Monthly Archives

February 2009



Commentary by Paul Dyson, RailPAC President, and member, Burbank Transportation Commission.
The facility would provide “moving walkway” link with the Amtrak/Metrolink station.

The Burbank Glendale Pasadena Airport JPA has put forward an ambitious plan to improve public transit connections at the Burbank Bob Hope Airport. The airport already has the closest rail access of any in Southern California and is better than the vast majority of facilities in the United States. Nevertheless little has been done until now to improve the station, provide adequate parking for rail passengers, or ease transfer between the modes. The airport does provide on demand shuttle buses to and from the station and also the bus stops on Hollywood Way and for the physically fit the walk to and from the terminals is no more than to and from the kerb at many larger airports. However, the proposed moving walkway will make the rail or bus interchange far more attractive to passengers.

The airport is applying for federal funds in two tranches, one to build the transit center and station improvements, (estimated at $15 million), and the second to grade separate the Vanowen/Clybourne/Empire interchange (estimated at $30 million). The airport authority will put up 20% of the funds. In addition to improving safety the grade separation will improve traffic flow, including Metro and Burbank buses to and from the West Valley and the Orange and Red lines at North Hollywood.

Assuming that this highly commendable project is funded we’ll need to ensure that the airport station finally enjoys adequate train service. The current Metrolink schedule, with gaps up to three hours and no evening or weekend service, is completely inadequate for airport passengers. RailPAC has long advocated expansion of the Chatsworth to Laguna Niguel corridor, with double track from Van Nuys to Chatsworth and the LAUS run through tracks. This will give us the infrastructure for a regular interval Regional Express to serve this airport and the mobility needs of large sections of Los Angeles and Orange counties.

Please e-mail Dianne Feinstein’s office to show your support.

Paul Dyson, President
24 February, 2009


CCJPA February Meeting report

capitol-16-train-coverby Bruce Jenkins, RailPAC Director The Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority (CCJPA) met in Suisun City on Wednesday, February 18, 2009.

The Board approved the CCJPA FY ’09-’10 — FY ’10-’11 Business Plan Update. The Plan will be finalized and submitted to the Secretary of Business, Transportation and Housing Agency (BT&H) by Apr ’09. (Note: this meeting was held before the state budget passed.)

The Business Plan Update is premised on the State’s current financial situation and focuses major attention on CCJPA efforts with Union Pacific RR (UPRR) and Amtrak mechanical staff to improve on-time reliability to acceptable levels (90% “on-time” or better). It also:

* Maintains the current 32-train service plan for FY ’08-’09 and FY ’09-’10;
* Develops a funding strategy to secure federal funds for state supported intercity
rail services (thru Economic Stimulus/Recovery program or annual appropriations from
Amtrak Reauthorization) to advance the CCJPA’s Capital Improvement Program; and
* Builds upon the success of previous award-winning marketing campaigns to raise the
awareness of the Capitol Corridor (CC) “brand” as a viable transport alternative along
Northern California’s congested highway corridors.

In his “overview,” Managing Director Gene Skoropowski reported: “The Capitol Corridor just seems to be staying on a positive glide path towards increasing riders, revenue and sustained on-time performance. With those results, plus the positive reputation the service has gained, more riders are being attracted, regardless of the drop in fuel prices, or the fluctuations in the economy. Crowded peak hour trains may finally have put a “cap” on peak hour travel growth”.


Ridership for the 1st 4 months of the FY is up 7.4%, revenue is up 11.2% over the 4 months of the prior FY.

Year to date revenue is up 14% and is stronger than passenger growth helping the financial performance. Weekends still exhibit strong revenue generation as do holidays and mid-day travel. Weekend travel is almost evenly spread on trains throughout the day with good average train loadings and higher revenue yields due to more full fares sold than on weekdays.

On-time performance has been exceptionally reliable this FY, with the 4 month average (Oct ’08-Jan’09) at 93% . January ’09 OTP was an enviable 94.5% (the best in the country). UPRR has improved it’s performance to about 98-99% for several months running and is now routinely earning their maximum incentive fee.

Amtrak has caught up on preventive maintenance, hence ‘full consists” are on all trains. The major causes of delays are now mechanical road-failures, primarily locomotives and some on the-road door operational issues along with periodic delays due to draw bridge lifts at Martinez.

