Monthly Archives

June 2012

Editorials

Coaster and San Diego Trolley June 2012 Trip Report

Report and Pictures by Noel T. Braymer

I amazed myself by getting up and out the door before 9 AM on my day off  to catch the 644 Coaster out of Oceanside at 9:22 AM. This gave me almost 4 hours in San Diego so I could still get home early enough to take care of some chores. I wanted to go to San Diego to check out the reconstruction of much of the older parts of the Trolley. Rebuilt stations will allow the use of new low level cars which will be faster to load and easier to use for people with disabilities. Everything went smoothly at Oceanside with the Coaster train waiting at the station when I got there. The equipment was clean and in good shape. It wasn’t a rush hour crowd but the train had a decent load. No wonder, the San Diego Fair runs for most of June until July 4th and the Coaster has  special fares for the Fair. On the weekends for $15 you get admission to the County Fair and round trip tickets on the Coaster with transfers which you can order online and you don’t have to pick up tickets at a station. The rest of the week with your bus or train ticket you get a $3.50 discount on admission to the Fair.

Construction of new pedestrian Tunnel under the tracks at Encinitas

With the completion of new double tracking in Carlsbad additional Coaster trains are expected sometime this year. So far no word when or what to expect.We are suppose to see some joint Coaster/Metrolink trains between Los Angels and San Diego this year. The first week of July Metrolink will be adding more trains on both the work week and weekends to Oceanside. We shall see if this includes improved connections to the Coaster. Last year Metrolink ran trains as far as Solana Beach to serve the Del Mar Track Horse Racing season. Still no word if Metrolink will be back this year for Del Mar.The first sign of construction was south of the Encinitas Station where the first of 4 pedestrian tunnels in Encinitas is being built. Not much to see from the train since much of the work is underground. But a good excuse for another train ride. North County Transit which operate the Coaster also provides bus service from Oceanside to Del Mar. North County Transit lowered their fares for the Coaster between Oceanside and Solana Beach to encourage more local travel. So close ups of the tunnels at Encinitas will a good excuse for quick trips to Encinitas.

Grading for second track in Sorrento Valley in San Diego

I was most interested in seeing what construction there was for the new double tracking south of Sorrento Valley. For now there is single track from Del Mar to Miramar Road in San Diego except for a siding that starts at the Sorrento Valley Station which is near the I-5. Construction is in the early stages but will extend the Sorrento Valley siding a mile roughly past where the tracks go under the I-15. Between where the tracks go under the I-15 to Miramar Road is where the tracks are the slowest and the curves the tightest.

An example of the tight curves between Sorrento Valley and Miramar.

After waiting over 25 years for this day it is good to see work started. The ride continued nice and boring. Coming into the Santa Fe Depot in San Diego construction was on going at the Trolley Station. The Trolley Station was opened during construction

Flagman at work at the Santa Fe Depot at San Diego

with flagmen on duty to protect passengers from Trolleys and construction equipment. At the older stations for the Trolley the at top of rail platforms are being replaced and raised to closely match low level equipment being bought to replace the original cars that are now over 30 years old. When this is done the Green Line which is the newest line serving Mission Valley will be extended to downtown as far as Petco Baseball Stadium. For now the Green Line which has low level cars can’t be used past Old Town so passengers have to transfer to the Blue Line with the older equipment. Besides new

New platforms for the Trolley at the Santa Fe Depot

platforms, many of the old shelters are being replaced at the older stations.

 

After checking around the Depot I decided to ride the Trolley. I caught the Orange Line which I got at the Trolley Station across the street from the Depot. Trolleys run every 15 minutes and downtown you have both Blue Line Trolleys between Old Town and the Boarder while the Orange Line runs from downtown and goes inland. The Orange Line is never boring with over a mile of it as street running in an old neighborhood with auto junkyards and small factories. This gives way to greenery while traveling through a cemetery. The further east you go the area becomes more suburban. From the Grossmont Shopping Center Station the Orange Line shares tracks with the Green Line. I got off at the El Cajon Station to transfer to the Green Line to get to the end of the line at Santee. One of the improvements which soon will be system wide are electronic signs giving the times for when the next 3 Trolleys will be arriving at that Platform. Parts of the Orange and all of the Green Lines have this now. So I was please to see that the next Green Line Trolley to Santee was only 6 minutes away when I got off the Orange Line Trolley. A nice thing about the San Diego Trolley is their connections between Trolley Lines are usually very good. The Orange Line still has the older equipment but the Green Line equipment is new and low level. One reason I like to travel to Santee is the last mile is mostly single track in the median of a busy road. This made for an economical way to extend light rail.The second and more important reason is the end of the line is a station in the middle of a new shopping center right in the middle of the food area of the shopping center.

