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Paul Dyson

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

 

 

Amtrak National Network Campaign 2018, Commentary

Another unanswered letter – RailPAC to Amtrak Chair Coscia

In this letter I tried to be polite, and not as hostile as I might have been.  At about the same time as this was sent the New Jersey ARP wrote specifically calling for Anderson’s dismissal.  There is now a clear pattern, as reported by Bill Vantuono of Railway Age, of simply ignoring the media and advocacy groups.  Difficult questions?  Easiest answer is to ignore them.

Here’s what I wrote to Coscia:

Mr. Anthony Coscia                                                                                                            13th July, 2018

Chairman of the Board

National Railroad Passenger Corporation

60 Massachusetts Avenue NE

Washington DC 20002-4285

 

Dear Mr. Coscia:

 

RailPAC is a 501c3 all volunteer California corporation that has, since 1978, campaigned for the improvement of mobility for all by increased passenger rail service.  We support the National Network of overnight trains as well as regional and commuter services.  We are recognized at State and local level as having been influential in the establishment and expansion of rail passenger service in California, and for having considerable expertise among our members.

It is our understanding that public policy, enunciated in legislation in 1971 and confirmed many times since, is for the United States to have a National Network of passenger trains, to be operated by NRPC.

It appears to us that, by his statements and actions, your recently appointed CEO Mr. Richard Anderson is not aware of the support for the National Network among many key constituencies, or the negative financial consequences and loss of political support if the national route structure is destroyed. In his interactions with the congressional delegates from Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico, he seems to have been so badly briefed by his staff that the presentation made by NRPC contained deliberately deceptive statements that amounted to falsehoods in their description of the performance of the Southwest Chief. It is hard for my organization to imagine that this is the intention of you and your board.

Over the years the National Network of overnight trains has been blamed for Amtrak’s deficits.  We disagree.  The National Network generates more passenger miles and revenue than the Northeast Corridor and is mostly hampered by being starved of investment and freight railroad issues for at least two decades.  You and your Board should remember that the NEC was not part of the original Amtrak and that it was dumped on the company in 1976, because no other agency wanted to take on the crippling backlog of infrastructure repairs.  With $300 – $400 million in yearly maintenance costs and $30 to $50 Billion in state of good repair and capacity needs, it’s the NEC that is the burden on Amtrak, not the National Network.

Part of Mr. Anderson’s announced policy is to operate medium distance corridors in “partnership” with the States.  Again, he appears to have been given a very poor analysis of the State’s appetite for participation in such ventures.  Surely the Board, in its experience, does not expect States like Arizona and Kansas to pay for a rail service which is currently a federal program?  Look at recent events in Alabama.  Yet this seems to be what he is proposing. Indeed, if the National Network no longer exists, what need would California have for Amtrak? The National Network is a federal program and should remain so, even if this requires amending PRIIA legislation.

We cannot say whether Mr. Anderson’s statements and policies are the result of information he is receiving from officers of the company, from direction of the Board, or from other influences. NRPC Board should immediately issue a clarification.  Is it still the role of NRPC to operate a National Network of passenger trains?  If so, you need to give direction to your CEO to carry out that policy. You may also wish to institute some inquiries regarding the information that was given to Congress regarding the Southwest Chief.

RailPAC will not blindly support NRPC policy; indeed, we will actively oppose the destruction of the National Network, which is a national asset whose full potential is yet to be realized and we will make every effort to prevent the expenditure of any state funds to pay for interstate rail service.

Yours faithfully,

ORIGINAL SIGNED

PAUL DYSON

Paul Dyson, President, pdyson@railpac.org                                  cc RailPAC Board and interested parties

818 371 9516

Amtrak National Network Campaign 2018, Commentary, Issues

Amtrak’s Accounting – George Chilson

Amtrak’s Route Accounting: Fatally Flawed, Misleading & Wrong

The Rail Passengers Association (RPA) strongly believes that the ongoing debate concerning the future shape of Amtrak’s national network has been distorted by its use of fully allocated costs rather than avoidable costs as required by statute. The adverse outcome of using fully allocated costs is the widespread and incorrect perception that Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor is financially self-sufficient and that Amtrak’s need for taxpayer funding results entirely from its operation of passenger trains in the rest of the nation – the National Network, which consists of state supported regional and federally supported long distance routes.

