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Paul Dyson

Amtrak National Network Campaign 2018, Commentary

SPLIT AMTRAK – The current structure is dysfunctional – Richard Spotswood

A 21ST CENTURY MODEL FOR AMERICAN PASSENGER RAIL

By: Dick Spotswood.

 

THE DILEMMA: It’s now obvious that Amtrak, the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, and its new management under former Delta Airlines CEO Richard Anderson, regards its principal responsibility as making the Northeast Corridor America’s first true high-speed rail route.

That’s a worthy goal and no easy task. Running from Boston south through seven states and the District of Columbia, the Northeast Corridor is the central transportation axis for southern New England and the Middle Atlantic states.

The dilemma is that Amtrak’s mandate is not limited to the northeastern states. Amtrak’s official name is the NATIONAL Railroad Passenger Corporation. Some forget that the rail passenger corporation’s mandate has always been to provide a truly national rail system. Unfortunately, it’s a role that Anderson, the current Amtrak board and much of its senior staff gives mere lip service.

It’s time for America to have two intercity rail passenger operators: The current Amtrak in the eight-state/District of Columbia Northeast Corridor and a brand-new passenger corporation providing a high level of services for the remaining forty-two states.

Amtrak’s current priority, whether it is staff time, innovation, planning or allocation of fiscal resources, is the right-of-way between Boston and Washington. The reality is that the Northeast Corridor is perceived by the corporation as the prime reason for its existence. The national system serves as little more than a useful political device when it comes time for the public passenger carrier to seek federal subsidies.

When times are fiscally tough, those trains provide Amtrak’s current management with a convenient scape goat: blame deficits on long-distance trains. While based on erroneous data, it’s a task facilitated by Amtrak’s dysfunctional opaque accounting system and a political agenda that places the Northeast Corridor as priority one. A correct accounting that includes capital and fairly distributes overhead (management) costs, will demonstrate the Northeast Corridor isn’t a money-maker as Amtrak claims and requires substantial federal dollars. Of course that deals with the inconvenient fact that some of those states commuter lines use the Northeast Corridor far more frequently does Amtrak’s intercity trains.

 

Amtrak’s focus is on this 455-mile stretch of Middle Atlantic-Southern New England mainline trackage. That leaves than the remaining national system’s approximately twenty-one thousand route miles across the American West, Midwest and The South as an unwanted stepchild. So much for so-called “fly-over country.” Some of Amtrak’s limited focus is due to practical concerns; but a big part is an East Coast centric corporate cultural that overwhelms both staff and board. The final element is political

From an Amtrak management and board point of view it concentrating on the Northeast Corridor and especially their Acela high-speed train service provides a manageable project within the professional capabilities of their current staff. Acela has had its problems, not a wholly unexpected development given the pathetic lack of American-based high-speed rail expertise.

 

It’s even consistent with the innovative plan proposed seven years ago by House Transportation Committee chair John Mica (R-Florida) and Rail Subcommittee chair Bill Shuster, R-Pennsylvania, to privatize development and operation of the Northeast Corridor. Whether operated, as now, as a quasi-public agency or, as Congressmembers Mica and Shuster proposed as a private railroad, the Northeast Corridor has the volume of passenger traffic and the potential for increased freight services that should make it a viable stand-alone railroad under either scenario … if properly managed

 

 

CULTURE: The corporate cultural aspect of the dilemma is harder to quantify, but very real. The men and women who manage Amtrak are based in Washington, D.C. Most have spent the bulk of their professional lives in those very same Middle Atlantic States. When they, their friends and family think of rail, they naturally focus on what they personally are familiar with.

They ride Northeast Corridor trains with some frequency. When they look out the windows of their Washington Union Station-based national Amtrak headquarters, they see the Northeast Corridor fleet, along with excellent Maryland and Virginia commuter operations. The few long distance trains to Florida, the Midwest and the South appear as oddities with weak constituencies. They are easy to ignore and can even be entirely written off with little political or bureaucratic risk … so far.

It’s so easy for most of us residing in the bulk of the continental United States to forget but Northeasters suffer from a provincialism that regards much of America, even California, Chicago or Dallas, as a backwater. They vaguely understand that New Orleans, San Francisco, Chicago and for the well-traveled, perhaps Seattle or Denver, do exist. More often these far-off exotic locales are out-of-sight and out of mind. They consider us “the Coast,” “The Far West” or “the planes.” These are defined anywhere west of Buffalo or south of Richmond. We live in cities and town where Northeasterners go on vacation but certainly not where they perceive many Americans actually live.

The very notion that real live people live in small towns like Whitefish Montana, Ottumwa Iowa, Lamy, New Mexico, Meridian Mississippi or even Santa Barbara, are incomprehensible to the good folks of all socioeconomic classes who live and work in or between Washington, Manhattan or Boston.

As long as that East Coast culture represents the world view of Amtrak managers, the National Railroad Passenger Corporation or its privatized successor will be “national” in name only.

POLITICS: The politics of all of this is understandable. In the eight Northeast Corridor states Amtrak and commuter rail is a big deal. Much of the Middle Atlantic States voting public utilizes this rail service and makes it known to their elected officials and the press that they consider passenger rail a priority. Just like their constituents, their elected officials personally use the system and “get it.”

