All Posts By

Russ Jackson

Rail Photos

RailPAC PHOTOS of the Month (March, 2013)

Here are 5 photos by RailPAC photographers. Click on each photo to see it full size! Contributions to this page each month are welcome. Send your jpg rail photos to RailPAC Photo Editor, at

Noel at Riverside 3-2013

Riverside, CA, station on March 22, 2013. A long BNSF container train is on the double tracks in the middle. On the right is Metrolink Train 850, laying over an hour before it returns to Oceanside. On the left are the platforms for the trains going past Colton to San Bernardino, including Amtrak 3 and 4, the Southwest Chief. (Noel Braymer photo)

Hope, Arkansas, 5-99

Hope, Arkansas, station location on the UP in May, 1999. Amtrak began stopping the Texas Eagle at this 1917 ex-MoPac station after 20 years of negotiations for service on April 8, 2013. Hope is the hometown of former President Bill Clinton. A new platform has been constructed in the open space between the building and the tracks. (Russ Jackson photo)


Amtrak detoured the Coast Starlight through Altamont Pass, on the UP in the San Joaquin Valley and through the Tehachapis on several occasions in March, 2013. On this trip, March 15, Train 11 is climbing through the lush green terrain through the Tehachapi mountains, and the view is taken from inside the train. (Mike Palmer photo)

Ralph photo 2 at Colfax 3021-2013

Amtrak Train 5, the westbound California Zephyr arrives on time at the Colfax, CA, station on March 18, 2013. Sixteen coach passengers and two sleeper passengers got off here that day. (Ralph James photo)

Ralph photo 3 at Colfax 3-21-2013

On the same day, March 18, 2013, Amtrak Train 6, the eastbound California Zephyr arrives on time at Colfax. Note the concrete switch ties and rehabbed track. The platform edge has also been repaired and is in excellent shape. About a dozen passengers boarded #6 that day in a slow process with only one door open. (Ralph James photo)

CA Rail Statistics

Capitol Corridor Monthly Report (February, 2013)

By David B. Kutrosky, Managing Director, CCJPA

For February 2013, once again we find Capitol Corridor’s monthly
performance report to be a mixed bag of results.
Ridership in the month of
February was 8.2% below February 2011 and revenue was down 2.7%. On a
positive note, on-time performance (OTP) was 97%, the best in the Amtrak
system for February, and the system operating ratio for the fiscal year is

Half of the ridership loss [-4%] was primarily due to February 2013 having
one less day than the 29 days in February 2012 which was a leap
year. Further evaluation of the ridership decline shows that nearly 70% of
the loss can be attributed to three stations — Sacramento [-12%], Davis
[-11%], and Richmond [-15%].

In addition, we found that some midday trains are under performing against
prior year levels and we are looking at some targeted marketing to increase
ridership on these trains as well as working with Amtrak to reallocate some
of the poorer performing trains to other more attractive times that will
optimize revenues and maintain/reduce operating costs. Weekend trains, in
general, are performing better than last year which is a testament to the
success of the 50% online discount for weekend travel.

Reductions in Service Delays – Mechanical Rolling Stock and Third-Party

Since the beginning of January, CCJPA staff have been actively engaged with
Amtrak and other agencies/parties to reduce delays from rail vehicles
(primarily locomotives) and bridge lifts at the Suisun-Martinez crossing
over the Carquinez Strait. I am pleased to inform you that in February
there were no train cancellations/annulments. Mechanical delay minutes
dropped 67% in February compared to December 2012 when service disruptions
were at a pinnacle. There also has been a significant drop in bridge
delays. For the period of December 2012-January 2013 versus the same
two-month period last year, the bridge delay minutes have dramatically
reduced by 46% thanks in large part to the commitment of the bridge lift
and marine vessel operators to be aware of the “operating windows” of the
Capitol Corridor trains as they pass through the Suisun/Martinez
drawbridge. An improved and upgraded communications plan/protocol has been
developed to assist all parties in their decisions when to open the
drawbridge and it appears to be working as intended.

Host Railroad/Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR) Delays Decreasing
It goes without saying but bears repeating that host railroad-related
delays continue to decline. In fact, Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR) delay
minutes per 10,000 train-miles were 460 for the January 2013 (the latest
month for which we have results), which was the third lowest since October
2009 when the Federal Railroad Administration required this delay
reporting. Please note that the January and previous monthly results for
the Capitol Corridor are well below the established FRA standard of 900
delay minutes per month.

