Monthly Archives

March 2009

Commentary

CA Corridor stats for February 2009

Provided by Eugene K. Skoropowski,
Managing Director, Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority

The economic slowdown, plus one less day in February 2009 than in February 2008 (a leap year), appears to have impacted the most ‘business oriented’ corridors, the Capitol Corridor and the Pacific Surfliners.

The more discretionary market on the San Joaquins, on the other hand, appears to be doing well in the down business market. The Pacific Surfliners are still showing the largest percentage losses. A final determination on the Capitol Corridor trends will likely have to wait until we get the April results, as in addition to the leap-year differential in the number of days in February, train service was reduced, and a bus-bridge was implemented between Suisun-Fairfield and Sacramento, 7 days a week for 8 hours a day. This discouraged some ridership. There were also some unanticipated delays during the major tie renewal-track upgrade project that started February 16 and was completed on schedule on March 15. So the last two weeks of February and the first two weeks of March will also ‘skew the numbers’ for those two months. In the fiscal year-to-date (5 months from October 08 thru February 09) the Capitol Corridor is still the only California service on-or-ahead-of-budget, but if trends during February continue, this too could change. The coming months will determine if what we are seeing is an overall slowdown, or if the Spring and Summer number will pick up, as they usually do.

Capitol Corridor ridership was down -6.7% compared to February 2008, to 115,721 for the month of February, but revenue was down only -2.0%. With the differential in the number of days in February (one less day this year) plus the trackwork schedule, bus-bridge service and reduced service frequency, the actual net is a smaller decline, but still clearly shows a slowdown from past growth rates. The San Joaquins saw ridership grow only +0.7%%, but this is actually higher when the differential in the number of days in February is considered. San Joaquin revenue grew a healthy +6.2% above February 2008, even with fewer days in February 2009. The Pacific Surfliner service seems to be the route ‘taking it on the chin’, with a decline of -16.8% in riders and -11.1% in revenue compared to February 2008. Again, both numbers need to be viewed with the understanding in the difference in the number of days in February 2008 vs. February 2009.

Capitol Corridor on-time performance for February was 85.3%, but up to February 15 (the day before the track work started) it was 97%. The San Joaquins were at 89.6% on-time (up by 4 percentage points) and the Pacific Surfliners were 81.5% on-time (down about 4 percentage points).

Capitol Corridor (February 2009):

115,721 passengers -6.7% vs. February 2008
This is the first negative ridership number in 30 months on the Capitol Corridor, but the route is still the third busiest route in the country, by a wide margin.
Passengers for the last 12 months: 1,723,422, but still pushing towards that 1.8 million mark.

$1,605,831 February 2009 ticket revenue -2.0% vs. February 2008
The farebox recovery (revenue-to-cost ratio) for January is 39.3%, reflecting the increased Amtrak cost base due to labor contracts and fuel adjustments (FY to date: 45%, still a bit lower than the 50% target). We are hoping that our upcoming Kids-Ride-Free-on-Weekends/Holidays will help improve our farebox recovery rate. This promotion will continue through the summer.

On-time performance for February ‘delivered to the customer’ was: 85.3%
.. Union Pacific performance also slipped a bit to about 92%. Amtrak has been improving its mechanical performance with fewer road delays.. (FFY to date: 91.7%) Even with the trackwork delays, this is our best 5 month year-to-date on-time performance.

These first 5 month stats, even with the trackwork delays, keep the Capitol Corridor on-time performance (91.7%) 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 (85.1%).

__________________________________________________

Pacific Surfliners (February 2009):

169,971 passengers -16.8% vs. February, 2008, but still the second busiest route in the nation, by a wide margin

$2,929,278 February 2009 revenue: -11.1% vs. February 2008

On-time performance for February 2009: 81.5% (FFY to date: 81.7%)

__________________________________________________

San Joaquins (February 2009):

62,960 passengers +0.7% vs. February 2008

$1,877,176 February 2009 revenue: +6.2% vs. February 2008

On-time performance for February: 89.6% (FFY to date: 87.7%)

__________________________________________________________

Total California 3 Intercity Corridors Ridership for February 2009: 348,652
Total Northeast Corridor ‘Spine’ ridership for February 2009: 701,387
For February 2009, the 3 California Corridors are 50% of Northeast Corridor ‘Spine’
Boston-Washington ridership

Total Northeast Corridor ridership for February 2009 with branches to Springfield, MA; Albany, NY and Harrisburg, PA: 880,588
For February 2009, the 3 California Corridors are 40% of the total Northeast Corridor ridership. Overall NEC Spine ridership declined by -14.9%, but the Keystone service (Philadelphia-Harrisburg) grew by +3.0%.

