Monthly Archives

September 2013

Editorials

How to Save the Chief

By Noel T. Braymer

The prospects for the future of the Southwest Chief don’t look good. The BNSF has made it clear that they will not spend more money on the route between Albuquerque, New Mexico and Newton, Kansas to maintain the tracks to passengers standards with so little freight traffic on them. BNSF wants Amtrak or someone else to pay for track maintenance on this route. Amtrak has assumed it could reroute the Chief on the BNSF Mainline through Amarillo, Texas if the current route is no longer available. The BNSF has warned Amtrak that any reroute of the Chief through Amarillo would cost about as much money as repairing the existing tracks through New Mexico, Colorado and Kansas. Amtrak in this case is considering dropping the Chief entirely.

Clearly the solution is finding more money. But the States, Amtrak and Congress all claim they don’t have it. In order to keep the Chief running more has to be done to expand its markets to more places and bring in more revenue. Also everyone involved, the “Stakeholders” will have to spend some money to keep the Chief running.

One idea that would expand the market for the Chief is a minor reroute to serve Pueblo, Colorado. This will add a little time to the schedule but open a new market in an area with mostly low population density. In addition serving Pueblo can improve bus connections to Colorado Springs, the Denver area and even as far as Cheyenne.

A project that has long been talked about and studied is extending the Heartland Flyer past Oklahoma City to Kansas City. This has been mostly looked at as a stand alone project to expand the Flyer’s service to Kansas City. Doing this is very expensive. What could be done for less money and greater revenue is combine the Chief with the Flyer to increase ridership and connections to both trains. This would mean connections at Newton, Kansas in the wee hours of the night. This can be mitigated with connecting cars between between trains although this will increase costs. Combine this with existing connections at Kansas City for service to St. Louis and Chicago for both trains and you can have more ridership for both trains and more “Stakeholders” with an interest to keep the Chief.

One thing that Amtrak can do to improve the health of the Chief is find and add more passenger cars to this train. This train like most American long distance trains is often sold out and could handle more business if it had more capacity. More passengers means more revenue and more supporters of improved rail passenger service.

More can be done to market the Chief with connections it already has. Few people realize that on the Chief you can make connections to St. Louis or much of Missouri between St. Louis and Kansas City. Between St Louis and Chicago there are many cities in Illinois  the Chief  also has  connections .  If  you stay on the Chief at Kansas City to Chicago you can connect there to trains to the East Coast like the Capitol Limited through Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Washington. It is possible to create through cars between the Capitol Limited and the Chief since they both use Superliner equipment. There are also connections on the Lake Shore Limited to Albany with sections to Boston or New York City.

In Los Angeles passengers to and from the Chief can make connections towards San Diego or the Bay Area via the San Joaquin Valley. Passenger arriving on the Chief in Los Angeles in the morning can catch the Starlight going north which connects to the Empire Builder. But now passengers coming south on the Starlight have to spend the night and the next day in Los Angeles to catch Chief the next evening. This is crazy.

If the Southwest Chief is radically changed and loses more connections, this will reduce the market not just for the Chief but for the trains that lose connections to it. If the Southwest Chief is allowed to die, this will impact ridership and revenue along the entire Amtrak rail system including the Northeast Corridor. The Chief is the rail connection between Chicago and Los Angeles, 2 of the 3 largest cities in America. But these cities are also hubs to many more markets for the Chief and other trains. This network of connections of Amtrak Trains is what makes Amtrak a National Railroad Passenger Corporation.

This network of passenger trains held together by the Long Distance Trains has been greatly weakened over the years by eliminating routes. These cuts didn’t save money but reduced revenues more than reducing costs. At some point if more parts of the National Rail Passenger Network are cut the whole network will implode.

eNewsletter

eNewsletter for September 23, 2013

BART was the first of several subway systems over the last 40 tears to operate with automation. Except in yard limits at slow speeds with operators at the controls BART trains have been mostly run by computers for over 40 years. The primary job of the operators is to check the doors at the station to insure no one gets stuck at the door going in or out of the train while it is moving. There have been several times when operators have left their cabs only to find their BART or Washington Metro trains left the station without them. When this happens the passengers can’t get out of the trains at their stops or get on since without the operator the train doors won’t open. NB

September 23, 2013 Part 1 September 23, 2013 Part 2 September 23, 2013 Part 3

The above copy of this enewletter is on a PDF file and you will not be able to click on to the links in blue. If you would like to subscribe to this enewsletter write to nbraymer@railpac.org

Editorials

Stuck in Pico Rivera on Metrolink

By Noel T. Braymer

Everything was normal until we left the City of Commerce station on Metrolink #604 after leaving LAUS on time at 4:30 PM on Friday September 20, 2013. We barely cleared the station around 4:45 PM when we came to a halt. That’s not usual if the problem was signals or a delay up ahead. After a few minutes the conductor came on the intercom to explain why the train wasn’t moving: there was a problem with the locomotive. The conductor apologized for the problem and explained they were trying to solve the problem and get going. The conductor also said a mechanic was on his way from Los Angeles to work on the problem.

