Monthly Archives

September 2009

Tracking Rail News

TRACKING RAIL NEWS

. . . PHOTOS . . . and Commentary by Russ Jackson
. . . October 1, 2009.

Snows visit 2008 019
(Photo right) California Zephyr waiting to depart Sacramento station.
. . . On Time Performance and other Amtrak news:
. . . Good news for travelers! . . . Amtrak Guest Rewards
is offering double points on all routes, all fall, until December 19. You must register in advance by using Amtrak.com or calling Amtrak.
. . . Isn’t it great when there is good OTP consistently? This summer has seen outstanding performance.

Noel 100_2049 Starlight at LAUS night

Coast Starlight at night after arrival at Los Angeles. (Noel Braymer photo)

For example, on Labor Day Train 11, The Coast Starlight arrived in Sacramento at 5:18 A.M., an hour early, and at Los Angeles Union Station exactly on time. Granted, that day there was little freight on the UP due to the holiday, but smooth running is smooth running and we will take it. RailPAC’s Mike Barnbaum reports: “Amtrak Train 5, the California Zephyr, which I boarded in Salt Lake City on Sunday 6 September 2009, was 3 Hours and 21 Minutes early into SLC station (8:09 P.M. Mountain Time) and had to wait until 11:30 P.M. Mountain Time to proceed towards its final destination of Emeryville. (Note: this train traveled via Wyoming rather than its regular route) The arrival time in Sacramento on Labor Day for this train was 3:10 P.M. Pacific Time. For this reason, passengers holding separate Sacramento to San Jose Tickets were able to board the 3:35 P.M. Capitol Corridor Train 743 instead of waiting until 5:40 P.M. for Train 747. The Zephyr, (both trains five and six) will undergo major schedule changes on Saturday 10 October 2009. The Eastbound Train #6 will depart Emeryville and most station in California forty minutes later. The Westbound Train # 5 is scheduled into California Stations approximately one hour earlier.”

. . . Now for the bad news. Don’t look for a daily Sunset Limited-Texas Eagle in the Fall timetable. The well-received plan that VP Brian Rosenwald 100_2542 presented to the RailPAC-NARP meeting in Los Angeles, which was widely reported and confirmed by many has run into the usual roadblocks at the top at Amtrak. In response to an inquiry widely distributed from this writer, one answer told the story: “Rosenwald has been told NO but wants to take it to the Board for final decision.” That shows the disarray at Amtrak HQ, as many have said the equipment is available for the daily train plus the connecting stub train from San Antonio to New Orleans. Employees can be trained, etc.; what is missing is the will to do what is needed to enhance revenue on this train and get it off the hot seat of criticism. Are they waiting for the states to pay for this like they will have to do if they want the mandated studies to be carried out on returning service from New Orleans to Jacksonville, or in the just released study to return the Pioneer? Just tell me why the affected states have to pay for new equipment before those trains can be restored on routes that have been classified as being in the “national system” before? Amtrak worked that angle successfully with the Coast Daylight in California, and you don’t see that train running to-from San Francisco yet even if the state wants to pay for it. Do you see any willingness on Amtrak’s part to invest in new and-or replacement equipment for its Superliner fleet?

. . . Two new services in September.
DSCN2968
. . . In Minnesota, the long-planned Northstar
commuter line from Big Lake to downtown Minneapolis was testing trains that will begin revenue service on November 16. (Photo by MinnARP’s Dennis Larson at the Coon Rapids station.) MinnARP President, Andrew C. Selden, has been working with this project and says, “This will be a banner day. Although no one involved will have the slightest idea who Byron Nordberg was (he was a founder of RailPAC), this whole program is a direct outgrowth of visionary ideas that Byron advanced for using rail to respond to mobility demand in a dispersed urban environment in Minnesota. In 1989-90 he and I surveyed the entire route of what would become the Northstar project.”

stadiumlrtnorthstarMr. Selden sent a photo taken from atop the under construc tion Target Field baseball park for the Twins, which will open next season with “a major transit hub (at the exact site that yours truly first identified 20 years ago).” Both the Northstar (lower right in the photo) and the light rail Hiawatha will stop there (upper center in photo). Sounds like AT&T Park in San Francisco and Petco Park in San Diego, which successfully encourage fans to use public transportation to get to the games. How different from the Dallas Cowboys, who opened their palatial stadium this Fall, and if you watched the inaugural game against the New York Giants on Sunday night, September 20, 105,000 plus fans attended, none of whom were able to use public transportation because voters in the city of Arlington, which houses that stadium and the Rangers baseball park, voted three times to not have public transportation in their city, as “We don’t want those kinds of people.” Oh, and to park at the new stadium is $75 a game.

DART Green Line 9-18-09 004But, the good news from the Dallas area was the opening of the new DART Green Line’s first phase, from the American Airlines Center “Victory” station it shares with the TRE through down town Dallas to Baylor Medical Center and MLK station. It is open just in time to carry riders going to the State Fair at Fair Park. The service opened “ahead of schedule and under budget.” The line will be extended northwest to Carrollton in 2010.

