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June 2009

Tracking Rail News

Tracking Rail News for June

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

June, 2009. On Time and other performances. Yes, it’s the economy that can be charged with the recent on time performance improvements of Amtrak’s western long distance trains. Freight traffic has dropped over the past months which coincides with the increase in Amtrak trains arriving on time or early.

Case in point: the trains running on the Union Pacific, which notoriously had poor OTP for Amtrak and many of its freight trains. The Coast Starlight #11 has consistently been arriving into Los Angeles in the 8 PM hour; and train #14 has been consistently on time or only minutes late into Portland. For the California Zephyr #5 has been arriving into Emeryville in the 4:00 hour, and #6 has been within minutes of OT into Denver. The Texas Eagle #21 and 22 have been arriving early into Dallas. For the BNSF, the Southwest Chief #3’s arrival into Los Angeles Union Station has been up to an hour earlier than the schedule, as has the arrival of #4 into Albuquerque. But it is the Sunset Limited running on UP that has been the most consistent in recent months. Train #1’s arrival into LAUS has been in the 8:00 hour despite an OT departure from Palm Springs, and #2’s arrival into El Paso was early every day for two weeks in May.

How bad is it for the freight railroads? For example, RailPAC VP South, James Smith, says the Union Pacific has two MILES of stored locomotives on single track in the Colton Yard area east of Los Angeles, between Cedar and Sierra. For passenger trains, in March Amtrak released a report showing it wasn’t seeing a ridership drop in its long distance trains, which were up 6.1% for the fiscal year. Yet, a decrease began to show after the first of the year, with February down 6.9% from the previous year. The Northeast Corridor was seeing a sharp decline of 15%, so Amtrak reduced fares there by as much as 25%. In March the decline became 10% system wide, yet on selected long distance routes ridership was up; for example, the Silver Star out of Tampa gained 3.8%, and the Coast Starlight in April was up 55.6%, taking into account the year before the Starlight had severe service disruptions due to the Oregon mudslide. Amtrak CEO Joseph Boardman, on his western inspection trip the end of April on the Empire Builder and Coast Starlight of course saw great OTP, but now it was more a regular performance than one designed for him. Across North Dakota and Montana his train was up to an hour late, yet managed to reach Seattle 15 minutes early. That’s why the OTP figures at end points can be misleading, as there is much padding that makes an on time arrival actually be up to an hour running late from the last intermediate stop. The day before on the Builder a similar situation existed, and RailPAC’s James Smith was on board that one, the delays caused by the extensive flooding in North Dakota.

Then Mr. Boardman arrived in Los Angeles, and on Saturday, May 2, spoke to the RailPAC-NARP joint meeting. Of great interest to the gathered rail advocates from both organizations were prospects for a new car order for western long distance trains, which he dodged from answering, and the possible daily Sunset Limited, rumors of which had been flying for weeks. Mr. Boardman passed that issue to his VP Brian Rosenwald, who spoke later in the day. Mr. Rosenwald gave the scenario of planning for a daily Sunset departing Los Angeles at 10:30 PM again, and arriving earlier into Los Angeles. While this change would break the possibility of Palm Springs riders using it for commute purposes, it returned the missing connection with the Coast Starlight and the San Joaquins, and made much better arrival times at Phoenix and Tucson despite retaining the Maricopa station instead of direct access into the Arizona state capital. On the eastern end the Sunset, under a new undetermined name although perhaps becoming the Golden State, would be an extension of the daily Texas Eagle in and out of San Antonio with a new stub train from SAS to New Orleans. Nothing about a return to Florida. While neither Mr. Boardman nor Mr. Rosenwald said it WOULD happen, at least plans are in the works with the end result being a daily Sunset Limited at long last. That can only help the bottom line for the politically besieged train as we have consistently said here for the past 20 years or more.

Some Train Day items. RailPAC was very proud to participate in the ceremony on May 9 at the California State Rail Museum when Art Lloyd, our VP North, was given the Caltrans Golden Star award honoring his 67 years in the business. See photos of that day and other Train Day events on www.railpac.org. While the Santa Barbara plans for Train Day were killed due to the horrible fires there, other events in the state and around the country were big successes. On May 4 the 70th anniversary of Los Angeles Union Station was celebrated, and RailPAC President Paul Dyson was at both of these events. We note that plans to move the historic Sacramento train station from its present location are being dropped, replaced with an under-track passenger passageway similar in length to the tunnel to the tracks at Los Angeles Union Station. And, the CC Riders group saw “smiling faces” when the Sacramento Bee newspapers returned to the morning Capitol Corridor trains on April 20th. Group leader Chuck Robuck said, “It’s amazing how such a small amenity can bring such happiness!”

