Yearly Archives

2009

Issues

Amtrak CEO Boardman replies to RailPAC re Surfliner problems

December 17, 2009
Mr. Paul Dyson, President
Rail Passenger Association of California
1017 L Street PMB 217
Sacramento, CA 95814
Dear Paul:
Thank you for your letter of December 5,2009, regarding unacceptable service failures on the Pacific Surfliners. We are equally disappointed with the recent service failures on the Surfliner service.

You know, as well as I, that we have higher expectations for our service delivery, and it is not due to neglect that these unfortunate situations occurred. Our mechanical and transportation personnel on the Southwest Division give their undivided attention to the Surfliner service, and I support their efforts wholeheartedly.

We were very dissatisfied with the events that occurred on one of our busiest days of the year. On November 25, Train 567 experienced a head-end power (HEP) failure. As a result, we decided to couple to Train 769 and proceed to Los Angeles. As we approached Anaheim, Train 769 also experienced an HEP failure. At this point, it was decided to have Train 573 run around the double set creating a triple set that would operate to Los Angeles. The triple set proceeded towards Los Angeles and while traversing the flyover, approximately three miles from Union Station, a passenger pulled the emergency cord causing the train to stop. This delayed the train about 30 minutes to locate and reset the emergency valves. The original plan in place was to separate the three sets immediately upon arrival in Los Angeles to ensure the equipment would not block the station tracks due to the excessive length.

Upon arrival at the station, it was discovered that unruly passengers had removed several windows and stuffed the majority of toilets with paper, further delaying the train. It took a substantial amount of time to repair the 27 windows and multiple toilet failures. As you can imagine, this was a difficult situation that was not easy to resolve in a timely manner. Passengers experienced delays from 2’35” to 5’45.” Our staff did their best to recover and ensure that everyone arrived at their destination in a safe manner.

The incident on December 5 was initially believed to be caused by a blown turbo on Engine 459, Train 769. To recover, we decided to annul the train and put the passengers on Train 571 an hour later. Passengers traveling north of Los Angeles would board Train 775. It was known that there would not be equipment in Goleta, so busses were arranged to transport passengers to Los Angeles to protect their connection with Train 796 to San Diego. Passengers on Train 769 were delayed 1 ’29”, Train 571 29,” and Train 775 2’25.”

A complete analysis was conducted on Engine 459, and it was discovered that the problem was not a blown turbo charger, but with the SRS sensor involving the electronic fuel injector. The current procedure in preventive maintenance (PM) is a visual inspection of the SRS and TRS EMDEC sensors. Although this is a rare failure in our Surfliner fleet, mechanical has now implemented a complete download of the EMDEC system during the PM cycle, which will help prevent a recurrence of this situation. We realize that a critical factor is HEP failures on the Surfliner fleet. There is a “request for proposal,” (RFP) out to replace the HEP plant on all units. This has been funded, and we can expect that work will start soon after the RFP is awarded. As for your other requests, we offer the following information:

  • Effective this week, we will be changing our operating plan to provide for a protect locomotive to be positioned in San Diego that can be used in the event of a locomotive failure in the Surfliner service.
  • We are negotiating a cross-lease agreement with NCID to use their locomotives on an as-needed basis. We do not have the same opportunity with Metrolink due to the tight turns and location of their equipment at outlying points making it a time issue to get a locomotive to the Surfliner route. Even with an agreement in place with NCTD, it can take up to three hours to get a locomotive from Stuart Mesa, the Coaster layover facility, to San Diego. This timeframe includes requesting a locomotive, calling a crew, getting the Coaster contractor to inspectltestlMAP the unit, obtain warrants and deadhead to San Diego. However, we plan on having the cross-lease in effect should it be needed.
  • The freight locomotives are not ATS or, more importantly, HEP-equipped, so we cannot rely on that option. As discussed above, we do have a plan to replace the units.
  • We will establish a cross-lease agreement with NCTD; however, it is not economically practical to have standby trains and extra crews under pay to handle emergency situations.
  • In response to your email of December 14 on the annulment of Train 567, Engine 452 on inbound Train 590 experienced a ground relay indicating an electrical ground in one of the traction motors. The crew, working in conjunction with the mechanical troubleshooting desk, attempted to cut out the traction motor. Since we were unable to resolve the problem, Train 592 coupled to Train 590 to shove the equipment to San Diego. Train 567, which turns from 590, was cancelled and passengers transferred to Train 769, incurring a 1’20” delay.
    We want our equipment and service to be impeccable. Our Mechanical Department is addressing the locomotive failures and they have assigned the highest priority to this task. We value the partnership and contributions made by the State of California. They, and your organization, are valuable partners, and we ask for your continued support in our endeavors to make improvements.
    Sincerely,
    (signed)
    Joseph H. Boardman
    President and Chief Executive Officer
    6 cc

    Commentary

    TAMC Rail Policy Committee Meeting Report

    Reported by Chris Flescher, RailPAC Associate Director, Salinas
    November 2, 2009
    Commuter Rail to Monterey County
    There are some advantages to serving Salinas with a Capitol Corridor extension instead of the proposed Caltrain extension.

