Monthly Archives

October 2008

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RailPAC Meeting in Los Angeles November 1st

Location: Los Angeles Union Station in the North Patio behind Traxx Restaurant.

When: From Noon until 2 P.M.
Topics: The November 4th Election, Prop 1A ( HIgh Speed Rail) Prop R ( Los Angeles County Sales Tax for Rail Transit. )

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YES ON PROPOSITION 1A – NOW MORE THAN EVER!

A few years ago I was concerned about the timing of building a High Speed Rail system in California.  Business worldwide was booming.  Prices for steel, cement and other basic construction materials were skyrocketing, even supposing you could find a supplier.  It seemed to me that cost estimates would soon be out of date as inflation took hold and we’d end up spending far more than we had bargained for. 

But thanks to the bad news from the credit markets and reality of an oncoming recession, now is a better time than ever for us to have the courage to move forward with this project.  Already, thanks to the global slowdown, steel and cement prices have tumbled.  And due to the recession in construction and home building we have at least 8% unemployment here in California, and it could get worse.  In addition there are now at least four and probably five or six credible suppliers of High Speed Rail equipment and systems around the globe, each of whom will be hungry for new orders.  It’s going to be a buyers market for all of the components of a High Speed Rail system, and we should take advantage of this window of opportunity.

In the past the State of California and the Federal Government have embarked on bold, strategic infrastructure projects when the economy faced challenging times.  We have the Hoover Dam, the state water project, and many other important facilities which we take for granted as a result of having the courage to make these investments in our future.  We have the manpower, we can make the steel and the concrete, and the earth moving machines, and if we are wise we can also use this opportunity to jump start an American Railcar building industry in partnership with the train builder that we select. 

During this recession some of the imperatives for building High Speed Rail will seem to be less important.  Travel will probably diminish, freeing up capacity at airports and on highways.  But this will just be a temporary phenomenon.  By the time construction is complete the economy will be booming again and all the benefits of High Speed Rail such as reduced pollution, less dependence on imported fuel, improved mobility between the major cities in the state, will be needed more than ever.  So RailPAC says yes on Proposition 1A for job creation and a better future for California.

Paul Dyson,
President

Editorials

Why Vote for Proposition 1A? Because of the Stupid Economy!

Editorial by Noel T. Braymer

There are three good reasons for voting for Prop 1A. They are jobs, jobs and jobs. Expanded high speed, intercity and commuter rail passenger services will create jobs from construction, in the operation of rail service and from the economic development that improved transportation creates. At the heart of the current recession and all economic downturns is the fact that consumers are not spending money. The reason for this is simple; people don’t have money to spend. The solution is to this is to create jobs so people have spending money. The problems we have now like banks running out of money, going out of business and people losing their homes happened before in the 1930’s. So what happened back then? Things got built, like Hoover Dam, the Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge which created jobs. Many of these and other projects were built with borrowed money. How can we do this when our current problems are from to much debt? Well the problems in the 1930’s were caused by the same problems we have now: too much money was borrowed to gamble on speculation which disappeared when the speculative bubble burst. When you invest borrowed money in things with concrete value and worth, you create wealth. This is what it means to spend money to make money.

There are people who question the need for high speed rail service or even the safety of rail passenger service in California. Prop 1A is much more than running trains in 2 ½ hours between Los Angeles and San Francisco. The existing railroad between Irvine through downtown Los Angeles to Sylmar and the railroad between Gilroy and San Francisco will be rebuilt with Prop 1A funding. This will increase the safety of not just high speed trains, but also of other passenger trains and at the road crossings in these areas. Eliminating grade crossing will be a benefit to drivers by reducing traffic congestion and improving road safety too.  This will mean full grade separation, greater safety with improved rail signaling and where there is heavy freight traffic there will be separate tracks for passenger trains from freight trains. In addition almost a billion dollars of the Prop 1A bond money will go for capital projects to improve intercity and commuter rail services. This bond money will be used with matching funds so for just non high speed rail we are looking at close to 2 billion dollars. The state bonds won’t be sold until there is matching funding from other sources.

So where might this matching funding come from? Congress recently passed a rail safety bill which also included Amtrak funding and goals for major rail passenger service improvements around the country. Now this bill doesn’t include money for these proposed projects. But there is growing interest in Washington for improved rail passenger service. Passing this bond issue will put California first in line as money comes available. So why build high speed rail now?  A successful high speed rail service needs connections to local rail services to carry enough passengers to succeed. Just ten years ago California didn’t have the basic rail passenger service to make high speed rail viable. Now we are in a much better position to support high speed rail. Connecting existing transit, commuter and intercity rail services with high speed rail will greatly increase rail ridership across the state.

