Monthly Archives

July 2009

Issues

RailPAC writes Amtrak CEO Joseph Boardman re Sunset Limited, Texas Eagle, and City of New Orleans routes. New: Boardman Replies

TRANSCRIPT OF NOTE FROM JOE BOARDMAN TO PAUL DYSON
7/14/09
Paul:
I have your letter of the 13th. I understand your interest, mine too frankly but we are not ready to pull the trigger on the changes that you want right now. Equipment has become a very complex issue and we are making progress. We rolled out the first stimulus Amfleet rebuild this week. We will roll out the first of 21 Superliner vehicles from Beech Grove August 6th. We are not dilly dallying. Things are getting done. Joe B.
Original letter:

13th July, 2009
Dear Mr. Boardman
:
Mr. Bill Crosbie was kind enough to find time for a meeting with me last Thursday (8th July, 2009). A key topic of our conversation was the presentation by Mr. Rosenwald at our May 2 meeting regarding the Sunset route and connections. Mr. Crosbie was very concerned at the lack of operating funds and that any change would produce a negative outcome.

RailPAC’s view of these proposals and of the status of this route is clear.

We do not believe, for political reasons, that it will be possible to abandon the Sunset Route at the west end.

All parties seem to agree that three days a week service is a losing proposition and a poor use of scarce resources.

Even if the service still loses money, it seems highly likely that the overall operating loss will be reduced by changing to a daily service.

Changing the service between Los Angeles and San Antonio to daily will, we believe, receive plaudits from all quarters as representing both a bold entrepreneurial step on the part of Amtrak and an earnest attempt to save taxpayers money by reducing the operating deficit.

RailPAC is willing to support whichever of the many alternatives your staff promulgates assuming this is done with an eye to expanding and improving service to the public. This also goes for what we hope will be a temporary expedient of a “shuttle” between San Antonio and New Orleans, and the much discussed extension of the City of New Orleans to Florida.

Advocacy groups such as ours, and I imagine your staff also, are tired of apologizing for the performance of the Sunset, whether the criticism is justified or not. Now is the time to take on the critics and prove that Amtrak is a forward thinking organization that is willing to take some business risk in the reasonable expectation of a positive outcome for all parties.

We look forward to an early announcement from you regarding this route.

Yours faithfully,
Paul J. Dyson
President
pdyson@railpac.org
cc RailPAC Board
George Chilson, Chairman, NARP
Ross capon, President, NARP
NARP Directors, SW Division.

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

Editorials

Why did Gas Prices go up, again?

Opinion by Noel T. Braymer

Since the late 1970’s there has been talk off and on of raising taxes on gasoline as much as 50 cents more a gallon. The reason for this would be to raise money for alternatives to driving such as better rail and transit service, for alternative energy, infrastructure repairs and to reduce the demand for imported oil.

Every time there is talk of raising gas taxes the argument usually given is this would be a terrible hardship for the average person who needs their car to get to work etc. In the last few years we have seen wild spikes in the price of oil. Last summer gasoline nationwide went over four dollars a gallon only to crash to less than two dollars a gallon by the end of the year. Recently gas prices had risen over a dollar a gallon in just a few months. What is going on?

Pundits love to talk about the soundness of the fundamentals of the economy. But they never explain what the fundamentals of the economy are. The fundamentals of the economy are supply and demand. In a healthy economy they are in state of balance. Most of us have learned that prices go up when demand is greater than supply and down when supply is greater than demand. The job of a free market is to balance the supply and demand of goods and services. So there must be a shortage of oil and growing demand driving up prices? Well no: with the current recession demand for oil is at record lows in this country and around the world. There is a glut of oil all around the world right now and finding storage for it is a problem. In this country refineries for the first time in years have surplus capacity.

So how could this happen in a free market? This brings up the old story of a professional gambler who found a friend and fellow gambler in a game that he knew was rigged. When he pulled his friend aside and told him his friend said “I know the game is rigged, but it is the only game in town”. This brings up Wall Street. Most of the financial industry in this country is headquartered in New York City and is often called Wall Street. The current economic problems that affect most of the world now can be traced to Wall Street. What happened is the largest banks in the United States bankrolled massive speculation on many risky schemes, largely centered on housing. Speculators make huge profits by buying a lot of something which artificially drives the price up, then selling off their share before the price drops back to its true level and letting the suckers lose their money.

