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Brian Yanity

Caltrain, Commentary, San Francisco

RailPAC co-signs letter highlighting opportunities to cut the costs of extending Caltrain into the Transbay Terminal in downtown San Francisco

    May 14, 2020

    Dear Mayor Breed,

    This letter comes from groups committed to the idea that that getting Caltrain connected to 10 other rail lines and over 40 bus lines in downtown San Francisco would be a major move toward seamless transit and therefore deserving of a high priority.  The attached report discusses opportunities to productively reduce capital costs…..thereby increasing the chances of obtaining the public and private funding needed to build the project. Your help in focusing attention on these cost cutting opportunities, which would neither delay the project nor adversely affect future rail service, would be much appreciated.

    Sincerely,

    Gerald Cauthen

    Co-Founder and President

    Bay Area Transportation Working Group

    Endorsed by:

    Steve Roberts, President of RailPAC

    David Schonbrunn, President of TRAC

    Bob Feinbaum, President of SaveMuni

Subject: Streamlining the Caltrain Extension Project

During these difficult times of shutdowns and reduced resources, it is both necessary and prudent to conserve transit resources wherever and whenever possible.

With that in mind the Bay Area Transportation Working Group (BATWG) has updated its previous statements about the DTX project. There appear to be opportunities to significantly reduce costs without cutting into or otherwise undermining the passenger rail service into the Sales Force Transit Center. We are joined in these recommendations by the two preeminent rail advocacy organizations of California; namely, RailPAC and the Train Riders Association of California as well as by TRANSDEF, SaveMuni and other DTX supporters. These opportunities relate to the 4th and King Station, the proposed Pennsylvania Avenue subway extension, the Tunnel Plug and the subway under Second Street:

1.) The Fourth and King Station: In places where there are busy streets and sidewalks and no private land available, it is usually necessary to create an intermediate fare collection level between street grade and the train level. However in the case of the Fourth and King Station, there is a generous amount of at-grade space including an attractive at-grade existing terminal available between King and Townsend Streets. In this situation it would not be difficult to route people through fare gates and then to an escalator or stairway leading directly to the train level. To access the west end of the station there could be one or more entries along Townsend Street frontage where travelers would pass through fare gates and then descend to train level. Since the first vertical 30 feet of air space at the site between King and Townsend is under Caltrain control, arranging this should not be difficult to arrange. This change would save an estimated $300,000,000.

2.) The Pennsylvania Avenue Subway Extension: At the February 7, 2020 meeting of the Caltrain Joint Powers Board one of the individuals testifying questioned the need for a two-mile long, “$2 billion+” Caltrain subway under a PennsylvaniaAvenue alignment. As the caller implied it would be much cheaper to depress 16th Street and perhaps also Mission Bay Blvd under the existing tracks than dig two additional miles of parallel subway and tunnel.

The SF Department of City Planning’s 4.5 year long RAB study was completed late in 2018. In the early years the RAB planners were loudly critical of all aspects of the TJPA’s design. However, their proposals were discredited one-by-one, and eventually virtually all of them were quietly dropped.

Reportedly intent on showing a positive result for its effort, the RAB team latched onto parochial demands that 16th Street remain at grade and therefore proposed that the existing Caltrain surface alignment be shifted from its current location under the elevated I-280 freeway to a new subway alignment under Pennsylvania Avenue. In an effort to justify this odd decision, the RAB group claimed that the 16th Street underpass would have to be 60′ deep and over 3/4 of a mile long. When asked why the underpass couldn’t be 25 feet deep and 1/4 mile long as most underpasses are, RAB’s Project Manager made a vague reference to sewers in the street, but refused to elaborate. Subsequent written questions and comments on the subject were ignored. The official price put on RAB’s subway extension was “$2+ billion”. An auto underpass at 16th would provide the necessary grade separation without the need of building an entirely new two-mile long rail subway. Building the underpass, with elevated pedestrian/bicycle paths separated from traffic, would allow the surface mainline Caltrain and future high speed rail alignment to remain at grade.. Estimated savings: $1,800,000,000+.

3.) The Tunnel Plug: A few years ago it was decided to add $100,000,000 to the DTX budget to make things easier and less costly if the Pennsylvania alignment were ever built. In the event that it were determined that the Pennsylvania Avenue subway was not necessary the Tunnel Plug could be deleted for an additional savings of $100,000,000.

