Monthly Archives

October 2006

Reports

RailPAC North October Meeting Report

Reported by Russ Jackson, RailPAC Secretary — A crowd of over 35 people participated in the first RailPAC meeting to be held on the Peninsula, this one at the Samtrans office in San Carlos. Many were regular Caltrain riders, as well as Amtrak riders. RailPAC VP North Art Lloyd hosted the meeting, also attended by several RailPAC Directors, with VP South James Smith and former Treasurer Jim Clifton joining us from Southern California. It was a successful meeting with many good questions from those attending! This report with pictures from the event will be in the November Western Rail Passenger Review, and on railpac.org after November 1.

Mr. Lloyd (right) opened the meeting by introducing featured speaker, Bob Doty, the acting Chief Operating Officer for Caltrain, who also supervises construction and planning for the railroad. Art mentioned how much Caltrain has improved, in that there are now 96 trains daily on this busy commuter service that dates back to the 1800’s when the Southern Pacific first built the line.

CALTRAIN PLANS

Mr. Doty emphasized how much easier it is to operate a railroad when you own it, which the Caltrain JPB does, between downtown San Francisco and San Jose, and that the US is far behind the rest of the world when it comes to developing commuter rail, “which is the safest method of travel. We need to get more trains on the rail, and more bodies in the seats,” he said, introducing a presentation of the growth plans for Caltrain, “Project 2025,” with the strategy being to improve safety, reliability, and allow for future expansion.

Caltrain was “reinvented” two years ago, and now has its regular schedule, the “baby bullet” limited stop trains, and new trackage. Mr. Doty noted that ridership did not drop when gas prices dropped, and that revenue is on target to be over $30 million. A 15% reduction in end to end running time has generated a 25% increase in ridership and a 10% increase in revenue over the last two years, with NO increase in employees or new equipment. Earned revenue per employee (productivity) is up, and On Time Performance is back to 99% regularly after falling when capacity was reached three and four years ago. Adding additional capacity can take ridership an additional 16,000 riders daily. All these improvements are proof, as Mr. Doty said, that you cannot cut your way to a balanced budget. (Is Amtrak listening? -RJ)

A capital improvement program, with the continuing goal of “State of Good Repair,” with ongoing maintenance, bridge replacement because some are 100 years old, the “north terminal improvement” at 3rd & King in downtown San Francisco, other stations improvements, fencing, crossovers, etc., are continually underway to make it “passable.” “South terminal improvements ” at San Jose Diridon station, improving the bottleneck between that station and Santa Clara, new platforms there because the dwell time is too long and clogs the movement of trains, as does trying to solve the problem that putting bicycles on the trains delay movements! New cars will be necessary, “that have more than one door,” to solve dwell time problems.

“Current levels of service cannot meet future demand with diesel locomotives,” Mr. Doty said, leading into his advocacy of electrifying the railroad. New electric locomotives would be necessary for the eventual extension into downtown San Francisco by tunnel, of course, “and that’s gotta happen.” Electrics would reduce the running time even further, lower operating costs, and allow even more trains per hour thereby increasing capacity. Current plans are to electrify only from San Francisco to San Jose. Planned service south to Gilroy and, if Monterey County finances its planned expansion soon, to Salinas, and across the Dumbarton Bridge to the East Bay would be diesel, which would have to be integrated into the electrified train schedules.

Electrification is now mandated by the Caltrain JPB, “so it will happen eventually.” By the end of 2008 that board must say what improvements to make and when; Mr. Doty said, it will help the US join the rest of the world.

THE COAST DAYLIGHT

Art Lloyd spoke about the plans for the implementation of the state-sponsored “Coast Daylight” train which will run from downtown San Francisco to Los Angeles daily. “I think it will happen as early as 2008,” he said, “if Proposition 1b passes on November 7.” Operating funds for the train are in the 2007-8 Caltrans proposed budget, “the funds are all there, but there are capital improvements that must be made and additional equipment made available… April 30, 1971, was the last SP-operated Coast Daylight,” Mr. Lloyd remembered, “which was replaced by the existing very popular Coast Starlight or as we often know it, the Coast Starlate. There is big demand for the train originating/terminating in downtown San Francisco.” (On time performance of 11/14 has improved considerably in the last month. -RJ)

The new Coast Daylight could use Superliner equipment, which the state of California is negotiating to buy from Amtrak. These are wreck-damaged cars that Amtrak does not have the funds to repair, but again, funds for these cars and their repairs are contingent on passage of Proposition 1b. Currently the train operates with Horizon fleet cars between Los Angeles and San Luis Obispo as trains 798/799. The new trains on the full route would depart Los Angeles and San Francisco daily, with the northbound train taking a Metrolink slot and the southbound train a “baby bullet slot, 8:16 AM,” on the Peninsula. Caltrain has approved this, and Samtrans is expected to do so shortly. Amtrak would adjust the Coast Starlight schedule so it would not conflict with the Daylight. Meal service on board would be like that available on the San Joaquins. Union Pacific is demanding the line be upgraded to CTC (Central Traffic Control) from Salinas to Santa Margarita, while Mr. Lloyd has been pointing out that using spring switches as the BNSF does would be a far less costly improvement and accomplish the same thing on a line that carries only four freight trains daily now.

