Monthly Archives

August 2009

Commentary

CALIFORNIA HIGH SPEED RAIL – STAY THE COURSE

Commentary by Paul Dyson
You may have read detailed critiques of the California High Speed Rail project in various publications from so called rail advocacy groups and environmentalists.

It’s the wrong route, the wrong technology, the wrong decision makers, or words to that effect. In the north the apparent cause celebre is the Pacheco Pass versus Altamont as the route between the Bay Area and the Central Valley. Also in the north are the NIMBYs who chose to live close to railroad rights of way but want them to be fossilized rather than developed for the needs of the 21sr Century. Their brethren will no doubt materialize in the south in due course.

There are egos at work as well. It is apparent reading some publications that their authors are miffed that they are not on any decision making board, so they proceed to excoriate those that are. Another group seems to hate any large scale project on the basis that corporations will make money and that there will be some corruption and graft. And of course there are those that hate the whole concept but use carefully crafted arguments to give the impression that they are really in favor but not the way it is being executed.

Now when I voted for 1A there were aspects of the project that gave me heartburn, not the least of which was the issuance of bonds and the expansion of state debt. I can see both sides of the Pacheco versus Altamont argument. I can see both sides to a direct route from Los Angeles to Bakersfield as opposed to the chosen route via Palmdale. Clearly there is politics at work here, and it’s a naïve fool that thinks that in excess of $40 billions will be spent without politics playing a major part in the spending. Will there be mistakes? Yes. Will there be some corruption? Unfortunately, yes. Can that be avoided in any major project, rail or otherwise? Almost certainly not. These are activities carried out by your average Joe, some of whom are more honest than others. If we think we can overcome all these issues before we begin any large scale project then we may as well decide that the world today is the same as it will be tomorrow, except a little more worn, shabby, resource depleted and less competitive with the rest of the planet.

So where do we go from here? The High Speed Rail project, for all its faults, real and perceived, represents our once in a lifetime opportunity to break out from our 40 mph trains and bus connections and give the major communities of California Mobility, with a capital “M”. Now is not the time to cozy up to the NIMBYs and naysayers because we don’t like the color the trains will be painted or because our views and preferences were not those chosen. Now is the time to continue to campaign for the project, to continue to educate the public and their elected representatives that this is our future, and to get on with building it before we fall further behind the rest of the world.
(Note: Mr. Dyson is President of the Rail Passenger Association of California and lives in Burbank, CA)

Editorials

Our Crazy Transportation “System”

Editorial by Noel T. Braymer

Coaster photo Photo by Trevor Clarke
The Coaster is the commuter rail service in San Diego County running from Oceanside on the northern edge of the county along the coast to downtown San Diego in the south. The Coaster serves downtown San Diego with good connections with the San Diego’s light rail system the Trolley. But like many metropolitan areas downtown is not the most congested or has the most jobs in San Diego.

That distinction goes to an area roughly 10 miles north of downtown near where the 805 freeway splits off of the 5 freeway. In this major employment area are Sorrento Valley along the western edge of the 805, the UCSD environs to the west of the 5 and University Towne Centre (UTC) to the east of the 5 opposite of UCSD.

Just recently the highly congested 5/805 interchange was rebuilt. Extra lanes were added including HOV lanes in an attempt to reduce the congestion. There are plans to continue this work with 4 additional lanes on the 5 all the way to Oceanside. So what is traffic like in this area now? Terrible! For far less money the Coaster could be improved to greater serve this area.

The Coaster has a station at Sorrento Valley. It is one of the busiest stations on the Coaster. Like most commercial and industrial development since World War II Sorrento Valley, the area by UCSD and UTC are very spread out and not designed for pedestrian access. Few people can walk to their jobs from the Sorrento Valley Station. The Coaster is dependent on shuttle bus service for riders at Sorrento Valley. However every time there is a budget crisis the MTDB which controls bus and Trolley service in San Diego wants to cut back Coaster shuttle bus service. It should be pointed out that the MTDB doesn’t operate the Coaster, the North County Transportation District does.

Many passengers do ride bikes from the train to work. It would be difficult to carry many more bikes on the trains. But more passengers could be encouraged to ride bikes with cooperation with their employers and by encouraging passengers to store bikes at the station. It might be possible to rent bikes for passengers to improve local access. In addition more local transit would help. One problem is the congestion on the local streets in this area is as bad as on the freeways. This discourages people from riding bikes and slows down shuttle and transit busses. Recently service was started on a bus rapid transit “Superloop” serving the UTC area and connecting it with UCSD. In the plans of over 20 years now is an extension of the Trolley north from Old Town to serve UCSD and UTC.

