Monthly Archives

February 2008

Rail Photos, Reports

RailPAC Co-sponsors “INTERCITY PASSENGER RAIL DAY”

Report and Commentary by Russ Jackson. Photos by Russ Jackson and Ken Miller (New photos added 3/1)
Thursday, February 21, was “Intercity Passenger Rail Day” in Sacramento.

Distinguished rail leaders from around the state of California met to discuss the benefits and future of the four state rail corridors, LOSSAN (San Diego-Los Angeles-San Luis Obispo), Capitol Corridor CCJPB (San Jose-Oakland-Sacramento-Auburn), San Joaquin SJVRC (LA-Bakersfield-Sacramento-Oakland), and the new Coast Corridor CCRC (San Francisco-San Luis Obispo-Los Angeles). Officials from these corridors met with Amtrak Chairman of the Board Donna McLean, Caltrans Director Will Kempton and others, toured the State Capitol meeting with legislators, ending with the general session at noon.

RailPAC, led by event coordinator Richard Silver, along with Alstom Corp. and Bombardier, provided support.

100_1046.jpgRailPAC President, Paul Dyson (right), introduced the speakers, calling for the state to “invest smartly and incrementally” in its rail program. (left) RailPAC Treasurer Bill Kerby and (center) website editor Russ Jackson.

february-2008-3-004.jpgRailPAC Director, Marcia Johnston (left) and CC Riders President Chuck Roebuck also attended. At the end of the formal program CCJPA Managing Director, Gene Skoropowski, premiered “Intercity Rail,” a new video. Mr. Skoropowski has agreed to show this video at the RailPAC Annual Meeting April 19.

february-2008-3-002.jpgCaltrans Director Will Kempton welcomed the group, saying “Caltrans and the Governor are behind expansion of rail opportunities. Passenger rail is essential to future mobility, and California has invested $1.8 billion since 1976.” Mr. Kempton repeated what many of us have heard him say many times, that now with 16 round trips daily between Sacramento and the Bay Area there “is no reason not to take the train!”

february-2008-3-003.jpgThe Hon. Forrest Williams, a San Jose City Councilman and current Chairman of the CCJPB, speaking of the Intercity Rail Success Story, emphasized that the rail programs “cannot expand until more rolling stock is obtained. When that happens it will create a better return on the investment.” RailPAC has learned that 5 more rebuilt Superliner coaches the state is leasing from Amtrak in addition to the two already received are now expected to begin arriving in July, but additional cars are badly needed and the state is still waiting for approval to use Proposition 1b money allocated for their purchase.

february-2008-3-006.jpgThe Hon. Art Brown, a Buena Park City Councilman and former Mayor, also Chairman of the LOSSAN Corridor, spoke of the benefits and challenges of sharing the corridors throughout the state with Amtrak and the commuter lines, calling for additional planning and coordination among them.

february-2008-3-007.jpgThe Hon. Dave Potter, a Monterey County Supervisor and Chairman of the CRCC, talked of the need for connecting gap in the Coastal route with the anticipated Coast Daylight train. He said that Monterey has put rail at the top of its environmentally friendly list. He looks forward to plans for returning the Del Monte train which would move people to his county. Monterey County now owns the rail line.

february-2008-3-011.jpg The Hon. Harvey Hall, Bakersfield Mayor and current Chairman of the SJVRC, spoke positively about the San Joaquin Valley rail system, with ridership growing. SJVRC’s vision is to increase the frequency of trains available, and called on everyone involved with the rail programs to “Dream what might be possible.”

february-2008-3-008.jpg Amtrak Board of Directors Chairman, Donna McLean, told the group she was pleased to see that “you are coordinating, not competing! She came to the meetings to “understand the California system, so Amtrak can use this system elsewhere.”

Now, what else did I learn at this meeting? This was definitely a “meet and greet” session to call attention to the four state rail corridors.

february-2008-3-010.jpgRailPAC VP North Art Lloyd (right)(shown with Amtrak’s Director, System Operations, Ken Miller) told me that the combined 4 corridor ridership is approaching 50% of what the Northeast Corridor carries, almost 5 million passengers a year, which is double what they carried in 1990! That’s real growth. Art also serves on the Caltrain Board, which is adding two additional evening trains making 98 daily. He is very pleased that the evening trains will be on “memory” schedules with departures on the half hour. Caltrain’s growth goal is 110 trains daily. Mr. Lloyd, now retired, and Mr. Miller are veteran Amtrak employees, both having been hired in its first year!