4.) Subway under Second Street: Second Street is not a particularly busy or fast- moving street, certainly not as jammed with traffic as First and Fremont are. Even so the plan has always been to tunnel most of the Second Street subway. However at the north end of the line where the tracks turn right into the six-track train terminal, the width of the trackway gradually increases to 165 feet. It would be extremely expensive and risky to attempt to tunnel this short section leading into the Sales Force Transit Center. It is estimated that cut and cover excavation at this location could be staged in a manner requiring that only half the street be closed at any one time…and then only until temporary street decking could be put in place. It is estimated that using cut-and-cover methods to excavate this northerly section of Second, as well as the section immediately to the east of the Fourth and King Station where it is too shallow to tunnel, would drop the cost by another $200,000,000.

It goes without saying that the more cost-effective the project the better the chances of attracting the capital needed to build it. We urge you to explore these possibilities.

Sincerely,

Gerald Cauthen

Antelope Valley Line, CalSTA TIRCP, Commentary, Metrolink/SCRRA

RailPAC Commentary on Metrolink Antelope Valley Line Improvements

RailPAC has been urging LA Metro and Metrolink to double truck the line between Burbank and Santa Clarita for more than two decades.  We finally have a down payment from the State, with some matching funds from other sources.  Why am I less than excited by this news?  Two and a half decades have passed since the start of Antelope Valley service after the Northridge earthquake, during which time hundreds of millions of dollars have been poured into widening Interstate 5 and State Route 14.  This weekend (April 25) Burbank Boulevard is closed while the bridge over I-5 is demolished for the second time to accommodate two more freeway lanes.  Meanwhile Metrolink has struggled for over twenty years with a predominantly single track railroad with consequent lack of capacity to build a robust, reliable service.

The 2020 Transit and Intercity Rail Capital Program (TIRCP) award still leaves single track between Sheldon Street and San Fernando/Sylmar station.  Between Van Nuys Boulevard and San Fernando Metro intends to build the East Valley light rail in the Metrolink right of way, and I am very concerned that they will use this as an excuse to defer this last bottleneck indefinitely.  In my view the Light Rail route is a mistake and a high risk idea, given that the route also hosts 15,000 ton Union Pacific rock trains from Little Rock on the Palmdale cutoff.  No doubt the consultants have demonstrated that it is possible, in theory, to run a certain number of frequencies over that single track, just as they have with Raymer Bernson on the Coast route through the San Fernando Valley.  The problem is that Metrolink has demonstrated that it is almost impossible to run an on time service in an urban area with poorly protected grade crossings and unreliable equipment.  Thus an early delay to the service will result in late trains all day.

In the report presented to the Metro Board in 2019, the route is broken up into sections for costing purposes.  The two gaps in double track that will be left after this round of construction are priced as follows:

Sheldon to Van Nuys Blvd.: $67 million.

Sylmar to Van Nuys Blvd. including Sylmar station: $47 million

It’s a lot of money for a little over 5 miles of track with no property acquisition.  One certainly wonders if it would be less if the contract were to be let as a single project from Burbank to Sylmar now, rather than break it into segments and then come back in a few years to bridge the gap.  I can only guess at the mobilization, demobilization and general overhead costs of multiple stages versus a continuous program.

But still, it’s a step forward.  It’s hard to believe that it has been 25 years since Mike McGinley and his team threw up some “instant” stations and bootstrapped a service while Caltrans rebuilt the 5/14 interchange.  These 25 years have been wasted, the agencies failing to capitalize on growing rail traffic and instead continuing the failed policy of investing in more lanes on the parallel freeway.  Let’s hope this investment will be successful in growing the passenger count, and not be too little, too late.

Paul Dyson

Vice President, South, RailPAC

Antelope Valley Line, CalSTA TIRCP, Central Coast, Electrification, LOSSAN, Metrolink/SCRRA, Rail Technology, San Diego County, Technical and Rolling Stock

2020 Transit and Intercity Rail Capital Program (TIRCP) Grants Awarded

This past week the California State Transportation Agency announced the 2020 grants distributed as part of the Transit and Intercity Rail Capital Program (TIRCP). Created by SB 862 in 2014, the TIRCP utilizes revenues from the State of the California’s cap-and-trade program and vehicle registration fees to fund capital projects that reduce greenhouse gases (GHGs) and increase transit and rail ridership.

More information is available on the TIRCP website.

Two major 2020 TIRCP awards for intercity and commuter rail were $107 million for improvements to Metrolink’s Antelope Valley Line (see RailPAC 4/26/2020 commentary), and $38.7 million to LOSSAN for new maintenance facilities in San Luis Obispo and San Diego counties along with overhaul and modernization Pacific Surfliner railcars.  Detailed description of these two major rail project awards are quoted below from the 2020 TIRCP Detailed Project Award Summary. A particularly positive detail in the San Luis Obispo maintenance facility description is where it was noted that “facility is also supportive of future service expansion to northern California once additional investments are made in improving the infrastructure on the Central Coast.”  This is one of the many small steps to build the foundation for frequent Central Coast – Bay Area service, which RailPAC has long supported.

