Monthly Archives

December 2008

Commentary

RailPAC President responds to LA Times article

RAIL PASSENGER ASSOCIATION OF CALIFORNIA
1017 L Street PMB 217, Sacramento, CA 95814    www.railpac.org  Danger in “Signal Gaps”?

Your article today about signal gaps and the Chatsworth collision requires response. The facts about the locations of the signals in the Chatsworth vicinity are clear from your map yet your “experts” draw the wrong conclusions. For the benefit of your readers let me point out:

All of the signals shown on your diagram can display various colors or aspects depending on whether the track ahead is occupied.

As train 111 approached Signal number 2 on your diagram the signal was displaying yellow, which warns the engineer that the next signal is red.

From Chatsworth station the engineer can see signal number 3 on your diagram. As soon as signal number 3 comes into view the engineer’s actions are controlled by that signal, not by the warning from the preceding signal.

Repeater or reminder signals can be very useful on curved track or where the engineer’s line of site is obscured by bridges or tunnels for example. They are not necessary when there is a clear view of the signal along a straight stretch of track with no visual obstructions, as is the case from Chatsworth station north to the signal in question..

No amount of additional signals or trackside warning devices will prevent an accident if the engineer is not looking!

Your contributor Mr. Meshkati says the system is designed “in a haphazard way”. This is not true. The system is designed so that engineers receive sufficient advance warning of a stop signal so that they are able to stop their train before reaching it. In the case of the Chatsworth collision the engineer had in any event stopped at the station in advance of the red signal. He could see that signal from his cab before leaving the station. He was apparently not paying attention. Only an electronic device that automatically applies the brakes before the red signal would have saved that situation.

As we saw at Rialto just recently and at Placentia in 2002, a second engineer in the cab is not the answer. Let’s get on with installing a modern, fail safe, Train Control System.

Paul Dyson

President, Rail Passenger Association of California

Former Operations Manager, British Railways.

Commentary

RailPAC President’s Message

 RAIL PASSENGER ASSOCIATION OF CALIFORNIA  1017 L Street PMB 217, Sacramento, CA 95814  New Year message from Paul Dyson, RailPAC President:    I think it’s fair to say that RailPAC has had a moderately successful year in 2008, a year that has involved a lot of swimming upstream and around all sorts of obstacles.

We pass a bond issue for passenger cars; “experts” at the state finance office say we don’t need them. The resulting delay has cost the taxpayer millions. A mudslide in Oregon closed the route of the Coast Starlight. We had to fight like the blazes to keep the California portion of the route operative and to shame Amtrak into operating a bus bridge. And we had a terrible collision at Chatsworth that has severely damaged the public’s faith in the safety of passenger rail. To cap it all, years of easy credit and lax financial practices have led us into the grandmother of all recessions which will take some really smart leadership to turn around. On the positive side we have passed the High Speed Rail Bond, and a number of pro public transportation measures around the state. Time will tell how soon the economic situation will allow those projects to move forward. We have a more pro-rail President than we have ever had. We’ll see whether that will mean much to us on the west coast.

We have done well as a group to keep passenger rail on the agenda, to continually push for action rather than more consultants’ reports, and to suggest value for money improvements. In particular we have tried very hard to focus on low cost initiatives such as better integration of schedules between publicly provided services, something that should happen as a matter of course.

We had a great members meeting in the spring in Sacramento, with headline speaker Don Phillips the renowned rail journalist, plus Bill Bronte, Gene Skoropowski, and George Chilson. Once again Ric Silver did a great job of organizing the event, together with Bill Kerby, Marcia Johnston and Russ Jackson. This was the second annual meeting that we have held jointly with NARP, and we aim to continue to collaborate with our campaigns both nationally and at the state level.

