Commentary, Issues

Ventura – Santa Barbara “Commuter ” Service off to rocky start – the punctuality problem

LOSSAN retimed the morning train (761) from LAUS to San Luis Obispo to make it a “commuter” train from Ventura County to Santa Barbara and Goleta.  (See Surfliner schedule effective 4.1.18).

Various efforts were made to try and stop the last train to Goleta at Oxnard and start the morning train from there but none of these options was found to be practical.  So 759 starts from LAUS at 0400 in order to depart Oxnard at 0558 and Ventura at 0612, with a Santa Barbara arrival at 0647, Goleta at 0716.  This is not what Santa Barbara wanted by the way, they asked for a later arrival but I guess that could not be reconciled with Metrolink 106 and Amtrak 768.

Monday April 2nd, 2018

I joined the train at Burbank Airport on time with a couple of other people.  It seems that a number of students returning from Easter visits chose the early start rather than going back to school Sunday evening.  Things were going well except for a slight delay at Hassen siding E of Simi where we met M100 which must have been a few minutes late out of Moorpark.  Then the fun started.  UP dispatch put us on the wrong track at Camarillo. (There’s a long story about why Camarillo station is dysfunctional and usually only one platform is operative).  So we sat for a few minutes while a crowd of confused Metrolink passengers milled about, then reversed out of the station, and then entered track 2.  We then had to wait for M102 to pass before heading for Oxnard.  We arrived Oxnard about 26 minutes late and lost another minute while we passed M104.

Thus far you can put all the delay down to UP dispatch.  Having left Ventura at 0639 the dilemma then is A768, which 759 is supposed to meet at Santa Barbara.  With no siding between Seacliff and East Santa Barbara, UP dispatch decided to run 768, and we took the siding.  We eventually arrived Santa Barbara 57 minutes late.  No argument about UP’s decision, 768 has a lot of meets on the way in to LA.

Other points:  My estimate is that somewhere between 50 and 70 people tried the new service.  Considering the number of free tickets given out that doesn’t seem like much.  There was a surprising number, about 70, already on the train at Burbank although I think this was a one time only with the students.

Looking closely at the timetable, it should work, but requires everything to be on time to make the necessary meets.  Any snag and the edifice comes tumbling down.  Dennis Story was at Ventura and I sent him updates so that he could share info with the waiting passengers.  A disappointing day for Dennis, but this should drive the point home that if Santa Barbara County wants an effective train service they have to build the required sidings, NIMBYs or no.

I won’t even begin to tell you about the train home, including a loose horse at Chatsworth….(see below)

Tuesday April 3rd, 2018

Train departed Los Angeles about 30 minutes late due to a “mechanical” issue.  Arrived Santa Barbara 55 minutes late.  Dennis Story tells me of the 35 – 40 the passengers waiting at Ventura  about 10 abandoned ship and went back to their cars.

Commentary:

At the LOSSAN Board meeting March 29 I once again took up the issue of punctuality, and the current performance of the Surfliners.  68% on time, with all the recovery time built in and the UPS grace period of 10 or minutes is absolutely unacceptable.  There was very little reaction from the Board except from San Diego alternate Ed Gallo, who first didn’t know which trains I was talking about (such is the level of engagement of some of these people) and then suggested extending the schedules even more.

I think that there is a lack of operating discipline, and a lack of any sense of urgency among the train crews.  They are so used to being treated as second class citizens by UP, Metrolink, BNSF and NCTD dispatchers that they have become cynical about punctuality and their morale is low.  Add to that the Uniform Performance Standard, (“UPS”) which covers up endemic delays and gives a misleading picture to the Board and staff, (not to mention being blatantly dishonest to customers) and you have the recipe for late trains.

A case in point was my train home from Santa Barbara on Monday 2nd, train 774.  The train arrived 5 minutes late at Santa Barbara from Goleta.  Although 759 was nearly an hour late there was still an hour to turn the train.  The schedule offers 3 minutes station time at Santa Barbara and there were about 40 joining the train, not a huge crowd.  We departed 7 minutes late.   I see no reason for losing a further two minutes, or indeed why we did not pick up a minute.  At Carpinteria we were 8 minutes late, and Ventura 9 minutes.  At Ventura I started timing the station stops. Ventura took 2 minutes and thirty seconds for a handful of people.  We had a slow order for a grade crossing problem at Lemon and were 13 minutes late at Oxnard.  We met 763 at Camarillo and had to reverse to get into the platform, leaving Camarillo 17 minutes late.  Without a Moorpark stop we made Simi in good time and departed there 13 minutes late, but of course delayed 14 at Hassen for at least 10 minutes.

A runaway horse on the track at Chatsworth caused further delay and put us 19 minutes behind.  A failed Metrolink train at Burbank resulted in a request to stop at Northridge, so we were still 19 late at Van Nuys, and at my stop, Burbank.  If anyone had bus (or plane) connections they would have been inconvenienced.

Here’s the rub.  With the generous recovery time between Glendale and LAUS 774 arrived at Union Station only 8 minutes late.  Which under UPS is on time.  Better yet, since the train had a good midday run to San Diego, arriving there a few minutes early, no problems, right?  Everyone happy, mark that one up as an on time train.  Except it wasn’t.  Not to mention the delays to 14 and 763, which may or may not have made up the time later.

This sort of thing happens every day, with people waiting at intermediate stations with no information, and people on the train arriving late at stations before the end points with a negative impression of the service.

In my opinion UPS is a big part of the problem, as is excessive recovery time.  It leads to slackness.  We’ll get there when we get there, and we’ll probably be on time because mangement chooses to count it that way.  Another problem is host railroad dispatching.  This is a statewide issue and needs to be taken up by Calsta and the PUC.  If the train crews see that the dispatching problem is being addressed, and that someone is on their side, maybe they will smarten up and pay attention to those minutes at stations.

My observation on Monday was that a lot of delay on the platforms is incurred by the confusion between Coach and Business class doors, and in some cases insufficient doors being opened.  Clear announcements, especially from the Business Class attendant getting off the car directing passengers, would help enormously.

Much needs to be done, and it’s an accumulation of problems and bad habits that management needs to address.  The answer is certainly not to further extend journey times!

Comments welcome, pdyson@railpac.org

 

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