Monthly Archives

November 2006

Reports

Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority

at Suisun City Hall

Reported by Russ Jackson, RailPAC Secretary

Capitol Corridor westbound train 729 arrives on time at the Martinez station on October 28. On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving day, the Capitol Corridor carried “a whopping 6,248 passengers,” according to CCJPA Managing Director Gene Skoropowski in a note to RailPAC. “That’s the single highest day for ridership in our history, by a wide margin.” The Capitols will celebrate their 15th Anniversary on December 12 at 12:30PM at the Sacramento train station. (Photo by Russ Jackson)

The best news for the Capitol Corridor, as well as the other California corridors, was the passage of Proposition 1B on November 7. CCJPB Chairman, Roger Dickinson, opened the meeting with a short comment on the positive aspects of the passage, and said that new cars will soon be on order for expansion and capacity improvements, as well as ensuring the reliability of the service. He also welcomed the presence of three representatives from the Union Pacific. New officers for the group were elected: Forrest Williams, San Jose, will be the Chairman starting with the February meeting, and Mary Ann Courville, Dixon, will be the incoming Vice Chair. Sue Greenwald, the Mayor of Davis, was welcomed as the representative from Yolo County. (Notice that the BNSF sent four representatives to the SJVRC meeting on November 9.)

  1. In keeping with the passage of Prop 1B, Managing Director Gene Skoropowski reported on the Capitol Corridor’s funding requests, totaling $252.25 million for state bond money. They will require local matching funds of approximately $800 million, much of which is already identified. The projects are not prioritized, but many of them are in various stages of preparation, so the first priority will be the first project that is ready for funding. The State, through the California Transportation Commission, has said “get us the projects quickly.” The Capitol Corridor will do so. The Projects are:
    1. Bahia Crossover,
    2. Emeryville station and track improvements,
    3. Support for the Dumbarton Rail/Union City station that will allow connection with BART,
    4. Yolo Causeway #24 crossovers at the west end of the causeway,
    5. CP Coast-Great America double track project,
    6. Sacramento-Placer County 3rd main track project planning and design

      The UP wants a passenger train-only third track between Sacramento and Roseville for additional trains. This 3rd track will be needed to meet the CCJPA goal of 10 round trips a day to Roseville. Additional sidings will also be needed past Roseville for 4 round trips to Auburn.

    7. Sacramento Station new platform and grade separation access, done with UP partnership and a private developer as part of UPRR’s track relocation plans,
    8. Wireless Internet service for the Capitol/San Joaquin fleet of cars,
    9. Martinez to Sacramento operational improvements, including adding additional crossovers as well as adding sidings and new trackage,
    10. Martinez Ozol Yard trackage to improve access to Martinez station, and
    11. In conjunction with the Port of Oakland, extend third and fourth trackage from Emeryville to Richmond and beyond, to facilitate movement of additional freight trains from the Port. In the latter case, the CCJPA is a member of the APTA and the States for Passenger Rail Coalition that are working to ensure that any freight financing has a passenger benefit element included.
  2. The CCJPA heard a report on Security and Safety, reported by its Deputy Director, Finance and Planning, David Kutrosky. Several improvements have been made at stations where trains layover at night. Lighting, video cameras, and a public address/speaker system have already been installed as part of this on-going program. The Sacramento station has a security guard patrolling the site and now has a security desk inside. All law enforcement agencies patrol all the local stations daily, and in case of security alarms have officers stationed there. Amtrak Police now have a dedicated officer riding the trains at random, inspecting the route and stations. The Auburn station now has fencing/ a locking gate, lighting and cameras connected to the Security Desk in Sacramento, which has helped eliminate most of the vandalism/graffiti to the cars there. At San Jose, Caltrain is moving forward with more improvements. The Oakland Maintenance Facility has a program of security upgrades, with over $3 million in state funds provided for fencing, lighting and cameras, to be completed in late 2007. Mr. Kutrosky also spoke of one of his pet projects, the Automated Ticketing Validation Pilot program, which will allow on board Conductors to sell tickets with hand-held units that can accept credit cards as well as cash, with the sale being instantly transmitted back to headquarters for revenue collection reports. Not only is Caltrans interested in this program, but Amtrak is likewise interested. A request for proposal has been prepared, and a vendor could be selected as early as January. A further discussion ensued with board members contributing suggestions regarding the increasing incidents of trespassing, some of which result in fatalities. A recent incident near Richmond had the Coroner’s office halting all traffic for 3 ½ hours, far too long for the circumstances. It was agreed that legislation is needed to prevent unnecessary delays to train traffic, and board member Williams said it should include light rail in the issue. Member Courville said the whole issue includes badly needed grade separations. Her city, Dixon, has had applications in for two of these for some time. RailPAC VP North, Art Lloyd, pointed out that Caltrain has had several fatalities lately, and that their Counties do not hold trains for longer than an hour. He also concurred with the board that more grade separations are desirable, and should be paid for through more highway contributions. The UP’s Tom Mulligan pointed out that these fatality delays affect their trains, too, with the Richmond incident tying up traffic until the next day.
  3. Mr. Skoropowski presented his Manager’s Report, proudly emphasizing what everyone knew, that ridership continues to grow. In October it was 120,074, a 9% increase over last year. He attributed some of that to the increased reliability that the UP has provided, particularly in the peak hours. Revenue is up 6% ($1 million) over FY 05, a new record high. The Revenue-to-Cost ratio is now a record high 46%. All that comes with the addition of the new trains that started in August. On Time Performance is at 77%, but many trains are in the 90% range. However, the UP reported it will have a major maintenance-of-way track project going between Martinez and Richmond in January which will impact performance of trains. While Amtrak itself is operating on a “continuing resolution” basis, with the coming of the new Congress there is optimism that many stalled items related to Amtrak will be resolved. Amtrak President, Alex Kummant, came to California in late October, and spent time reviewing CCJPA operations, and rode Capitol Corridor train 532 (as well as the Coast Starlight). Mr. Skorpowski pointed out that all current construction projects that have funding have now been completed, and they are eagerly awaiting Prop 1B money so “we can continue to advance our capital investment program.”