And speaking of “growth,” this reporter had a short interview with Amtrak Chairman McLean, where I asked her about growth for the Amtrak long distance trains. She replied, “I don’t see any growth coming there. We are working hard to improve the current services, what with improvements already on the Empire Builder and coming on the Coast Starlight.” She asked which long distance trains I ride, and I mentioned the Sunset Limited and its desperate needs for improvement such as DAILY service, returning to Phoenix, and returning service east of New Orleans to Jacksonville for example.

Speaking of the Sunset Limited, I recently received the following comments from a former colleague whose daughter now lives in Houston, Texas, and they ride #1 and 2 for visits as well as riding other Amtrak and Canadian trains. He says, “Our trip on the Sunset Limited was OK, but lots of limitations. Cars not clean, sewage smell. Crews were friendly, they improved the meal service and are now cooking some on board. That is a great improvement. On time into Houston is a real problem. Trains are OK if you don’t have to embark or disembark mid route!” So, Chairman McLean, there is still work to do isn’t there?

Is California totally happy with Amtrak? Not if you listen to several conversations taking place before and after the Rail Day general session. I overheard several comments about how “we” would be financially much better off with Amtrak out of the Oakland Maintenance base, and its work turned over to a private contractor. “Amtrak does a great job running trains,” but they “can’t keep the equipment running.” Interesting. It’s obvious the independence of the national coalition of states is having its effect on combating Amtrak’s dominance of the rail corridor discussions. Lobbyists were present who talked of buying new cars for the states and leasing them back. Is this an idea whose time has come?

RailPAC has received the following letter from CCJPA Managing Director, Gene Skoropowski (reprinted here with permission):

Paul,
I would like to express my sincere thanks and appreciation to you for the work and participation of RailPAC in yesterday’s successful event. It was a very successful day politically as well, as three teams comprising the Chairs of each of the 4 corridor agencies, plus board members, executive staff and high level Amtrak representation ‘made the rounds’ to key state legislators. We were very well received, and several agreed to consider being part of a new intercity rail caucus. We are following up on that one.

The noon event not only prompted a good story today in the Oakland Tribune (picked up by national wire services, and, lo and behold, by the FRA!) and there is a strong demand for more copies of the video. We are processing those. Again, my sincere thanks and appreciation for all your work and for conducting the noon event. I will see you for sure in April for the joint RailPAC/NARP Region XII meeting.
Gene

Reports

SACRAMENTO RT PLANS EXPANSION TO AIRPORT

Reported by Russ Jackson, with Bill Kerby PHOTOS by Russ Jackson

On Saturday, February 9, Sacramento Regional Transit held an open house to receive a project update and the draft Program EIR review. The project is a proposed extension of the current RT light rail system through the current rail station north across the American River, through the rapidly expanding Natomas area, ending at Sacramento International Airport.

sac-rt-natomas-extension-map.jpg

This “DNA” project, short for Downtown/Natomas/Airport corridor project is described as being a 13-mile, 14-station light rail transit extension, serving the future Railyards development and Regional Intermodal Facility (current train station), to “improve mobility and safety through the Corridor as the Natomas community continues to expand. The entire project is expected to be implemented in stages as funding becomes available.” Another RT extension is planned to extend the current south line to Consumnes River College.

RailPAC Treasurer Bill Kerby, Associate Director Mike Barnbaum, and this writer attended the session. What stood out was the plan to immediately go ahead with Phase 1 engineering over the next year. “MOS-1″ extends one mile from 7th and H to Richards Boulevard, with the target date for starting construction in 2009, and service “start-up possible as early as 2010.” This phase and the whole project is being prepared under California’s CEQA EIR requirements with no Federal actions being undertaken, which speeds up the process significantly. The cost of this first phase is expected to be $37.6 million. The full project cost is projected at near $700 million, and could be built by 2017.

february-2008-008.jpg

Phase 1 was explained to us by Darryl Abansado, P.E., RT’s Director of Civil and Track Design (above left). What is interesting about this first one-mile phase is the plan to run a single track up 7th through the existing tunnel under the Union Pacific Railroad to a Richards Blvd. station, taking it straight through the planned redevelopment project of the former Southern Pacific Railroad shops. When additional phases are built, after the City plans for the shops area is finalized and double tracking this line is required, a reroute will be built into the train station to a new platform.

february-2008-006.jpg

(Above) City Councilman Ray Tretheway expressed his support for the project in the general session.

february-2008-004.jpg

Sacramento County Supervisor Roger Dickinson (above right), in whose district this project will be built, told Mr. Kerby (left) and this writer that there is a “tremendous need for increased mobility.” Sac International has “12 million passengers a year now, and is expected to increase to 20 million.” Rosemary Covington from the RT told the group that “transit demand to downtown will increase by 87%,” and light rail is the solution to the problem as new freeways are just not going to be built. We noted that in this 850 page EIR document there is little definitive “this is what we will do.” But, the planning process is underway and while it will be over 10 more years when the plan is complete at least something is being done now.

february-2008-009.jpg
The meeting received excellent coverage by the Sacramento press and TV. RailPAC’s Mike Barnbaum (right above) was interviewed by Channel 10 News.

