Monthly Archives

April 2008

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Utah’s FrontRunner Inaugural Report and PHOTOS

By John Dornoff, RailPAC Associate Director/InterMountainRail.org

The Inaugural run of Utah’s new FrontRunner communter rail service took place starting at the historic Ogden train station on Saturday, April 28, 2008.

I was invited to ride this special train, along with dignitaries, guest speakers, and UTA officials. It was cold in Ogden that morning, but it was warm by the time the big ceremony was held at the plaza of the new Salt Lake Central Station. Intermediate stops were made at Roy, Clearfield, Layton, Farmington, and Woods Crossing stations.

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Inaugural train at the new Salt Lake City station.
If you look behind the train’s right you will see the beginning of the new Amtrak platform that is not only a fair walk from the station that is directly to the FrontRunner’s left, but much farther away from the rest of the intermodal depot which is behind the photographer. The new transit center also includes the new TRAX light rail extension, but also Greyhound bus service and UTA buses.

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John Inglish, head of UTA, addresses the crowd.
Two FrontRunner locomotives are nose-to-nose behind the speaker’s platform, to recreate the moment from 139 years ago up the road at Promomtory where the first transcontinental trains met for the Golden Spike ceremony. Note the snow-capped Wasatch Mountains in the distance.

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Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) exits the Motive Power MPX locomotive number 5.
According to the Deseret News Senator Hatch said the evolution of transit in Utah was setting a standard for other states to follow and that “people brag about us that you don’t even know about.”

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(l-r) John Inglish, Orin Colby and other UTA officials accept a check for $78 million for FrontRunner construction from Senators Hatch and Robert Bennett (R-UT).
Senator Bennett told the crowd, “In the time I’ve been in the Senate we’ve added 900,000 people to the population of this state…that’s a lot of mass. If we don’t solve our transportation problems, we will strangle on our own growth.” UTA has made the right steps, starting with TRAX and now the FrontRunner is a vision we must applaud.” It is projected that 5 million people will live along the Wasatch front between Ogden and Salt Lake City.

FrontRunner revenue service begins on Thursday, May 1. The new TRAX extension begins on Monday, May 5.

All photos by the author.

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Coast Rail Coordinating Council Meeting Report

April 25, 2008, San Carlos, CA
Report and Commentary by Russ Jackson

“I cannot make a statement that there will be no train-offs,” said Amtrak’s Jonathan Hutchison in reply to a question from this reporter. “But,” he added, “I cannot say there will be train-offs, either.”

A “train-off” is the discontinuance of an existing train from the schedule. Jonathan’s report to the CRCC about Amtrak’s financial status, which he described as unsettled, means another summer of uncertainty for the railroad. Until Amtrak knows how much money the Congress will give it, planning for next fiscal year continues to cause rumors. As for the California rail corridors, he said Amtrak doesn’t have any idea what they will charge this state or any other state. Fuel costs have gone up, estimated at $160 million nationally next year. Amtrak has asked Congress for funds above its requested allocation to cover that fuel increase and $114 million for the additional costs mandated by the settlement of the labor contracts. Historically, Jonathan said, Congress gives Amtrak less than it requests so covering additional mandated expenses must come “from somewhere.” So, here we go again: In his printed remarks Hutchison said the amounts the Administration proposed for FY08, $800 million plus $100 million in federal capital matching, “are insufficient to maintain national operations.”

As for the FRA’s “Capital Matching Program,” ($30 million available to states on a 50-50% matching basis which are not managed by Amtrak), applications are being accepted. Caltrans is reported to be asking for $5 million for the Kings Park project on the San Joaquin route, and the Alameda Corridor is submitting a request. Projects must be ready to go, and yes, states in the Northeast Corridor are eligible to apply for funds from this small federal largesse.

“No date is now set for the re-launch of the Coast Starlight”, according to Hutchison, although RailPAC hears now it won’t be until June. All of Amtrak’s trains are showing increased revenue and ridership, except for the Starlight, of course, which is suffering from the mudslide problems since January in Oregon. The rest of the CRCC meeting concerned state issues, including its primary interest the proposed Coast Daylight train from Los Angeles to San Francisco. The three key issues to advance the train’s startup are, as SLOCOG’s Peter Rodgers said, (in order of priority and importance):

1) Completing track access negotiations and capital improvements (with UP, Caltrain, Metrolink). Caltrans has submitted an agreement to the UP to identify and engineer the needed capital projects. Caltrans has $25 million Prop 1b funds for track and signal improvements which were approved by the California Transportation Commission on February 14.
2) Securing train equipment. The current State Budget includes $150 million that will allow purchase of new equipment, which is expected to arrive no sooner that 2011 IF a Request for Proposals can be released soon. Caltrans and the Department of Finance must come to agreement on release of funds, and in Phase 1 of that negotiation DOF maintained additional equipment is unnecessary based on an audit they did on Labor Day Weekend on the Capitol Corridor, when travel was light. Phase 2 of the negotiations is done and corrects much of the mis-information, so funds could be released in FY 09. The new cars will be standard Surfliner 2’s, with a minimum of changes from the current cars so as to minimize maintenance mis-matches. Rodgers stated that “If track access can be secured sooner than new equipment is ready, Amtrak or Caltrans may have other equipment available for lease.” (Do we say “Amfleet”?)
3) Securing operating funds. If the above issues are resolved, Mr. Rodgers said, “securing operating funds will probably be the last step.” CRCC has generated many resolutions of support from local jurisdictions, and local legislators will be requested to assist. The current target date for implementation of the new train is April 2011, and Caltrans must request these funds in August 2010.

