Sacramento — Reported by Russ Jackson, Secretary — The 2006 RailPAC Annual Meeting was held in the California State Rail Museum auditorium on Saturday, January 28, 2006. Over 100 members attended, making it one of the most successful meetings in the spirited history of the organization. “KUDOS for the KIDO”, was Director Bruce Jenkins’ comment to Executive Director Richard Silver, who organized the day, “I think it was a a great meeting. It was a smashing success. There was a very obvious POSITIVE air after the meeting broke.” All 13 officers and directors of the organization were present! Many members and guests arrived at the nearby Sacramento train station, a short walk down the platform from the CSRM. Ralph James, who planned to attend by train from his home in Blue Canyon (5,000 ft elevation in the Sierra) had to cancel his trip as the snow was falling! A photo which will accompany this report on the www.railpac.org website will show a picture of the group at the head table. The crowd included several representatives from Caltrans, Amtrak, and the Union Pacific Railroad. The meeting celebrated the opening of the RailPAC legislative office in downtown Sacramento this year.
The meeting was split into a morning session, which was the Business meeting of the organization, and an afternoon session for discussion of rail issues, but as usual that discussion continued before, during, and after all sessions.
- Business meeting: Because President Noel Braymer chose not to run for re-election, instead returning as the newsletter editor, and Treasurer Jim Clifton decided to retire from his job, the organization had to replace these veteran rail advocates. Both Noel and Jim go back to the CRC days in the early 1980’s and have continued as loyal rail advocates and leaders. Tributes were paid to them during the meeting. Paul Dyson, Burbank, was elected the new President, and Bill Kerby, Sacramento, was elected Treasurer. In his remarks, Mr. Dyson spoke of the need for us to continue to be heard as advocates for a “quality experience” for the rail passenger, whether on long distance, corridor, or light rail. A complete list of the RailPAC directors and associate directors can be found on the www.railpac.org “Contacts” page.Other business conducted at the meeting included a change in the bylaws to add a second Vice President, with one VP “North” and the other VP “South.” The board will choose a new VP North at its next meeting. Mr. Silver reported on his successful efforts to contact legislators to explain the RailPAC positions on various rail issues in California. RailPAC director Matt Melzer, a student at UC Santa Cruz, reported on his semester as an intern at the Washington, DC, headquarters of the National Association of Railroad Passengers. Mr. Melzer spoke enthusiastically about the efforts of NARP to further the cause of the railroad passenger.
- The afternoon session was chaired by veteran rail advocate, Arthur Lloyd, a retired Amtrak employee who serves on many rail committees in the state and nationally. We are proud to include his name as a RailPAC director. Mr. Lloyd introduced Sacramento County Supervisor Roger Dickinson, who is also the Chairman of the Capitol Corridor JPA, and he welcomed us to his county and city. Mr. Dickinson stated, “We need a national rail passenger system. And, it would be a mistake to postpone the development of High Speed Rail. If other countries can do it, why can’t we?”A panel of directors from the National Association of Railroad Passengers briefed us on the future of rail advocacy. Pat Montague, Long Beach, was the principal speaker, saying “This is an exciting time for rail passenger advocacy. Keep it high on the radar screen, and Get the message to the decision-makers in the states and nationally.” Bob Conheim, Auburn, who is also the “Lord Mayor” of the Capitol Corridor Riders group, spoke about how great it is that we are “finding common ground between NARP and RailPAC; there is so much we can agree upon.”
- The next panel was introduced by Mr. Lloyd included three dynamic speakers who carry much authority about the rail programs in California.
Mr. Skoropowski stated “The California rail experience is unique! In the automobile capitol of the world are located 3 of the 5 busiest rail corridors in the country! We have the results.” The Capitol Corridor is devoted to a “maximum level of service for the dollars and equipment available. We try to work WITH the Union Pacific to solve problems, not in an adversarial way, to get the job done.”
Mr. Bronte said he has been in the state rail program for 15 years, and “I’m the most excited I’ve ever been. The Governor said, \u2018I will build it now!’ and he has included $500 million of stated rail projects in his proposed bond issue.” Other politicians are including money for rail projects in their proposals, too. (A list of these proposals and their contents are available from the RailPAC Executive Director.) Mr. Bronte said, “We will be more active publicly as advocates for these expenditures, and Mr. (Will) Kempton (Caltrans director) is a national leader in rail advocacy. Think 80-20 split for funds between the feds and the state match! ” Their first priority for the money is new passenger rail cars and locomotives.
Mr. Leavitt called this year “critical for HSR.” While “The Governor’s bill does not contain HSR for the next ten years, if adopted that would probably end the project.” The money needs to be allocated now so the state can afford to buy right-of-way and do the planning necessary. Senator Perata’s bill would “move us forward.” The HSR EIR has been certified. HSR will serve a variety of uses, according to Mr. Leavitt, “besides just Los Angeles to San Francisco trips. It will serve many short distance trips, too.” He vowed that the project would be “built incrementally,” not all at once, and asked, “Can we afford to NOT build HSR?”
- During the Question and Answer period many members of the audience asked about issues in their areas. Director Dennis Story asked about the Santa Barbara to Oxnard commute proposal. Mr. Bronte said “The cost of operating that rail service,” which must be paid from local funds, “could destroy some very important local bus systems.” The UP’s Coast Line, which is single tracked between those cities, will have capacity issues, so, “We are looking to readjust schedules so the Surfliner train set that currently overnights in Goleta can be used for an early morning commute train.”While the San Joaquin Valley does not have any stated projects on the Governor’s list, “that is because there are currently two major $25 million state financed track projects underway there, and there are others already allocated. The Governor’s list are what cannot fit into the current STIP,” Mr. Bronte said.
We discussed the need for more grade separation projects. Mr. Bronte pointed out that the current thinking should be that those are “highway” projects, not rail, and more funding for them would be available that way than through the current rail financing mechanism. Mr. Dyson pointed out that these should be “public safety” projects, not just considered “highway” or “rail.”