Monthly Archives

January 2007

Reports

San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee meeting report

SAN JOAQUIN VALLEY RAIL COMMITTEE

Meeting Report
January 11, 2007, Bakersfield
Reported by Bruce Jenkins, RailPAC Director

The meeting had to be accelerated due to the hour and a half delay just south of Modesto of San Joaquin train #702 (southbound) which carried numerous committee members from the north. Cause of the delay was the all too frequent semi-truck trailer hung up on the rails at a grade crossing.

Glass-McClure, Caltrans/Amtrak’s advertising agency for CA intrastate trains, gave a presentation of their new marketing campaign. Answering comments from committee members regarding Spanish speakers on the recorded message and reservation system, we were assured that a Spanish voice would respond within 30 seconds. Tom Sponsler of Amtrak suggested that Spanish speaking volunteers be included with the present volunteer staff (from Doras Briggs’ corp) at the stations. Howard Ableson (Contra Costa County) defended the now departed Eric Schatmeirer (Marketing, Caltrans Division of Rail) regarding comments made in the past as to Eric’s “lack of concern” of Spanish-speaking riders, stating that these comments were grossly false. Several committee members and numerous other attendees were in agreement.

Brent Green (Shafter) made a presentation of the “City of Shafter Intermodal Freight Facility.” The main thrust being the elimination of trucks coming out of Port of Los Angeles. Other considerations on the plus side are: environmental, economical and practicality. Of course, the down side for passenger rail is the increased freight traffic and its impact on capacity.

Steve Shelton and Ric Peterson of Amtrak gave a presentation addressing the BNSF Blitz starting Jan. 14 (for 25 days). Lots of planing and effort has been made to minimize rider inconvenience. New one sheet time tables will be distributed, and bus bridges will be implemented. Track work by UP is now effecting trains in the north bay area between Richmond and Martinez.

Jonathon Hutchison of Amtrak reported on the importance of S1516 (Lott/Lautenberg) now introduced in the new session as S294, “The Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act,” which contains an 80/20 split on capital projects with the states, annual appropriations, etc., and urged us to contact our Senators.

December San Joaquin ridership was down 2.16%, but revenue up 2.8%.

Pat Merrill (Caltrans DoR) reported that the FRA approved the BNSF Signal System. Amtrak cars (in Beech Grove) are not available. Two Superliner cars however, are being negotiated now.

Bakersfield Mayor Harvey Hall was re-elected as Chair of the SJVRC, and John Pedrozo (Merced) is Vice Chair.

Reports

Caltrain Faces Electric Hurdles

There’s a new twist in the quest to electrify Caltrain, as ANG Newspapers (which includes the San Mateo County Times and Oakland Tribune) reports. With Caltrain eying non-FRA-compliant Electric Multiple Units to increase capacity and reduce trip times — and Positive Train Control as added safety, there is new pressure on the Federal Railroad Administration to re-examine its perspective:

But Caltrain is arguing that the rules are an archaic throwback hampering growth on the rails for a new century, and a multitude of rail agencies and advocates are singing the same tune.

“There clearly has to be some delineation between freight and passenger services … but just to discourage the whole thing entirely is a mistake,” said Richard Silver, executive director of the Rail Passengers Association of California.

“Planes crash, automobiles have accidents, ships sink — these things happen,” said Silver. “We want all things to be safe — but sometimes you go to the point of ridiculousness for safety.”

Caltrain has decided to convince the Federal Railroad Administration and state agencies that there is room on the tracks for both trains.

“This is a big move — out on the front lines and out on a limb,” said Caltrain board member Art Lloyd, adding that a Caltrain victory could make great strides in modernizing the country’s commuter rail industry.

One can argue that Caltrain (and, of course, advocates) are resisting the same type of regulatory environment that was at least partially responsible for how Amtrak’s Acela trainsets were engineered. All the subsequent problems, from the four inches of extra girth, to the truck hunting and yaw damper cracking, to the brake rotor cracking, would probably have been avoided through safe, proven, off-the-shelf technology and designs (read: “non-FRA-compliant trainsets”) from overseas.

