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Rail Photos

Rail PHOTOS of the Year, another look

By Russ Jackson, RailPAC website Editor

The photos below represent the many of MY PHOTOS that appeared on this site during 2007. They are worth a second look! My thanks to the other contributing photographers this year, including Noel Braymer, Mike Palmer, Mike Barnbaum, and Bob Snow.


The Deming, New Mexico Amtrak “flag stop.” This photo, posted in a comprehensive article on the Sunset Limited stops of Benson, AZ, Lordsburg and Deming, NM., in May shows two benches and a sign on a one-way street crossing, which is used as a “platform.”

Amtrak President Alex Kummant spoke to the RailPAC/NARP meeting, the biggest rail advocacy meeting ever in California, on March 17 in Los Angeles.


When the bridge fire wiped out the Union Pacific line just east of Sacramento on March 15 the California Zephyr route was altered, with passengers from west of there bused to Roseville. Here it is seen pulling up to the Roseville station for boarding on March 24.

Amtrak California Thruway bus arrives at the Dunsmuir bus station at the foot of Mt. Shasta on July 27. It was a beautiful day up there, and this connecting bus arriving from Medford, Oregon, was carrying passengers but could use more.

The first two rebuilt Superliner coaches, arrived for use on the Capitols and San Joaquins in August. This one was on a Capitol at Davis. Five more, in California colors, are due to arrive in the Spring increasing capacity on the trains.

On September 15 Caltrans Director, Will Kempton, was the featured speaker at the RailPAC Fall Conference at the California State Rail Museum in Sacramento, joining an all-star panel.


On November 20 it was worth getting up early to be a “railfan” waiting for the eastbound California Zephyr sprint across Solano County carrying the Grandluxe cars on the back end. While waiting for it the southbound Coast Starlight came through as did an eastbound Capitol. Great train watching that day!


California Zephyr schedule to change in January

Restoring more of the time taken away while the Union Pacific did maintenance of way projects in Nevada.
Information from Amtrak, courtesy Ed von Nordeck.


POLAR EXPRESS at the Rail Museum

A Trip Report! By Robert F. Mac Donald

The California State Rail Museum ushered in the 2007 holiday season with cookies and hot chocolate. To the delight of kids, young and old, they were invited on board the Museum’s “Polar Express” at the old Central Pacific Depot in “Old Town” Sacramento, CA.

This “Polar Express” was a “Rail Buff’s” dream, made up five vintage cars, and pulled by a tank steam engine- the Granite Rock, No. 10. For the pajama clad pre-teenagers, the sound of the steam whistle echoing along the banks of the Sacramento River brought them to the reality of the sounds known to their forebears since the 1860’s.

Since we were second in line to get our boarding passes, we were able to ride the rear car, the newly refurbished car-“El Dorado”. The El Dorado
was built in 1924 for the Union Pacific Railroad and was acquired by the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1928. It is now in beautiful shape, with its polished woodwork and gleaming brass. Yes it has something new! Its new sound system would make any one in the twenty-first century jealous. The car attendants and the train crew were in full garb, just like the movie.

On the advertised, the train whistled off, and we, on the “El Dorado” were off on another rail adventure. After we passed through “Old Town” and the Tower Bridge, we were told that we were on the way to the NORTH POLE, and to meet Santa. With that, the story of the “Polar Express” came to life with words, music, and live actors. First, we were told the story of the young boy’s ride on Christmas Eve. Then came the dancers with their trays of hot chocolate and cookies, and then the car attendants served each of us our own paper cup of hot chocolate and a chocolate chip cookie.

The ride is to BATH, three miles down the pike! For the holiday season this Station is renamed the NORTH POLE. The train ride is on the S. P.’s former Oak Grove Branch, which is atop the east levee of the Sacramento River. When we arrived, sitting on flat cars on the spur at the NORTH POLE was Santa, his sleigh, and his rain deer.

At this point, the engine was cut off the train, and passed through the siding, to run-around the train. Once out on the Main Line again, we watched as Engine No. 10 backed up to the car “El Dorado”, and the crew coupled them for the train’s journey back to “Old Town”.

