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Notes on last Monday’s LOSSAN Board Meeting in San Diego

I rarely have a chance to attend the meetings on rail service to keep up with what is happening. I hadn’t given any thought about attending the recent LOSSAN Joint Powers Authority (JPA) Board Meeting at the SANDAG headquarters,until I figured I could take the Rapid Bus on the I-15 to it and still get back to work on time. Could I have taken the Coaster? Yes to get to the meeting on time. But no If I wanted to get to work on time and home after work. No Coaster trains were running in the late morning for me. I got up before 6 AM and left the house by 7:15 AM. What is normally a 45 minute drive from Oceanside to Rancho Bernardo took at least 70 minutes that morning. I am so happy to work in the afternoons and evenings and usually miss that kind of traffic.

I missed the bus I planned to take. But the next one was only 15 minutes behind it and I got dropped off only 2 short blocks from the SANDAG offices where the meeting was being held. No parking problems for me downtown. The building had new controls for the elevators. You pressed the button outside of the elevator for your floor, and an elevator would open and take you directly to your floor. Much faster than your normal elevator ride. Reminds me of plans for people movers which would work like an elevator but skip intermediate stops to speed up trips. Back in the 20th century though these systems never seems to work.

I got in before the meeting started just after 9:30 AM. I noticed many new board members had replaced some of the old board members.The problem with that is the new board members have a lot to learn about Rail Passenger service to get up to speed on their job. RailPAC President Paul Dyson gave a public comment at the start of the meeting. He announced the December 5th RailPAC meeting and that we’ll have Amtrak Board member Yvonne Burke and a senior representive from the California High Speed Rail Authority. Much of the meeting like most public meetings was boring and hard to hear. There were no major votes, mostly informational items. An early subject was an update on the final handover of management of the Surfuliners from Caltrans to the LOSSAN JPA.

The next business item was the Surfliner Marketing update. Micheal Litschi of the JPA staff went on about branding and name recognition about Amtrak and Surfliners. The JPA is suppose to hire a marketing manager soon. So I don’t understand why they didn’t wait to let the expert do their job? I felt the JPA staff was getting marketing for rail service all wrong. Most public transportation agencies do. Marketing isn’t the same as advertising. No rational business spends money on a new product or service; without first doing marketing research to see how much demand there is for a new product or service. Marketing isn’t an exact science and many products flop when introduced. What marketing information that is needed for rail passenger service is: knowing how frequent people want rail service, to which stations, when they want to travel, how fast they want to go, what connections they want and how much they want to pay to travel with what amenities.These things needs to be tested before going whole hog on a major new service and know to improve service and revenue.

It was during this marketing update that one of the new board members pointed out that he got an angry email from a constituent who wanted to travel from Encinitas to Fullerton by train. But he couldn’t because the trains didn’t connect. We have had LOSSAN, Metrolink and Coaster now for over 25 years and we still don’t have real connections and seamless ticketing between them. We have no sweep trains which are what are needed to connect passengers between local and limited stop trains. It is the job of the Board to order staff to work on these projects, not just talk about them. The LOSSAN Board needs to get together with the boards of Coaster and Metrolink to encourage them to to get their staffs working together for better tran connections. This is important as more double tracking is finished, there will be more frequent train service which should make it easier to schedule connections.

The next presentation was by Jay Fountain of Amtrak. He had a lot to talk about. He was saying how Amtrak prepares months in advance for the Thanksgiving Weekend which is their busiest time of the year. During this time all Surfliner trains have reserved seating. Last year they carried almost 70,000 passengers on the Surfliners on Thanksgiving Week. Many different Amtrak departments work on this. I couldn’t believe it but crew scheduling is done in Wilmington, Delaware for the Surfliners. Last year Fountain pulled in extra equipment for the Surfliners on Thanksgiving including extra Horizon Cars and a Superliner Lounge Cafe car. He said people preferred the Superliner car because the food service was on the upper lever where most people walk on the Surfliners. Surflner have their snack service downstairs and people which often walk right past.

This year Fountain is adding 2,000 more seats during the Thanksgiving weekend by running an extra round trip with existing equipment. This will be done by having a train leave San Diego at 4:40 AM for San Luis Obispo. They will do it Thursday and Monday mornings of the Thanksgiving weekend.The equipment will leave Los Angeles at 8:30 PM on Wednesday and Sunday as train 592. It will leave Thursday and Monday morning as train 1761. He plans to greatly increase revenue doing this. Mr. Fountain lives in Fallbrook and commutes to LA on the first Metrolink trains out of Oceanside at 4:37 AM. He said there are plenty of passenger on the trains out of Oceanside that time of the morning. He clearly wants to make this a permanent service. He talked about his new job with the Western Long Distance Trains. He said he will continue to work in LA and will still be in charge of the Surliners. Oh I found out from Fountain’s talk that Metrolink’s camera drone is named Caspar. His presentation includes a few aerial photos from Caspar.

The rest of the meeting was too boring generally to talk about. There was a presentation of the capital projects underway for rail service in San Diego County. It was mostly just material from the SANDAG website and projected on the screens in the Board Room.

At the end RailPAC President Paul Dyson got a chance to talk again. He was saying that the new Positive Train Control for the Surfliners will mean the trains going north or south of LA will have to wait 30 minutes to download the route they are going on next. Paul said there should be a way to put the whole route on the trains and not create a longer layover for through trains.


The Growing Red State Rail Passenger Revolution

Politics have long played a major role for Rail Passenger Service in this country. From the start of Amtrak there has been an ongoing political battle over rail passenger service between “Blue States” (with Democratic majorities) and “Red States” (with Republican majorities). The Blue States with more large cities often have short distance trains but with large numbers of passengers. The Red States are generally served more by long distance trains. Often when there are budget battles the long distance trains on Amtrak are held hostage with threats of being abolished if full funding isn’t granted for the short distance trains, particularly in the Northeast. These battles between long distance versus short distance trains produces no winners, only losers for the American traveling public.

Over the years Amtrak has cut back long distance service (but never on the Northeast Corridor) in attempts to save money. This has never worked. On paper the long distance trains seem to lose a great deal of money for Amtrak. This is because trains on Amtrak are charged a share of Amtrak’s overhead by their train miles. Long distance trains get charged a great deal since they travel more miles than short distance trains. The problem is cutting long distance trains does nothing to reduce Amtrak’s overhead. Cutting long distance trains only leaves fewer trains to charge Amtrak’s overhead to. Cutting long distance trains also reduces more revenue than it saves in avoidable costs.

The good news is we are increasingly seeing grass root organizations being formed that have or want long distance passenger train service all around the country. The leaders in these towns understand how vital transportation is to the economic growth and health of their communities. They have often felt the impact of when Amtrak service is disrupted or cut. A good example of this are the local efforts to keep the Empire Builder going between Chicago, Minneapolis, Seattle and Portland. The last 4 years or so have not been good for the Empire Builder. Floods along the route and major rail traffic congestion in large part due to the “oil boom” in North Dakota turned the Empire Builder into the least reliable passenger train in America.

