Monthly Archives

May 2012

Commentary

The First Sunset Limited Trip on New Schedule

Robert Manning

TRIP REPORT: Talk about a change of pace, how about eating a late dinner at Traxx Restaurant which is located directly inside Los Angeles Union Station! The station is pretty empty at 8 p.m., but then it starts to fill up with passengers planning to depart on the new schedule change for the Sunset Limited at 10 p.m. After a very enjoyable dinner, you take a leisurely walk through the tunnel of LAUS, board the train, and go directly to your bedroom; this is really a no-hassle, easy way to travel. You can only imagine how it was years back when this famous old train always departed from both ends late in the evening. You have to wonder how did people traveling in the southwest, in the heart of the desert, cope with no air conditioning in those early years.

Night view at LAUS, looking from the Traxx Restaurant through the waiting room to the boarding gates

It was nice to see that this train was sold out, no seats left in coach, and all the bedrooms were taken! On this trip when I entered my bedroom, I was pleased to find my bed was down and ready for a good night’s sleep. But there were a few problems: The connecting wall for the adjoining bedroom was very loose and continually rattled. I stuffed paper and towels under and between the walls, which did help some, but it was annoying. A severe problem: apparently the volume control for the room speaker had been turned to up to blast level. When an announcement was made it was like having an air horn going off in your room. There was no way to control the volume. An Amtrak Supervisor, Mr. Winston McIntosh came into the room to talk with me, an announcement was made and due to the noise level, Mr. McIntosh covered his ears. It was that bad! A couple of minor issues: the curtains were frayed and the Velcro attached to the curtains was not sticking. Also, two of the reading lights were apparently burned out. I should also make the point that this was one of the refurbished sleeping cars (don’t know when it was refurbished); apparently this sleeping car is just wearing out.

The next morning I was put on a waiting list for breakfast because the diner was full. After a short wait, I was seated and had a wonderful breakfast. I had oatmeal, which was not instant and I was offered eggs cooked to order, plus a good variety for a breakfast menu. This was a very pleasant surprise. I should also add that the dinning car staff was nothing short of excellent. The food for breakfast, lunch and dinner was very good. However, the second morning for breakfast was another thing. The only offering was cold cereal, and pancakes, no other hot food. The dining car was clean, but showing a lot of wear. It needed to be refurbished.

Union Pacific damage from the tornado in Texas, as seen from the Sunset Limited

On the second day traveling in east Texas, we were told of a delay because of a tornado that had damaged Union Pacific freight cars and track at Weimar, Texas. I remembered hearing heavy rain and hail during the night. It was something to look out my bedroom window as the train was moving and seeing the lighting in the distance. What a pleasant experience. But, as a result of the tornado we were two hours nine minutes late arriving into New Orleans. Obviously this was not an Amtrak problem, but due to this kind of weather event.

More tornado damage in East Texas in early May, 2012

This two day trip was an overall wonderful experience, and many of the fellow passengers I talked with seemed to very much enjoy their train trip. I certainly am concerned with the aging condition of the long distance equipment. This stuff is definitely wearing out.

SUNSET LIMITED COMMENTS: The new schedule with a seven hour later departure from Los Angeles allows for a connection from the 9:00 pm arrival of the Coast Starlight. This time change, along with a different time departure from New Orleans, will apparently financially improve the Sunset’s bottom line. This is good.

One major problem is the early morning arrival into Los Angeles Union Station. This train has been arriving at 4:30 to 4:45 am. This is way too early, especially for mom and the kids. I know we can find a later arrival time slot into LAUS.

We strongly believe that a reroute from LAUS via Fullerton and Riverside, as opposed to the current Pomona and Ontario schedule could be accomplished. That reroute would have an immediate financial improvement for this beleaguered train. Of course if this train were a daily train coupled with this reroute, you can only imagine the financial benefit. The public benefit would of course be immense. It really comes down to this: There is apparently barely enough long distance equipment to service the current Western trains.

