Monthly Archives

April 2013

Editorials

Should we take the Long Distance Trains off of Amtrak’s Back?

Analysis by Noel T. Braymer

Amtrak says that they lose over $500 million dollars a year running the Long Distance Passenger Trains. But Amtrak endures this hardship because of the transportation necessity provided by the Long Distance Trains in much of rural America. Amtrak has been hinting that they would like the States to help pay for the costs of the Long Distance Trains to keep them running. This would be much like how States pay for their Short Distance Trains.

Perhaps we should explore changes to the Long Distance Passenger Trains which would take the entire burden off of Amtrak. If the States are going to pay to keep trains  in their State maybe they should have some control over how they are run. This will need to be done in a way so passengers can still connect and transfer to other trains in the country with through ticketing. Local agencies should also have access to Federal Funds for capital improvements on the railroads that these Long Distance Train run on. Most important is by reorganizing the way Long Distance Trains are operated and funded every effort needs to be made to expand and improve service nationally while losses from running the services go down.

A joint powers agency of the States these trains runs in would be needed. This JPA should act like a board of directors. The primary job of these JPA’s should be to hire an operator for the service and oversee how well it does its job. The operators would run these trains like many commuter trains are run by contract with an operator. The JPA’s would have power of the purse and the contract would be up for renewal on a regular basis. Any company with railroad experience could compete for the contract including Amtrak, the companies now running commuter services and even the freight railroads. As part of the contract the bidder would  have to have a business plan to improve service, revenues and reduce costs per passenger. This would include a marketing plan to increase connections to other services. A capital budget for more equipment and service improvements would be needed for each route.

Cooperation between Long Distance operators and Amtrak could be much like how airlines often have alliances with each other sharing flights and ticketing with each other. There will need to be combined ticketing, some shared maintenance and station facilities for this new arrangement to work. Cars and locomotives will have to be bought or leased from Amtrak for start up. This will require legislation and funding for this happen. But if Amtrak is right this will take up to a half a billion  dollars off the Amtrak’s deficit. Amtrak would be paid for services such as ticketing, transferring passenger to its trains and providing maintenance service to other carriers.

For the States and Long Distance Passengers this will provide better and expanded service. This will increase the security that service will not be eliminated. For the taxpayer these means better service with less of a burden to the taxpayer. This will preserve the connections between trains and joint ticketing on trains. Each train could have a unique identity or continue to have the Amtrak brand name but operated by different companies. For the operating railroads that these trains would run on it opens up new possibilities to renegotiate charges for track use and for capital improvements needed to insure smooth operations of both freight and passenger service.

This may not happen all at once. A trial program to test this idea would be a good idea. Perhaps the best trains to start with would be the Coast Starlight. As a long distance trains it travels through only 3 states and all three states have experience and investments for expanding rail passenger service. The Coast Starlight route is also a major traffic corridor for all three states. These factors all make the Coast Starlight a good trial route for testing this plan.

eNewsletter

eNewsletter for April 22, 2013

AMTRAK’S NEW COST ACCOUNTING SYSTEM IS A SIGNIFICANT IMPROVEMENT BUT CONCERNS OVER PRECISION AND LONG TERM VIABILITY REMAIN  In 2010, Amtrak implemented its new system, Amtrak’s Performance Tracking (APT), which is based on a cost methodology developed jointly by FRA and Amtrak, to track and report on its financial performance… Amtrak is unable to assign a greater percentage of its costs or allocate costs more precisely because Amtrak does not collect sufficiently detailed cost data…As a result, like RPS, APT allocates rather than assigns a majority of Amtrak’s operating costs…Use of Statistical Estimation to Identify Avoidable Costs Is Not Standard Practice in the Railroad Industry. None of the passenger and freight rail entities we interviewed uses statistical estimation to identify avoidable costs.

