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March 20, 2007

Rail Photos, Reports

RailPAC/NARP March Conference report 1 (of 5): The Opening Session

The Rail Conference on March 17, 2007, was held in the Los Angeles MTA Building auditorium, sponsored by the Rail Passenger Association of California, the National Railroad Passenger Association, and the Transit Coalition. All Reports and PHOTOS by Russ Jackson.
This report covers the Opening session, and the Annual Meeting and election of officers and board members for the Rail Passenger Association of California, which was held at the end of the afternoon session.

Morning Session

RailPAC President, Paul Dyson, opened the meeting at 10:15 AM, (PHOTO below) welcoming the 300+ paid attendees and 20 guests to the MTA building, and thanking The MTA’s rail division and its chief, Gerald Francis, for arranging for us to meet there. Mr. Francis was scheduled to be on the meeting program, but has accepted a job in Washington, DC, so was unable to attend. He was ably represented by his deputy, Melvin Clark. Mr. Dyson also thanked the members of RailPAC, NARP, and the TC who spent so much time putting this meeting together, and our industry sponsor Rotem, the manufacturer of the next generation of Metrolink cars.
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NARP Executive Director, Ross Capon, expressed his pleasure at returning to California and its great rail program. Mr. Capon likewise welcomed everyone and introduced the NARP officers and directors who were in attendance, including NARP Treasurer Bob Glover.

RailPAC Annual Meeting afternoon session

RailPAC Executive Director, Richard Silver, began the session by stating that this was indeed the biggest rail advocacy meeting he had ever attended. He thanked the people who volunteered to help him at the very busy Registration table, including Treasurer Bill Kerby, Directors Dick Spotswood, Bruce Jenkins, and Vaughn Wolffe, Associate director Ken Ruben, and NARP Treasurer Bob Glover. Mr. Silver then introduced the candidates for RailPAC officers and its board of directors for 2007. All were approved. The list is placed on this website, where it can be found under “Contacts.” The newly elected board will select additional directors and associate directors at its meeting April 28 in Oakland. The only change of officers from a year ago was the selection of director Dick Spotswood, former Mayor of Mill Valley and a former board member of the Golden Gate Bridge District, as RailPAC Secretary replacing Russ Jackson who retired from the board after 25 years of service. Mr. Jackson’s service was recognized and he was presented with a gift in appreciation for his long service. (THANKS, everyone! -RJ)

Mr. Silver and Mr. Dyson then led a discussion of a proposed Resolution expressing the group’s recommended priorities for the Amtrak National System. Several amendments were considered, and the final document was approved by acclamation. A copy of the final resolution will be posted separately on this website and will be printed in the next newsletter.

The meeting adjourned in memory of Byron Nordberg, one of RailPAC’s founders, who passed away ten years ago.

Rail Photos, Reports

RailPAC/NARP March Conference report 2: Alex Kummant

This report covers the speech and question time of Amtrak President, Alex Kummant. (PHOTO)

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Mr. Kummant was introduced by RailPAC President, Paul Dyson, who met with Mr. Kummant in his DC office in October, where Paul extended an invitation to speak to this session, and “Alex agreed to come.”

(NOTE: A Noel Braymer video of portions of Mr. Kummant’s presentation can be found at www.youtube.com/watch?v=QVYXdBL5cr4 Other videos and recordings may be available soon. LINKS to this video can be found after report 5 below.)

Mr. Kummant spoke of the impact that this network (Amtrak) has on the country. “Amtrak is more than the Northeast Corridor.” Recognizing the theme of the morning sessions, he vowed to preserve the long distance trains, but emphasized that growth will be in the state corridors. “California has the momentum.”

His Vision for Amtrak was outlined in a powerpoint presentation. Mr. Kummant reminisced that he began his career years ago as a “chart flipper,” and how much easier this way is.

