Monthly Archives

October 2007

Commentary

LOOK! IT’S THE SUNSET LIMITED!!!

How’s the timekeeping on Amtrak trains 1 and 2?
A Report and commentary by Russ Jackson sunset-limited-at-maricopa.jpg
Each month we have been charting on time performances of the Amtrak long distance trains that enter/leave California. This month its the Sunset Limited’s turn.

I know, it’s a losing fight, but several items have come to light in October. 1) TRAINS magazine’s Fred Frailey wrote an excellent piece for the November issue that was distributed in October. 2) Two major rumors were circulating about major changes to trains 1 and 2 routes, as well as its schedule.

Amtrak Marketing’s Tom Sponsler tipped this writer to be sure to read Frailey’s piece before writing this story, and I’m glad he did. Fred’s story is a recent history of the Union Pacific’s capacity problems on the route, and the timetable for their spending $2 billion dollars constructing full double track and other improvements between Los Angeles and El Paso, 818 miles, which will greatly improve the movement of freight to/from the point where the route diverges into three (Tucumcari line, Sunset line, T & P line). The El Paso yard is a major choke point as trains must be refueled and inspected there. East of Palm Springs station the line is still single track to Tucson.

Amtrak’s Sunset Limited is a small part of the traffic on this line (three eastbound and three westbound movements) each week, and must weave through not only heavy traffic but past major construction sites. This writer has observed this “Project Sunrise” both from the trains and from the parallel Interstate 10. It’s a huge job, and will not be finished until 2010. When completed, UP will have a first class double tracked railroad with two new yards along this busy route. Mr. Frailey made no mention of Amtrak in his article, only locating the stations on the map.

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Train 2 arrives at the Maricopa (Phoenix) station in the early morning hours of November 1, 2001. Today’s schedule calls for it to arrive at 10:57 PM. (Photo by Richard Strandberg)

Rumor (1) that has circulated since August was Amtrak’s plan under consideration to extend the Crescent from New Orleans to San Antonio, with the Texas Eagle extended from SAS to Los Angeles, eliminating the Sunset name altogether. This plan received much coverage and accusations that Amtrak was out to destroy the national system, but it has now been denied and been replaced by Rumor (2) that the Crescent would be rerouted through Birmingham and Mobile into New Orleans restoring service to the Gulf Coast rather than extend the Sunset Limited to Jacksonville, which Amtrak is adamant it will not do without local dollars. This so-called “compromise” has now been discounted and denied at the highest levels, too. So, the Sunset lumbers along on its tri-weekly schedule over its traditional route to NOL, and the Crescent remains on its current route through Mississippi for the time being. But, once the UP’s double track work is completed, Amtrak can take advantage of the benefits and new ideas will crop up. RailPAC has gone on record for many years favoring DAILY service for the Sunset, and resuming its route into Jacksonville to connect with the eastern trains there. So, two proposals were thrown into the wind and both were shot down. For now. This writer does not believe Amtrak is out to “destroy” the national system, just not ready to do the right thing. Passengers continue to ride the Sunset, as sleeper class ridership through July 07 was up 68% and revenue was up 64%.

The last fiscal year ended with the train on time at its end points only 13.8% of the time. Since the new FY began on October 1, 2007, that fell to 7.7% through the first 16 days of the month. As for the current timekeeping, it is interesting to see that there is already improvement between Tucson and El Paso, where most of the double tracking is completed. But, examining the segments for:

Train 1 Between October 2 and 20 the train arrived into El Paso from San Antonio 179 minutes late once (100 minutes into Tucson) the rest were an hour or less most trips. By the time the train arrived at Tucson on each trip it was only double digit minutes late, including on October 18 when it was “on time.” From Tucson its arrival in Los Angeles fell to triple digit minutes late each trip but two, the arrivals on the 5th and 7th which were so close they could be called OT. That’s where the major delays are now.

Train 2 In the same time period, the train arrived in Tucson from Los Angeles triple digit minutes late six times, “only” 22 minutes late once (on the 22nd), and ON TIME on October 11. While data to El Paso is incomplete, that 22 minutes late on the 22nd became 3 minutes late at El Paso, and OT was maintained on the 11th. It just shows that when Amtrak is in its schedule “window” the UP will run it on time. No matter that it’s the UP delays that mostly cause the trains to be late.

Next month we will update all the long CA distance trains including a look at how the California Zephyr is doing on its new shortened schedule. However, the past month has shown that unless there is a major shutdown, such as occurred for the Starlight in Washington state, the trains are back to running close to on time daily. That’s the way it should be. Destroy the long distance trains? No, that does NOT appear to be Amtrak’s intent. To say otherwise is not correct. But, advocates must keep watch as we have been doing for so long. Too long. NOTE: See the editorial on preservation of the Sunset below.
Sources: TRAINS, Amtrakdelays.com

Issues

RailPAC promotes weekend Metrolink connections

Correspondence between RailPAC President Paul Dyson and SCRRA. The original message is at the bottom of this file.

Date: Mon, 8 Oct 2007 11:19:59 -0700 (PDT)
From: Paul Dyson
Subject: RE: Weekend Connections
To: Bob Berger, SCRRA Manager, Passenger Services
CC: Art Brown

Bob,

Thank you for your very prompt reply. Having been through British Railways management training program and been an operations manager on a busy commuter division out of London I do understand how railroads work. I agree it is not possible to make “everything connect to everything”. It should however be possible for three trains to connect in an otherwise empty station, and I can’t help but comment that someone dropped the ball in this instance.