Around the West with passenger rail. In Arizona, the appropriately named city of Surprise, on the proposed commuter line west of Phoenix, was looking ahead by agreeing to pay for a piece of land for a 500-space park-and-ride facility. What makes that interesting was their statement that it was a “good positioning exercise if a commuter railway does come in within the next 5 to 10 years!” The City of Tucson has purchased 7 modern “streetcars” from Oregon Iron Works, the first American company in 60 years to make one, which also has an order for the Portland streetcar line. Buy American, indeed! And, what about a high-speed solar electric-powered train which at build-out would go between Grand Canyon, Phoenix, Tucson, and Nogales? A private partnership has hope of designing and building the 220 mph train which would run nonstop and local trains ala the California High Speed project, would cost $27 billion, and could start operating in 2018. Everyone is on the bandwagon for high speed now. In New Mexico the Railrunner is off to a great start, with March ridership being 115,812, up 99,511 from December when it was free for Santa Fe County folks; on time is 98%. Many riders are commuters, but shop owners in Albuquerque are reporting increased business. Added service midday and on Sunday is now considered a must, and reports say all the track that runs through livestock grazing areas has now been fenced (7 animals total were killed when they wandered onto the tracks). In May a survey was taken and riders showed a 93% service approval rating, they feel safe on the trains and at all ten stations. Looking ahead, New Mexico Congressman Harry Teague is calling for the extension of the Railrunner south from Belen to Las Cruces and El Paso. A demonstration train was run on May 16 on this BNSF route. In Montana they not only hosted a NARP meeting to discuss it, but residents are rapidly showing support for a return of the North Coast Hiawatha. Senator Jon Tester, D-MT, who spoke at the meeting, showed support for rail advocates and other regional passenger rail groups for their “unparalleled passion.” Comparisons to the Empire Builder which travels across the northern part of the state were made, with the expectation that the Hiawatha would provide the same needed service to the other route. On the other hand, in Idaho the Boise newspaper reported that financial and logistical obstacles exist to the idea of commuter rail between Boise and Nampa, citing too many crossings, poor track quality, insufficient right-of-way, etc. Support in Idaho continues to grow, however, for a return of the Pioneer. In Colorado rail advocates and elected leaders want the Pioneer, if it is re-instated, to be routed through Boulder rather than the old route through Greeley. And, in a surprise statement on May 18 at the launching of the construction on the new Auto Train station in Florida, Amtrak said almost as an afterthought, “Amtrak plans to seek other places throughout the country where it can launch OTHER AUTO TRAIN SERVICES.” Support that? YES!

Issues

Sunset Limited Marketing Meeting

Reported by Robert Manning, RailPAC Director, with comments by Paul Dyson, RailPAC President.
Wednesday June 10, 2009
I have just arrived home after attending the Sunset Marketing and Revitalization Team meeting which was held June 6, 2009 in New Orleans, LA. I should remind everyone that this SMART (not to be confused with the Sonoma-Marin project) came into existence for the following reasons:

  • 1. To insure the survival of Amtrak’s oldest named train the SUNSET LIMITED.
  • 2. To move the Sunset Limited to a daily train.
  • 3. To restore Sunset Limited service from New Orleans back to Florida.
  • A detailed report of the meeting was reported by SMART member Richard Wright (his report is repeated at the end of this post), who wrote an excellent report on what the speakers said at the meeting but, I would like to add two comments.

      First: Numerous people asked what Mr. Richard Phelps (Amtrak Vice President of Transportation) actually said regarding the ordering of Superliner equipment. Mr. Phelps simply identified the need for ordering a large quantity of bi-level Superliner style equipment as that type of equipment is preferable for the west coast long distance type of service.
      My second comment is service restoration from New Orleans to Florida. The SMART group as a resolution went on record demanding daily service only from New Orleans, back to Florida. Several proposals were offered including thrice weekly service, extending the City of New Orleans to Orlando and maybe adding new service.

    The “attention getter” was the three day a week service. Three days a week service disenfranchises the passenger, is fiscally irresponsible and does not make logical sense. If we are attempting to make the Sunset Limited a daily train for all of the right reasons, why even consider three day a week service back to Florida.
    Robert Manning, RailPAC Director

    Further comment from Paul Dyson, RailPAC President:

    We all need to listen carefully and report what was said, not what we want to hear. (Good work, Bob). While Amtrak may (and should be) reviewing the need for additional Superliners there has been no decision made to place an order. RailPAC’s call for an immediate large order for Superliner style equipment for California and other corridor service as well as the overnight trains still stands and it is vital that we keep up the pressure until this happens.