This brings me to personnel matters. Ric Silver has resigned as Executive Director of RailPAC to pursue political interests in the Bay Area. Ric has done an extraordinary job, not sometimes without a little controversy, in building up and running RailPAC over the last decade or more, and we owe him a great debt. Russ Jackson, one of the longest serving members and former Editor of the Review, has left California to be closer to his family in Texas. While we Californians extend our sympathy (!) to Russ, he is still staying active over the internet and we appreciate his continued support. As a result we have gaps to fill in our organization, and in particular we need volunteers in the Sacramento area to assist with the Review, and to help keep our membership records up to date. A few hours a month goes a long way. Please contact me before I appoint you!

I can’t write a message of this kind without acknowledging the tireless efforts of Noel Braymer. In addition to editing and writing much of the monthly Review Noel has also taken upon himself the collating of a weekly e-mail containing a digest of news items and opinions which is very popular with our members. Noel is one of the founder members of the group and it was a letter from him published in the L.A. Times in 1980 that prompted me to join RailPAC.

I think we can sum ourselves up as a group of volunteers that believes that passenger trains should make a far greater contribution to our transportation system. We try to make our voice heard above the din of paid lobbyists, and we try to educate and inform all those legislators and opinion formers who believe that the train is yesterday’s story, or who don’t really understand what a railroad is and how it works. We have a great story to tell. Passenger rail, if done right, can provide excellent value for money transportation in urban and suburban areas, and for long distance journeys. Our challenge is to keep up the momentum with our publications, meetings, public comments, and increasingly, the electronic media. I personally believe that rail advocacy groups must pool resources and work together if we are to accomplish our goals.

This coming year will see public expenditures aimed at reviving the economy. Passenger rail is behind the game in having projects that are ready to go. We have to campaign for rolling stock construction and infrastructure. We have to educate our large congressional delegation. They need to understand that support for Amtrak is of limited value if 95% of Amtrak’s capital is soaked up by the Northeast Corridor. What better time than to complete double tracking of the Surfliner Route, and to add a track through Beaumont Pass to extend passenger service to Palm Springs and the desert communities? In northern California we need to start work on the Altamont corridor and continue investment in the Northern regional network to link Sacramento, the Bay Area, the northern San Joaquin Valley and Monterey. We will only accomplish this with the combined efforts of all rail advocates who believe in sensible, value for money, passenger rail transportation.

2009 will be a tough year for many of you. I urge you to do what you can to continue to support RailPAC. Almost all of the subscription income goes to printing and mailing of our publications and the Board is determined that we continue to produce the Review monthly. We aim to expand the print run to send more complimentary copies to federal, state and local legislators and so we need your help to finance this.

Best wishes to you all for 2009. It will be a year of opportunity if we chose to make it so.

Paul Dyson

Rail Photos

Rail Photos for Christmas

From Phoenix, Arizona; Santa Fe, New Mexico, Dallas-Ft. Worth Texas, and California.   Comments by Russ Jackson, RailPAC Secretary-Emeritus.   Photos by contibuting photographers with our thanks.

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This year’s Christmas tree is from Phoenix on December 13.  (Photo by Gene Holmerud)

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After the tree lighting ceremony “the second act was free rides that left the Central & Washington station” on the new Phoenix Metro Light Rail.  The rider on the left in the red shirt is the Arizona Rail Passenger Association’s Bill Lindley, who is also a RailPAC Associate Director.  (Photo by Gene Holmerud)

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New Mexico’s Railrunner trains were extended to the capitol city Santa Fe on December 17.  This was the scene on the first day of public use at the snow filled downtown Santa Fe station.  (Photo by Bob Snow)

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The Railrunner shares the new downtown Santa Fe rail station and shopping area with the Santa Fe Southern tourist dinner train.  (Photo by Bob Snow)

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On a cold wintry December day these passengers are detraining from a Dallas-Ft. Worth, Texas TRE commuter train.  One of the original trainsets is on the left, and one of the newer Bombardier bi-level trainsets is on the right.  The latter are identical cars to the Coaster, Metrolink, ACE, and Sounder.  (Photo by Russ Jackson)

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This is the Los Angeles MTA’s 2008 Christmas tree, in the lobby of the MTA building adjacent to Los Angeles Union Station.  (Photo by Mike Palmer)

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An inbound Metrolink train arrives on time at the snow covered Palmdale station on December 20.  Some doors to the station were closed, due to melting snow falling off the station roof.  The “help wanted” billboard is a sign of other times.  (Photo by Mike Palmer)

We end with Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays to all!  