YTD 3 California corridors ridership is 2,043,550
YTD NEC Spine ridership is 4,060,131
YTD NEC Spine + branches ridership is 5,537,812

Reports

Downtown Natomas Airport Environmental Impact Meeting Report

Presentation/Open House Report by Marcia Johnston, RailPAC Director
Sacramento Amtrak Station Wednesday, March 11, 2009 factsheet_031109_lowres_page_2
Introduction: Mike Wiley, General Manager, Sacramento Regional Transit
Presenter: Jim Heck, Consultant, HDR Engineering
The Environmental Impact Report [EIR] is a report that documents the potential impacts of a proposed project.

Under Federal and State laws, certain proposed projects require that formal environmental studies be conducted and documented. The MOS-1 Draft EIR was prepared by HDR Engineering pursuant to the State’s California Environmental Quality Act [CEQA]. This open house was to discuss the project and Draft EIR re: the Downtown Natomas Airport light rail project [“DNA” Project], Phase I to Richards Boulevard.

Mike Wiley gave the introduction thanking the large crowd for attending. Mike stated that the DNA light rail line has been a vision since the 1980’s. In 2001, an analysis [“Alternative Analysis Study”] was completed that adopted the light rail transit as the preferred alternative [“LPA”]. I believe this study included light rail vs. express buses that included the preferred alignment down Truxel to the airport.

Light rail was adopted as the preferred alternative. This alignment travels through downtown through Natomas along Truxel Road and onto Sacramento International Airport. factsheet_031109_lowres_page_21 SacRT completed an EIR for the entire corridor, which was certified on April 28, 2008. SacRT then determined that a portion of the project between downtown and Richards Boulevard on 7th Street could function as the first phase of the DNA, as well as a stand-alone project that serves not only the River District and downtown. SacRT, during the process of updating their 30-year Master Plan found that the polls overwhelmingly voted for the DNA line extension over other projects under consideration.

Mike also mentioned that by bypassing Federal funds for the project, delivery can be expedited. Removing the long drawn-out Federal process for the project would fast-track the one-mile segment. Measure A would fund the design and construction of the first phrase. Consultant, the Hoyt Company is pursuing the design/build process with the intent that the contract will be awarded by either June or as late as August 2009 with the project operable by October 2010.

Schedule/Net Steps:

The current 30% design and environmental studies are anticipated to conclude in April 2009 with certification of the EIR. The SacRT board is scheduled to certify the EIR at the April 13, 2009 Board Meeting. Some of the items the board will consider are: (a) removal of existing trees and sidewalks along Richards Boulevard (b) archeological concerns [Indian burial sites], (c) removal of existing parking, and (d) mitigating the construction noise and vibration during construction.

The next phase is the design/build phase, during which SacRT will complete the design while simultaneously constructing the one-mile extension to ensure that the start of construction will take place in late summer 2009.
The extension is expected to take approximately 12 months to construct and will be open to riders in late 2010.

SacRT and Sacramento County have recently reached an agreement to begin preliminary engineering for the Sacramento International Airport of the DNA line. This segment will include 2.2 miles of track and a new light rail station to be located at the future Terminal B complex.

It is anticipated that by 2020, Sacramento International Airport will serve 16 million passengers annually – representing a 60% increase over current levels.

Reports

Monterey County TAMC meeting report

TAMC Rail Policy Committee 2-2-2009
Reported by Chris Flescher RailPAC Associate Director, Salinas
For the Monterey Branch Line (MBL) project, the alternatives analysis is happening. All alternatives will connect with the future Caltrain extension in Castroville.

Two alternatives appear to be the most viable, and the service could start operation in 2014/2015. The alternatives being studied are:

  • Enhanced bus: this needs to be studied, but is unlikely to happen.
  • Bus Rapid Transit (Brt) option 1: Monterey to north Marina on MBL.
  • Brt option 2: Monterey to Castroville on MBL.
  • Light Rail (Lrt) option 1: Monterey to north Marina on MBL (plus a shuttle bus from Marina to Castroville).
  • Lrt option 2: Monterey to Castroville.
  • Some Brt benefits include the ability to drive off the guideway, and having a one-seat ride from Monterey to both Salinas and Castroville.

