Monthly Archives

November 2007

Commentary

Pacific Surfliner – A failing service

Commentary by Paul Dyson, RailPAC President
24 November, 2007

LOSSAN OTP, AND SCHEDULE ISSUES AND STRATEGIES
COMMENTS ON DRAFT MEMO AND ON MEMO FROM JONATHAN HUTCHISON, AMTRAK

The omissions from these documents are as significant as the content.

As I have mentioned before to the LOSSAN TAC and to the LOSSAN Board, there is no such thing as “interference” from another train as a cause of delay to a scheduled passenger train. If you are truly concerned about establishing the root causes of delay and attempting to bring about improvements then you have to understand how a railroad works.

On a single-track section of railroad, passenger trains are scheduled to pass each other at predetermined points, either double track sections or sidings. If a train is running late then that “meet” may take place at a non-scheduled location and one or both trains may suffer a delay as a result. The cause of the delay however is whatever made the delayed train late in the first instance. Therefore the objective of the ad-hoc committee should be primarily to go after these root causes. We all know that single-track railroads are inherently prone to secondary delays once a chain of late running has started, but that requires long-term solutions and investment. However, we should be looking for short-term solutions to this problem as well.

Here are some questions that should have been asked:

How bad is the problem? A review of the Amtrak supplied statistics only reveals a part of the answer. Our first issue is with the use of Endpoint Schedule Tolerance. In our view this is commercially unacceptable. If Amtrak published a schedule with an arrival time and the train arrives 10 or 15 minutes after that then the train is late. The punctuality problem is worse than the statistics convey.

How much recovery time is there in the schedules? A schedule is made up of running time, station dwell time, meets, and recovery time. A review of the schedules for Amtrak and Metrolink trains between Oxnard and Los Angeles reveals a wide range of timings for the same journey. Some of this is caused by scheduled meets, (and it is clear that Amtrak trains are given low priority by the schedulers as compared to Metrolink), but there is additional time in some schedules which cannot be accounted for by meets. For example, Amtrak 774 is allowed 31 minutes over the double track section between Glendale and LAUS. Since 768 is allowed 15 minutes we conclude that this is the “normal” schedule, so there are 16 minutes of recovery time for 774. In addition Amtrak wants 15 minutes “Tolerance” for “routine operational issues” to quote Mr. Hutchison. This of course is double dipping, and if 774 still doesn’t run on time then there is a very serious problem. Furthermore, if trains are given generous amounts of recovery time, especially between the last two stations, this covers up major delays en route and passengers to intermediate stations can be seriously inconvenienced without this showing up in the statistics.

Table of Scheduled timings between LAUS and Oxnard, Amtrak and Metrolink trains.
Odd numbers northbound, even numbers southbound.

Train Number Minutes in Schedule Comments
M113 89 9 intermediate stops
M115 89
M119 94
A799 110
A763 95 6 intermediate stops
A14 (Coast Starlight) 110 Only two intermediate stops
A769 96
A775 98
A785 88
M102 90
M104 90
M106 89
A768 108
A774* 118 31min Glendale-LAUS
A784 118
A792 140 30mph!
A798 116
A11 (Coast Starlight) 112

*Takes 90 minutes Burbank Airport to Fullerton.

As can be seen the fastest trains on the railroad are the Metrolink commuter trains, which make at least 3 more stops than the so-called inter city Surfliners, and are still 10 – 20 minutes faster, or more!

How often are passenger trains delayed by “non-clearing” freight trains? A non-clearing train is one that is too long to fit in the sidings on the single-track section of the route and so has a greater tendency to cause delays. Southern Pacific started this practice with the OALBT, which repositioned empty container cars from the Bay Area to Southern California for reloading. The tonnage is light so it saved crews by running one long train instead of two. SP also started to run a “sweeper” train of empty boxcars and lumber flats from Southern California to Eugene bypassing the switching yard at Colton. This DOEUM (Dolores Yard to Eugene Manifest) was also often a non-clearing train because of the light tonnage and pressure to reduce crew starts. Union Pacific has continued these practices even though the number of passenger trains has increased and the number of sidings available has been reduced. When UP took over SP they were quite aware of the density of passenger traffic on the Coast line and still have an obligation to give priority to passenger trains under their contracts with Amtrak, Metrolink, and under 49 USC 24308 (c). If these trains cannot be dispatched without delays to passenger trains then the onus should be on UP to provide longer sidings or to split the trains into two sections.

