Monthly Archives

August 2006

Commentary

Matrix Theory is not the name of a movie

By Noel T. Braymer, Editor, Western Rail Passenger Review — The late Dr. Adrian Herzog was a very smart guy. It helps to be smart when you’re a college professor at Cal State Northridge. This is even more so when you teach Astronomy and Physics. Adrian’s love for trains seems to have been his birth right, inherited from his native Switzerland which has more trains per capita than almost any other country. As a college professor, one of the benefits of the job was the right to conduct independent research. This research doesn’t have to be directly related to the professor’s normal field of study.

Adrian’s independent research was to create a computer simulation program of long distance rail ridership in America using the University’s mainframe computer. Using existing ridership on Amtrak to calibrate the simulation, Adrian created a mathematical model to see what happens as you add routes, stations or connections to the rail network in terms of passenger miles. Passenger miles are important because this is a better measure of ridership revenue than simple head counts. The work that Adrian did was vastly more sophisticated than anything that had been done before or since.

Has this “theory” been put to the test? It was with the extension of the PALMETTO.

“Amtrak’s Board of Directors, at the urging of the United Rail Passenger Alliance, forced the extension of the Palmetto on a reluctant management. Management objected to the additional costs associated with operating the train the additional 140 miles to Jacksonville, and did not recognize the revenue potentials from the extension. Management’s forecast of revenues associated with the extension were based only on management’s perception of the local traffic that would be generated between Jacksonville and Savannah, which was by any reckoning very low.

“Once the train was actually extended, however, the results were telling. Although the Palmetto ordinarily carried only 40 to 50 passengers into or out of Jacksonville, those passengers tended to travel longer distances than had been forecasted even by the advocates of the extension based on matrix theory. These passengers more than paid for the extension, and represented a significant improvement in the Palmetto’s operating ratio. Ridership and output could have been higher still, because ridership yields at Jacksonville were sharply capped by limited capacity on the Palmetto through its peak loading point in northern Virginia. Empirical experience indicated that high revenue, long distance, traffic between Jacksonville and the Northeast could have been expanded by 50 to 100% had additional lift capacity been provided. A serendipitous additional benefit from the extension was the unforecasted availability of a daily mail contract with the U.S. Postal Service once the train was extended to Jacksonville.”

Amtrak Marketing learned nothing from this, and allowed cut backs to the Palmetto to “save money”.

Another example of the power of the Matrix Theory can be seen from this work of Dr. Herzog sponsored by URPA.

“In 1984, the United Rail Passenger Alliance sponsored a simulation, using matrix theory, of Amtrak’s Southwest Transcontinental Corridor (Chicago-Kansas City-Albuquerque-Los Angeles) by the Surface Transportation Systems Institute (“STSI”). This route is served by a single daily long distance train, the Southwest Chief. It has no rail connections anywhere between its endpoints other than an unpublicized connection at Kansas City to an all-coach local train to St. Louis. STSI compiled actual ridership data for Trains 3 and 4 from the preceding year in order to calibrate a computer model of the route using actual origin-destination data for all en-route stations. Assuming constant levels of market penetration, the STSI computer model was then calibrated and extended to ask what ridership results would obtain if the Southwest Transcontinental Corridor were modified in three respects: (1) a section of the train, i.e., a through sleeper and coach, were to drop from the train at Flagstaff, Arizona for Phoenix and Tucson (providing second-morning arrivals in Arizona’s premier destinations from Chicago and the Upper Midwest); (2) the remaining train were to be split in half at Barstow, with half continuing to Los Angeles as the actual train did, but with the second half proceeding north over Tehachapi Pass to Bakersfield, and then displacing an existing San Joaquin valley train (i.e., only 90 incremental train miles were involved) up the valley through Fresno to Oakland and terminating at San Jose; and (3) on the east end, the train were split in half between Chicago and Kansas City, with half operating over the existing direct route to Kansas City, and half operating between those two points via St. Louis (again, displacing an existing local train).At that time, actual ridership onboard Train No. 4 eastbound out of Flagstaff on average was 212 passengers per day. The STSI model, assuming constant levels of market penetration but with the three incremental changes described, forecast an average daily ridership load onboard eastward out of Flagstaff of approximately 1,260. Because a long distance passenger train even in a peak load environment cannot accommodate 1,260 passengers, it immediately became apparent that multiple frequencies, at least three and probably four, would be necessary to accommodate that volume of traffic. The model did not analyze the further incremental demand generation (i.e., deeper market penetration) resulting from having four daily frequencies available in each direction, rather than merely one.”

