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April 2014

eNewsletter

eNewsletter for April 21, 2014

State Senate President Steinberg’s proposal might look like a setback for High Speed Rail since this proposes less direct funding from Cap and Trade than what the Governor was proposing. But the Cap and Trade funding  for High Speed Rail is “securitized” as propsed, that means the High Speed Rail Authority could leverage the Cap and Trade funds with bonds to greatly increase funding. This could be the basis of a financial plan needed to release Prop 1A funds for High Speed Rail to build the 300 mile Initial Operating Segment (IOS).  NB

April 21, 2014

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

Will Most Trains in the Future run on Electricity?

By Noel T. Braymer

Technically most trains already run on electricity. Diesel-electric locomotives use a diesel engine to generate electricity to power the electric motors in the locomotive’s trucks. The question is will trains continue to be powered by fossil fuels?  The cost of energy is a big issue for train operators. In North America there are plans to change over to diesel locomotives fueled by Liquid Natural Gas. With Natural Gas currently much cheaper than diesel fuel this seems to make a great deal of sense.

But this is easier said than done. This will require major changes in the equipment used by the railroads and will be a major investment. Liquid fuel is the most efficient way to carry enough energy to run trains a long distance. But liquefying Natural Gas requires refrigerating it by hundreds of degrees below zero. This is not cheap and requires a great deal of energy to do.  Also new facilities will needed to fuel trains with Liquid Natural Gas and a reliable way to carry it on trains will be needed. The plan is to build “tenders” to carry the Liquid Natural Gas for the locomotives on a freight trains. A recent news story run by Reuters reports that after a year of experimenting with running trucks with Liquid Natural Gas; the Canadian Trucking Company Bison Transport found the savings less and the problems more than expected.

Liquid Natural Gas has long been seen as the solution to transporting Natural Gas economically. As a gas it can only be economically transported by pipeline. Pipelines are generally built on land and it is not economical to build pipelines long distances underwater. But many places in the world have surplus Natural Gas which they can’t build pipelines to major markets overseas such as the Middle East to Europe. Despite years of trying, shipping Liquid Natural Gas has not been a major success. A few years back there was an attempt using the technology used by Germany in World War II to make gasoline from coal to turn Natural Gas into diesel fuel. This would be a liquid fuel easily shipped by tankers to take make use surplus Natural Gas. This project was eventually shelved.

What is certain is the price of electricity from solar or wind power is going down and will continue to go down. The price of solar and wind powered electricity has dropped so much recently that in many markets such as in California it is competitive with the cost of electricity from fossil fuels. Based on current trends in about 10 years solar and wind power electricity will be cheaper than electricity made with Natural Gas in most of the world.

Not only is the cost of making electricity getting cheaper with solar and wind, but so are the ways of storing electricity. Recently there was a news story of research on a new capacitor using nanotubes and graphene which would be cheap to make yet store large amount of electrical energy. Capacitors can be charged and discharged with electricity rapidly.

There is also constant progress making batteries cheaper, lighter and holding more power. The next generation of batteries being developed now are metal-air batteries. Batteries are made of anodes and cathodes. In a metal-air battery, a metal such as lithium, aluminum, or zinc would be used as the anode with oxygen from the air being the cathode. This battery can be built with a lighter casing and doesn’t need to carry the weight of a chemical cathode. This results in a much lighter battery with more energy than current ones. These batteries are expected to be competitive with internal combustion engines operationally but with lower costs.

The problems to be solved before mass production of metal-air batteries are possible are filtering carbon dioxide out of the air and making metal-air batteries rechargeable. One company claims to have done both. Phinergy claims that they have developed a filtering system to remove carbon dioxide from their metal-air batteries. Carbon dioxide greatly reduces the life of metal-air batteries. Phinergy has developed an aluminum-air battery which they have tested in an electric car and drove for a thousand miles. This battery is not rechargeable, but the aluminum from this battery is recyclable and can be replaced. Phinergy plans to go into mass production on this battery by 2017. They claim to also have developed a rechargeable zinc-air battery. Many other companies are also working on metal-air batteries, so it is likely we will see other advanced metal-air batteries on the market in less than 5 years.

What we could see in the near future are  plug-in hybrid locomotives. The main use of energy in all transportation is from acceleration and climbing. Particularly with a train, once it is up to speed it doesn’t need a great deal of energy to keep going with the low friction of steel wheels on rails. With a hybrid system batteries or capacitors could store power to give an extra push during acceleration and climbing hills while a small generator can keep the batteries or capacitor topped off and provide the power to run the train when cruising. Using the train’s regenerative brakes, a hybrid locomotive could recycle energy into storage from braking to a stop or when going downhill. Hybrids save energy and reduce emissions, both of which the railroads want.