1. Growth, product excellence, and sound management
2. Positioning Amtrak to support demand growth for the state corridors
3. Continually improve service quality
4. Must be operated in a businesslike way if passenger rail is to succeed
5. Continuous improvement in its “state of good repair” of equipment
6. Funding for new equipment and capacity investment is needed to expand and meet future demand

We will keep saying, “for the price of one highway interchange we can do so much,” Mr. Kummant said. The Amtrak 06 ridership was up 1.1%, 06 revenue was up 10.7%, and the system on time performance was 68%.

“We try to ride the wave of demand. No other state can match California for the investment made in its program. Amtrak has contributed $400 million in California.” California “is the model for other states for what might be possible.”

Mr. Kummant then discussed some California specifics, such as the Riverside call center, which has 530 employees, will be retained following negotiations with the unions and will not be outsourced. The proposed Coast Daylight train, (which is a focus of RailPAC in California), is being worked on, and he looks at the Los Angeles to Las Vegas corridor as “waiting to emerge.” (Which could be as early as this summer. -RJ)

In Washington, S294 (Lautenberg/Lott) would advance the concept of federal-state partnership, and what is needed is some year-to-year framework for financial stability. “Multi-year contracts would allow the company to plan farther ahead.” This bill hopefully will pass the Senate by the summer recess; the House version is just starting.

In the short-term, Mr. Kummant acknowledged, on time performance for non-NEC service is a serious problem. For the host railroads traffic is outpacing capacity. For them, since 1980, track miles have decreased by 38% while traffic is up 81%. Return on their capital is the challenge, and “Amtrak is caught in the middle.” While the “Union Pacific has seen major problems, they have worked hard to improve them for the Sunset Limited, Coast Starlight, and California Zephyr. The Capitol Corridor OTP has improved greatly.” Mr. Kummant emphasized, “The answer is NOT to start legal action; to do so would yield ‘no action’.” Amtrak “must drive issues at a personal level and take steps one at a time.”

For the California Zephyr, which has a year-to-date on time record of 0.0%, Mr. Kummant sees two years of longer schedules. Amtrak is considering changing trains 5/6 into two services, one between Denver and Chicago which now runs “on schedule” (not mentioned, but it runs on the BNSF -RJ). The other would be sold more as a “cruise” train from Denver to the West Coast. No details of how this would be done were offered, however. Mr. Kummant said he had met personally with all the railroad CEO’s, and they agree that there needs to be a formula for public dollars, state and/or national, for rail infrastructure.

For all the Long Distance trains, and “I support the long distance trains,” Mr. Kummant has these goals: Stability, efficiency, and relevancy. “These trains preserve access and tie our corridors together.” But, “while they represent 45% of the passenger miles for the company it is going down because of poor OTP and equipment restraints.”

Mr. Kummant reminded the group that Amtrak has a great farebox recovery ratio: 70% (which comes from ticket sales and other income, the other 30% from government subsidy). “We are earning the right to grow by making tough choices and having a competent organization.” He listed several actions they have taken reflective of those choices, including the Food and Beverage initiative, Diner-Lounge conversions now being tested on the Capitol Limited, eventual extension of the successful Empire Builder model to other trains, retention of the Pacific Parlour car on the Coast Starlight, and network “restruction proposals” are ahead ( he did not specify). Employees have been without formal contracts since 2000; “we must find agreement that gives the company flexibility.” Ahead also will be the need to “refresh the current fleet of cars.”