After lunch I caught the Green Line Trolley for Old Town. The equipment was new but the operator seemed to be having problems with it. It arrived and left a little late from Santee. When we got to the first stop at Gillespie Field the operator got out after stopping and went to the back car for a while. Once we left there seemed to be no other problems. The Green Line is the newest line and has the fewest grade crossings and most viaducts. It has the only tunnel for the Trolley to get into and out of San Diego State University. It serves the most shopping centers of any of the Trolley Lines and several of the stations were built to serve large and new apartment complexes. When we got to Old Town a Blue Line Trolley was waiting and I quickly got in. Then I waited and waited. I don’t know if we missed our intended connecting Trolley or not but the wait seemed long. But we finally got off and when I got back to downtown I had at least 45 minutes to kill before Coaster 651 was leaving at 2:18 PM. I often take the later Coaster in the Morning at 11:05 AM and then find myself needing to catch a later Coaster Train home if I go on the Trolley. Getting up earlier gave me more time to sightsee and still had time to catch an early train to avoid rush hour. The Coaster was at the station almost a half hour before departure. The doors where opened and I settled in.

The Santee Town Center Trolley Station in the middle of the shopping Center

Getting back to Oceanside by train was no problem. Getting home after leaving the station around 3:30PM with beach traffic and the start of local rush hour traffic was something else.

eNewsletter

Enewsletter for June 25, 2012

California bullet train faces tough vote in Senate Los Angeles Times – Jun 24, 2012 Gov. Jerry Brown is requesting $6 billion to start construction in the Central Valley, but some senators hope to distribute the funds elsewhere geographically. The issue isn’t over not spending the money, but where it will be spent. Some Democratic State Senators want most of the money to go to the urban areas instead of the San Joaquin Valley. NB

June 25, 2012 Part 1 June 25, 2012 Part 2 June 25, 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

Why a Republican may be the savior of California High Speed Rail

Analysis and photos by Noel T. Braymer

The California High Speed Rail Project has been a bi-partisan project  since 1996 from the very start. The High Speed Rail Authority was created by Republican Governor Pete Wilson and Republican Governor Schwarzenegger placed the Prop 1A measure on the ballot in 2008 which has the bonds central to financing this project. Transportation in general has been a bastion of bi-partisanship because almost everyone depends on good transportation and benefits from transportation spending. The current problems in the House of Representatives passing the Transportation Bill are due to the obstructionism of a minority. As a bi-partisan project there is plenty of blame to share for the problems of the California High Speed Rail Project. But what is largely overlooked are the efforts to fix the problems with the High Speed Rail Project by one powerful local Republican politician in Los Angeles County: County Supervisor Michael Antonovich.

This is what Supervisor Antonovich wrote in an Op-Ed article published in the Los Angeles Daily News on October 11, 2011.

“Under federal stimulus guidelines, the Federal Rail Administration defines “high speed rail” as “intercity rail passenger service that is reasonably expected to reach speeds of at least 110 miles per hour.” It is possible to upgrade the extensive, existing Metrolink/Amtrak rail system – which already serves more than a million riders each month and stretches from Lancaster to San Diego and Ventura County to San Bernardino – to a 110-mile-per-hour network instead of attempting to replace it with a less feasible, budget-breaking 220 mile-per-hour system.

Practical, pragmatic and fiscally prudent upgrades to our existing rail network, including track straightening, double tracking, grade separations, new run-through tracks at L.A.’s Union Station, upgraded locomotives, and positive train control must be given priority. These projects would cost considerably less than a Central Valley test track, provide immediate benefit to current riders and attract millions more. This proposal to upgrade systems and make use of already owned-right-of-ways would also protect communities facing the loss of homes, schools, businesses and farms under HSRA’s current designs . Even more importantly, investing in upgrades would also immediately create thousands of jobs throughout Southern California.”

Research by the San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission on the effect speed has on the cost of rail operations

This sounds a great deal like the Blended System which is proposed in the current greatly rewritten 2012 Business plan for the California High Speed Rail Authority. During the time the Business Plan was being rewritten after the first draft died a quick death in January there was a great deal of bargaining going on with local transportation agencies. As part of the deal worked out to revive the HSR Project is a billion dollars from the Prop 1A bonds to upgrade the tracks in Southern California for use by local rail service and future High Speed Rail Trains. The Blended approach in the new HSR Business Plan announce in April 2012 cut the cost of the project from almost 100 billion to 68 billion dollars. This all sounds a great deal like what Supervisor Antonovich wrote in Ocotober 2011.

Like most successful politicians Mr. Antonovich keeps getting reelected because he delivers what his constituents want. Antonovich’s Districts includes most of the San Fernando, and all of the Santa Clarita and Antelope Valleys. His district was in the epicenter of the 1994 Northridge Earthquake and the most heavily impacted by it. Highway 14 is an overcrowded 4 lane ( 2 lanes in each direction) freeway which the connection to I-5 was broken for months in 1994 because of earthquake damage. This cut off thousands of residents in Santa Clarita and Antelope Valleys. What came to the region’s rescue was Metrolink which was greatly expanded to move people in the aftermath of the earthquake. Transportation problems continue to hold back development in this region particularly the Antelope Valley.