Under way again, there was a commotion at the other end of the car, and then a “Ho, ho, ho!”. Santa had come aboard with his sack of goodies for the lucky boys and girls. Santa handed each of them a silver bell, like the one in the story. Santa gave the little girl sitting next to me a silver bell, like the one in the story, too. Of course the little girl was named Jeanette,
AKA as Mom, Grandma or Auntie!!!

Once Santa departed the car, the engine crew treated railroaders, future railroaders, and passengers to a unique train operating experience, i.e.,
a steam blow off on the run! Oh, yes, out on the river, a pair of “jet skiers” raced the train to the river bend.

As we went by the Tower Bridge, the bells on the crossing gates announced that we were back “home” again, and would soon depart our train. It was good-bye and Merry Christmas to our fellow passengers. To lucky ones clutching their “Silver Bell”, it was “will we see you next year?” To the train crew and staff, we said “Thanks”.

The ride on the “Polar Express” was great!


California Amtrak Stats for November

From Capitol Corridor Managing Director Gene Skoropowski

We have just received the November 2007 stats from Amtrak, the second month of the FY08 federal fiscal year.

For the Capitol Corridor, the ridership and revenue numbers again show continue substantial growth. There was also substantial ridership growth on the San Joaquins, and continued modest growth in Pacific Surfliner ridership and revenue, and in the revenue growth on the San Joaquins.

Amtrak reports for:

Capitol Corridor (November 2007):

136,650 passengers +13.0% vs. 2006, and another record for the month
(and now also the second highest month ever)
$1,823,503 +14.2% vs. 2006

The on-time performance for November was 84.4%, a couple of percentage points improvement above October 2007, but not quite up to September’s 86%. November had fewer ‘unusual incidents’ and there were no ‘cascading
delays’ like were experienced in October. Union Pacific performance was above 90% for the month, showing a sustained performance level, incrementally increasing each month.

This year, we worked with Amtrak to advance the Preventative Maintenance cycle of the coaches in preparation for the big Thanksgiving ‘crunch’. That effort paid off, in that 80 of the 82 cars in the Northern California ‘equipment pool in Oakland’ were assigned to revenue trains on the San Joaquins and Capitol Corridor trains. There were only one or two reported instances of standees.

People are continuing to climb aboard our trains, all over California. As I said last month, I guess compared to disruptions on the highways, and now
the cost of driving, California’s trains are an increasingly attractive travel option.

The revenue-to-cost ratio for November is 56.6%, the highest recovery ratio ever, and with last month’s 51% we are well on our way to meeting or exceeding the state’s goal of 50%. Again, this is the best start we have ever had to a fiscal year.

Pacific Surfliners (November 2007):

226,503 passengers +3.7% vs. 2006
$4,262,448 +5.0% vs. 2006

San Joaquins (November 2007):
78,577 passengers +13.1% vs. 2006
$2,485,599 +5.3% vs. 2006

Eugene K. Skoropowski
Managing Director,
Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority

Rail Photos

Rail PHOTOS for the Christmas-Holiday season

From around California and one that’s a bit different!

With MANY GREETINGS of the season from the RailPAC Officers, Directors, and editorial staff.

The California State Rail Museum in Sacramento greets 2007 Christmastime visitors with decorated locomotive 1915 as they enter. (Russ Jackson photo)

The 1992 Chistmas tree at Los Angeles Union Station is one of our most popular photos. (Russ Jackson photo)

In 2004 this tree greeted passengers entering the Amtrak station in San Luis Obispo. The decorations are old baggage tags! (Russ Jackson photo)

Amtrak train #6, the California Zephyr, in the Sierra near Donner Lake in January, 2007. Photos from the window of a train in the snow always make a good way to extend greetings. So far going into winter 2007-08 there isn’t much snow up there. (Bob Snow photo)

What has this photo to do with either Christmas or rail? Well, it’s RailPAC President, Paul Dyson astride Tom the mule, Paul’s “alternate transportation,” extending his Holiday greetings. Paul says, “I think Tom could certainly make the time that some of the Surfliners make. Metrolink is faster, south of Los Angeles, with 6 more stops!” There’s your connection to Paul’s commentary that follows this post. (Lisa Dyson photo)


Pacific Surfliner – A failing service

Commentary by Paul Dyson, RailPAC President
24 November, 2007


The omissions from these documents are as significant as the content.