Is the goal reasonable? We say that the goal of 85% on time should be easily attainable, if the railroad is operated efficiently, and in fact the goal should be higher given the recovery time and Endpoint Tolerance. But if the goal is repeatedly missed then we have to search deeper for problems. These may include:

Poor rolling stock maintenance.
Priority consistently given to other operators’ trains.
Inoperable schedule.
Too many trains for the current level of infrastructure.

I have written previously suggesting a fundamental rework of the timetables for Surfliner, Coaster and Metrolink. We believe the public, travelers and taxpayers alike, would be better served with an integrated passenger train service that offers regular, reliable and appropriately scheduled running times for inter city and local service. The combined resources of Coaster and Metrolink should provide all day local service to all stations in the corridor, at least as far as Ventura County, and the Surfliner sets should provide a faster, limited stop service with timings more competitive with the private automobile.

RailPAC believes that the individuals whose job it is to operate the railroad are doing the best they can with the resources available. What’s missing is coordinated management of mainline passenger rail services in Southern California. It’s obvious that the Surfliner service is a low priority for the railroad owners, both in scheduling and in dispatching. The numbers speak for themselves. Poor punctuality, indifferent schedules, mediocre reliability have led to flat ridership, boosted only by the Rail-to-Rail program. Many member agencies fail to attend meetings and are busy spending their available funds on branch line projects rather than modernizing the main line. It’s a sorry situation, and a far cry from the optimistic hopes of the 1980s.

Rail Photos, Reports

Amtrak Long Distance November On Time Performance

The Western trains with PHOTOS! (Don’t all Amtrak trains look alike?)
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Reported by Russ Jackson

Here’s our follow-up to the articles we’ve written for the Review and posted on RailPAC.ORG the past few months regarding Amtrak On Time Performance for the western long distance trains. As usual we check the performance at intermediate stations, as the endpoint times don’t reflect the true running times of the trains what with all the schedule padding built in. All long distance trains are reported to be SOLD OUT during the holiday travel season! Yeah, nobody rides trains anymore.

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California Zephyr #6 carrying the GrandLuxeRail luxury cars crosses Solano County, CA, only a few minutes late on November 20 enroute to Chicago. This trainset was to arrive back in the Bay Area on 11/25 (Russ Jackson photo)

Train 5/6, Amrak’s California Zephyr had a schedule change on October 28, moving its Emeryville departure time to 8:05 am, closer to its regular departure time. So, has it worked? Yes and No. From November 1 to 15, its endpoint OTP was 53.4%. Since November 17 it has been early into Salt Lake City every day! But, when #6 gets to Chicago on those days the delays have been 165, 25, 14, 119, 0, and 34 minutes late. Shows it can be done, but isn’t always. BTW, that 0 minutes late into Chicago was on Thanksgiving Day when it was also hauling the GrandLuxeRail cars. Train 5, with a slight modification to its extended schedule, in the same period arrived into Sacramento early four out of seven days, and the other two were only 23 and 12 minutes late. Since October 1, through November 15, it’s endpoint OTP has been 54.3%. Grade: VERY GOOD.

Train 7/8 the Empire Builder (no photo available) arrived in Havre, Montana fairly close to on time with one exception during that period. #7 was late 14, 17, 13, 18, 38, 15, and 52 minutes on the days we checked between November 10 and 22. #8 was late at Havre 14, 75, 399, 13, 4, 24, and 21 minutes on the days we checked in that same period. OOPS, 399 minutes late on 11/12. Well, that’s the exception up there. Fiscal Year OTP 10/1 to 11/15 was 82.1%. Grade: EXCELLENT.