In addition, the previously implemented Richmond Fence Project jointly
financed with UPRR has begun to have significant positive safety benefits
for the trains as well as the community. In the two years since the
installation of the fence, there has been an 85% reduction in the incidents
along the tracks.

CCJPA FY 13/14 – FY 14/15 Business Plan Update

The final Business Plan Update for the Capitol Corridor intercity passenger
train service for FY14 and FY15 was submitted on March 22, 2013 to the
Secretary of Business, Transportation and Housing Agency (BT&H) in
accordance with the Interagency Transfer Agreement between the CCJPA and
the State of California. The CCJPA Board of Directors formally adopted
(Resolution 13-01) this Business Plan Update at its February 20, 2013
meeting. The document was modified based on the recent submittal of initial
operating costs from Amtrak, which were used to further develop the FY14
and FY15 operating costs to be consistent with the implementation of PRIIA
Section 209 Amtrak pricing policy, which goes into effect in FY14. This
update results in an increase of $1.996 million in FY14 state operating
support for the current service plan compared to the FY13 operating budget,
primarily due to a request of $0.35 million for Minor Capital Project
support and $1.5 million for the Section 209 Equipment Capital Charge (use
of Amtrak-owned locomotives and rail cars in the service).

Amtrak is expected to provide final operating cost estimates for FY14 in
early April 2013.
We will continue to work with the Legislature and the
Governor’s Office to incorporate these FY14 final operating costs for the
Capitol Corridor into the May Revise of the FY14 State Budget. The final
operating budget will be submitted for approval to the CCJPA Board at its
September 18, 2013 meeting. It will be based on: (1) final estimates from
Amtrak (due in early April); (2) adoption of the FY14 State Budget by the
Legislature/Governor; and (3) the FY14 allocation letter provided to the
CCJPA by the BT&H Secretary.

California Passenger Rail Advocacy Event – Sacramento City Hall April 11
[9am – 3pm]
As requested by CCJPA Chair Spering, staff is working with other California passenger rail agencies on a workshop that will seek to develop advocacy initiatives needed to secure the funding and community support for the
California passenger rail network. The program will include state legislators and congressional representatives as well as passenger rail leaders and communities along the various train routes who have implemented or are planning developments at/near train stations. You are invited to be a part of this very important strategy session. Please send your RSVP to Cheryl Grady [] at your earliest convenience.


Ridership for FY13 is 3.7% below last year’s levels, yet is above FY11
ridership levels, while revenue, OTP and system operating ratios are
outperforming last year’s results. Most importantly, the Capitol Corridor
safety measurements continue to be excellent from employee and passenger
injuries to safety incidents along the tracks. Also, actions taken by the
CCJPA and Amtrak have begun to have immediate reductions in service delays
that will allow the Capitol Corridor to maintain its superior OTP, which
translates into high customer satisfaction scores that in turn help to
retain and grow ridership. The CCJPA team has set the bar high for the
performance of the Capitol Corridor trains and has the commitment of UPRR
and Amtrak as its service partners to minimize and limit service delays,
improve OTP, advance safety and service expansion projects, and improve
customer satisfaction.

Capitol Corridor February 2013
– Ridership: 127,165 riders; -8.2% vs. February 2012; -3.7% vs. prior YTD
– Revenue: $2,194,429; -2.7% vs. February 2012; +0.9% vs. prior YTD
– On-Time Performance: 97%, YTD OTP of 94% (#3 in the nation).
– System Operating Ratio: 52% YTD vs. 50% in FY12
Pacific Surfliners February 2013:
– Ridership: 189,709 passengers; +4.8% vs. February 2012; +6.3% vs. prior
– Ticket Revenue: +11.7% vs. February 2012; +13.3% vs. prior YTD
– On-time performance: 91% (YTD FY13 on-time performance: 88%)
San Joaquin February 2013:
– Ridership: 88,507 passengers +2.2% vs. February 2012; +9.2% vs. prior
– Ticket Revenue only: +5.4% vs. February 2012; +6.7% vs. prior YTD
– On-time performance: 92% (YTD FY13 on-time performance: 89%)


Report of the First Ever San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority

Report by Mike Barnbaum, Associate Director of the Rail Passenger Association of California & Nevada, on Sunday 24 March 2013

