Monthly Archives

November 2013


What’s the Future of California High Speed Rail?

Opinion by Noel T. Braymer

The impact of the recent court decision on the use of voter approved bonds for High Speed Rail is unknown. This ruling doesn’t stop current construction which for now is being paid with Federal Funds. What the judge ruled is that the California High Speed Rail Authority CHSRA) according to the Prop 1A bond measure must identify what funding is available to build the Initial Operating Segment before the bond money can be released for the project. For this the Authority needs to present a new and detailed funding plan for his approval. This means that the judge expects the Authority to identify the funding sources needed up to 2022, not for the entire project.

As of now the State has committed 4.5 billion of the 9.95 billion dollars available in the Prop 1A bonds. Of this 2.6 billion is the State’s share for construction in the San Joaquin Valley. The other 1.9 billion is for projects that include upgrades to existing railroads that High Speed Trains will share for use in urban areas. Much of this 1.9 billion will also go to help build new rail transit services which will feed passengers to future high speed rail stations.

At the heart of the California High Speed Rail Project is the use of a Public-Private Partnership or PPP. This is a combination of tax money and private financing for construction of infrastructure operated by a private company. This has been done in many places around the world. The advantage of this is less taxpayer money is needed to build expensive infrastructure. Private investors like such projects because they are profitable and that the government covers most of the risk of a project. There was never any expectation that the taxpayers would pay for the entire California High Speed Rail Project or subsidize its operations despite the claims of its critics. The PPP idea has been promoted for years by conservative economists.

Potential investors have said that they are interested in California High Speed Rail. But first they want to see construction of a high speed track connection from the San Joaquin Valley either to San Francisco or the Los Angeles area before they will invest. The CHSRA plan is to build a 300 mile Initial Operating Segment from Merced to Burbank.

The CHSRA plan calls for spending roughly 6 billion dollars for 130 miles of high speed track in the San Joaquin Valley between Madera and Bakersfield. The next section planned is for 85 miles of new high speed track from Bakersfield to Palmdale for an additional 10 billion dollars. At this point with 215 miles of high speed track plus use of 85 miles of upgraded existing railroad the Authority would have a long enough route for an operator to run a profitable high speed rail passenger service with connecting rail service at each terminal. At this point investors would be ready to spend money to create and operate a high speed rail passenger service.

How long will it take to resolve the issues the judge has with CHSRA funding is unknown. The Authority has 3.2 billion dollars to spend now of Federal Funds so it is maybe a year or 2 before the bond money is critical. If an additional 4 billion dollars can be released from the remaining bonds funds in addition to what has been committed, that leaves the Authority 6 billion dollars short of the 10 billion to build the critical Bakersfield-Palmdale segment.

The Authority has for some time been working on finding this last 6 billion dollars. So far it hasn’t announced any firm plans to raise it. So what are some of the options?

The Authority could find some business partners. There is a market for their right of way for joint use for fiber optic cable, electrical power transmission, pipelines or freight. Freight shippers would be interested in an all weather and faster mode of carrying freight from Southern California up the West Coast. A combination of all four is a possibility.

A second option would be a grant or low interest loan from a foreign country. Countries often finance overseas infrastructure projects if companies of that country gets the construction and operating contract of the project.

The third solution would be for the State of California to raise the last 6 billion dollars to finish the track work from Merced to Burbank. In a State economy of over 2 trillion dollars annually, 6 billion dollars spread out over almost 9 years isn’t that big a deal. As long as the governor has the High Speed Rail Project as a high priority of his administration and a friendly legislature this can happen. To make this politically palpable it would likely need to be part of a larger funding bill for other transportation needs.

A combination of all of the above is also a possibility.

When the Prop 1A bond money for California High Speed Rail was approved in 2008 there was a reasonable expectation that this money would be fully matched with Federal Funding. That would have raised about 18 billion dollars total. The Federal High Speed Rail Corridor program has long had bi-partisan support and had been in planning for years all during the Bush Administration and before it. Other State High Speed Rail projects have a long history of bi-partisan support. Wisconsin had the support of former Republican Governor Tommy Thompson and in Florida of then Republican Governor Charlie Crist.

The legislation for the California High Speed Rail Authority had bi-partisan support with Republican Governor Pete Wilson signing the legislation for it in 1996. There was further support by Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger who put the Prop 1A Measure on the ballot in 2008. It was only after the well financed elections of “Tea Party” candidates in 2010 that this changed. From this off year election with low voter turnout came a mania for austerity which seems driven more by partisanship and spite than economics or common sense.