. . . Trip Report: “I have been on the Empire Builder several times this summer (as a National Park Service volunteer, so I have had pretty free run of the train). The Eastbound #8 is supposed to be but rarely is equipped with all Superliner-II rolling stock and the better engines, to assure a top quality customer experience to justify a slightly higher fare structure than the other western transcons. This is the same experiment that kept the elevated quasi-traditional dining service in place on this train when the others were downgraded. What I have seen in terms of the rolling stock is a sadly degraded environment. The cars are not clean, even on No 7 leaving Chicago; some are smelly; restrooms are not in good shape physically or mechanically (i.e., they work, but it seems that there is always some issue with them); surfaces are badly worn out in places, leaving a third-world impression of tattered and worn, ill-kept, trains; signage is worn out or missing, or crudely hand-written and taped up; and things are literally falling apart inside the cars. And again, this is supposed to be Amtrak’s best effort (in the west). I have NEVER seen any main-line train in this kind of physical condition in Europe (except in the UK). The result is that almost any ad campaign is likely to create a consumer expectation that will be inevitably disappointed by the travel experience, even if employees are well behaved and the train is on time. A majority of customers with whom I have interacted are still first-timers or foreigners, so many “first impressions” are being formed with every trip. Since mid-June, each EB has had more than 300 passengers on board between St. Paul and La Crosse. We turn over anywhere between 90 and 125 at St. Paul on each train. That adds up to a lot of people who, if not exactly ‘never-agains,’ are at least left with negative impressions, and far from a “come back soon” experience.” – Andrew C. Selden

Amtrak forced to restore On Board Service Chiefs. A report by Gene Poon. “As a result of a ruling handed down in a lawsuit filed against Amtrak by the American Railway and Airline Supervisors Associations (ARASA), Amtrak is being forced to restore the On Board Service Chief jobs that worked long distance trains for several years beginning in the 1990s. Amtrak had eliminated the Chiefs and replaced them with Customer Service Managers. The CSMs’ last day will be Sept. 21; the new Chief jobs will begin October 1. First priority for the new Chiefs’ jobs goes to former Chiefs who are still employed by Amtrak. Those Customer Service Managers who came from a craft and who have maintained their union membership will be able to revert to their crafts and maintain prior seniority. The CSMs who were hired off the street will be terminated, though Amtrak could always come up with some new positions for them, and any CSAs could apply for remaining new Chiefs’ jobs. Plans are for 21 new On Board Service Chiefs, each one assigned to a particular long distance train. For instance, out of Los Angeles, there will be three: one each for the Coast Starlight, Southwest Chief and Sunset Limited. In a change in the chain of command, the Chiefs will report to Transportation, headed by Vice President Richard Phelps (the CSMs reported to Brian Rosenwald in Customer Service).”

Events

1st Annual Central Coast Railroad Festival

CCRF logo
Family Fun Event with Activities from Paso Robles to Santa Maria – October 8-12, 2009. A variety of free events and activities will take place at numerous railroad, historical and educational locations throughout San Luis Obispo and northern Santa Barbara Counties. See their website announcement at www.ccrf.com

The Central Coast Railroad Festival will be a family friendly event designed to please both the casual train buff and the avid rail fan. Attendees will be able to celebrate rail’s history and future while participating in all types of modeling, various train rides, exhibits, ceremonies, dedications, historical presentations and special programs. Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner and Coast Starlight run daily along the beautiful Central Coast beaches and through its spacious hillsides and attendees are encouraged to take advantage of this service.

Several larger events will be presented during the Central Coast Railroad Festival in San Luis Obispo, Oceano, Arroyo Grande and Grover Beach. A Rail Celebration in San Luis Obispo’s Historic Railroad District will be held on Saturday. The Celebration will be the first public event at the recently restored Freight House which will soon be the home of the San Luis Obispo Railroad Museum. The festivities that day will include demonstrations of historic rail equipment on the new display track, a dedication of a public art piece entitled “ICONS OF AN ERA”, walking tours of this historic rail area, viewing of a private rail car and a golden spike ceremony as well as music, food and rail organization booths.

Sunday’s focus will move to the south and north of San Luis Obispo. The historic Oceano Depot will host an open house featuring the San Luis Obispo Model Railroad Association’s many running model layouts showcasing several model scales. The San Luis Obispo Railroad Museum will be hosting a fundraiser at Bitter Creek Western Railroad in Arroyo Grande which will feature live miniature steamers. Garden railroad and rail themed winery tours will take place in the Paso Robles area that day. A garden railroad layout tour will take place near Orcutt. The Exploration Station will be facilitating a round trip family ride on the Pacific Surfliner between Grover Beach and San Luis Obispo.

These major events will be complemented by numerous historical walks and talks at sites of the Pacific Coast Railway and Southern Pacific Railroad throughout the weekend. The Festival will kick off at its “Big Booth” at the Thursday night Farmers’ Market in San Luis Obispo which will include representatives from several participating organizations as well as a running N scale model train. Family events, educational programs, musical concerts and film viewings will take place at County Libraries and several area historical society facilities. The downtown San Luis Obispo Library Community Room will act as the Festival’s Information and Family Activity Center and will open Thursday evening with special programs This Information and Family Center is sponsored by Amtrak California and will feature daily programs, rail photography exhibits and a running model of the Pacific Coast Railway.

Amtrak California has just been announced as the Central Coast Railroad Festival’s major sponsor. Joining Amtrak California are four other featured sponsors: the WestPac Companies, the Hind Foundation, Rabobank and the City of San Luis Obispo. KCOY 12 and FOX 11 are the Festival’s exclusive television media partners.

