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Brian Yanity

Commentary

Steel Wheels, 4th Quarter 2020 available online

Download the pdf of Steel Wheels, 4th quarter 2020 by clicking here.

In this issue:

  • Russ Jackson commentary on Amtrak’s current predicament
  • Arizona news
  • Amtrak preliminary FY’20 results released
  • High Speed Rail update- Brighline West and Florida
  • Riverside County developments, including Coachella Valley Rail
  • Diverse markets of long-distance trains
  • and more!
Events, San Joaquin, Steel Wheels Conference

RailPAC Annual Meeting 2020

    
The annual meeting of the Rail Passenger Association of California and Nevada (RailPAC) for 2020 will be held on Saturday Nov. 14 at 1 p.m.

Our keynote speaker is Dan Leavitt, Manager of Regional Initiatives for San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission. He will talk about Valley Rail, a major commuter and intercity rail program in the northern San Joaquin Valley.

In keeping with the goal of minimizing risk and enhancing safety, this year’s annual meeting will be hosted as a Zoom virtual video meeting.

Register and RSVP here for the Nov. 14 meeting. Your confirmation and Zoom meeting information will be emailed back to you. Please respond by Nov. 12 11:59 p.m.

Keep RailPAC involved for you. Donate at RailPAC.org

Amtrak Long Distance, Bay Area, CalSTA TIRCP, Caltrain, Central Coast, Coachella/Imperial Valleys, Commentary, Editorials, Electrification, High Speed Rail, LOSSAN, Metrolink/SCCRA, Rail Technology, San Diego County, San Francisco, San Joaquin

RailPAC submits public comment letter on California Transportation Plan 2050

The California Transportation Plan (CTP) 2050 is the “state’s long-range transportation plan that establishes an aspirational vision that articulates strategic goals, policies, and recommendations to improve multimodal mobility and accessibility while reducing greenhouse gas emissions”: https://ctp2050.com/

Read RailPAC’s letter of public comment on the CTP 2050 public review draft by clicking here.

Bay Area, Caltrain, Commentary, San Francisco, San Mateo County, Santa Clara County

Caltrain Measure RR

To our readers residing and registered to vote anywhere within San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties,

Caltrain needs your support.

On the November 2020 ballot, there will be a measure to provide dedicated funding for Caltrain on the ballot known as Measure RR. Unlike BART, Caltrain has never had a dedicated funding source, which means it must go hat in hand to the three counties for funding every year.

The Caltrain service is an essential component of the Bay Area’s regional rapid transit network. Since the line was taken over from the State, Caltrain has never had dedicated funding. The bulk of its funding has come from fares, with the remaining public funding from the three-county partner transit agencies making voluntary contributions. The lack of dedicated funding has resulted in periodic financial crises, which is no way to run an essential part of the region’s transportation network. 

Dedicated stable funding should enable Caltrain to continue operating through the current COVID-19 pandemic. More importantly, dedicated funding would enable the high level of service envisioned in the Caltrain business plan service vision — better all-day, all-week service for commuting and leisurely trips as well as better connections with other local and regional services.

Caltrain’s financial position is dire. A shutdown is a real possibility. Before COVID-19 disrupted the economy, Caltrain carried four freeway lanes worth of cars. Those cars would be dumped back onto the highways and streets once the pandemic eases. Longer term, the improvements outlined in the current business plan to be funded by Measure RR would remove an additional two lanes of car traffic on highways.

While many consider a sales tax inequitable, the Caltrain board has taken action to approve unprecedented policies supporting equity and connectivity. These policies would be implemented and funded by the tax, with goals to improve the racial and income diversity of Caltrain’s ridership by providing affordable.

In order to achieve these changes, your vote along with two-thirds of voters in the three counties combined for Measure RR is critical. Vote “yes” on Measure RR this November.

-Steve Roberts, RailPAC President

Commentary

Amtrak’s Current Situation

With the failure on September 10th in the Senate to pass a “skinny” stimulus package, the outlook for any stimulus legislation is bleak.  The stimulus legislation, as passed by the House, was the vehicle that was to be used to deliver a supplemental appropriation to keep daily service, state funded corridor routes, commuter rail and transit operating as the new fiscal year began.  It also contained a mandate and funding for daily long-distance service.


So what is next?  A must pass is a continuing resolution to keep the Federal government in operation starting October 1st.  No one in Congress wants a shutdown just before an election, risk for both parties is too high.  The thrust right now is for a “clean” continuing resolution that continues the FY20 appropriation levels with no changes.  That said there are at least two must pass add-ons, a continuation of Federal flood insurance (it is hurricane season) and a reauthorization of the highway bill so that the Federal gas tax can continue to be collected.  Given the broad based threat to transportation – airlines, Amtrak, commuter rail and transit – could there also be a broader transportation add-on?  That is an unknown and, except among transportation advocates, no discussion as of yet.  


