Monthly Archives

September 2008

Uncategorized

Coachella Valley Train Meeting Report and PHOTOS

September 20, 2008
Reported by Robert Manning
, RailPAC Director, Palm Springs, with PHOTOS by Mrs. Bob Manning

The Auditorium for the University Of California Riverside Graduate Center located in Palm Desert, turned out to be the perfect location for a train meeting. This public forum dealing with daily passenger train service from Los Angeles to the Coachella Valley had sixty five people in the audience.

p1000570-small.JPG
The panel of speakers included (left to right): Bill Bronte California Department of Transportation, Chief, Division of Rail; Richard H. Phelps Amtrak Vice President, Transportation; Sheldon Peterson Riverside County Transportation Commission

Paul Dyson, RailPAC President moderated the program and RailPAC Director Robert Manning was Meeting Chairman.

This writer gave the opening statements which included an explanation of the current California rail plan, and requested a fourth corridor service which would be daily passenger train service from Los Angeles to the Coachella Valley. We also asked that the long distance train the Sunset Limited be increased to seven days from the current three day a week service, and explained further how this increase would benefit the greater desert area.

p1000568-small.JPG
Paul Dyson then gave a history and explanation of RailPAC, the benefits of rail travel and he then gave a brief statement concerning the terrible Motrolink accident before introducing Richard Phelps.

p1000575-small.JPG
Mr. Phelps explained that he agrees with making the Sunset Limited a daily train and that it is “when” not “if” the Coachella Valley receives daily train service. He also went into detail explaining that the Union Pacific, who owns some of the track that Amtrak uses, is sometimes very resistant to passenger service and that requires persistence from us. Mr. Phelps further explained that by statute Amtrak should have the right of way and Union Pacific dispatchers should give priority to Amtrak. How ever many times this does not happen. Richard then went on to explain the many benefits of train travel, how it is good for the environment, very fuel efficient and what a benefit if we could remove more cars from interstate 10 and how that could improve our air quality and financially help this area. Finally Mr. Phelps stated that safety is paramount for Amtrak, and he then spoke about the terrible Metrolink accident and that many of the Metrolink employees are known by him and this type of accident is very rare and very emotional for everyone concerned and his thoughts go out to all of the victims of this horrific accident. Paul then introduced Bill Bronte.

p1000577-small.JPG
Mr. Bronte went on to say that he is really a budget guy and he knows what it takes to run the California rail corridor service. He went on to say that in the 1990’s the state bought equipment and tracks but needs more then the budgeted 86 million dollars to operate the current state rail service. Mr. Bronte also stated that Union Pacific railroad would also say no to added service on the busy Coachella Valley rail line, unless money were made available. He went on to say that two pieces of pending federal legislation SB294 and HR 6000 Amtrak reauthorization including capitol improvements and 80 – 20 federal state funding is winding its way through Congress. This would be a benefit for this area and California as a whole. He went on to say that we need daily train service and that we should focus on our federal and local officials. Paul then introduced the final speaker Sheldon Peterson.

p1000580-small.JPG
Mr. Peterson stated that the Riverside County Transportation Commission encourages and supports passenger rail service for this area and he went on to say that a 2005 study of Metrolink service for this area proved unrealistic in terms of cost and benefit. He went on to say that Amtrak service is needed for this area because they are operationally suited for the distance, and the service they can provide such as café car, and seating arrangements. Sheldon went on to say that Riverside County works with the state and both encourage this rail service for eastern part of the county.

After the speakers finished, Karen Brown district manager for Congresswoman Mary Bono-Mack (R-Palm Springs) stated that the Congresswoman supports Amtrak and the seven day a week service of the Sunset Limited.

p1000583-small.JPG
At this time many in the audience, some seen above, with Meeting Chairman Bob Manning (right), asked numerous questions of the speakers and many gave statements as to why we need passenger train service for this area.

