Monthly Archives

July 2007

Commentary

Editorial: What really happened at Williams Junction?

By Noel T. Braymer

I think everyone was shocked at news reports that an Amtrak crew left a diabetic man stranded in the middle of an Arizona forest near the Grand Canyon.

News reports like this said “PHOENIX–A 65-year-old St. Louis man is missing after Amtrak personnel, mistaking his diabetic shock for drunk and disorderly behavior, kicked him off a train in the middle of a national forest according to police in Williams, Arizona.” This would be terrible if this is what happened. We may never know exactly what happened. But the media as often happens today did a sensational, superficial and factually inaccurate hack job.

What we do know is Mr. Roosevelt Sims, 65 of St. Louis was riding the Southwest Chief on June 24th on his way to Los Angeles to visit some of his adult children. According to a report in the St. Louis Post Dispatch of June 29th, Mr. Sims was only diagnosed as having diabetes on June 22nd the day before he started his train trip. Mr. Sims’ doctor did not prescribe any medication, but advised him to lower his blood sugar by changes in his diet. For reasons we can’t be sure of Mr. Sims was acting oddly on the night of June 24th on the Southwest Chief. It really doesn’t matter if Mr. Sims was drunk or suffering from a medical condition. The train crew was in no position to deal with Mr. Sims.

Amtrak’s policy is for the train crew to contact the nearest legal authoriy, stop the train and wait for the authorities to come and deal with the problem at hand. This is what the crew of the Southwest Chief did on June 24th. If Mr. Sims was drunk, clearly this was an issue for the police. But if he had a medical condition the authorities were in the best position to get immediate medical help. The nearest town when this was happening was Williams, Arizona. Why didn’t the train stop in Williams? The train didn’t stop in Williams  because Williams is not on the BNSF Mainline. The police may consider Williams Junction in the middle of a forest, but it is only 5 miles from the town of Williams. The Williams Police have admitted they have picked up people before at Williams Junction for Amtrak.

It is true that diabetic shock is often mistaken for intoxication. The person’s breathe in diabetic shock even smells like alcohol. Diabetic shock is dangerous and can lead to coma and death. Diabetes is a condition where the body’s blood sugar levels are often higher than what is healthy. For most people diabetes comes about because of a diet that raises blood sugar levels. A diet high in carbohydrates, particularly sugar and starch (i.e. junk food) can overwhelm the body’s blood sugar levels. Insulin is used by the body to lower and control blood sugar. However for many diabetics, years of elevated blood sugar levels seems to overwhelm the bodies ability to control blood sugar. In addition to carbohydrates, smoking tobacco, the consumption of alcohol and lack of exercise also raise blood sugar levels and can contribute to the development of diabetes.

What is interesting about diabetic shock is that it is a form of hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar. Why is that? A person with severe diabetes is often prescribed insulin, which lowers blood sugar levels.When taking insulin it is important to eat something soon afterwards to prevent blood sugar levels going to low causing hypoglycemia. This is why diabetics often carry glucose pills in case injections of insulin cause their blood sugar levels to go too low. It seems unlikely that Mr. Sims who was not on insulin would develop hypoglycemia.

What is known is that Mr. Sims was at Williams Junction, as was the train when the police arrived.Somehow, and the police have failed to explain how or why Mr. Sims was able to run away from the police and run into the woods. While the police were busy giving statements to the press and blaming Amtrak for this incident, they seemed unable to find this 65 year old man. Mr. Sims was found alive 4 days latter only two miles miles from Williams Junction by a sheriff deputy. Whatever caused Mr. Sims’ odd behavior on June 24th, most likely cleared up by the time he was found. Whatever was the cause, it is clear from the facts as known that the train crew followed Amtrak policy and did nothing wrong. There is nothing to suggest that Amtrak or the train crews could have done anything different than what they did. 

Rail Photos

Amtrak San Joaquins Come to Vacaville…by bus

A PHOTO story by Russ Jackson
with generous assistance from Art Lloyd!
The Past, Present, and Future: The Solano County city of Vacaville was served at one time in its history by two branch rail lines. Since they were abandoned trains roar past the city on what is now the Union Pacific/Capitol Corridor main line without stopping.

The Sacramento Northern, an electric interurban, entered the city on a line from Fairfield on the west. SN passenger service was discontinued around 1932, but freight service continued into the early 1950s. A portion of its right of way is now a paved bike path. Southern Pacific’s Esparto branch went from a junction with the main line at Elmira, through the city and its station on Depot Street, north to its namesake town. SP passenger service ended from Vacaville in the mid-50s, with the line abandoned and torn up in the early 80s. Both lines carried material from quarries, and tons of almonds, peaches, and onions.