The problem for the Wall Street Banks is they are holding massive amounts of bad loans from the “irrational exuberance” of the last seven years. Usually when a customer can’t or won’t pay back on a loan, the bank gives up, writes off the bad loan and cuts its losses. Last September the previous administration rolled out the bank bailout bill to try to stop the tailspin the economy was in. It was called TARP for Troubled Asset Relief Program. The troubled or toxic assets were the bad loans of the big banks. The problem for the economy was the banks were losing so much money that they were not functioning. This cut off credit for much of the economy, which affected spending by businesses and consumers which greatly reduced demand. The idea was the government would buy the bad loans, banks would have money, they would go back to lending money and all would be well.

It is now nine months since TARP was put in place and not one bad, toxic, or as they are now called legacy asset has been bought from any of the big banks. The problem is the banks don’t want to sell them. That is they don’t want to sell them at their true market value. If the banks were to write off the losses of these bad loans by selling them at their true value they would be admitting how much money they really lost. This would drive some of these banks into failure. Many powerful people would lose a great deal of money and the bank executives if they can hold on to their jobs would see their income greatly reduced.

Before the TARP bailout the banks were desperate for cash. In an attempt to find cash some banks turned to speculating on commodities. The banks speculations last year drove up the price of many food items like rice, wheat and corn as well as petroleum. Forecasts that gas prices would reach up to $5 a gallon last year were made by investment banks such as Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley. The 700 billion dollar TARP bailout in addition to trillions of dollars lent to the banks at little or no interest by the Federal Reserve Bank has succeeded in keeping the banks afloat and stabilizing the economy. But these big banks are not making money. The current “profits” are from the banks not listing their bad loans at their true market value on their balance sheets. The banks are using their interest free money from the Federal Reserve to pay off their loans from TARP. They are also using this interest free money to loan money for credit cards at up to 40% annual interest. And they are back speculating and driving up the price of oil. The banks are sabotaging much of the effort to restart the economy by sucking up money from consumers that should be used to increase demand. So in effect the taxpayer is being double taxed. Keeping the banks afloat is costing the taxpayers a lot of money. Instead of rising gas taxes to find alternative energy, fix infrastructure or expand transit and rail services, high gas prices are being used to keep the banks afloat. This bank tax on gasoline is taxation without representation.

Events

Central Coast Train Day rescheduled at Santa Barbara

image001

THE SCHEDULE
9:00 am Ventura County electeds meet on the Oxnard Station platform
9:00 am Santa Barbara County electeds meet on the Santa Barbara Station platform
9:20 am Train Departs Santa Barbara Station Southbound for Carpinteria with electeds
9:21 am Train Departs Oxnard Station Northbound for Santa Barbara with electeds
9:35 am Southbound train arrives in Carpinteria. Santa Barbara County electeds disembark. There is a 22 minute wait for the return trip, during which a magician will entertain people, and guests can mingle.
9:57 am Northbound train Arrives in Carpinteria. Ventura County electeds remain on the train, Santa Barbara County electeds reboard. Magician will entertain, and guests can continue to mingle.
10:12 am Train arrives at the Santa Barbara Station, where those who did not ride are waiting to greet the train. The arrival kicks off the children’s’ festival activities. Electeds head straight to staging area for the press conference.
10:15 am Press Conference begins, with media availability to follow
Childrens’ festival is ongoing, with train cookie decorating contest and carnival games
11:10 Final remarks
11:15 am Those taking the Downtown Shuttle to catch the VISTA bus back to Oxnard head to Mason St. to catch the Downtown Shuttle, or start the walk up to City Hall where the bus picks up.
11: 37 am VISTA bus Southbound to Ventura (with Gold Coast Connection to Oxnard) picks up at Santa Barbara City Hall
12:00 pm Chidlren’s festival ends
12:30 pm Amtrak Bus Southbound to Oxnard leaves
2:00pm Amtrak train Southbound to Oxnard leaves

We’ll keep you posted about further details at www.coastalrailnow.org and www.coastalcommuter.org and here on www.railpac.org.

