Monthly Archives

April 2012

Commentary

How LA went from “don’t need rail” to “can’t live without it.”

Opinion and History by Noel T. Braymer. Photos by the author.

Arriving at Los Angeles Union Station today what first strikes you are the crowds.

Crowds coming and going rushing to catch Amtrak, Metrolink and subways trains on the Red and Purple Lines or the Gold Line up on platforms 1 and 2.

It wasn’t like that when I was a college student in Los Angeles in the early 1970’s. I knew fellow students who would go to Union Station to study because it was a nice quiet place. Now Union Station is busier than ever, busier than in the 1940’s. There are plans to extend local rail transit around LA in every direction as well as improvements for Metrolink and the Surfliners. This won’t be cheap. When finished the new Expo Line at 15 miles from Santa Monica to downtown Los Angeles will cost over 2 billion dollars. To extend the Purple Line from Wilshire and Western 9 miles to Westwood near UCLA will cost over 4 billion dollars. Why is Los Angeles now so in love with rail? It wasn’t love at first sight. There was heavy opposition to rail service in Los Angeles for over 50 years. Yet the same politicians who for years fought Light Rail to Santa Monica or extending subways to Westwood are now major supporters. What caused this turnaround?

LAUS was a very quiet place in 1979, but no longer.

Was this the result of a master plan? Actually it is the result of many master plans, none of which went according to plan. Even before the last PE Red Car stopped running or the tracks of the narrow gauge LA Streetcars were paved over there were plans to build an all new grade separated rail rapid transit system. From the late 50’s until the 1980’s planners worked on what is now called Heavy Rail which always got voted down in Los Angeles County. The arguments against it were always the same: too expensive, no one will ride it, people in California love their cars too much, Los Angeles doesn’t have the population density like New York to support a subway and so on. By the 1980’s planners were working on a starter line which would go from downtown Los Angeles to North Hollywood which could be built with Federal grant money without a popular vote. At about the same time citizen activists like me became interested in what was going on in San Diego with the Trolley and with Light Rail. There were still plenty of old rail branch lines that could be quickly converted to Light Rail in Los Angeles in 1980. The goal of my fellow dreamers was to have Light Rail from Long Beach to LA and maybe even from Santa Monica to LA by 1984 in time for the 1984 Olympics. It was at this time in November 1980 that the first half cent sales tax was raised in Los Angeles County for a mixture of improvements to roads, bus and future rail transit.

Metrolink cab car with crowds waiting to board.

The Blue Line was the name given for Light Rail service from Long Beach to Los Angeles that opened in 1990. The first 4.4 mile leg of the Red Line opened in 1993. Many of the supporters of the Red Line felt the Blue Line was a terrible idea. It couldn’t carry enough riders and it would take money away from subways. Blue Line ridership quickly exceeded projections and was generally popular. The Red Line by comparison failed to meet original ridership projections at the start. The problem was fewer people were getting off the bus to ride the subway because for many riders the bus was more direct and convenient. Also the Red Line had few park and ride stations which most new rail services have to have to attract riders. What wasn’t expected were the number of people transferring at Union Station or from the Blue Line at 7th and Flower. With the Blue Line’s success the decision as made to put Light Rail in a court mandated “Transitway” which had to be built as part of the Century Freeway then under construction between LAX and Norwalk which was running by 1995. The “experts” predicted that few would ride buses or Light Rail “to nowhere” on the Century Freeway. The Green Line exceeded ridership projections and transferred riders to the Blue Line while the Blue Line continued to bring more riders to the Red Line.

The Green Line ended short of Los Angeles International Airport

In the 1970’s and 80’s James R. Mills was a California State Senator from San Diego. He was also the President of the California Senate. In the 70’s he pushed through legislation that created what became the San Diego Trolley: the first new-start Light Rail system in the United States. He also pushed through legislation which allowed California to pay Amtrak to run additional trains. The first new trains were between San Diego and Los Angeles. In the early 70’s Amtrak had 3 round trips between LA and San Diego that carried around 300,000 passengers a year. By 1979 Amtrak had 6 round trips and was carrying over a million passengers. This growth led the towns along the route to invest in new or improved stations. The success of the “San Diegans” led to local support for more rail services. Building on this success in 1990 the voters approved 2 bond measures worth almost 3 billion dollars to improve rail service in California. With some of this new funding 5 counties in Southern California were able to buy 175 miles right of way from the Southern Pacific in 1990 to start operation of Metrolink by late October of 1992 on 3 lines.

After the quake riders rode Metrolink in great numbers and Metrolink had to borrow cars from Caltrain.

