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Building HSR on the Installment Plan

Editorial by Noel T. Braymer

“An honest politician is one who, when he is bought, will stay bought”. Simon Cameron US financier & politician (1799 – 1889)
Since the midterm elections it is becoming clear that if people thought Washington was partisan, gridlocked and out of touch with what people wanted before the election, then you ain’t seen nothing yet. The issues most on people’s minds are jobs, a healthy economy and keeping their house.
In politics the game is to get as much government money for your supporters at the expense of your opponents and their supporters. Opposition from recently elected officials to Federal Funding for Passenger Rail Service in New Jersey, Ohio, Wisconsin and Florida has nothing to do with concern about spending too much taxpayer’s money. These politicians want to spend this money, only they want to take it and use it for highways. There is a need for highway construction. But this money by law is for Passenger Rail service. The Department of Transportation has told these states that if they don’t use this money for rail they won’t get the money. Instead it will be available for other states which will, such as California.
The reality for California is while there will be some money for High Speed Rail, there won’t be 40 plus billion available to build a passenger service between Los Angeles and San Francisco in the next ten years. As it stands there seems to be enough money to go ahead and build a HSR railroad in the San Joaquin Valley. Construction will be fairly cheap in this mostly rural area and there is broad local political support for the project in an area of high unemployment. The problem is not many people are going to travel in the Valley. Valley residents are more interested in going to the Los Angeles or San Francisco regions than shuttling back and forth in the San Joaquin Valley. How do we create a state wide rail service in about 5 year using available funding? The same way it has been done in Europe: running trains on both existing and HSR trackage.
Improved San Joaquin Trains will work as a stop gap between Oakland and Bakersfield: but what about Southern California? Metrolink operates the 76 rail miles between Los Angeles and Lancaster. The missing link is the 87 miles between Lancaster and Bakersfield. If we make it a high priority to extend HSR trackage south of Bakersfield to Lancaster we could run direct service between Los Angles and Oakland. This won’t be 5 or more trains an hour but it will be a more viable service than running trains just in the Valley. We should build over 200 miles of HSR track, between Lancaster and Fresno to get HSR for about half of the way between Los Angeles and San Francisco. This won’t give you running times of under 3 hours between Los Angeles and San Francisco. But it will give you much faster service in under 6 hours or so. It will create the traffic to bring in revenue and create popular support for finishing the California High Speed Rail Project.
For years Transportation spending has been considered a non-partisan issue. Most everyone travels and improved transportation improves the economy. There are a lots of jobs for rail construction and the development created by improved rail passenger service. People like to see their tax money spent on services that they will use. How do we get the attention of the politicians in Washington and Sacramento to let us use our tax money here for Rail? We must work at the local level to show broad support for rail service. We should prioritize our efforts to get the most out of limited resources by running the longest distance service possible using both existing and HSR trackage. We should build the most trackage first where construction costs are the lowest or have the greatest improvement in service. And we should build something now that will show the California taxpayers that they are getting their money’s worth.
Tracking Rail News

Tracking Rail News: December 2010

Photo and Comments by Russ Jackson

. . . Winter has begun for Amtrak.

One of our classic photos is the westbound California Zephyr #5 at Winter Park, Colorado in the winter of 2000.

The Thanksgiving weekend saw the start of Amtrak’s annual battle with winter weather, and nowhere was it more evident than along the route of the Empire Builder. Train #8 (22) departed Seattle 3 hours and 20 minutes late and finally arrived in Chicago 3 days later, 20 hours and 8 minutes late due to storm conditions across Montana and North Dakota. Along its route it went from just under 7 hours late at Cutbank, MT, to 13 hours late out of Havre. The California Zephyr #5 (22) departed Chicago 3 minutes late, and was only 54 minutes late out of Salt Lake City, ended up 4 hours and 24 minutes late into Emeryville after losing almost 2 hours between Truckee and Colfax. Coast Starlight #11 that departed Seattle on the same day 1 hour and 43 minutes late was 4 hours late out of Tacoma due to mechanical problems, not the weather, but #14 that departed Los Angeles on time that day and was 23 minutes late into Dunsmuir ran into the Cascades winter weather and was 2 hours and 40 minutes late out of Klamath Falls. Meanwhile, the Sunset Limited and the Southwest Chief continued their pattern of excellent on time performance, arriving early at their endpoints consistently.

