Monthly Archives

August 2013


eNewsletter for August 5, 2013

Metrolink has hired additional security to check passengers for valid tickets before allowing them to board trains. Only half of the doors are opened for boarding where security and train crew inspects tickets at  half opened doors. Many trains have security on board to check tickets for boarding at intermediate stations. This is an attempt to increase revenues from fare evaders. Tickets inspections are important to prevent fare evasion. However there is a point of diminishing returns when the cost of ticket inspections cost more than the revenue generated. A statistician can calculate the optimum level of ticket inspections for maximum revenue at the lowest cost. This has been done in Europe for years. The best way to increase revenue on any train is to attract more paying passengers.

August 5, 2013 Part 1   August 5, 2013 Part 2    August 5, 2013 Part 3         August 5, 2013 Part 4

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Some Interesting Things about Freight and Passenger Trains

By Noel T. Braymer

I recently got a copy of Trains Magazine’s extra edition of Railroad Maps. It is a compilation of material and graphics from previous Trains issues about changes in American Railroading mostly since 1980. A fact that stood out was Cajon Pass in Southern California is the busiest railroad pass in the country and has been for some years. This triple tracked segment of the BNSF Mainline from Los Angeles to Chicago via Armarillo is now part of a mostly double tracked line. The reason for this is the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are the busiest ports in the country. This is also why much of the UP between Los Angeles and El Paso is also double tracked.The UP is also largely doubled tracked between Chicago, Cheyenne and Salt Lake City. The CSX is mostly double tracked on the old New York Central Mainline between Albany and Chicago as is the Norfolk Southern on the old Pennsylvania Railroad Mainline between Philadelphia and Chicago.

But compared to the past the railroads have much less double tracking today. Yet the railroads are carrying much more freight today. They are able to do this by running much longer, heavier and fewer freight trains than in the past. This has both good and bad news for rail passenger service.

When looking at California rail freight traffic the Tehachapi Pass hasn’t seen much traffic growth. In 1972 Tehachapi was the 5th busiest rail pass in the US with 60 million tons that year. By 2002 it was ranked 11th and carried 75 million tons. By comparison Cajon Pass went from 76 million tons in 1972 to 167 million tons by 2002. When looking at 2005 traffic between the Bay Area and Tehachapi there is fairly little traffic compared to other UP Lines. BNSF carries more traffic between Fresno and Tehachapi than the UP but neither railroad carries much traffic between Stockton and Fresno. The UP’s Coast Line carries so little freight that it isn’t even shown on the map in Trains showing rail line tonnage. The I-5 corridor in California is a busy route for freight by truck but not by train.

The good news about this is the freight railroads have plenty of potential capacity for both future freight and passenger service expansion. The bad news is the railroads are not interested in building additional tracks on their rights of way at their expense for more passenger trains. The railroads complain that giving Amtrak priority on their lines disrupts their train operations. In order to accommodate Amtrak trains and give them priority on their mostly single tracked railroads they often reserve more space for Amtrak on their tracks than they would for their freight trains. When an Amtrak train is late and misses its time slot this further disrupts dispatching on their lines.

A simple solution for this problem is to add more sidings and segments of double tracking. The problem is who will pay for this? Certainly not the railroads. If we could create a ” Federal National Passenger Train Capital Fund” for track improvements to accommodate passenger trains on the freight railroads the attitude towards passenger trains could greatly improve with the railroads. They might even lobby for more if they see a financial benefit to them.

What would be in this for the public? Improved transportation is popular because of growing transportation costs and increasing congestion. Being able to share the rights of way of the railroads would be an economical way to increase mobility. Finding rights of way is the hardest thing to get for transportation. Expanding highways is never easy in urban areas when there is talk of condemning private property. The biggest problems high speed rail projects run into world wide is  opposition to condemning private property for new alignments.

We are seeing railroad right of way sharing happening already. California has spent billions of dollars improving right of ways shared by freight and passenger trains. Generally the railroads have no problems with track capacity when sharing double tracks with freight and passengers trains with top speeds up to 79 miles per hour. The plan between Fullerton and Los Angeles is to build 4 tracks in the near future on the BNSF mainline. As new grade separations are built a third track is also built. When the railroad between Fullerton and Los Angeles is fully grade separated, adding a fourth track will be fairly easy to do. All grade separation built on the line since the 1970’s have been built to handle 4 tracks. This will create a double track railroad for freights and a double track railroad for passenger trains. The speed limit for freights will be 70 miles per hour but for passenger trains it will be at least 110 miles per hour.

