Commentary

Newsom cuts High Speed Rail – or does he?

Paul Dyson writes:

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

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

Uncategorized

Resuming Normal Service

Paul Dyson writes:

A combination of illness and other distractions has caused this site to be neglected for too long.  In addition the 1st Quarter edition of Steel Wheels has only just arrived at the printers.  And to add insult to injury Noel Braymer’s weekly eNews has been blocked thanks to a minor typing error.  Noel is battling to restore service and hopes to be back in circulation very soon.

Meanwhile passenger rail advocacy has not died in California.  We’re gearing up for an “interesting” year during which we’ll be raising the topic of ownership of the Coast Line between Moorpark and San Jose.  We’re also trying to get the nonsense of the Perata bus bill repealed, and we hope, politely as we can, try and stop these corridor agencies from running ill conceived “express” services.

Thank you all for your loyal support.

 

 

Reports

Capitol Corridor JPA Board Meeting November 14 – Doug Kerr

I attended the November 14 Capitol Corridor JPA Board meeting in Oakland.  Here is a summary:

  • Election of Chair Rebecca Saltzman and Vice-Chair Don Saylor for 2-year term: 2019-2020.
  • Approved 2019 meeting schedule, next meeting February 13, 2019, 10AM, in Suisun City.
  • Capitol Corridor FY2018 Performance:

o   Records were set for annual ridership (1.71M passengers; +6.2% vs FY 17), revenues ($36.2M; +6.6% vs FY 17), and System Operating Ratio (58%; +1.8% vs. FY 17).

o   After substandard service reliability in the middle months of FY 18, on-time performance (OTP) rebounded to levels of 93%-95% in the last three months to close out the year with a systemwide OTP of 90%, finishing in 2nd place for service reliability in the Amtrak national system.

o   The rating for Customer Satisfaction was 86% Highly Satisfied, a two-percentage drop as compared to FY 17 due to earlier substandard OTP.

  • A presentation was made regarding a Second Transbay Rail Crossing.  Travel demand will exceed capacity (all modes) sometime between 2030 and 2040 depending on economic and population growth.  CCJPA was awarded $1 million in 2018 Transit and Intercity Rail Capital Program (TIRCP) funding for the network planning and related analyses relating to the planned second transbay rail crossing that would include BART and conventional passenger trains.  The Board approved a $600,000 contract with Bay Area Council Economic Institute to perform economic and market studies to support the Crossing.
  • An interesting fact brought out at the meeting:  The 21 county area stretching from Monterey to east and north of Sacramento would amount to the 15th largest economy in the world if an independent country.
  • The Board approved adoption of BART’s Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) Program as Capitol Corridor’s program.
Reports

San Joaquin JPA Board Report November 16 – Doug Kerr

I attended the November 16, 2018 San Joaquin JPA Board Meeting in Merced.  Here is a summary:

  • Administrative items were approved including moving expense items from one budget account to another.
  • The Board gave recognition to board members Don Tatzin and Tom Blalock who will be leaving the Board due to retirements.
  • The City of Oakley gave a presentation on recent downtown improvement projects in the vicinity of the upcoming new San Joaquin stop at Oakley.
  • Schedule changes were discussed.

o   A Temporary Schedule Change Targeted for Dec 17th:

o   Start the early morning express at 4.45AM (20 min. later) and arrive in Sacramento at 7:56AM.

o   Friday-Sunday, extend train 718 (last train out of Oakland) that currently stops in Fresno, all the way to Bakersfield

o   Friday-Sunday, run both Sacramento-bound trains from Bakersfield (Arriving in Sacramento at 11:15AM and 3:24PM.

o   A full review and analysis of the schedule including On Time Performance issues, train meets, schedule padding, and connections in Los Angeles  will be done with the goal of a permanent schedule change sometime in April.

  • A resolution was passed to reinstitute the Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center (ARTIC) as a Thruway Bus Stop as well as Remove San Juan Capistrano as a Thruway Bus Stop on Route 1 and to Relocate the Vallejo Thruway Bus Stop on Route 7 to the Curtola Park & Ride Transit Facility.
  • Staff presented a short analysis of Thruway Route 7 which serves Santa Rosa, Healdsburg (where I live) and the North Coast.  There is a push to increase ridership on this route with the first step being the attached flyer.  I mentioned during public comment that the three county (Mendocino, Humboldt, Del Norte) population is less than 250,000 so there is a limited market to draw from.  That said, the bus route is a very important connection to this often forgotten part of California.  I offered to help staff in any way I could.  Staff presented the idea to move bus stops to SMART train stations in Sonoma County, a position RailPAC should fully support.  There was then a discussion of the Perata Law which would prohibit North Coast bus passengers from transferring to SMART.  Yet another reason to change or eliminate this law.
  • Updates were given by staff on various projects and improvements.