Rail Service We Need Before High Speed Rail in California

Opinion by Noel T. Braymer

The most optimistic deadline for the start up of High Speed Rail in California is 2022 between Burbank and Merced. This includes connecting feeder trains to most of Southern California and from the San Joaquin Valley to the Bay Area and Sacramento. There are many improvements needed for conventional rail for these connections before we can successfully run High Speed Rail service. These improvements are needed even without High Speed Rail and needed before it is built.

In 2012 the Legislature approved 13 billion dollars from several sources for spending towards rail passenger service. Almost 6 billion dollars of this was for 130 miles of High Speed Rail construction in the San Joaquin Valley. The remaining 7 billion was towards improvements for rail transit, commuter rail service and State intercity rail service. This 7 billion went towards such projects as electrification of Caltrain, track extension from the Caltrain station to the new Transbay Transit Center, the regional subway connector in Los Angeles, run-through tracks at LAUS, track improvements between Palmdale and Anaheim, expansion of the San Diego Trolley and more. To partially fund most of these projects, about 1.9 billion dollars will come from the 9.95 billion in High Speed Rail Bond money.

Being paid in large part with this bond money includes track improvements between Anaheim and Palmdale. This is in part a continuation of work that began in the 1970’s to grade separate the BNSF mainline between Fullerton and Los Angeles. This will, when fully grade-separated lead to a 4 track railroad separating passenger and freight trains. This will increase capacity on this line and allow faster passengers trains for speeds up to at least 110 miles per hour. This route will be shared in the future with High Speed Trains

The run-through tracks at LAUS will increase the track capacity at Union Station. It will also reduce the running time and improve the productivity of all trains that use Union Station. Most importantly this should lead to more through service and fewer trains terminating at Union Station.The final funding for this project is in part being paid with High Speed Rail Bonds.

An example of LAUS run-through trains are future trains from Orange County to Burbank. There are plans to extend several Metrolink Trains to a future High Speed Rail Station by Bob Hope Airport. Such service will be needed to connect with High Speed Trains in the future. But it will be valuable even without the High Speed Rail connection for more local travel. There are also plans to improve and double track more of the railroad between Burbank and Palmdale. This will reduce the running times of the trains and increase capacity on this line. The improvements will be used by High Speed Rail for the start up service to Burbank. However to have a truly High Speed Rail service a new alignment is needed in the future by-passing Santa Clarita which will be expensive.

Construction of 130 miles of High Speed Tracks between Bakersfield and Madera is planned by 2018. With these new tracks and new passenger cars and locomotives express San Joaquin Trains will run at speeds up to 125 miles per hour. These new express San Joaquin’s are expected to take up to an hour off of the current running time between Bakersfield to Oakland and Sacramento. How many San Joaquin Trains will run from Bakersfield to Oakland and Sacramento or what their running times will be or when they will be running is unknown

There are many things that can be done to improve San Joaquin Train service. The Union Pacific has said that to add more trains from Port Chicago to Oakland will require construction of a 3rd track. The UP has also said that for additional trains between Stockton and Sacramento that the line will need to be double tracked. Caltrans has identified and proposed several track and signal improvements that will reduce running times and increase track capacity north of Madera to Port Chicago. Caltrans has been proposing such plans for years which could be used for faster San Joaquin service. The problem with these and many other projects is that they haven’t been funded. Without funding for such projects it is impossible to add many more trains in the San Joaquin Valley or reduce running speeds beyond those on the new High Speed Rail tracks.

ACE (Altamont Corridor Express) is the local rail passenger service between Stockton and San Jose running through the Altamont Pass. ACE has very detailed plans for the future to extend service first to Modesto and later to Merced on the UP Railroad. Also planned are track improvements on the UP to allow faster and more frequent ACE trains over the Altamont Pass. Further in the future there are plans for new equipment to be run up to 125 miles per hour and possible service from Sacramento to San Jose.

These plans include additional trains and service extended to Merced to connect with future High Speed Trains by 2022. How much all of this will get done will depend on funding.

The agency that operates ACE, the San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission (SJRRC) now also manages the new San Joaquin Joint Powers Agency which is taking over administration of the San Joaquin Trains. Greater cooperation and improved connections between these 2 services in the near future is expected because of this. Better connections are hoped between ACE, the San Joaquin Trains and High Speed Rail in the future. How this will turn out will depend on future funding which has not yet been approved.

What isn’t being discussed are the improvements that will be needed to the California Bus/Rail connector program. These “Ambuses” which are administered by Caltrans by law must break even or make a profit. Without money to experiment it is difficult to enlarge or start up new bus connections to trains. With the new San Joaquin Express Trains planned by 2018, more and improved bus service will be needed to fill these new trains. Shorter running times and more direct bus service will attract more riders to these new faster trains. But there is no sign that these issues are being discussed.