“QUALITY” IS VITAL

RailPAC VP South James Smith spoke about the need for our group and all rail advocacy groups to expect a quality product from Amtrak and any rail service provider. He, and this writer, spoke of the food service available on the long distance trains, and how if there is any further reduction in on board amenities and quality the line will have been crossed and diminished quality means potential loss of ridership and revenues.

Reports

2006 Passenger Trains On Freight Railroads Conference

Report by Paul Dyson, RailPAC President — This was my first opportunity to attend this event although it’s in its thirteenth year. The Conference was organized by “Railway Age” Magazine and held October 16 – 17 in Washington, DC. Almost all of the major freight railroads attend as well as Amtrak, and in addition there are delegates from APTA, commuter agencies, suppliers, overseas railroads, (East Japan Railway Company, for example), engineering companies, consultants, and a few public advocates such as myself. My overall impression was that this was a group of professionals with a lot of experience in the industry.There were 13 sessions, an opening keynote address, and two lunchtime speakers. I intend to summarize the highlights that are of greatest interest, and end with a list of the panels. If anyone would like more information about any particular presentation I’d be glad to share whatever I have.

The meeting was opened by Bill Crosbie, Amtrak’s Senior Vice President of Operations. He gave a no holds barred summary of Amtrak’s dismal on time performance and laid the majority of the blame squarely at the feet of the freight railroads. He said that as an officer of the corporation he was duty bound to seek redress from those responsible. Even though Amtrak had resisted taking the path of legislation, litigation, or a news media campaign, all of those options remain available. Amtrak has gone as far as they could with schedule adjustments (extended running time), as these are counter productive commercially and add to operating expenses. The key areas being addresses in the “get well plan” are slow orders and dispatching. I’ll be interested in seeing what direction Crosbie’s new boss takes in dealing with this critical issue. One also wonders why Amtrak has not been more aggressive over the past 5 or more years. This situation did not develop overnight.

Railroad Capacity Studies: What’s involved? (NS, BNSF, CSX).

The short message from this session is that the freight railroads aim to keep tight control over this process. Their select consultants will use their chosen software and the results are proprietary to the railroad. Don’t bother showing up with your own analysis! The freights’ other key issues are indemnity and user fees. No free rides here. There has to be sufficient infrastructure to coexist. BNSF was most informative. They are undertaking a passenger/freight segregation project in the Seattle area, effectively creating parallel main lines. To me most interesting is their use of number 24 turnouts to increase train speeds through terminal areas. The CSX/State of Florida corridor project was described by CSX. This involves the creation of a passenger plus on line freight corridor and an all freight corridor using the old SAL and ACL routes through the state. (See the Florida DOT web site). Legislative Report: Railway Supply Institute.

Everyone is awaiting the election results. A lot of unfinished business.

APTA Safety Standards Task Force: APTA

Tom Peacock held up Southwest Airlines as an example of using standardized equipment to improve training, safety and of course to cut costs. Raul Bravo gave a detailed presentation on the crash energy management design for the new SCRRA cars to be built by Rotem. The system improves survivability of an accident from 12mph to 18 mph, and up to 30 mph if all cars are fitted. The couplers on existing cars can be retrofitted to provide some of the benefits of the system.

Shared Use LRT and Freight: Bombardier, Conrail and Booz Allen Hamilton.

This was an excellent presentation about the NJT River line, which has similarities with the San Diego Trolley but has much more on line freight. The passenger operators want earlier first trains and later last trains, while the freight operator, Conrail, needs as much track time as possible. This has lead to some creative solutions, including starting the first passenger train from a station at the mid point of the line, leaving the southern end open to freight an a critical additional half hour.

The Capitol Corridor Story: CCJPA and UP.

This was Gene Skoropowski firing on all cylinders, and telling about the recent service expansion with justifiable pride. However, he did not hold back from criticizing UP for operational snafus, indicating that there is still a lot of room for improvement, especially with dispatching. He concluded with an impassioned plea for more investment in intercity rail. “If not now, when?”

