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Brian Yanity

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.

Amtrak Long Distance, Antelope Valley Line, Arizona, CA Rail Statistics, Caltrain, Commentary, Editorials, Electrification, eNewsletter, High Speed Rail, LA Metro, LOSSAN, Metrolink/SCCRA, Metrolink/SCRRA, Nevada, Rail Technology, San Joaquin, SMART, Technical and Rolling Stock

Steel Wheels magazine, 2nd quarter 2020 available online

Download the pdf version of Steel Wheels, 2nd Quarter 2020 by clicking here.

In this issue:

  • RailPAC President’s Commentary on COVID-19 and passenger rail
  • California High Speed Rail Update
  • Amtrak pandemic “Lessons Learned” commentary
  • RailPAC recommendations for Nevada State Rail Plan
  • RailPAC’s recommended priority rail investments for California
  • California company makes progress with zero-emissions locomotives
  • Dick Spotswood commentary on SMART
  • Arizona News
  • “From the Real Platform” – Editor’s Column
  • LA Union Station – looking for a lower cost solution

Amtrak Long Distance, Commentary

Amtrak long distance trains: does less than daily make any sense?

Amtrak has recently requested additional funds to cover operating costs and reduced revenue because of the Covid-19 pandemic. A corollary to this request is a plan to reduce long distance service from daily (in most cases) to three or four times a week.

RailPAC President Steve Roberts replies:

Amtrak’s request for funds – How should advocates respond?

Identifying and defining the costs will be critical. Advocates should start first by strictly defining the assumptions and timeframe. The time frame Amtrak says it is addressing is a 9-12 month period (FY21) where overall travel demand remains substantially lower than normal and discretionary travel is dramatically less than has been seen historically. Ridership on the trains will average about 50% of historic norms. Assuming the roll-out of a vaccine or more consistent social protections and the slow continuation of an economic rebound in late winter/spring of 2021, there should be a steady growth in ridership by Summer of 2021. In short, we are looking at a one year event.

On the cost side there is a reason why this is important. It means the estimates of cost savings need to focus on short-term avoidable costs without allocated additives. (Additives are added to direct costs to account for overheads directly link with an activity, i.e. the cost of crew base management shared by many routes accounted for with an additive on for example a conductors salary cost, a specific known cost). When you make a change for only a year you save the cost of the conductor’s salary but the cost of the crew base remains. Any proposal to reduce service needs to focus on short-term avoidable costs – fuel, on-train wages, train supplies, turn around maintenance, etc. The decision should not be made based on fully allocate costs, i.e. backbone costs, that are allocated to train routes as part of the accounting process (A perfectly fine academic accounting exercise but totally useless for deciding tri-weekly vs daily).

Two revenue areas that are important.

The first is connections. It varies by route, but looking at arrivals at the major hubs around 30% of the riders are connecting to other trains. Many are connecting to corridor trains but many are also connecting to other long-distance trains. It is impossible to have all the long-distance trains operate tri-weekly and still have connectivity in Washington, Chicago, LA and Seattle. So that is a big loss in revenue from breaking those schedules. Only daily service can maintain the utility of the National Network.

The second is what is called “claw-back”. Claw back is the percentage of riders who will shift their travel date to match a tri-weekly schedule. Longer distance vacation/leisure travelers are those where the greatest percentage of riders will shift their travel days. For those traveling strictly for transportation, a lower percentage will shift. Sleeping car riders are more likely to shift, 300 to 500 mile coach travelers are the riders least likely to shift but will choose another mode. The key difference driving these differences is that leisure travelers are making longer duration trips with more options for layover days. Shorter distance travelers are making shorter duration trips where adding a day to match a train schedule can add 30% or more to the trip duration. Because there have been numerous instances of LD trains moving from daily to tri-weekly and then daily again Amtrak has data to correctly calculate “claw-back” should it choose to use it.

So why is this important? The answer is who is going to be traveling in FY 21? Will it be seniors taking long circle trips in sleeping cars around America or will it be coach passengers traveling between 300-500 miles on the long-distance trains, strictly for essential transportation, to handle personal business, a medical treatment, to help elderly parents, etc. The level of service required for this type of market in FY 21 is daily service. A tri-weekly train is exactly the wrong kind of service for the market in FY21.

Steve Roberts – RailPAC President

Commentary, LOSSAN, Metrolink/SCRRA, San Diego County

RailPAC comments at Metrolink special board meeting, May 29, 2020

Click here for Metrolink May 29, 2020 meet agenda link showing the Item 8, draft recovery plan.