The lamentable but inevitable secondary result is that federal support for rail passenger service tends to be aimed only at those services that Eastern Congressmembers and their constituents personally experience. Ditto for the good folks at NARP.

Unfortunately, the unintended result is that the national long-distance system and those corridors outside of the Northeast are ignored or wrongly dismissed as underutilized anachronisms.

That’s certainly the positions of Amtrak’s new senior management.

 

The negative effects of this Southern New England-Middle Atlantic orientation is visible on every Amtrak long distance train resulting in an inconsistent (at best) on-board passenger service.

Old equipment poorly maintained all staffed by a mixed bag of employees is the norm. While  some Amtrak’s employees are highly dedicated and professional, too many – especially Amtrak’s new management led by former Delta CEO Richard Anderson – emulate the worst traits practiced by indifferent private passengers railroads or government bureaucrats, a scenario directly stemming from a management preoccupied with the Northeast Corridor.

To any impartial follower of the national rail passenger scene, it’s clear that unless a prompt order is made for new long-distance passengers cars, the national service will wither away within a decade. That’s how long the present roster of coaches, sleeping cars and diners have left before being hauled off to the scrap heap. Given the huge lead time in ordering any new equipment, the current delay by Amtrak management to address this critical need is appalling.

Likewise, senior Amtrak managements doesn’t even possess the basic budgetary tools necessary to evaluate the costs and expenses of long distance services. Their current muddled accounting system provides none of the methodologies widely available to regional transit systems, not to mention airlines, to analyze and accurately inform management of the incremental costs of each of segment of their services.

Wildly inaccurate information is disseminated that too often appears to be grossly biased against any passenger services not based in the Northeast and likewise biased in favor of Northeast Corridor trains.

 

As AMTRAK critic Andrew Seldon has long pointed out, accounting gimmicks were designed to minimize the costs and maximize the revenue generated in the Northeast Corridor, preordaining that one will always be perceived as a “winner” and the other a fiscal “looser.”

“Lying with numbers” is an old trick in the transit business. It’s the use of seemingly unbiased figures to justify actions that coincide with the agenda preset by staff and well-positioned board members.

While the Northeast Corridor address a crucial if limited segment America’s mobility needs, current Amtrak management tends to ignore other corridors. The mere fact that it is “understood” at Amtrak headquarters that the Northeast Corridor’s infrastructure requirements and operations will be financed by the national system, while California, Illinois, North Carolina, Maine or the Pacific Northwest need to be “partnered” with local state funding sources, is a classic example of the geographical bias inherent the current set up.

The causes of this failure are multiple and bipartisan, but its undeniable that zero progress has been made.

 

SOLUTION: TWO SEPARATE RAIL PASSENGER COMPANIES: Just continuing the status quo is not only unfair to the other forty-two states it puts untenable pressure on Amtrak’s current staff and board. It’s also a guarantee that American passenger rail will never be a competitive travel option as it is in so much of the economically advanced world. They are now being asked to serve two masters: the Northeast Corridor, and a national system of long-distance trains and “emerging” corridors. It’s too much to ask, and in the long run unsustainable.

It’s time to dissolve Amtrak. It’s very name “Amtrak” has developed in the public such a negative, bureaucratic connotation that it should become the latest “fallen flag.” Why else does Amtrak in the East focus on the weird word “Acela” to describe their premier service.

In its place, two alternative models are suggested.

One involves transforming the present National Railroad Passenger Corporation into a new, slimmed down entity. Either remaining in the public sector which much state involvement or as a taxpayer assisted but private enterprise run corporation, this new NORTHEAST RAIL would be allocated the sole responsibility of perfecting a southern New England -Middle Atlantic passenger service stretching from Boston south to Washington or perhaps even to Richmond, Virginia. If the Northeast Corridor is privatized, there is little doubt that the needed management staff will be lean.

Note that NORTHEAST RAIL will assume all of Amtrak’s rights and obligations in the current  Northeast Corridor. The current Amtrak staff so oriented to the Northeast Corridor – though significantly “right-sized” at the headquarters level – would form the core of Northeast Rail’s management team.

Simultaneously, a new rail passenger corporation needs to be established. For now, let’s call it AMERICAN RAIL. It too will assume all of Amtrak’s rights and obligations that exist outside the Northeast Corridor.

Its purpose will be to assume responsibly for all aspects of a new independent passenger railroad. That entity will operate and secure federal financing for all long-distance and corridor services in America west and south of the Appalachians. It should combine aspects of public funding with the actual service perhaps operated by private operators on a line-by-line basis.

It will better for all concerned if NORTHEAST RAIL concentrates on what it knows best – the Northeast Corridor. At the same time, much of America, particularly at a time when the understanding of the travel and environmental importance of AMERICAN RAIL, a truly national rail network, could benefit from an organization focused on its own needs and priorities.

 

The name AMERICAN RAIL signifies a fresh start and new direction. It should have its headquarters anywhere but Washington. Chicago, the traditional hub for western and mid-American rail passenger services, would be a fine location as would St. Louis or even New Orleans. With its own separate board of directors, new management and working with new private sector operators, AMERICAN RAIL would not compete with NORTHEAST RAIL but serve as its national connection. It will be the conduit for operation of all current state-supported services outside the Northeast Corridor.