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The Sunset Limited arrives under the palm trees at the Ontario, CA station at 12:08 pm on 11/21. It was 4 hours late. (Mike Palmer photo)

Train 1/2 the Sunset Limited had its usual problems, with #1 arriving in Los Angeles triple digit minutes late every day between 11/14 and 11/23. Last month we reviewed the problems this train encounters, and it hasn’t changed much even though it’s been proven it can be run OT. Train #2 arrived in San Antonio 113, 0 (on 11/13), 88, 225, and 65 minutes late in that same period, with only one time missing its 1:00 am departure time for New Orleans, and easily making its connection to the Texas Eagle. The connection time for the 7 am departure of #22 has been met each day. FY OTP since 10/1 was 7.9%, with only 3 trains listed as being on time at endpoints. Grade: POOR

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The Southwest Chief hits the diamonds at Colton crossing on a cool, foggy 11/21 morning running 2 hours late. The UP crossing is in the foreground. This bottleneck for both passenger and freight trains is due to have a UP flyover grade separation constructed in 2011. (Mike Palmer photo)

Train 3/4 the Southwest Chief had its usual good record in November, with #3 late into Los Angeles only twice. On Thanksgiving Day #3 arrived at Fullerton 78 minutes late, but was only 21 minutes late at LA Union Station, showing the endpoint schedule padding. RailPAC contributing photographer Mike Palmer met relatives at Fullerton that morning and learned #3 was in a near-collision somewhere near Lamy, New Mexico and later had lineside signal problems. #4 arrived into Albuquerque on time every day! What more can we say? Its FY OTP from October 1 to November 15 was 84.8%. Grade: EXCELLENT

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The Coast Starlight train 11 crossing Solano County west of Davis, running about 90 minutes late on the morning of 11/20. Its consist is now 11 cars and a baggage car. (Russ Jackson photo)

Train 11/14 the Coast Starlight had its usual mixed performance recently. We checked #11 at San Luis Obispo and found it was 27, 0 (on 11/18), 26, 128, 206, and 95 minutes late on the dates we checked. For #14, we checked at Eugene, Oregon, and the performance was not so good as it was triple digit minutes late every day but one, and that one was 85 minutes. Winter has just begun in the Cascades, too. Supposedly the Union Pacific has made major rail repairs up there that will improve service. For the FY from October 1 to November 15 the OTP was 55.6%, a vast improvement until the past week. Grade: BETTER.

Reports

Two California rail officials receive Amtrak honors!

Amtrak Honored Caltrans Rail Chief William Bronte and the Capitol Corridor’s Eugene Skoropowski with its prestigious President’s Service and Safety Award.

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Also honored was Patricia Quinn of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority (NNEPRA).

Recipients in the State Partner category “must demonstrate extraordinary and creative efforts in developing resources to preserve and expand rail service. Recipients must demonstrate leadership in promoting rail service on a state and/or local level.”

Eugene Skoropowski

During ceremonies in Washington, Amtrak President and CEO, Alex Kummant presented Skoropowski with Amtrak’s most prestigious award, the President’s Service and Safety Award for State Partner.

“Under Gene’s leadership, the CCJPA has developed the ability to work constructively with Amtrak and Union Pacific,” said Kummant. “He has developed unique intermodal partnerships with regional transit agencies throughout the corridor.”

Recipients in the State Partner category “must demonstrate extraordinary and creative efforts in developing resources to preserve and expand rail service. Recipients must demonstrate leadership in promoting rail service on a state and/or national level.”

Skoropowski has a vision for intercity passenger rail service in California. In partnership with Amtrak, the Capitol Corridor has increased the number of frequencies from four roundtrips in 1998 to 16 roundtrips today (32 trains a day between Sacramento and the Bay Area and 14 daily trains to San Jose). This expansion was a result of his skilled management techniques which enabled the CCJPA to use existing rolling stock on the route.