Issues

RailPAC writes Amtrak COO William Crosbie re Southern California Issues

13th July, 2009

Dear Mr. Crosbie:
Many thanks for taking the time for a meeting with me last Thursday (8th July, 2009). I have written today to Mr. Boardman concerning the Sunset route and RailPAC’s support for positive steps by Amtrak. I’d like to expand upon some other topics that we covered briefly.

Regarding the long distance trains, over the years schedules have been extended and important connections lost at LAUS. Our members report recent trips on the southbound Coast Starlight with two hours “waiting time” at stations from Sacramento south. Northbound the Starlight is scheduled with the same running time as 799 which has about 10 more stops. May I request that you address these schedules as part of the review of the Sunset operation and urge you to find a way to reinstate the connections at LAUS between these trains and also the “Chief”?

With regard to the weekend Surfliner trains, there are still opportunities to reduce the scheduled running time of many trains north of Los Angeles. The timetable allows for meets with Metrolink trains that do not run on weekends. After about a year of complaining from RailPAC you finally adjusted 798 by about 25 minutes but failed to review 799, 763 and others. Even with the limited resources available there are improvements that can be made in journey times that will result in a better experience for passengers.

We are also concerned at the continued attempts by the commuter agencies to add intermediate stops to the Surfliner trains. While it may solve a scheduling problem for them at almost no cost, it adds operating costs to Amtrak (fuel, wear on brakes and doors etc.) and most importantly it increases the running time of what are supposed to be intercity trains. I have repeatedly pointed out to the LOSSAN Board that this policy will drive away the $30 plus passenger in favor of $2 of revenue from a local commuter. I understand that discussions are ongoing with the commuter agencies and we hope you will ensure that the integrity of the Surfliner service is protected.

Regarding the need for new high level cars for western corridor and long distance trains, we have common ground in recognizing the need for a long term, low volume car order, using a standard “box” and common components for multiple applications. We do not believe that the California 1B bond funds, should they become available, are adequate for an order of sufficient scale as to allow for a viable unit price, or to interest a builder. We plan to work through the political process to facilitate the availability of federal funds so that we can start to replace and augment the Superliner fleet and our state corridor equipment. I understand from you that Amtrak is in the early stages of formulating a long term fleet plan, which we hope will contain this element.

Thank you again for taking the time to meet and I look forward to future exchanges of views.
Yours faithfully,
Paul J. Dyson
President
pdyson@railpac.org
cc RailPAC Board
George Chilson, Chairman, NARP
Ross capon, President, NARP
NARP Directors, SW Division.
Mr. William Crosbie
Chief Operating Officer
NATIONAL RAILROAD PASSENGER CORPORATION
60 Massachusetts Avenue NE
Washington DC 20002

Commentary

CA Corridors June stats

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

June ridership numbers in California and across the nation continue to be disappointing.

The California economy and high unemployment rate are manifesting themselves in uncertainty and reduction in travel, particularly discretionary travel. The Capitol Corridor still handled 131, 670 passengers in June 2009, but that was down (-9.5%) from the record June 2008 number (145,482). By comparison, the busy Northeast Corridor slowed the rate of decline with June 2009 ridership down -4.9%, and year-to-date ridership down -9.2%.

The Pacific Surfliner passengers were down significantly in June 2009 (-25.5%) and also the San Joaquins (-16.0%).

Only the California Zephyr among the long distance trains showed a measurable increase in June 2009 (+33.8%), due primarily to restoration of full service and improved on-time performance. Overall, long distance trains were down in June 2009 (-3.6%), with year-to-date (after 9 months) long-distance passengers up (+2.5%).

June 2009 Capitol Corridor revenue was down -3.7% compared to June 2008, but year-to-date revenue is still up +3.3%. Capitol Corridor revenue performance for June was ‘the least worse’ (smallest decline) on the Amtrak system, with only the California Zephyr showing a revenue increase for June 2009. The San Joaquins revenue was down – 2.3% compared to June 2008, with Pacific Surfliner revenue down by -22.6% compared to June 2008. As noted previously, all three California Corridor routes are being impacted by the economy, with the almost-shutdown of state government activity having some impact on Capitol Corridor business travel.

If there is a ‘bright light’ in all of this, it is in the on-time performance of California services. On-time performance in June 2008 for the Capitol Corridor was solid 92.5%, the San Joaquins improved to 93.6% on-time, and the Pacific Surfliners delivered 85.2% on-time. Given the superior on-time performance of all three routes, it would be difficult to point to ‘lack of reliable service’ as a factor in the ridership declines.