Complete information for the Central Coast Railroad Festival, a full schedule of events and a list of participating organizations can be found at www.ccrrf.com or by calling the festival office at 805-773-4173.
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Editorials, Rail Photos

Any Excuse Is Good For A Train Trip

Report and Photos by Noel T. Braymer

Noel 100_2649 Metrolink to Lancaster 9PMRecently I had a free Saturday afternoon. Since I like to go for rides and I always need more photos for the Newsletter it was a good time for a train ride. Metrolink has a weekend train that leaves at 2:10 PM out of Oceanside to Los Angeles and a train to get me back home by 10:45 PM.
(NOTE: PHOTOS have now been added to this report. Photo right shows a 9 PM Metrolink train to Lancaster at LAUS.)

Noel 100_2646 NJ Comets at LAUS 9-09
NJ Transit “Comet” cars at Los Angeles Union Station.
My first surprise was seeing how dirty the outside of the train was. It looked like it had been in a dust storm. The inside was okay. After leaving Oceanside I noticed some other Metrolink trainsets in the yard had a Comet car painted in Utah Front Range colors. My train this day however didn’t. As I traveled as much as I enjoyed the trip I couldn’t help thinking it would be better if it could go a little faster.

Noel 100_1376 SD Trolley at SD station
Photo: San Diego Trolley and a Coaster at San Diego station
San Diego County is applying for 377 million dollars from the 8 billion dollar High Speed Rail Stimulus funding. San Diego wants the money for installing Positive Train Control signaling as well as double tracking more of the county while replacing old wooden single track bridges with double track concrete bridges which have lower maintenance costs. San Diego also wants money for 4 pedestrian tunnels in Encinitas and 6 million for a platform for events at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. San Diego should get some money; the question is how much given the competition for this money from so many other states.

As I traveled I watch the many grade separations built on this route in the last 30 years or so. The California High Speed Rail Project plans to build a 4 track railroad (double track for passengers and double track for freight between Los Angeles and Fullerton. The first leg of HSR is to continue to Anaheim to a new transportation center built between Angels Stadium and the Honda Center where the Mighty Ducks play. For speeds of up to 110 miles per hours on this segment will be fully grade separated. Despite the progress made over the years, there are 9 grade crossings that will need to be grade separated just between Anaheim and Fullerton, Between Fullerton and Los Angeles there are 8 more grade crossing that will have to be grade separated. This doesn’t also include the need for a flyover that will be needed at Fullerton at the junction of the BNSF Mainline and the Surfline. There are also at least 4 diamonds at railroad crossing to be dwelt with. There is talk now of a 2011 ground breaking for High Speed Rail between Los Angeles and Anaheim. It is going to be a big job just for this segment.

Noel 100_2614 Expo line construction
Exposition Boulevard. looking toward USC from Exposition Park showing Expo Line construction Once I got to Los Angeles I planned to check out as much of the local rail transit as I could. First step was getting a 5 dollar day pass good on all transit trains and local buses of the LAMTA. The downtown subway was keeping busy and even on a Saturday had frequent trains. There were more video information displays in the stations. Good idea but finding the right train can still be confusing. Los Angeles is supposed to be putting in turnstiles soon at the rail transit stations. This is a bad idea which only benefits turnstile manufacturers who are said to have lobbied local politicians hard for this. At 7th and Flower I got on a DASH Bus which are shuttle buses run by the City of Los Angeles which serve local areas. I paid a quarter and traveled to the USC/Exposition Park area. Once there I took pictures of construction of the Expo-Line on Flower Street and Exposition Blvd. The Expo Line should be running by late next year. The DASH Buses stop running at 5 PM which is when I got to USC. But with my pass I got back to Union Station via local bus, Blue and Red Lines.

GoldLineon1stStbridge5-15-09
Gold Line train extension on the First Street bridge I decided to take my main trip on the Gold Line from Union Station to Pasadena. I must admit the Gold Line is something of a guilty pleasure of mine. If there was a contest for most scenic transit rail line in Los Angeles County then the Gold Line would come on top. Frankly for scenery the Red and Purple subway lines would be at the bottom. The Gold Line easily has variety for scenery. The Gold Line starts at the north end in the middle of the 210 Freeway in Pasadena on what was once part of the Santa Fe line between Los Angeles and San Bernardino. After going in a tunnel under the freeway you stop in downtown Pasadena at a station surrounded by new housing and commercial development built because of the Gold Line. After another tunnel under Colorado Blvd. there are more stations with new development. As you head for Los Angeles you travel through some of the older neighborhoods of Los Angeles. The area is quite hilly and has lots of landscaping. There are many older houses including Victorian Mansions along the route. Many of the houses look like those in old Silent Movies. And quite likely they were in the Silent Movies. There is an elevated station at Chinatown which leads to a spectacular aerial view as you descend into Union Station. When the Gold Line is extended later this year to East LA, the trains will become the first run through service out of LAUS going over the Freeway and then down to the side of Alameda Blvd., then over the First St. Bridge at street level before dropping into over a mile of subway with 2 subway stations in the heart of East LA. As the train heads back on to street level there is a roller coaster ride in the middle of 3rd Street to the end of the line.