Supporting Passenger Rail with a Political Action Committee: Levin/Gillespie.

Bennett Levin is best known for running restored passenger equipment. He and Tom Gillespie feel that a “PAC” is needed to channel political contributions in a way that organizations such as NARP are unable to because of tax status. More information is available on www.passengerrailtoday.com.

Grade Crossing Closure Assessment Modeling: FRA

The FRA presenter, Karen McClure, has developed a software model (Grade Dec.net) that helps evaluate options for crossing closures. This was an excellent technical presentation. More information is available on the FRA website.

Operations Planning: Rodney Dangerfield or Aretha Franklin? R.L. Banks and Associates.

Charles Banks made some very good points about the lack of sound operations planning causing major problems for the start up of services. There is a bias towards solving problems with capital expenditure rather than good operating discipline (one of my pet themes), which can result in duplication of facilities and stranded investment.

Restructuring Passenger Rail, Any Good Ideas Out There? APTA, NS, CCJPA, Railway Age, Consultants.

This was a lively session with a lot of input from the floor. There was a consensus that NEC infrastructure funding needs to be restructured and taken out of Amtrak’s accounts. Amtrak should pay a user fee to run its NEC trains. I made my usual point that California has a state taxpayer funded rail program and our federal taxes pay for the NEC.

Other Points: Tort liability is so high that it stifles growth of existing service and new projects. There is a need for limits or else the present momentum will be lost. Various types of tax credit bonds were discussed as well as the Trent Lott proposal for tax credits for rail infrastructure. If passed, this legislation should be extended to include passenger rail investments.

Shafer, NS: Explore privatizing the “first class” services on the long distance trains.

Skoropowski: USDOT should pay the access charges to freight railroads, and should establish a capital fund for joint freight and passenger infrastructure projects. Payments to freight railroads should be performance adjusted.

Vantuono (Railway Age Editor): believes that the freight railroads would do a better job of operating the passenger services on their own lines. Also the industry and its supporters should do more to educate the public of the role and accomplishments of both freight and passenger rail.

Caltrain Project 2025.

Bob Doty was unable to attend so Bill Vantuono ran through his presentation slides. This presentation will be made to the RailPAC Meeting October 28 in San Carlos. A report will be included with the meeting report on this month’s website.

Building Toronto Airport Link: Railway Assoc. of Canada, Hatch, Mott McDonald.

This project is of particular interest as there are always debates about how best to serve airport workers and passengers. Toronto is proposing a branch line off one of the GO Transit commuter lines (the Georgetown Corridor) and a private group will operate the trains using 50-year-old refurbished Budd railcars. However, with airport trains planned to operate every 15 minutes together with extension of the commuter trains to all day operation there is considerable neighborhood opposition which has resulted in a government mandated environmental revue. An interesting statistic about Lester Pearson Airport: 80,000 daily users, only 13,000 are to/from Toronto, the rest are in transit.

Business Model for a Successful PPP: Great Western Partners.

Paul Lundberg cited the Chicago Metra suburban rail operation as a successful public-private partnership between the freight railroads (operators of the trains) and the public agency that contracts with them. Costs per passenger trip (BNSF $4.05, UP $6.37,) compare well with NJT at $8.47 and LIRR at $14.43.

Equipment Choices, Pros and Cons: PB Transit, LTK, and STV.

Much of this discussion centered on locomotive and equipment types for the NE commuter services. There was some discussion about dual mode multiple units which can give a single seat ride on non-electrified lines which connect with electrified services, e.g. the Raritan Valley line of NJT. The panelists warned that these options are expensive, especially if produced in small quantities. I asked about the possibility of a 737 equivalent for the western states. The Bombardier bi-level is the only vehicle that has been produced in any quantity in recent years. Could it be the basis for an inter-city vehicle?

The Colorado Railcar DMU was discussed. This is an FRA compliant vehicle. The biggest problem for the development of this technology is the FRA regulations, which preclude the importation of successful designs unless they can be used in a segregated environment. In the USA the most cost effective configuration is diesel push-pull.

Summation:

It was heartening to see a concentration of energy and brainpower directed towards the expansion of passenger rail. I’d like to see other members of our group be able to attend next year.

Reports

Amtrak 4, 3, and Me: I’m Impressed!

A Trip Report for October 7-11, 2006. Commentary and Photos by Russ Jackson, RailPAC Secretary.