If you are thinking of fixing this with a schedule change I’d like to strongly recommend that you consider joining up the AV and OC lines on weekends as run-through trains. I have to believe there is potential for good revenue generating discretionary travel between say Santa Clarita and the eastern San Fernando Valley stations and the Orange County attractions. This potential is greatly enhanced with a run through service compared to a connection. This would also be a good test of run through operation in general. Our group has always felt that there is too much emphasis on travel to and from Los Angeles at the expense of the convenience of the cross town traveller. We think Metrolink will be moresuccessful if you serve both markets, using run-through trains.

We’re trying to lure people from the convenience of their automobiles. This will make better use of the limited funds available. Thank you for your consideration of these issues.

PD

Bob Berger wrote:

Dear Mr. Dyson –

We have previously received your request by way of Board Members Najarian and Micheline back in August of this year to consider the 0840 a.m. arrival (Train 260) connecting with Amtrak Train 566. At that time staff committed to evaluating that request for the next schedule change. At the same time we will also evaluate your comments below. The TVM did not show the connection because it is less than 10″. I’m sure this issue can be resolved on the next schedule change.

While it appears obvious that any two trains should be able to connect with each other, when all the trains operated are considered it is not possible to make “everything connect to everything.” Staff works to make the best connection decisions based on passenger demand, equipment turns, crew turns, and infrastructure constraints. Thank you for being Metrolink’s “eyes and ears” and bringing this issue to our attention so that we may better serve our passengers.

Sincerely,
Bob Berger
Manager Passenger Services

Original Message
From: Paul Dyson [mailto:pauljdyson@yahoo.com] Sent: Sunday, October 07, 2007 6:57 PM
To: Wylie, Steve; Berger, Bob
Cc: Art Brown
Subject: Weekend Connections

Gents:

I took myself to Burbank downtown station Saturday to go to the Buena Park opening. Noting that there is an8.45am departure on the Orange County line and an 8.40am arrival from Antelope Valley I figured either that the rolling stock runs through or that there is a connection.

Imagine my surprise when I tried to buy a ticket andfound that I was advised not to complete the purchase bcause “there is no train for more than three hours” and so my ticket would no longer be valid.

I called customer service from the pay phone and the helpful young man confirmed the train times but that this is not a guaranteed connection.

I’m at a loss to understand how, with only 60 trains running on a Saturday, and with such attractions as Knott’s Berry Farm and Disneyland as well as the beaches, you cannot make a run through train to Orange County or at least make sure that the AV line trains connect with both the San Bernardino and the OC trains. Please help me to understand this situation.

Paul Dyson
President, Rail Passenger Association of
California
Member, City of Burbank Transportation Commission

Rail Photos

Skunk Train trip PHOTO report

October 16, 2007
Report and PHOTOS by Russ Jackson

The California & Western Railroad has been carrying passengers for 100 years! While passengers today are mostly tourists, some travel still occurs to the isolated locations enroute. Our trip on a rainy Tuesday was from Ft. Bragg to Northspur.
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Currently service from Willits is suspended while the train station in that city is renovated, but it will resume for Christmas weekend travel. Ft. Bragg service will end November 25, and will resume on March 14, 2008.

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Locomotive 65, a 1955 750hp diesel GP-9 will haul Train 1 this date. Steam locomotive power is used on weekends. Note the disabled passenger loading vehicle is available.

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The GP-9 hooks up to the hundred year old passenger car. Two coaches, the open air car, and the concession car are in today’s consist.

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The crowd of passengers waiting in the light rain to board at Ft. Bragg station. Conductor Pam told this writer that they expected 40, but there were 87 at departure time, not bad for a rainy Tuesday in the middle of October!

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It’s not too rainy to be on the open car to watch the greenery of the coastal mountains. Several camps and cabins are located along the 21.5 mile trip to Northspur. Mail service on the trains ended in 2003.

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The writer/photographer is at Northspur, the mid-point on the four hour trip. (Photo by Susan Jackson)

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Engineer Jim and Conductor Pam have switched the locomotive onto the wye which will place it back on the end of the string of cars for the return to Ft. Bragg.

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Tangent track in the fog on the return trip through the magnificent redwoods, passing one tree that is 1,000 years old. A grand trip, highly recommended!

Commentary, Reports

LOSSAN TAC Meeting Report and Commentary

October 16, 2007, Los Angeles
Report and Commentary by Paul Dyson

RailPAC President
NOTE: An important letter from Mr. Dyson to Caltrans Division of Rail Chief Bill Bronte is included in this report.
The technical Advisory Committee for LOSSAN met at Los Angeles on Tuesday 16th October. This was the first full meeting of the TAC since June, which is a statement in itself.

Notable absentees: anyone from Los Angeles County, unless you count Bob Huddy representing SCAG.

In the discussion of recent corridor trends I commented that the 1.9% change in ridership over the year represented a failure, given the growth of the economy and the overall demand in the region. Bob Huddy defended the figure saying there are capacity issues. I have to disagree, since load factors overall are at about 40%. Amtrak needs to market the off peak services more effectively and work with Metrolink for closer connections.