    The Capitol Corridor trains would serve both the commute market and the long distance travel market. The Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority (CCJPA) works well with the UP railroad, which is important for getting access rights to the track between Gilroy and Salinas. There is some state funding available for intercity rail, which could be used for Capitol Corridor improvements, but not Caltrain improvements. At this time, the CCJPA has capacity issues at the San Jose train station. Running some of the Capitol Corridor trains to Salinas could help ease the San Jose capacity problems.

    TAMC is working on a draft 2010 Legislation Program.

    TAMC is planning meetings with Federal officials in the next month. TAMC is asking the Rail Policy Committee (RPC) for comments on the Legislation Program.

    Environmental Review for Monterey Branch Line (MBL)

    TAMC will form a steering committee, which will start to meet every 2 months. The committee will have members from each city along the route, and from the county. One project for the committee will involve creating visual simulations for the impact of the trains on the view at the Window on the Bay Park. TAMC will also be forming a technical committee, which will look for technical input on the design and location of stations, among other issues. The TAMC RPC would like to complete all the environmental reports for the MBL in the next 14 months.

    Presentation from Salinas Renaissance Partners (SRP)
    This is a summary of one chapter from their report, titled “Rail District.” SRP is analyzing development possibilities for 26 acres of city-owned property in downtown Salinas. The SRP group had a public meeting on October 21 at the Steinbeck Center. Some conclusions from that meeting of how to improve downtown were: more housing, more opportunities for shopping, and more live music. Several key elements include traffic calming and pedestrian enhancements.

    There are some catalyst elements (which are likely to speed up the pace of improvements). They include the proposed 145-room hotel and an office building next to it; a TOD (transit oriented development) designation for the area around the train station with a significant amount of affordable housing; and a “grand campus” including most government services buildings. One section has been given the name of Rail District, because it includes the train station. Some features include Class A retail and high density housing next to the station, and buildings with a large floor-plate to the west, on Market Street. These would help create 24-hour activity at the site. The area is not currently designated as TOD. TOD would be necessary to create everything in the plan, partly because that would allow much higher density of development.

    There are several plans being considered for the Rail District. Some have parking structures and some have the MST Transit Center in different locations. A parking structure would partly serve the dense housing. The TOD designation would allow the possibility of significant federal money for certain improvements, like making the streets more pedestrian-friendly. Any property within one half mile of the (TOD) district boundaries would be eligible for such federal money.
    The current permitted zoning is about 15 units per acre. The TOD designation would require around 60 to 80 units per acre. Creating such development would require zoning changes for both the density increase, and a change in the building height limits.

    Because Salinas has a large population and very high unemployment, the city is eligible for some other sources of redevelopment money. If the city received money from the other sources, it could use some of the money specifically to help create TOD.

    The Renaissance Partners group will take a concept plan to the Salinas City Council soon and ask the Council to endorse it. The group currently has exclusive negotiating rights with the City Council.

    One possible use of federal funding for a TOD district would be to improve connections between Chinatown and downtown. Currently, the two places are very near each other, but relatively few people walk between the two.

    Commentary

    We Can Learn Much From The TGV

    Opinion By Noel T. Braymer

    The first modern High Speed Train was the Japanese Shinkansen between Tokyo and Osaka which opened for the 1964 Tokyo Summer Olympics. It had what was then the amazing top speed of 125 miles per hour.

    The trains themselves were fairly conventional electric multiple unit trainsets with an aerodynamic looking rounded nose which lead to them being called outside of Japan as “Bullet Trains”. The key to the high speed of the Shinkansen was the expensive civil engineering of the track bed which was fairly level and straight. When planning the Shinkansen it was decided to build it as a standard gauge train on a whole new alignment. The existing rail lines in Japan where all narrow gauge and badly congested. Building a new standard gauge alignment would be better for high speed, allow for greater passenger capacity and easier to build than using the old narrow gauge lines.

    When the French Railroad SNCF started service on the first TGV in 1981 they did several things differently than the Japanese. The trains themselves were products of years of research. The trains were much more aerodynamic, more powerful, and lighter plus had a better suspension system. Reducing the impact at high speed as the trucks pounded the rails greatly reduced track maintenance. The first TGV trains had a top speed of 170 miles per hour. The trunk line of the first TGV line was between Paris and Lyon which like Tokyo and Osaka were the two largest cities in their respective countries and conventional rail lines of both corridors were already congested.