Burbank 1994: Crowds of commuters able to get to work with Metrolink after the Northridge earthquake closed Highway 14

Palmdale has a 17,000 acre airport with no passenger service. Land for it was originally purchased in the early 1960’s by the City of Los Angeles Department of Airports for a new airport to handle supersonic airliners that were expected to be flying by 1970. Central to making a supersonic airport work 70 miles from downtown Los Angeles was a high speed surface connector. No technology was ever chosen 50 years ago although hovercrafts were a popular choice. There was no discussion of using rail service since that was so slow, old fashion and wasn’t space age. The same problem still exist in Palmdale; without a fast connector to Los Angeles an airport there doesn’t have a chance to succeed. Many local residents want a commercial airport for economic reasons. Most people who live in Palmdale commute many miles because there are not many jobs there. The airport could create many local jobs not just at the airport but also from businesses which would be attracted to locate there because of good air service. Palmdale was an early supporter of High Speed Rail for their community and their Supervisor Michael Antonovich has been a major supporter for High Speed Rail to Palmdale.

More than setting the groundwork for bringing airlines to the airport, Antonovich is seeking to expand Palmdale’s connection by rail to California and beyond. Antonovich is working on building a new freeway to connect Palmdale with Victorville. Part of this will include right of way for rail service. Antonovich has been working to bring the planned High Speed Rail Project from Victorville to Las Vegas and open a connection to extend the service to at least to Palmdale. Part of the plan is to extend Metrolink service to Victorville via Palmdale. Antonovich is in a good position to do this. Besides being a County Supervisor, Antonovich is on the Board of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority or LA Metro. He has been the vice-chair for the last year and this July takes over as chair of LA Metro. This will have an impact on Metrolink (which he is also on its Board), LOSSAN and the HSR Authority. To get a clearer idea of what Supervisor Antonovich is aiming for we can look at excerpts of a motion presented by him to the Board of LA Metro and passed on March 22 of this year.

…With the California High Speed Rail Authority committing to $1 billion in Metrolink/Amtrak improvements by 2020 and to a station in Palmdale, and with the potential for DesertXpress to connect Las Vegas to Victorville with a feeder high speed rail line connecting Victorville to Palmdale, the timing could not be any better for MTA to assess the infrastructure improvements necessary on the Antelope Valley Line to link Downtown Los Angeles to Palmdale at greater speeds….

…In addition, the MTA Board should support the placement of a Metrolink station on the Antelope Valley Line at Bob Hope Airport, which would allow for residents of the Antelope and Santa Clarita Valleys to access directly this vital airport. Furthermore, MTA should explore how to provide seamless rail service between the Antelope Valley and Bakersfield, between the Antelope Valley and San Diego, and between Ventura and Indio to overcome the current political and infrastructure barriers that do not allow for this type of service to occur without restricted speeds, schedules or transfers….

… An assessment of the potential for “tilt train” technology that might allow Metrolink to operate at faster speeds within the constrained Antelope Valley Line corridor;…

eNewsletter

eNewsletter for June 18, 2012

In order to get a time slot during morning rush hour in the opposite direction of rush hour train traffic, Caltrans and Amtrak had to borrow an existing Metrolink slot to start up service to San Luis Obispo. As part of the deal train 761 is a joint Amtrak/Metrolink train and Metrolink tickets are accepted on the train. Not only does the 761 connect with Metrolink 603 from Oceanside during the work week but also the 204 at 7:26 AM from Lancaster and the 307 at 7:20 AM from San Bernardino.

June 18, 2012 Part 1   June 18, 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

Can Metrolink be a Thruway Bus?

Opinions by Noel T. Braymer

Train 761 is the only Amtrak Train to travel north of Los Angeles that doesn’t have either a connecting train or origination from San Diego. Train 761 travels to San Luis Obispo and has connecting Thruway Bus service there to San Jose. The plan is to extend the 761 all the way to San Francisco some time in the future. Ridership on the 761 could be better. Some think the problem is 761 leaves Los Angeles too early at 7:35 AM. Considering how crowded airports, freeways and commuter train stations are at 6 AM and earlier I have my doubts that is the problem. There is a connecting Thruway Bus that leaves Santa Ana at 5:25 AM with one stop at Fullerton which gets to Los Angeles at 6:35 AM. But from Oceanside I can catch Metrolink 603 at 5:16 AM and arrive at LAUS by 7:20 AM. I did this once and my biggest worry was arriving early enough to catch the Amtrak Train. Turned out I didn’t have to worry the two trains shared the same platform and it was a guaranteed connection. In order to get a time slot during morning rush hour in the opposite direction of rush hour train traffic, Caltrans and Amtrak had to borrow an existing Metrolink slot to start up service to San Luis Obispo. As part of the deal train 761 is a joint Amtrak/Metrolink train and Metrolink tickets are accepted on the train. Not only does the 761 connect with Metrolink 603 from Oceanside during the work week but also the 204 at 7:26 AM from Lancaster and the 307 at 7:20 AM from San Bernardino.