Reports

Placer County Transportation report

Reported by Chuck Robuck, CC Riders President, RailPAC Member from Auburn

FYI, I attended this meeting as a CC Rider rep and wanted to give you a brief recap.

BACKGROUND

The purpose of the meeting was to reconstitute the Funding Strategy Steering Committee that had been established several years ago to look at Placer County Transportation needs, projects and funding and develop recommendations. The committee is made up of elected officials throughout the County, as well as other interested parties (Sierra Club, Transit Riders, Developers, Law Enforcement, CALTRANS etc), so there is a good mix of viewpoints.

This committee had worked over the last 3 yrs to make recommendations to the Placer County Transportation Planning Agency (PCTPA) about how to fund some $3.7 Billion in Placer County transportation projects over the next 30 years. These projects include transit improvements (bus, train, light rail, etc), pedestrian and bicycle projects, and major highway improvements including bottleneck reduction on I-80, Placer Parkway, and Hwys 49 & 65. In addition, the plan includes a significant portion of the funding would be distributed to local jurisdictions to use to meet their unique transportation needs.

The last time we met in November 2007, it was decided to defer placing a proposition on the 2008 Placer County ballot to establish a ½ cent transportation sales tax to provide some of the project funding needed, primarily because there were concerns, supported by pollsters, that the 2/3’s needed to pass the measure would not be achieved. At that time it was decided to defer this proposal until at least the 2010 election.

CURRENT SITUATION

As we are all painfully aware, since the last committee meeting in 2007, we have witnessed historic declines in the economy. This has and will put severe strains on the amount of money that is available to meet transportation need over the coming decades. While the Federal Government is looking to stimulate the economy with an infusion of capital funding for infrastructure, it is doubtful that locally we will be able to take full advantage of those dollars without commitment of local funding.

To achieve this, PCTPA has re-established the Funding Strategy Steering Committee to take a fresh look at the following:

  • Transportation Needs & Priorities over the next 30 Years
  • Revenues that can be generated to help pay for these.
  • Proposals for additional revenues are many, including:

  • High Occupancy Vehicle Lanes
  • Toll Roads
  • Transportation Sales Tax
  • Gasoline Sales Tax
  • Additional Developer Impact Fees (some of these are already being considered, but development is essentially stagnant and may remain so for quite some time)
  • Vehicle Mileage Fees (charging drivers fees based on mileage driven)
  • Congestion Pricing
  • Tax Credits
  • Others
  • While the Committee previously examined many of these options, we will be examining them anew, along with other ideas that you and others may have.

    BOTTOM LINE – WHAT’S NEXT

    The Committee is scheduled to meet again in early to mid March 2009. At that meeting PCTPA will present updated estimates on the cost of projects already identified as well as estimated revenues that could be generated by the various revenue proposals listed above. They will send this information out to Committee Members in advance of the meeting, and I will pass that along to you for your review and input.

    When I pass that info along, I would ask for your comments regarding:

  • the projects listed and any additional ones you feel are important to solving the region’s long-term transportation challenges.
  • the revenue proposals listed and others you would like to be considered
  • The bottom line is that we either need to address the needs through a variety of means, or face increasingly congested highways and gridlock.

