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RailPAC response to Newsom speech

 

RailPAC Response to Governor Newsom – February 13, 2019

The Future of Modern, Efficient, Intercity Passenger Rail in California

RailPAC supports Governor Newsom’s action in changing the leadership of the High -Speed Rail Authority.  After a decade it is clearly time for a change.  Reprioritizing the high-speed rail project toward the completion of an operable segment (Merced to Bakersfield) with direct connections to Northern California’s other rail services, is a positive development bringing clear achievable goals to the project.  This focus should advance the timeline for public operations and in doing so will bring improved rail service and transportation capacity to California travelers, especially those residing in the San Joaquin Valley.

 

However, we are concerned that his comments seem to indicate that he would be satisfied with a segment within the San Joaquin Valley that would not connect to any of the four largest cities in the State.  Such a route would have little prospect of covering its operating costs.  We believe that the minimum system that would deliver significant transportation benefits would be San Francisco to Bakersfield.

 

RailPAC also strongly supports, as part of the refocus, a process to initiate the connection between the San Joaquin Valley and Silicon Valley.  The San Joaquin Valley needs the link to jobs and major international airports, and the Peninsula needs access to the workforce and the housing in the San Joaquin Valley.  The Governor should put pressure on Silicon Valley business to help finance the link, as well as the federal government.  While we agree with the Governor that it will take time; that is all the more reason to start as soon as possible.  This is especially true given California’s growing economy and projected 25% population increase in the next 30 years.

 

RailPAC has always championed the careful stewardship of public transportation funds.   As such RailPAC applauds the Governor’s initiatives to dramatically improve the project’s oversight, transparency and governance.   One issue that needs to be addressed, and one that affects housing projects as well, is the barrage of lawsuits that delay and drive costs for vital infrastructure initiatives.

 

Meanwhile in the south, work should continue modernizing Los Angeles Union Station for both regional and intercity rail, and the elimination of bottlenecks on the main regional routes.  RailPAC believes in the creation of robust regional passenger rail networks in both northern and southern California, to linked by a new, efficient, high speed route in incremental stages.

 

The Rail Passenger Association of California and Nevada is a 501c3 volunteer group that, since 1978, educates the public about the benefits of passenger rail transportation.

Contact: info@railpac.org

Paul Dyson, President 818 371 9516

 

Commentary

Newsom cuts High Speed Rail – or does he?

Paul Dyson writes:

The dust hasn’t settled yet on the State of the State speech, and over the years I have become a committed believer in letting the dust settle.  The initial reaction from many is that HSR is dead, but I don’t think the story is over.  In the next few days RailPAC will be contacting State and other officials to try and get the inside story.  The Los Angeles Times is already using the word “postponement”, and that’s the way it’s beginning to look for us.  Keep in touch with RailPAC as we provide an in depth analysis in the next few days.  There is more to this than the headlines.

https://www.latimes.com/politics/la-pol-ca-governor-gavin-newsom-state-of-the-state-20190212-story.html

Commentary, High Speed Rail

High Speed Rail Board Comes to Burbank

CHSRA Board Meeting November 15, 2018 Burbank

While I was not able attend the recent Board meeting of the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) I did view the video and as President of the Rail Passenger Association of California (RailPAC) I wanted to provide my impressions of the meeting and public comments.  The overall emotion projected by the public was one of being overwhelmed, stressed and thrust into a universe they did not chose.  However, the reality we face, traffic and gridlock, is the result of decades of independent decisions from the first subdivision in the San Fernando Valley, the arrival of Mulholland’s water, growth of the movie industry, the aerospace industry, the impact of freeways in generating suburban sprawl, etc.  California is the 5th largest economy in the world and much as we might want we can’t roll back the clock or freeze it in place.  I think a comment made by a landowner at Northern California CHSRA Board sums up the situation pretty well.  That landowner, who is losing part of his property to high-speed rail, said “there is no good route; there is only the least worst route.”  That phase applies not only to the route segments in Southern California but to the choice of high-speed rail made in 2005.  Other mode improvements, more highways, more airport runways, maglev and the no project alternative, all were found wanting.  High-capacity, high-speed rail was found to be the option with the greatest benefits with the least impact on the environment.

