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Events

What did I learn from listening to Amtrak’s Brian Rosenwald?

Commentary by Russ Jackson, RailPAC

It is safe to say that Amtrak’s Chief, Product Development, Brian Rosenwald is held in very high esteem by rail advocates in this country. His huge success in developing the Pacific Parlour Car and other enhancements for the Coast Starlight in the mid-1990’s is legendary, and he calls those five years the best in his career. But that success has only been partially duplicated on other Amtrak trains since then. Today’s Empire Builder is a very successful off-shoot of what Mr. Rosenwald under his boss at the time, Amtrak West President Gil Mallery, accomplished back then.

Most of the time all we hear is how Amtrak is in trouble, especially the long-distance trains. Look at the history of those “gems of the system:” Writer Gene Poon reminds us that the “Amtrak we knew has already been downgraded, like when there were 18 cars of the combined California Zephyr/Desert Wind/Pioneer out of Chicago, with two full dining cars; 16 cars of the combined Miami and Tampa sections of the Silver Meteor/Silver Star with a section of each train doing a thriving business on the Ocala route; and of course the loss of direct service to Phoenix, without even the provision of a Thruway bus.” Amtrak moans about how the long-distance trains lose so much money, Congressman Mica roars about the huge cost of the food and beverage service, the Union Pacific and the BNSF hand Amtrak multi-million dollar bills for retaining or restoring service that had already existed. Public perception gained from stories like those mask the actual success the long-distance trains are having with the passengers out on the rails.

RailPAC President Paul Dyson, left, presents a plaque of appreciation to Brian Rosenwald. It is the second time RailPAC has done so, the first was in 1995 for his work on the Coast Starlight, and that plaque still hangs in Brian’s office. (Noel Braymer photo)

On September 15, 2012, RailPAC and NARP held their annual Steel Wheels Conference at the California State Rail Museum in Sacramento. This writer attended, with my wife and I riding the Texas Eagle-Sunset Limited (train numbers 421 and 422) from Ft. Worth to Los Angeles Union Station and back (more in my trip report to be posted on www.railpac.org soon). Brian Rosenwald spoke. The ears of this writer and all our colleagues were finely tuned to hear what might be new, and we knew he would be listening to us. He didn’t disappoint. In his opening remarks he told the audience that he liked coming to meetings like ours because of our enthusiasm for passenger rail and its future.

He started with some statistics:
Long-distance ridership is up 24% since 2007, its revenue is up 37%, and on a fully allocated basis the cost recovery is 48% with an annual loss of $563 million. What, he asked, is Amtrak doing to make this better?
1) Increase revenue density through yield management and augmented capacity.
2) Continue to focus on increased passenger per train mile and average yields.
3) Contain costs through efficiency.
4) Strategically invest capital when possible to reduce operating losses.

In other words, did he say add cars when demand requires it? Are they doing that? Well, yes and no. On our trip train #421 was at capacity; both the through Coach and Sleeping Car were full out of Ft. Worth and remained so most of the way to LA. Train #422 was a bit less full. “Offs” and “ons” were frequent, with each station, even the flag stops in NM and AZ, serving many passengers. Amtrak had to know that, early enough to schedule an additional car to fill up. This summer the Zephyr and the Builder ran with added seasonal cars in the West. According to RailPAC’s Anthony Lee, Mr. Rosenwald said they were considering adding a fourth sleeping car and a first class Cross Country Cafe Diner (ala the Pacific Parlour Car) permanently to the Builder year around. Demand for travel into and out of Williston, ND, has skyrocketed because of the oil field expansions; they can board/detrain 100 folks a day there frequently. Also, they will extend Auto Train from 46-48 cars to 55 cars and are seeking approval from CSX. A Chicago-Los Angeles dedicated express car would be added to the Southwest Chief, but is that train moving to the BNSF Transcon line? Unknown now, but it looks very possible since KS, CO, and NM have said they will have no money to invest to keep it on the present line. Amtrak is going ahead with adding a new bus from Denver to LaJunta and one from Newton to Oklahoma City, making connecting through-service Denver-San Antonio possible! As RailPAC’s Noel Braymer wrote, “In the past the most successful trains were the longest ones that carried the most passengers. The problems with doing this now is the shortage of equipment and doing it in a way that doesn’t increase the cost of operating the train on a fully allocated basis.” A new, more independent Long Distance Train Division is being created at Amtrak, which will speed up the decision-making process and will result in a greater “ownership” of those trains by the Amtrak employees working in that Division, which will lead to improved service.

