Letter from Senator Feinstein re Amtrak and the Coast Starlight

This letter was received by RailPAC Sacramento Director, Marcia Johnston, in reply to her inquiry of the Senator about needs for Amtrak survival. It is apparent that the Senator needs educating on the subject, and the principal reason is her statement we have highlighted in bold.

From: senator@feinstein.senate.gov [mailto:senator@feinstein.senate.gov]
Sent: Wednesday, March 12, 2008 4:25 PM
To: Johnston, Marcia
Subject: U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein responding to your message

Dear Ms. Johnston:

Thank you for writing me to share your concerns about the recent delays with the Amtrak Coast Starlight. I appreciate hearing from you on this important transportation issue and welcome the opportunity to respond.

As I am sure you are aware, the Coast Starlight train connects Seattle, Washington to Los Angeles, California along a scenic coastal route. Unfortunately, ridership on this particular route has been on the decline over the past few years. According to Amtrak, ridership on the Coast Starlight has decreased 26 percent between 1999 and 2005. Even more disturbing, the Coast Starlight has delivered only 2 percent of its passengers to their destination on time since October of 2005.

According to the Union Pacific, the railroad that owns the portion of the tracks between Portland, Oregon and Sacramento, California, the majority of the delays on the track are caused by congestion and maintenance problems. The United States rail system differs from the system found in Japan and many European countries; there is not a separate system of tracks dedicated solely to passenger rail service, but rather passenger trains must share the tracks with freight trains. As a result, many Amtrak passenger trains must allow freight trains priority on the tracks.

I understand the concerns you mention in your letter. I recognize the tremendous service that Amtrak provides to many Californians like yourself. I also recognize that Amtrak passengers rely on trains departing and arriving in a timely fashion. I agree with your sentiments that if these trains do not run on time, passengers will be forced to look for alternative means of travel.

Please know that I will keep your comments in mind as my staff and I continue to monitor the Coast Starlight over the coming months. Again, thank you for contacting me. If you have any additional comments or questions, please feel free to contact my Washington, D.C. staff at (202) 224-3841. Best regards.

Sincerely yours,

Dianne Feinstein
United States Senator

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