Monthly Archives

July 2013

Editorials, Reports

San Joaquin JPA; a trip and meeting report

Reported, with an editorial, by Paul Dyson, RailPAC President

I traveled to Fresno Friday 26th July for the San Joaquin JPA meeting, the third of this newly formed corridor agency. Travel both ways from Burbank Airport via Thruway bus and San Joaquin train was on time and uneventful. The trains were well loaded, about 95% in my coach both ways, and the buses about 50% northbound (including 8 from Burbank!) and 33% southbound. Both modes deployed clean equipment and courteous and helpful crews.

At the meeting the BNSF’s D.J. Mitchell and Rick Depler gave an informational presentation to the Board about BNSF’s role in the corridor, how they cope with emergencies and incidents, as well as their modelling and review process for capital projects.

The key action item on the agenda was the staff report on the appointment of a managing agency for the corridor. Following the model of the Capitol Corridor an agency with some experience of operations and service development, and perhaps most importantly contract negotiations, will be appointed to “run” the corridor. This will fulfill the current role of Caltrans Division of Rail. There were only two candidates, the San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission which operates ACE, and BART which manages the Capitol Corridor. Both were rated highly by the selection committee but SJRCC won out based mostly on local knowledge and geographic relevance, being based in Stockton. Vice Chair Steve Cohn of Sacramento and also a member of the CapCor Board pointed out the specific experience of BART with intercity service. It was clear that he did not have the votes and the SJRRC was unanimously chosen, subject to contract terms.

The next item concerned the deployment of the “Comet Cars” which will soon be available for service. Board member Perea in particular had previously expressed reservations about these cars, and demanding that they should be replaced at the first opportunity with the new bi-level cars now being built at Rochelle IL. I spoke in public comment reminding the board of the delay between the passage of 1B in 2006 and the start of manufacture of the next generation of cars. The Comet car program was the only alternative to continued overcrowding. Furthermore I pointed out that once the bi-level program was under way there would likely be ongoing demand not only from the California corridors but from other states and even from Amtrak for the long distance trains. Since $28 million of taxpayers money had already been invested in the Comets it was incumbent on all concerned to make them work. I then went on to briefly describe our idea for deploying mixed consists of Comets and Bombardier bi-levels (see my story at which would provide low level boarding on alternate cars, plus ADA and bicycle accommodation.

Other agenda items included review of a joint policy statement with the High Speed Rail Authority and Caltrans. Also discussed was the April Sacramento Rail Forum and a meeting with the other state rail board chairs to discuss common principles and policies.

Editorial: This Board has a steep learning curve ahead of it, plus a difficult task of managing expectations. As long as Amtrak continues to maintain the rolling stock to current standards, the train crews give the excellent service that I witnessed and enjoyed, and if BNSF dispatches the railroad and runs the trains on time then there is little that “local control” can do to make a major improvement. We wish Stacy Mortensen and Dan Leavitt well as managers of SJRCC in their expanded role and we look forward to working with them to expand service.


It’s Hard to get Around California by Train

By Noel T. Braymer                                                                                                              It’s not easy going from Los Angeles to San Francisco by train; particularly for a one day trip. But Los Angeles-San Francisco is one of the largest travel markets in this country. On the Coast Starlight it takes about 12 hours and a bus ride from Emeryville to get to San Francisco. Taking the San Joaquins to San Francisco requires both a bus ride from Emeryville and from Los Angeles to Bakersfield. If you take the 1:45AM bus from Los Angeles and catch the San Joaquin at 4:55AM you can be in San Francisco by 11:20 AM. To get back to Los Angeles the last bus of the night leaves San Francisco at 5:15PM which will get you to Los Angeles by 2:20 AM.

What would work much better would be a direct overnight train between Los Angeles and San Francisco. This could be done with one additional trainset on the California Zephyr with connecting service at San Jose to San Francisco. But considering we are no closer today to extending one Surfliner from San Luis Obispo to San Francisco than we were 15 years ago, this isn’t likely to happen any time soon.

Our best hope for significant service improvements in the near term will be with improvements in the San Joaquin Valley for future High Speed Rail with construction starting this year. After 2018 we can expect additional express San Joaquin trains running at speeds up to 125 miles per hour for a distance of 130 miles between Madera and Bakersfield out of the 315 miles between Oakland and Bakersfield.

Currently it takes more or less 6 hours and 10 minutes by train between Bakersfield and Oakland. The bus connection between Los Angeles and Bakersfield with intermediate stops is now scheduled for 2 hour and 15 minutes. That is roughly 8 and a half hours by bus and train between Los Angeles and Oakland. What would it take to create a decent one day service for most of California?

