Monthly Archives

January 2012

Commentary, Reports

San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee takes stand on Closing the HSR Gap

January 26 Meeting Report by Mike Barnbaum, RailPAC Associate Director
Part 1 of 2 reports from that day. Headlines:

    SJVRC Passes Resolution Supporting Closure of the Southern Gap
    Caltrans’ Bill Bronte drops a bombshell
    SJVRC is urged to revive the idea of a JPA for the Corridor

Rail was all over the Northern California Map on Thursday the 26th of January as both the San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee held its quarterly meeting at the Castle Air Conference Center in Atwater, and the Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority held its final Draft Business Plan Update Workshop for FY’s 2012-2013 & 2013-2014 onboard Train #538 between Richmond & Sacramento. This writer attended both meetings and found out some interesting news on station facilities, budgets & staffing, as well as service changes that have occurred and will be occurring. Enjoy the reading, as there is much to cover through this electronic communication including an entire resolution on the Bakersfield – Los Angeles Gap Closure.

The San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee was called to order by 10:50am with roll being called and a quorum being established. After the Pledge of Allegiance and the adoption of the minutes of the last meeting, the San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee passed a resolution supporting Railroad Safety and Passenger Rail Improvement Projects. It was after this resolution that the Gap Closure Items were called by Chair John Pedrozo of Merced County and an interesting discussion took place. The discussion first surrounded around an Ad-Hoc Committee consisting of a dozen or more people of a study done by the California Department of Transportation Division of Rail (CalTrans Division of Rail). Many speakers spoke their piece about the work of the Ad-Hoc Committee including Stacey Mortensen of San Joaquin County, Matt Machado of Stanislaus County, and Angelo Lamas of Merced County. Howard Abelson of Conta Costa County asked Stacey Mortensen about a “Plan B” if the High Speed Rail does not go through. Stacey mentioned that there is one developing in the works and that a report back to the San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee is coming. Bob Snoddy of Kern County mentioned on going work that work get “incremental” improvements to Metrolink service based in Southern California that would bring Metrolink to Bakersfield. Bruce Heard of Los Angeles County Agreed to Bob Snoody’s statements, as did Supervisor Dave Rodgers of Madera County. The vote was called for with Dave Rodgers making the motion and Bruce Heard seconding the motion. It passed unanimously and reads as follows:

Resolution Supporting Closure of the Passenger Rail Gap Between Bakersfield and Los Angeles Stations

    WHEREAS, the San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee (SJVRC) was created by the California State Legislature to advise CalTrans, Amtrak, federal governments and their rail agencies on behalf of the thirteen counties served by Amtrak’s San Joaquin Service – being Alameda, Contra Costa, Fresno, Kern, Kings, Los Angeles, Madera, Mariposa, Merced, Sacramento, San Joaquin, Stanislaus and Tulare Counties; and,

    WHEREAS, the mission of the Committee in providing such advice is to promote ridership on San Joaquin trains connecting the Sacramento and San Francisco Bay Area to Southern California via the San Joaquin Valley and to monitor and suggest legislation pertinent to passenger rail and the San Joaquin train service to state and federal representatives; and,

    WHEREAS, the San Joaquin Corridor is the 5th busiest corridor compared to other Amtrak passenger rail corridors nationwide and California passenger riders represent approximately 20% of the total passenger rail travelers nationwide; and,

    WHEREAS, the SJVRC recognizes the vital importance and reliability of the Bakersfield to Southern California bus links to the San Joaquin Corridor, the SJVRC acknowledges that, through customer satisfaction surveys, riders have listed the bus segment as the least desirable portion of their trip; and,

    WHEREAS, the SJVRC concurs with the two largest passenger rail advocacy groups in the state, Train Riders Association of California (TRAC) and Rail Passengers Association of California (RailPAC), along with many other advocates and analysts, who observe that by far the most valuable addition to the state’s passenger rail infrastructure would be a rail link that close the generation’s old “gap” between Bakersfield and Los Angeles.

    BE IT NOW THEREFORE RESOLVED that on this day, January 26, 2012, the San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee strongly recommends that the development/construction of a passenger rail link between the Bakersfield and Los Angeles stations be of the highest priority for the installation of any state wide rail system, whether this be high speed rail or conventional rail.

