Monthly Archives

December 2006

Commentary

California Is The Winner In November’s Election

Editorial by Noel Braymer

Transportation remains a major issue in the whole country with 70% of transportation measures winning nationwide this November 7th. This is according to the Center for Transportation Excellence in Washington. In California 10 counties were voting to enact or renew local sales taxes that would go for transportation. Tulare County passed a new sales tax. Fresno, Orange and San Joaquin Counties voted to extend existing sales taxes. Sale tax measures for transportation in Kern, Merced, Santa Barbara, and Stanislaus Counties all received majority approval, but failed to win a two/thirds vote required for passage. Marin and Sonoma Counties had a joint sales tax measure. The measure won two/thirds in Sonoma but not in Marin County. The result was the measure failed.

Californians approved over 30 billion dollars in bonds and sale tax revenues that can go towards transportation. To apply for state bond money counties will need matching funds. Many of these projects will also be eligible for Federal funding. But still only if the communities have a local match. When the reality of this hits the counties that don’t have a transportation sale tax, we should see more measures pass with the next election.

Measure 1A was not a bond issue, but makes it harder to tap gasoline tax money for transportation into the general fund. When this happens it disrupts planning for projects that get their funding cut because of “budget emergencies”. This happened for two years in a row just recently. Measure 1B will raise almost 20 billion in bond money for transportation with a share going towards rail and transit. Caltrans Rail Division is budgeted to get $400 million for Amtrak California. Of this, $125 million will go for new cars and locomotives. Los Angeles County is eligible for up to 1 billion in 1B money for transit. There is another 2 billion, part of which can be used for grade separations. The final decisions on spending are yet to be made by the California Transportation Commission (CTC). Measure 1C is money for housing. But this is a bonus for rail service because much of the money is to be spent for housing construction near train and transit stations. There is Measure 1E which is money for flood control. This will protect railroads in areas prone to flooding such as the Sacramento River Delta area.

As great as this new money is, it is not enough to build everything. Transportation projects that agencies have been waiting years for funding will quickly use up these new funds. A good example of this is the COAST DAYLIGHT. This project is no overnight success: it has been in the works for over 10 years. But it could now be running in two years if some track work and additional equipment can be bought. Now there is money for projects like the COAST DAYLIGHT, run-through tracks at LAUS, and reopening the Dumbarton Bridge.

Los Angeles County has the biggest dreams for this bond money. The Mayor of Los Angeles is proposing extending the subway under Wilshire Blvd. “to the sea.” This means to Santa Monica which would require over 10 miles of new subway. That would be about a 5 billion dollar project. There is already the Expo Light Rail Line under construction from downtown Los Angeles to Culver City. In far less time and money it can be extended to Santa Monica. Also fighting for funding are groups in the San Gabriel Valley who want the Gold Line extended east of Pasadena to the edge of western San Bernardino County. There is growing desire for rail service to LAX. There is renewed interest to extend the Green Line the 2 miles into the LAX area. A County Board of Supervisors Member who’s District includes the Crenshaw District wants a light rail line from the EXPO Line to LAX on Crenshaw Blvd. These projects won’t connect LAX to Los Angeles Union Station. There is a need for direct Metrolink service to LAX which would be a low cost project that would serve the entire Southern California region. In addition there is a need to connect the Blue and EXPO Lines at 7th and Flower in downtown Los Angeles with the Gold Line extension one mile away at 1st and Alameda. Also there is now interest in Los Angeles to create a system of Street Car lines as a circulator in downtown Los Angeles.

The reality is even with this new money, spending will have to be based on priority. Those projects with the greatest benefit for the lowest cost should get the highest priority. Not everything is going to be built at the same time. Projects will have to wait, maybe a long time before being funded. Some projects may have to be changed to be more economical. No matter what happens, not everyone will be happy.

(SEE spending plans for the Capitol Corridor in the CCJPA Meeting Report above. -Ed.)

