Monthly Archives

October 2009

Issues

Boardman response to Dyson 10-30-09

October 30, 2009
Mr. Paul J. Dyson
President
Rail Passenger Association of California
1017 L Street #217
Sacramento, CA 95814
Dear Mr. Dyson: (Paul)
Thank you for your letters dated October 28 and 29, 2009. I concur that last weekend’s service disruption was unacceptable.

Simply stated, the situation was a combination of unfortunate circumstances. First, there was a mechanical failure on Saturday’s Train 571, which disrupted service for the rest of the day and into Sunday. The brake system component that malfunctioned is currently undergoing a complete tear-down,
in order for us to understand the root cause of the failure and resulting wheel sliding. For reasons of safety, the defective consist had to be moved off the mainline and approximately 70 miles of track inspected before operations could resume. Metrolink track work between CP Bake and CP Avery further
compounded the situation by effectively creating an unusually long stretch of single track. Furthermore, the location where Train 571 was stopped could not be accessed by buses. Collectively, these factors resulted in train crews being out of position and unable to complete regular assignnlents due to hours of service limitations. The end result was that numerous trains were severely delayed and thousands of passengers inconvenienced.

I recognize that a system as complex as Amtrak’s is bound to suffer from periodic fai]ures, but what occurred last weekend was extraordinarily fateful. Amtrak is undertaking several actions to not only remedy the customer service inconsistencies, but to also learn the underlying systemic failures that added to the severity of the delays. Specifically, we have assembled the passenger lists for all Pacific Surfliner
trains which experienced a delay of two or more hours last weekend, and have begun contacting the more than two thousand passengers to apologize for the situation, along with offering refunds and a discount towards future travel. Mr. Noel Braymer is among those who will be contacted.

Additionally, Amtrak is preparing a detailed chronology of the events and will use this data in our discussions with Metrolink to help develop standard operating procedures that seek to minimize the impact of future disruptions on revenue service trains. We have already discussed this situation with Caltrans and LOSSAN’s leadership, and will gladly share the outcome of this chronology with those parties.

The frustration that you and others have expressed about this set of events is legitimate, and while we strive for overall excellence, occasional failures are unavoidable. However, regardless of the failure’s origin, there is no excuse for passengers to not be informed and front line emp]oyees proactively undertaking customer-centric actions. As you know, the Pacific Surfliner is Amtrak’s second busiest
service, and following last weekend’s event Amtrak has much to do in order to regain the trust of the impacted passengers. My staff and I are committed to doing what’s necessary to manage the Pacific Surfliner service, including periodic disruptions, in a manner befitting this route’s stature.

Thank you again for expressing your concerns, and I am sorry for the events that prompted you to write, but please know that I value your support of Amtrak, and your organization’s advocacy of sound intermodalism.
Sincerely,
(Joe)
Joseph H. Boardman
President and Chief Executive Officer

Issues

RailPAC writes Amtrak: UNACCEPTABLE SERVICE FAILURES ON PACIFIC SURFLINER

NOTE: Detailed reports of the incidents to which Mr. Dyson refers in the letter below are printed in the November Western Rail Passenger Review which will be mailed this week. To join RailPAC, see the “Membership” link in the right column. -Ed.

RAIL PASSENGER ASSOCIATION OF CALIFORNIA
1017 L Street PMB 217, Sacramento, CA 95814
www.railpac.org

28th October 2009

Mr. Joseph H. Boardman
President and Chief Executive Officer
NATIONAL RAILROAD PASSENGER CORPORATION
60 Massachusetts Avenue NE
Washington DC 20002

UNACCEPTABLE SERVICE FAILURES ON PACIFIC SURFLINER

Dear Mr. Boardman:

This past month has seen a series of mechanical failures on the Pacific Surfliner service, culminating in a catastrophic weekend for Amtrak’s image as a provider of passenger service. I will not repeat here the gory details of the failure on 571 on Saturday, nor the disgraceful disregard for passengers on train 763 Sunday, with which an attempt was made to “rescue” the 571 train set from the previous day. I hope your people have given you full reports of these appalling foul ups, together with their resignation letters.

To say that this level of service from Amtrak to its fare paying passengers and to the taxpayers of the State of California is unacceptable is an understatement. You need to take action starting today to make sure that maintenance is properly performed, and to ensure that your people are authorized to make arrangements to clear failed trains without subjecting passengers on other trains to further delay. This is not the first time an attempt has been made to move a failed train with another passenger train resulting in a fiasco.