The route has seen eight consecutive months of record ridership growth with more than 1.5 million passengers traveling on the route in FY07, making it the third busiest in the nation.

William Bronte

Also honored was William Bronte, Chief, Division of Rail for the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), for special recognition among state and local leaders across the nation for his support of Amtrak and his commitment to passenger rail service.

During ceremonies here, Amtrak President, CEO Alex Kummant said, “Your efforts exemplify initiative, commitment and dedication to Amtrak, and our entire organization extends to you our highest appreciation.”

Recipients in the State Partner category “must demonstrate extraordinary and creative efforts in developing resources to preserve and expand rail service. Recipients must demonstrate leadership in promoting rail service on a state and/or national level.”

Bronte is an outstanding advocate for intercity passenger rail in the U.S. His dedication to the expansion of intercity passenger rail service in California has offered rail passengers many convenient options for business and leisure travel and provides a strong foundation for continued growth. Bronte has led the California Rail Program, Amtrak’s largest state partner, representing approximately 50 percent of all state-supported trains and counting for almost 25 percent of Amtrak’s total ridership since 2005.

Under his leadership, there has been a dramatic growth in ridership on the Pacific Surfliner, from 1.7 million in 2002 to 2.7 million in 2007, an increase of 57 percent. The route is ranked the second busiest outside the Northeast Corridor.

Rail Photos

Rail PHOTOS for November

The Sprinter; The Sacramento RT; and A Metrolink locomotive in need.
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Oceanside and Folsom in these photos.

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A Sprinter trainset is at the Amtrak/Sprinter station in Oceanside. Testing of the line is in progress toward a December 28 dedication and opening of service. (Noel Braymer photo)

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A Sprinter at the new Oceanside Transit Center Sprinter platforms. The original design for the Transit Center, including Sprinter platforms, was done in the early 1980’s by RailPAC founders Byron Nordberg and Dr. Adrian Herzog. Amtrak, Greyhound, Coaster, Metrolink, NCTD buses, and now the Sprinter all converge here. The Transit Center contains a plaque honoring the late Mr. Nordberg. (Mike Barnbaum photo)

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A Sprinter train is on the overcrossing to California State University San Maracos. The Sprinter will directly serve CSUSM and Palomar (Community) College. (Bill Lindley photo)

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An on time Sacramento RT light rail train enters the Folsom station on November 7. This line has proven to be very successful in this growing community. A three story parking garage is being built across the street. (Russ Jackson photo)

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The Folsom station is a crew change point. The 30 minute headways required by the single track from here have held back ridership expansion. (Russ Jackson photo)

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A Metrolink locomotive is at the Oceanside Transit Center on November 4. Notice that it is showing wear and tear from heavy use, and the “periwinkle blue” paint job is fading. (Mike Barnbaum photo)

Reports

CAPITOL CORRIDOR JPB MEETING REPORT

CAPITOL CORRIDOR JPB MEETING REPORT
November 14, 2007
Suisun City, California
Report and PHOTOS by Russ Jackson
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Two rebuilt Superliner cars in California Car colors are operating now, and the other five on order will start arriving at about one a month starting in the Spring, providing capacity improvement for the Capitols and the San Joaquins. Unsaid at the meeting, though, is that effective November 13 there was a 3% fare increase on the Corridor. The most interesting NEWS to come out of this meeting of the CCJPB was actually about another meeting that was scheduled to start that afternoon and continue into the next day.

For many years the states, like California, have been unhappy with Amtrak’s methods of calculating costs that states must pay to Amtrak for running state-supported trains. At the instigation of Wisconsin, and including the 15 states that contact with Amtrak for service, a group of those 15 has been formed. During the CCJPB meeting Director Thomas Blalock asked Managing Director Gene Skoropowski if there was a plan in the works regarding the $150 million new car procurement that will hopefully come from voter approved Proposition 1B funds, so that “our designs for these new cars could be considered a standardized design for other agencies looking to buy cars, which would lower the “per unit” cost for everyone.” Mr. Skoropowski replied, “Funny you should ask! I can report to you that there is a meeting in Sacramento this afternoon and tomorrow of the 15 states with Amtrak contracts. Those state representatives have ridden our cars, like them, and see the possibility of doing just that so that the wheel will not be reinvented too many times.”