Some things we do know is that the shutdowns and layoffs will be very visible and cutting transportation is not the best strategy to stabilize the economy.  So this will not come quietly.Without additional funding there will be substantial layoffs in the airline industry along with a reduction in service to smaller communities.   With lower revenues and without supplemental funding Amtrak will, with a cash burn of $250 million a month, be headed toward bankruptcy.  Capital and non-safety maintenance spending will be slashed with perhaps the closure of the shops at Bear, DE and Beech Grove.  Nothing will be fixed, the fleet will be “consumed” to maintain service.   Once a week service (or once a month) on long-distance routes may be standard.  Keeping some service is preferred since labor protection payments apply if a service is totally discontinued but don’t if some service is retained.  Without funding to back-fill the states for payments to Amtrak for state funded trains, expect the termination of many state funded routes.  Without funding for commuter rail and transit, expect a substantial reduction in service by these providers. 


Finally, on August 24th Amtrak submitted a revised request for FY21 Supplemental spending and outlined spending opportunities if there is a stimulus package that goes beyond just stabilizing FY21 operations (click here to download pdf).  Amtrak’s revised FY21 Supplemental request keeps all long-distance trains daily and eliminates layoffs.  Please note the chart on page two is in two parts.  The top part totaling $4.88 billion is the supplemental request to stabilize FY21 operations.  The second lower part is an overview of projects Amtrak could fund as part of an economic recovery proposal.  Note that it includes funding for the replacement of the Superliners. 


What to do now?  Email your Senators and Representatives and ask for funding to stabilize Amtrak FY21 operations and maintain daily long-distance service.

The next two weeks are critical in getting funding for intercity, commuter and transit either in a Continuing Resolution or attached to the FASTACT extension (needed to extend the gas tax).  It is critical that RailPAC’s members and followers contact their Senators and Representatives directly or via:
https://www.votervoice.net/NARPRAIL/campaigns/77006/respond

https://www.commoncause.org/find-your-representative/


Steve Roberts, President Rail Passenger Association of California and Nevada.

Amtrak Long Distance, Commentary

STATEMENT Of UNITED RAIL PASSENGER ALLIANCE To the House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Hearing on Amtrak Response to Covid-19 September 9, 2020

United Rail Passenger Alliance (URPA) respectfully submits this Statement to the Subcommittee. URPA is an independent national research and education organization on rail passenger transportation issues.

Amtrak’s response to the Covid-19 epidemic has been schizophrenic. At the same time it undertook a campaign to clean its stations and trains to reduce the risk of virus propagation, and a masking requirement for employees and customers, it has also prejudiced the mobility needs of the American public by announcing the withdrawal of the majority of its train services in the only part of its business where Americans have returned to using trains in large numbers. It makes no sense to reduce operations in its largest, most productive and most commercially-successful business segment, the national system of inter-regional trains, just as demand for these services has rebounded more than anywhere else in the system.

URPA applauds Amtrak’s cleaning and masking (and social distancing) initiatives. But URPA condemns Amtrak’s abandonment of the demonstrated transport needs of the American public at a time of crisis brought about by the Covid-19 epidemic.

Amtrak has deceived the Subcommittee in respect to the performance and prospects of its three operating divisions, the Inter-regional trains, the state-sponsored intra-regional corridors, and the federally-subsidized Northeast Corridor (NEC).

Contrary to Amtrak’s misrepresentations, the inter-regional group of trains is Amtrak’s largest, most productive and most commercially-successful segment. These are the trains to which Americans have turned during the Covid-19 epidemic.

The inter-regional group of trains (sometimes referred to as “long-distance” trains) is Amtrak’s largest business—it carries the most intercity passengers of any segment of Amtrak’s operation. NEC trains’ passengers consist predominantly of customers who are classified by the Department of Transportation as commuters, not intercity passengers; the intercity component of Amtrak’s NEC traffic is no more numerous than the intercity component of the inter-regional trains, and in some years, less. (In many years, the state-sponsored corridor trains also carry more intercity passengers than do Amtrak’s NEC trains, leaving the NEC—in terms of true intercity passengers carried—as Amtrak’s smallest division.)

The inter-regional trains are also Amtrak’s most productive. They have the highest load factors in the entire system (50-60+%, in operations where an annual load factor of 65% is a sold-out condition due to the large number of stations served and the regular turnover of passengers en route; on the western inter-regional trains, it is customary for each seat and berth to turn over on average 2 ½ times per trip). The load factor in the NEC by contrast rarely exceeds 50%, and south of Philadelphia and east of New Haven Amtrak’s NEC trains arithmetically cannot have load factors that exceed 28%–more than two-thirds of their proffered inventory goes unsold, a most unproductive use of scarce federal subsidy capital. In the traffic vacuum in the NEC during the Covid-19 epidemic, these NEC load factors are even lower.