There has been a great deal of media about a recent court decision which is holding up the release of voter approved bonds for High Speed Rail. The judged ruled that the California High Speed Rail Authority according to the ballot measure needs to identify the all of the funding for construction between Merced and Burbank before the judge can release the bonds. This court decision doesn’t stop the use of Federally approved funding for current construction around Fresno. This decision complicates but hasn’t stopped the California High Speed Rail project.

Funding for High Speed Rail is tied up with funding for many other rail projects in this State. If sale of the High Speed Rail bonds was permanently blocked this would also block 1.9 billion dollars in funding included with these bonds for many other rail projects high speed trains would share and or other trains would feed passengers to. If the High Speed Rail project were to end tomorrow which its opponents want, this wouldn’t result in the transfer of any money for other rail service.



eNewsletter for November 25, 2013

Boardman fires more Amtrak upper managers Nov 19, 2013 On Monday Nov. 18, Amtrak fired more upper managers, eliminating twenty senior positions. Causalities reportedly included a 40-year Amtrak veteran and visionary whose last two decades were directly involved with the long distance trains and customer service, with many innovations to his credit. Comment: The person who Gene Poon refers to in the original post was indeed Brian Rosenwald. He wasn’t fired, but chose to retire this week after being passed over for several positions in the new management structure. Brian is a bright and creative man, and his energy, integrity, and creative problem-solving skills will be missed. Fred Frailey

November 25, 2013

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What’s Up with the Coaster?

By Noel T. Braymer                                                                                                             For the past few years there has been almost constant ridership growth on the Coaster, the rail service on 41 miles of track between Oceanside and San Diego. Other California services have seen ridership go up and down while ridership has generally been constantly growing on the Coaster. One factor for this steady growth could be the excellent on time performance, generally better than most other rail services in California. Another could be the Day Pass for $12 dollars.

Coaster Ridership

The Day Pass not only offers unlimited service on the Coaster. It also gives unlimited service on the Sprinter, the DMU service between Oceanside and Escondido as well as all 3 lines of the San Diego Trolley. The Day Pass also provides unlimited bus service on most of the transit buses in San Diego County. The full rail fare on the Coaster between Oceanside and San Diego is a good deal at $11 dollars round trip. For just a dollar extra you get additional service to the entire County. This compares to fares of about the same length 42 miles  on Metrolink between Irvine and Los Angeles which at full fare is $11 dollars one way and $22 dollars round trip. On Caltrain 4 zones will take you 40 miles or more at $9 dollars one way and $18 dollars for an day pass on Caltrain but without transfers to local transit. The Metrolink ticket includes transfers to most local transit.

Fares on the Coaster today are lower than they were a few years ago. The Day Pass originally was $14 dollars and then was still a good deal. There was also originally 4 zones between Oceanside and San Diego but now there are 3. By eliminating one zone the price of a ticket between Oceanside and San Diego went down. Why did the Coaster lowered fares? Because it has increased ridership, and with increased ridership this has increased Coaster’s revenue.

The Coaster’s on-time performance is remarkable considering that almost half of the railroad in San Diego County is still single tracked. This is a very busy railroad with up to 50 trains most weekdays with Amtrak, Coaster, freight and some Metrolink trains between Oceanside and the county line to Orange County. Coaster operates 5 peak period trains in the morning and evening about 30 to 40 minutes apart along with 2 reverse commutes at the same time. During the work week there are usually trains every 2 to 3 hours during the off peak periods. On the weekends there are usually 4 daily trains during the fall and winter and 6 in the spring and summer as well as extra trains during baseball season.

Coaster on time

The long range plan for the Coaster is to expand service with trains running every half hour in both directions most of the day. Holding back such improvements is the existing single tracked railroad. San Diego County plans to spend $820 million dollars over the next 20 years for track improvements including double tracking most of the rail line along the 60 miles between the Orange County boarder and downtown San Diego.

LOSSAN San Diego 2013 A


LOSSAN San Diego 2013

Oside 3rd track

In the next few years the plans to expand Coaster service include construction of a Transportation Center in Camp Pendleton. This will include platforms for Coaster Trains and bus bays to connecting buses which already serve the base to the trains. Camp Pendleton is the largest employer in North San Diego County and major traffic generator with congestion problems.

Also planned in the near term is a new stop south of the downtown Santa Fe Depot by the Convention Center and Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres Baseball team. This saves passengers a long walk or transfer to the Trolley to this major traffic center. This stop was originally proposed in the early 90’s by Byron Nordberg, a former President of RailPAC.