    In France the TGV unlike the Japanese was built so that it could be used both on a special high speed right of way and on the conventional tracks already available. A high speed right of way was built between Paris and Lyon for the exclusive use of the TGV. It was built in the open countryside where construction costs were fairly cheap. The high power of the TGV trains allowed the new right of way to have greater grades than a convention railroad which also saved money in construction. However for the original service the TGV used the existing stations and trackage to get into the urban areas around Paris and Lyon. Constructions in urban areas are the most expensive places to build and the short distances save little time at such high speeds. But the TGV was not a corridor service that only ran between Paris and Lyon. The original TGV service had branches that went as far as Switzerland and extended south of Lyon as far as Marseilles. The French may not have called it Matrix Theory, but they knew how it worked.

    Looking at California, the most critical right of way for high speed rail service is between Los Angeles and San Jose. Much of the area is either open countryside or has available rights of ways that can handle a high speed rail alignment. The single most expensive segment of the California High Speed Rail Project is estimated at 4 billion dollars between Los Angeles and Anaheim. The alignment between San Jose and San Francisco will also be expensive and both will take a long time to build and face many problems. For High Speed Rail service to succeed it will need branches to as many markets as possible as well as connecting services to feed traffic to it.

    We should learn from the TGV and build the most important and least expensive segment first and immediately start revenue service. This will start bringing in badly needed money and create enthusiasm to continue building the project. Also like the SNCF we can use existing rail lines to expand service. That can mean having some trains going from San Jose to San Francisco even it that means terminating at first at 4th and Townsend before the full line is upgraded to the Transbay Terminal. That means extending trains south of Los Angeles to Anaheim all the way down the coast to as far as Irvine or maybe San Juan Capistrano if additional double tracking is available. This includes extending trains north of Merced with an upgraded track for speeds between 90 to 110 miles per hour to Sacramento. And there can be trains extended east of Los Angeles to as far as Riverside with a connection to Ontario Airport.

    What about electrification? The original HSR line from Paris and Brussels through the Chunnel to London ran on a busy commuter rail line in Britain with 600 volt dc third rail electrification. High Speed Rail equipment can be versatile. In France the SNCF run TGV trains in some non-electrified territories by being towed by a diesel locomotive. If you want a more elegant method you could add small light weight gas turbine generators to the power cars to run the trains. You won’t being going faster than 110 miles per hours so you won’t need as much power as from catenary. Granted rail lines are going to need upgrading to be used to extend HSR in California. The means more double tracking, higher levels of track maintenance, Positive Train Control for added safety and speeds over 79 miles per hours as well as fewer or upgraded grade crossings. Some of the improvements intended for the final alignment such as to San Francisco and Anaheim can be built and used for the phase 1 non-electric service.

    Is this crazy? This is how the SNCF made the TGV successful. We should follow the example of the SNCF. The California High Speed Rail Project is in danger of collapsing under its own weight from its complexity and massive costs. The uncertainly of the State’s budget or ability to pay back bonds can sink the whole project The best way to get any big project done is to break it down into smaller parts and do things one step at a time instead starting everything at once and finishing nothing.

    Editorials

    Another Surfliner Meltdown On The Day Before Thanksgiving!

    RailPAC President Paul Dyson writes;

    Once again, at the busiest time of the year, the Surfliner service has fallen apart. 769, 12.30pm from LAUS, departed 5 hrs 30 minutes late. No southbound train from Santa Barbara all afternoon, over 200 people on the platform after the Starlight departed.

    According to eyewitness reports on Trainorders.com this all started when train 567 the 8:10AM departure from San Diego had engine problems in San Diego. This train was combined with train 769 which is supposed to leave at 9:30AM. By Solana Beach the 2 trains were 35 minutes late. Before the trains reached San Juan Capistrano both trains lost Head End Power so no power for the trains. After giving up trying to fix the Head End Power the trains went ahead as far as Anaheim before the batteries in the cars died. After train 573 from San Diego arrived it was added to the other two trains! It was 2:35PM before the three trains left Anaheim only to be delayed more. The 573 was supposed to leave Anaheim at 12:46PM. Needless to say operations on the second busiest rail passenger corridor in the Nation was disrupted for the rest of the day on the busiest travel day of the year. NB

    Editorials

    We May Have Underestimated Mr. Boardman

    Editorial by Noel T. Braymer

    I know I was pleased that the new interim Amtrak President and recent FRA Administrator Joseph Boardman agreed to speak to RailPAC at our May 2nd 2009 meeting in Los Angeles.

    I and I’m sure most RailPAC members were very excited that he brought Brian Rosenwald with him to Los Angeles to talk about the possibility of daily service on the Sunset route and better service from California on the Eagle. The impression many people got in Los Angeles of Mr. Boardman was that of a pleasant, charming gentleman, a very good politician. But what seemed to be missing was substance. There didn’t seem to be any direction or concrete objectives coming from him. In the period since May we have not seen a bold capital budget proposed to expand Amtrak or even discussion to order replacement Superliner equipment. Four reports were released this year by Amtrak on possible restoration of service on the Gulf Coast east of New Orleans, restoring the Pioneer, creating a corridor service in Ohio and restoring service in southern Montana between Chicago and Seattle. Instead of galvanizing support for expansion with these projects, the inflated cost and pessimistic ridership estimates in these reports did more to create opposition. The Obama Administration which is placing major political capital towards rapid improvement of rail passenger service can’t be pleased with Amtrak.