    I, JOHN PEDROZO, Chair of the San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee, do hereby certify that the forgoing resolution was regularly introduced, passed, and adopted by said Committee at a regular meeting thereof held on the 26th day of January 2012 by a unanimous vote.

The meeting continued after the “Gap Closure” Resolution passed by unanimous vote with Yosemite Area Regional Transit System General Manager, Dick Whittington making a presentation about ridership and park visitation to Yosemite National Park. The YARTS Service runs from Merced to Yosemite year-round with a Summer Seasonal Extension to Mammoth Mountain in MONO County. Dick mentioned that 700,000 people visited Yosemite National Park in July as well as August of 2011. These were record numbers for park visitation. It was mentioned that Amtrak Ridership and YARTS ridership is up, as well as park visitation. The only concern in the presentation is that Amtrak Thruway ridership is down. When discussion took place, Ty Holscher of Tulare County asked whether it would be possible to ban cars altogether to/from Yosemite. Whittington mentioned that that idea is in the park plan, but park management does not think it’s feasable for now. Andrew Felden of Amtrak and Amtrak Thruway Bus Operations, based in Sacramento, mentioned that he heard of some information that is coming in regards to some joint marketing with Amtrak, CalTrans, and National Parks that may include a promotion.

Amtrak Government Affairs made a presentation that was given by Alex Khalfin of the Port of Oakland. In his summary there was a lowlight, for lack of a better word, that included the following in the printed report:

On November 18, 2011, the President signed into law H.R. 2112, the “Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2012.” H.R. 2112 includes funding for Amtrak for the current fiscal year at $1.418 billion, including $466 million for operating, $616 million for capital, and $271 million for debt service. This represents the lowest federal appropriation for Amtrak since FY08, and the second year in a row in which Amtrak has received less than the previous year.

For the Federal Fiscal Year 2011, that ended back on September 30, 2011, San Joaquin ridership was 1,067,441 (+9.2%); passenger revenue was $35,704,109 (+13.9%); endpoint OTP was 89.5%. The + percentages in parenthesis representa the increase over the previous Federal Fiscal Year.

In the State Budget Presentation, Bill Bronte delivered a “bombshell” to the San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee. As proposed, the Governor’s January Budget Proposal would virtually wipe out the people in the Division of Rail. The nineteen people today in Operations, Marketing, and Planning would be forced to lose fifteen people. The five people in marketing would be cut to just one and the three in rail operations would be cut to just one. There is a “Walking of the Halls” event in Sacramento scheduled for Thursday the 16th day of February 2012 to stop this part of the budget proposal from going through as well as an educational effort and awareness campaign making legislators aware of AmtrakCalifornia and its success in California with Amtrak as the chosen operator.

The good news from Bill Bronte is that AmtrakCalifornia is now positioned to go after Federal Funding, thanks in large part because capital programming has been done on several projects throughout the San Joaquin Valley. Work is ongoing, mainly through Positive Train Control, better known as PTC, to see that each trip can go 90mph. The improved speeds, will soon allow for planning of the next roundtrip, and hopefully get up to 11 roundtrips in the Valley. Both Bill Bronte of CalTrans and Anthony Chapa of Amtrak mentioned a piece about the upcoming delivery of “Comet” Cars. These cars were previously used by New Jersey Transit and will most likely be on the San Joaquin by Labor Day 2012. This, in the interim, will increase train lengths and provide a benefit for both the Capitol Corridor as well as the San Joaquin.

Andrew Felden of Amtrak and Alan Miller of CalTrans talked about upcoming Thruway Bus Activities and service changes on the Pacific Surfliner Line that has benefits for folks riding Amtrak in the San Joaquin Valley.

A new contract was awarded to Coach America with new buses on the way. The new buses will have Power Outlets, Tables, and Wireless Fidelity, better referred to as Wi-Fi. Three routes will be tested in selling E-Tickets as soon as the E-Ticketing Program is rolled out on Amtrak Trains. Those routes operate between Stackton and Redding, Sacramento and Sparks or South Lake Tahoe, as well as Emeryville to San Francisco. Other routes will come online afterwards. In May, with the new aligned tracks coming online at Sacramento Valley Station, more time will be given to all Thruway Services so as to allow passengers the time needed to walk to/from the new train platforms. This will likely occur over the Weekend of National Train Day, which according to http://www.nationaltrainday.com/ is scheduled for Saturday the 12th day of May, 2012. Since most schedule changes on Amtrak occur on Monday, rather than on Sunday, as is the case with Transit Operators like the Sacramento Regional Transit District, the AmtrakCalifornia service changes and new tracks will likely become available to riders beginning no later than Monday the 14th day of May 2012, but no earlier than Monday the 7th day of May 2012. If there is going to be any grand opening celebration of this magnitude at the Sacramento Valley Station commemorating the opening of the new train tracks, event organizers will need to make sure that any elected officials and/or other dignitaries have their calendar cleared in May through the 14th, and for sure on National Train Day itself, the 12th day of May 2012.