. . . However, the overall picture of on time performance for FY10 is not bad. The California Zephyr ended up OT 52.6% for the year, down 7.1% from 09. The Coast Starlight was 89.9%, up 7.4%; the Empire Builder was 77.8%, up 2.2%; the Southwest Chief was 79.1%, down 6%; the Sunset Limited was 87.5%, up 8.3%!

. . . Let’s look at some of the “routine” problems encountered by long distance trains last month. Train 3 (13) was delayed over 2 hours at Peach Springs, AZ, because it set off a drag detector due to a broken strut and sheared bolt on a coach. The BNSF was able to help that one. Train 11 (13) was delayed departing Seattle for 95 minutes because inspection revealed a faulty toilet vacuum pump in a Sleeping car. (Where have we heard that problem over and over before? At least it was corrected prior to departure.) Train 6 (12) was delayed 45 minutes 35 miles east of Green River, UT due to a locomotive “not loading.” (Another regular problem.) Train 21 (11) the Texas Eagle, was delayed 2 1/2 hours near San Antonio due to “losing traction power” on locomotive 81. The Union Pacific provided a helper locomotive. But, the train was delayed 3 hours more at San Antonio “swapping locomotives”, due to a horn problem on the freight locomotive and toilet problems on train 22. Then Train 1 was delayed another 2 hours at Deming, NM removing that freight locomotive because it had “bell and whistle problems and lateral motion.” Another freight locomotive was taken off an eastbound freight train and the Sunset continued to Los Angeles. And, Train 4 (13) was delayed over 2 hours at Albuquerque as a result of having to switch the rear car and another coach on the rear of the train due to bad ordered marker lights. It takes much patience to run a railroad, particularly when many problems can be prevented but are not.

. . . Thanksgiving weekend was sold out on Amtrak! On Wednesday, November 24, one of the busiest travel days of the year, NBC TV stationed one of their top reporters, Mike Taibbi, at New York’s Penn Station and through the day he provided information to all of their networks, the Today Show, MSNBC, CNBC, and the Weather Channel. There was parity for rail travelers with air and highways at last! Mr. Taibbi reported after interviewing train riders that with the controversial TSA “patdown” procedures in effect at airports there was definitely more interest in rail traffic. He went on to say that since all trains were full a reservation was a must, that Amtrak had every available car running, and was serving turkey in its long distance train dining cars. That summed things up rather nicely! Elsewhere that day, the Capitol Corridor added cars to its consists, some with 7 cars, and borrowed a set of Caltrain equipment (Gallery cars), running that consist on trains 542 and 553 with limited snack service! Some Surfliner consists had 9 cars, and there were 5 cars including the Great Dome on the low level train to San Luis Obispo. While it is difficult to pinpoint how many travelers took Amtrak rather than flying this year, a New Orleans TV station, WWL, interviewed four passengers waiting to board a full Sunset Limited and the result was mixed. Amtrak spokesman Todd Stennis told the station, “I think that (those TSA screenings) played a role” in a jump in ridership.

. . . More on the weather and other things. . . . Did you see the excellent article in the December issue of Trains magazine about snow removal on Donner Pass? It says, “When the rotaries (plows) move out of Roseville, (enroute to the Sierra) workers have to pull up crossings and remove the Amtrak station platforms at Rocklin and Colfax to accommodate the plows. The platforms were designed to be portable because of this.” We didn’t know this, so we asked our Sierra correspondent, Ralph James (who is busy shoveling out his property these days), who says, “Colfax would only have one platform on the #2 track but Rocklin would have a platform on each track. With CTC cross-overs at Rocklin, Newcastle, Bowman and Colfax (west of the platform and in the wrong direction to avoid the platform) it would be possible to get by with removing only one platform in Rocklin.” Isn’t railroading interesting? . . . A new $7 million crossover at the West end of the Yolo Causeway was one of California’s federally funded projects. Construction should begin soon to increase efficiency between Davis and Sacramento. CCJPA Managing Director, David Kutrosky, says they are still in negotiations with the UP. That leads this writer to finally in this issue report that negotiations with the UP on the daily service for the Texas Eagle-Sunset Limited are still going on, as best as we can determine, but no decision. As the agent in the Austin, Texas station told us last month “you probably know more than we do.” . . . The Union Pacific has “re-ignited” its double-tracking effort on its 760 mile El Paso to Los Angeles Sunset Route, putting in $18 million to complete nine miles in Imperial County, California and another nine miles in Maricopa County, Arizona. It just gets easier to operate the Sunset Limited daily. . . . The American Society of Civil Engineers recognized the rehabilitation of the Cal Park Tunnel between San Rafael and Larkspur on the future route of the SMART trains as the “Outstanding Small Project of 2010″, and we extend congratulations! The tunnel has been rebuilt and now contains a bicycle-pedestrian pathway, so when construction of the rail line commences the tunnel is ready. After reading RailPAC Secretary Dick Spotswood’s article about the future of the SMART project that tunnel may wait a while before it sees trains. . . . Congratulations are in order, too, to Metrolink’s SCRRA Board for unanimously agreeing to buy 20 more train cars from Hyundai Rotem for $1.68 million each, about $1 million below market value! Now, if Metrolink can come up with money like that why has it taken so many agonizing years for Amtrak to come up with the cash for any new western long distance cars? Where there is a will there is a way. . . . All that’s left now is to wish our reader/members a Happy Christmas Holiday! See you on the rails next year!


