Outstanding Guest Speakers at San Carlos RailPAC/NARP meeting; Skoropowski honored   October 28th, 2009

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.
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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.

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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

This entry was posted on Wednesday, October 28th, 2009 at 10:25 AM and is filed under Reports.