For the Coaster to better serve the 5/805 area it would need additional stations. Before additional stations can be added some running times would need to be reduced to keep a reasonable schedule. One way to do this is additional double tracking. The Coaster route is still mostly single tracked. The slowest section of the route is near Sorrento Valley in Soledad Canyon. RailPAC’s Byron Nordberg plotted out an alignment in Soledad Canyon over 25 years ago for a second track which would save several minutes for passenger trains. This project has been waiting for funding for years. There have also been plans for years to build 2 additional Coaster Stations, one near UTC and the other a joint Coaster/Trolley Station at Balboa Ave roughly half way between Old Town and UTC.

Now there are no plans to build any new joint Coaster/Trolley Stations. There has been little or no talk lately of building the Coaster Station near UTC. To connect Coaster passengers to UCSD and UTC the Superloop buses were to stop at the UTC Coaster Station. A few years back the promoters of the Superloop proposed raiding funds for the UTC Coaster Station in order to get the Superloop built and running. The problem, common among government agencies are turf and funding battles agencies often have. It seems that the Trolley doesn’t want competition from the Coaster for its future Trolley extension north of Old Town.

The worst traffic in San Diego is from the 5/805 area south. Much of this traffic is even coming from south of downtown. The Coaster mostly connects North County with downtown. For a passenger on the Trolley coming from south or east of downtown to UTC it will be a slow and long ride with heavy crowding in the downtown area. Caltrans has been planning to extend the Surfliner trains south of downtown San Diego to National City. A station, maintenance and storage facility is planned. Extending the Coaster to National City could also have better connections with a joint Coaster/Trolley Station south of downtown. This would tap into a large market and could prove very popular with commuters. This seems to be what the Trolley is afraid of.

The problems outlined here are not unique to San Diego. The same government agency battles, lack of coordination with rail and transit services and failure to serve the places with the worse traffic are common in California and the rest of the country.

Reports

San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee Report

By Mike Barnbaum, RailPAC Associate Director, Sacramento
Cal State University Stanislaus, Turlock, California, Thursday 13 August 2009

Merced County Supervisor John Pedrozo called the meeting to order on-time at 11:15 A.M. Host Supervisor, Vito Chiesa, introduced the CUS Stanislaus Campus President, who gave a short address on Rail, High Speed Rail, and Education. Matt Machado was introduced by Stanislaus County Public Member of the San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee, (RailPAC Associate Director) George Gaekle, as the new Public Works Director for Stanislaus County.

Fresno County Public Member of the San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee, Larry Miller, introduced Carrie Brown of the California High Speed Rail Authority. Carrie’s area of focus is from Merced to Bakersfield. Carrie referenced the Record of Decision that should become news in 2012. Amtrak Road Foreman out of Merced, Greg Santos asked about alternatives and analysis while Tulare County Public Member of the San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee, Ty Holscher, asked about if more detail could be presented at a future meeting.

Two matters were taken up by the committee and adopted unanimously. The first was the minutes of the meeting of April 30th held in Martinez, California. The second item was a Federal Stimulus letter of support. Of particular interest in it are: 1) Statewide Positive Train Control, 2) Sacramento-Stockton Corridor Feasibility Study, and 3) a combined item featuring New Rolling Stock/Sacramento Maintenance Facility. The final end product of a Sacramento Maintenance Facility is critical to Sacramento County and the Amtrak California System in this day in age because the existing Oakland Maintenance Facility is currently maxed out and can no longer handle capacity for additional rolling stock.

The Facilitator of the San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee, Arthur Lloyd, RailPAC’s VP North, introduced the item and called upon this writer to present the issue and the concern. I gave praise to a writer, Steve McFerson, who wrote a story/commentary in the July 2009 Edition of Western Rail Passenger Review. A section of the story/commentary was read aloud into the record that focused on San Joaquin Corridor connections with Amtrak Long Distance Trains at Sacramento Valley Station and Los Angeles Union Station. While the committee was asked to consider a motion by this writer to be called “The Steve McFerson Motion” and direction to staff of the CalTrans Division of Rail, direction was given to continue the matter to the next meeting of the San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee. During discussion of the item, San Joaquin County Public Member to the San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee, Stacey Mortensen wants folks to take into consideration the trade-offs of switching schedules around. Facilitator Arthur Lloyd had mentioned that he would like the schedule for Train #711 to stay right where it currently is.