    Some Lrt benefits include the greater appearance of being permanent than the busway, the likelihood of drawing more “choice” riders (those who can drive), and the possibility of someday having an intercity train all the way to San Jose or San Francisco.

    Some cities are interested in having Transit Oriented Development (TOD) near the stations. TAMC and MST each own land at 8th Street and would like to have TOD on that land in the future.

    At this time, the ridership on MST route 20 along the MBL corridor is 2,200 per day. There are now predictions for ridership in 2015 using each alternative.

  • No build: 2,500
  • Enhanced bus: 4,000
  • Brt 1: 4,700
  • Brt 2: 4,775
  • Lrt 1: 4,675
  • Lrt 2: 4,750
  • Some capital costs may be funded by FORA (Fort Ord Reuse Authority) fees and regional transportation impact fees.

    TAMC expects to select the preferred alternative in April 2009. Next month, there will be a full report available of the complete results of the Alternatives Analysis Study.

    Also described were some other transit lines that TAMC members recently visited. The Orange Line in Los Angeles carries about 25,000 people a day. It has an adjacent bike path for part of the way. The length is 14 miles and $15 million was spent on landscaping. The doors on the vehicles swing out, so there is a small gap between the bus floor and the raised curb. The Sprinter in San Diego County is mostly single track and it carries 8,000 – 9,000 people per day. It is mostly single track, and it serves two colleges. However, there are very few destinations within walking distance of the stations.

    The Executive Summary of the (TAMC) alternatives analysis will go out to the cities that the line will serve.

    Brt 1 and Brt 2 have very similar expected riderships, and so do Lrt 1 and Lrt 2. These figures all assume that the Caltrain service will not be running yet, even though that is expected to start a few years before the Branch Line service is running.

    The ridership estimates do not take into account the idea that light rail tends to be more attractive to riders than any bus service.

    A lot of “transit dependents” currently travel between Salinas, Marina and Monterey. Because of that, enhancing part of the service (between Marina and Monterey) might not produce a large increase in ridership.

    The cost per rider on certain segments of the San Jose light rail is higher than the light rail TAMC is proposing here. TAMC believes that the ridership estimates may be quite a bit lower than what will actually occur, because currently no fixed guideway line exists here.

    Tom Rowley (who was the head of a traffic and transit advisory committee in Monterey) spoke.

    In 1985, his group came to the conclusion that the endpoint of any transit line
    needs to be within sight distance of Fisherman’s Wharf, to help out tourists. Trying to put rail next to the Window on the Bay is a very bad idea, and so is requiring a transfer. Tourists to Monterey should be a large part of the ridership.
    Light rail may be very expensive, so it is a bad idea.

    At a recent Transportation Research Board conference, climate change/environment seemed to be a big issue, and it is likely to get bigger in the future. That could lead to more money for passenger rail projects.

    In December 2008, the 4 step ridership model (for the Caltrain extension to Salinas) was finished. The first estimate was based on Altamount Commuter Express (ACE) ridership, but the FTA wanted it based on Caltrain ridership.

    One important feature of Caltrain ridership is that it dropped significantly for the segment of San Jose to Gilroy, between 2001 and the present. Three factors could explain the decline. In June 2003, the 101 freeway was widened south of San Jose. In August 2005, there was a Caltrain service reduction between San Jose and Gilroy. In January 2008, the Gilroy to San Jose express bus started running.

    The results of the Caltrain extension ridership model are as follows: opening year – 2,016 riders, and 2035 – 5,400 riders (per day). For comparison, the express bus to Gilroy carries 1,030 riders per day.

    This year, TAMC will be completing the New Starts Application for the Caltrain Extension. TAMC will also develop thematic maps, an environmental assessment, and circulation studies (I think this refers to the areas around each station).

    It is likely that the design and engineering phase will start this year.

    The state High Speed Rail bond allows $950 million for passenger rail that would connect with the future rail line. There is a desire to use some of the money to start the Coast Daylight train, and that would provide improvements to the rail line between Gilroy and Salinas.

    Commentary

    INCREASED CALIFORNIA RAIL FUNDING FOR 2009

    brontepic1 An interview with Caltrans’ BILL BRONTE
    Reported by Bill Kerby, RailPAC Treasurer
    with Russ Jackson, RailPAC.org editor
    There is good news to celebrate and some not so good news as to the future of funding for the Caltrans Rail program for the year 2009 as of the publication date of this newsletter.