Hybrid locomotive could also have pantagraphs, which would allow them to operate on electrified segments of railroads while having the flexibility of operations in branches without electrification. With cheaper, cleaner electricity coming in the near future, this will likely spur increased electrification of the railroads. Not only will electricity be cheaper in the future, but increasingly more people and businesses are making their own to save even more. Railroads and rail operators have land to place solar panels and windmills to make their own electricity. While the cost of electrification isn’t cheap, being able to save money on electricity compared with fossil fuels will make the capital costs of electrification more attractive. Electrifying the railroads could earn them revenue from selling surplus power to the grid.

It is always difficult to predict the future, even of technology. We are still waiting for our hovercraft cars and personal jet packs. But future reductions in the cost of electricity with renewable power is certain. With it we will likely see more trains run with the help of stored electrical power and electrification.

CA Rail Statistics

Capitol Corridor Monthly Report (March, 2014)

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

Service Performance Overview
In March 2014, both ridership and revenue for the Capitol Corridor were below last year’s March- results by 1.7% and 3.5% respectively. A total of 118,518 passengers rode Capitol Corridor trains in March 2014. The ridership decrease was primarily due to the fact that Easter fell at the end of March in 2013 (compared to mid-April this year) and because of residual night-time track work performed by Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR) between Richmond and Martinez. This track work required substituting the two last weekday trains (#548 and #551) with buses between Oakland and Sacramento and was completed in mid-March instead of February as originally planned.

Despite the track upgrade program, On-Time Performance (OTP) was an admirable 95%, resulting in a year-to-date (YTD) OTP of 95%, which keeps the Capitol Corridor on top of the leader board in the Amtrak system. The Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority (CCJPA) extends our appreciation to UPRR for performing this much needed state-of-good repair work at night instead of midday, which would have meant running fewer trains, potentially resulting in larger ridership losses.

The operating ratio was 57% in March 2014; however, the YTD ratio is at 51%, below the expected 53% due to YTD revenues being below projection.

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The CCJPA continues to address ridership losses at specific stations and trains in the following ways:

· Trains serving Placer County stations (one in each direction): In
meetings with local transit bus agencies in Placer County, we’ve
identified challenges in coordinating schedules and fares with the
one Capitol Corridor train to/from Sacramento. Staff is currently
working with Amtrak on various fare plans to address these
challenges.

· Sacramento station: At a second meeting at the site in late March, we
identified potential near-term parking locations that are closer to
the station than the existing ones. The group will be sure to
develop such plans in conjunction with Sacramento Regional Transit’s
efforts to relocate the current light-rail platform closer to the
tunnel entrance.

· Weekend trains: The February 17, 2014 timetable change included later
start times for the late-night train (weekday and weekend) out of the
Bay Area to Sacramento in order to provide return travel options for
Capitol Corridor passengers attending weekday Oakland A’s and Raiders
night games, as well as weekend evening events in San Francisco, San
Jose, and Oakland. Despite this schedule change, March 2014 weekend
ridership was 4% below March 2013 weekend counts. This was, however,
only the first full month with this new schedule. We will continue to
review how the weekend trains perform throughout the summer and
possibly make adjustments in July/August 2014 in conjunction with the
opening of the new Levi’s/49ers Stadium near the Santa Clara/Great
America station.

FY2015 Amtrak Operating Forecast Budget

On March 31, 2014, the CCJPA received the forecast from Amtrak for the FY2015 Capitol Corridor operating budget. The total budget (which includes an equipment capital charge for the use of Amtrak locomotives used on the corridor) is $32.264 million versus $29.331 million in the FY2014 operating contract, an increase of $2.933 million primarily due to $2.745 million in
lower forecast revenues and $0.275 million for the Amtrak locomotive usage fee. Operating expenses remain relatively flat for FY2015 versus FY2014 budgeted expenses. Over the next couple of months, the CCJPA will be working with Amtrak to make operational changes (e.g. consist sizing, revised train schedules) to increase revenues and/or reduce operating costs. These efforts will also involve Caltrans, which manages the other two California Intercity Passenger Rail (CIPR) services, as well as the California State Transportation Agency (CalSTA), which will be allocating the state funds to the CCJPA for the operation, marketing, and administration of the Capitol Corridor IPR service.

Cap and Trade Revenue Proposals: Investment in the CIPR Services The Governor’s Draft FY2014-15 budget includes $300 million in revenues from Cap and Trade auction proceeds for the Rail Modernization Program. The $300 million would be split – $250 million for the California High Speed Rail Authority to start construction of a high speed train system in the Central Valley, and $50 million for Caltrans’ allocation of competitive grants for existing rail transit agencies to integrate rail systems and provide connectivity to high speed rail.