In our companion White Paper, RPA explains why fully allocated costing combined with Amtrak’s catastrophically flawed route accounting system grossly misrepresents – and exaggerates – the public cost of providing passenger trains as a mobility choice for the entire nation. Faulty route accounting has, in turn, led to the popular misconception that the abandonment of long-distance trains will eliminate Amtrak’s need for taxpayer funding. Nothing could be further from the truth. The funding needed for the Northeast Corridor dwarfs that of what’s needed for the rest of the nation. RPA’s white paper explains the history of Amtrak’s route accounting methodology and demonstrates that if Amtrak applied the more economically sound avoidable costing methodology to assess the performance of its various routes, Amtrak’s leadership team would not be working to replace the current national network with disconnected groups of short distance regional trains serving only a small number of major metropolitan areas.

The Rail Passengers Association asks Congress to require Amtrak immediately to halt all route, schedule and frequency reductions as well as recent on-board service modifications; then require Amtrak’s leadership team to explain to, and gain the approval of, the Congress, the states and stakeholders of its vision of the passenger train system and service they envision for the future. Cover, concealment and stealth tactics are appropriate for a military operation but not for a Government Sponsored Enterprise whose purpose is to provide passenger train service to the nation.

For more than 13 years, Congress and other federal agencies have called for more accurate, precise and transparent reporting of Amtrak’s component routes. Numerous arms of government including the Federal Railroad Administration, the USDOT Office of Inspector General (OIG) and the General Accounting Office have all found Amtrak’s route accounting system deficient and not compliant with federal statute requiring disclosure of avoidable costs. The end result has been a false framing of Northeast Corridor services as “profitable” and the rest of the system as “unprofitable.” Neither can exist without federal taxpayer support.

Congress should demand that Amtrak comply with the already in place laws, regulations and Congressional mandates and make public the financial performance of each individual route employing the avoidable cost methodology. In the interim, Congress should require Amtrak to refrain from any further route and on-board service until it reveals its plans for the future system and the economic analysis underlying it to public scrutiny, analysis and agreement. Congress must assert oversight of Amtrak — a Government Sponsored Enterprise – and not allow Amtrak to operate by stealth and deception. “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.”

Amtrak National Network Campaign 2018, Editorials

Anderson and crew have it all wrong about Raton Pass

In their recent employee bulletin Amtrak management, (Anderson and crew) upped the ante by demanding over $100 million for the route of the Southwest Chief between Kansas and New Mexico, including “full PTC”.  If you want to hold politicians to ransom you wave the safety flag.  An elected official can be no more be against safety than she or he can oppose motherhood or apple pie, so it’s a slick tactic.  Our job is to expose it as a sham.  We can spend billions on marginal improvements with full PTC on every mile of track, or we can be sensible and assess the risk, keeping in mind that every dollar spent on PTC is a dollar that cannot be spent on track, improved and safer access for the handicapped, lighting and paving at stations, all of which improve safety.  As for taking people off trains and putting them on buses, it’s quite unbelievable for a supposedly safety conscious organization to even consider such a thing.

Per former NARP President Ross Capon:

“Putting people in buses to ride over Raton Pass would worsen safety, not improve it. Some rail-to-bus and bus-to-rail transfer injuries are likely, especially among older passengers. Moreover, Grady Cothen Jr., a leading PTC expert who retired in 2010 as FRA Deputy Associate Administrator for Safety Standards and remained active as a consultant until about two years ago, has told us that—based on available information—risks are limited on most of the Dodge City-Madrid segment because competing traffic is light in some places, nonexistent in others. The absence of heavy axle load freight traffic should also make derailment prevention easier, given the reduced risk of rail breaks and freight braking-induced kinks. Indeed, with limited PTC functionality procured at a tiny fraction of the $55 million Amtrak has quoted, this segment should have lower overall risk, even without PTC, than most of Amtrak’s network. (FRA does require PTC on the 20+ miles between La Junta and Las Animas Junction, due to freight tonnage — this is part of BNSF’s coal route.)

Amtrak claims SW Chief infrastructure capital costs are $100+ million over five years including $55m for PTC.

* The bulk of the $55m is not reasonable, per the above. 

* $22.5 million (the non-Amtrak share of the latest TIGER grant) would become available if and when Amtrak releases its $3m.

* This creates a dramatically more manageable scenario than Amtrak has portrayed.

Amtrak claims $3m operating costs — as has been noted, this figure would be dwarfed by the combined impact of charter bus expenses and revenues lost due to the bus operation.”

Once again much of Amtrak’s thinking is driven by their own negative attitude towards their own product, i.e. the interstate sleeper trains that are a key element of the National Network.  A growth minded organization would be figuring out how to add trains to this lightly used but scenic section of track which would not suffer from delays caused by freight trains.  If you read this quarter’s Steel Wheels you will see some good ideas about increasing revenue (making stations revenue and activity centers, 24 hour dining cars), as well as an essay on reorganizing Amtrak for the 21st century.  The threat to the Southwest Chief has brought some life back into the advocacy movement.  Let’s momentum and campaign for a reformed Amtrak with new management for the National Network.