The other part of this story is the failure to keep fare paying passengers informed of the delays, and to offer them refunds or discount coupons for future journeys. As I have pointed out before, the Surfliner each day carries only a few thousand people out of a multi million population along the route. But we won’t keep even these few customers with this low level of service.

Yours faithfully,
Paul J. Dyson
President
pdyson@railpac.org
cc RailPAC Board

Reports

Sacramento’s Downtown-Natomas light rail line Groundbreaking

Report and PHOTOS by Marcia Johnston, RailPAC Sacramento Director
MVC-129S
The Downtown-Natomas Airport [Green Line to the River District] Groundbreaking Ceremony was held on Monday, October 12th at Richards Boulevard and Seventh Street.

The speakers included: Congresswoman Doris O. Matsui, Kevin Johnson – Mayor, City of Sacramento, Steve Cohn, Councilmember, City of Sacramento and Chair, SacRT Board of Directors, Ray Tretheway, Councilmember, City of Sacramento, Member, SacRT Board of Directors [Note: this new line is also in Councilmember Tretheway’s district], Roger Dickinson, Supervisor, County of Sacramento, Member SacRT Board of Directors, Suheil Totah, Vice President of Development, Thomas Enterprises, Inc., and Steve Goodwin, President, Township 9, The River District Board of Directors.

MVC-123S

Project Overview: This is the first phase of the line [“Green Line”] extending light rail 1.1 miles north to Richards Boulevard and Seventh Street at the Township 9 Development, and is expected to be completed by November 2010.

MVC-122S

Extension to the Sacramento Airport, however, may not happen before 2017. The new estimated cost is $44 million, and unfortunately, construction bids on the initial phase came in high, which could delay construction until 2014. Most of the funding comes from RT’s local Measure A sales tax.

New stations will be located at 8th & H/County Center and Seventh & Richards/Township 9. The estimated ridership is approximately 6,000+ passengers annually between 13th Street and the Seventh and Richards Boulevard/Township 9 Station.

MVC-126S
Another photo from the event.

Reports

Outstanding Guest Speakers at San Carlos RailPAC/NARP meeting; Skoropowski honored

October 24, 2009 RailPAC San Carlos meeting Paul-Art-Gene 10-09
Combined Report by (first) Noel T. Braymer and (second) by Anthony Lee
; Photos by Mr. Braymer and Bill Kerby, RailPAC Treasurer Photo right shows Mr. Skoropowski with Paul Dyson and Art Lloyd. Details below.

The first speaker at the October 24th joint RailPAC/NARP meeting was Rod Diridon, board member of the California High Speed Rail Authority. Photo below, being introduced by Art Lloyd.
100_2744
Mr. Diridon spoke about meeting President Obama in Washington which included attending a speech which the President expressed his personal interest in building High Speed Rail in this country. Mr. Diridon also spoke about how Governor Schwarzenegger supports the High Speed Rail Project and considers it part of his political legacy. The Governor is very adamant about being part of the ground breaking of the project before the end of his end of office in 2010.

RailPAC San Carlos meeting Rod Diridon 10-09
Mr. Diridon (left, at the podium in front of the large crowd) was low keyed in San Carlos compared to the emotional political stump speech he gave at our last meeting in Los Angeles in April. He was very careful not to go into details about the final design of the High Speed Rail projects because there are no final designs. That won’t happen for any segment of the project before 2012 up to 2013 for the entire project. Nothing can be finalized until the design work is finished and all the environmental reviews are completed. This is going to be a complicated project and there is a lot of work to do to get it all finished by 2013. Mr. Diridon emphasized the importance of the expansion of regional and transit rail in order for High Speed Rail to succeed. He also talked about how most of the work will be done under contract and the staff of the High Speed Authority will remain small. He also pointed out that much of the capital funding for the project is expected to be raised from private investors. Mr. Diridon says that California HSR is on track for most of the Government funding they will need to start the project. This will be a first in the United States at least in this scale but joint public/private capital projects are common in much of the world. The private backers of this project expect the California HSR service to net over 2 billion dollars a year. They claim compared to similar projects in other parts of the world California is well suited for such a project. Mr. Diridon also pointed out that the trains will be run on “green” electricity.

Noel San Carlos photo 2 grip and grin 10-09
On the left Paul Dyson RailPAC President, center Art Lloyd RailPAC VP North, and Gene Skoropowski holding his Outstanding Achievement Award from RailPAC for his work on the Capitols. Photo by Noel T. Braymer, top photo by Bill Kerby.

