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Issues

The Governor Signing the Symbolic Rail
Issues, Rail Photos, Reports

CAHSR Groundbreaking Ceremony – January 6, 2015

Photos by Paul Dyson, President

Commentary, Issues, Reports

Amtrak’s 2014 – The Real Stats

Amtrak continually tells us about how many passengers they put into seats in the Northeast corridor. What many suspect because of far longer travel distances, but never can get Amtrak to say, is that in passenger miles (passenger mile = one passenger riding for one mile), and is said by some to be the most proper measure of how much transportation is being produced … the Northeast Corridor is the least productive part of the company. Here are the statistics that Amtrak doesn’t tell us for FY 2014.

 

PASSENGER MILES
Includes over 3 million on NEC Spine Special Trains, and over 4 million on State Corridor Special Trains; none on Long Distance Special Trains

  • NEC Spine – 1,931,319,000
  • State Corridors – 1,961,953,000
  • Long Distance – 2,760,957,000

TRAIN MILES
Includes 14,000 on NEC Spine Special Trains, 10,000 on State Corridor Special Trains; none on Long Distance Special Trains

  • NEC Spine – 9,094,000
  • State Corridors – 15,232,000
  • Long Distance – 14,732,000

SEAT MILES
Includes over 9.2 million on NEC Spine Special Trains, 5.9 million on State Corridor Special Trains; none on Long Distance Special Trains

  • NEC Spine – 3,462,836,268
  • State Corridors – 4,607,897,790
  • Long Distance – 4,678,361,006

LOAD FACTOR
Load factors on NEC Special Trains 33.8%, State Corridor Special Trains 72.2%, no Long Distance Special Trains

  • NEC Spine – 55.8%
  • State Corridors – 42.6%
  • Long Distance – 59.0%
Source: AMTRAK
Issues, Reports

Bipartisan Passenger Rail Legislation introduced in U.S. House

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PRESS RELEASE

Committee Leaders Introduce Bipartisan Passenger Rail Legislation READ THE BILL at http://transportation.house.gov/uploadedfiles/hr5449.pdf

For Immediate Release: September 11, 2014
Contact: Jim Billimoria, Justin Harclerode

Washington, DC – Transportation and Infrastructure Committee leaders today introduced bipartisan legislation that improves the infrastructure, reduces costs, leverages private sector resources, creates greater accountability and transparency, and accelerates project delivery for Amtrak and the Nation’s passenger rail transportation system.

The Passenger Rail Reform and Investment Act of 2014, or PRRIA (H.R. 5449), was introduced by Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA); T&I Ranking Member Nick J. Rahall, II (D-WV); Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee Chairman Jeff Denham (R-CA); and Subcommittee Ranking Member Corrine Brown (D-FL).

“The reality is intercity passenger rail plays an important role in our national transportation network,” Shuster said. “Congress can either sit back while Amtrak and our passenger rail system continue to muddle along without reforms and without improvements, or we can take significant steps forward in improving Amtrak’s transparency and cost-effectiveness, and compelling it to operate like a true business should. I commend Chairman Denham for his leadership on this legislation.”

“This bill provides much-needed investments in the long-distance network and ensures continuation of all long-distance trains, including the Cardinal Route that runs through southern West Virginia,” Rahall said. “Reliable passenger rail service helps move our economy forward and is critical to communities across our nation. I appreciate the bipartisan work that went into drafting this bill, and I look forward to advancing it through our committee.”

“The Passenger Rail Reform and Investment Act will bring our nation’s rail system into the 21st century,” Denham said. “It reduces costs, strengthens crucial infrastructure, and encourages innovation through partnerships with the states and the private sector. The bill will require Amtrak to operate more like a business and force them to be accountable and transparent to taxpayers.”

“This bipartisan bill is a good first step in providing the systemwide investment and operational improvements that Amtrak needs to serve its steadily increasing ridership,” Brown said.