Possible track configurations are being explored with UPRR for consideration to find a solution to add main line track capacity to push the easterly terminus of more frequent service to the Roseville area and some increased service to Auburn and San Jose. Also being explored is the possibility of “express” service” between Oakland and Sacramento.

The State budget adopted for FY ’09 and the annual allocation made by the BT&H will be adequate to sustain operations for the coming year. All capital projects however, are in suspension, regardless of the source of state funds. Virtually all CC projects are at this stage are “bond funded” and these projects are suspended until the state adopts a revised budget.

The Federal Stimulus Package could provide the CC with an infusion of funds to start projects that are designed and approved by UPRR, Amtrak and Division of Rail (DoR), that are “shovel ready”. These projects are primarily track, signal and capacity improvements that will benefit operational performance. However, the shortage of rolling stock still is the main constraint for future growth.

Federal funds administered by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) would expand Amtrak’s role and provide capital funding on a matching basis with states from $30 mil in FFY ’08 to between $60 and $100 mil in FFY ’09. These capital funds require a 50% state/local matching share.

Construction Projects:

Bahia crossover in Benicia is completed. Bahia (operational name “CP Marsh”) will be turned over to operations Feb.28 ’09.

Yolo Causeway west crossovers; in design, construction funding being lined up for FY’10.

Emeryville Station track expansion and crossover relocation, permitting parallel moves into/out of the north end of the station, reducing congestion at this choke point. Design in progress, construction funds remain in question due to states budget crisis

Funding for double track and crossovers in Santa Clara (CP Coast/ Great America), Newark/Albrea and the Santa Clara Station platform will be resubmitted as part of this year’s federal matching FRA program (partner with ACE and Caltrain). “We were not successful in being selected by the FRA for funding on this project this year”.

On-Board Surveys show an overall high score acceptance by the ridership. On a scale of
1-5, Amtrak station staff received a 4.08 and on-board crews a 4.3 for December. Areas showing improvement include station and train cleanliness, availability of timetables and conductor announcements. The CC continues to finish in the top 5 in Amtrak’s national customer service indices for all Amtrak routes in FY ’09.


California Corridors January 2009 Stats

from Eugene K. Skoropowski, Managing Director, Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority
It appears that the economic slowdown may be starting to impact all California’s services, with the Pacific Surfliners taking the biggest hit.

Although the Capitol Corridor is still in growth mode for riders and revenue, and we are the only California service still ahead of budget after 4 months into the fiscal year, that growth rate slowed dramatically in January. The coming months will determine if it is just the placement of the holidays this year.

Capitol Corridor ridership grew by only +1.0%, to 128,648 for the month of January, but revenue jumped +4.5%, in January helping us keep a bit ahead of budget for the first 4 months of our fiscal year (YTD). The San Joaquins saw ridership grow +5.6%, but revenue dropped -7.6% below January, 2008. The Pacific Surfliner service saw a substantial drop in riders and in revenue compared to January 2008. This may be a reflection of that the economic deterioration in Southern California is now catching up in Northern California.

Sustained on-time performance at 93% on the Capitol Corridor has helped keep riders, although the San Joaquins and Pacific Surfliners have also seen improved on-time performance as well.

Capitol Corridor (January 2009):

128,684 passengers +1.0% vs. January 2008
This is a new January record, and still keeps the Capitol Corridor third busiest route in the country, by a wide margin.

Passengers for the last 12 months: 1,731,787, 30 months of continuous new ‘record high’ riders, still pushing towards the 1.8 million mark.

$1,793,791 January 2009 ticket revenue +4.5% vs. January 2008

The farebox recovery revenue-to-cost ratio for January is 44%, reflecting the increased Amtrak cost base due to labor contracts and fuel adjustments (FY to date: 46%, a bit lower than the 50% target). Traditionally, January through April our farebox recovery rate is lower than May through September, so we still have a ways to go to get ‘on budget’.

On-time performance for January ‘delivered to the customer’ was: 94.5%, our best month ever, and still the best of any corridor service in the country, reflecting sustained Union Pacific performance at 98-99% and continued good Amtrak operational performance. (FFY to date: 93.1%) This is also our best 4 month year-to- date for on-time performance.

These first 4 month stats have given the first third of our Fiscal Year a solid base, and Capitol Corridor on-time performance is now the best in the country, topped only by the once-a-day Pennsylvanian (Philadelphia-Pittsburgh) and still well above the premier Acela Express service on the Northeast Corridor (84.0%).


