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May 2008

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RailPAC Endorses High Speed Rail bond issue and AB 3034

April 24, 2008
RAILPAC BOARD ENDORSES HIGH SPEED RAIL AND AB 3034

At its regular April Board meeting yesterday the Board of Directors of RailPAC unanimously endorsed the placing of the California High Speed Rail Bonds Initiative on the November, 2008 ballot. In addition the Board endorsed the provisions of AB 3034 which lays out various terms and conditions governing the expenditure of the bond proceeds.

While most Board members have concerns about various aspects of the High Speed Rail Program, the strong consensus is that overall the program is vital to bring surface transportation in California up to 21st Century standards, as well as bringing a host of environmental and economic benefits. In addition to High Speed Rail the bond proceeds and associated matching funds will pay for important upgrades to existing services that will connect with High Speed Rail. RailPAC will be closely monitoring pending legislation affecting the bond issue as well as working with state officials and elected representatives to ensure that both the High Speed Rail funds and the associated funds for rail connections are properly spent. RailPAC will be actively campaigning for the Bond measure between now and November.

RailPAC is a non-profit California Corporation run entirely by volunteers to promote passenger rail service in California and the neighboring states.

For information contact:
Paul Dyson, President, 818 845 9599

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Rail Passenger Service is a Non-Partisan Issue

Editoral by Noel T. Braymer

With the Presidential Elections coming up at the end of this year, there is bound to be discussion of the positions the candidates have about Amtrak and rail passenger service. This has been highlighted by reports of opposition of the candidacy of John McCann by noted Conservative Republican and Rail Passenger Advocate Paul Weyrich because Senator McCann is “Anti-Amtrak”. RailPAC is a non-partisan organization. We are friends with politicians of all parties. We also have disagreements with politicians from all parties. What we at RailPAC have learned over the years is to not depend on any one political party for a balanced, economical rail passenger service.

Let’s take a look at the political history of rail passenger service to demonstrate this point. The first President to get involve with rail passenger service was Democrat Lyndon Johnson around 1965.This was for funding the Metroliner Trains on the Pennsylvania Railroad’s North East Corridor. Johnson’s reason for supporting the Metroliner was political. There was strong local support for improved rail service and at this time the North East had the largest concentration of population in the country as well as 18 Senators if you count the states from Virginia to Massachusetts. This was the first time the federal government at least in the 20th Century supported rail passenger service with money, it wouldn’t be the last.

The President who was responsible for the creation of Amtrak was Republican Richard Nixon. President Nixon’s motivation for creating Amtrak was largely as part of a bail out of the recently bankrupt PennCentral Railroad around 1970. To make Amtrak more politically appealing it was decided to make it a national and not just a regional operation. The first President to propose major cutbacks of Amtrak service was Democrat Jimmy Carter in 1979. These proposals created a storm of opposition and demonstrated the broad appeal in the Country for rail passenger service. It should be noted that the subsidy for Amtrak had grown dramatically during the Carter Administration. A major reason for this was the decision to dump the North East Corridor on Amtrak to help the newly created Conrail (the new name of the reorganized PennCentral) become profitable around 1976. Amtrak charged many of the costs of the NEC onto the Long Distance Trains based on train miles. The result was this made it look like the Long Distance Trains were causing most of Amtrak’s costs. While not as drastic as proposed by the Carter Administration, some cuts were made. These resulted in no significant cost savings, but a major reduction in revenue which left Amtrak worse off than before.

The 1980’s were the times of the Republican Presidencies of Ronald Reagan and George Bush senior. Despite fears that Reagan would “kill Amtrak”; ironically the 80’s were if anything the golden age of Amtrak. The reason for this was the bipartisan working relationship of a Democrat, Amtrak President Graham Claytor and Reagan’s Federal Railroad Administration’s Chief, John Riley. Claytor had the unique skills of being politically well connected and having been a successful businessman in the railroad industry. John Reily was a relatively young lawyer from Minneapolis with a strong love of trains and passenger service. Both men understood that the NEC was the major cost of Amtrak and that not much could be done politically to change that. They also knew that the Long Distance Trains were the cash cows of Amtrak. During this time the Superliners were almost brand new. Amtrak had more equipment available then than now and a larger route system than today. With modest improved connections and extended services Amtrak’s revenues went up and the need for Federal Subsidy went down in the 1980’s.