A major problem for the Empire Builder was regular flooding at Devils Lake in North Dakota. Things got so bad that in 2009 the BNSF said if the lake flooded again it would reroute the Empire Builder unless Amtrak paid $100 million dollars to raise the railroad above flood level. This would leave the towns of Rugby, Devils Lake, and Grand Forks without rail passenger service if the line was abandoned. After flooding shut down service around Devils Lake in 2011, BNSF got an agreement with Amtrak and North Dakota that they would each pay a third of the cost of raising the railroad above flood level at Devils Lake. In December 2011, North Dakota was awarded a $10 million TIGER grant from the Federal Government and constructions work began in June of 2012.

At the same time this was happening, freight train congestion hit a peak with a growing economy and the oil train boom which delayed other many trains. With this on-time performance for the Empire Builder was nearly non-existent. This year things have greatly improved. The raising of the tracks around Devils Lake is finished. The BNSF has accelerated its efforts to double track its mainlines in the northern United States and oil train traffic has declined. As far as the Empire Builder is concerned, local efforts were needed to insure it was saved and continued along its historic route.

Much the same play book is now being seen on the Southwest Chief in New Mexico, Colorado and Kansas. With the Chief more than 3 towns are at risk of losing rail passenger service. A couple of years ago the BNSF announced that unless Amtrak paid $100 million to upgrade the tracks on the route of these 3 states that goes over the Raton Pass to passenger trains standards, the Southwest Chief would have to be rerouted. There was hope from other towns along the BNSF mainline east of New Mexico that they may get Amtrak service. The BNSF made it clear that any attempt to reroute the Chief would require about the same amount of outside funding as fixing the route through Raton. Towns along the Raton route have gotten together to find ways to to raise money to fix the tracks and save their rail passenger service. In southern Colorado the city of Pueblo has been a major supporter of the Chief to also reroute it to serve their city. Not long ago this would have been thought impossible given the heavy coal train traffic on the BNSF line through Pueblo. But with the recent and rapid decline of demand for coal, this may not seem unrealistic now. Not all of the money has yet been raised, but the BNSF has stopped talking of ending service through Raton for the Chief.

A different story is playing out along the American coast of the Gulf of Mexico between New Orleans and Orlando. After Hurricane Katrina hit the region 10 years ago the tracks and stations were heavily damaged, At this time service of the tri-weekly Sunset Limited from Los Angeles to Orlando was pulled back to New Orleans. Since then the tracks and stations east of New Orleans have long been repaired but Amtrak has refused to restore service on this long distance Amtrak system train. The leaders on this route have been stepping up their efforts to get rail service restored. Amtrak has been pushing a plan to get the states on the Gulf Coast to pay it a subsidy to run a short distance train between New Orleans and Florida. Service in the region only makes sense if there are connections via New Orleans and Jacksonville to Orlando, the rest of Florida, the Eastern Seaboard, upper Midwest to Chicago and the West Coast. More markets mean more ridership and revenues. That’s what the airlines do.

Here is a quote from Coastal officials want passenger rail service back on track 12, 2015 “This isn’t about nostalgia or rail fans, it’s about economic development and it’s about commerce,” said John Robert Smith, chairman of the board with Transportation for America – a non-profit alliance that pushes for grassroots support of progressive transportation policy in the U.S.”It’s about security and evacuation and movement of goods in and out before and after tropical storms and hurricanes,” Smith, a former long-time mayor of Meridian, Miss., added. “It impacts southerner’s lives on many different levels.”

This is from “The Hill ” website for August 28th: A provision in a multiyear transportation bill that was approved in July by the Senate would provide funding for a study of the feasibility of restoring the service, which used to make stops in Alabama and the panhandle of Florida before it headed south to Orlando.

Advocates of restoring the dormant Gulf Coast Amtrak service are hoping to win support for the language in the House when lawmakers return to Washington in September. “The Senate has passed a very good bill that does two things: It creates a $100 million fund for states to access for services which were annulled (Sunset Limited) or under threat of downgrading of discontinuance (Southwest Chief),” a group called Friends of Sunset Limited to Florida wrote in a Facebook post as the Senate was approving the highway bill, which is known as the DRIVE Act, in July.

“Also restructures the Amtrak Board of directors by creating better regional representation,” the group’s post continued. “Two directors each would come from the Northeast Corridor, States supporting passenger service and most importantly for us, areas served by long distance service.”

This is clear evidence that local efforts are finally having an effect in Washington to provide funding to improve and expand rail passenger service around the whole country. Cutting trains doesn’t save money and weakens a national rail passenger system, even for the Northeast. The key to rail passenger growth doesn’t come from Washington. It starts at the local level and takes pressure to get Washington to do the right thing.


What’s Needed for Rail Service to Reduce Traffic in San Diego

SANDAG , the regional planning agency for San Diego County is appealing a ruling by 2 lower courts to the California Supreme Court of a lawsuit brought by a coalition of environmental groups. The lawsuit is over SANDAG’s transportation planning for the County. The basis of this lawsuit is SANDAG’s current planning expects a net increase of today’s levels of Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHG) from increased vehicle traffic by 2050 . State Law calls for a reduction of GHG emissions by 2050 to levels lower than what they were in 1990.The plaintiff’s in this lawsuit wants SANDAG to redirect funding for major road constructions projects to increased funding of rail and bus projects in San Diego County. Over the 40 years between 2010 to 2050, spending of 214 billion dollars for transportation is projected by SANDAG in San Diego County. What then will be needed for regional rail passenger service to make a major dent in reducing auto traffic in San Diego County?

The first thing that is needed is to run more frequent trains. But to do that, what is needed is to fully double track the 60 miles of passenger railroad in San Diego County. Current plans call for 90% of this railroad to be double tracked by 2025. The last 6 miles however are the most difficult and expensive to double track. Full double tracking isn’t planned until after 2050. So what are the problems on the last 6 miles to be double tracked. The most expensive project is in Del Mar and the Los Penasquitos Lagoon wetlands. The plan is to build a double track tunnel in this area which is expected to cost at least a billion dollars. To double track most of the railroad is also costing another billion dollars. Another area which will need double track tunneling is under the UTC shopping mall in La Jolla. This will be a major transit hub with the extension of the San Diego Trolley Light Rail service to the University of California at San Diego (UCSD) and UTC, connecting both to the rest of San Diego. The area around UTC, UCSD and nearby Sorrento Valley is the largest job center and heaviest traffic generator of the San Diego region.

The tracks today from Sorrento Valley south go slowly around the UTC area in a long detour through hilly canyons. This is the slowest segment of rail in San Diego County. There are plans to double track this slow segment and raise speeds from 25 miles per hour up to 40 miles per hour after 2030. If we want to make a major impact on rail travel in San Diego County, we need to tunnel under UTC, both to make a major reduction in running times with a faster, shorter railroad and to serve a major and now largely ignored activity center. A third major tunnel project that is needed, is in Orange County at San Clemente. A tunnel is needed at San Clemente both for a faster and double tracked railroad to replace the slower single tracked line on the beach. This makes the railroad vulnerable to being washed out by heavy seas or blocked by landslides from the nearby cliffs. There is a lot of traffic between Orange and San Diego Counties and beyond. These 3,one billion dollar plus a piece tunnels are needed to dramatically increase rail passenger service and reduce GHG emissions by 2050.