Robert Manning, Executive Vice President, Rail Passenger Association of California and Nevada

Editorials

When Trains are Faster than Planes

Analysis by Noel T. Braymer

During the 1964 Tokyo Olympics with the start up of the Shinkansen (or Bullet Trains) my Father pointed out that train travel can be faster than by plane.That sounded silly since jet planes flew at over 500 miles per hour and Bullet Trains had a top speed of 130. My Father pointed out that when comparing the time to fly spent in the air and on the ground coming and going to airports to traveling by train at 130 miles per hour you could go  300 miles in less time than it took to fly.

The original Shinkansen Line from Tokyo to Osaka quickly took most of the market from air travel in the mid 60’s. Back in the 60’s it took about an hour to fly airport to airport between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Today flight schedules run between an hour 15 minutes to an hour and 25 minutes. Of course today you are expected to arrive at the terminal at least an hour (more is better) before flight time to check in and clear security. Even when you arrive it takes 15 to 30 minutes to get off the plane and get out of the terminal depending where you are sitting on the plane and if you have checked baggage. So the time today for a flight from Los Angeles to San Francisco from terminal to terminal is between 2 hours and 35 minutes to 3 hours. The proposed fastest run for High Speed Rail between Los Angeles and San Francisco is 2 hours and 38 minutes which would be as fast as by plane.

This reminds me of a punch line from around 1964 of George Carlin’s character the Hippy Dippy Weatherman:” I don’t know anyone who lives at the airport”. No one travels from airport to airport. The real travel time for flying includes the time it takes to get to and from the airport until you get to where you really want to go. That can be from 30 minutes to over an hour for each airport. So the real travel time to fly from Los Angeles to San Francisco is really close to 4 hours or more. Let’s look at the distances and running times of some successful High Speed Trains and their average speeds. Paris to Brussels is 194 miles in 90 minutes at an average speed of 129 mile per hour. It is 270 miles from Paris to Lyon and is now run in 2 hours for an average speed of 135 miles per hour. Paris to London is 310 miles and takes 2 hours and 15 minutes for an average speed of 138 miles per hour. Today Tokyo to Osaka at 322 miles takes 2 hours and 30 minutes for an average speed of 129 miles per hour. There is a rough rule of thumb that train travel between 250 and 350 miles can capture most of the air travel market between 2 cities at running times around 3 hours or less. The distance proposed for High Speed Rail between Los Angeles and San Francisco is 432 miles. Traveling this distance in 2 hours and 38 minutes will require an average speed of 164 miles per hour.

But by 1965 it was faster to take the Shinkansen at 130 miles per hour going from Tokyo to Osaka in 3 hours 10 minutes than to fly. Why? What is important in any travel mode is not the top speed or even the average speed but the time it takes from where you are starting to get where you want to go. It took less time for people to get to or from the train station plus with more frequent service there was less waiting than going to the airport which was how the Shinkansen was faster than flying by 1965. Also it was less expensive. If you are in El Monte and you want to go to Redwood City, going from Los Angeles to San Francisco in 2 hours and 38 minutes means nothing if you can’t make connections to either city. At the very least you would want to catch trains with quick connections in El Monte to Union Station and them connect at San Jose to Redwood City. Better yet would be a train that serves the San Gabriel Valley that stops in El Monte and continues on to the Bay Area and stops at Redwood City. The same holds true with travel from Mill Valley to Torrance neither of which are close to a train station. This is why express services be it by bus, ship, train or plane don’t work no matter how fast they are if they don’t have good connections. A cargo ship may go non-stop from China to the Port of Los Angeles. But at Los Angeles the containers will be sorted out to go on trains to cities around the country while the Chinese containers came from all over China.