The trainset for train 761 leaves San Luis Obispo as Train 790 arriving in Los Angeles at 7:10 PM. This train goes all the way to San Diego now with no need for passengers to change trains. There are also connecting Metrolink trains at this time of night during the work week to Lancaster at 7:40 and 9:25 PM and San Bernardino at 7:20 and 8:30 PM. With these existing Metrolink connections to trains 761 and 790 it should be easy to expand service from these connecting trains to Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and beyond to the Bay Area. For now on the weekends Metrolink doesn’t connect in the morning at Los Angeles with Amtrak 1761 from Oceanside, Lancaster or San Bernardino. But for the work week these connections should be all done on a single seamless ticket. As it is I doubt most people are even aware of these connections or how to get tickets to use them. I bought 2 tickets, one from Oceanside to Los Angeles and had a second ready to get to San Luis Obispo. When riding a connecting Thruway Bus to an Amtrak Train, Amtrak tickets are used to ride the bus. Why can’t the same be true to ride Metrolink to Amtrak on a train that already accepts both Amtrak and Metrolink tickets?

Layover tracks like this allow for easy transfers seen here at Laguna Niguel /Mission Viejo

There is an effort to make this happen. Caltrans, Amtrak, Metrolink and Coaster have been working together through the LOSSAN Joint Powers Agency to create a combined schedule. This super schedule will show how all these services connect to each other. As part of this process the different agencies are working together to improve or create more connections between trains and to buses. But even now when trying to get a ticket for a connection within Metrolink the system often doesn’t recognize connections that exist. Here are some examples of this from the Metrolink web site. For trips from Oceanside to Los Angeles only one suggestion involves a transfer and that is by way of San Bernardino which is almost a 5 hour trip. What is ignored is a connection on Metrolink 850 leaving Oceanside for Riverside at 7:30 AM. You can connect to train 687 at Laguna Niguel and get to Los Angeles by 10:02 AM in 2 hours and 32 minutes. For trips from Oceanside to San Bernardino the web site has the one direct train and 2 alternatives with transfers. Both alternatives leave Oceanside on the same train and transfer to 2 different trains at Union Station for San Bernardino. What is ignored again is train 850 out of Oceanside to Riverside. Following this train by about 45 minutes is Metrolink 800 from Laguna Niguel for San Bernardino. This is an easy transfer but the Metrolink web site has nothing about it nor do the ticket machines when you want to buy tickets. No doubt there are more examples of this just on Metrolink. This problem will grow as more trains are added not just to Metrolink but also to Coaster and Surfliners. To make connections like these to work we need seamless ticketing for transfers . We have much of the hardware to do this now. Metrolink has had ticket  machines that sell both Amtrak and Metrolink tickets for up to 5 years.  Several of these machines are in places not directly served by Metrolink such as San Diego and San Luis Obispo. But can a person get a seamless ticket to ride from San Bernardino to San Jose via San Luis Obispo? It seems unlikely when you can’t get a ticket to Los Angeles from Oceanside with a connection after 6:36 AM until noon for a 7:30 AM departure that connects to Los Angeles.

Metrolink Ticket Machine also for Amtrak Tickets in San Luis Obispo

There are plenty of other opportunities for new connections between services. For Metrolink riders Thruway Bus connections will be possible to Bakersfield, Palm Springs, and Santa Barbara among others. Metrolink riders should be able to connect to more trains to all the Coaster Stations in San Diego County. With Amtrak most of California and the United States would be available from a local Metrolink Station in areas that don’t have an Amtrak Station. Simple connections can create additional frequencies to routes making them more convenient and increase ridership. Extending Coaster and Metrolink Trains to San Diego and Orange Counties will allow more transfers. This can mean more riders from San Diego County can transfer to Metrolink Trains to the Inland Empire in Orange County. By simply running shuttle buses between Riverside and San Bernardino additional frequencies can be created between Orange and San Diego Counties to San Bernardino. The airlines learned long ago that connections are critical to ridership and revenues if an airline wanted to stay in business. For rail service as a whole to grow and reach its potential there needs to be coordination between services to provide connections. But so far many connections remain ignored and are not being marketed. That is throwing away easy money.

