Monthly Archives

March 2007


San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee meeting report

Reported by Bruce Jenkins, RailPAC Director, with Bill Kerby, RailPAC Treasurer and Art Lloyd, RailPAC VP North

The San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee meeting was held Thursday March 8, 2007 in Fresno. Fresno County Supervisor Henry Perea welcomed members of the committee and audience.

The main issue of this meeting was the Committee vote to make Mariposa County a Voting member of the Committee. Due to the large number of speakers, including supervisors, from this county, and the time encroachment on the agenda, these writers were unable to stay for the entire meeting due to train time.

However, the speakers we heard made a good case for Mariposa County to be on the Rail Committee e.g. being the gateway to Yosemite National Park. Representatives from Fresno, Madera, and Stanislaus counties gave early support for the addition of Mariposa County on the SJVRC.

Lee Goldenberg (Caltrans DoR) reported on his research of the bylaws and (reluctantly) recommended against the county, as voting members must be on the rail line according to the bylaws. After lengthy discussion by the Committee. it was moved, seconded and approved for a Mariposa County voting membership pending amending of the bylaws. The issue will be resolved at the next meeting.

Bakersfield Mayor Harvey Hall was unanimously re-elected for another term as Chair, as was Merced County Supervisor John Pedrozo as Vice Chair.

Ty Holscher (Tulare County) reported on a meeting with the Union Pacific in Omaha regarding using UP trackage for passenger service on the lower west side of the Valley up to Fresno. This added service has been under consideration for a year or so. The UP could just not see it now because of their capacity problems.

A new SJVRC meeting schedule was approved:

May 10……….Oakland Maint. Facility
Cafe Car Mockup tour
June 28……….Martinez
Oct 11……….Merced
Jan 10……….Bakersfield
Mar 13……….Fresno
June 12………TBD
Oct 9………TBD

Michael Barnbaum (RailPAC) made the announcement and extended invitations to all to the RailPAC/NARP joint conference in Los Angeles (MTA Bldg) March 17.


News and a Photo from the Capitol Corridor

Gene Skropowski, the Capitol Corridor Managing Director, replied to RailPAC regarding the photo story about the group traveling to Sacramento from Davis (below the meeting notice) and gave us an advanced look at other important Corridor news including the latest statistics from the other California corridors. NEW Photo added!

Westbound Capitol train 737 arrives on time with a five-car train at the Davis station on a sunny Sunday, March 11, 2007. After picking up passengers, the doors started to close when the power was lost from Amtrak locomotive 73. Ten minutes later it was restarted and resumed its journey to the Bay Area. Just another routine day on the Capitol Corridor. (Photo by Russ Jackson)

We thank Gene Skoropowski for all the information below; he is a very responsive executive, and we all appreciate that!

  • (Re the photo story of the group riders) “This is the first I heard of this situation. The only thing I can make of it is that at the time this group wanted to travel to Sacramento (which would have been our train #526), on March 2, train #526 was not running, as it was one of the cancelled trains during the track rebuilding program between Benicia and Pinole. The Capitol Corridor reservation desk actually has full time folks who book group trips, and we do a very good business filling empty seats on trains with available capacity. We had groups travelling on some trains, even during the track work period.

    “I don’t know where the information for this story came from, but it sure isn’t correct. And when groups are booked on the Capitol Corridor trains, they DO sit together, usually in a reserved car, just for the group.”

  • Here is an advance on the February stats:

    “We had barely 70 percent on time. We had a major track rehab program. We cancelled 8 of the 32 weekday trains to accommodate the trackwork project. And we still grew riders by 15 percent and revenue by 22 percent. Go figure! I shudder to think of the demand when on-time performance improves.”

