LOSSAN TAC Meeting Report and Commentary   October 18th, 2007

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

This entry was posted on Thursday, October 18th, 2007 at 12:46 PM and is filed under Commentary, Reports.