Paul Dyson, 17th August.

pdyson@railpac.org

Amtrak National Network Campaign 2018, Events, Steel Wheels Conference

Steel Wheels Conference Sacramento September 29

If you want to help RailPAC preserve and expand the National Network of passenger trains, and grow the regional services in California you should attend this important event.  Registration is open at eventbrite.com.

railpac2018.eventbrite.com

The event will be held at the California State Railroad Museum from 10.00am and we have a number of experts who will be giving presentations about the State of the passenger rail State, and the future of passenger rail in general.  There will be plenty of time for Q&A and discussion.  Bring your questions and ideas.

NOTE: REGISTER BEFORE SEPTEMBER 16TH YOU WILL RECEIVE A FREE BOX LUNCH

Final Agenda and Speaker Times (8/23/18)

Check-In Morning Coffee snack 10:00 AM  – 10:30 AM (Check-in to remain open until Capitol Corridor riders arrive)

10:15 AM – 10:30 AM – Welcome and Housekeeping

10:30 AM – 11:15 AM – Bruce Becker, Rail Passengers Association, will discuss current Amtrak funding status, the National Network initiative and the Southwest Chief effort

 

11:15 AM – 11:59 AM – Dan Leavitt, Manager of Regional Initiatives San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority, will  provide an  overview of “Valley Rail”, a major expansion of passenger rail service in the Northern San Joaquin Valley

12:01 PM – Lunch

1:00 PM – 1:45 PM – Frank Vacca, Chief of Rail Operations, California High-Speed Rail Authority, will present an update on California High-Speed Rail and an overview of ongoing projects, challenges and upcoming initiatives to fulfill goals of 2018 Business Plan

 

1:45 PM – 2:30 PM – Jim Allison, Manager of Planning, Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority, will present Capitol Corridor’s future vision for faster/expanded service between Roseville and San Jose

 

2:30 PM – 3:15 PM – Mark Singer, Rail Provocateur

RailPAC Business Meeting            3:15 PM – 3:45 PM

 

Amtrak National Network Campaign 2018, Commentary

Anderson to California, Congress, and Amtrak Employees – ********

Just heard from an unimpeachable source that Anderson has told employees that the current operation of the Southwest Chief is unacceptable and will be changed.

Here’s the full text, bold or italics are mine:

We know many of you have concerns about the status of the Southwest Chief. Here’s an update:

We are considering changes to the route and operation of the Southwest Chief. No decision has been made yet on our long-term operation of the entire Southwest Chief route, but a portion of the route faces unique challenges because of extensive operational and capital investment costs required to continue the present service. We are considering all options on how to make this route work, given the changing needs of our passengers, our limited resources and the expectations of Congress to deliver this service safely and efficiently. What we want you and our stakeholders to know is that the status quo is not an option – we or others either have to invest more or make changes.

We are looking specifically at changes to the Southwest Chief because it requires a lot of capital investment to keep it running “as is.” The Southwest Chief currently loses more than $50M every year, and we will need to invest more than $100M in the next 3-5 years to bring the route to a State of Good Repair and to fully implement Positive Train Control, plus additional operating expenses that will likely add to the train’s annual losses. We are responsible for all maintenance and capital costs for a 219-mile stretch of the route between Colorado and New Mexico. Also, Positive Train Control is not installed on a 348-mile stretch between Dodge City, Kan., and Albuquerque. No other Amtrak route has this combination of operational losses with capital investment needs. And this is an issue for us because we have a clear mandate from Congress, which is stated in the FAST Act, to deliver our services in a cost-effective manner, and we are falling short of this mandate with the Southwest Chief. We have many capital needs at Amtrak, and we have limited resources. We have to balance the needs of the Southwest Chief with the needs of the rest of our National Network, including all of our other Long Distance trains.

We know that many of our customers and stakeholders value this route – and we are evaluating all options. We are continuing to have conversations with members of the Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico congressional delegations and state and local leaders about the various options and funding needs. In addition, we will have senior executives onboard the Southwest Chief next week to talk with our stakeholders along the route.

We will provide updates as new information becomes available. In the meantime, we ask that everyone continue to provide excellent service and hospitality to our Southwest Chief customers and continue to operate safely and with the high degree of professionalism that defines our employees.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

As I warned, victory celebrations for the Chief were certainly premature.  this is just the beginning of a determined effort to eliminate the National Network.

Advocacy groups are working on a response to this, updates will follow.

Previous comments about the Riverside reservation center appear to be premature, but we continue to verify.

Pdyson@railpac.org