Monthly Archives

September 2006

Issues

Status Of Lawsuit Filed By TRAC Against RailPAC

We’ve had a number of calls from members who have heard rumors that RailPAC is being sued by TRAC (Train Riders Association of California). The rumors are correct. Recently some of our Board Members were served with writs, basically accusing us of harming TRAC by recruiting their members.

My reaction is a combination of anger and sadness. We have a huge task ahead of us: to educate and persuade the public to invest more money in passenger rail service. There are hundreds of state and local elected officials, and staffers up and down the state, that we need to convince that rail is the answer for many of our mobility needs. There are dozens of newspapers, chambers of commerce, environmental groups and on and on, all of them important opinion formers that we need to make contact with and develop relationships, and all of this takes a huge amount of time and energy. An organization that’s run entirely by volunteers can only hope to cover a fraction of the ground given the resources that are available. So having to respond to a lawsuit from another organization that supposedly has similar objectives is a ridiculous waste of time and energy, and benefits no one except perhaps the highway lobby.

Those of you that were at the last annual meeting in Sacramento will recall that I invited all like-minded organizations and individuals to collaborate with RailPAC towards achieving our objectives. That invitation still stands, and I’m sure is supported by all our members. At the same time we’ll take appropriate legal action to safeguard the interests of RailPAC, its Board, and members. The Board and Officers of RailPAC are united in our response and we have no doubt that TRAC has no case against us individually or as a group.

We’ll keep you apprised of developments. I sincerely hope to be able to report to you soon that this issue has been resolved and that we can one again concentrate 100% of our efforts on the objectives of this organization.

Paul Dyson
President.

Reports

Coast Rail Coordinating Council

Reported by Bruce Jenkins, RailPAC Director — The Coast Rail Coordinating Council met at the Paraiso Winery in Soledad on Friday, 9/22. Meeting in Soledad was mainly a good will gesture, and to familiarize the council members of the growth and potentials of the area persuant to a Coast Daylight stop in Soledad.After the normal opening business (minutes approval etc) was over a lively discussion commenced on getting the Daylight started. Tom Mulligan of UP stated that they would need a formal request from Amtrak (on behalf of DoR) to start service. This request “shall include a start date”. A joint evaluation of the road would also be required as the last capacity study has a “limited shelf life”.

Jonathan Hutchison of Amtrak stated that leases (Amtrak) rolling stock is available from Beech Grove (both single level and Superliner). This equipment would need refurbishing and would fill the need till new cars come online. Chair Dave Potter emphasized how we all have to get behind Prop 1B and that CRCC is striving to get local support from cities and counties. 1B would yield $450 M for transit, $125M needed for rolling stock and $50M required for track and signals. RailPAC VP North Art Lloyd, also representing Caltrain, emphasized that key persons from the counties should make appeals to Bill Bronte (at Caltrans Division of Rail) to pursue the Amtrak cars.

Art Lloyd will make a Daylight presentation to the Peninsula Joint Powers Board (Caltrain) on October 5th pursuant to obtaining a “Baby Bullet” slot in their 96 train schedule to operate the Coast Daylight to/from San Francisco.

Jonathan Hutchison (Amtrak) reported that “The Starlight” has been badly bruised by the OTP wth ridership and revenue plummeting, and in name (e.g “Starlate”). Amtrak and UP are now in “High Level” meetings addressing the OTP. Tom Mulligan (UP) stated that track gangs have now moved to the Zephyr route and UP is striving to keep a max 90 minute “down” time on #11 and 14 north of Sacramento. (EDITOR’S NOTE: Amtrak reported on September 25: “Following the completion of UP track work and recent discussions with the railroad, Coast Starlight on-time performance has improved significantly. In the last seven days (through Sept. 23), the train arrived 36% on time, and 86% within 90 minutes; compared to fiscal-year-to-date 3% on time and 11% within 90 minutes.”

Reports

San Francisco To Los Angeles Train Picks Up Steam

(Comments from RailPAC VP North Arthur Lloyd and Executive Director Richard Silver. The RailPAC Board has enthusiastically endorsed a quick startup of this new train on the Coast Line.)

By Liz Harrelson, MEDIA NEWS

An uphill struggle by train advocates and coastal communities to reinstate a historic San Francisco to Los Angeles train connection is gaining momentum.

With what could be considered an “I think I can” perspective, supporters of the historic Coast Daylight train have been pushing to reinstate the popular train route since the 1990s. They may soon catch a break.

Arthur Lloyd, a member of the Caltrain Joint Powers Board, announced earlier this month that the busy Peninsula rail system has an open “slot,” or time frame, during which the Daylight could run.

