RailPAC/NARP April 19 MEETING REPORT April 21st, 2008
California State Rail Museum, Old Sacramento
Reported by Russ Jackson
Photos by the writer except where noted.
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.
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.
Paul Dyson (left) with Bob Glover welcoming the crowd to the meeting. Mr. Dyson’s report to RailPAC appears on another post.
“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.
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.”
Paul Dyson (left) with Richard Silver explaining how to get the lunch. Many participants chose to “picnic” outdoors.
(l-r) Don Phillips socializes at lunch with George Chilson and Paul Dyson. Photo by Harold Pederson
RailPAC VP South James Smith introduces the Bill Bronte and Gene Skoropowski session. Watching in the foreground is RailPAC VP North Art Lloyd.
“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/
Sometimes getting a video started requires technical help. Who best to call upon these days than the youngest persons in the audience?
“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.”
“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!”