Monthly Archives

May 2007

Issues

RailPAC Position Statement

Adopted by the membership at the March 17 Annual Meeting in Los Angeles

Whereas RailPAC since its inception has been a supporter both of the existing National Passenger Rail System (“the National System”) of Long Distance and Regional trains operated by Amtrak, and of the incremental growth of that system,

And Whereas the National System is under constant threat from suspension or termination of services, reduction in federal spending, and totally unacceptable on time performance on many routes,

It is hereby resolved that:
RailPAC calls for the retention of all routes of the National System, and in particular requests the immediate restoration of the Sunset service between New Orleans and Orlando, and

RailPAC calls upon the U.S. Department of Transportation and Amtrak to take appropriate action with host railroads to ensure that passenger trains are given the priority required by federal law in order to ensure a commercially acceptable level of passenger train punctuality, and

RailPAC calls for the continued incremental growth of the National System for example and not limited to the addition in California of the “Coast Daylight” service between Los Angeles and San Francisco. The extension of the Heartland Flyer to Kansas City, and other cost-effective services that improve connectivity and equipment utilization, and
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The forerunner of the Coast Daylight is Amtrak California’s Central Coast Surfliner, trains 798/799, shown here at the San Luis Obispo station.

RailPAC calls upon the U.S. Government to set up a permanent funding source for Amtrak, and to provide a source of funds or tax credits for host railroads to improve infrastructure and capacity for both freight and passenger trains.

Rail Photos

A TALE OF 3 SUNSET LIMITED FLAG STOP “STATIONS” and a very late train!

PART 1: Benson, AZ, and Lordsburg, NM PHOTOS and Commentary by Russ Jackson, RailPAC

Sunset Limited on time performance has fallen back to 18.5% since Oct. 1 (The Coast Starlight is up to 19.9%), 2006. Another major problem for Amtrak train #2 happened on May 3, 2007, when the eastbound Sunset Limited, was 12 PLUS hours late east of Tucson. This writer was on a road trip this time, and a call to Amtrak’s automated reservation voice, “Julie,” found #2 would arrive at Benson, AZ, at 1:57 PM instead of 2:20 AM! We were on target to arrive in that town, the location of the very successful Kartchner Caverns State Park, at about that time so we parked and waited. And waited. Sometimes the view from the ground gives a better account than from the train. Unknown to us at the time was the reason for the long delay, which was a derailment of the train on UP’s Guasti siding, 5 miles east of Ontario, CA, the day before, and we were waiting for a “makeup” train which departed Los Angeles at 1:42 AM.

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This is the scene we found in Benson: A shack with the word “Benson” and an Amtrak logo sign bent so it was almost unreadable, a car (foreground) containing folks who intend to board the train enroute to Michigan, and a lady in another car expecting arriving passengers from Los Angeles who tells us that the UP container train parked on the track the passenger train would have to be on had been there since she arrived at 12:30 PM. It was still dangerously blocking two signaled crossings in town, including one just to the left of station where the gates were down and the bells a-ringing. Even if #2 arrived at 2:00 on the adjoining track how can these passengers get to the train? While we waited a boy climbed across the couplers, a very dangerous thing to do. At 2:27 “Julie” informed us the train won’t arrive until 3:15, so we decided not to wait for it, and headed for Tucson. At least the Amtrak logo is on the shack, but NO information about how to contact Amtrak or what it is. In 2004-05 there were 1,492 passengers to/from here. We learned the train finally arrived in Benson at 3:55 PM.

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WHAT COULD BE at Benson. The new Benson Chamber of Commerce Visitors Center is located just east of the “station.” The building is in the style of the old SP train stations, has full facilities, and is staffed. The lady on duty said, “No, this isn’t the station. They stop at that ‘lean-to’ over there.”

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When #2 departs Benson its next stop is Lordsburg, NM, about an hour later. Again, there is only a small railroad shack with the word Lordsburg on it, but NO Amtrak information. The tracks are quite a hike across an unpaved yard, there is no platform to mark where the train stops, and yet, 304 passengers used this station in 2004-05. A photo of this station was in the March, 2007, Review. This report continues in Part 2, Deming, NM.

Rail Photos

SUNSET LIMITED FLAG STOP “STATIONS” continued

PART 2: Deming, NM, PHOTOS and Commentary by Russ Jackson, RailPAC

In Part 1 we showed what passengers can expect at Benson, Arizona, and Lordsburg, New Mexico, when they choose those stations as their destination on Amtrak train #2, the Sunset Limited.

