All Posts By

Russ Jackson

Commentary

Bye Bye Joe; Welcome to Wick

Here it is the first of September, 2016, and a new Amtrak era begins at the top of the ladder.  Wick Moorman, 64, until last year the CEO of the Norfolk Southern Railway and a 40 year career there, has taken the reins of the leaderless horse called Amtrak and been given a list of incentives that he can earn.  The Amtrak Board of Directors will pay Moorman $1 a year, and if he accomplishes that list of incentives he can earn up to $500,000.  Isn’t it interesting that as of this date no one has reported what is on that list?  We can only guess, and as everyone reading this knows, rail advocates are quick with lists of their own as to what should be on it. Continue Reading

Commentary, Issues

Amtrak Long Distance News in the New Year … the good, some bad, and the expected “ugly”

Let’s start with the ugly status of the Dining car removal from the Silver Star train, since it’s the hottest news.  On January 28, just as this is being written, URPA learned that Amtrak employees were told the day before that the Star’s dining car is PERMANENTLY gone.  As predicted here since this “experiment” was first announced last summer, there was no doubt it was going to be a permanent discontinuance.  Continue Reading

Commentary

Western Long Distance Trains at the End of 2015: A Positive Report

Here we are, Christmastime 2015, and lo and behold the Amtrak long distance trains continue to roll and to some extent thrive despite the negative publicity that they are “money losers.”  In recent posts this writer has talked about the positives that are being accomplished on the Coast Starlight, and the opposite effects that are creating heartburn on other trains like the east coast Silver Star which has lost its dining car.  In this article we will look at the other western routes that operate in and out of Los Angeles headed east, and what the imminent retirement of CEO Joe Boardman can bring to the future. Continue Reading

Commentary, Reports

The Coast Starlight:  Paso Robles to Eugene; not endpoint travel!  What about the food?

Report and Commentary by Russ Jackson with Ralph James

Amtrak likes to tout its end points and the volume of traffic it gets between those departures and destinations on all of its routes, but while some passengers do that it is the intermediate station travel that fills up the trains.  Can you imagine, as RailPAC President Paul Dyson says, if you could only travel between endpoints on the interstate highway system?  Amtrak is usually surprised when someone wants to travel from, say, Paso Robles, CA, to Eugene, OR.  They might not be able to collect as much money from that passenger, but they can still sell that seat on either side of those two locations.  Here is an instance of that exact travel pair as reported to us by RailPAC member Ralph James.  He recommended to a friend that he take the his Thanksgiving trip on the Coast Starlight from Paso Robles to Eugene.  The  friend was dreading the long drive.  “With the necessary tinge of reservation,” Ralph says, “I suggested he look into Amtrak since his origin and destination were right at stops for the Starlight.”  He did so, and sent Ralph a trip report of the first half of his trip, as an “assessment,” giving Amtrak numeric grades for what he experienced with comparisons to airline travel: Continue Reading

Commentary

The Eagle, the Sunset, the Star, a Trip Report, and a rowdy car

Whenever a passenger is ready to travel by Amtrak, has a ticket in hand and is ready to go to the station to board the train the first anxiety is always whether the train will be on time or be running late (in many cases hours late).  For this trip let’s get the on time performance out of the way by saying that Amtrak’s October 5 Texas Eagle/Sunset Limited we boarded in Ft. Worth was nearly on time all the way.  There were no major delay incidents.  Since it takes upwards of 45 to 50 minutes on a good travel day for us to reach the Ft. Worth station it was good to know the status, and while “Amtrak Julie” is the best source, so are Amtrak Status Maps and the other sources of information.  We arrived at FTW just as the train was arriving from Dallas.  Great timing.  Bad track sections in Texas still need work, particularly Temple to Taylor.

This report will cover mostly the westbound trip.  Veteran readers know this reporter and spouse have been traveling Amtrak long distance trains since 1971, traveled on the AT&SF before that, with reports like this one having appeared in RailPAC publications since 1990.  Train travel is our preferred means of travel, for those of you first time readers, and while we don’t do it as often anymore, we enjoy seeing how Amtrak train travel changes or doesn’t change from trip to trip.  Meeting interesting people on board is a pleasant experience, and on this trip we met a couple from Waco traveling on Amtrak for the first time and also going to Los Angeles.

