Monthly Archives

May 2011

eNewsletter

eNewsletter-May 23, 2011

“You are not going to cut costs far enough on the long-distance trains to make the long-distance trains profitable,” Boardman said…The kindest thing that can be said of Mr. Boardman’s testimony before the Senate Appropriation hearing last week is that he spoke nonsense. If we go back to the 1980’s and early 90’s when W. Graham Claytor was Amtrak President we find he expanded long distance service and increased Amtrak’s cost recovery from 42 % to 80%. When he retired the expectation was that Amtrak would soon recover 100% of costs. Amtrak after Claytor left cut back on long distance trains to  “save money ” , created the Acela and instead of being on a glide path to profitability almost went out of business.Enewsletter May 23, 2011

eNewsletter

eNewsletter – May 16, 2011

U.S. Department of Transportation to Allocate $68 Million for State-of-the-Art Train Cars in California. The award for California fleet cars was included in the US DOT’s $2.02 billion in high-speed rail awards, which were announced yesterday on May 9, by US DOT Secretary Ray LaHood.  In addition California received $300 million more for construction of High Speed Rail in the San Joaquin Valley.  RailPAC eNewsletter for May 16, 2011
Reports

San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee April Meeting Report

Reported by Mike Barnbaum, RailPAC Associate Director

The San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee met at the California State Building on the Mariposa Mall in Fresno for their latest meeting on April 28, 2011.

1. Food Tasting
With a delightful change of pace from usual meeting procedure, Chairman John Pedrozo arranged for the presentation and tasting of expanded food selections for the trains’ California Cafe Menu in the Summer of 2011. Tasters’ evaluations, when combined with results at other venues, will be summarized and used to slim down the 22 menu items surveyed.

2. Public Comments
Upon completion of the tasting and evaluation, Chairman Pedrozo started an agenda that consisted primarily of information items. Committee facilitator, Arthur Lloyd, delivered the sad news about former Committee member from Sacramento, Cameron Beach, who was at the forefront of significant transit projects, including the building and operating of Sacramento’s light rail line. The Committee and audience adjourned for a few minutes in memory of Cameron.

Public commentary included remarks by RailPAC director Bruce Jenkins and associate director Mike Barnbaum, respectively. Mr. Jenkins expressed concern about the reservation system for the San Joaquin Corridor approaching a limit of effectiveness in rationing available seats. He pointed to the need for additional equipment to add a fifth passenger car to the current four car train consists and offered hope that the 14 Comet cars, currently at Beach Grove, IN, may be in service on the this Corridor during the summer of 2012. Staff explained that these “Comet” Cars are single level, with a seating capacity of sixty per car, and are compatible with the existing bi-level equipment. Later in the meeting, Leo Hoyt discussed the more distant arrival of new cars from the $100 million order placed by Amtrak.

Mr. Barnbaum proposed a schedule change that would take effect no earlier than the Fall/Winter 2011-2012 National Timetable Change with Northbound Trains #701 & #711 as well as Southbound Trains #704 & #718. Details of the proposed schedule will be taken under advisement by both Amtrak and CalTrans Division of Rail as they work to resolve some short term and long term scheduling issues, among others, getting to Sacramento earlier and leaving Sacramento later with all service by train.

A representative from the URS Corporation made a presentation on the San Joaquin Valley segments of the high speed rail system. The draft environmental document between Merced and Fresno would likely be out at the end of June 2011, and the environmental document between Fresno and Bakersfield would likely be out at the end of July 2011. Construction is likely to start in late 2012. Former Rail Committee Member Larry Miller of Fresno County asked the committee what would happen as to the future of the current Amtrak Service once the HSR begins its operations.