CCJPA sent a letter, based on input provided by the CCJPA Board at its February 19, 2014 meeting, to Assembly Member Bloom (Chair of the Budget Subcommittee #3) and Senator Beall (Chair of the Budget Subcommittee #2) stating that the $50 million available to over 13 eligible rail transit services/agencies is unlikely to provide significant tangible benefits, and that the FY2014-15 Rail Modernization Program account should be increased tenfold, to $500 million from Cap and Trade revenues. The increased account could be distributed using a programmatic formula that is fair and equitable and would provide enough funds to allow the state’s passenger rail network and rail transit services to expand rail service levels to meet growing passenger demand, reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector, and support sustainability programs in our communities.

Select Committee on Passenger Rail (Senate and Assembly)
The Select Committee had its first hearing on March 19, 2014. Positive feedback was received from those in attendance, as well as those who participated. Speakers included CalSTA Secretary Brian Kelly; Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty; the readership/chairs and vice chairs of the CIPR agencies; Metrolink and ACE executives; members of the RailPAC advocacy group;, and members of the public, including riders from the CIPR trains. A key theme throughout the hearing was the need for a steady, reliable, and sustained capital/operating funding source to support the continued success of the three existing CIPR services, which represent three of five busiest Amtrak routes, and to allow for the implementation of emerging IPR corridor services in the Central Coast and Inland Empire. A second hearing is planned later in the spring (perhaps May).

Customer Service Program Upgrades

· CCJPA Bicycle Access Program: A key element of CCJPA’s Bicycle Access
Plan, the retrofitting of cab cars to increase bike storage in the
Northern California fleet, has been completed. Before the Bicycle
Access Program can be fully launched however, each of these cab cars
must be installed with Positive Train Control hardware, which is
scheduled for completion in June 2014. This will allow each Capitol
Corridor train to have a cab/bike car (the 8300-series or
6400-series) and a coach/bike car (the 8200 series) in the first (and
last?) position of each weekday train consist, nearly doubling the
storage capacity (from 15 to 29 spaces) for bikes on each train. For
at-station bicycle amenities, which are also part of the Bicycle
Access Plan, the CCJPA is completing the funding request materials,
specifically the environmental documentation, to obtain $556,000 from
the California Transportation Commission (CTC) to install the
eLockers and folding bicycle rental systems. CTC action is
anticipated no later than May 2014.

· Bike to Work Activities: Capitol Corridor is supporting a variety of
Bike to Work Day activities this year. Our participation reinforces
Capitol Corridor’s larger efforts to improve the connectivity between
bicycling and ridership on Capitol Corridor trains and encourage
weekend and midweek ridership among bicyclists who might otherwise
need to drive to their bicycling destinations. Our plans for
participation include: Sponsorship of 2013-14 Chinook Book coupon
book and mobile app being distributed at downtown Oakland’s Energizer
Station all day on May 8; cross-promotion of Bay Area Bike Month
events via social media, the website, and CC Rail Mail; participation
in downtown Sacramento’s Bike Fest the morning of May 8; partnership
with Yolo County Convention & Visitors Bureau – Capitol Corridor will
sponsor an expected 50 to 100 one-way train trips from Davis to
Sacramento in partnership with the Yolo County Convention & Visitors
Bureau; Tour de Cluck – Capitol Corridor will help promote (via
social media primarily) this unique Sacramento biking event that
involves biking to local chicken coops; update of bike page and more
prominent positioning of the page on the Capitol Corridor website;
and creation of a Spoke n’ Word blog post focusing on Bike Month
events within Capitol Corridor’s service area.

Safety Initiatives

· Safety Fences: With the approval of Phase 2 of the 2013 Fencing and
Security Enhancements project, a total of 15,802 feet of fencing will
be constructed along the Capitol Corridor in 2014.

· Positive Train Control. Installation of the PTC equipment on the
state-owned equipment is currently proceeding with all locomotives
equipped and installation on cab cars underway (~85% complete). The
completion date has slipped from April to early June 2014.

· Station Access Safety Improvements. A station-by-station site
analysis has been performed to identify a suite of upgrades to
lighting, signage, and access at all 17 stations. A program of work
is scheduled to begin in early May at the Davis station. This work
was originally planned to start a few weeks earlier, but was delayed
due to early April rainstorms and the need to secure railroad safety
workers to protect workers within the railroad right-of-way and at
the station platforms.