Guest Speakers: 1) Amtrak Police Captain Jim Martino and 2) Rich Wilson
Captain Martino discussed that every two hours a train strikes a trespasser. There is as of the writing of this report a work in progress to get the appropriate sign-offs to have September officially known as Rail Safety Month in California. Operation LifeSaver is a key partner in this effort. Captain Martino mentioned that driving around the “closed” gates and beat the train could cost a person between $300 and $400. On the San Joaquin Valley Line, eight incidents were mentioned that have happened in 2009, including but not limited to abandoned vehicles at non-crossings as well as at private crossings.

Rich Wilson, of the CalTrans Division of Rail presented a history of the San Joaquin Line. Bob Snoddy asked for information back from Rich Wilson that the COG’s along the San Joaquin Line could get for information and be kept on file at each Council of Governments Office along the San Joaquin Line, including both Los Angeles and Sacramento. The Council of Governments for Los Angeles is known as SCAG, or Southern California Association of Governments.

There was no report during the meeting from either the BNSF Railway or the UP Railroad because representatives of both host railroads were notably absent.

Lisa Martin was up next from the CalTrans Division of Rail giving a Marketing Report. Lisa reported that http://www.amtrakcalifornia.com/ is now undergoing major rennovation that will be available at the end of September. It will include an electronic version of the Amtrak California Timetable on Monday 26 October 2009 and at the end of September will include hot deals, Email subscription, and a kids corner. Parents will be able to make color printouts where available for their children to learn about trains, have fun and games with trains, as well as safety features about trains. Currently people can follow AmtrakCalifornia at http://twitter.com/amtrak_ca where new followers can follow an existing crowd of 111 other followers. During the report George Gaekle asked about daylight service to the Northern Sacramento Counties (Yuba, Butte, and Shasta). Larry Miller asked about heavily marketing the Transit-Transfer Program. Lisa responded and mentioned that this will happen as well as cross-marketing on the trains with the Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority.

In lieu of Ed Steiner, Quality and Customer Service Manager for the Amtrak San Joaquin, Anthony Chapa filled in and reported to the committee that one position will be filled for a person working a Thursday through Sunday ten-hour shift and focusing on equipment cleaning. This presentation was officially refered to as the San Joaquin Route Performance Initiative.

Greg Santos gave the Amtrak California Operations Report. Greg mentioned that the San Joaquin is number two in the United States in terms of rating of its On Time Performance (OTP). Only the Capitol Corridor is ahead of the San Joaquin in this regard. Greg also mentioned that over the Labor Day Holiday Weekend there will be a “diamond” in Stockton construction project that will cause a twenty-minute delay. There are on-going operations meetings to decide what will be done as far as where the trains will operate to and from. No exact information was available during the meeting, but a report on how this event went will be presented at the next San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee Meeting.

Andrew Felden, Manager of Northern California Bus Operations presented a detailed report on the Amtrak Thruway Bus Service. Service will be discontinued on schedules 3701 and 3704 between Redding and Medford due to ridership not meeting criteria for breaking even. The two schedules either originate or terminate in Sacramento. The Amtrak Thruway Service out of Sacramento to Reno and South Lake Tahoe was mentioned with some detail. The running times at stops are being re-strung to reflect traffic. It will also revert to its winter operating schedule on Monday 26 October 2009. The contract for this route will be negotiated for renewal as the current contract expires at the end of November.

Caltrans Division of Rail Chief Bill Bronte was next to give reports on Capital Projects, Stimulus and Federal Grants, as well as the State Budget Update. It was mentioned that InterCity Passenger Rail and High Speed Rail combined will on a nationwide level get in the ballpark of $8 Billion in American Recovery Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Track One Projects are Ready-to-go projects and have been environmentally cleared on the federal level. In California alone, there are 36 Track One projects worth $1.2 Billion and will be submitted on Monday 24 August 2009. Of the 36 projects, six are on the San Joaquin Line. There are also Track Two Stimulus Projects in which these projects involve groups of projects and have an end product (i.e. service). These are due on Friday 2 October 2009. It was mentioned that once Positive Train Control is in place along the San Joaquin Line, the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Company will allow speeds to increase up to 90 Miles Per Hour.

Bill Bronte then conveyed to everyone the bad news. The state economy tanked after May 19th. Gas tax revenues are down 20%. The $90.3 Billion Budget allocated by California to Amtrak could perhaps be a target sometime in October in the tune of 15%, as it is being forecast by Bill Bronte, sometime in October. This is one matter all have to watch closely everyday from here on out. The biggest questions that Bill Bronte set on the table for the committee to consider is: What do we need to do to keep our services funded and going as well as group activities to keep services going like the San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee on-going?

