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.

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