Monthly Archives

January 2011

Editorials

The States of Ohio and Wisconsin bail out the California High Speed Rail Authority

Editorial by Noel T. Braymer

The decisions by the newly elected Governors of Ohio and Wisconsin to pull their states out of the High Speed Rail Stimulus funding program have led to the recent announcement of 624 million dollars of that money will be redirected to California. This was on top of 715 million the state was recently awarded for HSR construction in the San Joaquin Valley which brought to 3 billion dollars the state had received from the Federal Government. The CAHSRA had seemingly out of the blue announced plans just after Thanksgivings to spend 4.3 billion dollars for 65 miles of the first leg of HSR construction between Corcoran and Borden with Fresno in the middle. Eleven out of the 65 miles will be needed to connect this new trackage to the BNSF north of Fresno allowing the trackage to be usable by other trains. Called by many the train to nowhere this segment had limited utility and the fact it was only in one congressional district didn’t go over well with other elected officials. This additional 624 million which will be matched with Prop 1A bond money will now bring the total available for construction to $5.5 billion. This should be enough to extend the new tracks almost 55 miles from Corcoran to near Bakersfield for a total of 120 miles making this a more viable project.

This new construction will be for new track work only. There is no money for electrification, HSR trainsets or car maintenance yards. The only train service that will be able to use it will be rerouted San Joaquin Trains in the immediate future.  The plan is to build a new alignment in Fresno near the UP tracks on the west side of Fresno for the construction of 12 miles of elevated viaduct over city streets of Fresno. This will also include a new downtown station in Fresno. If the San Joaquin trains are rerouted on this new trackage, then new stations will also be needed to replace the stations at Wasco, Hanford and Madera. This plan requires that a connection be built at Borden to the BNSF mainline so the San Joaquin trains can continue to Merced and beyond. The current top possible speed for the San Joaquins is around 105 miles per hour. The times saving between 65 miles of HSR track versus 120 miles will be noticeable.
About the time the CAHSRA was granted more money the report of the California High-Speed Rail Peer Review Group was released. This group of transportation experts led by former Caltrans chef and current CEO of the Orange County Transportation Authority Will Kempton is part of the Prop 1A measure to insure oversight of this very expensive project. This report found several weaknesses with the current management of the HSR project. These included inadequate staffing for such a large project, lack of a clear business model, questions about ridership and revenue projections, lack of a clear financial plan and a 30 billion dollar gap between available funding and projected costs for this project. From the report “There is an air of unreality about a plan that includes $17 to $19 billion in ‘free’ federal funding from programs that do not yet exist.” {Emphasis added}

What could be done to best use these 120 miles of new high speed railroad? The best near term option will be to upgrade the San Joaquin Train for faster service and extending it to Southern California. Talgo for example has a tilt train that is faster around curves, can go faster than 110 and meets FRA specifications allowing them to also run on mainline railroads. If the state and Amtrak were able to get some of these  or similar equipment then running times could be decreased even more. With Positive Train Control it will be possible to raise the top speed on much of the San Joaquin route to 90 miles per hour. We could do more to speed up the San Joaquin route by concentrating our efforts where we get the most times savings at the lowest cost rather than building an entire segment to HSR standards. An example of this is delaying some of the more expensive reroutes and building more, fast trackage. Plans to build a bypass around Hanford and building a replacement station could be put off and the money used instead to double track all the way into Bakersfield. High speed double tracking into Bakersfield will be more useful in the short term than bypassing Hanford.
To make the faster San Joaquin function better will require extending the trains south of Bakersfield to Palmdale. At Palmdale some San Joaquin trains could be extended to at least Los Angeles and other could connect with Metrolink. Some direct service between Los Angeles, Oakland and Sacramento would be possible. Additional Fresno to Palmdale service could be run with connections to Metrolink trains that could serve most of Southern California. If we concentrate our efforts to getting the construction between of HSR trackage between Bakersfield and Palmdale, we could have fast rail service between Southern and Northern California in 10 years or less even in the current political and economic conditions.
Tracking Rail News

Tracking Rail News: January 2011

Comments by Russ Jackson and photos by Noel Braymer, Bob Snow and Russ Jackson

. . . December: What a month for weather on Amtrak! The country was treated to real wintry weather, some places had snow for the first time in history, the Northeast Corridor between New York and Boston was closed, and California was not spared. Here are some highlights, as of December 27: On December 22 service south of Oceanside on the Surf Line, Amtrak Pacific Surfliners and the Coaster, were canceled. Slides at Califa Beach, the San Mateo Creek and San Onofre Creek running out to sea, a mile long washout in the flood area in Sorrento Valley, and the construction bridge at the Santa Margarita River was destroyed. By the evening of December 23 service was restored by Amtrak and NCTD.