    While there are as many opinions about how to reconfigure the Texas Eagle, Sunset Limited and City of New Orleans as there are RailPAC members, Bob and I agree that the priority is to establish daily service as quickly as possible based on the plan Brian Rosenwald and the Amtrak team put together. That’s not to say that we give them unqualified support. It’s simply that now is the moment to make something happen and we cannot delay the process with further debate. And back to the rolling stock issue, the options that we really want, daily through service on all routes including to Florida, are not available because of the lack of cars. We will watch to see how the service operates and make suggestions for fine tuning in the months ahead, but first we must get the operation started.

    RailPAC will be putting together a resolution which we and you, our members and supporters, will be taking to counties, cities, chambers of commerce and other interest groups supporting daily service. We need you to get involved in this issue, including individual letters to Mr. Boardman, to make it happen. Watch this website for more details.
    Paul Dyson 6/10/09

    Amtrak Sunset/Eagle report from New Orleans June 7, 2009
    Posted by patlynch in Amtrak, Regional USA Transportation. The following item appeared on an internet discussion group and is reproduced here, with permission. My thanks to Richard Wright.

    Good news is that the Sunset west of New Orelans is probably headed for a significant upgrade, as is the Eagle, which serves my hometown, Little Rock. The bad news is that the restoration of service east of New Orleans is very likely two or three years away.

    Mr Richard Phelps spoke first. He made it clear Mr. Boardman is a strong believer in an improved Amtrak with a strong emphasis on “connectivity. ” He made it clear they are aware there is a railroad “west of DC.”

    The have found from experience that when freight railroads run Amtrak trains on time their freight schedules improve, and this helps in selling Amtrak timeliness to the freight railroads.

    If freight railroads do not meet an 80% on time performance level for Amtrak trains the government can and will take action.

    For the latest reporting period the Sunset Limited had the best on-time performance of any train in the country.

    They are currently looking at the possibility of reinstating the Hiawatha and Pioneer as well as has been previously reported.

    They are looking at ordering new superliners as well as viewliners. (This apparently puts to rest the rumor of mass abandonment of large areas of the country due to no new superliners being ordered.)

    There are two projects being looked at for service between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. One being a private consortium that would provide equipment, but Amtrak would operate. They apparently are well funded. There are problems which must be worked out though. However, Amtrak is also looking a reinstatement of that same service via a “Desert-Wind- type” service. Initial planning only has service between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, but continuation on to Salt Lake City as did the Desert Wind is both possible and logical.

    Superliners are preferable to viewliners due to longer-lasting construction, and just generally works better in service.

    Viewliners will be looked at for shorter routes preferably for day runs.

    Any cars ordered will require 3-1/2 to 4 years from order to acquisition. If the order is large enough (100 minimum roughly) time could be cut to about 2-1/2 years. They expect to place a large order which should cut the time to the latter time frame.

    The damaged cars in Beech Grove will be rehabbed. The biggest questions about them is where they will go. They could go on current routes to expand service or be used for new service. Those decisions simply have not been made.

    Word from VP Biden coming from Pres Obama is that funding will continue for Amtrak at a priority level. They have promised a commitment to passenger rail.

    Mr. Phelps felt that this is a great time to approach the Union Pacific about increasing service on the Sunset/Eagle routes.

    Todd Stennis was to have spoken to us about the Sunset Limited east of NOLA. Unfortunately due to a family medical situation he was unable to attend. John read a report from Todd. The report basically said precisely what has already been reported from the meeting in Birmingham. We have three options.

    Todd Stennis has spoken with every mayor or city leader along the Sunset route about these options.

    1 – Resume the Sunset Limited from Los Angeles to Orlando. That is the cheapest method. However, Amtrak confirmed that this means a tri-weekly schedule with possibly a long wait for a daily train. There is no correlation between the daily service west of New Orleans and service east of New Orleans. In other words with use of option 1 we would have a situation where only three days a week would people be able to continue on to Orlando with that option. Daily service east of New Orleans would be a matter for another decision, and could take some time. No new equipment needed.

    2 – Running the City of New Orleans from Chicago via New Orleans to Orlando. This route picks up the most potential passengers, and has the best effect on revenue. Would require a total of two sets.

    3 – Running a brand-new train from New Orleans to Orlando. This is the most popular option of city leaders along the route (probably due to most likelihood of on-time performance) , and is the most expensive option. Service is not definite, but would not include first class immediately. Would also require a total of two sets.

    I spoke with Mr. Rosenwald during a break, and he says he does not know which option will be recommended by Todd and the other planners so we will have to wait until that is announced. Their report will be made within days though.