Another TIRCP grant awarded to San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), with San Diego MTS & North County Transit District, includes $4.9 million in funding for Del Mar Bluffs Stabilization Project, which is critical to a reliable and safe corridor for passenger and goods movement.  This TIRCP funding will “expand the work achieved by Phase 5 of the Del Mar Bluffs Stabilization Project, in combination with other federal, state and local funds committed and being pursued for the project”.

Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LA Metro) and Southern California Regional Rail Authority (Metrolink)

Project: Metrolink Antelope Valley Line Capital and Service Improvements

Award: $107,050,000

Total Budget: $220,850,000

Estimated TIRCP GHG Reductions: 584,000 MTCO2e

The proposed Metrolink Antelope Valley Line Capital and Service Improvements Project will add targeted capacity-increasing infrastructure on the Antelope Valley Line, increase service in step with new capacity, and assess the feasibility of rail multiple unit and zero-emission propulsion service through a pilot project on the Metrolink Antelope Valley Line. The 4 infrastructure projects included allow Metro to initiate regular 60-minute, bi-directional service, followed by introduction of regular 30-minute bi-directional service from Los Angeles Union Station to Santa Clarita, in deployment waves that accelerate delivery of new service as planned under the Southern California Optimized Rail Expansion (SCORE) program.

The 4 infrastructure projects include:

1. Balboa Double Track Extension

2. Lancaster Terminal Improvements

3. Canyon Siding Extension

4. Brighton-McGinley Double Track

This award builds on the investment in Phase 1 of the Southern California Optimized Rail Expansion (SCORE) Program awarded in 2018 and expands those benefits. This award accelerates delivery of key AVL Projects, which provide regional “bookend” capacity for state-supported Intercity and High-Speed Rail, as well as significantly advances the County’s ability to integrate the regional rail system into the Metrolink station communities.

In addition, this project includes funding for a zero-emission rail multiple unit (ZEMU) equipment pilot to assess potential to provide more cost-effective and flexible rail service and reduce the carbon and emissions footprint of rail service. The ZEMU pilot tests rail technology in one of the more challenging Metrolink corridors due to topography, density, temperature variations and elevation differences between Lancaster and Los Angeles. If the pilot project is successful on this corridor, it will bode well for ZEMU operations throughout the entire Metrolink regional rail network and help provide data and performance measurements useful to other agencies in California seeking to implement similar ZEMU rail technology. Technical assistance will be provided by the California Department of Transportation to integrate rail demonstration pilot efforts with statewide rolling stock planning.

Over 1 million residents of the 3.3 million residents in the census tracts in the Antelope Valley station catchment areas are from Disadvantaged Communities. The AVL investments will improve rail mobility and access for these priority populations to major employment centers and other regional destinations, including Hollywood Burbank Airport.

Due to the extended timeline for delivery that goes beyond this cycle’s 5-year program (completion date: 2027), the project is expected to receive allocations over the life of the implementation schedule.

Los Angeles – San Diego – San Luis Obispo Rail Corridor Agency (LOSSAN)

Project: Building Up Control: LOSSAN Service Enhancement Program

Award: $38,743,000

Total Budget: $87,196,969

Estimated TIRCP GHG Reductions: 325,000 MTCO2e

Designs and constructs two new maintenance facilities in San Diego and San Luis Obispo that enable longer trains and better departure times to be operated out of both locations, contributing to both frequency and ridership growth for the Pacific Surfliner. Aligned with needs identified in the 2018 State Rail Plan.

Provides funding for design and construction of a dedicated maintenance, support and storage location for the Pacific Surfliner service in National City, at the southern end of the LOSSAN rail corridor. The facility will allow storage and maintenance of additional and longer trains (up to 7 7-car trains, or equivalent), increasing the efficiency and ridership of services into San Dan Diego. It also will move primary maintenance activities away from the Santa Fe Depot in San Diego, which is primarily surrounded by residential and commercial land uses. In addition, this new facility can be utilized by COASTER service to support service expansion goals within San Diego County, supporting additional opportunities for integration and connectivity to the regional transit network.

