Monthly Archives

November 2012

Commentary

Arizona and passenger rail: Now and in the exciting future

Report and Commentary by Russ Jackson, PHOTOS by Russ Jackson, Mike Palmer, Bill Lindley.
We all know that two major transcontinental railroads have crossed the state of Arizona for over 100 years, built by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe in the north and the Southern Pacific across the southern route. Today the AT&SF is the Burlington Northern Santa Fe and the SP route is owned by the Union Pacific. Passenger trains have always been a part of the state’s railroad picture from the days of Fred Harvey and the tourist trains that brought winter visitors to the state. Amtrak operates the daily Southwest Chief across the BNSF and the tri-weekly Sunset Limited on the UP, but is there a chance for increasing that level of service? Not likely, what with the current hard-nosed attitude that exists at the freight railroads and Amtrak’s reluctance to challenge it. What the UP and BNSF do is run the current passenger schedules quite efficiently; trains 1 and 2 ran 66% on time at end points on the UP in the fiscal year 2011 which ended September 30, 2012, and 92.3% in the month of October, 2012. Trains 3 and 4 were at 80% for the FY and 91.9% on time on the BNSF in October.

In the fiscal year 2011, Arizona riders supported long-distance passenger rail quite well. The Sunset Limited brought Amtrak almost $4 million of revenue from its four Arizona stations despite the tri-weekly schedule. The Southwest Chief’s state revenues were just over $9 million. Just think how much more revenue Amtrak would have had with daily service on 1 and 2! The largest revenue and number of passengers was at the Flagstaff station (photo left) which over 41,000 riders used, and it generated over $5 million of revenue for Amtrak. Tucson was second with over $2 million and 23,896 riders, Kingman was third with $1.6 million and 10,700 riders, Williams Jct. was fourth with $1.3 million and 7,487 riders, and Maricopa, the station that poses as the station for the entire Phoenix metro area was fifth with $1.1 million and almost 11,000 riders. (Statistics courtesy Great American Stations). The smaller stations of Benson (photo right), Winslow and Yuma did well considering their size. RailPAC correspondent Ralph James’ wife has boarded the Coast Starlight in Sacramento twice this year on trips that connected with the Sunset Limited in Los Angeles for her destination of Benson, Arizona. She has been very pleased with that restored Amtrak connection and the service on board, as well as the on time performance and meals on both trains.

Phoenix Union Station, now abandoned.

What is hugely disappointing is that the Phoenix area, which has 3,255,500 population and its metro market ranks 14th in the country (Arbitron figures), continues to have only distant train service and no dedicated connecting bus service to/from the Sunset Limited, but the Southwest Chief does and the ridership-revenue figures at Flagstaff reflect that! Obviously direct service back into Phoenix and daily service on 1 and 2 are still high priorities, but Amtrak is not interested in pursuing these goals, at least not under its current agreement with the UP, and there is not much likely to happen from the state financially. Adding an additional passenger train on the BNSF “Transcon” line is likely to get the same negative response.

Historic Tucson SP depot has been restored, with a night club, market, rail museum, and a farmers market.

Yes, Arizona is (fairly) well served for east-west train travel. But, the north-south corridor between Tucson and Phoenix is still not connected by rail, and highway traffic on Interstate 10 continues to grow and grow and grow to where it is jammed just about every hour of every day. A third lane in each direction is under construction in some areas, but some say it will not help much as the development growth along the route will exceed that capacity by the time it is completed. The corridor population can double in the next 30 years, and the trip could be 5 hours instead of the 2 now. So, what to do, Arizonans? The distance by rail is close to the length of the Los Angeles to San Diego route. Surprisingly, Arizona leaders are considering rail alternatives, and are coming up with some interesting ideas in a $6.3 million study. ADOT, the Arizona Department of Transportation, will select a preferred route next year, and while no money is yet available the planning has begun and public meetings are being held. The ADOT “blueprint” has six (6!) possible routes between Phoenix and Tucson, with 3 to 11 possible stops and running times of 73 to 126 minutes. Arizona Rail Passenger Association President, Rob Bohanan, told azcentral.com that “They’ve gone from paying it lip service to taking it seriously. What I don’t see is anybody setting a target.”