    SMART went on record officially as supporting a daily option so by extension that means option 1 is not a viable alternative for SMART members to support due to tri-weekly service.

    I also spoke with Mr. Rosenwald during break about the time frame of all of these options. He told me there is no difference in time. Any one of the three will require from 2-1/2 years to 3 years in all likelihood – even the return of the transcontinental tri-weekly Sunset Limited. He said it’s not equipment, but training for the crews. In spite of the fact that it was formerly a route it’s been abandoned for some time. I will leave it up to Amtrak people with the expertise to explain that any further.

    Brian Rosenwald spoke to us about the Sunset Limited west of New Orleans. First of all he is working on six routes right now, the Sunset, Empire Builder, Lincoln Service, Lake Shore, Adirondack and Crescent for improvements.

    They are looking at numerous aspects of each. For example on the Sunset things such menus, special dishes and china versus plastic is being studied. They’re looking at restrooms, and essentially anything that affects passenger comfort and convenience.

    One thing he made very clear is that nothing they do with the Sunset/Eagle west of New Orleans will in any way harm the plans for the service east of new Orleans. Whatever is finally decided for this service they will connect with it. The two items are simply being worked on by different groups, but they they will work together when decisions are made.

    One recurring theme is that daily service is a must. Tri-weekly service is simply unworkable for reasons we all know.

    They expect 115,000 more riders annually on daily service.

    Daily service is expected to move the Sunset from dead last in revenue versus cost to right in the middle of the pack.

    As we already know the combination of the Sunset Limited and Texas Eagle into one train between Los Angeles and Chicago is a near certainty. The train remains unnamed at this point. It will be daily and full service. They intend to make it a premier train. The reason is simply revenue. Far more passengers will be reached on that route versus the Sunset route.

    The San Antonio layovers will be eliminated both directions with no more than 90 minutes each way.

    The route between San Antonio will be serviced by a “stub” train consisting of coaches with one being divided into business class with attendant and amenities, and diner cafe. Future improvement will depend on ridership. There is great optimism the train will flourish. This train also remains unnamed.

    This new route consist is expected to result in many millions in revenue which will make it very lucrative for Amtrak.

    There will be a later departure for the Sunset to connect with the Coast Starlight. Exact schedules are not set definitely, but there is a general feeling that most of the cities will be served at more convenient times once the final schedule is “tweaked.”

    This should result in an improvement of about 25% in cost recovery.

    This new routing for both Los Angeles – Chicago and San Antonio -New Orleans will require seven sets. Essentially all the equipment being used today on these two routes will be pooled, and then new consists will be developed to make this routing work.

    This could literally happen within six months. No guarantee, but they’re looking at sooner rather than later.

    The Los Angeles consist will leave with a splittable train just as is done now with the Sunset/Eagle. The “stub” train will be split off at San Antonio while the main train will continue to Chicago. Both will be daily.

    Passengers will be able to go first-class from Los Angeles to Chicago. Those going Los Angeles to New Orleans will be able to go first-class from Los Angeles to San Antonio and business-class from San Antonio to New Orleans. It’s recognized that this is not optimal, but it’s felt most passengers will be accepting.

    They are considering pulling superliners from the City of New Orleans and replacing them with viewliners to free up superliners. This is only being looked at, but seems logical at this time.

    One caveat that was mentioned throughout all presentations is that all of this is contingent upon funding continuing to be available. Currently there seems to be excellent support for supporting and expanding Amtrak, however, Congress has to act, and everyone is aware of the budget crisis.

    The only real bad news is simply that we cannot expect a train running from New Orleans to Orlando in less than three years regardless of the recommendation made for the option. Mr. Rosenwald seemed pretty firm on that. That will mean around seven years without a train through North Florida. However, we can balance that with the news that getting that service is almost a certainty. We simply have to have patience. (No one is more unhappy with that than am I. I’ve waiting four years for a train in Pensacola, and it appears it will be three more now.)

    Mr. Rosenwald admitted that Amtrak did not handle the Sunset situation as well as they could have, but we all are aware of the various problems that Amtrak faces, and much of it is simply beyond their control, and we all know much of it has to do with funding.

    I very much enjoyed the Amtrak presentations, and personally really appreciated them taking their time to speak to us.

    Reports

    TAMC May Meeting Report

    TAMC Rail Policy Committee meeting May 4, 2009.
    Reported by Chris Flescher
    TAMC is trying to find a consultant to write the environmental documents relating to the Monterey Branch Line (MBL) service.

    TAMC released a request for proposals, but Parsons-Brinkerhoff was the only group that responded. Parsons has already performed some work on both the Caltrain to Salinas and MBL projects.