Provides for design and construction of an expanded maintenance and layover facility south of the station in San Luis Obispo, allowing for the storage and maintenance of additional and longer trains (up to 4 7-car trains, or equivalent). Allows for train movement between maintenance facility and station without impacting mainline passenger and freight train operations. Facility design and construction will be coordinated with the City of San Luis Obispo to integrate the facility into the community plan for the roundhouse district and provide the opportunity for the City to connect the surrounding development within the district to the station in San Luis Obispo by way of a pedestrian and bike trail that will also provide a natural barrier between the facility and the existing and planned developments within the district. Ability to maintain more trainsets in San Luis Obispo is aligned with the State Rail Plan and allows for better departure times that capture higher ridership. Facility is also supportive of future service expansion to northern California once additional investments are made in improving the infrastructure on the Central Coast. The San Luis Obispo investment is coordinated with additional investment through Proposition 1B and the State Transportation Improvement Program, reflected in the project matching funds.

As part of the overall scope of this project, state funding from the Public Transportation Account will be used to enhance the condition of the Pacific Surfliner fleet, providing a fleet that has improved reliability and meets customer expectations. Technical assistance will be provided by the California Department of Transportation to integrate maintenance facility planning with statewide rail planning, facility development, and fleet deployment efforts.

Project benefits are enhanced through complementary service improvements in the corridor awarded in previous years, which includes investments in signal optimization and various capital improvements which prepares the corridor for higher frequency services to be introduced by the Pacific Surfliner.

Due to the extended timeline for delivery that goes beyond this cycle’s 5-year program (completion date: 2026), the project is expected to receive allocations over the life of the implementation schedule.

Commentary

Coronavirus Relief Package Includes $1 Billion for Amtrak, $25 Billion for Transit Agencies

In late March 2020, RailPAC was one of over 240 signers from across the country (including elected officials, cities and organizations) on a letter written by Transportation for America (T4America) and the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).  The letter urged Congress to provide $13 billion in emergency funding for public transportation and passenger rail service.

Due to critical social distancing practices required to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, public transit and passenger rail agencies are experiencing significant decreases in ridership and farebox revenue while simultaneously incurring increased costs for additional cleaning.

The full letter is available to view here.  , and click here for more information on T4America’s admirable efforts to help secure this funding.  

Thankfully, the emergency funding which has since been awarded by Congress for transit and passenger rail meets or exceeds the amounts requested by both the national Rail Passenger Association and the American Public Transit Association.  It also includes help for states to offset lost ticket revenue from their state-supported passenger rail services.

Below is a good summary of the CARES act, quoted from the Rail Passengers Association’s March 27th weekly news:

Coronavirus Relief Package Includes $1 Billion for Amtrak, $25 Billion for Transit Agencies

The U.S. House voted to send the CARES Act to the president’s desk this afternoon, enacting a $2 trillion coronavirus relief package into law and providing critically needed financial assistance to rail and transit operators across the country. The bill (H.R. 748) provides Amtrak over $1 billion in aid to weather the precipitous drop in ridership, and directs $25 billion to the nation’s struggling transit providers—the largest single-year transit appropriation in U.S. history.

“I want to thank the members of Congress who supported this aid package for rail transportation on behalf of the more than 40 million passengers in the U.S. who depend on passenger rail to work and travel—whether it’s intercity, commuter, or transit,” said Rail Passengers President & CEO Jim Mathews. “While addressing the health crisis will always be the most important part of our response, it’s important that we all understand the gravity of the current moment for our nation’s infrastructure. If we want these services to be there when we start traveling and commuting normally, then the time to act is now.”

The funding directed by Congress to intercity rail operators and transit agencies in Phase 3 legislation meets or exceeds the levels outlined in the Rail Passengers’ COVID19 request. This financial aid includes:

Amtrak Grants – $1.018 billion

Northeast Corridor – $492 million;

National Network – $526 million;

State Supported Corridors: $239 million

Mass Transit Grants – $25 billion

Urban Area – 13.9 billion

Rural Area – $1.8 billion

State of Good Repair – $7.6 billion

Fast-Growth & High-Density State – $1.7 billion

We’re actively tracking any additional needs at RailPassengers.org/COVID19 , and will continue to work with Congress to ensure that these systems are able to return to full service once travel restrictions are eventually eased.

CA Rail Statistics, Commentary, Editorials, High Speed Rail, Issues, Rail Technology, Technical and Rolling Stock, Tracking Rail News

President’s Commentary – Key RailPAC priorities for 2020

By Steve Roberts – RailPAC President

[Originally published in Steel Wheels, 1st Quarter 2020]

Greetings!

In early January, members of the RailPAC Board developed options and came to a consensus on RailPAC’s policy priorities for 2020.  The two major ground rules were that the priorities had to be focused and actionable in 2020.  A list of about a dozen initiatives was consolidated and prioritized into four key priorities with two additional initiatives RailPAC will be following, but don’t appear to require RailPAC to take the lead.  RailPAC can offer support if the opportunity arises.

