Browsing Category

Electrification

Commentary, Electrification, High Speed Rail, San Joaquin

RailPAC submits letter to California State Senate Committee on Transportation on Appropriation of Proposition 1A Funds to the CHSRA

California State Senate Committee on Transportation
State Capitol, Room 2209
Sacramento, CA 95814

March 30, 2021

RE: Appropriation of Proposition 1A Funds to the CHSRA

Good Day. My name is Steve Roberts and I am President of the Rail Passenger Association of California and Nevada (RailPAC). I want to thank you for the opportunity to view and comment on the Senate Transportation Committee’s oversight hearing on March 16, 2021 on California High-Speed Rail Authority’s Revised Draft 2020 Business Plan.

While the hearing provided a valuable update on the high-speed rail project, its challenges/risks and options for moving forward and I understand hearing comments are closed, members of RailPAC feel that there was a major omission that we want to bring to your attention. While the risks for CHSRA’s proposed path forward were presented to legislators, the risks associated with the alternatives outlined were not presented. In some cases these risks are substantial and exceed the risks for the plan outlined in the Authority’s 2020 Business Plan. As a result, Senators only have a full understanding of the benefits and risks of the proposed 2020 Business Plan, but do not have the same level of information on risks for the alternative options.

For example, Lou Thompson of the High-Speed Rail Peer Review Group suggested postponing the Proposition 1A appropriation decision by six-months. But that would put the decision out of the 21/22 State Fiscal Year budget cycle. The result would be, not a six-month delay, but a year’s delay,until the State Fiscal Year 22/23 cycle. As the Authority has noted,the cost of Covid-19 delays in 2020 has driven cost increases which combined with the Cap & Trade short-fall,sets up a cash flow crisis of unknown magnitude. Helen Kerstein, Principle Fiscal and Policy Analyst in the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO),felt that the Authority could manage any cash crisis associated with a delay in bond funding;but as we have seen this year, there is no certainty of that. Why take the risk and set-up such a scenario where perhaps work is slowed, bad relations are created with contractors and sub-contractors as a result of slow payments,and pre-construction work on other environmentally cleared segments is delayed? Shouldn’t the Authority’s management be totally focused on the 119-mile project completion instead of on managing a cash crisis that could have been avoided? These risks should have been highlighted to the Senators during the hearing.

A conundrum was also introduced when Mr. Thompson also suggested pausing until the Memorandum of Understanding between the Authority, the San Joaquin JPA and CalSTA could be finalized, so that with specific cost details could be provided. As a result of that pause, the Track & Signal Systems as well as equipment RFP would be deferred. Yet the track and equipment maintenance and lease costs represent the two biggest cost items in the MOU, which cannot be defined untilcontracts are undertaken. If Mr. Thompson’s recommendations are followed, the MOU would not be finalized, thus resulting in planning gridlock.

A risk factor not discussed in the recommended postponement of the Track & Signals Systems contract is the marketplace challenge presented by the fact that many of the track and signal components are long-lead time items, some specially built, in a market with a shrunken domestic supply chain.

In discussing the risk that there may be a shortfall in funds to complete the proposed Merced – Bakersfield Interim Operating Segment, the proposed option, delaying the project, in fact increases the risk, by adding costs due to construction cost inflation. This increased risk was not noted in the hearing.

Also noted,a risk for the Authority’s plan is the uncertainty over whether there would be sufficient revenues to pay maintenance and operating costs for use of the Merced – Bakersfield line. Yet,when the option of operating the existing seven round-trip San Joaquins over the HSR line was discussed, the risk of whether fewer and slower trains with no ACE connection could generate sufficient revenue to pay the Authority’s costs was not highlighted.

Regarding the diesel operation of seven daily round-trips,how does that fit with the environmental studies, all of which estimated large green-house gas (GHG) reductions as a result of very frequent electrified rail service with substantial trip time savings? Doesn’t this suggested diesel option undermine the whole environmental study process? The reversal of environmental commitments in a region where the American Lung Association’s 2016 State of the Air Report found that the San Joaquin Valley has the highest childhood asthma rates in the nation,would seem especially disingenuous. The electrification of the high-speed rail is designed to be a contributing mitigation effort for reaching GHG reduction commitments.

There was also discussion of the total cost of the remaining bonds (principle and interest). What was not noted is that,given current low interest rates, there is an opportunity to reap a substantial interest cost saving by selling the remaining Proposition 1A bonds this year rather than waiting several years.

Additionally, it was suggested that additional right-of-way planning and advanced project design (beyond the Authority’s current plan) be undertaken on the environmentally approved new segments of Phase I. While a very productive effort,this forward leaning initiative would be the first to be eliminated in SFY 21/22 if steady funding through the appropriation of Proposition 1A funds is not achieved and there is cash flow shortfall.

RailPAC feels that,when the risks of the alternative options to the Authority’s Revised 2020 Business Plan are considered, the appropriation of Proposition 1A funds to the Authority is the only proper course. RailPAC is a bi-state organization with membership throughout California and Nevada. RailPAC is a strong advocate for an expanded comprehensive public transportation network serving the entire state. RailPAC is an all-volunteer non-profit passenger rail advocacy group, founded in 1978.

Thank You for your consideration of the points that we raised in this letter.