Bill Bronte’s report closed with three quick facts, in that:
1) CalTrans Division of Rail is trying to get a federal lien on the New Jersey Comet Cars.
2) Around 90% of work has been completed on the specs for California Car Threes.
3) Delivery expected on the California Car Threes by sometime during State FY 2012-2013.

S.J.V.R.C. Chairman and Merced County Supervisor John Pedrozo gave a Chair’s Report. He followed-up a bit on Bill Bronte’s report in regards to the bad economic times that we are all in right now. He asked all members of the committee to consider, until further notice, that all future San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee Meetings be held all of the time in Merced. The consideration did not require a motion, and after some feedback, it was agreed to on consensus that as long as committee member John Pedrozo is chair, all future San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee Meetings will be held in Merced until further notice.

The next meeting of the San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee is scheduled to take place on a Thursday in the month of October in Merced. Over the next several weeks a specific date will be finalized and staff at the CalTrans Division of Rail will send out electronic communication at an appropriate time allowing folks to review their calendars and respond accordingly.

Tracking Rail News

TRACKING RAIL NEWS . . .

. . . Commentary by Russ Jackson, and PHOTOS by Trainweb’s Carl Morrison and Russ Jackson

August, 2009.

. . . California. . . .
Santa Barbara Train Day photo old car Santa Barbara Train Day photo 09 Santa Barbara’s RailPAC co-sponsored Train Day, delayed because of the May fires, was successfully held on July 18. (left) The “Santa Barbara” was on the private car track west of the station. Many events took place around the historic station.
Santa Barbara Train Day photo Dyson Santa Barbara Train Day Dennis Story
(left) RailPAC President Paul Dyson spoke with reporters, Mr. Dyson and RailPAC Director Dennis Story spoke to the crowd.
For more great color pictures and a full trip report see Carl Morrison’s story on Trainweb’s What’s New page!
. . . By the time you read this the budget fate of the state’s rail program should be known. We hope for only minor cuts not involving service. The program is so highly thought of in the legislature due to years of not asking for operating budget increases while increasing service paid for from higher ticket sales, that despite ridership decreases (see Gene Skoropowski’s monthly report) the service continues to be a factor in the future of the state’s transportation picture as we wait for the high speed rail program to become reality in ten to fifteen years. Wouldn’t it be great if Bill Bronte and Gene were running Amtrak!

May-Graffiti 2007 012 The rebuilt Petaluma NWP station will be a stop for SMART. . . . The Sonoma-Marin (SMART) project selected diesel multiple-unit (DMU) vehicles for the 71-mile rail service in the North Bay Area. For $88 million they will buy 11 “units”, instead of the diesel light rail transit (DLRT) vehicles used on North San Diego County’s “Sprinter.” Only one U.S. manufacturer, Columbus, Ohio-based US Railcar is capable of producing DMU equipment.
May-Graffiti 2007 013 These relics were sitting on the Petaluma station tracks in May, 2007.
Speaking of the North Bay, on June 30 the North Coast Railroad Authority rolled the first freight train on the ex-Northwestern Pacific rail line, originally built all the way to Eureka back in 1914, from Petaluma to Windsor in over 10 years. The line is nearly restored down to the Union Pacific junction south of Napa.

. . . New Mexico, Colorado. With great enthusiasm a plan for a 700 mile high speed corridor from Denver to El Paso along that fast-growing “spine” was announced this month. While the idea was sarcastically received by many eastern folks, it’s an idea that contains such possibilities as the volume of inter-route connections with the Sunset Limited, Southwest Chief, and California Zephyr.
DSCN0152
Amtrak’s Southwest Chief at the Albuquerque station in October, 2006. An early study of the matrix implications of interconnecting these routes was done by RailPAC’s Adrian Herzog and Jon Messier some years ago, and found to be very positive. When you factor in the number of major universities, like UNM, NMState, UTEP, the AF Academy, etc., and a potential robust tourist business piggybacking on the successful Railrunner, local trips would be gravy. Meanwhile, the Union Pacific sold 33 miles of track north of Denver to Colorado’s Regional Transportation District which would build commuter rail there. And, the Grand Junction depot for the California Zephyr will get $114 thousand to upgrade its platform and build a wheelchair lift. That classic station, long in need of rebuilding funds, was where RailPAC Director Bruce Jenkins father worked years ago.