Jack Wilson from Amtrak gave us the good news that the North end of the corridor OTP had improved to 82% in September, thanks largely to the reopening of the sidings at Surf and Concepcion.

Abbe McClenahan of OCTA reported on their efforts to further integrate Metrolink and Surfliner services. They have hired Wilbur Smith to look at overall service patterns, connections, bus feeders etc. Yet another study! She also announced that 4 Surfliner trains, 565, 566, 567, and 568 will have stops at Laguna Niguel and Orange starting at the end of the month as part of the rail to rail program. For the princely payment of $3 per rider from Metrolink to Amtrak the ridership of these trains will be inflated, while the journey time for the long distance passengers will increase. The Surfliner will be even less like an inter-city train. I asked if this change meant that the schedules would be lengthened. Jack Wilson said that most of the time would come out of recovery time, although one schedule would be increased by almost 10 minutes. If that’s so we’ll soon have a 3-hour timing between Los Angeles and San Diego. We’ve come a long way in the last twenty years!

It’s obvious to this writer that there is some political machination behind this. It’s surely not just a coincidence that the Mayor of Orange is also the Chairperson of OCTA? And let’s not forget that OCTA is taking the lead in improving Metrolink service to it’s full potential. Since Mayor Cavecche took over the number one seat at OCTA she has made a few anti-rail noises so perhaps this is a move to placate her. No doubt the good people of Orange County are so anxious to ride the train that they cannot wait for the new Metrolink Rolling Stock or the completion of double track, which will allow the start up of the new half hourly service so they have hijacked the Surfliners. We must have instant gratification, even at someone else’s expense.

Here are some thoughts. The corridor south of L.A. is currently “enjoying” 70% OTP. By taking recovery time out of the schedules of these 4 trains the service becomes even more fragile and less able to make up for any delays. These trains may pick up say 60 riders in OC and toss $180 into the Surfliner coffers. It will only take the loss of about 6 long distance riders, fed up with slow schedules and poor punctuality, to negate that gain.

If we are so concerned about poor ridership on these four trains let’s have some selective pricing to encourage more long distance passengers, and let’s improve connections at LAUS with the Antelope Valley and Ventura County Metrolink services, which currently are almost non-existent.

To put the icing on the cake, I reminded the TAC that I had previously requested a review of the weekend schedules north of LAUS. Currently the trains have very poor timings because of the priority given to Metrolink trains and the lack of sidings for better meets. There are no Metrolink trains on the Ventura County line on weekends, so some of the Surfliner schedules could be improved by as much as 30 minutes. Amtrak’s response: “We are running out of train numbers for weekend schedules”.

We all acknowledge the limitations of an old-fashioned, single-track railroad. We know that there is a lack of funds for investment, in spite of the voters’ wishes as express through prop. 1b. That means that Amtrak and Metrolink have an even greater responsibility to squeeze every last bit of value out of the resources that we have. This includes running the most competitive schedules whenever possible, and working closely together to provide connecting services between the various routes. The railroad is not therefore the convenience of the operators. The current situation is simply not good enough given the level of taxpayer support.

The following letter has been sent by Mr. Dyson to Bill Bronte
Bill, Two disturbing items came out of yesterday’s LOSSAN TAC meeting.

1. I had previously requested that Amtrak review the schedules north of L.A. and institute a weekend schedule. Currently the trains have long waits built in to meet Metrolink trains THAT DON’T RUN ON WEEKENDS. Jack Wilson’s answer: We’re running out of train numbers!

All of my experience tells me that passengers want to arrive at their destination as quickly as possible. There is no excuse for taking an additional 30 minutes from say Ventura to Glendale simply because it’s too
much trouble to change the schedule on weekends. This is simply not good enough and drives away repeat customers.

On the subject of schedules, were you aware that the Coast Starlight is timed 100 minutes LAUS to Oxnard. Metrolink 515 with 9 intermediate stops, (the Stalight has 2) makes the run in 89 minutes?

2. Four trains (565,566,567,568) will have stops added in Orange County to pick up $3 per ride Metrolink passengers. There will be a combination of
extended schedules and reduced recovery time.

Points: With OTP at 70% removal of recovery time will result in knock on delays, especially with the two morning trains. Extended journey times and additional stops will deter long distance passengers who pay the fares that
justify the service. We’ll soon be at a 3 hour schedule San Diego to Los Angeles with these stops. This is clearly a political move since the chair of
OCTA is Mayor of Orange, one of the additional stops. There are better ways to improve ridership and revenue.

These decisions are symptomatic of the sad state of affairs with LOSSAN. We have a supposed inter-city service which plays second fiddle to commuter and freight, has no advocate or dynamic manager like the Capitol Corridor, grew only 1.9% last year, but yet manages to attract taxpayer funded studies at regular intervals. Just because it is the second busiest rail
corridor in the country, that is no excuse for complacency. The service is at best mediochre, both from the point of view of transit times and
punctuality.

We need a shake up here. Instead of studies we need management. We need someone to get after Amtrak about the equipment failures that are the real cause of so many of the delays. And we need to make sure that the schedules are as competitive as they can be, notwithstanding the constraints of equipment and infrastructure.