The ADOT plan does not rely only on the current UP rail structure for all their plans! The UP, of course, is well known for its outrageous cost estimates for adding passenger service anywhere on its system, so Arizona may have to build its own rights-of-way out of the Phoenix-Tempe-Mesa area that would end up connecting to the UP main line which is soon to be fully double tracked, somewhere near Picacho. They would either use that UP line from there or build a new parallel r-o-w to Tucson. Currently the favorite route seems to be to use a new r-o-w east from Mesa paralleling US60 before curving south to Florence, which is east of the current UP line. Another possibility which this writer hopes is considered is restoring the historic line south from Tempe to Maricopa along the present SR347 highway that at one time was an SP rail line carrying Phoenix passengers who were transferring to/from SP trains in the time before the SP built the West Phoenix branch. That r-o-w largely still exists and would make possible commuting from that fast-growing town. Why not build both alternatives? RailPAC/ARPA Tucson member Richard Strandberg advocates that the new line to Maricopa be a combined freight-passenger railroad, not passenger-only, which means there would be additional revenue to support it.

A station track would have to be restored at the Tucson station.

As for financing of this ambitious project, there isn’t any money committed to it. Yet. They will be looking at new sources of public money as well as private investment. But, this rail plan has one big drawback as far as that small state is concerned, in that it could divert too many precious dollars away from needed highway projects. ARPA’s Rob Bohanan admits that money will be the big problem, “But I think this is just a matter of time. Someday, there will be a comprehensive rail system in Arizona, but will it be in my lifetime? I don’t know.” There have been studies of rail in Arizona dating back to 1980 that are collecting dust. The benefits of rail are well known, including job creation, environmental improvements to the air, and increased mobility potentials. As Mr. Bohanan says, “We need somebody to say we’ll have trains between Tucson and Phoenix by 2020!”
NOTE: Writer Russ Jackson grew up in Tucson, and spent many days with his father watching SP trains come through the Tucson depot. He is a past officer of RailPAC , edited their publication, and is a frequent contributor to www.railpac.org and Steel Wheels. He can be reached at info@railpac.org.

Editorials

How Profitable is the NEC?

Report by Noel T. Braymer

According to Amtrak’s 2011 Fiscal Year their NEC Passenger Trains grossed just over 1 billion dollars. Revenue that year was roughly split evenly between the Acela Trains and the conventional Northeast Regional Trains. In 2011 according to Amtrak the Acelas covered their fully allocated costs and had an operating profit of $165 million dollars. The Northeast Regional service exceeded their allocated costs by an additional 15 million dollars. That compares to a reported 18 million dollar operating loss back in Fiscal 2003 for Amtrak’s NEC Trains. This was reported in Fred W. Frailey’s column in the November 2012 issue of Trains Magazine.

However when we look at Amtrak’s 2011 Capital Budget for the NEC, it was $575 million dollars versus the $180 million in “Operating Profits”. In the words of Amtrak Vice-President Stephen Gardner on the NEC …”infrastructure costs are growing exponentially”.

This in a nutshell is the problem of trying to make money running a railroad. Most transportation services depend to a large degree on the government to provide infrastructure. Airports, roads, harbors, and waterways are generally built and maintained at government expense. This difference is at the root of the argument when comparing rail versus other modes when talking about subsidies for transportation. How do American Railroads make money with their own infrastructure? It helps after over 150 years they own it free and clear. Also over the last 30 plus years with deregulation the railroads can charge enough to cover capital costs. American freight rail service is on a continental scale which creates the significant train miles needed to produce profits. Plus since deregulation the railroads have eliminated miles of poorly performing secondary lines and have invested money to add capacity on busy mainlines.

So how does this compare with railroads in other countries? In the past railroads in most countries were owned by the government. These railroads usually didn’t make money but didn’t lose much either. Generally services that need government subsidies are commuter trains and service on rural branch lines. In the last 20 years or so this has changed in much of the world with either rail service being turned over to private companies or the government owned railroads being reorganized for-profit. At much the same time many countries have separated ownership of the infrastructure of the railroads from that of the operators.