Paul Dyson, before giving the closing remarks, explained that Amtrak owns most the rail line on the east coast between Boston and Washington and this requires a lot of maintenance consuming approximately 75 to 80 % of the annual Amtrak budget. California pays its own way with the California corridor passenger train system, hopefully that will soon change.

Uncategorized

The Coast Rail Coordinating Council September meeting

Meeting Report September 19, 2008
Reported by Bruce Jenkins, RailPAC Director, Sunnyvale

The Coast Rail Coordinating Council met September. 19, ’08 in Soledad, CA, at the Paraiso Winery.

Track and Access for the future Coast Daylight train:
A Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) for track access and project negotiation has bounced back and forth between Caltrans Division of Rail and UPRR for nearly a year. The MOA is now being reviewed by UP. The selection of projects (track and signal improvements) and engineering will not advance until the agreement is finalized. DoR staff attended to provide update on the MOA including status of negotiations for a new train slot. The CRCC will continue to encourage execution of the MOA and expeditious selection of capital projects.

Equipment Procurement:
DoR has been authorized to issue an RFP for 27 of the 36 requested new rolling stock. If the RFP can be released later this year, the first of the new cars are expected to arrive in early 2012. However, there is some good news in that DoR recently announced it will be getting 7 refurbished cars (Comet* version of Horizon) plus 13 Horizon cars from Amtrak. These will help alleviate the statewide shortage. The large number of standees on existing trains is a safety concern and a high priority for these cars. There is also a large number of cars out of service needing minor repair (windows etc). Whether these cars can be put on line in a timely manner to provide enough capacity to start the Coast Daylight service is the major concern at this time. At least 4 of the twenty cars would be needed to make up the consist for the Coast Daylight. The CRCC will investigate options to start Coast Daylight with new equipment pool.

Operating Funds:
If the above issues are resolved, obtaining operating funds will most likely be the last step. Unfortunately with the delay in new equipment caused by the Department of Finance Audit, arrival of the new equipment is now expected in early 2012.

Schedule Update:
The final schedule of the Coast Daylight service will be negotiated by DoR, Amtrak, Metrolink, Caltrain and UP. A great deal of pressure is building from the south and north terminus agencies (Metrolink/Caltrain) for very early northbound departure times. Ventura and Santa Barbara counties continue to push for an early morning northbound to reach Santa Barbara near 0800. In the north, Caltrain has noted preference for the train to operate either before or after their peak commute times (4 & 7pm) and conversely departing southbound from SF before 6am or after 9am. Advantages of early morning departures are better separation from the Coast Starlight service and better arrival times in LA and SF. However RailPAC VP North Art Lloyd (retired Amtrak) has always maintained that departures prior to 7am are NOT conducive to good ridership numbers. There is also a policy question: “Should a state-sponsored train operate on a schedule so clearly outside of the traditional discretionary intercity traveler time frame?” .

LOSSAN Corridor:
Half of the agencies along the Coast Corridor (SLO, SB, Ventura, & LA) are participating (thru LOSSAN) with DoR & OCTA on an assessment for commuter and intercity rail improvements primarily between LA & SD. A recent study was completed that identified items that theoretically could be completed in the next year or two. A more comprehensive study will visit some controversial issues in the corridor e.g:

  • Is the current management structure (state) the most effective way to deliver services? Or should a regional model replace it?
  • Should the entire corridor timetable be redone from scratch?
  • Should there be more mid-day stops on some trains (and less on others)?
  • Wilbur Smith & Associates has been selected as the consultant for this study. CRCC staff will provide periodic updates.

    Passenger Info Delivery System:
    LOSSAN has formed a technical sub-committee to investigate the status of passenger information delivery systems. The LOSSAN Board is interested in better info dissemination:
    1. before arriving at the station
    2. while waiting at the station
    3. on board announcements
    LOSSAN staff is expected to provide a full report in December to it’s Bd.
    Unfortunately, info for the Coast Starlight is not transmitted thru the system because the GPS units are not yet installed on those Amtrak cars. As the Daylight service comes closer to reality the Passenger Display Signs (and on-board) GPS units should be integrated into service.

