Monthly Archives

February 2013

Editorials

Why Trains need Buses

Analysis by Noel T. Braymer

Trains can’t go everywhere, but buses can go to many places or when trains can’t. Buses can economically carry passengers to trains when it isn’t possible to use trains. Combining trains and buses can make travel faster for passengers to more places while increasing ridership and revenue for trains. This has been proven with bus connections in California to State supported Corridor Trains. The buses connecting with these trains do so at a profit. If they don’t the bus route is eliminated.

Where buses have made the greatest impact have been on the San Joaquin Trains. Many passengers travel long distances on both trains and buses between Southern and Northern California to Reno and up to Redding. The connecting buses at Stockton are very busy. This connections also adds 4 round trip frequencies from the San Joaquin Valley to Sacramento giving passengers 6 different times to go or leave Sacramento. In about 5 years there will be big changes to rail travel in the San Joaquin Valley. With the first leg of 130 miles of construction of High Speed Rail finished by 2018 or so there will be express rail service between Madera and Bakersfield. This will include increasing the number of round trip trains from 6 to between 12 to 20 trains.

The 12 trains include 1 all stops round trip to Oakland, 3 express trains to Oakland, 2 express trains to Sacramento, 4 express trains to Richmond and 2 all stop trains from Bakersfield to Madera. To get 20 trains there could be 3 more possible all stop Bakersfield to Madera trains on the BNSF plus with the uncertain cooperation of the UP 2 additional express trains to Oakland and 3 additional express trains to Sacramento. With only 2 local trains and one all stops train, for the towns between Bakersfield and Fresno these 3 trains will be a service reduction from the 6 trains they have now. This will not go over well with those towns losing trains service. Even with 5 local trains that gives them 6 out of 10 to 14 trains going past Madera. At the very least additional buses to these and other cities in the San Joaquin Valley should be run to connect and feed these new express trains to the Bay Area and Sacramento.

To fill these new trains will require more bus service and more potential markets. Hopefully faster express buses will connect to express trains with less padding in the schedule with faster ticketing and loading. These express buses can connect with both Amtrak and Metrolink trains to serve most of Southern California. Expanded bus service will also be needed at Sacramento to Reno, Lake Tahoe and Redding. New bus services could connect at Merced to Gilroy, San Jose and to Salinas to Monterrey. The biggest problem is connecting a new terminal on the BNSF at Richmond. A shuttle bus will be needed to go to the Richmond BART Station for transfers to both BART and Capitol Corridor Trains.

Ferry service would be the best way to connect Richmond to the peninsula. This would require a new dock at a new Richmond Station. But this could connect with several existing ferry docks at Pier 41, and China Basin near the Caltrain terminal in San Francisco. There is an existing bus stop for the Amtrak Ticket Office by the Ferry Building in San Francisco. The buses that stop there could be used for transfers from ferries for passengers to get around downtown San Francisco to and from Richmond. There is also a Ferry dock near SFO Airport at Oyster Bay and one in Marin County at Larkspur which one day will be served by SMART trains.

Well what can go wrong if you lack stations, buses or other connections? Consider local service on Metrolink in Orange County. There are a total of 5 round trips between Oceanside and Los Angeles on this line, with an other 4 between Los Angeles and Orange County and 5 from Orange County to Los Angeles. In addition there are 4 trains that run just in Orange County between Fullerton and Mission Viejo/Laguna Niguel northbound and an extra southbound train that goes on to Oceanside. These newest trains between just Fullerton and Mission Viejo/Laguna Niguel are not doing well often carrying less than bus loads of passengers.

Orange County is trying to get more passengers to take connecting buses and shuttles to and from the train stations because they can’t build enough parking structures to meet the demand if everyone drives to the stations. Also Orange County wants local residents to make more local trips using trains in the County. They hope by using connecting services people will travel all over Orange County with combined bus and train travel.

Lets compare Orange County’s local trains with a similar system that is more successful. It is roughly 27 miles between Fullerton and the Laguna Niguel/Mission Viejo Stations with a total of 7 stations. The Sprinter is a diesel Light Rail service in northern San Diego County between Oceanside and Escondido which is 20 miles long and has 15 stations. The Sprinter runs on the same schedule twice an hour in each direction most of the day and evening 7 days a week.There are 14 trains in one direction and 15 in the another direction on the Orange County Metrolink Line and not all trains go to the same stations. Plus the schedule isn’t regular with some trains bunched up in rush hour and some spread out several hours apart and there is little weekend service.

Now also include 8 round trip trains in Orange County that run to Riverside. Some of these trains also go to Oceanside and San Bernardino but they don’t go to Anaheim, Fullerton or Buena Park in Orange County. This is all rather messy and confusing for someone who wants to go from Westminster to John Wayne Airport. The Sprinter has been successful with good connections to local buses so that travel with connections for many to rail are faster than the old bus only travel. North County Transit which runs buses and the Sprinter has been able to save money by cutting bus service and still have transit ridership grow on both rail and buses.

