Monthly Archives

June 2008


Coast Starlight at SLO; Before and After PHOTOS

Before the re-launch
After the re-launch
But, what’s NOT there?


Photos and Comments by Russ Jackson

Coast Starlight train 14, the northbound, arrived on the station track usually used by the southbound #11 at San Luis Obispo, close to on time, on May 18, 2008.

This crowd of passengers for the Starlight were riding the old consist after the service was restored following the Oregon mudslide and before the “re-launch.” The trains have been full “before” and “after.”

More northbound passengers prepare to board a Coach car.

A month later, June 24, 2008, two weeks AFTER the “re-launch” and train 14 has arrived at SLO station on its usual northbound track. Notice the Dining car, with only the sleeping cars in front of it. No Transition sleeper on this consist, a regular sleeping car was substituted. On a recent trip the AC in a sleeping car failed, and its passengers were transferred by the staff to the substitute transition/sleeping car.

Passengers wait to reboard the train. When the “last call” announcement was made, three passengers inside the station ran to make sure they were not left behind.

OH OH, what’s missing here? No Pacific Parlour Car! and, no substitute Lounge car for it! These passengers were expecting the new service, but because all the required equipment for each consist had not yet arrived, the “re-launched” service was “not available.” That’s not good for customer satisfaction, is it?

On the head end, a P-40 and a P-32 are ready for departure. They have a green signal up for their trip up Cuesta Grade and on to Northern California and the Pacific Northwest.

MORE OH OH. The June 10 re-launch consist had a fancy drumhead on the back end of the last car. Not today. Too bad. The UP locomotive is from the set stationed there that helps freight trains climb Cuesta Grade.


Coast Rail Coordinating Council June Meeting Report

Meeting, June 20, 2008
Santa Barbara

Reported by Paul Dyson, RailPAC President

The meeting was well attended. Clem Bomar, Division of Rail, Pete Rodgers and Tim Gillham, SLOCOG, Mike Powers SBCAG, Rob Dayton, (staff) and Council members Helene Schneider and Roger Horton of RailPAC member city Santa Barbara, Tom Mulligan of UP, Izzy Rodriguez, City of Soledad, plus myself, Dennis Story and Gene Wilson from RailPAC. Jonathan Hutchison (Amtrak) and Christina Watson (TAMC) were on the ‘phone.

Pete Rodgers conducted the meeting at a brisk pace. Clem Bomar updated the group on the slow but steady progress of negotiations with UP over their requirements to run the Coast Daylight. Tom Mulligan pointed out that UP resources were stretched with numerous projects around the system. Nevertheless general terms have been agreed (but not disclosed to the meeting) and are now subject to legal review by each side.

The three needs for a Coast Daylight start up, operating support, rolling stock and track access are still far from guaranteed. There is also continuing concern about tunnel clearance for Surfliners immediately south of San Francisco following tunnel maintenance. This should be clarified soon, as Caltrain is assessing the tunnel clearances for their electrification project.

Jonathan Hutchison reported that the ADA platform height regulation is “no longer an issue”. I need to clarify this, as far as I know the ruling has not actually been withdrawn.

Reports were made on the state and federal budget which we have covered elsewhere, as well as the California corridor statistics.

Pete Rodgers proposed that CRCC should oppose the HSR bond as there is “nothing in it” for the Central Coast. I countered that it is impossible for all projects to have funding for every corner of the state. In addition the funds for inter city rail would bring improvements to coast line service since the largest projects (e.g. double track Van Nuys to Chatsworth and second Van Nuys platform) tend to be at the ends of the route rather than the middle. Helene Schneider recommended that instead of opposing the group should support “as amended”, the amendments to include more funds ($45 million) for central coast projects.

Gary Gerber from Monterey County suggested that a new JPA should be considered to raise money by issuing bonds for Central Coast rail projects. This will be a future agenda item.