 

With innovation the watchword, AMERICAN RAIL should lead to way to new routes and more frequencies all in new passenger cars and locomotives operated by a freshly recruited and trained staff and management equipped with a private sector-style customer-first approach. They be more like the customer-friendly cruise ship industry that the nickel-and-dime the passengers airline cartel. Is there risk of failure? Yes, but right now the risk of the ultimate demise of Amtrak’s long-distance service seems assured.

 

 

THE DIVISION The new railroad’s mission will be the operation of all American intercity passenger trains outside the Northeast Corridor.

Certain services ancillary to NORTHEAST RAIL’S heartland, such as the New York to Buffalo Empire Service, the Down Easterner Route from Boston to Portland, Maine and the once-a day service extending east from Richmond to Newport News would be subject to amiable negotiations. If NORTHEAST RAIL considers those lines essential part of their bailiwick … and the states involved concur … they should continue to operate them. This plan envisions a non-hostile division resulting in two new, independent but cooperating entities.

The private sector components of both plans is an acknowledgment of the new leaner 21st Century structure of government and the ruinous divide that in the past few years has seen with passenger rail identified with the Democrats and vilified by many Republicans. A serious effort needs to be taken to depoliticize the topic of passenger rail.

Creating allies in the private sector without alienating labor is a difficult but essential component of this strategy.

This approach will result in two new entities that should create their own new corporate cultures.

While some may consider that scenario optimistic, there is zero doubt that if Amtrak’s status quo is maintained no progress will ever come to pass.

The most difficult aspect will be the division of essential federal operating and capital subsidies between the two new companies. There is no doubt that even if there is significant private sector involvement, federal dollars will remain an essential part of the puzzle, just as it has decades when it comes to air, highway and barge modes of passenger and freight mobility.

Congress is entitled to a voice even with much private sector participation. Yet, there is no valid reason that rational minds can’t prevail resulting in mediated solution acceptable to Congress and the Administration without raising regional passions.

Greater involvement by the individual states could assist in all of the above described goals. One dares to think that federal funds might even be allocated on a per-capital basis, rather than the traditional allocations which relied more on history than rationality.

 

MANY BENEFITS, FEW NEGATIVES: This concept is a win-win for all except some current management employees at Amtrak’s Washington headquarters who will find themselves redundant.

 

Rail labor will benefit. Not only will there be no layoffs of operating personnel, there is a distinct prospect of additional employment associated with more routes and greater frequency. Certainly the manufacturing sector will benefit from equipment purchases to replace worn out passenger cars and locomotive.

 

Small town America will benefit. Not just from additional routes and frequencies, but from American Rail, a new rail passenger company focused on their long-neglected needs. Likewise, larger Midwestern, Southern and Western states will be rewarded from attention to their emerging corridors linking major and medium sized cities.

 

 

Northeast Corridor states win from Northeast Rail, an operation undistracted by what’s proved to be an incompatible a long-distance system.

 

The bulk of America benefits from a new system focused on the needs of Western, Mid-western and Southern states needs and desires with new management open to innovative public-private partnerships.

 

MOVING FORWARD – NEXT STEP: It’s my suggestion that the Rail Passengers Association (RailPAC) of California and Nevada members contemplate this plan aided by the preparation of professional-quality research reports. The end result would be consideration of adopting the notion of dissolving Amtrak and replacing it with the two new entities, NORTHEAST RAIL and AMERICAN RAIL as RailPAC’s official position.

 

We would then urge other rail advocacy groups to join with us.  Sad to say, it’s doubtful that NARP, almost as East Coast centric as the current Amtrak leadership, would be supportive. NARP’s history, understandably, has been to defend and justify Amtrak management. The time for that self-defeating approach has clearly ended.

 

An essential early step is to secure bipartisan sponsors in both the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives to serve as our proponents. It’s naive to think that Amtrak’s current board and senior management will not oppose this move. Substantial bipartisan Congressional and Administration support is essential if this proposal is to be taken seriously. Just getting the debate off the ground is not an easy task. We can’t do it with just the old friends of passenger rail. Simultaneously, we need to expand by adding others, e.g., Republicans and the business community, who have in recent years opposed or indifferent to passenger rail, but were supportive in the past.

 

WHAT’S TO LOSE? At the very least, debating this proposal will cause many in the rail community to think about Amtrak’s current dysfunctional structure and understand its long-term implications which include the ultimate demise of all long-distance rail. A vigorous public conversation will have the salutatory side effect that Amtrak management will likely never again take the West, Midwest and the South for granted as they have done so often in the last few decades.

 

At best, such a bold discussion will spark others in the rail passenger community to rethink old approaches and faulty assumptions. Ideally this will all lead to a more sustainable vision of a vibrant twenty-first century truly national rail passenger system.

 

Dick Spotswood

Mill Valley, California

May 1, 2018

 

 

 

Amtrak National Network Campaign 2018

Letter sent today to Mayor Garcetti, Los Angeles

This could be a template for YOUR letter to your Mayor, County Supervisor, Congressman etc.

Hon. Eric Garcetti

Mayor, City of Los Angeles

 

Dear Mayor Garcetti:

 

Thank you for your support of passenger rail, including the Amtrak National Network.  We believe that this system of trains and connecting buses is a great asset, providing essential mobility and links between both urban and rural America.  Amtrak was set up in 1971 to provide a national system, paid for by farebox revenue and federal tax dollars. Amtrak is carrying record numbers of passengers on ALL its routes, many of which serve communities where there are no longer alternatives such as local air service or intercity bus.  Many people choose rail, even with a longer journey time, because of the greater comfort and on-board experience, and many people simply have a fear of flying.