What can a passenger riding on a long-distance train expect to see? If you have ridden a long-distance train more than once lately you know there has been no change in the dining car menus. Mr. Rosenwald said it took him only three weeks to make menu adjustments on the Coast Starlight, while now it takes a year. So, variety may be in the future, with regional specialties available. In the sleeping cars, and this writer can attest that many of the items are already on the trains, they have been working on things like faucets and sinks. Forever, Superliner sinks have splashed water and the faucets have been hard to use. No more. Reading lights have been dim, but the new ones are bright LED type with touch switches! New mattresses are on the way to replace the thin ones in use forever. I pointed out that I had just come off one of the newly rebuilt sleeping cars, 32059, and there were no soap bars (only liquid soap), no paper cups, only one towel hook, and no hooks to hang up clothes, jackets, etc., only the small closet for those items. He made note. On our return trip in a car, 32032, that had been even further upgraded we had the soap bars and cups. Progress at last, in that restroom cleanser odors have been mostly eliminated. The clean, new floor carpeting is welcome, and the replacement of the carpeted walls with paneling makes cleaning the cars easier. The one major problem we have seen no progress on is the rattle of the doors that can open between bedrooms. Guess what: the PA in our car on #422 worked only partially and we missed all the conductor/dining car announcements. In the works also is a “business class” section to replace the lower level “Kiddie Car” on the Coast Starlight, which would generate an additional $3 million. Nothing’s perfect, but we commend Mr. Rosenwald and Amtrak for these upgrades, even if they were needed years ago.

Hey, Brian, here are some things you can do in the Dining car. Real china is returning to all the Western trains soon, he said. On our trips the crews were excellent and had high morale. Mr. Rosenwald noticed this writer’s article about 24-hour meal service, (see the July/August issue of Steel Wheels or look on www.railpac.org or www.unitedrail.org) and he remembered the experiment and that the crews and passengers liked that. It didn’t go past the experimental stage because the bureaucracy found it would increase employee costs and they didn’t want that then, and probably don’t want it now. We have since learned that there has been a crew-size reduction on train #2. But the added revenue from 24-hour service would make up much of the loss today and would entice more Coach passengers in to eat. He thought another experiment might be feasible. As for food, we love the Angus Cheeseburger that is served at lunch and it should be available all day. How about a BLT? Everybody likes those, and they already cook bacon at breakfast and have lettuce and tomatoes available for salads all day. I showed Mr. Rosenwald a picture of a Texas-shaped waffle that I had at a hotel in Amarillo recently. Could a waffle iron be installed in the lower kitchen? Can you imagine the conversations a passenger would have about the breakfast waffle after he and the kids got off the Texas Eagle? And last, but not least, Brian, have those crews walk through the cars with illustrated menus promoting what passengers can have while they “eat their way across the country.” Sell! Sell! Sell! …with specifics!

I know the RailPAC Board joins me in wishing Brian Rosenwald well, and urge that he be selected to be the new Chief of the new Long Distance Division!

Events

Notes on the RailPAC/NARP Meeting in Sacramento

Observations and Photos by Noel T. Braymer

This is just a short report on the September 15th Meeting in Sacramento of my personal impressions as I tap away on my phone on the train going home. I got on the connecting bus for train 711 in the wee hours of Saturday morning to get to Sacramento. The bus was crowded and there were few free seats north of LA. It is times like this why I wonder there are no connecting buses for the San Joaquins south of Orange County for the Trains going directly to Sacramento. There are potential riders if the buses were there: people will ride the bus to catch trains at ungodly hours. Also the connecting bus from Stockton to Sacramento was nearly full. The good news is Stockton is getting new platforms. The bad news is the station in the mean time doesn’t have platforms. The resulting problems of getting off the train at Stockton and the confusion of so many passengers trying to find which of the three buses to catch resulted in the bus to Sacramento being twenty minites late leaving Stockton. Amazing to me was how many people transferred at Sacramento to the bus to Reno. At least I had 3 hours of free time before the meeting.