As I have mentioned before to the LOSSAN TAC and to the LOSSAN Board, there is no such thing as “interference” from another train as a cause of delay to a scheduled passenger train. If you are truly concerned about establishing the root causes of delay and attempting to bring about improvements then you have to understand how a railroad works.

On a single-track section of railroad, passenger trains are scheduled to pass each other at predetermined points, either double track sections or sidings. If a train is running late then that “meet” may take place at a non-scheduled location and one or both trains may suffer a delay as a result. The cause of the delay however is whatever made the delayed train late in the first instance. Therefore the objective of the ad-hoc committee should be primarily to go after these root causes. We all know that single-track railroads are inherently prone to secondary delays once a chain of late running has started, but that requires long-term solutions and investment. However, we should be looking for short-term solutions to this problem as well.

Here are some questions that should have been asked:

How bad is the problem? A review of the Amtrak supplied statistics only reveals a part of the answer. Our first issue is with the use of Endpoint Schedule Tolerance. In our view this is commercially unacceptable. If Amtrak published a schedule with an arrival time and the train arrives 10 or 15 minutes after that then the train is late. The punctuality problem is worse than the statistics convey.

How much recovery time is there in the schedules? A schedule is made up of running time, station dwell time, meets, and recovery time. A review of the schedules for Amtrak and Metrolink trains between Oxnard and Los Angeles reveals a wide range of timings for the same journey. Some of this is caused by scheduled meets, (and it is clear that Amtrak trains are given low priority by the schedulers as compared to Metrolink), but there is additional time in some schedules which cannot be accounted for by meets. For example, Amtrak 774 is allowed 31 minutes over the double track section between Glendale and LAUS. Since 768 is allowed 15 minutes we conclude that this is the “normal” schedule, so there are 16 minutes of recovery time for 774. In addition Amtrak wants 15 minutes “Tolerance” for “routine operational issues” to quote Mr. Hutchison. This of course is double dipping, and if 774 still doesn’t run on time then there is a very serious problem. Furthermore, if trains are given generous amounts of recovery time, especially between the last two stations, this covers up major delays en route and passengers to intermediate stations can be seriously inconvenienced without this showing up in the statistics.

Table of Scheduled timings between LAUS and Oxnard, Amtrak and Metrolink trains.
Odd numbers northbound, even numbers southbound.

Train Number Minutes in Schedule Comments
M113 89 9 intermediate stops
M115 89
M119 94
A799 110
A763 95 6 intermediate stops
A14 (Coast Starlight) 110 Only two intermediate stops
A769 96
A775 98
A785 88
M102 90
M104 90
M106 89
A768 108
A774* 118 31min Glendale-LAUS
A784 118
A792 140 30mph!
A798 116
A11 (Coast Starlight) 112

*Takes 90 minutes Burbank Airport to Fullerton.

As can be seen the fastest trains on the railroad are the Metrolink commuter trains, which make at least 3 more stops than the so-called inter city Surfliners, and are still 10 – 20 minutes faster, or more!

How often are passenger trains delayed by “non-clearing” freight trains? A non-clearing train is one that is too long to fit in the sidings on the single-track section of the route and so has a greater tendency to cause delays. Southern Pacific started this practice with the OALBT, which repositioned empty container cars from the Bay Area to Southern California for reloading. The tonnage is light so it saved crews by running one long train instead of two. SP also started to run a “sweeper” train of empty boxcars and lumber flats from Southern California to Eugene bypassing the switching yard at Colton. This DOEUM (Dolores Yard to Eugene Manifest) was also often a non-clearing train because of the light tonnage and pressure to reduce crew starts. Union Pacific has continued these practices even though the number of passenger trains has increased and the number of sidings available has been reduced. When UP took over SP they were quite aware of the density of passenger traffic on the Coast line and still have an obligation to give priority to passenger trains under their contracts with Amtrak, Metrolink, and under 49 USC 24308 (c). If these trains cannot be dispatched without delays to passenger trains then the onus should be on UP to provide longer sidings or to split the trains into two sections.

Is the goal reasonable? We say that the goal of 85% on time should be easily attainable, if the railroad is operated efficiently, and in fact the goal should be higher given the recovery time and Endpoint Tolerance. But if the goal is repeatedly missed then we have to search deeper for problems. These may include:

Poor rolling stock maintenance.
Priority consistently given to other operators’ trains.
Inoperable schedule.
Too many trains for the current level of infrastructure.