Bikes and Trains

By Noel T. Braymer

A major problem with taking the train is getting to and from the train stations. Ridership for rail service is dependent on the amount of parking since most people drive to the train station. Many train stations have full parking lots. Increasingly more parking structures are being built at stations. But these are expensive and can’t keep up with the demand needed for expanded rail service in the future. Increasingly at stations all over California we are seeing another alternative; bicycles.
Bicycles are inexpensive, require much less space to park than cars and are good for trips of 1 to 2 miles. A healthy person can ride a bike 2 miles in 10 minutes or less. Many people are traveling these distances to and from stations. In many cases public transit is non-existent for such trips and it is too far for walking. Still many more people who could ride bikes aren’t. There are simple reasons for this which can be solved.
First finding a safe place to park a bike: many bikes can be worth thousands of dollars plus have accessories bolted on them which are easy to steal. Leaving bikes out in the open also leaves them subject to damage from the sun and bad weather. There is bike parking at most stations. But not always at the places people will be riding too. Bike boxes are common at train stations but these are for people using them on a regular basis. Bike Boxes are rarely available for one time use by visitors.
Another big reason more people don’t ride bikes more is traffic. Our road system is dominated by car and truck traffic. To get most anywhere you have to take busy arterial roads. There are few alternative routes on quiet streets. Many cities have bike lanes on arterial roads. These are mostly on the shoulder of the arterials which are often rough, poorly surfaced and covered with debris which can puncture bike tires. Plus many people are afraid of heavy traffic racing past them only a few feet away. There are bike paths but these are usually for recreational use and often don’t connect with activity areas. A better long term solution would be the creation of bike routes using quiet streets and made available by short cuts available only for pedestrians and people on bikes to activity areas. Better bike parking and bike routes to jobs and shopping from train stations will get more people on bikes and out of their cars.
One of the concerns about more passengers riding bikes is finding enough space on the trains for passengers who want to carry their bikes with them. Part of the problem is many of the bike racks on trains are poorly designed wasting valuable space for the number of bikes they carry. Any bike shop owner could design a better system to carry more bikes in less space. Another solution is to encourage regular bike riders to use 2 bikes. Park one at their home station and pick up another bike at their destination station. Persons parking their own bikes for commuter purposes could use secure parking to get to their final destination. For passengers who are not commuting having more rental bikes available is a great way for passengers to get to were they are going.
More people are already riding bikes to catch the train and more will as facilities continue to improve over the years. We can’t build enough parking structures to carry all the people that a train station can handle. We will need to build more development that is walking distance to stations. We can improve transit connections to stations to carry more people at stations. And we can encourage more people to ride bikes to and from stations.