To reduce the running times between Los Angeles to Oakland from 8 and a half to 6 hours would require 4 hour running times between Bakersfield and Oakland.This would also need 2 hours or less express bus service between Los Angeles and Bakersfield. The San Joaquin Trains now average about 50 miles per hour with a top speed of 79 miles per hour. This is the fastest average speed of any passenger train in California. To run the San Joaquins in 4 hours would require an average speed of 79 miles per hour. This will be easier said than done.

The 130 miles of new track construction in the San Joaquin Valley is just over a third of the 315 miles between Oakland and Bakersfield. Between Oakland and Port Chicago along the upper bay much of the current railroad has top speeds of 40 miles per hour. To cut running times to 4 hours will require raising trains speeds for passenger trains from 79 to 90 or even up too 110 miles per hour between Madera and Port Chicago as well as some improvements from there to Oakland.

Assuming 4 hour Bakersfield to Oakland rail service and 2 hour bus connecting service to Los Angeles for a 6 hour trip, what could this look like? To arrive in Oakland by 9:00 AM would mean a Bakersfield departure by 5:00 AM and a Los Angeles Bus departure by 3:00 AM. For an 11:00 AM Oakland arrival that’s a 7:00 AM Bakersfield departure and a 5:00 AM bus departure out of Los Angeles.

Now lets look at southbound travel. Currently the last departure out of Oakland is 5:50 PM southbound. That train is scheduled in at Bakersfield by 11:56 PM and the bus to Los Angeles arrives by 2:20 AM. A 4 hour train trip leaving Oakland at 6:00 PM would arrive in Bakersfield by 10:00 PM. With an express bus a passenger could arrive in Los Angeles by Midnight. With an 8:00 PM train out of Oakland that’s Midnight to Bakersfield and bus connections to Los Angeles by 2:00 AM.

While such a schedule would still be far from perfect, cutting 5 hours out of the round trip between Los Angeles to Oakland from 17 hours to 12 hours would be a major improvement. This would be faster than travel by private auto. It would improve service from the San Joaquin Valley to the Bay Area, Sacramento and Los Angeles area. A 6 hour running time will make possible day trips from the Bay Area south to the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California.

The earliest a person can leave Oakland today is 7:30 AM with an arrival in Bakersfield by 1:41 PM and Los Angeles by 4:10 PM. The other option is a bus from Oakland at 5:30 AM for a ride to Stockton by 7:35 AM to catch a train from Sacramento to Bakersfield. That will get you in Los Angeles by 2:30 PM. The second to the last departure out of Oakland leaves at 1:15PM and arrives in Los Angeles at 9:50 PM.

With a 6 hour running time a train leaving Oakland at 5:00 AM would get to Bakersfield by 9:00 AM and Los Angeles by 11:00 AM. An 8:00 AM departure from Oakland would arrive in Bakersfield by Noon and Los Angeles by 2:00 PM. For return trips a bus leaving at 6:00 PM from Los Angeles and the connecting train from Bakersfield at 8:00PM would arrive in Oakland by Midnight.

The question remains, when can we look forward to service something like this?

eNewsletter for July 22, 2013

LIRR watchdog group: Amtrak board lacks commuter rep Newsday Jul 19, 2013 Mark Epstein, chairman of the LIRR Commuter Council, said Thursday that a vacancy on Amtrak’s seven-member board should be filled by a New York commuter. No Way! Amtrak was never suppose to be involved with commuter rail in the first place because it is a money sponge. The Amtrak Board is already dominated by officials from the East Coast. What is long overdue is a new authority instead of Amtrak to be responsible for the infrastructure of the NEC. It should be locally controlled and funded by a combination of local and Federal Funding. The fact is Amtrak’s Federal funding subsidizes commuter trains on the NEC at the expense of the National System. This is at the heart of Amtrak’s budget problems not the cost of food on the Long Distance Trains. NB

July 22, 2013 Part 1  July 22, 2013 Part 2  July 22, 2013 Part 3

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CA Rail Statistics

Capitol and other CA Corridor Statistics (June, 2013)

By David B. Kutrosky, Managing Director,
Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority

Capitol Corridor Service Performance: Ridership for June 2013 was down 4% compared to June 2012 with Year to Date (YTD) ridership 3% lower than last year. YTD revenue is slightly below last year by 0.7%; however, YTD system operating ratio is 54% thanks to lower diesel fuel prices. As always, our On-time performance (OTP) continues to keep an element of performance on the bright side: for June our OTP was 95%; YTD OTP is 95% keeping the Capitol Corridor on top of the leader board in service reliability in the Amtrak system.