So in dealing with the statewide issue of infrastructure investment, the task falls to the public along the Southern California high-speed rail route segments working in collaboration with Authority staff to address key lineside issues.  Making the current situation worse is that while the high-level regional trade-offs have decided that the Refined SR-14 and existing rail corridors is the” least worse route”, the local neighborhood impacts, the ones that really impact people’s lives (noise, concerns regarding vibration, Valley Fever, dust, wildlife impacts, etc.), are now front and center.

Resolving these issues with design strategies and mitigation is the key task in the next phase of the environmental study.  The public provided excellent input on the issues and they are to be congratulated.  RailPAC encourages members of the public to remain involved because the result will be a better less impactful railroad.  As Chair Dan Richard and Board Member Tom Richards outlined at the end of meeting, this type of collaboration has taken place in the San Joaquin Valley with projects to improve wetlands, easements to protect farmland from development, replace old polluting diesel water pumps, tractor and bus engines with new cleaner engines, initiatives to protect wildlife, etc.  This effort is collaborative requiring creativity and compromise.  So using the San Joaquin example, the focus now should be on how to develop designs and mitigations that offset the rail line’s local impact.  For example, is there critical wildlife habitat now in private hands that could be protected?  What is the best location for the Santa Clara River bridge supports, how can dust be minimized, how can homeowners achieve confidence in the risk of tunneling under their homes, etc.
1.

Ironically, the greatest threat to wild areas and equestrian neighborhoods is auto driven suburban sprawl with its huge demands for space.  The pressure for more land is tremendous and history clearly shows that what might be safe now may in fact not be.  High-speed rail and improved commuter rail with its focus on urban core development may, in fact, be the best ally to rural landowners and those who want to protect wildlife.

Finally, I was disappointed by the statements provided by national, state and local public officials.  In my opinion they did not show the leadership and creativity that the issue requires.  All claim to support efforts to improve transportation and fight carbon emissions, yet when a transformative project is presented to deal with these issues, they uniformly supported the politically safe option, an extremely expensive tunnel from Sunland to LA.  These legislators are creating false hope for their constituents.  A full-length tunnel will not generate the benefit that justifies the cost and potentially leaves in place the current rail line with surface crossings, blaring warning horns and diesel exhaust.  The current CHSRA proposal is the “least worse” option.  It focuses at improving the corridor as a whole eliminating dangerous grade crossings and warning horns, with targeted mitigation of noise issues.  RailPAC also feels the project lays the foundation for converting Metrolink and Amtrak trains to clean electric traction.  By integrating high-speed rail tracks and current rail tracks into one unified high-capacity 4-track rail line, additional Metrolink and Amtrak service can be operated.  RailPAC recommends stakeholders between Burbank and Anaheim also should work with Authority staff and begin focusing on targeted on affordable mitigation and tradeoffs.

The Rail Passenger Association of California concurs with the Board’s vote on Thursday November 15th and supports the forward movement on high-speed rail in California.

Paul Dyson, 11/19/18

Amtrak National Network Campaign 2018, Commentary

Southwest Chief – Too Early to Claim Victory

Some of you may have received a post from Jim Mathews of RPA claiming a victory in the fight for the Southwest Chief.  We urge caution and continued vigilance.

Here’s a more realistic assessment from Evan Stair from Passenger Rail Kansas:

THE TRUTH COMES OUT – BUS BRIDGE WAS NOT FOR SAFETY

Apparently, and we already knew this, Amtrak was proposing a bus-bridge to reduce costs, not for safety reasons. When will profitability deception end?

Amtrak was created in a tailspin. It now seems to be ignoring the will of a bipartisan, bicameral group of federal lawmakers who are not asking it to make a profit, but to continue operating services defined in federal code.

Congress, aka representative government, should make decisions regarding what US passenger rail services are operated, not the OIG. The OIG here seems to support Amtrak’s tailspin business plan. Is the OIG, Amtrak board, and Amtrak executive staff still running on 47 years of momentum that says it must cut its way into oblivion?  What a circus.