Passenger rail presents one of the best transportation alternatives for relieving congestion on some of the Nation’s most crowded highways and in our busy airspace. However, the rail system and Amtrak – the country’s intercity passenger rail provider – must be reformed and improved. For years, Amtrak has operated under unrealistic fiscal expectations and without a sufficient level of transparency. Profits from Amtrak’s only profitable route — the Northeast Corridor (NEC) – currently are not invested back into the corridor. And although significant ridership increases are occurring on Amtrak’s state-supported routes, its inconsistent financial structure and “black box” accounting system hamper states’ ability to help manage the routes and understand what exactly it is they’re paying Amtrak for.

In addition, rail infrastructure projects are unnecessarily delayed by unwieldy review processes that cost time and money, and current law that limits the ability to partner with the private sector holds back the development of the system.

PRRIA addresses these issues and builds upon improvements included in the previous rail authorization of 2008.

Passenger Rail Reform and Investment Act of 2014 Highlights

Reforms Amtrak to Increase Transparency, Reduce Costs, and Operate More Like a Business

Eliminates Amtrak’s losses in food and beverage service
Mandates Amtrak carry out a business case analysis for all major procurements
Eliminates Amtrak’s black-box accounting and requires transparent bookkeeping aligned with core service functions

Leverages Resources and Encourages Non-Federal Participation

Creates station development opportunities for the private sector
Opens new revenue streams through right-of-way development
Unlocks an underutilized federal railroad loan program
Assists with advancing large infrastructure projects through partnerships with states

Targets Investments Where There is the Greatest Potential for Success

Improves management of the Northeast Corridor
Incentivizes increased Northeast Corridor investments

Empowers States to Have a Greater Role in Managing Routes

Ensures states are equal partners, giving them a greater say in decision making to ensure passengers get the best service
Strengthens transparency to give states and Congress greater insight into Amtrak’s accounting to identify areas for improvement
Requires Amtrak to evaluate long-distance routes, improve services, and lower costs

Streamlines Environmental Reviews and Accelerates Project Delivery

Sets hard deadlines to reasonably limit review times
Requires reviews to occur concurrently rather than consecutively
Improves coordination among federal, state, and local agencies involved in the reviews

# # #

Issues

Complete the Santa Cruz Passenger Rail Study Survey

Santa Cruz Passenger Rail StudyYour ideas are important!

The Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission (SCCRTC) is analyzing the feasibility of passenger rail transit service along the 32-mile Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line.

Complete an Online Survey on “Passenger Rail Goals & Scenarios”.

Your feedback will guide station, service scenario, and ridership analysis. Ensure the passenger rail study reflects everyone in the community.  The Survey closes at midnight on August 3. Continue Reading

Commentary, Issues

Sunset Limited in jeopardy is serious business: Part 1, Comments by RailPAC member Steve Roberts

I wanted to emphasize that the comments made by Russ Jackson and Paul Dyson on the seriousness of the Sunset Ltd. amendment are not overstated. (Note: See their commentaries also on railpac.org) The whole long-distance network is at risk. Also this is a battle unlike any we have seen in the past for the following reasons:

1.) The Libertarian/Tea Party courting legislators now take pride in eliminating programs that serve their districts (except Cold War era weapons systems, irrigation projects, highway spending, etc.). Cutting Amtrak is a high profile way to show their budget cutting credentials to voters and this provides a road-map for the discontinuance of other long-distance routes;

2.) A significant number of legislators whose districts are served by long-distance trains are courting conservative support by calling for the defunding Amtrak (which is why you never see any funding for additional Superliner cars – it is always deleted from the Amtrak capital budget);

3.) With freight traffic rising dramatically don’t overlook the freight railroads influence in this effort. Make no mistake, they want the long-distance passenger trains gone, it is worth millions to them in capacity increases without capital investment. The idea that they would welcome passenger trains on their key mainlines with additional payments is wishful thinking. Every year the freight railroads leave millions of dollars in on-time performance incentive payments on the table;

4.) Historically, except in the case of national security, Congress has paid great deference to the wishes of its members for activities in their districts. Since few in Congress understand network connectivity, the Sunset Ltd. amendment is seen as a regional issue supported whole-heartedly by most members from states effected. If successful, the “regional” approach could be taken to target the long-distance trains one-by-one;

5.) Congress makes policy for Amtrak and hires managers to carry out these policies. An Amtrak manager advocating for different priorities beyond what Congress determines will be out the door – just ask Dave Gunn. He fought Congressional priorities and was out the door faster than an Acela Express rolling on the New Jersey speedway.