3. Closing the Bakersfield Gap
The next matter was a discussion on the Gap Closure between Bakersfield and Los Angeles. The main portion of the discussion was a back-and-forth between committee members Matt Machado and Los Angeles County’s Bruce Heard trying to clarify whether the closure would be on Union Pacific Railroad or a new High Speed Rail Alignment. Facilitator Art Lloyd mentioned overnighting #718 to Los Angeles and #711 back to Oakland. Committee Member Hank Fung of Los Angeles County & Committee Member Stacey Mortensen of San Joaquin County also talked about this matter. Larry Miller also chimed in on this discussion in referencing the Bill Kerby Resolution and a prior California Rail News article in which TRACs newspaper headline read: “Fill The Bakersfield Gap First.” Facilitator Art Lloyd suggested including both UP & HSR in a modified letter that was handed out to the committee.

4. Reports

  • Debbie Mullins and Lee Goldenberg provided a marketing report and touched upon the successful online social media marketing campaign as well as National Train Day Events in Fresno, Los Angeles and Martinez on Saturday the 7th of May.
  • Highlights from Amtrak, presented by Rob Eaton
    San Joaquin Performance
    In January, San Joaquin ridership was 72,395 (+1.9%); passenger revenue was $2,398,068 (+10.4%), and endpoint OTP was 90.3%. February ridership was 74,562 (+3.6%); revenue was $2,345165 (+11.9%), and endpoint OTP was 93.5%. Finally, March ridership was 84,210 (+4.7%); monthly revenue was $2,822,616 (+11.7%), and OTP was 86.8%.

    Fleet Plan
    February 2011, Amtrak released its revised fleet plan, which articulates Amtrak’s vision for updating its rolling stock. Amtrak plans to gradually replace and provide a continuing stream of orders sufficient to support domestic intercity rail car manufactures, which are essentially non-existent. In 2009 dollars, replacing Amtrak’s current fleet would require ~$34B. Amtrak placed an order with Siemens (Sacramento, CA) for 70 new electric locomotives to replace all the AEM-7 and HHP-8 locomotives. (Writer’s note: Siemens in Sacramento can also produce diesel electric passenger locomotives.)

    Amtrak Governance
    The Amtrak board still has one remaining vacancy.

  • Highlights from Caltrans Division of Rail, presented by Rick Peterson
  • Train Schedule Changes
    The next Amtrak schedule change takes effect on Monday, May 9, 2011. The San Joaquin, Capitol Corridor, and Pacific Surfliner trains will operate on their present schedules.

    Thruway Bus Initiatives:
    This summer WiFi will be added to Bus Route 18 between Hanford and Santa Maria. This has been well-received by customers on the Coast and Sierra routes.

  • · Summer service from Merced to Yosemite National Park is once again available May 16th through YARTS, with three roundtrip rail connections a day. Amtrak is also offering YARTS Yosemite – Mammoth Lakes bus service for sale June through September. The start date depends on the reopening of Tioga Pass.
  • · La Quinta, Palm Desert and the Morongo Indian Casino at Cabazon, CA bus stops were added as San Joaquin connections in April.
  • · The Red Bluff bus stop will move to the transit center in town on May 9th.
  • · Minor adjustments will be made to the Emeryville-San Francisco Bay Bridge schedules to improve efficiency.
  • · Amtrak will hold its annual Employee Appreciation Day in Bakersfield on May 4th. Coach America (our bus operator) and Amtrak staff are staging a BBQ to celebrate the employees who make coordinated rail and bus service work at Bakersfield for more than 350,000 California riders a year.
  • · In January, Amtrak began to offer a Northern San Joaquin Valley rail connection to the Sunset Limited, Amtrak’s Los Angeles-New Orleans Train. Despite a very tight schedule, Train #702 has made its Train #2 connection at Los Angeles all but once. (Writer’s Note: It was mentioned at the San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee Meeting in Fresno that the “once” the connection was in fact made at Indio.) Amtrak conductors and station staff coordinate to give these connecting riders and their checked bags a priority transfer at Bakersfield.
  • · Bus operations staff has conducted Amtrak training sessions with drivers at all nine of our primary contractors. This training on Amtrak policies and customer service expectations prepares drivers to offer a consistent, positive Thruway experience.
  • eNewsletter