The New San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority, created by legislation from Cathleen Galgiani (AB 1779) and signed into law by Governor Edmund G. Jerry Brown on September 29, 2012, held its first meeting on March 22, 2013 in the City Council Chambers of the City of Merced. The meeting was called to order shortly after 1:30 P.M. After new member introductions and the pledge of allegiance, the historic Swearing In of New Members took place and the election of officers. A discussion took place regarding geographic region the three top officers are from so that to ensure that along the San Joaquin Valley Rail Corridor (Bakersfield to Sacramento/Oakland) had one member covering the Southern Portion of the Corridor, Central Portion of the Corridor, and Northern Portion of the Corridor. After the discussion took place, the new SJJPA Board Members agreed that they have accomplished that goal. With that being said, the new S.J.J.P.A. Officers are as follows:

  • Chair – Supervisor John Pedrozo of Merced County (Central)
  • 1st Vice Chair – Supervisor Henry Perea of Fresno County (South)
  • 2nd Vice Chair – Sacramento City Councilmember Steve Cohn and appointed to the S.J.J.P.A. by the Sacramento Regional Transit District Board

The legislation that created the S.J.J.P.A. and the coming together of the first meeting ever was work done behind the scenes by eleven astute people that made up Ad Hoc Staff Working Group including but not limited to Mike Wiley and Jeffrey Damon of the Sacramento Regional Transit District. All eleven of these people were publicly recognized during the first meeting.

Following the recognition of the eleven Ad Hoc Staff Working Group Members, the SJJPA took public comments. This writer was last, out of courtesy of other in attendance. Many public comments came from students of the new U.C. Merced as well as transportation professionals. Tom Richards, Vice-Chair of the California High Speed Rail Authority testified to the new members as to how the Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority served as a great model over the years as to why the new S.J.J.P.A. was needed and ultimately created through state legislation. This writer talked about goal setting, particularly setting one critical goal of “Closing The Gap” that has been much talked about at the San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee by the Treasurer of the Rail Passenger Association of California and Nevada (RailPAC) Bill Kerby. The “Closing the Gap” refers to eliminating bus service in favor of providing rail service between Bakersfield and California’s Busiest Rail Station, Los Angeles Union Station. Los Angeles County is the largest County in the United States of America in terms of population and is the second busiest Amtrak Station in the United States of America in terms of passengers. The last this writer, from Sacramento, had checked, Sacramento is the second busiest Amtrak Station in California and the seventh busiest Amtrak Station in the United States of America.

Following public comments was the adoption of the consent calendar. The consent calendar was adopted unanimously, including the meeting schedule for the remainder of Calendar Year 2013 and the location of the next regularly scheduled meeting of the S.J.J.P.A. This writer addressed the group in regards to the date of the next meeting proposed for the Friday that comes on the heels of a major three day weekend. After brief conversation, the board decided to proceed with that date and the remaining dates on the 2013 meeting calendar. The next meeting of the S.J.J.P.A. will occur on Friday 24 May 2013 at New Sacramento City Hall Council Chambers from 1:00 P.M. to 4:00 P.M. so that new Board Members in the San Joaquin Valley will have the ability to ride Train 701 directly to Sacramento arriving at 12:25 P.M. and back on Train 704 directly from Sacramento departing at 4:55 P.M. This is the only way for San Joaquin County Board Members and participants to attend a S.J.J.P.A. Meeting in Sacramento so as to not have a run-in with Peratta’s Law. This was a law writted and signed into law year’s ago by former State Senate President Pro-Tem Don Peratta which prohibits exclusive Amtrak Bus travel when using Amtrak to do a roundtrip in their itinerary. The law, in plain English states that when using Amtrak on an itinerary, a segment traveled by train must be included somewhere in that passenger’s itinerary or the travel can not be sold by Amtrak under any circumstance.

With that being said, the following will be the meeting schedule for the remainder of 2013 set for the Fourth Friday of Each Month as Follows:

  • May 24, 2013 at New Sacramento City Hall from 1:00 P.M. to 4:00 P.M. (Train 701 to Sacramento & Train 704 to San Joaquin Valley)
  • July 26, 2013
  • September 27, 2013
  • November 22, 2013 (This is the Friday “Before” Thanksgiving Day)

Members are also being polled by the Ad Hoc Staff Working Group for a special meeting for June 28th and/or another date in June, not yet known, to come to agreement on final selection of managing agency. The Managing Agency currently in place for the Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority is the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District, headquartered in Oakland, California.