Capitol Corridor (June 2009):

131,670 passengers -9.5% vs. June 2008
The rate of decline in June slowed a bit from May, and June 2008 was the highest June ridership in Capitol Corridor history. The Capitol Corridor route is still the third busiest route in the country, by a wide margin.
Passengers for the last 12 months: 1,670,799
YTD ridership is -1.9% below last year, after 9 months.

$1,787,037 June 2009 ticket revenue – 3.7% vs. June 2008

The farebox recovery revenue-to-cost ratio for June 2009 slipped to 42.3%, (FY to date: 46.1%). Our Kids-Ride-Free-on-weekends/Holidays promotion, and Senior Citizens mid-week 50% discount program is in full swing, and TV commercials are appearing in the Bay Area during prime viewing times.
These promotions will continue through the summer, and are designed to fill seats we are already moving. YTD revenue is still running +3.3% ahead of last year.

On-time performance for June ‘delivered to the customer’ was: 92.5%.
Union Pacific performance continues to be steady at 97% to 99% on time.
The proportion of delays attributable to Amtrak mechanical performance has continued to be a concern, and CCJPA and Amtrak Mechanical Supervision are addressing the problem. We are fortunate in that the severity of the mechanical problems has been limited, allowing most trains to operate ‘on-time’ by their destination. A greater factor in on-time service delivery is the lack of ANY ‘slow orders’ on the entire 170 mile route. Union Pacific is conducting the maintenance level to ensure a continuation of 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: still at 92.1% ) This is our best-ever 9 month year-to-date on-time performance.

These stats keep the Capitol Corridor’s on-time performance (92.1%) the best year-to-date 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 (June 2009):

206,813 passengers -25.5% vs. June 2008, but still the second busiest route in the nation, by a wide margin
YTD ridership is down -9.8%, after 9 months

$ 3,912,758 June 2009 ticket revenue: – 2.6% vs. June 2008 (FFY year-to-date: -6.6%)

On-time performance for June 2009: 85.2% (FFY to date: 83.6%)

__________________________________________________

San Joaquins (June 2009):

81,026 passengers -16.0% vs. June 2008 YTD ridership is up +1.4%, after 9 months

$2,408,405 June 2009 ticket revenue: – 12.3% vs. June 2008 (FFY year-to-date: – 2.3%)

On-time performance for June 2009: 93.6% (FFY to date: 89.7%)

__________________________________________________________

Total California 3 Intercity Corridors Ridership for June 2009:
419,509
Total Northeast Corridor ‘Spine’ ridership for June 2009:
863,104
For June 2009, the 3 California Corridors are 48.6% of Northeast Corridor ‘Spine’ Boston-Washington ridership

Total Northeast Corridor ridership for June 2009 with branches to Springfield, MA; Albany, NY and Harrisburg, PA: 1,070,618
For June 2009, the 3 California Corridors are 39.2% of the total Northeast Corridor
ridership. Overall NEC Spine ridership declined by -4.9%, and for the second month since its rebuilding, the Keystone service (Philadelphia-Harrisburg) declined by -1.8%.

YTD 3 California Corridors ridership is 3,758,757
YTD NEC Spine ridership is 7,457,045
YTD NEC Spine + branches ridership is 9,288,155

Editorials

Democracy Is Not A Spectator Sport

Editorial by Noel T. Braymer

RailPAC, while it is non-partisan is a political organization. It is because we are involved in politics that even though we are a non-profit organization, donations to RailPAC are not tax-deductible.

Our goal is the creation of a safe, comfortable, economical and well connected rail passenger system for California and the Nation. At the heart of accomplishing this is the expansion of Long Distance Rail Passenger Service. Long Distance Trains cover most of this Country and serves the largest market for rail passenger service. This is where the money is for passenger trains and has the greatest potential for gaining broad political support for it.