There are now 11 round trip Pacific Surfliner trains run by Amtrak daily. On weekdays the Coaster runs 11 round trip trains between Oceanside and San Diego. A double tracked railroad could handle these 22 round trip trains in one hour. A major freeway can carry just over 300,000 cars a day. To make a major impact on travel in San Diego County, the Coaster would need ridership alone of around 100,000 passengers a day. Between San Jose and San Francisco, a distance of 51 miles, Caltrain now carries 58,000 passengers a day and expects to go over 100,000 in the future. A double tracked railroad can carry per hour more people than a 5 lane freeway in both directions.

The main factor in carrying a large number of additional passengers is getting people in and out of stations. What is holding back ridership now is the amount of available parking at stations. More parking will be needed. But we can’t build enough parking to carry up to 100,000 passengers a day. We will also need more development with new high density housing so more people can ride buses, bikes or walk to the train stations. We will also need to upgrade local bus service to carry more people to the trains.

We will also need more stations. There are several new stations being planned. A Transit Center is being planned with a Coaster Station in Camp Pendleton near the Coaster/Metrolink Maintenance Facility. There are also stations being planned to stop at the Convention Center in downtown San Diego. This will also serve PETCO Park baseball stadium, the popular Gaslamp District and is near the 12th and Imperial Trolley Station, the hub of all three Trolley Lines. A joint Trolley/ Amtrak/Coaster and High Speed Rail train station is also planned at the San Diego Airport. A station is also proposed for High Speed Rail at UTC. Stations should also be considered south of downtown San Diego to National City and at the 32nd Street Naval Base Trolley station. this would allow faster connections for passengers south of downtown by Coaster to the Trolley Blue Line by avoiding the slow street running of the Trolley downtown.

The best way to add more stations to the Coaster is to extend some trains north of Oceanside to Orange County. There are plans to run Coaster Trains to Fullerton in the future. There are also plans to extend Metrolink trains to San Diego. To extend a significant number of Coaster trains and add more Surfliner trains will require a double tracked tunnel in San Clemente.

These improvements will cost billions of dollars. But trying to expand freeways increasingly impossible. To justify such spending for rail passenger service will require greatly expanded rail ridership. Greatly increasing the ridership is what will be needed for rail service to have a major impact on transportation in San Diego County and the greater long term reductions in Green House Gas and other emissions.


Train Trips to Disneyland ?

Summer, particularly in August up to Labor Day is one of the busiest travel periods in this Country. The Pacific Surfliners has its busiest month in August. The reason for this is no secret. Summer is the time for vacations and leisure travel. People like to travel.Thomas Cook understood that as early as 1841 when he organized the first rail excursion. Much of the extra travel in August on the Surfliners is from passengers going to the the Del Mar Racetrack for a day at the races. Metrolink has good ridership with beach trains and special trains for County Fairs, the Rose Parade and baseball games. Both Metrolink and the Surfliners get ridership for people visiting coastal cities like San Diego, Oceanside, Ventura and Santa Barbara. But there is still plenty of potential markets untapped just in Southern California for leisure travel by train. A major example of this is travel to Disneyland. And not just Disneyland, but many major travel destinations in Southern California, many of which are near Disneyland.

Why don’t more people take the train to places like Disneyland? Often what is missing are good connecting services from the stations to many leisure destinations. Also trains don’t always run at times when people want to arrive or depart from places like Disneyland. Many people on a day trip to Disneyland arrive in the morning and don’t leave until late in the evening. The last Metrolink train on Weekends is at 5:21 PM southbound leaving Anaheim, it is 10:19 PM on weekdays.This would be a tight connections on weekdays for someone staying for the firework show starting at 9 PM.The last weekday northbound train from Anaheim has a connection to Los Angeles at 6:35 PM weekdays and 6:45 PM on weekends.On the Surfliners southbound from Anaheim there is a departure at 10:49 PM and northbound at 11:04 PM.

For my recent trip to Disneyland I took Metrolink 641 north from Oceanside to Fullerton. This is the first direct northbound Metrolink train from Oceanside to Anaheim after the departure of of the 607 at 6:39 AM. There are 4 Metrolink trains from Orange County to Anaheim between the 607 and 641, but there are no connections south of the Laguna Niguel/Mission Viejo station. Many of the passengers on the 641 are people transferring to the 808 at Laguna Niguel/Mission Viejo to the Inland Empire. Oddly enough the next Metrolink train from Oceanside after the 641 is the 609 to Los Angeles leaving only 26 minutes later than the 641. At all stations the conductor on the 641 made announcements for passenger waiting at the station that this wasn’t the train to the Inland Empire or Los Angeles,

At the Anaheim ARTIC station, there is plenty of room for growth. There are plenty of empty bus bays, with only 3 Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) lines now serving ARTIC. These are the 50 which goes near Disneyland on Katella Blvd then out to Long Beach. The 53 starts in Orange, then heads south on Main Street through Santa Ana to the edge of Tustin and Irvine.The 153 goes north of Anaheim to Brea. More bus lines at ARTIC would make it a true hub transit for the region. Megabus and Greyhound also stops at Anaheim.

What was most amazing to me was ART, or Anaheim Resort Transportation. This is a local bus service that serves primarily the “Anaheim Resort district” which includes the Disneyland Resort, GardenWalk, the Anaheim Convention Center and the many hotels in the district. There are 19 ART bus lines, all of which connect to each other at its hub at the Disneyland Resort Transportation Center. The Disneyland Resort is comprised of Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure Theme Parks, 3 major hotels and the Downtown Disney District. Many of the 19 bus lines on ART run about every 20 minutes. There are no published timetables for most of these buses and times are subject to traffic.But you can use your cell phone to text TEXT2GO with your Bus and stop number for real time arrival information. At Disneyland, ART passengers can transfer to almost any place in the Anaheim Resort District.

Not only that there is service to Buena Park to Knotts Berry Farm,Medieval Times, Pirates’s Dinner Adventure and other attractions. ART also runs connecting buses to the Metrolink trains at the Anaheim Canyon Station to Disneyland. At ARTIC there are the 14 and 15 buses to Disneyland. The 14 bus arrived first, but the driver suggested that passengers for Disneyland wait for the 15 which was right behind the 14 which takes a more direct route to Disneyland. Coming back from Disneyland I took the 14 bus which came directly to ARTIC. When the 15 bus turned up Harbor Blvd, it was full of ART Buses. Each line had its own distinct graphics on the sides of the buses. The 14/15 buses are mini-buses with 28 seats and a wheelchair lift. But many of the other ART buses were standard 40 foot long buses.

