Notes on the RailPAC/NARP Meeting in Sacramento September 17th, 2012
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.
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.
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.
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 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, 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.
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.