As the meeting proceeded a presentation was made about Intercity Passenger Rail Lobby Days in Sacramento that will be held over a 2-Day period on April 10 & 11. Caution was made into who would go from the new SJJPA Board so as to not hve a “quorum” present in the halls of the Capitol. If this occurred, a meeting would have to be noticed under California’s Open Meetings Act known as the Brown Act.

An Oral presentation was made regarding the selection process and criteria for selection of a Managing Agency and their Criteria. Staff of Agencies that have expressed interest in being the Managing Agency exempted themselves from speaking or presenting on this item. The item did allow for public comment of which this writer took full advantage as as transit rider, of promoting why the Sacramento Regional Transit District needs to be the Managing Agency of the San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority. Among other things, the Sacramento Regional Transit District has completed a quarter of a century of operating Light Rail Service to the people of the Sacramento Region in 2012 and that on Monday 1 April 2013, the Sacramento Regional Transit District will turn 40. The comments made by this writer was to demonstarte to the Board Members and the independent presenter of the item that the Sacramento Regional Transit District is not new, and that the Sacramento Regional Transit District has a “track” record – no pun intended – of rail operations that is well established in the marketplace of the San Joaquin Valley for those Counties between Kern and Sacramento.


San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee meeting report

Report by Bruce Jenkins
I attended the SJVRC Meeting on Thursday, 2/28 in Fresno. Some of the more important items are as follows:

Caltrans Division of Rail Chief, Bill Bronte reported :

  • a) The San Joaquin trains are sporting a 64.5% Fare Box Recovery, the highest in the country.
  • b) On Time Performance for February, 2013, was 91.7%. He gave kudos to BNSF and UP for this time keeping.
  • c) The San Joaquins had the highest increase in ridership thruout the country.
  • d) 14 (reconditioned) Horizon Cars will arrive here from Beach Grove the end of March and will most likely be assigned as trains #711 & 718.
  • e) Coast Daylight and Coachella Valley trains are in the new California Rail Plan.
  • f) Up to six trains of the SJVR will be retained after HSR is operational. Bus service is most important, feeding 50% of the ridership to the trains and will definitely be retained.
  • In January Amtrak named Jay Commer as its General Manager, State Supported Services. He will be based in Oakland. Jay was general manager for the Calif, Corridor product line and superintendent of commuter operations for Caltrain, among other roles.

    Concerning the “Sequestration” debacle, Amtrak has not received guidance from Congress or the Administration on how sequestration will be implemented. Amtrak is planning to take actions to allow it to withstand a funding cut and not cut service.
    (NOTE: This meeting took place before Amtrak issued a notice to its employees:
    “From: Employee Communications, Sent: Thursday, February 28, 2013 2:30 PM, Subject: Special Employee Advisory – Sequestration. A Message from Joe Boardman, Dear Co-workers, You have probably been hearing about sequestration discussions in Washington and some of you are wondering if it will impact our service. Congress and the Administration have to agree on how to resolve these across the board cuts that will impact our federal funding. I want to assure you that we’ve been planning for this reduction in our operating and capital budgets and do not anticipate immediate cuts to service. We will continue to tighten our belts and focus on the bottom line. Hopefully, the sequestration debate will not last long. The continued lack of predictable federal appropriations does makes proper budgeting and future planning extremely difficult for us. I will let you know if our situation should change. Thank you for everything you do for Amtrak.”)

    D.J.Mitchell from the BNSF reported that PTC installation on the valley route was completed and will be operational when Amtrak gets the computers installed in their locomotives. Several members of the committee gave words of appreciation to BNSF and said they were glad to have BNSF “on the team”.

    Stacey Mortensen was absent, so there was no discussion concerning the JPA.

    Rail Photos

    RailPAC PHOTOS of the Month (February, 2013)

    Here are 5 photos by RailPAC photographers. Click on each photo to see it full size! Contributions to thia page each month are welcome. Send your jpeg photos to RailPAC Photo Editor, at

    Noel San Diego station crowd 2-2013
    San Diego’s Santa Fe depot. Amtrak passengers must wait until this locked gate is opened before boarding trains. This makes it difficult for Coaster or Trolley passengers to enter the station; they must detour around the station building. (Noel Braymer Photo)

    Portland, Oregon’s downtown light rail system in October, 2012. (Alex Friedman Photo)

    Sacramento Valley Station. While the city is discussing renaming this place, they have made several improvements besides the new platforms. This is the new highway exit from the parking lot onto I Street. (Russ Jackson Photo)

