Monthly Archives

January 2008

Reports

California Transportation Commission Meets in Sacramento

Notes submitted by Bill Kerby, January 10, 2008

Commissioners were relieved when Executive Director John Barna corrected the minutes from the past meeting that stated “no members were present” to “no members were absent.”

Today, the newly elected chair of the California Transportation Commission, John Chalker of San Diego, efficiently led the commissioners and witnesses through a fifty-eight item agenda and gaveled the meeting to a close before two o’clock.

Caltrans Director Will Kempton reported that the Caltrans budget was “not as bad as it could have been.” He was pleased at the speed with which Caltrans employees and contractors worked in reopening the Newhall Tunnel, as noted by the Governor. Increased deaths of maintenance of way and other highway workers last year prompted a review of safety procedures, now underway, which may result in more lane closures and traffic delays for maintenance work.

CTC staff reported on Proposition 1B guidelines for ranking infrastructure projects on a performance-based method. Baseline agreements, the first of three parts to performance budgeting, will be followed by progress accountability and follow up audits. Quarterly reports to agencies and stakeholders are expected. Deputy Secretary James Bougart from the California Department Business, Transportation and Housing announced the formation of a performance based infrastructure group that will form private public partnerships. The mission and methods partnerships will contain elements found in British Columbia and Ontario Canada. Commissioner Zarian asked if there was a list of private providers, but Mr. Bougart replied that some capital fund managers are interested in such partnerships and once the CTC has ‘real authority’ to lead, private contractors will be contacted. Ultimately, the infrastructure group would issues requests for proposals on public projects. Over twenty years, California expects to spend $500 billion on infrastructure, formerly called public works.

A small controversy developed over draft guidelines for distributing $250 million of Proposition 1 B grade crossing funds. Bill Bronte, Chief, Division of Rail, testified that he was comfortable with the CTC staff analysis of these guidelines. Dan Levitt, representing the High Speed Rail Authority, asked for language in the draft requiring that any crossing project be along the high-speed rail corridor. Since HSR does not reach San Diego with the current plans, Chairman Chalker asked Mr. Levitt if any crossings would be eligible in the San Diego area and was told that some would be eligible. Commissioner Carl Guardino, successfully moved to eliminate HSR as a screening criterion, but agreed that possible future HSR usage be considered for any crossing project to avoid wasting project dollars. Given the listed 500 grade crossing projects by the California Public Utilities Commission, an agency that will direct spending on $150 million of the 1 B pool of funds, the commission thought it would be more appropriate to consider urgent need as a priority condition to select projects and then consider HSR in the design if a designated crossing might be along the HSR route. Approval of the grade crossing guidelines must occur by February 15, 2008, the day after the next CTC meeting.

A few passenger rail projects received state transportation improvement plan funds.

  • In San Francisco, Caltrain’s Downtown Extension to the Transbay Terminal begins Phase I to design and construction of the above ground portion of the building and below ground parts of the rail system. Additionally, there is funding for bus ramps, bus storage and a temporary bus terminal. When completed, the overall project extends Caltrain 1.3 miles from Fourth and King Streets underground to the new terminal downtown.
  • The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LAMTA) received $20.4 million for phase II of the Exposition Light Rail Corridor Project between Culver City and Santa Monica. In a last minute change made possible by accelerated state review, LAMTA’s David Yale announced that Caltrans had found an alternative source, so their allocation will revert to LAMTA for later use. Still, $800 million separates this $ 20 million allocation, covering environmental review document, from operational status.
  • A contract extension for Sacramento light rail received unanimous committee approval for double-tracking the light rail line in Sacramento County. This project will permit some express service.
  • Reports

    Monterey County Rail Meeting Report

    The Transportation Agency for Monterey County Rail Policy Meeting, held on January 7, 2008
    “Progress is being made on the Monterey Branch Line service!”
    Reported by Chris Flescher, RailPAC Associate Director

    During public comments, one person said that he had rode the Sprinter once, and he was impressed at how high quality the train was. After the project manager for the Sprinter spoke at a recent TAMC meeting, the person drove down to San Diego and rode the Sprinter when it made a test run for the public.

    A second person said that he was looking at a website about passenger rail in Romania. He saw a description of a railcar which was very similar to the Sprinter vehicles. According to the website specifications, the dmu railcar can run in regular service as fast as similar vehicles powered by electric catenary.