Don't you wish all parking garages had this "counter" so you would know where you can park?

We noticed when Editor Braymer used photos of the Irvine Amtrak station parking garage last month that one he didn’t use was of a “car space counter” at the entrance, which shows arriving passengers where the available parking is. That’s a helpful device, and how useful it would be in all parking garages!

Congratulations are in order to the Capitol Corridor, where there was 100% on time performance on November 29 and 30 for all 32 trains!

Western long distance train service was disrupted, particularly trains # 7/8, the Empire Builder, with both trains departing origination points on December 14 canceled, although bustitution was provided between some cities. While critics chimed in about trains being the “all weather” mode of transportation, just look at what the airlines had to do on a similar day, when 1600 flights were canceled and thousands more over Christmas Day. Amtrak said the reason for the NEC closure was not because trains couldn’t get through (although clearly many couldn’t) but because riders could not get to the stations, the same reason the NFL used to postpone its game in Philadelphia. It looked like a very logical reason. Earlier, Empire Builder #7 of 12/11 departed Seattle 1 hour and 43 minutes late, was 14 hours late at Malta, Montana, 19 hours late out of Minneapolis-St. Paul, and arrived 18 hours late into Chicago due to storms.

In California, Multiple washouts and mud slides in the Loma Linda area closed the Union Pacific on December 22 causing train # 2, the Sunset Limited, to depart Los Angeles 6 hours late, and it was 7 hours late out of Tucson the next day. Otherwise the Sunset had a good month, with train 2 of 12/17, carrying this writer’s former colleague from Palomar College, Dana Hawkes, departing LAUS 10 minutes late and arrived in Houston, his station, on time. We will take time to mention at this point there is again NO news about a daily Sunset-Eagle.

File photo: California Zephyr #5 crosses Donner Pass.

Amtrak train #5 the California Zephyr was detoured through Wyoming on December 21 because of rock slides on the UP’s Moffat Tunnel line and heavy snowfall in western Colorado. That was in addition to that train using the CNW across Iowa, where the train had UP locomotive 6698 on the point for cab signals, which reminds us of a report in this column last month about a UP locomotive on the Texas Eagle/Sunset Limited that had several problems. A railroader wrote us that there is “Lack of proper maintenance in many cases, plus it sounds like the UP hands off questionable locomotives to help out Amtrak and they gave the Eagle a ‘shopped’ unit. I bet they billed Amtrak for the full amount each time, however.” The Zephyr #6 of December 19 made it over the Sierra without a problem even though a flash flood warning was issued and Shed 10 had to be flagged. The Southwest Chief had its sensational ups and some downs, too. Train # 4 of 12/18 hit an auto 5 miles west of Lamy, NM, delaying it and companion train # 3 for several hours. No one was killed in that accident. Otherwise it was a routine month on the BNSF until train # 4 that departed Los Angeles on Christmas night arrived in Albuquerque at 10:35 AM the next day, beating the old record of 10:47. That was helped by (very) light holiday freight traffic, but shows that there is much padding in the Chief’s schedule; and at least a half hour could be taken out permanently despite the slow orders through Colorado and Kansas.

. . . Now for the Coast Starlight! By the time you receive this issue of the Review trains # 11/14 will be on a new schedule, which will last for 3 months. The Union Pacific will be doing extensive tie and steel replacement on the Coast Line between Gaviota and Guadalupe, including the sidings across Vandenberg AFB. Amtrak announced on December 15 that the Starlight’s schedule has been advanced 2 hours from January 1 to March 31. There will also be extensive track work in Oregon at the same time. Pacific Surfliner trains will be affected, too, but current morning departure times are unchanged. In order to give the UP a maximum ‘work window’ the Starlight will run two hours later, and in most cases Pacific Surfliner bustitution will occur north of Santa Barbara. Here is the schedule (for January 10) taken from Amtrak’s on line schedule:

Train 14 departs Los Angeles at 12:15 PM; arrives San Luis Obispo 5:30 PM, and gets to the Bay Area quite late around midnight, with arrival in Sacramento after 2 AM. Train 11 coming from Seattle will depart San Luis Obispo at 5:20 PM, arriving in Los Angeles at 11:00 PM. Travelers will be inconvenienced, but at least the trains were not canceled outright as has happened sometimes in the past. For that we are grateful, and we can only hope that after March 31 Amtrak and the UP will adjust the schedule to allow an earlier arrival into LAUS.

