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September 2012

eNewsletter

eNewsletter for September 23, 2012

The problem with the current rail route built in the 1870’s is it takes over 4 hours to go from Los Angeles to Bakersfield which takes 2 hours by bus. Also between Mojave and Bakersfield the line is very congested with 2 freight railroads sharing a single track rail line. … Even though the State and BNSF are paying over 100 million dollars to add more double tracking in the Tehachapi’s, that will barely keep up with current freight traffic on that line. What is needed is a new fast passenger rail line between Palmdale and Bakersfield to close this critical gap in the State’s Rail Passenger Network. It is not an engineering problem, what is needed is money. NB

September 24, 2012 Part 1  September 24, 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

 

Events

What did I learn from listening to Amtrak’s Brian Rosenwald?

Commentary by Russ Jackson, RailPAC

It is safe to say that Amtrak’s Chief, Product Development, Brian Rosenwald is held in very high esteem by rail advocates in this country. His huge success in developing the Pacific Parlour Car and other enhancements for the Coast Starlight in the mid-1990’s is legendary, and he calls those five years the best in his career. But that success has only been partially duplicated on other Amtrak trains since then. Today’s Empire Builder is a very successful off-shoot of what Mr. Rosenwald under his boss at the time, Amtrak West President Gil Mallery, accomplished back then.

Most of the time all we hear is how Amtrak is in trouble, especially the long-distance trains. Look at the history of those “gems of the system:” Writer Gene Poon reminds us that the “Amtrak we knew has already been downgraded, like when there were 18 cars of the combined California Zephyr/Desert Wind/Pioneer out of Chicago, with two full dining cars; 16 cars of the combined Miami and Tampa sections of the Silver Meteor/Silver Star with a section of each train doing a thriving business on the Ocala route; and of course the loss of direct service to Phoenix, without even the provision of a Thruway bus.” Amtrak moans about how the long-distance trains lose so much money, Congressman Mica roars about the huge cost of the food and beverage service, the Union Pacific and the BNSF hand Amtrak multi-million dollar bills for retaining or restoring service that had already existed. Public perception gained from stories like those mask the actual success the long-distance trains are having with the passengers out on the rails.

RailPAC President Paul Dyson, left, presents a plaque of appreciation to Brian Rosenwald. It is the second time RailPAC has done so, the first was in 1995 for his work on the Coast Starlight, and that plaque still hangs in Brian’s office. (Noel Braymer photo)

On September 15, 2012, RailPAC and NARP held their annual Steel Wheels Conference at the California State Rail Museum in Sacramento. This writer attended, with my wife and I riding the Texas Eagle-Sunset Limited (train numbers 421 and 422) from Ft. Worth to Los Angeles Union Station and back (more in my trip report to be posted on www.railpac.org soon). Brian Rosenwald spoke. The ears of this writer and all our colleagues were finely tuned to hear what might be new, and we knew he would be listening to us. He didn’t disappoint. In his opening remarks he told the audience that he liked coming to meetings like ours because of our enthusiasm for passenger rail and its future.

He started with some statistics:
Long-distance ridership is up 24% since 2007, its revenue is up 37%, and on a fully allocated basis the cost recovery is 48% with an annual loss of $563 million. What, he asked, is Amtrak doing to make this better?
1) Increase revenue density through yield management and augmented capacity.
2) Continue to focus on increased passenger per train mile and average yields.
3) Contain costs through efficiency.
4) Strategically invest capital when possible to reduce operating losses.

In other words, did he say add cars when demand requires it? Are they doing that? Well, yes and no. On our trip train #421 was at capacity; both the through Coach and Sleeping Car were full out of Ft. Worth and remained so most of the way to LA. Train #422 was a bit less full. “Offs” and “ons” were frequent, with each station, even the flag stops in NM and AZ, serving many passengers. Amtrak had to know that, early enough to schedule an additional car to fill up. This summer the Zephyr and the Builder ran with added seasonal cars in the West. According to RailPAC’s Anthony Lee, Mr. Rosenwald said they were considering adding a fourth sleeping car and a first class Cross Country Cafe Diner (ala the Pacific Parlour Car) permanently to the Builder year around. Demand for travel into and out of Williston, ND, has skyrocketed because of the oil field expansions; they can board/detrain 100 folks a day there frequently. Also, they will extend Auto Train from 46-48 cars to 55 cars and are seeking approval from CSX. A Chicago-Los Angeles dedicated express car would be added to the Southwest Chief, but is that train moving to the BNSF Transcon line? Unknown now, but it looks very possible since KS, CO, and NM have said they will have no money to invest to keep it on the present line. Amtrak is going ahead with adding a new bus from Denver to LaJunta and one from Newton to Oklahoma City, making connecting through-service Denver-San Antonio possible! As RailPAC’s Noel Braymer wrote, “In the past the most successful trains were the longest ones that carried the most passengers. The problems with doing this now is the shortage of equipment and doing it in a way that doesn’t increase the cost of operating the train on a fully allocated basis.” A new, more independent Long Distance Train Division is being created at Amtrak, which will speed up the decision-making process and will result in a greater “ownership” of those trains by the Amtrak employees working in that Division, which will lead to improved service.