Last but not least, Stacey Mortensen asked for an item to come back regarding pursuing legislation in Sacramento that would provide the San Joaquin with JPA Powers and Authority. It was mentioned, by Stacey that folks in the LOS-SAN Corridor in Southern California are pursuing such a matter that is modeled after what is in place to day at the Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority in Northern California.

With this request, the meeting adjourned with a reminder from new Chair Vito Chiesa of Stanislaus County and new Vice-Chair Dave Rogers of Madera County that the next meeting of the San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee will “tentatively” be on Thursday the 26th day of April 2012 in Fresno. The location and times, based on train running times, will be put together by CalTrans Division of Rail and sent under a separate mailing in Early April so that those riding to the meeting will have ample time to purchase their tickets.

E-mail: mike_barnbaum@comcast.net

Reports

Capitol Corridor considers Draft Business/Operating Plan

Report and a Commentary by Mike Barnbaum, RailPAC Associate Director
Part 2 from January 26, 2011 day of two meetings. Headlines:

    Implement additional service to Placer County
    Reduce number of trains from 16 roundtrips to 15

After riding Train #521 from Sacramento to Oakland at 4:30am and Train #712 from Oakland to “Atwater”/Merced for the San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee, this writer/rider boarded Train #713 from “Atwater”/Merced to Emeryville for the goal and purpose of meeting Train #538 that was operating from San Jose to Sacramento. The connection was successful and entry was made in the rear-most Coach Car where Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority Transportation Officer, Hubert Hanrahan was onboard having a few seats held for riders wanting to take in the conversation of the Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority Draft Two-Year Business Plan.

Much about the business plan was discusses from Wi-Fi and food service to baggage service and bicycle storage. The main topic of this Business Plan Workshop focused on service frequencies, service consolidation, service expansion, and funding.

A temporary Capitol Corridor Timetable will be issued prior to the May 2012 Service Changes solely for the purpose of introducing riders to the joint CalTrain – Capitol Corridor Station known as Downtown Santa Clara/University Station. More information will be provided about this station in the Managing Director’s Report to the CCJPA Board on February 15, 2012 beginning at 10:00 A.M. inside Suisun City Hall Council Chambers.

The majority of the discussion was mainly about what is coming in May. From a page out of the “Draft” Business Plan, here is what is coming as far as proposed service is concerned and what riders should look ahead to. The wording in the “Draft” Business Plan Reads as Follows and was a major topic of the conversation held back on January 26th aboard Train #538 between Richmond and Sacramento:

FY 2012-13 and FY 2013-14 Operating Plan

FY 2012-13. With the completion of the Sacramento Railyards Relocation Project (Phase 1) and recognizing the limited financial (operating and capital) support from the State, the CCJPA plans to implemant a service plan for FY 2012-13 that optimizes available resources and meets ridership demand. The CCJPA will redeploy the trainsets used in the morning, which will reduce the weekday service levels from 32 trains (16 round trips) to 30 trains (15 round trips) by eliminating a low performance Oakland-to-Sacramento morning train (20 riders per weekday) and merging two, late weekday evening Sacramento-to-Oakland trains into one trip. The lost ridership and revenue (less than $100,000) are offset by the larger operating cost savings of approximately $1 million. This rationalization of the service plan will keep operating costs, especially diesel fuel purchases, under control, while ensuring the continued operation of high-performing trains. The corresponding CCJPA’s operating plan for FY 2012-13 will be as follows, unless additional capital funding is secured to implement more train service to Placer County resulting in a net increase in system ridership and revenue:
Sacramento – Oakland: 30 weekday trains (22 weekend day trains)
Oakland – San Jose: 14 daily trains
Sacramento – Roseville – Auburn: 2 daily trains (potential expansion to 4)
Closing Report Comments: CCJPA “Draft” Business Plan & “Draft” Operating Plan for Fiscal Years 2012-2013 & 2013-2014
All of the above in CCJPA’s “Draft” Business Plan are true and correct to what has been written. The “Draft” Business Plan is subject to approval by the CCJPA Board on Wednesday 15 February 2012 beginning at 10:00am in the City Council Chambers of the City of Suisun City.