Amtrak has an East Coast Orientation. After all Amtrak’s headquarters are in Washington D.C, half of Amtrak’s trains run on the East Coast and the majority of its employees work in the East. With that Amtrak’s strongest support comes from East Coast elected officials. Because of this it is easy for much of the rest of the country to feel neglected by Amtrak. It is a self-defeating tactic to attack East Coast rail service. The rail service on the East Coast in needed though it can be improved with better connections to the rest of the Country. What is needed is to work on increasing political support for good, economical and well connected rail passenger service in the rest of the Country. The place to start is developing support for an improved daily Sunset and ordering more Superliner equipment.

The great thing about being a part of on organization like RailPAC is our combined efforts are more effective than our individual efforts alone. Working together we can all do our part to improve rail passenger service. Just the fact that you are donating your hard earn money to support RailPAC is important. We can all also write or make phone calls to show our support for Rail Passenger Service. We can write or call local newspapers and TV Stations. Most importantly we can write or call our Senators and Representatives in Washington. The easiest thing to do is to write an email. This is also considered the least effective. It is easy for a few people to generate massive numbers of email to a congressional office. Most congressional offices want an address and phone number to verify an author’s identity. A hand written letter has a much higher value than an email. Next up is a personal phone call. An aide will take the call and try to sound impartial. Make you comments: either written or verbal short, polite and to the point. You can call either a local field office or the Washington Office of your elected officials. Next up in effectiveness is a personal visit to an official’s office. This can be either a field office or even better in Washington. But best of all go as part of a delegation.

The most important thing we can do is network. The best place to start is at home. You can get to know your city council. Most city council members are public people, often having small business in town and you can often see them at different meetings in town. What is great about city council members is by nature these people are good at networking. If a member of your city council is interested in rail passenger service this council member will talk to other council members in other towns. Council members often talk directly to Senators and Representatives and have more impact than delegations from citizen groups. Most of the progress we have seen in California on Rail Passenger service can be traced to enlisting the efforts of local bodies like city councils and gaining their support to push for improvements.

In order to support efforts to get a daily Sunset and orders for more rail equipment; RailPAC will need to network with other organization. This is already underway. This started with the joint resolution of NARP and RailPAC members for new Superliner equipment at our joint meeting in Los Angeles on May 2nd. Bob Manning has been busy representing RailPAC with SMART, which is a group of local associations of rail passengers on the Sunset route working for daily service extended all the way to Florida. We need to coordinate our efforts with those of other groups around the country. A successful daily Sunset will be the catalyst for other new or improved services around the country. Just keeping the service we have will require replacement Superliner equipment in a few years. Expanded service will require more equipment than what is on hand now. We must point out that we are not asking for a hand out or subsidy. We need government to make capital investments in track and equipment to create a self supporting service. This is what most countries around the world have for intercity rail passenger service.

Need help finding how to contact your elected officials? You can go to WWW.Congress.org and at their home page just type in your zip code and get the names and links to your State and Federal elected officials for your address.

Issues

LOSSAN BOARD DISCUSSES JPA AND THE FUTURE GOVERNANCE OF PASSENGER RAIL IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

July 1 Meeting Report and comments by Paul Dyson, RailPAC President
In an encouraging sign that LOSSAN and the County transportation executives are getting to grips with the conflicts between the multiple agencies operating railroads in Southern California (Amtrak, BNSF, UP, SCRRA and NCTD) the LOSSAN Board on Wednesday discussed the “Corridor Long Term Vision and Institutional Model”.

This model is the result of collaboration between OCTA, LACMTA, NCTD, Caltrans and SANDAG who collectively hired consulting company Wilbur Smith to report on the subject. (See item 7 of the LOSSAN agenda for 7/1/09 and the accompanying power point presentation).

The presentation reminded us that AB 457 passed in 1996 set up a legal framework whereby the counties, at their option, could form JPAs for the three state rail corridors. Only the Capitol Corridor counties opted to use this and as we have seen they have accomplished major improvements in passenger service. The Capitol Corridor has three major advantages that have helped make it successful. The ownership of the line is less complicated; Union Pacific owns all but a mile of it. The line itself is part of an important freight corridor, which means that both the host railroad and the passenger operation have a common interest in investing in capacity improvements, and the agency has had the benefit of an outstanding individual, Gene Skoropowski, who has succeeded in making the most of the assets available and at the same time building a coalition of interest among the parties concerned.

