Monthly Archives

August 2010

Commentary, Issues

Comments on HSR Thru Riverside

Comments Compiled from a RailPAC Member

We were recently contacted by a Professional Engineer who has, until recently, done a small amount of work on the CAHSR project.  This is a summary of his report.  Apparently the concept designs he cites are in the public domain (e.g. used in public outreach meetings) however the conclusions he offers (and are shared by RailPAC) are decidedly not the CAHSRA “message”.

The CAHSRA choice to place the “Riverside” station out in Moreno Valley because it is easier to do is exactly the type of useless work that the consultants are doing for CAHSRA.  They are designing the highest possible level of technical achievement for HSR as a “parlor game”.  It is almost completely divorced from the realities of finance, popular support, transportation need, or constructability.  One wonders if the consultants intentionally designs things so radical that they know they will never be built and therefore their wisdom will never be tested.

Their approach to Los Angeles station design was equally absurd.  They apparently followed a trail of simple yes-no questions:

Is LA a thru or an intermediate station?    It is an intermediate station as trains will go on to Anaheim and San Diego.

This means that the design consultants must our standard design for an intermediate station.

The standard design for an intermediate station has two straight thru tracks (isolated by sound walls) for220 MPH non-stopping trains and high speed turnouts 9000 feet before and after the station so that stopping trains can diverge at 120 MPH then slow for the platform.  Exactly like Lyon airport station and well suited for true intermediate stations that will be by-passed by express trains.  It is 20,000 feet (4 miles long).

The local consulting firm tried to persuade the CHSRA lead engineering firm managers that LA would never have non-stopping trains and was told “you don’t know that”.    They forced the local firm to design LA to the standard for intermediate stations.

Senior engineers of the local firm tried to argue that it was almost twice as long as the runways at LAX, and that they were only asking for trouble to fit something of that size into downtown LA.

After spending some weeks of billable hours making drawings of this concept to prove it was impossible, the CAHSRA and its lead engineering design firm eventually compromised on what is being presented now: a set of 45 MPH approach tracks and all tracks have platform access.

In reviewing preliminary designs for the Anaheim to LA corridor, one finds CAHSRA design criteria that are so extravagant that one experienced Professional Engineer recused himself from any further work on the project.  He said that it is a waste of investor’s funds to build to these standards that it defies the engineering profession’s obligation to be a responsible custodian of the public’s investment funds.  In trying to force a HSR line into the LOSSAN corridor it has become very expensive (estimates range from $4 to $8 billion for this 30-mile segment of what is to be a 400-mile line for $40 billion).

One example of extravagant design is to limit grades to 1.25% for reasons of “comfort”, resulting in overpass structures that are over twice as long as they need to be (compared to using the 3% grades on the Redondo Jct. flyover).

The second example is to limit lateral acceleration in curves to much less than used by Metrolink and BNSF.  This would result in the HSR trains going around the curves at Norwalk, Fullerton, and Los Nietos at slower speeds than Surfliner and Metrolink trains on the conventional tracks.

Planning, building, and paying for a “HSR” line to Anaheim that is only important as a through ride south of LA may have almost no real value.  This line will work as well at 75 MPH as at 125 MPH to get people from Anaheim to LA so they can continue in the same train to Fresno or San Jose.  And at 75 MPH the taxpayers have saved billions of dollars and still have a one-seat ride.

One of RailPAC’s most serious concerns is the CAHSRA approach is not incremental.  There is almost no public utility until $40b or more has been spent.  The competing forms of transportation have much smaller investment increments.  Lanes can be added and interchanges expanded for highways in relatively small projects.  Runways and terminals can be expanded to increase air capacity in stages as traffic increases. In a more financially constrained approach, rail transportation can be incrementally expanded, and this is exactly what California has done to date.  However the incremental (and modest) approach is hard to explain to our leaders, who have been to Europe, have seen presentations by Siemens and Ahlstrom and want to leap into the future.  To date the planning for HSR has assumed that at least $40 billion is available, which it is not.  Perhaps the best planning would be to design the best system that $5, $10, or $15 billion can buy as those amounts might be raised within a few years.