 

We know that Amtrak is not a profitable operation.  We do know that most public support goes to maintain the expensive infrastructure of the North East Corridor (“NEC”), which Amtrak had foisted on them in 1976, (no one else wanted it!)  We also know that the State supported corridors are either a break even or profit center for Amtrak.  The National Network of long-distance trains are a bargain for the taxpayer and represent about a third of Amtrak’s business.  Without them the States would be paying far more for their corridor services, especially California.

 

Amtrak management, using metrics and policies based on airline experience, has recently decided to destroy this National Network and replace it with disconnected corridors, paid for by the States.  They recently outlined this to Congressional representatives from Colorado, New Mexico and Kansas.  Amtrak plans to discontinue through train service between Los Angeles and Chicago and use buses between Albuquerque and a location in Kansas to be determined.  Furthermore, Amtrak is demanding State subsidies for the residual parts of the route.  We should not pay twice for less service.

 

Recently retired Amtrak CEO Joe Boardman has just issued a statement with the same message.  By cutting on board dining and other amenities and failing to invest in locomotives and coaches for the past twenty years, they are deliberately downgrading the service and driving away customers.  We believe they are doing this in attempt to squeeze more money from the States, to fund the backlog of infrastructure projects on the NEC.  The NEC is important, but not at the expense of passenger rail for the rest of the country.

 

We believe that investment in and improvement of the national system is the way to go.  California can build the locomotives and passenger cars needed to expand and replace the existing fleet.  A positive approach from a new Amtrak management team will attract more business, including tourists, as well as a growing population of retirees.  Travel is a growth industry!

 

Please tell our State congressional delegation, especially our Senators, to work to maintain the National network and stop the break up of Amtrak.

 

Yours sincerely,

 

Paul Dyson, President. 818 371 9516 pdyson@railpac.org

High Speed Rail

Update from California High Speed Rail

News Release

June 18, 2018
Toni Tinoco
559-445-6776 (w)
559-274-8975 (c)
Toni.Tinoco@hsr.ca.gov
Ben Kimball
559-623-0450 (w)
bkimball@tularecog.org

Cross Valley Corridor Plan Approved With Connection to Kings/Tulare High-Speed Rail Station

DINUBA, Calif. – Today, the Tulare County Association of Governments (TCAG) Board voted to approve the Cross Valley Corridor Plan that will serve as a vision plan to improve transportation connections and guide future development of the Central San Joaquin Valley. The plan focuses on an existing rail corridor between the cities of Huron and Porterville, with direct and convenient access to the Kings/Tulare high-speed rail station.

“This plan represents an opportunity to transform public transit in the region,” said TCAG Executive Director, Ted Smalley. “Our goal here is to identify how the corridor can provide convenient transit service, but to also plan how the high-speed rail station will connect our communities throughout the state.”

In 2016, TCAG partnered with the California High-Speed Rail Authority (Authority) to launch a corridor planning and community engagement campaign to identify how transportation can be improved using various modes, including taking a bus, riding a train to visit surrounding communities, driving a car, biking or walking. The plan also enabled TCAG to evaluate new public transit service alternatives that would accommodate future population and economic growth in Tulare, Kings and Fresno counties, while being compatible with existing land uses and future development opportunities.

The project area follows the existing freight rail corridor from Huron to Porterville, which also parallels portions of State Routes 198 and 65. The corridor would potentially link the cities and communities of Huron, Naval Air Station Lemoore, Lemoore, Hanford, Goshen, Visalia, Farmersville, Exeter, Lindsay and Porterville. Unincorporated communities of Armona and Strathmore may also be served by transit stops. The Kings/Tulare high-speed rail station is located in the center of this corridor near the intersection of State Routes 198 and 43.

“The approval of this plan marks a significant milestone in the ongoing progress of the high-speed rail program and the partnership between the Authority and the TCAG,” said Diana Gomez, the Authority’s Central Regional Director. “We look forward to working with them to enhance multimodal connections and promote economic development.”

To view the full contents of the Cross Valley Corridor Plan, please visit www.tularecog.org/cvcp. A hard copy of the plan is also available at the TCAG office at 210 N. Church, Suite B, Visalia, CA 93291.
#####

SEE MORE AT WWW.HSR.CA.GOV

California High-Speed Rail Authority
770 L Street, Suite 620
Sacramento, CA 956814
info@hsr.ca.gov
(916) 324-1541
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Amtrak National Network Campaign 2018

Coalition Forming to save the Chief, and the rest of the National Network

Leaders of RailPAC, All Aboard Arizona, Southwest Passenger Rail Association and the Rail PAssenger Association (NARP) met in Mesa AZ Saturday in the first steps to set up a coalition to support the National Network trains, especially in the west.  We’ll be working to add support groups in Colorado, Oregon and Washington, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and New Mexico.  We are gravely concerned at what seems to be the determination of Amtrak to find a reason to stop running trains 3 and 4 (Southwest Chief).  Is Amtrak merely trying to dump the expenses onto the States (by law, if there is no freight traffic then Amtrak must pay for maintenance), or is this the first step in removing the trains, soon to be followed by the Sunset Limited and other routes.