On the Texas Eagle trains from Chicago, arrival in San Antonio is scheduled for approximately 10 PM.  On our train a full sized Dining car replaced the usual Cafe-Diner.  Off-season staffing is two employees upstairs and two downstairs in the galley.  The LSA upstairs also waits tables.  Only one half of the car was used, approximately the same size as the Cafe-Diner.  When the call for dinner reservations came there were only going to be two seatings, at 5:00 and 5:30.  When asked, the LSA crisply replied that there couldn’t be any after that “on days we go to San Antonio.”  Perplexed, I did not continue the discussion.  When we arrived for our 5:00 seating we were pleased to find us sitting across from the Waco folks, and were able to answer most of their questions.  They were sharing a Roomette.  We ordered dinner, and this writer swears the steak was the best one ever in all our trips.  The service crew was excellent, but it still is curious why they thought they couldn’t have scheduled a few later seatings.

Usually on the Eagle there is conductor chatter on the PA, but this crew was nearly silent.  Our sleeping car attendant was very cooperative and helpful.  Our car, #32079, is one that has not been fully updated and has the old carpeted walls that now look quite shabby and dirty.  One new touch is they now post the dining car and lounge car menus on the wall, which helped new travelers to make decisions before entering the Diner.  Why did it take this long to do that simple “marketing” idea?

At breakfast on the Sunset Limited after leaving Del Rio, we found a new crew that was not quite as good as the one on the Eagle but still very competent.  Breakfast was first-come-first-served, and the scrambled egg meals were excellent.  Lunch and dinner would be by reservations, and there would be multiple seatings for both.  We were pleased we could share breakfast with the Waco folks again, and anxiously awaited their comments about the long stay in San Antonio and the overnight ride west of SAS to Del Rio.  When the Eagle cars are transferred to the Sunset Limited in SAS the noise and jolting can be quite annoying, and for those folks it definitely was, as the full speed travel and rough track nearly bounced them out of bed.  They thought they might be able to upgrade to a Bedroom, after seeing ours, but changed their minds when told what it would cost.

The Eagle sleeper and coach are the last cars on the westbound Eagle and Sunset, but on the Eagle the diner is only steps away while on the Sunset in both directions the Eagle passengers must pass through three Coaches and the Lounge car to get there.  For younger travelers that’s not a big deal, but older folks (ok, geezers) it can be a chore.  There must be a better way to position the cars as they do on the eastbound train where out of San Antonio the Eagle sleeper is placed at the head end just behind the transition sleeper and just ahead of the Diner.

When we arrived in the Sunset’s Diner for lunch going west things fell apart quickly.  We had neglected to tell the Waco folks when we were going, so we were seated at a table and waited for new folks to arrive to sit on the other side.  A young couple from the Eagle Coach arrived, who had experienced what was quickly called the “rowdy car” overnight, and they were involved in a “spirited” (loud) discussion with all the crew. There are no crew members on board while the train waits for the Sunset connection in San Antonio, so the overnight stay in San Antonio had erupted into quite an uproar in their Coach, which they had joined into apparently, and there were accusations of theft and drunken behavior being shouted.  This turn of events was not conducive to a pleasant lunch meal experience for us.  The crew was not really helpful in calming things down, and we quickly left the car without finishing our cheeseburgers (the best thing on the menu by far).  We chose not to go there for dinner, forfeiting that paid-for meal.  Instead we ordered some snacks from the Lounge, which our attendant brought us.  That in-car service is important, and all four attendants on our round trip cheerfully helped us.  It seems these days that there is always one “rowdy car” on a train, but thankfully that was not the case on our return trip.

At Alpine, Texas, there was the usual “smoking” stop, as well as passenger boardings and a crew change.  Out of curiosity we asked the new conductor standing on the platform (we had recovery time) if he thought there would be a daily train on this route instead of the tri-weekly as it is now.  His laugh could have been heard in El Paso.  “I’ve been here for 27 years,” he said, “I’ve heard it was going to happen all the time, with nothing happening.”  That reply was not unexpected, of course.  He went on, however, to say there is no equipment for daily service yet.  That’s the company line and the employees are stuck with it.

