Reports

San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee Meeting Report; a Mix of Good News and Bad News

Reported by Mike Barnbaum, RailPAC Sacramento Associate Director
Thursday 29 October 2009 in Merced/Atwater, California.
The San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee met in Merced at the Castle Conference Center, which is actually in the community of Atwater, just on the outskirts of Merced.

The welcome to Merced County was done by Mark Hendrickson. Mark informed everybody in the room of how Castle Air Force Base was decommissioned within the last ten years from Federal to County Control. The story that Mark told about Castle is similiar to the story of what occurred at McClellan in Sacramento County and how McClellan transfered from being called McClellan Air Force Base to now being called McClellan Business Park.

Long Distance Train Connections were on the agenda as a continued item from the August meeting. Both Arthur Lloyd, San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee Facilitator, and this writer, At-Large Member of the Mobility Advisory Committee of the Sacramento Regional Transit District made the presentation of this topic. The one change that did occur since the August Meeting in Turlock was that the California Zephyr now leaves for Chicago from Sacramento at 11:49 A.M. rather than 11:09 A.M. The additional forty minutes allows riders of San Joaquin Train Number 711 to connect in Stockton to either MotorCoach 3711 and/or 3811 to Sacramento for the connection to Train Number 6. In the opposite direction http://www.amtrak.com/ and Amtrak Reservation agents have programmed in the computer system that riders on the Westbound California Zephyr traveling into Sacramento transfer to the San Joaquin Train Number 704 leaving Sacramento at 4:55 P.M.

In the discussion of the long distance train connections from San Joaquin Trains, there was mention that no changes have been made to the Coast Starlight or the Sunset Limited. It was mentioned and referenced at the Rail Passenger Association of California Meeting held in San Carlos back on Saturday 24 October 2009, that Amtrak’s Chief of Product Management did mention to a Rail Passenger Association of California member that matters pertaining to the Sunset Limited will likely be on the Amtrak Board of Directors Agenda Meeting in January. As far as whether that meeting will be occurring before or after the January San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee Meeting, is not known. Stay tuned for more on this when the January San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee Meeting is written on January 17th.

Next up after Log Distance Train Connections was Brian Schmidt, making a presentation on the Central Valley Rail Commuter Rail Policy. The presentation was focusing on commuter rail with a high speed rail component between Merced and the Bay Area as well as Merced to Sacramento. There will be a time frame of about three years for a project EIR and Selected alignment. Brian mentioned about a technical group that is studying the Sacramento to Merced option and their group’s next meeting on November 13th in Stockton. San Joaquin Valley Committee Member Darryl Clare of Sacramento County is a Member of the Sacramento to Merced group as well. Folks interested in this study and its impacts to rail service in Sacramento County can contact Brian Schmidt directly either at brian@acerail.com or at (209) 944-6241.

Following Brain Schmidt was Tony Gale, a citizen of the United Kingdom, on the Amtrak GreenRide Connection. Tony provided the group with a nineteen page PowerPoint Presentation. The purpose of his presentation, according to one Powerpoint slide was to: Improve connectivity between stations and the riders’ ultimate trip start and end points; Improve convenience and the rider and pickup party experience (taxi, shuttle, family, work colleagues, etc.) provide more personally relevant transportation choices. There were three websites highlighted by Tony Gale in his presentation:

http://www.ene.com/
http://www.greenride.com/ and
http://www.flex-t.com/
Skipping down his presentation, now that this report has three links to what Tony was talking about in further detail, Tony provided the summary on one PowerPoint Screen as follows:

Increases AMTRAK and Non-Single Occupant Ridership
– Improves efficiency and integration
– Increases convenience
– Provides more travel options and lowers costs
– Personalizes the experience
– Maximizes green benefits

Josh Johnstone provided the Fall Marketing Campaign presentation. Josh touched upon radio, television, as well as other creative marketing opportunities that will occur between Early October and Late December. One promotion was the issuance of 100,000 Companion Fare Coupons, and a Papa John’s Pizza Promotion that was good for all travelers to gain 25% off of their travel on Pacific Surfliner and San Joaquin Trains Only. Josh mentioned that Capitol Corridor travel was not part of the Papa John’s Promotion. He could not elaborate as to the reasoning behind the Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority not wanting to participate in this promotion. Many of the parts of the marketing campaign will also be in Spanish to target the growing Central Valley Hispanic Population.

There was mention by Sacramento County’s Darryl Clare that, “Elected Officials would lose their “elected” status if they use the Companion Fare Coupon, according to state law.”

Greg Santos, Amtrak Road Foreman, filling in for Captain Jim Martino, giving the police report. On the San Joaquin there was on trespasser strike on August 13th on Train Number 718 in the Bakersfield Area. It was also mentioned that one incident occurred in the Emeryville area involving a Capitol Corridor Train on October 25th.

Vern Moss, the Elected Member of the San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee from Madera County, mentioned that the Funds have been programmed for relocation of the Madera Station. He would hope that at some time down the calendar and at a time appropriate, the committee would hold one of its meetings in Madera.

Lee Goldenberg discussed Amtrak Bus Operations, and mentioned that for the most part, bus operations are very healthy. One elimination he noted occurred with operations in Sacramento. All service back on Monday 26 October 2009 North of Redding was cancelled due to low ridership. All other bus routes and stops throughout the state ramain as is. There are nine bus operators for AmtrakCalifornia for the CalTrans Division of Rail Program.

William D. Bronte, Chief of the CalTrans Division of Rail mentioned that California has received a $4 Million increase in operating funds this year, and that the California Transit Association Lawsuit will eventually get payback to transit agencies and rail, but how it will occur and when is not known at this time. The California Budget is now operating with a $3.6 Billion Deficit and tax receipts this quarter are $1.1 Billion shy of estimates this quarter alone. California is already, according to Bill Bronte, $8 Billion in the hole this year. The ARRA, or American Recovery Reinvestment Act Track 1 and Track Two Projects will have their results delivered to the states sometime in the Spring. The results will likely be known at the April Meeting of the San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee.

The Amtrak and Federal Budget Report was delivered by Jonathan Hutchison. Amtrak asked for a nationwide chunk of $1.5 Billion, and of that $144 for ADA Compliance. Amtrak is now operating its services with a continuing resolution, something that occurs most year-in and year-out. The Wicker Amendment was brought up, that would allow guns to be brought on board trains in a persons checked baggage. It was mentioned that Amtrak will not have all of its equipment retrofitted by April 2010 because it is cost prohibitive. At this time Amtrak is using $1.3 Million in Stimulus Dollars to retrofit and restore equipment. The retrofitting and restoration of equipment might be used to bring back some long distance routes that were previously eliminated, and make other existing routes have the ability to hold longer consists.

The next meeting of the San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee will be held on Thursday 14 January 2010 in Merced, California.

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