A couple returning to Phoenix (they had parked in Flagstaff), and a man who had boarded at Lamy at the same time I did who was enroute only to Gallup were at the table. That fellow was a regular rider on that segment, saying he preferred to relax and have dinner to driving that distance!

Dinner service was quite efficient, and I chose the “Evening Special” which was Chicken Fried Steak. It was recommended by the frequent traveler, and it turned out to be tasty, although bordering on dry. The salad was excellent, the mashed potatoes were great (who can screw them up?). The couple, who ate the Salmon and Pork entrees, had traveled to/from New York, and had enjoyed their meals on board but were “tired” of cheesecake. We all passed on dessert, and I returned to my seat to have one of my sister’s homemade cookies instead. When I got to the Lounge car I found the evening movie was “Prairie Home Companion” with Garrison Keilor, so I watched it but gave up early as every few minutes the Diner was calling out names to come to dinner which overrode the sound of the movie.

Sleep was from Kingman, (after watching the gent from my car board the bus to Las Vegas), to Victorville, where several passengers detrained. Even though the Diner opened for breakfast from 4:30 to 6 I passed on it, and went to the Lounge to watch the sunrise going down Cajon Pass, mostly in the dark, but arriving at San Bernardino and its big fleet of Metrolink cars waiting for morning departures. We were down about a half hour at that point. A few passengers got off there, even though it is no longer a staffed station, and we went on into Riverside toward Fullerton. We were held at Fullerton Junction for 10 minutes for traffic. We’d been told we could arrive at Los Angeles as early as 7:35, an hour and ten timetable minutes early, but because of delays we didn’t get there until 8:05; EARLY, but quite acceptable! Ken Ruben was the welcoming committee and we went across to Phillippe’s for a very tasty breakfast before I hit the road back North.

Summary And Comments

Rather than make only my own comments I’ll pass along some I overheard from fellow passengers. NO ONE was upset to the point of anger about anything, and I certainly had no big complaints except the same one everyone else had about the toilets on #3. Dining car comments were noted above.

On #4, a lady sitting in the Lounge was overheard saying, “Amtrak needs to fix their tracks here,” as we rocked and rolled across New Mexico east of Gallup. Her round trip was taking her from LA to Buffalo, New York, to New York City, Charlotte, New Orleans, Chicago and back to Los Angeles. Her comment shows again how the freight railroad ownership and maintenance responsibility for the tracks hasn’t been communicated to everyone.

On #3, the man going to Kingman and Las Vegas had several late night cell phone conversations making sure his ride in Vegas knew when he would be arriving. He spoke at the usual cell phone loud voice experienced everywhere. He then told all of us that next time he would get a Sleeper. I said they cost a lot more, and a lady said she had called to get a sleeper for this train and found it would be $500 more, so rode Coach just as I had when I found out the same thing. She said she wouldn’t pay an extra $1,000 to ride Amtrak, and the man agreed. Price resistance? Yes, but Amtrak still sold out all the bedrooms on our train.

Before we arrived in Fullerton a lady was heard complaining about the train being EARLY, believe it or not, as her ride was not expected to pick her up that early. When did you ever hear that before? The rest of us were quite happy that this trip was ending so well, the crew had been so efficient and cheerful, the food quality had been above what we expected, and despite the toilet trouble it had been an IMPRESSIVE ride. My compliments to all, and many thanks!