In this section, I will provide written comments to the “Draft” Operating Plan. These are my own comments and through this disclosure, do not necessarily reflect the views of the Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority, its Board Members, CalTrans Division of Rail, Union Pacific Railroad, any transit agency that supports the Capitol Corridor, nor do these comments reflect the views of any rail advocacy group including, but not limited to Train Riders Association of California (TRAC), Rail Passenger Association of California (RailPAC) or the Station Host Association of California, which consists of Volunteer Station Hosts for the staffed stations throughout Northern California, San Luis Obispo, and the San Joaquin Valley. Here then is my take on the “draft” operating plan:

    Continue to Operate Train #518 (Oakland – Sacramento) if it can be interlined into Train #702 (Sacramento – Bakersfield).

    While consolidating weekday Train #549; Train #551 into 1 (Sacramento – Oakland) run, allow “Aero” to transfer to bus #4768 @ OKJ, not EMY.
    A quick footnote in that currently, Bus #4768 (Oakland – Santa Barbara) departs Jack London Square at 10:00pm, transfers riders to Train #768.

    Interline Train #703 (Bakersfield – Sacramento) @ SAC into a new Capitol Corridor Train that would terminate at Oakland Jack London Square.

    Extend Eastbound Capitol Corridor Train #538 (San Jose – Sacramento) to Roseville, Rocklin, Auburn and then terminate at Auburn Conheim.

    Originate Capitol Corridor Train #527 (Sacramento – San Jose) at Auburn Conheim and serve Auburn, Rocklin, Roseville first, then Sacramento.

    Originate Weekend #720 and Weekday #520 in San Jose as the eighth Eastbound train “from” San Jose Diridon Station.

    At 7:10 P.M. Daily, operate likely new Train #549; existing #749 from Sacramento to San Jose as the eighth Westbound train “to” San Jose.

E-mail: mike_barnbaum@comcast.net

eNewsletter

eNewsletter for January 23, 2012

In the media the rule for running a story is “If it bleeds it leads”. The High Speed Rail project has bled a great deal. That doesn’t mean it is dead. There is still major support for this project by powerful interests. There is also strong support by the public for better and economical rail passenger service. Few politicians will give up money that has been allocated and they can be very flexible to prevent that from happening. The State has to start construction this year to qualify for the 3 billion dollars in Federal High Speed Rail funds. There are plenty of  rail projects in the State that have waited years for funding that can qualify for this money. To create faster rail service in California will require realism about future financing and avoiding pointless legal battles to shave off seconds in the running time. … If we just had rail service between Northern and Southern California which was time competitive with the auto: under 6 hours and cost competitive as well it would be a great start and heavily used. NB

January 23, 2012

The above copy of this enewletter is on a PDF file and  you will not be able to click on to the links in blue. If you would like an emailed copy of this enewsletter or to subscribe to it email nbraymer@railpac.org

 

 

Commentary

RailPAC tells LOSSAN: Position on Governance

Comments to the LOSSAN Board, January 25, 2012 by Paul J. Dyson, RailPAC President.

Back in the 80s an ad hoc coalition of elected representatives and advocates including RailPAC were successful in bringing about an increase in frequency of the San Diegan trains as they were called then, and their extension to Santa Barbara.

What we did not have was the plethora of agencies that we have today, many of which are represented in this room. And I feel compelled to say that the progress made in this intercity corridor in those years by a small group of bipartisan, public spirited individuals was at least as great, year over year, as the accomplishments of all the Boards and agencies that have been conjured into existence in the last two decades.

Furthermore, based on a brief perusal of the documents which have been circulated prior to this meeting regarding the proposed Joint Powers Authority, it seems to me that there are agencies which are deliberately obstructing progress towards a more efficient, reliable, and speedy intercity service. Many of you will have read our publications and a couple of stories; one about the “Berlin Wall” at Oceanside, the other entitled “So many agencies, so little service”. Many of you will be all too well aware that the owners of the rights of way give priority to their “own” trains, and are content to delay Surfliner trains in order to maintain their own performance statistics, even if from a system point of view the right thing to do would be to take a small delay on their own train for the greater good of the travelling public.