    Item of note:
    The city of Soledad has been working with UP on a station site.

    * Comet Cars are commuter configuration of the Horizon Car.

    Uncategorized

    Capitol Corridor September board meeting

    By Bruce Jenkins, RailPAC Director

    The Meeting of the Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Board (CCJPB) was held September 17, 2008 at Suisun City Hall. (The CCJPB is celebrating it’s 10th anniversary).

    Managing Director Eugene Skoropowski gave still another glowing report on the outstanding ridership and revenue increases and the On Time Performance (OTP) which in August was at 91.6%, the best in 10 years. “It is safe to say that virtually every past statistical record will be shattered by the end of the fiscal year (9/30)”. Amtrak has caught up on “Preventative Maintenance” work, enabling “full consists” on all trains. There are currently four DoR leased renovated Superliner cars in service in the Northern Calif. equipment pool. The CCJPB/Amtrak FY09 Fixed Price Operating Agreement was approved by the Board.

    Work is progressing on the Automated Ticketing Validation Project (ATV). The project has advanced thru the design and development process. Vendor requested changes have enhanced the project budget however. Mr Skoropowski pointed out that this ATV system will provide information that will enable operating personnel to know exactly who is aboard the train at any time. Also freeloading scofflaws can be easily apprehended (rightly so).

    During discussion of the Feinstein/Boxer bill (PTC). Skoropowski pointed out the desire to work with UP using WIFI to adapt to a form of PTC.

    CCJPB and Amtrak are trying to work out a solution to get additional service to Roseville and Auburn is spite of the UP’s refusal (in a letter to the Governor) of public funds for track improvements.

    Director Tom Blalock suggested that the Coast Starlight stop at Richmond, which is seemingly logical in view of the BART connection. Discussions with Amtrak are required of course.

    Construction Projects:

  • a) UP began work in late July on a crossover in Benicia with completion due end of November
  • b) Design of crossovers on the Yolo Causeway are in the works
  • c) Design is in progress for track expansion and crossover relocation for Emeryville Station permitting paralell moves in/out of the north end reducing congestion in this “choke point.” Installation likely mid ’09.
  • d) Expanded double track in Santa Clara from CP Expressway to at least Great America station and an added righthand crossover from Main Track 2 to Main Track 1 north of CP Coast to allow for staging and passing freight trains in the Newhall Yard new controlled siding, connection of Newark and Albrae sidings; design and construction funding being sought from federal matching FRA program (project will partner with ACE and Caltrain).
  • Uncategorized

    RailPAC STATEMENT REGARDING METROLINK/UNION PACIFIC TRAIN COLLISION

    RAIL PASSENGER ASSOCIATION OF CALIFORNIA
    1017 L Street PMB 217, Sacramento, CA 95814
    www.railpac.org

    17th September 2008

    STATEMENT REGARDING METROLINK/UNION PACIFIC TRAIN COLLISION AT CHATSWORTH, CALIFORNIA FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 12, 2008

    The Rail Passenger Association of California is greatly dismayed by the loss of life and injuries resulting from the collision between a Metrolink passenger train and a Union Pacific freight train last Friday. Our sincere condolences, together with those of all passenger rail advocacy groups, go out to all who have suffered in any way from these tragic events.

    While the investigation continues, we will not make any statement attempting to apportion blame or anticipate the NTSB findings. We will say however that the passenger rail corridor between San Diego and San Luis Obispo via Los Angeles, known as the LOSSAN corridor, is the second busiest passenger route in the country. Yet there are still long sections of line that are single track, including the busy line between Van Nuys and Moorpark. It is embarrassing for the State of California and the nation that a major route within the second largest city in the country is still partly single track. We applaud Supervisor Antonovich and the L.A. County Board of Supervisors for their resolution calling for improvements in infrastructure, safety and signaling systems. Let’s use the reaction to this unfortunate tragedy to jump start a program of improvements that will give us a safer, more frequent and more reliable passenger rail system for the region.