Travel Observations

Comments by RailPAC member Freeman Gosden Jr.
on his recent trip from
Santa Barbara-LA-Chicago-Emeryville- Santa Barbara

I told my friends that La Junta to Hutchinson was roughest experience I have ever had on AMTRAK-Santa Fe UP or SP. I’ve done Chi-LA 35 times. I was partially thrown out of bed. Now, I see AMTRAK is slowing down its trains on that section. Good. As much as I love trains, with barely more than 2 trains a day almost no freight there is no justification for La Junta Raton route, as beautiful as it is.

What do I notice different about today compared to last 50 years? 1) The obesity of passengers 2) The cheerfulness and helpfulness of staff that has to deal with equipment that is past obsolescence. On a recent trip I was between Albuquerque and Gallup wanting to return to my room but the train, a top speed was too difficult as I am partially handicapped. The conductor happened to pass by. I asked him if there was a planned slow down soon so I could return to my room. He asked me when I wanted to go and I replied that now would be fine. He got on the radio, requested engineer slow down to 25 mph. He did and I got to my room. AMTRAK really cares!

One small suggestion. Several times the PA system said the Lounge or parlor car was closing in x minutes. That is not true. The snack bar only was closing, not the rest of the car. Also, some of the coach passengers, wise to train travel, come to the more comfortable lounge car to sleep overnight. I don’t think that is the intent of the lounge car.

My friends ask me if I would take the trip again. I reply with an emphatic, “Yes!” Not only is the view great, but almost every stranger you sit has an interesting story to tell.


July California Intercity Passenger Rail Performance

Reported by David B. Kutrosky, Managing Director, CCJPA

July ridership started off weak, but ended up strong as we posted a fiscal year-best of 141,479 passengers for the month.  This is a 5.0% increase in ridership above July 2009!  Revenue continued its positive trend with +14.7% growth over June 2009. On-time performance (OTP) was 97%, the best result in the history of the Capitol Corridor.  Obviously, with these extraordinary results the Capitol Corridor continues be the nation’s OTP leader–it’s the most reliable train service in the Amtrak system.  The UPRR continues its commitment to keeping the Capitol Corridor trains on schedule while managing the increased levels of rail freight traffic as the economy begins its slow recovery.

The three Friday Furloughs per month for state employees had a momentary reprieve in July, which helped boost Friday ridership counts. The Governor, however, reinstated these Friday Furloughs in August in response to the
lack of progress on a FY 10-11 state budget.

In regards to delays, the Amtrak mechanical team in Oakland has begun making progress to reduce mechanical-related delays  (primarily due to locomotive prime mover/head-end power and cab car control failures) by implementing improvements in maintenance processes and cycle times. CCJPA staff has also initiated meetings with the US Coast Guard to limit delays from drawbridge openings, while not adversely impacting marine ship traffic (which has the right-of-way).

Working with our service partners, the CCJPA will continue to focus on passenger safety, superior customer service and keep the momentum to finish the fiscal year (ending Sept. 30, 2010) with strong results in service performance.

CCJPA FY2010 FRA HSIPR Grant Applications

On August 5, 2010, the CCJPA submitted applications to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) requesting $57.2 million in FY2010 High Speed Intercity Passenger Rail (HSIPR) Program capital grant funds. These funds included a 20% non-federal match of $14.3 million. Two projects were identified in these applications:   track infrastructure upgrades between Roseville and Donner Summit and between the cities of Fremont and Newark.  These projects will allow the CCJPA to increase train service to Placer County by one daily round trip train and improve service reliability in Alameda County. Union Pacific Railroad is supporting both projects including a commitment of $10.3 million of its own resources to the $51.1 million Roseville-Donner Pass Project. The Fremont-Newark Project includes the extension of the platform at the Fremont/Centerville Depot, which will allow for improved schedule coordination of the Capitol Corridor and ACE train service at this station. Both projects are included in Caltrans Division of Rail’s $582 million funding request to connect its existing passenger rail system to California’s future high-speed rail system. The FRA plans to announce the awards of these FY2010 HSIPR grants by September 30, 2010. The CCJPA, UPRR and Amtrak worked on the attached news release, which provides details on these applications.