Meanwhile, in Southern California, intercity passenger service has floundered along, playing third fiddle behind the priorities of the commuter agencies and the host railroads. We have had some increases in frequency but schedules are mediocre at best, and punctuality rarely exceeds 85%, even with padded schedules. The Surfliner attracts about 8,000 riders per day, (roughly 560,000 revenue passenger miles) or about .01% of the population in the vicinity of the line.

The consultant’s report offers two courses of action. The Counties can either create a new LOSSAN JPA specifically to operate the existing intercity passenger corridor, or expand SCRRA as provided for in SB 457 and create a new agency that will be responsible for all passenger rail services (except the Amtrak interstate long distance network trains) in nine southern California counties. The consultant recommends the former, with the intention of integrating Inland Empire and commuter routes later.

There was considerable discussion at the Board regarding how best to proceed. The point was raised as to whether the north part of the corridor had different needs to the south, and whether it requires different treatment. The Board consists mostly of members with considerable experience in local government and I imagine the idea of a super JPA encompassing nine counties is a daunting prospect. However, I pointed out in public comment that the current rail operations, Surfliner, Metrolink and Coaster, are still relatively small. It would be better to integrate these operations now and start enjoying administrative, procurement and operational economies, than to wait until they have grown significantly. Furthermore, delaying the implementation of the super agency means that the biggest problem for intercity, it’s subservience to the other operations, will not be solved.

This is a complicated issue and there are pros and cons on both sides. Trying to get agreement on investment priorities among nine counties would require a level of vision and leadership which is a rare commodity. On the other hand the combined political weight of nine counties representing about 25 million people should be sufficient to ensure that federal and state funds are forthcoming. As LOSSAN Chairman Art Brown pointed out, we need a service that is competitive with the automobile if it is to grow. The current structure, with control split between Amtrak and Caltrans, dependent on 4 different railroad owners for track access and schedules, and an advisory Board that meets quarterly, is just not getting the job done.

I believe, and I will be asking the RailPAC Board to support this policy, that the time is now right to create the regional JPA under the aegis of SB 457. Unlike 1996 the Inland Empire counties now have experience of participation in Metrolink, and there is strong demand for intercity passenger service into eastern Riverside County and the Imperial Valley. RailPAC has always promoted these longer distance intercity routes, such as to Indio and El Centro, as they generate significantly more revenue and more productive use of the equipment. If we don’t seize this opportunity to include these counties in the intercity program it will be many years before they see any service.

I believe we share the same vision as most of the LOSSAN Board members and most of the transportation agencies in Southern California. We can establish an intercity limited stop service, with local trains, scheduled together to provide connections throughout the system. These services would link up transit centers with local bus and light rail connections. Electronic ticketing and information systems will provide seamless journeys. Let’s take the bold step and create an agency that has the power to deliver this vision.

Paul Dyson
President
4th July, 2009

Rail Photos, Tracking Rail News

TRACKING RAIL NEWS for July. . .

and PHOTOS from everywhere!
. . . Commentary by Russ Jackson
July, 2009
. Summertime and the living is easy, right? It is for people who go on vacations, and for some that means riding Amtrak.

California. . . .Half-price train tickets? YES, Seniors 62 and older can ride at 50% off this summer on the Capitol Corridor! These “Golden Tickets” are for travel on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday before October 31, and can be purchased at the usual ticket locations. Refer to discount code V212 when booking.

February 2008-3 002
. . . Caltrans Director Will Kempton (shown speaking to a RailPAC-sponsored meeting in Sacramento). (Russ Jackson photo)

Mr. Kempton will leave his post on July 31 to be Orange County Transportation Authority CEO. Mr. Kempton has done a great job at Caltrans and will be missed. He was a strong supporter of the state rail program, and rode the trains frequently. We wish him well in his new job. The new Caltrans Director will be Randell H. Iwasaki, the current chief deputy director.

MVC-910S
. . . The CC Riders group, which represents Capitol Corridor riders’ concerns, found that the Auburn/ Conheim station (Marcia Johnston photo) was being vandalized, was deteriorating, and called on local authorities to “dissuade folks from hanging out there at night.” After meeting with the City and County, they were able to report that additional lighting on the back side of the County building was being installed, and the City “is also going to steam clean the platform on a weekly basis.” Congratulations! That shows how active citizen groups can accomplish things; things that should have been done without prompting!

