Monthly Archives

February 2007


Coast Rail Coordinating Council meeting report

Reported by Bruce Jenkins, RailPAC Director

February 23, 2007
Inn at Spanish Bay, Monterey
The primary interest of this group is establishing the Coast Daylight train, which will run from downtown San Francisco to Los Angeles.

The main thrust of this meeting was a comprehensive report by Bill Bronte, Chief of Caltrans Division of Rail (DoR), explaining the posture of the situation in Sacramento concerning transportation funds:
Caltrans will propose to the Calif. Transportation Commission (CTC) that $20 to 25M be authorized for capital improvements for the Coast Daylight service and $150M for equipment (cars only). A substantial order for cars is required in order for a manufacturer to start up a line. Locomotives are relatively available and run about $2.5M. However, the Dept of Finance did not provide appropriation authority for STIP augmentation. There is a 4 year lead time on the procurement of rolling stock. DoR is working with stakeholders to give Caltrans appropriation authority to allow continuous procurement process, recognizing that cash will not flow for another year. The Governor’s office is metering the Prop 1a-1b Bond funds and the overall method of distribution of those $$ by Sacramento has changed. The Coast Daylight Program has very good support of upper management in Caltrans. Capital funds are likely to be released soon.

Paul Dyson, RailPAC’s President suggested that a review of Surfliner service be made and that a reduction of Surfliner trains would free up a train set and could be used for an “earlier” start up of the Daylight, rather than wait 5 years for new cars. Agreed, this is not the best outcome, but if Metrolink and Coaster schedules were adjusted to cover the gaps it would be acceptable at the same time reducing overall train count in the
LOSSAN corridor and would improve on time performance. Mr. Bronte replied that “we don’t want to cut service anywhere” and offered that “within the $25M (requested above) we could refurbish some equipment in Beach Grove that is on wreck status and do a long term capitalization lease to get that in process”.

Track access negotiations for the Coast Daylight with the Union Pacific will start as soon as funds are released. The capacity model has to be updated, however. Much of the model is still applicable, so it is estimated that it may only cost approximately $5K.

Mr. Bronte reported the operating budget for all three rail corridors, the Surfliner, the Capitol Corridor, and the San Joaquins, will be increased by $6.2M for rolling stock repair and fuel etc. This is the first increase in many years.

Bronte will be assigning one of his staff to be Coast Corridor Project Manager, working with all agencies and stake holders.

There is overwhelming support for the Daylight train, shown by resolutions from agencies and cities between San Francisco and Los Angeles. RailPAC President Paul Dyson reported that Burbank and Glendale just passed their resolutions, and RailPAC Vice Pres. North Art Lloyd reported that the TransBay Terminal JPA passed their resolution of support.

The very much missed Eric Schatmeier’s Marketing position at Caltrans will be filled by Katy Peterson, who comes from The Caltrans Directors Office. Mr. Bronte will be introducing her at the various future corridor meetings .

It was moved and carried that a letter will be sent to oppose the “elimination of spill over funds” for transit.

Rail Photos

CA Rail PHOTOS for March

Los Angeles Union Station. What to look for when you come to the RailPAC/NARP Meeting on March 17!

Union Station in Los Angeles opened in 1939, owned by the Southern Pacific, AT&SF, and Union Pacific railroads. Long distance trains have called at these platforms ever since. The facility is now government owned and Amtrak’s long distance trains arrive and depart here. In this picture from October, 2006, the Southwest Chief has arrived on time! In the background is the MTA Building tower, where the RailPAC/NARP meeting will be held.

The east entrance to the passenger tunnel, from the MTA Building and Gateway Center bus area, has this mural welcoming everyone to the station.

First it was the three AT&SF “San Diegans,” taken over by Amtrak in 1971, that went only from LA to San Diego. Now there are eleven, with some extended the entire corridor from San Diego to San Luis Obispo, only now they are called, “Pacific Surfliners.”

The Red Line tunnel burrows below Union Station, with service to Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley. It is the connector to downtown and the Blue Line light rail trains that go to Long Beach.

Metrolink commuter trains started rolling in 1992, and now hundreds of daily trains converge on these platforms serving San Bernardino, Riverside, Orange County and Oceanside, Lancaster, and Ventura County.