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The Past. The Railway and Locomotive Historical Society, Pacific Coast Chapter, ran this steam excursion train up the Esparto branch through Vacaville on August 20, 1949, behind 2-6-0 locomotive 1660. Art Lloyd was the Society’s excursion director then, as well as beginning his career with the Western Pacific. This photo is from Art’s extensive collection!

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The Present. Beginning with the May, 2007, timetable, Vacaville is now a stop for San Joaquin train feeder buses. Amtrak California Thruway bus 3804 has stopped at the Davis Street Park & Ride on the north side of Interstate 80 in Vacaville, and will connect in Sacramento with southbound train 704. A morning bus connects from northbound San Joaquin train 701. The area behind the trees, just east of this location, was where the Sacramento Northern station and yard was located.

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On July 14, 2007, on time Amtrak train 6, the California Zephyr, is about to roar through the Elmira Road crossing of the UP/Capitol Corridor main line, which sees 40 to 50 freight and passenger trains speed by on the double track main daily. The SP branch line to Vacaville and Esparto originated from here. Elmira Road is now a six lane major city street that covers the old right of way. Many residents expected a station for the Capitols would be built here, but officials determined it would be too close to the planned station in Dixon.

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The Future. Eventually a passenger station for Capitol Corridor trains to serve this area will be built in the field just beyond the Peabody Road crossing above, which is the boundary between Vacaville and Fairfield, and is a main route to Travis AFB. This crossing will be grade separated and a platform will be constructed between the two tracks requiring realignment of the main line. Funding is almost complete. This photo was taken from the back door of the cab car on Capitol 729 on June 7, 2003, before access to these windows was blocked for security reasons.

Too bad the Esparto branch line was torn up. It could be used today for excursion trains to its namesake town, which is only a few miles from the Cache Creek Casino. (Photos by Russ Jackson and Art Lloyd)

Reports

CCJPB July meeting report

CAPITOL CORRIDOR JOINT POWERS BOARD
July 18, 2007 Meeting

Suisun City Hall

Report and photo by Russ Jackson
NOTE: Before the meeting started RailPAC learned some interesting news.

First, and this was reported to us the night before the meeting by Gene Skoropowski, two newly rebuilt Superliner Coach cars that the State of California is leasing from Amtrak arrived in the Oakland yard behind Amtrak train #5 on July 17. These two cars have been fully rehab’d, and will go into service in the Oakland car pool this week. They will go into separate consists in rotation, allowing some trains to have longer consists. Caltrans Rail program Chief Bill Bronte has spurred this deal, and he is working to get four more cars done the same way to add more capacity to the Capitols and San Joaquins. These cars, which are painted in California car colors, are leased for use until the new car order funded by Proposition 1B is delivered in about five years.

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On time Capitol train 727 roars past Elmira crossing in Vacaville on July 14.

The other news is the San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee Chairman, Bakersfield Mayor Harvey Hall, has written a strong letter to the Governor asking him to veto the line item passed by the legislature which diverts $15.5 million of the remaining Proposition 116 money to the California High Speed Rail Authority. These funds were designated for a new Stockton station which is still in the planning stages, and for track work in the Port Chicago area on the BNSF route of the San Joaquin trains.

The CCJPB meeting began on a sad note, with Chairman Forrest Williams, who represents Santa Clara County, giving a tribute to the late Capitol Corridor Riders “Lord Mayor,” Robert Conheim, who passed away on Sunday. (A tribute, with a photo of Mr. Conheim when he spoke to the RailPAC meeting in January, 2006, has also been placed on railpac.org.) RailPAC Associate Director Mike Barnbaum added his tribute to his friend. A memorial service will be held in Auburn on August 11.

1. Several routine “consent” items were passed, with a quorum present, but just barely. A report of plans for a permanent Wi-Fi installation on the trains was heard. A successful experiment was concluded in March. Among the considerations is whether it is to be a free system or a pay system. Member Christopher Cabaldon, representing Yolo County, urged this project proceed at full speed to bring this service to the train riders on a permanent basis.

2. Mr. Skoropowski reviewed the Governor’s “May Revise” budget. “First the good news, $187 million of Proposition 1B funds were programmed for intercity rail improvements, including the $150 million for new rolling stock. It also included an increase of $6.5 million for intercity rail annual operating funds to support the Amtrak contracts for the 3 corridor service plans. Now the bad news, there are several anti-transit components in the draft Governor’s Budget. More than $1.3 billion form the PTA is proposed to be diverted to resolve other shortfalls.” As of the date of this meeting there still was no new state budget, but the legislature had rejected $800 million of the diverted funds.