Page 19 of OIG report:

“To help stem long-distance operating losses and to further increase the company’s utility for the traveling public, the company’s corporate planning group is reassessing the entire nationwide route structure. However, adjusting the route structure in ways that would reduce operating losses could be difficult. Making these changes will require balancing the company’s historical role of providing reliable intercity passenger rail service on a nationwide basis against the need to operate efficiently. For example, the company is considering a plan to eliminate part of its service on the Southwest Chief route between Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Dodge City, Kansas, and instead to bus passengers between the two cities. The company has identified the Southwest Chief as among the routes that generate the most losses—almost $56 million in FY 2017. As the company proceeds with its strategic assessment, it will likely encounter similar difficult choices that have substantial cost and customer service implications.”

Amtrak OIG Report Link:

https://amtrakoig.gov/sites/default/files/reports/OIG-SP-2018-011%20Management%20Challenges%20FY2019%20and%202020_0.pdf

For those of you who are on Facebook, watch Amtrak COO Scot Naparstek, continue to tell US Senator Tom Udall that Amtrak does not want the $16 million TIGER IV Grant… Amtrak just wants to continue discussing the matter.

https://www.facebook.com/senatortomudall/videos/290443504898417/

Evan Stair,President,Passenger Rail Kansas,Passenger Rail Oklahoma

The key here is Naparstek’s refusal to affirm that Amtrak will contribute the $3 million match to the TIGER grant so that work can begin on upgrading the track between Dodge City and Albuquerque.  As I read it, Amtrak is hoping that the so called “victory” will evaporate in the coming months through the budget and committee process so that Amtrak can continue with their policy of truncating the route.  Listen carefully to Naparstek’s answers, keeping in mind Anderson’s policy statements from the April Los Angeles summit.  There is no firm commitment to anything.  Amtrak “plans” to run the Chief until September 30, 2019, but of course plans can change.  Amtrak clearly does not say that they will honor their commitment of the $3 million and work with the other stakeholders to fix the infrastructure.

So where does RailPAC stand?  In the last issue of Steel Wheels Dick Spotswood called for Amtrak to be split, putting the Northeast Corridor (“NEC”) into a separate organization.  Remember that when Amtrak was created the NEC was still in private hands and was only dumped on Amtrak as a result of the bankruptcy of the northeastern railroads, notably PennCentral. No other entity wanted this extremely costly piece of infrastructure that had suffered from years of deferred maintenance.  Well, instead of sucking the lifeblood from the national passenger train network, it’s time for the NEC to find a new sugar daddy.  We MUST do all we can to ensure that business as usual does not rule policy decisions to be taken next year when re-authorization is due.  Simply renewing Amtrak’s current mandate and throwing money at them will not give us the service that we desire.

We have had preliminary discussions with like minded groups regarding forming a Steel Wheels Coalition to fight this battle, especially for the western states.  I’ll be traveling to Topeka Kansas next week for a rail summit with leaders from New Mexico, Kansas, Colorado and other states to seek common ground. Our success in bringing about the passage of Senate Joint Resolution 30, and language in the California State Rail Plan,  reassures me that at least California is firm in its support for the National Network.

Paul Dyson

pdyson@railpac.org

Commentary

Steel Wheels Conference This Saturday 9/29/18 – Sacramento State Railroad Museum

Don’t miss this year’s conference!  We have over 60 people registered and it will be sure to be an interesting day.

Coffee and light refreshments and registration/check in will be available from about 9.30am at the Stanford Gallery.  The event itself is in the Museum Auditorium which opens at 10, the program will start at 10.30.  You can also check in at the Museum after 10am.  Box lunches will be served in the Stanford Gallery. (Only bottled water may be consumed int the auditorium).

I look forward to seeing you all, meeting old friends and I hope making some new ones.

Paul Dyson

Commentary

RailPAC’s Senate Joint Resolution is Adopted by Both Houses

This was our first attempt for many years to obtain legislative support for our position re the National Network interstate trains.  It was heavily amended by Assembly staff and some of the stronger language removed.  I would have pushed back on some of the changes but we had only two weeks to line up support before the session ended at the end of August.  It’s still a useful statement and a powerful contribution in the fight for the National Network.

http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=201720180SJR30

 

Amtrak National Network Campaign 2018, Commentary

Another unanswered letter – RailPAC to Amtrak Chair Coscia

In this letter I tried to be polite, and not as hostile as I might have been.  At about the same time as this was sent the New Jersey ARP wrote specifically calling for Anderson’s dismissal.  There is now a clear pattern, as reported by Bill Vantuono of Railway Age, of simply ignoring the media and advocacy groups.  Difficult questions?  Easiest answer is to ignore them.