A detailed analysis of ridership information from the ridership database for the fiscal year from October 2012 to May 2013 indicates it is:

  • steady on the weekends
  • growing in the San Jose/Silicon Valley travel market
  • increases in the reverse peak direction trains (to Sacramento in the morning, to the Bay Area/San Jose in the afternoon)
  • continuing to have sustained losses in the Placer County trains and overall losses at the Sacramento Station that cannot offset increases noted above
  • In fact, those city pairs associated with Sacramento Station in the top 25 city- pairs represent a ridership loss of 4%, which coincides with the June dip in ridership.


    Actions to Address Ridership Drop at Sacramento

  • Immediate term: effective July 15 morning trains coming into Sacramento from Placer County and the Bay Area will arrive 5 minutes earlier to accommodate the longer distance from the new platforms to the Sac RT light trains; this will ensure passengers can make that connection. Please note that staff has received emails from passengers praising this schedule adjustment.
  • Near term (2-3 years):
  • CCJPA staff has been meeting with Sac RT to help support Sac RT’s efforts to complete the design and environmental plans to move the current light train platform closer to the tunnel portal, which will shorten the transfer time between light rail and Capitol Corridor and Amtrak trains; the goal is to begin construction within the next two to three years.

    FY 13-14 Adopted State Budget

    Governor Brown enacted the State Budget Act of 2013 for Fiscal Year 2013-14 on June 24, 2013. The budget to support the three California IPR services included the base amount of $90.3 million plus $18.6 million from the May Budget Revise in order to meet cost increases that are incurred with the implementation of the PRIIA Section 209 pricing policy.

    Capitol Corridor Customer Service Program Upgrades

    CCJPA Bike Access Program. In February the CCJPA Board adopted the CCJPA Bicycle Access Plan. We delayed launching this program due to the installation of Positive Train Control (PTC) equipment on the cab cars to be done after we upgrade these cab cars with enhanced bicycle storage. In short, there will not be enough converted cab/bike cars available until the PTC upgrades are completed in fall 2013. We are moving forward with funding agreements for the at-station elements of the Bicycle Access Plan. We expect CCJPA will secure the state funding in fall 2013, which will support the eLocker and folding bicycle rental programs.

    Amtrak eTicketing program: Amtrak and CCJPA are working on the next phases of the program – conductor printers for seat-checks and sales receipts and software upgrades to allow for print-at-home multi-ride tickets—which should also be complete in fall 2013.

    NASCAR Express: On June 23, 2013, the CCJPA, in partnership with the Sonoma Raceway, hosted the first-ever Capitol Corridor NASCAR Express train on Sunday. This special train served the Sacramento, Davis and Suisun-Fairfield stations and then proceeded directly to the Sonoma Raceway via the Cal Northern and SMART railroads through the scenic wine country that can only be viewed through this rail route. Based on the feedback from the promotional partners and the passengers, this special train can be considered a resounding success and plans are already underway for other special trains to serve the raceway.

    Safety Initiatives

    Safety Fences: Staff and UPRR have completed the surveys for the next phase of fence projects. Locations include south San Leandro, Union City and south Hayward.

    Transportation of Law Enforcement Officers: This program is now fully implemented with over 50 law enforcement officers enrolled from various law enforcement agencies within the corridor route.

    Passenger and Employee Injuries: The Capitol Corridor continues its superb commitment to passenger safety with a 28% reduction in passenger injury ratio compared to the prior year reporting period and no employee injuries for FY13 YTD.

    Positive Train Control: All of the locomotives in the Northern California IPR fleet are now equipped with on-board PTC equipment and the cab control cars are at 40% outfitted. Discussions are continuing with UPRR on their plans and schedules to install track/wayside PTC signal infrastructure along the Capitol Corridor.

    Project Updates

    Sacramento to Roseville 3rd Track Environmental Review/Preliminary
    This project is about to begin the environmental process with
    the advancement of selected alignment alternatives. The CCJPA will develop a public participation plan and move more formally into the environmental documentation phase of the project which will include the analysis of project alternatives for public review. Completion of these infrastructure improvements will allow for the increase from today’s two up to 20 daily trains serving Roseville.

    Oakland-San Jose Phase 2 Project Environmental Review/Preliminary
    In March 2013, the CCJPA was allocated $3.5 million to fund
    preliminary engineering (30% design) and project environmental documents for the track infrastructure upgrades for the Oakland-San Jose Phase 2 Project. The CCJPA has been working with Caltrain and San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission/ACE staff to combine our collective resources and funding to prepare the design plans, environmental documents and construction cost estimates for the those track capacity improvements, which will permit an increase of up to 11 Capitol Corridor round trips in the Oakland to San Jose corridor and up to 6 ACE round trips between Stockton and San Jose.