    In any organization there are conflicts between competing groups and ideas. President Harry S. Truman is reported to have said that people think the President just orders people to do things and things get done. Instead President Truman claimed that he spent most of his time on the phone “kissing the ass” of subordinates to get them to do their job. Amtrak like all organizations has different camps and pockets of incompetence. Life at Amtrak can’t be easy because it seems to go from one crisis to another; at least it has been that way since the retirement of W. Graham Claytor as Amtrak President in 1992. But things seems to be moving in the right direction now slowly but surely. This last October two Amtrak Managers were fired that there had been complaints about for some time. Increasingly Amtrak is sounding more positive that there will be a daily Sunset by next year. This will require approval by the Amtrak Board, but Amtrak is confident this will happen. This is a major change since this summer when there was opposition to a daily Sunset at Amtrak.

    I have written extensively about the fiasco during the weekend of October 24-25th. A brake failure on train 571 on a Saturday in San Clemente cascaded into passengers being over 8 hours late getting to Los Angeles, the rescue train that stopped six hours after the brake failure being hours late itself. The next morning an Amtrak train from San Diego was ordered to bring in the disabled train back to Los Angeles. This train instead got stuck with 571 for hours too which disrupted service on a train that crew was suppose to return to San Diego. This incident exposed a problem that has longed plagued Amtrak. When things go wrong Amtrak is usually unprepared and seems to have no planning or training for its employees on how to handle the problems. Even in the best of time communications for Amtrak internally, with passengers or other agencies such as Metrolink need improving. When things go wrong communications is the first thing to be lost. Amazingly to me much of what I have written about this has been read by Mr. Boardman, including material I haven’t published. On Mr. Boardman’s orders Amtrak Customer Relations is contacting as many passengers as possible affected by delays that weekend to apologize by phone for the delays and to offer refunds for those most affected or discounts the others for future travel. I don’t know if this has ever been done at Amtrak, I know I can’t recall this being done before.

    Maintenance, or the lack there of has long been a problem at Amtrak. Often there is a shortage of equipment available for service and breakdowns of equipment. Better maintenance would result in better on-time performance, give Amtrak more equipment for revenue service and result in higher ridership and revenue. Amtrak has equipment that could be returned to service, and equipment which if repaired in a timely fashion could spend more time on the road and less time sitting idle. Having more available equipment can be used to run longer trains to carry more passengers and for expanding existing services: doing both will greatly improve Amtrak’s revenues. More equipment will help in running a daily Sunset. One additional trainset would allow extending the City of New Orleans to Orlando, Florida. This would create a Florida/Midwest service at little cost and also be used to connect with the daily Sunset. An additional trainset would allow the California Zephyr to be extended to Los Angeles. This would not only create an overnight train between Northern and Southern California, but also direct service from Southern California to Reno, Salt Lake City and Denver. It would possible with a little extra equipment to run a daily Cardinal with a section to St. Louis that could connect with the City of New Orleans. Using existing equipment the San Joaquins could connect with the Southwest Chief at Barstow, the Heartland Flyer could connect with the Chief at Newton, Kansas, the Starlight could be extended to Vancouver, BC, the Palmetto extended to Jacksonville, Florida and this is just a short list.

    The question is what will we see in the near future? If under Joseph Boardman Amtrak runs a daily Sunset and orders Superliner and Superliner compatible corridor equipment with the option to order more, then his presidency would be one of the most historic in Amtrak’s history. If we see improvements in customer service and maintenance with additional service improvements and revenues then his presidency could be revolutionary. If he accomplishes any of theses it will be after an uphill battle from both inside and outside of Amtrak.

    Editorials

    My October Train Trip Report

    By Noel T. Braymer

    October 12th found me with a day off, so I used it to ride most of the trackage in San Diego County. I particularly wanted to check out the lines of the San Diego Trolley which is planning a major overhaul as it nears its 30th anniversary on July 26, 2011.

    As part of a 619 million dollar project the Trolley will spend 205 million for 57 new low floor cars from Siemens to be delivered by 2011.Starting in 2010 and finishing in 2013, 234 million dollars will be spend overhauling the older Blue and Orange Lines. This will include major track work, catenary replacement, station repair and raising the older stations platforms from rail level to 6 inches above rail. This will allow all the stations to be used by newer low floor cars with ramps for handicap passengers. The original Trolley line for San Diego to the Mexican Border was single tracked, cost 86 million dollars and used much of the rail now 70 years old from the old SP branch line used by the Trolley.

