Monthly Archives

February 2006

Reports

Capitol Corridor JPA Board Meeting Report

Sacramento City Hall — Reported by Russ Jackson

  • CCJPB Officials Visit The UP HQ In Omaha
  • Expansion To 32 Daily Trains In August
  • RailPAC Urges Passage Of Legislation For More Rail Funds
  • Good News For Oakland To San Jose Riders
  • CCJPB’S Gene Skorpowski Writes To Riders About ‘On Time’

Eastbound Capitol train 724 has just crossed the Sacramento River bridge and is entering the Sacramento station 20 minutes late on Saturday, February 25, 2006. (RailPAC Photo by Russ Jackson)

The CCJPB met in the new Sacramento City Hall for the first time. City Councilman Steve Cohn, a CCJPB Director, welcomed the group to the 200,000 square foot building, constructed behind the 100 year old original building which has also been restored. He explained that the new building sits on the site of an 8-10,000 year old indian village, which was not known until excavation began.

  1. CCJPB Chairman, and Sacramento County Supervisor, Roger Dickinson, reported on the visit by several officials to the offices of the Union Pacific in Omaha in the third week of January. Placer County, which is home to the UP’s Roseville Yard and which is anxious for additional Capitol train service up to Auburn, sent several representatives with the group including Assemblyman Tim Leslie. Among others, they saw the UP’s Executive VP-Operations Dennis Duffy. They discussed the need for additional trains east of Sacramento. Mr. Duffy expressed concerns his company has about the effect on the on time performance and capacity issues with additional passenger trains on that route. The group reached a “concurrence” to pursue a third track from Sacramento to Roseville, and that engineering assessments will be done as soon as possible for a dedicated passenger-only track, paid for mostly by government funding. Also, the Feds have money available for track relocation, and the UP will take that into consideration. As for the on-time issues, and they got worse after this visit, the dispatch problems affect the UP’s freight as well as the passenger trains. The UP is aware of it and working on it. Mr. Dickinson said they were “useful meetings; everyone was honest with each other. Mr. Duffy has responded in writing acknowledging the discussions. We will have a continuing dialog.” The CCJPB’s philosophy is to work “with” the railroad, and not be aggressive against it despite all the problems.
  2. Mr. Dickinson also reported on the January visit of Amtrak Acting President/CEO David Hughes, who saw many state legislators and was very positive about what he had seen in California during his stay here. Mr. Cohn said Hughes “held out California as a model for state-federal relationships.”
  3. The FY 2007-2008 Business Plan Update preliminary draft was approved, subject to further input from the public and final passage at the next meeting. Public meetings will be held on the trains in March; more people attend these than when evening meetings are held off the trains. The plan calls for maintaining the present 24 train service with increases to San Jose and to Roseville/Auburn. However, it was announced that it appears likely that current revenue increases above the state’s allocation will allow expansion of Sacramento to Oakland to 32 weekday trains on or about August 28, 2006, and additional frequencies to San Jose. Schedules are being prepared to do so! Also, for the first time in over two years additional STIP funds are expected to fund some or all of the CCJPA’s capital projects which are designed to increase reliability, safety, and ride quality. They will also build on the success of their award-winning marketing campaigns/programs to raise the awareness of the Capitol Corridor “brand.”
  4. A revised policy on station and train service principles which mandates minimum daily average of 15 riders per train by the third year of service was approved. Three current stations do not meet that requirement, but with the completion of track work south of Oakland those stations are expected to increase ridership soon. It also states that any extension of train service outside the current service area (meaning to Reno and/or Redding) “shall not drain resources that would prevent the CCJPA from implementing it core service expansion goals.”
  5. The board reviewed current state and federal legislation that would affect the Capitols. The Governor’s “Strategic Growth Plan,” AB 1165, is a $26B bonding proposal to provide funding for infrastructure projects. It contains identified projects for each of the state corridors. Senator Perata’s version, SB 1024 calls for $12B without specific projects, and Senator Nunez has SB1165 will finance various unspecified projects. A conference committee is meeting to bring them together. RailPAC Executive Director, Richard Silver, spoke at this meeting about his visits to various legislators expressing the need for the additional funds for rail projects. He hoped the CCJPB members would also go back and “get your lobbyists and friends to keep hammering on the legislature to combine these proposals.” In other good news, it appears the “onerous” provision of the Amtrak funding bill that would restrict the offering of discounted fares, such as are offered on the Capitols, San Joaquins, Surfliners, etc., was interpreted as being NOT applicable to corridor trains, so “the issue is behind us,” according to Gene Skoropowski.
  6. In the Managing Director’s Report, Gene Skoropowski had some good news. “The programmed track improvement work between Oakland and San Jose was completed ‘this morning’ and a reasonable level of on-time performance has been restored for our passengers. There are no more slow orders as of today!” The effect of this work had been devastating to the reliability of the trains, with OTP being around 70% through all this work. “Despite that,” Mr. Skoropowski said, “we have managed to hold on to most riders and significantly improved our financial performance” to a farebox return of over 50% for the first time, and, “If on-time performance can recover and improve now, we will still have a good chance of delivering record high statistics again this year.” In a lengthy “from me to you” email letter to riders Mr. Skoropowski explained the difficulties of the past few months and said that they will be offering regular riders a substantial discount on multi-ride tickets for an upcoming month, most likely April. These letters go a long way to help keep riders informed and understanding that the difficulties are being constantly pursued.

