Monthly Archives

May 2010

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Commentary, Issues, Reports

CSCN Outlines How to Improve Amtrak’s Coast Starlight

Coast Starlight Communities NetworkMay 6, 2010 — The Coast Starlight is one of Amtrak’s 15 long-distance passenger rail routes, serving 27 cities between Los Angeles and Seattle.  The route has been described as “one of the most fascinating journeys on the West Coast. It will take your breath away.” The route offers unparalleled experiences of the western states as well as incredible untapped potential as a tool for improved mobility.  The Coast Starlight has been a proud West Coast asset for nearly thirty-nine years and, as it prepares to enter its fourth decade of service, still has much potential for growth.  Like Amtrak’s other long-distance rail routes, the Coast Starlight suffers from chronic underfunding and under-investment.

The Coast Starlight Communities Network has released a document entitled “The Coast Starlight: Improving America’s Premier Long-Distance Train”.  The document, funded by RailPAC, outlines various improvements for the Coast Starlight that would make the service more useful and enjoyable for the traveling public. The report offers a detailed analysis and plan for capital improvements and operational improvements.

Long-term improvements, such as increased service frequency and expanded capacity, are proposed alongside with low-cost short-term improvements, such as timetable holders and improved signage. Some of the improvements detailed in the report are now being rushed to implementation, including on-board WiFi internet access and flat-screen televisions offering video content and relevant, location-based information.

Emphasis is placed on interconnectivity and the concept of mutual benefit. If efforts were made to seamlessly integrate the Coast Starlight with other transportation facilities and communities, all involved parties would stand to gain. Better integration could come from through ticketing and coordinated schedules with connecting rail services, including Metrolink and Caltrain.

The report also recommends that Coast Starlight stops be reevaluated to enhance connections with transit lines and airports. The Coast Starlight could become even more useful if station stops are added or moved to serve Bob Hope Airport, the future Metro Orange Line station in Chatsworth, and the Richmond BART station.

Also recommended are over 80 track improvement projects identified by rail agencies and the Coast Starlight Communities Network.  The Coast Starlight has benefited from significant public investment in portions of the corridor also used by commuter and short-distance Amtrak trains.  Yet, the majority of its route is not shared with other agencies and much of it has not received infrastructure improvements since the 1940s. These portions of the corridor, given longstanding federal funding priorities, have received few track improvements. The Coast Starlight Communities Network calls for investment in these track segments.

Members of the Coast Starlight Communities Network will be present on May 8 at National Train Day festivities in Los Angeles, Salinas, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Portland, and on the Coast Starlight itself between Martinez and Paso Robles. Copies of the document will be distributed at each event.

For more information or to view the document, visit www.coaststarlight.net/projects/whitepaper.

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About the Coast Starlight Communities Network (CSCN):

The Coast Starlight Communities Network, created in 2007, is a coalition of various interests with the goal of protecting and improving rail service between Washington, Oregon, and California.  They have assumed an educational and advocacy role dedicated to improving rail services along the Coast Starlight corridor.  With the assistance of partner organizations thousands of campaign fliers have been distributed to educate travelers, advocates, and community leaders of the importance of the Coast Starlight.

Their website, www.coaststarlight.net, provides personalized travel information and details simple ways Americans can show their support for passenger rail service.  Their Facebook page (www.coaststarlight.net/facebook/) and Twitter account (www.coaststarlight.net/twitter/) features current news, quick and simple ways you can support the Coast Starlight, and communicate with potential travelers and passengers while they are onboard.

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Reports

San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee Meeting Report

April 29, 2010 Meeting in Fresno

Reported by Michael Barnbaum, Associate Director

After the Pledge of Allegiance and introductions the San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee went right into public comments on non-agenda items.  One speaker stepped up to speak, and that was RailPAC Treasurer Bill Kerby.  Bill spoke on three critical matters:

  • Highlights of the Joint RailPAC/NARP April Convention in Los Angeles (04/17/2010)
  • Development of joint proposals with Regional and High Speed Rail
  • Most importantly, 29 Years ago on 04/30/1981, last San Joaquin Daylight LA to SAC

The last subject, was perhaps very emotional amongst all of the people in the room.  Bill touched upon a formal position put forth by RailPAC and how critical it is to “close the gap” between Bakersfield and Los Angeles with rail service.  SJVRC Facilitator, and Vice President-North of RailPAC, Arthur Lloyd discussed the provisions on how “closing the gap” could be possible with one additional set of train equipment by through-routing Train 711 Northbound and Train 718 Southbound.  George Gaekle of Stanislaus County spoke about the issue of the “closing of the gap” as well.