“With 96 trains every weekday, we’ve got to find a place for it. And we have,” Lloyd said. “We have found a slot for it to run from San Francisco to San Jose in our Caltrain system.”

Preliminary plans are to have the train stop in the Peninsula communities of Palo Alto and Millbrae, as well as Gilroy, Lloyd said.

South of Gilroy, the train would stop in Soledad, King City, Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo en route to Los Angeles.

Lloyd also serves on the Coast Rail Coordinating Council, a group that has been working to reinstate the historic train route for almost two decades. The Daylight ran from San Francisco to Los Angeles through the cities of San Jose, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara from 1937 until Amtrak merged the line with others in 1971.

“The move deprived San Francisco of a direct connection,” Lloyd said. “Bottom line is: It gives a direct service to our side of the Bay.”

Reinstating the Coast Daylight could cost around $150 million, said Richard Silver, executive director of the Rail Passenger Association of California.

Train tracks between the cities of Gilroy and Salinas would need to be improved, with a few “sidings,” similar to vehicular passing lanes, installed along 150 miles of track between Salinas and San Luis Obispo.

An additional train set would need to be bought, and more train stations, most likely in King City and Soledad, would need to be built, Silver said.

“We know the ridership’s there,” Silver said. “If anything, a through train will only attract more riders.”

Several hurdles remain, with perhaps the steepest being Amtrak’s view that adding such a route is not a priority.

“If the community supports it along the route and it’s funded, then it could be a viable option,” said Vernae Graham, Amtrak spokeswoman. “But I think we’re a long ways away.”

Amtrak’s Coast Starlight train service currently runs from Los Angeles to Seattle, through San Jose and Oakland, bypassing the Peninsula altogether.

Caltrain Joint Powers Board members will be asked to support the project at an Oct. 5 meeting.

Reports

San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee

Reported by Bruce Jenkins, RailPAC Director — The meeting started with several local (Merced, Mariposa) speakers advocating service to/from Yosemite National Park. One speaker from Mariposa was endeavoring to gain a seat on the Committee, which is being considered. A visual presentation was made entitled “Blueprint for San Joaquin Valley,” which includes all the counties. The big pitch was control of air polluton and the need for improved public transit. This was a good lead into the “Resolution for Rail” on the UP line in Tulare County presented by member Ty Holscher. This could be “dovetailed” into “The Blueprint.” The “Resolution” was tabled, and will be on the next meeting agenda. In the interim, there will be dialogue with Union Pacific, Caltrans Division of Rail, the SJVRC (as suggested by UP rep Jerry Wilmoth who was in attendance).

Rick Depler of the BNSF stated that On Time Performance was up to 88 to 92% and they predict 95% soon. Asked how the OTP was improved, he replied “through dispatcher stabilization”, i.e. utilizing dispatchers familiar with the territory and keeping them there. A tie (85k) and rail (120k ft) replacement program between Stockton and Bakersfield will commence Jan 14 and finish February 15. Work will be scheduled to minimize slow orders .

Mr. Depler also commented that their new Electronic Train Management System (ETMS) is moving along in Texas. Expect FRA approval shortly.

Bill Bronte, Caltrans Chief of the Division of Rail, reported that the San Joaquins surpassed the Capitols in ridership gain last month (7 1/2%). Fuel prices are cutting into fare box return bigtime. Plans are being made for a joint meeting of all Boards (CCJPB, SJVRC, LOSSAN, CRCC, SANDAG etc.) to coincide with APTA in San Jose in October with the object to gin up support and sign a letter of support of US Senate bill S1516 (80/20 Capital Grants).

SJVRC Chair Harvey Hall reported that he had held successful meetings in his Bakersfield office with BNSF, DoR and SJVRC members to gain a good understanding of problems and to achieve solutions. It is this writer’s opinion that Mayor Hall is a definite asset and makes a very positive contribution to this committee.

Bad News: Chair Hall announced that Eric Schatmeier of DoR is leaving and will join Marin County where he will lead a new Transportation Planning Group. Eric has been the Marketing Group leader for the San Joaquins these past years. Prior to coming to DoR he was with Caltrain.