The next CCJPB meeting will be April 19, 2006, 10 AM, at Suisun City Hall.

Reports

Transportation Agency of Monterey County

Reported by Chris Flescher, Associate Director, RailPAC — The status of the service to the Monterey Peninsula is that there still might be 2 trains a day running in 2009. The project is under environmental review and TAMC is examining alternatives. TAMC will be applying for FTA new starts money soon.

Earlier that day (Feb 6), some TAMC staff met with the UP railroad. The first reaction of UP officials was that UP doesn’t want even one train a day without some track improvements. There are 3 projects that UP is studying (Caltrain to Salinas, tourist train to Monterey, Coast Daylight) that will affect their operations in Monterey County. UP feels that the first (Caltrain to Salinas) will require the smallest amount of improvements.

TAMC staff said that signaling improvements and double tracking near Aromas are two things that UP is not pushing really hard for. Signal improvements tend to be very expensive compared to projects like a small amount of double tracking. UP is very interested in a layover yard in Salinas, and Amtrak may want it too. This could be expensive and slow to build, and has a strong potential of delaying the entire project.

It appears that the full yard project would cost around $10 million, but a temporary one could be built for $1 million.

There are similar questions about constructing stations. It would cost about $50 million to build / fix-up all the stations that TAMC eventually wants to see, but that much money would be hard to get. Creating basic or temporary station infrastructure would allow trains to run soon and better ones could be built later.

There are issues with a Castroville station. The preferred location is north of highway 156, but building one there could take 7-8 years because it requires approval of the Coastal Commission, Castroville Redevelopment Agency, and it depends of a plan for future growth in Castroville being completed. Building just to the south of the city could occur quickly but it is not a good long-term location for a station.

Christina Watson of TAMC recently met with someone from FTA who deals with New Starts funding. He didn’t think that a demonstation project (like one train a day, with temporary stations) would hurt TAMC getting funding for a “permanent project.” Christine wants to meet with FTA regional officials (in San Francisco) to ask their opinion and wants to have TAMC staff study the issue more carefully.

Apex Strategies (a consulting firm) is prepared to work on 3 major issues. 1: negotiation with UP for infrastructure improvements. 2: negotiation with Caltrain JPB and Amtrak for (I believe) working together on scheduling south of San Jose. 3: determining what all the capital needs are and how TAMC could get money for them.

TAMC officials want to hire APEX to do each one, but as a separate work order.

One question was this: if the negotations are still going on in June, will that affect the sales tax referendum (county-wide, for transportation) ? It doesn’t seem likely to be a problem, according to someone on TAMC staff.

One project to work on right now is creating new diagrams for a simpler Salinas layover facility. The current design appears to be very expensive (and unaffordable).

The rail policy subcommittee (the group at the meeting) approved asking the full TAMC board for money to have a meeting with UP.

One thing that will make meetings more expensive is that TAMC will probably have to commute to the UP offices in Roseville.

An issue that is likely to cause problems or delays in the future is dealing with the environmental issues around Elkhorn Slough. The tracks pass through the wetlands and making changes will require approval from different agencies.

Reports

Transportation Agency of Monterey County

Reported by Chris Flescher, Associate Director, RailPAC — One very important thing is that the UP railroad has approved the proposed station track layouts for Pajaro, Castroville, and Salinas.

There is a water company that people call Cal Am. I think the full name is something like California American Water. They are proposing a desalination plant in Moss Landing. They are interested in building a pipeline from the plant to a storage reservoir in Seaside. The pipeline would be about 20 miles long, and 10 miles could potentially go in the TAMC-owned rail right-of-way. The water company will have an appraisal of the easement value in a month, and TAMC will also conduct an appraisal. TAMC negotiated subsurface easement rights when buying the r-o-w from UP, and the water pipeline could be a source of revenue for TAMC. There is also a desire to see if anything else could go in the same tunnel as the water pipe, like fiber optic cables.