Reports

Capitol Corridor riding high

15 years of clean comfortable trips leave most passengers satisfied as commuter line marks anniversary. — San Francisco Chronicle, 13 December 2006.

Fifteen years ago, Amtrak and Caltrans began a new passenger train service connecting the Bay Area and Sacramento with three round-trip trains a day. The Capitol Corridor trains quickly drew standing-room crowds on some trains and prompted some predictions of a rail renaissance…

Today, the rail service runs 16 round-trip trains between Oakland and Sacramento, including seven of those that go as far as San Jose and one that goes to and from Auburn. A total of 1.3 million passengers rode the Capitols in the past 12 months compared with 273,000 in the first year of operations…

Passenger rail advocates are also pleased with the Capitol Corridor.

“It’s been more successful than anyone expected,” said Richard Silver, head of the Railroad Passengers Association of California. “I don’t think anyone anticipated that they would ever add so many trains.”

Rest of the story at San Francisco Chronicle

Uncategorized

Our new site

We are pleased to announce that our new web page will be more up-to-date than ever, and more useful as well. You will find all the previous content here, with the exception of the older meeting reports; those are all still at the archived 2006 site. We hope to move those remaining articles here within the next few weeks. So browse around a bit, try the new Search feature, and let us know what you think.

(p.s., RailPAC members who wish to contribute articles, please contact the site editor at info@railpac.org .)

Rail Photos

January 2007 Rail Pictures of the Month

Here are this month’s four California Rail Pictures of the Month. Note: Previous California Rail Pictures of the Month have been reactivated and are temporarily archived at our Gallery.

December was a busy month at the Sacramento Valley Rail Station. In addition to the daily comings and goings of passengers, the Sacramento RT dedicated its extension into that facility, and the Capitol Corridor celebrated its 15th birthday. In this picture, a 5-car Capitol trainset and an RT light rail car share a platform on December 12. How’s that for “cross-platform transfer-ability?” For more photos see the Special Photo Report. (Photo by Russ Jackson) Continue Reading

Commentary

Looking ahead with delight

Editorial by Noel Braymer

To get a good idea what improvements we in California can expect in the near future, the best place to look is at is the current CALIFORNIA STATE RAIL PLAN prepared by Caltrans Division of Rail. You can study the entire document on line at the Caltrans web page at www.dot.ca.gov/rail/go/dor/division-of-railreports . There is much to enjoy in this document. While not written in stone it reflects the projects that after years of planning are nearest to being started. With the passage last November of the transportation bonds, there is additional funding to make these projects happen.

A top priority is the need for more train equipment. The State Rail Plan calls for eight new trainsets; 3 for the Pacific Surfliners, 2 for the San Joaquins and 3 for the Capitols. If we assume a trainset as a locomotive and 5 cars; that means the state will order 8 new locomotives and 40 cars. This new equipment will only meet expected growth on existing services. More equipment will be needed to add more trains. There is the possibility that this car order may be expanded for orders of more equipment. As we write this Caltrans is looking at leasing from Amtrak two Superliner ?Coach-Lounge? cars for the San Joaquin/Capitol car pool. Currently there is no back up equipment for Coach-Lounges for these trains. These additional cars will require a major overhaul from equipment currently in storage and not in serviceable condition.

Amtrak has at least 51 Superliner, 85 Amfleet and 9 Horizon cars in storage which they consider available for service after an overhaul. Some of this equipment could be used for the new Coast Daylight extension to San Francisco. In the next 10 years the Rail Plan envisions new services from Sacramento to Redding, Reno and Los Angeles to Palm Springs/Indio. The Rail Plan also calls for additional frequencies on all existing services. There is going to be a need for more equipment.

It will be interesting what will happen with the new car order. All cars now owned by the State are covered with stainless steel. The problem with ordering more cars with stainless steel is few car builders work with it. Stainless steel is expensive and hard to work with. Most commuter and corridor rail cars are covered with aluminum. The reason is the lighter weight of aluminum allows faster acceleration, faster average speeds as well as savings in fuel. If stainless steel is not a requirement for the new equipment, it can open the bidding for modified existing equipment. When off-the-shelf equipment is ordered, time and money is saved. The result is usually more reliable equipment freer of ?bugs?.

