LOSSAN Corridor Meeting Report May 10th, 2006
Reported by Noel Braymer — The meeting was well attended by representatives of member agencies. Also at this meeting was Amtrak VP Gil Mallery with Liz O’Donoghue. There was a lot of material discussed at this meeting so this report will stick mostly to the highlights. In the audience were only about a half dozen people including myself and Bart Reed. It seems a Pacific Surfliner train was annulled this morning. Few detail were given at the meeting but it was a concern of several of the LOSSAN Board members. The LOSSAN corridor is 351 miles long from San Diego to San Luis Obispo.
The hottest topics of the meeting were the bond issues recently placed on the November ballot by the legislature. Of just over 37 Billion dollars in bonds on the ballot, almost 20 billion will be for transportation.The plan is to use this money and leverage it with matching funds to spend over 116 billion dollars. The hope is to get an 80% Federal, 20% State match for many projects including rail projects. This is down from 68 billion in bonds the governor was proposing back in January. Bill Bronte, Chief of Caltrans Division of Rail gave the report on the bond issues: California intercity rail will get 400 million from the bond money, not counting matching funding. Of this 125 million is locked in towards new rolling stock and locomotives. This equipment is for expanding existing trains to meet traffic demands, not for new trains. The rest of the 275 million hasn’t been allotted yet. Right now over the next 10 years 2.74 billion dollars in infrastructure projects have been proposed for California intercity services.There is other money in this bond proposal that may be used or shared with intercity service. These include transit money which Metrolink or Coaster can apply for which would also benefit intercity services. There is also bond money (if passed) to improve security at ports, airports as well as to improve air quality and reduce traffic congestion. Some of this money might be used for improved grade-separations and track improvements. At the same time there is more money available in existing transportation accounts which is making life a little easier. As part of the ballot measures 1A through 1E, measure 1A would make it harder for the legislature to raid gas tax revenues to balance the budget. The last 3 years or so has seen transportation money used for this purpose. November should be interesting. Current polls show strong supports for these measures and increasing spending for transportation. If approved this November, the first money could be allocated by January.
Amtrak gave a slide presentation (power point?) which had almost nothing to do with California. LOSSAN clearly wants large amounts of Federal dollars. Amtrak just wants more money. I thought it odd that Amtrak would have a slide about the on-time performance of the NEC and talk several times about bringing the NEC to a state of good repair to a group of California politicians. Mostly the talk was company party line, “things are so much better since 2002,” and how Amtrak is saving so much money etc. One issue which was discussed at length was the question of on time performance. The board was unhappy that the COAST STARLIGHT has an on time performance of 2%. It was explained that for most of the STARLIGHT’s route most trains run on time, the STARLIGHT gets held up north of Redding. Jacki Bacharach representing Los Angeles County (she has been on LOSSAN for well over 10 years) asked Liz O’Donoghue of Amtrak if the on time performance of Amtrak trains included data for annulled trains. This left O’Donoghue unable to respond. Finally with Mr. Mallery they admitted that annulled trains were not included in the on time performance.
There was a presentation on the planning for possible commuter service in Santa Barbara and Ventura County.There was also a speech from Santa Barbara County about their hope to get approval from the votes to raise the sale tax for transportation from 1/2 to 3/4 cents to fund commuter rail service. What is being studied is additional Amtrak service, Metrolink or a new agency running RDC’s. The Amtrak model was to add an additional train leaving Los Angeles at either 6 or 6:30 AM and adjusting the departures south out of Santa Barbara at 4:05, 5:40 and 7:05 PM. The results for this was an estimated 50 additional passengers a day. Running either Metrolink or RDC’s between Santa Barbara and Camarillo came up with ridership of 3,000 daily. The big issue is getting cooperation from the UP and finding out what impacts this and other projects on the Coast Line will have.
There was a presentation from Amtrak on where there was growth on the SURFLINERS. Los Angeles to San Diego, Solana Beach and Oceanside were doing well. Mr. Mallory was please that ridership was continuing to grow despite steady fare hikes. Where there was modest shrinking ridership was on Business Class. The Board members who clearly travel on Business class had ideas about how to improve it. The question was asked if JetBlue can give individual TV sets on the seat backs on their planes why don’t the TV sets on the PACIFIC SURFLINERS work. Apparently things like complimenty soft drinks, newspapers etc that are suppose to come with Business Class are often missing.