Building separate tracks on railroad rights of way will be much cheaper than building a new railroad. That includes paying the railroads to use their right of way. Most of the mileage for improved passenger service will be needed for Long Distance Trains. For this additional sidings or sections of extended double tracking could be needed on many routes with Long Distance Passenger trains sharing single tracked railroads with freights. But in order to spend tax money to improve railroads across America for passenger trains we also need expanded passenger service to justify these improvements. Also needed will be greater revenue from passenger trains to pay the railroads competitive rates for using their tracks and to finance additional passenger equipment to generate the revenue for this.

Over twenty years ago Dr. Adrian Herzog and Byron Nordberg worked out a plan to develop a rail passenger service that would serve the entire nation, operate at a profit and pay the railroads enough to welcome passenger train business. This service would be based on trunk services with sections branching out to serve the maximum number of markets. Dr. Herzog liked to joke that with their plan there might be 5 trains scheduled to arrive in Albuquerque at the same time, but it would be just one very long train.

Let’s briefly look at what Herzog and Nordberg planned just on the 4 major transcontinental rail routes in the country. Starting with the Southwest Chief they would combine it with the Capital Limited. This alone would add more markets directly served by these trains. One section would run from San Jose down the San Joaquin Valley and connect to the Chief at Barstow. At Kansas City this section from San Jose would split to head to St. Louis then Chicago. A section from Los Angeles would connect with another section from El Paso at Albuquerque where it would join the trunk train. In Colorado these two sections would split or rejoin the trunk train to and from Denver. The last section would start in Tucson, serve Phoenix and join the Chief at William going all the way to Chicago with connections to the other cities served by these combined trains.

For the current Sunset Route it would again be extended from New Orleans to Florida serving Orlando and Tampa. It would exchange cars with the Texas Eagle extended past Chicago to Toronto. The Sunset service would also be combined with Superliner service on the Cresent to Washington DC  with low level car service from New Orleans to New York and Boston. This would be combined with a section from Houston to Florida ending in Tampa. A final section from Los Angeles would split off at El Paso to Abilene, Dallas, Atlanta and Washington D.C.

For the trunk California Zephyr it would start in Los Angeles traveling up the Coast Line to Oakland and on to Chicago. A section would start in Los Angeles and serve Las Vegas and continue on the UP Mainline through Wyoming and connect with the trunk train in Denver and extend past Chicago to Boston on the Lake Shore route. Starting in Vancouver trains would also serve Seattle and Portland while connecting with the trunk Zephyr in Utah. In Kansas this train would split off on the route of the Heartland Flyer heading from Dallas, then to Houston and New Orleans.

On the Empire Builder route the train would be extended to Vancouver and past Chicago on the Cardinal route heading to Newport News instead of Washington. The Portland section of the Builder would be extended to Eugene. Connecting to the Builder would be a new Broadway Limited extended past Chicago to Minneapolis and Duluth.

This is only a small portion of what Herzog and Nordberg had planed. They grouped the Country into Rail Corridors, I have listed only parts of 4 Corridors. This plan has 15 Rail Corridors including local and international connections! This would have to be accomplished in increments.  Some track work would be needed but time would be mostly needed for build enough cars and locomotives to bring this network into full operation.Trains of at least 18 cars would be run to carry the passengers in these markets. Several Hubs would be created to allow connections for passengers to many more destinations.

Central to this plan is expanded frequencies as the system develops. Most Long Distance Corridors would have 2 to 3 round trips a day. Since many of these sections would have connections or break off and join with other trains, this means that only 4 to 6 additional trains movements would be needed for passenger trains on the freight railroads for this operation to work. With much larger carrying capacity these trains could pay more to the railroads than what Amtrak pays now at a discount to the railroads.