What can a passenger riding on a long-distance train expect to see? If you have ridden a long-distance train more than once lately you know there has been no change in the dining car menus. Mr. Rosenwald said it took him only three weeks to make menu adjustments on the Coast Starlight, while now it takes a year. So, variety may be in the future, with regional specialties available. In the sleeping cars, and this writer can attest that many of the items are already on the trains, they have been working on things like faucets and sinks. Forever, Superliner sinks have splashed water and the faucets have been hard to use. No more. Reading lights have been dim, but the new ones are bright LED type with touch switches! New mattresses are on the way to replace the thin ones in use forever. I pointed out that I had just come off one of the newly rebuilt sleeping cars, 32059, and there were no soap bars (only liquid soap), no paper cups, only one towel hook, and no hooks to hang up clothes, jackets, etc., only the small closet for those items. He made note. On our return trip in a car, 32032, that had been even further upgraded we had the soap bars and cups. Progress at last, in that restroom cleanser odors have been mostly eliminated. The clean, new floor carpeting is welcome, and the replacement of the carpeted walls with paneling makes cleaning the cars easier. The one major problem we have seen no progress on is the rattle of the doors that can open between bedrooms. Guess what: the PA in our car on #422 worked only partially and we missed all the conductor/dining car announcements. In the works also is a “business class” section to replace the lower level “Kiddie Car” on the Coast Starlight, which would generate an additional $3 million. Nothing’s perfect, but we commend Mr. Rosenwald and Amtrak for these upgrades, even if they were needed years ago.

Hey, Brian, here are some things you can do in the Dining car. Real china is returning to all the Western trains soon, he said. On our trips the crews were excellent and had high morale. Mr. Rosenwald noticed this writer’s article about 24-hour meal service, (see the July/August issue of Steel Wheels or look on www.railpac.org or www.unitedrail.org) and he remembered the experiment and that the crews and passengers liked that. It didn’t go past the experimental stage because the bureaucracy found it would increase employee costs and they didn’t want that then, and probably don’t want it now. We have since learned that there has been a crew-size reduction on train #2. But the added revenue from 24-hour service would make up much of the loss today and would entice more Coach passengers in to eat. He thought another experiment might be feasible. As for food, we love the Angus Cheeseburger that is served at lunch and it should be available all day. How about a BLT? Everybody likes those, and they already cook bacon at breakfast and have lettuce and tomatoes available for salads all day. I showed Mr. Rosenwald a picture of a Texas-shaped waffle that I had at a hotel in Amarillo recently. Could a waffle iron be installed in the lower kitchen? Can you imagine the conversations a passenger would have about the breakfast waffle after he and the kids got off the Texas Eagle? And last, but not least, Brian, have those crews walk through the cars with illustrated menus promoting what passengers can have while they “eat their way across the country.” Sell! Sell! Sell! …with specifics!

I know the RailPAC Board joins me in wishing Brian Rosenwald well, and urge that he be selected to be the new Chief of the new Long Distance Division!

Editorials

What will rail passenger service in the San Joaquin Valley be like in 2018?

Questions from Noel T. Braymer 

My one disappointment at the September 15th RailPAC/NARP meeting was that Stacey Mortensen wasn’t able to attend. Stacey Mortensen is the Executive Director of the San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission which runs the Altamont Commuter Express Trains or ACE between Stockton and San Jose. ACE is also planning to build a rapid rail network for speeds up to 125 mile per hour) from Sacramento and Merced to San Jose through the Altamont Pass while future High Speed Rail travel is expected over the Pacheco Pass to San Jose and San Francisco. Stacey Mortensen also was placed this year on the California High Speed Rail Peer Review Group which provides the legislature advice on the High Speed Rail Project. I have many question of what will happen in five years as the construction finishes for the first leg of High Speed Rail. By 2018 we should see up to an hour removed from the running times of some San Joaquin trains and the creation of the Northern California Unified Service which will be a combined effort to improve and expand service on the Capitol Corridor, San Joaquin and ACE to provide good connections by rail between these services. The goal by 2022 is 300 miles of High Speed Rail between Merced and the San Fernando Valley with Merced the transfer point for passengers traveling to and from the Bay Area and upper San Joaquin Valley on the Initial High Speed Rail segment. I could think of no one better to talk about these issues and what is being planned than Stacey Mortensen.