There is a large untapped market of leisure travel on the non-rush hours times that can be served by rail. What is generally missing are trains running at the right times for leisure travel and connecting bus service to get people where they finally want to go. The Pacific Surfliner could carry more passengers to Disneyland. This would need packaging with connections to hotels and local transportation like ART. For people staying at a hotel the time of arrival and departure for the train is not critical when people are staying in Anaheim for a few days. For Metrolink carrying day trip riders to Disneyland would need service in the morning when most people want to arrive. The biggest issue is departures needed at night and having good bus connections to make the last train of the night. Most people leave Disneyland after the fireworks show which starts at 9 PM. So many people leave after the fireworks that it takes some time for everyone to move because of the crowds and catch shuttle buses to their hotels or the parking structures for their cars.

Metrolink has the problems on the LOSSAN Corridor with its other users of bottlenecks on the corridor which limits the number of trains it can run at a time. At least running extra trains a night should be a time with fewer trains than during the day. Extra trains during the weekends shouldn’t be difficult to add to serve Disneyland. This isn’t much different than extra trains for baseball games or County Fairs which Metrolink has experience doing. Such weekend trains can be run to better serve Disneyland, Beach Cities, Hollywood, downtown Los Angeles and other places people want to travel to for fun.

An advantage Metrolink has is it is a regional service with over 500 miles of rail running in 6 counties serving almost 18 million people. These millions of people love to travel to fun places and Metrolink can carry them to all the most popular places in their leisure time. By 2020 with new tracks at Los Angeles Union Station allowing trains to come and go without backing in or out as they do now, which will make it faster and easier for people from Ventura, Riverside, San Bernardino and the many valleys of Los Angeles County to get to many of the attractions in Orange County and the rest of the region. At the Disneyland Resort, there are plans to spend to spend a billion dollars to expand and improve the parks to to draw ever more guests there. Will rail service be ready when these new attractions are?


What’s Wrong with Amtrak?

Anyway you measure it, Amtrak just isn’t in the same league as the major league rail passenger railroads of Europe, Japan or China. Be it revenue, on-time performance, running times, average running times,customer satisfaction, passenger miles or whatever:Amtrak just isn’t in the same league for Passenger Railroading of most developed countries. To be fair, the United States let itself be left behind and it has been slow to try to catch up with much of the rest of the world. But Amtrak often seems to be oblivious to just how far behind they are to the rest of the world and what they need to do about it..

An example of this comes from a public meeting I was at a few years ago in California. A Vice-President of Amtrak gave a presentation which was mostly a sales pitch for Amtrak winning the contract to operate California’s future High Speed Trains. A major claim for winning this contract was that Amtrak was the leader in High Speed Rail operations in this country. Since Amtrak is the only operator for intercity passenger rail service this isn’t really much to brag about. But since this meeting, Amtrak no longer talks about getting the California High Speed Rail operating contract. Amtrak when this presentation was given, likely assumed the contract for the California High Speed Rail Authority would pay them to run the High Speed Rail Trains. The fact was always that like many High Speed Rail services around the world, California would own and build the High Speed Railroad. But operators would bid to pay the highest amount to California for the franchise to operate the trains and for the operator to make money while doing it.

Even before the creation of Amtrak, there has been political pressure to build a High Speed Rail service on the Northeast Corridor. There are several problems to doing this. The Northeast Corridor is a railroad that was largely built in the 19th century. Today most of the Corridor suffers from deferred maintenance going back to the 1940’s which after roughly $20 billion in Federal spending is assumed to require another $52 billion to get it in a “state of good repair”. Most of the rail traffic on the corridor is not for Amtrak, but the commuter railroads. For example New Jersey Transit runs 20 trains an hour during rush hour to Amtrak’s 4 in and out Penn Station in New York.

In the 1990’s Amtrak President’s were Thomas Downs and George Warrington: both came from the commuter railroad New Jersey Transit. Under them happened most of Amtrak’s development of the Acela High Speed Train. This included extending electrification from New Haven to Boston for faster service for all trains between Washington, New York and Boston.

Since the 1980’s Amtrak was under increasing pressure to reduce its budget deficit and break even. During the Reagan and Bush Administrations, former Southern Railroad CEO, W. Graham Claytor was able to control overhead costs, increase revenues and make major reductions in Amtrak’s deficit. In 1993 at his retirement, Amtrak President Claytor predicted that Amtrak would be able to break even by 2000, if it continued his policies. These included some extensions of Long Distance Trains and ordering additional Superliner Cars used on the Western Long Distance trains.

In 2001 as Amtrak President, Warrington claimed that Amtrak was on the “glide path to profitability”.Much of this was based on the assumption that with higher fares the Acela would be a major money maker. Under both Downs and Warrington, Amtrak cut back Long Distance service to “save money”. There were many problems with the Acela rollout in 2000. In 2002 George Warrington suddenly resigned from Amtrak. Amtrak was in terrible shape and had borrowed a great deal of money for the start up of the Acela assuming it would be a great success. Since 2002 billions of additional dollars of government money have been spent keeping Amtrak running as it still is recovering with the problems with the start up of the Acela.

So what is wrong with Amtrak? The culture at Amtrak hasn’t got a clue how to operate passenger service at a profit. Going back the first high speed train on the NEC, the 1960’s Metroliner, the assumptions was the key to making money for rail passenger service was to copy first class airline service of the day. The Metroliners were hailed as the thing that would save passenger service on the Pennsylvania Railroad. In the 60’s and 70’s the airlines were a highly regulated industry which protected airline’s profits by restricting competition and insuring high fares. Most airline passengers then were rich or traveling on business, the costs of which were largely subsidized with tax exemptions. Air travel was faster in the 1960’s, than it is now. There were more non-stop planes, plus airports and the airplanes were less crowded then.

Then came airline deregulation in the late 1970’s and everything changed for the airlines. In order to compete, the airlines had to become more efficient and get maximum value for each airline seat. That meant having as few empty seats on a plane as possible. A major part of the survival of the airlines, was the use of hub and spokes airports. The reality was that the least productive passenger service are non-stop services. The key to ridership the airlines realized was to serve as many markets as possible, with the fewest planes as possible. This was possible with planes making connections at hubs. The result is from almost commercial airport today, a passenger can travel to almost anyplace in world, with a few connections. Through the years, Amtrak has tried many times to increase ridership and revenues by cutting stops to reduce running times on trains. The result has been every time that ridership and revenue went down. Fewer stops meant fewer markets.

What the Northeast Corridor needs more than faster, more expensive trains , are more reliable trains that go or connect to more places in the Northeast. There are people who live in Long Island and upstate New York, yet what are the connections to Amtrak NEC trains for these people? There are plenty of cities in on the East Coast and Midwest which would feed traffic if connected to the Northeast Corridor. Cities such as Pittsburgh. Cleveland Toronto, Montreal. Charlotte and many other cities in between. Good connections and reliable service are the cornerstone to successful passenger service.

Switzerland is one of the best models for this. A wealthy country, it has one of the highest per capita usage of rail passenger service in the world. Most stations have rail service at least every half hour. The trains all connect with each other with connections as tight as 2 minutes. A late train can be a major news item in Switzerland. Not only do the trains connect to each other, the trains also connect to buses, ferries, airports and many other transportation modes. Most rail passenger service in the world have good connections. The United States still has a lot of catching up to do.


