Monthly Archives

August 2008


Sacramento Railyard Public Workshop Report

August 27, 2008
Reported by Marcia Johnston, RailPAC Director, Sacramento
and Chuck Roebuck, President, Capitol Corridor Riders and RailPAC Member, Auburn
Chart and Photo courtesy Sacramento DOT.

The City of Sacramento Department of Transportation held a public workshop August 27 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. to update the public on the latest developments, discuss the benefits of, and get input regarding two
transportation improvement projects critical to redevelopment efforts in the heart of downtown. Mayor Heather Fargo and City Councilmembers Tretheway and Cohn spoke at this event. The public workshop was held at the Library Galleria, 828 “I” Street, in downtown Sacramento across from City Hall.

The two projects are the Sacramento Intermodal Transportation Facility (SITF) and the I-5/Richards to Railyards Access Improvements Project. Hinda Chandler, City of Sacramento discussed [with power point presentation] how the three phases of the SITF Project will create a more rider-friendly regional transportation center. The three phases are Track Relocation, Sacramento Valley Station Improvements and Intermodal Transportation Facility Improvements.

City Planner, Hinda Chandler also discussed the Richards Boulevard Access Improvements Project, which will improve traffic flow near the I-5/Richards interchange, and improve access from I-5 to Township 9, the River District and the Railyards. The project will also add bike paths and pedestrian walkways.

With some 240 acres, this is the largest urban redevelopment project in the nation.

The Intermodal Complex will take shape in 3 phases:


Track Relocation – target start date – Summer 2009 for moving the current railroad tracks approx. 500 feet north of there current location. Funding has already been secured.

Existing Station/Historic Depot Improvements – targeted to start pending funding and completion of Phase 1.

Construction of the Intermodal Facility – this will include:
Building a new, state-of-the-art transportation facility to accommodate ALL Modes of surface transportation in one location – a HUB to serve Sacramento’s needs for the next 100 years. Target Start and Completion Dates pending funding approval.

Integration of the new facility with the Historic Depot – while it has not yet been decided whether they will relocate the depot or not, they are developing plans for two options:

  • Development of Retail and Office spaces at the facility and nearby
  • The last part of the workshop touched on the road improvements planned to create access to the Railyard site.

    Below is a concept drawing of what the completed Railyard project would look like.



    SMART train: Answers to promise and criticism

    Published Sunday, August 24, 2008, by the Marin Indpendent Journal

    By Dick Spotswood, RailPAC Secretary, Mill Valley

    THE BIG ISSUE on the November ballot in both Marin and Sonoma counties is the passage of Measure Q, a one-quarter cent sales tax to fund construction and operation of a commuter train between Cloverdale and Larkspur.

    A similar effort led by the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit District failed in 2006. It carried Sonoma County with almost 70 percent of the vote, but its relatively weak 57.5 percent positive showing in Marin caused it to narrowly miss the needed two-thirds super majority, garnering a 65.3 percent “yes” votes in the two-county district.

    Before the campaign gets under way, it’s time to look as the accuracy of some of the promises made by SMART as well as complaints emanating from its opponents.

    * Will SMART solve the traffic jams on the freeway?

    The simple answer is no. There is no realistic solution to the perpetual rush-hour traffic jam. Even widening Highway 101 will not do the trick. Suburban highway gridlock is a nationwide phenomenon caused by a land-use model based on single-family homes sprawled over a wide area. What SMART can do is provide an auto-free alternative.

    * SMART will only help Sonoma. Yes and no. The biggest effect of the commuter train will be to take Sonoma-residing workers to their jobs in Marin. As long as Marin refuses to build much low-priced housing, its labor force needs to live somewhere. Many logically choose more affordable Sonoma. It’s in Marin taxpayers’ interest to facilitate the commute for workers essential to the county’s economic health and to do so in an
    environmentally sensitive manner.

    * There are other less costly solutions. The reality is the retail clerks, office staff, restaurant workers and building trades employees who live in Sonoma County and form the backbone of Marin’s economy can’t telecommute. A separate busway costs almost as much as rail and will, like SMART, run through some San Rafael and Novato backyards and cause noise. Futuristic dreams such as a Jetsons-style monorail will be far more expensive than
    rail even in the unlikely event that their technical aspects are perfected. Remember, Buck Rogers technology costs big bucks. Anyone who claims their proposal will not cost taxpayers a cent is either a charlatan or hopelessly naive.