The San Diego Airport is planning to build a future High Speed Rail Station on the tracks alongside part of the airport. This station will have direct connections to the terminals as part of a major rebuild of the airport. Both Coaster and San Diego Trolley will serve this future Airport Station before High Speed Rail in just a few years.

PacSurfling Projects 8 6 10

Also in the works are plans to extend some Coaster Trains north to Fullerton and Metrolink trains to San Diego. There is a growth market for travel between Orange County and Northern San Diego County, particularly for commuters. The main hold up to expanding such service are the many miles of single track railroad between San Juan Capistrano and Oceanside. More double track in the near future is planned particularly through Camp Pendleton to allow more trains in this current bottleneck. Such extended service will not only increase ridership but also longer distance ridership generates more income than short distance travel while providing service to destinations not available on the Surfliners.

While there is much to learn and copy from what is happening in San Diego County, not all is perfect. Case in point the San Diego Trolley has for years been planning to extend the Trolley north of Old Town to serve UCSD and nearby University Towne Centre (UTC) shopping center and business park. This area is part of the largest job center in San Diego. However there are no plans to build a joint station between the extended Trolley and Coaster (which will share some right of way) for Coaster passengers to connect to UTC or UCSD. There was a plan a few years back to build a Coaster Station near UTC with a Rapid Bus service that now connects UTC and UCSD. This plan was dropped years ago to transfer money to other projects. The MTS, operator of the Trolley has shown no interest for such a connection even though such connections at Old Town and downtown provide many passengers to it from Coaster trains.

The busiest station for the Coaster is at Sorrento Valley not downtown San Diego. This is because the the business parks around Sorrento Valley as well as by nearby UCSD and UTC form the largest job center in San Diego. Most commuters using the Sorrento Valley Station depend on shuttle buses to get them to and from work. As it is there is no connecting bus service between Sorrento Valley, UTC and UCSD in this highly traffic congested area.

Other recent problems North County Transit District (NCTD), operator of the Coaster has had include problems building a new double track railroad bridge over the Santa Margarita River in Camp Pendleton. Under construction off and on since 2010 this critical segment for double tracking the line has had flooding destroy bridge construction while major parts have had to be torn up and rebuilt because of defects. Finally this bridge should be in service next year in just a few months.

Earlier this year the NCTD had the embarrassing problem of suspending service on the Sprinter trains between Oceanside and Escondido for a few months because of excessive brake wear. It seems this problem was known for some time by at least one supervisor but a solution wasn’t found before the PUC accidentally discovered the problem which lead to the shutdown of service. This required an expensive special rush order of new brake routers for just the center truck before the trains could go back in service.

There have also been press reports of high turnover rates of managers at NCTD with reports of low morale. The problems with the Sprinter according to some news reports reflect what some claim is dysfunctional management at NCTD. There have also been criticism of salary of the General Manager at NCTD which is much higher than most agency heads of transit agencies of about the same size as NCTD.

While nothing in life is perfect, there is  much to learn both the good and the bad of the rail passenger service in San Diego County as well as the other rail passenger services in California.



eNewslettter for November 18, 2013

Amtrak Serving Free Wine to Steak Loses Millions on Food Bloomberg-Nov 14, 2013 …Almost all of last year’s $72 million in food-service losses were from providing meals on long-distance trains, Inspector General Ted Alves said in testimony at a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing today. I remember at least 30 years ago I heard the same story that insider theft was costing Amtrak a fortune for food service on the Long Distance Trains. To “solve” this problem the china and silverware was replaced with disposable plastic to save money and food was served much like the airlines pre-cooked at a central kitchen and heated like TV Dinners to discourage food theft. I wonder if this latest effort will be anymore successful than what was done in the past? I question any cost claims by Amtrak which are based on an allocated basis and are not itemized. Too often Amtrak uses the Long Distance Trains as a scapegoat to distract politicians and media from their real problems. NB

November 18, 2013

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New Amtrak Cars, But (sigh) Not For The West

Commentary by Russ Jackson, URPA/RailPAC

On October 24, 2013, Amtrak rolled out the new low-level Viewliner cars at the manufacturer CAF’s plant in Elmira, New York. The order is for 130 cars: 25 sleeper cars, 25 dining cars, 25 baggage/dormitory cars and 55 baggage cars, and Amtrak is excited. They should be. This is the first order for the passenger fleet since the Superliner II cars were purchased in the 1990s. That’s a long time. In a blog report, Amtrak was enthusiastic about “how cool” these new cars are. They will all be painted in “Phase III” red and blue stripes, which was Amtrak’s most popular design, and will have the heritage “pointless arrow” on the first cars to be released. See for pictures of the exterior and interior of these new cars. Will they increase capacity for the routes where they will run? Not much, because current plans call for all the older Viewliners to be withdrawn from service for upgrade to Viewliner II standards, and there is no funding for that yet. Remember, too, Amtrak is also buying new electric locomotives for use on the Northeast Corridor. It’s nice they are being built in Sacramento, though.