Noel 100_1039 Metrolink at Palmdale
Metrolink train at the Palmdale station on the Lancaster line. After taking some time for dinner and resting at the Waiting Room at Union Station, I went up to the platform for my 8:45 departure at about 8:15. I was not alone at the platform. At my train and at a train for Lancaster there were Los Angeles County Sheriff Deputies at some of the doors of the Metrolink trains. They opened one half of the sliding doors and the checked the tickets of the passengers as they entered. As we waited to leave there was a late arrival for a train from San Bernardino due in at 8:40. Our train was held for passengers making connection for our train when it arrived around 8:45. Metrolink on-board crews do a good job of announcing connections and tracks numbers for connecting Metrolink trains. It is good advertising for potential trips for existing Metrolink riders. What is still lacking though are more connections with other Metrolink trains and other services such as Amtrak and Coaster trains.

Noel 100_0813 Metrolink at San Clemente 9-09
Metrolink train at the San Clemente station. When we got to the Laguna Nigel/Mission Viejo station we stopped at the end of Orange County’s double tracking and waited, and waited. The conductor got on the intercom to announce that we were waiting for a northbound Surfliner and that “Amtrak was running late today”. Despite the late start at LAUS and the long meet, my train was less than 5 minutes late into Oceanside.

Commentary

LOSSAN BREAKTHROUGH?

Commentary by Paul Dyson, RailPAC President
The September 9th LOSSAN Board meeting at Oceanside may well be regarded as a turning point in bringing some rationality and common sense to the governance and operation of this corridor. And it perhaps was appropriate that the meeting was held at Oceanside, the site of the “Berlin Wall” between Metrolink and Coaster services.

In addition to a large turn out of Board members and staffs some key executives were present, notably Metro CEO Art Leahy, OCTA CEO Will Kempton, and recently appointed Matt Tucker, CEO from NCTD. If we are finally to see some progress in implementing RailPAC’s vision of an integrated customer focused service along this corridor, these are the people that will make it happen.

Without going into too much detail, (I’ll be glad to provide you with a link to the reports) the current state of affairs has its history in the 1990s when the southern California Counties passed up the opportunity to form a 9 county rail “super agency” and instead kept LOSSAN for intercity services and SCRRA and NCTD for commuter. Would a super agency have done better? That’s academic for now. To show how hard it is for agencies to give up any independence we see the desire of San Diego County to separate itself from the barbarians to the north, manifested not only in the “wall” at Oceanside but by their acquisition of otherwise similar rolling stock to Metrolink but with an incompatible “hotel” voltage. So much for coordination.

As a result we have three passenger operators, six counties and two railroads owning track, and a lot of taxpayer money being spent on administration, to operate a couple of dozen intercity trains and a couple of hundred commuter trains on weekdays, perhaps sixty on weekends. This boutique “service” still presents itself to the public as three separate entities with separate schedules and ticketing systems and no planned connections. On weekends Metrolink cannot even organize its own handful of trains to connect with one another, the subject of a forthcoming article.

So what do we have to hope for from this meeting? Well, needless to say another study was called for, to compliment the wheelbarrow load that have been published over the last 20 years since LOSSAN came into being. But at least this one is supposed to be done within a month (!!) with a meeting scheduled in October or early November to implement some of the recommendations. The Board “directed the member agency CEOs to draft a memorandum of understanding to among other thing hire a project manager and develop a work plan that can be implemented by June 2010”. (Full text available).

Board Chairman Art Brown permitted me to make some additional comments during this discussion. I pointed out (again!) the example of Switzerland, the geographical similarities of size and population with the Southern California area, and that the Taktfahrplan Schweiz had been centrally directed and taken 10 years to implement. We need an Executive Director to move the process forward.

What do we stand to gain from a unified rail authority for Southern California? Let’s turn to our old friend the matrix theory. In this we measure the utility of a network by counting the number of origin/destination pairs that a network offers. Today the 55 stations of Metrolink (should they choose to operate a coordinated schedule) offer a matrix of 1485. The 8 station Coaster service has a matrix of 62. Simply by combining these services into a 62 station network increases the matrix to 1891 without a yard of new concrete or rail! Add in the Oceanside – Escondido Sprinter’s 14 additional stations and the 7 Surfliner stops north of Oxnard and we have 83 rail stations with a combined matrix of 3403, more than double today’s Metrolink. That means, if we build a coordinated and regular interval schedule with connections at hubs such as LAUS, we can offer each rail station in Southern California a decent service to 82 other stations either by direct train or easy connection, with a single through ticket. This surely is a worthy objective, which will give taxpayers excellent value for money and could well generate sufficient additional journeys and ticket sales to support the majority of operating costs.

We congratulate Chairman Brown and Vice Chair Jacki Bacharach, and the indefatigable Linda Culp of LOSSAN for moving this forward. We are delighted that Art Leahy has taken up the challenge and at last shown that Los Angeles County recognizes the value of regional rail service. RailPAC will continue to encourage and exhort the players so that passengers and taxpayers finally enjoy the service they deserve.

Paul Dyson, President

Tracking Rail News

TRACKING RAIL NEWS . . .

. . . PHOTOS and Commentary by Russ Jackson

. . . California.November 2007 007
. . . The Solano County city of Vallejo had some good economic news this month when Caltrans announced that Althom will open a Mare Island facility in October to overhaul all 66 California cars on a $13.1 million contract. Door replacement, wheelchair lift upgrades and one wreck repair. The deal will take two years at the 112,000 sq ft facility on that closed Navy base. Photo shows Capitol Corridor Managing Director, Gene Skoropowski, boarding a Capitol train at the Suisun station.