The newest addition to Los Angeles Union Station rail opportunities is the Gold Line light rail trains that arrive and depart for Pasadena and Sierra Madre. An extension to East LA is under construction, with the tracks crossing over the freeway under construction at the south end of the platform. There’s much to see in LAUS. Enjoy it all!
(RailPAC Photos by Russ Jackson, Noel Braymer, and James Washington)


The CZ: Amtrak’s forgotten train

Report and Commentary by Russ Jackson, RailPAC

As of the date this was written on February 20, 2007, the On Time Performance (OTP) of Amtrak trains 5 and 6, the California Zephyr, was 0.0%. That’s ZERO per cent, meaning NOT ONE of the trains has reached either end point within 30 minutes of its scheduled arrival time since October 1, 2006!

In August, 2006 it was 7.7% counting from October 1, 2005. On October 1, 2005 it was 24% for the whole year since October 1, 2004. On the other hand, in the time period since October 1, 2006, the Empire Builder has been OT 68% of the time, and the Southwest Chief 69%.

So, why is it that the CZ has such a poor record and, more important, why is that problem continuing year after year? The past few years OTP attention was focused on the Coast Starlight, trains 11 and 14 and on the Sunset Limited, trains 1 and 2. This year the Starlight, once dubbed the “Starlate” is a poor but improved 23.7% and the Sunset 22%. The Zephyr’s zero OTP problems are hardly noticed, except by the passengers who ride this most scenic of all Amtrak trains. In a companion trip report of his January trip on trains 4 and 5 published in this issue of the Western Rail Passenger Review and on RailPAC.ORG, Bob Snow says, “On the down side, travel on UP tracks, particularly in Nevada, is frustrating due to ‘slow time’ and what appears to be needless delays from slow moving freights. By contrast, delays on BNSF tracks used by the Southwest Chief were minimal.”

The reasons given by Amtrak usually can be narrowed down to that 129 mile stretch of double track on the Union Pacific in Nevada, between Alazon and Battle Mountain, where the condition is called “temporary speed restrictions.” These “slow orders” have been in effect now for a very long time, and can cause delays for the trains of up to 3 1/2 hours. True, there are other delays on the system, some that are Amtrak’s responsibility and others beyond their control. But, day after day, month after month, these Nevada slow orders are in effect due to poor track conditions.

Back in November, 2006, we learned that a high level Union Pacific official rode the Zephyr across this territory, calling dispatchers and other UP officials and loudly wanting to know why the train was being delayed. Amtrak and the UP have held meetings to discuss the issue. The results of those meetings were obviously inconclusive and not reflected in changing the OTP. They actually discussed rerouting the CZ, which Amtrak rejected, and of course lengthening the running time to reflect reality. The UP told Amtrak that despite some work they have done the remaining slow orders will be in effect for some time. Amtrak reportedly agreed to an “experiment” of lengthening the CZ schedule by 2 more hours, which has not yet occurred.

RailPAC member Ralph James, who lives along the route of 5/6 above Colfax in the Sierra, did some research showing in 1979 the running time for the San Francisco Zephyr westbound from Chicago to Oakland was 48 1/4 hours. In 1991 the CZ had grown to 52 hours, in 1998 it was 53 hours which it is today. Mr. James asks, “Isn’t that enough schedule padding? Compared to the early times via the DRGW, today’s times appear to be about 2 hours slower westbound. It appears from the different times the freight trains pass my house now that the slow orders plaguing Amtrak are also affecting UP’s ‘hot’ freight trains on the Central Corridor.”

Dennis Larson in Minneapolis adds, “In December of 2005 the Zephyr had an on time record of 5% and the average delay minutes per trip was 552 minutes. Figure in the recovery time of 299 minutes and the train arrived on
average 4 hours 13 minutes late. In November of 2006 the train arrived on average 5 hours and 29 minutes late. At this rate of decline, the train will not only be standing still longer than it is rolling, but every single mode of transport including horseback and a very slow boat on the river will operate at higher average speeds than the Zephyr in a very short time. All this on
the all-weather mode that is suppose to save America from highway and air gridlock.”

Amtrak President Alex Kummant has said that he is “serious about the performance of the long distance trains,” but so far as the California Zephyr is concerned the situation remains stagnant. How much longer?

Rail Photos

CA Rail PHOTOS for February

What’s new at the Sacramento train station.

