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.

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. . . 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.
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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.

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