Filling in for Stacey Mortensen was Dan Leavitt on September 15th. Dan Leavitt’s presentation was mostly on the legislation to create new Joint Power Agencies to take over the State’s management of the San Joaquin and Pacific Surfliner Trains. The model for these is the Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Agency which is very successful. There are many issues that need to be worked out if all 3 State Rail Corridors are turned over to local JPA’s. RailPAC has many concerns about the future of the Amtrak California Thruway Bus services now managed by Caltrans and the questions about how the three rail corridors will coordinate their services to connect with each other without Caltrans which has been doing this. For most of this Spring and Summer the agencies that will be members of these new JPA’s have been absorbed in the details of creating these new JPA’s. It seems like almost no other work is being done. On the local level the smaller counties have concerns about what they can afford and of being dominated by the larger counties in the proposed JPA’s.

What I would like to know is will there be direct rail service with ACE from Merced over the Altamont Pass to San Jose with connections to Caltrain in 2018 to faster San Joaquins? Will there be more trains and trains 7 days a week over the Altamont Pass by 2018? Will we see more trains on the San Joaquins with more trains to Sacramento? How does the Capitol Corridor fit into this? Will they have trains that will be extended to Merced or Stockton? I want to know how much faster trains north of Merced will be able to go in the San Joaquin Valley and how much running times will be reduced? I have heard that 90 miles per hours is a possibility, what about speeds up to 110 to 125 miles per hour in the future? Will any changes be seen before 2018 when construction is expected to be finished between Bakersfield and Madera? Then there are questions about what will happen by 2022 if and when there is 300 miles of HSR between Merced and the San Fernando Valley. What will happen to the San Joaquins after 2022? Will the San Joaquins still run south of Merced after 2022? How will the San Joaquins connect with the HSR trains? Will the San Joaquins share stations and tracks at Merced, Fresno, Hanford and Bakersfield with HSR? Will the San Joaquins also be able to continue to stop at Madera, Corcoran, and Wasco and share tracks with HSR to serve Fresno and Merced? Are there any plans to expand the Thruway Bus program in the San Joaquin Valley so both the San Joaquins and future HSR will serve more of the San Joaquin Valley? What about better tie ins by local bus service to the train stations in the San Joaquin Valley?

I realize that planning even for future service in this area by 2018 is tentative and subject to change. But so far it has been hard to get details of what is planned or even funded for rail passenger services in the San Joaquin Valley over the next 5 to 10 years beyond what is planned for High Speed Rail. There are so many questions and 2018 is just over 5 years away so there should be some firm plans that came be discussed. We know more about what is planned now by 2029 for California High Speed Rail than we know what new service we can expect to San Jose from the San Joaquin Valley by 2018. That was why I was hoping to hear from Stacey Mortensen in Sacramento on September the 15, because if anyone knows the answer to these questions, she should.

Events

Notes on the RailPAC/NARP Meeting in Sacramento

Observations and Photos by Noel T. Braymer

This is just a short report on the September 15th Meeting in Sacramento of my personal impressions as I tap away on my phone on the train going home. I got on the connecting bus for train 711 in the wee hours of Saturday morning to get to Sacramento. The bus was crowded and there were few free seats north of LA. It is times like this why I wonder there are no connecting buses for the San Joaquins south of Orange County for the Trains going directly to Sacramento. There are potential riders if the buses were there: people will ride the bus to catch trains at ungodly hours. Also the connecting bus from Stockton to Sacramento was nearly full. The good news is Stockton is getting new platforms. The bad news is the station in the mean time doesn’t have platforms. The resulting problems of getting off the train at Stockton and the confusion of so many passengers trying to find which of the three buses to catch resulted in the bus to Sacramento being twenty minites late leaving Stockton. Amazing to me was how many people transferred at Sacramento to the bus to Reno. At least I had 3 hours of free time before the meeting.

