Monthly Archives

April 2010

6.3 Coach - Master
Issues

Provide Your Feedback on New California Car Design

Now’s your chance to voice your opinion on the next generation of California Cars – the  national standardized railcar. We posted a story a few days ago with information on the new cars.  We invite you to check that story out and then visit Amtrak California’s virtual open house (available until May 28, 2010).   There you will be able to:

  • Review railcar information
  • View floorplans
  • View design concepts
  • Make comments via an online survey

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AmtrakCA logo
Commentary, Issues, Reports

RailPAC addresses SJVRC on BFD-LAX Gap

Statement by Bill Kerby, RailPAC Director and Treasurer
at the April 29, 2010 meeting in Fresno, CA

Three events motivate this statement:

  • Development of ideas at the joint RailPAC/NARP meeting in Los Angeles on April 17
  • Joint agreement proposals among regional railroads and the HSR
  • The 29th anniversary of the last run of the SP San Joaquin Daylight from Sacramento to Los Angeles.

Although the words are now definitely chiseled in the frieze of State Office Building #1, across 10th street from the State Capitol, are the words “Bring me Men … and now Women … to Match my Mountains”.  Since that last run April 30, 1971 the Mountains, specifically the Tehachipi Mountains, have more than matched the men.  They have stopped people from taking a single seat ride from the north to the south.

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amtrak_logo
Commentary, Issues

RailPAC writes Boardman regarding Daily Sunset Corridor Service

April 29, 2010

Dear Mr. Boardman:

Having heard no announcements regarding the proposal to introduce a daily Sunset/Eagle we conclude that negotiations are continuing with Union Pacific regarding the operating details, schedules, etc.  It seems to us that if there is capacity for a train three days a week there should be capacity daily, especially given the major investments in double tracking that UP has made over the past few years.  We hope these negotiations bear fruit in the very near future. Continue Reading

NationalTrainDay
Events

National Train Day Events

NationalTrainDayNational Train Day is approaching fast and we wanted to take this opportunity to highlight some events taking place around the state on May 8, 2010!  2010 marks Amtrak’s third year celebrating America’s love of train travel.  It’s a perfect day to get your kids, family and neighbors to discover the benefits of traveling by train!

Which event will you be attending on National Train Day?  Hosting an event or want to get involved?  Let us know!

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6.3 Coach - Master
Issues, Rail Photos, Reports

Amtrak California Railcar Development Open House

Report by Jarrod DellaChiesa, Director and Website Editor

As we all know, there are currently no funds available for new railcars.  In 2006, Californians approved the procurement of new railcars through Proposition 1B.  The budget crisis has caused the release of the Prop 1B bonds to be put on hold indefinitely.

In the midst of this, Caltrans is once again being a leader in intercity rail and is, on their own, working with Amtrak, other states, railcar builders, rail groups and riders to design the third generation of California Cars – a National standardized railcar.  This design will allow any state to purchase railcars quickly, at a lower cost and will provide railcar manufactures an incentive to tool a shop for continuous building of bi-level intercity railcars.  Since the cars are being designed now, once funds are released, a bid will be able to be sent out without further delays.  Any state will be able to add onto the car order and make any minor modifications to suit their own needs.
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Editorials

Getting There is Less and Less Fun

Editorial By Noel T. Braymer

Transportation is second only to housing of the cost of living for most people. Flying today often means crowded planes, long waits because of annoying security searches and sudden cancellations. Rail passenger service what little there is of it is no less subject to disruption. Generally we are dependent on our cars. But driving is increasingly becoming a more expensive hassle with rising fuel prices (often caused by Wall Street speculation) high auto repair bills plus crowded and often poorly maintained roads.