Pacific Surfliners (January 2009):

195,191 passengers -4.0% vs. January 2008, but still the second busiest route in the nation, by a wide margin.

$3,223,340 January 2009 revenue: -6.7% vs. January 2008.

On-time performance for January 2009: 85.2% (FFY to date: 81.7%)


San Joaquins (January 2009):

65,549 passengers +5.6% vs. January 2008

$2,151,086 January 2009 revenue: -7.6% vs. January 2008

On-time performance for January: 85.2% (FFY to date: 87.3%)


Total California 3 Intercity Corridors Ridership for January 2009: 389,424

Total Northeast Corridor ‘Spine’ ridership for January 2009: 742,027
For January 2009, the 3 California Corridors are 52.5% of Northeast Corridor ‘Spine’ Boston-Washington ridership

Total Northeast Corridor ridership for January 2009 with branches to Springfield, MA; Albany, NY and Harrisburg, PA: 923,396
For January 2009, the 3 California Corridors are 42.2% of the total Northeast Corridor ridership. Overall NEC Spine ridership declined by -6.5%, but the Keystone service (Philadelphia-Harrisburg) grew by +2.6%.

YTD 3 California corridors ridership is 1,694,898
YTD NEC Spine ridership is 3,358,749
YTD NEC Spine + branches ridership is 4,188,363


Rail Safety Improvement Act will save lives

By Robert Manning, RailPAC Director
Printed in The Desert Sun, Palm Springs, February 8, 2009

Sometimes it takes a major tragedy to provide something good. And that is exactly what happened this past September when the Metrolink train crashed into the Union Pacific freight train in Chatsworth, killing and injuring people.

As a result of this accident, the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 was signed into law by President Bush on Oct. 16. The single most important item that this comprehensive bill contained is positive train control. If positive train control had been installed on this train, the accident could not have happened.

Positive Train Control is an electronic device that works in conjunction with GPS systems and sensors installed in the train tracks with a monitoring devise inside the cab of the train`s locomotive. This system can immediately detect such things as the train going to fast, passing a red signal, and so on. The system will automatically send an alarm inside the locomotives cab and at the same time, apply the trains braking system.

The Federal Railroad Administration has been attempting to mandate PTC since the early 1990s, but, because of strong opposition from the railroads, including Metrolink, this had not happened. PTC must now be installed in all of the major railroads including Amtrak by 2015. Metrolink will have PTC by 2012.

This legislation also contained many provisions dealing with the future and funding of Amtrak. Amtrak will now receive $13.6 billion over the next five years, although each year the money will have to be appropriated by Congress. Also, this bill increases operating and capital grants to Amtrak, develops state passenger rail corridors and provides funding for high speed rail corridors.

The long distance train the Sunset Limited, which is the only train that passes through Palm Springs three days a week, could eventually resume service to Florida from New Orleans.
There is strong support here and across its route to make this a daily train.

President Obama, prior to his election, gave strong support to vastly improving both freight and passenger trains systems in our country. Obama is certainly aware of the need for a first rate passenger system especially when you compare our system to Europe, Asia or even China, where they are investing billions into improving their rail systems. These countries are clearly aware that passenger trains are very, fuel efficient, beneficial for the environment and a safe way to travel.

Commentary, Rail Photos

RIC SILVER: A real rail advocate!

A tribute with PHOTOS to RailPAC’s outgoing, one-of-a-kind former Executive Director, by Russ Jacksonpauldysonandricsilver
We first met Richard L. Silver sometime around 1995. RailPAC was still a small, but noisy, organization of rail advocates who were speaking our minds on California and Amtrak national issues. Alan Wimmergren was president, founders Byron Nordberg and Dr. Adrian Herzog, all now deceased, were very active in promoting our ideas.

The newsletter, Rail Passenger Review, which I edited, was still only six half-pages and came out six times a year. Most of the membership was in Southern California.