Best regards,
Paul Dyson
President, Rail Passenger Association of California
Member, City of Burbank Transportation Commission

Commentary, Issues

Why we need to protect the Sunset route

Commentary by Paul Dyson, RailPAC President
Those of you who are NARP members will have received a letter from Matt Melzer, former RailPAC director and now Communications Associate at NARP HQ. Matt points out the ongoing threat to the Sunset Limited and calls for action by NARP members to draw attention to the danger to this service.

I believe we should support NARP’s campaign, even though as presently operated the Sunset Limited represents most of the bad aspects of long distance train service. For years RailPAC and like-minded groups have pointed out that the bare minimum frequency for any long distance service to be effective is daily. We have pointed out, so far in vain, the high fixed costs such as stations that need more volume to pay the bills. We’ve also pointed out how many people are turned off by the inconvenience of three day a week service. Given the horrible on time performance of the train it’s a miracle to me that so many people continue to patronize the service, as unreliable as it is. It is real evidence of the underlying demand for long distance rail passenger service, and what could be accomplished with a good product.

From the regional point of view of rail advocates in California and Arizona, we need to protect the Sunset’s route for passenger service. It’s vital for the Southern California region that we implement passenger service to the Coachella Valley as soon as resources permit. Beyond that we’d like to see passenger trains to Calexico and to Phoenix via the restored direct line from Wellton. If we don’t maintain our present toehold on the Union Pacific Sunset route it will become vastly more expensive and difficult to implement these much needed new services.

Our RailPAC director, Bob Manning from Palm Springs is working hard to keep his local political and business leaders aware of the situation and deserves support from you. Contact Bob, myself, or Matt Melzer at NARP to see how you can help, and in any event write to your congressman and senators to tell them to support the Sunset Limited.

Paul Dyson (pauljdyson@yahoo.com)
NOTE: A report of Sunset Limited timekeeping will be posted on this site the week of 10/22.

Reports

San Joaquin Meeting Report and News

SAN JOAQUIN VALLEY RAIL COMMITTEE
Meeting Report, October 11, 2007

Bakersfield, California
Reported by Russ Jackson
RailPAC was well represented at the quarterly meeting of the San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee, led by Director Bruce Jenkins, and Associate Directors George Gaekle, Mike Barnbaum, and this writer. What made the meeting important was some news that we heard for the first time.
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San Joaquin lapel pin distributed at the meeting.

Bakersfield Mayor, and SJVRC Chairman, Harvey Hall opened the meeting by expressing his pleasure that train 702 arrived in his city 20 minutes EARLY carrying many of the meeting participants including the RailPAC contingent. It was indeed a fine trip, showing that Amtrak and the railroads can run this train and its sister trains ON TIME or better. Meets with freight trains were perfectly timed; two passed 702 while we were in stations, Merced and Fresno. Meets with other Amtrak trains were perfectly timed, including one south of Hanford where 702 was put on a passing track for a rolling meet with the northbound 713! Our return on train 717 was marred only by meeting train 704 south of Merced, and 717 having to back out of the siding which cost ten minutes. Oh, and the food and drink on board was very good, and the service spirited.

october-2007-002.jpg
San Joaquin train 702 stopped at the Lodi station. Three passengers boarded here. For other stations, see the photo report right after this report here on railpac.org.

This On Time Performance for 702 has been typical lately. The other San Joaquins are “doing better,” but are still not perfect despite both the BNSF and the UP running its segments at 90% or better according to their representatives. Amtrak-related delays for mechanical reasons, etc., account for the rest of the problems. The BNSF’s D. J. Mitchell and Rick Depler attend every SJVRC meeting. Mr. Depler reported there are no “maintenance of way blitz” projects planned for early next year that would disrupt passenger service.

A spirited discussion of connectivity for the San Joaquins to Amtrak’s long distance trains, particularly the California Zephyr and the Sunset Limited, was sparked by Stanislaus County representative George Gaekle, who again expressed his dissatisfaction with the current schedule that does not permit connection to either train from the Valley. Under the current schedule a bus connection from train 711 to train 6 is at Reno! “We know you can do it,” Mr. Gaekle said. He asked for figures be provided to the Committee showing how many transfers are requested.

The good news (almost) came from Caltrans Thruway bus supervisor, Rick Peterson. He stated that starting with the October 29 timetable change train 6 will arrive in Sacramento 55 minutes earlier but still not early enough for the 711 connection (an unreliable 14 minutes), so it will remain in Reno. This improved schedule was made possible by the early elimination of some Union Pacific slow orders in Nevada. The UP’s Tom Mulligan reported there is great progress in the Nevada work, with Sparks to Winnemuca completed, the next phase from there to Elko is under way, and “if weather permits” this winter work will continue to Salt Lake City and completion in two instead of the anticipated three years.

The westbound train 5 schedule will also be shortened by 25 minutes into Sacramento starting October 29, so the connection to train 718 will continue. Trains 5 and 6 have been operating close to scheduled time almost daily in the past month or so. Further schedule changes will take place as soon as the UP completes track work, so the connection to 711 will be restored as soon as possible. Amtrak is working to have the Sunset Limited departure time from Los Angeles moved ahead to 3:30 if Metrolink will agree, which would restore the connection with the San Joaquins..