What is the advantage for the rail service operator in not owning the railroad? Saving money! The operator only has to pay the cost it incurs, not the whole cost which can include excess capacity. The form of infrastructure ownership varies from country to country. In some cases it is owned by the government which can use tax money to maintain the railroad. Often it is a non-profit organization which is funded by users to maintain the railroad. It isn’t easy breaking even let alone making money owning infrastructure. We have small scale examples of this in California. Los Angeles County created the Alameda Corridor: 20 miles of grade separated railroad from the harbors to the major rail freight yards near downtown LA. This allows greater rail freight traffic for the harbors while eliminating dozens of grade crossing that would have blocked traffic with additional trains. Even though the government owns the Alameda Corridor the railroads are still paying for much of the cost of construction and operation from what they are charged to use it. There have been times when the debt had to be renegotiated when revenue fell short but the project is still a going if not highly profitable concern. Another example in California of operators not owning the railroads goes back to the 1990’s. Back then the Southern Pacific and Santa Fe were more than happy to sell branch lines for Caltrain, Metrolink and Coaster. The railroads were happy to sell these branch lines to get the cash and to get the costs and legal liabilities of owning these rail lines off their backs. The freight railroads pay rent to use their old rail lines but this is much less than what they paid to own them. These rail lines now are often owned by the counties they are in and we see county, state and Federal funding going towards improvements.

It would be in Amtrak’s best interest if it didn’t own the NEC if it wants to be profitable. It isn’t that hard to operate rail passenger service at a profit, but it is hard to pay for the infrastructure. NEC or any rail line can break even or maybe even make a small profit on infrastructure.To do that the fees charged have to be able to cover capital costs and the railroad needs to have plenty of traffic. An independent NEC infrastructure operator to break even would want to charge fees high enough to cover capital costs while increasing traffic to raise revenue. That would include increasing freight traffic. As it is Amtrak is a minority user of the NEC with about 150 weekday trains while the commuter trains number around 1500. As owner Amtrak is responsible for the majority of the costs of the NEC. Going back to the 2011 Amtrak capital budget of  $575 million dollars, the total fees paid for by the other users of the NEC totaled $164 Million for operating and capital cost according to Fred W. Frailey in the July 2012 issue of Trains. While Amtrak trains produce more train miles per train than commuter trains, the heavy commuter traffic in major cities is where most of the NEC infrastructure costs are. And this doesn’t include the cost of future proposed improvements on the NEC which Amtrak is looking at construction costs as high as $151 Billion dollars for 200 plus miles per hour speeds.

By law as of 2015 the other users of the NEC are suppose to pay “their fair share” for capital projects. This brings up the can of worms of what is their fair share? Everything is based on Amtrak’s allocated costs. According to Amtrak’s allocated costs it is losing $530 million on the Long Distance Trains this year. How can Amtrak lose so much money on Long Distance Trains? The Long Distance Trains use very little of Amtrak’s overhead. Most of the infrastructure used by the Long Distance Trains is that of the major freight operators. As it is Amtrak gets a major discount to use the freight railroads tracks which is a sore point with them. Amtrak’s losses on the Long Distance Trains is a result of Amtrak’s allocated costs assigned to them. The Long Distance Trains are charged a proportion of Amtrak’s total overhead costs on a train-mile basis. As a result the Long Distance Trains get charged a great deal of the cost of Amtrak’s overhead since they travel many miles. In other words according to Amtrak’s allocated cost a train cost nothing if it isn’t moving. Is this a realistic way to measure costs at Amtrak? When put to the test in the past when Amtrak has eliminated Long Distance Trains to “save money” the result was Amtrak lost more money. Revenues went down as Long Distance service was cut but little money was saved. During the Amtrak Presidency of W. Graham Claytor of the 80’s and early 90’s, Long Distance service was improved and expanded which increased revenues and reduced deficits. Amtrak could easily increase its revenue with little increase of overhead by buying more Long Distance equipment and adding it to existing trains which are now often full instead of regularly turning away passengers as it does now. Minor improvements with better connections and sections to serve new markets would greatly improve revenues. Amtrak will never be profitable as long as Amtrak owns the NEC and doesn’t expand service on the National System where it doesn’t have to pay for the full cost of the infrastructure.