What is unusual about the Sprinter is the parking lots at the stations are rarely full unlike most rail services. Most riders are not driving to the train unlike most rail services. The major draw for the Sprinter is beach traffic at Oceanside, at the major transportation centers at Oceanside, Vista and Escondido and stations at Palomar Community College and Cal State San Marcos. What the Sprinter lacks is connections to major job centers. This could change with connections next year to a Bus Rapid Transit service on the I-15 HOV Lanes from Escondido to San Diego which will serve several major job centers. There are plans to extend Coaster rail service in the near future to Camp Pendleton which is a major job center which will connect to the Sprinter at Oceanside.

So what can be done to increase ridership on the Orange County trains particularly the ones with only 7 stations? By adding bus service to connect passengers at Fullerton to Buena Park, Norwalk and Los Angeles as well as from Mission Viejo/Laguna Niguel to San Juan Capistrano, San Clemente and Oceanside. This will add 6 additional stations almost doubling the number of stations these trains can serve. If we also extend buses to the trains that serve Los Angeles but not Oceanside we could have up to 14 trains throughout the day which would have connections between Oceanside and Los Angeles. This will increase ridership on all Orange County Metrolink trains.

Convenience is a major factor in attracting passengers, and added frequencies greatly increases convenience and saves passengers time by reducing the time waiting for trains. For many passengers the trains now may leave Orange County at a good time for them but the return trains may not. Additional connecting bus service will give passengers more choices and reasons to take Metrolink for a trip. One thing that was noticed years ago when passenger trains were being cut back on corridor and commuter trains from attempts to save money by dropping the trains with the least ridership. The results were that ridership and revenue dropped more than expected from eliminating trains usually in the late evening. The reason for this it was found was passengers felt more secure taking the train if they knew there was a late train home in case for some reason they missed their train they wouldn’t be left stranded.

What also can be done is to extend buses to Oceanside and the cities in between to the trains in Orange County that go to the Inland Empire. By also adding buses to connect trains that stop at Riverside to San Bernardino for very little money you can create overnight a rail corridor of 8 round trip trains between Oceanside and San Bernardino. What if the trains get a little crowded? Well Metrolink has stored older passenger cars with the introduction of new cars, these old cars can be added to run longer trains and bring in more revenue.

By combining these 8 trains with bus connections at Orange to Anaheim, Fullerton and Buena Park this bring up to 22 local Orange County train/bus services that can serve the length of Orange County as well as increase ridership to these trains from other counties. What can be done with buses from Riverside to San Bernardino is to extend them east on the I-10 to Indio to serve the cities along the 10 freeway including Palms Springs. Amtrak has bus connections at Fullerton to Palm Springs which are doing well. For Metrolink trains at both San Bernardino and Riverside bus connections to Indio can add many more riders to their trains while serving more residents of Riverside County which is a part of Metrolink.

There are several bottlenecks on the railroads in Southern California such as between Fullerton to Los Angeles, San Juan Capistrano to the San Diego County border and between Riverside and San Bernardino. It will be a few years yet until construction and politics can fix these problems and more passenger trains can be run. In the mean time buses will work to increase ridership by attracting new riders from new markets. This will increase the popularity of rail passenger service and increase support for more track improvements. In Orange County this will allow more trains to be run on their double tracking between Fullerton and Mission Viejo/Laguna Niguel. This will allow Orange County to close the gaps in service and attract more local residents to travel about the County using bus and train connections. Also the trains could be scheduled on a more regular interval to make it easier to memorize a schedule such as a train every half hour at their local station station.

 

eNewsletter

eNewsletter for February 18, 2013

Many of the problems at Metrolink stem from previous management which lacked leadership and failed to understand the mission of Metrolink which is stated in the name of the body running it: Southern California Regional Rail Authority. A better name for Metrolink would be SoCal Rail. Previous management was under the illusion that Metrolink was a traditional commuter railroad with its principle task to serve downtown Los Angeles during rush hours. The invention of the Model T destroyed this business model. The result has been Metrolink has missed many opportunities to increase revenues and efficiencies by running additional service on weekends and off peak periods with regional service from one side of Los Angeles to the other for non-commuting travel. Management also failed to promote itself to economically expand service on new lines or connect more with local rail transit. If management’s attitude is we can’t do anything about it, then as we have seen nothing gets done. NB

February 18, 2013

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 to subscribe to this enewsletter write to nbraymer@railpac.org

eNewsletter

eNewsletter for February 11, 2013

CONCLUSION:This is the third trial of an “express” service on this corridor. The dropped stops were reinstated after a similar decrease in ridership in the earlier trials. The same declining pattern repeats with 2011 – 2013 express train. The corridor as a whole is overall holding steady on ridership and overall up on revenue during the period the express has been running. The express train is down severely in both ridership and revenue, with a continuing downward trend. Caltrans believes that reinstating the three dropped stops and the associated 21 additional city pair markets for the train will increase both ridership and revenue for the train, bringing the train in line with, and adding to, the positive trend of the corridor as a whole, and giving those travel ling between the 21 lost city pairs an additional daily travel choice.