    CCJPA expects to secure the services of a design and environmental consultant in the late summer or early fall period. Discussions and analysis are ongoing with UPRR and Caltrain, the respective host railroads, to ensure sufficient resources are allocated to the various subprojects.


    For FY13, monthly ridership results continue to be 3.4% below FY12 (a record-setting year); yet other performance measures continue to be steady or improving: YTD revenues are slightly below last year, system operating ratio remains above standard at 54% due to lower fuel costs, and OTP remains at an impressive 95%, allowing the Capitol Corridor trains to remain in the number two spot for reliability in the Amtrak system. The CCJPA team has been successful in working with our service partners to limit service delays and keep reliability at an all-time high. Other
    efforts include maintaining high customer satisfaction levels, implementing safety initiatives along the route, and gaining momentum on pre-development work for the service expansion projects (involving San Jose/Salinas, Placer County) and completing customer enhancement initiatives (bike access/storage, e-Ticketing upgrades).

    Capitol Corridor June 2013
    – Ridership: 138,293 riders; -4.4% vs. June 2012; -3.4% vs. prior YTD
    – Revenue: $2,402,893; -5.5% vs. June 2012; -0.7% vs. prior YTD
    – On-Time Performance: 95%, YTD OTP of 95% (#2 in the nation).
    – System Operating Ratio: 54% YTD vs. 50% in FY12
    Pacific Surfliners June 2013:
    – Ridership: 231,236 passengers; -0.7% vs. June 2012; +2.6% vs. prior YTD
    – Ticket Revenue: +2.4% vs. June 2012; +7.2% vs. prior YTD
    – On-time performance: 80% (YTD FY13 on-time performance: 87%)
    San Joaquin June 2013:
    – Ridership: 108,140 passengers +3.1% vs. June 2012; +6.1% vs. prior YTD
    – Ticket Revenue only: -4.4% vs. June 2012; +1.5% vs. prior YTD
    – On-time performance: 60% [lower OTP due to track maintenance projects] (YTD FY13 on-time performance: 77%)


    Why is it so Hard to get More Passenger Trains on the Coast Line?

    By Noel T. Braymer

    The Coast Line between Los Angeles and San Jose is a natural for more passenger rail service. The demand is there to fill up more passenger trains. For over 15 years there have been plans to start up day service between Los Angeles and San Francisco on the Coast Line. Yet we are no closer today than 15 years ago. Why? The conventional wisdom is that it is because the Union Pacific is opposed to passenger rail service.

    Is this true? Metrolink runs rush hour trains on the UP mainline between Los Angeles and Riverside with few problems. Metrolink shares tracks with the UP from Los Angeles to Oxnard, Lancaster and through to El Monte. ACE runs between Stockton and San Jose on the UP. Not only is this service staying put, but ACE is planning to extend service to Modesto and Merced on the UP. Also ACE is planning major improvements between Stockton and San Jose over the next 10 years to reduce running times by over half and run additional trains. This will require the cooperation of the UP. UP has been talking with ACE and said that separate tracks would be needed to run trains on their right of way for passenger speeds over 79 miles per hour. UP is not saying no to ACE, but will spell out what they want before they will agree.

    What ACE and Metrolink have in common is that they are regional services. They deal directly  with the UP and have negotiated agreements with them. These agreements include what is paid for access to the UP rights of way and paying for the track improvements needed to operate passenger trains on the UP. Amtrak on the other hand from its founding has through legislation enjoyed major discounts using the freight railroads tracks and the railroad have had to maintain lines Amtrak uses to passenger standards for many years. The railroads complain they lose money running Amtrak trains and from problems dealing with Amtrak when their trains are late or break down on the railroads.

    The exception to this seems to be the Capitol Corridor. Amtrak operates the Capitol Corridor trains between San Jose and Auburn. Recently it was announced that there are plans to extend service south of San Jose to Salinas on the Coast Line with Capitol Corridor trains. How can the Capitol Corridor run on the Coast Line when Amtrak can’t even extend one train north of San Luis Obispo to San Jose on the UP?

    Even though the Surfliners and Capitol Corridor trains are operated by Amtrak, they are not managed the same. For years the Capitol Corridor trains have been managed by the Capitol Corridor Joint Power Authority (CCJPA). This JPA is made up of the transportation agencies between San Jose and Sacramento with BART providing the administrative support to run the CCJPA. The CCJPA also gets funding from the State to manage the trains as well as local monies. As such Amtrak runs the Capitol Corridor trains under contract to the CCJPA. Unlike the Surfliner which Amtrak owns most of the equipment, all of equipment for the Capitol Corridor is owned by the State. The State and CCJPA have a lot of leverage over Amtrak which maintains the equipment to keep it in good shape. The Capitol Corridor trains have an excellent on time performance and their equipment have high levels of customer satisfaction.