    Progress is being made on the Monterey Branch Line service. Representatives from TAMC have met with city councils, for most of the cities along the route.

    A noise study for the trains has been done, and an aerial photo survey has been done. At this time, a topographic survey is in progress, as well as a study to predict ridership for different kinds of bus and rail service. The ridership study should be finished in May, in time for some more community meetings. After the community meetings, the last analysis of alternatives could be done in July.

    There are two possibly timelines for performing the Alternatives Analysis, the Environmental Reports, and determining the Locally Preferred Alternative.

    The Option 1 was used for the San Jose-Gilroy-Salinas plans. This worked well because the rail service was clearly superior to bus service, and it was good to choose the mode early in the planning process.

    The Option 2 process allows more public comment before picking a mode. This may be better for the Monterey Branch Line service, because there isn’t one mode that is clearly better to the others.

    A predicted timeline for the service is shown below:

  • Engineering and Design 2009-2011
  • Construction 2012-2013
  • Start of Revenue Service 2014
  • Some comments about the service.

    In Monterey, the location of the service is important. That is, should the vehicles run in a median on the street, in the curb lane, or next to the street?

    2. Some Monterey City Council members seem to be interested in having the line go all the way to Portola Plaza, if it is a rail line.

    3. The Monterey City Council decided that the kayak rental store (and the other two businesses next to it) would stay in the same location, which seems to be on the Catellus parcel of land. This decision would free up some space to restore the old train station building, using part of it as a train station. There is an interest in having the other part of the building used as a visitor center, a museum, and tourist-oriented businesses, like a coffee shop.

    4. A trip to ride the Sprinter would be a very good idea, especially for the members of the Marina City Council.

    The TAMC committee decided to use Option 2 for choosing the mode used on the Branch Line.

    TAMC officials met with the JPB (the group that manages Caltrain). For the San Jose to Salinas Caltrain service, the JPB agreed to send a letter of support to the FTA. Some concerns of the JPB are the availability of rolling stock and crew members to handle the service. TAMC discussed the same issues with the operators of the Capitol Corridor, and ACE trains. It looks like there may be a way to share some vehicles with the Capitol Corridor.

    There was a ridership report for the VTA which was delayed. This caused delays in creating a TAMC ridership model. The TAMC committee expects to have the New Starts Application (for Caltrain, San Jose to Salinas) submitted in June.

    Recently a track capacity study was completed by the UP Railroad. The study showed that with just a few improvements, there should be no impact of Caltrain to Salinas on the UP freight trains.

    The Salinas City Council picked option #18 for the Salinas Intermodal Transportation Center. This plan involves some surface parking, rather than a parking structure, and is much cheaper. This option also involves adaptive re-use of the existing Freight Express Building.

    It appears that the operating costs for Caltrain to Salinas would be $1.2 million per year.

    Santa Cruz County is planning a transportation sales tax, and it looks like their funding distribution will involve using some of the money to improve the Pajaro train station.

    The Monterey County sales tax will not use any money for passenger rail, but it looks like TAMC will be able to get enough for the Caltrain service from other sources.

    Commentary

    OCEANSIDE TRANSIT CENTER – A GOOD FACILITY LET DOWN BY POOR EXECUTION

    hpim1000.JPG
    Commentary By Paul Dyson, RailPAC President

    On Friday January 11th I had a quick turnaround trip to Oceanside on a RailPAC errand that resulted in my spending about 90 minutes at the Transit Center. My observations are about the Transit Center rather than the trainride and I’m trying to look at it from the point of view of a new user of rail passenger service, or public transit in general. I also look at it from the point of view of the taxpayer, since just about every service at the station (except Burger King and some of the express buses) is publicly funded.

    The physical layout of the Oceanside TC is good, with drop off, local transit, kiss and ride and parking all conveniently located just a short walk from the train platforms. The new Sprinter platforms are also very close so for the experienced rider the station is convenient to use. But for the 99% of the population who are not experienced riders it’s a different story. To me it’s a very sad story, because the provision of signs, announcements, useful schedules, and even a clock that’s easy to see, is almost non-existent.

    hpim1000.JPG
    The Oceanside Transit Center, with an arriving Coaster train and a waiting Metrolink train.