April 22, 2013 Part 1 April 22, 2013 Part 2 April 22, 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.orgThe 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

 

CA Rail Statistics

Capitol Corridor Monthly Report (March, 2013)

And other California Corridor statistics.
Reported by DAVID B. KUTROSKY, Managing Director

Ridership for FY2013 continues to drop compared to last year’s historical
highs.
For March 2013, 145,271 passengers used the Capitol Corridor,
representing a 4.7% drop compared to March 2012. Revenue for March 2013 has
showed a negligible decrease of 0.4% versus March 2012. On-time
performance (OTP) continued to be solid and above standard at 94% with
year-to-date system operating ratio at 52%, on par with business plan
projections.

I have not yet received detailed statistics on March 2013 ridership, but
based on the February 2013 and prior month results we will be looking at
the four stations that have been experiencing significant declines in
ridership [-10% or worse] — Sacramento, Davis, Roseville, and
Richmond . We will also evaluate the previously poorly performing midday
trains. I anticipate that weekend trains will continue the trend of
improved ridership due to the 50% online discount for weekend travel.

Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority

pic12074

Continued Reduction in Service Delays

Service delays continue to decline due to the efforts of our service
partners. Of the 850 Capitol Corridor trains that were operated in March
2013, only 47 (or 6%) were late. There were sixteen days in March when all
trains are arrived on-time, representing “100% on time” days for the
Capitol Corridor. Only four late trains (9% of total late trains) were
attributable to mechanical malfunctions thanks to the diligence of Amtrak
and CCJPA mechanical staff . Twelve (12) Capitol Corridor trains were late
(nearly 25% of all late trains) on one day due to the early morning
derailment of a Union Pacific worktrain on March 5, 2013 at the most
heavily traveled segment of the corridor between Richmond and Hercules.
Delays due to bridge lifts of the Suisun-Martinez rail drawbridge in March
2013 were down significantly — a 15% reduction in incidents and a decrease
of 35% in delay-minutes. This reduction in delays is directly attributable
to a revised protocol developed and implemented by the UPRR, Coast Guard,
Amtrak, CCJPA and the Bar Pilots (tugboat operators).

Project Updates

Oakland-San Jose Phase 2 Project; The CCJPA is currently working with passenger rail agencies in Northern California (ACE, San Joaquin/Caltrans,
Caltrain) and the California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) on the
CHSRA’s Year 2018 High Speed Train (HST) Blended Service Plan. This
planning effort includes the development of an integrated, comprehensive
service expansion plan and train schedule to utilize and connect with the
CHSRA HST First Construction Segment (FCS) between Bakersfield and
Fresno/Madera. Included in these efforts is the CCJPA’s Capitol Corridor
Oakland-San Jose Phase 2 Project, which identifies an initial list of track
infrastructure projects to allow for the expansion of Capitol Corridor
train service from 14 to 22 daily trains to/from Silicon Valley/San Jose.
Both host railroads for the Project, Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR) and
Caltrain, have been actively involved in the development of the projects to
support Year 2018 HST Blended Service Plan and are currently conducting
network simulation modeling exercises to confirm previously identified
track capacity projects to support the CCJPA 22-train (and the ACE
12-train) service expansion plan to San Jose/Silicon Valley. At this
point, the CCJPA is now ready to advance the design plans and complete the
environmental documentation for the Project, which include subprojects that
will provide track capacity for the ACE service expansion plan. The 2012
State Transportation Improvement Program includes funds [$3.53 million] to
support the pre-development work for the project, which were allocated by
the California Transportation Commission (CTC) to the CCJPA at its March 5,
2013 meeting. Initial design efforts and any required environmental review
are expected to begin later this summer.