Project Updates

· Sacramento to Roseville Third Track Environmental Review/Preliminary
Engineering: The project team reached agreement on the alignment of
the planned third track and the selection of the location of the
Roseville station and the layover facility at its current location.
They are now proceeding with the release of a Notice of Preparation
(NOP), which launches the environmental documentation, in May 2014.
Extensive public participation will be included in the NOP, with
meetings in the Roseville and Sacramento areas, plus an extensive
online presence with public tools and participation opportunities for
people to provide feedback on the project.

· Oakland-San Jose Phase 2 Track Project. CCJPA staff is set to begin
pre-development work with the selected consultant team. Initial
efforts include review of prior proposed projects, ridership and
revenue analysis based on planned service increases to/from San Jose,
and environmental screening of the proposed projects.

Outlook – Closing: Ridership for the Capitol Corridor in the first half of FY2014 (October 2013-March 2014) is slightly below [-0.8%] FY2013 ridership during the same period, and revenue trails by 3% . While fuel expenses and other costs are slightly under budget, the ridership decline has resulted in greater losses in revenues, contributing to a system operating ratio of 51% rather than the forecasted 53%. Other key service performance metrics — on-time performance and customer satisfaction — are #1 and #5 in the Amtrak system. UPRR has been able to meet its goal for OTP on the Capitol Corridor and are rightly receiving their OTP incentive payments. Staff continues to work with Amtrak to develop scheduling options that will improve system performance for the Capitol Corridor (increased ridership/revenues, reduced operating costs), while keeping the operation of the trains safe, reliable, and customer-focused.

CIPR leaders will continue to work with Senator Jackson and other legislators, as well as the Governor’s agencies to ensure that the Capitol Corridor and other successful CIPR services receive their fair share of the proposed Cap and Trade revenues for investment in projects to enhance and improve the efficiency and operation of services, while also helping to meet the state’s clean air goals and implement sustainable community strategies.

Editorials

Is the Dumbarton Rail Bridge a Lost Opportunity?

By Noel T. Braymer

On April 9th the Metropolitan Transportation Commission had a committee meeting to reallocate money from stalled projects to others ready to go. Among the stalled projects in the Bay Area is the effort to repair the Dumbarton Rail Bridge between Redwood City and Fremont and establish rush hour commuter rail service from the East Bay to both San Francisco and San Jose. The biggest “winner” in this budget reallocation was BART which was forgiven 91 million dollars from a “loan” of Dumbarton Bridge money. What lead to this decision was the failure back in the November election of 2012 of a transit sales tax for Alameda County to be passed by less than one percent of a 2/3 majority needed for passage. Without Alameda County’s funding the projects had less than half of the minimum $700 million dollars needed for this project.

Dumbarton Rail A

This is a fact sheet on the Dumbarton Rail Bridge Project posted online by the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) Click image to enlarge

The reality remains that traffic is often congested at the other San Francisco Bay crossings. Traffic is growing to and from the Peninsula which is job rich and housing short. It is very difficult because of environmental factors to build a new Bay crossing and tunneling is very expensive and environmentally disruptive. Yet there are many forces which are working against the Dumbarton Rail Bridge reopening anytime soon.

The two potential users of the Dumbarton Rail Bridge are Caltrain and ACE. Adding East Bay traffic to Caltrain would greatly increase Caltrain ridership. Right now that is the last thing Caltrain needs with overcrowding on most of its existing trains. Caltrain’s focus right now is on electrification along the Peninsula. With this is planning to “blend’ future Caltrain service with High Speed Rail service. The constraint Caltrain is facing is neighborhood opposition to adding more tracks to the existing double tracking, particularly around Palo Alto and Atherton. As it is now running future expanded Caltrain and High Speed Rail trains will be a squeeze on the existing double track sections.

One bright note, most of the opposition to additional tracks is south of Redwood City. The Caltrain right of way is wide enough for as many as 4 tracks for most of its length. But with electrification, Caltrain will be less likely to want non-electrified trains on its tracks from the East Bay. The issue is acceleration: diesel trains accelerate slower than electrified trains. This can hold up the faster trains much like heavy trucks hold up traffic on the highways. Additional tracks would solve this problem as least as far as 4th and Townsend north of Redwood City. But diesel trains wouldn’t be able to use the new Transbay Transit Center with Caltrain and High Speed Rail in San Francisco. As for service to San Jose that gets squeezed out with the lack of additional tracks.

ACE has problems of its own. They have many projects to expand service on their current route and better connections to High Speed Rail and BART. But like most rail agencies it is waiting on a long waiting list for funding for their other projects. Lack of funding for current projects is holding up many other projects besides attempts to cross the Bay to service to either San Francisco or San Jose.