    Caltrans has been administering the Surfliner and San Joaquins for the State through Amtrak. The CCJPA unlike Caltrans has the freedom to deal directly with the UP on operations of the Capitol Corridor. The CCJPA has created its own bonus program for the UP to encourage it to run their trains on time. In addition the CCJPA pays the UP to upgrade the tracks the Capitol Corridor uses. This has not only benefited the Capitol Corridor trains but also improved operations for the UP.

    New Joint Powers Agencies are now being organized to manage the San Joaquins and Pacific Surfliners. The question is what will become of the future Coast Daylight between Los Angeles, San Jose and San Francisco? The local organization for the Central Coast is the Coast Rail Coordinating Council (CRCC) and it has been leading the fight for rail service on the Coast. As such the Coast Daylight doesn’t have a JPA behind it but there will be shared responsibility between the CCJPA and the new LOSSAN JPA on the Coast route.

    It appears that a major factor in the lack of progress getting more service on the Coast Line is that it will depend on the UP coming to an agreement with Amtrak. Without Amtrak paying more money the UP is in no hurry to make a deal. Amtrak would be unwilling to set a precedent to raise trackage fees on any train since this would open the gates to raise fee on all their trains.

    It seems that the only way to get more service on the Coast Line will require direct coordinated negotiations by the CRCC, CCJPA, LOSSAN, and Caltrans with the UP. Literally these negotiations would have to go over Amtrak’s head. They would require a plan to insure the UP gets paid more money and there is a serious talk about the future track improvements on the Coast Line. This seems to have worked with the CCJPA to make running passenger trains worth it to the UP. It hasn’t been all roses between the UP and the CCJPA but there is certainly more progress to be seen up north.


    eNewsletter for July 15, 2013

    What is being proposed are elevated tubes 5 feet in diameter. In them a pressurized mag-lev pod weighing 400 pounds carrying 6 passengers and luggage would travel in a vacuum with almost no friction and needing little energy for propulsion. A single High Speed Train can easily carry 600 passengers with between 6 to 20 such trains running in one direction per hour. To just carry 600 passengers on the Hyperloop would require 100 carloads an hour. That’s a pod every 36 seconds. The closest separation allowed between trains is 90 seconds for roughly 2 blocks of separation. At up to 4,000 miles per hour how quickly can one of these pods stop and how much distance is required to do so? NB

    July 15, 2013 Part 1  July 15, 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.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


    The Grim Prospects ahead for our Long Distance Trains

    By Noel T. Braymer

    The recent court decision to throw out a part of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act (PRIIA) of 2008 means that the railroads no longer have to give priority to Amtrak Trains on their tracks. This overturns years of precedent which has given passenger trains priority over freight. Since the 19th Century railroads were expected to operate passenger service and give them priority for the public good. Passenger service was never very profitable even in the best of times for the railroads. It was considered part of the cost of doing business to get government approval to operate a railroad.

    When Amtrak was created in 1971 it was planned to be run as a private, for profit company owned by the railroads much like a union station or terminal district. To this day stock for Amtrak is largely held by the railroads. The plan was by consolidating operations into a single carrier and operating on the most productive routes that Amtrak could earn an operating profit and save the railroads money. Key to this plan was that Amtrak would have little overhead. For the first few years Amtrak had few employees, no locomotives and owned no tracks or real estate. Most services were provided by the railroads like stations, maintenance and train crews. This has long changed after Amtrak was given the North East Corridor in 1976 as part of the creation of Conrail which didn’t want the NEC and its overhead.

    The problem the railroads have with Amtrak is that they don’t make money from running their trains.The railroads don’t have problems with passenger trains on their tracks. Local agencies for regional trains pay more per mile to run their trains to the railroads than Amtrak and pay for the capital improvements needed for their trains. From its creation Amtrak has received major discounts for running their trains from the railroads. Also the railroads had to maintain the routes to passenger standards used by Amtrak at their expense. Another problem for the railroads is Amtrak’s late trains. When Amtrak is given priority, this often means dispatchers have to hold freight trains when Amtrak is late. This often creates problems and disrupts railroads operations.