One Saturday we all gathered for one of Alan’s monthly RailPAC meetings at Los Angeles Union Station when Ric walked up and joined in the conversation. He had come from Northern California to meet us as he said, he liked what we were saying about rail issues. Within an hour we learned everything we didn’t know about rail issues in Northern California, and invited him into the group. He went right to work recruiting new members, something we had not been as good at as we should have. At the next RailPAC meeting, held in Fullerton at the Trainweb office, we asked him to formally become Executive Director. He accepted, and has served in that capacity continuously, helping guide us through the days of growth of rail programs in California while we advocated sensible, not just fast growth.

hpim0862Ric Silver greeting guests at a State Capitol meeting.
We are a better organization for the work Ric Silver has done. We came to learn about his ability to contact people he knew in Sacramento where he forged ties with them that we need. As RailPAC Director, Bruce Jenkins, says, “He had a knack for lobbying Sacramento, and his gift of oratory always impressed me as did his sense of humor.” People always take calls from Ric Silver, knowing his devotion to rail advocacy and want to hear what he has to say.

hpim0867 (l-r) Amtrak’s Gil Mallery, Ric Silver, Capitol Corridor’s Gene Skoropowski at a State Capitol ceremony.
I remember following him through the State Capitol one day while he distributed some of our position statements. He knew everyone and where everything was in that building. It was quite a fun experience to ride the trains with him to meetings of the San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee, the Capitol Corridor JPB, the CA High Speed Rail Authority, and go to other rail events where he spoke the language the members of those groups could understand. hpim0806

Ric Silver with CAHSRA’s Dan Leavitt. We are a much larger organization thanks to the work Ric has done, and he brought in a very dedicated group of fellow advocates from all over the state, many of whom now sit on the RailPAC Board of Directors.

april-2008-1-0041 Ric Silver with RailPAC President Paul Dyson getting the 2008 Annual Meeting started.
Our “Annual Meetings” have grown into major events for rail supporters, and the work of organizing them has fallen on Ric’s experienced shoulders. As current President Paul Dyson says in his letter to Ric, “Without your enthusiasm and energy we doubt that RailPAC would have survived to continue the campaign.”

We are confident that despite his leaving the job as Executive Director he will continue to be a rail advocate and speak his informed mind on issues. He earned and deserves the Honorary Life Membership the RailPAC Board conveyed on him. We look forward to having him with us in that spirit for a long time and wish him well.

Tracking Rail News

Tracking the News for February

. . . PHOTOS, and COMMENTARY by Russ Jackson
February, 2009. Superliners! When you “GoogleEarth” to their U.S. map and zoom in on the Beech Grove, Indiana, Amtrak shop you see a yard area at the top (north) of the property. While the date of the photo is unknown, and you can’t get real close, there are 43 Superliner cars stashed there. The clue is there are at least two Sightseer Lounge cars, unmistakable by their roof windows. That has to be the “weeds” we’ve referred to here regarding cars that should be put into service ASAP.

Coast Starlight Superliners at San Luis Obispo, CA Noel Braymer photo
RailPAC President Paul Dyson’s letter to Amtrak President Boardman (published in the February issue of the Western Rail Passenger Review, and here on spells out the RailPAC campaign that will be waged this year to get not only those cars back on track and in high revenue service, but also a program for the acquisition of badly needed new cars on an on-going basis. Mr. Dyson’s point that there has been “capital starvation” of service west of the Mississippi tells much of the story.

Recently this writer asked rail expert Gene Poon: “Amtrak says it has 422 active Superliners (all kinds), requires 318 every day, and there are 353 available. Where are the 35 not used cars and what are they doing?” Gene replied, “Sitting in reserve at Chicago, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Sanford, etc.” When I asked about availability, he says 27 (probably of those 43 in the weeds) “probably refers to wreck-damaged or other seriously bad-condition cars that won’t be fixed any time soon. Some cars are to be written off…but they can’t, either because of litigation or insurance claims.” According to the Nov-Dec Amtrak Ink “a program is underway to put 12 stored Amfleet I cars back in service.” ONLY 12? “Specs have been written for the purchase of 75 new baggage cars, 25 .single-level diners and 15 single-level sleepers.” Also, a five-year plan calls for 25 rebuilt Superliners, but 40 Acela cars, 7 new high speed trainsets for the NEC, and for 166 bi-level California style cars and 3 Talgo sets “as state funding permits.” The long distance trains get the scraps again.
Metrolink has borrowed New Jersey Transit Horizon cars. Shown at LAUS on January 24, next to the soon-to-depart Coast Starlight. Mike Palmer photo.