    Palm Springs Amtrak station for the Sunset Limited. Passengers see this station only at night since the timetable was changed last year. (Bob Manning Photo)

    Sac trip 9-2012 AtkCal bus at Paso Robles sta
    Paso Robles Amtrak station. This Surfliner/Capitol Corridor bus is enroute between Santa Barbara and San Jose, connecting between those two train stations. Only the Coast Starlight train stops at this station until more train service on the Coast Line is established. (Russ Jackson Photo)


    The Coast Starlight and the Coast Line are Just Coasting

    Report and Commentary by Russ Jackson

    Amtrak’s Coast Starlight still travels daily between Los Angeles and Seattle. Should we take it for granted? Well, let’s look at its performance lately. From Amtrak’s December 2012 Performance Report, now posted on, we know the train’s end-point “on time performance” (OTP) for the fiscal year since October 1, 2012, has deteriorated compared to the same period in 2011, from 85.9% to 73.9%. That’s down 12%. The good news is that on February 11, 2013, train 11 arrived at Los Angeles Union Station (LAUS) 3 minutes early having not been later than 51 minutes enroute, which was at Santa Barbara, so the early LA arrival was due largely to using up schedule padding. Train 14 on the same day arrived in Seattle 38 minutes early, not having been late more than 19 minutes at any station enroute.

    While that is good news and represents what happens on most days with the Starlight, when there is a bad day it can be really bad. An example is train 14 that departed LAUS on January 24. RailPAC VP South, James Smith, was on board. Everything was great until they were on Vandenberg AFB, where one locomotive conked out because of a coolant problem, and they limped into San Luis Obispo where the Union Pacific attached its two helper engines to get them up Cuesta Grade as far as Santa Margarita. At Oakland Amtrak put on “protect” locomotive 510, a P-32, and it had more problems as the alerter kept going on and off, delaying the train for hours at Redding. James Smith was not unhappy with this totally, as he saw Mt. Shasta from the train in the morning for the first time on his many journeys. At Portland that evening it was time for a full inspection, which delayed the train over an hour with the power shut down on a cold night with passengers on board. They reached Seattle at Midnight rather than the scheduled 8:37 PM. What this shows again is Amtrak has too many problems with its locomotives. On January 31 another train 14 lost an hour at Eugene, Oregon, because a passenger barricaded himself in a sleeping-car restroom and set fire to the paper-towel dispenser. Eugene police forced open the restroom door and arrested the fighting suspect.

    How is the Starlight performing at the intermediate stations? Only a few stations on the route are served only by trains 11 and 14. According to Great American Stations, in FY 2012 Chemult, Oregon, had 10,304 passengers who paid $761,216 into Amtrak’s revenue. Klamath Falls, Oregon had 32,881 who paid a whopping $2,202,627. Four stations are served by the Starlight and Amtrak California buses: Paso Robles had 11,728 riders who paid $653,472, Redding had 23,059 for $892,612, and Salinas had 19,879 who paid $1,311,849. Other stations on the route were also served by Surfliner or Cascades trains and the buses. There is more to travel on Amtrak than serving only the end point cities.

    Is the Coast Starlight still a great traveling experience? Yes, and No. The Pacific Parlour Car, which was added by Amtrak West’s Gil Mallery and Brian Rosenwald in the 1990s is still there in those 50 year old cars. The trains are largely sold out every day and the dining cars are still serving tasty meals. As USA Today writer Laura Bly said on August 24, 2012, “Amtrak’s Coast Starlight sells the joy of slow travel.” One “railbuff” told Laura Bly that the “Coast Starlight includes three meals a day, comparable to a good Dennys,” in the cost of sleeping-car accommodations. RailPAC’s James Smith says his trip taught him that “the experience” of riding the Starlight which we all celebrated in the beginning is just not the same. “The soul of the train isn’t what it used to be,” Smith says, because there has been so much standardization it is just not as unique. On his trip “the crew did a good job, the food was ok, but chefs don’t have the tools to be creative.” His return trip on # 11 went smoothly, and on time. He noted upon Seattle departure the train was packed with students returning to the many colleges and universities along the route. That shows there should be additional frequencies or more added cars at peak demand times.