How terrible would it be if trains went from Los Angeles to San Francisco in 3 hours? That is 144 miles per hour average speed which is faster than the trains from Paris to London. To get from Los Angeles to San Francisco by air can easily take over 3 hours just from terminal to terminal. Even in 3 hours and 12 minutes you are still averaging 135 miles per hour which is the speed from Paris to Lyon and you are close the time it takes to fly. But such a train could start in Irvine with additional stops at Anaheim and Burbank as well as San Jose and either Palo Alto or Redwood City on the way to San Francisco. Those extra stops will greatly increase the number of connections to the train and the potential ridership. Much of the planning for the California High Speed Rail project was on ridership numbers based on the population along the route and assuming higher ridership with higher speed. But this doesn’t always happen. When the subway was being planned from downtown Los Angeles to North Hollywood, the assumptions on ridership were based on a large number of bus riders on busy bus lines that parallel the subway transferring in order to enjoy the faster speeds of the subway. This didn’t happen. For most people the buses required less walking to get to where people were already going, ran more often and there was less time waiting than for the subway. What caught planners by surprise were the number of people transferring at Union Station and from the Blue Line. When the Orange Line Busway was built, the planners didn’t think about putting a signaled crosswalk to make it easier for passengers to cross the street to transfer to the subway in North Hollywood let alone stopping the buses at the subway station. Most riders on the Orange Line transfer to the subway.

While speed is important it is not the only consideration for ridership. Faster speeds will make a train more competitive with flying. But faster speeds also greatly increases construction and operating costs when over 80 percent of all intercity travel is by auto. Most air travel is dependent on autos: airports have large parking lots and are the primarily market for car rentals. Having as many stations on a line as possible with each station providing connections to more markets is the best way to build ridership.We have come a long way in over 30 years building up conventional regional and transit rail in California. But we need a coordinated system timed for people to be able to transfer quickly between regional and transit rail as well as buses and ferries all running on time that also connects to High Speed Rail before we can reach the potential market to really fill up the trains. Otherwise we will need airport size parking lots and rental car facilities at the High Speed Rail Stations if we plan to run High Speed Rail in California like an airline. Let’s look at someone going from Torrance to Mill Valley. The closest rail service in Torrance is the Green Line which there are plans to extend to Torrance. It is rail transit and not ideal for someone with luggage. In the future the Green Line will come closer to LAX and have better connections to it. But there are no plans for direct service on the Green Line to Union Station. The best you can do is connect with the Blue Line which in the future will be extended to Union Station. The Green Line is 2 miles short of the Metrolink Station at Norwalk and there are no plans to extend it there. For Mill Valley the SMART train so far has no immediate plans to go to the Larkspur Ferry landing for direct service to San Francisco. You could drive to Larkspur but you will still have to walk a few blocks to the new Transbay Center Station on Mission. Plus the ferries are primarily for commuters and may not have service when people want to travel to and from Southern California. For some people a bus like the ones that connect the Capitol Corridor and San Joaquin Trains to San Francisco will be needed for these markets.

These problems are not unique to High Speed Rail. For years each local transportation service has concerned itself with its own issues without thinking about connecting with other services which are often looked on as competitors for funding and riders not as feeders and distributors of its passengers. High Speed Rail needs conventional services to bring in passengers. Improved connections in general are needed to improve revenue and ridership between existing services. This will have to be done at least at a State Wide level and what is needed is an organization that is impartial to get everyone working together for their own best self interest.

eNewsletter

eNewsletter for May 21, 2012

VoiceofOC – ?May 15, 2012?
Several OCTA board members specifically noted there is no passenger train service of any kind through the Central Valley from Los Angeles to northern California because of a “gap” between Palmdale and Bakersfield, where there is a track for freight but …

May 21, 2012 Part 1   May 21, 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

Editorials

The Lesson for Today of Fred Harvey

Opinion  By Noel T. Braymer

I recently finished the book “Appetite for America” by Stephen Fried. This book is more than a history of Fred Harvey the man, his family or his company but uses all three as the context of a social history of the United States roughly between 1850 to 1950. Fred Harvey was the proverbial poor boy from England who came to America as a teenager in 1853 to find his fortune and avoid being drafted in the British Army.