We were able to move a few hundred yards at a time and then stop a few more times. By 5:36 PM we hadn’t moved for some time while we were now in Pico Rivera by Rosemead Blvd. At 5:36 PM the conductor announced that Metrolink Train #606, the next train heading for Oceanside would stop and push both trains all the way to Oceanside. While we had been stopped several southbound Metrolink and a few Surfliners had passed us. The 606 which left Los Angeles at 5:40 PM was expected to catch up with us around 6:00 PM.

One of the things I heard that surprised me was that there was a problem on this train the 604 last night which delayed it. When I was coming up to Los Angeles in the morning I had made connections with the 687 at Laguna Niguel/Mission Viejo from the 850. Leaving Santa Ana on time the conductor announced that train 687 would be held in Orange for 15 minutes and that passengers going to Anaheim and Fullerton should transfer to the 633 at Orange which would be in Orange 10 minutes after the 687. I have no idea why Metrolink has 2 trains running within 10 minutes of each other in Orange County. It became clear that Metrolink Train 809 from Riverside due in Orange at 8:16 AM was running late as we left Santa Ana at 9:02 AM. Train 687 was needed for passenger transferring to Anaheim or as far as Los Angeles. We got lucky and train 809 arrived at Orange at almost the same time around 9:07 AM. Still it sounds like Metrolink is having a rash of mechanical problems of late.

After arriving a little late in Los Angeles on the 687, my plan was to go to Bob Hope Airport to take pictures of the train station and new transportation center being built at the airport.There not being any trains  in the late morning from Union Station to the airport my plan was to take Metro Rapid Bus 794 to Burbank and the airport. The 794 doesn’t go by Union Station but the schedule showed a stop by the Civic Center subway station, the first stop after Union Station. I got off at the Civic Center station went to Hill Street and walked several blocks in both directions and no 794 bus stops. I saw 794 buses but no stops. A seasoned bus rider confirmed that there were no 794 stops in the area. I decided to hell with it and to do what I had planned for in the afternoon which was ride LA Metro to the Green Line near LAX and take a bus up Sepulveda to Pico. From there I would check out construction of the Expo Line as far as Bundy then catch a bus on Pico to downtown Santa Monica.

I got to see quite a bit of construction near Pico. But taking the bus and walking took longer than I had planned. It was after 2:00 PM by the time I got to downtown Santa Monica. I got lunch at a McDonald’s. When I got my receipt my order number was 666. I joked with the cashier did this mean this was my lucky number? Maybe it was an omen of things to come. By the time I got to Union Station after catching a bus from Santa Monica to the Expo Line it was 4:20 PM. I’d have to rush to catch the 604 at 4:30 PM which meant skipping getting a snack to fill me until I got to Oceanside for dinner. I also missed taking some pictures around Union Station. But I didn’t want to wait an hour and ten minutes for the next train the 606 leaving at 5:40 PM. If only I had known then what I found out later.

The conductor gave instructions after the 606 arrived of what to expect. He warned passengers to stay in their seats in case the train jerked as they coupled. He explained that the power would go off for a short period of time and we would lose  lights with air conditioning and toilets not working. We were lucky in that we had head end power the whole time we were stranded. This isn’t true many times for passengers on stranded trains. The conductor also said he would be busy walking outside the train while the two trains were making connections to each other and the engineer of the 606 would be walking to the front of our train.

The power cut off by 6:05 PM. You never notice how noisy the air conditioning is until it is shut off on a train. We still had emergency lights and it wasn’t sundown yet. By 6:16 PM we had head end power back on again. By 6:25 PM both trains were moving towards Oceanside. With only one locomotive driving 2 trains we were warned by the conductor that we wouldn’t go as fast as usual. To further slow us down the trains would have to make double stops at each station since the combined trains were two long for the platforms.

By the time we left Fullerton it was 7:04 PM. The 606 was almost an hour late and the 604 almost 2 hours late out of Fullerton. At least it felt better to be moving. Finally when we got to Oceanside it was just short of 9:00 PM. The 604 was scheduled to arrive at 6:37 and the 606 was at 7:46. I don’t understand why American Passenger Rail service isn’t better prepared for such emergencies? Generally the better prepared for emergencies you are the less often they occur. I know most drivers when they have a break down know they have to call a tow truck. It is an unwanted expense as is the cost to have a vehicle repaired. But unless you are under 21 you are not going to try to get a tow from friends or bum one from people you meet.