    * SMART is 19th century technology. Untrue. The Europeans, Japanese or Chinese are all expanding both their commuter and long-distance rail lines to 21st century standards. Modern rail systems are regarded worldwide as an
    environmentally sensitive way to move large numbers of travelers. It’s the single-passenger petroleum-propelled auto that represents the technology of the past.

    * Will anyone ride SMART once its in operation? That is a fair question with no definite answer. Will the trains run empty or will long-term spikes in gas prices boost patronage past SMART’s projections? Proponents of new rail systems tout ridership successes and opponents emphasize failures. If the numbers are substantial, the naysayers will disappear. If they tank, the North Bay will never hear the end of it. Of course, when the Golden Gate
    Bridge was proposed, some claimed that few would ever pay a toll to cross a highway bridge.


    TAMC Rail Policy Committee Meeting Report

    Transportation Agency for Monterey County Rail Policy Committee
    August 4, 2008 Meeting
    Reported by Chris Flescher, RailPAC Director, Salinas

    For the Monterey Branch Line service (Castroville to Monterey), there are questions about building the busway or light rail line in two phases.

    There are two alternatives and each seems to be very competitive for receiving federal funding. Either one will have an intercity connection in Castroville. They are bus rapid transit (BRT) and light rail (LRT). Three other options have also been considered: enhanced bus service, no-build, and a combination of BRT and LRT.

    The no-build would involve a few freeway improvements to help bus service and more service on MST route 20 (which connects Salinas, Marina and Monterey).

    The enhanced bus service would cost $46 M, and provide slightly faster trips between Marina and Salinas.

    The BRT and LRT combination would cost $327 M, and the TAMC committee thinks it is a bad idea, because the cost is too much to qualify for federal small starts funding.

    BRT service and LRT service are the two options that the TAMC committee is most interested in, and either one would have two phases of construction.

    The first phase of BRT would be a busway between Monterey and Marina, and buses would use regular streets between Marina and Castroville. The cost would be $143 M. The second phase would be a busway from Marina to Castroville. The cost would be $36 M, with a large part going towards rehabilitating a bridge over the Salinas River.

    The first phase of LRT would be light rail from Monterey to Marina, and a shuttle bus would connect Marina to Castroville. The cost would be $175 M. The second phase would be light rail from Marina to Castroville, with a cost of $42 M.

    If the two-phase LRT or BRT plan is adopted, then Marina Green Road would be the location of the northernmost station in the first phase.

    Some potential funding sources for construction include the Federal government, the one-half cent countywide transportation sales tax which will be on the ballot in the fall, and Fort Ord Reuse Authority (FORA) fees on future construction of buildings on land that FORA controls.

    The TAMC committee will hold public meetings on the modal choice this fall, then conduct an alternatives analysis in December. It will choose a Locally Preferred Alternative (LPA) in January 2009.

    The expected service plan (after both construction phases are complete) will involve many trips between Monterey and Marina, with just a few going from Monterey all the way to Castroville. Some of those trips will connect with Caltrain in Castroville. Based on current bus ridership, there appears to be a large demand for Monterey to Marina travel, but not very much for Monterey to Castroville travel.

    One question raised in the meeting was: how will the buses or light rail vehicles turn around in Monterey? The buses will have to go around the block to turn around, and the light rail vehicles will be double-ended, so they will not need to turn around.

    At a recent workshop, a lot of interest was shown in having the line go all the way to Portola Plaza in Monterey, rather than terminating at Fisherman’s Wharf or the existing Monterey Transit Center.

    Either mode will require buying a small amount of land, mostly to create a few park and ride lots.

    The TAMC committee wants to encourage people to get to the transit stations by bicycling or walking, so the lots will not have very many spaces. Most of them will be on land that TAMC already owns.

    The TAMC committee received a letter from Ron Pasquinelli, who is the president of the Monterey County Taxpayers Association. In his letter, he asked the TAMC committee to choose the BRT mode. His reason was that during the first phase, the buses would travel on regular streets between Marina and Castroville, going slowly, but not requiring a transfer, while LRT would require a transfer to a bus in Marina, until the second phase is completed. Transfers increase the amount of travel time and ridership is likely to be smaller when more transfers are required.

    If the BRT option is chosen, then the entire right of way north of Contra Costa Avenue is wide enough for two busway lanes. One plan for the busway south of there is to have just one lane with passing lanes in several locations. Along the “Window on the Bay” park, having two lanes may be a problem. One idea being considered is to turn one lane on the adjacent street (Fremont) into a busway for travel in the opposite direction of the other busway. Monterey Salinas Transit (MST) is currently studying the idea of a busway on Fremont.