(Download:  CCJPA Vies for $57 Million in Federal High Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Funds)

(Download:  July 2010 Performance Report)

Capitol Corridor (July 2010):

  • Ridership: 141,479 riders; +5.0% vs. July 2009; -2.3% vs. prior YTD; -1.0% vs. FY10 YTD Plan
  • Revenue: +14.7% vs. July 2009; +3.2% vs. prior YTD; -3.5% vs. FY10 YTD Plan
  • On-Time Performance: 97%, the highest monthly reliability in the service’s history; YTD OTP of 92% keeping the service #1 in the nation.
  • System Operating Ratio: 48% YTD vs. 47% in FY09; expenses stabilizing with revenue growing in concert with ridership increases.
  • The Capitol Corridor route still continues to be third busiest route in the country, with ridership at 1.57 million for the last 12 months

Pacific Surfliners (July 2010):

  • Ridership: 263,417 passengers; +2.7% vs. July 2009, and +1.4% ahead of prior YTD; ridership exceeded Amtrak’s premier Acela service in July 2010.
  • Ticket Revenue only: +14.8% vs. July 2009, and +6.9% vs. prior YTD
  • On-time performance for July 2010: 69% (YTD FY 2010 on-time performance: 77%)

San Joaquin (July 2010):

  • Ridership: 98,377 passengers +11.2% vs. July 2009, and +6.2% vs. prior YTD; solidifying the San Joaquin as the fifth busiest corridor in Amtrak system.
  • Ticket Revenue only: +20.5% vs. July 2009, and +12.4% vs. prior YTD
  • On-time performance for July 2010: 95% (YTD FY 2010 on-time performance: 91%); right behind Capitol Corridor as 2nd most reliable service in Amtrak system.

Central Coast Railroad Festival: October 7-11

Second Annual Festival to Focus on Modeling, History and Rail Excursions
Festival Organizers Seek Volunteers and Sponsors

The Second Annual Central Coast Railroad Festival will focus on rail excursions, modeling of all types and historical programs.  The Festival is set for October 7-11, 2010, in the heart of the California Central Coast.  Activities will take place at numerous railroad, historical and educational locations throughout San Luis Obispo and northern Santa Barbara Counties.

The Central Coast Railroad Festival is designed to please both the casual train buff and the avid rail fan.  Attendees will be able to celebrate rail’s history and future while experiencing all types of modeling, rail excursions, concerts, films, exhibits, ceremonies, historical presentations and special programs.  Most Festival events will be free and all will be fun and very family friendly.  Special hotel packages will be available for visitors who wish to spend several days on the Central Coast attending the Railroad Festival and exploring the area’s beaches, wineries and other special attractions.

The Cities of San Luis Obispo and Pismo Beach are promotional sponsors for the 2010 Festival.  KCOY 12 and FOX 11 are the Festival’s exclusive television media partners.

Additional sponsors, promotional partners and event volunteers are now being sought.  Volunteer help and/or coordination is needed in the following areas: Amtrak excursions, event site coordination, history and educational programs, maintaining social media sites and volunteer coordination.

Further information on the Central Coast Railroad Festival, including the developing schedule of events and a list of participating organizations, can be found at or by calling the Festival office at (805) 773-4173.


California High Speed Rail Gets Real

Editorial by Noel T. Braymer

The California High Speed Rail Authority (CAHSRA) has been often criticized over the high costs and intrusive aspects of some of the alternative routings for the HSR project. In response to problems poised by alternatives for the route between Los Angeles and Anaheim the CEO of LAMETRO Art Leahy and the CEO of the OCTA Will Kempton co-signed a letter to CAHSRA asking for a new and less intrusive alternative last March. On July 8th the CAHSRA released a new alternative following many of the suggestions of the local agencies servicing the Los Angeles to Anaheim route. The result was a much more economical and practical alternative which was much less intrusive for nearby property owners.

The other alternatives assumed the need for 3 to 4 tracks just for the needs of the BNSF on their right of way. Metrolink and Amtrak would need an additional 2 tracks. CAHSRA was planning was to build an additional two track rail line alongside the BNSF mainline. This would mean trying to squeeze up to 8 tracks on a right of way big enough for 4 tracks. This new alternative instead proposes continuing to build the 3 track mainline and build a double track fully grade separated passenger only railroad which would be shared by HSR trains with Amtrak Surfliner and Metrolink Orange County trains. An elevated structure would be used to fit 2 tracks in the space of 1 where needed. Other Amtrak and Metrolink trains would continue to share the tracks with the BNSF. Between Fullerton and Anaheim HSR, Surfliner and Metrolink trains would share the existing double track railroad. This would include 10 existing grade crossings. Freight traffic would not use the tracks between Anaheim and Fullerton when there are passenger trains running and a FRA waiver would be needed to operate HSR trains over grade crossings. The top speed between Anaheim and Los Angeles would be 90 miles per hours which is the current top speed of Surfliner and Metrolink trains.