In the Q & A session, Mr. Kummant said, in answer to RailPAC Palm Springs director Bob Manning’s question, that he would help in the effort to bring service to that area. This reporter’s question about what incentive the UP has to cooperate when its share of stock is selling at $100 a share was answered that “they are conscious of the efforts by some to reregulate the railroad industry; and their motivation is they realize it’s a public issue now.” RailPAC VP James Smith spoke of his long January journey on the Sunset, Crescent, Lake Shore, Empire Builder, and Coast Starlight and the lack of consistency of the service he encountered. “On the Empire Builder, it was outstanding with many Coach passengers eating in the diner. The employees all called for Amtrak to ‘give us the tools’.” Mr Kummant replied that “I’m the guy that is driving the product. I’m the one who put a customer service representative on the executive council. Trains 7/8 and the NEC are on top now, but we are working hard on all the others; We need to go route by route.” RailPAC VP Art Lloyd said on board service “cannot go down” further. Art emphasized that the long distance trains “are not cruise trains as many in Washington think.” Mr. Kummant urged the group to impress their Congressional representatives with our views. Mr. Kummant introduced, and Mr. Lloyd on behalf of all of us congratulated, former Western General Superintendent Richard Phelps on his promotion to Amtrak VP of Transportation. (PHOTO below, seated next to Mr. Kummant listening to other speakers.)
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Rail Photos, Reports

RailPAC/NARP March Conference report 3: Bronte and Capon

This report covers the presentations by William Bronte and Ross Capon from the morning session following Mr. Kummant. Andrew C. Selden’s presentation is in the next report.

RailPAC VP North, Art Lloyd, moderated the session. In the PHOTO below, left to right, Mr. Lloyd is at the podium, with NARP Executive Director Ross Capon, Minnesota RPA President/URPA Andrew C. Selden, and Caltrans Rail Program Chief William “Bill” Bronte, with RailPAC’s website maintainer Bill Lindley ready to operate the powerpoint presentations.
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Bill Bronte

Mr. Bronte was introduced by Art Lloyd as, “a good friend.” Bill responded by saying that while he works for a “highway department,” his rail program is a vital part of California’s transportation commitment. California “has had lots of luck and money that have put us where we are, from the day Senator Jim Mills learned that Amtrak wanted to add a 4th ‘San Diegan’ California has stood up and contributed to get us where we are today” with the successful state supported trains running in three corridors. He complimented organizations like RailPAC and NARP for continuing to say we want trains. Proposition 116 passed, gas taxes were increased, capital for intercity projects were provided; all these helped Metrolink, Caltrain, and the Coaster to start and expand. “Rail capital is a big issue. We designed and built our own new equipment.”
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Mr. Bronte continued, saying while the “stars at the Federal level aren’t aligned yet,” we “anticipate markup of the Lautenberg/Lott bill which contains federal-state “sharing,” so we can use state dollars as matching. “We need support from the public to say what we need! We are rolling the wheels off our current equipment, so the challenge to those in this room is to talk up intercity rail to your legislators, and get them to appropriate the newly passed Proposition 1b funds designated for rail.”

Ross Capon

Mr. Capon reviewed several pieces of federal legislation under consideration in Washington, and pointed out how he and NARP are working to secure passage in the Congress. HR1300 is the House version of the Senate’s S294, and it also calls for federal-state partnerships. “There is a real chance for Amtrak Reauthorization this year.” Funding for Amtrak remains tight, “(Speaker) Pelosi says there will be no new spending programs, and there is an impending bankruptcy of the Highway Trust Fund.” That possibility “is an opportunity” for the inclusion of rail in its renewal.
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Attacks on the long distance trains continue, Mr. Capon said, and he called on Amtrak to “Run the system you have and run it well.” He reviewed NARP’s efforts to return the Sunset Limited to Florida. As for Bush budget cuts, including Amtrak by “38%,” cuts for transit projects are also proposed despite ridership growth. S294 is a bipartisan bill, so there is hope. An interesting proposal, PRIIA, calls for monitoring of the on time performance of Amtrak trains, giving “teeth to that idea, and also gives the railroads the opportunity to complain.” Mr. Capon went on to discuss the issue of climate change, showing Amtrak in 2003 used less energy per passenger mile than cars or airlines.

Rail Photos, Reports

RailPAC/NARP March Conference report 4: Selden

This report covers the presentation by Andrew C. Selden, representing the United Rail Passenger Alliance. He is President of the Minnesota Rail Passenger Association, and an author of many articles on rail passenger policy and theory. He was a finalist candidate to be CEO of Amtrak in 1998. In 1986 he was described by the late David Morgan at TRAINS magazine as “The dean of the pro-passenger Amtrak critics.”