The trip progressed nicely, without further major incidents, up to and including the early arrival at Los  Angeles Union Station.  Some Sunset Limiteds arrive as early as 4:30, but ours pulled in at 5:05.  That has been a controversial situation, with Amtrak putting in writing that sleeping car passengers “are welcome to occupy their accommodations until 6:30.”  Not so anymore.  The crews are intent on going home, so Amtrak changed the rule by opening the Metropolitan Lounge at 5:00 in LAUS.  We were told that we could take our time, but the trainset would be “going to the yard at5:30.”  We had to wait until Hertz opened at 7:00, so we and the Waco folks trudged up to the Lounge.

Update:  All this brings up the long distance service “experiment” taking place on the East Coast on the Silver Star, which has had its dining car removed and sleeping car fares reduced to see what the effect will be on ridership and revenues until January.  NARP finally opposed this move, as did the rest of us, as it sets a dangerous precedent.  NARP Chairman Bob Stewart reported that station agents have received many complaints, Lounge car attendants say they have had long lines for service, and some passengers reported they had purchased tickets at the old price but were not offered any adjustment.  But, on the final day of the NARP annual fall meeting an Amtrak executive was asked how passengers on the Silver Star were responding to the no-dining-car experiment.  He said it seemed clear that people were willing to give up dining car meals in exchange for lower fares.  This writer has said all along that this is not an “experiment” but will be a permanent change as to do otherwise would mean Amtrak would have to admit they were wrong.  In concrete?  Oh, yes, and look for other long distance trains that only travel over one night to get the same treatment if this “experiment” is allowed to stand.

Andrew Selden writes that “The way Amtrak’s internal cost accounting works, it is impossible to know the results of this (Silver Star) ‘experiment’ in financial terms, because the financial results of everything they do are reported as allocations of category aggregates.  Individual trains’ actual results are evaporated into averages and algorithms.  Only months-later analysis of ridership on that one train reflecting re-purchase after a bad experience will show anything, and then only after those numbers have been normalized to the performance of similar trains with either normal or enhanced food service.  Amtrak is too cheap to commission an expensive objective consumer survey.”  Bye bye Dining Cars?  Don’t be surprised.

Commentary

Amtrak at 44:  “Happy Birthday” to the Southwest Chief and Sunset Limited

It is no secret that for 44 years Amtrak’s long distance trains have had a target firmly placed upon them.  From the nitpicking of the Congress to the war against growth within Amtrak, we have to ask who is standing up for these trains besides us in the rail advocacy community?   If it weren’t for us could those trains have disappeared long ago?

Apparently the crisis of the past few years to retain the Southwest Chief on its historic route in Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico has been resolved, but was it necessary to go through all the hassle?  That train is a national system train.  Always has been.  Why was it necessary for the states to have to go through the political process of trying to “save” it with local money?  That exercise did call attention to the state of disrepair the BNSF line had become in those states, but Amtrak’s whole effort seemed to be directed toward telling the states that if they didn’t come up with the cash they would lose the train, and they were 44 year masters at the psychology of fear.  With the decision deadline coming at the end of this year, the states were jumping through hoops to try to comply.  Colorado took the lead and with ColoRail’s efforts was able to secure a response from their legislature. which insisted on rerouting the train by way of Pueblo.  Kansas, with Colorado, secured a Federal grant for track repair, which is underway.  New Mexico was unable to secure money, as their Governor felt the same as this writer that it was a national responsibility.  Now, Colorado’s funding has fallen through, as it didn’t pass through their Budget Committee, and the Pueblo reroute is off.

BUT, good news came at the end of March, 2015, as Amtrak announced it was no longer considering moving the Southwest Chief to the BNSF Transcon line via Amarillo.  Marc Magliari, Amtrak’s spokesman said, “There are no immediate plans that would result in a cutoff of service to the existing stops.  The Southwest Chief is on the right route.”  Amtrak is still urging the states to acquire federal grants to help pay for track maintenance, and they must be confident they will get it, but they have withdrawn the threats.