Passenger Trains can be good customers for Freight Railroads

Editorial by Noel T. Braymer

The Union Pacific’s recent demand for 750 Million dollars in capital improvements before allowing a daily Sunset really said “go away kid, you bother me”.
The UP’s premise was based on the assumed costs to create a railroad that would eliminate conflicts with any late passenger or freight trains with significantly increased freight traffic in the future. A major issue raised by the UP was from delays caused by Amtrak at San Antonio from switching cars between the Sunset and the Texas Eagle. But Amtrak has addressed this problem by planning to eliminate most of the switching by running trains directly from Los Angeles through San Antonio to Chicago. A separate train would run from San Antonio to New Orleans. Amtrak’s proposal also would reroute the Sunset/Eagle to the BNSF out of Los Angeles through Fullerton and connect to the UP at Colton. This would bypass a major UP bottleneck between downtown LA and Colton Yard. Many of the problems the UP would have with a daily Sunset/Eagle can be negotiated with modest schedule changes and agreements by Amtrak to pay for improvements in the future as they are needed and for increased payments for operations. But this can’t happen as long as the UP isn’t willing to negotiate in good faith.
The Class One Railroads have legitimate concerns about the impact of increased passenger service on their freight service. This is particularly true when giving priority to passenger trains on a busy single track railroad.  Many of these problems will be solved as the Class Ones add more double track. For Amtrak to pay the Class Ones more money to use their railroads, Amtrak will need more equipment to run more, longer trains with better connections to more places. Amtrak’s current plans to upgrade their 4 lowest performing Long Distance Trains: Sunset/Eagle, California Zephyr, Capitol and Cardinal are steps in the right direction. These are near term projects which reflect the limited resources Amtrak has now.
The plan for the Sunset/Eagle is to run a daily train leaving Los Angeles around 11:30 PM and arriving at 5:05 AM. Passenger would be allowed to stay on the train at Los Angeles until 6:30. This will give better daylight service for Arizona and bring back connections to the Coast Starlight and San Joaquins. The new schedule would also take out much of the padding from the current schedule. For the California Zephyr the main emphasis will be to improve on-board service and add cars between Emeryville and Sparks as well as between Denver and Chicago. A longer range goal would be to see the return of a Desert Wind section between Salt Lake City, Las Vegas and Los Angeles. For the Cardinal the plan is to run daily service by combining the equipment of the Cardinal and the Hoosier State. A section to St. Louis is a long term objective. The Capitol which runs between Chicago and Washington would get a section from Pittsburg to Philadelphia and New York City by combining it with the Pennsylvania train.
The key for future growth for long distance trains is better connections. A high priority for this goal centers on the Heartland Flyer. The states of Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas are looking at both night time connections at Newton, Kansas and a day train between Fort Worth and Kansas City. A connection by the Flyer between a daily Sunset/Eagle and Southwest Chief in both directions would produce much more revenue than a local Forth Worth/Kansas City service. This would provide more service to more places to the states sponsoring the Flyer. A problem with the Southwest Chief is between New Mexico and Kansas where the railroad has little freight traffic. Because of this the BNSF has little reason to maintain this line for 79 miles per hour speeds and has reduced top speeds for the Chief in western Kansas to 60 mph. Federal and State money will be needed to maintain the tracks decently, but to justify such spending more passenger service will be needed.
New Mexico and Colorado are talking about rail passenger service between Albuquerque and Denver. The sooner this happen the better for fixing up the rail line. With Denver/Albuquerque service it would be possible to have connections from the Chief at Denver with the California Zephyr. If service was extended from Albuquerque to El Paso there could be connections also to the Sunset/Eagle. The Chief can also be expanded. Having 2 sections could have service from the Bay Area down the San Joaquin Valley to Barstow. At Kansas City the Chief could be split again on to St. Louis and there up to Chicago.
These improved connections won’t happen overnight. But for a person in Oklahoma  rail passenger service is limited to Fort Worth and connections to the Texas Eagle and a Tri-Weekly Sunset. With a daily Sunset/Eagle that person would be well served to west Texas, southern Arizona and Los Angeles. Extend the Heartland Flyer to Kansas and Oklahomans have connections to Kansas City, Chicago, as well as Northern New Mexico, northern Arizona and Southern California. Add the connection to Denver from both the Sunset/Eagle and the Chief gives service from Oklahoma to also Salt Lake City, Reno and the Bay Area. Running a section of the Chief from Kansas City to St Louis and Chicago then Oklahoma has service across Missouri and a future St. Louis hub could open up more service to the east. Not only Oklahoma, but all of the states with passenger rail service will see greater expanded service mostly using existing trains. These new services would give Los Angeles to Denver, Oakland to Kansas City, and Oklahoma City to Springfield, Illinois are just some of the new connections that could be made. With expanded service there will be more government money to maintain freight railroads with passenger service. These services can improve capital and operation funding for the Class One railroads and should be run so not to interfere with freight service.
Tracking Rail News

Tracking Rail News: November 2010

Photos and Commentary by Russ Jackson

John Murphy at the Davis Amtrak station baggage room.