    eNewsletter – May 9, 2011

    It appears at least to this editor that after almost 15 years of planning, economic reality is forcing major replanning for the California High Speed Rail Project. In most cases this seems to be for the best. The possibility of bypassing Palmdale may be motivated to save 30 miles and time to meet the goal of 2 hour and 40 minute running times between Los Angeles and San Francisco with slower speeds in some segments than had been planned. This could be opposed by Los Angeles County Board of Supervisor Michael Antonovich  who is a major supporter of High Speed Rail and has Palmdale in his district. Antonovich is a good example of why High Speed Rail is not a  “Liberal ” issue since he is the most conservative member of the Board of Supervisors. At the very least Antonovich will demand major upgrades for faster Metrolink service in his district. NB  RailPAC eNewsletter for May 9, 2011

    Reports

    CAHSRA Meeting Report

    “Linking the California High Speed Rail Segments in the North State” – May 5, 2011

    Reported by Bill Kerby, RailPAC Treasurer

    The California High Speed Rail Authority met May fifth to receive reports and approve consultant reports for further plans on building four segments of the line from San Francisco to Bakersfield and to approve a $700,000 study on closing the Bakersfield gap with a route to Palmdale via the Grapevine. As for closing the gap, the City of Palmdale argued against the expenditure, citing unnecessary delays in the project by half a year; a representative of landowners along the route cautioned the Board that the new alignment may be possible, but that land acquisition would be expensive; the California Rail Foundation thanked the committee for considering alternatives to the “forty to fifty mile kink” in the mix of alignment alternatives. Continue Reading

    Editorials

    Where are all those bankrupt High Speed Rail Countries?

    Opinion by Noel T. Braymer

    There is nothing new about participants in a debate being selective in the “facts” they use to make their points. Much of the hysteria about High Speed Rail is based on the claim that around the world there are only 2 High Speed Rail routes that have made any money. The basis for this can be traced to a study by the Cato Institute (a libertarian think tank largely funded by Oil interests). The original Tokyo-Osaka Shinkansan line and the Paris-Lyon TGV line are the only 2 so far that have paid off all of their capital costs. That is because it takes time to pay off an investment, these are the oldest HSR lines, and most High Speed Rail services are new. If we used the criteria that a business need pay off all capital costs before being considered “profitable” then we would have few profitable businesses. Lenders are more than happy to lend money as long as an enterprise has the revenue to service the debt. All business depends on credit to function.

    So what is the real story? The new Spanish High Speed Rail service (RENFE AVE) despite the economic problems in that county (20% unemployment) posted a PROFIT for 2010. The new Russian High Speed Rail service between Moscow and St. Petersburg is the only profitable passenger rail service in Russia, averaging over 80% occupancy and is expected to pay off all capital cost in 16 years. In Britain all of the rail passenger services are operated by private companies who only stay in business if they make a profit. High Speed in Britain is “only 140 miles per hour tops” in most cases, but these operators are competing to run trains and make money. In Italy there is a privately owned railroad that is building a national high speed rail network which is starting service this year.  It plans to make money competing with the Italian National Railroad. Both the French National Railroad (SNCF) and German National Railroad (DB) make money. Their most profitable services are their high speed rail passenger services. In fact both railroads are competing against each other. DB is pushing very hard to expand their High Speed Rail service to Paris and London from Germany. In Japan the old National JR railroad was split up years ago into 6 regional privately owned railroads each with their segments of  High Speed Rail. All six companies are profitable and making money with High Speed Rail passenger service.
    Is any country losing money on High Speed Rail? There is Taiwan. They have a new beautiful national system that is very fast. It gets high ridership and there has been a noticeable decline in local air travel. But it is losing money at least for now. The problem for Taiwan is the politicians did go a bit overboard in construction particularly for some very beautiful new stations. Also there are legal limits to how much the trains can charge passengers. The losses are shrinking but it will be some time if ever before the Taiwan service makes an operating profit. But the point is despite the hysteria that our nation will become destitute subsidizing High Speed Rail service, this hasn’t been the experience of other counties. China has the largest High Speed Rail Program in the world. The former chief of China’s railroads was a con man who sought bragging rights by running the world’s fastest trains. He was recently fired, accused of fraud and accepting bribes while embezzling funds to pay for his many girlfriends. China is now lowering some of the speeds of their trains to save money, and lowering fares which many passengers felt were too high. Construction will go on for more High Speed Rail and even in Communist China the railroad is expected to at least break even.
    eNewsletter