. . . The historic 1892 Chico train-bus station, Chico train-bus station 02 within walking distance of the University campus and downtown, will get a half million dollar upgrade from Amtrak stimulus money, plus another 150K from city transportation funds. An 8″ above top of rail platform will replace the old asphalt one and be extended to cover two city blocks, and a new deck will be built. Construction date is not yet set. The Coast Starlight stops in Chico, Caltrans has 8 Thruway buses stop there, and in 2006-7 16,037 passengers rode the train or the buses, nearly 7,000 on the train, to-from this University city. Just think what the ridership there would be with a daytime train!

. . .
Reality TV show celebrity Jesse James was on board the Starlight train that was involved in an August 11 accident with a truck carrying 40,000 pounds of tomatoes near the Soledad “correctional facility.” At least it wasn’t the Jesse James that liked to hold up trains. Literally. There were 265 passengers on board the train and no one was hurt. The truck driver told Channel 46 that “he saw the train coming but thought he had time to cross.” That’s exactly when thinking should stop and so should the attempt to cross.

. . . Coast Starlight “on times” at the Dunsmuir station(photo right) July 2007 007 at the foot of Mt. Shasta varied from an hour to over two hours late the past few weeks. July 2007 009That beautiful town has also been a stop for the Thruway bus from Medford, Oregon to Sacramento, and now that bus route, begun in April, 2006, is going to be eliminated for low ridership. What a disappointment. If ever there was a section of California that needed this transportation alternative the area north of Redding is. However, Caltrans and Amtrak waited for customers to come to them rather than aggressively market the service until this month when they are offering a 30% discount on the route. Too little, too late.

. . . The West. . . .
RailRunnerarrivesatSantaFeNoonMay282009
The New Mexico Railrunner (photo by Mike Palmer shows a Railrunner has arrived at Santa Fe in May, 2009) has been so successful they added SUNDAY service beginning Labor Day weekend, with three round trips. Saturday service has been so successful some trains have been SRO, and use 5-car trains. Are you listening, Metrolink? Coaster? ACE?

MDOT_25th-Pere-Marquette_287935_7. . . Amtrak and Michigan DOT are celebrating 25 years of the Pere Marquette train between Chicago and Grand Rapids. Now if they could only run it closer to on time on the CSX. While Michigan service isn’t in the “west,” it resembles California in that MDOT supports the service. Pete Loomis has discovered that the Michigan Blue Wate is subsidized to the tune of $3.7 million per year paid to Amtrak. One round trip per day, and “Amtrak collects these funds in addition to the fares from the average of 180 riders per train they carry.” Loomis says, and we concur, “No wonder Amtrak likes these corridor trains.”
. . . Amtrak’s Heartland Flyer from Ft. Worth to Oklahoma City is starting to run special services. On October 1-3 the train will be extended north from OKC to Guthrie, OK, for the annual Oklahoma International Bluegrass Festival, and on October 16 and 18, the train will be extended from Ft. Worth to Dallas for the annual football game between the University of Oklahoma and the University of Texas. That is great thinking, and if it is predecessor to other needed extensions, like daily to Newton, KS, to connect with the Southwest Chief, as a second frequency to San Antonio or permanently to Dallas and then to Houston it makes great sense.
. . . The second Cascades trainHPIM0773 from Seattle to Vancouver, BC, began service on August 19 to be run through the 2010 Winter Olympics in that Canadian city. The full route of the Cascades has seen the return of Talgo equipment that have seen the refurbishment of all the interiors. (Photo is at Portland, OR, station) That frees up the Superliners that have been substituted, now the question is where are those cars now? Other good news on the Cascade route is that bids for federally supported highway projects in Oregon have been coming in so low (!) it is freeing up millions of dollars that will be spent to buy trains for the Portland-Eugene line, allowing that state to own rather than use Washington-owned cars on that route.
. . . In Idaho a ceremony was held August 10 on the Boise depot platform where Senator Mike Crapo (R-ID) called on citizens to get excited about riding the rails, and called for restoration of Amtrak’s Pioneer. Other local politicians echoed that sentiment, so the pressure is on for Amtrak to not only report the feasibility of restoring service there, but also to do it. The disgraceful “study” about (not) restoring the Florida section of the Sunset Limited should not be encouraging to Idaho.
. . . The City of Tucson, AZ celebrated the opening of the new 4th Avenue UP track underpass next to the rebuilt former SP train station and the extension of its “Tucson Trolley” connecting the Ronstadt Transit Center across from the train station and the University of Arizona. A big party was held on August 20. The old tunnel was very narrow. This writer, a Tucson native, rode or walked through that old tunnel many times, and it is definitely to be celebrated that the new tunnel is reality.

On time Performance
What a difference one trip can make: The Sunset Limited, train #2, Arrived in San Antonio, Texas, within its allowable 30 minutes delay, meaning ‘on time’, on August 9, 14, 16, and 18. Good news for travelers. Then, all of a sudden the wires were alive with “Any idea what happened to 2(19)? The answer came that there had been major track damage near Sanderson, Texas. Major is right, because #2, scheduled to arrive at 10:25 pm, actually arrived at 6:40 pm the next day, 1147 minutes late. Passengers had been bused into San Antonio by then. Train 1 has been arriving into Los Angeles and El Paso consistently an hour or better early.
. . . Better news for the other western long distance trains, though: Train 6, the California Zephyr had a great week of early arrivals at Denver Union Station Denver Union Station w-Zephyr car 8/15-20, due largely to rerouting the train through Wyoming because of the Moffat Tunnel tie replacement project on the UP. Train 5 arrived into Emeryville up to an hour early that week, the train of the 26th, well, did you ever hear of a train hitting a boat on dry land? That’s what happened to #5 14 miles west of Glenwood Springs, CO. The boat was on a trailer behind a jeep. No train damage, but it was delayed an hour and a half. Through July the Sunset’s OTP year to date is 75.9%!, the Zephyr is 57.3%, and Train 3, the Southwest Chief continues its tradition of early arrivals into Los Angeles of up to an hour early each day for an OTP of 85.3% for the FY.