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The lineup of Thruway buses is at Bakersfield station in January, 2006.
However, the fate of some Thruway connecting buses could be in jeopardy. State law requires these routes to “break even after two years.” Mr. Peterson told this writer that while most Bakersfield to Los Angeles buses earn 300% of costs, other routes are not doing so well. “Bus operations costs have increased 40% lately due to fuel and some labor costs,” rising faster than ridership. While no routes will be canceled October 29, evaluations in process could produce changes next Spring. Routes such as San Francisco to Stockton, San Jose to Stockton, Merced to Monterey, and Bakersfield to Santa Barbara among others are showing low results and could be a problem to retain.

Another spirited discussion involving the freight railroads and Tehachapi pass for passenger trains ensued, following on reports the BNSF and this line segment owner UPRR are working on double tracking much of the remaining single track segments on this route. The question, again from Mr. Gaekle, was whether there was any involvement for passenger trains in this project. Tom Mulligan, the UP’s “Director of Passenger Operations” was present, taking some kidding when he admitted his railroad “does not operate any passenger trains of its own, only those under contract from Amtrak.” When pressed by Mr. Gaekle, Fresno representative Larry Miller and others, Mr. Mulligan and the BNSF’s Mitchell agreed that if Amtrak requests to have service on this line “the process will begin.” (seeing the UP and the BNSF side-by-side at this meeting was refreshing) Extension of the San Joaquins would have to be initiated by Caltrans and it must go through Amtrak. Retired Supervisor Illa Collin representing Sacramento County asked for a “ballpark figure” of costs for a project like this, but neither railroad could give one. The “news” from this discussion was there was no “flat no” to having passenger trains there, which has been the response in the past. Mr. Mitchell did say, however, that if it was train 718 extended to Los Angeles overnight as the Committee proposes, the 5 hour running time from Bakersfield (compared to 2 hours by bus) was not something he would ride. When Tulare County representative Ty Holscher asked about running service on the UP south of Fresno, Mr. Mulligan replied in the same vein, “go through Amtrak and the process begins.” Again, no total rejection.

Amtrak’s Jonathan Hutchison reported on the exciting prospects for Amtrak’s budget for the coming year, with both houses of Congress passing significant amounts, and each version containing state capital- matching funds. The latter amount ($100 million), while relatively small, is considered “seed money” for future allocations. The President has threatened to veto the DOT authorization bill containing Amtrak, but this time Amtrak is not the issue. If a “continuing resolution” is the result rather than full passage, Amtrak stands to receive what it had last fiscal year, $1.294 billion.

hpim0886.JPG Gil Mallery

Mr. Hutchison announced that former Amtrak West President Gil Mallery, who has been President for Strategic Planning and Contract Administration working out of Washington DC, has retired from Amtrak. His replacement is Don Saunders, who has been Superintendent for the Central Division in Chicago after working here on the West Coast for some years. Mr. Saunders’ new title will be, “Assistant Vice President, State and Commuter Partnerships-West,” and he will be stationed in Oakland. “This does not mean the return of Amtrak West,” Mr. Hutchison said, but does mean more localized decision making. The Committee applauded this idea. In another announcement, Amtrak Board Chairman David Laney has indicated he “does not want another term,” which opens another board seat. When replacements will be appointed is unknown.

A joint letter signed by the Chairmen of the four California corridor groups, LOSSAN, Central Coast, San Joaquin, and Capitol Corridor JPB, was sent to Governor Schwartzeneger expressing their concern at the level of capital funding that will be available for rail in the coming years. The next SJVRC meeting will be January 10 in Merced.

Rail Photos

San Joaquin train station PHOTOS

From Sacramento to Bakersfield: two round trips daily on Amtrak California’s San Joaquin Valley trains. Here’s a look at all 10 intermediate stations, Lodi to Wasco, on this route. Photos were (mostly) taken 10/11/07 from the door of train 702, southbound, which departs Sacramento at 6:35 AM. That day ridership was light until Modesto.
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Photos and comments by Russ Jackson

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Lodi station, on time at 7:15 AM. Much fog encountered north of this station. Three passengers boarded here that morning.

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Stockton ACE station, on time at 7:30 AM. Notice that Amtrak passengers must walk to the road crossing to board, as there is no access (yet) to the platform track used by ACE.

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Modesto station on time at 8:04 AM. When it was built this station was “in the middle of nowhere,” but the city, now with a population of 204,000, is expanding all around it.

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Turlock/Denair station, on time at 8:23 AM. This photo, taken in March, 2006, shows this popular station which is actually in Denair.

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Merced station, on time at 8:46 AM. This station is the “gateway” to Yosemite National Park, with bus connections from the trains to the Park. The large sign on the building also says, “Amtrak Crew Base,” as this is where train engineers change off enroute so only one person works the trains instead of two in the cab, saving money.

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Madera station on time 9:17 AM. The rule of thumb for this location is, “don’t leave your car overnight in this lot.” No lighting, no other amenities. The city has been trying to find an alternative, safer location but has not found one.

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Fresno station This photo was taken from the return trip on 10/11, train 717. The morning trip was only a few minutes late leaving Fresno where large crowds were boarding and detraining.

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Hanford station On time at 10:23 AM. A large group of riders got off train 702 here. This photo was also taken from train 717 on the evening of 10/11.

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Corcoran station On time at 10:39 AM. The nearby State Prison is also a source of riders, as people come and go from there. This tree-lined platform leads to a modern, although unstaffed, station that is also the Chamber of Commerce.