What’s Coming and What’s Needed with LA Metrorail

There are now 5 rail transit projects in different states of construction in Los Angeles County. Two projects: the Gold Line extension from Pasadena to Azusa and the Expo Line extension from Culver City to Santa Monica are both now almost finished. Both will have passenger service by early 2016.

Also well into construction is the 8.5 mile Crenshaw/LAX Light Rail Line linking with the Green Line at the south along LAX to Expo Line at Crenshaw at the north. This will include direct service by an airport People Mover to the terminals at LAX. The Crenshaw/LAX Line is planned to open by 2019 with the LAX People Mover to the terminals running by 2022.

The next project after the Crenshaw/LAX Line is the Regional Connector. This is a new 1.9 mile subway tunnel under downtown Los Angeles. This will allow the Blue Line from Long Beach to be extended to Los Angeles Union Station and out to Pasadena, Azusa and in the future maybe as far as Ontario Airport. The Regional Connector will also reroute the Expo Line out to East Los Angeles on the current Gold Line. A new subway station in Little Tokyo will replace the current surface station and should allow easier transfers at the same platform between the two lines in the Region Connector. The new tunnel and rerouted services should be operational by 2020.

A related project, but not directly a part of LA Metrorail is SCRIP, or Southern California Regional Interconnection Project. Also know as the run-through tracks at Los Angeles Union Station. Construction should begin around 2017 and be fully operational by 2020. This is part of a larger program to increase the number of regional Metrolink and Amtrak Surfliner trains to 278 trains by 2025. This is up from roughly 156 train a day now run at Union Station. Run through tracks will eliminate the need for trains to either back in or back out of Union Station. It will also increase the train capacity of Union Station. Related plans are in place to allow more trains by double tracking more of the tracks in Los Angeles County. This will include full double tracking in the San Fernando Valley. SCRIP is a major part of the rebuilding going on at the same time of Union Station. The station will get a new concourse, replacing the 1939 tunnel to allow more passengers to use the station and for more direct connections between trains with rail transit and local bus services. This will also include more amenities at the station for all passengers and visitors.

The latest major rail project for LA Metrorail is the extension of the Purple Line west along Wilshire Blvd. An all subway service will make this the most expensive project for LA Metro. But this corridor also has the heaviest travel demand and greatest development unserved by rail transit in Los Angeles County. The first 3.9 miles segment from Western Ave. to La Cienaga Blvd. in Beverly Hills is expected by 2024. The full 9 miles from Western Ave to Westwood by the I-405 is scheduled no later than 2036. The exact day depends on future funding.

So what is planned after that? Voter approved Measure R calls for service to extend today’s Gold Line further east from East Los Angeles. Service to either Whittier or El Monte are both being studied. Measure R also calls for rail service on the old Pacific Electric West Santa Ana Line which is now publicly owned from Paramount next to the 605 freeway in southeast Los Angeles County to Santa Ana in Orange County. An extension of the Green Line in the South Bay is planned as far as Torrance. There is also suppose to be Light Rail in the San Fernando Valley. Also in Measure R is some money for rail transit from the San Fernando Valley in Van Nuys to Westwood and LAX. While Measure R has funds for all of these projects, it doesn’t have enough to fully fund these projects.

Los Angeles Metro is preparing a new ballot measure to present to the voters of Los Angeles County for the November 2016 election. A similar ballot measure was on the November 2012 ballot. It would have extended the current sale tax for transportation in Los Angeles County, which would allow the County to borrow money now to speed up construction of projects and avoid higher costs of construction in the future. This measure failed to pass, missing the required 2/3’s majority needed by less than one percent. Great care is being taken in what projects will be proposed for the 2016 measure that it will have greater support to insure passage.

There is no lack of desirable projects for rail service in Los Angeles County. LA Metro is proposing to convert the Orange Line Busway into a Light Rail service. The Orange Line is already reaching capacity as a Rapid Bus service as ridership continues to grow. One major project many people would like to see is rail service along the I-405 to connect the San Fernando Valley with the Westside of Los Angeles and LAX. Current planning for this is to use a Public.Private, Partnership, or PPP. This would include building a Toll Road in a tunnel under the 405 and smaller tunnel for rail transit from LAX to the Van Nuys Train Station. Funding for this project is expected to come from tolls on the highway tunnel and higher fares for the rail service. No word yet how high the tolls and fares would be to pay for this project.

There are several improvements that could be done on the Green Line. It should have a connection to the West Santa Ana Line project for service from Orange County to LAX and up the Crenshaw/LAX Line as far as Exposition Blvd. There are plans, but no funding to to extend the West Santa Ana Line at Paramount up the old UP Harbor Line to Los Angeles Union Station. Such service could be done for much less by extending existing Metrolink service on the UP Harbor Line as far as Long Beach with connections to both the Green and West Santa Ana Light Rail Lines.

What will also make sense for the Green Line is to extend it east from its Norwalk terminal by the 605 freeway 2 miles to the Norwalk/Santa Fe Springs Metrolink Station. This will be needed if this Metrolink Station is chosen as one of the California High Speed Rail Stations. As it stands now the Metrolink Station only has bus service by one line of Norwalk Transit. It will need more transit service if it becomes a High Speed Rail Station. Green Line service to Metrolink and High Speed Rail would give direct connections to LAX, as well as the South Bay and connections on the Blue Line to Long Beach as well as the area south of downtown Los Angeles and parts of West Los Angeles on the Crenshaw/LAX Line to the Expo Line.

One of the long term proposals would be to to extend the Crenshaw/LAX Line to the planned extension of the Red Line west of Western Ave. There are other calls to extend the Red Line in North Hollywood to the Bob Hope Airport in Burbank and rail connections from Bob Hope Airport to the current Gold Line at Pasadena. There are also calls to build a connections between the Red and Purple Lines through West Hollywood. It will be some time before all of these projects can if ever be funded and built. The priority should be to serve as much of the region as possible with connecting services between LA Metrorail, Metrolink, California High Speed Rail, Amtrak as well as intercity and urban transit bus services.


Metrolink – Where to from here?

The interview of Art Leahy, Metrolink CEO, by Dan Weikel was revealing.  (LA Times, June 30th) The revelation is that there is no long term movement to make Metrolink a vibrant, relevant mobility option for large numbers of citizens. Nothing that Leahy said indicated a desire to do anything more than business as usual, except with better execution, and no doubt that is the direction he has been given by his Board. One would like to think that there is a desire among decision makers in Southern California to have something better than sporadically scheduled diesel powered trains carrying a miniscule number of commuters on weekdays and little else, but there is precious little sign of it.

After gaining momentum as a substitute for the automobile post the 1994 Northridge earthquake the system was allowed to atrophy.  The Glendale accident (unfortunate, unavoidable) followed by Chatsworth (probably avoidable) set the agency back and led to a lack of confidence among would be patrons. Key investments, such as the SCRIP tracks at Union Station, the Van Nuys new platform, and double track to Sylmar and Chatsworth, are still not complete, although they are finally in the pipeline, a decade late.  The result is today that patronage is static or declining, with barely one tenth of one percent of the five county population choosing the train for their transportation needs each weekday.