    The current plan is to select the preferred alternative for the MBL in September. Between now and the end of August, TAMC will formally study phasing alternatives, such as not constructing certain stations for a while, in order to save money.

    The expected start of service is now 2014 or 2015. There will be a “Town Hall” meeting in Monterey on May 14.

    For the Caltrain extension, TAMC has submitted what they called a “Make the Case” document. It includes a map showing all the connecting bus services, and it is a requirement to qualify for Federal New Starts money. TAMC also finished a Cultural Resources Technical Report.

    TAMC is trying to get a “Hardship Acquisition” finding with one property owner near the Salinas train station. The owner supports the project but wants to sell the property soon. Receiving such a finding would allow TAMC to buy the property now, even though the station area plans are not complete. The property is necessary for the future Intermodal Station.

    In the future, Salinas Renaissance Partners (SRP) will make presentations to the Salinas City Council and Monterey County Board of Supervisors about their proposed downtown Salinas redevelopment plan. SRP is the group that recently had several planning sessions in Salinas to refine their ideas for redevelopment of a section of downtown that includes the train station, the library, the City Hall, and the police station. TAMC supports the idea of building a parking garage on top of what is now a parking lot, next to the train station.

    The State Coastal Coalition wrote a letter to TAMC, saying they support Site 1 for the proposed Castroville Station, although TAMC greatly prefers Site 2 for several reasons. Around Site 1 is mostly industry, so creating pedestrian-friendly (residential and commercial) development next to it would be difficult. The problem with Site 2 is that developing it would cause some permanent loss of farmland. If the station goes on Site 2, TAMC may be required to replace the farmland loss in a 2 to 1 ratio. The City of Castroville is updating their general plan, and TAMC may end up applying for permission (from the Coastal Commission) to build the station separately from the Castroville application (to the Coastal Commission) to create the new city general plan.

    Chairman Dave Potter recently met with the Amtrak president, Joseph Boardman, who said that Amtrak is interested in partnering with local cities and organizations to promote train travel. Potter and the president discussed the efforts to start the Coast Daylight train. They were in a business car attached to the end of the regular Coast Starlight train, and Pete Rodgers was there too.

    Recently TAMC sent a letter to the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), asking the FTA to support the Caltrain extension. The letter was signed by all the Federal Representatives in districts that the current Caltrain line passes through, as well as both California Senators.

    TAMC will look at the schedules to see if a Capitol Corridor extension to Salinas would be possible.

    The Salinas Renaissance Partners has a long term plan to put a block of Market Street in a tunnel near the train station. This would encourage more people to walk between downtown and the train station, because they would not have to deal with crossing the wide and very busy street.

    Commentary

    CA Corridors May, 2009 statistics

    Reported by
    Eugene K. Skoropowski

    Managing Director
    Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority
    May ridership numbers on the Capitol Corridor, San Joaquins and Pacific Surfliners all were disappointing.

    We were awaiting the May numbers to see if there would be an upswing in riders and revenue, but the opposite seems to be emerging. This is likely due to the California economy and high unemployment rate. The Capitol Corridor still handled 136,716 passengers in May 2009, but down considerably (-13.1%) from the record May 2008 numbers (157,351) which was our second highest month ever. By comparison, the busy Northeast Corridor continues to get hammered the worst with May 2009 ridership down -11.9%, and year-to-date ridership down -11.6%.

    Even the long distance trains across the country showed a significant decline in ridership during May (-9.4%), although year-to-date long-distance passengers are up (+3.5%).

    May 2009 Capitol Corridor revenue was down -4.7% compared to May 2008, but year-to-date revenue is up +4.2%. The San Joaquins ridership declined -7.6%, with revenue down -17.5% compared to May 2008. The Pacific Surfliner service also resumed its decline with ridership down -9.6% in May 2009 vs. May 2008, and revenue declined -5.7% compared to May 2008. All three California Corridor routes are being impacted by the economy.

    Capitol Corridor on-time performance for May sustained an outstanding 93.4%, keeping this the best on-time route in the country, save for the once-a-day Pennsylvanian between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh (100%). The San Joaquins May 2009 reliability was a respectable 90.3% on-time, and the Pacific Surfliners improved significantly to 87.9% on-time in May. Given the superior on-time performance of all three routes, it would be difficultto point to ‘lack of reliable service’ as a factor in the ridership declines. As gas prices creep up, and summer travel approaches, the results during the next four months will determine where we end up for the fiscal year.

    Overall, especially with the economy, the California Corridor services are beginning to stagnate, but the stagnation is not nearly as severe as on the Northeast Corridor.