I don’t understand why at a busy rail passenger hub like Los Angeles there aren’t plans for a stand by locomotive and on call crew to get broken down trains running as soon a possible. It seems odd to leave passengers and millions of dollars of capital stranded and then tie up an other passenger train and inconvenience another set of passengers using passenger trains to tow another train. The reason for not having a standby locomotive no doubt is that this would cost too much money. Yet when an Amtrak Long Distance trains get stranded it is the Freight Railroad which often gets stuck providing a locomotive and crew to get the train moving again.

Speaking of costs there is such a thing as goodwill. In business goodwill is not just a nice idea, it is something with economic value, it has a clear cut price. With a service goodwill with your customers is very important. It is known that the sooner a service provider reacts to a problem and is seen working and paying attention to solve a problem the fewer lawsuits are filed. Revenue and ridership go hand in hand for passenger rail service. This seeming rash of equipment problems is new on Metrolink. Historically their on-time performance has been very good.

But in the last year Metrolink has been dealing with a budget shortfall and is in a cost cutting mode. I can only speculate if there is a connection with budget cutting and what appears to be an increase in equipment problems. If so this is false economy. If service deteriorates so will ridership and revenues. The best solution for low income is increased ridership. The conductor on trains 604 gave many apologies for the inconvenience of the delays. While there are times when apologies are needed, having nothing to apologize for is better.

 

CA Rail Statistics

Capitol and other CA Corridor Statistics (August, 2013)

From David B. Kutroksy, Managing Director
Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority

Capitol Corridor Service Performance

After a bounce in ridership in July 2013, ridership dropped in August 2013 by 2.2% compared to August 2012. A total of 143,080 passengers rode Capitol Corridor trains in August. Initial evaluation of conductor counts indicated that ridership for August 2013 was even with August 2012 for the first 3½ weeks; however, weekday trains had lower ridership counts during the last week of August 2013 when the Bay Bridge was closed for the final cutover to the eastern span. Revenue for August was slightly below August 2012 by 0.7%

On-time performance (OTP) for the Capitol Corridor improved to 96%, keeping the Capitol Corridor as the most reliable train service in the Amtrak system. The year-to-date system operating ratio is meeting business plan standard due to reduced operating expenses, primarily due to lower diesel fuel prices and lower consumption of fuel.

pic29734

Service Reliability ImprovementsSuisun-Martinez Drawbridge. The delays from lifting the Suisun-Martinez Drawbridge for ships passing along the Carquinez Strait have reduced over the past couple of months thanks to a new joint program launched between the San Francisco Bar Pilots, Union Pacific Railroad, Amtrak and the CCJPA. The parties worked together to identify the most opportune times to successfully move marine traffic under the raised drawbridge; taking into full consideration currents, tide levels and other marine traffic, etc., while also seeking to minimize delays to the Capitol Corridor trains. A recent evaluation of this new program did indeed show tremendous progress — delays to Capitol Corridor passenger trains passing over the drawbridge between March and August 2013 had decreased by 36% as compared to the same period in 2012. This collaboration is one of the key reasons why the Capitol Corridor is the number one rail passenger service in the nation for OTP in the Amtrak system.

Funding Outlook – State and Federal
FY 13-14 State Budget
On June 28, 2013, Governor Brown signed into law the State Budget Act of 2012 for FY 13-14, which provided $18.6 million in supplemental funds (from the May Revise FY 13-14 Budget) to the initial $90.3 million to support the operation of the three California Intercity Passenger Rail (CA IPR) services (San Joaquin, Capitol Corridor and Pacific Surfliner). The revised total of $108.9 million for the CA IPR services will offset cost increases that are incurred with the implementation of the PRIIA Section 209 pricing policy for the nation’s twenty-seven (27) Amtrak-operated, state supported IPR services. The CCJPA in a joint letter with the other CA IPR agencies sent a letter of support on this request for additional FY14 operating funds. The CCJPA is now working with Amtrak to complete the FY2014 CCJPA/Amtrak Operating Contract (and Budget) for the Capitol Corridor service.

FY2014 Federal Appropriations
With limited or no progress in advancing the FY2014 appropriations bills through Congress, it appears the only solution would be a short-term continuing resolution until mid-December with current FY2013 current sequestration spending levels to maintain funding for the federal government.