But that’s not all. The other main agenda item for the 15 states meeting: They are unhappy with Amtrak’s COST ALLOCATION procedure, which is driven by the Route Profitability System method of accounting that has been heavily discredited for many years by RailPAC and the United Rail Passenger Alliance. Now there is group action, with 15 states weighing in and looking for answers and action. Stay tuned, the results of this meeting may not be public information for a while, but it could bring positive outcomes for the states that have to cough up what Amtrak charges with little documentation.

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After the CCJPB meeting Managing Director Gene Skoropowski (left) and the Union Pacific’s Tom Mulligan boarded train 528 for Sacramento.

As for the CCJPB, the old idea of a love-fest continues at each meeting with Directors expressing their approval of the operation of the Capitol Corridor. Vice-Chair Mary Ann Courville said all the good news contained in the reports they receive indicate that the CCJPA is one of the few transportation agencies that is showing show continuous improvement. She said, “Thank you (to the staff and employees) for making us look good!” Chairman Forrest Williams echoed that sentiment, saying he provides the good data to his SCVTA board. Other Directors added their approval. Mr. Blalock reported that he attended a meeting in Union City, which is eventually going to be a BART exchange station with the Capitol Corridor when that city moves the tracks closer to its station. And, “their station will be solar powered!” Good news indeed, and reflecting the morale of the meeting the CCJPB adopted the FY 2006-7 Annual Performance Report unanimously..

That doesn’t mean that there are no problems. The state’s manipulation of funds with the STIP and TPA accounts this year has been costly for transportation agencies. Mr. Williams spoke to this issue in his opening remarks, mentioning that the Chairs of the four California rail corridors (Capitols, San Joaquins, Coast Rail, and LOSSAN) will be meeting to plan strategies to restore sense to the funding mechanism in the state. He expressed pleasure that the U.S. Congress has shown its support for intercity rail, and that they are ready to provide funds. “We must be ready,” when new funds are available, Mr. Williams said. Mr. Skoropowski added that “we are still waiting for the state Department of Finance to report that buying new cars is justified.” Then Caltrans can start the ordering procedure.

A list of capital spending projects was approved to be submitted for future state funding, with crossovers and station improvements on the list. Another list of capital projects that would receive funds from the Proposition 1B “Trade Corridor Infrastructure Fund” account, which requires matching money from the freight railroads and is designed to “relieve traffic along major trade of goods corridors.” The four items are: adding mainline tracks from Oakland to Martinez, upgrading rail tunnel clearances over Donner Summit to allow double-stack container trains to operate there (which would increase the potential for additional passenger rail traffic), Sacramento Rail Station realignments to add 2 new freight tracks and 4 dedicated passenger station tracks with platforms, and a program of adding improvements to the Capitol Corridor route to improve operational flexibility.

In his Managing Director’s Report, Mr. Skoropowski said ridership growth is seeing a 10% improvement each month over the same months a year ago.

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“We’ve seen increased revenues, (50% of all riders are still “full fare” discretionary riders while others use multi-ride tickets) and a Revenue-to-Cost Ratio which reached 50.9% in October, 2007.” The latter can be further improved “when more coach cars become available to add to existing trains especially during the heaviest travel periods.” The new Quik-Trak ticket machines are a success, “and are the best investment we have made.” On Time Performance is interesting, in that “half of our late trains are only 10 to 15 minutes late.” Chairman Williams concluded the meeting by observing that “improved farebox recovery is our dream and I hold this as a goal.”

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Capitol train 528, running 10 minutes late, pushes out of the Suisun/Fairfield station, passing under the pedestrian overcrossing that leads to the Solano County Government Center. The photographer noted no one used the overcrossing, but four people including a child, crossed the tracks rather than use the safe route across this busy rail facility.