The best news is the public still owns the Dumbarton Rail Bridge. The Southern Pacific Railroad was only too happy to sell it and adjoining right of way for a song. As it is the bridge is out of service and needs millions of dollars of work to put it back in service. It might be a good idea to replace the entire bridge if this crossing is ever put back into use. The right of way for this bridge and connections to rail junctions makes this a valuable public asset. It is very difficult to get right of way, let alone environmental clearances around the San Francisco Bay to build any new bridges or new tunnels.

It will be a mistake to give up on the Dumbarton Rail Bridge. It will be a major connecting link between Capitol Corridor trains, BART, ACE and High Speed Rail to Caltrain and the cities on the Peninsula. The Dumbarton Rail Bridge would provide a direct connection to Sacramento and the northern San Joaquin Valley to San Francisco.This could be possible with additional tracks north of Redwood City. With such additional tracks the Dumbarton Rail Bridge could also be used by future “Coast Daylight” trains from the south along the coast to access San Francisco while bypassing the track congestion around Palo Alto.

Dumbarton Rail B

This is a recent photo of the Dumbarton Rail Bridge also on the VTA’s  fact sheet posted online. The bridge is out of service and has been left opened for years. Part of the bridge is wooden and damage from a fire somes years ago is one reason it is out of service.

One good thing done in the 80’s and 90’s was local governments bought quite a bit of railroad rights of way in California. Sometimes it looks like these rights of way will never be used. A good examples of this would be the Santa Monica Air Line between Santa Monica and Los Angeles. The Santa Monica Air Line was perfect for light rail to the congested Westside of Los Angeles. But local NIMBY’s opposed any construction for years. Reality and years of grass roots efforts finally got the “Expo Line” built after years of delays and setbacks.The Dumbarton Rail Bridge has been greatly delayed. But it will be needed even more in the future than it is needed already.

eNewsletter

eNewsletter for April 14, 2014

Oregon, Washington Consider Alternative To Amtrak For Cascades …OPB News-Apr 10, 2014 Oregon and Washington might turn to a private company to operate its Cascades rail service. The two states are testing the waters to see if anyone other than Amtrak is interested in operating the route that includes Seattle, Portland and Eugene. Most commuter rail services today are operated under contract by private companies. Amtrak has lost several commuter contracts recently because they were underbid. It will be interesting what the host railroads reaction will be to this, particularly on the issue of liability. NB

April 14, 2014

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

How to get more Tourists on Trains in California

By Noel T. Braymer

Tourists come to visit California from all over the world. Many of them would love to take the train here; just like they do back home, if they knew how. Most tourists would prefer to travel without getting stuck or lost in California traffic. But little is done to help visitors to get around by train. There is the California Rail Pass. It is good for 7 days of travel in California on most Amtrak trains over a period of 21 days. At $159 dollars for an adult and $79.50 per child it is a great deal! Many more tourists would ride the trains in California if they knew about the California Rail Pass.

On March 19, 2014 the British newspaper “The Independent”, published a letter to its transportation columnist from a reader asking about family discounts to travel by train for a planned vacation in California. The columnist gave a rather negative reply pointing out that train fares in America were higher than in most of Europe and the trains slower. The columnist also pointed out that Amtrak had few discounts or family specials unlike most world railroads. There was no mention of the California Rail Pass which would have been perfect for this family for their future vacation in California.

It isn’t the easiest thing in the world to buy a California Rail Pass. First you have to call Amtrak Reservations or contact an authorized Travel Agent. You can’t order the California Rail Pass online, even though this is how most train tickets are bought just like airline tickets now around the world. At the time of purchase you must also reserve your travel dates and the trains you will ride with the pass. This makes it difficult to travel spontaneously, but only after you make your reservations do you get your pass.

There are other issues to address to encourage rail travel in California for tourists. Most importantly are the connections (or lack) to the trains from the airports where most tourists arrive in California. For now the best way to get to Los Angeles Union Station from LAX is by Flyaway Bus. Bob Hope Airport in Burbank is the only airport so far with direct service to Amtrak. BART serves SFO to downtown San Francisco, but Amtrak only connects there by bus from Emeryville. The Oakland Airport does have connections to BART and Capitol Corridor Trains. But that’s about it for connections for now in California between air and rail. Improved bus connections in the short term would go a long way.

In San Diego by next year the Airport plans to have a new internal road for shuttle buses to the terminal from a new airport rental car center. This will take traffic off the congested city street to the airport. There are also plans to use this new road for shuttle bus service to a nearby Trolley station. Adding buses to use this new airport road from nearby Old Town or downtown to pick up rail passengers would help and be a simple thing to do.