Now we get down to brass tacks. Amtrak CEO Joe Boardman and Board Chairman Tom Carper were at the Viewliner rollout, where it was made clear that these new cars are for the EASTERN (emphasis added) long distance trains. Of course, and since no mention was made of “this is just the beginning,” can it be assumed that this is the end of the purchases? Yes, as there was NO mention of the western trains and their needs. A traveler on the current fleet of Superliner cars can easily see that there are needs for finishing the job of rebuilding the Superliners as soon as possible. There is a big difference between the cars that have been rebuilt at Beech Grove, Indiana, and those that have not. The rebuilding was done with the stimulus money, TIGER grants, which Congress has not renewed. Where did the money for the new 130 cars come from? From Amtrak’s own allocation. Interesting, if one is building a case for suspicion about the future of the western long distance trains, and their capacity expansion.

CEO Boardman was the keynote speaker at Railway Age’s 20th Annual Passenger Trains on Freight Railroads Conference on October 15. He was speaking primarily to a freight railroad crowd, and had this to say,”There is a misperception that there are two kinds of railroad: a private one that hauls freight, and a public one that carries people. The reality is that our industry is a mixed collection of carriers, freight and passenger railroads, bound by agreements, arrangements, rules, and procedures, and by culture—largely an internal culture, but also by the constantly changing business and political culture in which we operate. It is our habits, beliefs, attitudes, and practices.” And, he went on to say, “The health of the passenger sector depends on the continued health of the freight carriers and the willingness of Congress to contract with Amtrak to pay the cost of long distance trains. That is an open question for the next Amtrak bill, I believe.”

Now those words are real brass tacks. Why is it an open question? Paul Wilson writes, “Maybe because Amtrak, for decades, has blamed most of its financial problems on those long distance trains? Maybe because Amtrak says the NEC is profitable when, in fact, the NEC consumes the lions’ share of the federal subsidy? Maybe because Amtrak has done little or nothing to promote, expand and grow the long distance system which would improve its ‘bottom line’?” That is it in a nutshell, westerners. H.Glenn Scammel writes, “All Congress has demanded for continuing funding of the long distance trains is a pro forma ‘grant-making’ process within the FRA. Amtrak goes through the motions, then it gets the money with no strings attached. Where Congress is really balking is at another Son-of-Stimulus multi-billion-dollar ‘capital blowout for the NEC. That’s the (real) ‘open question’.”

Amtrak’s successful inclusion in the PRIIA Section 209 of the requirement that all routes of less than 750 miles must be supported by the states has paid off for them big time, with little argument from the affected states, including California. Caltrans is the state rail program “banker,” and there is little doubt the state argued strongly against the provision, but got stuck with having to pay Amtrak $19 million more per year, and obviously that will increase each year. Luckily, the California legislature was generous and funded the program this year. In the past RailPAC has been told of the difficulty Caltrans has had in accepting the legitimacy of Amtrak’s costs, despite intense scrutiny by the state. It now appears the state, and all the other states now stuck with the requirement, will not be able to say anything. Just pay up and shut up. Where is that scrutiny in the Northeast Corridor? Those states aren’t concerned, just us out west.

So, Amtrak buys new low level equipment. There is no question that these cars are needed, particularly the new dining cars and baggage cars that will replace equipment that is long overdue its demise. But, the eastern bias, the NEC bias, and the let the states do it bias that Amtrak continually shows will become more and more evident in the next years. Is anyone at Amtrak HQ concerned about the future of the western long distance trains? There is little evidence of that, as the future of the Southwest Chief hangs in the balance, the Sunset Limited is still tri-weekly, there is no effort to expand capacity for added revenue. The condition of the current fleet of locomotives daily leads to train delays, and there is the belief that Congress must fund the long distance trains despite evidence the return from fares pays 80% of the operating costs. These arguments are nothing new for RailPAC; there is just weariness in having to fight to get Amtrak to do what it must do to succeed and that the NATIONAL Railroad Passenger Corporation (emphasis added) must be just that. As David Carleton writes, “If properly sized the long distance system could operate in the black. That’s exactly why it won’t happen.” Amtrak has to show it wants it to happen, publicly, and often, and that too is exactly why it won’t happen.

CA Rail Statistics

Capitol Corridor Statistics (October, 2013)

By David B. Kutrosky, Managing Director
Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority
Service Performance Overview
FY2013 Projected Results

Year-over-year ridership on the Capitol Corridor trains was even with last September. 132,937 passengers rode the Capitol Corridor trains in September 2013, closing out FY 2013 with a total of 1.70 million riders and representing a ridership decrease of 2.6% (or a loss of approximately 45,000 riders).