Sacramento-Roseville 3rd Track Project

Environmental Review/Preliminary Engineering. Initial design has been completed on the proposed alignments for the 3rd track and potential sites for the proposed relocation of the Roseville Station, which, when constructed, will allow for the operation of 20 trains to/from Roseville. Numerous meetings have occurred and are set in the near term with the UPRR and the City of Roseville to elicit their
comments on the various alignment alternatives and potential station
relocation options. The next step is to take the input from these project
partners and resolve any differences in alignment preferences and develop a
cost estimate for the design elements that may resolve the alignment
differences.

Summary

Monthly ridership for FY2013 continues to drop compared to last year’s
historical highs. Year-to-date, ridership is 3.9% below last year.
Despite this ridership decline, other performance measures are pointing in
the right direction. Year-to-date, revenues are up 1.5%, system operating
ratio is meeting business plan standard of 52%, and OTP is a respectable
94%, keeping the Capitol Corridor trains as one of the most reliable
services in the Amtrak system. The CCJPA is now working with Amtrak to
develop a revised weekday train schedule that will reallocate some of the
poorer performing late morning trains to other more attractive times that
will increase ridership, optimize revenues and maintain/reduce operating
costs. The CCJPA team working with our service partners, has achieved
progress in reducing delay-minutes and improving safety metrics along the
route and will stay focused on maintaining these achievements while also
moving ahead on completing the pre-development work for the service
expansion projects (San Jose/Salinas, Placer County) and introducing
customer enhancement initiatives (bike access/storage, e-Ticketing
upgrades).

Capitol Corridor March 2013:
– Ridership: 145,271 riders; -4.7% vs. March 2012; -3.9% vs. prior YTD
– Revenue: $2,490,328; -0.4% vs. March 2012; +1.5% vs. prior YTD
– On-Time Performance: 94%, YTD OTP of 94% (#3 in the nation).
– System Operating Ratio: 52% YTD vs. 50% in FY12
__________________________________________________
Pacific Surfliners March 2013:
– Ridership: 224,648 passengers; -4.1% vs. March 2012; +4.3% vs. prior YTD
– Ticket Revenue: +4.6% vs. March 2012; +11.6% vs. prior YTD
– On-time performance: 87% (YTD FY13 on-time performance: 87%)
__________________________________________________
San Joaquin February 2013: (Mr. Kutrosky may mean March -Ed.)
– Ridership: 104,970 passengers +7.6% vs. March 2012; +8.9% vs. prior YTD
– Ticket Revenue only: +8.9% vs. March 2012; +6.0% vs. prior YTD
– On-time performance: 63% [lower OTP due to track maintenance projects] (YTD FY13 on-time performance: 84%)

Editorials

The Denver Crossover for the Southwest Zephyr and the California Chief.

By Noel T. Braymer

A major problem since the creation of Amtrak is there are so many places it is impossible for passengers to get to by Rail in this country. It isn’t for lack of stations with over 400 Amtrak Stations over most of the continental United States. But you can’t take a train from Los Angeles to Denver or Omaha. You also can’t get from St. Louis to Salt Lake City or Sacramento by passenger train. The problem is most long distance trains run east-west between Chicago and the West Coast. Practically the only north-south trains are at the ends between Los Angeles and Seattle and Chicago to New Orleans. There is a simple way to solve this problem by running connecting trains as sections of some of these long distance trains.

In Colorado we have two long distance trains that run less than 200 miles apart from each other and travel in the same direction at roughly the same time. Running connecting sections between these trains will add dozens of new stations and markets to these trains. But to make this happen will require some schedule adjustments. Naturally this is easier said than done because often you create 2 problems for every problem you solve changing a schedule.