Far from being an overnight success he endured many personal and financial setbacks after he came to America. He finally found success in Kansas. He had worked in a restaurant for a short time in New York City when he first came to America and managed one shortly in 1860, but he become successful as an independent businessman with several enterprises and investments.His main business was as a sales agent for several railroads and selling advertising for a local Kansas newspaper. For his work he traveled around the country by train much of the time. Fred Harvey was a middle aged man in his early 40’s by the mid-1870’s when he and a partner opened a business running 3 railroad restaurants for the Kansas and Pacific Railroad. At this time Dining Cars were not practical because passenger trains didn’t have vestibules to allow passengers to walk between cars. The practice in the 19th Century was for the train to stop every 100 miles when it was time to change steam locomotives and crews while giving passengers a 30 minute meal break at the railroad restaurant. These restaurants generally had a reputation for poor food and service.

From his first lunchroom for the Sante Fe in Topeka, Kansas in January 1876 as sole proprietor, Fred Harvey wanted a reputation for his restaurants of quality food and good service. He may have invented “supersizing” by serving quarter of a pie per slice. He made a point of having fresh coffee brewing at all times. With the dramatic flair of a Drill Sergeant in his travels he would make surprise inspections of his restaurants by jumping off the train before it came to a stop and inspecting the restaurant before the first customer was allowed in. If he found a table setting that wasn’t done right he’d yank off the table cloth demanding the table setting be redone before customers came in. What is important is that Fred Harvey knew that he wasn’t in the restaurant business. Today we call it the hospitality business, but it really was the entertainment business.

With most of his business intertwined with the fortunes of the Sante Fe Railroad, Fred Harvey knew he had to give people a reason to travel on the Sante Fe if he wanted more customers. The problem was the West didn’t have much business travel or many people. One of the things he built out West were luxury resort hotels which were the destination. Late 19th Century America had wealthy people who wanted to travel for adventure and in comfort. Fred Harvey through his company created the tourism industry in the American Southwest. This included promoting interest and sales in Native American Art and Jewelry as well as travel to archaeological sites. Western Rail Tourism was responsible for the creation of the National Parks. Some of the few original Fred Harvey hotels still in business are at the Grand Canyon which were always the biggest money makers for the Fred Harvey Company.

The lesson of Fred Harvey for today is understanding the close connection between the travel industry, the hospitality industry and entertainment. At the zenith of rail passenger service in this country the Fred Harvey Company was the leader in services at train stations. Fred Harvey ran restaurants, hotels, shops, bookstores, newsstands and other passenger services at most Santa Fe Stations and many Union Stations. We have lost most of this at American Train Stations. What services there are train stations can be on the overpriced and tacky side. Many trains stations lack almost everything including lit parking. Today local communities are responsible for local transportation including airports and transportation centers which are often also trains stations. To rebuild passenger rail service, passengers services at the stations are as important or more so than the speed or type of train equipment at the stations for attracting passengers. To increase ridership the lesson of Fred Harvey is you need to do more than meet demand, you must create demand for travel to or from your station. People need a reason, either for business, family or pleasure to travel to your town and to your train station. Meeting these markets are what cities and towns large and small with trains stations should think about to encourage more travel and business to their town and station.

eNewsletter

eNewsletter for May 14, 2012

Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, a member of the Metrolink Board of Directors, issued the following statement on the announced resignation of Metrolink CEO John Fenton: “John Fenton’s resignation is a major loss for Metrolink’s riders, our taxpayers and the Board. He was the right leader to guide Metrolink through the most critical time in its history following the Chatsworth crash. His hands-on leadership style, vast railroad industry knowledge, private-sector approach and laser focus on safety was a breath of fresh air. He introduced the first Metrolink express train service, shaving hours off the weekly commute to and from Los Angeles for residents of the Antelope, Santa Clarita, and San Gabriel Valleys, and San Bernardino County. He established innovative concepts including the train to Del Mar Race Track, connected with our business community to increase ridership, and helped secure $1 billion from the High Speed Rail Authority to develop a seamless regional Metrolink transit system connecting Southern California commuters from the Antelope Valley to San Diego County.