Our strategy is simple.  Numbers count.  We need to make a lot of noise, to show Amtrak and the Congress that we will not accept any curtailment in the National Network and indeed we insist that these trains get a reasonable share of Amtrak’s capital grant.  In simple terms that means locomotives and cars.  It’s as basic as that.

We have friends in the Congress.  We need to add the California and Nevada delegations to this group.

More information will be posted here in the next few days.

Paul Dyson

 

 

Commentary

LAUS Summer Train Fest – But where are the advocates?

Take a look at the announcement for the Summer Train Fest:

http://thesource.metro.net/2017/06/14/union-station-summer-train-fest-to-be-held-saturday-july-15/

As I write we have not received an invitation, even though we were regularly invited to National Train Day activities.  Apparently we have to be approved by Metro, Metrolink and LOSSAN, possibly Amtrak as well although since Amtrak laid off all their marketing staff they are unlikely to participate.  And since Amtrak is also doing its best to eliminate private cars from its trains I hear the organizers are having a tough time lining up much of a display.

Whatever happens, I’ll be there representing RailPAC, and I’ll have information to distribute about the Southwest Chief, and other hot topics.  If you care to join me please contact me at pdyson@railpac.org.

Paul Dyson

Technical and Rolling Stock

Amtrak At Last Looking to Renew or Upgrade Locomotives

From Amtrak Press release:

Amtrak to Improve National Network Locomotive Fleet

New or rebuilt locomotives will provide more reliable service, a smoother ride and improved safety features

WASHINGTON – With demand for Amtrak service at record levels, Amtrak is moving to either acquire new locomotives or rebuild its current diesel fleet of locomotives to supplement and replace its aging National Network diesel locomotive fleet used on Long Distance and some State Supported routes.

In a Request for Proposals (RFP), Amtrak is seeking to rebuild its current diesel fleet or purchase a minimum of 50 to 75 next-generation locomotives, with options to rebuild or acquire additional units. The locomotives will offer the latest safety features, have more horsepower, and the lowest emissions possible.

“Our diesel locomotive fleet is nearing the end of life expectancy and we must act now to modernize Amtrak for the future,” said Amtrak President & CEO Richard Anderson. “We expect that any new, state-of-the art locomotive will offer improved reliability, a smoother ride, improved safety features and make major contributions towards lowering emissions and we’ll also consider how rebuilding options of the current fleet could achieve these goals.”

The rebuilt or new locomotives will primarily replace Amtrak’s aging P40 and P42 locomotives, some of which have been in service for more than 25 years. As part of the contract award for the locomotives, Amtrak will also seek to enter into a multi-year Technical Support, Spares and Supply Agreement to ensure an optimal and cost-effective maintenance strategy.

Amtrak is working aggressively to make immediate changes to the customer experience with improvements including refreshed trains, new fare structures, improved on-time performance, enhanced Wi-Fi connectivity, upgraded facilities and expanded onboard experience options.

Additionally, the rebuilt or new locomotives are part of Amtrak’s long-term upgrades that include buying modern equipment, including new Acela trainsets; ongoing improvements at New York Penn Station and the new Moynihan Train Hall; and further development of stations in Chicago, Washington, D.C., Baltimore and Philadelphia.

A link to the RFP can be found here.

About Amtrak®

Amtrak offers a more comfortable and convenient travel experience with free Wi-Fi on most trains, plenty of leg room and no middle seat. With our state and commuter partners, we move people, the economy and the nation forward, carrying more than 30 million Amtrak customers for each of the past seven years. Amtrak operates more than 300 trains daily, connecting more than 500 destinations in 46 states, the District of Columbia and three Canadian Provinces, and reaches 400 additional destinations via connecting bus routes. Learn more at Amtrak.com.

We’ve only been waiting for about 20 years.  it will be interesting to see what level of emission controls they will get from rebuilt P42s.  At least some of the will likely go to Siemens at Sacramento for Charger diesels but at $7 million each they won;t get many for their money.  I also hope that they will incorporate the emissions systems developed by Rail Propulsion Systems in Fullerton.  Go California!

pdyson@railpac.org

Commentary

Southwest Chief Developments

Amtrak’s actions regarding the Southwest Chief, threatening to stop running the train through western Kansas, Colorado and eastern New Mexico via the Raton Pass have run into opposition from the Senators for those states.

https://www.chieftain.com/bipartisan-bicameral-lawmakers-raise-concerns-over-amtrak-withholding-funding-for/pdf_55d3c0bc-6523-11e8-9163-d371f5d9f499.html?utm_medium=social&utm_source=email&utm_campaign=user-share

RailPAC will be asking California and Nevada Senators to write in support of their colleagues.  Please support our efforts by writing to Feinstein and Harris, or Cortez Masto and Heller if you are in Nevada quoting the above news report.  Any curtailment in the operation of the “Chief” sets a very serious precedent for the national system which we cannot let pass.

Paul Dyson

Amtrak National Network Campaign 2018

Amtrak National Network Campaign – Some Helpful Tools

Here are a couple of sample letters to cut and paste in whole or in part.  The first objective is to get our California Senators, Feinstein and Harris, to recognize the problem and to take action with their fellow Senators:

Dear Senator (  ):

Thank you for your support of passenger rail, including the Amtrak national network.  I believe that this system of trains and connecting buses is a great asset, providing essential mobility and links between both urban and rural America.  Amtrak is carrying record numbers of passengers on ALL its routes, many of which serve communities where there are no longer alternatives such as local air service or intercity bus.  Many people choose rail, even with a longer journey time, because of the greater comfort and on-board experience, and many people simply have a fear of flying.