There are problems that need to be fixed to creating a coordinated system of different rail and bus services to provide seamless services to all potential markets. A combined schedule that shows all the connections is a good start with the different agencies working together to improve connections. Improved software is needed that will show connections and print tickets so an occasional rider has no trouble getting tickets and making connections between services. I have met people who waited for a train at a platform not knowing they had a ticket for an Amtrak Bus and ended up missing their bus. With eticketing more people can buy tickets online and not have to wait in line for tickets from a ticket machine and worry about missing their train. Very important is educating  the employees of the different agencies particularly at the stations and on the trains to help passengers make connections. There is a lot of material to cover to know all the possible connections even now let alone what we can have in the future. The more people know the easier it will be to make this work. Passengers won’t try a connection if it is too complicated or use it a second time. But in terms of increased market, ridership and revenue it is well worthwhile by getting better use of existing resources with and improved connections .

eNewsletter

eNewsletter for June 11, 2012

The problem with overnight service on the Coast Line isn’t lack of potential riders, it is getting cooperation from the UP and equipment from Amtrak. Just trying to get the morning train to San Luis Obispo extended to San Francisco and back has been going on for over 10 years. The best solution for overnight service would be to extend the Zephyr to Los Angeles. This would only need one additional trainset and opens a new major market for the Zephyr.

June 11, 2012 Part 1   June 11, 2012 Part 2  June 11, 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

Californians Want Good High Speed Rail Service

Opinion By Noel T. Braymer

Recently the Los Angeles Times ran a story about a USC Dornsife Poll it helped pay for claiming that The Majority of Californians now oppose High Speed Rail and Most people want a revote on High Speed Rail. So where are the mobs of angry citizens with their torches and pitchforks marching on Sacramento to kill High Speed Rail? Just recently an effort to get a Ballot Measure to stop the High Speed Rail project failed to get even enough signatures for this year’s ballot. In Kings County, Ground Zero for opposition to the High Speed Rail Project the local paper noted the small turnout at a California High Speed Rail Authority meeting in Hanford last month. The question that is rarely bought up is who is responsible for the USC Dornife Polls which in this case the Los Angeles Times helped pay for? The man who oversees the polling is a Professor at USC named Dan Schnur also long known as a veteran California Republican Party strategist. This Poll asked many leading questions which is a common technique in Polling to get results supporting the viewpoint of the group paying for the poll. It is common to get contradictory results between different Polls on the same issue and the differences are usually based on how the questions are asked in the Polls. You can see the questions used in this poll at USC/Los Angeles Times High-Speed Rail Poll Misleads Public .

The Board of the Orange County Transportation Authority has publicly told the High Speed Rail Authority of their opposition to the planning for the High Speed Rail Project. The OCTA has countered that what is needed is a State Wide Rail program which concentrates on closing the gaps in service such as between Bakersfield and Los Angeles and Stockton and San Jose. It is hard to argue with the OCTA Board because they are right. Much of the criticism of the planning for the High Speed Rail Project was from the high costs and unrealistic expectation that people would wait for years to see results when there was no guaranteed funding to finish the project. There was a good chance we would get an expensive railroad to and from nowhere that no one would be able to use. The planning for this HSR Project largely ignored more immediate needs of the large urban areas for improved rail service and there was a good chance the HSR project would drain all the available funding from other rail projects. This could happen at the same time badly needed connections with other rail services to the High Speed Rail Project would not be available when and if it was ever built.

The CEO of the OCTA is Will Kempton who is also the Chair of the California High Speed Rail Peer Review Group. The Peer Review Group was appointed by the Legislature to advise it on the High Speed Rail Project to insure that it was well managed. Back at the start of this year the Peer Review Group asked for major changes to the proposed 2012  High Speed Rail Business Plan before it would advise the Legislature to approve funding to start construction. Some of the changes the Peer Review Group asked for were plans to get immediate use of new construction to avoid building a railroad to nowhere, greater participation by other rail agencies,   immediate construction around the state not just in one part as well a larger staff for the HSR Authority to be better able to manage this large complex project. This forced a major rewrite of the HSR Business Plan which was released this April. The Peer Review Group has noted the major improvements of  this new Business Plan and  advised the Legislature of its conditional approval.

The High Speed Rail Authority has several major open posts to fill. The first new hire was Jeff Morales as CEO. Mr. Morales is a former head of Caltrans and recently a Vice-President of Parsons Brinckerhoff which is the consulting firm that has been doing most of the planning for the High Speed Rail project. Mr. Morales is generally credited as the main author of the latest rewrite of the improved Business Plan. Since 1996 Parsons Brinckerhoff has been working for the California High Speed Rail Authority and had 100 employees working on the HSR project compared to the 20 employees until recently working for the Authority. Mr. Morales is a good example of the revolving door between government and private industry. Many people have questioned how closely Mr. Morales will monitor his former employer to do what is best for the state as opposed what is best for Parsons Brinckerhoff. Having other agencies such as Caltrain, Caltrans,  Los Angeles Metro and San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission (ACE) as partners in construction should give more balanced management to the project.