Metrolink showed its value after the Northridge Earthquake in January 1994. With the Antelope Freeway cut off by earthquake damage from the San Fernando Valley much of Santa Clarita and all of Palmdale were cut off for months from the LA Basin with only a 2 lane road as an alternative. Metrolink service to Santa Clarita was quickly expanded and extended to Lancaster as was construction of new stations and track improvements. Metrolink continues to grow in the region now with 7 lines on 512 route miles. It has learned from the tragedies at Glendale in 2005 and Chatsworth in 2008 now with funding to prevent them from happening again.

Metrolink banner celebrating opening day in 1992

When the Red Line was finished at North Hollywood in 2000 it seemed like a disaster. It was well over budget, ridership was below projections and despite assurances to the contrary there were problems from the tunneling which caused cave-ins and damage to buildings along the route. Future subway construction in Los Angeles was banned. Because of budget problems caused by the subway, construction was halted extending the Green Line closer to LAX as well as plans to extend the Green Line to the Norwalk Metrolink Station. Because of opposition from one religious congregation in North Hollywood plans to build a Light Rail line from Chatsworth to the North Hollywood Red Line Station on an old SP Branch Line were abandoned. Later a Busway was built and ran as the Orange Line on this SP Branch Line mostly with passengers for the Red Line. Local bus service had suffered during the construction of the subway and a lawsuit forced the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority to spend more money on bus service. But Light Rail construction continued. Push by strong local support in the San Gabriel Valley, particularly in Pasadena, construction began on the Gold Line from Pasadena to Union Station which opened in 2003. In the East Los Angeles area desire for rail service was very strong. The problem in the Boyle Heights area was the population density was very high and the streets narrow. This broke the subway construction ban and the Gold Line was extended to East LA in late 2009. During the November 2008 election voters approved an additional half cent sales tax by a two thirds majority for transportation improvements, much of it of expanded rail service.

Crowds waiting to board a Red Line train at Los Angeles Union Station

The lesson from the Los Angeles experience is rail transportation is not based on technology but with a connecting system of services feeding riders to each other. Shiny, expensive and complicated projects are popular with politicians and contractors. But they are prone to costs overruns and local opposition by being seen as being imposed on local communities for something they won’t use. What has worked to create rail passenger service in California has been small projects with small budgets which quickly produce results and gain the support of local communities. With each new incremental improvement more riders are added to the system which creates demand for more and better service. A complicated project like the subway without a network of other services to feed passengers to it will not have the ridership to justify it. Now, many of the mistakes made by promoters of subways for Los Angeles over the years have been made by the promoters for High Speed Rail. Voter approval for High Speed Rail in 2008 benefited from the years good will created from the incremental improvements for rail service throughout California. The way to build High Speed Rail is one step at a time by supporting, not competing with existing services and using other services to feed passengers to High Speed Rail. Connections to the greatest number of places is more important for ridership than the speed of the train.

eNewsletter

eNewsletter for April 23, 2012

If the Central Valley HSR line is finished by 2017 and the San Joaquin Trains are moved to it as proposed, what happens to the stations at Wasco, Corcoran, Hanford and Madera? Will the San Joaquins be able to get to these stations from the new rail line, will new replacement stations be built or will these cities lose their rail service? Will the San Joaquins still run south of Merced after 2022 when HSR service runs between Merced and the San Fernando Valley?

April 23, 2012 Part 1  April 23, 2012 Part 2  April 23, 2012 Part 3

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

 

eNewsletter

eNewsletter for April 16, 2012

Amtrak is talking about overcrowding on the NEC, yet for years the load factors of the Long Distance trains like the Southwest Chief have been almost double those of all corridor trains including on the NEC. The problem is the Long Distance trains are often sold out and can’t increase capacity because of a shortage of equipment. With more cars trains can carry more passengers and produce more revenues. In the case of the Southwest Chief having sections to Denver, to Oakland via the San Joaquin Valley and a Mid-West connection at Kansas City to the East Coast would dramatically increase ridership for Amtrak and gain more political support for Amtrak than pushing for a tunnel that is mostly needed for commuter service to New York City.

April 16, 2012 Part 1  April 16, 2012 Part 2  April 16, 2012 Part 3

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

Why California needs a single statewide rail coordinator

Statement by William Kerby, Rail Passenger Association of California and Nevada on AB 1779
NOTE: Mr. Kerby presented this statement to the California Assembly Transportation Committee meeting in April, 2012.
An independent joint powers authority propelled successful growth of Capitol Corridor service and now leaders of the San Joaquin corridor seek similar success with the creation of a joint powers authority (JPA) with Senate Bill 1779.

The creation of a JPA is a move which has been discussed within the San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee for more than a decade. Under separate legislation the LOSSAN board is pursuing a similar path with legislation permitting the transfer of intercity rail passenger service on the Surfliner Corridor from Caltrans’ Division of Rail to a joint powers authority. If all three of the state intercity passenger rail corridors transfer authority from Caltrans’ Division of Rail, a gap emerges in the control, coordination and funding of state rail programs.