Good news was the apparent resolution of the ongoing dispute with the Department of Justice’s proposed requirement that passenger train platforms be 15 inches above top of rail while most railroads only require 8 inches. Jonathan Hutchison told the CRCC to “go ahead with the 8″ standard;” Amtrak said rigidity is beginning to soften. RailPAC’s Art Lloyd, also representing Caltrain at the meeting, said “APTA will come out with an 8″ policy statement.” The AAR is going along with 8″. That means the 8″ platform constructed in the double tracking project at the Hanford station and has held up the use of it can now be used, and that platform is now open. In addition to Mr. Lloyd, RailPAC was represented at the meeting by Director Bruce Jenkins, Associate Director Mike Barnbaum, and this writer.

The State Budget for rail for FY 08/09 is flat for intercity rail, except to accommodate anticipated increases from Amtrak for fuel and the wage settlement and an additional $8 million has been included for that. If Amtrak sends a bill for more than that (what’s the chance of that?) adjustments must be made. This year Amtrak has swallowed the increased costs of fuel in its agreement. “The long term picture is not pretty,” Pete Rodgers said. And after listening to the “Bill and Gene” show (Bronte and Skoropowski) at the RailPAC meeting on April 19, we have been warned. “The result of not adequately funding the rail infrastructure projects is a slow deterioration of system performance – similar to ‘deferred maintenance’ on highways, streets and road systems,” Rodgers continued, “If on-time performance and reliability worsen, ridership numbers will drop. To effectively run and gradually grow the system, a stable $80 million is needed per year, with periodic boosts for large capital upgrades. The CRCC should join the other rail corridors in the state in urging continued rail operations and capital funding.” RailPAC’s board agrees, and supports the CRCC efforts to start the Coast Daylight asap. As Art Lloyd says, “Let’s get the train going!”

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A Purple Surfliner to Indio

The “Coachella Express” from Los Angeles to the weekend all-star outdoor rock Festival in Indio
April 24, 2008
Photo report by Robert Manning, RailPAC Director

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The train, led by F59PH locomotive 458 arrives at Indio

A special train called the “Coachella Express” arrived in Indio at 5 PM from Los Angeles carrying several hundred music fans from all over the world who will be attending the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival and who chose to ride the train to get there.

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RailPAC member Tony Escarcega waits for the train to arrive at the temporary platforms

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The train carried 300 Festival goers to hear Prince, among others, this weekend.

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(l-r) Amtrak VP Richard Phelps, RailPAC’s Robert Manning, and Indio Mayor Lupe Watson

When the train arrived the music fans were greeted by an array of Indio City officials, Amtrak dignitaries and news media from around the greater southern CA Area. This was truly an exciting event just to see the train arriving into Indio, stopping at the temporary platform, and watching the fans detrain.

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Lead locomotive 458 is the “National Train Day” promotion unit, with “Get Your Choo-Choo On” and “Coachella Express” on the side.

In this writer’s opinion the real main event was watching Amtrak’s Surfliner train consisting of seven cars (4 coaches, a business class coach, a Cafe car, and a Superliner Lounge) and two engines arriving into Indio. Most of the Indio City Council including Mayor Lupe Ramos Watson, Mayor ProTem Fesmire, Council member Ben Godfrey and Councilmember Mike Wilson (also member of Riverside County Transportation Commission) were all present. These council members are all promoting daily Amtrak service to Indio from Los Angeles. Mayor Watson pointed out that a beautiful transportation center will be located at the present temporary train platform, and train service would be a focal point for this center. Indio City Manager Glenn Southard commented on how important passenger train service would be to the Coachella Valley and that this service is one of his most important Projects.

Richard Phelps, Amtrak’s Vice President in charge of transportation, agreed that passenger train service from the desert area could and should happen. With this type of enthusiasm and support I think that we may see Amtrak daily service in the Coachella Valley a reality!

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Surfliner locomotive 450 brings up the rear of the Coachella Express consist.

I would like to thank two fellow RailPAC members: Michael Moreland Human Services Supervisor/Senior Center for the City of Indio for introducing me to the city staff, and avid train rider Tony Escarcega for helping with the photos.
Robert Manning, Palm Springs, CA

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RAILPAC MEMBERS MEETING – SACRAMENTO 4/19/08

State of the Association
By Paul Dyson, RailPAC President

Honored Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen:

While it’s normal at an Annual meeting of members to hear a number of reports from Officers of the Association, in the interests of putting together an interesting program, and our activities and plans into a single “State of the Association” report. We’ll be printing a full synopsis of this in the Review, and in addition if any members would like to see a copy of our financial statements, please e-mail me. It’s not that we have anything to hide. On the contrary, we have had a very successful year, and we have a very strong bank balance. But the Board thinks that its more important to listen to our speakers and to figure out how to carry the campaign forward in the coming year.

First of all I’d like to personally thank the Officers and Board of RailPAC for the hard work that they put in. There are very few all volunteer groups, with the geographic challenges that we face, that put out a monthly publication like the Western Rail Passenger Review, and I’d particularly like to recognize our Editor, Noel Braymer, for his 30 years of dedication to RailPAC. In addition to Noel we have a team including Russ Jackson, Ric Silver and Bill Kerby that put the Review together and into the US Mail. Bill is doing a wonderful job as Treasurer, Ric Silver is de facto membership Secretary, and Russ Jackson updates the web page. In addition each Board member and Associate Director attend as many meetings as possible in their area and keep their fingers on the pulse. Art Lloyd, as VP for Northern California, put this meeting together along with Ric, Bill and Russ. James Smith, VP Southern California, and I promise to restart the Los Angeles meetings as soon as we get a moment to catch our breath. Between us we attend the meetings of the 4 state rail corridor boards and TACs, and as many other rail related public meetings as possible.