There are new cost estimates for the projects, and this time they are in current, or future (adjusted for inflation) dollars. The older ones were in constant 2005 dollars.

The Caltrain Gilroy-Salinas is considered one project, with the most significant costs being the intermodal station in Salinas, and the rail layover facility (which would be near the Salinas station).

For Castroville-Monterey, there are 3 possible projects. One is Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), one is LRT, and one is having both in the same corridor, which appears to be feasible, since it is 100 feet wide in many places.

TAMC approved sending a letter (maybe to the state or federal government), asking to put the city of Soledad “back on the map”, so that city would be in line to get money for a train station, and service, in the future.

Currently, MST and SC Metro (the Santa Cruz transit agency), are studying BRT between Monterey and Santa Cruz. This would be likely to use the r-o-w of the Castroville-Monterey “Coastal Branch Line”.

TAMC employees who are involved with passenger rail attended the BRT workshop (that was on Friday), in order to get a better idea of how a Monterey-SC BRT line would use the rail row.

Commentary

The Best and Worst of Times

By RailPAC Editor Noel T. Braymer — RailPAC’s annual meeting this January 28th highlighted the great progress we have had, and can look forward to in California. Along with this we have problems that never seem to go away which we must still fight. Since 1990 there have been no major sources of new funding for rail service in California. Despite this we have seen service expansion on State supported services using increased revenues from growing ridership. But more money is needed for long overdue capital projects. Proposals from the administration have rekindled the debate on transportation spending. Nothing has yet been approved. But the administration is proposing $500 million dollars in new spending for rail.

The important thing is that no less than $500 million is available in the near term. As proposed this money would go towards the run-through connection at LAUS, and buying 40 additional passenger cars and locomotives state-wide. This new equipment would mostly be used to run longer trains on existing services just to keep up with growing ridership. New equipment would take up 125 million of the 500 million proposed. Another 214 million of this 500 million would be spent grade separating the busy BNSF mainline in Los Angeles. Already the grade-crossing gates are down as much as they are up on the BNSF in Los Angeles. All the projects proposed for the 500 million dollars are good projects that we have waited a long time for. But you can see 500 million will go fast.

Dan Leavitt for the California High Speed Rail Authority made the point that much of the 30 plus billion dollars proposed for High Speed Rail would be for projects that would be shared with existing rail services. Mr. Leavitt also said High Speed would be built incrementally. As always the devil is in the details. Would anything less than 200 mph or even 150 be considered “High Speed “for a start up service? What projects would be built that could be shared and how could they be shared?

Both Gene Skoropowski of the Capitol Corridor and Bill Bronte, Chief of Caltrans Rail Division made the point of the importance of a good relationship with the freight railroads. This was demonstrated by a perhaps first time attendance at least at a RailPAC meeting by a representative of the Union Pacific Railroad, no doubt invited by Mr. Skoropowski. A major issue for the railroads is rapidly growing freight traffic, particularly from the ports, and not just Los Angeles/Long Beach. The railroads are increasingly congested and there just isn’t capacity for more passenger trains on the mainlines unless there is money for track improvements.

Recently in the news is a plan to run express “Flyaway” buses from LAUS to LAX. Requests for airport connections, particularly at LAX is the most common question asked of Caltran’s rail branch according to its web page. It is encouraging to discover that Caltrans is excited and looking forward to working with Metrolink to encourage passengers to travel to LAX via the Flyaway Bus/rail connection. This could be the start of bigger things, maybe more Flyaway buses from more stations, to more airports or even Flyaway trains?

Just in time for the first anniversary of the Metrolink crash is a proposal to ban push-pull operation in California. The crash last year that killed 11 people was caused by a motorist attempting suicide. The proposed legislation would affect push-pull operation on all commuter trains in California, but wouldn’t effect Amtrak push-pull service. No additional money is included in the proposal to pay for the additional costs caused by the elimination of push-pull with no improvement of service. It should be noted that over 42,000 people in the United States are killed every year in auto accidents. About 500 people are killed yearly on the railroad, and most of these are at grade-crossings by motorists. This bill should die. Money is better spent improving the safety at grade-crossings.

Long distance trains continue to get no respect. Amtrak is yet again trying to “save” money on the long distance trains. Amtrak would do better to repair damaged equipment and put them on the road to bring in more money. Cost-cutting doesn’t save money if it drives passengers away. Amtrak continues to be its own worst enemy playing long distance service against corridor services. The long distance trains just don’t cost that much, but brings in the greatest share of passenger revenues. Amtrak is nearer the state of collapse than at anytime since 2002. If ridership on the long distance trains plunges, it will take the rest of the system with it. It seems that the last Amtrak President that understood how important the long distance trains were to keep the corridors running was Graham Claytor.