eNewsletter

eNewsletter for November 19, 2012

California bullet train moves forward, judge denies farmers’ plea to …San Jose Mercury News- Nov 16, 2012 SACRAMENTO — California’s $69 billion bullet train will continue zooming toward a groundbreaking next year after a judge on Friday denied a …

November 19, 2012 Part 1   November 19, 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’s next for LOSSAN?

By Paul Dyson
President, Rail Passenger Association of California and Nevada

The LOSSAN Board met Monday 19th November in the wake of the unanimous decision by NCTD on Thursday 15th to reject the proposed Joint Powers Board. Some of the reasons: The expected $79,000 share of the cost to set up the agency, and, after over three years debate and negotiation, NCTD felt “rushed”. I have written before in the Review about the “Berlin Wall” at Oceanside, the ridiculous decision by NCTD to set up their own dispatch office, and the lack of coordination between Metrolink, Coaster and Amtrak. The parochial board of NCTD (prompted by their xenophobic staff) fear that “Los Angeles”, the perennial bogeyman of San Diego county, will somehow put them out of a job. While that is not the plan, one can’t help but think that this would be the best outcome. Suggested action: Write to NCTD and tell them that we want coordination and connections, and that the status quo is unacceptable. Their Chair is Chris Orlando, Council member from San Marcos. E mail him at corlando@ci.san-marcos.ca.us.

I think that the other 9 agencies will proceed with their votes and hopefully all will be in favor, presenting NCTD with a moral victory which might be sufficient to change their minds. In any event there will be some Board changes come January. Watch this space.
PD

Rail Photos

PHOTOS of the MONTH from RailPAC (November)

Here are 5 photos taken by RailPAC photographers. Clic on the photo to see it full size!


1. The Coast Starlight in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon in October, 2012. Photo by Alexander Friedman.


2. The eastbound California Zephyr has arrived at Sacramento’s new platform on September 15, 2012. RailPAC in action: Two passengers found themselves on the wrong platform to board train #6, so RailPAC Director, Marcia Johnston, went to their aid and helped them to the correct place to board. Photo by Russ Jackson


3. Metrolink end-of-the-line station for the Antelope Valley line at Lancaster on October 12, 2012. Photo by Noel Braymer

4. A favorite from the RailPAC archives: The California Zephyr, train 5, is at the Winter Park, Colorado, station in an April, 2000, snow storm. Photo by Russ Jackson

5. The Los Angeles Union Station Christmas tree from the 1992 RailPAC archives. LAUS has seen many improvements in recent years. HAPPY HOLIDAYS 2012 from the RailPAC Photo editor and staff! Photo by Russ Jackson

Editorials

Better Bus connections to LAX from Trains

Report by Noel T. Braymer

Los Angeles World Airports is the city agency which operates the airports owned by the City of Los Angeles including LAX. The LAWA also operates the Flyaway bus service which provides direct connections to LAX.  The busiest Flyaway bus service is at Van Nuys where the LAWA has a satellite parking lot with frequent bus connections to LAX. The Flyaway bus service from Los Angeles Union Station to LAX is very successful, exceeding original projection.

 

As you can see from this graph the Westwood buses near UCLA and the Irvine buses haven’t done well. As of now the Irvine Flyaway service has been cancelled.

 

 

This  graphic also by LAWA  from September of this years shows the financial side of the Flyaway service.