    eNewsletter – May 2, 2011

    U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today announced the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) will receive a $100 million grant to purchase domestically manufactured rail passenger cars and locomotives for the Pacific Surfliner and San Joaquin corridors.

    RailPAC E-Newsletter fo May 2, 2011

    Opinions expressed in the RailPAC eNewsletter reflect the opinions of the author and are not necessarily those of RailPAC

    Reports

    National Train Day in California

    Celebrations of National Train Day in California will take place in many locations. This year is the 40th anniversary of the founding of Amtrak. For a list of what will happen this Saturday, May 7, 2011, see: www.nationaltrainday.com/events/other/?st=CA

    Reports

    Sacramento April 28 kick-off event for track relocation and redevelopment of brownfield real estate

    Movement on the Sacramento Railyards Project
    Report, Comments, and Photos by Bill Kerby, RailPAC Treasurer, and Marcia Johnston, RailPAC Director.

    “Begun!” With this message, dignitaries and the air horn of the California State Railroad Museum’s passenger locomotive ex-Southern Pacific #6051, which operated out of Los Angeles in its active days on the Sunset Limited and the Golden State Limited, signaled the realignment of track to move both passenger and freight traffic through the former Southern Pacific Railroad yard was finally under way.

    Workers symbolically aligned a short section of prefabricated track so that its extension would pass under the comparatively short sections of already constructed road overpasses.

    All rail traffic will thread under these underpasses before the tracks split passenger and freight movements on separated routes along lines more reminiscent of the original 1869 path near the shop complex. Train movements are planned for the new alignment in a year. Pedestrian movement will be possible with the construction of new tunnels over the same timeframe. Arrival of the day when the multimodal/high speed rail terminal, a union station of the future—as described by Joel Szabat , Deputy Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy in the U.S. Department of Transportation—will be constructed and then Sacramento can proclaim that the project is, as the famous telegraph message stated with the driving of the last spike on the transcontinental railroad 142 years ago: Done!

    Congresswoman Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento, spoke at the event.

    Working on a current plan involving a dozen sources of funding, including as Congresswoman Doris Matsui pointed out, $26 million of federal fiscal stimulus money, are the band of funders who expect to build a new city within a city. Moving the track just a few hundred yards opens the way for development of a high-rise federal courthouse and a new intermodal complex. The existing depot will remain in place for modified uses, not yet specified. Numerous controversies and a bankruptcy ultimately led to a consensus plan for the transportation footprint through the yards. Though blocked in the past, now we can have “Full Steam Ahead in Sacramento.”

    Continuation of the tradition of building locomotives and cars in the Sacramento area required relocation from highly valuable downtown real estate to more industrial locations. Siemens Mobility systems extends the tradition of building rail equipment with the expansion of their manufacturing complex in Sacramento County, where they are embarking on the manufacture of seventy electric passenger locomotives for use on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor while continuing to build vehicles that populate light rail lines for cities across the United States and Canada. Just as the 19th and 20th century factory complex that currently stands in Sacramento employed hundreds of skilled men and women who churned out railroad engines and cars, the twenty first century Siemens plant employs more than 800 people performing high quality work with state of the art capital facilities. Tomorrow’s visitors to the Historic Shop complex will learn how the past has shaped the present and will continue to influence the future.