The best solution in this new alternative report was where to put HSR at Union Station. There are proposals to build a new HSR station elevated over the tracks at LAUS, underground at LAUS and to the side of LAUS as far away as the bank of the Los Angeles River. None of these alternatives would be attractive for transferring passengers. This new alternative does the obvious: place HSR in LAUS. LAUS was built with 16 passenger tracks. Today 2 tracks are used by the Gold Line, Amtrak and Metrolink use 10 tracks and there are 4 tracks out of service which there are plans to put back in service. By building and sharing new run through tracks into LAUS there can be 6 run through tracks for HSR plus 4 run through tracks and 4 stub end tracks shared by Amtrak and Metrolink. Those 8 tracks will have greatly more capacity than the current 10 tracks used today by Amtrak and Metrolink because of the run through tracks. Not only is this alternative more convenient for passengers but also much cheaper.
In the press there have been many stories over complaints about the ridership estimates for HSR in California. The problem with forecasting ridership is it can only predict potential ridership. Actual ridership depends on the quality of service. California has great potential for ridership for a state wide rail service with a population of over 38 million. What will make or break HSR service in California will be the quality of the stations. This is more important than how fast the trains go. If the stations are not convenient to use; not near places people want to travel too, have poor travel connections or lack access to hotels, car rentals, parking and restaurants etc the service will not attract adequate ridership. Millions of dollars is being proposed to be spent to shave off seconds of running time between Los Angeles to San Francisco. But that time saving will mean nothing for a person from the west San Fernando Valley if they have to take a connecting train to Union Station to the Bay Area. Currently there are no plans for a connection in the San Fernando Valley between HSR and Santa Barbara or Ventura County. In the San Joaquin Valley so far only the Bakersfield HSR Station will even be on the same right of way with the San Joaquin trains. The HSR trains are planned for high level platform which means they can’t share platforms with other passenger trains. This will complicate station sharing.
There are critics who call for delaying the construction of HSR or even killing the entire project. The problem with that is the Federal Government has granted as an economic stimulus project 2.25 billion dollars for HSR. Construction has to begin by September of 2012 or California will lose the money. With matching Prop 1A bond money that’s up to 4.5 billion dollars for improved rail service in California. California can’t afford to throw away that kind of money. This new Los Angeles-Anaheim route alternative for HSR can be a model to resolve many of the other contested routes along the HSR system. Such a service may not be quite as fast or fancy as what is being proposed now. But it will be easier for people to use, less intrusive of property along the HSR service, cost less and be more likely to get built.