The four key 2020 RailPAC priorities are:

Surfliner Service Crisis and Vision – The recent collapse of the cliff at Del Mar clearly shows the threat of rising sea levels and more intense storms to Surfliner/Coaster service.  There is no future for the Surfliner/Coaster route at its current location.  Given the magnitude of relocation project, it needs to start now.  And the collapse of the cliff at Del Mar is not the only threat. The route is also threatened by the same forces at San Clemente.  In addition, the Surfliner route has not developed an expansive vision that would deal with both the climate change issue along with dramatically re-imaging the rail line as an faster, electrified, high-frequency, high capacity service that would incent transit oriented development, generate maximum ridership and contribute to enhancing travel capacity within the Southern California megaregion. Southern California RailPAC’s members are focused on calling attention to the immediate threat to the route as well as championing the development of a robust long-term vision of an interconnected high-performance auto competitive passenger rail system. 

California High Speed Rail Funding Strategy – Even though this initiative is one to watch rather than take the lead, Board members clearly felt it had high importance because of the magnitude of the HSR program. This initiative is both complex and challenging.  It is challenging because, unlike most discussions which often take place at the staff level (which RailPAC can influence with information), the high-speed rail funding discussion is taking place at the highest levels of the Newsom administration and legislature.  Add in the attempted “claw back” of funds from the administration in Washington and as they say “this is way above my pay grade”.  It is complex because all of the discussions and the power plays are happening legislator to legislator with only flashes of light as legislators on both sides make their cases or work behind the scenes for a compromise.  RailPAC will keep members updated and stand ready to weigh in on this issue at the appropriate time.

Daily Sunset Campaign – One thing I think all RailPAC members can agree on is tri-weekly service for a long-distance train route generates sub-par ridership and ticket revenue results.  So not surprisingly, this initiative was identified as a key priority for RailPAC in 2020.  Building on the grassroots outreach over the past few years by advocates along the I-10 corridor, 2020 will see a new phase of the daily Sunset Limited campaign.  Details are outlined in an article on page XX of this issue of Steel Wheels.                

SCORE/Metrolink Vision – SCORE, Southern California Optimized Rail Expansion program, is a $10 billion capital program that will upgrade the Metrolink system, adding additional tracks, grade separations, signal work and investments to facilitate zero-emissions operations.  Currently Metrolink is working on rail operations modeling; development of design alternatives, identifying and prioritizing proposed capacity improvements, undertaking preliminary engineering and the environmental assessment for the proposed projects.  SCORE service goals would deliver faster, more reliable service with greater frequencies system wide and high frequencies within the core network.  This initiative will be being championed by RailPAC’s Southern California members who are especially focused on developing a robust long-term vision of an interconnected high-performance auto competitive transit system.  Near-term goals for these members is advocating for the timely completion of the third main track Hobart to Fullerton including the Fullerton interlocking project, double tracking of the Antelope Valley and Ventura lines and a new station at Pacoima.

Initiatives being monitored:

Several initiatives proposed as 2020 priorities were not rated as highly as the others listed above but they still are important.  These are:

Dumbarton Transportation Corridor (Dumbarton Bridge) – The Dumbarton Transportation Corridor is a critical connection linking San Joaquin Valley and East Bay housing to job centers in southern San Mateo County and northern Santa Clara County.  The current highway bridge is at or near capacity with job growth continuing.  Building a replacement rail line and bridge utilizing the current rail right-of-way would add substantial cross bay capacity to this corridor while facilitating connections and/or direct service from several existing high-capacity transit operators – Bay Rapid Transit District (BART), Caltrain, Capitol Corridor and Altamont Commuter Rail (ACE).  From the transit perspective the lack of service on this corridor represents a critical gap in network connectivity.  Because of these connectivity benefits, RailPAC considers this an important priority.  Currently the project is undergoing the Environmental Review Process so advocacy opportunities are limited until the report draft is completed.  RailPAC’s Northern California members will be monitoring this project.

Mental Health/Homelessness/Security – For riders on intercity and commuter rail their “final mile” is most likely on transit and/or walking.  In addition to being concerned about this as a social justice issue, RailPAC members are also concerned about how mental health and homelessness impacts the perception of security both on-board and around transit stations.  This perception results in lower ridership and thus reduces the community benefits from the large investments in transit systems.  There appear to be several initiatives underway in Sacramento in an attempt to address these issues.  While RailPAC has no expertise to offer solutions to mental health and homelessness, RailPAC can comment on the impacts of failing to address these issues.  RailPAC will stand ready to support any legislative action around these issues.