Federal Surface Transportation Reauthorization
As with the FY2014 Appropriations bills, to-date there has been no or limited progress to reauthorize the Passenger Rail Improvement and Investment Act of 2008, which expires on October 16, 2013 and covers Amtrak authorization and the current railroad safety programs, including Positive Train Control (PTC). Over the last nine months, CCJPA staff has been working with APTA, AASHTO and other interested agencies in the preparation of principles that will lay out the development of a multi-year federal capital grants program (using new revenue sources) that would be
distributed to state-supported IPR and HST services. APTA is expected to adopt a set of principles at its Board of Directors meeting later this year. These principles will then be referenced into APTA’s documents supporting the upcoming surface transportation authorization efforts of MAP-21, thereby helping to establish a federally-funded Rail Title.

Customer Service Program Upgrades
• Bicycle Access Plan: The launch of the on-board bike policy enforcement program has been delayed until later in Spring 2014 when the installation of PTC equipment on the cab cars is complete. The cab cars are currently going through the modification program that will add bike storage capacity to these cars; however, once this modification program is done, these cab cars are then put through the PTC installation program.

The other at-station elements of the Bicycle Access Plan are moving forward with funding agreements and allocation requests to support those actions. The CTC is expected to allocate the final bulk of the funding ($556,000 in December 2013) and once all the agreements and paperwork are in place, the CCJPA will begin the process of deploying the eLocker and folding bicycle rental programs thereafter.

• Amtrak e-Ticketing program: Amtrak, working with CCJPA staff, conducted a pilot program from July to August 2013 that deployed onboard print capability for the conductor eTicketing units onboard Capitol Corridor trains. An additional pilot program to integrate onboard processing of multi-ride tickets is expected to begin in October 2013.

Safety Initiatives
• On-Board Installation of Positive Train Control Equipment: Installation of the PTC equipment on the state-owned equipment is proceeding. All California owned locomotives have been equipped and installation on cab cars is underway (~40% complete).

• Safety Fences: Continued investment to secure the right-of-way and deter trespassers via fence projects in North Richmond and the Suisun/Fairfield Station.

Project Updates
• New Passenger Rail Cars and Locomotives.
o Bi-Level Passenger Rail Cars: Nippon Sharyo/Sumitomo has been selected to manufacture an order of 120 bi-level passenger rail cars (the specifications are very similar to the current bi-level cars assigned to the Capitol Corridor). The final design is underway. Forty-two bi-level rail cars are allocated for the three CA IPR routes. The first delivery of the cars is expected in late 2015 with 10 passenger rail cars to be assigned to the Capitol Corridor.

o Next Generation Diesel Locomotives: The RFP for up to 10 cleaner-burning locomotives was released in August 2013. Two locomotives are to be assigned to the Capitol Corridor. The vendor is expected to be named in early 2014.

o Comet Cars/San Joaquin: Caltrans Division of Rail purchased and completely overhauled 14 Comet Cars, three cab-baggage cars and three Horizon dinette/bistro cars to address overcrowding on San Joaquin service. By the end of this calendar year, a total of two Comet Car trainsets will be introduced into the daily pool of equipment for the San Joaquin service out of the Oakland Maintenance Facility. These additional cars will release at least eight bi-level cars and two upper level café cars that can be reallocated to the San Joaquin and Capitol Corridor equipment
pools to accommodate (1) current overcrowding during peak travel seasons (i.e., Thanksgiving, Easter/Spring Break) and events (e.g., Raider home games) and (2) near-term ridership growth for these train services until the new bi-level cars are delivered in 2015-2016.

Outlook – Closing: Monthly ridership totals for FY13 are still below last year’s record ridership results, but these declines are narrowing. Year-to-date, ridership is 2.8% below last year with revenues slightly below last year’s [-0.7%]. Other performance measures continue to be steady or improving: system operating ratio has improved to 52% due to lower fuel costs, and OTP remains at an impressive 95%, allowing the Capitol Corridor trains to hold steady as the number one spot for reliability in the Amtrak system.

Capitol Corridor August 2013
– Ridership: 143,080 riders; -2.2% vs. August 2012; -2.8% vs. prior YTD
– Revenue: $2,486,581; -0.7% vs. August 2012; -0.8% vs. prior YTD
– On-Time Performance: 96%, YTD OTP of 95% (#1 in the nation).
– System Operating Ratio: 52% YTD vs. 50% in FY12
__________________________________________________
Pacific Surfliners August 2013:
– Ridership: 278,903 passengers; +5.9% vs. August 2012; +2.9% vs. prior YTD
– Ticket Revenue: +10.5% vs. August 2012; +7.5% vs. prior YTD
– On-time performance: 77% (YTD FY13 on-time performance: 85%)
__________________________________________________
San Joaquin August 2013:
– Ridership: 114,551 passengers +11.9% vs. August 2012; +7.2% vs. prior YTD
– Ticket Revenue only: +3.0% vs. August 2012; +2.2% vs. prior YTD
– On-time performance: 80% (YTD FY13 on-time performance: 77%)

Editorials

Life after “Death” for Rail in LA.