The Biggest Obstacle to High Speed Rail in California

Opinion by Noel T. Braymer

In terms of routing there is general agreement about the HSR project from Southern California as far north as Fresno. Combinations of publicly owned rail and road rights of way and cooperation with the BNSF has the route largely laid out up to Calwa Yard in Fresno. The City of Fresno wants a HSR station in the general area of the old SP Train Station in downtown Fresno. The same is true for the city of Modesto and is an option in Merced. The problem is the refusal of the Union Pacific to cooperate with any discussion of HSR service on their right of way. There is an opinion held by many that UP’s stance is just a bargaining ploy to wring out the maximum price for use of their rights of way from the CAHSRA. I think that is a gross misreading of the UP’s management thinking and shows ignorance of the history of American railroading.
For many railroad managers passenger service is simply too much trouble at any price to be bothered with if possible. For UP management in particular passenger service means government involvement which equals interference in the management of their business. UP is not against taking money from the government. After delaying for years the grade separation at Colton Crossing UP did agree to the project when it was close to being cancelled. But they didn’t agree to expanded passenger service on their railroad as part of the agreement. The ironic thing is most of the expanded passenger service on the UP was a gift as it were from the Southern Pacific. In the 1990’s when the SP was going bankrupt they sold several branch lines to local agencies for passenger service and signed agreements to allow passenger service on their railroad. The Capitol Corridor is a beneficiary of SP’s distress which is when that service was set up. The recently announced construction on the UP of Higher Speed Rail service between Chicago and St. Louis is also a product of an agreement SP made with local government when SP owned the line. The UP has been very consistent in honoring prior legal agreements it has inherited. But they are also consistent in opposing any new service beyond what they are legally obligated.
What options does California have to get north of Fresno to Sacramento and the Bay Area? The BNSF right of way is not wide enough in downtown Fresno to be used north of Calwa. In Fresno the only option may be use of public streets and or Highway 99. North of Fresno the BNSF may be an option as far as Stockton. That won’t please Modesto. Getting from Stockton to Sacramento? There is the Central California Traction Railroad or CCT which has right of way from Stockton to Sacramento. But the right of way doesn’t go into the Sacramento Station and UP is a half owner of the CCT with the BNSF. The freeway may be the only option.
The way to San Jose may be possible using the San Joaquin Valley Railroad. This short line owns the old SP “West Side Line” which runs out of Fresno on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley as far Tracy. Currently the tracks end in Oxalis which is just south of Los Banos. The line which starts just north of the old SP Fresno Station leads almost directly to the alignment proposed for crossing the Pacheco Pass to Gilroy. From there the CAHSRA was been studying using highways instead of the UP to get to San Jose. From San Jose the right of way publicly owned by Caltrain is the best route to San Francisco. Most of the issues on the Caltrain line are focused on just a few miles of the entire 47 mile route. But mitigation could prove expensive in the densely populated areas where there is opposition to the CAHSRA proposed alternatives. The use of the old SP West Side Line would make it easier to get from Fresno to Los Banos than would condemning farmland between either the BNSF or Highway 99 at Madera. But this routing may leave Merced hanging not knowing when HSR service will reach them.
Clearly there are going to be many difficult decisions to find the best available HSR route out of Fresno. Future cooperation is also assumed for the HSR route from Los Angeles to Riverside via the UP before heading down to San Diego by freeway. It will be a mistake to assume cooperation from the UP on future rail passenger service. What might UP want that could change their mind? Money is part of the answer. They want to be paid more. They are not interested in the problems the public agencies have funding their projects. They would like fewer headaches dealing with government bodies. But a major issue for railroads and all corporations is liability! The deadly crash in Chatsworth on September 12, 2008 by a Metrolink train with a UP freight train must have made a major impression on the management of UP and left them more leery of dealing with passenger trains than before. The potential for lawsuits when passengers are involved is much greater than when a container of television sets is destroyed. Any prospect in changing the minds of UP management will not happened overnight. It will start when government representatives have a clearer idea of what is behind UP’s thinking and motivations. But for now it will be a harder sell than a telemarketer interrupting your dinner to sell timeshare vacations on the Gulf of Mexico.
Tracking Rail News

Tracking Rail News: August 2010

The San Joaquin in Bakersfield

Photos and Commentary by Russ Jackson

. . . There’s great news for San Joaquin riders. On July 26 Amtrak announced that on six of the twelve daily trains that now operate with four cars, a fifth car will be added to the trains through Labor Day, increasing capacity by 25% and allowing an additional 88 passengers to ride each train. Ridership growth on the trains between the Bay Area and Sacramento to Bakersfield has grown steadily and in 2009 the service had 977,000 passengers, making it the fifth busiest route in the Amtrak system. This additional capacity could push the ridership to one million for the first time.  Good thinking, Caltrans, this is positive equipment usage!

(NOTE: On August 6 San Joaquin train 714 with one of the 5-car sets collided with a truck at the Shafter crossing, just north of Bakersfield. The push train remained upright, but 10 passengers were injured.)

. . . On Time Performance. Midwest flooding and scorching temperatures all over the system contributed to Amtrak operational problems in July. As of July 19, for the fiscal year since October 1, 2009, the Amtrak system’s OTP was 79.9%. The week before it was 80%, and on June 30 it was 80.2. The California Zephyr continued to have major problems because of heavy rains across the Mid-west. On June 30 #5-6 had been 59.8% on time up to then, but 20 days later it was 57.6% for the FY. For the week beginning July 21, #6’s arrival at Denver showed it being late 3 minutes on 7/21, 376 minutes on 7/22, 10 minutes on 7/23, 168 minutes on 7/24, and on 7/25 it was 36 minutes late. No consistency there, but east of Denver the problems, primarily in Iowa, kicked in for #6 so that on those dates its arrival in Chicago was 147 minutes late on 7/22, 503 minutes on 7/23, 156 minutes on 7/24, and on 7/25 243 minutes late. There has not been an on-time endpoint arrival for the Zephyr the past two months primarily because of weather. Of the western long distance trains, the Coast Starlight had an 86.8% OTP, and still leads the pack for the FY. But, the Sunset Limited had an 87.5% record for the month to be July’s champion!