Now RailPAC has consistently called for a single regional agency to operate passenger trains in Southern California. However, we have been asked by a number of elected officials to support this body’s attempt to reorganize itself into a JPA to more directly manage this corridor. Recognizing the institutional relationships and the agencies already in place, I will state that RailPAC strongly supports the creation of a LOSSAN Joint Powers Authority. However, we do so with the caveat that this has to be an interim step on the way to a unified authority. We see such a single agency as the only way to overcome the turf battles that are unacceptable to railroad passengers and taxpayers in general. We are paying the salaries around here and the lack of cooperation between public agencies is totally unacceptable. The cardinal principle here should be that public agencies have a collective responsibility to deliver value for money service to passengers and taxpayers. Cooperation, and setting regional needs over local control, is a requirement, not an option.

Paul Dyson
President
pdyson@railpac.org

eNewsletter

eNewsletter for January 16, 2012

Amtrak admits that the average age of its equipment is older now than it was when it “inherited” its original equipment from the railroads in 1971. Most of the Superliner equipment is now 32 years old and even the newest is 19 years old. Of the 479 Superliner cars originally ordered at least 49 over the years have been lost due to accidents. The routes that have Superliner equipment have the highest occupancy rates at Amtrak and often turn away passengers because of lack of equipment. Yet Amtrak has no plans to buy additional equipment for the Superliner routes to even keep up with lost equipment let alone to increase ridership and revenues on existing trains. NB

January 16, 2012

The above copy of this enewletter is on a PDF file and  you will not be able to click on to the links in blue. If you would like an emailed copy of this enewsletter or to subscribe to it email nbraymer@railpac.org

Commentary

Amtrak to the West: Forget the future

Commentary by Russ Jackson, and a few photos
The future of Amtrak’s western long-distance trains became clearer after Amtrak CEO Joseph Boardman issued his “Aggressive Agenda for 2012″ on January 11, 2012. The future is bleak.

Isn’t there an old adage that it’s not what you say it’s what you don’t say? Or is it the old adage that keeping silent is worth a thousand words? In the case of Amtrak’s premier showcase for most of the United States, the western long-distance trains, the silence in that report is deafening. Let’s review the past few months:

1. On October 29, Trains magazine writer Fred Frailey reported that at least five long-distance trains were in jeopardy, the Sunset Limited, Cardinal, Silver Star, Crescent, and Southwest Chief, and that Mr. Boardman had set the internal priorities of the company to be the Northeast Corridor #1, the state-supported corridor trains, such as California’s, #2, and the long-distance trains a distant #3. Mr. Boardman was quoted by Mr. Frailey, and it was in other publications such as RailPAC’s, as telling a U.S. Senator that the reason for Amtrak’s bad economic straits was the long-distance trains. See “Amtrak long-distance trains: the kinda good, the pretty bad, the really ugly” posted in October on www.railpac.org. In that article this writer concluded by saying “All rail passenger advocates like us must be aware of what is likely to be coming from Amtrak in the next few months,” and that decisions may have already been made “so watch out in January.”

2. On December 12 Trains writer Don Phillips reported an interview he had with Mr. Boardman after a meeting where the Amtrak CEO stated that company operations “outside the Northeast Corridor do not cover their basic operating costs, so what should we stop doing?” He included the state-supported corridor trains “until you add in the state support.” In the interview Mr. Boardman told Don Phillips that the long-distance trains are “sacrosanct,” and the trains will not go away as long as he is Amtrak President. See “We hear you, Mr. Boardman, now let’s see some Action” posted in early December on www.railpac.org. This information from Mr. Boardman was encouraging, and we looked forward to a brighter day.