The 90’s was the era of President Bill Clinton, a Democrat. The Clinton administration was interested in rail passenger corridor service, but not in long distance trains. The Acela program was the hallmark of the Clinton era which was to create high speed corridor service in several metropolitan areas. When the Acela was being designed there was suppose to be a diesel powered trainset as a prototype for additional corridors. The Acela almost bankrupted Amtrak. Since 2002 Amtrak has been on a long slow process of recovery.
What is remarkable about the 1990’s was the explosion of Light Rail and Commuter Rail services. All of these were grass root, very local affairs in both Red and Blue States. California was the leader in this effort and helped inspire people in other parts of the County. Most of the progress in rail passenger service comes from local, non-partisan efforts. As one project succeeds, this inspires additional projects.

Back in the 1930’s when Democrat Franklin Roosevelt was President; he would often tell people when they asked him to do something to “make me.” What he meant by that is he needed a show of support that people were demanding action before he could do anything. We have to make politicians do things. The more towns that own train stations and have businesses that thrive near stations will increase the support for more and better rail service. As the subsidy needs of Amtrak goes down as long distance service expands, Amtrak will be politically more secure. The more successful rail passenger service is seen, the more people will demand it. And it all won’t matter who is the President or even which party is in control.

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Sacramento Valley Station upgrade meeting

“The tracks will be moved by 2010.”
Meeting May 1, 2008
Report and Photos by Marcia Johnston, RailPAC Director, Sacramento

I attended the presentation of the consultants on the upgrade of the Sacramento Valley Station. Here are some notes I took at the meeting, along with some photos of the panel members.

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Panel members are as follows: [from left to right] Kevin Pressy, HMR Architects, Michael O’Brien, HMR Architects, Cynthia Krantz, Facilities Manager, City of Sacramento, Hinda Chandler, Project Manager, City of Sacramento – Railyards [not pictured]

The Sacramento Valley Assessment Report was prepared by HMR Architects and was presented as a power point presentation by the consultants. The rather lengthy report is also on line.

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The key points presented from their analysis:

  • The Sacramento Valley Station is the one of the busiest passenger depots on the West Coast. It was originally named the Southern Pacific Railroad Sacramento Depot. The structure was designed by Bliss and Faville based in San Francisco, California. Construction was completed in 1926.
  • The Station is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the California Register of Historic Resources and Cultural Resources.
  • The main parts of the depot appear to be relatively intact. The second and third floors were used as offices at various times, but are now vacant.
  • The building has been in continuous use as a railroad depot since the date it was completed.
  • A structural evaluation was completed in 2002 as stated in the report by Simpson, Gumpertz & Herger Consulting, Inc., Consulting Engineers
  • The outside brick is in good condition, along with the windows. The plywood needs to be removed, along with removal of the air conditioning units.
  • One of the canopies has been removed and is being restored. It will be installed in its original place.
  • The waiting room has 8 out of 10 benches remaining in good shape.
  • Most of the meeting room floors have the original marble that is still in good shape.
  • One of the ground floor offices, [the one in which we were meeting] originally housed a restaurant. This area has been abandoned for some time. The original ice box and other coolers remain and appear to still be operable. The suspended ceiling needs to be removed to see the plaster and molding.
  • The second floor offices do not have many changes from the historical layout. The Southern Pacific vaults are original.
  • The third floor offices have been modified extensively with wood paneling over the original plaster. The plaster underneath the wood paneling remains in great shape. The suspended acoustic [drop] ceiling is in poor condition and needs to be removed. There are no immediate plans to lodge a tenant due to the lack of an elevator [ADA requirements] and the lack of air conditioning.
  • The restrooms still have the original ceramic tile remaining. It needs to be current with the ADA requirements.
  • The electrical and mechanical systems are located in the basement. The plumbing has outlived its lifespan, and there is very little water pressure within the building. The electrical has exposed wires. [Note: considering the photo of the electrical system, I’m surprised it hasn’t caused a fire!]
  • The City has prioritized the repair work/maintenance for the building. They have received $400,000 in historical funding. The priorities are those listed as safety issues.

  • Cleanup of the area [bird droppings, rat feces, debris]
  • Back roof repair – the one to the trains.
  • Balustrade repair [decoration around the building] to be secured to the building.
  • Remove plywood over windows; cleanup and renovate.
  • Historical doors to be renovated: Remove plywood, entry security, ADA accessible.
  • Electrical wiring has to be brought up to code compliance. This is the design part.
  • Much of the renovation is seasonable – windows, doors, roofs
  • Preservation standards will need to be followed. The Preservation Commission will recommend and adopt the master plan for these renovations.
  • All work listed above needs to be done whether or not the station is to be moved. Most of the repairs are to be done for safety and aesthetics concerns.

    Some comments as to other work on the intermodal facility: The track relocation will be completed by 2010. There were some comments as to the moving of the station itself, but the City is not making a decision at this time.