    This photo shot this year in Riverside shows the scale of freight traffic compared to passenger for the railroads.  Photo by Noel T. Braymer

    A perfect example of Amtrak’s problem being on time happened on July 7th just outside of Richmond, Virginia. The Silver Star with over 200 passengers from New York broke down on its way to Miami. The Silver Star and its passengers were stranded for 14 hours without air conditioning and few working toilets. For the railroads, not only does Amtrak’s mechanical problems delay their trains, but often the railroads have to bail Amtrak out by providing rescue locomotives and crews to tow Amtrak trains in distress.

    The reasons behind these problems boils down to money. The fact is Amtrak for most of its history has cut corners on costs, particularly on Long Distance Trains. Often this proves to be penny wise and pound foolish. Amtrak does get money from the Federal Government: recently getting nearly 1 and a half billion dollars of Federal funds. But much of this money doesn’t go directly to Amtrak service and very little of it goes to the Long Distance Trains. Less than 400 million is budgeted for the operating subsidy of all Amtrak’s trains. Over 200 million dollars a year of Federal funds go to pay off old Amtrak debts, much of which goes back to the start up costs of the Acela service which almost shut Amtrak down.

    2012 Amtrak Federal subsidy

    This Amtrak document shows the expected breakdown of Federal Subsidy up to 2012

    The largest share of Federal money, over $600 million dollars a year is for capital spending on the Northeast Corridor. The recent destruction by Hurricane Sandy highlights how much East Coast commuter rail service is dependent on Amtrak which owns most of the railroad between Washington and Boston. For example most of the rail tunnels connecting Manhattan by commuter trains are owned and operated by Amtrak which had to drain and repair them after they flooded. Most of the rail traffic on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor is commuter not Amtrak’s.

    Trains Magazine’s columnist Fred Frailey in a column dated May 23, 2013 called Joe Boardman’s second-term challenge highlights the lack of progress Amtrak has had improving its Long Distance Rail service. He mentions the failure of Boardman’s efforts to get daily service from the UP for the Sunset. Frailey cites the lack of progress with the CSX to get daily service for the Cardinal despite approval for this by the Amtrak Board. BNSF is pressuring Amtrak and the States to pay 100 million dollars for track repairs between Albuquerque, New Mexico and Newton, Kansas on the route of the Southwest Chief. Without this work the Chief will no longer be able to go over the Raton Pass by 2015. Amtrak had been planning to reroute the Chief on the BNSF line through Armarillo if money isn’t available to repair the tracks of the current route. But the BNSF has made it clear they will charge Amtrak about the same amount before allowing the Chief to run through Amarillo for track upgrades as it will to repair the track on the route through the Raton Pass.

    The late Byron Nordberg and Dr. Adrian Herzog foresaw these problems over 30 years ago and they developed a plan to solve them. The solution is a larger network of Long Distance Passenger Trains. This would bring in more passengers and revenue. This would be based on running more and much longer passenger trains and creating sections to serve the maximum number of travel markets while keeping overhead costs under control. Central to this was that the trains produce enough revenue to finance new and additional equipment as well as pay the railroads enough for them to make money and welcome additional passenger train service. This will need a fleet of at least 5,000 Superliner type passenger cars: several times greater than Amtrak’s current total fleet of passenger cars.

    To make this happen we will still need government funding for capital improvements on the railroad for passenger trains using the freight railroads. This should be seen no differently than any other transportation capital spending. Just as importantly we need a large enough Long Distance Rail service to serve enough markets and carry enough passenger to operate at a profit while paying their own way on the freight railroads. This is the norm for Long Distance Rail service in most countries. For most of Amtrak’s history there has been no vision to grow the Long Distance Trains into a healthy service. Instead it is often presented as a welfare case and used as a pawn to keep Amtrak’s subsidy by threatening to cut service to different states.



    eNewsletter for July 8, 2013

    Amtrak Barred From Rulemaking Power For Freight Railroad Bloomberg- Jul 3, 2013 The court threw out a law passed to enforce a requirement, dating to Amtrak’s creation in 1970, that freight trains give priority to passenger trains on tracks they share, which they do in most of the U.S. In other words if we want Long Distance Trains, we will need government funding to maintain the tracks to passenger trains standards. NB

    July 8, 2013 Part 1  July 8, 2013 Part 2 July 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


    Cheaper to go Over than Through the Mountains

    By Noel T. Braymer

    Recently I was looking at a Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) Environmental Impact Report (EIR) from 2009 for the Las Vegas to California High Speed Rail project. What struck me about it was it seemed the people planning improvements for the Altamont Corridor Express (ACE) learned a great deal from the Las Vegas High Speed Rail Project. Both ACE and XpressWest the company behind the Las Vegas High Speed Rail project plan to use multiple unit or MU trains. MU trains are usually used on transit with each car having powered trucks instead of using locomotives. Many High Speed Trains also use MU equipment. MU trains have much more traction and a higher horsepower to weight ratio than using a locomotive. This means faster acceleration and faster speeds going over grades and being able to go over higher grades. MU trains have been around since the late 19th century. Electric MU trains were very popular as Interurban trains about 100 years ago because they were cheaper to build and operate than steam railroads.