As Andrew C. Selden says, “It is not so much a matter of ‘do we need 1000 or 3000 new Superliners?’ so much as the idea that what we should do is start up a line to produce new Superliners at a modest rate, and keep that line open indefinitely until the traffic growth starts to slow down.” Aggressiveness is not one of Amtrak’s strong points in accomplishing growth, but if railfan/railadvocates set up the call strong enough, and I believe we are doing that, response is inevitable. The old “there is no money” is immaterial. It’s there. Amtrak: Go get it! Build them, run them, and the riders will come to fill them up.

On Time Performance. We love statistics here, and when we looked at the January OTP stats we found that despite the bad weather nationwide, as of Amtrak’s system-wide date of 1/15/09, it was 76.4% including the NEC, with the California Zephyr 46.7, Coast Starlight 75.9,

Coast Starlight was still detouring through the San Joaquin Valley on January 25, here taking a break at the Bakersfield station! Mike Palmer photo

Empire Builder 22.4, Southwest Chief 83.3, Texas Eagle 76.7, and (hold on to your hats) Sunset Limited 91.7% ON TIME. So, we looked closely and found for trains 1/2 for the two weeks of January 9 to 21 train 1 arrived at LAUS early 3 times and late 3 times, the latest being 88 minutes on 1/21. For train 2 arriving in El Paso, it was ON TIME OR EARLY every day, the way the Southwest Chief is at Albuquerque! As for trains 5 and 6, the Zephyr, for the week of 1/3 to 1/9 #6 was on time into Salt Lake City EVERY DAY. That same week #5 arrived in Sacramento early 4 days and late only twice!

Then came the big schedule news: Starting January 26 and after, “train 5 will be speeded up to 30 minutes between Salt Lake City and Emeryville” with a scheduled arrival time at 5:10 PM instead of 5:40. Train 6 now departs EMY at 9:10 AM instead of 8:55. These new times (and we admit it’s a small improvement, but welcome) are made possible by completed track work by the UP in Nevada. As for the Sunset, similar track improvements in Arizona have allowed train 1 to “operate 30 minutes earlier from El Paso through Los Angeles.” The operating people are to be commended. As for on board service, Andrew C. Selden reports his sister and family rode #6 from Martinez, CA, to Chicago on December 27, and while it was 2 hours late “it was otherwise a perfect trip, highlighted by a good OBS crew. Since then they have gushed about the trip to anyone who will listen to them (and) are actively exploring their next long distance train travel opportunity. While their friends were aware of Capitols, San Joaquins, and Caltrain, none were aware of the LD trains and what kind of travel they offer. Think about the power of word-of-mouth and the implications for rail every time a trainload of paying passengers have a botched trip or a surly OBS crew as contrasted with when they do it right.”

It didn’t help to have that Pere Marquette train arrive in Grand Rapids, Michigan, 12 hours late on December 22 carrying 268 passengers.
Grand Rapids Amtrak station early morning before the departure of 371 to Chicago in July, 2003. No snow that day. Photo by Russ Jackson

The crew might have avoided going “dead on the hours” and made it to GRR but for a last-minute engine swap that caused it to leave Chicago 38 minutes late. CNOC, the dispatch center, was notified early on that the train was in trouble, but they did little but dump the problem on CSX to provide a crew. Amtrak apologized for delaying the trip saying, “a delay of that magnitude is intolerable,” but the damage was done and how many of those 268 will decide to ride again? This writer has been on that train many times in all kinds of weather, and there seems to be an unending number of problems; reflected in an 11.5% OTP for 371, and 46.7% for 370 in November.

RailPAC member Mike Palmer commented, “Evidently a similar thing happened to the SW Chief #4 that left LA on 12/17, It was delayed significantly by heavy snowfall and the crew went ‘dead on the hours’ west of Needles, somewhere that had no road access, so the train couldn’t be re-crewed until one could ride a BNSF freight train out there.” While they were not allowed to take the train into Needles according to work rules, according to RailPAC President Paul Dyson they should have known early enough so the train could have stopped in Barstow! Mr. Palmer asks the simple question, “If it becomes clear that a crew will not complete its normal run during 12 hours, is there any way they could stop the train short so that a crew can more easily access the train?” That takes common sense, which appears to be in short supply in incidents like these. Of course airlines have their “captive” passengers occasionally, too. Oh, and another incident delayed the California Zephyr for three hours on December 26 when a boulder struck the train 10 miles east of Sparks, NV. In all these incidents there were no injuries. Maybe not as dramatic as the US Air incident on the Hudson River, but it all points out that no matter how you travel there can be incidents beyond your control and some within your control.