Feburary 11, 2013 Part 1  Feburary 11, 2013 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 to subscribe to this enewsletter write to nbraymer@railpac.org

Editorials

What will California Rail service be like by 2020?

Analysis and Opinion by Noel T. Braymer

The short answer is nobody knows for sure. The revised draft of this year’s California State Rail Plan (CSRP) was suppose to report on planning for a Blended High Speed Rail System using both conventional and high speed railroads. The current draft of the CSRP says by 2025 there will be 34 daily High Speed Trains between Burbank and Merced with connections at Burbank of 34 trains from Metrolink and Amtrak. This for a project that is not yet funded. But by 2018 there is funding for 130 miles of new railroad built for high speeds though not funded for electrification. This new railroad will be used by some express San Joaquin trains at 125 mile per hour speeds until there is money to build an electrified High Speed Railroad between Merced and Burbank no sooner than 2022.

San Joaquin 2020 MapA

 

A Caltrans graphic of rail service in the San Joaquin Valley by 2020. Left click twice to enlarge all graphics

So how many San Joaquin trains will use this new railroad with only one station, a new one at Fresno between Madera and Bakersfield? It could be 9 or 14 or any number in between. The current draft of the CSRP doesn’t have information about what the running times will be for the express trains from Bakersfield to either the Bay Area or Sacramento or about what connections this service will have. What plans are known is that of the now 4 Bakersfield to Oakland trains, 3 of them will be expresses with only one San Joaquin making all stops. At Madera some express trains will catch up with new local San Joaquins which after stopping at all stations north of Bakersfield on the BNSF will terminate at Madera so passengers can transfer to the express. To achieve 14 daily express San Joaquin trains will require the cooperation of the Union Pacific. Union Pacific cooperation will be needed if there are 5 Bakersfield to Sacramento express trains and not just the current 2. So what could happen if the UP doesn’t cooperate? Four round trips are being considered running past Madera all the way on the BNSF to Richmond. There is no discussion of at least in the current draft of the CSRP of how passengers will make connections at Richmond to other places in the Bay Area.

There are ways to make Richmond a viable terminus. The old right of way and parts of the old Santa Fe Pier used in the past for ferry service from Richmond can still be seen on Google Satellite Maps. With direct ferry service from Richmond to San Francisco and other destinations this route would have a chance to work. Also bus connections to the Richmond BART Station would connect passengers to BART or to Capitol Corridor trains for connections to Oakland and San Jose. To make this work the schedules of the express San Joaquin and Capitol Corridor trains have to be coordinated with through ticketing. It would be better to interchange cars between express San Joaquin and Capitol Corridor trains but that would also need cooperation of the UP.

For swift transfers to BART, passengers should get a BART ticket as part of their ticketing on the express San Joaquin to Richmond. At the Antioch Station bus connections to the BART Station at nearby Pittsburgh can also increase ridership on all San Joaquin trains. While not ideal connections like these will be needed in order that the express San Joaquins succeed. Any planning for future California High Speed Rail is pointless if billions of dollars needed for it are not approved. Future funding depends on the success of the express San Joaquins with large and growing ridership. People can’t and won’t ride trains no matter how fast they are if they don’t go where they want to go. Even if the express San Joaquins are successful there is no guarantee that high speed rail will be funded and built as quickly as its supporters would like. Like anything in life there is always a need for back up plans which may include running the express San Joaquins after 2022.

A major part of the planning in the San Joaquin Valley are connections at Merced. Plans calls for a replacement Merced Station which will be on the west or UP side of town. A track connection is planned to extend local San Joaquin trains from Madera on the BNSF to this new Merced Station to connect with new services as well with future High Speed Trains which will terminate at Merced hopefully by 2022. There are plans for 10 trains by 2025 in the CRRP between Merced and Sacramento. Of these 6 would use the existing BNSF and 4 the UP north of Merced. Also there are plans to run 6 trains on ACE from Merced to San Jose by 2025. Four of these trains would run on the BNSF and the other 2 on the UP. This is in addition to the 4 trains now running from Stockton to San Jose on ACE which might in the future have direct connections with trains on the BNSF.

