TRACKING RAIL NEWS . . . for December, 2009 December 14th, 2009
. . . Commentary and PHOTOS by Russ Jackson
. . . On Time Performance. How’s this for an OTP for the first 20 days of November: Zephyr 85%, Starlight 85%, Builder 87.5%, CHIEF 97.5%, Sunset 88.9%, Eagle 92.5%.
Then you add in the Corridors, Capitols 92.5%, Heartland Flyer 97.5%, Surfliner 80.3%, San Joaquin 91.3%, and Caltrain 90.32%. When was this seen before? We can’t say enough about this kind of reliability. Now, if the other factors for Amtrak travel could be scored that high, well, it would be a great way to run a railroad. Others have noted that this is Joseph Boardman’s last month on his “interim” Presidency; and we must join in assuming that since no announcement of a permanent replacement has been forthcoming that Mr. Boardman’s contract has been extended. If getting the OTP up is his major accomplishment we will take it, but continue to hope, plead, argue, and yes “advocate” for more vigorous pursuit of a daily Sunset Limited, and the placement of an order for additional Superliner cars to result in increased revenue for the long distance trains by expanding their capacity. NOTE: The original column was written before the news obtained by RailPAC Director Robert Manning: “All,I have just been informed that the Amtrak Board of Directors has just authorized negotiations with the Union Pacific Railroad, for a daily Sunset Limited train. More to follow.” (Photo of the Texas Eagle arriving at Dallas Union Station on December 12. The Eagle currently connects onto the Sunset Limited at San Antonio tri-weekly.)
. . . California. This writer has taken note of the California budget crisis, and so far there has been minimal impact on the state rail program. However, it appears that next year will be perhaps worse than this year so even popular programs like the trains may have to take a hit. To make improvements to the system now is going to require doing things that have little or no cost. There is a need for more connectivity and integrated schedules of all rail and transit systems in California, which I think should be the thrust of RailPAC’s efforts now, as that just requires lots of meetings and the will to succeed. Some trains may be discontinued, and it’s unfortunate the only one on the table now is 798-799, the LA to San Luis Obispo train that eventually would become the Coast Daylight to San Francisco, but the state’s criteria for maintaining service for trains and buses is pretty specific. Frankly, I look for the Capitol Corridor to be cut symbolically from 16 to maybe 12, eliminate one of the Sacramento to Bakersfield San Joaquins, and cut the number of Surfliners back to 10 letting Metrolink-Coaster take up the slack. Savings accomplished? A drop in the bucket, but the state can claim they are saving without damaging the whole program. NOTE: A quick response to my comment about potential cuts quickly arrived from David Kutrosky, the new Managing Director of the Capitol Corridor: “While we are acutely aware that California is experiencing extreme financial difficulties at the moment, I can tell you that THERE HAVE BEEN NO DISCUSSIONS ABOUT REDUCING CAPITOL CORRIDOR SERVICE LEVELS. As I and other CCJPA staff have stated emphatically, before the CCJPA even would consider such a drastic action, the CCJPA staff would work with our operating partner (Amtrak) to implement other measures to offset any budget reductions IF the CCJPA were to be notified of such reduced funding to the CCJPA. As of this moment, I have NOT received any notice of budget
reduction for the operation of the Capitol Corridor trains.” Photo courtesy CCJPA.
. . . Real Rail Advocacy can succeed! Recently the CCRiders group, which regularly rides the Capitol Corridor between Auburn, Sacramento and beyond, received notice that fares were going up effective November 16. Their leader, Chuck Robuck, checked and found out the increase would be more than 11%, an astounding increase in light of the furlough pay reductions, increased withholding, etc., that many riders were faced with. They immediately spoke with the Capitol Corridor officials, who checked and found that the new fares has been “mis-calculated using an old formula.” The “real” fare increase was 3% on their route which is bad enough and hard to accept in these troubled times, but is much better than 11%. We congratulate this group on their quick action and the Capitol Corridor for admitting there had been a mistake and correcting it, even though it is just deferred to March, 2010.
. . . Elsewhere in the West. . . . The newly opened Northstar in Minnesota had an opening day usage of 2400, well above the forecasted daily average of 1700. The trains ran on time. Schedules are set up so that the first train each morning turns to the only morning outbound, which then turns again at Big Lake to the last inbound and that pattern is reversed in the afternoon. The round trip fare is $15. They are running Saturday and Sunday service (attention Metrolink) ala the New Mexico Railrunner. The project was delivered weeks ahead of schedule and $10 million under budget. . . . The Denton County, Texas, A-Train broke ground on November 20 at its Highland Village-Lake Lewisville station with full participation of local officials. DCTA will purchase 11 Swiss “Stadler GTW 2/6 Diesel Multiple Units (DMU)” which can seat 104 passengers, are 70% low floor meaning level platform boarding, and will run them on 20-minute headways starting in 2013. When the system opens in late 2111 they will be using leased RDC cars from the Dallas-Ft. Worth TRE. What makes these DMUs interesting is they will be easily converted to overhead electrical service for run-through on the DART line without constructing catenary in Denton County.
. . . Trip Report. Sacramento to Tehachapi October 30. The Coast Starlight was in very early just after 6 and departed right on time at 6:35. San Joaquin 702 is usually staged on the first track from the station but the area was empty. We were early so we waited in the area for a while with a small group of other people. Capitol 518 arrived from Oakland early at about 6:20 and took the spot where 702 was expected. After a small group got off, the numberboards were changed and the consist became 702 to Bakersfield. A service employee chatted with us while I was hauling luggage from the car and said the 702 consist was dead (reason not stated) and thus the unusual swap. 702 finally got out 13 minutes late at 6:53 but made up time and arrived about 15 minutes early in Bakersfield. It was a good trip, but getting up at 4 am in the Sierra Nevada makes for a long day! The Las Vegas connecting bus that has always met 702 and served Tehachapi has been dropped from the timetable with the schedule change, so our friend decided to drive an hour each way to pick us up instead of waiting for the bus from 712 about 1 3/4 hours later. I have to drive an hour and a quarter each way to Sacramento on this end so there is a lot of driving involved to make this “train” trip work. The return trip on 701 was right on time out of Bakersfield and in early at Sacramento by 15 minutes. We sat next to a lady from Hanford who was going to Grass Valley and had her daughter drive all the way to downtown Sacramento rather than transfer to the connecting bus that would have taken her to Auburn, another example of people refusing to wait 45 minutes to take a bus for the last 35 miles of their trip and generating 70 miles of metropolitan traffic congestion in each case; we would have no trouble with a train to train cross-platform transfer. – - Ralph James. Note: Mr. James confirms double-stack UP trains are now crossing the Sierra, with the tunnel projects up there largely complete.