Reports

RailPAC removes Deely letter

We have received correspondence from Amtrak saying that the letter published here allegedly written by Joe Deely of Amtrak is “a fake and not created by Amtrak.” We are complying with their request to “immediately remove it from your website and provide a retraction.” RailPAC will continue to investigate this circumstance, as it has not been our intention or practice to publish items that have been faked.

Reports

AMTRAK EXTENDS COAST STARLIGHT SERVICE by BUS!

Another PARTIAL victory for rail advocates. They never give everything, do they? Are you ready to ride a bus from Sacramento to Portland? Press release and PHOTOS below!

february-2008-2-004.jpg
Coast Starlight #11 is about to depart the San Luis Obispo station on time on February February 18, 2008, with three coaches, one Sightseer Lounge, and a baggage car.

february-2008-2-007.jpg
Coast Starlight #14 arrives at the San Luis Obispo station 20 minutes EARLY on the same day, 2/18/08, with an identical consist. At least they are running the trains on time. But, note the date for resumption of train service on the full route is now “April.”
(RailPAC Photos by Russ Jackson)

February 19, 2008

AMTRAK EXTENDS COAST STARLIGHT SERVICE

Thruway Motorcoach Service available between Sacramento and Portland
Train Service continues between Los Angeles and Sacramento

OAKLAND – Amtrak is adding Thruway motorcoach service on a portion of the disrupted Los Angeles-Seattle Coast Starlight route, beginning Friday, February 29, 2008. The Thruway motorcoach service will connect the Coast Starlight route segment between Sacramento and Portland, Ore., making connections with the Coast Starlight train at Sacramento and other Amtrak train service at Portland. The Thruway motorcoach will connect with the Chicago-Portland Empire Builder at Portland.

Train service on the Coast Starlight route was suspended between Los Angeles and Seattle on January 19, due to massive mudslides over the railroad north of Chemult, Ore. Union Pacific Railroad, the owner of the line, is working to restore the tracks affected by the slides. All railroad traffic through that area is currently suspended.

Amtrak restored train service over a portion of the route on Friday, Feb. 1, between Los Angeles and Sacramento, with no alternate transportation north of Sacramento. Amtrak will extend the service via motorcoaches, with the first southbound motorcoach, representing the Coast Starlight, Train 11, departing Portland on Friday, February 29. The first northbound motorcoach from the Coast Starlight, Train 14, will depart Sacramento for Portland on Saturday, March 1. Motorcoaches will make stops in both directions at Sacramento, Medford, Eugene, Salem and Portland, Ore. The motorcoaches will also make meal and rest stops to accommodate passengers along the route.

For the train section of this special service, only Coach class will be offered. No sleeping car accommodations will be available. Food and beverage service will be available in a lounge car. The more formal dining service will also be suspended. The Coast Starlight will continue to operate as an all-reserved train and passengers will be able to check bags at stations that normally offer that service.

The railroad route is not expected to reopen through the mudslide area until April.

Commentary, Issues

Starlight should go to Klamath Falls and Eugene with bus bridge

Further communication from the RailPAC President to the Amtrak President NOTE: Full restoration of service for trains 11/14 is anticipated for March 3, but LIKELY will be much later. Also see “Partial restoration” article below.

11th February, 2008
Mr. Alex Kummant
President and CEO
NATIONAL RAILROAD PASSENGER CORPORATION
Washington DC

COAST STARLIGHT RECOMMENCEMENT

Dear Mr. Kummant:

I just watched the CBS evening news with a very positive segment about Amtrak, and a quote from yourself to the effect that you could grow the business by 50 to 100%. We agree, we are equally positive about passenger rail and go out of our way to campaign for improved and new passenger service. Indeed, with perhaps the exception of Apple, I doubt that any corporation in the USA enjoys as much loyalty from its users as does Amtrak. One of the selling points touted in the CBS segment was reliability. While admitting that the national system was not so good, the implication was that rail travel could not only be a more reliable alternative, but overall a better experience than travel by air.