Although local control of rail service puts decision makers closer to users of rail service and allows more nimble responses than centralized control, attention drifts from the network to the corridor. Another problem also arises, that of harmonizing and publishing schedules among rail operators. Thruway bus service remains the task of the statewide entity…presumably a restructured rail unit under the Secretary of Business and Transportation. Bus operations, which work well, are to remain under statewide control. Paul Dyson, RailPAC’s president, asks if funding decisions are made at a county level, who will take care of those many “off line” counties that are now connected by these buses?

Rail operations, currently under the Division of Rail, need heavy doses of centralized command and control. Rail PAC is concerned that efficiency may suffer from possible struggles over governance of train service at the corridor level. RailPAC greatly regrets the removal of Capitol Corridor service from the state rail timetables which comprises only the Surfliners and San Joaquins. Is it the intent of this fledgling JPA to also withdraw San Joaquins from a statewide time table? If this is so, then the missed transfer connection problem grows. Sacramento resident Natasha M. Flaherty brought examples of the connection problem to the attention of the Rail Passenger Association by enclosing current Capitol Corridor, Caltrain and VTA schedules to RailPAC with this statement: “I do not understand why there aren’t better timed transfers between the two systems (CC and Caltrain).” Neither do we, but we fear that this kind of problem will increase with the increase in JPA’s and the loss of a statewide rail coordinator.

The major question is will the San Joaquin corridor be able to expand with more cost-effective service under a JPA? Ridership and revenue from recent San Joaquin corridor services grew by a third between 2006 and 2011. During the same period, revenue grew even faster, by 43%. Fare box return ratios also increased: from 45% to 54%; for comparison, the Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority experienced a 49% fare box recovery last year. Both corridors enjoyed better than 90% on time performance, despite their different governance models. Both corridors benefited from capital improvements administered through the Division of Rail. Equipment purchases dried up after 2006 and all passenger rail needs more cars and engines to handle unmet demand for service, but bidding for federal dollars for intercity service may continue to be best handled at the state level. The case for a JPA rests mainly in future needs, especially for equipment, rather than on deficiencies in the statewide administration of the state rail system.

The past disjointed administration of the high speed rail authority and its lack of proper communication with Caltrans impede the integration of commuter, regional and intercity rail. Links between the JPA and the successor high speed rail operations are planned, but not spelled out in the creation of the San Joaquin JPA. Regional rail systems are the key parts of the blended high speed rail system plans and administration of them needs consolidation. California must preserve connectivity with services outside of the corridor to preserve and expand network benefits. Expansion of the reach of the San Joaquin corridor to Los Angeles, Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay area will build ridership through some of these network effects, but the power of a statewide system needs more than an assertion that a corridor transferred to a joint powers board, as stated in Section 2 of the legislation “shall remain as a component of the statewide system of intercity rail corridors”; California rail needs a single statewide service coordinator to preserve the rights of all riders from all counties of California and the rest of the country.

Commentary

Huge controversy surrounds Sacramento railyards/Downtown arena plans

Commentary by Chuck Robuck, RailPAC member, and former head of the CC Riders group. Edited by Russ Jackson
Subject: Latest Design Concept for Downtown Arena & Intermodal Transportation Facility NOTE: The comments, map, and links below are provided by Mr. Robuck.

I attended a Public Workshop at (Sacramento) City Hall on Thursday, April 12th, at which the latest “CONCEPT” drawings for a new Downtown Arena (called the “Entertainment and Sports Complex” or ESC) and an Intermodal Transportation Facility on the Railyards site were unveiled. The presenters stressed that these concept drawings are intended to show basic “ZONES” for the intermodal station and arena areas rather than specific “footprints” of actual buildings. They also emphasized that this is a “work in progress” and is likely to change over time. With that said, in my opinion this latest concept is GOOD news for transit riders as well as others who will visit and work in this area.

MAJOR CHANGE – Whereas the previous CONCEPT showed the Arena at the FAR EAST side of the site with the Intermodal Station at the WEST end, the latest concept drawings show the Arena at the FAR WEST side, with the Intermodal at the EAST end.

This latest “concept” offers the following major benefits:

1. Keeps Transit Modes together in one area at the EAST end of the site rather than separating the Intermodal Terminal from Light Rail and other transportation modes as was shown in the previous drawing (Item #1 in previous concept drawing below).
2. Removes the Hotel and Parking Structure from the FAR WEST side of the site (see Item #2 in previous concept drawing below)
3. “Opens Up” the views and pedestrian flows from Downtown to the Historic Shops – the previous concept (showing the Arena at the EAST end) would have blocked these views and flows. This was a major issue cited in the Urban Land Institute’s recommendations to the City for the Railyards Project.

