Monthly Archives

February 2010

Commentary

RailPAC March Review

Commentary by Paul Dyson, RailPAC President

I’ve been looking back at some of my previous commentaries, particularly “High Speed Rail, Stay the Course”, and my more recent “High Speed Rail Dilemma” offering.  Trying to reach a consensus among a couple of thousand passenger rail advocates in California about our largest ever public works project is a work of art, and there will inevitably be differences of priority, preferences as to the train builders, arguments about station locations and service patterns.   But I hope we can agree on this.  This is our one and only chance to bring about a modern passenger rail system in California.  We need to support it.

There is of course a caveat to that statement.  It is entirely possible that if the early funds are misspent, and if the public does not see at least some return on their investment after a year or two then the political support will evaporate and we’ll be left with a pile of studies and reports and nothing else to show for it.  So while we support the project in principle it is our responsibility to be the public’s watchdog and to act as constructive critics of the process.  I happen to be believe that collectively you, our members and readers, are better informed about this project and railroad issues in general than any other group in the State so who better to take on this task?

To this end I have invited a group of advocates to form a panel for our April 17 meeting in Los Angeles.  The nominal title of the session is “How to spend the first billion dollars”, but I’m sure it will become a wide ranging discussion and debate about California and Nevada High Speed Rail.  In addition we’ll have presentations from suppliers such as Talgo and Siemens, and an afternoon session devoted to state corridors and Southern California.  It’s going to be another great meeting and I urge you to go to Railpac.org and register today.  We only have 300 places.

Editorials

My Latest Trip to Sacramento

Editorial by Noel T. Braymer

To get to the RailPAC/NARP meeting in Sacramento on January 16th I once again chose the San Joaquin Bus/Train connection. I have been riding the San Joaquin now for almost 30 years. In that time I have long hoped for direct rail service from Southern California to the San Joaquin Valley and San Francisco Bay Area.

I can drive from Oceanside to either Sacramento or the Bay Area in just over 8 hours. By bus and train it is more like 12 hours. To go to Sacramento I wanted to go by rail from Bakersfield to Sacramento at least once. I could do that on train 701 and get to Sacramento by 12:30, which gave me time to get to the 1:00 PM meeting in Old Sacramento. There was the problem that there are no connecting buses for train 701 south of Los Angeles. I solved this problem by buying a ticket to catch the bus at Glendale. By driving to Glendale I saved almost 2 hours compared to taking the bus from Oceanside. Not only was there 72 hour parking at Glendale but also 24 hour security.

It is rare for connecting Amtrak Buses in California to miss their trains. The buses have plenty of padding in their schedules and often are late at stops and still arrive early at the final train station. But when roads get closed due to accidents or weather (the Grapevine is often closed due to snow) the buses can get delayed. We had over a dozen people get off the bus in Bakersfield and 7 minutes later allowed on board the train at 6:55 AM for the 7:15 departure. Ridership was light south of Fresno, but at Fresno there is always a big crowd for the trains. There were heavy patches of fog in the Valley which was justification for taking the train instead of driving. Things were quiet until we got to Madera. The 702, southbound from Sacramento was over 10 minutes late and coming into the station about the time my train was due. Madera has double tracking but only one platform. So we went past the 702 and took a crossover to get to the other track and backed into the platform at Madera.

Despite leaving Madera 10 minutes late, by the time we got to the city limits of Sacramento we were in position to get into the station 10 minutes early. Then when we got to the junction where the Roseville and Stockton lines split we stopped and waited. Turns out the UP was replacing ties at the double track east of the station. First we waited for the maintenance of way cars to clear the track. Even then only 1 track was available. Then we waited because UP dispatchers were giving priority to a long container train coming from opposite direction. After sitting for over 30 minutes we arrived 20 minute late in the station.

I am so ready for High Speed Rail to get me around California for trips so I can leave in the morning and get home at night and still have a full day at my destination. As I was traveling I was thinking of some of the issues that need to be resolved to connect HSR and the San Joaquin trains. Bakersfield will have a station with both HSR and San Joaquin trains, but what about Fresno? Current plans call for sharing the BNSF right of way from Bakersfield to just outside of Fresno. The HSR trains are supposed to move to the UP at Fresno and use that right of way all the way to Sacramento. The UP shows no desire to allow any more passenger trains on their rights of way even with separate tracks. As Stacey Mortensen, Executive Director of ACE pointed out at the Sacramento meeting, UP is expecting major growth in its freight traffic in the future and plans to expand capacity to meet this projected growth. That is one reason UP is not interested in sharing any of its rights of ways. HSR trains will not be stopping at Hanford, Corcoran or Wasco so connections with the San Joaquins at Bakersfield and Fresno will be needed.