The inter-regional trains also always produce 150-200% more transportation output annually than do the NEC or state-sponsored corridor trains. Output is measured in annual revenue passenger miles (not “ridership,” which merely measure transactions). This is the most important index of size and productivity of a passenger transportation network, and nothing else that Amtrak does comes even close to the inter-regional trains in producing annual passenger miles. This is doubly so in the Covid-19 epidemic. (The state-sponsored corridors produce about the same output each year as does the NEC.)

The interregional trains are also the most commercially successful trains that Amtrak operates, measured by their market share for intercity passenger transport. In their respective corridors, the inter-regional trains ordinarily generate market shares of 5 to 6%. In the NEC, Amtrak’s market share (not the air-rail modal split that Amtrak sometimes publishes) for intercity passenger transport in the region rarely reaches as high as 1 1/2 %, and that has shrunk for decades. Today, intercity buses carry more passengers in the NEC than do Amtrak’s trains.

In the current Covid-19 epidemic, Amtrak’s transaction volume (“ridership”) and output plummeted. But they did not do so uniformly across the system. Amtrak has tried to deceive the public and the federal government by emphasizing its system totals rather than breaking out the separate performance in the epidemic of its three operating divisions. The inter-regional trains fell far less than did the shorter corridor trains, and the NEC fell the furthest. At the same time that Acela demand dropped to zero, the inter-regional trains initially retained 15% of their demand, and then quickly rebounded, in some cases to near-normal levels.

As the system struggles to recover—as Americans regain their confidence to make intercity trips—the inter-regional trains have recovered far faster than the corridors, and especially the business travel-dependent NEC, which remains severely depressed. URPA research suggests that the western inter-regional trains, by sharp contrast, recovered to normal, pre-epidemic, traffic levels during the late Spring and Summer peak period.

This finding is corroborated by the fact that in the four months ending July 31, 2020, the inter-regional trains brought Amtrak more revenue, and URPA believes more revenue passenger miles, than all of the other trains (including in the NEC) combined.

Based on these objective and relevant criteria, therefore, the inter-regional trains are, and remain during the epidemic, Amtrak’s largest, strongest, most successful, and most relevant group of trains. The inter-regional trains, in fact, appear to be the trains that serve the demonstrated demand of a clear majority of American travelers for rail transport during the Covid-19 epidemic, just as in more normal times..

Against this background, Amtrak’s decision to charge ahead with procurement, testing and deployment of costly new high-speed Avelia trains in the NEC—a market for which demand has dropped to and remained near zero—while eliminating even once-a-day services in its largest, most productive, and highest-demand segment, the inter-regional routes (except Auto Train), is bizarre, biased, political and irrational. Amtrak could not have more disserved the American public during the Covid-19 epidemic than by reducing the frequencies of its inter-regional trains.

Amtrak’s coy hints that the interregional trains might be retained if only congress appropriates massive new subsidies is exactly the same ploy, in almost exactly the same terminology, that Amtrak used in 2002 after the roll-out of the Acela program in the NEC exhausted the company’s cash and rendered it insolvent. Congress should not allow itself to be taken in again. Instead, congress should insist that Amtrak use its existing resources first to sustain the trains that customers are actually using:  the heavily-used national network of inter-regional trains.

Respectfully Submitted,

United Rail Passenger Alliance

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Andrew C. Selden, President

612.229.9592

NCL25@yahoo.com

Amtrak Long Distance, Arizona, Caltrain, Commentary, Editorials, High Speed Rail, Metrolink/SCCRA, Orange County, San Diego County, Steel Wheels Conference, The Steel Wheels Column

Steel Wheels, 3rd quarter 2020 available online

Download the pdf of Steel Wheels magazine, 3rd quarter 2020 by clicking here.

In this issue:

  • RailPAC and Steel Wheels Coalition to Amtrak: “Daily is Minimum Acceptable Standard for Long Distance Trains”, and Amtrak’s reply, with Russ Jackson’s reply to Amtrak, Paul Dyson response.
  • High Speed Rail update
  • Tri Weekly and the Heartland Flyer
  • Orange County developments
  • Arizona news
  • and more!
Events, Thruway Bus

RailPAC presentation to Amtrak’s Rick Peterson

On Wednesday September 2nd, a group of former colleagues gathered to join RailPAC’s Vice President, South, Paul Dyson, Vice President Long Distance Trains James Smith, and RailPAC member Mark Ehrhardt to commemorate Rick Peterson’s retirement.  Rick’s career at Amtrak spanned 44 years, but he is best known for his work in establishing and managing the Thruway bus network.  Because of the Pandemic Rick, like many other retirees, was unable to enjoy a celebration with his colleagues, so we hope that RailPAC helped to fill that gap.  Many messages were received from around California and the country from friends who were unable to attend.  Congratulations Rick, you will be missed by a lot of people.