Monthly Archives

June 2011

eNewsletter

eNewsletter for June 27, 2011

Truck collides with Amtrak train in Nevada  Reuters Dan Whitcomb – Jun 24, 2011 The truck drove into the side of an Amtrak train carrying 204 passengers and 14 crew members at a railroad crossing east of Reno, Amtrak said in a written statement. The westbound California Zephyr was en route from Chicago to Emeryville, California. .. Over two dozen unaccounted for in Nevada truck-train wreck Los Angeles Times – Jack Dolan, Ralph Vartabedian – Jun 26, 2011 Emergency workers find two more bodies, bringing the death toll to at least six. Witnesses say the semi driver tried to stop. Six people are confirmed dead and about 28 remained unaccounted for following the fiery collision of the California Zephyr …June 27, 2011

eNewsletter

eNewsletter for June 20, 2011

It would seem that the engineers working for the Los Angeles MTA think there is not enough room for a track 16. This 8.5 million dollar project will repair all the canopies and build matching ones for the restored tracks. There will be other upgrades and track 7 will be upgraded and used as a joint Amtrak/Metrolink track. Congestion at LAUS is already bad and will get worse. The long term solution is to build run-through trackage at LAUS. Below is a plan of the existing station trackage with run-through tracks.Tracks 3-8 are shown being used by High Speed Rail Trains.Tracks 9-11 would be shared Amtrak-Metrolink tracks and the other tracks would be stub end tracks for Amtrak and Metrolink NB. June 20, 2011

eNewsletter

eNewsletter for June 13, 2011

“We don’t want the West to go and find alternatives,” Alwaleed, a nephew of Saudi King Abdullah, said in an interview on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS,” scheduled for broadcast today. “The higher the price of oil goes, the more they have incentives to go and find alternatives.”June 13, 2011

Reports

Capitol Corridor JPB June meeting report

Reported by Bruce Jenkins, RailPAC Director

Following are items of interest which were discussed and acted upon at the Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Board meeting on June 8, 2011 in Suisun City CA.

  • 1. WiFi service should be available at no charge to passengers by November of this year. This service will not accommodate down-loading movies, or other large capacity down loads.
  • 2. The Revised Budget was approved for Security Camera Installation at all Capitol Corridor stations.
  • 3. Capitol Corridor service to the Santa Clara station should start by November of this year. Construction of a 700 foot platform and pedestrian tunnel is near completion. This service will provide Capitol Corridor riders easy access to VTA free shuttle service to San Jose Minetta International Airport.
  • 4. The Proposed grade crossing at the Davis station has several problems. Union Pacific opposes it, and is installing a fence. The city is very concerned about emergency access to the adjacent neighborhood. Under-track grade separation is not feasible due to ground water problems and lack of funds. The board opposed taking action now and will revisit this issue at a later date.
  • 5. Union Pacific cooperation is “exemplary.” On time performance has been very satisfactory and UP has received $3mil in incentive fees.
  • 6. New rolling stock and clean locomotives are coming. Some cab cars are being modified by removal of lower deck seats to provide additional space for baggage and bike storage. Since the San Joaquin trains see more checked baggage these modified cars will be swapped to the Valley service.
  • Editorials

    Does a Railroad Need to Own its Tracks?

    Commentary by Noel T. Braymer

    Back in the 1960’s “everyone knew” that the railroads in the United States were going out of business. Actually the smaller railroads and the Class Is in the Mid-West and the North East were in trouble. My Father told me in the 1970’s that he thought that the solution to the problems of rail service in the 1960’s would be to nationalize the rail infrastructure but not the rail operating companies. The government would rebuild the railroads and then lease operating rights to the private companies. Part of his plan was to open new markets to carriers with increased sharing of routes. This would open up more competition and expand rail service to more regions. This would be for both expanded freight and passenger service. But of course no one listened to my Father about railroads in the 1960’s.

    The two sickest railroads of the 1960’s were the New York Central and Pennsylvania Railroad. Many factories relocated away from the North East and Mid-West by this time and the rust belt had begun. While freight traffic declined for these two railroads, they were the less than proud owners of the busiest rail passenger lines, particularly commuter services in the county. The two railroads claimed the solution of all their problems would be solved if only they could merge. After years of delays finally the old ICC (Interstate Commerce Commission) approved the merger in 1968 as the Penn Central Railroad. The next year the Penn Central Railroad declared bankruptcy.

    The hope was that by getting the Penn Central out of the passenger business it would be able to get out of bankruptcy. The plan for this new Passenger Only Railroad originally called Railpax was modeled on the old Pullman Company. Pullman not only built rail passenger cars, but for years contracted with the railroads to provide the first class service for sleeping and dining car passengers. The point of this plan was to free this new passenger rail service of the cost of owning the overhead of the infrastructure and instead just to pay rent for the part that they used. To make this new company look less like a bail out for the Penn Central an effort was made to include all intercity rail passenger service in it. Most of the Class 1 railroads had only long distance passenger service, unlike the Penn Central with short haul and commuter service mostly in the North East. The railroads were not excited about turning over their passenger service to Railpax. The railroads preferred to have full control over the traffic on their railroad. The long distance passenger trains weren’t making money, but operating them didn’t cost the railroads much either. The biggest headache was the cost of maintaining secondary rail lines to passenger standards. With some incentives most but not all the railroads joined Railpax which when opened for business as Amtrak in 1971 ushering in the elimination of half of the passenger rail service in this country.