Freight Rail Carrier Cost Shifting – This priority focuses on actual and proposed changes in rail freight operations, long-mega trains and single person operator freight trains that potentially have significant negative public impacts.  The issue is not so much the changes to operations, but the implementation of these changes without the investments by the freight railroads to mitigate the potential public impacts of these changes; i.e. blocked crossings and delays to passenger trains.  In effect the freight railroads are shifting the costs of these operational changes, which should be internal and borne by the carriers, to the general public.  While RailPAC has no expertise in the specifics of rail freight operations and investments to mitigate the negative impact of these operational changes, RailPAC can attest to the public costs of these changes.  RailPAC will stand ready to support any legislative action around these issues.

 

CA Rail Statistics, Commentary, High Speed Rail, Issues, Rail Technology, Reports

RailPAC submits comment letter on Connect SoCal – The 2020-2045 Regional Transportation Plan/Sustainable Communities Strategy

The Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) regional transportation plan is nearing completion. As described by SCAG’s Connect SoCal website:

“Connect SoCal – The 2020-2045 Regional Transportation Plan/Sustainable Communities Strategy is a long-range visioning plan that balances future mobility and housing needs with economic, environmental and public health goals. Connect SoCal embodies a collective vision for the region’s future and is developed with input from local governments, county transportation commissions (CTCs), tribal governments, non-profit organizations, businesses and local stakeholders within the counties of Imperial, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura.

What is at the heart of Connect SoCal are over 4,000 transportation projects—ranging from highway improvements, railroad grade separations, bicycle lanes, new transit hubs and replacement bridges. These future investments were included in county plans developed by the six CTCs and seek to reduce traffic bottlenecks, improve the efficiency of the region’s network and expand mobility choices for everyone.

Connect SoCal is an important planning document for the region, allowing project sponsors to qualify for federal funding. The plan takes into account operations and maintenance costs, to ensure reliability, longevity and cost effectiveness.”

As part of SCAG’s public comment process on the Draft Connect SoCal plan in January, RailPAC submitted the following letter (click here for pdf version) in response to the draft version of the plan’s Passenger Rail report.

January 18, 2020

Draft Connect SoCal Plan Comments
Attn: Connect SoCal Team
Southern California Association of Governments
900 Wilshire Blvd., Ste. 1700
Los Angeles, CA 90017
Re: Connect SoCal 2020 RTP/SCS, Passenger Rail Technical Report

Dear Connect SoCal Team:

The Rail Passengers Association of California & Nevada (RailPAC) welcomes the opportunity to provide input to the Connect SoCal 2020 Regional Transportation Plan/Sustainable Communities Strategy. The Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) is in a unique position to encourage the state, county and local governments to work together to improve passenger rail service in Southern California.

RailPAC offers the below comments on the Connect SoCal Passenger Rail report.

The Passenger Rail report’s Vision and Purpose (p. 2) sets a very positive tone for passenger rail in the SCAG region over the next few decades, with goals to grow ridership and provide more frequent, and new, rail services.

RailPAC has always focused on intercity passenger service and regional rail. While it is important to move large numbers of people short distances by transit, it is equally beneficial to the community to move smaller numbers of passengers over relatively longer distances. An intercity train journey of 70 miles or more is the equivalent to 13 transit journeys in terms of vehicle miles avoided. Investment in Intercity and Regional Rail in the SCAG region has been totally inadequate for the past three decades. We still are trying to operate a modern service with many miles of single-track railroad. The approach to Los Angeles Union Station, the hub of the network, is circuitous and serpentine, unnecessarily adding 5 to 10 minutes to every journey. A bypass track is needed to avoid the near sea level alignment through San Clemente, a serious capacity constraint on the key route between California’s two largest cities.

Detailed comments:

Metrolink SCORE (pgs. 34-41)-

The Metrolink SCORE program is a welcome and long overdue step forward. It can transform Metrolink from a commuter-oriented system (focused on rush hour service to Downtown LA and Irvine) to a truly regional rail system with frequent service in all directions, 7 days a week, from early in the morning to late at night.