Reports

ACE adds Mid-Day Train, Connecting with the San Joaquins

August 25, 2006, was the dedication date for the new ACE mid-day train that departs Stockton at 9:30 AM, with the return train departing from San Jose at 12:05 PM and arriving in Stockton at 2:30 PM. The train connects in Stockton with San Joaquin trains 711, 716 and 718. Ceremonies were held before departing Stockton (first photo), where dignitaries posed for a group ribbon cutting photo, and at Fremont (second photo), where speakers included ACE Managing Director Stacey Mortensen, San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee Chairman (and Bakersfield Mayor) Harvey Hall, and, speaking under the tree, Caltrans Rail Division Chief Bill Bronte. RailPAC was represented by VP North Arthur Lloyd, and director Bruce Jenkins who can be seen in both photos! (RailPAC photos by Russ Jackson, who also rode the train!)

Commentary

Proposals to ease gridlock at LAX

By Paul Dyson, RailPAC President — Once again our public officials have failed to propose expanding a transportation system that is both affordable and practicable and could link LAX to over 60 stations in 6 counties. Our underdeveloped Metrolink service could be extended along an existing, publicly owned right of way from south of downtown to the proposed transit center next to the Green Line, and on to the south bay. In addition to providing a link to LAX this Regional Express opens up job opportunities to South Central communities with direct links to areas like Burbank and Anaheim.

Where are the politicians with the vision to see the opportunity create a regional system which would link Palmdale, Ontario, Burbank and LAX with all of the population centers ofthe southland? Why is SCAG still wed to Maglev which would take decades and billions of dollars assuming the technology could be made to work?

The Rail Passenger Association of California recommends a rolling program of track upgrades, grade separations, run through tracks at Union Station, and electrification to create Southern California’s Regional Express Rail. The “bones” of the system are already in place and so can be added to incrementally each year, rather than wait for design, engineering, property acquisition and all the other time consuming steps needed to build new Maglev lines.

It’s time for sensible, practical, affordable solutions. Bring Metrolink to LAX.

Issues

RailPAC Board Position Statement

The Rail Passenger Association of California took several positions regarding current rail passenger issues at its Board meeting July 8, 2006, in Oakland.

  • RailPAC vigorously supports the startup of the Coast Daylight train, which will operate between downtown San Francisco’ s Caltrain Station and Los Angeles Union Station daily. This project has been in the works for many years and RailPAC now calls for the agencies to work quickly so that the train can be implemented within the next 12 months.
  • While RailPAC fully understands the problems involving the on time performance of Amtrak’s Coast Starlight, we do not wish to imply acceptance of the status quo. We began our formal protests with this July 8 board meeting, and we join with other rail advocacy organizations in protest of the continued 4 to 12 hour delays due to the Union Pacific’s track and congestion problems that cause these delays. We call on Union Pacific, Amtrak, the states of California, Washington and Oregon, and all the cities affected by the poor performance of this train, to solve this problem in short order.
  • The board also took support action on three issues inside California, and will consider other issues at future meetings.
    1. Support Santa Barbara County Measure D, that contains money for a startup commuter service on the Coast Line.
    2. Support Caltrain’s electrification.
    3. Support the Sonoma-Marin (SMART) project, the long delayed commuter rail line from Cloverdale to Larkspur in those counties.
  • RailPAC supports transportation section 1B of the November 2006 Bond issue and we urge our members to consider and support it. This bill, subject to voter approval at the November 7, 2006, statewide general election, would enact the Highway Safety, Traffic Reduction, Air Quality, and Port Security Bond Act of 2006 (Perata) to authorize $19.925 billion of state general obligation bonds for specified purposes, including high-priority transportation corridor improvements, State Route 99 corridor enhancements, trade infrastructure and port security projects, schoolbus retrofit and replacement purposes, state transportation improvement program augmentation, transit and passenger rail improvements (including the purchase of badly needed new rail cars for the state’s rail corridors which will add capacity and provide expansion), state-local partnership transportation projects, transit security projects, local bridge seismic retrofit projects, highway-railroad grade separation and crossing improvement projects, state highway safety and rehabilitation projects, and local street and road improvement, congestion relief, and traffic safety.

For more information, contact Richard Silver, RailPAC Executive Director, (info@railpac.org) or call 888-508-2640.

Commentary

Building California’s passenger rail future

By Frank Busalacchi –Travelers across America and throughout California are voting in record numbers for expanded passenger-rail service in the United States. These “votes” are coming in the form of record passenger-rail ridership. Amtrak ridership increased in fiscal year 2005 to 25,374,998, marking the third straight year of passenger gains for the national intercity passenger railroad, despite service disruptions that included major hurricanes in the South and repair work that impacted Acela Express service in the Northeast. Gains in passenger rail travel are occurring in all parts of the country.

