TRACKING RAIL NEWS . . . September 10th, 2009
. . . PHOTOS and Commentary by Russ Jackson
. . . California.
. . . 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, 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) at the foot of Mt. Shasta varied from an hour to over two hours late the past few weeks. That 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. . . .
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?
. . . 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 train 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 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. The 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)