May 28, 2020

Chair Brian Humphries and Board
Southern California Regional Rail Authority
Los Angeles, CA

SPECIAL BOARD MEETING FRIDAY 29 MAY, 2020 PUBLIC COMMENT

RailPAC, the Rail Passenger Association of California and Nevada has been a consistent supporter of regional rail service since 1978. We particularly welcomed the SCORE program, although we would rather have seen begun it in 1995 . We believe that CEO. Wiggins has put together a strong team capable of finally making Metrolink into a powerful regional transportation service, only to be frustrated and blown off course by Covid 19. But now is not the time to give up. The region still needs mobility and we cannot go back to the 60s.

We support the draft recovery plan in in general and would like to suggest a few additional points.

Health and safety – Consider the removal of some seat rows, b ot h to provide for greater physical separation between passengers and to off er more legroom. As load factors will be down there is no need for the cramped seating we currently “enjoy ”. RailPAC has received many complaints, especially about the Rotem cars, for longer journeys. Making the cars more comfortable will help win back passengers as well as improving separation.

Service coordination – Metrolink’s objective should be to squeeze as much productivity as possible out of every train mile. To accomplish this, we need improvements in coordination between agencies to reduce service overlap and to increase the service available to prospective passengers. This includes coordination with LOSSAN and Amtrak on the coast route, and NCTD Coaster connections at Oceanside.

Increasing service options- One of the big failings of Metrolink is the lack of connections at Los Angeles Union Station (“LAUS”). The necessary reduction in service can be an opportunity to expand the number of stations served from each origin point by timing trains to connect at LAUS, or by combining routes and offering through trains. The same train miles can thus be more productive. The statistics quoted in the recovery plan confirm that Metrolink cannot rely on its “classic” commute patrons alone. The market in Southern California is “everywhere to everywhere”, and Metrolink must start to use its network to better serve the region.

Yours sincerely,
SIGNED
Paul Dyson
Vice President, Southern California.

Central Coast, Coachella/Imperial Valleys, LA Metro, Nevada, North Coast, San Joaquin, Thruway Bus

RailPAC submits letter to San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority in response to proposed cuts to Thruway Bus Network

May 28, 2020

Honorable Vito Chiesa, Chair
San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority
949 East Channel Street
Stockton, CA 95202

May 29, 2020 SJJPA Board Meeting Agenda Item 7, Thruway Bus Network Changes

Dear Chair Chiesa and Board Members.

At this difficult time the Rail Passenger Association of California and Nevada recognizes that with the reduction in ticket revenues those managing the San Joaquin service face tough challenges in keeping the operation solvent. Maintaining the service while balancing cost reductions while maintaining ridership and ticket revenues will represent a major endeavor. And needless to say, after years working to get SB742 passed shrinkage of the Thruway Bus Network is disheartening.

While it is critical to reduce expenses near term, at some point the country and economy will recover. These Thruway bus service reductions should be seen as temporary. As the market regrows the cities that temporarily lose service should still be seen as part of the San Joaquin franchise. Service may take another form than today, but the SJJPA should still keep its broad “border to border” perspective.
RailPAC has reviewed the Thruway Bus Network write-up and has the following comments and recommendations. The overall comments/recommendations are:

  1. A major shortfall of the report is the lack of financial analysis. What are the estimates of the cost savings from this initiative, the ticket revenue losses?
  2. The implementation of changes authorized by SB742 should be accelerated. This period provides an opportunity to develop multiple partnerships, new markets and an expanded bus network;
  3. There are suggestions that there are opportunities for local transit agencies operating parallel routes being able to undertake replacement service. But these agencies are most likely undertaking similar service reductions to save expenses. Some of these service reductions may be routes suggested as Thruway Bus alternatives;
  4. SJJPA staff should undertake a review after 6-months to evaluate the impact of these changes and the success or failure in expanding SB742 to additional routes, developing partnerships with local transit agencies and Greyhound;
  5. At the 6-month review point, an outline of the timeline and strategy for returning full train and restoring Thruway bus service (where partnerships have not been developed) based on the information available at that time regarding the pandemic.

The comments and recommendations on the specific routes are:

• Route 7 – Elimination of stops at Rio Del-Scotia, Leggett and Laytonville; it is not clear how the elimination of these stops save any costs. All are located on two-lane stretches of US 101 which should facilitate stopping with limited time penalty. Also one of the talking points for SB742 was service to rural areas such as these towns. Finally, shouldn’t these stops remain while the Greyhound partnership is negotiated?