Stockton is another problem. There still isn’t a joint station shared by the San Joaquins and ACE. What I learned at the Sacramento meeting is that ACE and CHSRA are working on creating and sharing tracks and rights of way between Merced and Sacramento. ACE is also planning to build on a separate right of way a new rail line between San Jose and Stockton through the Altamont Pass. This would be combined with fast local service between Merced and Sacramento. One of the problems is finding a right of way to use without the cooperation of the UP. ACE is planning to build on an incremental basis services to San Jose, Merced and Sacramento starting with using their existing equipment. There are plans for faster interim light weight trainsets before finally using higher speed electrified trains in the final form. Top speeds would be between 125 and 150 miles per hour, with 125 more likely that 150. ACE and the CHSRA are aware of problems of mixing the slower future ACE trains with HSR. What is still not clear, at least to me is how the San Joaquin trains will connect with HSR and ACE at Merced and Stockton? Will they share the same right of way north of Merced and which right of way will that be? Does anyone know the answer to that now?

I again took the bus out of Sacramento so I could spend some time talking to people and eating before leaving town. I ended up spending an hour of that time at the Sacramento Station. I was surprised to discover that the heat worked in the heating ducts between the old original benches in the station. This spring work should begin to straighten the station tracks and then build new platforms. This will open up redevelopment around the station, though commercial property development is rather slow right now. Let’s hope that Washington will continue to spend more money for rail related projects in California and elsewhere. Partisan rhetoric aside, when it comes to getting money for projects in their district, all elected officials are willing to take credit for bringing home the bacon.

Commentary, Issues

RailPAC writes Boxer regarding Passenger Rail Safety

SENATOR BARBARA BOXER
Fax to 202 224 0454
22 February, 2010

PASSENGER RAIL SAFETY

Dear Senator Boxer:

First of all may I commend you for your concern about passenger rail safety following the Chatsworth collision last year, and also for spending so much time at the Los Angeles USDOT conference last Friday.  We appreciate your interest in passenger rail.

We exchanged views on the subject of two engineers in the cab of mainline passenger trains.  You asked me to provide information about railroad accidents in which there were two engineers in the cab.  Freight train operators have a two person crew, a trained and qualified engineer and conductor, who are responsible for the safe operation of the train.  Here follows a brief list of some of the accidents that have happened in recent years, taken from NTSB records, in which both members of the train crew failed to take action to prevent an accident. Continue Reading

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Commentary

January California Intercity Passenger Rail Performance

Reported by David B. Kutrosky, Managing Director, CCJPA

The Capitol Corridor January 2010 ridership showed a decline compared to January 2009 and 2008. Ridership for January 2010 was down by 8.4% primarily due to the first phase of the “tie renewal program” (January 18 – February 14, 2010) between Suisun/Fairfield and Sacramento stations.  Some late-morning and mid-day trains Capitol Corridor operated on a modified schedule and a bus bridge from Sacramento to Suisun to accommodate UPRR work crews (two daily midday trains are not operating).  Another reason for the lower ridership is the impact of Friday Furloughs on State Government employees for three (3) Fridays a month, which contributes to an approximate overall reduction of 5%, representing well over half of our YTD ridership decline. Continue Reading

Commentary, Issues

The High Speed Rail Dilemma

Response to High-Speed rail system:  Leaders mull benefits, fears,  first published in the Burbank Leader on 2/13/10.

Commentary by Paul Dyson

It was great to see the Leader take a close look at the High Speed Rail project on Saturday 13th February.  This huge undertaking is described as the largest public works project in our history and the impacts will be far reaching and long lasting.  But while the Leader discussed some of the issues arising from the project I would respectfully suggest that we need to review why these issues exist, and whether indeed some of the impacts need to be as great as they are. Continue Reading

Commentary, Issues, Reports

More on the Coast Starlight China

Reported by Jarrod DellaChiesa, Website Editor and CSCN Project Coordinator

As reported a few days ago, the Coast Starlight is finally doing away with plastic dinnerware and synthetic tablecloths and is re-introducing full china service and linen.  This is exciting because passengers will once again receive a quality Dining Car experience.

Here are some additional details … Continue Reading

Issues, Reports

Coast Starlight Re-introduces Real China and Linen

Official Amtrak Press Release
Elegant dinner service aims to improve customer satisfaction

OAKLAND – Beginning today, real china, table linens and glassware are returning to Amtrak’s popular Coast Starlight long-distance train to provide an elegant dining experience for passengers and is the latest service change aimed at further improving customer satisfaction on the west coast route between Los Angeles and Seattle.

Continue Reading

Commentary, Issues, Rail Photos

Connectivity Works for High Speed Rail Too

Commentary by Paul Dyson

Our RailPAC/NARP meeting in Las Vegas last December revealed one important nugget.  Guest speaker, Desert Xpress (“DX”) CEO Tom Stone announced that the project team is planning to extend the Las Vegas – Victorville core route across the high desert to Palmdale where it will connect with the California High Speed Rail system.  This is excellent news for those that believe in the matrix theory of connectivity and passenger train productivity. Continue Reading