The next CCJPB meeting will by February 20, 2008, in Suisun City Hall.

Commentary

Another close call and Metrolink comes through again

Editorial by Noel T. Braymer

On a wet Friday October 12th night we relearned how vulnerable California’s transportation system is. In a truck by-pass tunnel underneath the I-5 freeway one truck hit another truck which created a chain reaction causing several trucks to catch fire. The good news was “only” three people were killed. Working feverishly Caltrans crews were able to clean out the tunnel and shore it up so the main freeway overhead could be reopended for the Monday rush hour. The fire damaged tunnel could take months to repair. It could have been worse and the entire freeway would have been closed for months. Even so, the already often jammed freeway has lost capacity which means more trucks will have to share the freeway with cars on the steep downhill slope of the southbound lanes.

Monday morning the 15th Metrolink was ready with additional cars for the rush hour traffic and two additional round trips during the off peak period. This is no small feat with Metrolink already short on equipment during rush hours. This isn’t the first time Metrolink has come through in an emergency. Back during the Northridge Earthquake in 1994, the Highway 14 connection to the I-5, right next to the disaster of this October, was cut. Metrolink was almost the only way to get to Los Angeles from the Antelope Valley and prevented the area from being cut off. Monday the 15th Metrolink was jammed with new riders while other people stayed home because of fears of traffic jams on I-5. People were surprised that traffic moved rather well that Monday. On Tuesday the 16th, ridership on Metrolink was down and that morning traffic was in a snarl.

How much longer additional Metrolink service will be needed is unknown. This current crisis brings up many issues that should be considered. The I-5 corridor is the transportation spine of California. Not everyone traveling on this corridor is going to downtown Los Angeles or Santa Clarita. Not just people but also freight travels on this corridor. Between the San Fernando Valley and the Grapevine there aren’t many alternatives to the I-5. There are also few connections on Metrolink now to the West San Fernando Valley, Westwood, West Los Angeles, LAX or San Diego County. This rail line is largely single tracked, dependent on a single track tunnel hand built by Chinese immigrants over 130 years ago. Even if there was track capacity to add passenger service to Bakersfield, the current alignment takes hours more than by road. 

Building a new rail alignment between Los Angeles and Bakersfield makes a great deal of sense for both freight and passenger service. Truck traffic is growing on the I-5 between Los Angeles and Sacramento. Trucks are a major source of air pollution, particularly in the San Joaquin Valley. Trucks have a major impact on traffic because they are large and slower than cars. Truck accidents in particular often shut down freeways. To provide a rail alternative in California for truck traffic will require a high capacity rail line, with fast service; in other words, a railroad that would also be perfect for good passenger service.

Freight and passenger service have shared the railroads form the beginning. The railroads today generally are not equipped for the fast, frequent, short haul traffic carried by most trucks. The Tejon Pass is subject to closure from bad weather from snow and high winds. Earthquakes have affected the area around I-5 as well as fires. This area is a bottleneck that affects transportation for not just northern Los Angeles County, but the entire State.

The railroads are benefiting from cooperating with local government for improvemments to the rails. That State of California is helping the railroads improve the Tehachapi Loop area which will improve freight service in that congested area. While a good start, more will be needed for the transporation needs in California. Railroads can carry more passengers and freight at less cost than a freeway. Think of the construction cost differences of a double track railroad versus a typical 8 lane freeway. Both can carry about the same amount of people and freight. But which alternative needs less land, concrete and has less impact on the enviroment? A  new rail alignment isn’t going to put the I-5 out of business. But rail can provide an alternative which will be less sensitive to weather or disasters in an area where increased capacity is badly needed.