The biggest challenge to adding new train routes won?t be equipment, but the need to get an operating agreement with the Union Pacific. All the routes for new service will be on the UP. One of the busiest routes in California on the UP is the line to Palm Springs. It won?t be impossible, but will require major track work to provide smooth operations for passenger and freight trains. Coast Daylight train service will likely be very successful. So much so there may well be a need for more than two trains by 2014. As we have seen from the past ridership grows with additional service, at a greater rate than the level of additional service. An advantage of additional Coast Daylight service is as the longest route, it should generate plenty of passenger miles. This will translate into higher passenger revenues. Extending the route of all trains will do this. Extending some Surfliner trains to Santa Clarita as connectors to the San Joaquin Buses will also reduce length of the bus trip for passengers.

Perhaps the most important need in a rail plan is coordination of services to make travel as seamless as possible. Track work in the Rail Plan which benefits Amtrak trains will also benefit Metrolink, Coaster, ACE and Caltrain services .The trend toward coordination of services needs to continue. Reopening the Dumbarton Bridge between Fremont and Redwood City will also make it possible to connect ACE, Caltrain and Capitol trains with each other as well as with BART in Fremont. In the near future a person in Redding should be able to travel by rail with advertised connections to Los Angeles, Bakersfield, Reno, San Diego or Palm Springs. Most other places in California should be easily reached from intercity rail by connections with commuter trains, transit rail or connecting bus.

Excerpts from the 2005-2006 thru 2015-2016 California State Rail Plan







Reports

Sacramento, December 2006

The Sacramento train station hosted two big events in December… A Photo Report by Russ Jackson, RailPAC Secretary.

Inside the dedication tent on December 8, Sacramento area officials gathered to enthusiastically support the half-mile extension of the RT light rail line from the K Street “Downtown” Mall into the Amtrak station. In this picture are Mayor Heather Fargo at the podium, with RT District Manager/CEO Dr. Beverly Scott, Transit Board Chair Roger Dickenson, County Supervisor Roberta MacGlashan, and Caltrans Director Will Kempon. RailPAC was there in force, (not pictured) with VP North Art Lloyd, Treasurer Bill Kerby, directors Marcia Johnston, and Bruce Jenkins (who can be seen in the front row).

A Sacramento RT light rail train is about to depart the Amtrak station on December 12, passing by the newly restored historic REA Building. This photo was taken from train platform 2, showing how easy it is to walk from the trains to the new Starbucks and the “Soups In The City” restaurant, whose windows on the lower corner provide a great place to watch all the train activity at the station.

An historic Sacramento streetcar, The Daisy, runs under the same catenary as the light rail extension into the train station. There is a plan to return these historic cars to the Tower Bridge, linking West Sacramento and the Capitol Mall. This view of “yesterday and today” shows the great cross-platform transfers possible to Amtrak 6, the eastbound California Zephyr, as well as all the other trains that stop there.

The Capitol Corridor 15th birthday celebration on December 12 was held inside the Sacramento train station on a rainy day. Speakers, seen cutting the commemorative chocolate cake, were (l-r) Amtrak Assistant Superintendent Road Operations Brody Heilman, Capitol Corridor rider Russ Weikle, Capitols Managing Director Gene Skoropowski, CCJPA Chairman and Sacramento County Supervisor Roger Dickenson, Caltrans Rail Program Chief Bill Bronte (the Corridor’s “banker,”) and passenger Julie Hamilton from the famous “CC Riders”group. All enthusiastically spoke of the success of the trains and enjoyed the cake as did the photographer. Yes, RailPAC was there, too!

There was great coverage by the local print and TV media at the events on December 8 and 12. Here, Caltrans Rail Program Chief Bill Bronte is interviewed on the platform on the 12th by the ABC station, News10. A Capitol trainset is ready to depart for San Jose in the background. The Capitols are now the third busiest Amtrak-operated corridor in the country, with 16 round trips to the Bay Area from Sacramento, carry more than 4,000 riders daily, and have plans for more service coming in future years.