By Noel T. Braymer

In 1998 the future of rail transit, particularly subway construction looked bleak in Los Angeles. Construction of the Red Line subway from downtown Los Angeles to North Hollywood was a mess. The Red Line construction had created a huge sink hole in east Hollywood. Many buildings were damaged because of ground subsidence along Hollywood Blvd despite promises this wouldn’t happen. The Red Line project was behind schedule and over budget. Early ridership was well below projections on the first 2 segments of the subway.

In 1998 Los Angeles County cancelled all plans to extend the Red Line after the last segment to North Hollywood opened in 2000. This included a ban on all future subway construction, including planned Red Line extensions to East Los Angeles, west to Pico and San Vicente as well as a tunnel to extend the Green Line to the Metrolink Station in Norwalk. Budget problems were so bad that Los Angeles County cancelled construction underway to extend the Green Line to LAX. Also stopped was construction for Light Rail from downtown Los Angeles to Pasadena.

Red Line 1998002 (1)

 

This was the plan for the Red Line in 1995

Things looked much brighter in 1990 when voters approved a half cent sales tax increase by over a two thirds majority in Los Angeles County for transportation improvements including expanded rail transit. This was in addition to another half cent sale tax increase for transportation approved in 1980. This first sales tax increase made possible the construction of the first modern Light Rail Line in Los Angeles; the Blue Line between downtown Los Angeles and Long Beach. The success of the Blue Line led to the construction of the Green Line mostly in the median of the then under construction Century Freeway between Norwalk and El Segundo with a connection to the Blue Line at Willowbrook. In 1993  the first 4 miles of the Red Line Subway started operations from Los Angeles Union Station. Metrolink  also started service in 1993 on its first 3 routes. The Northridge earthquake in January 1994 accelerated plans to extend Metrolink to the Antelope Valley from Santa Clarita after the earthquake destroyed its freeway connections to Los Angeles.

Other regions in Los Angeles County still wanted rail service and went to work to get it. Supporters of Light Rail from Pasadena to Los Angeles found that many of the problems with cost overruns for rail transit projects were from lack of oversight.They proposed the creation of local construction authorities to be responsible for projects to build them on budget and on time instead of the operating agency. The State Legislature created the “Los Angeles Pasadena Blue Line Construction Authority” to complete construction that was already 11 percent done.The now renamed Gold Line opened in 2003. Since then all rail transit projects in Los Angeles have been built by construction authorities working  only on a single project.

Red Line 1998003 (1)

This is part of a map for what in 1995 was called the Pasadena Blue Line which wouldn’t connect to the Blue Line to Long Beach

There was also great support for rail transit in East Los Angeles. Local leaders decided to go for a Light Rail service and gave up on extending the subway into East Los Angeles. East Los Angeles unlike the Blue, Green or Gold Lines didn’t have an existing right of way to use for Light Rail. So a private median on existing roads would be needed for Light Rail in East Los Angeles. The problem was East Los Angeles was both one of the oldest neighborhoods in Los Angeles County and one of the most densely populated. There were some some parts of East Los Angeles where there wasn’t room for a private median for Light Rail on the surface. What was finally proposed included 2 subway stations out of 8 new stations on the 6 mile extension of the Gold Line. The Gold Line extension to East Los Angeles overturned the ban on subway construction and broke ground in September 2005.

Ten years after the future of rail transit looked like it was finished the voters of Los Angeles County approved a third half cent tax increase with Measure R for improved transportation. This was the election of November 2008 which also approved the Bond Issue for California High Speed Rail. With this new transportation money more Light Rail projects were possible such as the Expo Line to Santa Monica, the Crenshaw Line with joint service to LAX with the Green Line, extension of the Gold Line to Azusa and a downtown Light Rail subway in Los Angeles to connect the Blue, Expo and Gold Lines. Also being funded with this new tax were a subway extension on Wilshire to Westwood, extension of the Green Line in the South Bay and a new line to Orange County.

What is the secret that turned things around in 10 years? In a word Teamwork. A common problem in public transportation is agencies and departments of agencies often compete for funding and ridership. Different departments and agencies view each other as “the enemy”. There was open hostility by the backers of the “Wilshire Subway” to Light Rail between Long Beach and Los Angeles. The subway people were angry that Light Rail would take ‘their” money and looked down or were afraid of the area to be served by the future Blue Line.

Yet the first Heavy Rail project almost sank all future expansion of rail transit in Los Angeles. What saved future subway construction in Los Angeles was Light Rail. Transportation services depends on each other to collect and distribute  passengers to each other. With expansion of Light Rail came connections to other Light Rail lines, to the Red and Purple subway lines and more riders to Metrolink. The result is rail ridership has continued to grow. This has increased the desire of other communities to be included in this rail network. Light Rail is cheaper and easier to build and could be extended faster to more of Los Angeles County than an all subway based service could. This has expanded the ridership base which was increased ridership on all trains.