    I also wanted to try out the Regional Plus Day Pass. For 14 dollars and available at any Sprinter, Coaster or Trolley ticket vending machines (TVM) it was good on all those trains and most buses in San Diego Country. My problem started at the Sprinter Station when I couldn’t find the pass on the TVM. Rather than miss my trains I got a $2.00 one way ticket to the Oceanside Transit Center. At Oceanside I had extra time since the connection time for the 9:23 AM Coaster departure from the Sprinter was 27 minutes. Having no better luck on the Coaster TVM, a friendly railfan who was helping passengers at the TVM directed me to Compass Cards to find the day pass I wanted. The trip on the Coaster was unremarkable, which when you think of it is a good thing.

    In San Diego I “tapped” my day pass at a Trolley Compass Card reader and headed down on the original Trolley route to San Ysidro. The line is getting old, but the older U-2 cars looked in good shape on the inside and all of the U-2 cars that I saw were bright and shiny looking as if they had been recently painted and polished. The stations looked tired and in need of remodeling. The tracks even though getting old were smoother than I had ridden them in some time. Ridership is strong and growing with the Blue Line averaging 60,000 riders a day. I made a quick turn around at San Ysidro and head back to the edge of downtown San Diego to the James Mills transfer station. Here the Blue and Orange Lines trains meet across a shared platform for connecting passenger before the two lines spilt. To connect at the terminus of the Orange Line there is platform around the corner for those headed to the Convention Center and Gas Lamp District.

    The Orange Line after splitting from the Blue Line runs down Commercial St. in an older rundown mixed industrial, homeless shelter and residential neighborhood. As you travel east the most scenic part of the trip is through a cemetery. Past the cemetery the area becomes more suburban and affluent as you head east. Also you are going uphill and can look down on the El Cajon Valley. In El Cajon near the Grossmont Station the Orange and Green Lines meet and share stations except for the last one at Santee. I got off at the El Cajon Station to transfer to the Green Line to head to Santee. I was going there because the station was in the middle of a shopping center and the station was next to several good places to eat and by now it was lunch time. The Trolleys all run most of the day every 15 minutes. This can seem like a long time when you don’t have a schedule handy. I kept looking at an electronic sign at the station hoping it would tell me when my train or any train would arrive. It kept telling me I was in El Cajon and the time. I didn’t need an electric readout sign to know that. Most commuter and light rail stations have such signs but they are usually used as clocks if that.

    The most frustrating thing about traveling by public transport is the uncertainty. Is my train late? Will I get to work on time? Will I make my connections? How long will I have to wait for the next train or bus if I miss my connection? With the uncertainly is the waiting involved for trains or buses. It is very difficult to be spontaneous taking the train because unless you plan things ahead you find yourself waiting a lot. For lack of planning on my part and going to Santee, I missed catching the 2:15 PM departure from San Diego of the Coaster. By the time I got the Green Line to Old Town I had an extra hour until the next train at 3:37 PM. The Green Line is the newest and most expensive line on the Trolley. Much of it is elevated so you can look down at the cars on the I-8 freeway in Mission Valley or the San Diego River which unlike most in Southern California isn’t encased in concrete and has water year round. You can also stop at a station at the stadium the professional baseball team use to play and the football team wants to move out of. The best thing about the Green Line is it has stations at several large shopping centers. It also has the only tunnel segment with a subway station at San Diego State University.

    I finally got home by 4:38PM. A Sprinter Train headed for my station had left at 4:33. I had to wait until 5:03 as I saw the sun getting lower as well as my hopes of getting more things done before it got dark. Things would be easier if the Coaster ran trains every half hour. They have enough equipment to do it, but with a single track railroad there isn’t enough track capacity. San Diego County’s hopes to receive 377 million dollars to double track the Coaster Line were dashed when the Governor didn’t submit it along with a billion dollars of other projects for the High Speed Rail Stimulus money. But San Diego has never given the Coaster Line the priority it needs to get it doubled track. The money to cover the cost overruns of the Sprinter construction came out of hide of Coaster capital projects. San Diego is rebuilding the 15 and 5 freeways, yet not double tracking between Oceanside and San Diego.

    As I write this I will soon be traveling by bus and rail to San Carlos and the RailPAC meeting for October 24th. Travel by Amtrak between north and south is about 12 hours. I could drive faster by several hours and with reserved tickets fly for less. I hope we have a reasonable way to travel by train across California in my life time. I’d settle for overnight service in a coach chair as opposed to an overnight bus. I hope the HSR trains get running and make traveling California a good way to get around. But it won’t work if you end up spending as much time waiting to make connections as you are actually traveling.