Mr. Skoropowski reported the U.S. Senate is expected to take up S 294 (Lautenberg/Lott), the “Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2007,” (Amtrak reauthorization) in September. This is of particular interest to California as the bill contains a “federal match” of 80% to state money spent for capital projects. Operating funds are separated from capital funding. The CCJPA supports this bill.

3. Two surveys of Capitol Corridor on board riders are done annually. The latest report shows 21.4% of riders drove alone to a train station. This is a meaningful statistic, as in most areas this figure is much higher; 25.6% were dropped off; 7.4% took an Amtrak Thruway bus; 17% were local transit transfers, 15.3% walked, 2.9% used carpool, 6.9% rode a bicycle, and 2.4% took a taxi with the other 1.0% “other” (including another Amtrak train). This means over half of the riders used alternate transportation to get to the trains.

4. The ridership and revenue reports were presented, and are posted on railpac.org. Mr. Skoropowski reviewed them, pointing out the 9.1% increase in the 12-month period shows 1,384,364 passengers. Revenue continues to grow, up 20.6% over FY 2005-06, and the Revenue-to-Cost Ratio is “a bit over 45%, however we are just about to enter our period of highest monthly revenue” so, 50% is achievable this year.

5. On Time Performance is not what is most desirable. Year to date OTP is only about 71%, but has shown a big improvement in recent months. Mr. Skoropowski reported that 50% of the late trains have been late 10 minutes or less, while the big delays are usually caused by fatal accidents (unfortunately there were two this month.) The number of mechanical delays has “significantly decreased, and full train consists are generally being provided.”

6. Installation of “Quik Trak Ticket Vending Machines” Phase 1 will be completed this month. Installation of a second machine will be completed at some stations by late September. One of the machines has been installed outside Caltrans Director Will Kempton’s office, so officials can buy their tickets easily.

The next CCJPB meeting will be held September 19, also at Suisun City Hall at 10:00.

Reports

RailPAC President/LA Councilmember press conference re Amtrak

HELP KEEP AMTRAK GOING
Los Angeles City Council Member Tom LaBonge and Paul Dyson, president of the Rail Passenger Assn. of California, held a joint press conference at LA Union Station on July 13.

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Councilmember LaBonge received unanimous council support on July 13 for a City resolution supporting U.S. Senate bill S 294 that would fund Amtrak through 2012. Mr. Dyson pointed out that “Amtrak, the nation’s passenger rail line, operates the popular Pacific Surfliner trains from San Diego to San Luis Obispo that carries nearly a quarter million passengers a month.” Mr. LaBonge added, “In our heavily congested region when more people than ever seek alternatives to traveling our crowded freeways, we cannot lose Amtrak. S. 294’s price tag is $1.2 billion for six years. It has bi-partisan support in Congress.”

Reports

June CA Corridor ridership/revenue reports

provided by Eugene K. Skoropowski, Managing Director, Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority
We have received the ridership and revenue results for June 2007 from Amtrak, and, once again, the Capitol Corridor is setting records.

After 9 months in our fiscal year, we continue to AVERAGE a +13% growth rate in riders and more than +21% growth in revenue. Virtually the only thing inhibiting greater growth, particularly in peak weekday travel periods, is availability of more coaches to add to existing trains.

Caltrans is on the ball here, and the first two rebuilt/leased-to-Caltrans-from-Amtrak Superliner coaches will arrive in Oakland on Tuesday July 17. These cars were formerly out-of-service Amtrak Superliners that now have been repaired and modified by Amtrak at Caltrans expense, and leased to Caltrans for 6 years. The interior of the cars has been redone, and the cars are painted in California colors. There may be several more coming to Northern California in the coming months, pending Amtrak-Caltrans agreement. While these added cars will not be arriving in the numbers we will need, every additional coach car helps us accommodate more passengers and satisfy some of the increasing demand for our service.

Since these Amtrak Superliner cars do not have automatic doors, there will likely be only one such car assigned per train, so that boarding/detraining will be available on cars immediately adjacent to the “Super-Caltransliner” car, similarly to how a California Diner works in a train consist. Kudos to Caltrans Division of Rail staff for coming up with this innovative interim measure for added seats until an additional new fleet of California Cars can be ordered and delivered. These Amtrak Superliner cars will really help.

Capitol Corridor:

● 124,813 passengers +13.1% vs. FY06 and a record for the month!
● $1,581,335 ticket revenue +17.4% vs. FY06

June 2006 had just over 110,000 riders, so the growth in June to 2007 to nearly 125,000 riders is consistent with the prior 8 months. Total riders for the past 12 months is now 1,398,829, meaning that we should be well above 1.4 million passengers by the end of the fiscal year. With only modest growth in the coming year, we should exceed 1.5 million by September 30, 2008.