To really make an impact on travel which for all rail service now is less than 1 percent of miles traveled in this Country, we need to think big. This would be done at a fraction of the cost of High Speed Rail just for the major urban areas. This level of service combined with connecting buses would allow travel by train to almost every section of the US to almost every area in the Lower 48 States.


eNewsletter for July 29, 2013

Francisco Jose Garzon Amo the operator of the Spanish train that crashed killing 79 people and injured at least 130 of the 247 on board was recorded telling dispatchers shortly after the crash. ” I’ve derailed, What do I do? What am I supposed to do? I ****ed up. I want to die.” The train in this crash was on a conventional railroad, not a High Speed one. The High Speed Trains of Spain generally operate on brand new exclusive HSR right of ways at speeds over 190 miles per hours. This train is a hybrid train than can operate with electric catenary or diesel power and can run on High Speed standard gauge or conventional Spanish board gauge. The trackage where this crash happened had a top speed of 137 miles per hour and was an improved conventional electrified Spanish Broad Gauge line, not a new High Speed Rail Line. The curve was a 50 mph curve and clearly not built for high speeds. 

July 29, 2013 Part 1  July 29, 2013 Part 2  July 29, 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


Re: Ralph James Auburn-Bakersfield Trip (a discussion)

NOTE: The following letter was published in the July 29, 2013 RailPAC e-newsletter as a “letter to the editor” after Ralph James’ article on the subject in the July-August issue of the “Steel Wheels” newsletter. Ralph James has now replied to Mr. Heywood, and those comments are published here.

Bob Heywood, Modesto, CA, wrote, I was intrigued by Ralph James’ trip report from Auburn to Bakersfield. I, too, have had trips that were not easy to book, but some time ago found that by using the Multi-City option on, I could book every trip I wanted the way I wanted. Using the Multi-City option, I was able to book ARN-SAC on 529 (6:30a-7:32a), SAC-SKN on 3712 (7:45a-8:40a) and SKN-BFD on 712 (9:17a-1:41p). It was priced out at $61 ($51.85 for me as I qualify for senior discount). If Mr. James gets the “right” person at Amtrak Guest Rewards they should be able to book this using points (albeit with some coaching). I travel enough that I have Amtrak Guest Rewards Select Executive status and I find that the agents who answer the special Select Executive line are the most knowledgeable and often get what I’m trying to do with little or no coaching.

Ralph James, Alta, CA, continues the discussion. Mr. Heywood’s technique of using the Multi-City ticketing option for Auburn-Bakersfield travel by way of the early morning connection at Sacramento to the train 712 bus is one I probably wouldn’t have found on my own. It works exactly the same as what I have done in the past by purchasing a separate Auburn-Sacramento ticket to add to the Sacramento-Bakersfield reservation. The fares are directly additive and there is no through discount in either case ($16 + $45 = $61). I have not tried to actually book this trip using Guest Rewards yet, but will prepare for some interesting conversations when I do. In one past conversation with the Amtrak res agent that I vividly remember, train 529 out of Auburn did not even exist in her world and she kept repeating that WE are Amtrak and THEY are the Capitol Corridor and you will have to make a separate phone call to THEM to book that train!

With that example as an introduction, I think we need to look at the bigger picture to find out if Amtrak (in the all-inclusive sense) is making all reasonable attempts to be passenger-friendly to the average potential traveler who might call any reservation agent or visit the Amtrak website. We as passenger rail supporters already know pretty well how to get where we want to go despite any roadblocks that might be put in our way, but how about the average traveler, the bread and butter customer who is the lifeblood of passenger rail? I have scoped the various possibilities of travel between Auburn, Sacramento, Martinez and Bakersfield from the Amtrak website and found a few things that do not seem to support maximizing the attractiveness of rail travel or filling otherwise empty seats with incentive pricing. The price of $47 Auburn-Bakersfield listed for several combinations of bus-train or bus-bus-train is taken as the appropriate thru-fare pricing for reference in the following example.

1. As mentioned initially, train 529 out of Auburn at 6:30 AM weekdays provides the best starting point for a reasonable Bakersfield arrival, whether through a 712 Sacramento bus connection or a 714 train connection at Martinez. Until the Martinez option was added a couple of years ago there was absolutely no mention of this train at all. This train easily always has a hundred or more empty seats into Sacramento that could be promoted as a connection at any price to make money, but Amtrak seems to actively ignore it. Are there incentive prices to encourage its use for thru travel? Even the knowledgable pay a $14 PENALTY to bootleg the 712 bus connection ($61) and the uninformed get stuck with a $29 PENALTY ($76) for the privilege of waiting two and a quarter hours in Martinez for a two and a half hour later arrival in Bakersfield. At the very least, the fares should be neutral. Yield Management adds a complication as trains fill up (prices on train 712 are up $17 one day out as of the date of my check), but that is another matter that should not affect the basic concept of filling empty seats on train 529.