Revenues for September 2013 were down 3.6% compared to September 2012, with total FY 2013 revenues down 1.1% below FY 2012. Ridership losses appear to be lessening as ridership for the last quarter of FY 2013 (July – September 2013) was even with the same quarter in FY 2012 as compared to the first three quarters of FY 2013 (October 2012 – June 2012) was 3.4% below the first three quarters of FY 2012.

Despite these ridership and revenue declines, on-time performance (OTP) for the Capitol Corridor was a remarkable 97% for September 2013. The superior OTP for September 2013 resulted in the Capitol Corridor finishing FY 2013 as the most reliable service [95%] in the Amtrak system for the fourth year in a row. This is a magnificent accomplishment and brings to light the strong commitment by our operating partners to the reliable and safe operation of the Capitol Corridor trains — Caltrain, Union Pacific Railroad, Amtrak and Bar Pilots [tug boat operators who request the lifting of the Benicia-Martinez Rail Drawbridge].

The year-end system operating ratio improved to 51% primarily due to lower fuel prices and reduced fuel consumption. With the installation of the power cabinets at the Sacramento Valley Station, the engines of the five trainsets lay overnight are turned off and power is supplied through the electrical power cabinets at the ends of the platforms, which has reduced FY 2013 fuel consumption at Sacramento by 64% through August 2013 and lowered system fuel costs by approximately 41%.


The analyses of the final ridership reports for FY 2013 draw sharp conclusions on the ridership losses:

  • The top five city pairs experienced a decline of 26,000 and each
    of these city pairs were affiliated with Sacramento Station, which
    was 6% below last year’s results
  • #6 -#10 city pairs had ridership decreases of 31,000 and three of
    these five city pairs were affiliated with Davis Station, which
    was 5% below last year’s results
  • Combined together, the Davis and Sacramento stations experienced
    ridership decreases of 40,000, representing 88% of the loss in
    ridership in FY 2013. Davis had 10,000 less boardings and
    Sacramento had 30,000 less boardings when compared total ridership
    loss of 45,000 boardings.
  • A train-by-train analysis indicates that ridership on:
    o Weekday peak travel trains (morning and late
    afternoon/evening) are about equal to or slighting below
    [-2% to -3%] compared to FY 2012 with the exception of the
    Placer County trains which are down 10%.
    o Weekday midday trains are significantly below [-10%] last
    year’s results
    o Weekend trains are either even with or slightly below [0% to
    3%] struggling

The next step is to conduct a detailed review of the station boardings and alightings for each weekday and weekend train to get a better understanding of which markets are underperforming and develop marketing and promotional programs to turn around these ridership losses.

October 2013 Results
Ridership for October 2013 was 125,807 passengers, which was unfortunately 3.4% below the ridership results for last October. Starting in FY 2014 Amtrak adjusted ridership reports to account for the actual tickets lifted via the scanning of tickets by the conductors. This reflects a better, truer utilization of the trains. Previously, multiride tickets were not directly logged into the system but the passenger counts for multiride tickets were estimated based on assumed usage (i.e., 42 trips were attributed to monthly tickets). While the new reporting system has recently been implemented in October 2013, CCJPA staff has been tracking actual passenger counts from daily e-ticketing reports since September 2012 and have seen that previous monthly ridership reports overestimated ridership by 15%-20%. This adjustment for overestimated ridership counts can be seen in the ridership report for October 2013. For October 2013, the daily e-ticketing reports showed that lower passenger counts for weekday and weekend trains in the beginning of the month during the discussions and developments surrounding the BART strike. During the four-day BART strike, ridership on the trains spiked upwards by 10%-15%. After the BART strike, train counts picked up during the second half of the month and resembled counts from the same period in October 2012.

Note that even with this 15%-20% downward adjustment, the Capitol Corridor remains as the 3rd busiest route in the Amtrak system.

Initial ticket revenues were reported to be 9.9% below October 2012; however, based on projections from Amtrak that the ridership adjustment would not affect revenues, staff requested an immediate review of why revenues dropped so significantly. Amtrak promptly conducted its review and concluded that there was a delay in reporting accrued revenues from 10-ride tickets in October 2013. As such, the ticket revenues were adjusted upwards resulting in a reported decrease in revenues of 4.5% which
is better than the initial report of a 9.9% decrease. The adjusted revenues improved the system operating (or farebox) ratio to be 54%, compared to 51% from last October. Amtrak has indicated that the actual reported revenues for the remainder of FY2014 starting in November 2013 will better align with previous FY2013 monthly results as well as with the FY2014 monthly budget projections.