There are other issue that need to be addressed to attract more tourists to ride the trains in California. These include package deals including hotels and destinations such as Hollywood, Disneyland, Yosemite, Sea World, San Francisco, Old Town Sacramento, the Gold Country and so on. Also connections to local transit to get around is needed as part of a package deal.

Each local transit agency has different forms of ticketing. Los Angeles has the TAP card, which several LA County transit agencies use but not all. LA Metro has a $5 dollar a day pass for Metro trains and buses. But first you have to buy a TAP card for a dollar for the Day Pass. In San Diego they have the Compass Card which like Los Angeles also is used for Monthly Passes. But San Diego also has both local $5 dollar local transit day passes and a $12 dollar all day pass all printed on paper. The $12 Dollar day pass is good for unlimited travel on Coaster Trains, Trolley, Sprinter and most local bus service in San Diego County. The Bay Area has the Clipper Card which is a debit card honored by most agencies. This is faster to use when transferring between services than paying cash. But there are few day passes or transfers between Muni, BART, Caltrain and AC Transit to my knowledge.

In other words traveling car-less is difficult for most people in California who are not regular commuters of local rail and bus service. It is more difficult for visitors to use transit since they know even less about local travel options needed to go carless which often is hard to find or understand . Better cooperation between agencies, packaged deals and better connections would go a long way not just for tourists but also California residents to get more riding the trains.

eNewsletter

Enewsletter for April 7, 2014

Parking Sanity: Right Price Good for Congestion, Transit, & Revenue  Atlantic Cities Apr 2, 2014  Costanza’s universal theory of parking states that drivers should never pay for a spot because, if they apply themselves, they’ll get it for free. Most U.S. cities do everything they can to abide the theory. They undervalue the price of street spaces. They keep parking so cheap it encourages driving (and thus undermines their own transit investments, leading to more driving). And they require a minimum number of parking spaces for new developments whether residents need them or not.

April 7, 2014

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

Commentary

A trip on the Eagle-Sunset to Tucson, a joyful experience of surprises

Report and Photos by Russ Jackson, RailPAC Associate Director

Tower 55 Ft. Worth TX. No BNSF trains waiting to cross, no UP traffic moving across it? No problem? Astounding. But, what happens when a westbound UP freight has a disabled car and blocks access to the Ft. Worth Intermodal Center for the southbound Texas Eagle, and it is not a dispatch situation? Passengers wait on the platform where they can see their train so close but they must wait and wait for it to back in to be loaded. On Wednesday, April 2, 2014, the wait was only about 30 minutes, but still frustrating. After efficiently loading passengers we were off and settled into car 32011 behind locomotive 170 for the overnight journey to San Antonio and on to Tucson.

Wait a minute, though, there was no conductor on the platform to scan my e-ticket. If that is not done Amtrak’s computer will assume I am a “no show,” and may re-sell that room! A hurried search for the conductor found her, and all was well. Another surprise!…there were two Eagle sleeping cars instead of the usual one, and they were on the front end of the train. Yes, they can do that, and move it all with one locomotive. First explanations were that there were more transferring passengers in Chicago than usual. Oh, yes, the flatiron steak dinner was excellent…as was my favorite lunch the Cheeseburger on both trains.! Too bad they don’t have a BLT, though.

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Amtrak 189, still advertising service to the Texas-Oklahoma football game, led the Sunset Limited westbound.

The overnight slam-bang shuffling of cars between the Eagle and the Sunset Limited at San Antonio seemed to be more than usual, but it was accomplished and we were out on time at 2:45 a.m. Arrival at Alpine, TX, was early, so passengers had plenty of time to enjoy the cool weather, and learn about Sul Ross University and the Big Bend country. Arrival required double “spotting”, as a large group was detraining there from the front sleeping car, another reason for the added sleeper on the back, so they reached the platform first and the rest of us waited for the next spotting. My sleeping car attendant, Tony, was on his first trip on the Sunset Limited. Because of some personnel problems from the Eagle, he had been flown from Chicago to San Antonio to take over the rest of the journey to Los Angeles. Tony was a good one, experienced and enthusiastic. Johnathan, a Los Angeles bound fellow passenger who also boarded at Ft. Worth, said he “had never seen more joyful crews” than we had between the Eagle and Sunset. The subject of fewer amenities did not come up. We heard later that a sleeping car passenger was still sleeping when the conductor was ready to get off the train in Los Angeles Union Station. Now for some photos from this trip and the return trip on train #422.

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Amtrak train 1, the westbound Sunset Limited is at the Alpine, TX station on April 3, with 10 cars and locomotives 189 and 192.

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West of Alpine the barren desert of the Texas southwest has few surprises, but when one gets past Marfa sights like this weather balloon can be startling and produce theories that it is a UFO.