    RailPAC is a non-profit railroad passenger advocacy group run entirely by volunteers.

    Paul Dyson
    President
    pdyson@railpac.org

    Uncategorized

    RailPAC-Public MEETING Scheduled in Palm Desert

    Bronte, Phelps to speak about “PASSENGER TRAIN SERVICE FROM LOS ANGELES TO THE COACHELLA VALLEY”

    University of California, Riverside
    PALM DESERT GRADUATE CENTER Auditorium

    75080 FRANK SINATRA DRIVE
    PALM DESERT, CA 92211
    Cook street (south bound) exit from Interstate 10 to Frank Sinatra Dr.
    The Auditorium is the lower building adjacent to the parking lot.

    Meet local, state and federal politicians and others working to extend passenger rail service to/from the Coachella Valley. Last year’s event was a huge success.

    Speakers attending the meeting include:

  • Bill Bronte, Caltrans Division of Rail
  • Richard Phelps, Amtrak
  • RailPAC Event Chairman: Robert Manning, RailPAC Palm Springs Director

    Information: 916-833-4218

    WATCH THIS SPACE FOR MORE DETAILS AS THEY BECOME AVAILABLE!

    Uncategorized

    RailPAC letter to CRCC re Coast train schedules

    By RailPAC President, Paul Dyson, wrote this letter to the Coast Rail Coordinating Council with a copy to Caltrans Division of Rail, before the accident on 9/12, about scheduling of trains on the Coast line. The CRCC meets 9/19 in Soledad. Mr. Dyson and RailPAC Treasurer, Bill Kerby, met with DofR acting Chief Lam Nguyen the week before to discuss these issues, which are high on the RailPAC action agenda.

    RAIL PASSENGER ASSOCIATION OF CALIFORNIA
    1017 L Street PMB 217, Sacramento, CA 95814
    www.railpac.org
    9th September, 2008

    Chairman Dave Potter and Council Members
    COAST RAIL COORDINATING COUNCIL
    c/o SLOCOG

    TRAIN SCHEDULES – SURFLINER AND COAST DAYLIGHT

    Dear Chairman Potter AND Council members:

    As you know we at RailPAC are dedicated to campaigning for improved passenger train service in California, and since 1978 we have strongly advocated additional trains along the coastal route. We also try and make realistic proposals that produce the maximum benefit for all parties. We are a non-profit, all volunteer group, and we try to represent the concerns and desires of the train passenger and the taxpayer.

    We have always considered the schedules of the 798 and 799 trains to be a compromise at best. The running times are very poor compared to other trains in the corridor and therefore do not present the best of rail travel to the fare-paying passenger. The overall Surfliner service is stressed by overcrowding and intense utilization of the rolling stock, and characterized by poor punctuality. At the same time commuter agency trains are underutilized outside the peak hours and at weekends. In addition there is unmet demand for early morning service westbound from Los Angeles to meet the needs of northwest Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties.

    In communication with the various agencies concerned we are therefore calling for a complete overhaul of all the schedules in the LOSSAN corridor, commuter as well as intercity, in order to develop a coordinated service that best uses the assets and capacity available, seven days a week. Scheduling a predominantly single track railroad is difficult, and trying to make minor adjustments without interfering with other schedules is almost impossible. We therefore recommend the “blank sheet of paper” approach, building a new schedule from the ground up.

    As part of this exercise we strongly support the careful study of an early morning “799” service from Los Angeles. Departing at about 5.40am this train will provide travel opportunities for “reverse” commuters from Los Angeles to Ventura, and from Ventura to Santa Barbara Counties. In addition this train will provide a better morning schedule from the coastal counties to the Bay Area. With a longer interval between this train and the Coast Starlight there is less likelihood of abstraction of revenue from that train. I personally believe that this train will attract early morning long distance passengers from Los Angeles as long as the overall travel times are reasonable. With a good schedule this train can be 30 minutes faster just to Santa Barbara than the present 799.