Here’s what I wrote to Coscia:

Mr. Anthony Coscia                                                                                                            13th July, 2018

Chairman of the Board

National Railroad Passenger Corporation

60 Massachusetts Avenue NE

Washington DC 20002-4285

 

Dear Mr. Coscia:

 

RailPAC is a 501c3 all volunteer California corporation that has, since 1978, campaigned for the improvement of mobility for all by increased passenger rail service.  We support the National Network of overnight trains as well as regional and commuter services.  We are recognized at State and local level as having been influential in the establishment and expansion of rail passenger service in California, and for having considerable expertise among our members.

It is our understanding that public policy, enunciated in legislation in 1971 and confirmed many times since, is for the United States to have a National Network of passenger trains, to be operated by NRPC.

It appears to us that, by his statements and actions, your recently appointed CEO Mr. Richard Anderson is not aware of the support for the National Network among many key constituencies, or the negative financial consequences and loss of political support if the national route structure is destroyed. In his interactions with the congressional delegates from Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico, he seems to have been so badly briefed by his staff that the presentation made by NRPC contained deliberately deceptive statements that amounted to falsehoods in their description of the performance of the Southwest Chief. It is hard for my organization to imagine that this is the intention of you and your board.

Over the years the National Network of overnight trains has been blamed for Amtrak’s deficits.  We disagree.  The National Network generates more passenger miles and revenue than the Northeast Corridor and is mostly hampered by being starved of investment and freight railroad issues for at least two decades.  You and your Board should remember that the NEC was not part of the original Amtrak and that it was dumped on the company in 1976, because no other agency wanted to take on the crippling backlog of infrastructure repairs.  With $300 – $400 million in yearly maintenance costs and $30 to $50 Billion in state of good repair and capacity needs, it’s the NEC that is the burden on Amtrak, not the National Network.

Part of Mr. Anderson’s announced policy is to operate medium distance corridors in “partnership” with the States.  Again, he appears to have been given a very poor analysis of the State’s appetite for participation in such ventures.  Surely the Board, in its experience, does not expect States like Arizona and Kansas to pay for a rail service which is currently a federal program?  Look at recent events in Alabama.  Yet this seems to be what he is proposing. Indeed, if the National Network no longer exists, what need would California have for Amtrak? The National Network is a federal program and should remain so, even if this requires amending PRIIA legislation.

We cannot say whether Mr. Anderson’s statements and policies are the result of information he is receiving from officers of the company, from direction of the Board, or from other influences. NRPC Board should immediately issue a clarification.  Is it still the role of NRPC to operate a National Network of passenger trains?  If so, you need to give direction to your CEO to carry out that policy. You may also wish to institute some inquiries regarding the information that was given to Congress regarding the Southwest Chief.

RailPAC will not blindly support NRPC policy; indeed, we will actively oppose the destruction of the National Network, which is a national asset whose full potential is yet to be realized and we will make every effort to prevent the expenditure of any state funds to pay for interstate rail service.

Yours faithfully,

ORIGINAL SIGNED

PAUL DYSON

Paul Dyson, President, pdyson@railpac.org                                  cc RailPAC Board and interested parties

818 371 9516

Amtrak National Network Campaign 2018, Commentary, Issues

Amtrak’s Accounting – George Chilson

Amtrak’s Route Accounting: Fatally Flawed, Misleading & Wrong

The Rail Passengers Association (RPA) strongly believes that the ongoing debate concerning the future shape of Amtrak’s national network has been distorted by its use of fully allocated costs rather than avoidable costs as required by statute. The adverse outcome of using fully allocated costs is the widespread and incorrect perception that Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor is financially self-sufficient and that Amtrak’s need for taxpayer funding results entirely from its operation of passenger trains in the rest of the nation – the National Network, which consists of state supported regional and federally supported long distance routes.

In our companion White Paper, RPA explains why fully allocated costing combined with Amtrak’s catastrophically flawed route accounting system grossly misrepresents – and exaggerates – the public cost of providing passenger trains as a mobility choice for the entire nation. Faulty route accounting has, in turn, led to the popular misconception that the abandonment of long-distance trains will eliminate Amtrak’s need for taxpayer funding. Nothing could be further from the truth. The funding needed for the Northeast Corridor dwarfs that of what’s needed for the rest of the nation. RPA’s white paper explains the history of Amtrak’s route accounting methodology and demonstrates that if Amtrak applied the more economically sound avoidable costing methodology to assess the performance of its various routes, Amtrak’s leadership team would not be working to replace the current national network with disconnected groups of short distance regional trains serving only a small number of major metropolitan areas.