As you can see the Van Nuys buses are the busiest and because of this cost the most. But notice the funny color for the Union Station buses this Fiscal Year: Black. It looks like this year the Union Station buses ran at a profit. The main purpose of the Flyaway buses is to relieve traffic at LAX not to make money. But budget issues are clearly a concern for the LAWA. So why is Union Station a more economical service than the others? The main difference is that Union Station is a Hub. Airlines learned since the 1970’s that having Hubs to pick up transferring passenger was the best way to minimize costs while serving the largest numbers of markets. At Union Station you have passengers from downtown Los Angeles as well coming from local buses, Metrorail, Metrolink and Amtrak using Flyaway to get to get to LAX. Non-stop service is usually the most expensive and least productive form of transportation service. Yet this is what Flyaway Buses do now.

So what would get more people on Flyaway buses and lower operating costs? More station stops at Hubs is the answer. Flyaway’s mission is to expand service and reduce traffic at LAX. The best way to do this is to run buses at Hubs to connect to LAX. Let’s look at a better connection to Orange County than Irvine. What Orange County station has the most trains connecting to the most cities? That would be Fullerton. For a person going to LAX from the train, Fullerton is much closer than Irvine. In terms of serving more potential transferring passengers and having a faster turnabout with less distance to LAX then Fullerton beats Irvine or any other Orange County station. What would make Fullerton Flyaway service stronger? Adding at least one extra stop before going to LAX. Where would be the best place for this stop? The station at the junction of the Blue and Green Metrorail lines. The Blue Line alone serves over 90,000 passengers during the weekday and the Green Line has over 40,000. That is almost 140,000 people a day at this junction. Stopping at this station won’t take much time since it its right on the 105 Freeway which is also the right of way for the Green Line and a HOV Lane available for buses going straight to LAX. Would a non-stop Flyaway service work from the Blue/Green Lines junction station? By itself most likely not. But combining it with a Fullerton stop will make both more productive and economical.

Another way to do this would be to combine Westwood/ Blue-Green Line and Fullerton bus stops into one bus route. The Westwood service isn’t doing very well. Having buses shuttle between Westwood and Fullerton with stops at the Blue/Green Lines Junction through LAX would be more economical than running separate bus lines from these places directly to LAX. This could create a new market for travelers going to other places beside LAX. If this were to happen this would help pay to keep fares lower and increase bus frequencies which would attract more passengers to ride the Flyaway Buses to LAX and make it possible to expand service within LAWA’s budget. Non-stop service may seem attractive but rarely does well because of high costs and low ridership due to limited markets. Successful transportation services rely on connecting several Hubs together to serve the most markets. This is how the airlines work, and will work for providing ground transportation to the airport.

eNewsletter

eNewsletter for November 12, 2012

This is the current planning for development at LAUS. Like Sacramento there are plans for office buildings and another sports arena. Los Angeles has 3 sports arenas already and plans for a NFL Stadium without a team. A station’s first need is to be for transportation! Also needed are shops, services and recreation for travelers, hotels and in most cities today a growing need for housing. But this is not on the radar of the planners who are seemingly clueless of the needs of the traveling public. NB

November 12. 2012 Part 1    November 12, 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

Train Trip to LAUS and Lancaster

Report by Noel T. Braymer with Photos

Nothing beats going out and riding the trains to see what is going on by finding problems and improvements of local rail service. It is the only way to get photos of what is going too. Well I got to bed early for me just after midnight planning to try to get up by 6 AM after getting home from work around 11 PM. My plan was to catch Metrolink out of Oceanside at 7:35 AM and connect to Los Angeles in Orange County to a LAUS bound train. I was awake before 5 and got up, got ready and left the house just after 6 AM. Got to the station with time to spare for the 6:36 AM departure but with only 2 ticket machines both were busy. I foresee a bright future of eTicketing by mobile phones for all trains soon.