. . . Arizona, Idaho, Washington, Texas.
November 2007-2 007
Grand Luxe cars on the rear of Amtrak’s California Zephyr at Vacaville, CA, in November, 2007.
The Grand Canyon Railway’s new owner, Phil Anschutz, has purchased the rolling stock of the defunct Grand Luxe, which was also known as the American European Express. And, they have announced that the National Park Service may allow an increase in service to three daily round-trips from the current two. . . . Amtrak has plans to continue to stop the Empire Builder at the Sandpoint, ID, depot, although the long-term plans for the classic station stop are hazy. Local folk fear that if their depot is not preserved the train might no longer stop there. Amtrak has done that to communities in other states. . . . A second Cascade train from Seattle to Vancouver which was scheduled to start with the Winter Olympics next February will begin in August as a seven month “pilot project.” And, the overhaul of the Cascade’s Talgo trainsets has been completed and they will no longer use Superliners (see paragraph 1 for where those cars should go). Speaking of Talgos, the state of Wisconsin will buy two “14-car trains” (with an option for two more) for the Chicago-Milwaukee Hiawatha Service for $47 million and the establishment of a Talgo manufacturing plant in the state. . . . In Texas, Phase 1 of DART’s newest extension will open September 14. The very successful light rail line’s Green Line will eventually extend from Carrollton through downtown Dallas to Fair Park and the Baylor Medical Center. Construction has begun on Denton County’s “A-Train” which will run 21 miles along the 100-year old M-K-T right-of-way from DART’s Carrolton station north to downtown Denton, but will require a cross-platform transfer between the two. The A-Train will use diesel-powered vehicles when it opens in late 2010.

. . . Is the daily Sunset Limited plan dead? The longer the debate goes on at Amtrak the more many rail advocates are inclined to believe it won’t happen. CEO Joseph Boardman says it’s equipment issues. Well, we know his people were saying the equipment was available as recently as May, so what has changed? There are enough Superliner cars in use on the Heartland Flyer, Pere Marquette, Vancouver Cascades, the non-state owned Superliners running on the California corridors, and with the rebuilds coming out of Beech Grove what’s the problem? The internal disputes at Amtrak are legendary and apparently continue. The Amtrak Board of Directors is supposed to meet on this issue in September, but why does the decision have to wait that long? Maybe some day we’ll get answers. . . . Meanwhile, Amtrak has lost another highly thought-of leader: Don Saunders, the Asst. VP West region, resigned to join Veolia Transportation, the company that operates Metrolink and 150 other rail services, as COO. In June former Amtrak CEO Tom Downs joined Veolia as its rail division Chairman. Who goes next? What’s the next Amtrak “event”? Well, there are three studies of interest: Montana (North Coast Limited), Idaho-Oregon (Pioneer), and the just released Sunset Limited to Florida debacle. Read the commentary in the August Western Rail Passenger Review about that one. It’s great insight into how things go when railroading and politics collide.

. . . On Time Performance. . . . The good old summertime continues to see great results for the western long distance trains. Not only are the passengers flocking to ride them, but they are getting to their destinations very close to on time. Up to July 21, At Los Angeles: Train 3, the Southwest Chief, the average delay per train was one minute!!! despite one very bad day. Train 1, the Sunset Limited, has been arriving regularly as much as an hour early. Train 11, the Coast Starlight, had only two bad days all month. But, it was Train 5, the California Zephyr arriving in Emeryville that had the one big show of lateness this month. On July 15 there were two #5’s going west out of Denver! Rail reporter Gene Poon wrote that the train that departed Chicago on the 13th reported it needed work that “can’t be done anywhere between Chicago and Oakland,” A signal bridge fell down on the train after it struck a car on the tracks, and pushed it into the bridge badly damaging the lead locomotive, baggage, and transition sleeper. One train was turned at Reno, the other went on to Oakland for repairs, and passengers were bussed. On the 15th that train was late into EMY 1330 minutes (22 hours).

. . . Trip Report. “We’ve all seen and commented on the “never again” phenomenon when Amtrak screws up. There’s another dimension to that, when everything goes well. The comment below is copied from an email from my sister, who just used a San Joaquin to get from Martinez to Stockton with her 9-year old. This is the “opportunity cost” of headquarters slighting the western services–building word of mouth, and lifetime family receptivity to rail, even for trips where the car is dominant. And this leads to commercial opportunity. No doubt Amtrak lost money on a straight cash basis on this trip–the sheer cost of ticketing two passengers probably exceeded their $8.25 gross revenue. But this is the same family that bought a Bedroom on # 6 last winter for a Martinez-Chicago trip based on experiences like this one. That trip was solidly profitable for Amtrak, and because it went well built in a reservoir of goodwill that will generate more such sales in the future.” — Andrew C. Selden, Minneapolis.