A link to a video of Mr. Selden’s presentation can be found after report 5 below.
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“We share a passion for passenger rail,” Mr Selden began. He expressed his confidence that much of what he heard from Mr. Kummant this morning was encouraging. The market for intercity rail traffic is exploding, but “Amtrak is flat and declining.” It “costs $3 to bring in $2, and the trend never gets better. The network is shrinking!”

Citing 2006 figures from Amtrak’s own reports, Mr. Selden reported Income from passenger related activity last year was $1.565.5 billion, other income (excluding Federal subsidy) was $451.4 million. Total Expenses were listed as $3,301.6 billion, yielding a loss of $1,284.8 billion which had to be covered by federal subsidy.

“They have reached the conclusion that growth is not possible without subsidy growth.” But, growth “is not possible with heavy subsidy. Look at their 30 year history. Why are we stuck with this situation?” For one thing, “ridership” is not output. Headcount does not translate into growth in the areas that do count.

Mr. Selden then cited examples of how Amtrak “does not know its product,” even though these same figures are available to them. The Chicago “hub” last year had two categories of trains, Group A and Group B:

Ridership (the headcount)
A 1,750,000
B 2,150,000

Revenue Passenger Miles (000)
A 250,000
B 1,400,000

Load factor (PM/TM)
A 51.2%
B 55.9%

Revenue (000)
A 41,000
B 180,000

“Now,” Mr. Selden said to a crowd carefully listening to something they had not heard before, “Obviously, Group B excels Group A in each of the important financial categories, so shouldn’t Amtrak be concentrating on providing resources to contribute to the success of Group B?” The question was then answered, that Group A is the 8 “corridor” trains going through the Chicago hub, while Group B is the 8 “long distance” trains that are criticized so heavily.

California has the same story: Group A outshines the ridership of Group B by a factor of 10; but the load factor (passenger miles/train miles) for A is 33% to 57% for B, the Revenue Passenger miles were close, 200 to 190, and the Revenue was 40 to 25 in favor of group A. Group A is the California corridors, while Group B is the Coast Starlight alone. Just one train does almost as well as all the corridor trains combined.

“If you want growth, put it where you are most likely to get a full return.” At Amtrak, like most big businesses, “management chooses where to put its capital resources and prioritizes spending.” The greatest growth for Amtrak “appears to come from the lowest cost potentials, the long distance trains!” Amtrak should “throw out the Route Profitability System of accounting that misleads management on its true revenue potentials and replace it with a business-oriented system.” Mr. Selden co-authored a study in 1984 on Amtrak Accounting, which was published in Passenger Train Journal.

Mr. Selden then discussed the Matrix theory of how many potentials for growth are being ignored at Amtrak, citing the Albany, New York hub as an example. This theory, developed by Mr. Selden with the late Dr. Adrian Herzog and Byron Nordberg of RailPAC and URPA, shows that today different trains serve that area, from Toronto, the Empire corridor services, long distance trains, Vermont and Montreal services, etc. He pointed out how by adding a train coming from Boston that the incremental increase in all the four categories discussed above explodes.

Time did not allow for a full Q & A period, but many meeting attendees came up to ask questions into the lunch period.

Rail Photos, Reports

RailPAC/NARP March Conference report 5: Dukakis and PM panels

This report covers the afternoon session, which began with the inspiring talk by Gov. Michael Dukakis, who was an Amtrak board member and Vice Chairman, followed by panels discussing Regional and Commuter Rail, Southern California, and Urban Rail transit projects in Southern California, followed by a High Speed Rail report.

