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.

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