These SCORE projects need to expedited, and funding needs to be clearly identified:
• Laguna Niguel/Mission Viejo Siding (OCTA)
• Raymer to Bernson Double Track (LA Metro)
• Brighton to Roxford Double Track (LA Metro)
• Doran Street Grade Separation (LA Metro)
• Lone Hill to White Double Track (LA Metro)
• Placentia Metrolink Station (OCTA)

LOSSAN Corridor Rail Service (pg. 28), San Diego to Orange County market:

SCORE needs to be integrated with LOSSAN and Surfliner. Due to the huge amount of traffic exchanged between SCAG and SANDAG every day, there should be a pooled Coaster/Metrolink additional service San Diego to Fullerton (stopping at Fullerton avoids the frequency conflict on the BNSF with the 91 line slots). The pool trains would connect to the Metrolink 91 and Orange County line trains at Fullerton, on continue to LA Union Station. SCAG and the LOSSAN agency should actively encourage this pooling of Metrolink and Coaster rolling stock and services, and start a working group on it with NCTD or SANDAG. Such a working group would figure out technical issues such as equipment compatibility between Coaster and Metrolink, voltage of hotel power, position of wheelchair ramps, position of locomotive on the train, etc.

New passenger rail services (pgs. 27-28)-

• Los Angeles to Coachella Valley-
This service is long overdue. There is an urgent need to start discussions with UP on the infrastructure upgrades needed. For the distance involved and the kind of traffic an intercity service similar to Surfliner is appropriate, rather than Metrolink regional rail.

• Victorville to Las Vegas/High Desert Corridor-
SCAG should work with Los Angeles County, San Bernardino County, and Virgin Trains USA to connect the Victorville-Las Vegas train to the Palmdale station via the proposed High Desert Corridor.

• Coast Daylight/ Coast Rail Coordinating Council (CRCC)
RailPAC supports restoration of the Coast Daylight if a competitive transit time can be
achieved.

• Southwest High-Speed Rail Network (pgs. 28-30)
The 2014 study recommended a CA-AZ-NV volunteer passenger rail policy and planning group, and a ‘blue ribbon commission’ to study a Phoenix-Southern California Corridor. RailPAC would like to participate in this, if such a commission is created to start implementing an LA-Phoenix service (and not just another study).

Amtrak-

Pg. 8-
Exhibit 1 Amtrak services – Why not show Amtrak stations on the map?

Pg. 9-
Needs updating after passage of SB742 re Thruway buses.
The report does not explain the extensive State role in LOSSAN and refers to the service as “Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner”.

Pg. 22-

Pacific Surfliner On-Time-Performance (OTP):

The Surfliner OTP statistics need tighter metrics than 10 minutes or 15 minutes off of schedule.

The Metrolink OTP standard (pgs. 22-23) is 6 minutes off schedule.

Not surprisingly, the report makes no mention of the pitifully small market share of both intercity or commuter rail, nor does it mention the lack of connectivity between Metrolink routes at LA Union Station. 3 million a year is about 4100 round trips a day, 8200 single rides, in a population catchment of at least 16 million. That’s not even a rounding error 0.06%). 46 mph and 69% OTP factor in.

Metrolink’s story on pgs. 22 and 23 is similar, a tiny percentage of journeys in the region. Also, the definition of commuter rail (pg. 11) is completely out of date with modern travel patterns and needs to be updated to a definition of “regional rail”.
Hollywood Burbank North Station (pg.24) – the airport no longer provides a shuttle to meet every train, on demand only. The station will not be used by HSR and will most likely be demolished hen the second track is added.

California High Speed Rail (pgs. 12-15)-

SCAG should press for completion of the Southern California tunnels as soon as possible. First priority is Antelope Valley to San Fernando Valley which will initiate high speed regional service.

Los Angeles to San Diego – this Phase Two section needs to be accelerated, especially in light of the ongoing erosion of the Del Mar bluffs. In addition, the existing LOSSAN route needs a bypass track to take the line away from the near sea level section at San Clemente. This single track is both vulnerable to sea level rise and is a serious capacity bottle neck.

Locomotives-

The paragraph ‘Tier 4 Locomotives and Electrification’ (pg. 12) implies that the 40 diesel F125 locomotives purchased recently will be the only locomotives that Metrolink will operate for the next 30 years. However the quantity of 40 locomotives is not nearly enough for the level of service increases that Metrolink is proposing over the next 10 years. Metrolink is expecting rapid growth in its train frequency, under its SCORE funding plan the Orange county line currently at less than 1 train per hour (13 trains per day), will have minimum frequencies of 2 trains per hour in 2025 and 4 trains per hour by the 2028 Olympics, for example. The existing fleet of several dozen diesel locomotives is not enough to support this growth. Even if Metrolink had the amount of diesel locomotives needed, it still doesn’t justify delaying electrification. Continuing to run a 100% diesel fleet for the next two decades will not be environmentally or socially acceptable. At the very least a hybrid solution of a battery locomotive supplementing a diesel will help meet air quality and carbon goals.