    Just to recount what I saw and heard after arriving at about 8.00am, the southbound train I arrived on was on time, but as is often the case the announcement referred to the train number and direction, but not the station stops. A little later northbound Coaster 633 arrived and terminated on track 2. I expected an announcement to that effect, and instruction to passengers to cross to track 1 for the northbound Surfliner, but instead, total silence. A little later the agent announced that the 9.00am northbound “will now come through at 9.30”, whatever that was supposed to mean. It turned out that train 567 had been cancelled but was now reinstated. I went to ask the agent for an explanation, and was told that they had put up signs. They certainly made no announcements between 8.00am and 9.00am. A couple of would be passengers abandoned the platform and retrieved their cars from the parking lot.

    At 9.23am southbound Coaster 640 left the station, again without fanfare. When the northbound Surfliner appeared it was once again referred to by train number and direction, but not once did anyone call the station stops, nor was there an apology or explanation for the delay.

    For anyone arriving at the station by car or other transit, you have to hunt around to find information, ticket machines, figure out which is the next train to your destination and which type of ticket to buy from a number of machines. Inside the Amtrak office is the discouragingly negative sign, “only Amtrak tickets sold here.”

    The three publicly funded rail operators should have their heads knocked together until we the taxpayers get the coordinated service we deserve. Here’s some suggestions as to how this Transit Center could, at very small cost, be improved to serve the traveling public, to give good information to the often bewildered and confused newcomer, and perhaps to ensure repeat business.

    At strategic locations where people arrive provide a comprehensive departure list of ALL trains and express buses from the station, with a clock. This list can be either in chronological order or alphabetical by destination, but in any event it should inform the passenger when the next service is to their destination, the departure location, and the operator.

  • Close the Amtrak agency and open a Travel Center that sells tickets for ALL of the operators and provides information for ALL of the services. The staff could still be employed by Amtrak, which would contract with the other operators to provide these services.
  • Use the public address system for ALL arrivals and departures, with helpful messages including station stops, connections, etc. Many of these can be pre-recorded messages operated by push button.
  • Eventually provide a comprehensive ticketing system where a single machine can dispense tickets for any operator to any destination, and is smart enough to offer the best fare for the next available service.
  • Attention to detail is the key to success in business. The problem seems to be that the agencies operating public transportation to and through Oceanside don’t seem to think that they are running a business. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of empty seats on trains leaving Oceanside every day, and yet there is no comprehensive plan to provide an integrated service to attract new customers. These are just a few observations; a snapshot of one station for an hour and a half one morning, but with lessons that can be applied throughout the system. It can be tough being an advocate for passenger rail when this is the best that is offered.

    Paul Dyson, RailPAC President

    Reports

    San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee report

    January 10, 2008
    Merced, California

    Reported by Bruce Jenkins, RailPAC Director

    The meeting was abbreviated because train #701 (north) was delayed due to a grade crossing accident south of Merced.

    The SJVRC Board entertained a request to change the meeting date to the 3rd Thursday of the month. However, because of schedule conflicts with a majority of the Board it was moved, seconded and passed to move the date to the 4th Thursday of the scheduled meeting months.

    Funding for new badly needed rolling stock is not forthcoming in the near future. Caltrans Division of Rail reported that with our present ridership growth (all corridors) we will be at standing room only capacity if there is no capital funding. Some of these capital items that need attention are double track at Port Chicago, a cross-over at Merced, and the new Stocton station. $6.5 mil has been proposed for the Electronic Train Management System (that BNSF has been developing) which would greatly enhance OTP.

    John Pedroza of Merced County was elected for a term of 2 years as Chair. Dianne Fritz of Mariposa County was elected for 2 years as Vice Chair.

    A letter of appreciation was sent to BNSF for their superb effort in handling of passenger trains will be drafted for the Chair’s signature. It was pointed out that SJV trains had an 85% OTP for the last year, which is good considering the problems. DoR is working diligently with BNSF to achieve better service. One aspect is to have BNSF dispatching give track warrants when the train is in a station so the engineer is free to copy.

    Enroute cleaning of coaches and restrooms is being explored due to customer complaints. However, Amtrak indicates this will require additional funding from DoR.

    Connecting bus routes are being studied to achieve better connectivity and DoR is meeting with Bus Contractors to improve customer service and to improve driver training. No bus routes are being eliminated.