All of this planning hinges on the cooperation of the UP. The State Rail Plan has for years been planning on creating a Coast Daylight with Coast service between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Also planned are additional trains between San Diego and San Luis Obispo, service to the Palm Springs area, extending the San Joaquins to Redding as well as extending Capitol Corridor trains to Reno and Salinas. These are all good projects and should have been done years ago. The only reason most of these haven’t been done yet has been the unbending opposition of the Union Pacific. The fact that Richmond is being considered as an alternative terminal for the San Joaquins strongly suggest that the UP’s position hasn’t changed which is to oppose any new passenger rail service on their tracks they are not legally obliged to carry.

a 2013 Cal trains to 2040

From the CSRP of proposed rail service levels in the future  

So what would service look like by 2020 in the San Joaquin Valley without the the help of the UP? According to the CSRP there will be one round trip on the existing route between Bakersfield and Oakland. Three round trip trains would run as expresses between Bakersfield and Oakland. In addition there would be 4 express trains to Richmond all on the BNSF missing Martinez which means Richmond bound trains will miss connections at Martinez with the Capitol Corridors. For the local trains between Bakersfield and Madera 2 to 5 are planned compared to 7 express trains to the Bay Area and 2 to Sacramento.

Even with 5 connecting trains that leaves 4 express trains without local feeders and for many people in the San Joaquin Valley a diminished level of rail passenger service by being forced to transfer between trains without increased train frequencies. This problem will be worse if there are only 2 connecting local trains. A common problem with express service is the time saved often doesn’t increase ridership enough to replace those lost by skipping stations. Express service has been tried 3 times over the last 30 years between Los Angeles and San Diego and all three times ridership and revenues dropped . We don’t know how much time will be saved with these express trains. There have been plans for years to increase the running speeds of the San Joaquins from 79 to 90 miles per hour. To increase the number of trains and run them on the BNSF between Madera and Richmond will no doubt require track improvements and extra double tracking. With express trains and faster running times north of Madera over an hour running could be cut on trips to the Bay Area and Sacramento. But that is no reason to bypass residents in the San Joaquin Valley. Many countries with good rail passenger service would simply combine local and express trains at Madera rather than making passenger change seats. This is more comfortable for passengers, it would attract more passengers and would be faster if done right than having people change trains.

There has been no discussion of new bus service, particularly to Southern California for these new San Joaquin trains. Bus ridership has been critical to the success of the San Joaquin trains so far. To fill up these new train seats more and better bus service will be needed to serve the entire State. The first train from and last train to Bakersfield shows how important connecting buses are. These trains get a great deal of ridership from buses. These buses are often nearly full by the time they get to or leave San Diego County and people ride these buses at the wee hours of the night. Many of these bus passengers travel very long distances on bus and train. In comparison the ridership of the second train out of Bakersfield and the next to last train to Bakersfield ridership is lower. This second set of trains travel in and out of Sacramento. They also lack bus service south of Santa Ana. Expanding bus service with faster connections needed to Metrolink and Surfliner trains will have to be planned now to be ready by 2018. The same holds true for better connections to all the bus routes already on the San Joaquins. Extending the buses to Marin County up to Eureka from Martinez will need to be extended to Antioch to serve Richmond bound trains. New bus service at Merced could provide connections to Gilroy up to San Jose and also be used for buses to Salinas and Monterey. Improving bus connections would also increase support for high speed rail because more of the State will benefit from it and have a stake in improving it.

CSRP Freight Density

A CSRP graphic showing freight traffic in California with the thickness of the lines showing traffic density. Note how thin and light traffic is on the UP Coast Line.

The biggest problem with improving rail passenger service in California is the UP. Despite minor freight traffic on the Coast Line, a line the old SP in the 1990s would have loved to sell to the State, the UP has dragged out negotiations for years to extend one existing round trip from San Luis Obispo to San Francisco. Even where there is heavy freight traffic other railroads are able to mix passenger service on their main lines. A good example of this is on the old BN Mainline in Chicago. With triple tracks for greater capacity and letting faster trains get around slower trains the BNSF is and has been able for years to run a busy commuter rail service on the old BN Mainline and make money doing it under contract with the Chicago commuter rail agency. Between Fullerton and Los Angeles Metrolink and Amtrak share the BNSF Mainline to Chicago. This line in the next few years will be fully tripled tracked and fully grade separated which will allow more passenger trains. After that is done work will begin to build a fourth track. With double tracking just for passenger trains and separate double tracking for freight it will be possible to have more and faster speeds for passenger trains and high track capacity for freight. Government is paying its share to make these track improvements for passenger service to avoid interfering with freight traffic. Most major railroads have room for 3 and often 4 tracks. Most freight lines are single tracked and can carry large amounts of freight with few trains because the trains are very long. Generally only major freight mainlines need to be double tracked. The railroads including the UP have benefited from taxpayer funded improvements yet at least with top management at UP negotiations for passenger rail service go nowhere for years.