    Reports

    RAILPAC/NARP JOINT MEMBERS MEETING, LAS VEGAS, NV Report

    Report by Paul Dyson, RailPAC President
    8TH DECEMBER 2009 was a historic day for RailPAC as we held our first ever members meeting in Las Vegas. The meeting was kindly hosted by Bob Fisher, NARP Council member and Director of the Nevada Broadcasters Association. 11 NARP and RailPAC members attended, which is about 30% of our members in the area.

    We were fortunate to welcome Mr. Thomas J. Stone, PhD, PE, President of DesertXpress, the proposed steel wheel high speed rail service between California and Nevada. (See www.desertxpress.com for complete information about the project). Tom gave an outline of the history of the project, the route selection and permitting process, and the next steps towards construction and operation. The proposal is now for an electrified railroad which will achieve faster journey times with electric multiple units with many powered axles better able to cope with the stiff gradients along the route. Average speed between Victorville and Las Vegas is projected to be 134mph. Higher speeds are possible but energy consumption would increase considerably for little commercial benefit.

    I met Mr. Stone two years ago when DesertXpress was a proposed diesel train between Las Vegas and a huge park and ride at Victorville, CA. Now, according to Mr. Stone, negotiations are advancing to extend the line to Palmdale sharing an alignment with the proposed freeway which will cross the high desert and connect interstates 14 and 15. At Palmdale the Las Vegas line should, if logic holds sway, connect with the California High Speed system. If common sense prevails both systems will use compatible technology and trains would run through to Los Angeles, San Diego and even San Francisco (why not?).

    Tom had spent the day with Chinese railroad officials. He has met with all the major equipment manufacturers but more importantly, he is negotiating with teams that will offer Design, Invest, Construct, Operate, and maintain packages that have the capability of starting construction in 2010. He expects to announce a partnership agreement in the Spring of 2010.

    After Mr. Stone left we had a general discussion about Desert Express, reinstatement of the Desert Wind, the need to improve Amtrak’s connecting buses, and the state of the industry in general. The group welcomed the Palm Springs connection for DesertExpress. I think we all agreed that Victorville park and ride had a limited appeal, depending on where you journey began or ended in Southern California.

    All agreed that the meeting was a success and we plan to meet again, and also to have some kind of event for National Train Day, May 2010, possibly centered at the Nevada State Railroad Museum in nearby Boulder City.

    Paul Dyson

    Tracking Rail News

    TRACKING RAIL NEWS . . . for December, 2009

    . . . Commentary and PHOTOS by Russ Jackson
    . . . On Time Performance. How’s this for an OTP for the first 20 days of November: Zephyr 85%, Starlight 85%, Builder 87.5%, CHIEF 97.5%, Sunset 88.9%, Eagle 92.5%.

    Then you add in the Corridors, Capitols 92.5%, Heartland Flyer 97.5%, Surfliner 80.3%, San Joaquin 91.3%, and Caltrain 90.32%. When was this seen before? We can’t say enough about this kind of reliability. Now, if the other factors for Amtrak travel could be scored that high, well, it would be a great way to run a railroad. Others have noted that this is Joseph Boardman’s last month on his “interim” Presidency; and we must join in assuming that since no announcement of a permanent replacement has been forthcoming that Mr. Boardman’s contract has been extended. Texas Eagle at Dallas 12-12-09 002 If getting the OTP up is his major accomplishment we will take it, but continue to hope, plead, argue, and yes “advocate” for more vigorous pursuit of a daily Sunset Limited, and the placement of an order for additional Superliner cars to result in increased revenue for the long distance trains by expanding their capacity. NOTE: The original column was written before the news obtained by RailPAC Director Robert Manning: “All,I have just been informed that the Amtrak Board of Directors has just authorized negotiations with the Union Pacific Railroad, for a daily Sunset Limited train. More to follow.” (Photo of the Texas Eagle arriving at Dallas Union Station on December 12. The Eagle currently connects onto the Sunset Limited at San Antonio tri-weekly.)

    . . . California. This writer has taken note of the California budget crisis, and so far there has been minimal impact on the state rail program. However, it appears that next year will be perhaps worse than this year so even popular programs like the trains may have to take a hit. To make improvements to the system now is going to require doing things that have little or no cost. There is a need for more connectivity and integrated schedules of all rail and transit systems in California, which I think should be the thrust of RailPAC’s efforts now, as that just requires lots of meetings and the will to succeed. Some trains may be discontinued, and it’s unfortunate the only one on the table now is 798-799, the LA to San Luis Obispo train that eventually would become the Coast Daylight to San Francisco, but the state’s criteria for maintaining service for trains and buses is pretty specific. Frankly, I look for the Capitol Corridor to be cut symbolically from 16 to maybe 12, eliminate one of the Sacramento to Bakersfield San Joaquins, and cut the number of Surfliners back to 10 letting Metrolink-Coaster take up the slack. Savings accomplished? A drop in the bucket, but the state can claim they are saving without damaging the whole program. DavidKutrosky_DSC3617NOTE: A quick response to my comment about potential cuts quickly arrived from David Kutrosky, the new Managing Director of the Capitol Corridor: “While we are acutely aware that California is experiencing extreme financial difficulties at the moment, I can tell you that THERE HAVE BEEN NO DISCUSSIONS ABOUT REDUCING CAPITOL CORRIDOR SERVICE LEVELS. As I and other CCJPA staff have stated emphatically, before the CCJPA even would consider such a drastic action, the CCJPA staff would work with our operating partner (Amtrak) to implement other measures to offset any budget reductions IF the CCJPA were to be notified of such reduced funding to the CCJPA. As of this moment, I have NOT received any notice of budget
    reduction for the operation of the Capitol Corridor trains.” Photo courtesy CCJPA.