So there will no help (except as private citizens) from Amtrak management.

Because of the perceived “regional” nature of this proposal this is a battle that will have to be fought and won primarily by rail advocates in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Louisiana. Another key ally are the Texas Eagle supporters since, without connecting revenue from the Sunset Ltd.’s through cars, the Texas Eagle will be third on the discontinuance list (after the Cardinal). Californians have just one key point of influence. The 23rd Congressional District , (near Bakersfield and Tehachapi) the district of Rep. Kevin McCarthy, House Majority Leader. RailPAC members in the 23rd District need to go the “extra mile” in pointing out the true motivation of this amendment (the ultimate discontinuance of all long-distance trains by increasing costs and reducing revenues).

Other California RailPAC members (and those in states not served by the Sunset Ltd.) need to point out to their legislators that a vote for the amendment to discontinue the Sunset Ltd. is a vote to ultimately eliminate all long-distance rail service. This is because:

1.) The costs listed for the Sunset Ltd. include many joint and common costs (i.e. Beech Grove Shops) allocated to the long-distance as a group. These allocated costs will not be “saved” by discontinuing the Sunset Ltd. they will simply be reallocated to the the long-distance routes increasing their losses. The only way to save costs associated with the long- distance trains as a group is to discontinue all long-distance rail service. Route related station and maintenance facility costs (i.e. Los Angeles) will not be saved but reallocated to the Pacific Surfliner and other routes. This will increase subsidy payments for the state of California. Overall corporate joint and common costs (i.e. Website, reservation center costs, etc.) will also not be saved but reallocated to all other routes;

2.) The Sunset Ltd. is part of an interconnected nationwide network. Riders don’t just travel between stations on the route of the Sunset Ltd. they connect to other trains and generate revenue on those other trains. If the Sunset Ltd. is discontinued it means less revenue on the Coast Starlight, Pacific Surfliner, San Joaquin’s, Texas Eagle, City of New Orleans and Crescent.

The result is little if any near term budget savings from discontinuing the Sunset Ltd., costs are just allocated to other routes, revenues reduced which increases losses on other Amtrak routes.

RailPAC members also need to point out that the amendment forbidding subsidies for food and beverage service is counter-productive. A significant amount of the “expense” of on board food service is the infrastructure required to deliver food and beverages to trains in a safe and timely manner. The only way to save these expenses is to eliminate all on-board food and beverage service, including on Northeast Corridor trains. Food service is an integral part of the rail service package. Without food service ridership and revenues decline more than costs are decreased. This increases the operating subsidy. Also this has been tried several times before and the results have always been the same, a worsening of the financial results for the train route.

The resolution of these amendments will not come until the House-Senate Conference on the Transportation Funding Bill. The situation could become worse for the 2016 budget if the Republicans control the Senate. It is unlikely that Democrats will call for 60 voles for a “regional” proposal such as the Sunset Ltd. amendment and it is doubtful that the President will veto the entire transportation funding bill to save one long-distance train.

NOTE: Steve Roberts was employed at Amtrak Public Relations, and worked in the West and the NEC. He now lives in the Bay Area.

Commentary, Issues

Sunset Limited in jeopardy is serious business: Part 2, Comments from the Texas Rail Advocates

NOTE: Reprinted with permission of Peter LeCody and the TRA, from their website: www.Texasrailadvocates.org

(Washington) In a last minute voice vote on the House appropriations bill for transportation, Texas Representative Pete Sessions (R-District 33-Dallas) succeeded in his efforts to kill an Amtrak route that has been a financial target of the long distance trains. This came after an amendment failed that was authored by Sessions to kill six long distance routes that have the highest cost to maintain service to small to larger size communities.

The amendment to kill Amtrak’s Sunset Limited, which travels east through Texas to New Orleans and west to Los Angeles was passed with a voice vote. The funding for Amtrak in Texas was part of the Appropriations bill for the Departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development. “It doesn’t seem like Congressman Sessions wants to find a solution to make the national passenger train network financially stable by working within the system”, according to Texas Rail Advocates President Peter LeCody. “It seems he is more interested in tearing the system apart limb by limb, piece by piece.”