    Capitol Corridor (May 2009):

    136,716 passengers -13.1% vs. May 2008
    The rate of decline in May is significant since May 2008 was our 2nd highest month in history. The Capitol Corridor route is still the third busiest route in the country, by a wide margin.
    Passengers for the last 12 months: 1,684,611
    YTD ridership is -0.8% below last year, after 8 months.

    $1,947,792 May 2009 ticket revenue – .7% vs. May 2008

    The farebox recovery (revenue-to-cost ratio) for April is 46.1%, (FY to date: 45.4%, still a bit lower than the 50% target, but steady and NOT declining). We are gearing up for a full-court press for our Kids-Ride-Free-on-Weekends/Holidays promotion, and Senior Citizens mid-week 50% discount program to try to help improve our ridership and farebox recovery rate. These promotions will continue through the summer. YTD revenue is running +4.2% ahead of last year.

    On-time performance for May ‘delivered to the customer’ was: 93.4%.
    Union Pacific performance has been steady at 97% to 99% on time. The proportion of delays attributable to Amtrak mechanical performance has begun to creep up, and we are working with Amtrak to address these
    concerns. While there have been some issues on mechanical, the severity has been limited, allowing most trains to operate ‘on-time’ by their destination. The lack of ANY ‘slow orders’ on the entire 170 mile route has contributed to this reliability record. Our funding of the dedicated Union Pacific night-maintenance-of-way gang is paying off with superior on-time reliability. (FFY to date on-time: 92.1% on time) This is our best-ever 8 month year-to-date on-time performance.

    These stats keep the Capitol Corridor’s on-time performance (92.1%) 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 (83.4%).

    __________________________________________________

    Pacific Surfliners (May 2009):

    237,018 passengers -9.6% vs. May 2008, but still the second busiest route in the nation, by a wide margin
    YTD ridership is down -7.3%, after 8 months
    $4,097,418 May 2009 revenue: -5.7% vs. May 2008 (FFY year-to-date: -3.9%)
    On-time performance for May 2009: 87.9% (FFY to date: 83.4%)

    __________________________________________________

    San Joaquins (May 2009):

    84,906 passengers -7.6% vs. May 2008
    YTD ridership is up +4.3%, after 8 months

    $2,217,537 May 2009 revenue: -17.5% vs. May 2008 (FFY year-to-date: -0.8%)
    On-time performance for May 2009: 90.3% (FFY to date: 89.2%)

    __________________________________________________________

    Total California 3 Intercity Corridors Ridership for May 2009: 458,640
    Total Northeast Corridor ‘Spine’ ridership for May 2009: 855,346
    For May 2009, the 3 California Corridors are 53.6% of Northeast Corridor ‘Spine’
    Boston-Washington ridership

    Total Northeast Corridor ridership for May 2009 with branches to Springfield, MA; Albany, NY and Harrisburg, PA: 1,060,748
    For May 2009, the 3 California Corridors are 43.2% of the total Northeast Corridor
    ridership. Overall NEC Spine ridership declined by -11.9%, and for the first month since its rebuilding, the Keystone service Philadelphia-Harrisburg) declined by -2.3%.

    YTD 3 California Corridors ridership is 3,339,248
    YTD NEC Spine ridership is 6,593,941
    YTD NEC Spine + branches ridership is 8,217,537

    Reports

    COAST RAIL COORDINATING COUNCIL

    (“CRCC”) MEETING Report
    Santa Barbara, May 29, 2009
    Reported by Paul Dyson
    The Meeting was Chaired by Dave Potter, Monterey County Supervisor

    RailPAC was represented by Paul Dyson, Dennis Story and Mike Barnbaum. Katherine Holland of Coast Rail Now and ASERT represented local pro transit interests. Good news, Jacki Bacharach was on the ‘phone representing LACMTA.

    This meeting can be summed up in one word: frustrating. There is really no progress to report on the Coast Daylight (“CD”) introduction.

    Clem Bomar for Caltrans Division of Rail (“DoR”) says that discussions with the Union Pacific railroad are continuing. He suggested that political action vis-a- vis UP would be counterproductive.

    Dave Potter and Pete Rodgers (SLOCOG) had joined Amtrak President Boardman on his business car and was told that Amtrak “would find equipment” for the train if the other issues are overcome.

    CRCC is asking Amtrak and DoR to explore the possibility of a three day a week CD to jump start the process and not require additional operating funds. This writer suggested that if that were tried the Coast Starlight should make additional stops on the days the CD did not run.

    Pete Rodgers has suggested trying to run a demonstration train to maintain political interest. RailPAC is interested in assisting but concerned that this will raise expectations while having nothing to follow up.