On other matters, it was announced that the Corridor will celebrate its 15th Anniversary with an event on December 12 at the Sacramento station at 12:30 PM. The Sacramento RT will dedicate the new light rail extension into that station with a celebration on December 8 at 10:00. The next CCJPA meeting will be on February 21, at 10:00 at Suisun City Hall.

On the same day, November 15, the Sonoma-Marin project board (SMART) met, and RailPAC Executive Director, Richard Silver, attended. That project’s combined county proposal for a sales tax was defeated on November 7, with it receiving 66% of the vote when 66.7% was needed, or 200 more votes. Marin County approved it by 55%. Mr. Silver urged the members to not give up on this project, telling them that any politician that knows a project has 66% approval must carry on.

Reports

San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee

Hanford, Calif.; Reported by Bruce Jenkins, RailPAC Director. — The San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee met in Hanford on Nov.9, ’06, chaired by Mayor Harvey Hall of Bakersfield.

Rick Depler of BNSF gave an update on OTP for the valley line for October, a record of 93.7% for Amtrak trains!

DJ Mitchell (BNSF) gave an update on their Maintenance of Way (MOW) project, and Electronic Train Management System (ETMS). MOW is still scheduled for January thru February 29th from Fresno to Bakersfield, where 73,000 ties will be replaced. Most San Joaquin trains will be affected. Note: it was also revealed that UP will do MOW in the same time frame Martinez to Richmond.

The ETMS will be installed on the Ark City Kansas to Ft Worth corridor for a demonstration and to ultimately achieve FRA approval . After approval “we will be free to deploy ETMS and tell California’s Division of Rail that they need to participate in setting up the system. DoR needs to step up and provide funds to equip their trains… We are looking at 2008 for start up.”

PHOTO: San Joaquin train 702, operating as a push train with the cab car up front, arrives at the new Wasco station, the last stop before reaching Bakersfield, on October 11, 2006. On November 26, the Sunday after Thanksgiving, 183 passengers boarded the buses at Bakersfield going to Los Angeles from train 702, 43 on the bus for Oxnard/Santa Barbara, 40 for the Riverside/San Bernardino bus, 15 for the Las Vegas bus, 14 for the Glendale/Long Beach bus, and 13 rode the bus for Van Nuys/Simi Valley. The train 702 consist had 6 cars pulled by one locomotive. (Photo by Russ Jackson)

BNSF will also make other upgrades to their tracks e.g. in the Stockton area where numerous crossovers will see improvements. Double track and crossovers in the Calwa-Bowles area, and hi speed turnouts, concrete ties in areas e.g. Shirley- Hanford, Oakley- Port Chicago, double track in Escalon (3mi) and crossover in Merced. Extended double track (Jastro to Shafter), north of Bakersfield. The Fig Garden siding in Fresno is off the table for now. (This writer and RailPAC Directors Art Lloyd and Bill Kerby, as well as numerous Committee members were impressed that BNSF sent four representatives to address BNSF issues at this meeting. It clearly displays a sense of commitment by BNSF).