The Star of the October 24th meeting was Gene Skoropowski who as General Manager for the Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority is retiring this November. Mr. Skoropowski enjoyed going over the factors that have led to the success of the Capital Corridor from 6 trains in 1991 to 32 trains a day today with 1.7 million riders in 2008. Mr. Skoropowski took pride in pointing out that his operating budget for those 32 trains is about the same as it was for 18 trains a few years back. The formula for this was by getting as much use of the equipment and increasing ridership with expanded service. The result of such growth was that the additional cost to expand service was made up with double the amount of additional revenue. Operating costs per passenger mile use to be 33 cents, it is now down to 18 cents and with more passenger cars the Capitol’s costs could go down to 12 to 13 cents a mile. Mr. Skoropowski pointed out that the Capitol Corridor JPA had many stake holders that required maintaining relationships with. These include the 6 transit agencies in the JPA, Amtrak, Caltrans, the Union Pacific and most importantly the passengers. Mr. Skoropowski emphasized how important capital investment is to successful rail passenger service. This made the CCJPA’s relationship with the Union Pacific critical. As part of the relationship the CCJPA was willing to pay UP more for running their train on its tracks than Amtrak did and paying a higher incentive bonus for on time performance for the Capitol trains. The goal for on time performance on the UP for things it controls is 96 percent on time and the UP exceeds that mark. The Capitols as a whole on-time record is 92% and only the once daily Pennsylvanian train on Amtrak has a slightly better record so far.

100_2747

Mr. Skoropowski emphasized the critical role capital spending has to good service and revenue growth. On the UP, the CCJPA pays to have the tracks kept at a Class 5 level of maintenance. Class 5 is good enough for speeds up to 110 miles per hour but the fastest trains on the Capitols go is 79 mph. The greatest problem facing the Capitols and other California trains is lack of money for more cars. Without more equipment rail service can’t grow by carrying more passengers, and bringing in more revenue. The problem is because of the current budget problems the State Treasurer can’t release the bond money approved for more rail cars in California. The State can’t even start the bidding process until the money is released even though the bidding process will take years to finalize. As a stop gap it looks like the State will get some old commuter cars from New Jersey and rebuild them for intercity use. One of the last things Mr. Skoropowski talked about is the fact that California is the one State to make substantial capital investment, particularly in vehicles and facilities for its rail program. Yet Amtrak’s billing to the State doesn’t reflect this compared to other states which Amtrak supplies all the equipment etc. Unless this is resolved Mr. Skoropowski believes that Amtrak could overprice itself out of the market for providing passenger service in California

RailPAC San Carlos meeting Story and Gene 10-09 (left) Mr. Skoropowski with RailPAC Santa Barbara Director Dennis Story.
RailPAC San Carlos meeting Vaughn 10-09 (right) RailPAC Pleasanton Director Vaughn Wolfe at the registration table.
RailPAC San Carlos meeting Neil Bjornsen 10-09 (below, right) RailPAC Pasadena Director Neil Bjornsen The audience appreciated hearing from each speaker!

Additional Reporting by Anthony Lee, RailPAC Oakland Director:

Rod Diridon (CAHSRA) gave a status of the environmental work that is under way and is 30% done. In his presentation he reported some of the segments that are being looked at and how each of these segments is being phased in. For example, in the LA-Anaheim segment is where all the grade crossing and the power lines will be needed to be removed. This segment will go mostly underground, some stations will be modified and rights of way will be four tracks wide. Trains will be tested on the Merced to Bakersfield segment. They have not decided how they will access Los Angeles Union Station, either by an upper level structure or a underground station. The San Francisco to San Jose segment may have some ground water issues. Tunnels will require two bores for air evacuation, and the system will generate $2 billion in profit a year and be privately run. Some of the profits will go to the State. They plan to have over 70 percent of their work done by contractors, and a significant part of their capital funds come from private investors. They feel they are very close to all the government money they will need for the project, including state bond money and Federal Stimulus money. Also, the FRA is still looking at guidelines for High Speed rail trains. Ground breaking in CA is expected in 2012 and final completion by 2020. (but, the Governor is determined ground breaking be done before he leaves office.)