While not a great picture it shows the new Station for Madera on the San Joaquins. The old station was one of the worse in the State and replacing it was a long held goal of Caltrans

The current state of the platforms at Stockton

The crowd of people trying to get on the Bus from Stockton toward Sacramento

The meeting started with a greeting from Paul Hammond, Director of the California State Museum who was so kind to let us meet there both at the Stanford Gallery and in the East Theatre inside the Museum. The first speaker was Assemblyman Roger Dickinson of the 9th Assembly district in the Sacramento area. A long time supporter of rail service Roger Dickinson began with a theme repeated by other speakers on the 15th. This was on the Network Connections and interdependency between High Speed Rail, Corridor Rail, Commuter Rail and Rail Transit. As examples of these he gave lists of connecting conventional projects in the recently passed High Speed Rail Bill and in the legislation passed and waiting for the Governor’s decision to sign or veto that would create local Joint Power Agencies to manage the San Joaquins and Pacific Surfliners.

Assemblyman Dickinson with RailPAC President Paul Dyson

The next speaker was Brian Rosenwald, Chief-Product Development, Amtrak. Mr. Rosenwald talked about some of the difficulties of his job but most of his talk was about the potential of Long Distance Trains. He was encouraged by plans to create a new more independent Long Distance Train Division at Amtrak. This should speed up the the decision making process for Long Distance Trains for things like menu changes. He also feels greater decentralization of authority at Amtrak will mean as he called it greater “Ownership” of the trains by local managers which will lead to improved service and faster responses to fixing problems. Mr.Rosenwald would like to add more cars on the Long Distance Trains. In the past the most successful trains were the longest ones that carried the most passengers. The problems with doing this now is the shortage of equipment and doing it in a way that doesn’t increase the cost of operating the train on a fully allocated basis. Mr. Rosenwald also listed several projects in the works such as more cars on the Empire Builder, carrying pallet loads of cargo on the Chief and expanded first class service on Long Distant Trains.

 

Brian Rosenwald with Paul Dyson

Dan Leavitt represented the San Joaquin Regional Commission which is responsible for the ACE Train. He was filling in for his boss: Stacey Mortensen who was unable to attend. Most of Mr. Leavitt’s presentation was about the future of the San Joaquin Trains with service from Oakland and Sacramento to Bakersfield and the creation of a Joint Powers Agency to run it which would include the transportation agencies of the Valley. He did say there was opposition to the JPA in Bakersfield in Kern County and Hanford in Kings County.

Sacramento City Councilman Steve Cohn with Paul Dyson

Sacramento City Councilman Steve Cohn is a major supporter of rail service. He is on the boards of both the Sacramento RT and the Capitol Corridor JPA. He wanted people to know that problems from construction at the Sacramento would soon be a thing of the past. By November the detours to the platforms will be gone. By 2015 the $30 million rebuild of the station will be finished which will open 2/3 of the station now closed to the public with more places to eat and other station services. City Councilman Cohn also talked about plans for the Capitol Corridor to raise speeds to 110 miles per hour as well as other track improvement to allow service in an hour between Sacramento and the Bay Area.

Daniel Krause of Californians For High Speed Rail

Daniel Krause, Director Californians for High Speed Rail talked about joint efforts between his group and NARP supporting High Speed Rail in California and the shared network of projects of High Speed Rail and conventional rail services. Nathan Dietrich from the office of Congresswoman Doris Matsui talked about the Congresswoman’s long standing support of improved rail service and of the Sacramento Valley Station. Armin Kick of Siemens gave an update of what is happening at Siemens\Sacramento. More Light Rail Car construction is on line as well as construction soon of new electric locomotives for Amtrak. This will result in the construction of the first intercity electrified test track in California and the only one west of  Colorado. Matt Melzer Of NARP gave a power point presentation of NARP’s proposed rail service improvements as well as data on the future problems in the county with transportation and of recent rail service expansion in the county. He also showed drawing of and talked about the 14 rebuilt New Jersey Transit Comet Cars that will be used soon on the San Joaquins to help deal with overcrowding on California’s Corridor Trains.

Nathan Dietrich from the Office of Congresswoman Matsui

Armin Kick of Siemens with Paul Dyson

Matt Melzer of NARP

Attendees in the Stanford Gallery before the start of the Meeting

This is just a short list of highlights of almost 4 hours of meetings. I had to leave the meeting before the end to catch my train the 704. As it was I didn’t give myself much free time so I got to experience the confusion to trying to find the platform for my train for the first time with the confusing detours which increases the distance to catch the train. I was jogging to catch the train through the new tunnel as I looked at the time and the message Last Call for my train on the new LED Message Boards in the station tunnel But I still had a couple of minutes to spare when I caught my train.

My view of the new platform at Sacramento. No time for more pictures since I had a train to catch. NB

eNewsletter

eNewsletter for September 10, 2012

Why is coordinating the services of these 3 regions so important? In a word connections. For people in California to be able to get around the entire State by rail the trains must be scheduled with good connections to each other. A major part of the connectivity of the existing State Rail Passenger network are with connecting buses. Buses play a major role in connecting the Pacific Surfliners with both the San Joaquin and Capitol Corridor trains. Creating the connecting bus system and coordinating the 3 State Rail Corridor has been handled by Caltrans from the beginning.