. . . Trip Report. RailPAC writer/photographer Mike Palmer, Torrance, wrote of his trip on the Coast Starlight and Surfliner: On Friday, 8/7, I did one of my turn-around trips, LA-Santa Barbara-LA. It was interesting to contrast #14 with the Surfliner #784. The Coast Starlight left LA on time, but there were numerous short delays on the trip. In addition to the scheduled station stops, we stopped near Van Nuys (for a Metrolink train), then again near Chatsworth (for a Surfliner), then again near Simi Valley (for another Metrolink train). We then stopped near Camarillo (no explanation given) and then again just before Oxnard, again with no explanation. We stopped again north of Ventura (Surfliner meet) and once again somewhere between Carpinteria and Summerland. Just before we arrived at Santa Barbara, they announced that the engineer was going to take a few minutes to look at the second engine – I’m not sure what the problem was. He did climb up and rev the engine – it seemed to be working alright. Amtk14departingSantaBarbara8-7-09The train left Santa Barbara station maybe 20 minutes late, but I checked later and the train had made up its delay by Oakland. There certainly was no real sense of urgency. The train appeared to have a good-size crowd – it was close to being sold out. My seat mate was traveling to Sacramento – she had never taken the train before. About an hour later I headed back south on #784 – what a difference! The announcements clearly stated that the train was going to be full, please get settled quickly, etc. This time my seat mate was heading to Oceanside, and she was amazed that the train was full. All meets were announced, and the only non-station delay was for a passing Metrolink train somewhere near Van Nuys. (Editor’s note: this train delay situation Mr. Palmer describes on the Coast Line is an on-going problem that needs to be addressed by all parties, and the sooner the better! -RJ)

Commentary

CA Corridors Stats for July and August

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

I apologize for the ‘combined July and August reports’. Future reports should return to their usual month-by-month issuance.
Ridership numbers in California and across the nation continue to be lower
than a year ago (2008).However, upon further comparison to 2007, the 2009 numbers are revealing that there is still a +10-15% growth above two years ago (2007) in Northern California.

This makes sense, since gas prices were $4 to $5 per gallon in mid 2008, and have receded to the $3 to $3.50 range. Many of those folks who flocked to the trains in mid-2008 left the trains when gas prices fell, but interestingly, we seemed to have retained both our ‘base ridership’, plus kept some of the high-price-of-gas ‘refugees’. Hence, the 10-15% growth rate above two years ago. So, in spite of the stagnant California economy, a high unemployment rate, and Furlough Fridays in Sacramento, we are also starting to see an uptick in weekend and discretionary travel. For example, the Capitol Corridor still handled 134,746 passengers in July 2009, down (-9.5%) from the record June 2008 number (145,482), but up by +10.5% compared to the July 2007
ridership of 121,991 . August numbers are similar. While we are disappointed in the total riders this year compared to last year, there is no evidence of any erosion in the base ridership growth that has been occurring over the past 10 years.

The ‘bright light’ here remains the superior on-time performance of both the Capitol Corridor and San Joaquin services. On-time performance in July 2008 for the Capitol Corridor was 90.9%, and August was an enviable 94.2% on-time. The San Joaquins operated 90.0% on-time in July, and 92.7% on-time in August. The Pacific Surfliners slipped a bit to 81.4% on-time in July and 80.4% in August.

Overall, I am now more optimistic regarding continued growth. This means all the more reason to press for an early ordering of more passenger coaches and locomotives. In four years, about the time it will take from
‘order’ to ‘delivery’ of coaches, we will likely be pressing-noses-to-windows again.

Capitol Corridor (July and August 2009):

July 2009: 134,746 passengers: -16.7% vs. July 2008
August 2009: 132,225 passengers: -16.5% vs. August 2008

Again, the 2008 comparison is distorted by the ‘gas-price refugees’ in June-July-August. Compared to July 2007, ridership in July 2009 is still up +10.4%, and August 2009 is up +1.3% compared to August 2007 . The Capitol Corridor route is still the third busiest route in the country, by a wide margin.

Passengers for the last 12 months (through August): 1,617,730
YTD ridership is -2.3% below last year, after 11 months. This is likely to be this first time in 11 years that the Capitol Corridor will be reporting an end-of-year ridership lower than the prior year. While it will be only a small margin of decline (circa -5%), it puts a disappointing ‘lull’ our rather incredible 10-year growth record in ridership.

Ticket Revenue
July 2009 ticket revenue: $1,862,058 -11.8% vs. July 2008
August 2009 ticket revenue: $1,905,533 -11.1% vs. August 2008

The farebox recovery revenue-to-cost ratio for July 2009 bounced back to 44.1%, and for August 2009, was 45.1% (FY to date: 45.9%). 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. After 11 months, YTD revenue is still running slightly ahead of last year (+0.2%). We expect to be between 46% and 50% farebox recovery by end-of-year in September, which is only slightly below our 50% plan.