… Retirement and a milestone: We want to note the retirement of veteran Amtrak station agent John Murphy, who has held down the fort at the very busy Davis, CA, station for many years. John’s career included working for the Southern Pacific, and he worked for Amtrak at San Luis Obispo before moving to Davis. We always considered John to be one of the very best in the Amtrak system, and he will be missed. … On September 26 it was noted that it was exactly 15 years since Steve Grande’s first trip on Amtrak. He, of course, is the honcho for, and has logged almost 300,000 rail miles since that first trip. Steve is today one of the best known of the rail advocacy community.

… It isn’t all about on time performance. While the end of FY10 OTP figures are not yet available, the past year does look good in comparison to many previous years. Continue Reading


October California Intercity Passenger Rail Performance

Reported by David B. Kutrosky, Managing Director, CCJPA

Capitol Corridor is continuing its eight-month streak of positive results.  The first month of Fiscal Year 2011, October 2010, indicates increases in all performance indicators. October ridership was 141,350, up 3.1% versus October 2009 with revenue up a remarkable 7.2% compared to the same period last year; and of course, OTP for the Capitol Corridor continues to lead the nation with 96%, thanks to Union Pacific Railroad’s (UPRR) superior dispatching and a decrease in bridge-related delays. Most impressive was the projected System Operating Ratio in October 2010, which started the fiscal year at a stunning 51%.

Once again, these positive ridership results occurred despite midday track work along the Oakland Embarcadero near the Oakland Jack London Square Station during the last week of October and first week of November and the three furlough Fridays per month for all state employees, which were still in effect in October 2010.

In regards to state funding, on October 8, 2010, California legislators enacted the State Budget Act of 2010. This means funding for California’s three Intercity Passenger Rail (IPR) routes will remain the same as the levels from the prior fiscal year (FY 09-10) and will be provided through the Public Transportation Account (PTA). The Prop 1B Transit Safety/Security allocation will be the same as prior years at $100 million, which equates to $1.9 million for the CCJPA.  In order to save additional funds in the FY 10-11 budget, the Governor reduced the proposed level of Prop 1A High Speed Train Connectivity Funds from $235 million to $101 million, leaving funding for projects that will implement Positive Train Control.  This action eliminated the $4 million in FY 10-11 state matching funds for the CCJPA’s proposed FRA FY2010 HSIPR application for the Fremont reliability projects, which did not receive an award notification from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA).

As you are aware, in August the CCJPA submitted applications for two projects to the FRA as part of the FY2010 HSIPR capital grants program.  Unfortunately, the FRA did not award FY2010 Capital Grant funding to any of the CCJPA-led projects. Subsequently, the FRA briefed CCJPA staff as to the reasons why the program and projects within were not selected. While the application materials were technically eligible, there was scarce funding available for FY2010 ($2.4 billion) and due to the intense competition for the available funding, the FRA felt that the benefits to the program/projects were not as worthwhile or as strong as other applications.  To help make future applications more competitive, the FRA suggested that the CCJPA refine the benefits of the UPRR-partnership projects, such as expanding service to/from Auburn.

In closing, our continued high on-time performance combined with our commitment to superior customer service and our targeted marketing efforts have all helped to jump-start performance gains for FY2011.  We are confident that Capitol Corridor service performance (ridership, revenue, OTP) will continue to show positive results as our economy slowly recovers.

(Download:  October 2010 Performance Report)

Capitol Corridor (Oct. 2010) results:

  • Ridership: 141,350 riders; +3.1% vs. October 2009; YTD 141,350 riders, +3.1% vs. FY10 YTD Plan; +1.7 versus FY11 Plan
  • Revenue: $2,141,307; +7.2% vs. Oct 2009; 7.2%% vs. prior YTD; -1.3% FY2011 vs. FY10 YTD Plan
  • On-Time Performance: 96%, YTD OTP 96% (keeping the service #1 in the nation.)
  • System Operating Ratio: 51% YTD vs. 49% in FY09; expenses are offset by revenue and ridership increases.
  • The Capitol Corridor route still continues to be third busiest route in the country.