    A graphic of an elevated segment from the FRA EIR for the Las Vegas High Speed Rail project from 2009.



    XpressWest in 2009 looked at Diesel Multiple Unit (DMU) trains with a top speed of 125 miles per hour and and Electrical Multiple unit (EMU) trains with a top speed of 150. They based their analysis on available in-production trainsets from Bombardier. Interestingly ACE is planning on using DMU trains with a top speed of 125 miles per hour. This is part of their plan to reduce running times between Stockton and San Jose from 2 hours 10 minutes to an hour. This will also include major track improvements on existing trackage and some track straightening. But this will be much more economical than building a whole new High Speed Railroad through the Altamont Pass.
    A graphic from a recent report from ACE on their plans for faster service over the Altamont Pass.
    ACE DMU 125
    What is most interesting about the XpressWest project is its comparatively low construction costs at $6.9 billion dollars for the first 185 mile segment. This is almost what is being planned ($6 billion) for the first 130 miles of construction in California which won’t include electrification or trains. The key to this plan is the use of I-15 most of the way between Las Vegas and Victorville. Using I-15 avoids the costs of buying private land and dealing with environmental impacts. I-15 is also a straighter, shorter route than using the UP railroad. The EMU trains proposed for use on the I-15 are designed for grades as high as 4.5 percent and for super elevation as much as 6 inches.
    Comparisons between DMU and EMU trains from the 2009 FRA EIR for Las Vegas High Speed Rail
    The big difference between highways and railroads is a combination of highways having steeper grades and tighter curves. Generally highways have a maximum grade of 5 percent compared with 2.2 percent for most freight railroads. One exception to the 5 percent standard is the 6 percent grade on I-5 between Lebec and Grapevine at the foot of the Tehachapis. Just one percent of grade can make a big difference. The equipment chosen by XpressWest was clearly meant for use on highway rights of way with the ability to take most highway grades and curves at high speeds.
    Also from the FRA are the specifications of the EMU trains for use between Las Vegas and Southern California.
    For the California High Speed Rail project the steepest grades planned are around 3.5 percent. This is common practice in many places with High Speed Rail like France. But California is more mountainous than most places. The result of this decision will be miles of tunneling at the Pacheco Pass and between Bakersfield and Sylmar at the north end of the San Fernando Valley. The tunneling in Los Angeles County between Sylmar and Palmdale as now planned with be extensive and expensive.
    ACE’s plans for new and improved service by 2013
    Ace new route
    The planning for the improved ACE trains and XpressWest can have relevance for Los Angeles County. Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich has long been a supporter of extending XpressWest trains from Victorville to Palmdale and Los Angeles. He also wants faster local rail service from Lancaster and Palmdale to Los Angeles and San Diego. Something like the DMU trains planned for ACE could be used for faster service between San Diego and Palmdale as well as other areas of Southern California. Along with track improvements to existing railroads such express services could be running in a few years with major time savings.
    A graphic from a few years back with the maintenance costs of raising speeds for passenger rail service.
    Cost of Speed
    To run faster service between Sylmar and Palmdale will need a shorter and faster route than what is possible now even with an improved right of way on the current railroad to Palmdale. The solution could be to share Highway 14. Even using only part of Highway 14 would be very useful. This would bypass the rail tunnel between Sylmar and Newhall. This single track tunnel from the 1870’s is already a bottleneck for running more trains. This new track would add greatly needed track capacity in the area for more and faster trains.
    Using the 14 would bypass much of Santa Clarita which would continue to be served by local Metrolink trains. But it will also save many miles and be a faster route for express trains to Palmdale and beyond. The express trains could rejoin the existing railroad where the tracks cross the 14. This would be much less expensive than tunneling. We might see regional service on the 14 to Palmdale before the line is extended to Bakersfield. Then in the future if the time savings are worth it express trains could run all the way to Palmdale on the 14.

    How to build California High Speed Rail While Making Almost Everyone Happy

    By Noel T. Braymer

    The California High Speed Rail Authority put off decisions back at their June 7th Board meeting over the final routes through Hanford and Bakersfield. At this meeting the CHSRA’s board did approve the contract for the first 29 miles of construction between Fresno and Madera. It also handed over most of the responsibility and funding for faster service over the Altamont Pass to the San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission which operates the Altamont Corridor Express or ACE.