After more than twenty years of service it is still not possible to travel by Metrolink train between the San Fernando Valley and Orange County without changing trains, and the connections are poor to non-existent, even on weekdays.  At weekends the Orange County line and the Antelope Valley run round trips, but most don’t connect with each other at Union Station, so the market between northern Los Angeles County and Orange County attractions is simply not served. Why is Metrolink even thinking about service to San Diego, Palm Springs and other places when the journey opportunities on existing lines within the five-county area are so poor?

Southern California as a whole has three agencies providing regional passenger rail service.  The services are familiarly known as Coaster, Surfliner and Metrolink.  By any definition they are boutique operations, with combined daily ridership barely exceeding 60,000, about the same as the Caltrain route between San Jose and San Francisco.  Each has its own administration, marketing, customer service, ticketing, procurement and maintenance facilities.   The trains do not connect, delays are frequent.  The system maps look impressive but the ability to travel is limited by the lack of consistent schedules. How many agencies should we have?

One hesitates to use the word failure, but clearly the current patronage reflects the fact that passenger rail is not meeting the needs of the vast majority of people.  We need some vision here.  We need to start with a plan, and an organization that can execute it.  This plan needs to include all of the agencies in Southern California, be they bus, transit rail or regional rail. The objective should be half hourly service at every station, all day, every day, with timed local transit connections providing door to door service.  Switzerland began this process in the 1990s and today, with a single integrated fare structure the system is in place and working. And Switzerland, a country which could fit between Palm Springs and Santa Barbara, has just as many geographic and institutional challenges as we do here in the Southland.

I had hoped that the High Speed rail project would have acted as a catalyst to jump start a modernization program, initially between the San Fernando Valley and southern Orange County. Electric regional trains would share tracks with Intercity (High Speed) trains between the end of the High Speed line, Union Station and a southern terminus at Mission Viejo. Electrification can later be extended to Chatsworth and San Bernardino. The current Metrolink Board is not interested and probably thinks that the High Speed Rail project will not succeed. Time will tell.

An integrated system will take time and money to implement. Most of all it will require institutional changes that subordinate some local concerns to the regional good. It will require its own source of funds since clearly the Counties have neither the will nor the means. But surely we must do better than today. The three passenger railroads receive $180 million a year in operating subsidies, plus capital grants. Are we getting value for money or can we deploy these resources in a more cost effective way, building on service integration to give Southern Californians an alternative to the automobile? Not only do I believe that we can do better, but that we must if we are to enhance mobility and clean the air.

Paul Dyson is President of the Rail Passenger Association of California, a non- profit volunteer advocacy group and is recently retired after 46 years in the railroad industry on both sides of the Atlantic.


How Not to Run Rail Passenger Service

In the United States, we have been running rail passenger service the wrong way for years. What we need is a rail passenger system. What we have instead is a fragmented series of services that that don’t connect with each or serve places when and where people want to travel. Often service providers look at each other as competitors for passengers and funding, instead of valuable providers of transferring customers. They tend to be focused on existing and often shrinking travel markets while ignoring new ones.

The roots of these problems goes back when many different rail services began as unconnected local services. Over the years American rail passenger services have ignored changes in rail passenger service around the world and have shun efforts to innovate and learn from them. To often Rail Passenger service is a political football as social welfare and not as a valuable service vital to a growing economy.

The New York Times recently ran a story about the problems traveling around the San Francisco Bay Area by public transportation. It pointed out that the Bay Area has 9 counties and 20 public transport operators which often don’t connect or provide transfers to each other. This can make it difficult to get around the Bay Area, particularly if you are not travelling to downtown San Francisco. Even if you are going to San Francisco it is difficult to transfer to your final destination. But one can find many of the same problems in New York. There instead of counties not cooperating with each other, you have states with different services not working together to attract passengers.

What is needed to get different organizations to work together is a single umbrella organization that oversees all of the member agencies. By nature such an oversight organization should be neutral and fair so no agency feels it is being taken advantage of. But at the some time it is impossible to get anything done without sometimes upsetting someone. Such oversight organizations in one form or another have been around for years in Europe. In California there have been some efforts for oversight at the regional and county levels.

One example of this is the Metropolitan Transportation Development Board (MTDB) of San Diego which was created int 1976.It was responsible for planning all transportation for the metro area of the city of San Diego. Besides roads, it oversaw several local bus services and San Diego Transit which was then the largest bus carrier in San Diego County. By 1979 the San Diego Trolley project was approved . The bus operators, particularly San Diego Transit opposed the Trolley project fearing it would take funding and passengers away from them. The MTDB had to take responsiblity for building and operating the future Trolley. One of the first things noticed after service started up on the Trolley was that bus ridership also increased on the lines connecting to the Trolley.

In 2003 San Diego Transit was reorganized into today’s San Diego Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) which operates and builds extensions to the Trolley and operates most of the Bus service in the San Diego metro area. Service and operation of bus and rail service from northern San Diego County is handled by the North County Transit District (NCTD). The MTDB was phased out with it’s jobs split between the MTS which handles operation of both the Trolley and much of the bus service in metro San Diego. The planning and service coordination for both the MTS and NCTD where taken over by the County’s planning agency SANDAG.

Many of the issues that San Diego went through happened in Los Angeles County and its rail program. In 1976 the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission (LACTC) was created. Its job was to oversee planning for all forms of public transportation and highways in the county. One of its jobs was to rule on whether or not to allow Culver City Bus to extend service on one of its bus lines to Westwood and UCLA. This effort was opposed by Santa Monica Bus which had many riders in Westwood. The LACTC approved Culver City Bus service to Westwood.

Shortly after the successful start up of the San Diego Trolley in 1981, local efforts in Los Angeles County were begun to build Light Rail on the old Pacific Electric Line between Long Beach and Los Angeles. At the same time Los Angeles County had a problem with having money and no project. There was State and local matching funds for a Federal Match for a “Downtown People Mover”. In the early 1980’s the Federal People Mover project was killed by the Reagan Administration and the local money for it had no place to go. Without a project the County of Los Angeles would have to return money to the State. This was the beginning of the Blue Line.

At this time the Southern California Rapid Transit District (SCRTD) was responsible for both most of the bus service in Los Angeles County, plus planning and construction of the future “Heavy Rail” transit system for the region. The RTD was opposed to Light Rail because it feared it would take money away from its future very expensive Heavy Rail projects. As a result the LACTC ended up taking over the planning and construction of the original Blue and Green Lines. The Red Line subway project had many problems during construction and early ridership was below projections. What did happen was as Light Rail service expanded, ridership increased for the Red Line.

In 1993 the Legislature reorganized the LACTC and SCRTD by merging the two organizations. This resulted in the new Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority. It not only operated the buses and trains of the RTD, but was responsible for all transportation planning in Los Angeles County, including highways and oversight of the many local municipal bus companies in Los Angeles County. There are still bus services in Los Angeles County which don’t accept transfers between other bus services.

The closest thing we have today in Southern California for an oversight agency for Rail Passenger Service is the LOSSAN Joint Powers Authority (JPA). Just by having regular meetings between the different government agencies both within this JPA and the other 2 JPA’s in the State has gone a long way in improving communications and creation of common goals.