a more 2040 Cal trains

More proposed passenger service levels from the CSRP

There is an emotion that brings about change to people and organizations which is stronger than love, hate, joy, anger, fear. guilt or sadness: it is embarrassment. Powerful people and organizations spend fortunes to create a good public image and to cover up embarrassing stories of scandal, failure, mistakes and criminal activity. However when these efforts fail and exposure creates a bad public image even the most powerful are unable to control their fate. A good example would be the results of the 2008 Metrolink crash at Chatsworth after 25 people died when an engineer went past a red signal and crashed into a freight train while he was disobeying Metrolink rules by texting messages on his phone. The embarrassed reaction by local leaders was to increase funding for Metrolink to improve rail safety and to fire the chief executive of Metrolink. It also lead to congress passing legislation despite the objection of the railroads to mandate the installation on most railroads of Positive Train Control to prevent accidents on the tracks. Hopefully a disaster won’t be needed to open honest negotiations with the UP over improvements needed to safely and efficiently expand passenger service and to pay the UP for this. But it will likely need pressure and lots of bad publicity until the UP decides that the line of least resistance will be to negotiate in good faith.

Footnotes from the charts by the CSRP

136 Weekend service levels may vary.

137 One train terminates in Martinez with timed transfer to San Joaquin train

138 Three trains originate/terminate in Roseville in 2020; eight trains originate/terminate in Roseville in 2025/2040

139 Trains operate on the first construction section of the IOS between Madera and north of Bakersfield.

140 Assumes 6 trains on existing San Joaquin route and 4 trains on UPRR Fresno Subdivision south of Lathrop.

141 Assumes track connection between BNSF and Merced HSR station with transfer platform.

142 In 2020 up to 4 trains originate/terminate in Richmond and use BNSF between Richmond and Stockton.

143 Northern terminus shifts to Merced in 2025.

144 Uses UPRR Fresno Subdivision between Lathrop and Merced.

145 Uses BNSF Stockton Subdivision between Stockton and Merced.

147 Assumes cross platform transfer with 14 daily Metrolink Antelope Valley Line trains. Also assumes that following trains are extended from Los Angeles Union Station to San Fernando Valley Station, with cross platform transfers: Pacific Surfliner (8 San Diego – Los Angeles trains per day), Metrolink Orange County Line (7 trains per day), and Metrolink 91 Line (5 trains per day).

eNewsletter

eNewsletter for February 4, 2013

Amtrak last September after the end of the 2012 Fiscal Year ballyhooed the fact that they had recovered 85% of their OPERATING costs and only needed $361 million extra in 2012 to cover operations. But the final figure for Federal funds for Amtrak is $1.418 billion. The biggest chunk at $623 million is for Capital mostly for track and catenary projects on the NEC. In 2010 Amtrak estimated that $5.2 billion was needed to get the NEC is a “good state of repair” and that at about $700 million a year over the next 15 years would be needed to repair the NEC. The $255 million for Debt service is likely needed to pay off much of the debt Amtrak ran up in the late 1990’s to start up the Aclea trains which was the reason Amtrak almost ceased operations in 2002. The DOT charges Amtrak $10 million from their funding to pay for the DOT’s oversight of Amtrak. What is missing is any money for more equipment which is needed if Amtrak is to increase ridership and revenues to cover more of their costs. NB

February 4, 2013 Part 1  February 4, 2013 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 to subscribe to this enewsletter write to nbraymer@railpac.org

 

Editorials, Reports

Pro’s and Con’s of Replacing Amtrak

Analysis by Noel T. Braymer

With changes coming this October to the billing for State supported trains run by Amtrak, California and the other States supporting Amtrak Trains are getting sticker shock. Congress which is forcing Amtrak to raise its prices is also considering allowing private companies to take over some of these Amtrak trains. This would be similar to many commuter trains run by a private company under contract to a government agency.

What are the Pro’s of replacing Amtrak with a private company? The private company will have lower operating costs to run trains than Amtrak. The States would pay less to have short distance trains than it costs with Amtrak under the new mandated billing. The money saved would cut the criticism of subsidizing these services and may free up money for capital projects to improve local rail service.

So what are the Con’s to replacing Amtrak? Amtrak has the legal right to run on all major railroads in this country. States using private operators would have to negotiate a new contract with the railroads that now have Amtrak service. Amtrak already has liability insurance to run on these railroads. The railroads will want any operator to assume liability before using their tracks. The railroads will also be interested in the new operator paying more to run trains using their tracks than what Amtrak pays.