. . . Again speaking of the Sunset Limited. Still NO word on the daily service! So, on to other items regarding #1 and #2, but also the Crescent and City of New Orleans. Service to New Orleans was disrupted the weekend of July 23 with the approach of Tropical Storm “Bonnie.” Service was “truncated” so the trains could be serviced short of their New Orleans maintenance base. The Sunset was canceled at San Antonio, with Houston passengers put on “Motorcoaches.” The Crescent was held at Meridian, MS, and the City of NOL at Jackson, MS. The storm did not reach the predicted severity, so full service was returned quickly. And, a correction from last month’s column: we identified Bernal, NM as being North of Las Vegas, but it is just South. That is the correct location of the BNSF washout on the Raton Pass line of the Southwest Chief, which is once again running through without delay. Guess so: In July the Chief was only late a few minutes at its endpoints. Thanks to RailPAC Associate Director Ken Ruben and to Don Winter, who caught the error. Mr. Winter observed the site during his trip on a train that went through it after repairs were completed and the line re-opened.

Superliners at Austin, Texas, on #22 the Texas Eagle
. . . Speaking of the California Zephyr. RailPAC contributor, Ralph James, observed the following at his Sierra Nevada home: “Today both #5 and #6 had four coaches in the consist instead of the normal three. I saw one consist last week some time that also had four coaches. Don’t know if it’s a Reno coach (as was done in years past) or if it is going through to Chicago. It has happened often enough that I am fairly sure the car is in service and not just deadheading.” We forwarded his questions to Gene Poon, who replied: “The coach is going through to Chicago. I think it only runs three days a week. There isn’t going to be a Reno coach, either. Actually, operationally it would be a Sparks coach, since that is where the switching would be done. But Amtrak doesn’t want to do any switching at all, and doesn’t want to pay UP for a storage track at Sparks. UP knows how slow Amtrak is at switching and does not want Amtrak cluttering up the tracks at Reno with a switching move there. And Amtrak does not want to pay UP for a switch job which would have to stop what they are doing in time to stand by at Sparks waiting for Amtrak to show up, run from Sparks to Reno and then back, each time a coach is added or removed.”

. . . Amtrak placed its order for 130 new rail cars in July. That sounds great, right? It is until you consider that 80 of those cars will be replacements for ancient non-revenue “heritage fleet” baggage cars. Did you read the July and August issues of TRAINS magazine? To highlight how things have changed yet remain the same, the two part article, “Adventures of an Amtrak on-board service director,” by Dale Jenkins, showed how desperate Amtrak’s need for new equipment was in the earliest days of the 1970’s when Amtrak was getting started. The equipment operational problems were legendary. While that was mostly corrected with the arrival of the Viewliners, Amfleet and Horizon cars, the Superliners in the 80’s, and Superliner II in the 90’s where has been any interest by Amtrak in buying new cars on the long distance trains? Until now. The rest of the newly announced car purchase from CAF will be new Viewliner sleeping and dining cars. Low level equipment, which means they will operate only in the East and Midwest. Amfleet, Superliner, and Horizon cars are a lot newer than the equipment these new cars will replace, but we must ask again why Amtrak has not already ordered fleet expansion vehicles for the much-in-demand western long distance trains. Coincidentally, Andrew C. Selden writes that in late May Boeing announced it has a backlog of confirmed orders for its 737 aircraft, numbering more than 2000, and they are increasing production of them by about 10%. These are the aircraft that most directly compete with Amtrak in the 500 to 1500 mile markets. Airlines are responding to demand, but where is Amtrak, what with the Superliner trains selling out weeks and months in advance? RailPAC President, Paul Dyson says, “I think we are right to ask the questions as to why the Amtrak order is made up as it is. It seems to me that only in an extreme situation would a company invest so much of its hard won Capital budget in non revenue assets.”