A January 31, 2007, PHOTO report by Russ Jackson

When did you last see two P-32 locomotives together? The State of California owns two like the one on the left, and borrows one from Amtrak when power is needed due to maintenance of the other fleet locomotives. Here are two Capitol Corridor trainsets being refueled at the Sacramento station. With 16 round trip Capitols daily, the new Sacramento RT light rail line, and other improvements, this historic station property is looking better for passengers every day.

Part of the reconstruction project that brought the RT into Sacramento station was rebuilding the Amtrak Thruway bus loading area, which now is in this covered area, with assigned slots for the buses that arrive/depart to Stockton, Davis, Reno, South Lake Tahoe, and Redding and Medford, Oregon! These buses connect to/from Capitol Corridor and San Joaquin trains.

The very controversial parking situation at the Sacramento station has been resolved for now, with the City of Sacramento now owning the property. As can be seen in this photo, gone are the annoying entrance/exit gates, gone are the annoying ticket machines, and gone is the necessity to go to a separate office for ticket validation. Parking fees are still paid, but to a human. While this has improved traffic flow, the real need is for additional space, which may not be forthcoming for years. Pedestrian access directly to the tracks is up the sidewalk to the right in the photo, passing by the Starbucks and the Soup restaurant. And, the street is now two-directional for entering and exiting the lot.


RailPAC Alert: Ridership Report for Amtrak California Trains

RailPAC Alert: Ridership Report for Amtrak California Trains

FROM Capitol Corridor Manager Eugene K. Skoropowski

We just received the January 2007 ridership and revenue numbers from
Amtrak. I am still in shock.

On January 22, Union Pacific started a major track project. On January 17,
to accommodate this trackwork, we temporarily suspended 8 of our 32 weekday trains. The on-time performance of service in January was a lackluster, at 71.6% (and worse at the end of the month than at the beginning)……. go figure.
It is a scary thought at what the ridership will be when the
trackwork is done at the end of February, and the on-time reliability gets
back up to the 90% level……. we will be desperate for added coaches on
at least 4 of our eight trainsets. Our capacity growth from hereon out
will be primarily in longer trains, not more trains.

Adding 2 coaches to each set of rolling stock (8 sets) equals a 60%
increase in capacity. Clearly, our efforts need to be on more coaches.

Summary of January ridership and ticket revenue results:

Capitol Corridor:
· 114,588 passengers +14.3% vs. FY06 and a record for the month
· $1,337,960 ticket revenue +20.6% vs. FY06

Note: While we do not have final numbers, the revenue-to-cost ratio is
well above last year’s record high (46%), and this year will likely be
50% or better.

Remember, we were at 29.8% recovery just before the
CCJPA entered into its first Amtrak agreement starting October 1, 1998,
with only 8 daily trains on the line. Also, since we started the 32
train weekday schedule/22 trains on weekend days in late summer, our
October, November and December were each up 10% in passengers and an average of 19% in revenue.

January makes 4 straight months of record
growth in both ridership and revenue.

Pacific Surfliner:
· 189,098 passengers +2.6% vs. FY06 and a record for the month
· $2,956,144 ticket revenue +4.5% vs. FY06

San Joaquins:
· 51,925 passengers -4.5% vs. FY06
· $1,704,390 ticket revenue +2.9% vs. FY06

Ridership on the Capitol Corridor and San Joaquins was likely impacted this
month by planned track work on the UP and BNSF.

Eugene K. Skoropowski
Managing Director
Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority

Commentary, Reports

CA High Speed Rail January Meeting report

Commentary and Report by Hal Wanaselja

I attended the CAHSR Authority meeting in Sacramento on January 29, and as they say “there is good news and bad news.” First, let me say that the choice of Quentin Kopp as chair is a godsend. He is very astute and knowlegeable. He really belives we shoud have HSR, and has a huge number of political connections around the state. If anyone can pull this off, he can. It is also clear that our Governor, now that he has been re-elected as a “Democrat” and is a lame duck, has reverted to his Republican self. He is busily trying hard to kill HSR!

Following is a summary of the meeting:

1. The Authority requested $103million in the Fy08 budget. This would fund all of the on going engineering and enviromental work and actually start critical property acquisition. The Gov reduced this to a paltry $1million to keep the office open.

2. The $10billion bond issue is curently scheduled for the Nov 08 election. The Gov has proposed to postpone this indefinitly effectively killing the project.

The Authorty took very firm stands on both issues, but it is clear there will be a big fight in the legislature this session. We all need to get behind this and do what we can to support Kopp and his team mates to win this fight. “Vote in 08!”