Meanwhile, the train keeps running daily taking mostly satisfied passengers where they want to go.    How is the Southwest Chief doing these days?  Not bad.  Like all the trains, the winter was a challenge, but at the end of April this train which arrived EARLY at Los Angeles Union Station on April 30 showed that it “could do it.”  (chart courtesy Amtrak Status Maps)

* Train 3 of 04/28/2015.
* Southwest Chief
* CHI  *  *     1  300P  *     300P  Departed:  On time.
* NPV  *  *     1  335P  *     335P  Departed:  On time.
* MDT  *  *     1  424P  *     428P  Departed:  4 minutes late.
* PCT  *  *     1  446P  *     450P  Departed:  4 minutes late.
* GBB  *  *     1  538P  *     546P  Departed:  8 minutes late.
* FMD  *  *     1  642P  *     647P  Departed:  5 minutes late.
* LAP  *  *     1  751P  *     803P  Departed:  12 minutes late.
* KCY  1  1011P 1  1045P 1010P 1045P Departed:  On time.
* LRC  *  *     1  1152P *     1152P Departed:  On time.
* TOP  *  *     2  1229A *     1231A Departed:  2 minutes late.
* NEW  *  *     2  245A  *     245A  Departed:  On time.
* HUT  *  *     2  320A  *     322A  Departed:  2 minutes late.
* DDG  2  519A  2  525A  508A  525A  Departed:  On time.
* GCK  *  *     2  621A  *     621A  Departed:  On time.
* LMR  *  *     2  659A  *     725A  Departed:  26 minutes late.
* LAJ  2  815A  2  830A  826A  834A  Departed:  4 minutes late.
* TRI  *  *     2  950A  *     950A  Departed:  On time.
* RAT  *  *     2  1056A *     1056A Departed:  On time.
* LSV  *  *     2  1238P *     1238P Departed:  On time.
* LMY  *  *     2  224P  *     244P  Departed:  20 minutes late.
* ABQ  2  355P  2  445P  410P  446P  Departed:  1 minute late.
* GLP  *  *     2  708P  *     708P  Departed:  On time.
* WLO  *  *     2  750P  *     750P  Departed:  On time.
* FLG  2  851P  2  857P  847P  858P  Departed:  1 minute late.
* WMJ  *  *     2  933P  *     935P  Departed:  2 minutes late.
* KNG  *  *     2  1146P *     1214A Departed:  28 minutes late.
* NDL  *  *     3  1249A *     113A  Departed:  24 minutes late.
* BAR  *  *     3  339A  *     345A  Departed:  6 minutes late.
* VRV  *  *     3  418A  *     423A  Departed:  5 minutes late.
* SNB  *  *     3  532A  *     532A  Departed:  On time.
* RIV  *  *     3  553A  *     601A  Departed:  8 minutes late.
* FUL  *  *     3  634A  *     656A  Departed:  22 minutes late.
* LAX  3  815A  *  *     738A  *     Arrived:  37 minutes early.

The tri-weekly Sunset Limited is the other train facing the constant 44 year hassle.  On February 28, 2012, Amtrak and the Union Pacific agreed in writing to implement the current departure time schedule, and for two years Amtrak agreed they would not make a request to the UP to increase the frequency (daily service), or ask the UP to add any trains or make any other changes on the Sunset Route.  Those two years were up over a year ago, yet the agreement appears to have continued.  It is understood that the UP’s extensive Sunset Route double tracking project is not completed, and daily service would not be totally feasible until it is done.  In April, 2015, reader Ralph James saw extensive  progress on the line east of Niland into Arizona, but there is much left to be done there by the UP.

Going back 44 years to 1971, Anthony Haswell, who was there at the formation, remembers “Revision of the final Amtrak maps to include key Southern Pacific routes was a mixed blessing, as it preserved the 3 day a week Sunset.  I am (still) firmly opposed to operation of any year-round train on less-than-daily frequency.”   Mark Murphy, Amtrak’s current General Manager for Long-Distance Services told a 2015 meeting that “Three times a week is not sufficient,” but his job is to “reduce Amtrak’s financial footprint.”  He could add capacity “if he or his department could find a creative way to do it.”  Here’s the answer to that:  add cars to meet the demand in time to fill them.  See what I mean about the war on growth?  That’s an example right there.  According to Trains Magazine’s Don Phillips, Amtrak CEO Joe Boardman “cut off discussions and publicly criticized his marketing department” for advocating improving service on the Sunset Route.  How can you fight that if you are an employee who sees what can be done?  The Sunset Limited’s on time performance has been pretty good through the winter.  Here’s the train that arrived at Los Angeles Union Station on Friday, May 1, Amtrak’s birthday:  (chart courtesy Amtrak Status Maps)