AmtrakCA logo

San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee Meeting Report

July 29, 2010 Meeting in Atwater

Reported by Michael Barnbaum, Associate Director

A moment of scilence was held in the memory of George Gaekle.  George spent many years on the San Joaquin alley Rail Committee and was also a Director of RailPAC.  He also served for many years as a County Administrator for Stanislaus County.  A plaque was passed around the room that eventually will be mounted and framed in the Modesto Amtrak Station.  George’s “big ticket item” on the SJVRC was closing the gap where there is a lack of rail service between Bakersfield and Los Angeles.

The first speaker was Bill Kerby of Sacramento County.  Bill is a retired Economics Professor from California State University Sacramento, and presently serves as Treasurer of RailPAC.  Bill spoke on the subject matter of the closing of the gap between Bakersfield and Los Angeles, and ultimately carrying on the legacy of where George Gaekle left off from at the April 2010 SJVRC Meeting.  After Bill’s comments a discussion took place amongst the members of the SJVRC, which ultimately resulted in a motion and a second to get a letter drafted to CalTrans Division of Rail Chief Bill Bronte and California High Speed Rail Chair, Curt Pringle.  The matter will continuously be on future agendas of the SJVRC until it is fully resolved, and the gap is finally closed.

Greig Pirie, President of the Station Host Association of California, made a brief comment of the dire need for Station Hosts at staffed stations throughout the San Joaquin Valley, including Stockton, Modesto, Merced, Fresno, Hanford, and Bakersfield.  Anyone that would like to inquire about becoming a Station Host can contact Greig via email or at (925) 457-9018.

Lee Goldenberg of the CalTrans Division of Rail presented the new colored logo of the SJVRC.  After a hard look and comparison of the Capitol Corridor logo, it was unanimously approved as the official logo.

Debbie Mullins and Lisa Martin of the Cal Trans Division of Rail presented “train wrap” art that will be applied to rail cars in the Oakland Equipment Pool that will be part of Rail Safety Month in September.  Debbie and Lisa mentioned a large Press Conference that will take place in Sacramento on September 14, 2010 in partnership with Amtrak, CCJPA, Operation Lifesaver, and the Union Pacific Railroad that will raise the awareness of rail safety in both English and Spanish.  Lisa and Debbie also introduced Amtrak’s Brian Hart, who will be phased in to do the duties formerly done by Carol Shannon.  Brian’s new title is Director, Field Marketing Western Region.

Lisa Martin showcased the new which features detailed information about each location that Amtrak California serves from Convention & Visitors Bureau information, as well as Public Transit Information, among other things.

Mike Edwards and Greg Santos of Amtrak reported on San Joaquin Line Safety/Security and Train Operations.  The report detailed debris strikes, trespasser strikes, and where police action was needed.  The slide show presentation also showed where a truck had a strike with a San Joaquin train and completely damaged and broke windows on at least one rail car in the Northern California/Oakland Maintenance Facility Equipment Pool.   This writer raised the awareness to all in attendance of how the equipment for the San Joaquin Line is also “shared” equipment in the mix with the Capitol Corridor as well.   I asked for both Amtrak representatives to run their presentation by staff of the CCJPA, and, if time allows, make a similiar presentation at the September 15th meeting at 10:00 A.M. in Suisun City, California.  Mike Edwards was willing to consider making such a presentation and making the CCJPA aware of what dominoe effects occur when equipment is struck and damaged.

Amtrak’s Anthony Chapa delivered a report about San Joaquin Passenger Services.  His report detailed and focused on food service, menu items and changes, as well as on-board cleaning services.  He mentioned that on August 12th, interviews will take place for a new cleaning person that will focus on the on-board cleaning services while the train is in motion, rather than at the end-points, which are done today and will continue to be done.

One of the most interesting speakers was Amtrak’s Thomas C. Cornillie, whose role and responsibility with Amtrak is the Principal Officer of Infrastructure Planning Policy & Development, West.  Tom made a presentation mainly about the East Coast High Speed Rail System and the infrastructure needs along the Northeast Corridor.  He then brought the presentation “back home” and discussed the San Joaquin Valley Line.  This writer brought up as the most critical need for expansion and frequency is the need for additional rolling stock for Amtrak in California and the West Coast.  It was mentioned that Bill Bronte was at a States 4 Passenger Rail Coalition (S4PRC) Equipment Committee Meeting on this very subject and that Bill will bring the SJVRC up to speed on the addition of new rolling stock at the next meeting.