Recently I was suddenly “car-less” for a few days because car repairs. The expense of repairing an 8 year old American compact car was stressful enough. Trying to depend on public transportation was a quick lesson on why most bus riders are “transit-dependent”. Most people including myself would rather not take the bus if they have alternatives. I dropped my car off at a dealer in Escondido not far from work and took transit home. The dealership wasn’t in an area with good bus service so I walked over a half a mile to catch a bus to connect with the Sprinter train so I could catch another bus to ride home. After a 10 to 15 minute wait I got the Sprinter at the first station outside of the Escondido terminus. The Sprinter takes almost an hour to travel 20 miles; not exactly high speed but faster than the bus. I got off at the Vista Transit Center. Just as I was ready to cross the tracks to get to the buses the operator blew the train’s horn to get ready to leave. I stopped to let the train pass. Then the train didn’t move and the operator gestured to let people cross the tracks.

This delay was only for a few seconds. I got to the other side of the small station and as soon as I found my bus I saw it pulling out! I ran to stop the driver but he refused to open the door and drove off. The station security guard tried to calm me down telling me that the bus driver couldn’t stop or he could lose his job. The transit agencies policy is not to stop for passengers who are “late” getting to the bus stop because this causes the bus to run late. There has been a problem with buses particularly the one I was transferring to being late making the connection with Sprinter. But the train was on time and I didn’t waste time catching the bus. There seems to be no communications between the buses and the Sprinter. Since during the day this bus runs every 15 minutes it wasn’t considered a big deal if I had to wait for the next bus. The final insult was after my connecting bus left I saw the bus and driver of the first bus I left Escondido on leaving too. If I had just stayed on my first bus and skipped the Sprinter I would have made my connection and gotten home sooner.

For a trip that would have taken roughly 30 minutes by car took almost 2 hours from the time I left the car dealership till I got home. What other travel alternatives do I have? Well I love riding my bicycle. What I soon learned was that I had to plan my travel much more than I would with a car. The nearest stores are less than 2 miles away. But many trips I take are over 5 miles away. I needed to get the most out of any trips I took on the bike to avoid making more than one trip. Plus there are limits to how much I could carry on the bike. Most people won’t ride bikes for transportation because of fear of traffic and the poor state of the roads. Also most bikes are designed for recreation not transportation and require constant repair.

Are there solutions to these problems? It is very frustrating trying to get public transportation providers to make modest improvements which cost little yet would improve their ridership and revenues. Case in point is the lack of connections by Metrolink just between its own trains to say nothing with Coaster or Amtrak trains. Increasingly we are seeing reductions in service and declining tax revenues for transit. Roads are not getting any better and cars are becoming increasingly more expensive to drive. Yet because we are mostly dependent on the car, everything thing is spread out, or as it is called urban sprawl. Urban sprawl causes us to waste time and money running around to get the simplest things done. A classic example of this is the “soccer mom”, driving kids all over the place. One thing we can’t do very well in this country is walk because nothing is walking distance. I have in-laws in Europe and most of them don’t have cars. There is more dependence on transit, but my in-laws travel on foot more than anything else.

There was a time when this was true in this country. My father bought his first house in Altadena just before his second child was born in 1948. He didn’t buy his first car until 1951. A car would have been convenient, but my dad didn’t think he could afford it. My family didn’t use transit that much. But my family in our first house could walk to stores, to church, and to school. My Dad often rode a bike to work. Family and friends did help with rides and cabs were used for important trips like bringing babies and mom home from the hospital.

The solution to reducing traffic congestion, reduce fuel consumption, save money, time , to improve transit , get more people riding bikes and improving physical fitness is to build housing, jobs and stores closer to each other. This doesn’t mean building a Manhattan in every town in America or eliminating the single family home. But we need to rewrite most of the zoning laws of the last 60 years so people can again walk to a train station, stores, churches and schools. People should be able to live within 5 miles of their jobs, not 20, 30 or 50 miles away. We can save a lot of time, money, energy and frustration if only we didn’t “have” to travel so far to get to were we need to go.

Steel Wheels in California
Commentary, Reports

Coalition Building at Steel Wheels Conference

Commentary by Paul Dyson, President

This year at Steel Wheels in California we tried a couple of innovations.  While most of the day consisted of the usual (excellent) presentations by politicians and industry professionals, we also put together a forum of passenger rail advocates from different groups to discuss High Speed Rail, and to attempt to answer the question:  “How to spend the first billion dollars?”  I had a couple of reasons for doing this.  First, however good the speakers might be we needed some variety in the format to keep the audience interested.  Second, and more important in the long run, was the thought that such a free form discussion would reveal that we have more common ground than disagreement among passenger rail advocates and that this could form the basis for united action in the future towards achieving our common goals.