Mike Edwards came up before the Committee and spoke about Amtrak operations.  There was, as always, a mix of results in regards to on-time-performance over the course of a three month period.  Unfortunately, the documents were not available in print like they were at the February meeting..  The San Joaquin does, by far, remain Amtrak’s 5th busiest route.

Captain Jim Martino of Amtrak’s Police Department gave a report on the damage to rail equipment caused by shopping carts as well as any increase or reduction of incidents just outside of Fresno in the Fig Garden Subdivision.  The Captain and others went on “high visibility details” in plain clothes that came away with some success in stopping kids from going through fences for cutting across the tracks.

Barbara Ruditis, Manager of Thruway Bus Operations in Bakersfield spoke on the Amtrak California bus operations changes that will take place with the National Timetable change on May 10th:

  • New service will operate between Rio Vista (RVT) and Isleton (ISE) in the Sacramento Delta to the Amtrak Station in Suisun-Fairfield (SUI).  Weekends will also have a stop located at the Western Railway Museum (WRM).
  • Tracy (TRA) is added as pickup stop on bus 4402 to connect with Train 702 at Stockton (SKT).
  • Bus 8416 connecting from Train 716 is being extended into Yosemite National Park from Midpines to include the four bus stops on the Yosemite Valley floor loop.
  • Service to Mammoth Lakes operates on weekends in June and September and daily in July and August.  Its first day of operation may be in May if the snow melts on Tioga Pass faster than expected.
  • Service between Bakersfield and Santa Barbara will continue for at least another year with buses being refurbished to include WiFi, two tables, as well as additional legroom (approximately 14″ between seat and seat back).
  • Bus 5804 departs Bakersfield at 10:10 PM, and will operate Bakersfield-Newhall-Glendale-Los Angeles-Fullerton-Santa Ana (arriving at 1:55 AM).  This bus will turn to new bus 5801, that departs Santa Ana at 2:55 AM, and operates Santa Ana-Fullerton-Los Angeles-Glendale-Van Nuys Flyaway-Newhall-Bakersfield (arriving at 7:10 AM) for Train 701 traveling from Bakersfield through the San Joaquin Valley with an endpoint destination of the Sacramento Valley Station by 12:30 PM.
  • Three out of the four West Los Angeles Bus connections to Pacific Surfliner Trains at Van Nuys and San Joaquin Trains at Bakersfield will operate ten minutes earlier from their Wes Los Angeles communities of origin due to construction of HOV Lanes along Northbound Interstate 405 in West Los Angeles Communities.

Amtrak California is in discussions with the City of Visalia in regards to bus service to Sequoia National Park.

In addition to the bus report, I brought attention to the need to develop Amtrak California Thruway Bus Partnerships with the LAWA Union Station FlyAway service that offers frequent service between Union Station in Los Angeles and Los Angeles International Airport.  In the wake of a United/Continental Merger, a partnership proposal has been submitted in writing to Amtrak California Bus Operations in Bakersfield and forwarded to the Los Angeles Office so that passengers with a rail portion to their ticket will have the ability to do their entire ticketing at Amtrak and receive service to the LAX Airport as part of the monies passengers pay for their entire ticketing transaction with Amtrak and Amtrak California.

David Nisley of Amtrak spoke about the Amtrak California Cafe Menu and the associated menu changes that will take place on the date of the National Timetable hanges.  David mentioned that a total of twenty items will be lost on the menu on May 10th.  Combo Meals will stay and passengers will be able to substitute coffee and hot tea in leiu of soda on a combo meal.  The Cafe now has 136 Items and will go to 116 with the changes in mid-May.

The Meeting wrapped up with Bill Bronte giving the State Update and Lee Goldenberg giving out names of folks that are part of the new Division of Rail staff.

The highlight of Bill’s discussion was the discussion of a planning grant involving stakeholder groups on the State/Federal Rail Plan.  There was also mention of the Passenger Rail Investment Improvement Act (PRIIA) Section 305 Rail Equipment Committee in which Bill is California’s Representative through this critical National Committee.  The next big meeting of this equipment committee will occur on or around June 16th in Chicago.

Will Schilling, who joins Lee Goldenberg’s staff as the Amtrak California Bus Coordinator.  He will develop partnerships with Andrew Felden in Sacramento, Rick Peterson in Los Angeles and Barbara Ruditis in Bakersfield.  Will finally fills the position left vacant by Steve Miller, whom was honored by the SJVRC years ago in Richmond.

The meeting concluded with request for a future item regarding the Bakersfield-Los Angeles gap issue being requested by George Gaekle of Stanislaus County.  George specifically requested an Ad-Hoc Committee or a Sub-Committee that would specifically focus on the gap.

The next San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee meeting will be held on July 29th in Merced County.