Photos by Russ Jackson, RailPAC Secretary

Reports

RailPAC President Paul Dyson’s busy December

Operation Lifesaver

On a cold rainy night on Saturday 16th December, RailPAC along with the Southern California Transit Advocates and Operation Lifesaver supported the Van Nuys Station holiday open house organized by station agent Gail Cunningham. The event coincides with the Metrolink Holiday Toy Express and was attended by about 150 parents and children. SoCaTa volunteers Dana Gabbard, Lionel Jones and others assisted handing out Metrolink and Amtrak schedules and souvenirs as well as information about our own organizations, and in spite of the inclement weather everyone had a good time. I donated a couple of railroad encyclopedias to the Toy Drive on behalf of RailPAC. We’ve got to start educating these kids at an early age!

Congratulations to Gail, also to Paul Sitkoff and the Metrolink team, and Lois Cunning of Amtrak and Alice Lewin of Operation Lifesaver, and the folks from SoCaTa, for making this a great event.

Meeting with State Senator Scott

Monday 18th December, 2006. Meeting with State Senator Jack Scott, D-Pasadena, Bart Reed, Executive Director of the Transit Coalition and RailPAC Board member, Damian Carroll, Senator Scott’s field representative, and aide Suzy Jacobs.

The main thrust of our presentation was to indicate how Metrolink could be improved to a 7 day a week operation along the pattern planned by Orange County. Bart Reed had prepared a power point with maps to show the LAUS run through tracks and other transit connections. We also discussed grade separation funding. Even with the $250 million from proposition 1B there is still a huge backlog of projects. I spoke about the idea of a new funding formula that took money from highway and air quality budgets as well as rail. Senator Scott of course is well aware of the need for grade separations after the Glendale incident last year.

Burbank Airport Commissioners meeting, Public Comment, 12/18/06

My name is Paul Dyson, resident of Burbank, member of the City Transportation Commission, and President of RailPAC. RailPAC is a statewide organization run entirely by volunteers to promote passenger rail in California.

I’m a frequent user of Burbank Airport and over the last 15 years have flown well over 1 Million miles around the USA. From my observations I can say that Burbank has one of the closest passenger rail stations to the main terminals of any that have not been purpose built. And yet the amenities are sub standard, and the train service totally inadequate.

Now while it may not be the direct responsibility of this Board to address the train service issue, nevertheless I believe it is within your purview to be concerned with traffic and environmental impacts of the airport. Some of these impacts could be mitigated if more of the airport workers and travelers were to use rail instead of their private cars.

A few months ago your management thought you were going to have a parking crisis and put out a news release encouraging people to come by train to the airport. I don’t know if you were able to measure the response but I doubt it was overwhelming. A typical airport rail service should operate at least at half hourly intervals during the hours the airport operates with a little overlap at each end. A user-friendly schedule operates at the same minutes past each hour so that you don’t need to look it up, it’s easy to memorize. How many of you could tell me the train schedule here? What time does the last train leave to Simi Valley, or to Los Angeles?

Under CA state law 14036.7, the state department of transportation is directed to “give high priority to the development of direct linkages between intercity rail passenger services and airports served by commercial airlines.” I’d suggest that is a good starting point. The City of Burbank has been discussing purchasing the land on the north side of the railroad right of way and Caltrans Rail has the possibility of some funds to improve the station. I think an appropriate course of action for the airport board might be to join that effort, provide funds for the station and improve the connection to the terminals. It’s really not far to walk, but would be much nicer with a wider sidewalk and a covered walkway, for example.

RailPAC believes in promoting rail passenger service by exploiting existing assets, with appropriate incremental investment, to provide value for money transportation for the community. Here’s an under-used asset, and I hope that the airport board will consider playing an appropriate role in developing it.

Coachella Valley Meetings

In the week after Thanksgiving, Bob Manning, RailPAC director for Palm Springs and surrounding district, arranged for the two of us to meet State Senator Jim Battin, who represents the Coachella Valley. The Senator is now the senior Republican in the State Senate.