3. The Authority met with the deputy director of the FRA to discuss rolling stock. As I’m sure most of you know, current FRA rules prevent the use of any of the HSR trains now operating in the rest of the world to run on any track used by regular American trains. This joint use of trackage is essential if HSR is to serve either San Francisco or Los Angeles. Staff reported that the FRA was receptive and expressed a willingness to deal with the problem and hopefully change the rules. This also supports current Caltrain efforts on the same subject.

4. KQED (PBS) in San Francisco has a new variety talk show and they plan to feature HSR on one of the shows in February.

5. Staff is working with the CAPUC and CTC on future grade crossing separations. They are trying to get any work on a designated future HSR route to recognize this fact and allow for expansion for HSR.

6. The Sacramento-Fresno Preliminary Design and Project Specific Envronmental Contract was approved for DMJM-HARRIS.

7. The Fresno-Bakerfield Contract went to URS-HATCH MOTT MAC DONALD/ARUP.

8. The Los Angeles-San Diego via Inland Empire went to HNTB.

9. The PMO RFP was released.


Trip on Amtrak 4 and 5

In mid January 2007 I rode the Southwest Chief from Lamy to Chicago and the California Zephyr from Chicago to Sacramento in an economy sleeper. Overall it was an excellent trip, due primarily to an attentive, congenial staff, excellent weather, interesting people, and with some exceptions, a timely schedule. Food ranged from very good to “needs improvement.”


California Zephyr at Donner Pass on January 20, 2007 photo by the author

On the plus side there is no method of travel that is as relaxing and stress free as the long distance train. This is enhanced by the fact that nearly all travelers at any one time on these long distance routes have the same “state of mind” about the pleasure of rail travel. And, sleeping  on the train is for me one of the great pleasures of train travel.

On the down side, travel on UP tracks, particularly in Nevada is frustrating due to “slow orders” and what appears to be needless delays from slow moving freights. By contrast, delays on BNSF tracks used by the Southwest Chief were minimal with the exception of several signals that were not properly managed.

Food service on both the Chief and the Zephyr was very good. As for the food itself, a strong suggestion is to either increase the quality or lower the price. Generally entrée were good, but vegetables were poor. The angus burger was very good, but the pizza was cardboard.

Facilities were clean, although the toilet vacuum system failed in one of
the sleepers on the Chief. Attempts to repair it were unsuccessful.
Will I travel the long distance routes in the future? Yes, most definitely.

Trains are in integral part of American history.  They link people to the
land and to regional history, and, as a result, help to maintain our unique culture. In this regard, subsidies should not be an issue.

Bob Snow
Abiquiu, NM


RailPAC President’s Comments to LOSSAN Board

Chairman Brown and Members of the Board


January 10, 2007

I’d like to comment on item 6B and 6C, on time performance Ad-Hoc committee and Amtrak’s customer service and performance report. I spent a good part of the first few years of my career with British Railways investigating delays and compiling statistics on punctuality, so I have some experience with the matter. Continue Reading


February’s RailPAC Editorial: Growth is Amtrak’s only option

Growth is Amtrak’s only option
By Noel T. Braymer

Last month we republished excerpts from an article from the NEW YORK TIMES with the headline Surprising Forecast for Amtrak: Growth. This is a sad commentary on the current state of Amtrak that the media would consider a marketing plan for Amtrak surprising. But in any business if you’re not growing, you’re dying. Amtrak now is only getting a small percentage of the huge travel market in this country. The reasons for this stagnation are years of a totally clueless marketing department, a flawed accounting system which hides problems and successes and a fixation by Amtrak to beg money from the Government, while ignoring opportunities to raise income from passenger travel. Growth will make Amtrak stronger. It will increase income; it will increase Amtrak’s value as a part of the transportation system, and widen Amtrak’s political support around the country.

We wish Amtrak President Kummant all the luck in the world. He is clearly on the right track. The proposals on the table will take some time to be put into effect. But there are things, many of them simple which can increase ridership and revenues in a short time. Simply running longer trains where there is already strong demand is the place to start. As Bruce Richardson of URPA has pointed out, having equipment displays at stations draws crowds, introduces people to passenger rail service and draws media attention which generates lot of free advertising. All of which increases ridership and it doesn’t cost Amtrak much. Continue Reading