Pacific Surfliners (Oct. 2010):

  • Ridership: 219,284 passengers; +1.4% vs. Oct. 2009, and +1.4% ahead of  prior YTD
  • Ticket Revenue only: +10.2% vs. Oct. 2009, and +10.2% vs. prior YTD
  • On-time performance for Oct. 2010: 83% (YTD FY 2011 on-time performance:  83%)

San Joaquin (Oct. 2010):

  • Ridership: 76,793 passengers +2.9% vs. Oct. 2009, and +2.9% vs. prior  YTD
  • Ticket Revenue only: +15.6% vs. Oct. 2009, and +15.6% vs. prior YTD
  • On-time performance for Oct. 2010: 92% (YTD FY 2011 on-time performance:  92%); 3rd most reliable service in Amtrak system.

Creating an Oceanside to San Bernardino Corridor

Opinion by Noel T. Braymer

Today Metrolink has just one round trip between San Bernardino and Oceanside.
Train 803 leaves San Bernardino at 4:55 AM and arrives in Oceanside at 7:15 AM. Transferring passengers miss a Coaster train heading for San Diego which also leaves at 7:15 AM; the next Coaster leaves 28 minutes later. Returning passengers can take train 808 at 4:45 PM from Oceanside for a 7:10 PM arrival into San Bernardino. There is a Coaster that arrives from San Diego at 4:41PM to connect with train 808. Train 850 leaves Oceanside at 7:30 AM and terminates at Riverside at 9:35 AM, train 851 leaves Riverside at 10:40 AM and arrives in Oceanside at 12:45PM. It is even possible to travel from Oceanside to Fullerton on trains 609 at 3:35 PM and arrive at 4:50 PM, then to transfer at Fullerton on train 706 at 4:54 arriving at Riverside at 5:55PM. In the other direction train 705 leaves Riverside at 2:13 PM and arrives in Fullerton at 3:19. A person can catch trains 602 at 3:57 in Fullerton and arrive in Oceanside at 5:18.
By creating a bus connection between Riverside and San Bernardino it would be possible with a few adjustments and marketing to create for little money, 2 more trains between Oceanside and San Bernardino. Why connect with San Bernardino? The distance between Riverside and San Bernardino is less than 10 miles and San Bernardino is not only a large town but also an important hub as the terminal for the busy Metrolink line to Los Angeles. It will be a few years before the Colton crossing grade separation will be built and even when it is there will be congestion problems delaying extending all Metrolink trains from Riverside to San Bernardino. Besides trains 850,851,705, and 706 that would benefit from a San Bernardino connection with Riverside, there are 10 more trains, 5 round trips that could be connected between Riverside and San Bernardino as well as Oceanside.
How can we connect more trains to Oceanside from the Inland Empire?  We can by using those existing 10 trains, 5 round trips running every weekday between the Inland Empire and Orange County. Adding connecting buses to these trains would give Oceanside the potential of 8 round trips a day connecting service using existing trains. Not only northern San Diego County would benefit but bus service could also serve southern Orange County. Currently Inland Empire-Orange County trains terminate at Irvine, Laguna Niguel/Mission Viejo and San Juan Capistrano. Dedicated connecting buses could serve all stations in southern Orange County while expanding service to Laguna Niguel/ Mission Viejo, San Juan Capistrano and San Clemente. Such buses would not only connect with Inland Empire Trains. In the next few months Orange County will begin adding additional trains between Fullerton and Laguna Niguel/ Mission Viejo. Connecting busses can economically extend service to San Juan Capistrano, San Clemente and Oceanside to the rest of Orange County.
In a perfect world we would already have corridor rail service between San Diego and San Bernardino. Between San Diego, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino Counties there are over 10 million people. In San Diego three sets of Coaster trains equipment are stored in San Diego between rush hours during week days. Integrating this equipment with Metrolink equipment would go a long way to create seamless service in this corridor. But there are other problems mostly centered on track capacity problems because so much of the railroad south of Laguna Niguel/Mission Viejo is singled tracked. In time these problems will be fixed. But in the near term dedicated bus connections between Riverside/San Bernardino and Oceanside/southern Orange County is an economical way to rapidly expand service and revenue in this region.

What Happens if the Southwest Chief is Rerouted?

Commentary and Photos by Russ Jackson, RailPAC

Would Amtrak return to the historic Amarillo, Texas station used by the AT&SF "San Francisco Chief"?