After the successful RailPAC meeting in Fullerton, CA, on October 7 it was time for me to return to Los Angeles Union Station (parking in the MTA Building garage was suggested by James Smith) and prepare to board Train 4, Amtrak’s Southwest Chief to Albuquerque and Lamy, New Mexico. Because I now live in Northern California I don’t get to go to Phillippe’s restaurant near LAUS very often, so I went there for dinner. Soon Surfliner train 583 arrived at LAUS and RailPAC VP Smith and Associate Director Ken Ruben were there, having traveled back after the meeting.

Train 4 to Lamy.

The trainset was at the platform on time, and I boarded Coach 412 where Attendant Carolyn was greeting passengers. She was friendly, efficient, and very helpful to all her passengers throughout the trip. I was ticketed for a lower level coach seat, as it’s quieter down there and is available to older passengers like me. There were three other passengers down there, so we each had a full seat to ourselves for the overnight trip. There was time to inspect the condition of the car and it appeared to be one recently out of the shop, as was the Lounge Car on this train. They looked to be in very good condition, and the renovated Lounges with tables at one end are in great shape. I understand that a new upper-level galley and dumbwaiter are being installed in the first of the 13 Superliner I dining cars being converted to new diner-lounge configuration by Amtrak at its Beech Grove shops. It’s just a shame (it should be a crime) the project to renovate all the Superliner I cars is taking so long. Andrea, the Lounge Car attendant had a cold, but cheerily stayed on the job working her assigned hours all the way.

We were out ON TIME, with no delays anymore for freight cars to be attached, and were speedily enroute to Fullerton. A large crowd boarded there, as did a small group at Riverside. Most of these passengers were going to Albuquerque! I later found out the annual Balloon Festival was underway in that city, but for many it was a personal destination. Before we got to Barstow sleep took over and I awoke going across the Northern Arizona desert. At Williams Jct. we were down about a half hour, and several passengers detrained to be greeted by the Grand Canyon Railway van. At Flagstaff we were a half hour late. Many ons and offs there, too. One thing even a casual observer should notice is the importance of the intermediate stations along the route of these long distance trains. EACH ONE was a destination for passengers on this train and on #3 returning! How else could people “get there”? Car? Yes, but what if that was not an option? Take the train, and they do.

Breakfast

Winslow is a very busy BNSF yard these days and #4 had slow moving through it. There were passengers waiting to board our train at the station, which is part of the former Fred Harvey Hotel “La Posada,”open for tourists again and doing well. Breakfast was served in the Dining Car shortly thereafter, and I went in at about 7:00 as we passed through the historic Route 66 town of Holbrook, to at long last sample the “Simplified” cuisine. The breakfast menu had 5 items to choose from, and I picked the “Bob Evans” Breakfast Scramble, partly because it came with a half order of a favorite, “Railroad French Toast.” While it was obvious that the meals were prepackaged mine turned out to be quite tasty. I must say, however, that if more cutbacks are made to food service in the future the borderline for quality will be quickly crossed. The three companions at the table were interesting; one, a young fellow from Australia, was traveling to Toronto and New York visiting museums. The gents across the table had the oatmeal, which was “watery and flavorless” in their words. No big complaints were heard, however, and the service was excellent as there were two waiters and a Lead Attendant working every efficiently.

Albuquerque

Gallup, New Mexico, with its Navajo Indian culture and restored station/museum was the beginning of very rough riding track, and the BNSF has a massive maintenance project on that section of their “Transcon” double track route that will eliminate the problem. While we had some speed reductions, BNSF Dispatch weaved our train through the waiting freight traffic quite expeditiously with no waiting. This track project goes from Gallup to the Dailies Junction, where Amtrak diverges onto the Albuquerque line. We arrived in Albuquerque at 11:35 AM, 45 minutes EARLY! Waiting on the platform was RailPAC Associate Director and New Mexico Rail Passenger Association President, Jon Messier. It’s always great to visit with Jon and he had much to show. Being Sunday, the new Railrunner commuter trains were not running, but a trainset was available for picture taking, and a photo appears later in this report. A full report of what’s happening in the “Land of Enchantment” will be posted on this website next month.

Departure from Albuquerque was ON TIME at 12:45, and we were on to Lamy, the AT&SF and Amtrak station for New Mexico’s capital city Santa Fe. The photo above shows what’s new at the Lamy station: a restored Atlantic Coast Line diner is open for lunch, operated by the same caterers that service the Santa Fe Southern tourist train. In the background is the reopened “Legal Tender” bar and restaurant, which is also a rail museum. A signal failure north of Bernalillo had caused us to arrive 30 minutes late, however, my sister Suzanne Snow and her husband Bob were on hand for the greeting and we were off for Sunday dinner at the historic Harvey House Hotel and restaurant, “La Fonda” in downtown Santa Fe before going to their place in Abiquiu. During the visit I was asked by many of their friends about when the Railrunner was coming to Santa Fe, and based on what Jon Messier had said, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson is determined it will be in 2008. Interest is very high. .