Gene Skoropowski (Capitol Corridor) gave us his last update and report before retiring from BART and the Capitol Corridor. Currently, the OTP is 92% for the corridor. Ridership is up10% over 2007, but 5.3 % below last year. The corridor still need cars and Gene would like to expand the consists to eight cars. He fears that without new rolling stock growth will be choked off. They are still waiting for permission from the Dept.of Finance to release the bond funds for new rolling stock and other capital projects. Gene would also like to increase the number of trains between Oakland-San Jose from 7 trains to 14 trains once track capacity projects are implemented. Other points of interest:

* Corridor tracks are now maintained at Class 5 standards, and once the PTC is installed, the speed will be increase to 90-95mph
* Goal is four tracks between Davis and Martinez
* New crossovers are being installed at Bencia and Davis
* They are looking to do some grade crossing improvements in Berkeley and San Leandro
* On the south end they want rerouting of the trains on to the Ex-WP line near Industrial parkway, bypassing Niles Canyon Jct.
* More doubling tracking through Hayward is necessary
* Funds for the 15 NJ Transit Comet I cars for the San Joaquin’s service have been released, the cars should be in service by next summer. Should give brief reprieve for the Capitol Corridor which would continue to use California cars.

Lionel Gambill, Marin County Rail Advocate, speaking about (SMART) (Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit. The presentation gave an overview and status of the project. The SMART project is estimated to cost about $540 million, the bulk of which will come from Measure Q, a one-quarter percent sales tax increase approved by 69.6 percent of Marin and Sonoma voters in the Nov. 4, 2008, election. Equipment has not been ordered yet, it’s still going through environmental review for FRA compliant vehicles. Some stations are being re-evaluated, especially the station in Novato. For info about this project, see info@sonomamarintrain.org

Commentary

RailPAC Testimony before the Assembly Select Committee on Rail Transportation

PaulDyson testifies to Assembly 2 10-09
October 22, 2009
By Paul Dyson, President of the Rail Passengers Association of California
Photos by Bill Kerby, RailPAC Treasurer

Chairman Davis, Vice Chairman Fletcher, and Committee members:
“Ladies and gentlemen, we have no money, therefore we must think”.

These are the words of distinguished New Zealand Scientist Ernest Rutherford when asked how he would conduct his research with inadequate funds. This will be the theme of my presentation.

You have invited me here today to comment on how we can improve passenger rail transportation in California. The expected response would be to present a very long shopping list of projects involving billions of dollars of investments. That’s not surprising in a state where many rail journeys are accomplished at speeds that you would expect to find in Bolivia. Do you realize that half of the main line route in San Diego County is single track railroad, on what is the nation’s second busiest passenger rail corridor? A trip from Oceanside to San Diego is like a journey back in time, the trains creeping up hill and down dale while the freeway traffic whizzes by on a viaducts and through cuttings. It’s a tribute to how robust is the demand for alternatives to the automobile that these trains are quite well patronized. Did you know that there are still single track sections within the city of Los Angeles handling heavy commuter and intercity passenger traffic and freight? That commuter and intercity trains regularly have to wait for each other outside the station at Van Nuys because there is only one platform? So yes, I can bring you a shopping list of railroad improvements, and I can support it with a cost benefit analysis that would demonstrate that these are good public investments.

PaulDyson testifies 10-09

The problem is you see that the money has already been spent, and our borrowing power is severely circumscribed. So while there are many ways to spend money on passenger rail, what I want to talk to you about today is how to make better use of what we have. We don’t have the money, so we must think!

Our thinking should begin by reviewing the services we operate today and exploring how we can improve their efficiency and make them more user-friendly. We face an uphill struggle trying to entice travelers from the comfort of their cars, and we also have a big problem in that many people are simply afraid of using public transport. They worry about catching the train, being on the right train, making connections etc. and all too often are confused by information systems and schedules. We have to make it easier to travel by train.

Let me give you a couple of real life examples. I have attached for your reading enjoyment a report of an hour and a half that I spent at Oceanside Transportation Center last year. This is a public facility provided at great expense to the taxpayer and which is completely bewildering and dysfunctional for anyone other than an experienced train passenger. (See RailPAC Oceanside Transit Center 011108). Because we have separate agencies operating commuter and local passenger service in San Diego County and Orange County, and a third agency running so-called intercity service along the same route, there exists a “Berlin Wall” in Oceanside with no comprehensive information system, no through tickets, and trains that do not connect to provide through journeys.