    Some discussion of SB 409 (Ducheny) to create a single state rail board.

    Jonathan Hutchison of Amtrak reported that the long distance trains were performing well, both as to OTP and revenue.

    Pdyson@railpac.org
    6/3/09

    Issues

    Does Amtrak propose to cease operations in most of the southern and western states within the next five to ten years?

    Below is a new press release from RailPAC, along with earlier correspondence between Paul Dyson, the RailPAC President, and Joseph Boardman, Interim President and CEO of Amtrak.

    1) RAIL PASSENGER ASSOCIATION OF CALIFORNIA
    1017 L Street PMB 217, Sacramento, CA 95814
    www.railpac.org
    3 June, 2009
    AMTRAK TO REDUCE OR END SERVICE TO MORE THAN 20 STATES?

    Railroad experts conclude that Amtrak proposes to cease operations in most of the southern and western states within the next five to ten years. That is based on Amtrak’s failure to order replacement rolling stock for worn out trains. For the last 20 years almost 95% of the purchases of locomotives and passenger cars were for trains that run exclusively in the Northeast Corridor between Boston and Washington DC. Current plans call for refurbishing a handful of out of service cars but otherwise make no mention of the need to replace the aging cars that provide service to most of the states west of Chicago. These trains are already running with a reduced number of seats and sleeping berths in spite of record high demand, resulting in major loss of revenue.

    RailPAC’s President, Paul Dyson, wrote to recently appointed Amtrak President Joe Boardman in January asking for an immediate review of this policy. He pointed out that a long term program to replace the old fleet and augment the available accommodation on the western trains would provide jobs and helps meet the new administration’s target of reducing dependence on imported fuels. “Without new cars there will soon be no trains on most routes west of the Mississippi” says Dyson. The expected service cuts will not happen overnight, nor will they receive much fanfare. Instead the economics of running these trains will gradually worsen as old cars are withdrawn from service, and eventually the trains will be discontinued.

    2) Here is the reply letter from Amtrak Interim President and CEO Joseph Boardman to Mr. Dyson’s original letter, as mentioned above.
    March 24, 2009

    Mr. Paul J. Dyson
    President
    Rail Passenger Association of California
    1017 L Street PMB 217
    Sacramento, CA 95814

    Dear Mr. Dyson:

    This is in reply to your letter of January 16, 2009, regarding the need for investment in equipment to support the development of passenger rail service across the whole of the United States. Since taking up the position of President and CEO of Amtrak, I have been working closely with my team to understand just how we will address exactly the sort of issues you refer to in your letter.

    The recent enactment of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 (PRIIA) has provided a solid basis to deal with the sort of issues to which you refer. Three key elements in PRIIA have specific relevance in this case.

    First, PRIIA changes the emphasis on funding for capital investment. Whereas Amtrak has traditionally borne the responsibility to secure funding for new equipment, the funding for service expansion is now with the state partners via the new Intercity Rail Grant matching fund program. For the first time, there will be a level playing field with other modes of transportation. Matching funds for capital investments – including equipment – will now be provided on the same basis for passenger rail as has been the case for highway projects. State partners will define their own requirements through their state rail plans as these are required as the basis for funding applications to the federal government.

    Second, PRIIA requires Amtrak to constitute a committee to plan for the specification, procurement, support and funding of next generation common corridor passenger equipment. This will cover different types of passengers car as well as locomotives and, potentially DMUs. This committee will be led by Amtrak but will have involvement from state partners, the FRA as well as other interested parties from the industry.

    Last, PRIIA includes an authorization of funding to Amtrak for its own capital requirements. This funding will be required to support the development of the Amtrak services outside those developed in partnership with the states.

    With these three elements, it is possible to see a route to the creation of the next generation of service across the United States ensuring that the equipment provided is properly aligned with the requirements of the individual states. Amtrak continues to strive to be the preferred partner for working with states on the development of their services. Based on the core capabilities Amtrak has for all aspects of developing, equipping and operating passenger rail services, we are well positioned to continue to support route development across the country.

    You raised some additional points about the Northeast Corridor that I wish to address. While other railroads operate more trains and carry more passengers than we do on parts of the Corridor, none run the entire length of the corridor at the speeds at which we operate, or operate anywhere near the train miles that we do, or own as much of it as we do. It is a matter of asset utilization on the most complex piece of railroad in the Western Hemisphere, and recognition that our own needs make it more complex than it would be if it were simply a string of unrelated commuter railroads. Northeastern states do contribute capital support to the Corridor, and PRIIA ensure that, in the future, all commuter railroads on the Northeast Corridor will bear a proportionate share of its operating and capital costs. Also, the recently approved economic stimulus package stipulates that approximately 56% of the capital funding Amtrak will get will go to places away from the Corridor. We learned long ago that regional differences, however heartfelt, among supporters of passenger rail does much more to harm the goal of better train service nationwide than it does to help it.