    The next SJVRC meeting will be March 13 in Fresno.

    NEW INFORMATION
    Riders flocking to San Joaquin train
    January 18 2008 – Visalia Times-Delta

    The number of passengers using Amtrak`s San Joaquin train from Bakersfield to the Bay Area and Sacramento set new records in the last half of 2007.

    In November and December, riders were up 13.1 percent and 11.3 percent, according to a report from Caltrans, which operates the train system in conjunction with Amtrak.

    Caltrans said the San Joaquin train set records in five of the last six months, for an increase during the period of 7.3 percent. The passenger growth on the San Joaquin train surpassed Amtrak`s two other California trains, the Capital Corridor from Sacramento to the Bay Area and the Pacific Surfrider from San Luis Obispo to San Diego. Those trains also had greater numbers of passengers, though percentagewise not as great as the Valley train.

    Commentary

    What is the final word for California High Speed Rail?

    By Noel T. Braymer

    George Skelton of the Capital Journal from Sacramento wrote some rather discouraging things about what is being proposed for the California High Speed Rail Project. This is what he wrote as published in the December 24 issue of the Los Angeles Times.”Turns out, as a Sacramentan, I wouldn’t be allowed to use the train for a very long time. Neither would people in San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Modesto or Stockton. We’d only get to watch from a distance as the bullet became the plaything of people in San Francisco, San Jose, Fresno, Bakersfield, Palmdale, Los Angeles and Anaheim… This happened when the authority approved a Pacheco Pass route from the San Joaquin Valley to the Bay Area- a path through rural Los Banos roughly 60 miles south of an alternative Altamont Pass line near fast-growing Tracy. If the bullet line had been extended north to Tracy, it could also have served Modesto and Stockton. And then it might have been feasible to lay another 40 miles of track to the state capital. But the Pacheco Pass route was more direct to San Francisco, less expensive and a detour around enviromental slow-downs.”

    What you need when getting an expensive project approved by voters is to make as many friends and as few enemies as possible. If what Mr. Skelton says is true then the California HST Authority is making enemies. The High Speed Rail Bond Issue could be going to the voters this November which could spell the start or end of High Speed Rail in California.

    The TGV High Speed Rail Trains of France are a good model of how to introduce fast trains. It all started with a trunk line between the two largest cities in France: Paris and Lyon. The fast running was confined to the countryside where construction was least expensive. Existing tracks and stations were used to get into the metropolitan areas of Paris and Lyon. But the original TGV wasn’t a train only between Paris and Lyon. From the trunk line were many branch lines that also used existing trackage that spread TGV service to many areas of France. After the success of the original service more high speed trackage was built latter. To this day the TGV isn’t tied exclusively to running only on exclusive trackage. Exclusive trackage is needed for speeds over 120 miles per hour. But long segments of non stop running are needed to justify running at speeds over 120.

    There is no reason that a high speed trunk line between Northern and Southern California can’t be built. There is no reason why trains using existing trackage can’t start in San Diego, Sacramento, Riverside or Oakland and use the trunk line for high speeds. This makes better economic sense and better political sense. What about electrification of the rail lines? You can build hybrid locomotives that can carry pantographs to run on electrified railroads. You can run non-electric trains as well on electrified railroads. You don’t need electrification to run trains at high speeds. Wouldn’t electrification be more enviromentally friendly? Well much of the electricity used in California comes from fossil fuels like natural gas and coal or from nuclear energy. If a bio-fuel was used not only would enviromentalists be happier, but so would farmers, if you promised to buy Californian bio-fuel.

    Speaking of environmentalists, one of the reasons given for not using the Altamont Pass was that high speed rail operations would have too many problems because of enviromental issues. The fact is there are existing rail rights of way in the Altamont Pass. The Pacheco Pass has as many if not more enviromental issues and doesn’t have a rail right of way. Trying only to use the Pacheco Pass is enough to derail the whole project. It is unlikely that there will be a solution for using the Pacheco Pass any time soon. In the meantime better to fix up the Altamont Pass first for faster but not high speed operation.

    All government agencies are worried about their funding. The California High Speed Rail Authority in the past had made it clear that operations in populated areas would be well under 200 miles per hour. They have said that in populated areas their trains would be able to share existing trackage that would be upgraded and benefit local commuter and Amtrak services. We need to hear more about this from the California High Speed Rail Authority. We need to see what the benefits of High Speed Rail for Caltrains, Metrolink, Capitols, Coaster, ACE, Surfliners and San Joaquins will be. If there isn’t a benefit in ridership or infrastructure, it will be very hard to get the support of any of these agencies or their riders. 