The Rail Passengers Association asks Congress to require Amtrak immediately to halt all route, schedule and frequency reductions as well as recent on-board service modifications; then require Amtrak’s leadership team to explain to, and gain the approval of, the Congress, the states and stakeholders of its vision of the passenger train system and service they envision for the future. Cover, concealment and stealth tactics are appropriate for a military operation but not for a Government Sponsored Enterprise whose purpose is to provide passenger train service to the nation.

For more than 13 years, Congress and other federal agencies have called for more accurate, precise and transparent reporting of Amtrak’s component routes. Numerous arms of government including the Federal Railroad Administration, the USDOT Office of Inspector General (OIG) and the General Accounting Office have all found Amtrak’s route accounting system deficient and not compliant with federal statute requiring disclosure of avoidable costs. The end result has been a false framing of Northeast Corridor services as “profitable” and the rest of the system as “unprofitable.” Neither can exist without federal taxpayer support.

Congress should demand that Amtrak comply with the already in place laws, regulations and Congressional mandates and make public the financial performance of each individual route employing the avoidable cost methodology. In the interim, Congress should require Amtrak to refrain from any further route and on-board service until it reveals its plans for the future system and the economic analysis underlying it to public scrutiny, analysis and agreement. Congress must assert oversight of Amtrak — a Government Sponsored Enterprise – and not allow Amtrak to operate by stealth and deception. “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.”

Amtrak National Network Campaign 2018, Commentary

Anderson to California, Congress, and Amtrak Employees – ********

Just heard from an unimpeachable source that Anderson has told employees that the current operation of the Southwest Chief is unacceptable and will be changed.

Here’s the full text, bold or italics are mine:

We know many of you have concerns about the status of the Southwest Chief. Here’s an update:

We are considering changes to the route and operation of the Southwest Chief. No decision has been made yet on our long-term operation of the entire Southwest Chief route, but a portion of the route faces unique challenges because of extensive operational and capital investment costs required to continue the present service. We are considering all options on how to make this route work, given the changing needs of our passengers, our limited resources and the expectations of Congress to deliver this service safely and efficiently. What we want you and our stakeholders to know is that the status quo is not an option – we or others either have to invest more or make changes.

We are looking specifically at changes to the Southwest Chief because it requires a lot of capital investment to keep it running “as is.” The Southwest Chief currently loses more than $50M every year, and we will need to invest more than $100M in the next 3-5 years to bring the route to a State of Good Repair and to fully implement Positive Train Control, plus additional operating expenses that will likely add to the train’s annual losses. We are responsible for all maintenance and capital costs for a 219-mile stretch of the route between Colorado and New Mexico. Also, Positive Train Control is not installed on a 348-mile stretch between Dodge City, Kan., and Albuquerque. No other Amtrak route has this combination of operational losses with capital investment needs. And this is an issue for us because we have a clear mandate from Congress, which is stated in the FAST Act, to deliver our services in a cost-effective manner, and we are falling short of this mandate with the Southwest Chief. We have many capital needs at Amtrak, and we have limited resources. We have to balance the needs of the Southwest Chief with the needs of the rest of our National Network, including all of our other Long Distance trains.

We know that many of our customers and stakeholders value this route – and we are evaluating all options. We are continuing to have conversations with members of the Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico congressional delegations and state and local leaders about the various options and funding needs. In addition, we will have senior executives onboard the Southwest Chief next week to talk with our stakeholders along the route.

We will provide updates as new information becomes available. In the meantime, we ask that everyone continue to provide excellent service and hospitality to our Southwest Chief customers and continue to operate safely and with the high degree of professionalism that defines our employees.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

As I warned, victory celebrations for the Chief were certainly premature.  this is just the beginning of a determined effort to eliminate the National Network.

Advocacy groups are working on a response to this, updates will follow.

Previous comments about the Riverside reservation center appear to be premature, but we continue to verify.

Pdyson@railpac.org