Odd that the ticket machines face east and of course at that time off the morning the sun is rising from the east so you are fighting glare as you try to buy your tickets.This is only a problem when the ticket machines are most busy in the morning rush hour. Most of the regular riders on this rush hour train were pass holders so buying tickets wasn’t a problem for them. The lady in front of me was a veteran rider and helped the newbie in front of her. She got a ticket from Oceanside to Pomona. I could have gotten a round trip to Lancaster if I had thought about it but had enough problems getting a ticket for LA: $30 round trip to LA and $28 round trip LA to Lancaster. It amazes me still that Metrolink recognizes transfers and has single ticket for Metrolink trips with transfers. But if I ride the 7:35 AM Metrolink Train out of Oceanside for Riverside, Metrolink doesn’t recognize the connection in most of Orange County to the train arriving in Los Angeles at 10:02 AM or the connection to San Bernardino by 10:50 AM. Off peak is the best market for connecting trains because that is when Metrolink has the most available seats and connections bring in more money than commutes.

New construction by Caltrans of a grade separation at Valley View Ave on the BNSF Main

Being on a rush hour train there was a good crowd on a long train going through Orange County. Lots of people getting on and off at Orange County stations, several of them with bikes. This is a reason there is planning between Metrolink and Coaster to extend Metrolink to San Diego and Coaster trains to Fullerton. There is demand for local travel between the two counties. This was recognized back in 1990 by former RailPAC President Byron Nordberg . He wrote the feasibility study for the Coaster in the early 1980’s and latter recommended that the Coaster be extended to Irvine to serve commuters from San Diego to Orange Counties. An extension to Irvine would also have improved the economics of the Coaster. It seemed this idea had been forgotten but discussions renewed the idea in 2011 between the agencies. By 2014 track improvement will be ready and this is when extending the services are expected. There was work on a grade separation in Irvine. They have the city yard clear where Anaheim is building the new ARTIC Station but nothing was torn up yet let alone construction started by late October. Caltrans is working on a new grade separation in LA County south of Norwalk and they almost almost finished a grade separation north of Norwalk at Pico Rivera. Both projects are part of 15 miles of triple tracking between Hobart Yard in the City of Commerce and Fullerton. Once this busy segment of the BNSF Mainline is grade separated a fourth track can be added in a few more years.

Fullerton Station and the start of triple tracking to Hobart. Grade separations are needed for Triple tracking at busy streets which is needed to run more trains

No problems getting into LAUS on time. I’m sure they could have arrived sooner if they tried. I got pictures of the new Number 7 platform for tracks 13 and 14 at Union Station. It is open to the public now but was not in use for trains as of late October. This new platform and tracks will be needed when tracks are taken out of service for construction of run-through tracks at LAUS. I just recently found out the plan now is to build 8 run through tracks not 4. That is 8 out of 12 passenger tracks. The claim is that will increase capacity by 40%. Is that all? Few long distance trains will use the station compared to mostly commuter and short haul intercity trains. I see no need to leave most trains at the station more that five minutes. Even with 10 minutes per train that is 6 trains an hour times 8 tracks or 48 trains an hour. That is 480 trains in just 10 hours and the station now is congested with just over 100 trains all day. Seems there are plans to build the run through tracks now by 2017.That will be great seeing the new tracks after talking about it now for over 30 years

The new Platform 7 at LAUS which is very near the LA Metro Headquarters

Close up view of the current plan to build run-through tracks at LAUS

Well the train wasn’t crowded for Lancaster at 9:20 AM. Busy railroad with mostly Metrolink trains between LAUS and Burbank. I found almost a dozen New Jersey Transit Comet cars parked in Santa Clarita. I wonder what the plans are for those cars? Great scenery most of the trip but slow with top speeds for much of the way after Santa Clarita between 35 to 25 miles per hour. Metrolink has started to upgrade the tracks and there is planning to get the running time at least for some trains cut in half from 2 hours between Los Angeles and Lancaster. Coming back I was in the Quiet Car which wasn’t quiet. This train had a good crowd going southbound with lots of families with kids and otherwise loud people in the Quiet Car. The Antelope Valley Metrolink Line is well traveled and has potential with service improvements of ridership growth.