* Train 1 of 04/29/2015.
* Sunset Limited
* NOL  *  *     1  900A  *     900A  Departed:  On time.
* SCH  *  *     1  1030A *     1031A Departed:  1 minute late.
* NIB  *  *     1  1156A *     1200P Departed:  4 minutes late.
* LFT  *  *     1  1224P *     1235P Departed:  11 minutes late.
* LCH  *  *     1  155P  *     200P  Departed:  5 minutes late.
* BMT  *  *     1  348P  *     355P  Departed:  7 minutes late.
* HOS  1  618P  1  655P  601P  655P  Departed:  On time.
* SAS  2  1205A 2  245A  102A  246A  Departed:  1 minute late.
* DRT  *  *     2  549A  *     549A  Departed:  On time.
* SND  *  *     2  824A  *     824A  Departed:  On time.
* ALP  *  *     2  1038A *     1040A Departed:  2 minutes late.
* ELP  2  122P  2  147P  136P  204P  Departed:  17 minutes late.
* DEM  *  *     2  318P  *     346P  Departed:  28 minutes late.
LDB  *  *     2  413P              MT
* BEN  *  *     2  518P  *     532P  Departed:  14 minutes late.
* TUS  2  645P  2  735P  650P  735P  Departed:  On time.
* MRC  2  852P  2  902P  847P  909P  Departed:  7 minutes late.
* YUM  *  *     2  1149P *     1159P Departed:  10 minutes late.
* PSN  *  *     3  202A  *     207A  Departed:  5 minutes late.
* ONA  *  *     3  354A  *     331A  Departed:  23 minutes early.
* POS  *  *     3  404A  *     340A  Departed:  24 minutes early.
* LAX  3  535A  *  *     424A  *     Arrived:  1 hour, 11 minutes early.

An hour 11 minutes EARLY?…arrived at 4:24 AM?  Amtrak announced recently that train #1 passengers arriving in Los Angeles would no longer be allowed to stay in their rooms until 6:30, but the First Class Lounge at LAUS would open at 5 AM.  May 1, Amtrak’s birthday, was a celebration of that policy for sure.

Has anything positive been done by Amtrak recently?  Well, according to reader Anthony Lee, new connecting Thruway bus service for the Empire Builder, Southwest Chief, Texas Eagle and some other routes, has been established in connection with Greyhound, including buses connecting Ft.Worth/ Dallas with Houston, Albuquerque-Las Cruces-El Paso, and faster schedules for the Silver Meteor and Silver Star on the East Coast due to the introduction of new Viewliner cars.  More about the Silver Star in the next post from this writer.

After 30 years of writing these reports nothing much seems to change.  Amtrak birthdays come and go, the trains keep running, riders keep coming, and yet the problems continue; in some cases get worse.

Russ Jackson served on the board of the Rail Passenger Association of California, and was editor-writer of the Western Rail Passenger Review.  He is now retired near grandchildren in Texas.

Commentary

Could a Grilled Cheese Sandwich Help Save Amtrak’s Food & Beverage Service?

As we say on the radio, “but first….”

Two major Amtrak-related items have occurred this winter.  First was the cutbacks in long distance train consists in January and February.  Second was the U.S. House of Representatives actually passed a bill, and it was one that affected the future of Amtrak and what its customers will find on board that could alter their future travel plans. Continue Reading

Commentary

January, Amtrak Consists, and the Southwest Chief

Report and Commentary by Russ Jackson

January in any year brings the anticipation of problems for passenger trains encountering winter weather all across the country.  January, 2015, was no exception what with the winter storms that dominated the news along Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor.  All intercity train service north of New York City into New England was shut down for days, while south of NYC to Washington there was less service, but the trains kept running.  In the Midwest and West service ran nearly as scheduled, but when there was a disruption Amtrak’s notification system worked well.  On January 9, New Mexico rider Bill Page had reservations on the Southwest Chief from Lamy to Fullerton.  He was informed via email that the estimated Lamy arrival time for train 3 was going to be 3 hours 30 minutes late.

Christmas Day, 2014, every Amtrak long distance train arrived early into Chicago.  Since then the on time performance has resembled more normal times.  The good news was the Empire Builder was back on its normal schedule and problems encountered along the BNSF High Line were improving due mainly to the dropoff of number of oil trains running there and the opening of a 60 mile stretch of double track in North Dakota.