The greatest danger to America’s security is not the Middle East or Russia: it is weather change! Continuing to burn fossil fuels without reducing methane and carbon dioxide emissions will result in increasing drought in the West and raising sea levels which will flood many parts of this country and the world. We have to get off of an oil based economy. If you consider Iran, Saudi Arabia, Russia or Venezuela as threats to the United States, then consider that all these countries are major oil producers. The high oil prices in the last few years greatly enriched these countries and embolden them. The recent economic slowdown has seen a dramatic drop in the price of oil. The recent drop of the price of oil has had more impact on these countries than all the military activity by this country in the last ten years. Wouldn’t it be better if we could defuse the oil weapon by eliminating our need for it? Better yet if we can do it without a depression but instead see economic growth and cleaner air?

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September 2008 – Capitol Corridor and California Ridership & Revenue

The growth continues!

California and the entire country continues “getting on board the train!”While it is a bit surprising that none of our national candidates for office seem to focus on passenger rail investments, and the mobility, jobs and economic stimulus such investments bring, as more and more Americans step on-board trains, maybe the message will get through that there is an opportunity here for a major investment program that creates jobs HERE, and provides a permanent transport service to our people that cannot be ‘off-shored’.

In any case, the ridership and revenue results for the month of September 2008 (the last month of the Federal Fiscal Year) are remarkable in their consistency, even at a time when gasoline prices actually came down. Ridership numbers did NOT come down, but rather continued their increase. Hopefully, political leaders will begin to recognize the popularity of passenger trains with the American people, and their willingness to fund a
national passenger rail system.  OK, enough of the soap-boxing.  Here are the results.

The Capitol Corridor sustained its “best-ever on-time performance” in September (at 93.8% on-time, delivered to the riders) and was the best on-time record in the nation of any Amtrak-operated service with more than one-round trip per day, and even then, only the Auto Train and Vermonter had a slightly better on-time record.  Union Pacific Railroad’s performance (the owner of the railroad over which the Capitol Corridor operates, and dispatcher of our trains) is about 99% on-time for the Capitol Corridor, again, better than any other Amtrak service, including Amtrak’s own Northeast Corridor services.

Capitol Corridor (September 2008):

144,747 passengers   +24.7%  vs. 2007
This is a new September record, and keeps the Capitol Corridor third busiest route in the country, by a wide margin
Passengers for 12 months of FY 2007-08: 1,693,580, just 6,420 passengers shy of 1.7 million riders. (12 months of FY 2007-08: +16.6%)
Just for comparison, 10 years ago, FY 1997-98, ridership was only 463,000 for the year!

$1,953,836  September revenue  +27.9% vs. 2007  (FY 2007-08: $23,634,341 for +22.0% growth)

The farebox recovery revenue-to-cost ratio for September is 56.7%, and the revenue-to-cost ratio for FY 2007-08 is 54.4%, the best full year recovery ratio in the history of the Capitol Corridor.

On-time performance for September was even better at: 93.8% (a Capitol Corridor ‘record high’ for service reliability) FY 2007-08 on-time performance delivered to the customers is 86.0%, among the best in the country.  Only the Keystone Corridor (NY-Philadephia-Harrisburg) and the Hiawatha Corridor (Chicago-Milwaukee) have slightly better on-time stats.  For comparison, the premier Acela Express service on the Northeast Corridor was 92.8% on-time for September and 84.5% for the fiscal year.  Northeast Regional service operated at 78.7% on-time in September, and 75.8% for the fiscal year.

Again, 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 since July. Union Pacific Railroad continues to deliver for us.  UPRR performance in September was a record 99%, and UPRR performance for the fiscal year is averaging close to 96%, the best performance of any Amtrak-operated intercity passenger rail service in the country, whether Amtrak-dispatched or freight railroad dispatched.
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Pacific Surfliners (September 2008):

215,497 passengers  +1.7% vs. September 2007, but still the second busiest route in the nation, by a wide margin Passengers for the 12 months of the FY 2007-08:  2,898,859  (12 months FY 2007-08: +7.1%)

$3,681,986 September revenue:  -0.5%% vs. 2007 (FY 2007-08: $51,010,624 for +9.0% growth)

On-time performance for September: 78.7% FY 2007-08 on-time performance:  76.1%
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San Joaquins (September 2008):

75,844 passengers  +15.2% vs. September 2007 Passengers for 12 months of the FY 2007-08:  949,611  (12 months FY 2007-08: +18.0%)

$2,401,289  September revenue:  +50.8%  vs. 2007  (FY 2007-08:  $29,847,468 for +19.6% growth)

On-time performance for September:  85.0% FY 2007-08 on-time performance: 82.6%
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Total California Intercity Corridor Ridership for September 2008:  436,138

Total Northeast Corridor ‘Spine’ ridership for September 2008:    885,577
For September 2008, the California Corridors are 49.3% of Northeast
Corridor ‘Spine’ Boston-Washington ridership

Total Northeast Corridor ridership for September 2008 with branches to Springfield, MA; Albany, NY and Harrisburg, PA:  1,094,597
For September 2008, the California Corridors are 39.8% of the total Northeast Corridor
ridership

Gene

Eugene K. Skoropowski
Managing Director
Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority

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RAILPAC CAMPAIGN TO IMPROVE SURFLINER WEEKEND SCHEDULE SUCCEEDS

October 4, 2008

After more than two years of nudging and cajoling by RailPAC, Amtrak has finally rescheduled the weekend 798 Surfliner train and reduced the running time by over 30 minutes. 