I have written previously suggesting a fundamental rework of the timetables for Surfliner, Coaster and Metrolink. We believe the public, travelers and taxpayers alike, would be better served with an integrated passenger train service that offers regular, reliable and appropriately scheduled running times for inter city and local service. The combined resources of Coaster and Metrolink should provide all day local service to all stations in the corridor, at least as far as Ventura County, and the Surfliner sets should provide a faster, limited stop service with timings more competitive with the private automobile.

RailPAC believes that the individuals whose job it is to operate the railroad are doing the best they can with the resources available. What’s missing is coordinated management of mainline passenger rail services in Southern California. It’s obvious that the Surfliner service is a low priority for the railroad owners, both in scheduling and in dispatching. The numbers speak for themselves. Poor punctuality, indifferent schedules, mediocre reliability have led to flat ridership, boosted only by the Rail-to-Rail program. Many member agencies fail to attend meetings and are busy spending their available funds on branch line projects rather than modernizing the main line. It’s a sorry situation, and a far cry from the optimistic hopes of the 1980s.

Rail Photos, Reports

Amtrak Long Distance November On Time Performance

The Western trains with PHOTOS! (Don’t all Amtrak trains look alike?)
november-2007-2-001.jpg sunset1atontarioca11-21-071208pm.jpg
Reported by Russ Jackson

Here’s our follow-up to the articles we’ve written for the Review and posted on RailPAC.ORG the past few months regarding Amtrak On Time Performance for the western long distance trains. As usual we check the performance at intermediate stations, as the endpoint times don’t reflect the true running times of the trains what with all the schedule padding built in. All long distance trains are reported to be SOLD OUT during the holiday travel season! Yeah, nobody rides trains anymore.

California Zephyr #6 carrying the GrandLuxeRail luxury cars crosses Solano County, CA, only a few minutes late on November 20 enroute to Chicago. This trainset was to arrive back in the Bay Area on 11/25 (Russ Jackson photo)

Train 5/6, Amrak’s California Zephyr had a schedule change on October 28, moving its Emeryville departure time to 8:05 am, closer to its regular departure time. So, has it worked? Yes and No. From November 1 to 15, its endpoint OTP was 53.4%. Since November 17 it has been early into Salt Lake City every day! But, when #6 gets to Chicago on those days the delays have been 165, 25, 14, 119, 0, and 34 minutes late. Shows it can be done, but isn’t always. BTW, that 0 minutes late into Chicago was on Thanksgiving Day when it was also hauling the GrandLuxeRail cars. Train 5, with a slight modification to its extended schedule, in the same period arrived into Sacramento early four out of seven days, and the other two were only 23 and 12 minutes late. Since October 1, through November 15, it’s endpoint OTP has been 54.3%. Grade: VERY GOOD.

Train 7/8 the Empire Builder (no photo available) arrived in Havre, Montana fairly close to on time with one exception during that period. #7 was late 14, 17, 13, 18, 38, 15, and 52 minutes on the days we checked between November 10 and 22. #8 was late at Havre 14, 75, 399, 13, 4, 24, and 21 minutes on the days we checked in that same period. OOPS, 399 minutes late on 11/12. Well, that’s the exception up there. Fiscal Year OTP 10/1 to 11/15 was 82.1%. Grade: EXCELLENT.

The Sunset Limited arrives under the palm trees at the Ontario, CA station at 12:08 pm on 11/21. It was 4 hours late. (Mike Palmer photo)

Train 1/2 the Sunset Limited had its usual problems, with #1 arriving in Los Angeles triple digit minutes late every day between 11/14 and 11/23. Last month we reviewed the problems this train encounters, and it hasn’t changed much even though it’s been proven it can be run OT. Train #2 arrived in San Antonio 113, 0 (on 11/13), 88, 225, and 65 minutes late in that same period, with only one time missing its 1:00 am departure time for New Orleans, and easily making its connection to the Texas Eagle. The connection time for the 7 am departure of #22 has been met each day. FY OTP since 10/1 was 7.9%, with only 3 trains listed as being on time at endpoints. Grade: POOR

The Southwest Chief hits the diamonds at Colton crossing on a cool, foggy 11/21 morning running 2 hours late. The UP crossing is in the foreground. This bottleneck for both passenger and freight trains is due to have a UP flyover grade separation constructed in 2011. (Mike Palmer photo)