In addition to our Board member activities we either sponsor or support a number of activist groups around the state. In particular I’d like to mention Coastal Rail Now in Santa Barbara, led by our Board member Dennis Storey, our ad hoc group in San Luis Obispo, David Weisman, Curtis Reinhardt and Eugene Jud, Chris Flescher at Salinas and Monterey County, and Bob Manning in the Coachella Valley. We also have a new Coast Starlight pressure group, Justin Walker and company. This year we’ve organized or assisted with public meetings in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara, and we again sponsored the reception at Inter city rail day here in Sacramento. Over the next year we want to expand these activities, particularly in the San Joaquin Valley.

Finally, as this meeting testifies, we are working much more closely than in former years with NARP. While maintaining our affiliation to URPA, we believe there is value in working with both groups. URPA is an informal, unpaid think tank. They ask the awkward questions and come up with interesting and thought provoking ideas. Sometimes they can be a bit harsh in their criticisms, and we certainly don’t have to agree with all they say, but they perform a useful service. NARP on the other hand is a membership organization and an important link to the federal government and Amtrak head office in Washington DC. I have just been appointed to the Board of NARP and will be attending my first Board meeting in a couple of weeks. Look for my report in the subsequent Review.

We now have a paid up membership of over 1250, a 20% increase this year. We can record a couple of milestones in that department; we have our first ever local government member, the City of Santa Barbara has just joined us, and we have a corporate member, the UK railcar financing company, Angel Trains. Another focus for this year is to increase our income through sponsorships, grants and corporate and civic memberships in order to finance additional activities and publications.

We continue to campaign on as many fronts as our resources permit. This year we have tried to have an impact on a number of issues, including the Coast Daylight service, punctuality of Amtrak trains, funding for grade separations, restoration of and daily service on the Sunset, coordination between commuter agencies and Amtrak, and High Speed Rail. As you know we had some unforeseen issues crop up that we had to respond to. You will I hope be aware of our efforts to restore the Coast Starlight service after the Oregon landslide. Believe it or not we have been criticized in some quarters for my strident criticism of Amtrak’s suspension of service. Let me remind you that the Sunset service is still suspended east of New Orleans even though the track has long since been repaired, and with that in mind I felt that the only right course of action, as an advocacy group, was to raise as much of a fuss as possible with as many interested parties as possible to force Amtrak to do the right thing and run as much of the service as they were able. If we ruffled some feathers at Union Station in Washington, I make no apologies. Perhaps if other groups had been equally forceful after Katrina the Sunset would be running today to Florida.

We now have a mighty struggle on our hands to keep any kind of state level funding for inter city rail programs. I’m sure many of you are like me in that you held your noses and voted for Prop 1B only because of the rail component of that program. As you will hear later, the obstruction by the state finance department amounts to blatant deception of the voters and makes a mockery of the initiative process. In addition, the Governor seems to regard money that had previously been committed for passenger rail and transit as his personal piggybank to balance the budget. Now in a downturn all state expenditures should come under scrutiny, as well as revenue streams. The Governor has clearly indicated his priorities by continuing highway spending, maintaining the sales tax breaks for luxury yachts, and starving all forms of public transportation. So much for his claims to be concerned about the environment.

So where do we go from here? In spite of some impressive looking statistics I think we can all agree that in general passenger rail services in this state are at best mediocre. Trains need to be faster, more frequent, and more reliable. How do we accomplish this? First, by making noise. We need to make sure that we keep passenger rail on the agenda in every forum that we can engage. It’s the responsibility of everyone in this room to open a line of communication with local, state and federal elected representatives to tell them that passenger rail is a necessity, not an option. Second, by not accepting mediocrity when its possible to do better. An example would be the connections at LAUS between Metrolink and Amtrak. Minor schedule changes at zero cost can open up additional travel opportunities, resulting in more ticket sales. What a concept, sell more tickets!

RailPAC has always stood, and still stands for incremental improvements to existing services. Some of you may have heard my analogy of Switzerland, a country which would fit nicely between Santa Barbara and Palm Springs, or between Monterey and Auburn. They have a plan which they worked on for 20 years. 9 railways, 40 bus companies, even the lake ferry operators work together to provide a seamless passenger service linking just about every community in the country. They have geographic obstacles greater than ours, they handle a lot of local and overhead freight, their local governments are extremely protective of their independence, and they have 4 official languages. We can have a system as good as the Swiss if we put our minds to it. We have a lot of the tools already in place. We need leadership and a plan to start putting it all together.

And at the same time as we are building these regional networks it is clear to me that we are going to need some new, dedicated, rights of way to provide high speed links between these regional networks. The priority for these new lines should not be a race against the airlines between Los Angeles and San Francisco, but a series of links between the dozen or so major population centers in California, many of which have minimal and very expensive air service. The advantage of this latter approach is that again the system can be built in stages with each segment having intrinsic benefits in addition to being part of a whole that will eventually link north and south.