Currently the 798 waits at Moorpark for Metrolink trains over the single track from Simi Valley.  No Metrolink trains run on Saturdays and Sundays and we have pointed this out to Amtrak and the LOSSAN Board on numerous occasions.  The new train, 792, takes the same schedule as far as Moorpark and then runs 35 minutes earlier to Los Angeles.  RailPAC thank Amtrak General Superintendent, Southwest Division, Joe Yannuzzi, for pushing this through.  The change takes effect with the fall schedule on 10/27/08.  Weekend riders along the coast will no longer have this frustrating and unnecessary delay, and we hope this will encourage more visitors to the coastal cities to take the train.

Now we push ahead with the bigger task, to forge some cooperation between Metrolink and Amtrak to improve the weekday schedule.

Paul Dyson
President

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TAMC Rail Policy Committee meeting of Sep 8, 2008

Report by Chris Flescher

The first part of the meeting was news of passenger rail south of here.  The local transit agency in San Luis Obispo County offers free transfers from the Pacific Surfliner trains.  At this time, in Grover Beach, the passenger train platform is on one side of the tracks, but the stop for connecting buses is on the other side of the tracks.  There is an interest in changing the layout of the station, so that passengers making a transfer between trains and buses will not have to cross the tracks.  Recently, the Coast Starlight began to stop at Paso Robles.  Some other issues include: on the LOSSAN corridor, a study was done about service improvement projects, and about 20 improvements were found that can implemented quickly and relatively cheaply; Orange County wants to have mid-day stops on some long distance trains; soon there will be a single statewide timetable booklet, which will include the Capitol Corridor trains (whose schedule is not in the present timetable booklet); and about 50% of delays on Pacific Surfliner trains come from commuter or other Amtrak trains, so freight trains are not the biggest problem at this time. 

Proposition 1B only provides $400 million for intercity passenger rail, while the existing services need about $80 million per year.

The Coast Rail Coordinating Council (CRCC) did a capacity analysis most recently in 2005.  The group’s biggest objective is to get the Coast Daylight train started.  That train would need about $6 million per year in operating costs. 

Caltrans/SLOCOG and TAMC have programmed $26 million for the service.  There will be $150 million from the state to purchase new railcars, but they probably won’t arrive until 2012.  There should be 20 refurbished Amtrak railcars coming to California in the near future. 

One issue that needs to be studied is the clearance for the railcars in the Caltrain tunnels and the future Transbay Terminal. 

If the new railcars are going to be ready in April 2011, then the state budget will need to be changed in 2009, in order to provide operating money for the Coast Daylight train, in the Fiscal Year 2010/2011. 

Pete Rodgers (of SLOCOG) said that the state does not fund the Coast Starlight, so the associated infrastructure is not in great shape.  For example, at the Salinas station, there is an announcement system of the expected arrival times of trains, but it does not work well. 

There has been discussion of having a bond or sales tax in Soledad, and the money would go towards paying to have Amtrak stop in Soledad, and staffing a station there. 

It appears that the Coast Daylight train will stop in Pajaro, and it will also stop in King City and/or Soledad. 

The statewide bond for high speed rail, if passed, will have some money for connecting rail services, and some of that could go towards the Coast Daylight. 

Debbie Hale mentioned that she was in San Diego recently for a conference, and she rode the new Sprinter train in Oceanside.  She also said that inside the trains are large signs, describing the connecting bus lines for each station.  There is an interest in having people from TAMC take a tour of the Sprinter, along with the Orange Line bus rapid transit in Los Angeles. 

A representative from Santa Cruz County mentioned that the county is doing well in negotiations with UP to buy the rail line (that runs from Watsonville to Davenport).  He expects that the sale will happen in the near future

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A look at Automatic Train Stop (ATS)

By Noel T. Braymer

Since the disastrous collision at Chatsworth on September 12th, Metrolink has been in a panic to improve its public image and find quick ways to improve the safety of its trains. One step will be the rapid installation of Automatic Train Stop or ATS signaling on most or all of its train lines.