There need to be more federal, state and locally-funded programs that could support zero-emission locomotive research and development (R&D) projects and technology demonstration projects. There are plenty of incentives and R&D programs, at both the state and federal levels, supporting electric cars and trucks. By contrast, public R&D funding opportunities for electric rail technologies are few and far between. Southern California should be a leader in zero-emissions, electric rail technology, and SCAG could be a major advocate for this technology.

Freight Rail Operations (pgs. 16-17)-

It is commendable that SCAG recognizes that freight rail infrastructure investments have great public benefit. RailPAC fully supports expansion of freight rail capacity and new grade separations on shared corridors, as this will reduce potential for congestion conflicts and delays to passenger trains. More capacity also allows more passenger trains to run.

One issue that needs attention is the safety and reliability impacts of Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR) practices of several of the Class I railroads, notably Union Pacific (UP) in Southern California. UP in particular is adopting so-called PSR to cut costs, running longer and heavier trains, two miles or more in length, which are slower to accelerate. There are several reasons that the longer trains are not in the public interest. First of all, the waiting times for vehicles and pedestrians at the various UP railroad crossings on roads and streets in the SCAG region are getting longer. This inconveniences the public (hundreds of people at a time), creates more pollution from idling vehicles, and harms the flow of local commerce. It also makes it more difficult to share the tracks with passenger trains, which end up running late because of long slow trains taking up so much space on the rails. PSR’s focus on short term profit is a danger to the future of rail transportation, and is leading to corners being cut on safety. Over 100 long freight trains pass through the SCAG region each day.
The use of the term “freight railroads” is inappropriate and misleading. “Common Carrier Class I Railroads” should be used.

Thank you for your consideration.
Sincerely,

Paul Dyson
Vice President, Southern California
Rail Passengers Association of California & Nevada (RailPAC)

Events, Steel Wheels Conference

Fullerton hosts the 2019 Steel Wheel Conference of the Rail Passenger Association of California and Nevada (RailPAC)

[This post was originally published as an article in the Mid October 2019 edition of the Fullerton Observer newspaper]
Cleve Cleveland of OCTA describing the OC Streetcar project (photo: Brian Yanity)

On September 28th, 2019, over 50 rail transportation advocates from around the state gathered for the annual 2019 Steel Wheels Conference of the Rail Passenger Association of California and Nevada (RailPAC) at the Fullerton Old Spaghetti Factory (the former Union Pacific depot).

RailPAC promotes the development of a modern, sustainable, environmentally friendly passenger rail system through education of the public and government officials.  Fullerton city council member Ahmad Zahra, whose district includes the train station, welcomed the attendees and described the role of Santa Fe Railway in the establishment of Fullerton.  Zahra said “we are trying to improve public transportation, and part of it is looking at our trains, and our train station… We want to encourage people to ride trains more”.  He emphasized the role of local government in improving the passenger’s experience at the train station with adequate pedestrian infrastructure and connecting bus service.

Carrie Schindler. Director of Transit and Rail at San Bernardino County Transportation Authority, gave a presentation on the ‘Arrow’, a 9-mile passenger rail line under construction between Redlands and San Bernardino, scheduled to start running in 2022. The Arrow will start with three new diesel-powered small ‘multiple-unit’ trains, along with one experimental hydrogen-powered train, made by Swiss manufacturer Stadler Rail.

Rick Meade, Senior Executive Officer – Program Management at the LA Metropolitan Transportation Authority, presented on the 13 large-scale rail transit projects in Los Angeles County planned to be completed before the 2028 Olympics. Cleve Cleveland, Department Manager for Orange County Streetcar Operations for OCTA, spoke about the construction of the OC Streetcar project, which is now under construction between Santa Ana and Garden Grove. Expected to begin operations in 2022, the OC Streetcar will be the first electric rail transit system to run in Orange County since the last Pacific Electric “Red Car” to Santa Ana ran in 1950.

RailPAC president Steve Roberts described efforts by rail passenger advocates in different states collaborating on saving the nation’s long distance trains, such as the Southwest Chief which stops in Fullerton, from cancellation by Amtrak management. Congress continues to provide funding for Amtrak long-distance trains, despite opposition from the Trump administration. Roberts and former RailPAC president Paul Dyson also gave updates on the LOSSAN (or Pacific Surfliner) corridor rail Los Angeles-San Diego services which serve Fullerton. Over the next year, the number of daily Amtrak Surfliner trains which stop in Fullerton will soon increase to 13, up from 12 currently, and several more Fullerton-LA daily trains on Metrolink will be added.