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.