During the round table discussion that concluded the meeting I made an appeal for CRCC to take up the issue of weekend schedules for 799/798 when Metrolink trains are not running. This was proposed by Roger Horton and carried unanimously. In addition I pointed out some of the shortcomings of the new Amtrak California timetable, which does not show the Coast Starlight as part of the coast timetable. Also, the timetable does not include the Capitol Corridor trains.



Capitol Corridor JPB June Meeting Report

Reported by Bruce Jenkins, RailPAC Director

The Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Board met in Suisun City Hall on June 18, 2008.

The Board approved the “Interregional Improvement Program” consisting of four projects, e.g. Yolo Causeway west crossover, CP Coast-Great America double tracking (Santa Clara), Capitalized maintenance, and Hercules Station, to be funded from the 2008 State Transportation Improvement Program – Interregional Improvement Program (STIP-IIP), totaling $25.5 million with $11.5 million in matching funds, based on the May 14, 2008 revision of the Gov’s Draft Budget for FY 08-09. The Yolo Causeway Project is most desireable now, as it will reduce running times, improve reliability and increase capacity.

The Board also approved the FRA FY Intercity Rail Apllication-San Jose-Newark Track Improvement Program. The federal transportation budget for FY 08 included for the first time ever, a matching program for intercity passenger rail capital projects. These federal grants total (a stipend) $30 million and will be administered in a competitive process by the FRA. The first phase will be the addition of a 4th track at San Jose- Diridon Station. This project will provide track and station upgrades to improve passenger access and train storage capacity.

Completion of these projects is an incremental step toward keeping CCJPA’s vision plan goals of achieving 16 round trips between Oakland and San Jose. At present CC train service is at 7 round trips (Oakland- San Jose).

Within the Governor’s Draft FY ’08-’09 Budget, the Gov. proposes to fully fund Prop 42 at $1.43 bil. It is surmised that the administration did not suspend Prop 42 because it deemed that the “state cannot achieve budgetary savings” with suspension since the amount would have to be repaid in 3 yrs with interest.

$83 mil of spillover funds will be used to make Prop 42 loan payments to the Traffic Congestion Relief Program (TCRP) from transfers that occurred to the General Fund during FY’s ’03-04 and ’04-’05.

In the Public Transportation Account (PTA) is $106 mil. This includes the basic Amtrak operating costs ($86 mil) which is $6 mil above the current (FY ’08) contract for all 3 of the intercity rail services to account for increased Amtrak labor and fuel costs. There is a reduction of $1.42 bil from the PTA to:

  • a. continue transportation services administered by regional occupational centers ($141 m)
  • b. pay bond debt ($607 m)
  • c. cover home-to-school transportation ($593 m)
  • d. repay TCRP for loans from the General Fund ($83 m)
  • In the Legislative Budget Subcommittee Hearings both houses have held hearings and responded to the Gov’s further decreases in PTA funding. The Assembly Budget Subcommittee #5 approved action to increase PTA funds to the State Transit Assistance (STA) at $623.7 m. The Senate Budget Subcommittee #4 restored funding to the STA at $494 m and then dedicated $129 m to Caltrans for transit capital projects in the STIP amoung other things. Neither the Gov nor the Assembly proposed any funds for transit capital STIP projects in this years budget. Therefore, these items will be headed to the Budget Conference Committee where conferees from both houses will choose allocation amounts for the STA ($623.7 m or $494 m ) and additional Caltrans funding ($129 m or $0). The CCJPA does not recieve STA funds.

    The Gov proposes that $4.7 b in PROP 1B bond allocations, of which the following affect the CC and other intercity rail services:

  • $73 m for Intercity Rail, which supplements the current (FY 08) $187 m appropriation.
  • $101 m for Transit Security (approx $2 m for CCJPA), which is the same as the current (FY 08) appropriation.
  • There is $1.1 Bil in STIP funding. This represents a $1 Bil reduction in funding from ’07-’08 ($2.1 Bil). The Gov cites a downturn in gas consumption (reduced gas taxes) plus statutory changes to spillover and the PTA in general thru the passage of SB 79 and SB 717 as an underlying reason.