    Thank you for the invitation to your upcoming meeting on May 2. I look forward to speaking with the group.
    Sincerely,
    Joseph H. Boardman
    President and Chief Executive Officer

    3) Here is RailPAC President Dyson’s response to Amtrak Interim President and CEO Boardman, president to president.

    2nd June, 2009
    Mr. Joseph H. Boardman
    President and Chief Executive Officer
    NATIONAL RAILROAD PASSENGER CORPORATION
    60 Massachusetts Avenue NE
    Washington DC 20002

    THE FUTURE OF THE INTERSTATE NATIONAL SYSTEM TRAINS IN THE WESTERN STATES

    Dear Mr. Boardman:

    I am reviewing your letter of March 24, 2009, your public comments since then and the remarks you made at our meeting this past May 2 in Los Angeles. In rereading your March letter I see many references to “state partners” and “requirements of the individual states”. I see nothing that directly answers my question about rolling stock for the interstate trains that I referred to in my January letter. And while there is reference to commuter railroads on the NEC paying a proportional share of operating and capital costs, I don’t see any requirement that the NEC states pay a proportion of the expenses of the Acela or Regional trains. You do mention PRIIA funds for Amtrak’s “own capital requirements” but you make no suggestion as to how these funds might be invested. Your public statements since, and your comments at our meeting and answers to questions there have thrown no more light on the question that I asked then and repeat now: “When will you order cars for the western interstate trains?”

    I have attached for your information a resolution passed unanimously by about 235 NARP and RailPAC members at the end of the May 2 meeting. After 41 years in transportation I have seen plenty of companies come and go. The ones that are on their way to exiting the business are those that do not invest in their rolling stock. I would be delighted if you can convince me that I am wrong, and that you have every intention of replacing the worn out cars and locomotives of the western interstate trains and of growing the business. What are your intentions?

    I don’t know who wrote the sentence in your March 24 letter “We learned long ago that regional differences, however heartfelt, among supporters of passenger rail does much more to harm the goal of better train service than it does to help it”? Long ago we had a lot more service in the west, including to major cities such as Phoenix and Las Vegas. The trains that still run have much shorter consists even though trains are frequently sold out. What we now have are very real “regional differences”, except that they are “heartfelt” by Amtrak management, not by passenger rail advocates. It is Amtrak management that has consistently undervalued the western trains and invested most of the capital dollars in the NEC. At the same time they have downgraded the western trains and in the accounts have heaped average system costs on them that they really don’t generate to set them up for failure and the opprobrium of Amtrak’s critics.

    Mr. Boardman, you’ve had a few months to digest a lot of information and advice from many quarters. You’ve taken the helm at Amtrak at a time when it is about to receive an unprecedented amount of funding, and when it has more political support then ever in its existence. It may well be that your Board, Executive Committee and many of your managers view the NEC as the real railroad and the western overnight trains as anachronisms. Yet it is these same trains that are maintaining consistent revenue during the recession while the Acela has lost significant ridership. If you have decided that the western overnight trains should be allowed to fade away as equipment becomes unserviceable then the communities served by them are entitled to know your policy and to react as they see fit. Doing nothing, with no new rolling stock order, is tantamount to abandonment by Amtrak of interstate service to 23 states.

    We look forward to an early, and I hope positive response, to these issues.
    Yours faithfully,
    Paul J. Dyson
    President

    4) This is the resolution, passed in Los Angeles on May 2, 2009 referred to by Mr. Dyson.

    Whereas the Rail Passenger Association of California is deeply concerned that there has been no new investment in rolling stock for the Coast Starlight, Sunset Limited, California Zephyr and Southwest Chief (the western overnight trains) since 1991, and

    Whereas currently up to 95% of Amtrak’s capital investments go to the North East Corridor trains and infrastructure, and

    Whereas there is a growing demand for rail passenger travel and these western trains are often sold out, and

    Whereas old equipment is expensive to maintain, is subject to mechanical failure, and is unattractive to passengers, and

    Whereas without new investment these trains and other routes will eventually be withdrawn for want of serviceable equipment,

    Therefore the Rail Passenger Association of California calls upon the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (“Amtrak”) to meet its obligation to provide a national network by allocating a reasonable proportion of its capital investment budget to purchase new coaches, sleeping cars and dining cars for the western overnight trains, to a common design that can also be used for corridor services.

    (Thanks to Bruce Richardson, URPA, for compiling this post.)