    Commentary

    America wants more Rail Passenger Service

    By Noel T. Braymer

    Back in November 4th of last year PARADE Magazine ran a story about Amtrak entitled “With high gas prices and airport delays, could we make our trains…A Better Way To Travel?” With this story PARADE Magazine ran a poll of its readers asking “Should America Invest more in Trains? In the December 9th issue PARADE published the results of this poll in which its responding readers replied an overwhelming 97% in favor of spending for more rail passenger service. While hardly a scientific finding, it does show there is a strong demand for rail passenger service nation wide. PARADE Magazine is about as Middle Amerincan as a publication can be and is in most Sunday newspapers around the country. It is no secret that letters in support of Amtrak often run second only for support of Social Security in Congressional Mailboxes.

    In December a report written for Congress from the Passenger Rail Working Group recommended that up to 357 Billion dollars be spent over the next 40 years nationally to upgrade the railroads for improved passenger service. The plan is to use an 80% Federal 20% Local split similar to that for Highway projects. The reaction of the Railroads was less than enthusiastic. In a press release on December 6th Edward R. Hamberger, President and CEO of the Association of American Railroads said about the Passenger Rail Group Study “Successful passenger rail systems- like those in Europe and Japan- rely on publicly funded track and almost exclusively dedicated to passenger rail. We support the development of high-speed passenger rail systems like Europe and Japan, where dedicated, high-speed passenger rail corridors separate 200-mile-an-hour passenger trains from 50-mile-an hour freight trains. This report does the opposite- it rests the future of passenger service on the freight rail system. Piggy-backing on the privately owned and operated freight railroad assets will give America a third-rate passenger rail system… The report does not adequately emphasize that fact that freight railroads need more capacity, not less, to help absorb the huge increase in freight traffic predicted by the U.S. Department of Transportation and others…

    The reality is only a minority of rail service in Europe or Japan goes anywhere near 200 miles per hour or needs fully dedicated rights of ways. RailPAC has long recognized the need for increased capacity of the freight railroads for future growth. RailPAC has long recognized the need for passenger service to pay its fair share of infrastucture costs when sharing tracks of the freight railroads. This arrangement has benefited the freight railroads in California with better infrastructure and expanded capacity on the rail lines shared with commuter and Amtrak trains.

    An example of future government support of rail is the strong possibility that the California Transportation Commission will approve 300 million dollars this year in transportation bond money for the grade separation of Colton Crossing. Colton Crossing is where the mainlines of the BNSF and UP meet at grade near San Bernardino at Colton. This project will increase track capacity of both lines by eliminating one of the biggest bottlenecks in the country. It is not unreasonable to expect additional passenger use on these lines after public money was used to upgrade these tracks.

    The reality of major capital improvements is that you want to maximize the use of such capital to justify spending so much money. A good example of this would be the ” Chunnel”, the rail tunnel under the English Channel connecting Britain with the rest of Europe. This tunnel runs at near capacity with trains running often every 3 minutes or so. This tunnel has mixed traffic with High Speed Passenger Trains, auto and truck ferry trains and freight trains! One lesson about the Chunnel and infrastructure: it isn’t very profitable. The Conservative British Government insisted that the Chunnel be built with private not public funds. Traffic is very heavy on the Chunnel; in fact there is talk of building a second tunnel. But it has not produced enough money to fully pay back the loans to build it. High Infrastucture costs have always been the bane of the Railroads and have always been the great drag on profits.

    The issue that is often forgotten about rail service is that it is a system. Too often there are groups arguing that long distance trains take money away from corridor trains and so on. Long distance trains are the cash cows of Amtrak. Revenue is a function of passenger miles and long distance trains are great at generating passenger miles. Most of the places where major rail work is needed are in urban areas like Colton where construction costs are also the highest. This is where the demand for commuter and corridor trains are also the highest. High ridership corridor trains will never produce the revenue of long distance trains. But corridor trains will produce the political support that can get more projects built which will also benefit long distance  passenger trains and freight trains. A mix of transit, commuter, corridor and long distance trains working together is needed so people can really travel by train. Only when run as a system can we the the greatest efficiency and maximum use of scare capital.