Let me conclude with an appeal. RailPAC has been able to accomplish a lot thanks to the dedication of a very small group of people. We need more of you to be involved in running the group. We particularly need more computer literate people to help with graphics, map making, and presentations. We also need help establishing more local groups such as we have in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara. We need to be able to attend more City and County government meetings to state our case and to explain the benefits of a joined up system. And if you’re unable to give us your time, then give us your money! We deliberately designed the membership subscription amounts to provide you with the flexibility to add to your contribution. We’re going through a period of inflation in which we’ll have to run faster just to stand still, so please consider adding a few more dollars at renewal time.

So let’s not be downhearted. We and our friends and allies have accomplished a lot in the 30 plus years that we’ve been running this campaign. I believe that we are being heard as never before, and that passenger trains are on the agenda front and center. Together we can make it happen.

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RailPAC/NARP April 19 MEETING REPORT

California State Rail Museum, Old Sacramento
Reported by Russ Jackson

Photos by the writer except where noted.

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Amtrak 6, the eastbound California Zephyr arrived at the Sacramento station at 9:45 on 4/19. The gateway to Old Sacramento and the Rail Museum is at the west end of the platform. (Mike Palmer photo)

What a great gathering of rail advocates it was! The sold out attendance of 150 people showed up to hear the excellent speakers, enjoy the food, and participate in the discussions before, during and after the meeting.

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The large crowd waits for the program to begin. Photo by Harold Pederson

RailPAC and NARP extend congratulations to RailPAC President/NARP Director Paul Dyson, VP North/NARP Director Art Lloyd, RailPAC Executive Director Richard Silver and Treasurer Bill Kerby, and NARP Treasurer Bob Glover for the hard work involved in putting it together, and we thank the California State Rail Museum for its facilities. All of the RailPAC Directors, and most of the NARP Region 12 Directors, attended.

april-2008-1-011.jpg Paul Dyson (left) with Bob Glover welcoming the crowd to the meeting. Mr. Dyson’s report to RailPAC appears on another post.

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“It will help bring jobs to California,” was California High Speed Rail Authority Deputy Director, Dan Leavitt’s promise to the state if the bond issue to start Phase 1 of the high speed train project is passed by the voters in November. Mr. Leavitt presented the newest HSR animation video showing what the trains and stations would look like. (it can be found at cahighspeedrail.ca.gov) “If we don’t do it (the bond issue) this year, it won’t happen, so the proposal has high political support from the Governor, much of the Legislature,” and matching federal funds are in a strong position because of the support of Senators Boxer, Feinstein, and Speaker Pelosi. “Life at $4 a gallon of gas, doubled air fares, airports at capacity, and the most heavily congested highways in the country,” make passage of this modern alternative means of transportation in California a real possibility. Californians “get it,” said Mr. Leavitt, as the latest poll shows approval of 58% of voters; This bond measure requires a simple majority vote for approval, so its prospects are good at this time. In reply to several questions he said that many airports favor HSR as solving future transportation problems, and some airlines are looking at the possibility of running it as some do in Europe. The project has high support in the Central Valley which needs the mobility potential. Asked why San Diego and Sacramento are not in Phase 1, Mr. Leavitt replied that we’ve “got to start some place.” The first phase will raise funds to pay for the next phases. The large crowd appeared to enthusiastically support the CAHSRA project.

donphillips.jpg Photo by Mike Palmer.
“California is way ahead of the rest of the country,” was the report from our warmly received featured speaker, TRAINS magazine columnist and long time transportation reporter Don Phillips. Three things, he said, speaking of the national political climate today: “Things won’t get better under a Democrat administration; Where’s the new equipment Amtrak was supposed to start ordering in January?; and Don’t count on the federal government for anything new from any new administration.” Any new money generated “must go to pay off what we already owe.” Transportation spending has been stagnate since the Eisenhower administration, when “Ike” succeeded in getting tax money to start the Interstate Highway program. The U.S. is the only country where there is a constant battle between modes of transportation (rail-highway, freight-passenger) and within sectors of the country. To tax was not a problem in the 50’s, Mr. Phillips said, but it is now. That highway system is now carrying 300% of its design capacity. High speed rail is the only way to go for the future. California is self-contained, the Northeast could care less as long as its money stays there, and the rest of the country cares less about transportation. But, “greens” love trains, and that can lead to electrification although how is a potential problem as the U.S. decides how to go forward. All Switzerland is hydroelectric while France is all nuclear power. Then, there are the freight railroads. Right now, Mr. Phillips said, their growth is static because of the slowing economy. But, improvements to their properties are moving ahead and he cited the double and triple tracking of the BNSF and the UP. A new generation of railroad executives deserves our support, is thinking more about mobility of people as well as freight, and one of them, the BNSF’s Matt Rose has passenger rail at the top of his morning report each day. A BNSF dispatcher was recently suspended for delaying passenger trains. As for security, Mr. Phillips “won’t fly out of Dulles International again in my life,” because of the unnecessary and extensive security searches. “Amtrak is getting smart,” and the Amtrak Chief of Police, John O’Connor, is doing it right. You never see them, and he has hired some great people.” They “did a survey of the largest train stations to see what would bring them down,” and devised their plans accordingly. Amtrak’s guards are courteous, but prepared. And, as for railfan photography, local cops have been harassing photographers in some places, but “you can take pictures of anything from any public property.” He emphasized, “You as a non-criminal have rights, such as to remain silent. If you are asked to destroy photos, remember doing so is destroying evidence of your innocence.”

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Paul Dyson (left) with Richard Silver explaining how to get the lunch. Many participants chose to “picnic” outdoors.