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Wasco station On time at 11:15. Few riders from here. This station opened a year ago, also containing the local Chamber of Commerce office. Many riders from Los Angeles have learned if they want to ride the Amtrak bus to Bakersfield they need a train ticket, too, so they buy to this first station past Bakersfield. From here train 702 on 10/11 was 20 minutes EARLY into Bakersfield.

Reports

Monterey County Rail October Meeting

TAMC Rail Policy Committee meeting
October 1, 2007, Salinas
Reported by Chris Flescher, RailPAC Associate Director
Most of the meeting consisted of two presentations. The first was from a planner who worked on the Sprinter project in North San Diego County. The second one was from a planner who works for Monterey Salinas Transit (MST), on a proposed Bus Rapid Transit project.

Sprinter Project Information

The rails for the Sprinter were bought by North County Transit District at the same time the rails were bought which the Coaster trains run on. Some aspects of the project were designed to keep the costs down, in order to get federal New Starts money. They included using an existing right of way, having dmu vehicles rather than electrification, and creating a minimal amount of double tracking. One expensive problem was the need to raise a section of track about 8 feet in order to get it above a flood plain. The plan for service is to have “temporal separation” with freight trains, and a 30 minute frequency during most of the day.

The design of the vehicles used was based on the Regio Sprinter. The engines produce very low emissions. Other aspects of them are push-pull service (so they can run in both directions without having to turn around) and level boarding.

The construction costs were $187 million for the “mainline” which was on the existing right of way, $24 million for the San Marcos loop, which was new right of way, and $25 million for the vehicle maintenance facility. Rebuilding grade crossings turned out to be very difficult and expensive because in some cases, it led to requirements like re-aligning streets.

With a separate source of funding, a trail was built along part of the line, and some retention ponds were created near the tracks, for a future flood control project. The San Marcos loop has the only elevated station, and it is entirely grade separated. The station cost $45 million.

There is a 10 acre site which will be used for vehicle maintenance and storage. On the property will be the dispatch center. That might be used to dispatch the Coaster trains in the future.

One source of expense and delay was getting the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to rewrite regulations for the dmus. The existing regulations applied to “regular trains” or to light rail vehicles, but dmus function very differently from both groups. There was extensive testing performed, which took a year. The new regulations will make it easier for other agencies in the state to use dmus.

The project cost was $22 million per mile, the lowest New Start project in the country. The expected ridership is about 10,000 riders per day at the start, and about 15,000 per day in the future. Because the vehicles are so quiet, the agency removed sound walls from the design. When the line opens, a parallel bus line will stop running.

Another major problem related to grade crossings was coordinating the grade crossing sensors with the traffic signals on some nearby streets, so that there would not be conflicts between the traffic flowing on the streets due to the crossings, and due to the signals.

Local BRT Project information

The Monterey County air pollution control district and UC Santa Cruz were recently given some money to study bus rapid transit (BRT) in the area. The main corridor that BRT would use for Monterey County goes from the County Aquarium to the Edgewater Transit Center. This goes parallel to the bike trail which was built over the rail line, and which will be moved slightly if rail service is restored.

Planners at MST spent time gathering data including ridership for buses that run along the corridor. They also met with planners of cities along the route, to get support for installing a signal priority system on the route. It looks like the BRT project will meet the requirements for the New Very Small Starts program, including having a current ridership of 3000 people per day, and plans for substantial stations/platforms. The signal priority system will operate if a bus is running late. Then, the light will stay green for longer than normal, if it is about to turn red. It will not change a red light to a green, and it will do nothing if the bus is running on time.

There may be queue jumpers in some places. Those will allow buses to pass stopped traffic at signals, and then the buses will get an exclusive green phase. The queue jump features, if implemented on Lighthouse Avenue, could also improve service for the regular buses on that street: the full size buses and the free shuttle trolleys which run in the summer.

There is a desire to convert the old train station building in downtown (old) Monterey into a fishing museum and a restaurant. If the building is converted, one plan would place the Monterey bus transit center next to the building. Buses would still serve the existing transit center (which is a few blocks away). Then the buses would no longer lay over at the current transit center.

In order to get money from the New Very Small Starts program, MST must show the FTA that there is a lot of local support for the project. MST planners are talking to various neighborhood and business groups, and they will try to meet with everyone by Thanksgiving. The expected run time savings will be 2.5 minutes westbound, and possibly 7 minutes eastbound, depending on the design of the system on Lighthouse Avenue. MST planners plan to submit a grant request to the FTA by December. MST was not planning to meet with people in Pacific Grove or Pebble Beach, but a suggestion was made that MST do that. The project would not go through those cities, but it would significantly affect people there, because the project would change traffic on some of the streets that people use to travel between those cities and Monterey. MST now plans to meet with officials in those cities.

The FTA may adopt different rules for the New Starts program. Two planners from TAMC met with FTA officials, to discuss the proposed new rules. For the new rules, two criteria will be very important for any rail line. The first is the amount the line can ease traffic congestion. The second is the amount of development along the line that is likely to occur. Any comments on the proposed new rules need to be submitted by November, and TAMC planners will do that.