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After departing Lordsburg, another hour later #2 arrives at Deming. To get to this “station” from town requires a circuitous trip through an underpass, a right turn, travel a few blocks, turn right again and re-cross all the tracks without any signs saying how to get there. When you do get “there” you find two cheap benches next to a green rail logo sign and NO Amtrak information in sight (this photo also appears on the front page of the June Western Rail Passenger Review). Behind the benches is a westbound one-way I-10 off-ramp.

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Deming is the center of UP’s massive double-track project that will soon make the line between Tucson and El Paso a “speedway.” We assume the Sunsets load passengers at the road crossing, as there is NO platform of any kind. In 2004-05 Deming saw 704 rail passengers!

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WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN at Deming? (Top) The historic SP era train station building stood at track-side in various configurations since its original construction in 1881. (Bottom) Now it has been fully restored and moved across Interstate 10 to a new location where it is a learning center annex! Attempts to keep it at track-side were unsuccessful.

OK, Amtrak, and you wonder why smaller cities and towns don’t provide more riders. You’re lucky that many do take the trains. Yes, it’s up to the towns to provide stations, so above is what you get for that hands-off policy. Where are your signs? Are these stations ADA compliant? It doesn’t look like it. Just think: Each 100 additional tickets sold among just these three towns each year could yield $150,000 in additional revenue at NO incremental cost.

Commentary, Reports

High Speed Rail Authority Adopts Phase 1: Anaheim to “the Bay Area”

Meeting Report and Commentary, May 23, 2007
By Russ Jackson, RailPAC

The California High Speed Rail Authority, with four RailPAC members in attendance, met at the State Capitol on Wednesday, May 23, to adopt a definitive “Phase 1″ of its project, “taking into consideration the cost, ridership, and revenue data presented to the Board on April 18, 2007.” The adopted Phase 1 is also based on “early utilization of some segments, some degree of local and regional participation in the early construction and funding, serving many regions, significant operating surplus to include a private partner in the construction and operation, development of a high-speed segment of around 100 miles, for building, testing, and commissioning the high-speed trainsets, equipment and systems, and completion in less than 10 years from today.”

This first phase, passed by the HSRA Board on a vote of 5-2, extends from Anaheim, through Los Angeles, Palmdale, and up the Central Valley including Bakersfield, Fresno, and Merced. From there the “route” goes into the Bay Area either by Altamont Pass or Pacheco Pass. What else is new, you say? Well, it’s what is NOT there that raises the question of whether it is a real “Phase.” Left out is the selected route into San Francisco which is “still under study,” plus the route to the Inland Empire, Riverside and San Diego, and the extension into Sacramento.

Arguments were made during the meeting by Commissioner Lynn Schenk that leaving out San Diego would cripple the potential for the project goals stated above, and probably bury that extension for a very long time. She “could not vote for the plan as proposed if San Diego were left out.” Executive Director Mehdi Morshed replied that any plans for the eastward extension from Los Angeles Union Station are tied up by SCAG, the Southern California Association of Governments, who are determined to build a Maglev system on that route and do not want the CAHSRA with its “steel wheels on steel track” project to “interfere” with that plan. Whether Maglev is realistic or not is immaterial at this point in the political process.

Another objection came from the newest member of the Board, David Crane, a special advisor to the Governor who spoke that it would be better for the Authority to know definitively what it could expect financially from the identified funding sources. “Are the Feds on board?” he asked, “Will Speaker Pelosi and Senators Boxer and Feinstein work to secure it? What can be definitely counted on from the state, partners, and local agencies?” It was estimated that this first Phase would require $27.5 to $39.5 Billion. Many “could be’s” are included in the estimates presented for approval.

But, Chairman Quentin Kopp, Commissioners Curt Pringle (Mayor of Anaheim), and Rod Diridon spoke of the need for a decision to be made, and in Mr. Kopp’s words, “We must keep moving!” Mr. Diridon said, “this plan generates the largest possible cash flow,” and in addressing serving San Diego, said, “Amtrak Surfliners now serve that market, and they’re not going away.” Ms. Schenk remembered the ill-fated “Bullet train” project of the early 80’s which was to be built down the San Diego coast line, but which “was not built due to extensive NIMBY opposition.” It should be noted here that the defeat of that project also included many organizations that found the project to be financially wrong, and by the U.S. Marine Corps which would not grant access to its property. Many current RailPAC members, including this writer, were involved in that 1980’s controversy, which brought us into the rail advocacy movement looking for projects that were “doable.” We note that early-on the current CAHSRA chose not to make the same mistake of trying to run down the San Diego coast.

