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.

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