LAMetro transit plan

 

This is a current map of the existing Rail and Rapid Bus Lines in Los Angeles County with the dash lines showing the planned extension for rail service. Click on the picture to enlarge image.

Another important part of the sales tax measures is they had something for everyone. Not only rail transit received money from these sales taxes, but also bus service and roads. When more people have a stake in a proposal then more people will support it. Increasingly the “road lobby” understands that their future is tied to support for rail and transit. When San Diego County planned to rebuild the I-5 between Del Mar and Oceanside there was opposition to homes being condemned to expand the freeway. The public asked what about more trains? Now the I-5 project is tied to double tracking the railroad in San Diego County. The result is the I-5 won’t be expanded as much or condemn as many homes as first planned and there will be more local trains.

A major problem with High Speed Rail in California has been it wasn’t a good team player. The plans for High Speed Rail often ignored other rail services by not planning to share new infrastructure and lacked connections to existing rail services. As proposed High Speed Rail could easily suck up what little rail funding was available. In 2012 the Legislature rejected the original High Speed Business plan. A major rewrite of the HSR Business plan included better connections and more money for regional rail service as part of the package for High Speed Rail. This is the measure that passed the Legislature.

For High Speed Rail and all rail passenger service in the State to grow and succeed they all need to improve service and connect passengers to each other. This is at the heart of most major rail passenger services the world over. It seems ridiculous to talk about traveling over 400 miles from the largest city in the State to the 4th largest in 2 hours and 40 minutes when today it can take trains 2 hours and 52 minutes to travel from the largest to the second largest city in California for a distance of 127 miles.

eNewsletter

eNewsletter for September 16, 2013

This sounds like a great deal for the North County Transit District allowing them to add 3 additional round trips trains to their commuter train service for a fraction of the cost of adding more commuter trains. But it is a terrible deal for intercity rail passengers. In the 1970’s passengers trains ran between Los Angles and San Diego in 2 hours and 35 minutes. Plans long in the making have called for running times by now of under 2 hours and 20 minutes. The long term goal is still to bring running times under 2 hours. With over $1.5 billion dollars spent for better equipment and major track improvements built since 1979 the current running time of train 567 from San Diego to Los Angeles is 2 hours and 52 minutes. This is without 4 additional Coaster station stops being added to the mix. NB

September 16, 2013 Part 1  September 16, 2013 Part 2  September 16, 2013 Part 3

The above copy of this enewletter is on a PDF file and you will not be able to click on to the links in blue. If you would like to subscribe to this enewsletter write to nbraymer@railpac.org

Editorials

What’s the Plan for LOSSAN?

By Noel T. Braymer 

LOSSAN’s goal should be to increase ridership by providing better rail passenger service with faster trains serving more destinations.This is done with coordination of the different services to feed both local and express trains. By doing so all the trains on LOSSAN will improve their efficiency and be more economical for passengers to use. This is a tall order but one that is doable and depends on expanding service and faster running times.

In terms of running times despite almost $2 billion dollars of improved infrastructure on the LOSSAN Corridor, the trains are slower today than they were 35 years ago. The next big project starting construction are run-through track at Los Angeles Union Station at the heart of the LOSSAN Corridor. This project with construction underway by 2017 should shave off 5-10 minutes off of running times for all trains using LAUS by eliminating back up moves and providing shorter and faster approaches in and out of Union Station.

San Diego County will also be adding several miles of new double track to the Corridor in by 2020. San Diego County has committed $400 million dollars for track improvements and plans to have most of San Diego County double tracked in 16 years. Also in 6 years there will be additional triple tracking and grade separations on the BNSF between Fullerton and Los Angeles. These improvements will greatly reduce traffic conflicts which delay trains. Will LOSSAN be ready to take advantage of these improvements with faster trains by 2020?

Why reduce running times of passenger trains? First doing so will attract more passengers. Second faster trains improves efficiency. Faster trains can run more trains miles in a day with no additional crew costs which can carry more passengers at a greater distance making the service more productive and economical.

The issue isn’t raising the top speed of the trains. The solution is not going as slow or spending as much time stopped as the trains do now. With the Surfliner equipment dwell times can be reduced by a minute or two at each station. Because some of the old equipment is still used all trains have to wait the same amount of time at the stations as they did in the past. For trains coming and going north of Los Angeles there is now a 15 minute station stop at Union Station. This is an example of excessive padding which makes it easier to claim a higher on time record for the Surfliners while hiding when trains are late. Better on-time performance and reduced running times are the result of a combination of better preventive maintenance and tighter operational discipline. When one train is late for a meet this cascades and disrupt the schedule all along the line for other trains.