“What the Congressman doesn’t realize is that by cancelling the Sunset Limited route that feeds other trains with passengers that transfer right here in Texas, he is putting in jeopardy both Amtrak’s Texas Eagle service to many small and medium size towns and the Texas and Oklahoma state partially supported Heartland Flyer”, according to LeCody. National and state rail advocates had been pushing to extend the Sunset Limited from only three days a week to a daily service, which would put it on a more sound financial basis through higher ridership revenue. “It’s impossible to make a three day a week train financially viable”, said LeCody. “The Congressman should find a way to work with Amtrak and Union Pacific to run this train daily and boost the revenue numbers. Killing this train service to El Paso, Alpine, Del Rio, San Antonio and Beaumont within the state removes a transportation choice many people count on.”

The amendment passed by the House reads that “none of the funds made available (under the transportation act) shall be used to support Amtrak’s route with the highest loss, measured by contributions/(Loss) per rider, as based on the National Railroad Passenger Corporation Fiscal Years 2013-2017 Five Year Plan from May 2013″.

Sessions was instrumental in obtaining a $700 million Full Funding Grant Agreement from the federal Transit Administration for the Dallas Area Rapid Transit Green Line “but he does not support a network of intercity passenger rail services that give a higher farebox return per passenger than light rail lines,” according to LeCody. “It’s OK to spend federal funds in your own backyard, but apparently not in other parts of Texas.”

Russ Jackson of the California-based RailPAC advocate organization wrote in an e-mail to members that “many of us ride it. We all know that these trains run with full cars most of the route and that not everyone rides the full distance. In fact, less than 20% of the train’s riders do. When the train reaches San Antonio two cars, a sleeper and a coach, are added to the train or taken from the train to/from the Texas Eagle. Those two cars are almost always filled with riders coming from or going to the mid-West.” Jackson also noted that “the financial success of the Sunset Limited is constrained by its tri-weekly service. Currently, trains 1 and 2 have an excellent on time performance, nearly 80% for the fiscal year 2013. Efforts to get daily service on the route have been unsuccessful, not that much effort has been made by Amtrak to accomplish it.” Jackson further stated that “the current agreement with the Union Pacific is that Amtrak will not even bring up the subject of daily service for another year, or when the railroad’s double tracking project between Los Angeles and El Paso is completed. That is a good idea, but does Amtrak plan to re-introduce the idea with the UP? They may not have to.”

An Amendment first brought forward by Sessions would have prohibited use of funds to support any Amtrak route whose costs exceeds two times its revenues, as again based on the same five year plan from a year ago. The transportation appropriations bill will move to the Senate for further action.

This link shows how each member of Congress voted: Roll call: http://clerk.house.gov/evs/2014/roll294.xml

Issues

NARP Resolution in Support of Returning Passenger Rail Service Between New Orleans & Florida

The new NARP board has unanimously approved the following resolution in support of returning passenger service between New Orleans and Florida:

NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF RAILROAD PASSENGERS

             WHEREAS, the National Association of Railroad Passengers (“NARP”) has previously endorsed the re-introduction of passenger rail service along the southern route linking New Orleans, Louisiana to Orlando, Florida, which is being pursued by the Southern Rail Commission (the “Commission”), and

WHEREAS, the Commission has made application to the Federal Railway Administration for the funding of a Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery discretionary grant (“TIGER” grant) in order to determine the feasibility of re-establishing this service, and the Commission has also requested NARP to endorse the Commission’s effort in this regard and to also pledge its best efforts to assist with monetary or “in-kind” contributions to this effort, including staff communications and outreach, as well as administrative support for public meetings and review of the report, and

Whereas, NARP continues to support the re-establishment of this route as being vital to creating transportation alternatives through passenger rail service, as well as promoting economic development across the southeastern portion of the United States, now therefore be it

RESOLVED that the NARP Board of Directors hereby endorses and strongly supports the Commission’s application for the TIGER grant, and pledges to assist the Commission with monetary or “in-kind” contributions including staff communication and outreach, as well as administrative support for public meetings and review of the report in order to assist the Commission with the required “matching funds” necessary to successfully procure the federal funding.

