COMMENTS presented to THE LOSSAN BOARD â€“ JUNE 13, 2007
Chairman Brown, Board members, I was told a long time ago that in advocacy it is always better to be for something than against. Well, thatâ€™s not going to be an easy job today, although item 7, Passenger Rail Integration, is indeed a ray of hope.
Let me comment on item 5, the draft LOSSAN North Strategic Business Plan. Back in 2004 at your meeting in Santa Barbara I expressed dismay that we are paying for yet another study, to add to the growing pile since the 1950s. I said at that time that this latest effort would almost certainly come to the same conclusions and give us the same list of improvements as we had seen in 1985, 1988, 1992 and so on. Let me quote briefly here: â€œrecommended extended sidings at Carpinteria, Seacliff, Ventura, Oxnard, Leesdale, Camarillo, Moorpark, Strathearn, Santa Susana and Northridge. Long sidings are to be added at Capitan, Casmalia-Devon, etc. Line changes are recommended to reduce curvature at Dulah, Callender, etc.â€ This quote could have come from the IBI draft, could it not? Almost all these projects are mentioned therein. I have in fact quoted from the July, 1955 Southern Pacific report, which has since been echoed by Wilbur Smith, Hill and Associates, and Schiermeyer.
Adding insult to injury is the late addition of the Santa Barbara commuter service to the study. I have been unable to discover any meaningful difference between this report and the Wilbur Smith study completed in July 2005, so why the extra expense and delay? If it was to address the capacity issues then a similar case could be made for encompassing the Metrolink expansion plans as they affect the corridor. And to really make my year we now have a SCAG commissioned report on this same commuter service in course of compilation. What on earth does Caltrans and the other public agencies think they are doing?
Letâ€™s get back to the report, and the circumstances that we face today. We all know that in the immediate term, even if given a major injection of funds, we could neither add track capacity nor rolling stock in less than a four to five year time frame, given all the processes that have to be gone through. Does this â€œStrategic Planâ€ address that? Where is the discussion about integrating Metrolink and Amtrak to provide an interim solution? In terms of increasing mobility and improving service, one approach would be to add cars to existing trains, given the expense and long time frame to add capacity. Where is the analysis and discussion of that approach? What about an 8 car train with two locomotives? Would this be better value than more, shorter trains but with more money spent on signaling and sidings? Youâ€™d expect these alternatives to be raised in a strategic plan.
The report talks vaguely about improving journey times. What is the target we hope to achieve? Where are the quantifications of how each project will improve service? What in fact is in this plan that is not already included in the Amtrak 20-year plan, the California Passenger Rail Improvement Plan, or the Caltrans Surfliner Route Business Plan?
There is a section about capacity modeling that I donâ€™t have time to go into now, except to say that it is fundamentally flawed. Let me simply say that you model the capacity needs for a railroad based on the schedule you want to run, not using todayâ€™s mediocre and delay prone service as a benchmark.
So letâ€™s move on. It would have been nice to have a couple of sidings fitted with CTC instead of the money spent on this, but letâ€™s be positive, let me be for something.
What RailPAC is FOR is item 7, Passenger Rail Service Integration, another item not addressed in the strategic plan. When you have no money, or even if you have some money but you cannot invest it quickly enough to bear any fruit, you have to THINK. What resources do we have now? How can we best use them to achieve our goals of improved mobility?
To me the obvious answer is the integration of the three passenger rail services in the corridor. North of Los Angeles we have 6 Amtrak trains including the Starlight, spread over a 12-hour period. What if we could schedule 6 of the 10 Metrolink trains that traverse the southern end of the route to provide an overall hourly frequency? South of Los Angeles we should be able to do even better, especially if we have some local run-through all-stations trains operated jointly by Metrolink and Coaster. And as much as I hate to suggest it, we should even consider reducing the Amtrak frequency through the winter months to catch up on the backlog of maintenance, and reduce the miles operated on these trains until new stock is delivered. Thatâ€™s real world railroading that can make a difference with very little expense.
This prospect of integration, giving taxpayers better value for the money separately invested in these services, must not be marred by another three years delay and consultation. This time, letâ€™s have some action.