Zoe Richmond, Executive Director of Operation Lifesaver (OL) made a well received presentation. It was brought out that California is #1 in the nation for trespass issues and #4 in the nation for grade crossing fatalities. Central Valley incidents are increasing. OL is seeking people who speak Asian languages and elected officials to appeal to ethnic farm workers, professional drivers, law enforcement and civic bodies. Merced County will be the educational “guinea pig” for this program.

Larry Miller (Fresno County) reported that he had met with Jerry Wilmoth (UP) regarding Train service for Merced, Tulare, Bakersfield (old SP line). UP sounded encouraging and that a meeting will be scheduled in Omaha.

Jonathan Hutchinson (Amtrak) reported that San Joaquin ridership was up 5.5% and revenue up 11.9%, 2.7% of delays were caused by rolling stock problems. He added if S1516 (80/20 funding) should pass in the U.S. Congress “we will see an exponential increase in rail travel and California is the leader”.

Bill Bronte (Chief, DoR) appealed to the Committee (and all the other groups e.g. Capitoll Corridor, Coast Rail, ACE, LOSSAN, PJPB etc) for another joint letter like the one they they submitted at APTA to support 80/20 funding. If there is success then the state can get credit for the $1.7 B already spent. “California is the success story.”

Commentary

No Way To Build A New Airport

By Noel Braymer, Editor, Western Rail Passenger Review

San Diego no longer calls itself “America’s finest city.” As it is, San Diego is trying to avoid being called America’s most corrupt city. There is of course former San Diego Congressman Randy Cunningham who pleaded guilty to corruption. A City Councilman and Deputy Mayor of San Diego were convicted of accepting bribes from a strip joint owner last year. The city pension plan is 2 billion dollars in the red and under Federal investigation. The Mayor during this time was Dick Murphy, who was re-elected on a technicality despite his write-in challenger getting slightly more votes in December 2004. However Mayor Murphy resigned in disgrace by July 2005. Dick Murphy ran for Mayor claiming he was going to get things done. On the top of his agenda was a new airport to replace Lindbergh Field. A small old airport of 660 acres, it is not able to handle fully loaded jumbo jets and has no room to add a second main runway to handle future expected air traffic growth..

Under Mayor Murphy, a new Airport Commission was created to take over control of Lindbergh Field from the Port Commission with sweeping new powers. For over 4 years more studies were commissioned to study every possible airport site. After years of studies and millions of dollars spent the result is Prop A on this November Ballot. Prop. A is a non-binding measure to see if there is voter support to build a new 3,000 acre airport out of a part of the 23,000 acre Miramar Marine Corp Air Station north of downtown San Diego. Prop A and the whole airport selection process was a waste of time and money. The Military has made it clear they are opposed to any joint use of Miramar. The residents around Miramar are firmly opposed to the idea and a local Congressman sponsored Federal Legislation to prohibit the joint use of Miramar that passed. All five San Diego County Congressmen are opposed to using Miramar for a public airport.

It is becoming next to impossible to build a new airport near a populated area. The reality is, in California there will have to be smarter use of airports and air space. Much of the commercial air traffic in San Diego is very short haul, under 200 miles and often in small commuter planes. Getting better use of scare airport capacity can be as simple as using fewer, bigger planes. Congestion on the ground is as big an issue as in the sky. Lindbergh Field is next to the Coaster and Trolley Tracks. Extending the Trolley to the airport and having the Coaster connect to serve Lindbergh will make it possible for the airport to handle bigger crowds without adding more parking or overloading roadways.