    In late February writer Kerby spoke at length with Caltrans Rail Program Chief, Bill Bronte, who is well known to RailPAC members from his participation in our meetings. Mr. Bronte, Caltrans Director Will Kempton, and Gene Skoropowski, Managing Director of the Capitol Corridor, have been saluted by RailPAC many times for their outstanding leadership in the growth of the three state-funded rail corridors, Capitol, San Joaquin, and Surfliner. The growth in ridership on these routes over the past few years is testimony to their successful operating practices as much as the economy bringing riders to the trains.

    Mr. Bronte reports that (and this is the good news) state funding for Amtrak operations of the state-funded trains remains in the package of budget legislation signed into law by Governor Schwarzenegger on February 20. The amount appropriated for intercity rail contracts is $90,347,027. Two years ago that account had been frozen for five years at about $73 million; last year it was increased to $86 million because of Amtrak’s increased costs of fuel and labor contracts, so the $90 million this year represents the faith that the state has in the rail program in a time of severe budget cuts to other programs.

    On the other hand, capital expenditures have been curtailed state-wide for the improvements to the rail infrastructure, just as been the case for highways, schools, and other programs. Mr. Bronte said, “Caltrans has $350 million in projects ready to start within 90 days; the total climbs to nearly $2 billion over the next two years ahead. That’s all rail!” Included in the total are $70 million for Fullerton’s triple tracking, $34 million at Los Angeles Union Station (work in progress that has stopped), $10 million for the Emeryville station and track improvements, $16 million for replacement of the Santa Margarita bridge near Oceanside, and $50 million for track improvements between Pittsburg and Antioch on the BNSF San Joaquin train route.

    During the proceedings of the American RR Superintendents, who met in February in Sacramento, Mr. Bronte presented challenges to the group and later met with Union Pacific Vice-President Dennis Duffy on some of the issues that the Capitol Corridor, and the Union Pacific, are going to face in these difficult economic times. Layoffs of UP track crews in California (due to reduced traffic volume) were a possibility. The Stimulus package appears to have come to the rescue to keep infrastructure work going. Since state departments of transportation must lead in conventional rail projects, one of the three categories of the stimulus package, long term communication with the Class I railroads and DoT’s should minimize conflict between projects and their proponents. “Much remains unknown about how the funds for intercity rail and high speed rail projects will flow,” according to Mr. Bronte, “It is known there is $8 billion available for both intercity and high speed rail. By mid-April the Secretary of US DoT will determine how the $8 billion will be divided between High Speed and Intercity Rail. By mid-June, the Secretary is to release interim guidelines for the actual applications. The process will be, by no means, swift!” For California, both railroads (UP and BNSF) are working with the State and the Capitol Corridor to prepare their applications. Bronte is pleased with current cooperation by BNSF and UP in terms of on time performance and providing information and analysis to public agencies to garner federal funds.

    As we know, in the Stimulus bill passed by the U.S. Congress Amtrak receives $1.3 billion, with $850 million for capital (nothing for operations), with a maximum of 60% going to the Northeast Corridor, and $450 million for security. An issue for the states is, taken from a report provided to RailPAC, “Amtrak staff has stated that States should not anticipate that funds will be available for improvements on state corridors. All funds not on the NEC will be used for equipment rehab and improvements to the long distance services.

    The stimulus package is not the only legislation pending that involves Amtrak and the state rail program. Mr. Bronte is looking ahead to the eventual passage of the 2009 Federal Appropriations bill and the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act (HR 2095) passed last year, both not yet funded by the Congress. HR 2095 contains an 80/20 competitive matching grant program totaling $1.9 billion over 5 years. But, Bronte says, “What is important to note is the fact that the Amtrak reauthorization also included a ‘look back’ that allows states to use prior expenditures as match those capital grants.” He told RailPAC that “We expect the 2009 Appropriations bill will be passed. The ‘continuing resolution’ (which funds the entire government) expires on March 6th. We expect Amtrak will be funded and the 50/50 capital matching program (contained in it) to be appropriated at approximately $90 million.”

    Bill Bronte is excited about the size of the stimulus package and daunted by its complexity. He will start the process for the Federal Fiscal Year 2010 immediately after all the current funding is resolved. “None of us are willing to wager if the Congress will be willing or able to appropriate to the levels authorized.”