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(l-r) Don Phillips socializes at lunch with George Chilson and Paul Dyson. Photo by Harold Pederson

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RailPAC VP South James Smith introduces the Bill Bronte and Gene Skoropowski session. Watching in the foreground is RailPAC VP North Art Lloyd.

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“We are all going to face funding problems,” was the prediction of Caltrans Rail Chief Bill Bronte (right) and echoed by the Capitol Corridor Managing Director Gene Skoropowski. These outstanding leaders of the California rail corridors have a good working relationship, and the Bill and Gene show was well received by the crowd, although their news was not all that could exactly be called good. As for operating funds, Caltrans Rail had $73 million per year each year from 2000-2006 without any change; this year it went up because of fuel cost increases and the settlement of Amtrak’s labor contracts. The ongoing rebuild program for cars has been funded. “So, operationally we are doing better this year,” Mr. Bronte said, “and we continue to get support from the Governor and the Legislature.” BUT, the capital investment side is another story. Neither the Governor or the Legislature have addressed the underlying mobility issues despite what the people voted for in Propositions 1a and 1b in 2006. What was supposed to be available is not. Unlike constitutionally mandated funds, these rail funds are subject to the whims of the administration and legislation. The Department of Finance, whose director Michael Genest maintains that public fund support for mass transit, particularly the intercity rail program, is not a legitimate expenditure of public funds, has conducted an “audit” that said “we don’t see you need it.” So, “we can’t spend any because of that.” That puts the expected order of new cars for the Surfliners, Capitols, and San Joaquins on hold. But, Caltrans Director, Will Kempton, is a big supporter of rail. He has ticket machines in the Caltrans office building which sells up to 200 tickets a month, and as Mr. Skoropowski said, “he rides…we know it if there’s a glitch in his travel.” The California corridors now carry 20% of Amtrak’s total ridership, and that equals 41% of the total ridership in the vaunted Northeast Corridor. California is moving ahead, obviously, but, as Mr. Bronte said, “We have been pushing the stone up the hill. Don’t push it back down.” Both of these public servants were saluted by the audience for their efforts on behalf of the rail passenger system in this state. The new Intercity Rail Video, which Mr. Skoropowski showed, has done a great job educating public officials about the state rail program from a customer point of view. Members of the audience wanted to obtain copies, and they are available for downloading from the Capitol Corridor website, capitolcorridor.org/

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Sometimes getting a video started requires technical help. Who best to call upon these days than the youngest persons in the audience?

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“The future lies in rail transportation,” was the theme of Sacramento County Supervisor Roger Dickinson’s welcome to Sacramento. Mr. Dickinson arrived during the Bronte-Skoropowski presentation and was introduced by Mr. Skoropowski as a major supporter of rail programs, since he is a member and former Chairman of the Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Board, and a member of the Sacramento RT board. “We are challenged by the state,” Mr. Dickinson said, “we are experiencing the renaissance of rail transport, freeways are becoming more and more impacted.” There is the Governor’s laudable support, and yet his people attack public transportation, both urban and intercity, which can help us lower greenhouse emissions. Forty per cent of those come from transportation! “To save the planet we must move people more efficiently.” He energetically urged us to keep up the message, “and we will succeed.”

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“We are the memory of what is possible,” said NARP President George Chilson, “not nostalgia for trains and wanting to return to those days.” The correct definition of “Nostalgia,” he said, is a “yearning for a better time.” NARP is now at 24,000 members nationally, up 8% this year. He urged NARP members to join RailPAC. NARP has been working on a long range vision plan. The U.S. “is in a transportation crisis.” Money? “Not enough money” is “hogwash.” It’s “how it’s spent, and a lack of desire to spend it.” Gridlock, oil, and pollution have evolved into global warming. As time goes along people dependent upon cars are going to hurt. Returning to cheap oil forever, as some wish, is a canard. But, trains are fuel efficient. We are away behind the rest of the world. The good thing about “crisis” is it presents opportunity, and $4 per gallon and cheap air flights are going to be memories. People with “transportation choices are going to fare much better, so rebuilding the national rail network is vital.” The transportation system of the future must be “modern, have a customer focus, be national, and be heavily used.” The cost for NARP’s plan, (which can be seen on narprail.org), has been estimated at $40 billion, but it takes votes to get public financing and that means convincing one legislator at a time. We, rail advocates, “are not a special interest group, we are a public interest group.” Our goal is complete reform of our transportation system into a large state-federal joint system. As for what RailPAC and NARP members can do, Mr. Chilson quoted Pitcairn, “Minorities create news because they do daring things and act together. They get their own way against larger numbers because they demand what they want and make a fuss about it.” So, he challenged the crowd, “Be daring, Know what we want, Act together, and Make a fuss!”