Every once in a while the rerouting Amtrak Trains 3 and 4, the Southwest Chief, off the traditional line from Albuquerque, New Mexico to Hutchinson, Kansas arises, because the line has almost no BNSF freight traffic in Colorado and New Mexico any longer. That is a true statement, the railroad no longer uses it and has diverted through freights to the soon-to-be fully double tracked “Transcon” line farther south which was the historic route of Santa Fe’s San Francisco Chief prior to Amtrak. In recent months Amtrak has been forced to add 40 minutes to the Chief’s schedule due to a BNSF lowering of the speed limit on the very rough trackage in western Kansas and Colorado. Train 4 now departs Los Angeles at 6:15 PM. The BNSF has offered to move the train to the Transcon line, which as we will see is more populated. The State of New Mexico now owns the line within its borders and runs the very successful Railrunner trains on the portion south of Santa Fe to Albuquerque. The BNSF still owns the rest.

So, what would happen if Amtrak must abandon the line?   Continue Reading


San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee Meeting Report

November 4, 2010 Meeting in Madera

Reported by Michael Barnbaum, Associate Director

The San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee held its quarterly meeting one week later than normal to be as close to the schedule change date as possible for the grand opening of the new Madera Station.

The normal procedures opened the meeting after the arrival of Train #714 from Oakland to the new Madera Station, with the Pledge of Allegiance and the Introductions of Committee Members and members of the Audience. In the welcoming remarks by Committee Member Vern Moss of Madera County, he presented a plaque to Lee Goldenberg of the CalTrans Division of Rail based in Sacramento County.

The chair moved on to one critical action item that was a resolution supporting High Speed Rail. After some discussion, and recommendation by CalTrans Division of Rail Chief, Bill Bronte, of language to be added that was direct support from CalTrans Division of Rail, the San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee approved the following resolution with a 100% unanimous vote:

WHEREAS, in 1996, the California State Legislature created the California High Speed Rail Authority to develop a plan for the construction, operation and financing of a statewide, intercity high speed passenger rail system; and

WHEREAS, California officials and citizens have been working together to plan for a high speed rail system for California and in November 2008 California voters approved $9.95 billion in bond funds to finance a high speed rail system that will run from Sacramento through the San Joaquin Valley to San Diego, with a segment of the system branching out to the Bay Area; and

WHEREAS, the California High Speed Rail Authority has designated a number of high speed rail train station stops in the San Joaquin Valley for the high speed rail system which include a station in Fresno, Kern, Kings, Los Angeles, Merced, Sacramento, San Joaquin and Stanislaus Counties; and

WHEREAS, the San Joaquin Valley will be the “back bone” to the California High Speed Rail system as it will connect Northern California, the Bay Area, and Southern California all into one transportation system via the San Joaquin Valley; and

WHEREAS, the San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee was formed for the purpose of discussing and formulating plans, suggestions and ideas for changes and improvements to passenger train service in the San Joaquin Rail Corridor; and

WHEREAS, the San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee feels that High Speed Rail can be an effective tool in working with the San Joaquin Valley Corridor to provide for the transportation needs of the San Joaquin Valley and California; and

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED by the San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee that the Committee supports the concept of a High Speed Rail system that will work effectively with the San Joaquin Valley Corridor service, in addition to other passenger train services in California.

After the High Speed Resolution getting approval, Chair Pedrozo asked for any Committee Member Information Items. There was one from Committee Member Michael Snyder. Michael Snyder asked the Committee and CalTrans Division of Rail to work with the California State Legislature to make ammends to the Perata Law. He mentioned there is no public transportation between Oroville & Sacramento except the Amtrak Bus known in the Amtrak California System as “Route 3.”

Reports went very quickly due to the time constarints to get the new Madera station grand opening underway. A few points came out of the quick reports.

Anthony Chapa of Amtrak reported that the San Joaquin was Number Two in overall Amtrak on time performance for the Federal Fiscal Year that ended on September 30th. The only route, which Anthony mentioned that surpassed the San Joaquin Route in terms of on-time performance was the Capitol Corridor. Their Board will hold its 2010 calendar ending meeting on November 17th in Suisun City, at which time their 2011 calendar of meetings will be available for all of 2011.

Jonathan Hutchison of Amtrak Government Affairs mentioned that following the November 2nd Election Results that “there are more questions than answers” at this time. As a side note to that, this writer wants to point out that a television station the the Sacramento-Stockton-Modesto market has as its slogan, “Asking Questions, Getting Answers – Only on the CBS 13 News.”

Rick Peterson of Amtrak Thruway Bus Operations mentioned the Fall 2010/Winter 2011 schedule changes that will take effect on Monday, November 8. The detailed changes will be mentioned here in this report thanks to a handout given at the San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee Meeting.