    RailPAC hopes that the CRCC will support this comprehensive review of the current schedules which we believe will lead to a more customer responsive, punctual, and economically more viable train service for the California Coast.

    SIGNED

    Paul J. Dyson
    President

    Uncategorized

    CA Rail Corridor records smashed again in August

    By Gene Skoropowski, Managing Director, Capitol Corridor JPB

    California Intercity Passenger Rail ridership and revenue records continue to be “smashed” by these August statistics. Major ridership growth continues all across California, with the Pacific Surfliners growing at +9.5%, the Capitol Corridor at +21.2% and the San Joaquins at +27.5%. These three California intercity rail services carried 568,132 passengers in August, and the Pacific Surfliner (313,570) route has carried more passengers than Amtrak’s premier Northeast Corridor “Acela Express” (250,440) for the fourth consecutive month.

    The Capitol Corridor was again rated by the riders across the country as Amtrak’s #1 route for customer satisfaction for the 7th consecutive month, and Capitol Corridor sustained its “best on-time performance” (at 91.6% on-time) of all but 2 intercity corridors offering multiple frequency services.

    Capitol Corridor (August 2008):

    158,309 passengers +21.2% vs. 2007 this is a new August record, and second-highest month ever and the Capitol Corridor is still the third busiest route in the country, by a wide margin.
    Passengers for 11 months YTD: 1,548,783 (11 months YTD: +16.1%)
    (total riders for the latest 12 months: 1,664,871, +15.7% above prior 12
    months)

    $2,272,935 revenue +27.9% vs. 2007 (11 months YTD: +21.6%)

    The farebox recovery revenue-to-cost ratio for July is 62.5% , and
    the year-to-date revenue-to-cost ratio holding at 54.3%.

    On-time performance for July: 91.6% (a record high for service reliability)
    The year-to-date on-time performance delivered to the customers after 11 months is 85.3%, among the best in the country. Only the Keystone Corridor and the Hiawatha Corridor have better on-time stats. The premier Acela Express service on the Northeast Corridor is 83.8% on-time for the same 11 month period, while Northeast Regional service is at 75.5%.

    The Capitol Corridor August on-time reliability numbers are exceptionally good, and most encouraging. Again, like last month, not since we went from 6 trains each way to 9 trains each way (back in 2000-01) have we seen ridership growth like we have seen in July and August. Union Pacific Railroad continues to deliver for us. UPRR performance in August was again 95%, and UPRR performance year to date is between 94% and 95%, the best of any Amtrak-operated intercity passenger rail service in the country, whether Amtrak-dispatched or freight railroad dispatched.
    __________________________________________________

    Pacific Surfliners (August 2008):

    313,570 passengers +9.5% vs. 2007, still the second busiest route in the nation, by a wide margin
    Passengers for 11 months YTD: 2,683,362 (11 months YTD: +7.5%)
    As noted above, the Pacific Surfliners carried more monthly passengers than the Acela Express on the Northeast Corridor, for the 4th consecutive month

    $6,173,776 revenue +14.8% vs. 2007 (11 months YTD: +9.8%)

    On-time performance for August: 69.3%
    YTD on-time: 75.9%
    __________________________________________________

    San Joaquins (August 2008):

    96,253 passengers +27.5% vs. 2007, keeping its slot as fifth busiest in the nation for the second consecutive month (outpacing New York State’s Empire Corridor Service)
    Passengers for 11 months YTD: 873,767 (11 months YTD: +18.2%)

    $3,093,399 revenue +31.1% vs. 2007 (11 months YTD: +19.6%)

    On-time performance for August: 66.4%
    YTD on-time: 82.4%
    __________________________________________________________