Reports

Packed High Speed Rail Authority Meeting

August 6, 2009
Report by Bill Kerby, RailPAC Treasurer

Spilling out into the hallway from the Sacramento Area Council of Government’s board room, prospective contractors, local government officials and the media largely remained for nearly four hours of a two part meeting August 6th.

Regular business included the ratification of agreements with the governments of Italy and Germany for mutual exchange of technical information on high speed rail operations with California’s HSR Authority. Admittedly, the agreements, like those with Asian and other European governments, appear to provide an information flow into the State without much technical information in return, but the allure of future contracts in supplying goods and services for the train sets and other infrastructure components was evident among members of the audience. Recently elected chair of the Authority, Curt Pringle–Mayor of Anaheim, led the meeting with a different tone and pace than those of his predecessor. Marshalling statements by fellow board members and consultants into a consistent theme, Mr. Pringle also expressed a desire that policies and proceedings of the commission, including the August 6th meeting, be transparent and easily accessible via the HSR website. Other information items included the announcement that Jack Barker had been reassigned from the Governor’s Office to the Authority with the title “Deputy Director of External Affairs” where his job is to “coordinate” information flows from the Authority.

After adjournment of the Board Meeting, an “operations workshop” began five minutes later that featured a progress report by the Chief Engineer and Project Manager. The grade profile of the Los Angeles to San Francisco route, associated power consumption of each section of the route and running speeds were presented as real time estimates that will closely approximate actual running times and power consumption. Project Manager Daniel’s Power Point slide presentation is posted at

http://www.cahighspeedrail.ca.gov/images/chsr/20090807104757_AugustBoardMeeting.ppt

Mr. Daniels explained that, due to the complete absence of any governmental standards, rules or regulations concerning train operations above 150 miles per hour in the United States, technical agreements with Asian and European high speed train professionals are paying off in the creation of standards in the US from the best practices abroad. Daniels observed that President Obama is pressing the Federal Railroad Administration to adopt regulations for above 150 MPH operations in proactive ways—ways that he has not seen in his thirty years of experience in working on high speed railway operations in this country.

In a fortnight, a request for proposal for the construction of a heavy maintenance facility will be released. With a footprint about the size of an urban college campus, the 200 acre site is targeted for the Central Valley of California. Later, RFP’s for two light maintenance facilities will be sent and each of these requires 80 acres of land. Asserting his leadership, Mr. Pringle led questioning of the Executive Director of the HSRA, Medhi Morshed, and Mr. Daniels. Board Member Lynn Shenk opined that selection of a “preferred maintenance site is wide open.” Pringle ended the discussion with the conclusion that the Board of Directors of the High Speed Rail Authority will be making the decision.

Workshops, with operations theme in Sacramento, cover two additional topics: finance and administration and oversight. The firm KPMG is working on content of the last two topics. Board member Shenk called for the appointment of a Chief Financial Officer who would report directly to the Board. Chair Pringle indicated that he would place the matter on the agenda of the next board meeting. Given the legislature and Governor’s approvals of a $190 million operating budget and the additional bond-supplied $90 million from Proposition 1A, the complexity and scope of this project, the public needs to focus on the primary purpose of a high speed rail system which is to provide superior mobility for the public. RailPAC looks forward to transparent progress reporting from the Authority.

Reports

Cleaner Passenger Train Action in Sacramento from Head end Power to Rear End Varnish

A Special Event Report and PHOTOS by Bill Kerby, RailPAC Treasurer
July 22, 2009
Sacramento depot Dickinson 7-09
Building on a theme that greener technology is better technology, Amtrak California unveiled at the Sacramento Valley Station the first FP 59 locomotive to be EPA certified emissions standard at Tier 2.