A major part of the new Business Plan which was largely worked out between the Peer Review Group and High Speed Rail Authority was to insure a railroad to nowhere wasn’t built. This will mean San Joaquins with new equipment for speeds up to 125 miles per hour will be running on a new 130 mile railroad built in the San Joaquin Valley by 2018. In addition the revised plan would fund work to raise speeds on most of the rest of the San Joaquin route which will allow shaving an hour off the current running time. Also as part of the revised Business Plan funding would go towards expanded local rail service between Merced, San Jose and Sacramento which will connect with the San Joaquins. As part of this revised Business Plan funding would be made available to electrify and improve track capacity for Caltrain. In Southern California up to a billion dollars is proposed for track improvements between Anaheim and Palmdale. More  money would be raised by selling additional bonds now rather than wait when inflation will decrease the spending power of the bond money. Plus selling the bonds now will lock in historic low interest rates which will save the State money compared with waiting  and selling them latter at a  higher interest rate. The route between Los Angeles and Palmdale would  see improvements to run faster Metrolink and future High Speed Trains.  On a related note LA Metro and DesertXpress have signed an agreement to work together to build a connection between Palmdale and Victorville. This will open up Metrolink service from Victorville to Palmdale and Los Angeles. It will also create a link to the LA Basin for high speed rail service to Las Vegas. In July Los Angeles County Board of Supervisor, Republican Michael Antonovich will become the Chair of LA Metro which controls funding for all transportation in the County. Fast rail service to Palmdale (which is in his district) and Victorville are high priorities for him.

The Poll given by Mr. Schnur basically gave respondents the choice of a railroad to nowhere or killing the project. Given those arbitrary choices most reasonable people would say the project should be killed. But in reality thanks largely to the High Speed Rail Project Peer Review Group the railroad to nowhere is dead. Polling results change from day to day and vary depending on the questions asked by different polls. What we need is a new Poll by a different pollster of  people’s opinion of the new High Speed Rail Business Plan which would bring in five years greatly improved rail passenger service to the San Joaquin Valley, between San Jose, Sacramento and Merced as well as on Caltrain and between Orange County, Los Angeles and Palmdale. The ultimate need is for a new high speed rail connection between Southern California, the San Joaquin Valley and Northern California. Track improvements to Palmdale is a first step in that process. Funding for the next step of building a high speed rail network in California is uncertain. What is certain is with the current proposal for over 6 billion dollars in Federal and State funding to upgrade rail passenger service throughout California by 2018. That is 6 billion dollars to put thousands of people to work in the State. The other option is to oppose this project which has no alternative funding to build anything. Killing the High Speed Rail Project will not release a dime toward long overdue rail projects let alone build one foot of track between Bakersfield and Palmdale.

My personal opinion is despite all the noise about  opposition to High Speed Rail, in July the Legislature will go ahead and approve the Bonds to qualify for Federal funding for High Speed Rail. It is hard to believe many politicians will turn away over 3 billion dollars of Federal Funding for a region with high unemployment. Just as unlikely that a Legislature would defy the Governor and President from the same party which controls the Legislature. Some highly partisan politicians and the Media use the High Speed Rail Project as a favorite whipping boy to exploit for their own purposes. For the media reality is less profitable than an invented “crisis” and for some politicians seeking power at the expense of the opposition is more important than the public good.

eNewsletter

eNewsletter for June 4, 2012

It is no secret that the old low level equipment is slow getting people on and off the train and they spend a long time at stations when a crowd shows up. …If the older equipment can’t be replaced just yet, what can be done is to add some bi-level commuter cars to low level trains to allow passengers to board and deboard the train more quickly. …Currently with the new order of equipment Metrolink has surplus bi-level cars that could be added to low level trains.

June 4, 2012 Part 1  June 4, 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

Commentary

Sunset Limited: One month on the new schedule

Report and Comments by Russ Jackson, RailPAC Photos!

How is Amtrak’s Sunset Limited doing since the schedule change on May 7, 2012, for the tri-weekly service which dates back to the pre-Amtrak days when the Southern Pacific reduced its departures from daily in the late 1960’s. The new schedule has train #2 depart Los Angeles Union Station at 10 PM on Sunday, Wednesday, and Friday. Train #1 is scheduled to arrive at LAUS at 5:35 AM on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Restoring connections from the Coast Starlight and the San Joaqins has been beneficial and enhanced revenue even though already nearly-sold-out trains have not resulted in consist expansion to meet increasing demand.

This couple is boarding a Sunset Limited-Texas Eagle sleeping car bound for Texas on the platform at LAUS (file photo by Noel Braymer)

Here are actual arrival times for #1 at Los Angeles during the early part of the first month of the new schedule: 6:24, 4:28, 5:54, 4:35, 4:27, 5:18, 6:16, 6:31, 5:25, 4:49, and 5:30. Train #1 that arrived on May 14 only 19 minutes late was four hours late at one point due to a freight train derailment it encountered just outside New Orleans, so there is still much padding in the schedule. Metrolink had little interference to worry about during rush hour, with the Sunset Limited not breaking Metrolink’s rule of no arrivals by Amtrak between 6:30 and 8:30 AM and they want the equipment out of Union Station by 7:00. For the fiscal year that ended September 30, 2011, the trains were on time 79.9% at endpoints, but this FY is a bit different, as in April, 2012, the combined #1-2 was OT just 57.7%. For comparison we found the on time statistic for the 15 major airlines at Dallas-Ft. Worth was 84% for the first three months of this year.