While not a great picture it shows the new Station for Madera on the San Joaquins. The old station was one of the worse in the State and replacing it was a long held goal of Caltrans

The current state of the platforms at Stockton

The crowd of people trying to get on the Bus from Stockton toward Sacramento

The meeting started with a greeting from Paul Hammond, Director of the California State Museum who was so kind to let us meet there both at the Stanford Gallery and in the East Theatre inside the Museum. The first speaker was Assemblyman Roger Dickinson of the 9th Assembly district in the Sacramento area. A long time supporter of rail service Roger Dickinson began with a theme repeated by other speakers on the 15th. This was on the Network Connections and interdependency between High Speed Rail, Corridor Rail, Commuter Rail and Rail Transit. As examples of these he gave lists of connecting conventional projects in the recently passed High Speed Rail Bill and in the legislation passed and waiting for the Governor’s decision to sign or veto that would create local Joint Power Agencies to manage the San Joaquins and Pacific Surfliners.

Assemblyman Dickinson with RailPAC President Paul Dyson

The next speaker was Brian Rosenwald, Chief-Product Development, Amtrak. Mr. Rosenwald talked about some of the difficulties of his job but most of his talk was about the potential of Long Distance Trains. He was encouraged by plans to create a new more independent Long Distance Train Division at Amtrak. This should speed up the the decision making process for Long Distance Trains for things like menu changes. He also feels greater decentralization of authority at Amtrak will mean as he called it greater “Ownership” of the trains by local managers which will lead to improved service and faster responses to fixing problems. Mr.Rosenwald would like to add more cars on the Long Distance Trains. In the past the most successful trains were the longest ones that carried the most passengers. The problems with doing this now is the shortage of equipment and doing it in a way that doesn’t increase the cost of operating the train on a fully allocated basis. Mr. Rosenwald also listed several projects in the works such as more cars on the Empire Builder, carrying pallet loads of cargo on the Chief and expanded first class service on Long Distant Trains.

 

Brian Rosenwald with Paul Dyson

Dan Leavitt represented the San Joaquin Regional Commission which is responsible for the ACE Train. He was filling in for his boss: Stacey Mortensen who was unable to attend. Most of Mr. Leavitt’s presentation was about the future of the San Joaquin Trains with service from Oakland and Sacramento to Bakersfield and the creation of a Joint Powers Agency to run it which would include the transportation agencies of the Valley. He did say there was opposition to the JPA in Bakersfield in Kern County and Hanford in Kings County.

Sacramento City Councilman Steve Cohn with Paul Dyson

Sacramento City Councilman Steve Cohn is a major supporter of rail service. He is on the boards of both the Sacramento RT and the Capitol Corridor JPA. He wanted people to know that problems from construction at the Sacramento would soon be a thing of the past. By November the detours to the platforms will be gone. By 2015 the $30 million rebuild of the station will be finished which will open 2/3 of the station now closed to the public with more places to eat and other station services. City Councilman Cohn also talked about plans for the Capitol Corridor to raise speeds to 110 miles per hour as well as other track improvement to allow service in an hour between Sacramento and the Bay Area.

Daniel Krause of Californians For High Speed Rail

Daniel Krause, Director Californians for High Speed Rail talked about joint efforts between his group and NARP supporting High Speed Rail in California and the shared network of projects of High Speed Rail and conventional rail services. Nathan Dietrich from the office of Congresswoman Doris Matsui talked about the Congresswoman’s long standing support of improved rail service and of the Sacramento Valley Station. Armin Kick of Siemens gave an update of what is happening at Siemens\Sacramento. More Light Rail Car construction is on line as well as construction soon of new electric locomotives for Amtrak. This will result in the construction of the first intercity electrified test track in California and the only one west of  Colorado. Matt Melzer Of NARP gave a power point presentation of NARP’s proposed rail service improvements as well as data on the future problems in the county with transportation and of recent rail service expansion in the county. He also showed drawing of and talked about the 14 rebuilt New Jersey Transit Comet Cars that will be used soon on the San Joaquins to help deal with overcrowding on California’s Corridor Trains.

Nathan Dietrich from the Office of Congresswoman Matsui

Armin Kick of Siemens with Paul Dyson

Matt Melzer of NARP

Attendees in the Stanford Gallery before the start of the Meeting

This is just a short list of highlights of almost 4 hours of meetings. I had to leave the meeting before the end to catch my train the 704. As it was I didn’t give myself much free time so I got to experience the confusion to trying to find the platform for my train for the first time with the confusing detours which increases the distance to catch the train. I was jogging to catch the train through the new tunnel as I looked at the time and the message Last Call for my train on the new LED Message Boards in the station tunnel But I still had a couple of minutes to spare when I caught my train.