With this certification, NOX emissions are cut in half and other smog producing components are also slashed. After three months of testing the locomotive at the Electro Motive facility near Chicago, this power unit proved that processing the air entering the diesel’s combustion chambers can be at least as helpful as treating exhaust gasses. Under the leadership of Steve Fretwell, Chief of Locomotive Technology Branch at Caltrans, the nine partners creating a cleaner diesel locomotive-including Electro Motive’s experts-redesigned cooling systems, modified internal components of the 12 cylinder diesel and installed latest versions of microprocessor controls. In these modifications, no catalytic converters or urea treatment of exhaust are deployed.
Sacramento depot Iwisaki 7-09 Randy Iwasaki, tapped by the Governor to be the next Director of Caltrans,
made a few introductory remarks in the Sacramento Area Station, including the fortuitous outcome that lower emissions come with lower fuel consumption Gene Skoropowski, Managing Director of the Capitol Corridor and Jim Spering Chairman of the Capitol Corridor Board reported on the growth of the system to 32 daily trains with more than 500 million vehicle miles taken off the highway. Replacing future vehicle trips with lowered emission trains will create an even smaller carbon footprint in California. Deborah Jordan, US EPA Region 9, expressed her satisfaction that the locomotive standing for it’s unveiling on Track 4 had the lowest emissions of any passenger diesel locomotive in the United States. Chief Fretwell stated that while some Tier 2 freight locomotives are in service, “this is the first passenger type locomotive of this Tier level.” James Goldstene, representing the California EPA, expanded on Jordan’s remarks by pointing out health benefits from reduced diesel emissions and expressed the view that California EPA wants every locomotive to meet Tier 4 emission standards soon. Darryl Clare of the Sacramento Metropolitan Area Air Quality Management Board told the audience while there are 14 F 59 locomotives in the repower program; funds are available to start work on only half of this number.

Sacramento County Supervisor, Roger Dickinson, (first photo) worked on the theme that policymakers should think locally and act globally. Solutions on reducing air pollution come from many local communities working toward shared goals. He is pictured next to the B end of this pioneering power unit.

Sacramento depot Iwasaki and Dof R 7-09 (left to right) Lisa Martin, Caltrans Marketing; Randy Iwasaki, Deputy Director, Caltrans; Lori Priosio, Katz and Associates; Debbi Mullins, Caltrans Marketing; Steve Fretwell, Caltrans Technology; Andy Morse, Caltrans Equipment.
Caltrans staff followed some officials who elected to climb aboard the engine and peer into the cavern where the prime mover idled quietly, making both familiar and some new sounds, as the new components marshaled the operation of the engine, which was built in October of 2001 and repowered in 2009.

There were no marching bands accompanying a few balloons for the fifty to sixty people at the event. Similarly, there were no dynamic tests of the locomotive during the event.

Sacramento depot photo 7-09
Yet, standing within 50 feet of the repowered engine, another recently rebuilt piece of rolling stock glided past as the last car of the California Zephyr: the oldest AMTRAK certified and operating Pullman observation car in the U.S (built 1911): the Federal, based in Rochester, NY. Mr. David Luca, Manager of Building and Grounds of the Rochester and Genesee Valley Railroad Museum posed for RailPAC just before departure. Both front end and rear end units were on stage at Sacramento July 22nd.

Editorials

Passenger Trains make money, but Railroads need Freight to be Profitable.

Editorial By Noel T. Braymer

From the beginning freight has always been the main business of American Railroads. Passenger Trains generally are profitable, but not as much as freight.

In many cases passenger service was mostly used to develop land owned by the railroads. The railroads up until the 1940’s had enough freight business to justify high capacity rail lines to handle large numbers of passenger and freight trains. As the freeways were built the railroads quickly lost much of its time sensitive, high value freight to trucks. New factories were not built near railheads. Not only did factories not need rail for shipping, but with natural gas and oil pipelines serving factories, factories no longer needed the railroad for coal deliveries. By the 1950’s the railroads were fighting to stay in business. The railroads had to cut costs. Railroad employment dropped from a million and a half in the 1940’s to just over 200,000 today. Thousand of miles of unprofitable branch and secondary lines were abandoned.

The easiest way the railroads had of cutting costs was cutting back on its infrastructure. This meant in many cases deferred maintenance, pulling out tracks, switches, sidings, signaling, buildings or anything else they felt they could live without. The major obstacle to doing this was the Passenger Train for many railroads. There was often public opposition to passenger service cutbacks. Freight trains often are not on a tight schedule and long trains didn’t have to be run frequently. Good passenger service on the other hand requires a well maintained railroad which is expensive. This is particularly true of commuter and corridor rail service which often are in areas without much freight business. Three of the most passenger hostile railroads in the 1960’s were the New York Central, Pennsylvania and Southern Pacific. These railroads had commuter trains they badly wanted to get rid of. For the Southern Pacific downgrading infrastructure became an obsession.