California is one of those states seeing impressive gains in ridership. A total of 4.9 million passengers boarded Amtrak trains in California in 2005, compared with 4.6 million in 2004 — a 5 percent increase in one year. California has the second largest number of rail passengers in America, closely behind New York, where 5.1 million passengers traveled by rail last year. California is home to the nation’s second, third and fifth busiest rail corridors in the nation. Only the Northeast corridor is busier.

Ridership in California is growing at an even faster clip in 2006. Total passengers riding Amtrak trains in the January to March quarter of 2006 rose by 10 percent over the same period in 2005. Although the overall picture is improving, it is not free of challenges. Chronic lateness on the Coast Starlight is a continuing problem. Ironically, it is the simultaneous increase in both passenger and freight traffic that is causing this chronic lateness. The demand for rail service is rising, and there is a solution: Increased investment in our rail infrastructure by the federal government and the state.

What do these ridership numbers mean? Americans are struggling with worsening highway and airline congestion, even as fuel prices rise. In the post-Sept. 11 environment, travelers are wary of a system that depends so heavily on airline travel. Thursday’s thwarted terrorist attack by British authorities once again stresses the importance of passenger rail service. If the airlines have to be grounded — even for a day — because of terrorist attacks, the trains suddenly become a vitally important alternate form of transportation. That was the case on Sept. 11, 2001, when hundreds of thousands of travelers had to shift their travel from air to rail.

Everyone from business travelers to older citizens are looking for options that won’t cost them more time or money. In short, Americans want transportation alternatives, with rail playing a significant role. The States for Passenger Rail Coalition, which I chair, was founded in 2000 just as we started to see passenger demands for expanded rail service increasing. Today, there are 27 states represented from all parts of the country and we will continue to make the case for strong state-federal partnerships to expand our nation’s passenger rail network. California is one of the newest members of the coalition, and we are very pleased to count California in our growing list of member states. California has invested heavily in its passenger rail system — $1.8 billion in investments since 1976. Much of that investment also benefits the freight railroads, and helps alleviate congestion on our highways.

I believe we owe the traveling public the transportation choices they demand, as evidenced by their increasing use of rail. But improved passenger rail service will not come without a strong commitment by the federal government to fund passenger rail.

For too many years, passenger rail service in America has been hamstrung by the year-to-year funding decisions of Congress. This unpredictable funding process has varied with the shifting political winds. This is no way to run a railroad! It makes future planning extremely difficult.

The States for Passenger Rail Coalition is calling on Congress to provide a dedicated source of capital funding for passenger rail, just as Congress does for highways and aviation. We support federal legislation that gives passenger rail the same 80/20 federal-state funding split that the highways enjoy. It is time to level the playing field for all forms of passenger transportation. I recently traveled to Spain to tour their passenger-rail system. It is fast and reliable — trains will travel between Madrid and Barcelona at 217 miles per hour. This is happening in a country with a gross domestic product similar to Korea’s and Mexico’s. The key in Spain, as in most European nations, is that passenger-rail development receives strong government funding support.

Many Americans return from Europe every year and ask this question: “Why can’t an advanced nation like the United States have first-class, high-speed rail travel such as what the Europeans enjoy?” The answer is simple. If Washington policy-makers would cease bickering over Amtrak and follow their own advice to provide a dedicated source of capital funding, we could have the same level of service Europeans enjoy. Prudent oversight and accountability are essential for any undertaking of this scale but it is crucial to our economic security and to future generations that we make progress now.

Over the coming year, the States for Passenger Rail Coalition will work hard to support a dedicated source of capital funding for American’s passenger-rail system. We can no longer allow passenger rail to lurch along on unpredictable annual appropriations. We can provide Americans with the level of service they seek and for which they vote as they step aboard passenger trains in record numbers.


Frank Busalacchi chairs the States for Passenger Rail Coalition (www.s4prc.org), and is secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (this commentary also appeared in major newspapers around the country)

Commentary

RailPAC Supports Changes to the Sunset Limited Route

By Richard Silver, Executive Director — RailPAC has just heard that there will be a change in the California portion of the Sunset Limited Route in the Ontario/Pomona area.

Specifically, the train will follow the current route out of LA Union Station, stop at the Pomona station, and then after leaving Pomona will change to the Metrolink route that goes through Riverside, then connect back to the original route at Colton Junction, therefore bypassing the very congested Union Pacific Colton yard.

The Ontario stop will be dropped.

This should eliminate some of the delays the Sunset has been experiencing.

While there most likely not be a stop at the Riverside Metrolink station (where the Southwest Chief also stops) originally, in all likelihood it will be added in the near future.