September 10, 2012 Part 1    September 10, 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

What Could go Wrong for California’s Intercity Trains

Opinion By Noel T. Braymer

Legislation is in the works to create Joint Power Authorities for local control of the planning and administration of both the Pacific Surfliner and San Joaquin Trains. This is modeled after the Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority or CCJPA which has successfully managed the Capitol Corridor Trains. Some of the advantages of local management are the ability to lobby for service improvements and funding while being able to concentrate on local issues of rail passenger service. Caltrans Rail Division now administers the Pacific Surfliner and San Joaquin Trains. Unlike a JPA as a state government agency Caltrans cannot lobby for funding and must be non-partisan on issues. Also as a State-wide agency it is stretched thin serving the whole State with shrinking budget.

There are many bright spots for future California intercity rail service. There are both more passenger cars and locomotives soon to go to bid which was an accomplishment of Caltrans working with other States and the Federal Government. Funding has recently been approved as part of High Speed Rail  for many projects to improve existing railroads used by commuter and intercity trains for higher speeds and greater capacity. The groundwork has been laid for more and faster passenger trains in the State. The challenge to making all of this work and serve most of the State economically is getting the many different government transportation agencies all working together. Each of the 3 JPA’s if they are created will have as members several local agencies. It is difficult just to get the agencies within one JPA working together. With 3 JPA’s the problems of getting all the JPA’s to coordinate their efforts will be even more difficult.

Why is coordinating the services of these 3 regions so important? In a word connections. For people in California to be able to get around the entire State by rail the trains must be scheduled with good connections to each other. A major part of the connectivity of the existing State Rail Passenger network are with connecting buses. Buses play a major role in connecting the Pacific Surfliners with both the San Joaquin and Capitol Corridor trains. Creating the connecting bus system and coordinating the 3 State Rail Corridor has been handled by Caltrans from the beginning. Currently there is no other way to travel between these trains without bus connections. In many cases buses allow greater frequencies on a route where rail service doesn’t go all the way such as connecting by train south of Los Angeles with buses to cities north of Los Angeles. These buses not only increase ridership but also revenues. The Ambuses of California run at a profit or they are cancelled. The money from these profits goes to the State Rail Program. By nature someone travelling with a bus connection is traveling much further than most passengers. Because of this bus connecting passengers are more profitable and pay more to ride the trains than your average passenger. Driving away this traffic will drive away business at a time the State Intercity Rail Services need to improve their economic performance in the face of reduced operating subsidies.

There are many concerns about the future of the San Joaquin Trains with the construction of the of High Speed Rail south of Merced all the way to at least Palmdale. Counties in the southern San Joaquin Valley such as Kern and Kings County are worried there are efforts to stop the San Joaquin Trains at Merced in the future and have the trains serve only the northern part of the Valley. Some people in the southern San Joaquin Valley have expressed fear that this would end passenger rail service to Corcoran and Wasco and direct service on the San Joaquin Trains at Fresno, Hanford and Bakersfield. With conflicting reports it is unsure exactly what is being planned. There is nothing so far in the High Speed Rail Planning about how the southern Valley will be served except by automobiles outside of Fresno, Hanford and Bakersfield. Ridership of successful transportation services depend on a network of connecting services. Airlines are not interested in flying small propeller airplanes from Bakersfield to LAX or Fresno to SFO per se. They do it for the transferring passenger going onwards to places like New York or London. The same should be true of rail service in California. Check any airline schedule and all flight connect with each other at many levels with many ways to get between 2 cities with different connections. For Rail service to grow and be economical a high level of connectivity serving the maximum number or markets is crucial.

This won’t just happen, this has to be planned and is hard work. Usually it is best to have an independent and neutral overseer to work through and referee the conflicts of interest of different agencies. High Speed Rail will not eliminate the need for buses or local rail services. It will change the nature of these services. Considering the massive number of riders a High Speed Rail service can handle, a system of feeders and distributors will be needed to fill up these trains. This won’t be done if we reduce services in the State or ignore area without connections now to rail passenger service.

eNewsletter

eNewsletter for September 4, 2012

Amtrak told 3 states have no funding for route                                                                  Sacramento Bee – Aug 31, 2012                                                                                   Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico transportation officials say the states don’t have funding to save Amtrak’s Southwest Chief route through the three states.

September 4. 2012 Part 1  September 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