    Budget hearings are being conducted by the Legislature that will amend and adjust the Gov’s revised budget and CCJPB staff is working withe legislators who are supportive of the Capitol Corridor and the state’s intercity rail program to ensure that Prop 1B Intercity Rail Account and other state transportation (PTA) funds are allocated as intended.

    Executive Director Gene Skoropowski personally accompianed Division of Finance personnel riding trains thruout the system to better acquant them regarding ridership levels. Skoropowski and DoR are both working very hard to get funds for rolling stock to be released. “The money is there”.

    Ridership, revenue and OTP are soaring ( as we see in the Skoropwski reports posted on Union Pacific is sustaining it’s best-ever performnce for 8 consecutive months, even though the track work under way currently is causing delays to several trains and suspension of others.


    Coast Starlight Re-launch PHOTOS

    Return of the drumhead to a passenger train!20080610starlightrelaunch5.jpg
    Photo report by Dennis Lytton

    The Coast Starlight relaunch ceremony took place at Los Angeles Union Station on June 10, 2008.

    The band played on the patio.

    Photographer Lytton (left) and NARP President George Chilson pose beside a rebuilt Pacific Parlour Car.

    Speaker is joined by Amtrak’s Jonathan Hutchison (right)

    On the platform Coach passengers are boarding the Coast Starlight. Notice the celebration poster.

    Inside the rebuilt Pacific Parlour Car and passengers are told more about it in the theater end, with big screen TV behind speakers.

    The Parlour Car menu.

    Mr. Lytton and Mr. Chilson enjoying the trip to Santa Barbara from their table in the Parlour Car.

    The dedication cake was eaten with pleasure by riders.

    Train 14 departs Santa Barbara enroute to San Luis Obispo, traveling along the scenic Central Coast and then on to the Bay Area and the Pacific Northwest. The shiny new 50 pound drumhead recalling the early days of train travel.

    Part of the large crowd that turned out at Santa Barbara to see the inaugural Starlight. Notice the banner on the station wall.




    Report by Paul Dyson


    Key items:

    Surfliner Revenue up 16.3% in March over previous year, but down 13.1% in April, all attributed to an early Easter this year. Overall growth still about 3%, which is very poor given the demographics of the region.

    OTP Is averaging between 71 and 75% at the end points, and you know that covers up a lot of worse performance at intermediate stops.

    Legislation and funding:

    There is no good news at the State level. The overall deficit projections have climbed to the $20 billion range with likelihood of another declaration of fiscal emergency by the Governor and the sequestration of Prop. 42 funds. Money for infrastructure projects is drying up and only ameliorated by a little Prop 1B money. There is still no release of 1B funds by the finance department for passenger rolling stock.

    At the federal level Amtrak reauthorization seems to be moving ahead but the passage of HR 6003 was by such a large margin as to take most people by surprise. There is not enough in the bill for California and it’s very important we follow up with CA reps on the conference committee to write in some CA specific projects, given that we represent the largest rail passenger market of a single state.

    The LOSSAN corridor definition has finally been corrected. The definition is now San Diego to San Luis Obispo, not San Diego to Delmar. This took 8 years to accomplish.

    The Santa Barbara – Ventura rail analysis by SCAG’s consultant, our old friend Sharon Greene, was discussed. RailPAC supports the rescheduling of 799/798 to accommodate early morning passengers. When the is equipment and funds for the Coast Daylight this should probably be the first train from San Diego and run through in both directions.

    The OCTA “Quick Improvement Study” calls for additional stops to Surfliner trains in Orange County, even though the OTP is abysmal and can only get worse if this is done. There are signs that Metrolink wants to jump on the bandwagon, and will ask for stops at Norwalk, perhaps Commerce. (See letter to Bill Bronte of Division of Rail and to Art Brown of LOSSAN and OCTA.)