Well, it’s January, 2012 and the sounds of silence appeared in “Amtrak Moves Aggressive Agenda for 2012,” where they say “America’s Railroad is building for the future.” That future appears to be a withering of the long-distance trains by neglect while the company pretends to “strengthen current services.” What is in this “Agenda”? As expected, the already announced order for 70 new electric locomotives (NEC), 130 new single-level long-distance cars (Eastern routes only), plus a high-capacity next-generation high-speed rail system (NEC), upgrading tracks, bridges and other infrastructure (NEC) (which he claims are essential for supporting our national network), expanding Acela Express capacity (NEC), additional capacity into Manhattan, NY, (NEC), improving ADA station accessibility (not specified), development of the on board e-ticketing and the next generation reservation system (NEC and Corridors first), new technology for onboard food sales (NEC and Corridors first), 160 MPH HSR upgrades along a 24-mile section in New Jersey (NEC) , Positive Train Control (NEC first), and expanding the Amtrak Police Department (NEC). Oh, they throw in a Seattle, Washington Maintenance Facility (for the Cascade Corridor).

Amtrak has police dogs! These two were being shown to folks who came to see the Amtrak 40th anniversary train at the Ft.Worth, TX Intermodal station on January 7, 2012. (Russ Jackson photo)

Did you see anything for the western long-distance trains in there? After this presentation, Mr. Boardman opened the press conference to questions and then the fun began. Here are the highlights:

1. As quoted by all reporters present, Mr. Boardman said that Amtrak “won’t push for negotiations with Union Pacific over the $700 million tab the UP wants to make the Sunset Limited daily,” noting that the UP “used an astronomical number for us to go seven days a week.” Apparently the UP set this in concrete, or we must ask did Amtrak just give up? The UP’s figure was exorbitant, everyone knows that, but as was learned in the California Capitol Corridor, you keep after what you want and you get most of it. Suspicious, in that Mr. Boardman admittted that Amtrak loses more money on tri-weekly than daily trains. Then he said that pursuing the UP “was not a priority and I’m not going to do it now, either.” So there goes the Sunset Limted and the Cardinal? The Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 requires Amtrak to improve the performance of its long-distance trains. Each year they have been “studying” five, and this year the last five will get the treatment. When the Sunset Limited was studied the report said its performance could be increased dramatically with daily service. Now we have “hands up,” total surrender.

2. Then Don Phillips got in the act again, asking about the company’s plans to expand its railcar fleet beyond the already announced acquisitions, since there are no plans for anything other than what has already been announced. Mr. Boardman replied that they will NOT add equipment by piggybacking a separate Amtrak order for bilevel cars onto orders that California and Midwest states are ready to place. He said the company “intends (note that term) to continue rebuilding its Superliner fleet at its Beech Grove, Indiana shop. What you see is all you will get. Deplorable avoidance of future needs, so draw your conclusion.

A Superliner car sits on yellow shop trucks, without decals, at the Amtrak Beech Grove shop in October, 2011. (Richard Strandberg photo while on a tour of the facility)

3. The bombshell for western rail advocates then came in the quote that appeared on the Trains magazine report of the conference by Bob Johnston. “One of the things I learned in the transit business before I came to Amtrak,” Mr. Boardman said, “is that as I added more trains during the peak hour my losses increased. Right now, the business model that exists for long-distance trains is that as you add trains your losses increase, and that is our policy direction coming from the administration and Congress, so Amtrak believes that is achieved by rebuilding the equipment we have.” OH? Has he looked at Amtrak California’s corridors? Each time the number of trains increased so did the productivity of the system. They can’t do that in the NEC?

So, there it is. The Western long-distance trains get nada…bupkus… Comments have poured in. RailPAC President Paul Dyson said, “Boardman killed the Sunset, the rest of the western trains to die a lingering death.” A railfan said, “He stepped in it yesterday, now he is busy trying to wipe it off his shoes.” A major national railfan organization called the Agenda a bold step forward, saying Boardman also told them, “I believe that we are in for a rough time in keeping our long-distance network together and my focus is on that and not on expansion. I support long distance trains, a coast to coast border to border service to maintain the mobility and connectivity our nation needs.” Really? It does not look like it from here in the West.

Sure, if you live in the east you will have a lot of mobility and connectivity! Or, sure, if you live near a state-supported corridor where, incidentally, those organizations would like to be rid of Amtrak and allowed to pick an operator that they could trust more fully, you stand a chance of having train service. But, the rest of us who want to travel as a former colleague of this writer just did, ride the Empire Builder from Chicago to Seattle, then return to his Lake San Marcos, CA., home on the Coast Starlight because that is his preferred method of travel. How long will it take for the long-distance system to wither and die? Well, unless there is a major change at the top at Amtrak that day has now been hastened. Dead by neglect over a long period of time. Ride ’em while you can. Does this remind anyone of what passenger rail faced in the 1960’s? Is it time for a NEW AMTRAK?