The big exception to good on time performance happened when train #1 of June 2 arrived at LAUS at 8:08 PM, 14 hours 33 minutes late, and train #2 of June 1 arrived in Houston at 7:12 PM, 31 hours 16 minutes late because the Union Pacific had put 10 cars of a TTX train “on the ground” in Hudspeth County, east of El Paso, which affected single track traffic in both directions and caused Amtrak to do some passenger busing from El Paso, but El Paso did not have enough buses available so some had to come from Albuquerque!

The Sunset Limited at El Paso, Texas (file photo by Russ Jackson)

On the days train #1 arrived early in LAUS, Gene Poon reported that “sleeping car passengers were allowed to stay on board until 6:30, as the timetable says. Most of them did. Seems like the sleeper passengers are getting their money’s worth.” As for the Union Pacific, Poon says they seem to be running more freight trains between Los Angeles and Tucson, which is still mostly single tracked east of Palm Springs, resulting in potential problems later. The double track from Tucson to El Paso has Amtrak running mostly OT between those cities. As for the El Paso based crews that brings train #1 to Maricopa, they get flown home now, and the El Paso crew that will take train #2 that departs LAUS on Sundays is flown into Phoenix and taxied to Maricopa. That doesn’t sound like a money saving situation.

Train #2, the eastbound train, fared almost as well in its journey. RailPAC’s Robert Manning rode the on time May 9 departure from LAUS, but because of Texas tornado damage between San Antonio and Houston he arrived in New Orleans 2 hours and 9 minutes late. See his story on www.railpac.org. New Orleans mechanical forces were short-staffed for a while but have generally maintained the new overnight departure schedule which was designed to save expenses of crew lay-overs and free up one trainset, and while we have not been able to ascertain where that trainset’s cars are re-assigned, it is apparent there will be no problem with adding a third sleeping car to the California Zephyr this summer.

Sunset Limited #2 arrives at Maricopa, AZ (file photo by Richard Strandberg)

A big hang-up for train #2 has been the Maricopa, Arizona stop, the “station” for Phoenix and a crew change location. While train #1 is now scheduled to stop there at about 9PM, train #2 is scheduled at 5:30 am after its overnight run from Los Angeles. That time is the beginning of rush hour for folks living there who work in Phoenix, Chandler, Mesa, Tempe or the vicinity on its arrival days of Monday, Thursday, and Saturday. How did train #2 do at that location since the new schedule started?: 5:44, 6:12, 6:24, 6:26, 5:50, 5:38, 5:16, 5:43, 6:53, 5:44, 6:13, and 5:55. When the State Highway 347 crossing gates are down the train can sit there for anywhere from 10 to 25 minutes with two or three platform stops not unusual, all of them blocking SR 347. A photo on the InMaricopa.com site showed hundreds of vehicles backed up from the 347 crossing. The city is calling for a new station at city-owned Estrella (cotton) Gin property a few blocks west of the current site that will not require crossings to be blocked, and they have the attention of the State, Amtrak, and the UP who agree “something must be done.” In fiscal year 2011 9,819 train riders used the Maricopa station and generated $1,102,255 in revenue to Amtrak. While that is far less than what Phoenix generated when the train directly served that city, the new schedule was adjusted to help improve those figures in Arizona.

The most recent UP track improvement is east of Tucson. This is the west end of the new alignment that eliminates the old track that crossed I-10 (photo by Richard Strandberg)

Are passengers happy with the new schedule? Certainly the ones that want to go to/from Palm Springs by train are not. The 12:30 AM #2 arrival from Los Angeles is doable, and those riders can take the new daytime Amtrak buses at Palm Springs that require riding a Pacific Surfliner at Fullerton, then take the train back from Los Angeles after a long day. Complaints at LAUS about the early arrival continue when riders have to wait any length of time, according to Gene Poon. And, most businesses inside the station are still closed when this train arrives. It will take time for procedures to be ironed out, and we are confident they will be as much as possible. Comment: Many of the problems could be solved with train #1’s schedule adjusted to spend an extra hour before departing San Antonio. But, the UP has said “no talk” about the Sunset Limited for two more years. And, they mean it. So does Amtrak CEO Joe Boardman, who doesn’t want anything more to do with trains 1 and 2. According to Fred Frailey’s excellent article in the July Trains magazine, this new schedule is “a fig leaf that covers a teeny bit of embarrassment.”