A Quiet Car is a good idea but only if it is enforced. Interestingly the Antelope Valley trains seem to have more security on board than other Metrolink trains

Recent construction on the Antelope Valley Line at the Lang Siding. This just the start of straightening and speeding up this curvy raiiroad

I had lunch when I got back to LAUS by 1:30 PM at my favorite place near the station. After that I killed time at the station before catching the 3:20 PM back to Oceanside. No time really to go anywhere and have time to catch my train. Even in the middle of the day Union Station is busy with many opportunities for people watching. For example there was a young couple having their wedding pictures shot at the main hall of LAUS while I waited. Amtrak still has people lining up even for Surfliners in the waiting room before departure time. Looks kinda silly when the tunnel to the platforms is open and the Metrolink passengers just walk right to their train’s platform even before the train arrives. There was what seemed a long meet at Serra for a Metrolink train northbound from Oceanside. The best thing about leaving early was there was enough light to see the railroad and improvements such as the new bridge which should in use next year at Pendleton over the Santa Margarita River. I was also lucky to leave early because later that evening somehow a driver lost control of their car and flew off a highway bridge near Mission Viejo and landed on the tracks of the Surf Line. This delayed later trains that night and I was glad this time not to be caught in that.

Editorials

How to have High Speed Rail in California Sooner, Faster and Cheaper

By Noel T. Braymer

Since 1996 with the creation of the California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) it has had the dream to build the most sophisticated High Speed Rail service in the World with the highest running speed in California. Such a service would serve the largest cities in the State in less time than it takes to fly. This would be quite a giant leap forward considering that Rail Passenger service in California now is no faster than it was 60 years ago. Central to this dream of the CHSRA is that this project will be profitable and much of the money to build it will come from investors and not all from taxpayers. Well like most great dreams, the plans of the CHSRA are not all going according to plan. All that is certain for now is there is 6 billion dollars in Federal and State Money to build 130 miles of new railroad between Madera and Bakersfield. This new HSR Line is expected to be finished by the end of 2017 after which it will be used by San Joaquin Trains at speeds up to 125 miles per hour. Currently there are no funds to electrify this line or buy trainsets capable of 220 miles per hour speed.

The CHSRA hopes that by 2022 an additional 26 billion dollars in funding will be found to finish 300 miles of new electrified HSR railroad between Burbank and Merced. This 300 mile segment is considered by the CHSRA as the shortest line that can be operated at a profit. Profitability is important because it will be needed to attract investors to expand HSR service to the major population centers of California. Critical to starting a viable HSR service is the connection to the largest populated area in California south of Bakersfield. So what alternatives does the CHSRA have if it can’t raise the full 26 billion dollars by 2022? The most critical segment which now has no rail passenger service is between Lancaster and Bakersfield. A new fast railroad here will bridge the largest gap in the State for rail passenger service. So what is the best way to start up a California High Speed Rail service at a profit on a budget? The answer is with Tilt Trains that can use upgraded existing tracks or right of ways. Tilt Trains are being used all over the world to provide faster rail service on existing railroads. Tilt Trains are faster because they can go through curves faster in passenger comfort than is possible with a conventional train. Tilt Trains with a top speed of 150 miles an hour are time competitive to other HSR Trains with an average speed comparable with non tilting HSR trains running at faster speeds. This is because even HSR trains have to slow down for curves particularly in urban areas. Running faster Tilt Trains needs track upgrades and additional trackage so fast trains can pass slower trains when sharing tracks. But this is still less expensive and can be done faster than an all new HSR railroad. This brings up the issue of electrification. Electric trains have many advantages. They accelerate faster which is important when a trains has many stops and on a busy rail line they are more economical to operate than diesel. The problem is electrification is expensive to build and no rail lines are electrified now in California. Even with a 300 mile HSR starter line there are hundreds of miles of routes that won’t have direct service. The current plan is to create transfer stations at Merced and Burbank to get people to most of California. Good transfers are important but ridership and revenues increases when there are fewer transfers.