The Capitol Corridor did start the year well with on-time performance of 96% for October 2013.

NOTE: Mr. Kutrosky did not provide data for the other California corridors in this report.


Like it or Not, Here Comes California High Speed Rail

By Noel T. Braymer

Despite numerous predictions of the imminent death of the California High Speed Rail Project it is still chugging along and even picking up speed now. Not that it hasn’t had a few near death experiences along the way since the voters approved nearly 10 billion dollars in Bonds for it in 2008. The first construction contract was awarded this summer between Fresno and Madera. Already money is being spent around Fresno to hire employees for preliminary work to start construction.

On November 7th the California High Speed Rail Authority Board announced what they expect will be the final route between Fresno and Bakersfield. Once environmental studies are approved construction contracts can proceed on this leg in a few months. Construction of 130 miles of High Speed Rail right of way is planned between Madera and Bakersfield as the first leg of a future State wide network.

The remarkable thing about the announcement for the selection of the Fresno-Bakersfield route for High Speed Rail was the lack of opposition in the San Joaquin Valley to this selection. This is the result of years of meetings and discussions with local residents to find the least objectionable route. In Bakersfield a major chunk of a new apartment complex will be condemned which the developer is not happy about and is planning to go to court over. The only serious opposition to High Speed Rail currently in the San Joaquin Valley is in Kings County around Hanford.

The opposition to the California High Speed Rail Project is well organized, funded and good at generating negative publicity. Two of the three major lawsuits against High Speed Rail are from Kings County. The plaintiffs in both Kings County lawsuits are the County of Kings, affected homeowner Aaron Fukuda and John Tos. Mr Tos is the lead plaintiff. He also owns 6 farms in Kings County which has a total population of about 151,000 and an unemployment rate typical of the San Joaquin Valley of 12.6 percent.

In September this year Mr. Tos addressed a public meeting held by the California High Speed Rail Authority. His comments started comparing the California High Speed Rail Project to the Holocaust of World War II. At that point Dan Richard, Chair of the California High Speed Authority stopped Mr. Tos and told him he was out of line with his comments. Mr Tos at that point backed down and apologized.

The great hope now for opponents of High Speed Rail is a lawsuit from Kings County. This lawsuit claims that the High Speed Rail Authority is out of compliance with the Prop 1A Bond measure which was approved by the voters. In August Judge Michael Kenny ruled that the 2011 Business Plan for California High Speed Rail was out of compliance with Prop 1A. The Judge held a hearing on November 8th to find a remedy to get California High Speed Rail in compliance with Prop 1A. The plaintiffs are seeking to have the entire project shut down by the judge which he didn’t do back in August.

At the hearing in Sacramento on November 8th as reported by the Fresno Bee the “judge asked Friday what would happen if he just throws out the financing arrangement altogether. The lawyer for the California High-Speed Rail Authority said the practical effect would basically be nothing.The lawyer for the plaintiffs who successfully challenged the funding plan generally agreed,”

Part of the problem with this lawsuit is it has taken so long to go to court that the 2011 HSR business plan which the suit is based has since been replaced by a greatly modified one last year. The argument for California High Speed Rail by the California Deputy Attorney General is that since the Legislature has approved both the new business plan and the issuing of some of the bonds for this project, only the Legislature can shut it down and suspend the bonds. The argument for this is based on years of precedence that the Legislature has final say in such matters.

As reported in the Fresno Bee the Deputy Attorney General said “Nothing practical happens,” as a result. She said the High-Speed Rail Authority “has an appropriation to build a project.” In response to another question from Kenny, she said the authority is not out of compliance with Proposition 1A, only that “there is a finding that certain of the reporting requirements were not satisfied.” As reported by the AP at this hearing the Deputy Attorney General was quoted “The taxpayers are represented through the legislative process,”

What was interesting were comments by the Lead Plaintiff, Kings County landowner John Tos as reported by the Fresno Bee “I would hope that we would kill the whole plan,” he said. “We have other issues we need to be spending our time and efforts and money (on), such as water. What good is a train going to do if we don’t have any water in this valley?”

It appears that Mr. Tos’s main concern isn’t the affect of construction of a new railroad on farmland. Instead it is opposition to anything that doesn’t insure plentiful water for the farms in the San Joaquin Valley. There is an old saying in the west among farmers and ranchers “That whiskey is for drinking, but water is for fighting over”. Farming now consumes 3 quarters of the water used in California. Not just California but most of the Western States are in a drought and have been for years. Urban areas of California are restricting water use and forcing conservation due to declining water supplies. Just to maintain current water use by farms in California will require diverting water from someone else. There is going to be an ongoing war over water for quite some time to come in the State.