On-time performance was 90.9%for July 2009 ‘delivered to the customer’, and for August 2009 it was 94.2% 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 continuing to address 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 on 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 and the $2 million capitalized maintenance contribution over the past two years is paying off with superior on-time reliability. (FFY to date on-time: 92.2%) This is our best-ever 11 month year-to-date on-time performance.

These stats keep the Capitol Corridor’s on-time performance (92.2%) the best in the country, topped only by the once-a-day Pennsylvanian (Philadelphia-Pittsburgh, at 96.1%) and still well above Amtrak’s premier Acela Express service on the Northeast Corridor (87.0%).

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Pacific Surfliners (July and August 2009):

July 2009
256,410 passengers -14.9% vs. July 2008 (compared to July 2007, July 2009 Pacific Surfliner ridership is still down -4.5%)

August 2009
263,401 passengers -16.0% vs. August 2008 (compared to August 2007, August
2009 ridership is still down -8.7%

YTD ridership is down -11.1%, after 11months, but the Pacific Surfliner service is still the second busiest Amtrak operated route in the country, by a wide margin.

Ticket Revenue
July 2009: $ 5,025,728 -16.3% vs. July 2008
August 2009: $5,016,052 -18.8% vs. August 2008

(FFY year-to-date: -9.4% after 11 months)

On-time performance for July 2009: 81.4% and August 2009: 80.4% (FFY to date: 83.1%)

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San Joaquins (July and August 2009):

July 2009:
88,505 passengers -12.0% vs. July 2008 (compared to July 2007, July 2009 San Joaquin ridership is up +16.3%)

August 2009:
84,423 passengers -12.3% vs. August 2008 (compared to August 2007, August
2009 San Joaquin ridership is up +11.9%)

YTD ridership is down only -1.7%, after 11 months, and the San Joaquins seem also to have held on to the base riders developed prior to 2008.

Ticket Revenue
July 2009: $2,763,515 -19.8% vs. July 2008
August 2009: $2,551,777 -17.5% vs. August 2008

(FFY year-to-date: -6.2% after 11 months)

On-time performance for July 2009: 90.0% and August 2009: 92.7% (FFY to date: 90.0%) The San Joaquin on-time performance is at record high level, right behind the Capitol Corridor.

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Summary
Total California 3 Intercity Corridors Ridership for August 2009: 480,049
Total Northeast Corridor ‘Spine’ ridership for August 2009: 824,492
For August 2009, the 3 California Corridors are 58.2% of Northeast Corridor ‘Spine’
Boston-Washington ridership
Total Northeast Corridor ridership for August 2009 with branches to Springfield, MA; Albany, NY and Harrisburg, PA: 1,041,383
For August 2009, the 3 California Corridors are 46.1% of the total Northeast Corridor ridership. Overall NEC Spine ridership declined by -6.2%, and the
Keystone Service (Philadelphia-Harrisburg) declined by -5.6% in August.

After 11 months of the fiscal year:

YTD 3 California Corridors ridership is 4,718,467
YTD NEC Spine ridership is 9,128,121
YTD NEC Spine + branches ridership is 11,394,452

Editorials

Be Careful What You Ask For, You May Not Like It

Editorial By Noel T. Braymer

This August there have been many news stories about opposition to the construction of High Speed Rail in Northern California. This opposition has even led a Judge in Sacramento to order a revaluation of the Environmental Impact Reports for the High Speed Rail Project between Gilroy and San Francisco. There are two groups leading this opposition. There is one group generally small but very loud that wants High Speed Rail in the Altamont Pass, not the Pacheco Pass or else nothing for anyone. People like this are difficult to talk to when their idea of a dialogue is to shout louder.

What is having a greater impact are the residents of affluent areas near Palo Alto such at Menlo Park and Atherton who are opposing the High Speed Rail Project. It is difficult to make generalizations of what the motives are of the residents of these neighborhoods. For some it could be when in doubt, it is safer to oppose something until one’s fears about the project are quelled. For some people opposition is a bargaining position to try to get the most for their neighborhood as they can. No doubt every person has different motives.

Many of the local residents in the towns around Palo Alto complain that High Speed Rail (HSR) in their neighborhoods would greatly increase noise and pollution while many homes and business will be lost to build the new railroad. The reality is between Gilroy and San Francisco the construction will be a joint Caltrain/ HSR project. Delays in HSR construction will also delay and increase costs for upgrading Caltrain. Top speeds will be 110 in this urban area which is only 31 miles per hour faster than what trains can run in the area now. Construction will create an electrified railroad which will accelerate faster, be quieter and cleaner than current diesel locomotives. Construction will also create a fully grade-separated railroad. Not only will this reduce traffic congestion in the region, but will also create a much quieter railroad. The loudest part of a train is its’ horn which has to be blown 4 times at every grade crossing by law. Eliminate the grade crossings and you eliminate most of the horn blowing. The point of the HSR project is to use existing rights of ways like the one for Caltrain to eliminate as much as possible the need to condemn property. The High Speed Rail Authority needs to publish drawings of how much land is needed outside of the Caltrain right of way in these neighborhoods and what the profile of the grade separations will be. No doubt some residents want the whole railroad placed out of sight and out of mind in tunnels with taxpayer money.

