TRACKING RAIL NEWS for April

TRACKING RAIL NEWS . . .
. . . PHOTOS and Commentary by Russ Jackson

Let’s start with good news. On Time Performance of some Western long distance trains. For the two weeks, March 8 to 20:

California Zephyr #6 into Denver. Early 4 days, On Time or within 10 minutes of scheduled arrival 5 days, but late 92 minutes on St. Patrick’s Day.
California Zephyr #5 into Emeryville. EARLY 12 days! (one as much as 70 minutes), only one day late. It’s time to cut that schedule time again!
Sunset Limited #1 into Los Angeles. EARLY or On Time within 5 minutes 5 days, late only one day.
Sunset Limited #2 into Palm Springs. On Time by 16 minutes or less three days, but LATE 316 minutes (from Los Angeles) on 3/20 because of a bad ordered sleeping car that had to be replaced before departure from LAUS due to all toilets not working. RailPAC’s Bob Manning was a rider.
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Coast Starlight #11 into Los Angeles. On Time or early 12 days, late only one day. (Photo: Coast Starlight #11 at Vacaville, CA, 11/07.
Coast Starlight #14 into Portland. On Time or early 11 days, late twice, neither more than 90 minutes. This is consistency for the Starlight, as in February its OTP was 91.1%!

Railfan photographers take note. In March Amtak released its “Corporate Guidelines on Photography and Video Recording.” In Section 1, Policy, it states, “The taking of photographs and/or videos is permitted within public access areas on Amtrak property and as otherwise stated in Section III.” In the section of “definitions” “Restricted Areas” includes Platforms (ticketed passengers are exempt), Crew and Employee Work Areas, etc. Amtrak Police and Security personnel “may approach photographers and videographers upon a complaint from a member of the public or Amtrak personnel that the activity is suspicious”…etc. It ends with, “but the taking of photographs and/or video may not in and of itself rise to the level of reasonable suspicion or probable cause.” On March 12, TRAINS magazine Walter Zullig of the NRHS is quoted as saying, “I think it’s really a poor way to treat your best friends.” Zullig said his group will push to get Amtrak to change the policy. So, before taking photos on Amtrak property from now on, weigh the risk or get permission in advance (from the Station Manager).

Around the West. seattle-king-st-stationVery busy King Street Station, Seattle, where the Starlight, Empire Builder, Cascades, and Sounders all arrive and depart. In a disappointing move, the Washington DOT eliminated the passenger rail section of its rail program, lumping passenger and freight into one group. That meant Ken Uznanski, the operator of passenger trains (which included the Cascades) at WSDOT, lost his job along with several other key positions. The state legislators were not informed of this and now what will happen up there is anyone’s guess. A California rail official said, “(he) was one who toiled in the vineyards for many years to promote matching funds for intercity passenger rail funding. Now that it’s time for all of us to enjoy the vintage, his glass is filled with what must be a most sour vinegar.” In 2008 the Cascades carried 774,421 people, up 14.4% over 2007, the most in its 10 year history. In Oregon the rail division has only 3 employees, and is for freight and passenger, but cannot compare to the Washington program in complexity.
salem-oregon-bus-photo Portland-Eugene bus loads at Salem, Oregon station 10/02 The Portland-Eugene buses have more than paid for themselves. Apparently the Cascade funding is ok until June 1, but the drama up there continues. In Montana yearly ridership is up at most of Amtrak’s 12 stops, climbing 34,000 in the past 5 years as people along the northern route use it for medical appointments in Seattle and Minneapolis, and students at Montana State University-Northern in Havre travel to/from home. Arizona’s use of the new Metro light rail is up, so much so that merchants along its route who objected to its construction are now lobbying the transit agency to make sure that their shops would sit near a future expanded route. Close to 35,300 riders rode each weekday in February on the 20-mile line that opened in late December from West Phoenix to Mesa. Valley Metro had projected 26,000 daily riders in the first year!

Around California. What will be the effect of all the new money coming from the Stimulus package, the newly passed 2008-2009 regular funding, etc.? That will be clearer as we move up to the date of the RailPAC/NARP Conference in May. With no “Operating” money increases permitted from those funds, such needed items as additional staffing at very busy stations like on the Capitol Corridor are not likely. An Amtrak agent who tried to get additional staffing told this writer that back East they must think we just sit and sell tickets like they do there, where at western stations there is the need for employees to multi-task (tickets, reservations, meet and assist, deal with unaccompanied children, handle express and baggage, parking permits, cleaning, ordering supplies, and assisting with the buses).

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Current version of 798/799 Coast Daylight trainset at San Luis Obispo station 9/08.
The Coast Rail Coordinating Council is still waiting anxiously to start the Coast Daylight train between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Conflicts over funding, of course, and scheduling are on-going. The CRCC has been told by Caltrain they don’t want a SF departure earlier than 9 am, and Metrolink has said they don’t want an arrival at LAUS before 7 pm. Plans now center on the train running on the current schedule of 798/799 at San Luis Obispo, keeping the current train “window.” The train now has a scheduled implementation of April, 2011 if funds can be allocated and all other problems solved.

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