    Tracking Rail News

    TRACKING RAIL NEWS . . .and PHOTOS

    . . . and Commentary by Russ Jackson . . . March, 2009. flagstaff-bswchief4onfeb820091 February will go down as an important month for rail funding in the U.S. and California. As you saw in the Kerby-Jackson report, the California Rail Program received an increase, not a decrease, in operating funding for 2009!

    That does reflect the respect the three corridors’ administration has from state officials. What with the Federal Stimulus package, the 2009 appropriation for Amtrak that is as yet funded along with all the other Federal agencies, and the recently passed Amtrak reauthorization bill which is also not yet funded by the Congress, big dollars can be coming available to Amtrak with some shared on a matching basis with the States. For once Amtrak has to figure out where to spend its largess, and that’s the rub as far as this writer is concerned.

    In a PS to his “co-workers” in the February 23 “Amtrak This Week,” Amtrak President Joe Boardman said, “By the way, I know everyone wants to know the details of our proposed “stimulus” capital programs, I’ll share the list with you as soon as we’ve finalized it with the FRA — I wouldn’t want to mislead you.” So, right now it’s unsure where the final expenditures will be spent, but earlier in the same report Mr. Boardman said, and it’s a repeat of other statements he’s made, “Among other things we’ll return to service 100 cars that are currently sidelined, completely replace the Niantic River Bridge in Connecticut, install more Positive Train Control systems and make major ADA modifications to our stations. And, we have an administration that seems to be building a legacy defined in part by the development of high-speed rail.” He goes on to say, “I met with vendors about how quickly they can deliver the Viewliners we need for our long-distance fleet and am seeking the funding to do that. I want to electrify the railroad to Richmond,” etc. There is your definition of “long-distance fleet.” Boardman told the Wall Street Journal on February 21, “We can improve Acela in many ways and reduce travel time from New York to Washington to two hours and 30 minutes (from 2:50), including five stops, but to get to 2 hours, then you’re talking billions of dollars.” One item in the stimulus package that should interest those who take public transit to work: The bill allows employees to set aside up to $230 a month in pretax dollars to cover the cost of a bus, train or van pool, up from $120!”

    With 40 Superliner cars sitting in the weeds at Beech Grove, are they included in the 100? As of right now there are also 25 of the original P40 locomotives from 1993 in dead storage.
    amtkcoaststarlightsb5-4-07 Caltrans Rail Program Chief, Bill Bronte, told RailPAC Treasurer Bill Kerby he trusts Boardman’s judgment and backs up Amtrak’s request for 60 new electric locomotives. Does Amtrak need new diesels, too, or just better maintenance of what they have? Kerby said, “Curiously the rebuilding of Acela trumps the maintenance of diesels and cars hauling passengers over vast western areas without much back-up in case of equipment failure. Building those single level Viewliner sleepers may just focus discussion on a very small part of the picture. Strategic thinking should pull us toward saving the decaying and damaged, but repairable, rolling stock standing on various tracks around the country.” Bronte confirmed that national bi-level specs for future new cars are based on the California car design. Amtrak should not only “return to service” those Superliner cars, but start new orders for more Superliners, diesel AND electric motive power NOW. Kerby added, “Amtrak seems to follow the sequential path of restoring the NEC assets before attending to the rest of the system.” The West is entitled to at least some parity!

    Speaking of those rail cars, did you know that Amtrak has 1,551 fewer cars than it did in 2002? That’s mostly due to older equipment being sold for scrap by previous Amtrak stewards, and Amtrak allowing too many cars to go into the wreck line for minor maintenance issues which Amtrak chooses not to pay for to restore the cars to service. An interesting thread developed on a rail chat list this month instigated by RailPAC President Paul Dyson and this writer about the fleet of Material Handling Cars (assets) sitting in the weeds on the Santa Maria Valley RR.
    amtrak-mhcs-on-smvrr-8-08-004
    Suggested chat uses for them ranged from cutting windows and putting in folding chairs, to full scale conversion to baggage cars instead of buying 75 new ones at $2 million each. While there are technical problems with train-lining, etc., isn’t it better to use those assets rather than pay storage fees? If there are 100 cars there, which is pretty accurate, at $2 per car per day Amtrak is paying the SMVRR $73,000 per year to let them sit and rot, and they’ve been there for five years or more . Mr. Dyson commented, “there must be a less expensive solution to the need for baggage cars, even converting aging Horizon cars for that purpose.” To which RailPAC Director Anthony Lee said, “Horizon cars are best used either for charter runs, cabbage cars, extra sections, or convert them to slumber-coaches and sell them as business class for short overnight runs, or for food service or as first class lounges.” The discussion continues.