My view of the new platform at Sacramento. No time for more pictures since I had a train to catch. NB

NationalTrainDay
Events

National Train Day Events

NationalTrainDayNational Train Day is approaching fast and we wanted to take this opportunity to highlight some events taking place around the state on May 8, 2010!  2010 marks Amtrak’s third year celebrating America’s love of train travel.  It’s a perfect day to get your kids, family and neighbors to discover the benefits of traveling by train!

Which event will you be attending on National Train Day?  Hosting an event or want to get involved?  Let us know!

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Events

RailPAC-NARP Sacramento meeting UPDATE

March 2008-2“SACRAMENTO RAILS”
In the California State Rail Museum meeting room
where the 2008 annual meeting was held, 111 I Street, just west of the CSRM main building. Minimum Donation: $15, payable in advance: YOU MUST RESERVE BY JANUARY 13! SPACE IS LIMITED to 50, so E-mail info@railpac.org, or call 916-833-4218 to reserve your space NOW. The PayPal option is at the end of this message!
WE ARE PLEASED TO ANNOUNCE Armin Kick of Siemens Sacramento will participate. His expertise completes the picture of integrated rail from his task experience from high speed rail rolling stock to light rail.
PROGRAM: Other Speakers include, RailPAC-NARP’s Paul Dyson; Sacrmento County Supervisor Roger Dickinson; Capitol Corridor’s new Managing Director David Kutrosky; Caltrans Rail Program Chief Bill Bronte; ACE Excecutive Director Stacey Mortensen; Sacramento City DOT’s Hinda Chandler on the Railyards development; Paul Hammond from the CSRM with RailPAC’s Art Lloyd; and an end of meeting DRAWING!

Click the logo above for your payment of $ 15.00 for: Sacramento Meeting Registration

Events

RailPAC-NARP LAUS Meeting notice

At Los Angeles Union Station this Saturday!
Informal get together for all RailPAC and NARP members. Meet opposite Union Bagel.
Come join us for rail talk and holiday good fellowship!
Paul Dyson

Events

RailPAC-NARP Meeting scheduled for LAS VEGAS!

ATTENTION SOUTHERN NEVADA RAILPAC AND NARP MEMBERS!

You are invited to our first ever members meeting AND DINNER to be held in Las Vegas. The meeting will be held Tuesday December 8th, 2009 at 6.30 pm.

Thanks to the kind sponsorship of the Nevada Broadcasters Association the meeting will be held at their offices located at: 1050 East Flamingo Road, Suite 102, Las Vegas NV. This is the three story building one block west of Maryland Parkway, behind “Canes”.

The NBA is providing dinner BUT you must reserve a place by RSVP to this notice.: Please reply to Paul Dyson, NARP Division Leader and RailPAC President: 818 845 9599 OR pdyson@railpac.org OR narpsw@yahoo.com OR by mail to 623 S Orchard Drive Burbank, CA 91506-2904, No later than NOVEMBER 30th.

Tickets: MINIMUM DONATION $20 per person including dinner. You can pay by Paypal at www.railpac.org, or send me a check made out to RailPAC. Proceeds will be split between NARP and RailPAC.

Click the logo above for your payment of $ 20.00 for: Las Vegas Meeting Registration

Speakers and program to be announced. Check this space for details!

Come and join us and bring your ideas about the future of rail for Southern Nevada and the USA.

Paul Dyson
Bob Fisher, NARP Council
RailPAC and NARP 702 794 4994

Events

RailPAC-NARP joint October meeting set for San Carlos; Skoropowski retires

Saturday, October 24, On the Peninsula!
Location:
Samtrans HQ Auditorium
, 1250 San Carlos Avenue, San Carlos about a block from the San Carlos Caltrain stationCaltrain San Carlos station.
Time: 1pm – 4pm
Plenty of choices for restaurants in the locality.
Confirmed Speakers:

  • Gene Skoropowski, Capitol Corridor Managing Director. Your chance to say goodbye to Gene, who retires in November.
  • Rod Diridon, California High Speed Rail Authority Board member. Catch up on high speed rail progress.
  • NEW SMART, the Sonoma-Marin commuter rail project will be represented! Check here for updated information.
    Fee: Suggested minimum $10 donation at the door.
    But, Please RSVP to info@railpac.org
    so we can plan for the space.