    One important question is: Will buses stay on the busway for their entire trips, or will they travel on surface streets along with using part of the busway? The answer could help determine how much of the busway needs to be two lanes. It appears that a separate study session, to address this issue, may be necessary.

    The TAMC committee voted to drop the “combination BRT and LRT” mode from further consideration. Therefore, the end result might be a busway and it might be light rail, but it will not use both modes.

    The countywide sales tax measure will be on the ballot in November and it will be Measure Z.


    CA July 3-Corridor ridership smashes records!

    Coast Starlight overnight ridership UP!

    Report and Comments provided by Eugene K. Skoropowski
    Managing Director
    Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority

    Whatever records on ridership and revenue that existed before July 2008 can be considered “smashed” by the July statistics. Major growth happened all across California, and the Capitol Corridor and San Joaquins both grew at a startling 32+% in riders, and the San Joaquins broke 100,000 for the first time ever in a single month. The Pacific Surfliners carried more passengers than Amtrak’s premier Northeast Corridor “Acela Express” for the third consecutive month.

    The Capitol Corridor was rated by the riders across the country as Amtrak’s #1 route for customer satisfaction for the 6th consecutive month, and Capitol Corridor returned to the best on-time performance of all but 2 intercity corridors offering multiple frequency services.

    Capitol Corridor (July 2008):

    161,731 passengers +32.6% vs. 2007
    (another all-time record, and still the third busiest route in the country,
    by a wide margin)
    Passengers for 10 months YTD: 1,390,474 (10 months YTD: +15.5%)
    (total riders for the latest 12 months: 1,637,130, +15.5% above prior 12 months)

    $2,236,661 revenue +34.3% vs. 2007 (10 months YTD: +21.3%)

    The farebox recovery revenue-to-cost ratio for July is 64.9% (an all time high), and the year-to-date revenue-to-cost ratio is 55%.

    On-time performance for July: 86.7% (a complete recovery from June’s trackwork performance)
    The year-to-date on-time performance delivered to the customers after 10 months is 84.8%, an enviable record. Only the Keystone Corridor and the Hiawatha Corridor have better on-time stats. The premier Acela Express service on the Northeast Corridor is 83.5% on-time for the same 10 month period, while Northeast Regional service is at 75.7%.

    We had expected a bit of rebound after completion of the June track work, and return to our usually reliable service, but these numbers are overwhelming. Not since we went from 6 trains each way to 9 trains each way (back in 2000-01) have we seen a percentage growth like we have seen in July. It appears we may have also won some permanent ‘converts’ from Davis as a result of Yolo County’s ‘promotional program’ during the I-5 construction in Sacramento (now completed). Union Pacific continues to deliver for us. UPRR performance in July was 95%, and UPRR performance year to date is between 94% and 95%, again the best of any Amtrak- operated intercity passenger rail service in the country, whether Amtrak dispatched or freight railroad dispatched.

    Pacific Surfliners (July 2008):

    301,374 passengers +12.3% vs. 2007, still the second busiest route in the nation, by a wide margin
    Passengers for 10 months YTD: 2,369,792 (10 months YTD: +7.3%)
    As noted above, this is more monthly passengers than the Acela Express on the Northeast Corridor, for the 3rd consecutive month

    $6,002,911 revenue +18.1% vs. 2007 (10 months YTD: +9.1%)

    On-time performance for July: 69.9%
    YTD on-time: 76.6%

    San Joaquins (July 2008):

    100,564 passengers +32.1% vs. 2007, now fifth busiest in the nation (overtaking New York State’s Empire Corridor Service)
    Passengers for 10 months YTD: 777,514 (10 months YTD: +17.2%)

    $3,444,847 revenue +47.5% vs. 2007 (10 months YTD: +18.3%)

    On-time performance for July: 80.4%
    YTD on-time: 84.0%

    Total California Intercity Corridor Ridership for July 2008: 563,669

    Total Northeast Corridor ‘Spine’ ridership for July 2008: 922,150
    For July 2008, California Corridors are 61.2% of Northeast Corridor ‘Spine’ Boston-Washington ridership

    Total Northeast Corridor ridership for July 2008
    with branches to Springfield, MA; Albany, NY and Harrisburg, PA: 1,152,835 For July 2008, California Corridors are 49% of the total Northeast Corridor ridership
    NOTE: (Report from the Puget Sound Business Journal)
    Citing higher fuel costs and problems with America’s airlines, Amtrak said its Coast Starlight overnight train service between Seattle and Los Angeles was its most popular overnight train in the month of July with more than 47,000 passengers, a 27.7 percent increase from a year earlier.