Commentary

President’s commentary: Amtrak CEO Gives Up On AMTRAK

By Paul J. Dyson, RailPAC President, January 13, 2012

Joe Boardman condemns the long distance trains to a lingering death.
Sunset Limited in “immediate danger”.

Someone needs to tell Mr. Boardman that he is CEO of the NATIONAL Railroad Passenger Corporation. It seems that since he took the CEO position a couple of years ago that is one memo that did not cross his desk. Whether he has made up his own mind that the national passenger rail network is expendable or whether he is receiving marching orders from the administration, or even indirectly from the class one railroads, the end result is the same. Boardman’s words and (in)actions speak loud and clear. The long distance trains, especially in the west, are expendable. Indeed the Sunset Limited is in immediate danger, and we’ll need your help to save it.

Why do I draw this conclusion? Yesterday Mr. Boardman held a press conference at which he managed once again to characterize the long distance trains as losers, stated that he refused to fight for his own turf, viz. the future of the Sunset Limited, and at the same time managed to insult and denigrate his own marketing staff for their handling of the Sunset issue.

Furthermore he turned down the golden opportunity of cooperating with the states over the bi-level building program. Here was a chance in a lifetime for a transportation company to reduce its costs and expand its service, as well as help its partners reduce their costs, by piggybacking on a modest order for new passenger equipment for the western states. (Freight railroads and shippers do this all the time). Instead Boardman repeats the old bromide, more or less that “the more business I do the more money I lose”. I suppose that’s the price we pay for putting a government administrator in charge of what is supposed to be a commercial enterprise.

Here are some opinions that I believe are shared by most proponents of a successful passenger rail network:

If Amtrak gives in to Union Pacific over the Sunset the writing is on the wall for the Zephyr, Starlight, and Eagle, as well as any hope for the Pioneer and Desert Wind.

If we don’t supply new cars for these same trains plus the Builder and Chief both to make up the consists and to grow the business, these trains have a very limited future. Already there are far too many short consists, in service failures, trains without dining car service.

The end of trains like the Sunset will destroy the possibility of corridor service for places like Palm Springs, or through service to Phoenix or Reno.

We need a new Amtrak CEO and Board. Boardman must go, it’s that simple.

There are those that are convinced that this is some kind of conspiracy, that Mr. Boardman, and Ray LaHood for that matter, were appointed to carry out the task of finally ridding the railroads of their legacy passenger obligations. Others say that the CEO is simply incompetent, that the organization is now out of control with the loss of so many senior managers from the mishandled buyout. I prefer to withhold my judgment. Suffice it to say that the net result is the same.

We need to call out the Obama administration on this. This is supposed to be a passenger rail friendly government but we hear very little support for what we have, only platitudes about High Speed Rail projects, most of which have crashed and burned before leaving the drawing board. Where do you stand, Mr. President?

We also need to call out NARP. Is the National Association of Railroad Passengers willing to let this pass, and simply say that Mr. Boardman is doing his best, (while still marshalling 95% of the resources to the NEC of course)? Or will NARP also see the writing on the wall and join us and the Steel Wheels Coalition in defending the national system?

These events bring us back to commentaries and opinions we have shared over recent years, namely that we need to split Amtrak and divest the NEC into another organization, leaving a new National Railroad Passenger Corporation with the specific task of preserving and developing the national network. We need to think about what this post Amtrak world will look like and how the new organization will rise to the many challenges. Where will the money come from to make the necessary and overdue investments in rolling stock? How will it preserve and expand its rights to run trains over the common carrier railroads’ infrastructure, and what will it be charged?

These are questions for future discussion. In the short term once again we are having to fight with our backs to the wall. It will be an uphill struggle to explain to elected officials and the public that in spite of the ceaseless propaganda about losses we have a national asset that is worth protecting and expanding. We will need the support of all of our members and friends. If you live along the route of the Sunset Limited get your local elected officials involved. Let them know that if Union Pacific has the infrastructure to run the train 3 days a week then they can run it on the other 4 days too. Have your electeds write to the STB and the DoT to have them investigate. Tell them we need a new Amtrak CEO who believes in his job, and Amtrak Board members from the western states. Most of all make your Senators aware that mobility is an issue, the national network is an issue, and that there are votes to be won or lost.