Another big issue is equipment. Most States use Amtrak cars and locomotives for their State supported trains. Some States like Washington, Oregon, California and North Carolina own equipment. California owns all the equipment for the Capitol Corridor and San Joaquin Trains. But most of the equipment for the Pacific Surfliners is owned by Amtrak. Will Amtrak be willing to sell or lease their equipment to the States for use by private operators if Amtrak loses the contract to run these train? If so will the States have the money to buy or lease the equipment? So where will the equipment be serviced if the States get the equipment to keep running their trains? It takes time and money to build new facilities and the deadline is this October. Would Amtrak be forced to continue servicing their old equipment after selling or leasing it?

These are some of the issues the States need answers too now. It can take years to set up a new rail operation and the States are working on their budgets now for next fiscal year. The possibility that Congress will make changes in the law in the future to make things less expensive doesn’t balance a State’s budget this year.

So will Amtrak be better off without these short-haul trains which “lose” so much money? No. Amtrak doesn’t have a problem running too many money losing trains. Instead it needs to run more trains to bring in enough money to cover its overhead. These short-haul trains don’t make money or even cover their operating expenses in many cases. But Amtrak comes out ahead from running these train now with the money the States pay Amtrak.

Amtrak needs to overhaul its accounting system because it  hides problems and opportunities. The reason the States pay as much as they do to Amtrak are because of “Avoidable Costs” for these trains. Congress has ordered Amtrak to charge the States 100% of a train’s Avoidable Costs starting this October. The term avoidable implies that if these trains are eliminated Amtrak would save money. But when Amtrak has eliminated trains in the past based on their Avoidable Costs it has always resulted in increased losses due to reduced revenue and little reduction in costs. Avoidable Cost accounting at Amtrak hides much of its fixed overhead costs by charging them to trains instead of identifying them.

Avoidable Cost accounting at Amtrak hides opportunities by hiding progress made by improving rail service. When Amtrak started running 3 round trip trains between Los Angeles and San Diego in the early 1970’s the trains didn’t cover even 40% their operating costs. With service improvements and added service managed for the State by Caltrans these trains by 1988 were recovering just over 100% of operating costs. Strictly speaking this is not a profit because this doesn’t cover all costs including overhead needed for these trains but it was still a major achievement. By 1995 Amtrak starting adding some Avoidable Costs to the bill for these trains. By 1997 these trains were recovering less than 40% of costs under this new billing and the State was paying up to 20 million dollars a year to Amtrak to run these trains. Between 1987 and 1991 California’s cost per year for these trains to Amtrak was usually around 1 million dollars and often less.

So what are these Avoidable Costs? No one really knows, because they reflects costs for all of Amtrak that are arbitrarily assigned to different trains. When service improvements are proposed no consideration is made from increasing revenues paying down Avoidable Costs. The result is increasing service looks like it will increase losses not reduce them. Amtrak’s high fixed overhead costs often have little to do with these local short distance trains.

Where is much of this fixed overhead? Amtrak’s management is centralized in the East. Amtrak owns several major train stations mostly on the East Coast as well as Chicago. Stations are very expensive to own unless there is commercial development to help pay for them. Also between 1995 until 2002 Amtrak spent a great deal of money and went heavily into debt to start-up the Acela Trains back east which is still being paid off. It was because of this debt that Amtrak almost ran out of cash in 2002. Amtrak owns most of the railroad between Washington and Boston with some tracks in Michigan.

In comparison Amtrak doesn’t own tracks or stations in California. The tracks Amtrak shares with commuter trains are owned by the counties in Southern California and mostly managed by the Commuter Train operators. On the East Coast Amtrak owns the railroad and is responsible for operating and maintaining the tracks it shares with many commuter trains. Most stations in California are locally owned and many cities have or are spending money to improve and expand their stations because busy train stations boost local economic growth. In addition California is now paying 100 million dollars to Amtrak to help pay for the State’s 3 corridor trains and that figure will go up in October. If the East Coast was more like California, Amtrak would save a great deal of money.

A big problem having private operators running trains is how will passengers connect with other trains? If you want an economical rail passenger service you need connections to other trains to increase ridership which should have joint ticketing. For that to happen train schedules have to be coordinated between different trains. Just in California there is much to be done to coordinate service between the Surfliners, Metrolink and Coaster as well as between the Surfliners, San Joaquins and Capitol Corridor Trains. Imagine the problems with 3 different operators and local authorities in charge of each train if they aren’t working together. Imagine the problems with trains all over the country run on the State Level not connecting with the Long Distance Trains or even Trains with neighboring States.

Using private operators to run passenger trains can save money for many States. But private operators will not cut the high fixed overhead costs that Amtrak has. These costs  for Amtrak will be elinimated by giving local government ownership of the railroad and stations owned by Amtrak. But there will still be the problems of paying for these costs which will still need government to pay for. This still brings up the question which part of the government; local, State or Federal will pay and where will the tax money come from? Paying for many of these costs will be solved by rationally expanding passenger rail service with better connections and service between more cities. Increased commercial development at the stations will increase revenues and cut overhead. But such a rational and economical approach we have yet to see in Washington either from Congress or Amtrak.