Commentary

The Long Distance Trains need more local control

By Noel T. Braymer, Editor, Western Rail Passenger Review — With Washington in control of intercity passenger trains now for over 30 years, we have seen a slow but steady decline of service. Yet again we are hearing veiled talk of cut-backs to eliminate “money losing” trains. California is a proud leader of local control for its rail passenger service. Caltrans Rail Division can teach Washington a great deal about how to schedule and market rail passenger service. But Caltrans can’t do everything by itself. Local organizations like LOSSAN, the San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee and the Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Board (JPB) all have a major role in the progress we’ve seen in California. LOSSAN started out as a network of cities on the SAN DIEGAN route in the 1980’s.This networking was started by then Oceanside City Councilman Walter Gilbert with help from RailPAC’s Byron Nordberg. One of the battles the locals had to fight was the SAN DIEGAN METROLINER. Washington thought an express train was just the thing between Los Angeles and San Diego. This didn’t go well with the cities which had invested money in new train stations to find themselves losing service for this express train. Washington was also told by the locals that an express train would fail, which it did.

In the 1990’s Amtrak experimented with a decentralized organization. Out of this decentralization came Amtrak West, headquartered in Oakland, with responsibility for all service on the West Coast. During this time the COAST STARLIGHT was Amtrak’s premiere train. Many successful innovations were tried on the STARLIGHT during this time. In the last 4 years Amtrak has recentralized all operations and service has declined, not improved. The COAST STARLIGHT is a good train to start the process of local control. California has sent the precedent with intrastate organizations. Now we need to create interstate organizations. All the progress in rail service in this country in the last 30 years has come from local initiative. New commuter and light rail services are springing up around the country. It is time to put this energy to work on long distance trains across America.

It isn’t just the STARLIGHT which is in trouble. The long distance trains work together as a system connecting with each other. At even greater risk is the much maligned SUNSET LIMITED. The SUNSET should have gone daily over 20 years ago. It should never have been rerouted to bypass Phoenix. The trackage east of New Orleans is now fully operational after Hurricane Katrina, yet there are no plans to bring back service on the SUNSET to Florida. As the late Dr. Adrian Herzog demonstrated, ridership and revenues for passenger trains are directly related to the length of the route, number of connecting services and total number of stations available to passengers. In other words, the more the merrier. The more travel combinations available brings in more passengers. Minor expansion can greatly increase ridership. Small service cuts can be disastrous, not economical. For example, on a system with 500 stations, eliminating fifty stations doesn’t eliminate 50 travel choices for potential passengers, but over 47,000!

It is not enough to “save the trains”. Simply criticizing the freight railroads, leafleting trains or releasing press releases is not a plan of action. Dr. Herzog calculated that to create a viable rail passenger service would require at a minimum an additional 1,500 Superliner Cars. That’s 150 cars a year for ten years. There haven’t been any new Superliners delivered in almost ten years. Long distance trains now generate a positive cash flow. Not necessarily a profit, but enough to borrow money to buy more equipment. When dealing with the railroads you need both a “carrot” and a “stick” to get their attention. There is a great deal of track work needed to meet the growing demands being made on the railroads. Cash grants and tax credits will go a long way to help the railroads with rebuilding their infrastructure. But public support for the railroads should be connected with benefits for the rail passenger public. We’ve seen this work in California; it can be expanded Nation wide with your tax dollars at work.

Commentary

RailPAC Policy Initiative For 2006

Commentary by Paul Dyson, RailPAC President

Funding For Rail Expansion In California – Grade Separation Projects.

Grade Separation Funding – RailPAC’s view.

RailPAC is concerned that a disproportionate amount of passenger rail funds is spent on grade separation projects. We believe that the State of California does not spend nearly enough on this important aspect of public safety. However, we need a new funding formula and mechanism to ensure equity in the process.

Example: LOSSAN Projects, Los Angeles to Fullerton Third Main Track.

The LOSSAN project list includes the provision of a third main track between Hobart Yard and Fullerton to accommodate the growing number of commuter, intercity and freight trains on that route. This is an excellent development with which we agree 100%. In November of 2005 this project was estimated to cost $383 million. But where exactly is this money going? And who are the beneficiaries? Of the total $383 millions, no less than $257 millions will be spent on 4 grade separation projects! These are needed under today’s highway and traffic volumes, and will be essential when the third track is in place. But the benefits are spread well beyond rail passengers. The list includes:

  • Automobile Users. Significant time savings for motorists at these crossing. Fuel savings too.
  • Bus Users. A number of bus routes use the crossings in question. Delays will be eliminated, making the service more reliable and attractive to riders, and reducing operating costs and fuel consumption.
  • Public Safety: Other than the Glendale criminal act (deliberate derailment of passenger train) the majority of fatalities and injuries at grade crossings are incurred by motorists and pedestrians.
  • Air Quality: The whole community benefits from the elimination of idling of diesel and gasoline engines for long periods at grade crossings.
  • Rail Passengers: Some improvement to safety and reduction of delays due to automobile or pedestrian accidents.
  • Freight Railroads: Greater safety and fewer delays.