The closest point the eastbound Southwest Chief from Los Angeles gets to Denver is at Trinidad, Colorado at 193 miles. The eastbound Chief is now scheduled in Trinidad at 5:40 PM while the eastbound California Zephyr is scheduled at to leave Denver at 7:10 PM. Clearly this is not enough time to travel 193 miles. The Chief will need to arrive in Trinidad earlier and the Zephyr leave Denver later to make a connections. It takes a car about 3 hours and 10 minutes to drive from Trinidad to Denver, but  by train for now it will require at least 4 hours or a little more,

Going westbound the Zephyr now departs Denver at 8:05 AM while the Chief departs Trinidad at 9:50 AM. Again schedule adjustments would be needed but are not impossible. Notice the time between connections is over 12 hour now from 5:40 PM to 9:50 AM. This gives over 12 hours for one train set to make a round trip from Trinidad and back. That means one set of equipment can make the connection in a day to and from the Chief. If a trainset ran as a shuttle this would require passengers changing trains twice from the Chief to the Zephyr and vice versa. There isn’t a maintenance base to service this one trainset in Colorado. It would take 3 trainsets to run this train as a section of the Chief to transfer passenger to the Zephyr and back. To run this section on the Zephry would likely require at least an additional 3 more trainsets but would attract the most passengers and make it easier for them to transfer between these two trains.

Such a connection between the Zephyr and Chief would likely rule out rail passenger service to the populated area north of Denver around Boulder, Loveland, Fort Collins,  and Cheyenne. Trying to serve these cities would mean very early morning and late evening service. Although bus connections are a strong possibility to these towns. But in terms of increasing passenger miles connecting between the Chief and Zephyr has a higher priority than a non-connecting section of the Chief just to Denver and Cheyenne.

Now lets look at connections on the Chief from Chicago to the Zephyr. The closest point from Chicago to Denver on the Chief is at La Junta, Colorado at 174 miles. The westbound Chief arrives at La Junta at 8:15 AM while the westbound Zephyr leaves Denver at 8:05 AM. Again to make this work for a connection changes to the schedule will be needed. Eastbound the Chief arrives at 7:31 PM while the Zephyr leaves Denver at 7:10 PM, again this would need an readjustment to the schedules. To make this section work better it should leave Chicago before the main Chief and go first to St. Louis and connect with the Chief at Kansas City. This creates a direct service for the Chief on the Zephyr from Denver west to the existing stations in Missouri and Illinois. Like the Los Angeles section the equipment could overnight in Denver or continue on westbound from Denver while the Los Angeles Section continues on to Chicago on the Zephyr.

Central to making all of this work is money. Particularly money to rebuild the BNSF tracks east of Grant, New Mexico through Albuquerque to Hutchinson, Kansas. These connections between the Chief and Zephyr won’t work if the Southwest Chief is rerouted to Belen, New Mexico through Armarillo, Texas on the BNSF Mainline. To provide more reasons to spend this money it is best to increase the benefits from doing so. By including connections between the Chief and the Zephyr as part of the deal to rebuild the route of the Chief between New Mexico, Colorado and Kansas this greatly increases the benefits to more places and trains. Improving these tracks will also allow higher speeds which will give more scheduling flexibility to making the connections between the Chief and Zephyr possible. With track improvements this can make possible additional future local service between New Mexico and Colorado.

This isn’t and shouldn’t be a question of benefiting just the three States of New Mexico, Colorado and Kansas. But also California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri and Illinois can also benefit. This would make extending the Heartland Flyer from Oklahoma City to connect with the Chief an even better idea. The biggest problem if this is done is getting enough equipment to carry all the new passengers these improvements will bring to these trains.

eNewsletter

eNewsletter for April 15, 2013

It is amazing that the mechanics and the NCTD engineer in charge of Sprinter maintenance knew only a year after the start of Sprinter service that there was a problem with these rotors, but not management. In 2009 this engineer was contacting manufacturers about replacement rotors and it was 3 years before he got a reply. Still there is no word if the cause of this excessive wear and a solution to stop it has been found. NB

April 15, 2013 Part 1  April 15, 2013 Part 2  April 15, 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.orgThe 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

Why Would a Foreign Country Finance California High Speed Rail?