RailPAC members have been interested observers in the progress of the High Speed Rail Authority plan. We have had speakers at our meetings explaining its progress. At the March 17 meeting in Los Angeles the Authority’s Dan Leavitt presented the latest video show explaining the expectations of the project. Several members present were disappointed in the disparaging remarks about the quality of current Amtrak service in that video, a theme that was also heard at this meeting. Amtrak California will continue to serve the LOSSAN market, plus the San Joaquin and Sacramento Valleys and other areas of the state that will not be served by high-speed rail for ten years or more even if the project is approved by the voters, whenever that will be. The Capitol Corridor will continue to serve Bay Area to Sacramento perhaps forever, as that segment, a major one, is not included in the CAHSRA plan.

In this writer’s opinion, by eliminating San Diego and not resolving the issue over Maglev with SCAG, not serving the Riverside area, without defining its route into the Bay Area, not serving Sacramento in the initial phase, and not serving the Bay Area to Sacramento segment, the CAHSRA has doomed itself to losing large blocks of votes for the $9 billion bond issue (if it ever gets on the ballot). As desirable as high-speed rail is for the state, it’s what the local folks think they want to approve for other areas to benefit from that will determine the project’s future.

Reports

Message to RailPAC Members

from Paul Dyson, RailPAC President

Dear RailPAC members and supporters:

After the enthusiastic response to our March 17 meeting in Los Angeles, the Board of Directors met in April to discuss the next steps for RailPAC. We have come a long way. We now publish a monthly Newsletter, the Review, with articles and news of interest relating to all aspects of passenger rail transportation. Our website has been greatly enhanced and is updated almost daily with news, events and opinions. We continue to send out e-mails and we are currently preparing to launch a weekly electronic newsletter with an improved format to keep all of you informed, and I hope to encourage more of you to be involved in our campaigns.

In addition I’d like RailPAC to join APTA, the American Public Transportation Association, and to continue to attend the “Passenger Trains on Freight Railroads” conference in Washington each year. Last year’s meeting led indirectly to Amtrak’s Mr. Kummant keynoting our March meeting. I’d like to be able to go to Sacramento more often to make our case to our elected representatives, as well as to attend more rail board meetings around the state.

All of this takes money. Postage rates just went up. We haven’t raised our subscription rates for many years, even though we have increased the size and frequency of the Review. We need you to consider increasing the size of your contribution to RailPAC. We really need at least $10 more per member than last year.

Rather than simply raising rates across the board, we are experimenting with an honor system. Minimum rates will remain the same. I understand that some of you are giving as much as you can, and we don’t want to exclude anyone. But we do need to increase our income, if only to keep up with inflation. We are therefore offering a range of contribution amounts in each membership category, and we hope that as many of you as are able will choose to contribute at the upper end of that band.

Thank you again for your continued support for RailPAC. There has never been a better time to advocate passenger rail as a major contributor to our mobility needs. Let’s keep up the momentum and score some major victories this year for steel wheel on steel rail!

Paul Dyson
President
05/15/07

Commentary

The Salinas station has a big future!

Letter to the Daily Californian from Chris Flescher, RailPAC Associate Director, Salinas To Dave Nordstrand: I read your article (May 19, 2007) about trains and the city of Salinas, and I wanted to make a few comments.

I agree that cars and airplanes will probably continue to be the dominant mode of transportation in this area for a long time. However, it is very likely that in a few years, there will be more people taking the train to and from Salinas, and there will be a lot more people using the train station.

The Transportation Agency of Monterey County (TAMC) has plans to convert the Salinas train station into a so-called Intermodal Transit Center (ITC). The MST transit center and the Greyhound station will be relocated to the ITC, so many people will pass through the area, even if they will not be riding a train. It is likely that the ITC will have some other features that will attract people, like guarded bicycle parking and taxi stands.

There are two projects in the planning stage that will bring more passenger trains to Salinas. The first is the extension of Caltrain from Gilroy to Salinas, and TAMC expects service to start in 4 years from now. The second project is the so-called Coast Daylight train, which would run between San Francisco and Los Angeles, probably on a schedule about 9 hours and ahead of, or behind the Coast Starlight, which will share the corridor, between Los Angeles and San Jose.

TAMC is also studying a train that would run between Castroville and Marina, or Monterey, and connect with the extended Caltrain. That would not bring passengers to Salinas, but it would being them to nearby places in Monterey County.

I am an associate director of the advocacy group Rail Passenger Association of California (RailPAC) Railpac is working on many projects throughout the
state, and one of them is improving rail service in Monterey County. You can read more about the group at www.railpac.org.