Revenue is now +21.3% above last year, with revenue-to-cost ratio holding at just above 45%. We expect that the summer revenue will push this ratio to 50% by close of the fiscal year at the end of September. On time performance improved in June to almost 81%, again, not where we need to be, but steady improvement. Union Pacific performance is now running in the high eighties (88% approximately), and mechanical failures have been at a minimum. All partners (CCJPA, Amtrak, UPRR and Caltrans) re striving to deliver a quality, reliable service on the Capitol Corridor, and the customers are responding. We look forward to a state budget package that will provide the needed capital for Caltrans Rail to initiate the procurement of additional California Cars for all three of our state-supported Amtrak-operated passenger services. We are also hopeful that some capital funds will trickle down to allow UPRR to construct some of the track improvements already designed, and these improvements will further help on-time reliability.

Pacific Surfliner:

● 232,956 passengers +0.2% vs. FY06
● $4,254,067 ticket revenue +5.6% vs. FY06

San Joaquins:

● 71,988 passengers -2.4% vs. FY06
● $2,332,025 ticket revenue -2.0% vs. FY06

Commentary, Issues

How is the California Zephyr doing since its schedule was lengthened?

Issues Commentary by Russ Jackson, RailPAC

We all know that Amtrak trains 5 and 6, the California Zephyr, have been late regularly. From August, 2006 to June, 2007, the combined on time performance of both trains at their endpoints, Chicago and Emeryville, was 0.0%. On June 21, 2007, after arduous negotiations with the Union Pacific the schedule was lengthened. Before that date the scheduled arrival time for train 5 in Emeryville was 4:49 PM, including a generous pad of almost an extra hour between Martinez and the endpoint 27 miles away. The scheduled arrival time for 6 in Chicago was 3:30 PM, including a generous hour of pad time for the 28 miles from Naperville.

The new schedule has train 5 arriving in Emeryville at 7:50 PM, with very little extra pad from Martinez, and train 6 is scheduled to arrive in Chicago at 4:25 PM, but with almost 90 minutes of extra pad from Naperville. Since the 21st of June trains 5 and 6 endpoint OTP has “improved” and as of July 4 it was 0.5% for the year to date. Train 5 arrived in Emeryville only 40 minutes late on July 3, 24 minutes late on June 23, and 42 minutes EARLY on July 2. Train 6 arrived in Chicago only 10 minutes late on June 25. ALL OTHER endpoint arrival times have been in excess of an hour late and most in triple digit minutes.

The need for the schedule lengthening was the 129 miles between milepost Alazon and Battle Mountain, Nevada, on what is nominally a double track railroad. That stretch encompasses the historic Central Pacific line and the parallel Western Pacific line that are both now owned by the UP. The official reason is “temporary speed restrictions” (slow orders). The UP has plans to repair the tracks in this area over the next two years, so there was little for Amtrak to do. It chose to lengthen the schedule of the Zephyr running through that area, with # 5 arriving in Sacramento at 5:50 PM instead of 2:15, and train 6 arriving in Salt Lake City at 4:15 AM instead of 3:15 AM. It is this segment that is of interest here, so how has it been doing since June 28 (we’ll give them a few days leeway)?

Train 5 Scheduled at Sacramento at 5:50 PM.
Train 6 Scheduled at Salt Lake City at 4:15 AM
Time actually Arrived

6/28 #5 6:51 #6 3:40 (early)
6/29 #5 8:51 #6 4:55
6/30 #5 5:12 (early!) #6 5:00
7/1 #5 1:54 AM #6 3:22 (early)
7/2 #5 6:55 #6 3:35 (early)
7/3 #5 6:01 #6 12:09 PM
7/4 #5 3:30 AM #6 8:02
7/5 #5 10:27 #6 6:40

So, what has happened? The planning for the segment between Salt Lake City and Sacramento appears to be correct and achievable. However, actual operations are proving to be something else again. Without detailing all the incidents it is apparent that it can be done, but the same old factors of freight interference, on board incidents, locomotive failures, and other variables enroute, some UP’s fault and some Amtrak’s fault, and in many cases controllable by neither of them, continue to cause major delays. The maintenance base at Emeryville has been able to turn the 5/6 trainset in an emergency in a commendable four hours, but only the basics are accomplished then.

The official Endpoint OTP since October 1, 2006 for the other long distance trains toJuly 4, 2007, showed #1/2, the Sunset Limited 16.5%; #3/4 the Southwest Chief 63.7%; 7/8 the Empire Builder 74.3%; and 11/14 the Coast Starlight 21.7%. Each of those is a bit less than the previous month, and the hot summer has just begun. Amtrak has said it will restore the shorter running time on the California Zephyr when the UP repairs to the line are finished. We can only hope.