Check at this latest “preferred” concept drawing (taken on my cell phone camera):
Downtown Arena/Intermodal Concept April 12, 2012 City Hall Workshop

I applaud the fact that the planners have listened to input from transit riders as well as the recommendations of the Urban Land Institute, and have reflected both in this latest concept proposal.

I still have a number of concerns which will hopefully be addressed as the project progresses, including the following:

* The Relocated Rail Passenger Platforms currently have NO RESTROOMS available, and the nearest ones will be located in the Historic Depot, which is more than 1,000 ft from the new platforms. In my opinion this is a critical requirement that needs to be fixed prior to the opening of the platforms.
* The latest concept shows the future HIGH SPEED RAIL zone separated from the Intermodal Station by at least a couple of blocks (east of 6th Street). To me this detracts from the purpose of an “Intermodal” facility which is to incorporate ALL modes of transportation into one area (as was envisioned in the original concept).
* Traffic Congestion during peak rush hours remains a concern, especially with thousands of arena attendees arriving downtown at the same time that thousands of commuters are exiting the same area.

Below are links to articles from the Sacramento BEE that describe the previous “concept” with the Arena at the FAR EAST end of the site, and further developments through April 15:

http://www.sacbee.com/2012/03/04/4309560/railyard-setting-poses-big-hurdles.html#storylink=cpy

http://www.sacbee.com/2012/04/13/4411658/maloofs-say-arena-plan-imperils.html#storylink=cpy

eNewsletter

eNewsletter for April 9, 2012

RailPAC Board Endorses High Speed Rail Business Plan April 6, 2012 Board calls for highest priority for “Bridging the Gap” between Bakersfield and Los Angeles. Interim service offerings and the blended approach will only be successful if passengers are offered a single seat ride between the maximum number of origins and destinations. While endorsing Caltrain electrification RailPAC Board calls for a rolling program of electrification and standardized rolling stock to reduce costs.  A new route from Palmdale to Sylmar is vital to provide competitive journey times.

April 9, 2012A   April 9, 2012B

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

eNewsletter

eNewsletter for April 2, 2012

Presidential Nominations Sent to the Senate Whitehouse.gov (press release) – Mar 29, 2012Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, of California, to be a Director of the Amtrak Board of Directors for a term of five years …It is about time! For too long California has been ignored in Washington about Amtrak service. The last active Californian on the Amtrak Board was appointed by Ronald Reagan. Now to see what the Senate will do. NB  TRANSPORTATION: Congress fails to pass long-term highway bill Press-Enterprise – Mar 29, 2012

April 2, 2012 part 1 and April 2, 2012 part 2

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

Issues

RailPAC Board Endorses High Speed Rail Business Plan

For release April 6, 2012.

  • Board calls for highest priority for “Bridging the Gap” between Bakersfield and Los Angeles.
  • Interim service offerings and the blended approach will only be successful if passengers are offered a single seat ride between the maximum number of origins and destinations.
  • While endorsing Caltrain electrification RailPAC Board calls for a rolling program of electrification and standardized rolling stock to reduce costs.
  • A new route from Palmdale to Sylmar is vital to provide competitive journey times.

The Rail Passenger Association of California’s Board met on Thursday 5th April and affirmed its support for the concept of High Speed Rail in California, with conditional support for the CHSRA revised business plan published April 2nd, 2012. RailPAC’s policy has always been that the single most important passenger rail project in California is to bridge the gap in the existing network between Bakersfield and Los Angeles. RailPAC urges CHSRA to give this the highest possible priority in order to tap into the biggest travel market.

RailPAC is concerned that some of the plans appear to call for connecting service rather than through train operation during the years that the system is being expanded. All the evidence demonstrates that passengers do not like having to change from one train to another. It should be possible to use FRA compliant rolling stock as an interim step so that the majority of passengers can make their journey on a “single seat”.

Purchasing and installation of railroad electrification is an industrial process that diminishes in cost if it is done as a continuing program. Starting with the “Caltrain” route from San Francisco to San Jose electrification can be achieved at lower cost per mile as part of a rolling program whereby components are ordered in volume and installation equipment and skilled work crews are employed for the long term. Likewise the rolling stock chosen for the regional service on the peninsula should become the standard for similar services throughout the state.

The proposal to use the existing “Metrolink” route and service between Palmdale and Los Angeles as the High Speed Rail connection is unacceptable, even on an interim basis. It would be faster to connect to a bus in Bakersfield as at present. Work should begin as soon as possible on a new line between Palmdale and Sylmar.

RailPAC is a non-profit volunteer group that has been advocating value for money passenger rail service since 1978. Visit www.railpac.org for information. Call Paul Dyson, President, 818 845 9599