Commentary

Well we made it!!! A trip report on the Coast Starlight, the Cascades, and the Empire Builder

Travel was from Los Angeles to Portland on October 15-16, then Portland to Seattle on October 17, and Seattle to Spokane October 18, 2007. Here are some notes about our “little” journey, with a few comments about the California Zephyr, too!
By John Dornoff, RailPAC/InterMountainRail Associate Director
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Our Coast Starlight ended up arriving in Portland 2 hours late. First (after departure from Los Angeles) we took a 20-minute hit before Simi Valley due to a late Metrolink train, then hit three red signals before SLO (my Zephyr trips have been plagued by red signals, too) which put us about 40-minutes late but we made it up by Oakland and then lost it again by Davis. We were still 40-minutes late into Klamath Falls and took some hits in the Cascades due to track work. Our single biggest hit was waiting 30-minutes in a siding for the southbound Starlight 5 minutes south of Salem.

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Portland, Oregon’s famous train station with its landmark clock tower on a rainy day in November, 2005. (Photo by Russ Jackson)

Our next trip, on the Cascades, started out great when one of the Talgo train sets pulled into the station. I saw all the Cascade service train sets so everything is back to normal. I don’t know if the Vegas Talgo is back in service on the Vancouver run but I understand that train was not to be back in service until January and that was before the problems were found with the other Talgo sets (Being remodeled to match the others since the likelihood of it every seeing service on the Vegas line is almost zero?). Our train ran 20-minutes late due to track work and a BNSF switching move in Centralia but we still made IT to Seattle on time. Our trip was the day before the Steilacoom derailment that blocked the line for two days (incidentally BNSF crews were working on the tracks at that very spot of the derailment when we passed by on Wednesday).

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A Cascades train waits to depart from the Portland station in November, 2005. Full Talgo service has now resumed on the routes in Washington and Oregon. (Photo by Russ Jackson)

Then there was the thrill of the Empire Builder from Seattle to Spokane. We left Seattle 10-minutes late because we had to wait for the bus from Vancouver BC. Then there were slow orders along the Sound because of high winds and rain so we left Everett 30-minutes late. Then 10-minutes out of Everett we came to a halt because trees and power lines fell in front of a BNSF freight that was going into a siding for us. We sat there for three hours because there were no power company crews available due to other fallen lines so finally the dispatcher had the freight train remove its front locomotive and proceed to ram the fallen trees to clear the right of way and let us proceed. Meanwhile we ended up having two obnoxious teenagers sitting one row up and across from us who made the wait an unpleasant experience. We did luck out as our crew died on hours just before the Spokane station so the other crew was able to quickly jump on and make all the moves to get us in the station.

Comments: The crews on the Starlight and the Cascade trains were terrific. We had no coach attendants on the Builder so we had the Conductor and Assistant doing their job. They were much better than the California Zephyr crews we’ve had recently on our trips from Salt Lake City to Denver, but still several notches below the Starlight crews. They kept the interior lights on until almost 11:00pm and basically did the minimum required of them.

On the Starlight I talked to three couples who had ridden the Zephyr before the Starlight. All three of them had ridden different days and had nothing good to say about the crews. One of them said they were treated so bad on the Zephyr that they were thinking of flying home but the Starlight crew changed their minds. Elsa and I were in the last group of people in the diner at lunch time when the wife of the one Zephyr couple went up to our dining car waitress and thank her over and over on how wonderful she was and how bad their Zephyr experience was. At this point the lounge car attendant was eating his lunch and witnessed the exchange, afterward the dining car attendant asked him how could a crew be so bad and his response was “Zephyr crews are based in Chicago so yes they are that bad.” Even the other Amtrak employees can see it!!

Well, on Friday night I get another experience with the Zephyr as I will be taking it to Reno to attend a conference before flying to Miami to do my presentation at Railvolution so we will see how this journey goes!!

Reports

Senate passes Amtrak Reauthorization bill: the vote

Report from Russ Jackson

Here is the voting on S 294 this week (the Lautenberg/Lott Amtrak reauthorization bill), taken from the US Senate website. Note who didn’t vote: Four of the six Dems were in Philadelphia for that night’s debate. At least their votes weren’t needed.