Events

RailPAC Annual Meeting and NARP Region XII Meeting

In The Stanford Room at the California State Rail Museum, Old Sacramento (west of the main museum building)
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PROGRAM INFORMATION and RESERVATION FORM
THIS EVENT IS NOW S O L D O U T!
Confirmed Speakers:
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  • Don Phillips, long time rail writer and special columnist for TRAINS Magazine! (Photo © 2008 TRAINS Magazine. Reprinted with permission of Kalmbach Publishing. All rights reserved)
  • Dan Leavitt, California High Speed Rail Authority, will discuss plans leading up to the November HSR Bond Issue election!
  • William “Bill” Bronte, Chief, Caltrans Rail Program will update us on the state’s budget woes and the effect on the state’s rail programs and public transit.
  • Amtrak presentation about a significant cutomer service improvement initiative underway on the San Joaquin trains!
  • George Chilson, NARP President
  • Gene Skoropowski will show the new “Intercity Rail” VIDEO.
  • The National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) will again hold its Region XII Meeting in conjunction with RailPAC at the same time in the same place. Cost for RailPAC or NARP members is $25, and includes morning coffee, box lunch and afternoon refreshments. $35 for Non-Members. Updated details of the program will be available on www.RailPAC.org or call 916-833-4218. Copy and print the following form, enclose your check, and mail it to reserve your place! A PAYPAL option link is below the form!
    – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
    ____ Yes! I will be attending the Joint RailPAC/NARP Annual meeting April 19th in Sacramento
    ____ I am a RailPAC and/or NARP member. Enclosed is my check for ________ persons at $25 each. (Add $10 per person for each person who is NOT a member of RailPAC or NARP). Price is $35 at the door
    ____ Sorry, Can’t make it, but enclosed is my donation to help with the cost of the meeting.
    Checks MUST be made payable to RailPAC
    Send to: RAILPAC/NARP MEETING, 1017 L St-217, Sacramento, CA 95814NAME (S): ________________________________________

    ADDRESS: ________________________________________

    CITY: _________________________ ZIP: ______________

    PHONE: _________________ E-MAIL: ________________

    Uncategorized

    March CA Corridor statistics compared to NEC

    Reported by Gene Skoropowski, Managing Director, Capitol Corridor

    Americans won’t ride trains? Are you sitting down? If any evidence to the contrary is needed, just use these California statistics. If the “auto capital of the world” is attracting this kind of intercity passenger market, the naysayers for rail investment can indeed be effectively countered with these actual statistics.

    The March 2008 Capitol Corridor statistics from Amtrak may cause me to order a bottle of ‘heart palpitation pills’! This is the sixth month of our FY08 ederal fiscal year, and there seems to be no stopping the growth..

    Amtrak reports for:

    Capitol Corridor (March 2008):

    138,211 passengers +16.8% vs. 2007, another record for the month, and the second highest ridership month for the service.
    $1,907,638 revenue +33.1% vs. 2007 (there continues to be more than the ‘projected’ riders, making longer trips, buying more full fare tickets, etc.)

    The on-time performance for March was 84.2% (down slightly), with year- o-date on-time at 85.6%, again, a substantial improvement over the past several years. While delivered service to the customer was below our standard of 90%, the Union Pacific performance was in the low 90% range, sustaining a high level of reliability for every one of the first six months in this fiscal year.

    The year-to-date ridership growth is +13.6%, and revenue for the same period is up +22.4%. The last 12 month ridership is now at 1,543,497 passengers. At this rate, the current year should end up somewhere between 1.6 and 1.7 million on the Capitol Corridor.

    The revenue-to-cost ratio for March is 59% (the highest month ever), and the year-to-date revenue-to-cost ratio is 53.3%. Again, this is the best ‘six month report’ we have ever had to a fiscal year, for riders, for revenue, and for farebox recovery, and near the top for on-time performance. And the riders continue to come………………..

    For the Capitol Corridor, and indeed for all of California, the ridership and revenue numbers show substantial and sustained growth. Again, ridership growth, and especially revenue growth, across the state remains very strong on all passenger rail routes. California continues to be “home” to at least 20% of all the Amtrak passengers in the country. For a continuing comparison, the March 2008 Amtrak Northeast Corridor “Spine” ridership was 932,592 passengers, while California’s three intercity corridors (NOT including the intra-California ridership on Amtrak’s long-distance trains) was 465,387 or almost exactly 50% of the Northeast Corridor “Spine” ridership numbers. (The spine numbers do not include Harrisburg-Philadelphia, or Albany -New York City, or New Haven-Springfield). Even with those 3 NEC “branches” included, California now has nearly 41% of the total Northeast Corridor ridership. Clearly, a major portion of all Amtrak’s “corridor” riders are here in California and NOT just in the busy Northeast Corridor.

    March 2008 shows that there is very strong growth all over California
    ______________________________________________________

    Pacific Surfliners (March 2008):

    248,808 passengers +9.4% vs. 2007 (6 months YTD: +7.0%
    $4,166,311 revenue +16.4% vs. 2007 (6 months YTD: +9.5%)
    On-time performance for March: 71.6%
    YTD on-time: 78.4%

    San Joaquins (March 2008):
    78,368 passengers +26.7% vs. 2007
    $2,270,691 revenue +20.5% vs. 2007
    On-time performance for March: 81.2%
    YTD on-time: 85.7%

    Uncategorized

    The Sunset Limited has a future?

    bob-012-medium.jpg bob-003-medium.jpg bob-038-medium.jpg
    SMART: Sunset Marketing and Revitalization Team
    Meeting Report, New Orleans, March 29, 2008
    PHOTOS and trip report, by Robert Manning, RailPAC Director

    SMART is a grass-roots organization formed January 19, 2008 in order to “Save and promote Amtrak’s long distance passenger train the Sunset Limited.” This diverse group, comprised mostly of people from the Gulf States, came together to form this organization to achieve their goal. The group had local mayors, Amtrak officials and others at this first meeting in order to promote their efforts, and apparently this first meeting was a success.