We know that Amtrak is not a profitable operation.  We do know that most public support goes to maintain the expensive infrastructure of the North East Corridor (“NEC”).  We also know the State supported corridors are either a break even or profit center for Amtrak.  The long-distance trains are a bargain for the taxpayer and represent about a third of Amtrak’s business.  Without them the States would be paying far more for their corridor services, especially California.

It has become apparent that Amtrak management, using metrics and policies based on airline experience, is obsessed with destroying the national network.  Recently retired Amtrak CEO Joe Boardman has just issued a statement with the same message.  By cutting on board dining and other amenities, and failing to invest in locomotives and coaches for the past twenty years, they are deliberately downgrading the service and driving away customers.  We believe they are doing this in attempt to squeeze more money from the States, in order to fund the backlog of infrastructure projects on the NEC.  The NEC is important, but not at the expense of passenger rail for the rest of the country.

We believe that investment in and improvement of the national system is the way to go.  California can build the locomotives and passenger cars needed to expand and replace the existing fleet.  A positive approach from a new Amtrak management team will attract more business, including tourists, as well as a growing population of retirees.

I request that you work with your fellow Senators to pressure transportation Secretary Chao to appoint knowledgeable and forward-thinking members to the Amtrak Board who can then appoint a CEO that wants the company to succeed, not to destroy.

Yours etc.

 

Next is a generic letter for your Mayor, County Supervisor, Chamber of Commerce etc.

 

Dear Mayor ….

Amtrak’s national system of trains and connecting buses serves hundreds of communities throughout the country.  It is a vital link between urban and rural America providing basic transportation needs to many communities that no longer have intercity bus or local air service.  In addition, many Americans simply have a fear of flying, and many more have a preference for the ambience of train travel without the stress of airports.  Amtrak is also a tourist attraction, bringing in revenue from overseas visitors.

Recently appointed Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson (formerly with Delta Airlines) does not understand the passenger rail business and is foolishly trying to save money by breaking up the network into short corridors.  His purpose is to save money by transferring the financial responsibility of these short corridors to the States through which they run, so that Amtrak’s federal funds can be used to rebuild the North East Corridor (“NEC”).  I acknowledge that the NEC is important and has major problems, but these should not be fixed at the expense of the rest of the country.

Joe Boardman, recently retired Amtrak CEO has just has just issued a similar warning, that Amtrak management is destroying the national network.

Please join the Rail Passenger Association of California and other advocates around the country in fighting to preserve this mobility option.  Let Senators Feinstein and Harris know that we support their efforts to appoint pro-rail members to the Amtrak Board, and to replace the management with positive, forward-thinking individuals who believe in their mission.

 

Amtrak Campaign – Talking Points

If you are contacting any of your elected representatives, here are some talking points:

If the western long-distance trains are eliminated:

There will be no connected train network, only isolated corridors or local services.  A connected network of over 500 stations will be replaced by “islands” of service with many fewer travel choices.

If the western states want passenger rail they have to pay, no more federal program.  The corridors Anderson proposes will require state funds, which most states cannot afford or will not support.

Another massive transfer of funds to the Northeast Corridor (“NEC”).

Amtrak deliberately running the service down.  No new investment in Superliners and locomotives for 20 years or more, now removing diners, parlor cars, station agents.

Brand New Dining Cars going into storage.

Will destroy most passenger rail service west of the Mississippi.

Loss of jobs, especially in California.  Train crews, on board service, car attendants, maintenance personnel.

Transfer of costs to State corridors.  Currently the California corridors share administrative and maintenance facility costs with the long-distance trains.  Amtrak will be California 100% of these charges if the long-distance trains go away.

Many of Amtrak’s initiatives have been tried before.  They more revenue than the costs that they cut.

By all means add in your own thoughts, experiences etc.

Here are some useful links:

Find your Senator and Representative

https://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm

https://ziplook.house.gov/htbin/findrep

California Government”

http://findyourrep.legislature.ca.gov/

Let’s get busy and make some noise.  We need to contact our representatives at every level to express our concern.  TODAY!

Any questions, contact pdyson@railpac.org or info@railpac.org

 

Amtrak National Network Campaign 2018, Editorials

Boardman Joins the Fight for the National Network

In a surprise development, Joe Boardman, former Amtrak CEO, has written a scathing article in Railway Age criticizing the policy of the current Amtrak Board and CEO.  When I get permission I’ll reproduce it here.  Boardman states that the national network, and especially the long distance trains, are threatened by a philosophy that seeks to convert the system to short haul day only trains, sponsored by the States, so that the federal funds given to Amtrak can be used for NEC projects like “Gateway”.  Sound familiar?

Here is the full story, courtesy of Railway Age.   Joe Boardman writes:

Having spent much of my productive life at the state and federal levels observing, studying, regulating and then leading a rail management team, I am appalled with what increasingly appears a unilateral violation of the public trust by Amtrak’s current leadership to dismantle our interconnected, intercity rail passenger network, beginning with hollowing out of its long-distance passenger train service.