    Summary of February ridership and ticket revenue results:

    Capitol Corridor

    · 103,666 passengers +15.9% vs. FY06 and a record for the month

    · $1,278,488 ticket revenue +22.4% vs. FY06

    Pacific Surfliner

    · 182,964 passengers -3.3% vs. FY06

    · $2,868,601 ticket revenue +2.3% vs. FY06

    San Joaquins

    · 52,809 passengers -4.9% vs. FY06

    · $1,586,189 ticket revenue +4.3% vs. FY06

  • The CC Riders Group passed along a message received from Gene on March 7, 2007, following a meeting the riders had with Mr. Skoropowski on board Capitol train 536, where issues of interest to riders were discussed. CCRiders members received this message from Chuck Roebuck, their President. Because it contains some interesting news, we are reprinting it here.
  • ON-TIME PERFORMANCE: “We had a meeting with UP vice president yesterday and UP indicated that all local freights during daylight hours are being changed to work after 6 pm, and that only 4 freights will be allowed to operate between 5.30 am and 6 p.m and that these freights will be be their ‘hot’ trains that are running thru to Chicago or wherever. Assuming this plan will work, we should see our on-time performance get back to 90 percent or better.

    CLEANLINESS OF TRAINS: “Gene and AMTRAK have notified the clean up crews of the issues raised during the meeting regarding the cleanliness of restrooms, floors and overhead bins and have directed that corrective action be taken.”

    Gene urged the riders to email him anytime they have a problem.


    RailPAC/NARP Joint Membership Meeting & Conference

    Saturday, March 17, 2007 Gateway Center, MTA BOARD ROOM, 3rd Floor, the tall building east of Los Angeles Union Station platforms.laus-mta-building.jpg

    The Rail Passenger Association of California, the National Association of Railroad Passengers, and the Transit Coalition invite you to the biggest rail meeting of 2007!

    Amtrak President Alex Kummant (pictured, left, with RailPAC President Paul Dyson) is the Keynote Speaker at 10:30am.

    The 11:30 session, “Amtrak & the Future” Andrew C. Selden (pictured) from URPA, Ross Capon from NARP, and Bill Bronte, Caltrans Rail Chief. RailPAC VP/NARP Director Art Lloyd is the moderator.


    At 1:00 former Amtrak Board Vice Chairman Michael Dukakis

    Afternoon panels include “Southern California Regional Rail”, with RailPAC President Paul Dyson, and Mike McGinley, retired SP and Metrolink, moderated by Dennis Lytton, NARP Diector; “Transit Rail”, with Gerald Francis, Manager, LACMTA Rail, and Jerard Wright and Bart Reed from the Transit Coalition, moderated by James Smith, RailPAC VP; and “High Speed Rail Update” by Dan Leavitt, CAHSRA

    The RailPAC members’ business meeting will follow the afternoon session. Adjournment will be in honor of Byron Nordberg, RailPAC’s founding father.


    Group rides Zephyr from Davis to Sacramento

    Instead of using a Capitol train. The scene below is the Davis, CA train station this morning, March 2, 2007. The train is the eastbound California Zephyr, #6, which arrived only a few minutes late enroute eventually to Chicago. A PHOTO report by Russ Jackson, RailPAC.


    This group of children and parents wanted to take the train to Sacramento. When they called they found out that the Capitols don’t take reservations, so they were referred to Amtrak. Amtrak does not sell group rates on the Capitols either, only on the Surfliner and San Joaquin corridor trains, and so booked them on the Zephyr. Think about that. The group boarded the last car on the train, a Coach, (pictured below, departing Davis 15 minutes late) and rode 14 miles on a long distance train. That tied up at least 50 seats that could not be sold to travelers going longer distances from the Bay Area. Kind of a waste, isn’t it? The kids no doubt enjoyed the ride, but there was no time for them to visit the Snack bar, so Amtrak lost that revenue, too. Had the group boarded a Capitol, they would have been spread out over all the available seats and not able to sit as a group.

    A comment from a reader of this item: “I read with great interest your story on about the group that rode the CZ one stop because they couldn’t secure a group rate on the Capitols. Capitol Corridor maintains an active group ticketing program — see complete with its own dedicated e-mail address: .”



    Amtrak needs leadership, not more managers

    Commentary by Noel Braymer, Editor, Western Rail Passenger Review

    On January 30th of this year, train 50, the CARDINAL, departed Chicago with 6 cars, one locomotive and one working toilet. Over the protests of the train’s conductor, the Chicago trainmaster ordered the train out of Chicago. The train had gone no further than Dyer, Indiana, just 29 miles from Chicago, when the decision was made to terminate the train in Cincinnati and supply busses for the 46 passengers.