Editorials

Easy Ways for Amtrak to Make More Money

Report by Noel T. Braymer

Cutting back on Long Distance Passenger Service has never saved money for Amtrak. It was tried in 1979 and again in 1997 with losses increasing not decreasing. Amtrak’s losses increased 150 million dollars from 1978 to 1981 after the October 1979 service cutbacks of 5 Long Distance Trains. Despite service cutbacks after 1994 which included in 1997 elimination of 2 Long Distance Trains, Amtrak almost ran out of cash for operations by 2002 from the cost of the start up of the Acela Trains.

In 1993 Amtrak had increased its cost recovery over the preceding 11 years from less than 50% to 79%. Then retiring Amtrak President Claytor expected that by 2000 Amtrak could cover its costs of operation. But to do this he was quoted in an interview published in the March 1,1990 issue of Railway Age Magazine saying “We have to have greater capital investment. For this fiscal year Congress authorized $80 million for capital investment, basically for new equipment, and we’ve got to have that kind of appropriated investment every year or the railroad can’t keep going.”

What Mr. Claytor was saying was Amtrak needed more cars to carry more passengers to bring in more money to pay the bills. This fact is show in this quote by Dr. Ronald C. Sheck from the 1980’s from his report, Amtrak 90: A Route to Success  In Amtrak’s case, because of the overall low frequencies of train service, the revenues generated are inadequate to offset these common expenses, which make up an excessively large and disproportionate share of corporate costs. In FY 1980 Amtrak incurred total expenses of $1.1 billion, yet the actual cost of direct operating expenses (moving the trains over the tracks-labor, fuel, expendables, etc.) was only $272 million, or about 25 percent of the total. Indirect expenses (stations, yards, shops, maintenance of locomotives, cars, and the small amount of track owned by the corporation) totaled $644 million, or 56 percent of expenses.”

What this shows is eliminating Long Distance Passenger Service reduces revenue while doing little to reduce the overhead costs of Amtrak. The reverse is true when expanding Long Distance Passenger Service because this improves revenues and reduces losses if overhead costs don’t increase faster than revenue. Service improvements for Long Distance service (more cars and extended services) during the 1980s were followed by reduced losses. To reduce losses the best thing to do is to run more service where there are already existing stations, crew bases and doing so while improving equipment and crew utilization. A good example of how this can be done is to extend the Palmetto from Savannah back to Jacksonville. After extending this train to Jacksonville in 1988 it was cut back again to Savannah in 2004 as a way to “save money”. Returning the Palmetto to Jacksonville will add stations to this train, increase passenger miles , create a third East Coast Train to Florida and won’t require building new stations or additional equipment.

The same could be said for extending the City of New Orleans along the Gulf Coast to Florida. Today this train sits in New Orleans for over 20 hours between runs mostly as an overnight train to and from Chicago. Extending this service during daylight hours to major markets will increase ridership and revenues. The Gulf Coast has stations and tracks that are back up to passenger standards after the Sunset service was suspended because of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. With one additional trainset service could be extended to Orlando and possibly even Miami. This would open major tourist markets for Amtrak from the Midwest to the Gulf Coast and Florida. Again this would improve equipment utilization, require no new construction, it would double the route length of the City of New Orleans train which would greatly increase the passenger miles of this train and increase traffic for other Amtrak trains in the Mid-West to connect to this new service.

Running trains less than daily doesn’t save money for the same reason eliminating trains doesn’t save money. Amtrak in 1995 cut back the Empire Builder to 4 days a week service west of Minneapolis and lost money; 25 million dollars lost from reduced ridership. This train was soon returned to daily service. In the 1960’s the Western Pacific studied cutting daily service on the California Zephyr and found that reduced revenues from lost business would increase losses not save money so the Western Pacific kept the train daily. Just running the Cardinal daily would greatly improve ridership and revenue. The other thing that would help this train would be to create a section and split the Cardinal to extend this train’s route. A logical extension would be to St Louis and on to Kansas City. This would require splitting the train at either Cincinnati or Indianapolis. Between either of these cities to St. Louis there is roughly 300 miles currently without Amtrak service. Any new stations for new service on either route would be best paid for and owned by the local communities to limited increased overhead for Amtrak and allow the local communities to get involved with the service. Between St Louis and Kansas City are existing stations and crew bases. Such an extended service would add two additional major cities with connections to other trains for the Cardinal.