What got our attention however, was Amtrak’s decision to shorten the consists of all the long distance trains in the lighter traveled winter time.  There were exceptions, the City of New Orleans (Mardi Gras time), Sunset Limited (Tucson rock show and Super Bowl in Phoenix) and Texas Eagle were not affected.

First, it was announced that the very popular Pacific Parlour Cars would be removed from the Coast Starlight from January 12 through March 12 “for maintenance.”   The immediate reaction was concern that they would not return.  What has happened is those cars are still in Amtrak’s 8th Street Yard in Los Angeles, but at press time are on the wheel rack, indicating that wheel and truck work may be underway.  Those 1950-era Hi-Level cars do not have a ready supply of spare parts, so any that are needed must be either vandalized from another car or manufactured on special order.  We eagerly await resumption of this feature of the Coast Starlight.

Second, there was the reduction in long distance train consist lengths in January and February into early March.   Here are the cars that were removed initially:  20 Amfleet II Coaches (mostly off the Florida service), 17 Superliner Transition Dorms, 29 Superliner Coaches, 10 Superliner Sleepers, 3 Superliner Diners, 3 Superliner Sightseer Lounges, and 15 Heritage Baggage cars.  According to Amtrak VP-Operations D.J. Stadtler “this saves crew costs, wear and tear on the cars, and allows preventive maintenance to be performed.”  Really?  Did Amtrak management in Washington really look at the fallout from these decisions?

A TrainOrders writer summarized that the The Amfleet IIs and Superliner Transition Dorms are stretched thin as it is.  “Getting inspections done now makes sense,” he wrote, “so more can be available through the year.”  But, in the case of the removed Transition cars, crews would be taking at least 7 revenue rooms on the Sleeping cars on each train.  The Superliner Coaches were not removed from service, but were transferred to run on the state-supported routes out of Chicago during the winter months replacing the Horizon cars that normally run the rest of the year and do not do well in winter months.  One set of 7 cars was assigned to a train set that runs Chicago to Carbondale, IL.  Why 7 cars?  The Canadian National requires Amtrak to run no fewer than that many cars in order to assure signals will be tripped (the rule also applies to the City of New Orleans on the same line).  On one run in January, two of the seven cars were locked Superliner Sleeping cars, just taking the trip.

What became a major irritant for crews and affected passengers, however, involved the removal of the Heritage baggage cars, which were replaced by Superliner Coach-Baggage cars on Western trains.  There is no doubt those old baggage cars are near the end of their lives, but it was discovered rapidly that Coach-Bags were not adequate replacements.  RailPAC’s VP South James Smith was on the platform at Los Angeles Union Station for one of the first departures of the Southwest Chief using its shortened consist (no Bag, no Transition, two Sleepers, Diner, Sightseer Lounge, a Coach and a Coach-Bag).  The train set arrived at the platform at 5:40 for its 6:15 departure.  Four baggage carts arrived to be loaded in the Coach-Bag, where the interior space was such that organizing that many items into piles according to the destination station was almost impossible.  By the time all was loaded, the train departed at 6:45.  One of the features of the Southwest Chief’s route is its proximity to skiing areas.  Were the skis going to be carried in the small space?  By the end of January the Heritage Baggage cars were back on the Chief and the California Zephyr which of course stops at several ski areas in California, Nevada, and Colorado.  Did Amtrak’s decision making for these changes ever involve the crews who know what is going to happen?  It sure doesn’t look like it.

In January, 2014 the Southwest Chief carried an average of 368 passengers per train.  Under the new consists the maximum capacity is Superliner Coach-Bag 62, full Coach 74, Transition Dorm 36 revenue spaces plus crew spaces, Sleeper 44.  That’s 216 spaces per train, not enough space for a 368 space “average.”  The difference is passengers who ride less than end to end distances and are replaced by other passengers on each 2256 mile journey.