Later today I’ll be traveling to Palo Alto by state sponsored Amtrak Capital Corridor service to San Jose, and connecting there to Caltrain to Palo Alto. The train to Palo Alto leaves San Jose 5 minutes after my train from Sacramento arrives but because I cannot buy a through ticket to Palo Alto from Sacramento I have to find a ticket office or ticket machine at San Jose. (The conductors no longer sell tickets on the train) My chances of connecting with Caltrain are near zero and I will have to wait 30 minutes or more for the next train to complete my journey.

In my home town of Burbank we now have weekend Metrolink service to and from Los Angeles. Metrolink also provides weekend trains on the Orange County line and yet they are not scheduled to connect with each other. Families that could take the train to say Disneyland or Knotts Berry Farm are unable to do so. It’s a similar situation if you want to go to San Diego by Amtrak. If there is a connection with Metrolink it is simply by luck, not because of a comprehensive plan to provide good service to the public.

These are the sorts of irritations and road blocks that passengers find throughout the California public transportation system, (it really doesn’t deserve to be called a system) that turn people off from using trains and buses. Many try it once and don’t come back a second time.

The question is, what can we do to improve these passenger services with no or very little money? We need a plan, and we need state or super regional authorities to implement it. There is no excuse for the lack of cooperation between these taxpayer funded agencies. But I can tell you from observation that these bureaucracies will not give up any of their territory without being forced. I recently attended a meeting of the LOSSAN Board called to discuss this very issue. These meetings are normally attended by about 20 people but this time over 60 crowded into the room. As soon as the discussion turned to cooperation and appointing a manager to coordinate the services you could see from the body language that the walls were going up, that the turf had to be protected. I’m convinced that these agencies will not develop a coordinated user friendly service unless mandated to do so.

What do we want from our passenger rail operators, and what can they produce at very low cost? We want coordinated procurement of rolling stock and other equipment, using standard designs which allow economies of scale. We want shared maintenance facilities, reduced management and administrative overhead, and more money spent operating trains. We want a user friendly single ticketing system and a single schedule with connections at main hub stations. And we know it can be done because there are examples in other countries where it works.

Let me close with a vision of what we at RailPAC and our affiliates are aiming for. Switzerland is a small country with about 9 million inhabitants. About 20 years the federal government made the decision to coordinate all of these services so that it would be possible to travel between any points in the country by train, bus and ferry using a single ticket and with coordinated, connecting schedules. This was not an easy task. This is a country that has four official languages and very independent local governments. We could have followed this example when we created Metrolink, and ACE, and all the other passenger agencies over the past 20 years, but it’s not too late to start now. But I say again, from experience in advocating this since 1980, it will not happen without direction from State Government. The Swiss example works because it was directed by the federal government. So please, imagine taking the light rail to Sacramento station, riding Amtrak to Oakland, the ferry across to San Francisco and Muni to your final destination with just one ticket, and the knowledge that these service will connect.

What I hope you will take away from here today is a picture of a number of isolated institutions, each working to an inward looking agenda, each appearing to fulfill their mandated functions, but failing to provide a comprehensive, user friendly service that will attract far more passengers than use the trains today.

Mr. Chairman and committee members, you have created these various agencies and Joint Powers Authorities and you fund them to a large degree. What you have failed to do is to force them to talk with each other and to cooperate. You have granted powers to county level agencies but you have not created a regional framework, let alone an authority with any power, to overcome this parochialism.

We in California have considerable talent and experience in developing computer generated systems of all kinds. This is the state that is the home of Google, and Apple,

Events

RailPAC-NARP joint October meeting set for San Carlos; Skoropowski retires

Saturday, October 24, On the Peninsula!
Location:
Samtrans HQ Auditorium
, 1250 San Carlos Avenue, San Carlos about a block from the San Carlos Caltrain stationCaltrain San Carlos station.
Time: 1pm – 4pm
Plenty of choices for restaurants in the locality.
Confirmed Speakers:

  • Gene Skoropowski, Capitol Corridor Managing Director. Your chance to say goodbye to Gene, who retires in November.
  • Rod Diridon, California High Speed Rail Authority Board member. Catch up on high speed rail progress.
  • NEW SMART, the Sonoma-Marin commuter rail project will be represented! Check here for updated information.
    Fee: Suggested minimum $10 donation at the door.
    But, Please RSVP to info@railpac.org
    so we can plan for the space.