Iosif Ivan, a mechanical superintendent with Amtrak gave a PowerPoint Presentation on the Oakland Maintenance Facility and the business operations that occur day in and day out with rail equipment for the San Joaquin, Capitol Corridor and the California Zephyr.

Barbara Ruditis, of Amtrak’s Bus Operations gave a bus tour that took attendees around the former Castle Air Force Base.  Barbara gave an oral presentation on driver training and driver safety.  This was all put together within the last six days or so prior to the July Meeting in wake of the Greyhound Bus incident on Highway 99 and McKinley Avenue in Fresno.  Barbara then introduced folks to Will Schilling, a rail transportation associate at the CalTrans Division of Rail in Sacramento who will focus solely on Statewide Bus Operations.  Will went over many items on paper that would have effects on service for many passengers.  The word-for-word report will be copied here that includes potential changes to Bus and Train Operations that would, if they become official, take effect on November 8.

Fall Schedule Change Discussions are currently ongoing between CalTrans and Amtrak Bus Operations regarding the Fall Schedule Change.

  • Tentative plans are to eliminate a couple of low revenue stops, such as Rosamond, Baker, Van Nuys Fly-Away and Lebec.
  • The Perris stop will be moved to the new Transit Center approximately 1 mile away on South C Street between West San Jacinto and Fourth Streets.
  • The low performing Beaumont stop will be discontinued in favor of a stop approximately 11 miles away at the Morongo Casino Resort and Spa in Cabazon.  This will be on theAmtrakCalifornia Route 19 Bus Schedule between Bakersfield and Indio.  Cabazon is approximately 5 hours south of Bakersfield.
  • There is a request to have Train 6 (The California Zephyr) depart Emeryville forty minutes earlier, shifting from 9:50 A.M. to 9:10 A.M.  If this occurs, Bus Operations will make necessary changes to the AmtrakCalifornia Route 99 Bus Schedules.  There will also be enough time for the Train 711, Bus 3811 connection at Stockton to Sacramento for San Joaquin Valley passengers to meet Train 6 there.
    Anecdotally, this writer would be concerned about that and for Capitol Corridor Weekend Riders making connections in Emeryville traveling from San Jose-Emeryville.  Capitol Corridor #724 would make a seven minute connection to Train 6 in Emeryville, which would not allow enough time for this type of connection.  This writer placed a voicemail call into Capitol Corridor’s Transportation Officer for further review into this matter and possible resolutions and/or solutions to this operating matter.

Driver Training Amtrak California is continuing with bus driver training that includes Amtrak policies and procedures, along with ticketing information. Since the April 2010 SJVRC meeting, Andrew Felden has conducted driver training classes for the contracted bus companies.  New driver classes are scheduled for August.

Request for Proposal for Amtrak California Bus Routes 1, 4, 9, 12 and 19 The Thruway routes currently contracted to Coach America will be going up for bid this Summer.  Rick Petersen and Andrew Felden are in the process of finalizing the requirements at this time.  The vendor(s) will begin operating the new contract in late Fall or early Winter.

  • Route 1:  Los Angeles Basin (San Pedro-Long Beach-Los Angeles Union Station and points North and South; Los Angeles-Bakersfield; Fresno-Bakersfield-Los Angeles Area and San Diego)
  • Route 4:  Pacific Surfliner Route (Los Angeles-Santa Barbara-Goleta)
  • Route 9:  Bakersfield-Barstow-Las Vegas
  • Route 12:  Antelope Valley (Bakersfield-Tehachapi-Mojave-Lancaster-Palmdale-Little Rock-Adelanto-Victorville)
  • Route 19:  Inland Empire – Coachella Valley (Bakersfield-La Crescenta-Pasadena-Claremont-Ontario-San Bernardino-Riverside-Moreno Valley-Cabazon-Perris-Cabazon-Palm Springs-Sun City-Hemet-Thousand Palms-Indio)

It was announced that the next meeting of the SJVRC will be held on Thursday, November 4 in Madera, pending the completion of the new Madera station.

For any question about this written report, please contact me directly by email or at (916) 390-3989.