February 26, 2010 Meeting
Reported by Dennis Story, RailPAC Director
The Coast Rail Coordinating Council Technical Committee meeting was held at the Derby Club, Seaside Park in Ventura on Friday, 2/26/10 from 11:00AM to 12:30PM.
Attendees: Pete Rodgers (SLOCOG), Bill Bronte (Caltrans Rail Division), Jonathan Hutchison (phone), Mike Powers (SBCAG), Scott Spaulding (SBCAG), Vic Kamhi (VCTC), Ed Skytt (SBCAG Rep.– Solvang), Dennis Story (RailPAC, CoastalRailNow) There were others present who I did not know. Note: No UPRR Rep present
The meeting greatly focused on budgetary issues, and Bill Bronte made many comments concerning funding shortfalls. He said that Santa Barbara County depends on PTA (Public Transportation Account) funds for the STIP, and that the Governor was continuing to divert them. (An internet search found corroborating data at www.caltransit.org, and this statement: “There have been zero-dollars available for PTA-STIP over the past three years.”)
Pete Rodgers and Bill Bronte began an exchange about the Coast Daylight that led to Pete referring to the meeting as another the Pete & Bill show. Pete would ask when equipment can be ordered, and Bill would say that there’s no money, UP hasn’t signed off, modeling has to be done, etc, etc.
I said it sounded like Ground Hog Day, and asked Pete how long he’d been working on the Coast Daylight? I added that today’s meeting could be construed by the uninformed as the first meeting for the Coast Daylight, however Pete said he’s been at this for 18 years. The last exchange about the Daylight was that rather than the hoped for April 2011 start date it would be at least April 2012, and maybe later. I know we’ve all followed the Coast Daylight saga for some time, and the recession has dealt more delays to this much needed service that should have running long ago.
I had an opportunity to make a couple of points in response to Michael Powers comments about possible Federal funding help for CA funding of Amtrak. Pete’s response to Mike’s “Federal Option” was that you have to look to the state first, so help is unlikely. I added that 95% of Amtrak’s budget goes to the NEC, and that none of the NEC states contribute. Someone said that the number of Senators comprising the NEC States overwhelms our 2 in CA, and we also know that the southern end is DC. Bronte suggested a “demonstration train”, since it would be Federal rather than State. Also discussed was the need for having an Amtrak Board member from CA, and we should certainly keep pushing for that.
Surfliner retiming was discussed, with Pete speaking about the On-TRAC plan put forth by the City of Santa Barbara to make the morning and afternoon trains more commuter friendly. Bronte said that the retiming was going to be modeled using a few different scenarios. He only spoke of the 799, and I reminded him that the 798 needs to be retimed too. I said that the 798 & 799 have such low ridership that they are being considered discontinued, and that the changes being lobbied for would be a positive (this was in response to Bronte saying that a change had to “pencil out”). There are 15,000+ daily commuters from the Ventura area, who mostly drive SOV to jobs in the Santa Barbara area. Finding these commuters a rail option is what got me involved with rail issues, and to the formation of CoastalRailNow. Commuter Rail was recommended along with road widening to help lower road congestion, and now the county has $25M in funding for peak hour rail service.
Jonathan was on the phone and gave December ridership numbers – Surfliner down .4%, but revenue is up. Coast Starlight ridership is up 13%, with revenue up 15%, and on time performance is 88%! He also announced that the new maintenance facility in LA is underway. Remember the resurgence of train ridership when gas prices were so high? It would seem that ridership has settled back to “normal”. A check of December numbers for previous years would verify that. During the discussion about the Coast Daylight – Jonathan said that with operating dollars flat, the Daylight is “questionable”, and to “have fair expectations”. Enough about optimism.
Vic Kamhi from VCTC announced that the county is thinking seriously of withdrawing from Metrolink. He spoke of the high costs of the service being incurred, and the need to balance their budget. He spoke of the need for a one year advance notice for withdrawal, and that the decision to do so is upcoming. This would be unfortunate, and let’s hope VCTC can find a way to stay with Metrolink. I’ve always thought that Metrolink to Santa Barbara is the “missing link”, and if it had been instituted in the beginning, the service would have thrived.
Bill Bronte closed the meeting with news about the new generation bi-level cars. He spoke of a committee to find funding, and would like to get a large order to bring in manufacturing, and said he would be meeting with bankers next week. He talked about a 6320 corporation, and that Senator Durbin was interested. He said the 6320 would be comprised of States as members, and the goal would be a production line for rail cars, and reiterated – “bilevel cars”. This is very forward thinking stuff, and let’s wish Bill good luck with this ambitious plan for new generation cars.
Let’s hope for an economic recovery soon, so that all these important rail projects can go forward.