Train 3 Back To Los Angeles.

While the great visit was a short one, including participating for the first time in a yoga class taught by Suzanne, we were back at Lamy on October 10 for me to catch Train 3 which was arriving from the east ON TIME! I was welcomed aboard Coach 311 by Attendant Steve, and was seated in the same seat location on the lower level. Arrival in Albuquerque was at 3:35, a half hour early, and Jon was there on the platform again for more train talk and see the 4:10 departure of the Railrunner on that Tuesday afternoon. The picture of that departure is below. Notice a nice crowd is waiting for early boarding including one passenger who arrived on a bicycle. They’re beginning to “get it” in Albuquerque.


The Railrunner

Our Albuquerque departure was ON TIME at 4:35, with a large group of people boarding, a large group was reserved at Gallup, and another at Flagstaff; all heading for Los Angeles. There were more people downstairs this time, with a lady going to Winslow, a couple that boarded at Albuquerque going to Fullerton, a man going to Kingman to board the Las Vegas bus, and a couple getting off at Needles. I did have the seat to myself for the overnight trip. I would estimate that this train, and train #4 eastbound, hit over 80% Coach occupancy at Albuquerque. That station is a definite destination for Amtrak, and now that the State of New Mexico will own the track up as far as the Colorado border (more next month) there is no excuse for Amtrak to take the Southwest Chief off this line.

Problem Arises

Unfortunately, this was Coach 34047, a Superliner I that had not been renovated yet. And it showed. Boy, did it: All 5 toilets on the lower level were not functioning due to a mechanical condition, not because of passenger plugging. A mechanic had boarded at Albuquerque but was unable to correct the problem, so all passengers in our Coach had to use the other Coaches, all of which had fully functioning toilets. A nuisance, particularly for some of the others traveling downstairs, but fortunately the other cars remained functional into Los Angeles. The rough riding track was uncomfortable again, and several folks were bounced around a bit but everyone kept their humor that I saw. The BNSF continued to weave us through their heavy traffic as we slammed into crossovers nearly at speed, saw several freight trains stacked up waiting for us, and I couldn’t help thinking about how different that was from the Union Pacific’s reputation on other Amtrak long distance trains.

Dinner On #3

Dinner reservations were taken quite efficiently, and I chose 6:00. At 5:45 I was waiting in the Lounge car and was called to dinner early. A couple returning to Phoenix (they had parked in Flagstaff), and a man who had boarded at Lamy at the same time I did who was enroute only to Gallup were at the table. That fellow was a regular rider on that segment, saying he preferred to relax and have dinner to driving that distance!

Dinner service was quite efficient, and I chose the “Evening Special” which was Chicken Fried Steak. It was recommended by the frequent traveler, and it turned out to be tasty, although bordering on dry. The salad was excellent, the mashed potatoes were great (who can screw them up?). The couple, who ate the Salmon and Pork entrees, had traveled to/from New York, and had enjoyed their meals on board but were “tired” of cheesecake. We all passed on dessert, and I returned to my seat to have one of my sister’s homemade cookies instead. When I got to the Lounge car I found the evening movie was “Prairie Home Companion” with Garrison Keilor, so I watched it but gave up early as every few minutes the Diner was calling out names to come to dinner which overrode the sound of the movie.

Sleep was from Kingman, (after watching the gent from my car board the bus to Las Vegas), to Victorville, where several passengers detrained. Even though the Diner opened for breakfast from 4:30 to 6 I passed on it, and went to the Lounge to watch the sunrise going down Cajon Pass, mostly in the dark, but arriving at San Bernardino and its big fleet of Metrolink cars waiting for morning departures. We were down about a half hour at that point. A few passengers got off there, even though it is no longer a staffed station, and we went on into Riverside toward Fullerton. We were held at Fullerton Junction for 10 minutes for traffic. We’d been told we could arrive at Los Angeles as early as 7:35, an hour and ten timetable minutes early, but because of delays we didn’t get there until 8:05; EARLY, but quite acceptable! Ken Ruben was the welcoming committee and we went across to Phillippe’s for a very tasty breakfast before I hit the road back North.

Summary And Comments

Rather than make only my own comments I’ll pass along some I overheard from fellow passengers. NO ONE was upset to the point of anger about anything, and I certainly had no big complaints except the same one everyone else had about the toilets on #3. Dining car comments were noted above.