    Will Lithium Beat OIL?

    Editorial By Noel T. Braymer

    By late 2010 several auto makers plan to roll out either plug-in electric hybrid or all electric cars. The keystone of these new cars will be the use of Lithium Ion Batteries. It has been long known that electric propulsion is clean, efficient and economical. The weak link has always been the batteries which have been heavy, slow to recharge and had limited range. All this can change with lithium batteries. Lithium batteries are what have made possible lightweight cell phones, IPods. Laptop computers, cordless power tools and many other modern electronic devices. Recent advancements with lithium batteries make possible electric cars with the speed and range comparable with gasoline engine cars. Also these new batteries can be recharged quickly in minutes and it doesn’t hurt these batteries if they only get a partial charge.

    As production of lithium batteries increases we should see costs go down and their expanded use for other forms of transportation. Electric buses with lithium batteries are being used to carry athletics this month at the Beijing Olympics. Electric buses will greatly reduce noise and pollution in urban areas while saving money for transit agencies on fuel. It will be possible to recharge the batteries at layover points so the batteries are always “topped off”. Hybrid locomotives which are now under development will be more economical by being able to change batteries with electricity from their regenerative brakes. It would be possible to extend electrification of rail service without costly catenary on all lines. Trains could recharge their batteries while under catenary, switching to battery power on segments without catenary. Both hybrid locomotive and battery powered electric traction could save money and reduce pollution for transit, commuter, intercity and freight rail service.

    Critics will claim that lithium batteries are not a solution to pollution or saving energy. They will claim that it will only result in moving the problems on to the electrical grid. That all these battery powered vehicles will result in creating more burdens for an already overloaded electrical system. The result will be the need for more power plants burning more fuel causing more pollution and carbon dioxide. It is true that the electrical grid is often near the breaking point, usually on hot summer days. But much of the time electric utilities have more electricity than they need, particularly at night.

    The problem with electricity is you can’t make it and then store it for use latter. Most electricity is made from coal, nuclear energy or Natural Gas with steam power plants. You can’t turn off steam and turn it back on like a gasoline engine. It takes hours to start up and shut down steam plants. So even at periods of low electrical demand utilities are running most of their steam powered plants and the grid has surplus capacity, especially at night. The best time to charge these new electric vehicles will be at night when the utilities will be happy to sell their surplus capacity at no additional cost to them. 

    California is already committed to expanding its electrical supplies with low polluting sources to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the air. California has plentiful sources of solar, wind, wave and geothermal power to provide more than enough “green energy “needed for the state. The country of Denmark is already ahead of California, now producing 20% of its electricity from wind power and planning to increase that to 50% before long. People in Denmark realize that the wind doesn’t always blow when you need it. But Denmark is also going to encourage people to buy electric cars. Will this cause a problem when there isn’t enough wind? Actually the electric cars are part of the solution. Denmark will start its electric car program in 2011. The electric utility will provide electric plugs for these cars to plug in where they park. Most cars spend over 20 hours a day parked somewhere. The electrical plugs for these electric cars won’t only charge the cars, but can also pull electricity from the car’s batteries when the grid needs more power. The car owner will be credited for any power borrowed while plugged in.  But the cars will be used as a back up system with plenty of stored electricity usually charged at night and available during the day during peak periods.

    Why will battery power be accepted before fuel cells or alternate fuels? The reason is a combination of institutional and infrastructure issues. Alternate fuels such as hydrogen, biofuels, or synthetic fuels are still fairly expensive. They will also need a whole new infrastructure to produce on a large scale and to ship and distribute to customers. The oil industry is a well established institution with a developed infrastructure. The oil industry is showing no interest in replacing this investment for a new and expensive product as long as they can make good money selling oil. The oil industry is unlikely to idly stand by and let a competitor seriously make inroads into their market. On the other hand the electric utilities are also well established and have a developed infrastructure. They have capacity to sell which is surplus energy at night and are interested in using the storage capabilities of electric vehicles to save them money and make the gird more reliable. Battery powered vehicles will be available soon: vehicles makers are scrambling now for new products that will encourage customers to buy.