Many of the other railroads had only long distance trains running mostly on their mainline which are kept in the best of shape by the railroads. By the early 1970’s things for the railroads hit bottom with the bankruptcy of the PennCentral. With this came the formation of Amtrak. Even then railroads with long distance passenger trains refused to join Amtrak or joined reluctantly. Their reluctance wasn’t because they loved their passenger trains, but they questioned whether Amtrak would be greater evil than running their own passenger trains. The point is railroads were not going out of business at this time because of passenger trains, but for lack of profitable freight to pay for the railroad infrastructure.

The freeways which were brand new 50 years are now literally falling apart. Not only that they are often jammed with traffic, but it isn’t practical to build more freeways in densely populated areas. Also there isn’t enough money now to keep up with the repairs for the freeways we have let alone to build new ones. A double tracked railroad can carry more passengers and freight than a typical 10 lane urban freeway. Many railroads have rights of way wide enough for up to 4 tracks. Upgrading and grade separating existing railroads is vastly more productive than trying to build more freeways. In California we have seen the start of government paying to upgrade the railroads to improve passenger service. This has also improved freight service for the railroads. This process is accelerating with more Federal Funds now available for improvements for railroads. A faster railroad is a better railroad. This improves the productivity of the railroad by increasing capacity. Railroads will be able to run more time sensitive, high value freight at passenger trains speeds. This will open new markets for the railroads. There is plenty of land available for redevelopment near the railroad which can supply new passengers and freight business

Infrastructure is a major cost for society. The railroads in America are unique because they have been expected to pay for their entire infrastructure. Trucks, Airlines, Ships and Barges don’t own and maintain roads, airports, harbors or canals. The prospect that passenger trains can make enough money to pay for all their infrastructure costs alone is not good. Freight and passenger trains can operate together on a well maintained railroad; particularly when there is government support.

Commentary

Amtrak and the Sunset Limited

THOUGHTS ON THE BOARDMAN CORRESPONDENCE
Commentary by Paul Dyson, RailPAC President

RailPAC has consistently supported daily service and restoration of the Sunset Route to Florida.

A lot of the Amtrak people we talk to agree that thrice weekly service just doesn’t work; the 7 day a week costs are still there but the revenue isn’t! At our May 2 meeting in Los Angeles a senior Amtrak marketing official, Brian Rosenwald, give an authoritative presentation regarding service options for the Sunset and Eagle drawing this very conclusion, and we have to assume that he was there with the blessing of Amtrak management. His boss, Mr. Boardman, was there earlier in the meeting, and since Mr. Rosenwald is still employed by Amtrak it’s fair to conclude that his presentation represented Amtrak thinking on this issue.

But is it? A few weeks later Amtrak published its report on the options of restorating service between New Orleans and Florida. (PRIIA Section 226 Gulf Coast Service Plan Report) It’s hard to believe that this report came from the same organization as the Rosenwald presentation. While Rosenwald attempts to look at the issues from a business and dare I say entrepreneurial perspective the Gulf Report simply looks for any cost, real or imagined, that can be logged against this route to try and make service restoration look unaffordable. They are still using discredited costing data that indicate that thrice weekly service is less costly than daily. The objective was either to shake down the states or the federal government for an operating subsidy or to hang up a “do not disturb” sign. It’s just too much trouble to meet the obligation to maintain the national network, let’s make it look as costly and deficit laden as possible and perhaps it will go away.

Mr. Boardman took the time to write to me on July 14 in response to my letter of July 13 supporting Mr. Rosenwald’s ideas for daily service. In spite of hearing that the daily service would not require additional equipment Mr. Boardman’s note stated that equipment was the roadblock to making the desired changes. This must be part of the same schizophrenia that produced the both Gulf Coast Report and the Rosenwald plan. There certainly seem to be two agendas at work within Amtrak, probably compounded by the fact that Mr. Boardman is the interim President, and is still learning on the job.

So where do we go from here? We need to focus on two facts. One, that the Sunset is an existing, Amtrak National System train, and that the service is only suspended between New Orleans and Florida. We, together with every rail advocacy group along the route and nationally should insist that service be restored immediately. Second, we need to educate legislators and the public that daily service is more cost effective than thrice weekly, and that daily service will actually reduce Amtrak’s deficit.

RailPAC will soon be circulating a resolution calling for complete restoration of the route, daily service, and setting up of a connecting hub at New Orleans which will also open up service between Chicago and Florida. It’s time to make some noise.
Paul Dyson, RailPAC President, 07/28/09