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.
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