Paul Dyson, President
pdyson@railpac.org

eNewsletter

eNewsletter for January 9, 2012

Mr. Boardman (Amtrak President) is on record saying that there are no plans to eliminate Long Distance Trains in the face of reductions of Federal subsidies for Amtrak. Also on the record are claims by Mr. Boardman that the Long Distance Trains are the cause of much of Amtrak’s deficits. There are also reports that in private Mr. Boardman has said that he would sacrifice all of the Long Distance Trains in order to “save” the Northeast Corridor (NEC). If this is true then Mr. Boardman is delusional. The Long Distance Trains are the best thing Amtrak has to support the NEC. Not only politically but financially. When the Long Distance Trains system was at its greatest both in route miles and equipment under former Amtrak President W. Graham Claytor, Amtrak was at its best fiscal health of its history. NB

January 9, 2012

The above copy of this enewletter is on a PDF file and  you will not be able to click on to the links in blue. If you would like an emailed copy of this enewsletter or to subscribe to it email nbraymer@railpac.org

 

 

 

 

Commentary

RailPAC writes Brown, Feinstein, and Boxer: Peer Review Committee Is Right On High Speed Rail

NOTE: Identical letters were also faxed to Senators Feinstein and Boxer

11th January, 2012

Governor Jerry Brown
State Capitol Suite 1173
Sacramento CA 95814

PEER REVIEW COMMITTEE IS RIGHT ON HIGH SPEED RAIL

Dear Governor Brown:

Our organization has consistently advocated the creation of a network of modern passenger trains for the State of California as part of a balanced transportation system and has specifically campaigned for High Speed Rail since 1980. We originally welcomed the High Speed Rail project as a step change in the otherwise painfully slow development of the State rail corridors and regional networks. We still believe that there is a place for a well designed and engineered High Speed Rail System but we are concerned that the California High Speed Rail Authority (“CHSRA”) is taking a serious misstep with their priorities.

The CHSRA has spent over $800 million of taxpayer funds without an acre of land being purchased or a yard of track laid. The engineering consultants are paid to design sections of route, and paid again to redesign them when they are found to be unacceptable to the local community or are simply too expensive. This must stop.

It is increasingly clear that CHSRA is unable to deliver the system that the voters approved in 2008 with Proposition 1A. The authority’s plan, and the only thing they have the funds to deliver, is a stretch of about 130 miles of track in the San Joaquin Valley, with no power or signaling system with which to run trains, and no trains to run on it. Additional money would have to be found to link this orphan track with existing lower speed rail routes. The Authority’s best case is for a connection between the Bay Area and Southern California in 2033. In our opinion this is not how Californians would like to see their money spent.

We believe that the Peer Review Committee has reached the only logical and acceptable conclusion. Neither the Federal Government nor the state, on behalf of taxpayers, should spend the very limited funds available on an incomplete route segment in the San Joaquin Valley.

That the High Speed Rail Project has to be built in segments is incontrovertible. We believe that each of these segments should be like building blocks, each adding to the mobility options currently available and giving value for money for this large public
investment. Using the regional rail systems at each end of the route as anchors, the logical choice is to build outward from each end so that as each segment is opened it can immediately add to the matrix of destinations available. By this measure the first segment to be built should connect Los Angeles with Bakersfield. This can then offer passenger rail service between northern and southern California via the San Joaquin Valley cities which can be incrementally improved to higher speeds as funds become available.

It is never too late to review a project and modify it so that it gives value for money for Californians and better mobility options for passengers. The CHSRA is proceeding down the wrong path and we support the attempt of the Peer Review Committee to bring some common sense to bear.

Yours sincerely,

Paul J Dyson
President

pdyson@railpac.org

RailPAC is an all volunteer non-profit advocacy group, and a California Corporation.

eNewsletter

eNewsletter for January 3, 2012

The State of California owns the locomotives and cars used on the San Joaquins, has paid with local governments for improvements or replacements of the stations on the route and paid for Amtrak’s maintenance base in Oakland which services the San Joaquins. And Amtrak thinks the San Joaquins are their trains?

January 3, 2012

The above copy of this enewletter is on a PDF file and  you will not be able to click on to the links in blue. If you would like an emailed copy of this enewsletter or to subscribe to it email nbraymer@railpac.org