Analysis by Noel T. Braymer

After several near death experiences the California High Speed Rail project is poised to soon start construction for 130 miles of new railroad in the San Joaquin Valley. This is assured with almost $6 billion dollars in funding from Federal and State sources. This is after several changes were made as part of the final draft of the California High Speed Rail Business Plan in 2012. The current Business Plan calls for 300 miles of 220 miles per hour railroad to be built and running between Merced and the San Fernando Valley by 2022. To do this will require an additional $26 billion dollars to the $6 billion dollars already funded. The expectation is with the new 300 mile core service with connections at both terminals by rail to most of California this service will be able to operate at a profit and service new private debt to continue to expand the system.

The California High Speed Project has planned all along that about half of the construction would be paid with private financing. The former CEO of the California High Speed Rail Authority, Roelof van Ark said that private investors were interested in the project. But these investors would only get involved after there was direct High Speed Rail service to either Los Angeles or San Francisco and it was operating at a profit. This 300 miles service between Merced and the San Fernando Valley is planned to get California High Speed Rail to the point it can attract private investors. The big question now is will California High Speed Rail be able to raise the additional $26 billion dollars to build the 300 mile service by 2022?

Recently California Governor Brown was in China promoting the idea of China financing the construction of California High Speed Rail. In the past along with China; South Korea, Japan, Germany and France have voiced interest in building California High Speed Rail. What would these countries want in return if they finance construction in California? Clearly they would want the contracts for construction, operations, vehicle and right of way maintenance as well as employee training for their county. Most countries have Import-Export Banks which could be used to fund this project at a low interest rate at a time interest rates are already at a near record low. China, Germany and South Korea all have trade surpluses with the United States which mean they have dollars they can use to invest in this county. France and Japan both have stagnant economies and subsidizing construction of High Speed Rail in California could stimulate their economies as well as those of China, German and South Korea.

What other political reasons might motivate a country to get involved in California besides the possibility of making money or boosting their economy? What might be more important than financial gain to another country’s self-interest? We can call this reciprocity. It is the old concept of “I did you a favor, now you owe me one.” Much of the United States Foreign Aid since World War II has been based on reciprocity in the form of loans. The United States often loans money to counties for major projects. These projects are designed and built by American Companies and often use American materials. The debt from the loans is often a major burden for these small countries and leave them almost permanently in debt to the United States.This by design. Because of this the United States can count on the “support” by these indebted countries for United States Foreign Policy. China uses trade and development as a major part of their Foreign Policy to improve relations, particularly those countries with Oil or other resources vital to the Chinese economy. Much of the talk about the massive foreign debt of poor countries is the result of a deliberate policy of rich countries to insure poorer countries are indebted and dependent to them.

What might other countries want from California? There is the prestige of building the first true High Speed Rail service in the United States. Many countries could use the economic stimulus of such a major project for their industries and this could open the door for more projects around the United States in the future. China might want better relations with the United States and less criticism of it in this country. Developing better ties and gaining influence in California will increase another country’s influence throughout the United States. Japan and South Korea who have differences with China might want to block China from gaining influence here. With the economic problems in the Euro Zone, Germany and France could well be interested in creating economic stimulus with construction in this country.

eNewsletter

eNewsletter for April 8, 2013

The western trains ALL cover their variable and direct fixed costs of operations handily, but fail only to cover Amtrak’s allocations of system fixed costs which exist irrespective of the fact or volume of long distance train operations. It is still the case also that Amtrak deliberately misallocates substantial shares of NEC fixed costs to long distance trains, including long distance trains in the west that never use the NEC. The purported “success” or “profitability” of the NEC is a BIG LIE because to make that claim (and to hide the NEC’s staggering and growing annual losses), Amtrak routinely mischaracterizes its infrastructure costs as “capital” items, as if that changes the fact that these costs are caused by and indispensible for the operation of trains in the NEC.