Amtrak is not a privately held corporation whose fate is to be determined by a few individuals behind closed doors. It was created by the people and for the people and is funded by taxpayers who help to supplement Amtrak’s farebox revenue. Amtrak provides a cherished public service, with opinion polls repeatedly validating support for its existence and even expansion.

The role of Amtrak leadership is to operate the railroad and its various lines of business safely, efficiently and in accordance with congressionally approved statutes. It is the role of congressional lawmakers who answer to the public to determine the fate of Amtrak, and only through a transparent legislative process.

From materials I have seen submitted to congressional staff, Amtrak management has begun surgical communications in a way that does not provide a transparent discussion of what management is doing or intending to do. Quite the opposite of being transparent, Amtrak management is limiting the substance of public briefings, denying journalists access to relevant management officials and making decisions in isolation.

Evidence points to a covert effort to divide Amtrak’s political constituencies and create distrust and discord. Consider a current effort by Amtrak management to convince opinion leaders and decision makers that providing service via the Southwest Chief passenger train, which makes 31 stops between Chicago and Los Angeles, is somehow too costly.

Confirming this intent to eliminate the service, Amtrak has informed elected officials in Colfax County, N.M., that it will not provide its match for a recently awarded congressional grant intended to sustain operation of the Southwest Chief. This directly undermines a federal grant program that, while Amtrak president, I personally brokered with BNSF CEO Matt Rose to improve the BNSF route used by the Southwest Chief—a joint benefit to freight trains and Amtrak.

Additionally, Amtrak management is engaged in “weaponizing” safety to attack more broadly Amtrak’s long-distance network. Under a façade of “safety first,” there are threats to discontinue Amtrak operated passenger trains by Dec. 31, 2018, wherever Positive Train Control is not installed and operating. That is neither acceptable nor responsible.

Yet on route segments—some 100-miles or longer—where the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has decided to exclude a requirement for PTC, Amtrak responsibly intends to utilize a highly respected Federal Aviation Administration safety program to assess risks.

Certainly, commuter carriers operating in the congested Northeast will continue operating on non-PTC equipped track beyond the Dec. 31, 2018, deadline for its installation because other FRA safety measures will govern operation.

Halting New Jersey Transit or Metro-North commuter railroads because a PTC deadline cannot be met and other safety measures are in place would be ridiculous. If commuter carriers in the Northeast can continue operating beyond the Dec. 31, 2018, PTC deadline, then certainly the Southwest Chief can, also.

Indeed, there is additional mitigation for safety risks, such as Automatic Train Stop or even solar powered switch position indicators. And, yes, it will take time and funding, but neither Amtrak management nor its board of directors has made clear whether service would be continued while those mitigations are funded and completed. If it is not made clear by July, then Amtrak management and its board is validating my allegation of “weaponizing” safety to attack Amtrak’s national interconnected passenger train network.

Make no mistake: I am strongly in support of Positive Train Control technology, and my record as the nation’s rail safety regulator speaks for itself. Safety conscious railroaders know that PTC is not an off-the-shelf technology, and where the FRA has allowed extensions and exclusions, there are available safety mitigations.

A pattern is emerging of Amtrak management and its board of directors seeking, on its own and without public input and transparency, to hog all Amtrak federal financial assistance to complete Northeast Corridor (NEC) rail projects such as the Gateway Program, to procure new “city pair” trainsets for off-NEC operation, and to shorten Amtrak long-distance routes so as to shift costs to states, ultimately destroying Amtrak’s national interconnectivity.

I think current Amtrak management and its board of directors have drawn a line in the sand at the foot of Raton Pass, targeting the Southwest Chief as their first—but not last—long-distance train to target for cutting.

The Southwest Chief issue is the battleground whose outcome will determine the fate of American’s national interconnected rail passenger network. Said more simply, the battle is Raton Pass vs. Gateway. The history of public policy toward Amtrak is that you cannot have one without the other.

Congressional leaders have long asserted that without support for Amtrak’s long-distance trains, federal support for the Northeast Corridor will evaporate.

While there is eminent good reason to fund Northeast Corridor projects, there is equivalent good reason for preserving daily train service to, for example, Dodge City, Kan., La Junta, Colo., and Havre, Mont., where the economic impact is significant and other options non-existent.

Ignoring the political process and unilaterally abandoning service linking Denver with Albuquerque and Los Angeles is equally absurd and would not survive a transparent public process were it allowed.

Joe Boardman retired in 2016 after eight years as Amtrak president and CEO, making him second only to W. Graham Claytor Jr. as Amtrak’s longest serving CEO. Previously (June 2005-December 2008), he was President George W. Bush’s Federal Railroad Administrator. Earlier, Boardman was the longest serving Commissioner of Transportation in New York State history. In 2014, he was Railway Age’s 51st Railroader of the Year.

Paul Dyson

pdyson@railpac.org

 

Commentary, Issues, Rail Technology

California Integrated Travel Conference 2018 at UC Davis May 1and 2

RailPAC Board members Doug Kerr and Steve Roberts attended this event, and their report follows.  Chad Edison and State staff have been working hard to bring together the many State rail and transit agencies to make travel easier for the passenger, a long standing RailPAC goal.