The loneliest station on the Sunset route is Sanderson, TX, a flag stop and former crew change locaction (file photo by Richard Strandberg)

Editorials

How to run the Surfliners Faster

Opinion by Noel T. Braymer

The experiment with running the morning Surfliner Express from San Diego to Los Angeles isn’t going well. The train has a poor on-time record and ridership is lower than the train it replaced. What would be better is to run all Surfliners between San Diego and Los Angeles in 2 hours and 25 minutes which is 3 minutes faster than the express. This could be done with 7 stops instead of the 4 for the express. This doesn’t require running the trains any faster but spending less time stopped at the stations. If you save 2 minutes at 7 station stops that is up to 14 minutes saved on the running time. In addition if you take out some of the padding in the schedule then more time is saved. So if all the Surfliner trains are run with 7 stops which now are scheduled at 2 hours and 40, cutting out 15 minutes from the schedule is a running time of 2 hours and 25 minutes.

So what’s the catch? Why hasn’t this been done already? In order to shorten time at stations which now can run between 4 to 5 minutes per station requires the use of passenger cars with automatic opening and closing low floor doors like the ones on the Pacific Surfliner or Metrolink/Coaster bi-level equipment. To run the current 11 round trip trains today there is not enough equipment to run all trains with Surfliner equipment all the time. Because of this Amfleet equipment which is slower to load and unload is still used on some trains which determines the schedule for all trains. There are 2 solutions to this problem. One is to use commuter equipment either leased or to turn over some scheduled Surfliner runs to Metrolink and Coaster. The other is to borrow commuter equipment to use with the Amfleet equipment which would allow faster loading times. There are other problems that will need to be addressed. There are busy days when it is hard to load everyone on time. Much of this can be handled by being more organized. Making sure people are waiting for the train near the train door where they want to get on. Making sure people who need help with luggage or getting on or off the train get it will also save time. Tighter management is also needed to insure equipment is maintained and ready to run on time. Schedules may need to be adjusted to prevent conflicts with other trains. Money will have to be spent to insure the trains run on time which will in turn brings in more money from greater ridership.

The right equipment can handle large groups of people quickly

What if you still want to go faster and still run express trains? Well there is a better way to do that. The problem with express trains is that they bypass stations and customers. But if you stop at every station you can’t go very fast. The solution has been know for years which are called sweep trains. It is connecting local trains with express trains to make it easier for people to transfer between trains. A Coaster Train leaving San Diego can get a head start on an express Surliner train while making all stops. By the time the express trains gets to Oceanside it will catch up with the local. At Oceanside passengers from Encinitas, Poinsettia,and Carlsbad Village Stations can transfer to the express train. If the express train stops at Solana Beach then passengers from the local train could transfer there from Old Town and Sorrento Valley. With 2 stops the express train has already served 5 additional stations. A Metrolink train can also leave ahead of this express. If it starts at Laguna Niguel/Mission Viejo it can pick up passengers at all stops for them to transfer at Irvine and Anaheim. The express could then pass the local at Fullerton. In the other direction the local trains would follow the express out of Fullerton and out of Oceanside.

At this point the express Surfliner trains gets to Los Angeles. Now what? The money in transportation is made in generating passenger miles. To get the full advantage of an express service you should run it as far as possible. Currently there are 4 round trip from San Diego to Santa Barbara with one of those going as far as San Luis Obispo. There is one additional San Luis Obispo to San Diego train and one Los Angeles to San Luis Obispo train. This last train has a connection with a morning Metrolink train from Oceanside but this is never advertised. What would save a great deal of time is reducing the layover for these trains coming and going from San Diego to north of Los Angeles from the 15 minutes used today sitting at Union Station. The point is faster running time is not only useful for trips to Los Angeles but also to Oxnard, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo. Now there are still 7 round trips that don’t go past Los Angeles which would do better if they did. More trains on the coast are a possibility although not easy to arrange with the UP. One market that has yet to be tried is extending Surfliners north to Sylmar, Santa Clarita, Palmdale and Lancaster. This can be part of plans to run faster service from Los Angeles to the High Desert. For all Surfliners there should be connections at LAUS with Metrolink to the west San Fernando Valley and Ventura County as well as Metrolink to San Bernardino.

The issue facing LOSSAN which is made up of transportation agencies of Southern California is what is the future of the Pacific Surfliners?  LOSSAN is looking at taking over operation of the trains and contracting the service possibility to Amtrak.  But it will face many questions : will it need to buy equipment and what kind and how much? The trains need to be as productive as possible since LOSSAN will be responsible for paying for the operation of the trains.  Not only does the Surfliners have to connect with Metrolink and Coaster but also the San Joaquins, Capital Corridor, Starlight, Southwest Chief, Sunset and many connecting Thurway buses. Improving the running times and the connectivity of the Surfliners with the longest average trips lengths will provide the most productive and efficient service. It will be a major job ahead for LOSSSAN.