April 8, 2013 Part 1  April 8, 2013 Part 2  April 8, 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.orgThe 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

Commentary

RailPAC President writes CPUC re Sprinter

Mr. Michael R. Peevey 8th April, 2013
President,
California Public Utilities Commission
505 Van Ness Avenue
San Francisco CA 94102
SAFE OPERATION OF “SPRINTER” RAIL PASSENGER SERVICE
Dear President Peevey:

The Rail Passenger Association of California is a non-profit, 501c3 California Corporation active since 1977 in promoting passenger rail.

I am writing to request that you initiate a thorough inquiry into the competence of North County Transit District to operate this rail transit service and the “Coaster” commuter line. On or about March 7th of this year CPUC inspectors found fault with the brakes on the Sprinter trains and within 24 hours the system was shut down. The management of NCTD has blamed an individual maintenance manager and the sub-contractor for failing to report the problem.

I find it very hard to believe that the public is being told all the facts. If, as seems highly unlikely, one individual had knowledge of this safety issue and did nothing about it, why were there no checks and balances in place? NCTD claims that they have plenty of funds in hand and have not diverted money from maintenance to other items. If that is the case, how can something as basic as worn out brakes be overlooked?

Our members and the public at large are entitled to know that the trains that we ride are properly maintained and that procedures are in place to ensure that maintenance of brakes and other safety systems are subject to the review of the senior management of the agency. This does not appear to be the case at NCTD.
RailPAC is looking to the CPUC to use its resources and expertise to review all the documents and correspondence between all the parties involved to find out the truth as to why NCTD had to take the extreme step of shutting down this important service under emergency conditions. The action by NCTD has severely shaken the confidence of the traveling public in the safety of “Sprinter” and passenger rail in general. After a long and slow recovery from the Glendale and Chatsworth accidents on the Metrolink system the last thing we need is for further questioning of the competence of rail passenger management. Only a thoroughgoing public examination of the facts will be satisfactory.

Yours faithfully,
Paul J. Dyson
President

Issues, Reports

The complicated history of the Sprinter

Report and Photo by Noel T. Braymer, RailPAC e-newsletter Editor

The Sprinter started out as a simple project to serve the 22 miles between Oceanside and Escondido. The original proposal by RailPAC’s Byron Nordberg back in the 1980’s was to rebuild the existing single tracked short line railroad between these 2 cities for about 70-80 million dollars. Inexpensive, self-propelled diesel rail cars, proven and in production, would be used. The idea was to finish it in 1988, which was the centennial of these two cities and of the construction of this short line. After that things got complicated. The budget went up and opening day got pushed back to 2000 then 2005, 2007 and it finally opened in March 2008. By then the construction budget was almost half a billion dollars!

Sprinter at Oceanside

A major factor in the inceased cost and delays of this project was the decision to build a largely elevated connection off of the existing rail line for the Sprinter to the new campus of the California State University at San Marcos. This station is used when school is in session but is often quiet the rest of the time. The station is a long walk to the main campus, and shuttle bus service is included. The added cost and delays meant that money that had been budgeted to upgrade the Amtrak/Coaster Line in San Diego County was diverted to finish the Sprinter.

Just days before the planned celebration of the 5th Anniversary of the opening of the Sprinter in the first week of March, 2013, it was discovered that the center truck brake rotors on the cars had excessive wear. This center brake was not in the original design of this diesel powered rail car developed in Germany, but to meet California Public Utility Commission (PUC) regulations for braking for a Light Rail Vehicle a third brake was added to the center truck where the railcar was articulated. The rotor and brake parts for the central truck brakes were not the same as for the other trucks. The rotors are not in production and replacements would require a special order.