Politics. Have you had enough yet? The election and the Inauguration may be over but the work has just begun. We welcome the new Obama administration and what appears to be its pro-rail pro-Amtrak leadership starting with Vice President Joe Biden. As this is being written the new Congress is in hot debate over the contents of a new stimulus bill. By the time you read it the results may have been passed, so what’s likely to be in it for rail? At the same time, what’s likely to be the end of the story for the budget situation in California? Massive cuts to transportation, schools, health, etc.? Very possible. We know that big tax increases are out of question. Rep.Oberstar (D-MN) the Chairman of the House committee that deals with Amtrak asked for “Ready-to-go” projects and Amtrak identified at least $500 million including car overhauls, replacement of aging equipment, fire and life safety improvements, improvements to track, structures, electric traction, communications and signals, and customer and information technology enhancements. It doesn’t sound like much for the long distance trains there, does it? Other groups of states have identified their own lists of rail projects.

Competition for what money is allocated to transportation will be fierce. Ken Bird says that “in spite of NARP’s and the Editor of TRAINS appeal to Obama, Amtrak does not meet the stimulus criteria” of shovel-ready projects. Amtrak, according to Mr. Bird, “may get some capital funds and may be able to order a few replacement cars over the next four years but they won’t see a fire hose of money directed at them in the name of economic stimulus.” Amtrak got huge amounts of publicity for its Inaugural train carrying Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden, and for the sold-out carriage of people to DC for the ceremony including RailPAC VP South James Smith, who arrived on the Capitol Limited. Washington Metro carried 1.2 million riders, a new record. As Noel Braymer wrote, “This was a demonstration of just how effective rail can be.” Did it improve Amtrak’s chance for new money? Well, on January 21 the incoming Secretary of Transportation, former Illinois Congressman Ray LaHood “got a warm welcome on the hill” for his confirmation hearing, according to a Washington Post article, “as he promised to be a ‘hands on’ transportation secretary who would focus on delivering more than $43 billions in new road- and bridge-building projects to help jump-start the economy.” He pledged to create hundreds of thousands of jobs in those types of projects, and would be “supporting Amtrak train service.” We shall see what that means in the weeks ahead.


Penny Wise and Pound Foolish

Editorial By Noel T. Braymer

After retiring as President of Southern Railway, W. Graham Claytor took over as President of Amtrak in 1982. At that time Amtrak recovered only 48 percent of its costs from revenue. Eleven years latter when Mr. Claytor retired from Amtrak in 1993 Amtrak’s cost recovery was 75 percent. Shortly before retiring Mr. Claytor predicted that Amtrak could recover all of its operating costs from revenues by the year 2000. In 2002 Amtrak was deeply in debt and so short of cash that it almost shutdown.

After Mr. Claytor retired, Amtrak management was dominated mostly by people with no experience in the private sector, but instead from public transit. Expectations were high that Amtrak could continue Mr. Claytor’s success to eliminate its subsidy for operations. What happened instead were examples of being “pound foolish”. A good example of this is Amtrak Express when Amtrak went into the freight business shortly after Claytor left. It made good sense and it still does for Amtrak to make extra money carrying small packages and less than carload shipments. But Amtrak tried to make most of its money from express instead of passengers and got into a business that they didn’t know what they were doing. Amtrak ordered a lot of roadrailers and box cars with borrowed money. By 2004 Amtrak admitted defeat and shut the service down.

Another “pounds foolish” fiasco was the Acela equipment program. New equipment is usually a good idea leading to ridership growth and reduced operating costs. The program got off to a good start in the early 1990’s under Claytor with high speed trainsets from Sweden, Denmark, Germany and Spain brought over to the United States for Amtrak to evaluate for possible use to replace the Metroliner trains. Instead of buying one of these off the shelf trains, post Claytor Amtrak decided instead to order a wholly new train which is very expensive for a small order as the one for Acela. Central to the Acela was the use of tilt train technology which would allow higher speeds in comfort in places with curvy trackage thus allowing faster running times. Amtrak failed to realize until construction began that the Acela trains were 4 inches too wide to use train tilting on most of the NEC. The Acela also became quite heavy as the trains were designed to meet American crash strength standards. High Speed Trains are light because weight increases operating and maintenance costs. The State of Washington was able to buy the Spanish light weight high speed Talgo trains and have them approved by the FRA after modification for use between Washington and Oregon. Shortly after being put in service all the Acela’s were pulled out of service in 2002 when it was discovered that the brackets holding yaw dampers on the power cars trucks were in danger of breaking off. Again in 2005 Acela service was suspended when the FRA discovered that the brake routers where wearing out twice as fast as they should have and that most of them had to be replaced. Amtrak knew about the problem but ignored it. When the old Metroliner equipment was used to replace the Acela’s, not only was the old equipment just as fast as the Acela, but the operating cost were also lower.