Reports

September CA Corridor stats and comments

September 2007 Results- and FY 2006-07 Capitol Corridor and California stats (our best year yet)
By Gene Skoropowski
Progress continues on the Capitol Corridor. We have just received the September 2007 stats from Amtrak, and the end-of-fiscal year stats as well. For California, they are very good. For the Capitol Corridor, the numbers continue to go ‘off the chart’. Amtrak reports for :

Capitol Corridor (September 2007):

116,088 passengers +11.0% vs. FY06 and another record for the month
$1,676,304 +22.6% vs. FY 06

Fiscal Year (October 2006-September 2007)
1,450,069 passengers +14.8% vs. FY06, a new record high, and the ninth consecutive year of increased ridership
$18,059,715 +20.9% vs. FY06, and a record high for revenue

Fiscal Year 2007 averaged +14.8% ridership growth for the 12 month period, and +21% revenue growth. On time service regained an improved trend in September, with 86% on-time trains delivered to the passengers. The on-time performance for the year is 75%, a few percentage points better than FY06, but still far from our goal of 90% or better. The period from May through September showed a clear upward trend for on time operation, with August the only month with a decline in time period. Mechanical failures are continuing to be addressed with Amtrak, and there has been some improvement. Union Pacific performance continues at its improved pace about 90%), enabling us to reach 86% in September. However, a series of on-railroad controlled incidents has escalated, causing catastrophic delays to many trains and many passengers. People placing themselves on the tracks, in front of trains, or trying to beat trains when crossing the tracks on foot or in vehicles, has just created havoc with our operations. Getting a county coroner to the site in a timely manner in fatal incidents is one challenge, but vehicles (cars and trucks) trying to drive across tracks where there is no road crossing is becoming a major headache, and a major cause of delay. A recent incident between Suisun City and Davis found a semi-tractor-trailer straddling the tracks, wheels unable to touch the ground, and live PG&E high voltage wires ripped down and spanning the tracks, halting all train traffic. Of course, this happened just before 6 am, on a weekday, ensuring that train service would be disrupted for a couple of ours.

In spite of these delays, people continue to ride the trains. I guess compared to disruptions on the highways, we are better looking option. I guess that says something about the highway conditions. In any case, the revenue-to-cost ratio is now at 48% for the year, a bit lower than the 49% we had hoped to reach, but a full 2 percentage points better than last year’s 46%. We are almost at the state-targeted goal of 50%, and if on-time performance can improve in the coming year, we should be able to reach or exceed the 50% goal.

These statistics underscore the importance of the capital program for intercity rail. The final project for which we had capital funding was completed in early August 2006. WE implemented the 32 weekday train schedule (and 22 on weekend days) shortly thereafter, and starting in October virtually every month thereafter was a 10% or better increase in
ridership. We have the frequency of service now that meets most people’s schedules and needs. What we need now are four or five modest capital projects that will provide our trains with a greater level of reliability (crossovers, double track segments, and improved flow of trains through Emeryville. For capacity, our growth needs are in longer trains during peak travel times, as this is the most cost effective way for us to accommodate a greater number of passengers. Caltrans standards had the foresight to call for station platforms that are adequate for 7 or 8 car trains, so longer trains are the most cost-effective way to increase capacity right now.

With 44 passenger trains on the line every weekday, 32 of them Capitol Corridor trains, conflicts are now less with freight trains than they are with other passenger trains, hence the need for the selected capital projects to improve flexibility of dispatching and flow of trains. This is so important I feel obligated to repeat the list I included in last month’s report.

For the Capitol Corridor, the key to improved reliability lies in the provision of four capital projects:

  • West Causeway universal crossovers (ability to pass/run around trainson the 16 mile run between Davis and Sacramento)
  • Benicia crossover (cuts the distance in half between Vista (Martinez) and Cordelia (Suisun) and the delay time in half when Main Track #2, the lower-level track at Bahia, is blocked by freight trains working the yards)
  • Emeryville Station tracks and the ‘Wimmer’ crossover (reverses one crossover at the north end of the station to permits parallel moves into and out of the Emeryville Station, greatly reducing congestion and extends the station-side track about a mile farther south, allowing between passing opportunities for passenger trains, and reducing the number of times passenger trains block freight trains into-and-out of the Port)
  • Double track extension in Santa Clara County (extends double track north from ‘CP-Expressway’ to Great America Station area (or perhaps beyond), and provides and added crossover from the new main track north of CP- Coast to Main Track #1, permitting freights to occupy and pass other trains on the controlled siding between CP-Stockton and CP-Coast. This crossover will also be essential when the new downtown Santa Clara Station is completed with a platform directly serving UPRR Main Track #2.
  • Additional coach cars are increasingly required, and they are the key to the Capitol Corridor’s ability to both increase capacity (longer trains) and improve our cost recovery from fares ratio. The two rebuilt/leased Amtrak Superliner Cars arranged by Caltrans are helping bridge the gap during the overhaul process, and hopefully will get us through the ‘crunch period’ until the planned new cars are delivered 4 years or so hence.
  • _____________________________________________________________
    Pacific Surfliners (September 2007):

    211,926 passengers +4.5% vs. 2006
    $3,699,601 +8.8% vs. 2006

    Fiscal Year (October 2006-September 2007)
    2,707,188 passengers +1.9% vs. 2006
    $46,788,081 +8.6% vs. 2006
    ______________________________________________________________

    San Joaquins: (September 2007)
    65,812 passengers +13.6% vs. 2006
    $1,592,753 -15.4% vs. 2006

    Fiscal Year (October 2006-September 2007)
    804,785 passengers +0.6% vs. 2006
    $24,544,160 +0.2% vs. 2006

    Eugene K. Skoropowski
    Managing Director
    Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority

    Commentary

    Southern Californian Rail Connections: the good and the bad.