A northbound DART Green Line train at the elevated Downtown Carrollton station.

. . . From around the West. . . . The Dallas DART light rail Green Line opened its extended service in December, running from Carrollton on the northwest to Buckner on the southeast, a 24 mile distance. This highly anticipated line takes riders to Love Field (Southwest Airlines), Childrens/Parkland Hospital, downtown Dallas, the Texas State Fair grounds, and a Baylor Hospital. A very popular stop already is at the American Airlines Center for Mavericks NBA and Stars NHL games. DART is now the largest light rail system in the west. . . . The Oklahoma DOT finally reached a deal with the private owners of the Oklahoma City Santa Fe train depot, assuring that passengers on Amtrak’s Heartland Flyer continue to have access without any lockouts occuring like happened a few times when the owner locked the gates. Upgrades at the station including a ticket office will now be explored.

Amtrak locomotive 500 powered by biodiesel on the Heartland Flyer.

The Flyer was honored as one of “The 50 Best Inventions of 2010″ by TIME magazine for its use of locomotive 500, which has run since April, 2010 on a biodiesel blend that includes beef byproducts, the nation’s first test of biodiesel in an interstate passenger train. . . . Amtrak President Boardman rode the California Zephyr to Oakland and back in early December. He has been riding frequently, which is what he should be doing. He rides on the Amtrak business cars but has access to the rest of the train by having a Superliner transition car in front of his cars. He returned on the same route. . . . Historically this column has supported the return of the Desert Wind to provide rail service to Las Vegas, NV, not just from the California southland, but also from the midwest. High speed projects continue to be talked about for the LA-Vegas route, but is it realistic to expect any of them to succeed only from Los Angeles or Victorville? This month Delta Airlines announced it was boosting its network by adding B737 nonstop flights between Las Vegas and Orange County beginning this month. . . . We close this month with a quote from Kevin Sherrington’s sports column in the December 19 Dallas Morning News. “What Kristin Lee liked about Philadelphia: food, fun, ‘cultural experiences.’ What Cliff’s wife didn’t like about Texas (where he pitched for the Texas Rangers last season): summer heat and traffic to the Ballpark.” Kevin commented, and we agree, “Can’t fix the heat, but if the Ballpark sat next to the Farmers Market (in downtown Dallas near the Green Line) traffic would be a non-issue. As it is, the Ballpark/JerryWorld should be a stop on a rail line.” Arlington, Texas is the largest city without any public transportation because voters would not approve it.   ###

Commentary

December CA Intercity Passenger Rail Performance

Reported by David B. Kutrosky, Managing Director, CCJPA

(Download:  December 2010 Performance Report)

In December, Capitol Corridor was given the gifts of impressive ridership, revenue and on-time performance thresholds, ending the calendar year with an abundance of positive performance results.  Ridership was up 5 percent compared to the same period last year, revenue was up 10 percent and the Capitol Corridor’s on-time performance was 97 percent—number one in the nation!   Continue Reading

Issues

LOSSAN Rail Corridor Scoping Meetings

Los Angeles
January 10, 2011 – 5:00 – 7:00 PM

METRO Board Room
One Gateway Plaza, Los Angeles, CA

Ventura
January 11, 2011 – 5:00 – 7:00 PM
Camarillo Public Library
4101 Las Posas Road
Camarillo, CA 93010

Santa Barbara
January 12, 2011 – 5:00 – 7:00 PM
Louise Lowry Davis Center – Lu Gilbert Room
1232 De La Vina St.
Santa Barbara, CA, 93101

San Luis Obispo
January 13, 2011 – 5:00 – 7:00 PM

San Luis Obispo City/County Public Library – Community Room
995 Palm Street,
San Luis Obispo, CA 93401