    Total California Intercity Corridor Ridership for August 2008: 568,132

    Total Northeast Corridor ‘Spine’ ridership for August 2008: 877,849
    For August 2008, the California Corridors are 64.7% of Northeast Corridor ‘Spine’ Boston-Washington ridership

    Total Northeast Corridor ridership for August 2008
    with branches to Springfield, MA; Albany, NY and Harrisburg, PA: 1,104,113
    For August 2008, the California Corridors are 51.5% of the total Northeast
    Corridor ridership

    Gene

    Uncategorized

    Want Cheaper Energy? Run More Trains!

    Editorial By Noel T. Braymer

    The current Administration is claiming that if only Oil Companies were given oil leases to every possible place including National Wildlife Reserves and off shore that the price of fuel would magically go down. This comes from an Administration that promised it would keep oil prices low because it knew how to “jawbone” the leaders of the Middle East. Well with oil rising from around $30 to over $140 a barrel in the last 8 years we can see how successful that was! The United States uses 25 percent of the world oil production and has less than 2 percent of the world’s oil reserves. The vast majority of the oil used in this country is for transportation. If the United States stopped importing oil we would burn through our domestic oil reserves in three years. Gas prices are starting to come down without one new oil well being drilled. It is happening because demand for oil has gone down because the price has gone up. Hard to believe but people can find ways to cut their driving and save gas.

    The only way to control the cost of energy and keep a healthy economy is through efficiency. You can’t get much more efficient than traveling by train. Not only does the train carry more for less, but it cuts down on the need to travel. Too often we hear the expression that you “need” a car to get around. Because for the last 60 years land development was centered on cars; shopping, doctor offices, jobs, housing etc are spread out miles away from each other. Centering development on trains eliminates much of the running around we are forced to do when using the car. Train stations by nature are job centers and major destinations.

    The news that the state will be ordering 27 rail passenger cars is very welcomed. But the reality is to create a good state wide rail passenger system in California we will need to think in terms of not dozens, but thousands of additional rail cars. A high speed rail system linking Northern and Southern California alone needs hundreds of railcars. But a larger system is needed in California to connect with such a trunk service. Between the Bay Area and San Joaquin Valley we need rail service extended past Sacramento to Redding and Reno. Caltrain and ACE trains need to be run between Fremont and Redwood City on the Dumbarton Rail Bridge with connections to BART. ACE needs to be expanded to daily service every half hour having connections to San Francisco, Sacramento and Modesto. Caltrain needs to be extended to Salinas and the East Bay. Along the coast we need multiple trains between Los Angles and San Francisco. Metrolink also needs to be daily on most lines with half hourly service. Service from LAUS to LAX and the LA Harbor areas on a publicly owned railroad is needed. Rail service from LAUS needs to serve Palm Springs as well as Phoenix and Tucson. This is in addition to SUNSET service which should be run three times daily not weekly! All other Long Distance Trains should also be run two or three times a day. Service to Las Vegas is not out of the question. The Coaster needs full double tracking to go daily every half hour.  Plus there are several rail lines that can be used for either new Light Rail or Commuter Rail service throughout the State.

    Critics will ask how can we afford all this new rail service? The answer is how can we afford not to. The current best estimate is that we have about a 40 year world supply of oil. But long before 2048 production will decline and there will be problems meeting current demands. This will result in higher oil prices and push the development of expensive (and environmentally destructive) oil replacements such as oil shale and tar sands. We have to start the transition from an oil based economy to alternative forms and greater conservation of energy. We need new housing that is energy efficient, affordable and near jobs, schools, transit and shopping. We have to make long term investments in efficiency and alternative energy to maintain an enjoyable lifestyle for our children and grandchildren.