    The reason for these delays in approving final routes for High Speed Rail through Hanford and Bakersfield is the strong opposition to the alternatives being presented to the local communities. The opposition stem from local impacts and loss of private property. The most vocal opposition in the San Joaquin Valley is from the farmers around Madera where a new right of way would be built on acres of local farmland to connect future High Speed Rail from Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley south of Fresno to San Jose and San Francisco over the Pacheco Pass.

    There is a simple and economical solution to these problems. Run the 220 mile per hour express trains on the I-5 in the San Joaquin Valley. This right of way is already publicly owned and it will be cheaper to build ultra high speed tracks on the I-5 than creating new alignments with private property. Most of the opponents of the current plan support use of the I-5 for High Speed Rail as well as improved local rail service in the San Joaquin Valley.

    Where would this leave the current plans for High Speed Rail in the San Joaquin Valley? Most of the construction being planned now will share the BNSF right of way between Fresno and Bakersfield. By staying mostly on this right of way and condemning much less private property the money saved can be used to add new tracks and improvements to raise speeds between Merced and Stockton for the planned faster San Joaquin in 2018. Federal money is available for upgrading tracks for speeds from 110 miles per hour and faster.

    The tracks between Merced and Bakersfield won’t have to be built for 220 miles per hour speeds for the entire route if express trains run on the I-5. The time lost to slow down at a few curves will be minimal for the local trains which have to stop at stations where many of these curves are anyway. No stations need to be built on the I-5 which saves money. Only the express trains need to go 220 miles per hour all the time to travel LA to San Francisco in under 2 hours and 40 minutes. Staying on the BNSF right of way will also speed up construction and make it easier for the State to finish the project on time. This will insure that service improvements in the San Joaquin Valley are ready by 2018 for planned expanded rail passenger service.

    So what should be done with the I-5 now? First thing that will be needed is a plan to preserve the right of way on the freeway for future use for High Speed Rail. For the I-5 to work as the High Speed Rail bypass for express trains it will need connections to Southern California, the major San Joaquin Valley cities up to Sacramento and to the Bay Area. Before building the I-5 segment a fast alignment from Palmdale to Bakersfield will be needed before express trains can run on the I-5.

    The first connection would be south-east of Bakersfield. A new station outside of downtown Bakersfield could be the transfer point for passengers headed to or from Bakersfield and the rest of the San Joaquin Valley. Instead of going through downtown Bakersfield, express trains could use an existing branch line that would be greatly improved to connect with the I-5. This won’t be the most direct route but higher speeds can make up time. From there tracks can continue up the I-5 to the Tracy area. Near Tracy trains could connect with the upgraded ACE trains for connections over the Altamont Pass to the East Bay area and San Jose. With trackage rights to use the UP right of way at speeds up to 110 miles per hour there could be continuous High Speed Rail service through Stockton to Sacramento from Southern California. Current plans for expanded High Speed Rail service to Sacramento now depend on cooperation from the UP. The State will have to be prepared to make an offer the UP can’t refuse with the money available to build it.

    Another connection that will be needed will be for direct trains from Bakersfield and Fresno to the Bay Area.The problems of using farmland in Madera can be avoided. For this there is an existing rail branch line heading west from downtown Fresno which could be extended to the I-5. From the I-5 in the future High Speed Trains can use the alignment over the Pacheco Pass to Gilroy, San Jose and San Francisco for service to Fresno, Hanford, Bakersfield and Southern California.

    All of this will need to be built in increments, with successful service being the springboard for more expanded service. With two routes there can be both local service in the San Joaquin Valley and express long distance service for markets in California as well as future connections out of State to Nevada and Arizona. Using the I-5 for high speed express service and upgrading the existing line for high speed local service will be a very popular solution eliminating most of the opposition in the San Joaquin Valley to the current High Speed Rail project. This eliminates most of the need to condemn private property while providing a very fast express service State wide while improving local connections and service in the San Joaquin Valley.

    With time running out to get construction built on time this approach will allow rapid and easier construction between Madera and Bakersfield now. It can allow more improvements for rail service in the San Joaquin Valley than now planned in the near future. This will eliminate the reasons given for opposing this project by land owners in the San Joaquin Valley. This could break lose years of stalemate on this project and create support of the next leg from Bakersfield to Palmdale. If a deal with the opposition can be made so they will support faster local trains and express service on the I-5 this will end most of the political games to stop California High Speed Rail.This will give the opponents most of what they have been asking for. This will take most of the wind out of the sails of the groups using California to derail future improved rail passenger service in the rest of the country