    Here are a few interesting transportation-related fact presented at yesterday’s meeting. If you’re interested in seeing the complete presentation here’s the link: http://www.fixplacertraffic.org/library/SC_powerpoint_8dec08.pdf

  • It takes an average of 16 years to bring a major highway project from concept to construction
  • The buying power of the gas tax in 2000 was only about 1/3 of its 1970 value, resulting in California having the second worst road conditions in the US.
  • 19 California counties have transportation sales taxes which generate nearly $3B annually for their local projects.
  • Placer’s population will nearly double between 2008 and 2035 to about 585,000
  • Placer Vehicle Miles of Travel (VMT) is projected to grow faster than the population
  • Transit demand in Placer is projected to triple through 2035
  • Reports

    CA Corridors November stats

    Reported by Gene Skoropowski
    In spite of the big Thanksgiving weekend travel surge, ridership growth for November 2008 in all of California was quite modest, likely reflecting the impacts of both the economic downturn, as well as falling gas prices.

    Sustained on-time performance on the Capitol Corridor has helped keep riders, and improved on-time performance of the San Joaquins is also likely helping growth there. Only the Capitol Corridor saw ticket revenue growth in November (+11.4%), while both the Pacific Surfliners and San Joaquins saw slight ticket revenue declines in spite of a small increase in riders.

    Capitol Corridor (November 2008):

    140,288 passengers +2.7% vs. November 2007
    This is a new November record, and keeps the Capitol Corridor third busiest route in the country, still by a wide margin
    Passengers for the last 12 months: 1,719,797, again pushing a bit higher the passing of the 1.7 million barrier!

    $2,031,930 November 2008 ticket revenue +11.4% vs. November 2007

    The farebox recovery revenue-to-cost ratio for November is 48%, reflecting the increased Amtrak cost base due to labor contracts and fuel adjustments (FY to date 47.5%)

    On-time performance for November ‘delivered to the customer’ was: 93.2% the best of any corridor service in the country, reflecting sustained Union Pacific performance at 98% and continued good Amtrak operational performance. (FFY to date: 92.4%) This is our best month ever for on-time performance.

    This is a good start to the Fiscal Year, and Capitol Corridor on-time performance still remains well above the premier Acela Express service on the Northeast Corridor (85.1%).
    __________________________________________________

    Pacific Surfliners (November 2008):

    228,224 passengers +0.8% vs. November 2007, but still the second busiest route in the nation, by a wide margin

    $4,147,517 November 2008 revenue: -2.7% vs. November 2007

    On-time performance for November 2008: 76.9% (FFY to date: 78.0%)
    __________________________________________________
    San Joaquins (November 2008):

    81,550 passengers +3.8% vs. November 2007

    $2,473,246 November 2008 revenue: -0.5% vs. November 2007

    On-time performance for November: 90.8% (FFY to date: 88.1%)
    __________________________________________________________
    Total California Intercity Corridor Ridership for November 2008: 450,062

    Total Northeast Corridor ‘Spine’ ridership for November 2008: 864,200
    For November 2008, the California Corridors are 52.1% of Northeast Corridor ‘Spine’ Boston-Washington ridership

    Total Northeast Corridor ridership for November 2008 with branches to Springfield, MA; Albany, NY and Harrisburg, PA: 1,072,770
    For November 2008, the California Corridors are 42% of the total Northeast
    Corridor
    ridership

    Eugene K. Skoropowski
    Managing Director
    Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority

    Issues

    Metrolink Weekend Schedule

    RailPAC Letter from President Paul Dyson

    December 4, 2008

    Supervisor Mike Antonovich

    The Hon. Ara Najarian

    Mayor of the City of Glendale, California

    Hon Art Brown

    Council member, Buena Park

    Via E-Mail

    METROLINK WEEKEND SCHEDULES – TRIPLE TRAVEL OPTIONS AT NO COST

     

    Dear Mayor Metrolink Board members:

    What do we mean when we say that we can triple weekend travel options for no cost? By rescheduling the trains on the three routes that operate on weekends, Antelope Valley, San Bernardino and Orange County, (“AV”, “SB” and “OC “) so that they connect with each other at Union Station, passengers have the opportunity to travel to and from more than three times as many stations as they do at present. Now while most stations will not be as popular a destination as Los Angeles Union Station the ability to travel say from Santa Clarita to Anaheim for Disneyland, or Glendale to the Orange County beaches, or to Glendale from the San Bernardino line to the shopping centers will surely attract new passengers.