    OCTA has appointed Wilbur Smith to carry out a comprehensive assessment of coordinated rail service in the LOSSAN corridor, and we’ll be doing our best to be heard as that study progresses.


    TAMC Rail Policy Committee meeting

    Transportation Agency for Monterey County Rail Policy Committee
    Meeting Report for June 2, 2008
    By Chris Flescher, RailPAC Associate Director

    TAMC is still studying alternatives for the Monterey Branch Line

    There are three being considered.

  • 1. Enhanced bus service. This has a capital cost estimate of $46 million.
  • 2. New combination of bus rapid transit (brt) and rail. This would have for phase 1, brt from Monterey to Marina, and for phase 2, intercity rail from Marina to San Francisco. The total capital cost estimate is $185 million, with about $135 million for just phase 1.
  • 3. Light rail and intercity. This would have for phase 1, light rail from Monterey to Marina, and for phase 2, light rail from Marina to Castroville and/or intercity rail from Monterey to San Francisco. The capital cost estimate is $217 million.
  • The previous combination of light rail and intercity had a capital cost estimate of $327 million, which would make it ineligible for New Starts funding. That requires a cost of less than $200 million. These three “new” alternatives all seem to be federally competitive, meaning that they are similar to projects that have received federal funding under New Starts.

    TAMC had considered two different processes for choosing the mode, which involved doing intermediate EIR studies for modes at different times in the process. It previously appeared that TAMC would use Method 2 to pick the travel mode, but now it looks like TAMC will use Method 1. These two methods have been described in the minutes of earlier TAMC meetings.

    Using Method 1, the LPA (locally preferred alternative) will be chosen in Jan 2009. Method 1 will require less time to study the different modes, and because of that, the cost of producing studies will be less.

    The federal government provides a significant amount of funding for light rail and commuter rail, but not for intercity rail. The desire in the past of TAMC (from 1992 to 2001) was to have intercity rail between Monterey and San Francisco. In the last few years, TAMC has been closely studying commuter rail between Monterey and Castroville, as well as light rail and brt on the same corridor.

    There are different interests between the governments of Seaside and Marina. Seaside would like a direct line between Seaside and Castroville. Seaside opposes having brt from Seaside to Marina and then rail from Marina to Castroville, requiring a transfer. One person from Seaside asked “why build brt only as far north as Marina?” Another consideration is that having both brt and rail in the same row will be very expensive, which means that the chances of getting federal funding for it are low. Marina supports having brt from Monterey and Seaside to Castroville, but built in two phases, with Monterey to Marina first.

    It appears that the main part of the agenda for the following meeting will be to discuss building brt in a single phase, from Monterey to Castroville, and what the cost of that project is.

    The TAMC committee members want to discuss the scope of work for Woodside (a consulting agency) to negotiate a deal with the JPB for Caltrain service to Salinas. TAMC expected the total consulting cost to be a certain amount, but now the expected cost is turning out to be significantly higher.

    There will be a bicycle/pedestrian undercrossing in Castroville, and there is an interest in finishing this project before the future Castroville station opens nearby.

    Some of the cost will come from slightly moving the tracks in that area. TAMC will apply for a grant to fund part of the project, from the “Safe Routes to School” program. I think this is a state program.

    TAMC is currently trying to get a local match for federal money in this project. The local money would go towards paying to hire a consultant, who would help to write all the required documents for the project.

    This kind of pedestrian crossing project usually costs around $5 million, but this particular project is turning out to be much more complicated and expensive. One reason is that the tunnel will be high enough to allow a fire truck to drive through in an emergency.

    For the Caltrain extension to Salinas, TAMC expects to receive a letter from Congress soon, which will ask the FTA to move faster on approving the project. TAMC has reached a memorandum of understanding with Monterey Salinas Transit (MST) for allocating funds to operate the future rail service.