Gov. Michael Dukakis

Gov. Dukakis, in the PHOTO waiting to be introduced, began by introducing his wife, Kitty, talking about how they spend the winter quarter in Southern California where he teaches a course at UCLA, and ride the transit available to them including taking it to come to this meeting.
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“We cannot diminish the importance of the Northeast corridor,” when considering the transportation picture of the country, he said, citing how he worked to improve the NEC when he was Governor of Massachusetts.

“California must invest in a first class transportation system and High Speed Rail,” he said. “It takes passion to accomplish our goals! You can have impact on the next Presidential candidates by contacting them and expressing your views.”

Paul Dyson and Mike McGinley

Moderator Dennis Lytton, a NARP director, introduced this panel to discuss “Southern California Regional Rail, A Sleeping Giant?” Paul Dyson of RailPAC and Mike McGinley, (PHOTO) a retired Southern Pacific railroad and Metrolink Director of Engineering spoke. Mr. Dyson comes from his experience with British Rail, the Southern Pacific, and GATX Rail and currently serves on the Burbank Transportation Commission.
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Mr. McGinley talked about how Metrolink should not get “carried away with too many projects. We cannot go where we are not invited.” Currently the largest project is the Redlands extension which will be run with DMU vehicles rather than the existing trainsets.

Mr. Dyson compared Southern California to Switzerland, saying the area size is about the same, but they have 3000 miles of rail and 10% of the population regularly ride the trains. Their whole philosophy is “everything connects: ferries, buses, trains, which are designed to connect, with ONE ticket, with service on time within two minutes!” Mr. Dyson advocated that “everything in Southern California, the Coasters and Surfliners should be held to the same factors with single tickets available and connecting schedules.”

Melvin Clark, Jared Wright, Bart Reed

Moderator James Smith, RailPAC VP South, (PHOTO) introduced the next panel on “Urban Rail Transit, Vital Projects to create a Unified System.” The speakers were Melvin Clark, the Deputy Executive Officer for Metro Rail, then Jerard Wright, VP of the Transit Coalition and Bart Reed, a RailPAC director and Executive Director of the Transit Coalition.
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Mr. Clark spoke of the expansion plans for Metro Rail, including the extension of the Gold Line service run-through project which will carry it across the 101 freeway south of Union Station and turn east. Because of this expansion, a fleet of new compatible cars have been purchased from Breda, and they are currently on the property and can be seen in the yard from the Gold Line trains, which are proving more successful every day.

Mr. Wright spoke of the benefits of crosstown connector services, which should have the highest priorities. One of the Transit Coalition’s position papers advocates how airports are poorly service by transit, including Burbank’s Bob Hope Airport, which is located next to a Metrolink (and Amtrak) station, but that service is too infrequent for much of potential customer base. A solution is to concentrate resources on affordable solutions, develop the regional rail and BRT network, and start with local connections from the Orange line and connection to Bob Hope Airport. Copies of most of the TC’s papers were available to participants.

Mr. Reed (PHOTO) discussed other TC project proposals, including enhanced Metrolink service to the San Fernando Valley on 30-minute headways all day similar to what Orange County has funded for its line, with through service from additional points and, using the MTA’s Harbor Subdivision for new service from LA Union Station to Los Angeles Airport (LAX) and the South Bay. This latter idea has been advocated by RailPAC for many years.
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Mr. Reed made several other TC recommendations, emphasizing the need to build one integrated system in Los Angeles. For LAX service the Green Line must be extended to the Lincoln/Sepulveda parking structure, a People Mover segment be constructed to serve the Central Terminal area, a Crenshaw extension, and an extension to Marina del Rey.

Dan Leavitt

Dan Leavitt is the Deputy Director for the California High Speed Rail Authority. He has served there since 1998. He played a colorful animated video showing the proposed high speed trains running through the vast Central Valley of California hitting 220 mph (on the screen in the PHOTO).
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Mr. Leavitt reported that the current plans call for all in-town running, such as in Los Angeles and San Francisco, would be at 110 mph or less on existing, upgraded grade separated rights of way. It would be an incremental approach to construction. He then took many questions from the audience who showed great interest in this program.