    Commentary

    Texas Eagle Marketing and Performance Organization Meeting

    Report by Robert Manning, RailPAC Director

    It was suggested that I attend the TEMPO meeting which was held Saturday, September 26, 2009 in Temple, Texas. I had heard of this group, but their web site which I thought was rather bland did not give much detail or an agenda regarding this meeting. I was also told that this group saved the Amtrak train, the Texas Eagle, which was slated to be cut.

    Well, I attended the TEMPO meeting and was very much impressed with this dedicated group of passenger train advocates. First of all, these folks couldn’t have been any nicer. They made certain that my transportation was provided and that I was invited to all of the venues. I met Dr. Bill Pollard the Chairman of TEMPO, and Bill went into great detail explaining the philosophy of this group. The TEMPO group, which was organized in 1997, recruited the mayors, city council members, convention and visitor’s members, chamber of commerce members and judges. In Texas, judges preside over the county supervisors.

    Along the entire line from Chicago to San Antonio which is served by the Texas Eagle, this group came together and successfully saved this train! Mr. Pollard went on to say that they will keep the system running, improve service, equipment, and connections with other trains and they will expand the system. Bill also said the TEMPO group works well with Amtrak to accomplish their goals but, at times has taken an adversarial role in which to express their needs.

    The TEMPO meeting was held in the museum portion of the former Santa Fe train station which also serves as an Amtrak station. This beautiful old two story structure has been completely renovated and is called the Temple Railroad & Heritage Museum. This train station provided an excellent venue for this rail advocate meeting.

    The meeting started with Temple Texas Mayor Pro Tem, Patsy Luna giving the welcome message. The speakers included a host of other city representatives served by the Texas Eagle, also including speakers from Union Pacific Railroad, Trails & Rails, National Park Service and Amtrak.

    Some of the highlights of the meeting were given by Amtrak’s Brian Rosenwald, Chief Product Management and Richard Phelps, Vice President of Transportation. Brian stated the following:
    The Sunset Limited will go before the Amtrak Board of Directors and they will in all probability approve daily service.
    Dining car will be added to the Texas Eagle, with breakfast served from San Antonio.
    Congress mandated that Amtrak customer service must achieve a 90% goal in the next seven years.

    Mr. Phelps stated that Amtrak is working closely with the states in order to develop a standard car shell to fund a continuing order for a domestic manufacture. Richard concluded his statement by saying Amtrak wishes to grow the system and improve connect ability.

    Editorials

    The New Transportation Lobby

    Editorial By Noel T. Braymer

    I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard someone on TV or Radio says something like “The Government can’t do anything right!” Life is never perfect, but we depend on many government services which generally work fine. An example of this would be indoor plumbing. These are basic services which government provides. Government is also good at raising tax dollars in large amounts to pay for needed projects which private industry wouldn’t find profitable. We take clean water and sanitation for granted. But 100 years ago indoor plumbing wasn’t universal in this country. Poor countries to this day often don’t have clean water or proper sanitation. The result is water borne bacteria are a leading cause for illness and death in poor countries.

    When there are problems with government, politics usually is at the heart of the issue. There isn’t much political fighting over sewers. I think this is because most people use water and toilets and the cost for such service is reasonable. Usually when politics rears its head the issue is usually over money. People will fight about paying for something they don’t use or think doesn’t benefit them. Anything that can be considered a form of welfare by some groups will get opposition. A major problem for public transportation is that it is seen by many as a form of welfare. Many people feel riding a bus is degrading.

    The period after World War II was the high point of road construction. During this time there was much talk about the “Highway Lobby”. The Highway Lobby is usually thought to be the auto makers, oil companies and road builders. Actually support for road building goes much deeper. Transportation is at the heart of economic growth. Transportation opens up land for development. Bankers get business from developers building houses and commercial buildings. Development brings tax revenues to local government. Many people have jobs linked to transportation based development. At this time new roads fueled much of the economic growth after the war. At the same time efforts to improve rail service or public transportation largely went nowhere. This was a period of intense competition for tax dollars. The “Highway Lobby” dominated this era and left rail and transit mostly in the dust.

    But by the end of the 1970’s the road building boom was largely coming to halt. The country was shocked by two oil embargos at this time which exposed the Nation’s dependence on oil. Recessions at this time reduced revenue and the need for highway construction. And despite massive road building traffic congestion was getting worse not better. In California at this time because of Prop 13 a 2/3 majority was needed to pass any tax increases on a ballot measure. Counties turned to raising local sales taxes by ballot measure to raise money for transportation projects. In order to get the widest support possible these ballot measures proposed both highway improvements and rail projects. This was the beginning of turning the Highway Lobby into the Transportation Lobby.