    The toilets didn’t work because of freezing. The toilets froze because the cars were not connected as they should have been to outside electrical power to keep the cars heated. None of this would have happened if people were doing their job. There is no excuse for this. There are people who should be disciplined and others who should be fired just over this incident.

    But the problem is, this sort of thing has been going on at Amtrak for a long time. There is a total lack of responsibility, and no accountability among Amtrak Management. One Washington “insider” has been reported to say, “Seems to be a common problem. A terminal manager will push a train out of his area in order to improve his on-time batting average and if it hits the fan later on, well, it’s someone else’s problem.”

    This problem goes beyond maintenance. Back in October 2006, the Wolverine was involved in an accident with a trespasser. This delayed the train and upset the scheduling with the crews. Crews went over their 12 hour limit. But because of poor planning, replacement crews where not ready to replace the crews before their time limit ran out. In one case, Amtrak Management ordered the engineer of train 355 to operate the train after the conductor’s time ran out and the train wouldn’t have an on duty conductor. The host railroad wouldn’t allow this and pulled the train into a siding until a fresh conductor was available. For the passengers it meant the train was over 6 hours late into Chicago. Much the same thing happened on the San Joaquin last spring. Because of poor planning and crews going over their time limit, passengers spent hours at a siding waiting for a replacement crew. The result was that train was also over 6 hours late. Such errors cost money in such things as good will. Good will has a commercial value; without it, you lose customers and income.

    On the Starlight there has been an experiment of using two train chiefs. They are considered part of Amtrak Management. Mostly they are seen meeting and greeting passenger coming on the train and during the trip. This comes after Amtrak has cut back many on-board personal on the long distance trains, including the Starlight. The last thing a passenger needs when waiting for a meal or to get their sleeper set up is another layer of bureaucracy. Yet this is what was done. If the train chiefs were seen leading by example, by filling in the gaps where service ran thin and in general helping to solve problems, this could work and be useful on other trains. But so far the perception is that the train chiefs disappear once the train leaves the station.

    Amtrak is a classic example of a bloated bureaucracy. Over the last few years there has been a drop in total Amtrak employment. These lost jobs were largely due to lost commuter train contracts in Boston and Southern California. We have also seen cut backs in many passenger services. What we have not seen are any meaningful cut backs in management. There was even a slight increase in managers in the recent past as employment at Amtrak fell. Amtrak has more managers than engineers and conductors. Amtrak’s ratio of managers to workers is way out of line with privative industry norms. A bigger bureaucracy doesn’t improve efficiency. In too many cases the road crews make the right decision, only to be overruled by management. This happened when the conductor rightfully objected to leaving Chicago with the Cardinal with only one working toilet. Amtrak Management ignored problems with the brakes for years on the Acela. It was a FRA inspector, not Amtrak, which pulled the Acela out of service in spring 2005 when the problem was becoming critical. Back in 2003, during a 1,000 mile inspection in Tucson, Arizona, a Sleeping Car from the Texas Eagle was found to have 4 flat wheels, a clear safety violation. The road crew wanted to pull the car off the train and transfer passengers in the relative comfort of a station. They were overruled by management back east and told to continue to Los Angeles. The UP found out and held the train at a siding 41 miles west of Tucson until the sleeping car was pulled. These types of hassles when the road crews are right, and the manager is making the wrong decisions miles away go on all the time at Amtrak only on a smaller scale.

    Bureaucrats by nature make decisions miles away from the action, usually in the comfort of their office. Their efforts are largely centered on protecting their territory, budget and perks, not the job at hand. Leaders by their very nature are out in front. People can’t follow a leader if the person is in the rear. A good leader will sometimes “kick a**.” But good leaders spend more time listening to find out what the problems are, supporting their people when they are right while encouraging and rewarding good work. This doesn’t cost anymore than shabby work .But it produces higher productivity, higher worker morale, and in the end happier passengers who want heated trains, working toilets, comfortable seats, good food and getting to their destination on time.