    . . . Real Rail Advocacy can succeed! Recently the CCRiders group, which regularly rides the Capitol Corridor between Auburn, Sacramento and beyond, received notice that fares were going up effective November 16. Their leader, Chuck Robuck, checked and found out the increase would be more than 11%, an astounding increase in light of the furlough pay reductions, increased withholding, etc., that many riders were faced with. They immediately spoke with the Capitol Corridor officials, who checked and found that the new fares has been “mis-calculated using an old formula.” The “real” fare increase was 3% on their route which is bad enough and hard to accept in these troubled times, but is much better than 11%. We congratulate this group on their quick action and the Capitol Corridor for admitting there had been a mistake and correcting it, even though it is just deferred to March, 2010.

    . . . Elsewhere in the West. DSCN2967 . . . The newly opened Northstar in Minnesota had an opening day usage of 2400, well above the forecasted daily average of 1700. The trains ran on time. Schedules are set up so that the first train each morning turns to the only morning outbound, which then turns again at Big Lake to the last inbound and that pattern is reversed in the afternoon. The round trip fare is $15. They are running Saturday and Sunday service (attention Metrolink) ala the New Mexico Railrunner. The project was delivered weeks ahead of schedule and $10 million under budget. . . . The Denton County, Texas, A-Train broke ground on November 20 at its Highland Village-Lake Lewisville station with full participation of local officials. DCTA will purchase 11 Swiss “Stadler GTW 2/6 Diesel Multiple Units (DMU)” which can seat 104 passengers, are 70% low floor meaning level platform boarding, and will run them on 20-minute headways starting in 2013. A-Train HV groundbreaking 11-20-09 002 When the system opens in late 2111 they will be using leased RDC cars from the Dallas-Ft. Worth TRE. What makes these DMUs interesting is they will be easily converted to overhead electrical service for run-through on the DART line without constructing catenary in Denton County.

    . . . Trip Report. Sacramento to Tehachapi October 30. The Coast Starlight was in very early just after 6 and departed right on time at 6:35. San Joaquin 702 is usually staged on the first track from the station but the area was empty. We were early so we waited in the area for a while with a small group of other people. Capitol 518 arrived from Oakland early at about 6:20 and took the spot where 702 was expected. After a small group got off, the numberboards were changed and the consist became 702 to Bakersfield. A service employee chatted with us while I was hauling luggage from the car and said the 702 consist was dead (reason not stated) and thus the unusual swap. 702 finally got out 13 minutes late at 6:53 but made up time and arrived about 15 minutes early in Bakersfield. It was a good trip, but getting up at 4 am in the Sierra Nevada makes for a long day! The Las Vegas connecting bus that has always met 702 and served Tehachapi has been dropped from the timetable with the schedule change, so our friend decided to drive an hour each way to pick us up instead of waiting for the bus from 712 about 1 3/4 hours later. I have to drive an hour and a quarter each way to Sacramento on this end so there is a lot of driving involved to make this “train” trip work. The return trip on 701 was right on time out of Bakersfield and in early at Sacramento by 15 minutes. We sat next to a lady from Hanford who was going to Grass Valley and had her daughter drive all the way to downtown Sacramento rather than transfer to the connecting bus that would have taken her to Auburn, another example of people refusing to wait 45 minutes to take a bus for the last 35 miles of their trip and generating 70 miles of metropolitan traffic congestion in each case; we would have no trouble with a train to train cross-platform transfer. – – Ralph James. Note: Mr. James confirms double-stack UP trains are now crossing the Sierra, with the tunnel projects up there largely complete.

    Commentary, Reports

    Metrolink drops Solo BULLETIN

    Metrolink CEO David Solow was asked to step down on December 11, and was replaced by former Riverside County Transportation Commissioner Eric Haley. Mr. Solow will stay on in a management position until June 30, 2010. Below are the two announcements from Metrolink, one stating action on fare increases and service cuts would be postponed and the other re Mr. Solo.