    TAMC is still working with the FTA to develop a ridership model to predict how many people will use the train service. TAMC is trying to use a model that the San Jose area transportation agency (SCVTA) uses. When TAMC received a copy of the model (computer program) at first, it did not work well, because the computers TAMC uses did not have enough speed and memory. TAMC now has an upgraded computer, which allows the model to work properly. TAMC is currently trying to add a category to the model of land use near stations, as well as to test the sensitivity of the model to changing various parameters. TAMC expects to finish using the model in 1 or 2 months.

    Later this year the Rail-Volution conference will be held in San Francisco. There is an interest in doing a “mobile workshop” as part of the conference, which would involve taking participants from San Francisco to Monterey County on a bus. The workshop would show MST-owned property on Fort Ord, and would discuss proposed Transit Oriented Development in Marina, Sand City, and Seaside.


    California Corridor Stats for May

    California’s Capitol Corridor Month Of May
    Ridership, Surges 11% vs. 2007

    From CCJPA

    SACRAMENTO —“The May 2008 Capitol Corridor statistics from Amtrak are again an all-time record high, as are the stats on the state’s other two corridor services, with the San Joaquins taking a very big leap upward in ridership,” reports Capitol Corridor chief executive Eugene Skoropowski.

    “There is no doubt that Californians have ‘discovered’ (rediscovered?) intercity trains as a real travel option (as noted in the front page Headline of the San Francisco Chronicle on Monday, June 2, 2008),” wrote Gene in a note to D:F and other infrastructure activists. “The price of gasoline is not hurting ridership, and many folks ‘are doing the math’ on the comparative costs of driving versus the train. The train is winning.”

    Performance by Union Pacific has given the Capitol Corridor a better on-time performance than even Amtrak’s own premier Acela Express service on the Northeast Corridor (Acela Express was 83.8% on-time for May 2008, and 84.5% for 8 months YTD).

    California Capitol Corridor (May 2008):

    157,351 passengers +11.0% vs. 2007, another record for the month, and highest ridership month ever.

    Passengers for 8 months YTD: 1,083,261 (8 months YTD: +13.2%)(total riders for the latest 12 months: 1,576,721)

    $2,044,424 revenue +21.6% vs. 2007 (8 months YTD: +21.7%)

    The farebox recovery revenue-to-cost ratio for May is 62.9%, and the year-to-date revenue-to-cost ratio is about 55%.

    The on-time performance delivered to the riders for May was 90.7%, up considerably, with year-to-date on-time at 86.7%, second best in the nation. (Union Pacific performance in May was well over 92%, noted Skoropowksi, in crediting the freight railroad over whose track his trains run.

    Pacific Surfliners (May 2008):

    262,279 passengers +5.8% vs. 2007
    Passengers for 8 months YTD: 1,790,658 (8 months YTD: +4.9%)
    $4,346,269 revenue +6.2% vs. 2007 (8 months YTD: +6.1%)
    On-time performance for May: 73.8%
    YTD on-time: 77.6%

    San Joaquins (May 2008):

    91,923 passengers +21.2% vs. 2007 (8 months YTD: +12.6%)
    Passengers for 8 months YTD: 580,474
    $2,686,956 revenue +21.2% vs. 2007 (8 months YTD: +14.1%)
    On-time performance for May: 81.4%
    YTD on-time: 85.2%

    Total California Intercity Corridor Ridership for May 2008: 511,553


    Temporary Reassignment Switches California Division Chief Bronte to Freight and Passenger Service

    June 2, 2008

    From an interview with Mr. Bronte by Bill Kerby, RailPAC Treasurer, and posted with Mr. Bronte’s permission.