On #4, a lady sitting in the Lounge was overheard saying, “Amtrak needs to fix their tracks here,” as we rocked and rolled across New Mexico east of Gallup. Her round trip was taking her from LA to Buffalo, New York, to New York City, Charlotte, New Orleans, Chicago and back to Los Angeles. Her comment shows again how the freight railroad ownership and maintenance responsibility for the tracks hasn’t been communicated to everyone.

On #3, the man going to Kingman and Las Vegas had several late night cell phone conversations making sure his ride in Vegas knew when he would be arriving. He spoke at the usual cell phone loud voice experienced everywhere. He then told all of us that next time he would get a Sleeper. I said they cost a lot more, and a lady said she had called to get a sleeper for this train and found it would be $500 more, so rode Coach just as I had when I found out the same thing. She said she wouldn’t pay an extra $1,000 to ride Amtrak, and the man agreed. Price resistance? Yes, but Amtrak still sold out all the bedrooms on our train.

Before we arrived in Fullerton a lady was heard complaining about the train being EARLY, believe it or not, as her ride was not expected to pick her up that early. When did you ever hear that before? The rest of us were quite happy that this trip was ending so well, the crew had been so efficient and cheerful, the food quality had been above what we expected, and despite the toilet trouble it had been an IMPRESSIVE ride. My compliments to all, and many thanks!

Reports

RailPAC October 7 General Meeting Report

Meeting notes by Noel Braymer

Over 30 people, including many old friends attended the October 7th meeting at the Rail Restaurant in Fullerton by the train station. The impressive line of speakers no doubt was a major attraction in bringing in such a crowd. Some trains were running late that day; In Santa Ana one station track was out of service for rebuilding and to remove the old center platform after the recent opening of the new field side platform.

PHOTO: Jonathan Hutchison from Amtrak speaks at the RailPAC meeting.

The first speaker was Jonathan Hutchison, the new Government Affairs official for Amtrak, stationed in Oakland (photo). The basic Amtrak message remains the same; tell Congress to give Amtrak more money. Amtrak continues to talk about the need to trim “low performing” long distance trains in the same breath when talking about the Sunset Limited. There were many comments from the audience about the importance of decent food service to maintain ridership on the long distance trains.

he second speaker at the RailPAC Fullerton meeting was Dennis Lytton, NARP Director at Large from Los Angeles. Dennis Lytton gave a short friendly greeting with a call for unity among rail groups while accepting differences of opinion on some issues.

At the meeting there was a short discussion about the Lawsuit against RailPAC brought on by TRAC, led by RailPAC President Paul Dyson. Go to the RailPAC web page for more information at http://railpac.org/issues/current/index.html.

RailPAC meeting speaker Mayor Art Brown with RailPAC President Paul Dyson.

Our last speaker was Mayor Art Brown of Buena Park, (shown being introduced by RailPAC President Paul Dyson in the photo) which is next to Fullerton. He is also Chair of SCRRA (Metrolink); OCTA Representative on the LOSSAN Committee; and Member of the Executive Committee of the Southern California Association of Governments. The Mayor gave a background of the collapse of the Centerline Light Rail project which led to the expansion of Orange County Metrolink service, which will be completed by 2009. Orange County had to have replacement projects or lose Federal Funding because of failure to meet air quality requirements. In addition to expanded Metrolink service to meet these air quality requirements Orange County will add Carpool Lanes (HOV) on the 22 Garden Grove Freeway and establish Bus Rapid Transit service on Harbor Blvd.

Mayor Brown talked about many of the projects involving the upgrading of Metrolink. A major aspect was adding more parking at the stations. The cities will also work on projects to bring people to and from the station since, as Mayor Brown put it, “you’d have to build ten story parking structures” to meet the demand just with more parking.

The most exciting announcement from Mayor Brown was that several of the County agencies dealing with Rail in Southern California are exploring the creation of a Joint Powers Agency (JPA) to coordinate Commuter and Amtrak SurfLiner services. The inspiration for this idea came from the highly successful Capitol Corridor JPA in Northern California.

The issue of Grade Separation of the railroads came up. Mayor Brown pointed out that the City of Orange has something like 16 grade crossing alone. Grade separations clearly improve road safety and reduce traffic congestion. But as Mayor Brown pointed out, the railroad doesn’t really need grade separation, but most funding for grade separation comes out of transit and not highway funding. Additional money will be needed for getting more rail crossing grade separated. Mayor Brown also spoke of “his” station under construction in Buena Park. The Mayor pointed out that construction of the Buena Park Station was tied to additional triple-tracking of the BNSF Mainline also underway in Buena Park.

Many questions were asked about possible new services for Metrolink. Mayor Brown made the point that the Counties which are responsible for funding services in their county have the final say what Metrolink services are run in their county.