What about the fate of the Southwest Chief itself?  As readers know, the decision on the future of that train a year from now hangs in the balance.  It is the intention of Amtrak and the BNSF Railway that the cost of continuing the train between Newton, Kansas, across southern Colorado, through Raton Pass to the re-connection with the Transcon south of Albuquerque, New Mexico must be shared with those states.  Amtrak “cannot” or will not pick up the costs, the railroad has no frieght traffic south of Lamar, CO, so the argument for retention from that standpoint is weak.  However, as the Santa Fe New Mexican says, “The Southwest Chief plays a critical transportation role for rural communities in the region.” Some Colorado and Kansas communities pledged matching funds to help secure $22.5 million last year from the feds.  New Mexico has not, but their legislature is in session.  The Kansas budget outlook is dire compared to a year ago.  A December article in the Pueblo Chieftan reported that the one-time Colorado price tag for the rail upgrades is officially $8.9 million, which the railroad will cover, and is “significantly less than the $40 million we  were dealing with less than a year ago.  The rest of the funds will go to annual operating costs.

The NM Senate Finance Committee chairman told the New Mexican that their Governor must take the lead if the state “is to follow through with the type of financial commitment required to keep” the train.  Shrinking revenues may leave no room in the state budget for their annual share.  The proposal to shift the train to run its entire route on the BNSF Transcon line appears to be a dead issue, as the railroad will want almost an equal amount and the states and communities would have to pay for improvements and for new stations in Wichita and Amarillo, Texas.  And there it goes, the beginning of another new year full of anticipation and turmoil for the long distance trains.

 

CA Rail Statistics

Capitol Corridor statistics for December, 2014

From David B. Kutrosky, Managing Director
Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority

December 2014 marks the ninth consecutive month of ridership and revenue
increases for the Capitol Corridor. The Capitol Corridor trains carried
116,309 passengers in December 2014, a 4.1% increase compared to December
2013, with revenue increasing by 0.8% compared to December 2013. With year
to-date (YTD) revenue 5.5% above projections, and expenses below budget
(especially fuel prices), the YTD Operating Ratio currently is at 55%
compared to 51% at this time last year.

pic06224

On-Time Performance (OTP) for December 2014 slipped to the state standard
of 90%, the lowest level of reliability since March 2010. While prior
issues surrounding mechanical delays were resolved and stabilized, there
were extensive delays from third party events [namely trespassing delays
incurred from protestors in early and mid-December and severe weather
impacts in late December] that resulted in a 300% increase in late trains.
Despite these delays, YTD OTP for the Capitol Corridor is 92%, and remains
on top of the leader board in the Amtrak national system.

Using the most recent monthly report provided by Amtrak (November 2014),
the following data is available for train and station segments:

? Ridership for weekday trains was up 6%, with continued growth to and
from the Silicon Valley/San Jose. See the attached tables below for
station city-pairs and station activity.
? Weekend ridership was flat and unchanged.
? The embedded table below shows the decrease in OTP to 93% for the
Capitol Corridor trains in November 2014. This drop in OTP is primarily
attributed to mechanical problems with the train equipment during the
Thanksgiving holiday week. These mechanical issues have been addressed by Amtrak and
CCJPA mechanical staff, and such mechanical delays have been reducing in
frequency and duration in the months of December 2014 and January 2015.

Customer Service Program Upgrades:

? Bicycle Access Program: Using the available rolling stock, CCJPA
has worked with Amtrak to ensure that there are, in most cases, two cars
with extra bicycle capacity on selected trainsets (in the cab car, opposite
the locomotive and in
the car # 2 positions.) This on-board program was instituted in
response to the growing number of passengers who board Capitol Corridor
trains with a bicycle – an increase from 5% mode share four years ago, to
11% today.

To provide additional bike capacity, consistent with the adopted
CCJPA Bicycle Access Plan, in February 2015 the CCJPA will officially kick
off the process to install bicycle eLockers at 13 of the 17 stations
Capitol Corridor serves.
(Exceptions being joint Capitol Corridor/BART stations and
Caltrain stations, which already have bike lockers.) The eLocker
installation will occupy about a one-year effort. Once eLockers gain
momentum, the CCJPA will begin the more
complicated process of implementing a folding bicycle lease
program to further reduce on-train bicycle crowding and/or induce more
convenient and safe Capitol Corridor travel with bicycle access as the
first/last-mile portion of the trip.
· Improvements to CCJPA Train Status Feature on Website: A vendor
is now under contract to implement upgrades to the train status feature on
the CCJPA website and via mobile app. CCJPA staff is coordinating with
Amtrak to set up the data stream. Testing will be underway soon, and it is
anticipated that implementation will happen by March 2015.
· New Passenger Fare Discounts: In February/March 2015, Capitol
Corridor will introduce three fare discounts aimed at increasing off-peak
ridership. The fare discounts are as follows: Take 5 for weekend and
holiday weekend travel, Friends & Family small group discount available every day, and a senior
Midweek discount. Marketing for these discounts will begin in late
February/early March of 2015.