Yours truly,
Steve Roberts
President Rail Passenger Association of California and Nevada

Commentary, Electrification, High Speed Rail, San Joaquin

RailPAC submits comment to California Senate Transportation Committee & Senate Budget Sub-Committee #5, Joint Informational Hearing on High Speed Rail

March 15, 2021

California State Senate Sub-Committee #5 -Transportation
State Capitol, Room 5019
Sacramento, CA 95814


Chairs Gonzalez, Durazo and Sub-Committee Members:

After review of the California High Speed Rail Authority Revised Draft 2020 California Business Plan,the Rail Passenger Association of California and Nevada (RailPAC) recommends that the Revised 2020 Business Plan be adopted. RailPAC also supports the appropriation of the remaining Proposition1A funds to complete the core 119-mile Central Valley segment. RailPAC feels it is critical to continue to focus on completing the rail line from Merced to Bakersfield and initiating the Interim Central Valley Operating Plan as the best strategy forward.

In order sustain and accelerate project momentum and avoid cash flow issues, it is critical that the remaining Proposition 1A funds be appropriated to finish the core 119-mile segment between Madera and Poplar Ave. This would eliminate a major current risk (COVID driven short-fall in Cap and Trade funds) while positioning California’s high speed rail project as the strongest candidate for additional Federal funds.

Ironically some of the project options proposed by others substantially increases project risk resulting in a high probability of an increase in costs due to delays. Suggestions that the Proposition 1A appropriation be postponed rests on the assumption that the cash flow shortfall can be mitigated. This is speculative and the recommendation increases risk. In addition, not providing a steady funding source prevents the agency from taking advantage of any opportunities to accelerate construction. This suggestion also assumes that the Biden Administration will favorably view projects that are not taking actions to best position themselves to leverage Federal investment.

Among the other postponements suggested,none creates a greater risk than the delay of the Track and Systems contract. First, the core 119-mile segment requires a track to meet ARRA requirements, second all of the core 119-mile designs for civil works will be completed by the time the Track and Systems contract is finalized, third the Track and Systems project will require many months of design and pre-construction activities all of which occur off-site without impacting civil construction. The fourth issue is extremely critical and the activity most impacted by any delay. Much of the Track and Systems components (such as rail, ties, signal components, etc.) are long-lead time items in an environment of a major federal infrastructure initiative where the capacity of the railroad supply industry is geared to lower, normal levels of railroad investment. Delay risks putting California’s HSR project behind the Northeast Corridor, Brightline, Texas Central and Chicago Hub passenger rail capacity projectsin acquiring track and signal components.

One of the key initiatives of the CHSRA Revised Draft 2020 Business Plan is to initially construct the Merced to Bakersfield operating segment as a single track line (with passing sidings). This is an example of focusing in on what is critical to start-up. A single-track rail line is adequate for systems and rail equipment testing. Given the Interim Operating Plan’s proposed service level (hourly service from Bakersfield and Merced 18 hours per day); a single track with passing sidings is sufficient. It is not until hourly service is added between Bakersfield and the Bay Area that a double-track railway will be required. During testing and subsequent interim operations additional segments of double track can be safely constructed. Amtrak totally reconstructs its Northeast Corridor tracks even as operations safely continue on adjacent tracks.

The CHSRA Revised Draft 2020 Business Plan presents a viable plan that substantially improves the California passenger rail network. The Interim Operating Plan brings true high-speed rail service to California sooner than any alternative option. It demonstrates the potential of high-speed rail while facilitating an improved and expanded ACE/San Joaquin/HSR network reaching all of California and delivering a broad integrated California transportation network with the high-speed rail service as its core link. This network also creates the most financially viable option for increasing service and reducing the required operating subsidy compared to the current standalone ACE and San Joaquin services.

The Rail Passenger Association of California and Nevada is a bi-state organization with membership throughout California and Nevada. RailPAC is a strong advocate for an expanded comprehensive public transportation network serving the entire state. RailPAC is an all-volunteer non-profit passenger rail advocacy group, founded in 1978. Thank you for this opportunity to provide input on this vital issue.

Yours truly,

Steve Roberts
President Rail Passenger Association of California and Nevada

Amtrak Long Distance, Arizona, Central Coast, Coachella/Imperial Valleys, Commentary, Editorials, Electrification, High Speed Rail, LOSSAN, Metrolink/SCCRA, Rail Technology, San Diego County, San Joaquin, Technical and Rolling Stock

Steel Wheels, 1st Quarter 2021 issue available online

Download the pdf of Steel Wheels, 1st Quarter 2021 by clicking here.

In this issue:

  • San Diego County rail improvements
  • Public transportation in a post-pandemic world
  • Prospects for future LA-Phoenix passenger rail
  • Letter to California High Speed Rail Authority
  • Arizona rail news
  • Russ Jackson commentary on state of U.S. passenger rail in 2021
  • Andrew Seldon commentary on future of Amtrak
  • Battery vs. hydrogen trains
  • European night trains- lessons for USA?
  • and more!
Amtrak Long Distance, Bay Area, CalSTA TIRCP, Caltrain, Central Coast, Coachella/Imperial Valleys, Commentary, Editorials, Electrification, High Speed Rail, LOSSAN, Metrolink/SCCRA, Rail Technology, San Diego County, San Francisco, San Joaquin

RailPAC submits public comment letter on California Transportation Plan 2050

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

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

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

Steel Wheels magazine, 2nd quarter 2020 available online

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

In this issue:

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

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

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

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

More information is available on the TIRCP website.

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

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

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

Project: Metrolink Antelope Valley Line Capital and Service Improvements

Award: $107,050,000

Total Budget: $220,850,000

Estimated TIRCP GHG Reductions: 584,000 MTCO2e

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

The 4 infrastructure projects include:

1. Balboa Double Track Extension

2. Lancaster Terminal Improvements

3. Canyon Siding Extension

4. Brighton-McGinley Double Track

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

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

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

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

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

Project: Building Up Control: LOSSAN Service Enhancement Program

Award: $38,743,000

Total Budget: $87,196,969

Estimated TIRCP GHG Reductions: 325,000 MTCO2e

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

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

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

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

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

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