Of course none of this is new for large projects like High Speed Rail, nor is this unique to the Bay Area. Years ago a single religious congregation stopped any plans to build light rail in North Hollywood on an old SP right of way. You could say they won. What did they win? They now have a busway on the right of way. Some victory! Several neighborhoods for different reasons in West Los Angeles opposed any construction of what was then called the Wilshire Subway west of Western Blvd. The same was true of efforts recently to build Light Rail from downtown Los Angeles to Santa Monica on an old PE right of way. Traffic now is so bad that people are begging to get the subway out to at least Westwood near UCLA. Planning is going ahead now to extend the Expo Light Rail line to Santa Monica in just a few more years. Last November voters in Los Angeles County by over a 2/3 majority approved raising the sales tax another half cent to help build these projects. In San Diego years ago the City of Del Mar was asked where it wanted a new Amtrak/Coaster Station. After months of Del Mar saying only where it didn’t want a station, the City of Solana Beach was asked if it wanted it. They said yes and they got the station. Almost 20 years ago there was a plan to reinstall a 3 mile long siding in Encinitas that was removed in the 1960’s A group of residents opposed the project demanding that the entire city be grade separated before anymore trackage was built. The result was the project was delayed over 10 years, the cost was higher due to inflation but it was built and the city didn’t get one grade-separation. Years were lost which could have been used to get badly needed pedestrian tunnels built in the city to get people to stop walking across the tracks on this busy railroad.

It is frustrating but par for the course to see these problems with construction for large projects like HSR. Planning and good public education can prevent and help resolve many of these issues. But as in anything political it will end up being a fight. And in a fight someone has to win and someone has to lose. When you have broad public support for improved transportation like we have seen in the last several election cycles for higher taxes: that gives an advantage for those building High Speed Rail in California.

Reports

San Francisco Bay Bridge reopens

What was the effect on Amtrak?

September 9, 2009. Report by Gene Poon HPIM1054 The closure of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge over the Labor Day weekend for scheduled construction forced Amtrak to make adjustments to all of its schedules that utilize Thruway Bus service to reach San Francisco from Oakland or Emeryville. Normal Thruway service was cancelled from 8 pm Thursday, September 3 through 5 am Tuesday, September 8, 2009.

Capitol Corridor and San Joaquin passengers were accommodated via BART rapid transit trains between San Francisco and Richmond, which became the connection point. Quite a few Capitol and San Joaquin passengers already use BART because it’s faster than Amtrak’s connecting bus service.

But that wouldn’t do for long distance passengers on the Coast Starlight and California Zephyr which do not stop at Richmond (Amtrak made that decision long ago due to the very bad neighborhood near the Richmond Amtrak/BART station). Thruway Buses connecting to the southbound Coast Starlight were rerouted south on US101 to San Jose for their connection. Thruway Buses connecting to the eastbound California Zephyr and northbound Coast Starlight were rescheduled earlier to operate north over the Golden Gate Bridge and then east on State Route 37 (paralleling the Northwestern Pacific Railroad as far as Sears Point) to Vallejo; then south via I-80, east on I-780 and south on I-680 to Martinez, where the connection would be made. Connections from the Starlight and Zephyr were also made at San Jose and Martinez.

Regular service was to resume Tuesday morning, Sept. 8. But while the Bay Bridge was shut down, normal inspections were also rescheduled to be done without interference from vehicular traffic. One of those inspections found a crack in a steel beam, unrelated to, and east of the scheduled construction work. Repair parts had to be fabricated…on a holiday weekend…flown to the Bay Area and trucked to the site, and installation had to be scheduled. Until 5pm on Monday, Sept. 7, nobody knew whether this repair would extend the closure of the Bay Bridge. Amtrak had planned to operate Thruway Buses on their normal schedules to connections at Emeryville and Oakland; but if the bridge was going to be closed, that wouldn’t work. The announcement on Monday was bad news: the bridge would not reopen until 5am on Wednesday, Sept. 9. Amtrak’s scheduled buses would apparently not be able to operate on Tuesday.

With the bridge shut down on Tuesday, a regular workday, Amtrak moved the connection point for the eastbound Zephyr to Sacramento; that’s a substantially longer bus ride than to Martinez but an easier connection, especially should traffic be bad, also permitting the bus to depart San Francisco at 750am, the regular time for the Emeryville connection, thus making phone calls to passengers unnecessary. Indeed, apparently no phone calls were made, so passengers arriving at the San Francisco Amtrak bus terminal wouldn’t know about the Sacramento connection until being advised by an agent.

On Tuesday morning, there was good news: at a 600am news conference, Caltrans announced that workers would be able to complete the repair to the cracked beam in time to open the Bay Bridge at about 700am, only two hours later than the ORIGINAL, “no cracked beam” plan had called for. Most commuters had already made their alternate plans based on the bad news over the weekend and crammed onto BART trains, transbay ferries and alternate highway routes. As it turned out, the bridge reopened at 630am and Amtrak was to be able to operate the California Zephyr Thruway Bus to Emeryville, as it normally does. Whether it is going to do so, I haven’t been able to find out; plans were already made for the bus and driver, and for passenger and baggage transfer at Sacramento. But it’s certain that there will be many at Amtrak who will be glad on Wednesday that all has returned to normal.

UPDATES: #1 Just in from a spy in Emeryville: the San Francisco Thruway Bus connection to the California Zephyr did, indeed, operate to Emeryville and not Sacramento. Twelve passengers were aboard the first Thruway Bus to operate its normal route out of San Francisco in over four days. #2 > Update #2: Thruway Bus service from San Francisco connecting with Capitol Corridor and San Joaquin trains resumed at 200pm.