2. Another interesting abberation occurrs from Martinez to Bakersfield which is base priced the same as Sacramento to Bakersfield at $45. One would expect that getting up three and a half hours earlier for the 4:45 AM bus to Sacramento vs. 8:19 AM departure of train 712 direct would rate at least some incentive pricing to help fill the first bus and first train of the day. Instead, the red eye departure and circuitous routing carries a $19 PENALTY ($64) for only an hour and a half earlier arrival in Bakersfield. I could find no Yield Management effects on this combination.

Amtrak could, at no cost, adjust incentive fares and promote the additional connection from train 529 to train 712 bus, particularly with the recently introduced 5 minute earlier Sacramento arrival. Fares prior to Yield Management adjustment should be the same, whether the transfer is made at Sacramento or at Martinez and the choice should be up to the passenger.

Another four minutes could be legitimately eliminated from the Auburn-Rocklin schedule by using the newer and straighter Track 2 for the nine mile run now that full bi-directional CTC is in use (based on track speed of 50 mph vs. 30 and 40 mph). This no cost default would also eliminate the slow crossover to Track 1 at Newcastle and would arrive at the station-side platform at Rocklin rather than the far-side platform.

An interesting longer term possibility once additional schedules are authorized east of Sacramento would have the San Joaquin equipment from northbound train 703 travel to Auburn at midnight as a connection from the Starlight and return in the morning as train 702 for direct service to the San Joaquin Valley as well as a southbound connection to the Starlight from the foothills. The Starlight schedule is ideal for travel to the Central Coast and points east of Los Angeles on the Sunset/Eagle route, but currently has no connections beyond Sacramento at all.

Thanks again to Mr. Heywood for a good suggestion to get around an existing roadblock.

Rail Photos

RailPAC PHOTOS of the Month (June-July, 2013)

Here are 5 photos by RailPAC photographers. Click on each photo to see it full size! Contributions to this page are welcome. Send your jpg rail photos to RailPAC Photo Editor, at THIS MONTH: Los Angeles Union Station, Newhall station, North Hollywood, the Ft. Worth Intermodal Center, and BICYCLES!

There is still no replacement for Union Bagel in the LAUS waiting room. An Amtrak “Metropolitan” first class lounge for long distance passengers is under construction on the second level above the rental car location, which is scheduled to open in September, 2013. (Noel Braymer photo)

All the display advertising in the pedestrian tunnel leading to the tracks at LAUS are for NBC’s Spanish language TV station, Telemundo. (Noel Braymer photo)

A southbound Metrolink train arriving at the Newhall, CA, station on June 16, 2013. (Noel Braymer photo)

Bicycles at the North Hollywood Red Line Subway station, showing that many train riders arrive to ride the trains by means other than cars. (Noel Braymer photo)

Passengers arriving on Amtrak, the TRE Commuter line, on a bus or other means can rent bicycles from this location at the Ft. Worth, TX, Intermodal Center. (Russ Jackson photo)


Amtrak’s Southwest Chief; a future still in doubt

Commentary by Russ Jackson, RailPAC

It’s time we took another look at the continuing saga of the future of the Southwest Chief, which requires action as to whether 1) It will continue on its historic route from Albuquerque to Kansas via the Raton Pass route, or, 2) It will be moved to the BNSF “Transcon” route from Belen, NM to Kansas via Amarillo and Wichita, or, 3) It will be discontinued altogether. The decision deadline is the end of 2014.