Senator Battin gave us a cordial welcome and listened closely as we outlined our vision for passenger service to his district, including stations at Palm Springs, Bob Hope Drive and a planned intermodal station at Indio. An Amtrak ?Surfliner? style service would between the desert cities and Los Angeles, connecting at Fullerton for Southern Orange County and the San Diego line, would attract many segments of the community, including tourists, students, patrons of the Indian Casinos and Golf resorts, as well as the many retired people living in the community. We stressed the fact that the Surfliner trains are well patronized and represent good value for money based on their high fare box recovery.

I believe we did a good job of convincing Senator Battin that our proposals are common sense and affordable, and would provide an alternative to I-10 for those that cannot or prefer not to drive. The Senator offered to support our efforts as long as it did not include proposed high-speed service to Las Vegas, which he views as detrimental to the California economy.

Later the same day, we met Allyn Waggle, who is Deputy Executive Director of the Coachella Valley Association of Governments. Allyn and Bob are old acquaintances and Allyn is well informed on rail issues. He pointed out that we have already had at least three studies since 1990 and that there is broad community, business and local government support for the project. The City of Indio is in advanced stages of planning a new intermodal passenger station at the site of the old depot, and there is a 17-acre site adjacent to the Agua Caliente casino at Bob Hope and I-10 that has been set aside as a rail station. Everyone is waiting for the train.

These kinds of face-to-face meetings are very productive and we congratulate Bob Manning on his tireless efforts to make this happen. I can often make myself available to have similar meetings in your area to meet with key local officials. Contact me if you’d like help in setting up these important meetings.

Testimony to Burbank City Council: Coast Daylight

Testimony to Burbank City Council, Item 5 on the consent calendar, 12/19/06, a resolution in support of the Coast Daylight Passenger Service.

…You are being asked to pass a resolution supporting the operation of a new daytime train service between Los Angeles and San Francisco via the Coast line with a stop in Burbank. The resolution is at the recommendation of the City Transportation Commission, who discussed the matter at our November meeting.

A little background is in order. Back in 1980 when I first came to this country, passenger rail service in Southern California was limited to 3 round trips per day between Los Angeles and San Diego, and the daily service from Los Angeles to Seattle via Oakland. After many years of incremental investment and patient advocacy we now have 11 trains per day between L.A. and San Diego, 5 of which also operate north of L.A. to Goleta or San Luis Obispo. These trains serve Burbank at the airport station, and are known as the Pacific Surfliner service. This is now the second-busiest inter city passenger rail corridor in the country. Caltrans Rail also operates a system of connecting buses that service many additional communities not on the rail route, as well as filling gaps in the train schedules.

For some time now, Caltrans Rail, Amtrak, and RailPAC, have been advocating a direct through train to San Francisco, partly because the Coast Starlight train on the same route is often sold out, especially in the summer. 2 years ago a new train was started from Los Angeles to San Luis Obispo and return, with a connecting bus to San Francisco. This train stops at Burbank Airport Station in both directions. The aim was that as soon as resources were available this train would be extended to San Francisco and back.

The passage of Proposition 1B this past month will provide the funds for the additional rolling stock required to equip the train. Negotiations are continuing with Union Pacific Railroad to identify locations for additional siding tracks and other improvements. The aim is to start the train either late in 2007 or early 2008.

This proposed service is another step in building a regional and statewide passenger rail system. With our growing population and changing demographics the demand for rail service continues to grow from the increasing number of people that have no access to the automobile, who are no longer able to drive, who have a fear of flying, who are tourists looking for a unique view of our state, and for those with time available for a leisurely journey. And let’s not forget that while we enjoy frequent and affordable air service here in Burbank there are many smaller communities along the coast where air service is either very expensive or non-existent…

As far as this city is concerned, we need to improve the airport station including the provision of parking. City staff and Caltrans Rail are working on this and I spoke yesterday to the airport authority to ask for their support and for improved access to the airport terminals.

I’m very pleased that the city Transportation Commission, City Council and staff have shown the vision to take up this issue.