    SCRRA BOARD TAKES NO ACTION ON POTENTIAL SERVICE CUTS OR FARE INCREASES
    12/11/2009

    The Metrolink Board of Directors board took no action on staff recommendations related to potential service cuts or fare increases. Instead, the board approved a motion by L.A. County Supervisor Don Knabe, and seconded by Montclair Mayor Paul Eaton, to not impose a fare increase at this time and to initiate the FY 10-11 budget process in January, 2010. The SCRRA board will reconvene at its regular board meeting on January 8, 2010.

    METROLINK ANNOUNCES LEADERSHIP CHANGES
    12/11/2009

    LOS ANGELES, CA December 11, 2009: After a closed session personnel discussion amongst the Board of Directors, the Chairman of the Board of the Southern California Regional Rail Authority Keith Millhouse announced that Metrolink CEO David Solow will change his role at the agency effective December 15, 2009.

    The Board of Directors and Solow have agreed that he will step down as CEO and for the balance of this fiscal year, until June 30, 2010, he will remain with the agency devoting full time to the interagency collaborations necessary for Metrolink to implement safety enhancements, including Positive Train Control, and interoperability agreements.

    “Metrolink has the opportunity to usher in the era of dramatic enhancements in rail travel in this region and in this country, such as Positive Train Control and the addition of High Speed Rail,” said Millhouse. “With Mr. Solow’s expertise focused on interagency collaboration, Metrolink has a unique ability to bring together public and private railroads to improve passenger safety and service in our complex railroad operating environment.”

    Mr. Solow’s expertise and experience in the interagency operations issues facing commuter rail are widely acknowledged and respected. The Board is appointing him to a new position of “Advisor: Interagency Initiatives,” which reports to the Chief Executive Officer. He will be working pursuant to an at will contract through this fiscal year at his current salary.

    To lead the agency into this new era of commuter rail, the Board will immediately begin the recruitment of a successor Chief Executive Officer.

    In the interim, the Board is fortunate to be able to name as Chief Executive Officer Mr. Eric Haley effective December 15, 2009.

    Mr. Haley will be working under an at will contract as Metrolink’s Chief Executive Officer until the arrival of a new CEO, but for not more than six months. He brings a wealth of experience to this position from both the public and private sectors and is very familiar with Metrolink and its member agencies based on his experience as the former CEO of the Riverside County Transportation Commission, a Metrolink member agency.

    Both Mr. Solow and Mr. Haley are looking forward to working with each other and for Metrolink in their new roles.

    “Because I remain dedicated to our top priority of enhancing safety and leading in the development and implementation of new technology, I am pleased to be able to continue this aspect of the work that I have begun,” said Solow. “I look forward to a smooth transition with Eric and the Metrolink team.”

    “I would like to thank the Board for this opportunity as a capstone of my career. We face tremendous budget challenges and simultaneously have a plan to continue expansion, which David began,” said Haley. “David’s recognized expertise in Positive Train Control will be crucial because safety is the top concern. We are fortunate to have the benefit of David’s experience as Metrolink moves forward with industry leading safety upgrades.”

    The Board has authorized a two member ad hoc committee to negotiate final contract terms with both Solow and Haley. When final, the contracts will be available on request consistent with the applicable law.

    One of Mr. Haley’s priorities will be to direct the Board’s search for the new CEO to lead Metrolink to being this nation’s premier commuter railroad. The Board anticipates hiring a CEO within the first half of 2010. Mr. Haley has agreed that he is not a candidate for the new CEO position.

    Reports

    RailPAC on Social Media: Facebook, Twitter

    JarrodBy Jarrod DellaChiesa, RailPAC Director, San Lorenzo (NOTE: Jarrod became RailPAC’s newest Director by Board action 12/3/09, and we welcome him aboard!)
    Keep hearing about “tweeting”, “Facebook” and “posting”?  Well, all those buzzwords refer to Social Media and RailPAC is getting into it!

    Through social media, you’re now able to quickly find out what’s currently going on at RailPAC.  It might be a new article on the website, news about an upcoming meeting or something you should write a letter or make a phone call about. See something we’ve posted that you’d like to share with others? Simply click “Retweet” or “Share” to get the word out fast!

    You choose how you want to receive your updates – via the websites, pushed instantly to your smartphone (iPhone and Android for example) or via text message – how you receive your updates is completely up to you!

    Here’s how you can join:

  • Twitter
    · Go to http://www.twitter.com/railpac
    · If you already have an account, just click “Login” and then “Follow”
    · If you need an account, click “Join today!” and follow the simple instructions.  You’ll be up and running within 5 minutes.  Then, be sure to go back to http://www.twitter.com/railpac and then click “Follow”
  • Facebook
    · Go to http://www.facebook.com/pages/RailPAC/199118993332
    · If you already have an account, login at the top of the page and then click “Become a Fan!”
    · If you need an account, click “Sign UP and follow the instructions.  Be sure to go back to http://www.facebook.com/pages/RailPAC/199118993332 and click “Become a Fan!”