ATS 1ATS 2ATS 3

  These three pictures show the main components of ATS which is in use on passenger trains between Santa Ana and San Diego. At signal blocks with ATS installed you will see a bright silver bar alongside the tracks which is called a wayside inductor. On the trucks of the locomotives and cab cars are the sensors which activate the ATS as the trains passes a wayside inductor if there isn’t a clear or green signal.

ATS is considered an obsolescent signaling system and is 80 years old. Inside the locomotive or cab car the ATS detector is basically a magnet. As the train passes the ATS wayside inductor the sensor on the truck detects a magnetic field if there isn’t a clear or green signal. When this happens this turns on a buzzer and an eight second timer.  The engineer then must push a button to turn off the buzzer. If the button isn’t pushed within eight seconds the brakes will be applied and the train brought to a stop. The train doesn’t go into emergency braking. The ATS system primarily insures that the engineer is paying attention to the signals and is not incapacitated.    

Editorials

The Lesson of Chatsworth: Better Signaling Needed

Editorial By Noel T. Braymer

We know that on September 12th the engineer of Metrolink Train 111 failed to acknowledge or apply brakes for both a yellow and red signal. He even failed to apply brakes before running into a local UP Freight on a single track segment just outside of Tunnel 26. What we don’t know is why he failed to apply his brakes. This is a question for the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to answer. The answer to this question will have a major effect on the lawsuits now being filed for damages because of this fatal crash. Human failure to stop for red signals on railroads is a major safety problem. Technology has existed for over 100 years to stop trains that run red signals. In California between Santa Ana and San Diego, Automatic Train Stop (ATS) signals first installed by the Santa Fe Railway are still in use. ATS will stop a train that runs a red signal. The ATS system used in Southern California is only used on passenger trains. Freight trains also run red signals, and a system is needed to prevent any train from running red signals to fully protect the public. A major issue for better signaling is their cost, and much of the cost comes from the amount of wiring needed to install existing systems.

The NTSB which investigates all major accidents has recognized the problem with trains running red signals for years. Since the 1970’s the NTSB has been studying and promoting a concept called Positive Train Control (PTC). Since 1990 PTC has been a high priority for the NTSB to see it established nationally on the nation’s railroads. The basic ideal is to use wireless digital communications added with Global Positioning System technology (GPS) that would give dispatchers instant and exact information about all trains. Major truck companies for years have used wireless digital communication with GPS to help dispatch their trucks. For PTC this would include the ability to automatically stopping a train that goes through a red signal. As a wireless system it would be much cheaper than trying to wire all the rail trackage in the country for comparable level of signal projection. There are 11 PTC segments running or being installed in this country now by railroads such as the UP, BNSF, the Alaskan and Amtrak. One of the issues is the question of standards. There are several manufactures offering PTC systems and they are all different and not compatible with each other. For the railroads the question remains if the cost of such a system will pay for itself in reduced costs and lower liability.

Since the horrific accident in Chatsworth on September 12th there have been calls by politicians to mandate the installation of PTC on the railroads nationwide. Both Senators Boxer and Feinstein of California are sponsoring legislating that will require PTC on busy rail lines by 2012 and nationally by 2015. Such laws are a step in the right direction. There are many issues which will have to be resolved before PTC can be installed nationwide. Hopefully by legally mandating its installation these technical issues will be soon confronted and resolved. The railroads have made great progress in reducing accidents in just the last 20 years. But with increasing freight and passenger traffic improved levels of rail safety will be needed to protect both the public as a whole as well as passenger and rail crews.

A potential benefit of using PTC is that dispatching and rail operations should run more smoothly and efficiently. This would mean increased track capacity, reduced operating costs for the railroads and less time for trains waiting at sidings. For many passenger trains it could open up higher speeds. The ATS system used in Southern California is necessary to run train in the United States at speeds over 79 miles per hour. PTC would fulfill the same function as ATS. But higher speeds will also require higher levels of track maintenance, track capacity and fairly level and straight track. PTC will ensure that trains are run at the proper speeds, report if switches are not properly aligned or if trains are on the wrong track and give dispatchers instant information when a train is in trouble. This would be useful in preventing other accidents and derailments besides when a red signal is run. In the case of Chatsworth PTC could have hit the brakes on both the Metrolink and UP trains, greatly reducing the impact of the collision.

Since the Chatsworth accident there has been much speculation about why the Metrolink Engineer failed to stop for the red signal. Questions have been raised that he was distracted using his cell phone, or tired from working to much overtime and there have been questions about his physical health as a diabetic. Changes in policy and rules may be in order. But the reality is that people are prone to make mistakes. Cell phone use on duty was already against Metrolink policy yet this engineer is known to have disobeyed this policy. Even if a person isn’t working overtime, they may fail to get enough rest before going to work. People will lie and hide physical and mental problems. The reality is people will make mistakes. Using a system like PTC can protect against human errors and prevent costly accidents with major loses in life, public trust and property.