    A problem with cars is they don’t carry many people, particularly when only one person is in one. For an example just go to any suburban elementary school on a school day and you will find a traffic jam from parents dropping off or picking up their children. A double tracked railroad can carry more people and freight than a ten lane freeway. The best place for business is where it is busy, where there is lots of foot traffic; where the action is. Depending on cars can leave activity centers in gridlock. Traditional downtowns in the past didn’t have these problems because they were well served with rail and transit. Today there are complaints that the Los Angeles Coliseum doesn’t have enough parking for a professional football team. Yet between 1932 and 1962 the Coliseum had many events at full capacity of over 102,000 with no problems. The reason was the Coliseum was well served with streetcar service until 1963. Increasingly commercial property owners and civic leaders are discovering that rail service can bring in more people to an area than cars alone.

    The California High Speed Rail Project is more a development project than a transportation project. This has always been true of transportation. Go to the CHSRA web site or youtube and look up California High Speed Rail and look at the videos. There are plans for major development around most of the stations. High Speed Rail has the potential to create economic growth, increase ridership for all forms of public transit and do it in an economical way. But, to do this HSR service has to have connections to all of California. I live in San Diego County and have family in Sacramento. The first segment of the HSR project will serve neither. But I should be able to buy a ticket and leave Oceanside, make quick guaranteed connections to Sacramento on day one the HSR trains are running and get to Sacramento in less time than it takes to drive. Anyone should be able to do the same to go almost anywhere they want in California when the first segment of HSR is running.

    Rail service has to be convenient, widely used by the public and economical much like indoor plumbing is today to stop being a political football. The question is, are the operators up to the challenge? Most public transportation service providers are used to acting like a welfare service and often being on the defensive. They see other transportation providers as competitors for public funding, not as business partners. But to get the level of service to make rail service usable for most people and high numbers of riders the services need to connect. This is understood in countries with good public transportation.

    Reports

    RailPAC MEETS WITH JOE BOARDMAN, Amtrak President and CEO

    BoardmanDysonManningSmith100809October 8, 2009
    Reported by Paul Dyson, RailPAC President
    I was very pleased to accept an invitation from Joe Boardman to meet him at Los Angeles Union Station today on Board the “Beech Grove” business car. Mr. Boardman was making a brief stopover during an inspection and meet the troops tour. I invited RailPAC VP South James Smith and Director Bob Manning from the Coachella Valley to join me.

    We asked Mr. Boardman what he had learned from his year at Amtrak and we were not surprised to hear that he shares our concern for the state of the rolling stock and resulting quality of service. He told us that he hopes to be able to make an important announcement “very soon” regarding investment and an equipment order. He also expressed some frustration with the amount of time spent on day to day “emergencies”. Too many situations are elevated to executive level, reflecting years of gradual deterioration of the asset base and (in my opinion) lack of continuity at the senior management level.

    Regarding whether he will stay in the post after his interim term is up, Mr. Boardman could only say that he has told the Board that he is “ready, willing and able” to take a permanent appointment should the Board so decide.

    Mr. Boardman was also unable to give us an answer regarding future plans for the Sunset/Eagle service. “That decision has not yet been made”.

    We presented a copy of Bill Bradley”s “Last of the Great Stations”, produced for the 50th anniversary of LAUS, to commemorate his visit and as a belated thank you for his presentation at the May 9 RailPAC conference.

    Although he discounted the suggestion I am inclined to think that Mr. Boardman’s already difficult task has been made harder because of its being an interim appointment. RailPAC looks forward to a rolling stock order to strengthen the western trains, daily Sunset service from Los Angeles, and a permanent Amtrak CEO. The next couple of months will be interesting!
    BoardmanDysonManningSmith100809
    (left-right) Mr. Dyson, Mr. Boardman, Mr. Manning, Mr. Smith in front of Amtrak business car 10001 at Los Angeles Union Station on October 8, 2009.

    Reports

    Coast Rail Coordinating Council Meeting Report

    April 2007 001 September 25, 2009, Monterey
    Reported by Chris Flescher, RailPAC Associate Director, Salinas

    There is currently a capacity study being made for the Coast Daylight train. San Luis Obispo and TAMC have each given $500,000 to help fund the study. There is still an issue of UP and Caltrans lacking an agreement on what capacity improvements are needed to allow the Coast Daylight train.
    Photo of 799 at San Luis Obispo station by Russ Jackson.