    Amtrak ran at a loss and the government subsidized operation: in 1973 Amtrak lost a grand total 159 million dollars. Not long after this an effort was made to reorganize the Penn Central to make it profitable. During this time many of the commuter operations were transferred to local governments and in 1976 ownership of most of the trackage between Boston and Washington was given to Amtrak which was counter to the original concept of Railpax. Conrail as the reorganized Penn Central finally became profitable and the government sold it off to private investors in 1987. By 1980 after being given ownership of the Boston-Washington Northeast Corridor, Amtrak’s subsidy needs exploded to over a billion dollars.

    In the 1990’s Europe started to privatize rail service. Today as part of this process most of the counties of the European Union have separated ownership of the rail infrastructure from the operation of rail service. Some counties still have national rail services such as France and Germany but these operations are expected to run at a profit. Some services such as commuter service receive subsidy from their government. With infrastructure no longer owned by the operators this is opening up more trans-European freight and passenger rail service. German national railroad DB is aggressively working on expanding freight and passenger service to Britain and France. Each country has different methods of ownership of rail infrastructure. Ownership of infrastructure is not highly profitable. In many countries the rail infrastructure is subsidized to varying levels. In the 1990’s Britain tried to operate Railtrack, the owner of the British rail infrastructure as a for profit corporation. Track conditions got worse not better and by 2001 Railtrack was bankrupt and soon reorganized as Network Rail as a non- profit.

    The difference between rail and other transportation services in this county is rail is the only one that owns its own infrastructure. This is a large reason railroads often went bankrupt before 1980 and had low rates of return on investment. Today the railroads are in much better shape because they have been able to rid themselves of most of the secondary and branch lines which had high costs and low income. Today the railroads are not interested in selling off more of their infrastructure. But federal, state and local governments between 1970 and 2000 did buy many miles of railroad. The question is how best to use these assets and how best to pay to maintain them needs to be found.


    eNewsletter

    eNewsletter for May 31, 2011

    The plan to turn over planning and operation of High Speed Rail on the 437 miles between Washington and Boston to a private company is based on experiences in other counties. The 117 billion dollar, 30 year plan for 200 plus mile per hour service proposed by Amtrak is daunting at best. What is not talked about in the press about the Mica/Shuster proposal is the creation of a new body which would own the NEC infrastructure but not run the trains. Such a new body would benefit Amtrak since much of Amtrak’s deficit comes from ownership of the NEC. Enewsletter May 31, 2011

    Commentary

    AMTRAK Long Distance trains at 40 And, what they still need is more cars!

    Comments by Russ Jackson

    That was then: Forty years is a long time. In this report let’s first take a look at where the western long distance trains started for Amtrak, and then look at today. Charting will be for two trains that were in the Amtrak official timetable #1 for May 1, 1971, which was quickly replaced with a new one on July 12. (this copy is from the author’s collection of all Amtrak national timetables to date). Then the May, 1991 national timetable which was in effect when this writer became editor of RailPAC’s Western Rail Passenger Review, and then we do a comparison of those past schedules with the 40th anniversary 2011 national system timetable which is available now at all Amtrak staffed stations.

    Trains 1 and 2, the Sunset Limited. We all know what the problem with this train has been and continues to be: Tri-weekly (also said as tri-weakly) service from day 1, thanks to the inherited schedule from the Southern Pacific, and it continues to run today with nearly full loads despite the very bad schedule.
    1971 Dp NOrl 1:00 PM; Dp Phx 10:50 PM; Ar LA 7:30 AM Su,W,F 44.5 hrs
    1991 Dp NOrl 2:15 PM; Dp Phx 10:31 PM; Ar LA 7:00 AM M,W,F 42.75 hrs
    2011 Dp NOrl 11:55 AM; Dp Mar 11:57 PM; Ar LA 8:30 AM Su,W,F 44.5 hrs *

    1971 Dp LA 10:00 PM; Dp Phx 8:10 AM; Ar NOrl 8:00 PM Su,Tu,Th 44 hrs
    1991 Dp LA 10:50 PM; Dp Phx 7:20 AM; Ar NOrl 7:50 PM Su,Tu,Th 43 hrs
    2011 Dp LA 3:00 PM; Dp Mar 10:38 PM; Ar NOrl 2:55 PM Su,Tu,F 48 hrs *
    *NOTE: In 2011 the trains do not go through Phoenix, a major city now without train service, and there are generous amounts of built-in recovery times throughout the route. In 1971 the schedule called for Yuma to Tucson via Phoenix to be 6 hours; in 1991 6 1/2 hours; in 2011 4 3/4 hours via Maricopa. If Phoenix were still on the schedule an hour and a half would have to be added to the 2011 schedule.