            EXECUTED effective this  April 30, 2014 in Washington, D. C.

                                                                                    National Association of Railroad Passengers

Issues, Reports

The complicated history of the Sprinter

Report and Photo by Noel T. Braymer, RailPAC e-newsletter Editor

The Sprinter started out as a simple project to serve the 22 miles between Oceanside and Escondido. The original proposal by RailPAC’s Byron Nordberg back in the 1980’s was to rebuild the existing single tracked short line railroad between these 2 cities for about 70-80 million dollars. Inexpensive, self-propelled diesel rail cars, proven and in production, would be used. The idea was to finish it in 1988, which was the centennial of these two cities and of the construction of this short line. After that things got complicated. The budget went up and opening day got pushed back to 2000 then 2005, 2007 and it finally opened in March 2008. By then the construction budget was almost half a billion dollars!

Sprinter at Oceanside

A major factor in the inceased cost and delays of this project was the decision to build a largely elevated connection off of the existing rail line for the Sprinter to the new campus of the California State University at San Marcos. This station is used when school is in session but is often quiet the rest of the time. The station is a long walk to the main campus, and shuttle bus service is included. The added cost and delays meant that money that had been budgeted to upgrade the Amtrak/Coaster Line in San Diego County was diverted to finish the Sprinter.

Just days before the planned celebration of the 5th Anniversary of the opening of the Sprinter in the first week of March, 2013, it was discovered that the center truck brake rotors on the cars had excessive wear. This center brake was not in the original design of this diesel powered rail car developed in Germany, but to meet California Public Utility Commission (PUC) regulations for braking for a Light Rail Vehicle a third brake was added to the center truck where the railcar was articulated. The rotor and brake parts for the central truck brakes were not the same as for the other trucks. The rotors are not in production and replacements would require a special order.

The discovery by the PUC that the center brake rotors had excessive wear was basically by accident; the PUC was following up on another brake issue for the Sprinters. The PUC had for over 5 years inspected the Sprinter 50 times, but many of the inspections were of the records, including maintenance records, but rarely physical inspections. The maintenance records recorded what work was done but didn’t include specific information on the condition of the parts such as the rotors. Such information had not been required by the PUC. It was shortly discovered that the North County Transportation District (NCTD) Engineer-in-charge of oversight of maintenance of the Sprinters knew about the excessive wear of the the rotors since 2009, just a year after the service began. This was also known in 2009 by the mechanics for the Sprinter who were employees of Bombardier, which had the maintenance contract for the Sprinter. By 2009 this NCTD Engineer, Richard Berk, was requesting quotes from manufacturers for replacement rotors. He got a reply 3 years later in 2012 and was told delivery would take 44 weeks. Mr. Berk “resigned” his position with the NCTD on March 1 of this year, the same day that the PUC discovered the problem with the rotors.

The issue of how and when the excessive wear was discovered on the rotors of some Sprinter brakes brings up several disturbing questions.

  • 1) Why did the PUC approve the Maintenance of the Sprinters largely without physical inspections of the the trains for over 5 years?
  • 2) How could management of NCTD be unaware of these problems with the rotors going back to 2009?
  • 3) How could a senior engineer go about looking for quotes for new rotors long before these rotors should need replacing without the knowledge of his supervisors?

Such an expense would require approval and justification from supervision sooner or later. Most disturbing of all is that in over four years no attempt seemingly was made to discover the cause of this abnormal wear or find a solution before replacing these very expensive and hard to replace rotors with new ones which would likely need to be replaced long before they should be.

NOTE: From an April 9 NCTD Press Release: “North County Transit District placed an order yesterday for a complete set of split disc rotors for the entire SPRINTER fleet. The replacement rotors are scheduled to be delivered from the European manufacturer by the end of April. Originally, NCTD anticipated the order would be placed in May however; the repair and testing process is proceeding ahead of schedule. While the repair process is moving swiftly and efficiently, NCTD still cannot set a date to resume SPRINTER service due to vagaries in manufacturing and shipping times, extensive testing requirements, and other variables. Once the complete set of rotors has arrived in Oceanside the agency will set and announce a re-launch date for the SPRINTER.”