In conclusion, the Salinas train station is empty most of the time, but I don’t expect that to be true in a few years from now, when Caltrain and the Coast Daylight serve it, and it is an intermodal transit center, rather than just a train station.

NOTE: I received the following note back from writer Dave Norstrand: “I appreciate your comments and insights, and I will keep this material for reference. More trains sounds great, and I hope it happens.”

Chris Flescher

Reports

BULLETIN: Caltrans request for new cars is BACK IN THE BUDGET!

Reported by Marcia Johnston, RailPAC Director

Some news from the State budget analyst: “The May CA State Budget Revision, released today, also proposes to spend $187 million in 2007-08 from Proposition 1B transportation bonds approved by the voters in Nov. 2006 for the purchase of intercity rail cars and locomotives.”

Heavy lobbying by the Capitol Corridor made this happen. No spending on this item was in the original proposal in the January budget plan.

Gene Skoropowski, Managing Director of the CCJPA comments on the news:

“This is good news indeed! Also, the legislative effort was a ‘team
effort’, and I suspect Caltrans folks, including Caltrans Director Will Kempton himself, helped a lot of people inside the Administration understand how important these voter-approved bond funds are to the state’s successful intercity rail program. Clearly, it is a vote-of-confidence in the program.”

Look for comments by the RailPAC staff over the next few days.

Rail Photos

A BUSY SATURDAY HALF HOUR AT THE DAVIS AMTRAK STATION

A PHOTO report by Russ Jackson, RailPAC

What happened to trains 733, 6, and 724 that morning?

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10:55 AM Saturday, May 12, 2007. Amtrak Thruway bus arrives at the Davis station bringing transfer passengers from Stockton who rode the San Joaquin train. This is the scheduled time of arrival of Capitol train 733 from Sacramento. Eastbound Capitol train 724 was due at 10:27, and train #6, the eastbound California Zephyr, was due at 10:36, but neither has yet arrived.

RailPAC director, Anthony Lee, who is on board 724 calls from the train saying that #6 is “on the bridge” and should get to Davis ahead of his train.

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11:05 AM. The California Zephyr pulls into Davis station. In this view at the east end of the platform you can see #6’s locomotive and the headlights for Capitol train 733, which is waiting at the crossover to enter the station on the same track the Zephyr is on.

aprilmay-2007-003.jpgaprilmay-2007-005.jpg(Upper) The Zephyr is delayed loading several passengers who need assistance. (Lower) The Zephyr departs at about 11:18, crossing over to the south track for its journey into Sacramento. It is now 40 minutes late.

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11:20 AM Capitol train 724 finally arrives from the Bay Area, following #6 on the north track. A large crowd detrains, including Anthony Lee (second from right).

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11:24 AM Eastbound train 724 has crossed over to the south track, allowing westbound 733 (above) to finally enter the station after waiting since 10:55.

This delay-filled half hour was caused by Union Pacific freight interference west of Suisun, which held #6 and #724 until a freight train passed.

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3:50 PM Later that afternoon Capitol 743 arrived on time at Davis. This view shows only a portion of the huge number of bicycles parked at that station which are ridden by UC Davis students who take the trains.

Reports

San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee TAC sees mockup of new Cafe cars (Revised)

Reported by Bruce Jenkins, RailPAC Director

NOTE: Since the original publication of this report new information has been made available to this writer about the mockup of the new Cafe cars. This new info follows, then the original report is repeated. – BJ

From Stanton Hunter, Rail Passenger Car Technology Branch, Caltrans Division of Rail
Here are my comments. Thank you for allowing me to clarify a few things.

1. The mockup and conceptual drawings are still in a very preliminary
stage, and have not been finalized. Caltrans is seeking input from
numerous parties, including Amtrak on-board staff, in order to fine-tune
the design of the new cafe-lounge cars. A formal review is planned for
later in the year.

2. The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) currently does not have any
requirements for compartmentalization of on-board luggage, and has no plans at this time to develop regulations regarding on-board luggage. However, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), an advisory board that investigates transportation-related accidents and makes recommendations to improve safety and reduce injuries, has observed in a number of passenger rail accidents that unrestrained luggage was a contributing factor in passenger injuries, and has recommended the development of luggage restraint systems for passenger rail vehicles. Enclosed overhead luggage compartments will enhance passenger safety in the event of an accident.

3. The design criteria for the enclosed luggage bins on the new equipment
will include the ability to accommodate the same size carry-on bag as a
commercial aircraft. Most airlines permit carry-on bags up to 9″ by 16″ x
22″, and the new cars will be designed to handle this size bag (larger if
possible).

4. The cafe-lounge car will also have three one-person tables in the
non-revenue end, for a total lounge seating capacity of 21.