. . . Santa Barbara Train Day has been rescheduled for July 18 from 10 am to Noon. RailPAC Director Dennis Story will provide updated information here on www.railpac.org. Amtrak is in full support of the event.

July 2007 008
. . . At the other end of the state, Dunsmuir Railroad days (July 2007 photo of the main street by Russ Jackson)
was held the weekend of June 13, with many events including a parade, a pie social, and a fishing derby! This historic town is a stop for Amtrak’s Coast Starlight and Thruway buses.

. . . The Indio City Council announced that $3.75 million in federal funding for transportation projects including the proposed Transportation Center at Indio Boulevard and Civic Center Drive, which would provide a place for “people to eat, rent a car, catch a bus or board a train.” Parking lot construction begins soon. A train? At Indio? Unfortunately that won’t happen soon, as Amtrak no longer stops the Sunset Limited there, but it assumes San Joaquin train connection Thruway buses will. Good city planning, though, for an eventual Coachella Valley rail service. . . .

HPIM0515
. . . Unfortunately, the opposite has happened in Corning (Russ Jackson photos), the “Olive Capital” along I-5 just south of Red Bluff. That city built a transportation center in the 1990’s, with Greyhound, local transit, and Amtrak Thruway buses stopping there. HPIM0518 Greyhound pulled out a few years ago and now Caltrans has dropped it from the route from Redding to Sacramento due to low ridership. How many other towns have had that happen, and how many others will be reluctant to spend local money on similar projects?

Amtk2arrivesatPomona5-15-09
Amtrak 2, the Sunset Limited, stops only 20 minutes late at the Pomona station on May 15, 2009. (Photo by Mike Palmer)

While Amtrak fools around trying to decide whether to implement the plan for a daily Sunset Limited, other folks are riding it. Here is a short trip report from Dana Hawkes, Lake San Marcos, who rode Train #2 and is returning on #1 as this is written: “We had a wonderful scenic train ride to Houston. The two nights and two days on the train were delightful. The ride was beautiful, the scenery fantastic, the service superb, the meals (which are included with a sleeper car ticket) were wonderful and the enjoyment level high. Even with a slight delay for a grass fire burning beside the tracks (which was quite exciting) we arrived in Houston exactly on time! For those who have the time we heartily recommend train travel as a relaxing, scenic and enjoyable way to travel.”

Veteran rail advocates, though, are finding the condition of the cars on that train and on the other un-updated long distance trains to be deteriorating, and Amtrak doesn’t seem to be in a rush to do anything about it let alone spend their money on updating the fleet and ordering replacement Superliner cars for future growth. In the rush to implement the grand sums of stimulus cash descending upon it for the corridors, once again those of us in the west who prefer long distance train travel, or who cannot fly or drive, wait for something to get going. Amtrak CEO Joseph Boardman, who “rode 9000 miles” on his western trip, was mostly on the updated trains the Coast Starlight and the Empire Builder. Of note was a comment by Mr. Boardman that he “had 47 meals on Amtrak and enjoyed them all, but there wasn’t much variety.” How true.

On time performance this summer has been spectacular, with a few exceptions. In many years past the opposite has been true, but looking at the arrival of #11, the Coast Starlight into Los Angeles in June shows only one date, 6/22, that it arrived after the scheduled time of 9:00 and that one was only 9 minutes late! All other Starlights continue to arrive in the 8:00 hour. As for the Sunset Limited, it too was late only once so far in June, and that was 3 hours on 6/12. The Southwest Chief, which used to be the one with the best OTP, was mixed with all trains early or close to OT, except for four days: On 6/9 it was 5 hours late, on 6/17 almost 4 hours late, 6/24 just over 2 hours late, and 6/3 95 minutes. At Emeryville, the California Zephyr continues to have arrival problems. But, the days of 8 to 10 hour late trains are thankfully over. Train 5 arrived late at the end point 7 times in June. A new development on the Hill across the Sierra is the installation of bi-directional CTC in progress east of Bowman, according to RailPAC’s Ralph James, who says he assumes “that the project will go as far as Colfax, so having some automation there should be a huge traffic improvement.”