As you can see, the benefits of grade separations are widespread, and to some degree benefit all members of society. We should also be aware that rail critics use the total cost of “rail” projects as a propaganda weapon against us, citing what they believe is a poor rate of return. By instituting a fairer system of funding for grade separations we end up with a truer cost of rail infrastructure improvements and a better understanding of the benefits of rail passenger expansion on a comparative cost basis.

It seems to me therefore that the funding should not come exclusively from rail budgets but also from highways, air quality and public safety funds. What we need is an entirely new funding mechanism within the state that acknowledges the multiple benefits of grade separations and provides a consistent source of money to fund a rolling program that will remove a large percentage of the busiest crossings over the next ten years. The “Grade Separation Trust Fund” would receive contributions from Highway, Rail, Air Quality, Homeland Security and local sources and be administered and distributed by Caltrans based on a risk assessment formula. I’d suggest a 20% contribution from passenger rail.

In the case of the LOSSAN triple track project, if this formula existed, the “passenger rail” cost of this upgrade would be more like $125 million instead of $383 million. That would leave us with an additional $257 million to invest in other projects. Imagine the impact of this throughout the state.

Reports

Eight New Trains Added to Sacramento

CCJPA Press Release — The Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority (CCJPA) announced Sept. 5 that more direct service to and from Sacramento is now available with the addition of eight new trains, according to a press release.

The 33% increase in direct intercity train service between Sacramento and the Bay Area/San Jose began August 28, 2006.

Coupled with a 52% increase in train service between Oakland and San Jose, this is the largest service expansion in Capitol Corridor’s history.

The new schedule now offers riders 32 weekday trains to and from Sacramento.

When CCJPA began managing the Capitol Corridor service in 1998, there were just eight daily trains and 463,000 passengers annually. In FY 2005, nearly 1.3 million passengers rode the Capitol Corridor trains. This number is expected to jump further with the increase in service for the Sacramento area.

“The additional service on the Capitol Corridor represents a 30% service expansion in what is already the third busiest intercity ridership route in the country,” said Roger Dickinson, CCJPA Board of Directors Chair.

“We are very pleased to offer these added trains without any additional operating funds. There is no federal capital funding or federal operating funding for this service.” Chair Dickinson continues, “The only sources of revenue are passenger fares and the state operating support, which hasn’t changed in six years.”

“Ridership has tripled in the past eight years, and continues to grow. In 1990, Californians voted to build an intercity passenger rail system, and approved the funding to carry it out. In a time of soaring gas prices and growing gridlock we can offer Northern Californians a real travel choice,” said Eugene Skoropowski, CCJPA Managing Director.

“Passengers have asked for more frequent service all along the corridor, and we’re delivering it to them, with no additional state operating funds or federal support. Now, with 32 weekday trains, the Capitol Corridor’s Oakland-Sacramento segment offers the same number of trains as Amtrak’s Boston-New York segment of the Northeast Corridor, and represents the highest level of Amtrak intercity passenger train service outside of the Northeast Corridor.”

The region recognizes the importance of providing transportation alternatives to and from Sacramento. “The ease and convenience of access to Capitol Corridor trains for our frequent passengers and tourists will be greatly improved with the extension of Sacramento Regional Transit’s light rail to the Sacramento Valley Station,” says Steve Cohn, Sacramento City Councilmember and CCJPA Board Member.

“The Capitol Corridor service expansion is very important for Sacramento, as transport improvements like this make our city even more attractive, and it also provides a quality transportation choice for all travelers along the entire I-80 corridor,” says Roger Dickinson. “The increase in trains also enhances the communities along the Capitol Corridor service route, like Davis, and throughout Sacramento, Yolo and Solano Counties, because their residents will benefit from reduced traffic congestion.”

With more trains, riders will have greater flexibility in managing their work and leisure hours. They also have the choice to work or relax on the train in Wi-Fi connected cars. Each train also features Café cars that offer food and beverage service, including California wines.

The CCJPA’s service expansion plan, in development for more than seven years, was made possible through the investment of $75M in State public transportation funds to upgrade and add track infrastructure. The benefits of these projects include the increased track capacity for additional trains, reduced travel times, and improved reliability.

According to Eugene Skoropowski, CCJPA Managing Director, “With this latest service increase for Sacramento and the added trains to and from San Jose, Capitol Corridor continues to provide a cost-effective, environmentally friendly, reliable, and convenient transportation alternative connecting Northern California communities.”