    We can’t afford to build new roads when we are having trouble maintaining the ones we have. When open land is developed, new roads, sewers, water lines, gas lines etc are needed which we all end up paying for. The best thing about the railroads is they exist now. Railroads will allow for development where we have existing infrastructure ready to use.  Most rail rights of ways are wide enough for at least double tracking, often for up to four tracks. Upgrading existing railways is the most cost effective way to increase travel capacity. We should get the most out of what we already have. The issue is defining priorities. There are sacred cows that will need to be barbecued. Many major proposed highway projects will become increasingly uneconomical. Some transit projects will have to be scaled down or delayed. We will have to deal with tough questions about taxation and spending priorities. We have the money. The question is: when are we going to start spending the money to invest in building our future, instead of throwing it away buying oil to make other countries richer and leave us poorer?

    Uncategorized

    THE BALKANIZATION OF LOSSAN: A Commentary

    By Paul Dyson, RailPAC President
    3rd September, 2008

    THE BALKANIZATION OF LOSSAN – WHAT HAPPENED TO A REGIONAL VISION?

    Imagine that Southwest Airlines is run by a public board, and members of that Board includes say the Mayor of Yuma AZ, and the Mayor of Rancho Mirage, CA. Because of their power on the Board, and because those cities have municipal airports, they insist that all flights between Los Angeles and Phoenix must stop at Palm Springs and Yuma airports, even if only a handful of people use the service. The extended journey time discourages patronage of the end point service and the additional stops add to the cost of operations. And what if Southwest were run by a number of autonomous regional boards, each of them procuring different aircraft and engines, instead of saving millions by standardizing? What if Southwest sold you a ticket from LAX to Phoenix then told you to buy another ticket say from Phoenix to Tucson instead of allowing you to book through to your destination? Would Southwest be as successful as it is today?

    Unfortunately our intercity and commuter rail services are not run like Southwest Airlines. Instead of a standard passenger car body, (with internal layout and seat type customized for intercity and short distance service) we have at least three different railcar types, four if you include the otherwise standard car chosen by one agency but delivered with a different electrical system. If you want to make a through journey, Caltrain to BART for example, you need two tickets. And increasingly, no matter where you want to go, it’s taking longer and longer as each local Satrap adds stops to satisfy local politics without regard for the overall good of the region. That’s what I mean by Balkanization.

    In southern California Orange County, having invested significantly in the right of way between Fullerton and Laguna Niguel so that Metrolink trains form the spine of their transit system (an excellent and cost-effective investment) now believes that they are entitled to have the Surfliner trains stop at every station in the County. And as my tongue in cheek analogy suggests, Los Angeles to San Diego passengers have their journeys extended (about 5 minutes for every extra stop) the reliability and punctuality of the predominantly single track service deteriorates, and business is lost, especially the higher fare paying business passenger. Every passenger that reverts to his car to go from San Diego to Los Angeles causes more pollution and congestion in Orange County, but we must stop the train at Orange for a highly subsidized transit rider to Santa Ana!

    Back in 1980 when I joined RailPAC there was a group of elected and professional public officials who believed in passenger rail as one of the solutions to our regional mobility problems. More specifically these people, Senator Mills of San Diego, Jacki Bacharach from Los Angeles, and many others, wanted to see the incremental development of the San Diego – Los Angeles – Santa Barbara – San Luis Obispo corridor (now known as LOSSAN) so that it could provide regional passenger service for journeys of say 60 miles or more. Such a service would give new travel options for those without access to automobiles and, it was hoped, encourage drivers to leave their cars behind, thus having an impact on the parallel interstate and state highways, especially 5 and 101. We now know from experience that even a small percentage of traffic diverted from car to rail improves speeds on adjacent freeways and so everyone wins.

    These people, including RailPAC founders Byron Nordberg, Adrian Herzog, Noel Braymer and Russ Jackson, were not focused on what rail could do within their own counties. They had a regional view of the transportation problems, and promoted a regional solution. They were aware that for example a double track project in Orange County benefits passengers from Los Angeles and San Diego by improving travel time and punctuality throughout the corridor, and so were not concerned about whether the allocation of funds was “fair”, i.e. evenly distributed among the counties. What was needed was a long term plan to constantly upgrade the corridor with each project justified by its cost-effectiveness in improving the system as a whole.