On May 1 and 2 Steve Roberts and I (Doug Kerr) attended the California Integrated Travel Conference held on the UC Davis campus.  Steve and I put together this summary.  The conference was put on by the California State Transportation Agency (CalSTA), Caltrans, and the Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority.  The two-day conference contained a large amount of content presented by many speakers.  This is just a short overall summary. The major factor driving this initiative is the need to fully utilize existing and planned transportation assets if the state is to avoid transportation gridlock.  Population growth in California will continue.  We cannot continue to offer the same disjointed product, continue doing the same things we’ve done for the last fifty years.

If one thinks of the service integration as a three step process – First, gateway with a single portal to link systems with information and service options, Second, specific  travel/schedule choice, ticketing/payment and ticket verification, and Third, station navigation, train boarding and connections – this conference focused on the second step, specific  travel/schedule choice, ticketing/payment and ticket verification.

The conference was a first step in providing a process to integrate travel across the many modes, jurisdictions, and agencies that exist in the state.  The end goal is to provide methods to plan a trip using multiple modes (such as corridor trains, rail transit, bus transit, and rideshare) and provide a single method for fare payment.  As was noted above the conference focused on journey planning choice, ticketing and payment.  While it appears the overarching goal is to incorporate all three steps, the immediate focus is on step two because the fast evolving technology and protocols can be rolled out in the near future.  These innovations will drive customer service improvements and lower ticketing transaction costs.  Needless to say, full service integration would require progress on the other two steps especially schedule coordination.  The terms used often at the conference were Urban Mobility and Public Mobility.  Transit services are looked at as one part of mobility which also includes rideshare, bikeshare, and any other mode to get from point A to B.

While some integration exists today in the US, for example Bay Area Clipper Cards can be used on BART, Muni, SMART, Golden Gate Ferry and others, there are still many exceptions such as Capitol Corridor trains do not accept Clipper Cards.  There is also some integration on travel planning provided by sites such as Google, but these often don’t include all options and pricing.

In Europe and Asia the technology and protocols are more advanced.  Examples of successful travel integration were presented from London, Toronto, Hong Kong, Sweden, Switzerland, and Germany.  In all cases the integration produced increases in ridership and revenue justifying the time and expense of producing seamless travel.  It also generated improved customer satisfaction by eliminating the frustration of searching different carrier websites and buying multiple tickets in order to complete a single journey.

Some emerging trends:

  • More robust stored value cards (Clipper Card, TAP card, etc.) linked to a customer profile and database that would  allow not only multi-carrier use, but calculate a through journey distance discount, discounts based on usage in lieu of 10-ride and monthly fare plans, and passenger class discounts (students, seniors, seniors, disabled, etc.) without the need to produce multiple types of cards.
  • Solutions for the unbanked customers are under development.  One near-term strategy pivoting around the reduction of the number types of stored value cards (i.e. student, senior, disabled, etc.) is increasing the number of distribution outlets (i.e. retail stores, 7-11’s, etc.).
  • Information standards to allow easy merging of data sources i.e. carrier fares, inventory and schedules, etc. across multiple transportation operators.
  • Calculation of the best fare.  An underlying goal is for the customer to have confidence that the fare/ticketing system will always calculate the best fare.  This does not mean that parallel transit bus, commuter rail and intercity rail have the same fares, it means the fare/ticketing system will always generate the lowest applicable fare for the journey choices of the customer.
  • Contactless use of a credit card for fare payment.  This is the next wave for credit purchases not only for transportation fares but for small retail purchases (i.e. Starbucks).  This eliminates the stored value card for most riders.  Linked with a customer profile and database all the features of an advanced stored value card fare payment are available, just tap your credit card and go.
  • Mobile ticketing.  Travel and schedule choice, ticketing and payment and ticket verification will be done via Smart Phone.  The phone will be virtual wallet electronically scanned as the rider passes the platform entry gateway or barrier.  Smart phones as virtual wallets that may soon be available for lower value purchases in retail stores.

All of these emerging trends increase customer convenience, reduce ticket transaction and settlement costs, get cash out of the system and speed the platform entry process.  However, there is a need for non-carrier funding to jumpstart the process.

Some of the issues/barriers identified that hinder implementation include the following:

  • Ease of use must be top priority.  Often it is not.  Sometimes what is done is what is most convenient for the operator.   Focusing on this goal is important because the personal automobile travel often wins out because it is easier and simpler to use than figuring out public transit.
  • The main impediments to integration are not technology based, but are tied to interagency agreements, governance, agency concern about loss of revenue and agency perceived threats of loss of independence.
  • Public transit serves everyone, including those without smart phones, bank accounts and credit cards.  Methods must still exist to accept cash payments.
  • A multi-agency fare policy is critical.  Fare policies, particularly involving discount amounts and requirements for various passenger classes (students, seniors, disabled, etc.) need to be “harmonized” across agencies.
  • Integrated fares do not exist today.  Transferring from one mode to another requires payment of separate fares and can become costly because the customer does not received the value of the distance based discount also known as a fare taper.
  • The goal is to create one network consisting of multiple operators.

There were also some higher level discussions concerning the current poor utilization of urban streets, the need for right-of-way management and road pricing reflecting that road capacity is a  scarce resource.  Alternatives discussed were dedicated bus and bicycle lanes reducing the space allocated for personal automobiles.

Overall the conference, attended by over 100 people, was optimistic that integrated travel can happen in spite of the large amount of work to get there.  CalSTA seemed willing to lead the way in the effort.