May 14, 2012 Part 1 May 14, 2012 Part 2 May 14, 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

Editorials

I Would Ride Trains More if they Went More Places

Opinion By Noel T. Braymer

I would love to ride trains more often, but I literally can’t because I can’t get there by train. For example I can take Metrolink from Oceanside to San Bernardino once a day leaving Oceanside at 4:20 PM. I would have to leave San Bernardino at 4:48 AM the next day to get back by 7:15 AM. I can catch a train to Riverside from Oceanside at 7:30 AM and to Orange at 2:47 PM and connect from both in under an hour to trains to San Bernardino. I don’t expect to see more direct trains service between Oceanside and San Bernardino anytime soon. But with improved bus connections we can open new markets to existing trains and future trains on existing routes at little capital costs. There are bottlenecks to adding more trains between Oceanside and Orange County as well as more trains to San Bernardino from Orange County. But you can add connecting buses to existing rail lines and increase ridership. Convenience or lack there of is a major factor for rail ridership. Few things make taking the train more convenient than more frequent service to more places.

In California connecting buses have been used successfully for years to add riders to the San Joaquin, Capitol Corridor and Pacific Surfliner Trains. These services sponsored by Caltrans and operated under Amtrak management must break even or better. Under LOSSAN we will see joint schedules of Pacific Surfliner, Metrolink and Coaster Trains  showing how they connect with each other. As part of this scheduling the connections between services are being improved. This will include connections between Amtrak Thruway Buses and Metrolink and Coaster. There are other services I can think of that would benefit with new bus connections

One place I think many people besides myself would love to take the train to is the airport. In San Diego there is a bus connection downtown at the train station to the airport. It is basically a local city bus which makes several stops on its way to to the airport and its schedule isn’t in sync with Coaster or Amtrak trains. There are plans in the future to build a Coaster/HSR train station at the airport. In the meantime I would love a shuttle bus at the Old Town Trolley-Coaster-Amtrak Station to the airport with more Coaster service. On the train you go past the airport going downtown and then backtrack to get to the airport. Old Town is close to the airport and more direct for Coaster, Amtrak and Green Line Trolley passengers. Shuttle bus service at Old Town 7 days a week to the airport would get many more riders than the existing bus connection which only works if you are coming from downtown. What is needed to really serve airports by rail are trains that run when airports are most busy. This is usually in the early morning roughly from 6 to 8 AM, mid day roughly from Noon until 2 PM and evening from roughly 6 to 8 PM. For trains to best serve passengers they need to get people to the airport at least an hour before morning planes leave and leave up to an hour after the last evening planes land.

On Metrolink I think the same thing happens. There are bus connections to John Wayne Airport at Metrolink Stations in Orange County. But I know I would be more likely to think about using Metrolink or Amtrak to John Wayne if I saw buses waiting by the platform painted as shuttle bus to John Wayne. Go to any major airport and you see colorfully painted shuttle buses clearly saying which rental car, hotel or parking lot they are going. Having shuttle buses to Ontario Airport would be a good idea to get more people to fly out of Ontario by taking Metrolink. This doesn’t have to be fancy. Bob Hope Airport has used a commercial van service to carry passengers from the Downtown Burbank Metrolink Station to the airport.

This brings up the BIG airport LAX. The Flyaway Bus from LAUS to LAX is doing very well. The jury is still out on the Flyaway Bus from Irvine to LAX. It may still need some adjustments to really catch on. One market that is ignored are the many people who are going near the LAX but are not flying to or from LAX. LAX is a second downtown in Los Angeles. Many people work near LAX and people often have business near or at the airport. Flyaway service isn’t designed for these travelers. What I would like to see would be a LAX bus that would shuttle between Van Nuys and Norwalk. But it wouldn’t go into LAX but to a transit center with direct service to LAX. It would also connect with transit at the Green Line, Blue Line and Expo Line. People riding on Metrolink and Amtrak would have much greater access to the West Los Angeles region with such a bus serving the San Fernando Valley from the North and rail service from the east at Norwalk to get to the Westside of Los Angeles. Much of this can be done running buses on HOV lanes on the Century and San Diego Freeways to avoid crowded freeway traffic.