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Union Pacific has been constructing a 5-mile long new yard at Santa Teresa, west of El Paso in New Mexico, on the double track Sunset Route. That facility is now open, and this photo shows a freight train being refueled at the west station. Amtrak still refuels at the El Paso station.

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Although there has been improvement over the two benches out in the open that were there a few years ago and commented upon by us, the new shelter and sign do look better for Amtrak at the Deming, NM station in this photo taken from the Sunset Limited sleeping car. The barrier helps keep motorists from running around the gates at this intersection, where the road is used as the “platform” for passenger loading and unloading.

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On April 3 there were no passengers for Deming, but this Union Pacific work crew was west of there which slowed the Sunset Limited’s progress. The advantage of the “flag stop” at Deming is the train can go through without stopping, but that was overcome by the necessity to wait for this work crew to clear the track. Even so, the train arrived in Tucson on time.

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When the two Sunset Limited trains meet it is usually on the double track in New Mexico. Here train #2 that left Los Angeles on April 2 zips past in this view from the rear car window of #1. Interstate 10 is to the right.

The return trip on Amtrak’s Eagle-Sunset #2 was just as enjoyable to this veteran train rider, but the quality of service and reliability was somewhat diminished over what we had on #1. Amtrak had notified me that instead of the original departure time from Tucson we would depart two hours later, at 10:05 on Saturday, April 5, which was certainly acceptable. Arrival at the Tucson station at 9:00 would give time to explore the area around the station, see the famous Congress Hotel where John Dillinger lived before he was captured, see the progress with the new Tucson Trolley, and visit the Southern Arizona Transportation Museum located in the western part of the station complex. Ten o’clock came and went, but the train didn’t. The station agent kept us informed, and eventually it showed up at 11:40 due to a UP crew working west of Tucson. Departure was 12:05, two hours late but taking into account we were now really four hours later than schedule and then we were dispatched on the old line east of Vail that runs much slower, the prospect for a late connection with #22 at San Antonio was on our minds. Then the issue of a crew that would run out of hours meant stopping at a crossing 15 miles west of Deming rather than changing crews in El Paso. A quick stop for refueling at El Paso and we raced east. Fortunately, Amtrak held #22 in San Antonio, as we arrived 30 minutes later than that train’s scheduled departure. Amtrak did in one hour what it took most of the night to do on our westbound connection at San Antonio, and the Eagle was out at 8:30. Amenities? I thought newspapers would no longer be available, but did no one tell the Austin American-Statesman? We had the Sunday paper to read.

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The Tucson Trolley is testing now and will begin service on its route between the University of Arizona and downtown Tucson this summer. This picture, taken from the Sunset Limited sleeping car window, shows a train at the trolley’s maintenance base.

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Because of the late arrival in San Antonio it was light enough to take a photo of the two Amtrak trains in that station. On the left is the Texas Eagle trainset, after the through cars had been removed from the Sunset Limited on the right. A yard crewman has just set up the hose to “water” the car, which had run out of water overnight due to the late moving.

Home was two hours late, but who cares? It is always a pleasure to write positively about an Amtrak long distance train trip. Both trains, east and westbound, were full of passengers with large turnovers at El Paso and Tucson. I will refrain from my usual cranky analysis of the Sunset Limited’s three days a week schedule and that Amtrak should more often respond to demand for space on this train by adding an additional car. We learned on this trip that they can do it when they want to.

Art Lloyd
Reports

Caltrain Board Honors Art Lloyd for 26 Years of Service

Art Lloyd Retirement On April 3, RailPAC’s Vice President Art Lloyd was commended for his 26 years of service on the Caltrain Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board.He will remain involved with “Emeritus” status as a consultant and for his vast railroad historical knowledge.

We at RailPAC can only echo the sentiments expressed therein and add our congratulations and acknowledgement of your service to that organization.  Without a thorough knowledge of the past, and the decisions that were made which created the circumstances of the present, it is not possible to make good decisions about the future.  Your passion for the subject and the determination to bring improvements to mobility and the quality of life that public transportation can bring combines with that knowledge to make a unique contribution that has benefited the community, state and nation.

Heartiest congratulations! Continue Reading

Editorials

Is this Summer Make or Break Time for CA High Speed Rail?

By Noel T. Braymer

The California High Speed Rail Authority has signed a construction contract for work in the Fresno area. Final construction plans are being made, some land has been cleared around Fresno and the process of buying right of way around Fresno is underway. This spring the Authority plans to award a second major construction contract for most of the new railroad south of Fresno to a point near the  Kern County Line north of Bakersfield. What is unknown is when or even if the 4.5 billion dollars from Prop 1A bond money approved so far by the legislature out of 9.95 billion will be released by the courts. Of this money 2.6 billion dollars is the State’s share for the current 5.8 billion dollars for construction in the San Joaquin Valley. The Federal share for construction is 3.2 billion dollars. Another 1.9 billion dollars is for the Prop 1A bond money planned to help fund several projects around the State for projects to help feed passengers to the future High Speed Rail network.