    It is RailPAC’s belief that weekend train services should be self-sustaining on a cash basis. The equipment and overhead is already paid for, and it should be possible to sell enough tickets to cover crew, fuel and incremental maintenance. But this will likely only be achieved by making the service available to the maximum number of people. If the folks on the AV line had 37 Metrolink stations they could travel to with at worst a cross platform connection at LAUS to the OC and SB routes, instead of just the present 10 stations on the AV line itself then revenue would grow without running any additional trains.

    Given the difficult economic circumstances, at federal and state level, we are unlikely to be able to increase Metrolink’s subsidy any time soon. We must therefore do more with the assets and operations that we have. RailPAC believes that weekend revenue can be substantially improved given more travel opportunities. Make LAUS the true connecting hub of Metrolink operations and watch the revenue grow.

    Yours faithfully,

    SIGNED

    Paul J. Dyson

    President

    Tracking Rail News

    Tracking the News: December 2008

    . . . PHOTOS and Commentary by Russ Jackson

    . . . December, 2008. Dare I say “what a month” again? What else can you say about a month that saw the election of a new direction for our country and presumably for passenger rail transportation, and the approval of many rail initiatives including RailPAC-supported high speed rail in California. The same month saw gasoline prices falling faster than the stock market and the economy, with corresponding implications for continued high ridership on commuter and light rail trains.

    Top that off with the non-surprise resignation of Amtrak President/CEO Alex Kummant, the appointment of Chief Operating Officer William Crosbie as “Acting President,”
    mrboardman1.jpg
    then on November 25 the appointment of FRA Administrator Joseph Boardman (photo above) to serve as a permanent-temporary President/CEO.

    Mr. Kummant was at the helm of Amtrak for only two years, but he is not missed by many in the same way David Gunn was. According to writer Don Phillips on TRAINS magazine’s news wire, “Kummant agreed to walk away and not bring the clash (with Board Chair Donna McLean over debt restructuring) before Congress in exchange for being allowed to characterize the departure as a resignation, not a firing.” Rail supporter Paul Weyrich wrote on 11/24 that “Amtrak officials are zipped up like a third-grader’s snowsuit,” and that “a major personality conflict between Mr. Kummant and the board began in Seattle, WA, when they believed he talked down to them, and then it deteriorated all summer.”

    Mr. Crosbie has been at Amtrak 6 years, and many people have not “warmed up” to him including many rail advocates, but in his letter to employees after his short promotion Mr. Crosbie told employees they must continue , “delivering on-time performance where we control it, equipment that is clean and reliable, and service that makes passengers feel welcome and comfortable.” How can you argue with that? A Question, though: “where we control it” means what? Only the NEC? In the official statement from Amtrak after Mr. Boardman was given the permanent-temporaray Presidency, Board Chairman Donna McLean said, “In an attempt to maintain the momentum at Amtrak, while finding a permanent CEO candidate, the board has appointed Mr. Boardman for one year, but will conduct a search in the coming months for a permanent CEO.” Mr. Boardman, who came to the FRA in 2005, said he “was humbled that the board selected me to lead the company, on an interim basis, at this very exciting time.” What we found interesting was this from Mr. Boardman: “In my view, a national intercity, interconnected passenger rail service is critically important for the mobility and energy independence of the U.S.” Does that mean the “corridors only” philosophy will change? We will remember his statement.