The discovery by the PUC that the center brake rotors had excessive wear was basically by accident; the PUC was following up on another brake issue for the Sprinters. The PUC had for over 5 years inspected the Sprinter 50 times, but many of the inspections were of the records, including maintenance records, but rarely physical inspections. The maintenance records recorded what work was done but didn’t include specific information on the condition of the parts such as the rotors. Such information had not been required by the PUC. It was shortly discovered that the North County Transportation District (NCTD) Engineer-in-charge of oversight of maintenance of the Sprinters knew about the excessive wear of the the rotors since 2009, just a year after the service began. This was also known in 2009 by the mechanics for the Sprinter who were employees of Bombardier, which had the maintenance contract for the Sprinter. By 2009 this NCTD Engineer, Richard Berk, was requesting quotes from manufacturers for replacement rotors. He got a reply 3 years later in 2012 and was told delivery would take 44 weeks. Mr. Berk “resigned” his position with the NCTD on March 1 of this year, the same day that the PUC discovered the problem with the rotors.

The issue of how and when the excessive wear was discovered on the rotors of some Sprinter brakes brings up several disturbing questions.

  • 1) Why did the PUC approve the Maintenance of the Sprinters largely without physical inspections of the the trains for over 5 years?
  • 2) How could management of NCTD be unaware of these problems with the rotors going back to 2009?
  • 3) How could a senior engineer go about looking for quotes for new rotors long before these rotors should need replacing without the knowledge of his supervisors?

Such an expense would require approval and justification from supervision sooner or later. Most disturbing of all is that in over four years no attempt seemingly was made to discover the cause of this abnormal wear or find a solution before replacing these very expensive and hard to replace rotors with new ones which would likely need to be replaced long before they should be.

NOTE: From an April 9 NCTD Press Release: “North County Transit District placed an order yesterday for a complete set of split disc rotors for the entire SPRINTER fleet. The replacement rotors are scheduled to be delivered from the European manufacturer by the end of April. Originally, NCTD anticipated the order would be placed in May however; the repair and testing process is proceeding ahead of schedule. While the repair process is moving swiftly and efficiently, NCTD still cannot set a date to resume SPRINTER service due to vagaries in manufacturing and shipping times, extensive testing requirements, and other variables. Once the complete set of rotors has arrived in Oceanside the agency will set and announce a re-launch date for the SPRINTER.”

Commentary

RailPAC President writes Caltrans about the Surfliners becoming Coasters

NOTE: This letter from Paul Dyson and Noel Braymer’s article below express the RailPAC opinions on this subject.
8th April, 2013
Mr. William D. Bronte,
Chief, Division of Rail
Department of Transportation
1120 N Street MS 74
Sacramento, CA 95814
Surfliner: Degrading Intercity Schedules to cover gaps in Commuter Service a bad policy and contrary to State Rail Plan
Dear Mr. Bronte:

RailPAC has campaigned for 30 years for improved intercity passenger rail service in California, and our history began with the Los Angeles to San Diego route. Back in 1980 the schedule for a “San Diegan” was 2 hours and 35 minutes end to end. It has always been the objective to reduce this running time, based on the nationally and internationally proven premise that reduced journey time results in increased patronage. Since 1990 commuter rail agencies have been formed and more trains crowded onto a stressed network. And these commuter rail Boards have viewed the intercity service as a source of cheap seats to fill in the gaps in their own operations. Having just taken out the additional stops in Orange County that were used, unsuccessfully, to cover gaps in Metrolink service we now have a deal in place, negotiated behind closed doors without notice to the LOSSAN Board, and now published in the Amtrak timetable (although not on the Coaster timetable!) to use intercity trains to supplement “Coaster” service. While this may seem superficially to be an attractive idea it is flawed on many counts.

Punctuality and Reliability:
The new schedule results in an increase in journey time to 2 hours and 55 minutes or more for the trains in question, and a total of 13 intermediate stops between Los Angeles and San Diego on an “intercity” train. It may be that one or more of the trains in question are already stopping at one of these stations for a meet. It cannot be that all the trains are now stopping at all the stations for this reason. In any case that should be treated as an indication that the schedule needs to be reviewed and possibly adjusted. We understand that some recovery time can be eliminated. We also know that Amtrak gives themselves 10 minutes grace so that a train arriving at its destination up to 10 minutes late is counted as on time. Amtrak managers may therefore have been able to convince themselves that they can “lose” these delays and pretend that the additional stops will have no impact on the high fare paying Surfliner passenger. We disagree.