Safety Initiatives

? Security Cameras at Capitol Corridor Stations: With initial
engineering design complete, the installation of camera and surveillance
equipment at the Auburn, Rocklin, Roseville, Suisun, Martinez,
Emeryville, Oakland Jack London, and Fremont stations will begin when funding is secured.

? Platform Safety Upgrades: In early 2014, CCJPA and Amtrak staff
initiated a program of safety access upgrades at selected Capitol
Corridor train stations. The upgrades include, but are not limited to,
replacing broken platform tactile edges, repainting platform tactile edges, restriping yellow safety lines
along the main platform, repainting safety text along platforms, and
installing safety signs. In May 2014, upgrades were completed at the
Davis station, followed by work completed in July 2014 at the Roseville, Suisun, Berkeley, and Fremont
stations. Now these safety upgrades have begun at the Santa Clara/Great
America, Hayward, Oakland-Coliseum, Richmond, Rocklin, and Auburn
stations.

? Positive Train Control Update: The Union Pacific’s plan for PTC
implementation remains the same in that the Los Angeles basin will be
first, with the Northern California area following. Initial reports are
that the implementation of PTC in the LA Basin has been delayed to the third quarter of 2015, putting PTC
installation on the Capitol Corridor route sometime after the fourth
quarter of 2015, or perhaps later. Installation of the PTC equipment on
the state-owned locomotives and cab control cars is complete, with all locomotives and cab cars
equipped. A schedule will be developed with Caltrain and Union Pacific
Railroad to test state-owned PTC-installed Capitol Corridor trains in
Caltrain and Union Pacific territory once the PTC trackside equipment is installed and ready for
testing.

Project Updates

? CCJPA Oakland-San Jose Phase 2 Project: The first task has begun for
this project with surveying and conceptual design for the extensions of
the double track in the segment between the Fremont and Santa
Clara/University stations. The goal of this work will be to increase service frequencies between
Oakland and San Jose.

? Sacramento to Roseville 3rd Track Environmental Review/Preliminary
Engineering: A Notice of Preparation (NOP) as part of the environmental
documentation compliance process with the California Environmental
Quality Act (CEQA) for the project was completed, and the project team is now performing
the environmental analysis for the preparation of the respective CEQA
and NEPA environmental documents. Staff will continue discussions with
the affected resource agencies and the cities of Roseville and Sacramento. Additional
phases of stakeholder engagement, as well as public meetings, are on
schedule for release of the draft EIR/EA in late winter 2015, leading
toward CEQA adoption of the EIR in November 2015 by the CCJPA Board. NEPA approval will be subject to
the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA).

Outlook – Closing
With the completion of the first quarter of FY 2015, the Capitol Corridor
performance is capitalizing on the continued increases in ridership [+4.8%] and revenues [+6.6%]. The actual results exceed all performance standards
(ridership, system operating ratio and OTP) for the first quarter of FY
2015 (October – December 2014). The CCJPA will be entering into the budget
planning season and will be hosting workshops on the release of the draft
Capitol Corridor Business Plan Update for FY 2015-16 – FY 2016-17 during
the week January 20-23 (see the link:
http://www.capitolcorridor.org/about_ccjpa/business_plan.php . This
business plan presents the operating strategies, marketing plans, and
capital program to meet near-term budget guidelines, implement promotional
initiatives that will retain and grow market share, and lay out a program
of projects and enhancements (both short-range and long-term) that will
expand and enhance the Capitol Corridor as the preferred transport
alternative in Northern California.

The CCJPA has been working with various passenger rail organizations over
the last few months on the 3rd annual California Passenger Rail Summit. In
2015, the events for this Summit will be held in Sacramento with an evening
welcoming reception on Tuesday April 28 and a full-day program on
Wednesday, April 29.

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