    Reports

    BULLETIN: Western blizzard affects Amtrak trains and buses

    Special Amtrak release sent to RailPAC by Ed von Nordeck

    BLIZZARDS IN CALIFORNIA AFFECTING SERVICE
    .
    EXTREME BLIZZARD CONDITIONS WILL AFFECT THE SIERRA NEVADA AND
    SISKIYOU MOUNTAINS IN NORTHERN CALIFORNIA THE NEXT FEW DAYS,
    WITH HEAVY SNOWFALL CLOSING THE HIGHWAYS.
    .
    ON FRIDAY, JANUARY 4 AND SATURDAY, JANUARY 5:
    – ALL THRUWAY BUSES BETWEEN SACRAMENTO AND RENO/SPARKS OPERATE
    ONLY AS FAR EAST AS AUBURN. (3524/3528/3534/3537/3543/3553)
    – ALL THRUWAY BUSES BETWEEN SACRAMENTO AND SOUTH LAKE TAHOE
    OPERATE ONLY AS FAR EAST AS PLACERVILLE. (3424/3447)
    .
    – ALL THRUWAY BUSES BETWEEN SACRAMENTO, DUNSMUIR AND MEDFORD
    OPERATE ONLY AS FAR NORTH AS REDDING.
    THURSDAY, JANUARY 3: 3701.
    FRIDAY, JANUARY 4: 3701, 3704.
    SATURDAY, JANUARY 5: 3704.
    .
    NO ALTERNATE TRANSPORTATION OF ANY KIND IS OR CAN BE
    PROVIDED. ..P12

    THE BLIZZARD IN THE SIERRA NEVADA WILL ALSO CAUSE SIGNIFICANT
    SNOWFALL ON THE RAILROAD OVER THE MOUNTAIN. THE UNION PACIFIC
    RAILROAD WILL BE PLOWING AS BEST AS POSSIBLE BUT NONETHELESS
    TRAIN SERVICE IS LIKELY TO BE AFFECTED.
    .
    TRAIN 5 THAT ORIGINATED CHICAGO ON JANUARY 2, AND TRAIN 5
    ORIGINATING CHICAGO JANUARY 3, MAY NOT BE ABLE TO PROCEED
    PAST RENO. PASSENGERS ON THESE TRAINS ARE BEING TOLD THAT
    THIS MAY BE THE CASE. ALTERNATE TRANSPORTATION IS NOT
    POSSIBLE AND WILL NOT BE PROVIDED.
    .
    TRAIN 6 ORIGINATING EMERYVILLE JANUARY 4, 5 AND 6 MAY ALSO
    BE AFFECTED. THE NATURE OF THIS IS NOT YET KNOWN.

    Reports

    Sprinter Inauguration – December 28, 2007

    I was delighted to receive an invitation from NCTD to represent RailPAC at these ceremonies in Escondido this past Friday. It’s been nearly 27 years since a group of us, including the late Byron Nordberg and Adrian Herzog, and the very much alive Russ Jackson and Noel Braymer, met at Oceanside and discussed the possibilities of the then freight only A.T. & S.F. Escondido Branch. Byron had the vision of frequent inter city and commuter trains on the “Main Line” to and from Los Angeles, with the Escondido branch providing local and feeder services. I was proud to see the engraved stone at the Oceanside T.C. dedicated to Byron’s work.

    Sprinter Inauguration

    I met up with Art Brown, Chairman of LOSSAN, and Richard Elgenson, camera at the ready, of Trainweb, and we rode the Sprinter dmu from Oceanside to Escondido. Also on board were Joe Kellejian who represents SANDAG on the LOSSAN Board, is Mayor of Solana Beach and has been a major champion of the Sprinter, and a number of other public and elected officials. I have to confess a prejudice against diesel multiple units. They are a utilitarian solution for lines such as this, but whether in a restored 1930’s Great Western “Flying Banana”, a 1960’s British Railways DMU (Diesel Multiple Unit) of the kind that took me to work at Paddington Station or the latest iteration in this case from Siemens, you can’t get away from that buzzing under your feet. In this case the experience was enhanced by squealing from flange contact over considerable distances, and some very loud brake valve (?) noises during those oh-so-slow approaches to stations.