Reports

Monterey TAMC October Meeting

Reported by Chris Flescher, RailPAC Associate Director — The detailed study report of the Caltrain extension (alternatives analysis) was printed out and brought to the meeting (although I did not take a copy). It was also posted on the TAMC website a few weeks ago.

One of the conclusions is that a Caltrain extension would be more cost effective for Monterey County than an express bus. This study only addresses the Salinas-Gilroy-San Jose-San Francisco service, not the Monterey Branch Line (Monterey-Marina-Castroville-Gilroy-San Jose-San Francisco) service which is being considered separately, and where express buses may turn out to be cost effective.

For serving Salinas, running buses would cost Monterey County quite a bit more because TAMC would have to buy a large number of buses, and buy land in order to have a place to store them. For train service, TAMC would just pay the incremental cost for running two existing trains between Gilroy and Salinas.

The FTA will be the lead agency (not TAMC) for performing the environmental impact analysis. The TAMC committee would like to wait about a month, so that people from the FTA (and the TAMC staff) can read the alternatives analysis and comment on it.

In the past, MTS ran buses numbered 25 and 26, which went between Monterey or Salinas and Gilroy. The buses had relatively low ridership, and they were not considered a success. One reason is that almost everyone who rode the bus wanted to travel to somewhere north of Gilroy. This required a transfer, which added 18 minutes of time, and was inconvenient.

Although trains are very expensive to buy and run, to start the Caltrain extension, TAMC would not have to buy any trains, because there is existing capacity on the trains running to Gilroy. Since the trains already run to Gilroy and are funded by Caltrain, TAMC would just pay the cost of running trains beyond Gilroy. For an express bus to work well, it would have to go all the way to San Jose, and TAMC would have to pay the entire cost to run the buses on that route.

Parsons conducted a study of train vs bus service, using state and federal guidelines, in order to estimate the total impact of each service on society. Many factors were analyzed, such as amount of pollution, number of deaths from collisions on the rails or on the highway, and change in the amount of traffic on the roads, then assigning a dollar amount to each result. The Caltrain extension was estimated to have a net positive impact on society, while the express bus service was estimated to have a net negative impact on society. The positive impact from Caltrain is very important, because many transit projects being proposed for federal funding have overall negative impacts.

One result of the study is that Caltrain would benefit society by reducing traffic on the roads and saving people money (the fare is less than the total cost of driving), among other results. However, it would not have a significant impact on air pollution.

The TAMC committee members asked for a summary that would define and explain some of the terms used in the above study, which would allow them to do a better job of communicating with the general public the study results.

The federal funding guidelines for new transit projects give the highest priority to how much the project would reduce congestion. This seems very positive for the Caltrain extension, because the average trip length is expected to be about 74 miles, while the average trip length on Bart is currently about 12 miles. Because of that, one Caltrain rider would have about the same impact on traffic as six Bart riders (the number of car miles driven per day reduced by the transit).

Reports

Capitol Corridor now has 16 weekday round trips

RailPAC Sacramento Director, Marcia Johnston, reports: “I attended the Capitol Corridor Service Expansion Event on Wednesday, September 6, 2006 at 8:15 a.m. at the Sacramento Valley Station, 431 “I” Street, Second Floor in the newly-renovated REA building that also houses the offices of Thomas Enterprises, a Starbucks, and a soon to be opened soup restaurant. The theme of this celebration capitalized on the on the old Jackie Gleason line, ‘How Sweet It Is!'”

On August 25, Amtrak Davis station agent John Murphy informs a customer about the new Capitol Corridor schedule of trains due to start on August 28. John has posted the new schedule on the board next to his position at this busy station that now sees 32 Capitols, 2 Coast Starlights, 2 California Zephyrs, and 12 San Joaquin connecting Thruway buses daily. (Photo by Russ Jackson)

In this photo, taken on September 28 at Davis, Capitol train 526 arrives 15 minutes late enroute to Sacramento from the Bay Area. Notice a large crowd of passengers is detraining at this busy station, which serves nearby UC Davis, and many passengers arrive by bicycle here to take the train. RailPAC photo by Russ Jackson

Commentary

Who is “killing” Amtrak?

By Noel T. Braymer, Editor, Western Rail Passenger Review — Most of what is being said about the new Amtrak President Alexander Kummant is speculative. Mr. Kummant is largely unknown to the general public. It is understandable that people are uneasy when dealing with the unknown. What is known is that Mr. Kummant is 46, and has a B.S. in mechanical engineer from Case Western Reserve University. He also has a master’s in manufacturing engineering from Carnegie Mellon, and an MBA from Stanford University. Among the jobs Mr. Kummant has had were as an executive with the Union Pacific from 1999 to 2003 where he rose to Regional Vice-President. His next job was as President of the German Heavy Equipment manufacturer Bomag. This year he started work as the executive Vice-President, Chief Marketing Officer for the U.S. division of Komatu, the Japanese Heavy equipment manufacturer.