So Steel Wheels was not just a RailPAC and NARP meeting.  We had representatives from Southern California Transit Advocates, the Sierra Club, Californians for High Speed Rail, The Transit Coalition, Train Riders Association of California, Coast Starlight Communities Network, Coastal Rail Now and Southwest Rail Passenger Association, which is one of the most encouraging things to happen in a long time.  We have many members who belong to one or more of these groups, myself included, and it has always been my ambition to at least form a coalition, if not a single organization, to have a louder and more effective voice in communicating our message.

The consensus of the High Speed Rail discussion was that the Los Angeles to Anaheim segment should be enhanced rather than rebuilt, and that the Los Angeles Union Station run through tracks should be built as soon as possible but in a way that is compatible with running HSR trains through to Orange County in the future.  This I believe reflects the common sense approach already promulgated in the letter from the CEOs of Metro and OCTA (Art Leahy and Will Kempton) to the CHSRA.  In addition most of the panel recognized that bridging the Los Angeles to Bakersfield gap in the state rail system is of primary importance.  Here then we have broad agreement on two key policy issues that these groups can get behind.  While there is a need to flesh out these ideas with more specific proposals, and probably each of the groups concerned would need to discuss these ideas internally, I am optimistic that we can lay the foundation for a new “Steel Wheels Coalition” that can successfully advance our agenda.

I had a lot of positive comments about the meeting from those who attended.  We had two Mayors, two city council members, and a number of Amtrak and Metro personnel.  Our presenters included the Chairs of Metro, LOSSAN, and Metrolink.  We had really interesting presentations from DesertXpress, Siemens and Talgo, and from Stephen Gardner, Amtrak’s Vice President of Planning.  Once again we had insufficient time for questions.  We were very fortunate that  all of our invited presenters were able to accept but that meant that we had to keep the program moving at a brisk pace with less time for discussion than I had hoped.  But we should be both proud and flattered that these people gave up their Saturday to join us.  It shows that we have come a long way as a group and that we are taken seriously as an important voice in passenger rail issues.

Please feel free to e-mail me with feedback, comments and suggestions.

Paul Dyson, President
pdyson@railpac.org

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Commentary

March California Intercity Passenger Rail Performance

Reported by David B. Kutrosky, Managing Director, CCJPA

For the first time in 13 months ridership for the Capitol Corridor increased compared to the same period in the prior year.  For March 2010 ridership increased 5.8% compared to March 2009. Most notable is this ridership reporting period included significant train service delays due to the second phase (February 22 – March 15, 2010) of the tie renewal program between San Pablo and Oakland.  While this ridership growth is welcomed, we shall continue to monitor ridership on a weekly basis.  From an initial evaluation, the greatest limitation in ridership growth is still the
on-going mandate of three (3) Friday furloughs per month for state government employees (which also impacts businesses, vendors, and service industries in the Capitol).

Revenues for March were slightly below projection (-2.9%) but above prior March (+4.0%) with YTD revenues even (0.0%) with last year.  To boost ridership and revenue in the discretionary travel market, we have begun marketing campaigns.  These campaigns will target mid-day travel (discounts for school groups and seniors) and restart of the Kids Ride Free on Weekends (now including Fridays).

The March On-Time Performance (OTP) was a substandard 86% and represents the first time in over 12 months that the service did not meet the monthly OTP standard of 90%.  The lower-than-standard OTP was due to the continuation of the Phase 2 tie-renewal program between San Pablo and Oakland for the first 15 days of March.  While OTP for the first 15 days of March 2010 was 75%, the UPRR bounced back quickly and for the remaining 16 days of the month the OTP for the Capitol Corridor trains was 95%.