    Paul Dyson President of RailPAC was contacted by SMART and asked to send a representative to the next SMART meeting. In order to show support for this new group and help this organization in its continuing efforts concerning the Sunset Limited, this writer was selected by the RailPAC board of directors to attend the next SMART meeting. I was selected because I am the Palm Springs RailPAC Director and we are attempting to have daily Amtrak service between the Palm Springs area and Los Angeles which is currently served by the Sunset Limited. SMART held their second meeting on Saturday, March 29, in the New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal.

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    The NOUPT is a very attractive building located in the heart of downtown New Orleans, it is very well kept, and it also houses the Greyhound bus terminal. I must say that this was a perfect location for this meeting and it was nice to see a constant flow of people in and around the train station. I should mention that I was invited to an informal dinner by the SMART group Friday evening. The dinner was at Michaul’s a popular New Orleans restaurant also located in the downtown area. There were approximately twelve people at the dinner including Barbara and Webster Tucker, and Louisiana’s John Sita, one of the original organizers of SMART.

    bob-003-medium.jpg
    The SMART group meeting. Writer Bob Manning is standing next to Amtrak’s Jim McDaniel who is seated at the head of the table.
    The next morning the first order of business was the election of the SMART officers: Elected were:
    John Sita Chairperson, Vice Chair Mort Kelly, Secretary, Barbara Tucker and Treasurer, Allan Thomas.
    After the elections the Roberts Rules of Order was adopted and chaired by Mort Kelly.

    bob-038-medium.jpg
    The engineer boards Sunset Limited train #1, at the platform at NOUPT on March 31, getting ready for departure to California.

    At this point the goals of SMART were stated and they included the following:
    1) Supporting the continuation of Amtrak’s Sunset Limited passenger train,
    2) Reestablishing Sunset Limited service to Florida
    3) Daily service for the Sunset Limited.

    These three items were unanimously approved (and reflect the goals of RailPAC for many years). At this point Amtrak’s Jim McDaniel, Assistant Superintendent, Passenger Services, told the group that he cannot support expansion of the Sunset into Florida as Amtrak does not encourage Florida service at this time. (emphasis added) Jim also told the group that he cannot encourage something that Amtrak does not support. The SMART group understood Jim’s position and Jim excused himself from the meeting. A lively discussion ensued regarding very strong rumors:

    1) Amtrak was encouraging Sunset service to Jacksonville, Florida rather then Orlando. Jacksonville service seems to be attractive and favored by the group as direct service from Jacksonville south is in place.
    2) An Amtrak route change in Texas may be in the works and several people in the group believe that in fact that may happen in the near future.

    Sometimes rumors do have a basis and I guess time will tell. After this topic the group spent some time dealing with membership and how to grow the organization and what would be a model for this group to follow. From there the group decided how to best advocate calling on local officials, chamber of commerce and so on. It was then decided that the next meeting will be held again in New Orleans because of location and the date will be the last weekend of May. It is my strong wish and desires that this fine group of people will achieve their goals and grow as an organization. They have a lot of work to do.

    Trip Report: When I first made plans to attend the Smart meeting I planned on taking the Sunset Limited from Palm Springs Wednesday, March 26, at 5:06 P.M., which would arrive in New Orleans Friday, March 28 at 4: PM. No roomettes were available, and only one bedroom for a cost of $1300 (One way) was available, and that price made it unavailable to me. After checking I found that a tour group had booked all of the sleeping car space. I even checked late in the day March 26, and still no roomettes. I had already made my round trip reservations on South West Air Lines and flew into New Orleans. Due to illness I did in fact take the Sunset back home, booking a roomette back to Palm Springs. It was a very enjoyable restful trip.

    bob-041-medium.jpg
    My car attendant Ken, who I have met before, provided excellent service. The dining car crew, especially John, took very good care of me and the food was very good. When I told the staff why I went to New Orleans and that I wanted to take the Sunset from Palm Springs, March 26 but no bedrooms were available because a tour group had reserved all available sleeping car space, they all laughed. I was told that the tour group WAS A NO SHOW! All of the sleeping car space was empty on the Sunset #2 departing Los Angeles March 26! Not Nice!

    bob-042-medium.jpg
    The Sunset Limited crosses the Huey P. Long Bridge over the Mississippi River departing NOUPT, in this photo from the Sightseer Lounge.
    In any event the return trip home riding on the Sunset Limited in a roomette was very pleasant. Breakfast, lunch and dinner were enjoyable. I had the hen for dinner the first night and it was good. Being able to eat was nice and I cannot say enough about the dining car staff and just meeting nice people on the train. By the second day the toilets in my car would not flush and that was a problem. However the Texas Eagle had attached to our train and the bedroom attendant on that train, Lloyd Berry whomI have met many times before, placed me in one of the rooms in his car after consulting with the conductor. Lloyd Berry is very conscientious and my new room was very clean. The next morning when I got up from a very good nights sleep, the train was paralleling the Salton Sea, which is not too far from Palm Springs. I then met with the two conductors Dan and Fred who would take the train into Los Angeles. I have met both of these conductors many times before and have always had a very enjoyable trip when they were in charge. I went to the diner for breakfast and enjoyed my oatmeal, biscuit, peach yogurt and very good coffee. The Sunset arrived into the Palm Springs Station at 7:30 AM, less than an hour late!

    Uncategorized

    Will You Help on National Train Day May 10?

    NOTE: Information about the day’s schedule is posted on the Event post.
    Dear RailPAC members and friends,
    Amtrak is sponsoring National Train Day on May 10. This is a great opportunity to spread the word about RailPAC and the need for more passenger rail service.

    There will be events around the state both big and small, the major Amtrak event will be at Los Angeles Union Station. This is supposed to also be the launch day of the revamped Coast Starlight.