Original report:

The SJVRC Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) met on Friday, April 13, at the Amtrak Shops in Oakland, actually in a large shed a block south of the shops where Caltrans Division of Rail (DoR) is doing their mock-up of the new Cafe car.

Concurrently the Committee participated in tasting of new foods to be served in the Cafe cars in the future. Mainly the items tasted were Tuna and Chicken salads for sandwiches. The samples ranged from expensive Albacore Tuna to the ordinary tuna and chicken, and were prepared using three ethnic influences e.g. American, Asian and Mexican. Participants were asked to rate on a scale from 1 to 10 in categories of taste, texture and saleability.

The mock-up of the new car was not complete, but gave a good representation of the proposed configuration. One half of the car will have 28 revenue seats. The serving area will be in the center of the car with a generous curved counter and designed for efficiency (one attendant).

There are 6 tables, three tables for 4 persons and three tables for 2 persons facing the window. The overall layout is conducive to easy traffic flow which now plagues the California Cars.

I was somewhat disturbed to see that the “airliner” overhead luggage racks are still employed. However, Mr. Hoyt of DoR explained that it is a FRA and NTSA requirement. Research has shown that the majority of injuries in railroad accidents result from “flying” luggage. The luggage has to be restrained to the parameters of 8g longitudinal and 4g in the other two axis. However, these cabinets are larger and will accommodate 14x9x19 pieces unlike the current Cal Car cabinets.

The TAC mtg was impaired by the preponderance of noise due to passing UP freight trains and was therefore abbreviated. The main discussion was about the changes to the bylaws to accommodate Mariposa County. Cindy Camara reported on the status of the San Joaquin stations, e.g. physical conditions and staffing, and proposed improvements to be made at them.

Reports

April results for the 3 California corridor trains

Reported by Gene Skoropowski, Managing Director, Capitol Corridor JPA

We received the April 2007 results for ridership and revenue. While California ridership remains strong overall, the Capitol Corridor is going through the roof. Once again, a new record has been set. We will have to re-adjust the scale on our monthly “How’s Business” reports, since ridership just keeps growing. Even with Amtrak’s aggressive goals for this year, following Union Pacific’s completion of capital work to/from San Jose, April was only about 1% below the Business Plan target, and if this trend continues, we will ‘cross-the-line’ in May.

Summary of April ridership and ticket revenue results: Capitol Corridor :
· 127,572 passengers +16.7% vs. FY06 – the highest monthly ridership in the history of the service!
· $1,517,991 +20.5% vs. FY06

Several factors need notes here. At the end of the month, there was a slight upsurge in riders on morning peak trains following the disastrous bridge fire at the MacArthur/I-80/ I-880/ I-580 interchange. However, a greater factor in the growth is more likely to be the improving on-time performance. Delivered service to the customers was 81.6% on time in April (vs. 73.0% in March), and the ridership growth clearly reflects a continuation of the past six months with 10%-or-better growth each month. The on-time goal is still 90%, and we are working with Union Pacific and Amtrak to achieve it.The revenue number is solid, and with a 48% recovery for the month, our year-to-date farebox recovery is keeping above 45% in a continuing move towards 50% farebox recovery.

The marketing focus of promoting ridership on trains that have available capacity also seems to be working, complimented by the incremental growth on heavily travelled trains.

Union Pacific’s rapid completion of the fire-destroyed trestle in Sacramento allowed us to retain virtually all of the riders to/from Placer County. Also UPRR maintenance forces took the opportunity to perform tie work and track maintenance on the tracks between Elvas and Roseville during the shutdown of these tracks after the trestle fire, resulting in almost no slow orders along the entire 170 miles of UPRR that we operate over, from San Jose to Auburn when the railroad was reopened for service.

All in all, the performance statistics for the first seven months of this fiscal year are very strong. Union Pacific is continuing its efforts to improve on time performance and reliability, and again, it shows in the ridership numbers. In this area, it is also important to note that the extent of delay on late trains, when a delay occurs, is now only a few minutes beyond the tolerance for ‘on-time’. To the customer, this means that delays are not catastrophic (30 minutes or more) but only marginal (5 minutes or so) beyond the limit of reporting a train as ‘on time’. So total number of delays are down, and the extent of the delays are down as well. This is a very positive trend.

Pacific Surfliner :
· 230,377 passengers -0.6% vs. FY06
· $3,747,407 ticket revenue +3.6% vs. FY06

San Joaquins :
· 70,241 passengers -4.6% vs. FY06
· $1,899,622 ticket revenue -10.5% vs. FY06