It’s high time for schedule adjusting to accommodate early arrival times on these trains and improve the running times. RailPAC Director, Anthony Lee, looked up the historic times for Coast Starlight #11, under Amtrak, into Los Angeles Union Station along with the departures of #4 the Southwest Chief and #2 the Sunset Limited:

1972 arrive 645pm, Sunset dp 1000pm, Super Chief dp at 730pm.
1974: arrive 625pm, Sunset dp 900pm; Super Chief dp at 730pm
1975: arrive 655pm, Sunset dp 900pm, Southwest Limited dp 8pm
1977: arrive 655pm, Sunset dp 930pm, Southwest Limited dp 730pm
1978: arrive 655pm, Sunset dp 1030pm, Southwest Limited dp 730pm
1980: arrive 740pm, Sunset dp 1030pm, Southwest Limited dp 815pm
1981 arrive 710pm, Sunset dp 1030pm, Southwest Limited dp 835pm
1985: arrive 655pm, Sunset dp 1055pm; Southwest Chief dp 810pm
1997 arrive 905pm, Sunset dp 955pm, Southwest Chief dp 820pm
1999 arrive 905pm, Sunset dp 955pm, Southwest Chief dp 715pm
2009 arrive 900pm, Sunset dp 230pm, Southwest Chief dp 645pm
While getting the Starlight to arrive in the 6 or 7:00 hour today would require Metrolink concurrence, it’s obvious that connections can and should be restored.

. . . Arizona: The historic Casa Grande train depot was destroyed by fire on June 5. Southern Pacific trains once stopped there, but Amtrak has not. Cause of the fire is under investigation, but it saved the City from having to move the building after an agreement with the Union Pacific, which needed the space for the on-going double tracking project. The town of El Mirage became the first Arizona city to use cameras to fine railroad crossing violators who drive around rail crossings. Great idea!

Arizona RPA logo 6-09 . . . Congratulations to the Arizona Rail Passenger Association on their 25th Anniversary! The current issue of the ARPA newsletter can be found on their website, www.azrail.org, including a history of the organization back to its founding father, George Loulan. ARPA is a very strong advocacy organization, and RailPAC is proud to be associated with them.

. . . Minnesota. Bombardier Transportation is building 17 Bi-level railcars for the Northstar, a new 40-mile commuter service, and the contract includes options for 64 additional cars. The announcement notes that 900 of those cars are in operation in 13 cities across Canada and the U.S., including: Toronto, Miami, Los Angeles, San Diego, Vancouver, San Jose, Seattle, Dallas-Ft. Worth, San Francisco, Montreal, Albuquerque and Salt Lake City.
June 2007 046 Caltrain uses bi-level cars on its “Baby Bullet” service.

RailPAC and MinnARP were instrumental in bringing those cars to California in the early 1990’s. Northstar locomotives are being built in Boise, Idaho, with service on the line between Big Lake and Downtown Minneapolis to start later this year!

. . . Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. Marshall, TX, a stop for the Texas Eagle, had a 35.4% increase in Amtrak ridership in 2008, the “highest in the nation.” But, with only one agent full-time now, only five of the arrivals are covered. The T & P Depot Association has high hopes for a second agent to be added there. The Heartland Flyer, from Oklahoma City to Ft. Worth, celebrated its 10th Anniversary in June. Amtrak has added a Sightseer Lounge car to the all-Superliner consist this summer.

Hope, Arkansas, 5-99
Hope, Arkansas, “station” in May, 1999 (Russ Jackson photo)
On the route of the Texas Eagle, Hope, AR, President Clinton and ex-Governor Huckabee’s home town, may get its Amtrak stop after 25 years of trying and building a train station in hopes that it would. Amtrak VP Transportation Richard Phelps has been working with the Eagle Marketing Organization, and the Union Pacific is evaluating it. At least no one is saying “no” now.

. . . New Mexico.
RailRunner-ABQ-MidmorningMay282009
Riders board the northbound Railrunner at Albuquerque on May 28. (Photos by Mike Palmer)
The Railrunner continues to be successful, having carried almost 2 million riders so far, and many student groups are taking field trips on it.

RailPAC’s Mike Palmer was pleased that “It cost all of $8″ for his trip between Santa Fe and Albuquerque. Tickets are sold on board. He notes that there are still some stations to be finished.
RailRunnerarrivesatSantaFeNoonMay282009
Mr. Palmer’s train has arrived on time at the Santa Fe, NM Railrunner station on May 28.