    By Noel T. Braymer

    The reality of most travel without a car is you have to transfer to get to where you want to go. Good rail passenger sevice depends on quick and easy connections. Perhaps the best feature of BART is it is designed to allow passengers to transfer easily within BART. Connections are repeatedly announced at transfer stations where the wait between trains is usually on the same platform and often last no more than 5 minutes. While such levels of connectivity are still off in the future for Southern California, simple steps can be made to publicize the connections that exist and improve or create more connections with little effort.

    Los Angeles Union Station is THE hub of rail passenger service for Southern California. LAUS is the logical place to start to check on the status of rail passneger connections. Connectivity is a complicated issue. With so many variables it is hard to make all the pieces fit. The Swiss National Railway takes years to develop a timetable for just one hour of service. After that they rarely make changes and use the same schedule for every hour of the day all week long. To simplify this report we will look at Saturday service on a few lines. Saturday is a good day to expand service connectivity since much of the travel is discretionary and improvement to ridership would be easy to track.

    On Saturday Metrolink has service from Los Angeles to Orange County, the Antelope Valley and San Bernardino. While not publicized, there are some good connections and others that can be improved. Passengers from Orange County arrive at LAUS at 8:20 AM and can leave for the Antelope Valley at 9:00 AM. There are also connections with arrival at 11:50 for a Noon departure and a very tight connection with a 4:08 PM arrival to a 4:10 departure. For travelers from the Antelope and Santa Clarita Valleys to Orange County there is a connection with an 8:40 arrival at LAUS to an 8:45 departure. But a passenger on the 11:40 AM arrival has to wait until 12:45 leave for Orange County. The passengers on the 3:05 arrival have to leave at 4:30. The last train of the night arrives at 8:20 and leaves for Orange County at 8:45 PM.

    For Metrolink connections between Orange County and San Bernardino you can arrive from Orange County at 8:20AM and leave at 9:00AM. At 11:50 you can arrive at LAUS as the 11:50 departure leaves for San Bernardino. At 4:08 PM you can connect with the 4:45 departure. For passengers going to Orange County from the San Gabriel Valley you can arrive at 8:40 AM and depart at 8:45 AM. At 12:35 PM you can catch the 12:45 PM to Orange County, at 4:20 PM catch the 4:30 departure and at 8:40 catch the 8:45 PM departure.

    There are also connections on Metrolink between the Antelope Valley and San Bernardino. Arriving from Lancaster at 8:40 AM you can depart for San Bernardino at 9:00AM. You can also arrive at 11:40 and leave at 11:50 and at 1:10 to leave at 1:20PM. Arrival at 3:05 connects with the 3:25 departure as does the 5:25 with a 6:15 and an 8:20 to a 9:00PM departure. Going from San Bernardino to the Antelope Valley there are connections between the 8:40 to 9:00AM, 11:30 to Noon, 2:05 to 2:45PM. One problem the LAUS arrival from San Bernardino at 4:20PM misses the 4:10 departure to the Antelope Valley. The 5:40PM train connects at 6:08 and the 8:40 at 9PM.

    Connections between the Amtrak Surfliners and Metrolink are not very good. Between San Diego and the Antelope Valley there is a tight connectin with a Surfliner arrival at 8:50AM with the 9:00AM departure to Lancaster. The 12:15PM Surfliner misses the Noon Metrolink departure. The 2:40PM Surfliner arrival has a tight connection with a 2:45 Metrolink departure. There is a 5:45PM arrival that can connect with a 6:05 departue. The 9:05 Surfliner arrival misses the 9:00PM Metrolink departure. It gets worse! The Metrolink train arriving from Lancaster at 8:40AM misses the 8:30AM Surfliner departure to San Diego. The 11:40AM arrival misses the 11:10 departure. There is a 1:10PM arrival to meet a 2:00PM departure.The 3:05 arrival misses the 3:00PM Saturday departue. The 5:25 arrival misses the 5:10 departue and the 8:20 arrival misses the 8:00PM departure.

    Things are not much better between San Diego and San Bernardino, despite both trains having frequent service. The 8:50 AM arrival from San Diego meets with the 9:00AM departure to San Bernardino. The 9:50AM arrival meets with the 10:40 departure. The 12:15 arrival meets with the 1:20 departure. There is a 1:15 arrival on Saturday that could meet a 1:20 departure. The 3:35 arrival misses the 3:25 departure. The 5:45 arrival meets the 6:15 departure. The Saturday 9:05 arrival misses the 9:00PM departure. The 11:05 arrival meets the 11:30 departure. The 8:40AM arrival from Riverside/San Bernardino misses the 8:30AM departure to San Diego. The 10:15 arrival in Los Angeles meets with an 11:10 departure to San Diego. The 12:35 arrival misses the 12:25 departue. The 3:10 arrival misses the 3:00 departure. The 4:20 arrival misses the 4:05 departure as does the 5:40 arrival to the 5:10 departure. The 8:40PM arrival misses the 8:00 departure and the 10:50 arrival misses the 10:10 departure.

    With a little coordination and a few changes to the schedule there can be connections the rest of the week which will greatly improve local rail passenger service