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This is from a Power Point Presentation given to  the LOSSAN Board on March 17, 2014. Click on all images to enlarge.

The Brown Administration has gone to the Appeals Court to rule on this current lawsuit which is holding up release of the State Bond money. It is unknown how soon the court will act and come to a final decision on this case. This could happen sometime this spring.

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Back in January of this year, State Assemblyman Jeff Gorell ( R-Camarillo) announced he was leading an effort to place on the November ballot a measure to overturn Prop 1A which would effectively kill the California High Speed Rail project. This is the latest of several attempts to overturn Prop 1A at the ballot box. At least one previous attempt was accepted by the Secretary of State to collect signatures for a ballot measure back in 2012. Like most attempts to place measures on the ballot this 2012 effort went nowhere. Assemblyman Gorell’s measure has been accepted by the Secretary of State and has until the end of July to turn in just over a half million signatures from verified California registered voters in order to qualify for the November election.

At the end of March the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) published results of a poll of Californians made in March on many issues. One of the topics was High Speed Rail. Here is a summery of this poll’s findings from PPIC

PPIC Statewide Survey March 2014  SLIM MAJORITY OF ADULTS FAVOR HIGH SPEED RAIL-LIKELY VOTERS LESS SUPPORTIVE

Californians were asked about another big project:a high speed rail system. In 2008, voters passed a $10 billion state bond for its planning and construction.Today, when read a description of the system and its $68 billion price tag, 53 percent favor it and 42 percent oppose it.Likely voters are less supportive (45% favor, 50% oppose) Majorities in the San Francisco Bay Area (63%), Central Valley (57%),Orange/San Diego (54%) and Los Angeles (52%) are in favor. Inland Empire residents are divided (45% favor, 46% oppose). When opponents of high speed rail are asked how they would feel if the cost were lower support rises (69% adults, 60% likely voters). Asked about high speed rail’s importance 35 percent of adults and 29 percent of likely voters say it is very important to the future quality of life and state’s economic vitality

What is interesting about this Poll is it reflects the same level of support shown when Prop 1A passed in November 2008. Prop 1A passed by a 52.62 percent margin. Most of the yes votes came from the Bay Area, around Sacramento and Los Angeles County. In the San Joaquin Valley in 2008 it was supported by the counties with the largest cities like Kern, Fresno, and Merced. The 2008 election had larger than usual voter turnout, even for a Presidential election which greatly helped to get Prop 1A passed. In this recent PPIC poll the issues of greatest concern for Californians were jobs and the economy, not opposition to High Speed Rail.

If construction can get underway this summer, support of the High Speed Rail project will increase. Voters are more likely to support a “winner” and if they see money being spent in their communities. This PPIC Poll suggests that people are not opposed to High Speed Rail as such, as concerned about the costs or lack of benefit to them.

Governor Brown has proposed to spend up to 6 billion dollars of Cap and Trade money to match with 4 billion left in the Prop 1A Bond money to build 85 miles of High Speed Railroad between Bakersfield and Palmdale. This won’t include electrification or electric High Speed Trainsets. There is some money to double track in the San Fernando Valley between Los Angeles and Palmdale. But to achieve running times under 3 hours between Los Angeles and the Bay Area will require major tunneling between Sylmar and Palmdale.

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Having a passenger railroad connection between Southern California through the San Joaquin Valley to the Bay Area is an important first step. The California High Speed Rail project is expected to be run for profit like most passenger railroads around the world. Private financing is critical to completing this project. That won’t happen until there is a viable passenger rail service in place with an income stream to pay investors to finance major improvements.

As imperfect as the current High Speed Rail Project is, it is the only game in town. It is the only one with the support of the Governor. If the current Prop. 1A bond money is stopped: that kills the 3.2 billion dollars in Federal Funding for the project. Money is tight in government as it is, largely due to the “Tea Party” . Transferring this 13 billion in existing money and possible 6 billion in Cap and Trade to other rail projects won’t happen. Literally we would be back to square one, trying to pass a ballot measure to get the support for a State Wide Rail Passenger project. There is popular support for better rail passenger service in California. Most ballot measures for more rail service pass in California. When these measures don’t pass it is because they barely miss the 2/3 majority needed for a tax increase. If the High Speed Rail project stalled this summer it won’t end progress for rail passenger service in California. But it will delay it for years.