But progress is still very slow. With the construction of run-through tracks at Los Angeles Union Station by 2020 will bring 50 % of all trains at the station being extended to other end points. This will create a more efficient service for both Surfliner and Metrolink trains. This will also improve revenues and shorten running times for all of these trains.

But what is missing and have been advocated for some time in Southern California are better connections between trains and seamless ticketing with a single ticket for connections on a trip. Many connections that do exist are not highlighted on schedules and many potential connections have yet to be made. No major schedule changes have yet been proposed, let alone made to create more and better connections within or between Metrolink, Coaster and Surfliner trains.

You can buy Amtrak tickets on Metrolink Ticket Machines, But there still isn’t information about existing connections or one place ticketing between Amtrak, Metrolink and Coaster trains. By comparison airline passengers can go online and not only get tickets of a full itinerary over several carriers, but also reservations for hotels and car rentals.

On a State Wide basis the closest thing we have to a State wide oversight agency for rail passenger service is LOSSAN. LOSSAN started out as the Los Angeles-San Diego Rail Corridor Agency back in the late 1980’s. Today it represents counties from San Diego north along the coast as far as San Luis Obispo and as far east as Palm Springs.

Still LOSSAN is a local JPA. The other 2 rail passenger JPA’s serve the area of the Capitol Corridor Trains now from San Jose to Oakland, Sacramento and Auburn, and the San Joaquin trains from Bakersfield , Oakland and Sacramento. These three JPA’s share connecting buses with each other and these bring in many passengers between these 3 services. With the creations of 3 JPA’s for these California Trains, much of the attention of the JPA’s are on local issues and service. What is often missing are efforts to connect all these services to each other and connecting services of each for intrastate passengers.

This becomes even more important as High Speed Rail passenger service is built. For example there is only one joint station planned on the San Joaquin Trains with High Speed Rail. This would be the Bakersfield Station. The reason there are so few joint stations was from the desire of the local cities in placing their High Speed Rail Stations near areas in need of redevelopment. Now the city of Bakersfield is proposing a new station site that won’t connect to the San Joaquin trains. There is a simple solution to this. This is to build transfer stations in the south and north of the San Joaquin Valley were the San Joaquin and High Speed Rail tracks are near to each other. High Speed Trains could stop there when there are San Joaquin Trains to connect to. High Speed Rail will be running several trains an hour with some as local and other as express trains. Adding 2 stops to a local High Speed train shouldn’t be that difficult.

For the public to get their best value and most economical service from Rail Passenger service, we need services to be connected to each other and have seamless ticketing with stations providing good connecting services. This will only happen if there is planning and coordination between services. This may not always be done voluntarily by the different agencies. This is why we need a small oversight agency to make the final decisions to insure that we have a true rail passenger network of many parts and not a feudal patchwork of independent fiefdoms.


Is Amtrak Management Incompetent?

If you asked Amtrak passengers if Amtrak management was competent after they spent a day on a train with a car that had a serious problem, what do you think their answer would be? Or passengers stranded for hours on a train first because of mechanical problems, but then because Amtrak didn’t have replacement crews ready after the first crew went over their 12 work day limit? Or passengers who miss their connections because no one held the train even though the connecting buses were only a few minutes late. Adding insult to injuries the station agents sat in their warm station, while passengers looked in the cold for the train they were told was waiting for them? Or how about being a passenger told to wait at the wrong track and platform for their train? Then having their train leave the terminal empty without anyone at Amtrak noticing until the passengers started to complain? The answer to the question of Amtrak management incompetence from these passengers wouldn’t be yes, but HELL YES!!

The most serious problem at Amtrak is poor management. This isn’t a new problem. This has dogged Amtrak from the very beginning. There is no shortage of good, hard working people at Amtrak. But the management system at Amtrak is overly centralized, with decisions often made by people miles away from the incident with limited information of the problems. Often when there is a problem the manager who’s department is responsible for the problem isn’t held accountable. A conductor in California can’t open an empty car with a train overflowing with passengers without calling a supervisor back east first. But first they have to track down the right supervisor who may have left work for the day.

This makes it unwise for anyone to take the initiative on the ground at Amtrak. This is because even it they are right, they will be in trouble for not going through channels.The result of this is different departments at Amtrak don’t talk to each other and no one really knows what is going on. But what is most telling about Amtrak incompetence, is when ever there is a problem, be it major or small, it is the unpreparedness and confusion of the organization that is the norm. In the recent deadly crash in Philadelphia, the survivors had nothing but phrase for the first responders and condemnation for Amtrak. Adding insult to injury, this accident was highly preventable with existing technology that had been on the NEC since the days of the GG1 locomotives. Amtrak had this signaling on other tracks next to the crash site. Only after the FRA ordered Amtrak did it extend it to the track of the accident and other tracks without this signalling on the NEC.

Why is Amtrak as an organization so disfunctional? I think it is because the United States hasn’t had a successful rail passenger service for over 50 years. After World War II rail service was in decline and there wasn’t much incentive for bright young people to make a career in rail passenger service.There isn’t any place in this country to learn how to run a successful rail passenger service. In this country there isn’t one successful intercity passenger railroad, only Amtrak.

But there are plenty of successful passenger railroads operating at a profit. They are literally all over the world with each carrying more people, with more trains to more places than Amtrak. Just replacing Amtrak President Boardman won’t fix the problems at Amtrak because the same management and management culture will remain as it always has over the years with other former Amtrak Presidents.

What Amtrak needs is a major shake up of its management. The best way to do this is to replace much of Amtrak senior management with a successful rail passenger railroad taking over. This wouldn’t be much different than the way commuter train service is operated in many places. Every few years the contract for the operations is up for bid, The assets of the commuter railroad are publicly owned and the commuter rail employees can stay on their job no matter who wins the contract. But this creates competition for management which can lead to improved service and revenues. If the current company fails to deliver, then another company can be given the chance.

This will be a big project. We should have the bidders present a business plan including their capital needs and service improvement plans to increase the productivity of Amtrak. What will be exciting is what these railroads will propose to improve service and revenue. Also having well trained, competent management will be an education for Amtrak employees to learn how to really run a good rail passenger service.

So who would oppose this plan? The states directly subsidizing Amtrak service would have much to gain. The rural states with Long Distance trains have nothing to lose. So who might oppose contracting out management for Amtrak? The States along the Northeast Corridor. Right now most of the budget for Amtrak directly or indirectly goes towards the NEC. The commuter trains of the States on the NEC depend on Amtrak to manage and maintain many of the tracks these trains run on. They benefit from Amtrak funding for taking care of these tracks. The strongest political block of support for Amtrak is the Northeast States.

The Northeast States also uses Amtrak as the one in the middle of the turf wars between the many commuter railroads on the NEC. This is particularly true in the New York City region between Metro North, Long Island Railroad and New Jersey Transit. Amtrak has been put in charge by the local politicians to promote the plans to add new tunnels under the Hudson River and enlarge Penn Station to handle more commuter trains and passengers. The irony is that most of this increased rail service will not benefit Amtrak, but New jersey Transit. But the State of New Jersey has pulled its funding out of the plan to build the new tunnels and enlarge Penn Station.