There is interest from the States of Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas to extend service on the Heartland Flyer from Fort Worth and Oklahoma City to Kansas City. While a step in the right direction since this will add major markets and increase passenger miles; more in this case would be better. Service from Houston through Dallas-Fort Worth up to Chicago in this case would be much better. This can be done by extending service to Houston and combining the Heartland Flyer as a section of the Southwest Chief. Improving connections at Kansas City or combing existing service between Kansas City, St Louis, and Chicago would open up new expanded markets for both the Southwest Chief and Heartland Flyer. Why should these States be interested in doing something like this? Starting this year by law Amtrak has to charge the States that subsidize local rail passenger service for the full cost of Amtrak running the service. This could price many States out of supporting local Rail Passenger Service. What makes this very expensive is the States will be paying more for Amtrak’s expensive and underused overhead. Having States combine services and running longer distance trains increases revenues and makes better use of Amtrak’s overhead. Result: better service with a bigger market and lower subsidy.

The fact is short distance trains while often carrying large numbers of people don’t earn much money compared to the cost of running the service. The main factor in revenue are the passenger miles a train carries not the head count. Longer distance trains by their very nature produce more passenger miles because they travel further and serve more stations. Also they are generating revenue all night long as passengers sleep when short distance trains are idle earning nothing. Combing Short Distance Trains into a Long Distance Train will increase revenue and reduce costs. The problem is Amtrak assigns their overhead costs based on route mileage not on how much a train uses the overhead. Because of this people jump to the conclusion that cutting Long Distance Trains will “save” money. But cutting trains only shifts most of this overhead to fewer trains. This is why people think that the Long Distance Trains “lose” over 500 million dollars a year. Yet the reality is most of Amtrak’s overhead would remain if all the Long Distance were eliminated but losses would climb greatly from the loss of revenue.

Another service to add to the Southwest Chief would be to run a section from Trinidad, Colorado up to Denver and beyond to Cheyenne, Wyoming. Most of the population of Colorado lives between Cheyenne, Boulder, Denver, Colorado Springs and Pueblo. A section serving theses towns would greatly increase ridership in Colorado for the Chief and open a connection to the California Zephyr at Denver. It would also increase traffic and support to keep the Southwest Chief on the route between Albuquerque and Newton, Kansas.

Towns and Cities around the country are interested in having or increasing Rail Passenger Service in their communities and region. They are willing to raise funds to build or improve local stations and provide services at them. This is a useful source of help that Amtrak could take advantage of. But more service is needed before these Town and Cities can start building new stations, But this is the type of help in reducing overhead that can save money and allow rail passenger service to make a modest operating profit. Going to Cheyenne also extends service to Wyoming which doesn’t have Amtrak service. Cheyenne is only a small part, but is the most populous part of  Wyoming. Wyoming only has one Representative in Congress but has two Senators.The more involved States and Towns are in their Rail Passenger Service, the more political support and funding will be available to continue expanding service.

Another project that should be done is creating a section on the Crescent at Meridian to head to Dallas and Fort Worth. This simple step adds several major cities to the Crescent route that already have stations for the Texas Eagle. Sections are almost like getting two trains for the cost of one. If this is done at about the same time as the Heartland Flyer would be combined with the Southwest Chief then even more potential connections to other trains and cities are possible.

What is needed most right now to increase revenue are more Long Distance Passenger Rail Cars. Simply adding one or two cars on every Long Distance Train would greatly boost Amtrak’s revenue. As things stand now the Long Distance Trains are often sold out and can’t carry more passenger to meet current demand. Even adding one car to each train requires up to 5 or 6 cars since a train can have up to 6 trainsets in rotation on the road and being serviced. For Amtrak’s 15 Long Distance Trains up to 70 new cars could be needed for adding just one car on all trains. Clearly an even bigger order will be needed to add more cars and expand service much beyond what has been suggested in this post. But this is what was meant when in 1990 Mr Claytor said “We have to have greater capital investment. For this fiscal year Congress authorized $80 million for capital investment, basically for new equipment, and we’ve got to have that kind of appropriated investment every year or the railroad can’t keep going.” (emphasis added ) Amtrak today has  fewer passenger cars for Long Distance Trains than when Mr. Claytor spoke those words in 1990. Money spent on more cars pay for themselves in added revenues.

eNewsletter

eNewsletter for January 28, 2013

LA Subcommittee To Discuss Metrolink Connection To ONT Los Angeles Daily News Jan 22, 2013 Last week, Councilman Bill Rosendahl introduced a motion requesting that Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s office and officials from Los Angeles World Airports work with Metrolink to consider options for connecting the Ontario airport to the rail line.His motion also suggested there would be a 20-minute connection.”At our current schedule, we will not be able to provide a 20-minute route,” Metrolink spokesman Scott Johnson said. A 20 minute trip on the 57 miles between downtown LA and Ontario Airport would be an average speed of about 170 miles per hour. NB

January 28, 2013 Part 1 January 28, 2013 Part 2 January 28, 2013 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 to subscribe to this enewsletter  write to  nbraymer@railpac.org