Rail service can connect airports together, reducing the need for many short haul flights and make more distance airports practical for air service. From downtown San Diego the only non-military airports capable of handling jumbo jets are 16 miles away next to the Mexican border. One is Brown Field and the other is the airport for Tijuana. Either airport could be connected by an extension of the Trolley, possibly with express service from Lindbergh Field and downtown San Diego. It would not be practical to use either airport to replace Lindbergh. But they could be used to supplement Lindbergh for flights using jumbo jets. This could reduce pressure on LAX which is where many flights out of San Diego are headed.

San Diego is not alone with airport problems. Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) serves all of Southern California for most International and many cross country flights. But LAX is at near capacity now and there is overwhelming opposition to expanding it. Palmdale is one of the few airports that wants to expand. The problem with Palmdale is getting there. Local leaders in the San Fernando Valley and Palmdale are organizing a coalition to improve rail service to the Palmdale Airport. They are looking at improved Metrolink service, a high speed corridor or even a shortcut with a long tunnel east of downtown Los Angeles. The 70 miles trip from downtown Los Angeles to Palmdale is caused by the need to go around mountains heading to the west and north. Palmdale is actually due east of downtown Los Angeles. Such an improved rail link would do more than carry people from Los Angeles to the Palmdale Airport. It would create connections to most of the entire region.

Commentary, Reports

My Meeting With Amtrak President Alex Kummant

By RailPAC President Paul Dyson. — I met with Mr. Kummant for 45 minutes at the Amtrak Offices in Washington D.C. Joining the discussion were Cliff Black, Amtrak Director of Media Relations and Marcus Mason, Senior Director of Government Affairs of Amtrak. My meeting was very cordial and covered a wide range of topics. This ranged from the lessons of British Railways privatization to dealing with the Union Pacific. Also covered were specific issues such as NEC infrastructure costs, the long distance trains, and California Corridors.

Photo by Amtrak’s Cliff Black for RailPAC

Obviously Mr. Kummant is very new to the position and to passenger railroading, and he is the first to acknowledge that he has a lot to absorb. I was impressed that he referred to a railroad atlas when I made a specific reference to a route; I’ve worked with too many railroaders who pretend they know everything. However, he certainly doesn’t seemed daunted by the challenges, and has the attitude of any good executive taking the helm of a corporation; that it’s his job to grow the business and improve the bottom line.

Regarding the political climate and the demands for more private involvement with passenger rail, Mr. Kummant asked me to prepare some notes on the results of privatization of British Railways. While there have been some improvements in services in the UK the overall public subsidy has increased four fold, a fact often overlooked this side of the pond. We both agreed that passenger rail is on the public agenda as it has not been for many years and that there is a great opportunity for growth. We also agreed that Amtrak and its supporters should do more to tout the progress of rail, particularly to quote passenger miles rather than just ridership.

I explained that RailPAC is in effect a coalition of many interests, including high speed rail, long distance trains and corridors. I pointed out that RailPAC’s overriding concern has been to present proposals that are realistic and that represent value for the taxpayer’s dollar. I also told him that the western states feel strongly that the long distance train network and western services are under invested compared to the NEC. California in particular has spent state tax dollars for our own rail program while at the same time we send federal tax dollars that are spent on the Acela program, so we pay twice. Mr. Kummant said that he wanted to come to California and to work with our officials on some initiatives to “redress the balance”. He believes in incremental improvement and that 100 mph corridors are marketable. We spoke of the San Joaquin Valley cities as being in need of more service and having great potential.

Mr. Kummant believes that his experience with Union Pacific will be a valuable asset, as he “understands how they think”. He believes that the organization is changing under new CEO Jim Young, although the fear of open access remains. There are major investments in infrastructure in the pipeline for UP, although in the short term that could cause disruption to the long distance trains.

We also spoke of the need for investment in rolling stock and the difficulty in putting together a large enough order to interest a car builder. I mentioned my experience in the railcar leasing business and our interest some years ago in finding the rail equivalent of the 737. Mr. Kummant is very interested in private financing of rolling stock, with perhaps a “Fannie Mae” type of structure whereby the government is a guarantor of last resort.

The discussion turned on the long distance trains. I believe Mr. Kummant views these as having potential for improvement and development, possibly with participation from tour operators, cruise lines and others with their own vehicles as part of the consist. I mentioned that our group and many others would fight to keep the long distance trains, and that reducing the network would only add costs to the remaining trains. We agreed that the easiest part of a service to get rid of is the revenue; the costs have a habit of sticking around.