    William (Bill) Bronte, Chief-Caltrans Division of Rail, assumes new duties as the coordinator of the Trade Corridor Improvement Program mandated by Proposition 1B. Appointed by Caltrans Director, Mr. Will Kempton, Mr. Bronte’s new railroad duties include program management of tunnel notching (lowering tunnel floors) over Donner Pass, daylighting some tunnels and double tracking the Techachapi grade, and building a new Colton Crossing. Working with freight railroads on the Martinez Subdivision of the Union Pacific, Division of Rail will partner with the Port of Oakland to grant BNSF better access to the Port. Mr. Bronte’s duties will also include negotiating for the development of Crows Landing, a former Naval Air Station, into an intermodal facility that Union Pacific will use. The City of Shafter in Fresno County plans to develop an intermodal terminal on Burlington Santa Fe lines with Bronte’s leadership. Bronte will guide a variety of statewide highway and maritime projects to the construction phase. His expertise is expected to result in expedited memoranda of understanding between the California Business and Transportation Agency and bond financing institutions.

    Mr. Lam Nguyen will carry day-to-day leadership of the Division of Rail during Mr. Bronte’s six to nine month reassignment of duties. Mr. Nguyen is a participant in Caltrans’ Executive Managerial Leadership Program, a program fashioned about five years ago by the School of Business at Sacramento State University. Mr. Nguyen will maintain close contact with Mr. Bronte during this period of time. We wish both of these managers well in their new roles.


    Why are Gasoline Prices So High Now?

    Commentary by Noel T. Braymer 

     “People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.” Adam Smith

    In a word the problem is inflation. Unlike the inflation of the 1970’s which was sparked by rising oil prices, inflation is now a major reason oil prices are rising. The weak American dollar is behind much of this inflation. A strong currency needs a balanced government budget or even better a budget surplus, low levels of government debt, a positive trade balance and high levels of personal savings. None of this is occurring now in this country. Just recently we had the sub-prime mortgage meltdown. Overnight billions of dollars just disappeared. In the wake of this the Federal Reserve has been pumping money into the banks to keep them running. These low interest rates are a massive form of inflation by themselves.

    Now creating a little inflation is not a bad thing during a recession. But people with a lot of money are looking for places to put their cash where it won’t lose value because of inflation. In the 1970’s real estate was popular as an inflation proof investment because it was assumed the value of housing would rise as fast or faster than inflation. But with the bubble deflating in the housing market that is no longer an option. So now people are turning to commodities; things like oil, gold, wheat and rice as places to invest their money.

    Back in 2000 Washington created what is known as the Enron Loophole. Before Enron crashed and burned into bankruptcy, one of its favorite businesses was the energy commodity market. This Enron Loophole was a deregulation of the commodities markets which Enron used during the Electricity Crisis of California between 2000 and 2001. The theory of deregulating electricity in California was that competition in the commodity market would allow the utilities to buy electricity at the lowest rates and pass the savings on to the consumers. But the fact was Enron had a virtual monopoly of the electrical commodity market for California. It wasn’t long before Enron and the other energy companies were creating phony shortages and reaping massive profits after jacking up the price of electricity to the utilities.

    The fact is the world is not having trouble producing enough oil to meet current demand yet. But we will if we don’t reduce our dependence on oil. Dependence on any one commodity can leave a nation vulnerable. The Irish potato famine was caused by a disease that affected only one species of potato. But that was the only species of potatoes that Irish peasants were growing. Ireland continued to export food during the famine which killed over a million people. This country and the world should stop being dependent on oil and fossil fuels in general. To do this, this country has to stop being dependent on cars and trucks. Today it is almost impossible to get anywhere without a car. Development today usually follows the roads and new roads open land to development. We need to center development around rail service and rail transit. This need not mean that everyone will use public transportation. But development centered on rail will stop the current sprawl caused by auto centered development. Even if a person never uses rail service, such rail based development will reduce the amount of driving people need to do, making it easier for people to travel by motor scoter, bicycle or even walking. This will save energy and reduce the need for oil by itself, not to mention the energy saving from rail travel.