If they had voted they would probably have voted Aye making it even more veto proof. McCain and Sessions would likely have voted No, so a final vote COULD have been 76-24. It takes 67 to override a veto. Senator Lott started this bill process and his work has paid off in a big bi-partisan way.

A REMINDER, that this bill was actively supported by RailPAC, NARP, URPA, and all the California rail agencies. It must still pass the House of Representatives, possibly in January if the primary elections don’t tie everything up even more. THEN, the big one: Appropriations. They can authorize anything they want, but getting the dough in hand can be another big hurdle, and probably not available until next Fall unless the election gets in the way. Looks good so far.


As compiled through Senate LIS by the Senate Bill Clerk under the direction of the Secretary of the Senate

Vote Summary

Question: On Passage of the Bill (S.294 as Amended )
Vote Number: 400 Vote Date: October 30, 2007, 04:29 PM
Required For Majority: 1/2 Vote Result: Bill Passed
Measure Number: S. 294 (Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2007 )
Measure Title: A bill to reauthorize Amtrak, and for other purposes.

Vote Counts: YEAs 70
NAYs 22
Not Voting 8

Grouped By Vote Position

YEAs —70
Akaka (D-HI)
Alexander (R-TN)
Baucus (D-MT)
Bayh (D-IN)
Bennett (R-UT)
Bingaman (D-NM)
Boxer (D-CA)
Brown (D-OH)
Byrd (D-WV)
Cantwell (D-WA)
Cardin (D-MD)
Carper (D-DE)
Casey (D-PA)
Cochran (R-MS)
Coleman (R-MN)
Collins (R-ME)
Conrad (D-ND)
Corker (R-TN)
Cornyn (R-TX)
Crapo (R-ID)
Dole (R-NC)
Domenici (R-NM)
Dorgan (D-ND)
Durbin (D-IL)
Feingold (D-WI)
Feinstein (D-CA)
Grassley (R-IA)
Hagel (R-NE)
Hatch (R-UT)
Hutchison (R-TX)
Inouye (D-HI)
Johnson (D-SD)
Kennedy (D-MA)
Kerry (D-MA)
Klobuchar (D-MN)
Kohl (D-WI)
Landrieu (D-LA)
Lautenberg (D-NJ)
Leahy (D-VT)
Levin (D-MI)
Lieberman (ID-CT)
Lincoln (D-AR)
Lott (R-MS)
Lugar (R-IN)
Martinez (R-FL)
McCaskill (D-MO)
Menendez (D-NJ)
Mikulski (D-MD)
Murkowski (R-AK)
Murray (D-WA)
Nelson (D-FL)
Nelson (D-NE)
Pryor (D-AR)
Reed (D-RI)
Reid (D-NV)
Roberts (R-KS)
Rockefeller (D-WV)
Salazar (D-CO)
Sanders (I-VT)
Schumer (D-NY)
Shelby (R-AL)
Smith (R-OR)
Snowe (R-ME)
Specter (R-PA)
Stabenow (D-MI)
Stevens (R-AK)
Tester (D-MT)
Warner (R-VA)
Webb (D-VA)
Whitehouse (D-RI)

NAYs —22

Allard (R-CO)
Barrasso (R-WY)
Bond (R-MO)
Brownback (R-KS)
Bunning (R-KY)
Burr (R-NC)
Chambliss (R-GA)
Coburn (R-OK)
Craig (R-ID)
DeMint (R-SC)
Ensign (R-NV)
Enzi (R-WY)
Graham (R-SC)
Gregg (R-NH)
Inhofe (R-OK)
Isakson (R-GA)
Kyl (R-AZ)
McConnell (R-KY)
Sununu (R-NH)
Thune (R-SD)
Vitter (R-LA)
Voinovich (R-OH)

Not Voting – 8
Biden (D-DE)
Clinton (D-NY)
Dodd (D-CT)
Harkin (D-IA)
McCain (R-AZ)
Obama (D-IL)
Sessions (R-AL)
Wyden (D-OR)