Just how fast can trains go without electrification? Britain has been running since the late 1970’s and is still running fast diesel trains at 125 miles per hour. They operate these trains in service as fast as 140 miles per hour. The X-2000 train of Sweden is an electric Tilt Train with a top speed of 150 miles per that provides High Speed Rail service on upgraded tracks. As a Tilt Train the X-2000 is time competitive with running times comparable with faster non tilting trains such as the famous TGV. As part of the Acela project Bombardier built a prototype turbine Acela locomotive for Tilt Train service for speeds up to 150 miles per hour. This was done just like the X-2000 because Tilt Trains are time competitive with faster HSR Trains at that speed using existing rights of ways. The prototype French TGV was a turbine train which in the 1970s was tested at over 190 miles per hour. The issue is if the goal is to run passenger rail service at a profit then what is more important is average passenger distance traveled, number of markets offered and the costs of owning and operating a service than higher running speeds . What is most important for the passenger is the time from origin to destination not the running time from station to station. Going 220 miles per hour means nothing to a passenger if they have long waits or poor or no connections getting to where they want to go. Being able to provide faster direct passenger service by 2022 from San Diego and the Inland Empire up the San Joaquin Valley to Sacramento, San Jose, up the San Francisco Peninsula and the East Bay is a better marketing plan than Merced-Burbank with transfers. Plus using Tilt Trains on existing rights of way will be cheaper to build and operate to serve secondary markets and carry more passengers and be faster to use than having passengers transferring at Burbank and Merced.

So is this a moot point if the CHSRA get its 26 billion dollars and a 300 mile electrified High Speed Railroad by 2022? There are still markets in San Diego, the Inland Empire, Sacramento and the Bay Area which will not have direct service and may not see any for years to come. Just extending service with roughly 12 miles of additional electrification from Burbank to Los Angeles Union Station would help. But it will still be years away most likely before we can afford to electrify most passenger rail lines in the State if ever. There are several ways to handle this. With compatible signaling systems non-electric trains can run on electrified railroads. Most trains today run with electric traction. The diesel or turbine power plant for these trains is simply an electric generator for electric motors. Adding a pantograph to diesel or turbine locomotives to allow trains to run with power from overhead catenary has been done before. Another solution would be to add batteries to electric locomotives to allow operations on non-electric lines or for use in emergencies if the power is cut off. At stations and terminals there could be short stretches of catenary to allow the train’s battery to “top off” so the train would never run out of “juice” and would allow smaller and lighter battery packs to be carried on the train. This would be a way to extend electrification to secondary lines or get electrification sooner to more areas on a limited budget.

Currently we must concentrate our efforts for faster rail service where the state owns the railroad or has cooperation from railroads willing to let the State pay for its use of and to improve its rights of way. That is why most of the connecting services for High Speed Rail for now should concentrate on rights of way of rail lines owned or controlled by Metrolink, LOSSAN and ACE. In the case of ACE they are working with the CHSRA to create a new railroad from Merced to Sacramento and San Jose over the Altamont Pass. There are many limitations with the UP contract for service on ACE now between Stockton and San Jose. To really serve Northern California soon this new ACE rail line will be needed. This will likely happen before construction can start over the Pacheco Pass for direct HSR service to San Jose and San Francisco. In order to get these future improvement it is necessary that the HSR project be successful and is used by the greatest numbers of people. With success attention can be focused on other High Speed Tilt Train projects. Tilt Trains make a great deal of sense along the Coast from Los Angeles and San Francisco. Extending future service with Tilt Trains to the Palm Springs area and out to Arizona won’t be easy but is a natural market than needs to be planned for. Extending trains in the future from Sacramento at higher speed with Tilt Trains to Redding and Reno should be planned as well. Such service will be a struggle to achieve under current conditions. But a successful High Speed Tilt Train service will make it possible to extend to these other markets in the future.

First published in RailPAC’s publication Steel Wheels in September/October 2012

 

eNewsletter

eNewsletter for November 5, 2012

With the National Elections upon us I think I speak for most rail passenger supporters in appreciating the efforts and funding for improving rail passenger service by our elected officials. But I also realize that given the unstable nature of politics that we can’t depend on partisan politics to complete a truly extensive, economical and efficient rail passenger system in California let alone the rest of the the County. A broad base of support is what is needed to build a good rail passenger system. NB

November 5, 2012 Part 1  November 5, 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