Ventura County has Metrolink and Amtrak service but it has large gaps in service. Some Metrolink Trains stop in Chatsworth or Moorpark and don’t go all the way to Oxnard. Plus Ventura County doesn’t have the money other counties in Southern California have for expanding rail service. What could be done is run connecting buses in Ventura County to extend service as far as Ventura by bus from existing trains. This would be handy if with double tracking extended from Van Nuys to Chatsworth we see more Chatsworth trains we can have more service as far as Ventrura. I am writing about Southern California because that is what I am most familiar with. But I’m sure many of the same problems exist elsewhere in the State. There are many towns in the San Joaquin Valley without direct connections to the San Joaquins. I’m sure there are places like airports or rail transit that would be better connected by buses to Caltrain or ACE..

eNewsletter

eNewsletter for May 7, 2012

With tilting the Cascades were able to raise the average speed from 47 to 53 miles per hour. That is faster than any passenger trains in California and close to the fastest legal speeds by road. The plan for the Cascades is to reach speeds of110-125 miles per hour. Washington State DOT calculated that at these speeds they would achieve 90 percent of the ridership at 50 percent of the cost of a higher speed service. They plan to build this incrementally

May 7, 2012 Part 1  May 7, 2012 Part 2  May 7, 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

Sign the Petition
Issues

The New Coast Daylight!

We support a new daily passenger train linking the Central Coast during the day.  For more than twenty years, work on a new Coast Daylight train service has led to studies without results.

The Coast Rail Coordinating Council, a voluntary coalition of regional transportation agencies is leading the service planning, and has prepared a realistic, immediately doable operating plan.  However the freight train volume and freight need on the corridor has been vastly overstated by Union Pacific Railroad.  This unfairly blocks the public’s right to access the corridor.  Amtrak is willing to operate the service, and it is consistent with the State Rail Plan.  Continue Reading

Commentary, Editorials

PASSENGER RAIL ADVOCACY GROUPS COMBINE TO LAUNCH PETITION FOR “COAST DAYLIGHT” SERVICE

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

MAY 11, 2012 – The Rail Passenger Association of California (RailPAC), the Coast Starlight Communities Network and the Steel Wheels Coalition® are working together to step up the campaign for an additional passenger train along the California Coast.  To be known as the Coast Daylight, this train will provide daily service between the cities of San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Twenty years of effort by public agencies have been met by stonewalling by the Union Pacific Railroad.  While the railroad has its own interests and those of its customers, it should add depth to the slogan that it builds America.  It can demonstrate its commitment to a more constructive relationship with Californians by opening the Union Pacific coast line to another intercity passenger train.

The coast line is not a busy freight route and only one daily passenger train, the Coast Starlight, plies the route.  Technical questions about changes in the railroad track and signaling are raised, discussed … but rarely answered by the railroad unless that answer involves huge investment in capacity.  The Union Pacific Railroad demands for capacity expansion currently go beyond what is necessary to provide good freight and passenger service.

Passenger rail enhances freight service with better quality track and dispatching.  Extra costs imposed on the privately owned railroad, we believe, should be paid for by the beneficiaries. Passenger rail groups believe that common carriers of freight and passengers benefit from higher discipline in running the entire railroad.  Scheduled passenger service creates daily goals for operations to run more efficiently without causing significant increases in cost.

Time for action – the Union Pacific Railroad should celebrate its 150th anniversary by joining with the state of California, and the counties and communities of California at the negotiating table.

You can view and sign the petition by visiting http://chn.ge/coastdaylight.

 

About RailPAC

The Rail Passenger Association of California, a 501 c3 non-profit corporation, is a membership based organization serving California, Nevada and the western United States.  www.railpac.org.

About the Coast Starlight Communities Network

The Coast Starlight Communities Network, created in 2007, is a coalition of various interests with the goal of protecting and improving rail service between Washington, Oregon, and California.  They have assumed an educational and advocacy role dedicated to improving rail services along the Coast Starlight corridor.  With the assistance of partner organizations thousands of campaign fliers have been distributed to educate travelers, advocates, and community leaders of the importance of the Coast Starlight.   www.coaststarlight.net.

About the Steel Wheels Coalition®

The Steel Wheels Coalition provides a non-membership alliance among organizations and brings together groups that support better passenger service and preservation of long-distance trains in America.