RailPAC has been urging this change for some time, and applauds Amtrak for considering this change.

Let us know what you think!

This information is being sent to you by the Rail Passenger Association of California (RailPAC). RailPAC is the largest rail advocacy group in California & Nevada working for the expansion and improvement of passenger rail service. (info@railpac.org)

Commentary

The Coast Starlate: Why it Matters

By Noel Braymer, Editor, Western Rail Passenger Review –Since last October, the COAST STARLIGHT on-time performance has dropped to about 2%. Most of the delays happen between Dunsmuir, California, and Chemult, Oregon. In this mountainous area rail breaks are so common that welding crews can’t keep up with the repairs and 10 mph slow orders are common. There are many rumors about possible changes to deal with these problems. One rumor is that the STARLIGHT might be cut back “temporarily” to between Los Angeles and Oakland. The constantly late STARLIGHT has forced Amtrak to use an additional trainset to run the STARLIGHT despite Amtrak’s acute equipment shortage.

The reason for the delays is simple enough. When the Union Pacific bought the Southern Pacific, it got a railroad with valuable routes like the Sunset Line and the I-5 Corridor. But it also got a railroad that was falling apart from years of deferred maintenance and hiring. The old SP has caused many problems for the UP which it is only slowly catching up on. The route of the STARLIGHT north of Roseville is a low priority for the UP. The UP’s solution for the STARLIGHT is to get rid of it.

Why is the STARLIGHT important? It is more than a single train; it is an integral part of a system. Most Amtrak long distance trains run east-west. The STARLIGHT is one of the few that runs north-south. The STARLIGHT was designed to be the connecting train in the West for the EMPIRE BUILDER, the SAN FRANCISCO ZEPHYR, the SOUTHWEST CHIEF and the SUNSET. In addition passengers from the SAN JOAQUINS and PACIFIC SURFLINERS also connect with the STARLIGHT. As the on-time performance of the STARLIGHT and other long distance trains has deteriorated, this system is falling apart. Why is this system important? Money, for starters: the five long distance trains mentioned above regularly brings in more revenue than all the Amtrak trains on the Northeast Corridor. The STARLIGHT alone brings in more revenue than all the PACIFIC SURLINER trains combined. The STARLIGHT helps pay for the overhead on the stations and maintenance facilities for the entire route it runs on in all three States.

Amtrak’s biggest problem is money. The solution is to bring in more. To do this it has to increase its passenger miles which means having more seats to sell to more places. Amtrak has hundreds of passenger cars in storage. Most of these cars need some repair before they can go back on the railroad. The income “lost” by not having these cars carrying passengers far exceeds the money “saved” by storing them and not repairing them. Adding extra cars to the long distance trains would dramatically improve revenue with little added costs. But the equipment isn’t available. In 2000 Amtrak’s car fleet numbered 2,272. Today it stands at 1,700, of which 1,345 are considered part of the active fleet. Summer is the peak travel season. Amtrak use to be flush with cash at the end of the summer. The reason was simple: income from the long distance trains carrying summer peak travel business. Since the late 90’s as the long distance trains have deteriorated, this is no longer true.

Only five years ago the COAST STARLIGHT was Amtrak’s premiere train! This was not only because it has the most scenic route, connects with some of the largest cities in the country and has the largest passenger loads of any single train. Until 2002 when as part of Amtrak West which operated out of Oakland and not Washington, it was allowed to pioneer new marketing innovations. On-board service was improved, the dining menu upgraded, the “California Parlor Car” was introduced and was a great success. The trains were often sold out. Up to 4 sleeping cars and 6 coaches were common. There was demand for more trains but equipment wasn’t available. Brian Rosenwald who was responsible for many of the STARLIGHT’S innovations was promoted and moved to Washington. But after 2002 all Amtrak train operations were recentralized and instead of the STARLIGHT being the model for the rest of Amtrak, it is slowly returning to the general level of Amtrak mediocrity. There is again more talk of “saving money” by cutting those routes of the long distance trains which are “losing money.” There are none. The long distance trains are not the problem. Having to much overhead and too little product to sell (i.e. seats) is Amtrak’s problem. Cutting more trains will only reduce income and do nothing to reduce overhead. The long distance trains are Amtrak’s only hope!

(RailPAC NOTE: Due to UP track work windows in the Cascades, from July 28 to August 28 2006,  Train 14 will depart LA at its regular time, 10:15 AM, until Klamath Falls. If it arrives on schedule, 8:25 AM or after that, it will be held at KFS until 11:00 AM, which means an arrival in Portland at 6:15 and Seattle at 11:39 PM. No adjustments are made to the southbound #11 schedule at this time. – RJ)