    Trains 3 and 4, the Southwest Chief. In 1971 timetable #1 this train had numbers 17 and 18 and was named “Super Chief-El Capitan,” continuing its inherited Santa Fe tradition.
    1971 Dp Chi 6:30 PM; Ar LA 9:00 AM; daily 40.5 hrs *
    1991 Dp Chi 5:00 PM; Ar LA 8:10 AM; daily 41.25 hrs
    2011 Dp Chi 3:00 PM; Ar LA 8:15 AM; daily 43 hrs

    1971 Dp LA 7:30 PM; Ar Chi 1:30 PM; daily 42 hrs *
    1991 Dp LA 8:30 PM; Ar Chi 3:50 PM; daily 42.25 hrs
    2011 Dp LA 6:15 PM; Ar Chi 3:15 PM; daily 45 hrs
    * NOTE: In 1971 the train did not go via Topeka, KS, which adds one hour to the schedule.

    While running times and scheduled departures have remained fairly consistent for these trains, for others it has been all over the map. Several interesting changes from 1971: then the Coast Starlight was the first west coast train to travel from Seattle to, first, San Diego. It ran tri-weekly north of Oakland and from Los Angeles to San Diego, but daily from Oakland to Los Angeles. In 1971 there were only two daily round trip San Diegans between Los Angeles and San Diego, no San Joaquins, and no Capitols. Originally, the California Zephyr was scheduled to travel its current route, but when the D&RGW railroad decided to opt out of Amtrak it ran via Wyoming and operated daily from Chicago to Denver but tri-weekly between Denver and Oakland. The Empire Builder did not have a Portland section, and crossed the Cascades in Washington going via Yakima instead of Wenatchee. All this was accomplished using low level cars and locomotives that were 20 years old and operating crews they inherited from the freight railroads.

    This is now: In the July, 2011 issue of Trains magazine, writer Bob Johnston has written a review of Amtrak’s past, dividing its history into five sections, and comparing “then” to “now.” For example, section one, “Wake-up call,” says “Then: equipment had to be ordered and funded.” Sadly, “Now: equipment has to be ordered and funded.” While that is important for all parts of the system, including the Northeast Corridor, Amtrak has neglected its long distance trains badly. In his presentation to the RailPAC-NARP meeting in March, 2011, Minnesota’s Andrew C. Selden said, “Amtrak has made no significant investment in its long distance services in 20 years, and now plans only to replace its Superliner I cars, not to grow its long distance fleet or network.” Mr. Selden’s comments and data explaining all this were published in the May-June issue of the RailPAC newsletter.

    On May 17, 2011, Amtrak CEO Joseph Boardman told the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee, “You are not going to cut costs far enough on the long-distance trains to make (them) profitable.” This statement came after Amtrak’s West Coast Superintendent, William Duggan, spoke to the RailPAC meeting, revealing (with a power point visual) that “Sleeping car ticket revenue makes a positive contribution to Amtrak’s bottom line.” That is what RailPAC, URPA, and most objective long distance train advocates have been saying for too many years, but Amtrak has not been willing to fund additional cars that will contribute positively to that bottom line, instead choosing to invest only in corridor trains that are paid for by the states (except in the NEC). Mr. Selden says, “Amtrak is turning away boatloads of money for want of new capacity.” As RailPAC President, Paul Dyson, says, “More cars on the (existing) trains means more revenue and smaller deficits. The true deficit is in management, not dollars.”

    So, we can all agree that adding additional high-revenue cars to existing trains, those that will run every day (including the daily Sunset Limited eventually), is where Amtrak should be concentrating its efforts, right? RailPAC’s Noel Braymer suggests, “How about private financing (safe-harbor leasing) with a business plan to pay for them with increased revenues? With California about to order new bi-level cars how about Amtrak getting an ‘add-on’ to that order for new hulls at least.”

    We must add a caution written by Mr. Selden to us that it “will take hundreds of new cars–effectively deployed in high revenue services–to get to break-even. But, local wisdom in St. Paul is that there never will be a fourth sleeper on the Builder because the diner is swamped as it is and they couldn’t feed another carload of passengers. Personal observation is that they’re right. The diner in mid-summer (i.e., for the four peak months) is dreadful in terms of regimentation and rushed service, and stress on an understaffed crew.” After a trip on the Empire Builder, where he is a National Park Service volunteer in the Rails-Trails program narrating the trip between Minneapolis and Wisconsin Dells, Mr. Selden wrote that “All three sleepers were all but sold out on both trains and would be sold out west of Minneapolis. Coaches were about 2/3 occupied so statistically sold-out due to down-line sales.” And this on a train that has had many on-time problems this winter and spring. RailPAC VP South James Smith returned from a round trip on the Southwest Chief from Los Angeles to Chicago and reported the same sold-out condition in May, before the official travel season begins. People want to ride…something must be done for these western trains besides just replacing cars one-for-one if Amtrak really wants to grow financially and calm the criticism thrown at them. Or do they?
    Russ Jackson, a retired California college instructor, was a RailPAC officer and editor, and is VP of the United Rail Passenger Alliance now living near Dallas, Texas.