    Speaking of OTP, as we usually do, this time we start with a look at the OT arrivals for some airlines in September: Northwest 89.51%; Southwest 89.03; Delta 84.44; US Air 84.12; American 81.49%; and United 79.83%. I know the travel circumstances are different from Amtrak, but if all the trains could get to that level (Amtrak in September was 71%) the traveling public would be much happier. Now let’s look at Amtrak’s Texas Eagle. In the past month the daily train has been very late only once! All the other days train 21 has been early at Dallas, and on the few days it was late, less than an hour. Now that’s great, compared to last year’s 16.8% endpoint on time for both 21 and 22 combined.
    dallas-union-station-11-08-001.jpg
    On November 19 this writer observed Eagle #21 (shown next to an arriving DART light rail train) had arrived at Dallas Union Station at 11:15, 45 minutes early, and was waiting until its scheduled departure of 12:20 to Ft. Worth.
    dallas-union-station-11-08-002.jpg
    That day there was (front to back) (only) one locomotive, a Transition Sleeper, a full Sleeping Car, a Diner-Lounge, Sightseer Lounge, and three Coaches. At FTW it is serviced and does not depart south to San Antonio until 2:40 PM, which means it was in the “Metroplex” 3 1/2 hours to travel 30 miles.

    On days like 11/19, at San Antonio the two “through” cars from the Eagle to the westbound Sunset Limited are pulled off: the Sleeping car with a full load of passengers bound for El Paso, Tucson, and the West Coast is removed and connected to the last Coach, both of which will be added to the Sunset consist when it arrives during the night. They used to carry that Sleeping Car on the back end, which kept several switching moves from being necessary, but no longer.
    dallas-union-station-11-08-006.jpg
    The crews are not happy with the Diner-Lounge (shown paired with the Sightseer Lounge car), as there isn’t much room, and they have “heard” that the Lounge car will be removed just as the very busy Holiday season approaches. The three workers from the Diner-Lounge get off the train in Austin to get fully rested before boarding #22 the next morning for the trip “home,” meaning no food service to/from San Antonio. Is Amtrak really saving money on this train with these actions?

    Members of the RailPAC Board were out traveling on Amtrak trains in October: Richard Silver and Dick Spotswood were among the lucky riders on one of the rerouted Coast Starlights across the Tehachapis and up the Valley on the ex-SP Union Pacific route. Bruce Jenkins and Bill Kerby rode round trip on the California Zephyr to Denver, drove down to ride the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic narrow gauge line out of Chama, NM, and went to Durango to ride the Durango & Silverton, visiting many scenic ancient Indian sites along the way. They report they had some of the best Zephyr crews they’ve seen, but, “The Superliners are getting very old and beat up. Food on the diner was acceptable, but plastic plates are a big disappointment. And, we were ‘mooned’ through Red Rock Canyon; even fishermen are doing that now.” Mr. Jenkins lived in Grand Junction, CO, as a boy, and the depot where his mother worked is still being restored. James Smith continued to pile up mileage, riding the Southwest Chief to Chicago, changing to the Capitol Limited to DC, and rode the Silver service to Florida before returning on the same routes. Mr. Smith commented on the Diner-Lounge cars, agreeing there is not enough space in them, and said about these “Cross-Country Cafes” that run on the Capitol Limited, the City of New Orleans, and the Texas Eagle, “If it’s your first experience riding the trains it is probably ok because you don’t know what it should be. It’s not ok if you’ve been in a regular Diner.”

    Bob Manning took a break from his efforts to improve service to the Coachella Valley by taking his wife round trip on the Coast Starlight, the Cascade to Vancouver, VIA’s Canadian to Winnipeg, and then transfer to the VIA train to Churchill up on Hudson Bay, all of which they thoroughly enjoyed! He reports the service on the Starlight was very good, but “it’s the same menu all the time!” After returning Mr. Manning rode the Sunset Limited from Palm Springs to Los Angeles on November 10, which arrived early at LAUS at 9:30! That train had 3 Coaches, but only one Coach attendant, which “is just not acceptable.” We all agree. All of these RailPAC gentlemen probably rode more Amtrak long distance trains in one month than Amtrak’s high level management has ridden in the past two years. Just think what Amtrak could learn if they were interested enough to ask.

    This writer wishes everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! This column also appears monthly in the Western Rail Passenger Review. Thanks for reading it!