What is appalling is that with a little cooperation between the commuter railroads a much better and cheaper alternative would be possible. This would require the Long Island Railroad and New Jersey Transit to operate run through trains at Penn Station rather than terminating their trains there. This greatly improves the productivity of Penn Station allowing many more trains to use it. Some of these trains could to go on to Grand Central Station which has plenty of underused tracks and opens new markets for New Jersey and Long Island Railroads. But as New Jersey Transit’s executive director was quoted on the subject of increased cross agency cooperation ” If you’re not in charge you’re screwed” Well he didn’t say screwed, but I am being polite. But this is a strong case for importing competent management if we want better rail passenger service.


The Unreported Meltdown on the Route of the California Zephyr

There were a few news reports on June 27th of an Amtrak train from Chicago that was stranded overnight in Iowa because of a bridge wash out. This was the westbound California Zephyr leaving Chicago on Friday the 26th of June. What was not reported was that this train arrived at Emeryville 36 hours and 5 minutes late! This wasn’t the only California Zephyr to be affected from the problems in Iowa. Two other California Zephyr trainsets, both headed eastbound to Chicago were also stopped in Iowa. This affected the schedules of trains depending on the turnaround of this equipment at both terminals. At the heart of this, the problem wasn’t with a washed out bridge. It was the lack of preparedness by Amtrak to handle what is often a common problem of needing to reroute trains.

Heading for Chicago after leaving California on the 25th, this Zephyr got stranded in Creston, Iowa after its crew went over the 12 hour work limit. A replacement crew was put on the now 17 hour late westbound Zephyr which left Chicago on the 26th to get the eastbound train going. The westbound Zephyr for June 27th left Chicago almost on time. It came close to catching up with the Zephyr in front of it. By the time the train that left Chicago on the 27th got almost to Lincoln, Nebraska, its crew hit the 12 hour work limit. A replacement crew from Denver had to be found and transported.

On June 28th, the westbound Zephyr out of Chicago was cancelled. There was a departing eastbound Zephyr from Emeryville on the 28th, which was six and a half hours late leaving. The Zephyr that left California on the 25th and got a fresh crew from the westbound train that left Chicago on the 26th was finally terminated in Iowa and the passengers transferred to buses.

Finally at 4:15 AM on Tuesday the 30th the Zephyr leaving Chicago on the 26th arrived at Emeryville. The biggest factor in making most of these Zephyr trains late wasn’t the washed out bridge in Iowa. Nor was it the ballast train derailment on the BNSF on the 26th which held up the westbound trains from Chicago. Even the need to reroute these trains over detour routes wasn’t the main problem. Much of the time the trains were stranded was because fresh crews were needed but not available to relieve crews that had hit the 12 hour workday limit. As the saying goes, late trains only get later. As more trains ran late, more crews were needed to get the trains running again. The railroads knew the status of the crews on these Amtrak trains. They stopped those Zephyrs from going further if they knew the trains would have to stop and block their busy railroads when crews reached their time limits.

This isn’t a rare occurrence with Amtrak. Whenever there is a problem, Amtrak management seems to be blindsided and left flatfooted with few backup plans. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. At Amtrak it often seems they are penny wise trying to cut costs, but pound foolish when these shortcuts creates expensive problems.

* Train 5 of 06/26/2015.
* California Zephyr
* CHI * * 1 200P * 322P Departed: 1 hour, 22 minutes late.
* NPV * * 1 234P * 402P Departed: 1 hour, 28 minutes late.
* PCT * * 1 344P * 513P Departed: 1 hour, 29 minutes late.
* GBB 1 438P 1 438P 622P 654P Arrived: 1 hour, 44 minutes late. | Departed: 2 hours, 16 minutes late.
* BRL * * 1 525P * 905P Departed: 3 hours, 40 minutes late.
* MTP * * 1 559P * 941P Departed: 3 hours, 42 minutes late.
* OTM 1 653P 1 653P 1128P 646P Arrived: 4 hours, 35 minutes late. | Departed: 23 hours, 53 minutes late.
* OSC * * 1 809P * 909P Departed: 25 hours late.
* CRN * * 1 841P * 1213A Departed: 27 hours, 32 minutes late.
* OMA 1 1055P 1 1105P 517A 606A Arrived: 30 hours, 22 minutes late | Departed: 31 hours, 1 minute late.
* LNK 2 1208A 2 1214A 716A 754A Arrived: 31 hours, 8 minutes late. | Departed: 31 hours, 40 minutes late.
* HAS * * 2 147A * 926A Departed: 31 hours, 39 minutes late.
* HLD * * 2 234A * 1019A Departed: 31 hours, 45 minutes late.
* MCK * * 2 343A * 1125A Departed: 31 hours, 42 minutes late.
* FMG * * 2 505A * 145P Departed: 32 hours, 40 minutes late.
* DEN 2 715A 2 805A 322P 529P Arrived: 32 hours, 7 minutes late. | Departed: 33 hours, 24 minutes late.
* WIP * * 2 1007A * 830P Departed: 34 hours, 23 minutes late.
* GRA * * 2 1037A * 915P Departed: 34 hours, 38 minutes late.
* GSC * * 2 153P * 104A Departed: 35 hours, 11 minutes late.
* GJT 2 357P 2 410P 256A 313A Arrived: 34 hours, 59 minutes late | Departed: 35 hours, 3 minutes late.
* GRI * * 2 558P * 504A Departed: 35 hours, 6 minutes late.
HER * * 2 720P MT
PRO * * 2 926P MT
* SLC 2 1105P 2 1130P 950A 1013A Arrived: 34 hours, 45 minutes late | Departed: 34 hours, 43 minutes late.
* ELK 3 301A 3 303A 151P 159P Arrived: 34 hours, 50 minutes late | Departed: 34 hours, 56 minutes late.
* WNN * * 3 540A * 540P Departed: 36 hours late.
* RNO 3 825A 3 836A 814P 855P Arrived: 35 hours, 49 minutes late | Departed: 36 hours, 19 minutes late.
* TRU * * 3 937A * 954P Departed: 36 hours, 17 minutes late.
* COX * * 3 1148A * 1225A Departed: 36 hours, 37 minutes late.
* RSV 3 1255P 3 1257P 141A 143A Arrived: 36 hours, 46 minutes late | Departed: 36 hours, 46 minutes late.
* SAC 3 213P 3 225P 207A 221A Arrived: 35 hours, 54 minutes late | Departed: 35 hours, 56 minutes late.
* DAV 3 244P 3 246P 237A 239A Arrived: 35 hours, 53 minutes late | Departed: 35 hours, 53 minutes late.
* MTZ 3 326P 3 332P 321A 323A Arrived: 35 hours, 55 minutes late | Departed: 35 hours, 51 minutes late.
* RIC * * 3 359P * 406A Departed: 36 hours, 7 minutes late.
* EMY 3 410P * * 415A * Arrived: 36 hours, 5 minutes late.