Is the Bush Administration planning to kill Amtrak? In letters to Congress Amtrak has been second only to Social Security in the volume of mail in support. This support comes from across the nation in both red and blue states. The UP’s hostility to Amtrak is no surprise to anyone. But other railroads, such as the BNSF, like getting incentive checks when running Amtrak trains on time. Without Amtrak the railroad retirement system will be in big trouble. The railroads have no wish to have that burden thrown on them. It would not be in the Bush Administration’s interest to eliminate intercity rail passenger service. Where the Bush Administration has little support is along the North East Coast of the country. This small area is where most of Amtrak’s jobs are based, and over half of Amtrak’s services are concentrated. In over 30 years many places have seen cut-backs and total elimination of Amtrak service. The one exception where there have been no cutbacks is the Northeast.

Amtrak is still recovering from a near-death experience. This happened in 2001-2002. Amtrak was so short of cash, it was forced to use Penn Station as collateral to borrow money just to meet payroll. What lead up to this had happened before the Bush Administration. The Acela went way over budget, plunging Amtrak deeply into debt while starving the rest of the system of cash for repairs and maintenance. Even if politicians are blamed for forcing the Acela on Amtrak, Amtrak Management was still responsible for decisions which have proven disastrous. Amtrak Management’s two basic mistakes on the Acela were in marketing and procurement. Amtrak Management thought the Acela would be their “glide path to profitability”. After repeated failures, Amtrak continued to think that short haul express trains were cash cows. This ignored the fact that Amtrak got most of its passenger income from long distance trains. Since Acela was introduced in 2001, Amtrak’s subsidy needs have continued to grow. Amtrak Management bet the farm on Acela, and almost lost it.

The biggest mistake Amtrak Management made on procuring the Acela equipment was not buying a proven product “off the shelf.” .The Acela was an untested product that turned out to have many “bugs”. This was complicated by Amtrak Management “micro-managing” the design which delayed the project and increased costs. The start up of service was delayed by over a year and the equipment still had problems. There were problems with the bathroom locks not working. There were cracks in the yaw-damper of the Acela which caused service to be suspended in 2002. Last year premature brake wear forced a suspension of service. Typically Amtrak Management ignored reports of problems with the Acela brakes, and it was the FRA which ordered the trains out of service. During this time older Metroliner trainsets where used instead of the Acela. They were just as fast and Amtrak admitted had lower operating costs than the Acela. The biggest single blunder of Amtrak Management was allowing the Acela to be built 4 inches to wide to take full advantage of its train tilting to allow faster speeds on curves. Amtrak insisted on buying a train capable of 150 mph, but only has 16 miles of track that can be run at that speed. Even today the Acela has more problems with its on-board electrical outlets not working. Buying a slightly slower, proven tilt-train that was less “glamorous” would have been more reliable and cheaper.

You would think with this level of performance there would have been a major shake up of Amtrak Management. You would be wrong. Many of the same people responsible for nearly killing Amtrak are still there. Amtrak has more executives and managers than conductors and engineers combined. Amtrak’s bloated bureaucracy has many more bosses to workers than any of the freight railroads. In the last five years as Amtrak has been laying off thousands of workers there have been no reductions in management. In fact there has been a slight increase over the years in management.

The Amtrak Board by hiring an outsider as the new Amtrak President is likely planning a major shake up of Amtrak. The current Amtrak Board is mostly made up of businessmen. Payroll is one of the easiest costs to reduce, and is a favorite target of business turnaround specialists. The recent massive lay-offs at Ford are a good example of this. In the past the Amtrak bureaucracy has always cut services without cutting overhead. This left the bureaucracy untouched, but reduced revenue. The result was instead of saving money, these cut-backs left Amtrak worse off. We will have to keep a close eye on Mr. Kummant. A slash and burn approach of Amtrak’s route system is totally unacceptable. Amtrak’s problem is not too many trains, but too few. Can Mr. Kummant lean out Amtrak’s Management and retain competent managers? Will the NEC remain a “sacred cow”? Does Amtrak “need” to own Chicago Union., Penn Station, Philadelphia 30th Station or Beech Grove and Sunnyside Yard? Can these properties be sold or redeveloped into income generators instead of cost centers? The job ahead at Amtrak is to increase revenues while controlling cost. This means expanded service.