    Fast forward to 2008 and unfortunately we see a completely opposite trend developing in LOSSAN. In addition to the corridor “inter-city” Surfliner service we now have two commuter agencies with very parochial outlooks. The San Diego NCTD seems particularly turf conscious, having deliberately purchased commuter rail cars whose electrical systems are incompatible with Metrolink. Metrolink itself, while officially the “Regional Rail Authority” for Southern California, seems to be determined to relegate the Surfliner trains to transit status, to give them low priority and poor schedules, and to hijack them for extra stops to fill in gaps in their own services.

    We are now in a situation which many rail advocates have hoped for, that is growing demand for passenger rail triggered by increasing fuel prices and traffic congestion. Yet what are we doing with this opportunity? We have overcrowded trains, with poor reliability and punctuality, running on slow schedules with equipment that is showing its age. How many new riders say “never again”? Why are trains overcrowded at weekends when Metrolink and Coaster trains stay parked in sidings? How many passengers miss a train while queuing to buy a second ticket at an interchange station?

    We are now paying the price for our failure to put in place a permanent funding mechanism to provide dollars for a continuous program of incremental improvements. Bond issues are all very well, but occasional chunks of borrowed money are no substitute for the kind of program needed to double track and modernize this railroad. We want to add Metrolink and Surfliner trains, but we already have a quart in a pint pot. The punctuality statistics speak for themselves. In addition to a funding mechanism, the greatest need is for management. The current setup is simply not working. The LOSSAN Board has little power and often has difficulty in finding a quorum for meetings. I believe that it is impossible to run a successful passenger railroad business through a dozen public agencies, committees and boards without a full time, empowered, Executive Director.

    It’s time for a thorough review and overhaul of the public agencies that provide commuter and intercity rail in California. Neither the passenger nor the taxpayer is well served by the patchwork of organizations, many with purely local concerns, that now “controls” the LOSSAN corridor. It’s time for radical change, and a return to a truly regional mission. We need Southwest Raillines!

    Paul Dyson
    09/03/08

    Uncategorized

    Where are Amtrak’s “Material Handling Cars?”

    Stored in the weeds and on the rusty rails of the Santa Maria Valley Railroad, east of Guadalupe. A PHOTO report by Russ Jackson including views of the Guadalupe Amtrak station. 9/1 UPDATE Steve Grande of Trainweb sent us the following information: “Don’t forget that there are a couple of Amtrak ex-MHCs out in La Plata, MO. (Serving as the rail museum!) They had USPS Decals on them when we purchased them so I assumed theywere used for transporting mail.” See: http://trainweb.org/carl/LaPlataFeb2008/AmtrakHistory.html

    amtrak-mhcs-on-smvrr-8-08-002.jpg
    This is the yard once used by the “beet trains” when the Betteravia sugar beet processing plant was open.

    amtrak-mhcs-on-smvrr-8-08-004.jpg
    Hundreds of empty cars sit idle, not earning Amtrak any revenue. And, they’ve been there for years!

    amtrak-mhcs-on-smvrr-8-08-005.jpg
    On the SMVRR “main line” to Santa Maria these 20 “ExpressTrak” cars sit idle on a side track.

    amtrak-mhcs-on-smvrr-8-08-006.jpg
    This is the Guadalupe Amtrak station, built in 1998. This view is looking north, up the Coast Line. Pacific Surfliner trains 798/799 and 774/775 stop here daily.

    amtrak-mhcs-on-smvrr-8-08-007.jpg
    The open-air unstaffed building has an arrival sign and a QuikTrak ticket machine for Amtrak and Metrolink. One Amtrak thruway bus stops here daily.