To expand and improve LOSSAN rail service we need to look at equipment. How much more equipment for future growth will be needed for the Pacific Surfliners? What to do about the old equipment which is slow to load and unload? What kind of equipment is needed in the future and what new markets can be served with more equipment in the future? Unlike the Capitol Corridor or San Joaquin Trains which the State owns the equipment for, Amtrak owns most of the equipment for the Surfliners. Currently LOSSAN has little direct control over the maintenance or availability of the equipment on the Surfliners. Should LOSSAN replace the current equipment with their own and either have it  serviced it like the other State Trains under contract with Amtrak or hire someone else to do the job? Equipment reliability and appearance are important for customer satisfaction.

For some time there has been planning to extend one round trip Pacific Surfliner north of San Luis Obispo to San Francisco. This process is going very slowly because of delays by the Union Pacific. However more and faster service is needed along the Coast. This project should be a priority of LOSSAN in cooperation of the other agencies involved in rail service along the Coast. With future expanded service along the Coast the use of Tilt-Trains and or DMU trainsets for express service between San Diego, San Luis Obsipo and San Francisco should be considered.

This should be combined with expanded conventional Surfliner, Metrolink and Coaster services which would increase ridership for all trains by feeding more passenger to the expresses and increasing the markets the LOSSAN Corridor serves. This includes sweep trains which can transfer passenger on the same line as the expresses by picking up passengers for the express at stations the express would bypass. At shared stations passengers would quickly transfer between local and express trains. The local train would run ahead of the express and passengers would transfer before the express passes the local. In the other direction the local would pick up passengers just after the express passes the local.

In the near future we should see improved, faster rail passenger service in the San Joaquin Valley to the Bay Area. Depending on many factors in the next 10 to 20 years we should see direct rail service between Bakersfield and Los Angeles. LOSSAN’s role is to coordinate Surfliner, Metrolink and Coaster services to connect with improved bus connections to San Joaquin Valley rail passenger services in the near future. As high speed rail service is extended south connecting rail passenger services in the LOSSAN service area will be needed.

Another future intercity train service long in the works on Union Pacific tracks is service to the low desert around Palm Springs and Indio. This is also a high priority service and recent track improvements like the Colton Flyover makes this easier for the railroad to run. This will also require inter-agency cooperation to get it running. Like additional service north of Santa Barbara this will require more equipment and coordination with other services such as Metrolink and Coaster. This can’t be seen as just a few trains between Indio and Los Angeles. This has to connect with the entire matrix of the LOSSAN Corridor with Amtrak intercity, Metrolink and Coaster trains.

With faster service to more markets and connections with other trains and buses there is potential for greatly increased ridership. The combination of longer trains capable of carrying more passenger and running in less time greatly increases the productivity of future LOSSAN trains. Price is always major factor in travel choice and lower fares attract riders. In most countries today rail passenger services use the same ticketing methods of the airlines. This is called Yield Management. What this is, is to price seats based on demand. In other words charge more when the trains will be full and discount tickets when business is slow. The price of tickets are different from day to day and between trains on the the same day based on demand. The point is to insure planes, trains or buses carry good passenger loads and yield the maximum revenue possible.

Rail passenger service has a huge potential market in Southern California and LOSSAN is in the center of this market. Coordinating the different services will be needed to serve the maximum markets people want to travel too. The future is bright for future rail passenger service in Southern California. But for that to happen LOSSAN is going to need a plan.

eNewsletter

eNewsletter for September 9, 2013

Highlights from the LOSSAN TAC meeting minutes for August 8, 2013. San Diego County plans to go to bid soon for a new siding at San Onofre to Pulgas, a third through track with a 3rd platform at Oceanside, and the Los Peñasquitos Bridges Replacement. San Diego County has committed over $400 million in LOSSAN rail corridor projects and plans to double track nearly the entire corridor in San Diego County by 2030. In Los Angeles County bids are planned to go out soon for run-through tracks at Los Angeles Union Station and for a grade separation in the San Fernando Valley at Doran Street. Rail traffic will be closed between San Juan Capistrano and Oceanside September 21, September 28, and October 5 on Saturdays for work done on the pedestrian crossing and rehabbing of the San Clemente Pier Station.

September 9, 2013 Part 1 September 9, 2013 Part 2 September 9, 2013 Part 3

The above copy of this enewletter is on a PDF file and you will not be able to click on to the links in blue. If you would like to subscribe to this enewsletter write to nbraymer@railpac.org

Editorials

LOSSAN to Arizona?