    There are 3 groups involved in running the train: UP, Metrolink, and the JPB (operators of Caltrain). UP has said that they don’t want HSR on their tracks or their ROW. There is currently a lawsuit relating to HSR, about the increased noise and vibration along the future HSR line, between Gilroy and San Jose. UP has studied the SLO to LA segment, and proposed some capacity changes, like siding improvements in Seacliff. There are now several requests for UP to model the capacity needs for future passenger train services, like Denver to Portland, and a future service terminating in San Antonio.

    The current study between UP and Caltrans will take around 6 or 9 months to complete. In the future, UP plans to look at all rail lines in northern California as a network. All operators will get together to consider short term and long term projects. UP is currently doing this for short term projects, and will start on long term projects soon. For the Coast Daylight, Caltrain, Metrolink and Amtrak support it, and Amtrak is ready to run such a train.

    The San Luis Obispo to Salinas corridor needs some improvements, like PTC installed, and some capacity changes, like adding sidings.

    UP wants to deal with all the possible conflicts related to the high speed rail project using some of their right of way. That is expected to take a lot of effort. UP may want to finish dealing with that project before putting a lot of effort into the San Jose to San Luis Obispo capacity.

    UP has some concerns related to what happened after the SP merger. Before the merger, UP made agreements with the state to provide certain improvements. Actually performing the improvements took longer than expected, and because of that, the cost was much higher than when UP agreed to perform them. The state was unable to pay for all of the “extra” expenses, so UP had to cover some of them.

    The representatives from Soledad (including Gary Gerbrandt, who spoke) want to make sure that the interest in having a stop there will still be a priority in the minds of everyone. Soledad has some money to buy land and build a station, but the city would like a commitment to have passenger trains stop there. The city has hired a consultant to help with getting a station stop. The city wants to have a timetable, saying when station design should be completed, when land needs to be bought, and similar actions taken. Debbie Hale of TAMC talked about setting up a meeting with Amtrak about serving Soledad. She wonders if having a passenger stop, and at the same time a crew change there, would be relatively easy to accomplish.

    For any future rail projects, UP wants the right of a 6 month limit. That is, if a capacity study requirement is done (for a new train), and construction does not start for 6 months, UP has the possibility of requiring the study to be redone. This could happen if construction costs go up significantly in a short time period. UP has increased its staff in the capacity modeling department. It has bought more user licenses for the modeling software it currently uses.

    The CRCC group passed a motion, asking to formally prioritize the Coast Daylight train as a very important project. The group passed a second motion, to support hiring someone who will focus on just that project and keep pushing it forward. Also necessary is a defined scope of work.

    The state is looking into using stimulus money to buy more railcars. If the state can get money for operation of the Coast Daylight, then Amtrak plans to bring in some railcars from elsewhere, in order to run it.

    There is a plan to do a report on the new service. Besides track capacity, it is also necessary to look at operating costs, the subsidy needed, what kind of railcars to use, and the number of crew members.

    For federal HSR funding, some money may go to the so-called “train box” at the new Transbay Terminal. That would be important, and allow capacity for the Coast Daylight to stop there. There is a list of four sets of rail projects (included in the meeting agenda). Some Track 1 projects will be resubmitted, for funding requests, as Track 2 projects. One problem is that some legislators (and a lot of people) in California view investment in rail as helping mainly the freight railroads. There should be an outreach program to explain all the public benefits of such investment.

    There is an interest in a demonstration train. The idea is to not run it just once, but do so for about a month. Unfortunately, UP is strongly opposed (except for a one-time train). A possibility is using a Talgo train. However, those trains do not ride well on jointed rail. There is a lot of jointed rail on the Coast Line. Some other upcoming discussions include the following. LOSSAN may have big organizational changes in the near future. There is continued interest in a Santa Barbara commuter train. Caltrain electrification may happen in the future.

    At this time, the California intercity rail budget has been about $95 million per year. If it goes above $100 million per year, that could result in a lot of positive press coverage.

    There is a bill in the State Legislature, SB 409, from Senator Ducheny (of the San Diego area). It would reorganize Caltrans and the state rail program, changing who oversees various things by merging the Caltrans Rail Program, the High Speed Rail Authority, and the Public Utilities Commission’s rail functions under a new department within the Business, Transportation, & Housing Agency. The bill has been made a two year bill.