Monthly Archives

April 2011

eNewsletter

eNewsletter – April 25, 2011

Suppose that we begin by integrating four regional long distance trains serving 16 stations each. If operated as four independent trains they would have 960 city pairs (240 per train). But if they operated as an integrated rail system they would generate a system of 64 stations connected by four integrated trains. Such a system would generate 64 x 63 = 4032 city pairs instead of the 960 (on the same number of train miles) and be more than four times as productive as four independent trains, using exactly the same number of train miles, the same level of market penetration, and exactly the same nature and quality of service.April 25, 2011 Enews

eNewsletter

eNewsletter – April 18, 2011

The news that there will be cutbacks in High Speed Rail funding in the coming years by the Federal Government is unwelcome but not unexpected by RailPAC. RailPAC has long been concerned that much of the planning for the California High Speed Rail Project has until recently been unrealistic about available funding. In particular the fixation that initial service between Los Angeles and San Francisco run by express trains be no more than 2 hours and 35 minutes has resulted in millions of dollars added to individual projects to save seconds to the running time. This goal has often resulted in upsetting land owners with possible eminent domain of their property and disruption for many communities. Given that the average speed of most passenger trains in this country is around 40 miles per hour, seeing service raised up to 100 miles per hour will by itself be a major improvement. Rising average speeds up to 150 miles per hour and more may have to wait… April 18, 2011 eNewsletter
Tracking Rail News

Winter and the Amtrak long distance trains

Report and Comments by Russ Jackson
The western long distance trains had a rough winter in the northern 2/3 of the country. Some trains were canceled altogether for several days. Here is a rundown of some of the activity by train in the past few weeks. Not everything is included, but here are some highlights, using Amtrak’s data. When April is figured in things will look much worse.

California Zephyr. 45.2% on time in March; 52.5% for the last 12 months. For several days Donner Pass was closed not only to road traffic on I-80, but also the Union Pacific main line was snowed in as drifts of over 5 feet of blowing snow blocked access. While there was diligence by the UP crews, there were several derailments. For the first time in many years the rotary plows stationed at Roseville were called into service. The old heads who remember how it was up there when snows like that were more common are mostly retired, and the youngsters have never seen snow like this before. The weather is still bad, but the route is open again so that Trains #5/6 can run their regular route. Train 5 that left Chicago on April 16 on time arrived in Emeryville 3 days later 58 minutes early. Delays to the trains now are in southern Iowa, where flooding has occurred. For some days the trains originated-terminated at Reno with passengers bused from California when I-80 finally opened. To see a great video of the rotary plows in operation, look at www.kcra.com/r-video/27364908/detail.html.

Empire Builder. 33.6% on time in March; 33.8% for the last 12 months. The Builder was the hardest hit of all the western trains. It did not run at all for many days, including the week before April 15 when it had not operated due to flooding on the BNSF in North Dakota. Before that it was winter storms, but once the snow starts to melt up in that state Amtrak’s line from Fargo to Grand Forks and west is subject to water problems. An anticipated BNSF detour line direct from Fargo to Minot had many slow orders due to high water and was declared unusable. Amtrak has discussed permanently moving #7/8 to this alternate line, but it will bypass Grand Forks, Devils Lake, and Rugby, towns that rely on the train for service. Amtrak has said it will cost $100 million in upgrades to bridges and track in the Devils Lake area if that service is to continue. The BNSF does not use that route for freight service. It would take two “construction seasons” to rebuild, after Congress appropriated the money. How likely is that to happen now?

Southwest Chief. 83.9% on time in March; 77.8% for the last 12 months. Not much to say here, as Trains #3/4 continued to depart on time and arrive early at both ends more than they were late.

Sunset Limited. 88.9% on time in March; 83.1% for the last 12 months. However, problems arose when wildfires damaged a Union Pacific bridge near Marfa, Texas on April 9, stalling the train for 18 hours. So, weather at the other extreme affected the Sunset route.

Coast Starlight. 45.2% on time in March; 65% for the last 12 months. Winter weather did have an effect on the operation of Trains #11/14, but most of the problems have come due to track work being done by the Union Pacific south of San Jose and San Luis Obispo which has required the train to be detoured and has provided railfans with several chances to ride the detour route through the San Joaquin Valley. The detour began south of Emeryville at Fremont, where the train crossed the Altamont Pass to Stockton, then traveled on the Union Pacific line (thin blue line on the map) south to Bakersfield, up the Tehachapis, across the famous Loop, through Mojave, Lancaster, Palmdale, and into Los Angeles. For a full description of one of the #11 detours that departed Oakland Jack London Square 30 minutes late and arrived at Los Angeles Union Station at 9:57 PM, see Chris Guenzler’s picture story on www.Trainweb.org. Passengers going south to the Starlight’s regular Central Coast stations rode buses from Oakland.

Whether Amtrak and its host railroads were “prepared” for this winter is ripe for speculation, but when a winter like this one happens it’s nail biting time all along the routes. We congratulate Amtrak, the BNSF, and the UP for their diligence in restoring service in a timely manner. Lessons were learned, and it will be interesting to see how prepared they all are next winter. (Maps from Railpac.org and Amtrak timetable.)

Commentary

March CA Intercity Passenger Rail Performance

Reported by David B. Kutrosky, Managing Director, CCJPA

(Download:  March 2011 Performance Report)

Capitol Corridor’s March 2011 performance statistics are in and it’s clear that January and February’s results were not anomalies. Double-digit increases continue as ridership and revenue results once again set new monthly thresholds: A remarkable 148,198 passengers boarded our trains compared to 133,987 during the same period last year. This 10.6 percent increase in ridership generated a healthy 14 percent increase in revenue.