    The line is tortuous and climbs over 700 feet from Oceanside to San Marcos, and includes new construction to link UC San Marcos. (It cries out for electrification and regenerative braking!) This, and such issues as handicap access platforms while maintaining freight operations has led to a total cost of close to $500 million dollars, or 8 times the original estimates. It’s a frighteningly large sum for someone raised in an era when a million dollars was a lot of money. And there is more expenditure to come; a maintenance yard at Oceanside and a wheel lathe are both needed. All that flange noise has to a cost, either turning the wheels or lubricators.

    Back to my prejudice against DMUs, not so much as a species but as an exotic species. It seems that every new rail system built or proposed has to have a different technology, or at least a different car type. Different car types mean exclusive repair shops, parts inventories, crew and repair staff training, which offset to a large degree the theoretical operating savings that the sales person has told you his wunder train has to offer. Speaking as a former operations manager I am perhaps overly disposed to thinking that the best piece of rolling stock to use is the one that the guy next door is using, so that at a pinch you can borrow his trains, buy spares in bulk, share a maintenance shop, and generally enjoy the convenience of standardization. NCTD (Coaster) and Metrolink already operate Bombardier bi-levels and locomotives. Would it have been such a disadvantage to use the same system?

    To be fair to all concerned, I have to say that my operating, sales and finance background have never required me to conceive and manage a project of this nature and I always admire those that have the fortitude to see it through to the ribbon cutting. It’s become almost impossible to lay track anywhere in this state, even along existing rights of way. So I’d like to express our congratulations to NCTD for adding 22 miles to the California rail map.

    Now I’d like to address some issues of networking, connectivity, convenience of use and so on that are close to my heart. The focus at the ceremony was local; on how convenient this service will be for workers, students, shoppers and so on. While this is true, the line will have far greater utility in terms of automobile mileage reduction if riders can be attracted to rail for long distance trips. Crack open your atlases and you’ll see that the line runs roughly WNW from Escondido to Oceanside. The Coaster and Amtrak to San Diego run thence SSE, and the rail mileage from Escondido to San Diego is more than double the highway mileage. The MTS Express bus from Escondido takes about 70 minutes to San Diego so only rail fans and those with a morning to kill will ride the train in that direction. But look the other way and you’ll note that Amtrak and Metrolink run NW to Orange County and Los Angeles, almost a continuation of the line from Escondido. Here’s a market to be tapped, wouldn’t you think?

    Unfortunately we hit an institutional barrier. The Sprinter (NCTD) map also includes the Coaster (NCTD) route, and while acknowledging the existence of Amtrak and Metrolink northbound from Oceanside there is no further information on the travel opportunities available in that direction. There are a dozen Amtrak trains to Los Angeles and beyond, and 8 Metrolink trains to Orange County, and some to Los Angeles. Can you buy a through ticket? No. Can you get a route plan on a single website? No. Can you get home in the evening? No. The last Sprinter train from Oceanside will depart at 8.33 pm to Escondido. Metrolink 608, 6.30pm from Los Angeles, arrives at 8.28pm. Would you risk that connection? Amtrak 590 weekend train arrives 8.49pm. Let’s hope that the task force that is supposed to be working on coordinating these schedules will prevail upon NCTD to run a later Sprinter to connect with these trains.

    I overheard Mayor Kellegian say he’d be pleased with 11,000 riders per day in the first year. Let’s say these folks average 10 miles per trip, so that’s 110,000 trip miles per day, although a lot of these will be former bus riders. What if the service could attract 500 trips per day connecting northbound at Oceanside to Orange County and points north? Those folks will be traveling about 70 miles, or 35,000 trip miles, adding revenue to existing services and saving fuel and emissions. Right now those hardy individuals who want to try such a journey will have to have two tickets and schedules in their pockets, and if they haven’t booked in advance will have to allow extra time to use a ticket machine or the Amtrak agent at Oceanside or risk missing their train. Folks, this is California. This is the state that brought you Silicon Valley, Yahoo, Google, E-Bay and the iPod. Rail and Transit ticketing, information and connectivity is a disgrace and is holding us back from winning a lot of the traffic that should be riding the trains.

    Altogether I give the Sprinter a B, with room for improvement. We have to think regional systems, not individual line segments, if we want rail transit to reach its potential.

    PD 12/31/07