It is for that reason that I am writing again to urge you to re-instate the Coast Starlight throughout its length, with a bus bridge between Eugene and Klamath Falls. If you truly wish to grow the business then we believe you have to demonstrate that your service can be relied upon, even under these difficult circumstances. And you have to demonstrate this not only to the traveling public but also to the federal, state and local politicians on whom you rely for funding. The alternative, indefinitely suspending the service until well into the spring, can only have a disastrous effect on your summer bookings as passengers will make other plans.

I have heard various objections to re-starting the service, both operational and economic. I have made my own enquiries, and I believe these naysayers are being entirely too negative. Indeed, for the few days that you operated to Klamath Falls I am told that the operation went quite smoothly after the first couple of days. I also believe that the cost of the bus operation could be reduced if you give the operator a contract for three or four weeks, as appears to be necessary.

You could turn this into a positive by demonstrating to the towns along the route with press releases etc. that Amtrak is in business and doing its best to get people to where they want to go. There are plenty of local papers and radio stations with low advertising rates where you can place station specific adverts letting people know what you are doing. We have advocated this type of low cost, route specific selling for many years.

On a slightly different note, I received a letter from your General Superintendent, Mr. J.W. Deely, dated January, 24. In it he includes the following statement after mentioning the President’s Emergency Board award: “Additional service cuts are also presently being considered to accommodate the award on a system-wide basis”. I view this as an extraordinarily negative statement, particularly when compared to your positive outlook on CBS this evening. I hope Mr. Deely does not represent Amtrak’s philosophy. We’ve been along the road of trying to cut service in order to reduce the deficit and we know it doesn’t work. I hope he was shooting from the hip rather than presenting company policy. All the statistics we receive indicate increasing revenues, and overall growth in the use of the system. We’d like to be reassured that Amtrak intends to grow itself to prosperity by running more trains and selling more tickets, not by the previously tried and failed means of reducing service.

You can be assured that any positive moves on Amtrak’s part to restore service, and overall to grow the system, will be welcomed by this and like-minded groups throughout the country. We are your best (and least expensive) public relations, word of mouth sales, and political lobbyists. The ball is in your court.

Yours faithfully,
Paul J. Dyson
President

PS: Someone needs to update your website. There is NO mention on the home page that the Coast Starlight is not running, nor will you find this out in the schedule or fare section. If you try and buy a ticket for the non-operating segment you are given a message that no train exists! No apology, no “hope to resume service soon”, nothing! Attention to detail is important.

Reports

AMTRAK RESTORING PARTIAL COAST STARLIGHT SERVICE

RailPAC NOTE: A Partial WIN for rail advocates!
PHOTO ADDED 2/8. Return of full service for trains 11/14 will not be until March 3 or beyond!!!!

coast-starlight-short-consist-feb-08.jpg
The “mini” COAST STARLIGHT re-started on February 6th. Here is train 14 arriving at Van Nuys. Photo by Noel Braymer

AMTRAK PRESS RELEASE
February 1, 2008
Service available between Los Angeles and Sacramento
OAKLAND – Amtrak is restoring service on a portion of the route of the Coast Starlight, beginning Wednesday, February 6. Following discussions with the Union Pacific Railroad, service on the route was suspended between Los Angeles and Seattle on January 19, due to massive mudslides over the railroad north of Chemult, Ore. All railroad traffic through that area has been suspended and is not expected to resume for many weeks.

The first northbound departure of this version of the Coast Starlight, Train 14, will leave Los Angeles on February 6 at 10:15 a.m., making all regularly-scheduled stops and arriving in Sacramento later that night at 11:59 p.m. The first day of service in both directions will be Thursday, February 7, when the southbound Coast Starlight, Train 11, will depart Sacramento at 6:35 a.m., making all regularly-scheduled stops and arriving in Los Angeles at 9:00 p.m.

There will be no Amtrak train service north of Sacramento, but related Amtrak Thruway Motorcoaches in Northern California and Amtrak Cascades trains between Eugene, Ore., and Vancouver, B.C., via Portland and Seattle, are operating.

During this partial service restoration, only Coach class will be offered. No sleeping car accommodations will be available. Food and beverage service will be available in a lounge car. The more formal dining service usually offered on the regular Coast Starlight will be suspended until the resumption of full route between Los Angeles and Seattle. The Coast Starlight will continue to operate as an all-reserved train and passengers will be able to check bags at stations that normally offer that service.