Amtrak borrowed a great deal of money to buy the equipment for Amtrak Express, the Acela equipment and to make up for shortfalls in revenues. Massive money borrowing and poor train revenue combined to almost shut down Amtrak. What did Claytor do that his successors failed to do? Claytor pushed very hard and was able to get additional cash for capital from Congress. With that money he bought new equipment. He bought 140 Superliner II cars and 2 prototype Viewliner sleepers. Claytor understood that the Western Long Distance Trains were the cash cows of Amtrak. The new equipment increased the revenue production of the trains equipped with them and released low level equipment to be used for other trains. Claytor also listened to the advice of people like RailPAC’s Byron Nordberg and Dr. Adrian Herzog. Claytor extended the Palmetto from Savannah, Georgia to Miami, Florida and the Sunset east of New Orleans to Orlando Florida. In 1988 after years of work by Caltrans and others the first San Diegan was extended north of Los Angeles to Santa Barbara. The results were amazing. The additional revenue of the Santa Barbara extension pushed the cost recovery of the State Subsidized San Diegan trains to over 100%. For a few years Amtrak could not charge the State for subsidy payments for the San Diegan trains because the trains covered their costs. Later Amtrak changed the way they calculated their costs and the Surfliner now recover around 60 percent of cost according to Amtrak.

Claytor’s successors didn’t learn from the past. Back in 1979 Amtrak tried being “penny wise” by eliminating several trains, mostly long distance trains. The results were Amtrak lost more money and is a reason its cost recovery was only 48% in 1982. By 1997 as Amtrak was getting into fiscal trouble, they tried cutbacks again. Employees were removed from stations, train crews were reduced and Amtrak eliminated service on the Seattle- Salt Lake City Pioneer train and the Los Angeles-Las Vegas- Salt Lake City Desert Wind train. Even after the near shutdown of Amtrak, it has continued to cut back on service, take equipment out of service and reduce its fleet size to record lows. Since 2002 Amtrak has stabilized financially, but only because of increased Federal subsidy. The lesson of the past is Amtrak as a whole needs the long distance trains. The long distance trains are not the problem they are often portrayed but are the solution. If we follow the success of W. Graham Claytor we will order more Superliner equipment, extend trains to new markets, add more routes and provide a decent level of service. The result will be more cash and freedom for Amtrak from constant political criticism. If Amtrak continues the way they have been there will be less service and Amtrak will be totally dependent on Washington for survival.


Has it been 30 years already?

By Noel T. Braymer

In 1978 I was in my mid-twenties, single, the rent for my apartment in Los Angeles was $160 a month, and my car was paid for thanks to my parents. About the last thing on my mind were trains.

Other than amusement park rides the only train ride I had been on was a trip to the San Diego Zoo when I was about five. My Dad wanted his kids to ride a train before they all went away. I was interested in bicycling. I was concerned about clean air and the future supply of oil. After all there had been the Arab-Oil Embargo only four years before and the Iranian Revolution was brewing in 1978. I rode my bike most days to work and for pleasure on the weekends. I figure I rode my bike about 200 miles a week. In September I was planning a bike ride from Los Angeles to San Diego with a co-worker. The problem we had was getting back to Los Angeles with our bikes since we didn’t want to ride them back home. That is when I found out that Amtrak allowed bikes on their trains in their baggage cars: problem solved.

I was looking forward to a nearly empty train on my ride home from all the talk about Amtrak getting so much tax money to run empty trains across America. When we got on the San Diegan train it was jammed! The only seats available when we got on were in the smoking car. Later during the trip the train had standees. Despite the smoke and crowding I was impressed with the speed of the train and with the new, modern equipment. It reminded me of the interior of an airplane. Amfleet at this time was only about 2 years old. When I got to Los Angeles I was even more impressed with the long double-deck train across the platform. I was wondering what it would be like to ride that train.