    I am looking for volunteers to hand out RailPAC Reviews and membership information, either at your local station or one of the larger events. Please reply to pdyson@railpac.org with the following:

    Name
    Local station (s)
    Willingness to travel to another location (e.g. LAUS, Fresno, Sacramento)
    Hours available.
    Any ideas for events that you could stage.

    An “event” can be as simple as one individual handing out RailPAC info to train passengers at your local depot, or you can come and help at LA, or one of the larger stations. We’ll supply all the materials.

    Please respond asap, and keep looking at RailPAC.org as we develop our plans.
    Thanks,
    Paul Dyson
    President, Rail Passenger Association of California
    Also see www.narprail.org/trainday

    Uncategorized

    Now is The Best and Worse of Times

    Editorial by Noel T. Braymer

    Ridership on Amtrak, commuter and transit trains is growing and reaching all time records. Los Angeles will see the extension of the Gold Line from LAUS out to East Los Angeles by late next year and the start up of the Expo Line to Culver City by 2010.  Metrolink will be running trains in Orange County every half hour by late 2009 and is working on extending service to Perris in Riverside County by 2011. We are very close to seeing the Coast Daylight running with the first direct service between Los Angeles and San Francisco in over 30 years. With gasoline prices going higher almost every day people are looking for economic alternatives to their dependence on oil and the automobile.

    So what could be wrong: the economy! The dollar is losing value, inflation is rising and the economy is slowing down. Rail projects need money to be built or so service can be expanded. Tax revenues are down at all levels of government and there is greater need for government services at a time local and state governments are looking at major cut backs. On the bright side up to 300 million dollars of the 20 billion dollars in 1B Bond money passed in 2006 will be going for freight rail projects to grade separate Colton Crossing plus double tracking of Tehachapi and Donner Pass. These projects plus additional funding for highway/rail grade separations will help some rail passenger service, as well as highway and freight rail service while also giving the economy a needed boost. But 4 billion dollars of 1B funds for transit including 400 million for intercity rail passenger service which included money for more passenger cars is being held up due to political fun and games.

    There is a great deal that rail service can do to help the economy, improve transportation, save energy and the environment. In the short term with some extra funding existing services can be expanded, particularly during weekends and off peak periods. The Coaster between Oceanside and San Diego has three trainsets that are stored most of the day in San Diego. This equipment could be used to extend service to Irvine were there is a strong market. If Coaster and Metrolink coordinated their services, their trains could meet at Irvine to create connections to Los Angeles and Riverside/San Bernardino. The Coast Daylight needs equipment which we can get from Amtrak. This equipment will need to be overhauled before going back in service which will require some money. But with additional equipment we could add more trains and more seats to existing crowded trains. In the long term all services will need more new equipment just to meet growing demand. There are existing rights of ways that can be used to swiftly and economically expand rail service. These include service from Orange County and downtown Los Angeles to LAX and direct service from Sacramento to the upper San Joaquin Valley, San Jose and San Francisco.

    All of this needs money. The answer for that is to do what this country has always done in difficult times; raise taxes. Then Governor Reagan raised taxes in the 1970’s to close a budget deficit as did Governor Wilson in 1991. At the Federal level today’s Income Tax for those in the highest tax bracket is 35 percent. World War II was one of the most critical times in our history. All wars create massive deficit spending, inflation and historically ended with a depression when the war ended. With this in mind during World War II taxes were raised on everyone. The top tax bracket by 1944 peaked at 94%. This wasn’t done to balance the budget, which can’t be done in a war but to help control inflation. Even after the war ended the top tax bracket reminded at 90 percent up until 1964. What is amazing is that after World War II there wasn’t a post war depression. There was some inflation but nothing like we have seen since the 1970’s. You could by a new house in the 1960’s for $20,000, rent an apartment for $100, buy a new car for $2,000 or ride transit for 25 cents. Even if you made only $3,000 a year which was about what you’d get on minimum wage in the 1960’s, you still had the buying power of someone today making around $30,000.

    Instead of depression, the period after World War II saw the greatest economic growth in American History. A great deal of money was spent building houses, roads, water, sewer lines, bridges etc:  much of the infrastructure we are using today. While we were building roads and airports back then, we didn’t spend much money on rail or rail transit. This created much of our dependence on autos and trucks which helped us to be so oil dependent. It was hard to worry about that in the 1960’s when gasoline was around 27 cents a gallon. But now not only do we need more infrastructure, but much of the infrastructure built after World War II is now old and in need of replacing. So the question remains: where are we going to find the money?

    Even when the top tax bracket was 90%, no one paid 90% of their income in taxes. There were deductions and loopholes. More was paid in taxes as a percentage of income than today. But the high tax rates “encouraged” people to shelter their money from taxes in low risk, low yield investments. This helped create the capital that was used for the economic development in the post war years. Many important investments can take years before there is a return. People like to get rich, quick. High yield investments are always high risk investments. In 1922 the top tax bracket was 55%.  By 1929 this had been dropped to 25%. Much of this extra money was used to get richer, quicker in the Roaring 20’s by investing in the stock market. By 1929 the stock market was in a classic bubble with many stocks selling for much more than they were really worth. Like most economic bubbles it finally burst which started a chain of events which lead to the Great Depression of the 1930’s. The current burst housing bubble has some things in common with the 1929 Market Crash. It is doubtful we will see 90% tax brackets again, but to pay for the projects needed to maintain a first world standard of living will require higher taxes.