 

The next SJJPA meeting will be held January 25, 2019 in Fresno

Commentary, High Speed Rail

High Speed Rail Board Comes to Burbank

CHSRA Board Meeting November 15, 2018 Burbank

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul Dyson, 11/19/18

Amtrak National Network Campaign 2018, Commentary

Southwest Chief – Too Early to Claim Victory

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

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

THE TRUTH COMES OUT – BUS BRIDGE WAS NOT FOR SAFETY

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

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

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

Page 19 of OIG report:

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

Amtrak OIG Report Link:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul Dyson

pdyson@railpac.org

Commentary

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

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

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

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

Paul Dyson

Commentary

RailPAC’s Senate Joint Resolution is Adopted by Both Houses

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

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

 

Amtrak National Network Campaign 2018, Editorials, Issues, Steel Wheels Conference

Our Most Important RailPAC Steel Wheels Conference Ever

2018 has become a critical year for passenger rail in California.  The threat to the interstate network trains, California Zephyr, Sunset Limited, Southwest Chief and Coast Starlight, puts them on the brink of fading into history barring radical action by Amtrak management and the Federal government.  Two decades of under-investment would have been enough to doom these overnight sleeper trains without the deliberate destruction by Amtrak’s new management team.  Amtrak CEO Anderson stated in April at the Los Angeles summit that “they are not viable” and he means to replace them.  Well, that’s a plain enough statement for me.  Perhaps from his standpoint its a reasonable position to take.  Anderson was not at the helm during the decades of neglect and channeling of of the majority of available funds to the NEC.  Nor is he responsible for the repeated calls from past Presidents and the Congress for the elimination of Amtrak, based on dubious data from Amtrak themselves.  But as CEO he is responsible for ensuring that he has good data on which to base his decisions.  He should understand the value of a connected 500 station network, and he should know the value of the cash flow from these trains.  When you stop selling a product, the first thing that you lose is the revenue.  How much of the allocated costs end at the same time?

Let’s not fool ourselves.  “Saving” the Southwest Chief is not just about maintaining the present operation with some cooperation from the FRA regarding Positive Train Control.  Saving the National Network, especially the “Superliner” trains in the west will require a huge capital investment.  Locomotives and cars do not come cheap.  Indeed they are made more expensive by another Amtrak management failure, the lack of consistent orders for replacement and additional cars which could have formed the basis of an ongoing, low volume production line.  This would have retained the skills and tools needed, rather than trying to start from scratch with the “lowest bidder”.  Nippon Sharyo is now closing their factory in Rochelle, IL, having failed to produce a bi-level car.  We’re in danger of the passenger rail manufacturing business becoming like halloween shops,  the pop up economy.

Siemens is selling passenger locomotives at $7 million a copy, and passenger cars can be had for about $3 million each.  It doesn’t take long to run up a $2 billion tab at that rate, and that’s without refurbishing the best of the existing fleet.  But then, $2 billion pales in comparison with the $150 billion I’ve heard quoted to maintain and modernize the Northwest Corridor.  Let’s not be afraid of large numbers.  And let’s not forget that $2 billion represents a lot of skilled work hours from a number of suppliers around the country.  It also represent the continuation of work opportunities for train crews, station staff and maintenance personnel.  In my view it’s an investment that we can afford, and that is well justified.

Here in California, with a new Governor taking office in January, questions will inevitably raised about the High Speed Rail project.  Even the most ardent supporter has to be disappointed in the lack of progress since 2008.  Rather than rehash all the reasons for the current situation, RailPAC will be looking at ways to exploit the work done so far and make recommendations based on what can realistically be delivered in the next decade.  That will be the debate that we will have in Sacramento, and continuing into the New Year.

Speaking of disappointment, what real progress have we seen with the state corridors?  In 2018 it still takes most of three hours to travel by train between Los Angeles and San Diego, about the same as 1971.  And how about an hour and ten minutes for 50 miles between Oakland and San Jose?  RailPAC’s early campaigns were about using existing routes and making incremental improvements, and that was OK for the first decade or so.  But the low hanging fruit has long since been harvested, and the boards that now govern the state corridors had better wake up to the fact.  Single track railroads along the beach may be picturesque but they don’t move people quickly or efficiently.  Both LOSSAN and CapCor need major capital investments if they are to have real impact on our mobility needs.  Yes, we’re talking billions again.

This is why we have an annual conference, and this is why it’s more important than ever that you attend.  National Network, State Corridors, High Speed Rail are all at a turning point and in need of very large investments if they are to continue and prosper.  This is your chance to meet industry experts and RailPAC leaders and tell us your ideas and where we should focus our efforts.  REGISTER TODAY!

Paul Dyson, RailPAC President

pdyson@railpac.org