• Route 1b – Elimination of service to Long Beach and San Pedro; an interline agreement with LA Metro for its Silver Line and eventually the Blue Line would appear to offer a large expansion in connectivity to replace the bus route. Would it be possible to originate a Silver Line trip at the LAUS bus bays? Otherwise passengers would have to be provided detailed information on the Union Station stops and Silver Line stops. Major cities (i.e. Long Beach) could be shown in the Amtrak reservation system.

• Route 19 – Elimination of service to Hemet/Indio; these discontinuances would leave a large part of the Inland Empire without service. Many communities along the route are underserved from the transportation perspective. Recommend that this change be postponed until a service plan in conjunction with RCTC is developed. In addition an interline agreement Metrolink for the Indio branch is exactly the market opportunity that SB742 was designed to facilitate.

• Route 9 – Elimination of Las Vegas route; this would seem to be an opportunity to develop an interline service with Greyhound; direct Bakersfield to Las Vegas or via Los Angeles. Greyhound already has an interline agreement with Amtrak and one schedule currently stops at LA Union Station.

• Route 12 – Elimination of Victorville route; RailPAC recommends an effort to reengage with Kern Transit to retain Palmdale and Lancaster ridership.

• Routes 10, 18a and 18b Elimination of service to Santa Barbara and the Central Coast; RailPAC is concerned that the combination of these two initiatives eliminates service to the fast growing Central Coast reducing the San Joaquin franchise. Also there may be ramifications on the political side. RailPAC recommends revisiting doing the combination of both of these initiatives. Which route change saves the most in costs?

As was noted earlier RailPAC understands the challenges that staff faces and we hope our comments are productive. Let me know if you have any questions.

Yours truly,

Steve Roberts, President Rail Passenger Association of California and Nevada

cc: Dan Leavitt, SJRRC, RailPAC Board members

Commentary, High Speed Rail, San Joaquin

RailPAC submits comment letter on California High Speed Rail Authority’s Draft 2020 Business Plan

California High Speed Rail Authority’s Draft 2020 Business Plan was issued February 12, 2020.

The public comment period is open until June 1, 2020

RailPAC’s submitted public comment letter is below:

California High-Speed Rail Authority 
770 L Street, Suite 620
Sacramento, CA 95814

May 21, 2020

Dear CHSRA Board Members:

After review of the 2020 California High Speed Rail Business Plan and the proposed Interim Operating Plan, the Rail Passenger Association of California (RailPAC) recommends the Board adopt both the 2020 Business Plan and proposed Interim Operating Plan at its June Board Meeting.  RailPAC compliments CHSRA on their continued focus on delivering a broad integrated California transportation network with high-speed rail service as its core link.  

RailPAC applauds the statewide reach of the proposed network and the increase in frequencies that will make the rail mode more competitive with the automobile.  The improved and expanded ACE/San Joaquin/HSR network will reach all of California and leverage substantial synergies beyond the current individual systems.  This network also creates the most financially viable option for increased service reducing the required operating subsidy compared to the current standalone ACE and San Joaquin services. 

In addition, the Interim Operating Plan brings true high-speed service to California sooner than any alternative option.  It also demonstrates the potential of high-speed rail while facilitating early testing of equipment and operating systems speeding future expansion of service as future segments are constructed.  Finally, the construction and operation of high-speed rail Merced to Bakersfield will greatly benefit communities and cities in the San Joaquin Valley and allow them to move forward on re-visioning themselves as city center focused transit oriented cityscapes.

Outlined below are a few comments on plan details:

•             Page 64, third bullet, as part of system connectivity at Merced and Bakersfield also note connectivity at the Kings-Tulare HSR station to the Central Coast and eastern San Joaquin cities such as Visalia via the future Cross Valley Corridor plan;

•             Page 72, top column title, should be Memoranda not Memorandums;

•             Page 84, Faster Bay Area Initiative, given the recent pull-back this should be deleted or rewritten into a more generic “Future Funding via Local Initiatives” discussion.

The Rail Passenger Association of California and Nevada is a two-state organization with membership throughout California and Nevada. RailPAC is a strong advocate for an expanded comprehensive public transportation network serving the entire state of California as well as Nevada.. RailPAC is an all-volunteer non-profit passenger rail advocacy group, founded in 1978.

Thank you.

Yours truly,

Steve Roberts

President Rail Passenger Association of California and Nevada

cc: Brian Kelly, CEO California High-Speed Rail Authority
Stacey Mortensen, Executive Director San Joaquin Regional Rail Authority
Dan Levitt, Manager of Regional Initiatives San Joaquin Regional Rail Authority