While California continues to be the largest farm producing State in the Country, as a percentage of the entire State’s gross domestic product it is no more than 2 percent of the State’s economy. In the San Joaquin Valley farming and the farm owners dominates local politics. But most of the San Joaquin Valley is plagued by high unemployment and poverty. The impact of 6 billion dollars spent for High Speed Rail construction in just the next few years on the local economy will be significant. The greatest fear of many of the opponents of High Speed Rail may not that if would fail but that it will succeed.

Transportation is a major driver in economic growth. With High Speed Rail will come economic growth and economic diversity in the San Joaquin Valley. Such economic growth will come at the expense of the political clout of the farm owners in the Valley. This will no doubt make it harder for the farm owners to lobby for issues like maintaining the status quo on water supplies.



eNewsletter for November 12, 2013

At the November 7th Board Meeting of the California High Speed Rail Authority in Sacramento the board approved the HSR route between Bakersfield and Fresno. The route shown above in red is still subject to possible changes before construction. Most of the approved alternatives have local acceptance in the San Joaquin Valley. The route in Kings County continues to have opposition while nearby Tulare County supports the route which is near to it. There is a developer in Bakersfield who is threatening to sue over use of a sixth of one of his projects for the Bakersfield route.

November 12, 2013

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Our Biggest Problem is The Weather

By Noel T. Braymer

It is now just over a year since Hurricane Sandy caused record breaking damage along the East Coast. There was wind and flood damage which disrupted electrical power, fuel supplies, destroyed homes while damaging roads, railroads and rail transit. For the first time 100 plus year old river tunnels to Manhattan were flooded. Rail passenger traffic in and out of the New York area was largely shut down at the same time gasoline was in short supply in the area. Even if the gas stations had fuel they couldn’t pump it because there was no electricity. Much of the infrastructure of the region suffered major damage some of which which is still being repaired.

The irony of this is a disaster like this had been predicted for the East Coast years ago. Yet when it happened the region wasn’t prepared.  For example New Jersey Transit didn’t have plans to relocate rail equipment from yards in the flood zone which created million of dollars of damage when the floods came. But such lack of planning isn’t limited to the East Coast.

Since Sandy we have also had record breaking infrastructure damage from tornadoes in Oklahoma, massive flooding in Colorado and after years of drought, massive fires around Yosemite in California. The media and politicians love the distraction of sensational stories. Usually attention is focused on possible terrorist attacks or conflicts overseas. But weather (along with deferred maintenance) has always been the biggest threat to our infrastructure. But after a disaster attention is quickly diverted in this Country to the next disaster with no follow up to see if any lessons had been learned from the last disaster or  preparations made to minimize damage from the next one.

Rail passenger service depends on good infrastructure. Railroads need good drainage to avoid flooding and having tracks being washed away. Railroads need electricity for communications and signals; back up battery powers doesn’t last forever on the railroads. Railroads need fuel for diesels and electricity for electric locomotives both of which needs infrastructure to be delivered. Railroads need roads and highways! Most passengers and freight gets to and from the railroads on roads. Yet all these elements suffer now from deferred routine preventive maintenance. All are just one storm away from possible failure. Around the country we find problems day to day with water systems, fuel pipelines, electrical service, damaged bridges and roads  all falling apart and operating beyond their designed capacity.

The best way to prevent problems from future weather disasters is to be prepared for them. Bridges need to be made stronger and raised for higher water levels, tunnels given plugs to prevent flooding, more electrical and communications utilities need to be put underground to prevent blackouts and so on. In Germany power blackouts are rare no matter what the weather is like. This is because most of their power lines are underground.

A big problem we have is much of our infrastructure was build between 1940 and 1970. During and just after World War II there was massive economic growth and infrastructure construction. Since the 70’s spending for infrastructure has slowed way down. But most of the post World War II infrastructure is now overdue for replacement. Despite this spending on infrastructure as a percentage of the economy has gone down not up. The biggest drop in spending has been since 2010 ! This is in the name of saving money. It is in fact a case of being penny wise and pound foolish.

One thing the Chamber of Commerce and labor economists agree on is spending money for construction on infrastructure  is a good way to stimulate the economy and create jobs. From Business Insider for Nov 30, 2012 is the headline “STUDY: Every $1 Of Infrastructure Spending Boosts The Economy By $2″. “A recently published working paper from the San Francisco Fed shows that the fiscal multiplier of infrastructure spending is much larger than the typical government spending multiplier.” Who would locate a business or want to live somewhere without good transportation, drainage, reliable power, fuel supplies and communications? No one in their right mind.