    On time performance. It took a while to get to this, and there’s good news. For the month of February all Amtrak long distance trains were OT more than 65%! The California Zephyr on its new schedule, a half hour shorter for eastbound #6, has been arriving into Denver close to on time daily, while train 5 has been arriving into Emeryville in single digit early times, showing more time can come out of the run. The Sunset Limited has been arriving close to on time at LAUS, even 56 minutes early on February 15. The Coast Starlight has been early most of the time at both Los Angeles and Seattle!
    flagstaff-aswchief4onfeb820091
    The Southwest Chief at Flagstaff has been single digit late or on time for some time, even in the snowy weather, showing, as RailPAC photographer Mike Palmer said after his trip to Flagstaff (and bus to Phoenix), rail is still an all-weather mode of transportation.

    Looking ahead for the Sunset Limited. RailPAC Secretary Dick Spotswood and Director Bob Manning arrived back from their trip to Washington DC on March 1, where they met with several Congressmen, Amtrak and NARP staff, AND with Amtrak President Boardman. More on that trip in the next issue of the Review and on railpac.org. A daily Sunset was high on their agenda in DC, as well as the pursuit of new and/or rebuilt cars. RailPAC Associate Director, Bill Lindley, also with ARPA in Arizona, and ARPA President Rob Bohannan report, “ARPA continues to support a daily Sunset and restoration of metropolitan Phoenix service.”
    sunset-limited-at-maricopa Sunset Limited #2 arriving at the Maricopa (Phoenix) stop on a day it was running there in daylight. There still is no dedicated bus connection here. Richard Strandberg photo

    They went on to suggest for the future a section of the Sunset or the Texas Eagle, from Tucson as far as Surprise might be an option pending restoration of the Phoenix West Line.” It would also allow intra-state commuting. ARPA’s complete report is posted on railpac.org. That brought a whole list of other Sunset Limited improvement suggestions from Anthony Lee: 1) Daily to Florida, the train lost 41% of its revenue when service east of NOL was suspended in 2005; 2) Need to re-connect with San Joaquins and the Coast Starlight at LA, by moving departure time for train 2 to 3:30 or even 8:00 as the historic SP did. Lee’s complete list is posted on railpac.org as “The Sunset Limited Needs Improvements.” Meanwhile, Amtrak has announced a 30 minute shortened schedule for train 1 between El Paso and LAUS, which will depart Tucson at 11:59 pm.

    Rail Photos

    UPDATED INFO: The Sunset Limited Derailed at the Palm Springs Station NOW repairs are being made!

    A PHOTO report
    By Robert Manning, RailPAC Director
    3/8 UPDATE: What a Difference a week can Make!
    newtrackforpsstation008 newtrackforpsstation010
    Amtrak cancelled service on the Sunset Limited for the Palm Springs Train Station Sunday March 8, 2009 due to extensive track work. (NOTE: “No alternative transportation provided”)

    Union Pacific is replacing the spur line that comes off of the main line fronting the station.
    newtrackforpsstation003

    The photos show that the “new” spur line will have concrete ties in a new bed of ballast.
    newtrackforpsstation0041

    newtrackforpsstation0061

    This is a dramatic change from last week when the Sunset derailed coming into the Palm Springs Station on a pretty sad looking spur line.

    (Original story:)
    Monday morning March 2, 2009 I heard on the radio news that an Amtrak train derailed at the Palm Springs station with no injuries, around 5: PM last Sunday evening.

    The news further stated that the passengers were bused to other locations. I drove to the Palm Springs Station and was surprised to find four Superliner cars up right with all of the doors open.
    picture012

    The cars were located approximately two hundred feet west of the station with no Amtrak employee on the scene. However there were apparently several Union Pacific employees in the area as the UP is completing extensive track work. It was very strange to see four superliner cars looking as though “abandoned” with their doors wide open.
    picture009

    I did call one of my contacts with Amtrak and was advised that some one had spent the night with the cars and another employee would be there shortly. By 9AM an Amtrak employee arrived and closed all of the car doors.