Train 3/4 the Southwest Chief had its usual good record in November, with #3 late into Los Angeles only twice. On Thanksgiving Day #3 arrived at Fullerton 78 minutes late, but was only 21 minutes late at LA Union Station, showing the endpoint schedule padding. RailPAC contributing photographer Mike Palmer met relatives at Fullerton that morning and learned #3 was in a near-collision somewhere near Lamy, New Mexico and later had lineside signal problems. #4 arrived into Albuquerque on time every day! What more can we say? Its FY OTP from October 1 to November 15 was 84.8%. Grade: EXCELLENT

The Coast Starlight train 11 crossing Solano County west of Davis, running about 90 minutes late on the morning of 11/20. Its consist is now 11 cars and a baggage car. (Russ Jackson photo)

Train 11/14 the Coast Starlight had its usual mixed performance recently. We checked #11 at San Luis Obispo and found it was 27, 0 (on 11/18), 26, 128, 206, and 95 minutes late on the dates we checked. For #14, we checked at Eugene, Oregon, and the performance was not so good as it was triple digit minutes late every day but one, and that one was 85 minutes. Winter has just begun in the Cascades, too. Supposedly the Union Pacific has made major rail repairs up there that will improve service. For the FY from October 1 to November 15 the OTP was 55.6%, a vast improvement until the past week. Grade: BETTER.


Two California rail officials receive Amtrak honors!

Amtrak Honored Caltrans Rail Chief William Bronte and the Capitol Corridor’s Eugene Skoropowski with its prestigious President’s Service and Safety Award.

brontepic.jpg skoropowski-photo.jpg

Also honored was Patricia Quinn of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority (NNEPRA).

Recipients in the State Partner category “must demonstrate extraordinary and creative efforts in developing resources to preserve and expand rail service. Recipients must demonstrate leadership in promoting rail service on a state and/or local level.”

Eugene Skoropowski

During ceremonies in Washington, Amtrak President and CEO, Alex Kummant presented Skoropowski with Amtrak’s most prestigious award, the President’s Service and Safety Award for State Partner.

“Under Gene’s leadership, the CCJPA has developed the ability to work constructively with Amtrak and Union Pacific,” said Kummant. “He has developed unique intermodal partnerships with regional transit agencies throughout the corridor.”

Recipients in the State Partner category “must demonstrate extraordinary and creative efforts in developing resources to preserve and expand rail service. Recipients must demonstrate leadership in promoting rail service on a state and/or national level.”

Skoropowski has a vision for intercity passenger rail service in California. In partnership with Amtrak, the Capitol Corridor has increased the number of frequencies from four roundtrips in 1998 to 16 roundtrips today (32 trains a day between Sacramento and the Bay Area and 14 daily trains to San Jose). This expansion was a result of his skilled management techniques which enabled the CCJPA to use existing rolling stock on the route.

The route has seen eight consecutive months of record ridership growth with more than 1.5 million passengers traveling on the route in FY07, making it the third busiest in the nation.

William Bronte

Also honored was William Bronte, Chief, Division of Rail for the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), for special recognition among state and local leaders across the nation for his support of Amtrak and his commitment to passenger rail service.

During ceremonies here, Amtrak President, CEO Alex Kummant said, “Your efforts exemplify initiative, commitment and dedication to Amtrak, and our entire organization extends to you our highest appreciation.”

Recipients in the State Partner category “must demonstrate extraordinary and creative efforts in developing resources to preserve and expand rail service. Recipients must demonstrate leadership in promoting rail service on a state and/or national level.”

Bronte is an outstanding advocate for intercity passenger rail in the U.S. His dedication to the expansion of intercity passenger rail service in California has offered rail passengers many convenient options for business and leisure travel and provides a strong foundation for continued growth. Bronte has led the California Rail Program, Amtrak’s largest state partner, representing approximately 50 percent of all state-supported trains and counting for almost 25 percent of Amtrak’s total ridership since 2005.

Under his leadership, there has been a dramatic growth in ridership on the Pacific Surfliner, from 1.7 million in 2002 to 2.7 million in 2007, an increase of 57 percent. The route is ranked the second busiest outside the Northeast Corridor.