I usually took my vacations in winter. It was easier to get off work, places were less crowded and it was cheaper. That winter I wanted to travel back east, but I didn’t want to drive during winter. I wanted to make several stops, which is expensive by air. Amtrak at that time had a rail pass program which you could make 3 stops anywhere in the United States for about $300. It was cheaper than flying, sounded better than riding the bus and faster and safer than driving if I rode the train while I slept. February of 1979 found me boarding that same train I admired in September, the Southwest Limited.

What I remember most about the eastbound leg was in New Mexico they had to shut down the kitchen. I remember we were told that we would have a free meal after we left Raton, New Mexico. The dinner car was full as we entered Raton and we waited to see what we would eat. As we left Raton everyone was given a box dinner from Kentucky Fried Chicken. I remember the train was running late and I was worried that I might not make my connections in Chicago. But I was able to make my connections to the Broadway Limited. The Southwest Limited had a good load on the train and the Broadway as I remembered it was nearly full. I remember many people were trying to buy alcohol before the train entered Ohio. Seems by law the lounge car couldn’t sell alcohol in Ohio.

Very early the next morning I got off at my first stop, Pittsburgh. The train station was large, looked decrepit and mostly deserted. I was headed to Meadville, Pennsylvania in Crawford County. Crawford County was the ancestral home for my branch of the Braymer family and I was headed there to do some genealogical research. Most people have never heard of Crawford County, but they have heard of a town there: Titusville. Yes Crawford County is the home of the American Oil Industry. I was lucky that the bus station in Pittsburgh was across the street from the train station. I am the type of person who at 2 AM will wait for a traffic light before crossing the street. When the light turned green and I started walking some idiot ran the red light and nearly ran into me with his car. I let the driver know what I thought of him. He turned around, got out of his car and started arguing with me about offending him.

I took the bus to Meadville and got back on the bus when I left to go to nearby Eire to catch the Lake Shore Limited. This time the bus station and train station were at least a mile apart. So I walked with my bags in winter in the middle of the night to the train station. The Eire Station was a classic example of the wreck of the PennCentral. The building was dark and the paint was peeling and had massive blisters. My next stop was New York City. I remember ordering apple pie a la mode and got a slice of pie with a rock hard rectangular brick of ice cream on top. We got into Grand Central Terminal hours late in the middle of the evening rush hour. I rode the subway the next day as I did my tourist sightseeing. This was when the New York Subway was at near bottom. Every inch of the cars and stations had graffiti, the ride was often rough and the lights in the trains flicked constantly and went off for long periods of time.

My next and last stop was Washington D.C. Again I was playing tourist. When it was time to go I got on the National Limited. This time the equipment was Amfleet. The seats could have been more comfortable, but I was glad the heating worked. There was a long wait in Philadelphia. I didn’t know at the time they were changing locomotives. The National Limited had the lightest load of the trains I rode, but it was far from empty. What I remember most was getting off the train in Kansas City to go into the station. It seemed like a very long walk and it was very cold. The Southwest Limited was running late and it was a long boring wait. I remember the heating kept going out on the Southwest Limited on this trip. I think the steam generators kept running out of water and the heat returned after the cars were watered at stations. I remember sharing a blanket and a pair of seats with a young woman to stay warm. What I remember most after going down the Cajon Pass was just how green California was compared with the rest of the country in winter.

I had seen both the worst and the best train travel had to offer. Despite the many problems I could see that people were riding the trains, that train travel had a lot of potential but that money would be needed to get the service where it should be. I was confused and surprised weeks later when I heard of plans to get rid of many of the long distance trains Amtrak had. By this time we were in our second oil crisis of the decade after the hostage taking in Iran. I latter read an op-ed article by a member of a group called Citizens for Rail California which was opposing the elimination of the Amtrak trains. I was so excited that I called the paper for the phone number of the author of the op-ed and called him. He encouraged me to go to Los Angles Union Station in late May for the celebration of the 40th Anniversary of the station. CRC would have a booth and I could get more information. CRC was about 3 years old when I joined. Citizens for Rail California still exists, but now does business as RailPAC. I had no idea 30 years ago what would happen because of a bike ride to San Diego.