That last choice, 3), had been considered not likely until we read Fred Frailey’s column in the July TRAINS magazine and his subsequent blog on Frailey says, in an article titled “Ten trains to ride right now,” that the number one priority for train riders now is to ride the Southwest Chief, as “Absent funding for more than $100 million of track upgrades between Newton, Kansas, and Albuquerque,” the present route will become impractical by 2015. He goes on, “A reroute via Amarillo, Texas and Clovis, NM, is not in sight, either, because the BNSF Railway tells Amtrak it would require as much or more in infrastructure improvements.” Does that put the route decision at an impasse? Probably, because according to Frailey, “state governments this train passes through aren’t willing to offer a dime of assistance.” That pretty much sums up the situation. In the event that the BNSF stands firm on its demand for $100 million (everyone knows the old line needs work and the new line will need platforms and some track adjustments) plus annual passenger standard maintenance cost increases for either route choice, and the states continue to be unwilling or unable to contribute, what is Amtrak to do? Point 3), that’s what.

Amtrak SW Chief map - Kansas DOT
(Map courtesy Kansas DOT)

While neither RailPAC, this writer, or Fred Frailey, believe that Amtrak, the states, and the BNSF are at their final answer points (yet), letting the situation go dormant will cause all those concerned to a) use the excuse that the public doesn’t care, or b) believe that Amtrak secretly would like to cut the long-distance trains so why fight it. To deprive the traveling public in the affected areas of passenger trains is contrary to Amtrak’s own stated positions of the benefits of these trains as “Essential Transportation in Rural Areas,” that “Few passengers ride between route endpoints,” that “Long Distance Trains Benefit Local Economies,” and that the national network of long distance trains “ties the nation together.” Having said that, what of a practical matter has been going on “out there?” In January, 2013 a special train was run from Topeka, KS, to LaJunta, CO, carrying invited local officials who inspected the line. In February, 2013 New Mexico’s legislature called for continuance of the present route. In March, 2013 the NM Governor decided to kill off purchase of the 108 miles of rail between Lamy and the Colorado line. In May of 2013 member of the Colorado Rail Passenger Association traveled to Trinidad, CO to ride the train for a day to Las Vegas, NM, and were enthusiastically received at the stations. Press coverage has been positive. In August, 2012 the three states wrote to Amtrak, indicating that state funding “isn’t available,” because in April, 2012 Amtrak had given the states an “ultimatum” to fix the Kansas lines or “we’ll leave.” That ultimatum seems to be contrary to the law that requires Amtrak to be financially responsible to the lines it runs on, and is a dumping of responsibility for national system trains to the states. Any funds Amtrak would be required to pay of its own would have to be diverted from other areas, like the NEC, which of course would be heresy to the Amtrak management philosophy.

What has been happening operationally with the train recently? Well, both trains #3 and #4 travel the route every day of the year, just as they have for decades under Amtrak and the AT&SF. This summer we have noticed something interesting. On the westbound train 3 that departed Chicago on July 25, 2013, the route to Albuquerque was “on time” at each station, or only a few minutes late. It departed Albuquerque on its scheduled departure time, but by the time it arrived in Barstow it was over 2 hours late. We looked at some history, and found that since July 7 train 3 had arrived and departed Albuquerque within minutes of schedule all but on 3 days. Train 4 had arrived into ABQ on time every day. But, train 3 arrived in Barstow late every day in July. Why was the westbound and not the eastbound train so late? We have been unable to find any specific reason, and weather was not a major problem as both trains travel that route mostly at night. Amtrak’s monthly report for June shows “end-point” on time performance for the Southwest Chief to be 71.7%, up from 58.3% in June a year ago, and the “all stations” on time performance in June was 45.5%, up from 30% in June 2012. Oh, yes, they are finally reporting how the trains do between end points.

So, are there any answers to the future of the Southwest Chief? It looks bleak. Right now we have to hope there is action taking place between Amtrak, the BNSF, and the states, but we have not heard of any. Andrew C. Selden says, “they are playing the same game of fiscal ‘chicken’ that they did in North Dakota four or five years ago. The Empire Builder route solution shows how to do this one, too: get local (city) pols to work on their state pols to work on their federal members of congress to share out the cost of fixing the present route, one-third each to Amtrak, BNSF, and the states. And, throw the BNSF a bone by agreeing to abandon LaJunta to Trinidad and send the train via Pueblo instead.” Note: RailPAC’s Jon Messier wrote an article advocating the latter idea in 1984! So, we sit on square one with the Southwest Chief, but everyone must keep an eye on the fact that a decision on the train’s future must be decided eventually.