Train Schedule Changes:

The next Amtrak schedule change takes effect Monday, November 8, 2010. The San Joaquin Trains will operate on their present schedules. Most buses have no change.

Train 6 (The California Zephyr) will operate 40 minutes earlier from Emeryville eastbound. San Joaquin Train #711 connections via MotorCoach from Stockton will continue to be made at Sacramento Valley Station.

Thruway Bus Changes:

A number of bus stops with low ridership will be discontinued. These locations averaged fewer than half a passenger per bus. This speeds service slightly and reduces operational mileage cost.

  • Baker, CA
  • Rosamond, CA
  • Thousand Palms, CA
  • Beaumont, CA
  • Lebec, CA
  • Van Nuys Flyaway, CA (replaced by Burbank Airport, CA)

Three new stops are expected before the end of November:

  • Cabazon/Morongo Indian Casino, CA
  • Palm Desert, CA
  • La Quinta, CA

During much of Thanksgiving week, we will operate extra sections on key bus schedules.

Bill Bronte, Chief of the CalTrans Division of Rail reported that $171 Million in Federal Funding was announced the week prior to the November 4th Meeting. Of the total, $100 Million will be for equipment and $1.5 Million for the California Statewide Rail Plan, which was also matched by $500,000 in state money. An amount of $300,000 will be utilized for the San Joaquin Valley Service plan. Bronte also reported that with the passage of Proposition 22, the Public Transportation Account will likely be restored & that we will not be competing for General Fund Dollars like we used to prior to Proposition 22.

Just prior to the conclusion of the meeting, Supervisor Vern Moss of Madera County, and Supervisor Brad Aborn of Mariposa County announced that this is their last meeting.

After meeting adjournment, the opening ceremonies were held for the dedication of the new Madera Station. Service at the new Madera Station for the general public will take place in conjunction with the National Amtrak Timetable Change on Monday, November 8, 2010. Upon the arrival of Train #715 from Bakersfield, folks heading back to Oakland and Sacramento boarded the train around 4:00 P.M. immediately after the banner was broken which read, “MADERA, The Train Stops Here!!”

The 2011 San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee Meetings will be held on the fourth Thursday in the months of January (27th), April (28th), July (28th), and October (27th). At the time of the writing of this report, the upcoming January Meeting does not have a location determined. CalTrans Staff will send communications as to the location sometime between mid-December and early January.


TAMC Rail Policy Committee Meeting Report

September 13, 2010 Meeting

Reported by Chris Flescher, Associate Director

According to the California Transportation Commission (CTC), TAMC needs to conduct an independent ridership review and economic analysis, for the Monterey Branch Line (MBL).  The study will be very important when TAMC asks for money for engineering.  TAMC will ask for $50,000 of Prop 116 funds.  If the money is granted, the engineering may start in December and end in April.  The ridership study will be very similar to the one performed by Parsons, but will be done by a different agency.  TAMC does not know yet who it will be.

TAMC will release a Request For Proposals in October. TAMC presented a proposal to the Capitol Corridor operating agency (CCJPA) in June, and the CCJPA was supportive.  They will meet again later in September, to discuss the 60% level of design, and scheduling options.  Caltrain was considering ending all Gilroy service.  However, their staff recommends continuing the service for at least one more year.  TAMC is currently showing the plans for 60% design to cities, counties and other interested groups.  TAMC will have plans for 90% design complete in December.

The Ad Hoc Station Committee went to the station sites recently. There was a meeting with TAMC with property owners near the Salinas Station and there will be a similar one for Castroville.  There are special rules for right of way negotiations, which could cause TAMC to lose out on possible funding.  TAMC will hire consultants to observe the process, in order to avoid such a loss of money.  The FTA requires an independent review of station designs, to determine if there are other possible savings.  TAMC has hired a group to perform that study.  TAMC may have the so-called Final FTA environmental review ready for public comment at the end of the month.

One proposal made was to have another field trip on the Coast Starlight between San Jose and Salinas.

There may be questions about maintenance issues near Elkhorn Slough.

There will be a meeting next week at the El Estero Senior Center to discuss issues relating to Window on the Bay Park.

TAMC people attended another meeting for the Monterey Waterfront Plan.  The public comments showed that people support the general idea of passenger rail to the City of Monterey.  However, they are very concerned about Window on the Bay Park.  There is some concern about moving the existing bike path, to make room for the rail line.