By Noel T. Braymer

LOSSAN originally stood for LOS Angeles-SAN Diego for the route of the San Diegan Trains back in the 1980’s. Since then rail service on this corridor has expanded to Santa Barbara and later to San Luis Obispo. With the introduction of Metrolink and Coaster service sharing parts of the LOSSAN corridor the role of LOSSAN became even more complicated. To get the best passenger service there needs to be coordination between services and schedules where these trains often share stations and tracks with each other.

The new LOSSAN Joint Powers Authority has as a member Riverside County. Clearly the Pacific Surfliners which are the primary responsibility of the new LOSSAN doesn’t serve Riverside County; at least not directly. What is in Riverside County which is in need of better intercity rail passenger service? Palm Springs and the area around it comes to mind. Palm Springs is the gateway from Southern California to Southern Arizona.

Of course who is the gatekeeper to Palm Springs and Phoenix/Tucson by rail? Why the Union Pacific Railroad of course. The Union Pacific usually resists any talk of more passenger trains on their tracks. Between Los Angeles and El Paso the UP has had many problems. The harbors of Los Angeles and Long Beach are major traffic generators for both the UP and BNSF. The problem for both railroads was their mainlines crossed at grade at Colton. Today about 135 trains a day cross at Colton. Colton Crossing was controlled by BNSF which gave priority to their trains at the crossing so the UP trains were more likely to stop and wait. The average wait for trains at the crossing was 50 minutes although waits of up to 4 hours on some days was not uncommon.

This bottleneck created problems for the UP for traffic through most of Southern California. Adding to the problems are the many grade crossing which often are involved in grade crossing accidents between Los Angeles and Colton. These problems are going away, thanks in large part to government spending. Late this August the new Colton Flyover opened 8 months early allowing UP trains to go over the BNSF unplugging this major bottleneck. The Alameda Corridor East Construction Authority (ACE) is in the process of grade separating 22 UP grade crossing between Los Angeles and the Inland Empire (Riverside and San Bernardo Counties) for a cost of $1.4 billion dollars. The UP by law is suppose to pay 10 percent of the cost of the grade separation, but the railroad calculates their share as 10 percent of the cost on their property not the cost of the entire project so the real cost coverage of the projects is often less than 10 percent by the railroad.

Granted the public is getting a major benefit from these investments. Cleaner air with fewer train and truck diesel engines idling and reduced traffic congestion with fewer blocked streets are important. This will improve the California economy with more harbor business and international trade. It is only right that the government pays the majority of the cost for these projects. But the UP is also benefiting from this government spending. It isn’t too much to ask what can be done to add a few passenger trains into the mix with these major track improvements.

The UP last year came to an agreement with Amtrak for some changes to the Sunset Limited between Los Angeles and New Orleans in return that Amtrak not discuss a daily Sunset for 2 years. Well that was the time needed to finish the Colton Flyover. Now is the time to start talking again about a daily Sunset which would still not be ready for service before 2014.

Riverside County has long wanted local rail passenger service between the Palm Springs area and Los Angeles.With the Colton Flyover UP has less reason to continue to oppose additional passenger service between Los Angels and Palm Springs. Now is a good time to start increasing the pressure for the long sought service. For this service to really work it needs to be integrated into the LOSSAN Corridor both with Metrolink and the Pacific Surfliners. A stop at Fullerton would be needed to connect to San Diego and Orange Counties to Palm Springs.

Meanwhile support is growing for local rail passenger service between Phoenix and Tucson in Arizona. When this happens and is running it will make sense to extend service from Los Angeles past Palm Springs to Phoenix and Tucson. This will require some track work and a competitive operating agreement with the UP to make this happen. But it is now in the realm of the near future made possible with the ongoing track improvements being made in Southern California between the harbors and Inland Empire.

eNewsletter

eNewsletter for September 3, 2013

New crossing relieves train bottleneck Press-Enterprise- Aug 25. 2013 For long-suffering Colton residents, the project promises relief from the constant sound of horns blowing as trains made their way through the crossing… Passenger rail also should see some improvements. The Union Pacific line also is used by Amtrak, and BNSF has agreed to allow additional Metrolink trains to run on its line. The UP last year came to an agreement with Amtrak for some changes to the Sunset Limited between Los Angeles and New Orleans in return that Amtrak not discuss a daily Sunset for 2 years. Well that was the time needed to finish the Colton Flyover. Now is the time to start talking again about a daily Sunset which would still not be ready for service before 2014.NB

September 3, 2013 Part 1  September 3, 2013 Part 2  September 3, 2013 Part 3

The above copy of this enewletter is on a PDF file and you will not be able to click on to the links in blue. If you would like to subscribe to this enewsletter write to nbraymer@railpac.org