    I know that the train stayed upright and the only visible damage that I observed were deep scratches on some of the car wheels and damage to the wooden ties.
    picture014

    The Superliners were on the spur which comes off of the double tracked main line. The spur did not appear to be in the best of shape as the wooden ties appeared to be very old and weathered.
    picture015

    The main line looks great and all of the wooden ties are being replaced by concrete ties.
    I don’t know what caused the derailment, but that will be determined shortly.

    picture010
    The four cars are Sleeper # 32027, coach # 34088, #34022 and #34064.
    Robert Manning

    Editorials

    New President, Different Congress, Same Old Politics with the Media still long on spin and short on facts

    Editorial by Noel T. Braymer

    After the customary political fun and games, President Obama got an Economic Stimulus Bill which will pump 787 Billion dollars into the sinking economy.

    Despite the pre-inaugural emphasis on infrastructure construction, the final total for infrastructure was around 100 billion dollars. This pales against the estimated 2.2 Trillion dollar back log of deferred maintenance according to the American Society of Civil Engineers. There is about 48 Billion of this for transportation. Of this Mass Transit is budgeted to get 8.4 billion, Amtrak gets 1.3 billion and at the last minute High Speed Rail construction got 8 billion. Rail did very well in this bill.

    Now comes the hard part. The Mass Transit money can only be used for capital projects. Most transit agencies are now short on funds for operations and being forced to raise fares and reduce service. In California transit funds are being raided to try to balance the state budget. On the Amtrak bill, 450 million dollars are for capital security grants. That leaves 850 million dollars for other capital projects. The bill requires that the NEC is limited to 60% of the funding. In theory that leaves 340 million dollars to be used outside the NEC for capital projects. This can include passenger cars and locomotives. Compare the Amtrak budget to that of Belgium which recently announced an order of 7 billion dollars for new locomotives and passenger cars for delivery by 2011. This is enough for an order of over 2,000 Superliner cars for a country about the size and population of Los Angeles and Riverside Countries combined.

    The surprise was the funding for High Speed Rail. The House version of the bill had zero for High Speed Rail, the Senate version had 2 billion. Usually when a bill is in conference committee there is a compromise of the two versions. The final bill had 8 billion! A rumor soon spread that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada put the extra money in to fund the Anaheim-Las Vegas Maglev project. Senator Reid makes no secret of his support of Maglev. The Stimulus Law however gives the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) the job of distributing this money not Congress. It has since come out that the White House had asked for 10 billion for High Speed Rail and 8 billion was agreed amount in this bill.

    There are 11 corridors competing for High Speed Rail funding.
    high-speed-rail-map
    The California High Speed Rail Authority was hoping for 2 billion dollars from the stimulus bill. They plan to use this to electrify Caltrain, grade-separate the railroad between Anaheim and Los Angeles and build storage and maintenance yards in the Bay Area, San Joaquin Valley and Los Angeles. Caltrain Electrification and grade separation of the tracks between Los Angeles and Anaheim have been in the works for years and are “shovel ready”. The California HSR project is considered the closest to start up of the 11 competing High Speed Rail projects and in the best position to qualify for Federal funding. However California now has the worse bond rating of all the states and the recently approved budget is hardly “balanced”. It may be some time before the state can issue any of the voter approved bonds for High Speed Rail.

    More passenger equipment is a priority for expanded rail service. Amtrak now only has 1645 rail cars and only 1345 of those available for service. This is down from 2896 just in 2002. Even an order of 200 cars would seem like a huge order by today’s standard which would cost at least 600 million. It would take at least 10 years building 200 cars a year to build 2,000 cars which would still be a fairly basic level of service in this country. But we have to start somewhere. There are no American manufacturers of passenger rail cars. Siemens of Germany has a factory for Light Rail vehicles in Sacramento. Rotem a subsidiary of Hyundai of South Korea has a factory in Philadelphia and is building the 107 new cars for Metrolink. Bombardier of Canada is the only North American Passenger Car Builder. They often use American suppliers for American projects. We are going to need experienced car builders to make the number of rail cars we will need for future growth.

    This current stimulus bill is only the first step. The bigger problem for the economy will be the banking system which is basically insolvent. One spending bill which will be spread out over the next 2 years will not solve the current problems. In 1936 after three years of President Franklin Roosevelt’s Administration the US economy’s Gross Domestic Product was back to the level it was in 1929. Spending was cut in the belief that the economic problems were solved in 1937. The result was a recession, a drop in the Gross Domestic Product and increase in unemployment. After 1937 domestic spending has not cut again until America’s entry into World War II.