While Surfliner punctuality has improved over the past few months (and we congratulate all concerned on the improved performance), 90% on time, given the combination of grace time and recovery time, is still not stellar. Eliminating the opportunity to regain lost time by adding 4 stops on certain trains can only result in reduced reliability and worsening of the consequences of an incident on the line.

Revenue and Lost Revenue:
NCTD and its consultant claims that these additional stops will result in increased revenue to Amtrak. Apparently Amtrak will be paid $4.28 per Coaster passenger boarding. We doubt that these changes will result in a net contribution to the bottom line based on the cost of the stopping and starting a heavy train, and the likely further loss of high fare paying Surfliner passengers. The current published round trip fare between Los Angeles and San Diego is $37, or about 9 Coaster passengers, 12 if Business Class. The consultant claims that Coaster will attract 158 passengers per train presumably based on average loadings of the existing Coaster service. Even if we believe their number, which is dubious given the timing and direction of the Amtrak trains in the program, it would take only 13 more business class passengers to yield the same revenue. Put it another way, you’d need only 115 more coach round trips per day on the whole service, only 5 more Los Angeles – San Diego round trip passengers per train, to yield the same revenue. Study after study both within the USA and overseas has demonstrated the correlation between improved speed and patronage. This proposal reduces speed and decreases reliability and punctuality, and will drive away the business and end point to end point passenger.

Additional Operating Costs:
Our industry technical resources have a computer simulation which indicates a minimum of 5 gallons of additional fuel consumption for each stop/start cycle based on a single locomotive and 6 car trains. In addition there is more brake shoe and door mechanism wear with every stop. Overall they estimate $50 to $100 cost per stop, $200 to $400 per train.

Converting taxpayer funded intercity service to commuter service
The rolling stock and locomotives for the Surfliner were purchased with funds both from the federal government and voter approved bonds for intercity service. This is also true of the cars ordered under proposition 1B to be delivered in the next few years. This new rolling stock is specified to operate at up to 125mph, with business and café cars. Both the existing and new build cars are neither designed nor appropriate for multiple stop commuter service. It could be argued that this proposal represents a misuse and possible illegal diversion of funds from state intercity service to a local commuter agency.

Conformity with State Rail Plan 2013 (Draft)
The proposal goes against the policy for continuous improvement of intercity passenger rail services as expounded in the Draft State Rail Plan (2013). The plan states (p200): The key objectives of the capital investments include….“Improving rail operations by reducing travel times”.

“Me Too” Demands: Orange County, Burbank
This proposal is the camel’s nose in the tent. It’s all too easy for a commuter agency to feel that they can divert resources from an intercity service to provide more options for “their” passengers. What argument can be presented to Orange County and Los Angeles County should they wish to have a similar program? Burbank has a downtown station with parking available and is the hub for more than a dozen bus routes. Why not stop there? Can we imagine Amtrak allowing the Acela to make extra stops to help out New Jersey Transit?

RailPAC’s Recommendation
The future for the Surfliner is with the longer distance passenger. As soon as the San Diegans were extended to Santa Barbara and the average length of journey and fare per passenger increased, so the farebox recovery improved radically. What the Surfliner service needs is a long period of punctual, reliable service, together with low cost route and station specific advertising to maximize high fare patronage. This needs to be followed by continued incremental improvements that reduce journey times. One of the biggest complaints I hear from people who have tried the Surfliner once but don’t want to go again is the number of stops and the overall journey time. We must hold the line and not permit any further deterioration in the competitiveness of the product.
Yours faithfully,
Paul J Dyson
President
Cc: LOSSAN Board, Interested Parties