Reports

TRIP REPORT: A Canadian Long Distance Rail Journey

By Bruce Jenkins, RailPAC Director

On Sunday, 9/24/06, my wife and I boarded VIA train #2 “The Canadian” at Vancouver. Sleeping car passengers are required to check in at 1630 (1 hr prior to departure time). You are then entertained on “the patio” (the old platform adjacent to the stub end of the tracks at Central Station) by live music and refreshments. Luggage is deposited in your bedroom, all part of the “Silver & Blue” service. The train is in two sections on adjacent tracks and is connected by pulling out the forward section then backing to the aft section. The total consist comprises 30 cars, made up of 1 baggage car , 2 coaches, 5 dome club cars, 3 diners and 19 sleeping cars. Three locomotives are required, 2 for prime movers and 1 for hotel power. The consist is made up into groups of 3 or more sleepers, dome and diner. The baggage, coaches and a dome are behind the locomotives. The east bound trains dead head about 6 sleepers and one diner to Toronto.

A fair amount of passengers get off at Jasper. However, the diners still have three sittings and the food and service are very good; you just can’t beat that old Canadian charm and friendliness. Meals are now included in sleeper class tickets. The seafood entree’s are excellent, as well as the Bison Prime Rib and Bison Burgers. First class table settings are still de rigueur (china etc). There is an excellent wine list and I never saw one miscreant wearing a baseball cap in the diner. Cocktails are available in the Dome Club Car adjacent to the diner, as well as movies and games for those who find some of the greatest scenery in the world boring.

We boarded VIA #1, the west bound Canadian, in Toronto Thursday 10/5. VIA uses some of the Chateau cars formally used on “The Maritimes” (Montreal/ Halifax) to fill in for shortage of Manor cars. The Chateau cars have one drawing room, and I was lucky enough to reserve one for both legs of my trip. In both the east and west bound trains there were 5 Chateau cars. Fall is the “shoulder” period, meaning lower fares and high demand by tour groups. On the west bound train from Toronto there were about 200 people in tour groups from the UK and they all got off at Jasper to ride the “Mountaineer” and spend time at Jasper, Banff and Lake Louise. So from Jasper to Vancouver the train was pretty empty; there were 4 of us left on my car. Hence it is easier to get a drawing room east bound; I was wait listed for the west bound drawing room for 2 months.

The staff agreed that at this time of year the train takes on the image of a “cruise ship”. The train stops in Winnipeg for service, about an hour. The crew directs the passengers to a new mall about a block away and it is quit a sight to see 500 people marching to buy maple syrup and souvenirs. Winnipeg is also the crew base, so you get a new crew there. Staff does recommend that you travel in the winter if you want the “normal” passenger train consist of 10 to 12 cars.

VIA is CN’s pinata. VIA, unlike Amtrak, has no legal priority (ha) and is shoved into the hole every siding. I awoke one night to witness a container train overtaking us. The 30 car train requires a “saw” movement at some short sidings. Train speed (as close as I could calculate) never exceeded 70 mph even in the plains of Saskatchewan. Due to severe temperature gradients up on the Canadian Shield, CN is replacing many decimated concrete ties with wooden ties. VIA now has equipped their cars with retention tanks so you can flush in the station even though the placards are still in place in the toilets. All sleeping cars have double bedrooms, roomettes, sections and a shower.

We rode Amtrak’s “Maple Leaf” from Toronto to Syracuse roundtrip. Fortunately my travel agent had the foresight to reserve business class for us. Seating was spacious and there is no traffic thru the isle since the car is placed directly behind the locomotive and the rear of the car is the “cafe” The equipment of course is Amfleet, ugly but comfortable. CSX (the UP of the east) treats Amtrak horribly. Down time is made up north of Niagara Falls on smooth CN track (79mph).

I booked my trip thru “Accent on Travel” (Ted and Sylvia Blishek) whose ad we’ve all seen in Trains magazine. They work with Brewster in Canada for VIA, hotels, taxi and airport transfers etc. I highly recommend using their services, so start planning and make your reservations months ahead.