With respect to the various gas tax swap proposals, on March 22, 2010 the Governor signed three interrelated bills (ABx8 6, ABx8 9, and SB 70), which included the Assembly’s plan to retain and increase (by 1.75%) the sales tax on diesel.  These enhanced diesel sales tax revenues would provide a steady stream of funds to local transit agencies and fully-fund the annual costs for the Capitol Corridor and other state Intercity Passenger Rail (IPR) services starting in FY 2012-13 (operations, staffing, marketing, and equipment renovations).  This enacted legislation will provide the CA IPR Program with operating funds for existing service levels plus planned service expansions.  Capital funding for the CA IPR Program from the state will be provided from prior voter-approved propositions (1A-High Speed Rail
and 1B-Infrastructure) plus limited annual programming from a reduced State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) due to the enactment of gas tax swap legislative package.  Just as importantly, now California meets the
key mandates for the FRA’s FY2010 and future capital grants: (1) a commitment of state operating funds to support any current or future IPR services and (2) at least a 20% non-federal match via state funds from propositions 1A and 1B and/or the STIP .  Many thanks go to the transit-supportive Senate and Assemblymembers who worked diligently to
protect the state’s successful IPR Program.

(Download:  March 2010 Performance Report)

Capitol Corridor (March 2010):

  • Ridership: 133,987 riders; +5.8% vs. Mar 2009; -6.0% vs. prior YTD;
  • 3.9% vs. FY10 Plan; +2% annual growth compared to 2 years ago
  • Revenue: +4.0% vs. Mar 2009; +0.0% vs. prior YTD; -4.6% vs. FY10 Plan
  • On-Time Performance: Substandard result of 86%; yet  91% for YTD, keeping the service #1 in the nation for multi-frequency trains.  The reason for the lower-than-standard OTP was the continuation of the Phase 2 tie-renewal program between Richmond and Oakland for the first 15 days of March.  OTP for the remaining 16 days of the month the OTP for the Capitol Corridor trains was a stellar 95%
  • System Operating Ratio: 45% YTD vs. 47% in FY09; expenses are under control, revenue are slightly below plan
  • The Capitol Corridor route still continues to be third busiest route in the country, with ridership at 1.55 million for the last 12 months

Pacific Surfliners (March 2010):

  • Ridership: 217,534 passengers; +7.5% vs. Mar 2009, and even with prior YTD; second month with ridership increase over prior year month; remains second busiest route in the nation, by a wide margin.
  • Ticket Revenue only: +11.1% vs. Mar 2009, and +4.5% vs. prior YTD; excellent results due to ridership gains
  • On-time performance for Mar 2010:  78% (YTD FY 2010 on-time performance: 80%)

San Joaquins (March 2010):

  • Ridership: 80,406 passengers  +13.2% vs. Mar 2009, and +5.4% v.s prior YTD; routes continue its streak of positive growth compared to prior year months
  • Ticket Revenue only: +22.1%  vs. Mar 2009, and +7.5% vs. prior YTD
  • On-time performance for Mar 2010:  83%, (YTD FY 2010 on-time performance: 90%)
Spring Training 2010 Tucson rail photos 009
Rail Photos, Tracking Rail News

Tracking Rail News: April 2010

Photos and Commentary by Russ Jackson

. . . On Time Performance. As usual, we start with some current facts, and then take an historical look at the Amtrak Western long distance trains. The Sunset Limited fell back slightly in March, but is still above 90% since October 1. Its companion, the Texas Eagle, also fell back to an acceptable 77%. The Southwest Chief is at 86%, the Empire Builder is 77%, the Coast Starlight is 88%, and the California Zephyr still struggles at 58% for end-point OTP. RailPAC correspondent, Ralph James, reports from Blue Canyon in the Sierra Nevada overlooking the UP main line that Zephyr #5 can be as much as 2 to 5 hours late while #6 is normally only several minutes down. Also, recent consists are back to three coaches after a few weeks running with only two. Now for history: According to the Fall, 1979, “CRC News”, the predecessor publication to this one, in “July, 1979 the OTP for the Starlight was 37.1% compared to 69.4% in July 1978; the Sunset is down from 50% to goose eggs; the Zephyr goes from a fatal 12.9 to an atrocious 33.9%.” What else is new? Continue Reading