On-time performance (OTP) for the Capitol Corridor took a bit of a dip to 94 percent. Although this makes the Capitol Corridor number two in the nation for the month of March, our trains still hold the top spot for reliability for year-to-date results.
As gasoline prices soar, more and more drivers are seeking more affordable ways to travel. This scenario will have similar results as what happened in 2008, when gas prices skyrocketed and public transit reached an all time high.  Despite the sharp gas price decrease in 2009, Capitol Corridor ridership did not follow suit, meaning many of those who made the choice to try our trains, stayed on trains. Northern California drivers ditching their cars proved to be fodder for the media as reporters from local, national and international news outlets covered Capitol Corridor’s upward trend in ridership, thus helping to publicize our service to travelers in the communities that we serve.

Caltrans recently applied for federal High Speed Passenger Intercity Rail grants for three projects that affect the Capitol Corridor.  These include:

  • Statewide-Rolling Stock Acquisition. Caltrans applied for 26 bi-level cars and four locomotives of which 10 cars will go to CCJPA and two locomotives will be assigned to Northern California IPR services. The added rail cars with provide more seats to accommodate projected ridership growth on the existing trains. The newer, green locomotives will replace older models, thereby meeting the latest EPA standards, improving system performance and service reliability.
  • Sacramento Intermodal Facility Project Phase 2. This phase will continue the planned station modernization upgrades at our busiest station.
  • Oakland Maintenance Facility Phase 2. The second portion of facility upgrades will consolidate Amtrak temporary facilities, which are currently scattered around in Oakland and support the Capitol Corridor.

Credit goes to our other partners, Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR) and Amtrak, for being just as committed as we are in keeping customers on our
trains and off the roads.

Capitol Corridor (March 2011):

  • Ridership: 148,198 riders; +10.6% vs. March 2010; +8.8% vs. prior YTD
  • Revenue: $2,227,701 +13% vs. March 2010; +12% vs. prior YTD
  • On-Time Performance: 94%; YTD OTP of 96% (keeping the Capitol Corridor service #1 in the nation).
  • System Operating Ratio: 50% YTD vs. 48% in FY10; continued growth in ridership and revenue keep ratio at standard

The Capitol Corridor route continues to be third busiest route in the country, with ridership at 1.65 million for the last 12 months

Pacific Surfliners (March 2011):

  • Ridership: 230,510 passengers; +6% vs. March 2010, and +6% ahead of prior YTD
  • Ticket Revenue only: +7.7% vs. March 2010, and +9% vs. prior YTD
  • On-time performance for March 2011 81% (YTD FY 2011 on-time performance: 80%)

San Joaquin (March 2011):

  • Ridership: 84,210 passengers +5% vs. March 2010, and +3% vs. prior YTD
  • Ticket Revenue only: +12% vs. March 2010, and +12% vs. prior YTD
  • On-time performance for March 2011: 87% (YTD FY 2011 on-time performance: 91%).
Editorials

What is being planned for our future?

Editorial by Noel T. Braymer

It is ironic that at the same time some politicians are busy opposing expanding rail service and alternative energy to fossil fuels; we now see years of frustration blowing up through out the Middle East as one by one dictators are being pushed out or threaten in this region. This highlights the insecurities and the dependence on oil, particularly for transportation in this country.
The problem in the Middle East is simple: poverty. Even in oil rich counties the unemployment rate in the Middle East for young adults is over 20%. Many of these unemployed young adults are college educated but see no careers in sight. The solution to terrorism is not war, but jobs. But poverty and corrupt dictatorial governments go hand in hand. In the long run the only solution for peace is honest, democratic governments and reduced poverty. But in the meantime what can the United States do to be less dependent on Oil?
Recently a group of Republican Congressmen from the San Joaquin Valley proposed using Federal Dollars allocated for High Speed Rail in California to be used instead to expand one lane in each direction for Highway 99 in the San Joaquin Valley. One problem with this is the money wasn’t appropriated for that purpose. What would these Congressmen think if money appropriated for their district was taken away to be used for some where else? But doesn’t this expose the fallacy that road construction is self supporting? For years we have been told that roads or at least Interstate Highway construction is fully paid for out of fuel taxes. This ignores property taxes which remain the primary funding for local roads. Without local roads the Interstate Highways would have little traffic. The funding for Interstate Highways from fuel taxes is falling short. Efforts to increase fuel taxes or find additional funding for highway constructions have been fought back as unfair to drivers. Yet speculators are free to jack up gasoline prices 10 to 20 cents a gallon in a week using any convenient world problem as an excuse. We have the Strategic Oil Reserve which can be used now to stabilize prices in the short run, yet there is no leadership in Washington to do this. What business would hesitate to raise prices if cost and demand were rising? If people truly want government to be run more like a business, they should welcome increased fees on consumption spending.
Expanding roads such as Highway 99 in the San Joaquin Valley doesn’t reduce oil dependence: it makes it worse. At least rail service can be run without using oil. More roads increase traffic and congestion. A true free market approach which has been proven to work to reducing congestion and energy use is charging vehicles on a per mile and per pound basis for using the roads. There is no single solution to reducing this county’s dependence on oil. But oil is a finite resource and it is only a matter of a short time before demand will outstrip supply. Instead the solution will be the result of many small changes from putting jobs, housing, shopping and services closer together, alternative energy, more efficient vehicles such as electric cars than can be charged during off peak periods when power is now going to waste and so on. Market forces are already pushing people towards these solutions. High Speed Rail by itself is no panacea as the solution for oil consumption. To pay the high cost of High Speed Rail it must carry a large number of people. This can be done when High Speed Rail is connected to new development to supply traffic with improved walking, bicycling, light rail, regional rail and generally good public transportation. Going faster than 120 miles per hour is not as important as having good connections and economical services to get people riding the train.