    What needs to be done on the Coast Line? For one thing, the proposed Coast Daylight train that is supposed to serve downtown San Francisco and close the gap between San Jose and San Luis Obispo with a second frequency on the route needs to get going, since it represents the extension of the present Surfliner trains beyond San Luis Obispo. Meeting after meeting of the Coast Rail Coordinating Council still has not resulted in 1) the Union Pacific agreeing to run the service, saying they need $500 million for upgrades, 2) the arrival of new California owned equipment, which is not due until 2016 although cars are available now, and 3) the state still must allocate operating funds of up to $7.5 million a year. All we know is they continue “working on it.” RailPAC has been told that there are concerns that there would be a negative effect on the Starlight ridership and some don’t want to toy with that, but that’s not what happens when there are additional frequencies on a train route.

    Ideas; have we got some ideas for the Coast Line.

    1) RailPAC member Bob MacDonald, Oakland, says “Have the California Zephyr ‘make a left turn’ at Oakland, and continue on to Los Angeles as the coastal night train.” He says it would take only one additional trainset to do this, making it “the night train connection between the two regions.” The train’s West Coast terminal would then be Los Angeles, and would move its maintenance base from the very busy Oakland facility to Amtrak’s facility at 8th Street in LA saving money. If this proposal sounds familiar, it is one that RailPAC heavily advocated for some time. The idea of a “rolling overnight hotel” between the north and south has great possibilities, as it did to the Southern Pacific when it ran the Lark. Having the dining car open overnight would lend many attracting features. RailPAC’s Noel Braymer says, “Dr. Adrian Herzog (first) dreamed up this idea maybe 20 years ago. It was floated to Amtrak at the time and many people were interested then, the problem was the Chicago maintenance people objected to moving the base from Chicago to LA, and they found political clout that caused Amtrak to set aside this logical idea. I have no idea whether the UP would agree to extension of this national system train, but,” Braymer says, “I wish it would happen sooner than later.”

    2) Up to now 30% of the Surfliner trains are funded as part of the national system, but as RailPAC President, Paul Dyson, says, “This is supposed to go away under PRIIA because these trains run less than 750 miles.” That means 30% more must then be paid by the State of California. “So, let’s extend the Starlight, Sunset Limited, and Southwest Chief to San Diego.” Not by sending the actual trainsets down there, just extend ticketing of the three trains onto Surfliners with passengers changing in Los Angeles. Dyson says, “It’s a way to hold onto 30% national funding for the Surfliners, as long as local travel between LAUS and San Diego is still permitted. This idea retains San Diego as part of the national system.”

    Rail Photos

    Rail PHOTOS of the Month (January, 2013)

    Here are 5 photos by RailPAC photographers. Click on the photo to see it full size!

    1. 031

    Looking out the rear window of a Superliner car can bring some great views. Here the Coast Starlight, Train 14, is departing the Chemult, Oregon station. (Photo by Alex Friedman)

    2. Strandberg trip 10-2011 Colfax platform #6

    Passengers are boarding the eastbound California Zephyr at the Colfax, California station in October, 2011. This is the location of the UP freight derailment in January, 2013 which blocked the line for two days. Fortunately there were no passengers at the scene at that time. (Photo by Richard Strandberg)

    3. Noel August2,2011traintrip014

    This Amtrak low level trainset is still in use on the LOSSAN Corridor. Instead of a cab control car this set has a former F-40 rebuilt “cabbage” car on the end. (Photo by Noel Braymer)

    4. Noel August2,2011traintrip012

    This Metrolink set of Rotem cars at the Los Angeles Union Station platform makes an outstanding sight, particularly as compared with the Amfleet set above. (Photo by Noel Braymer)

    5. DSCN1532

    Where is that dome car going? Nowhere is the immediate answer. This car is attached to the cars on the Amtrak “protect” track south of the Ft. Worth Intermodal station on January 24, 2013. It is one of Ed Ellis’s IOWA PACIFIC fleet of dome cars, and could be eventually heading west for the Snow Train. (Photo by Russ Jackson)


    A Business Analysis of the San Diego Metroliners

    By Andrew C. Selden
    NOTE: This article appeared as the first article in the first issue of the “RailPAC Quarterly Review,” in September, 1984. What Mr. Selden said then bears close resemblance to the situation facing the Amtrak “experiment” with a morning limited stop train on the same corridor in 2013. Mr. Selden is President of the Minnesota Rail Passenger Association, a frequent contributor to RailPAC publications and has spoken at RailPAC Conferences. Particular note should be taken of his suggestions at the end of the article.

    Claytor (Amtrak then President Graham Claytor) probably doesn’t know what the equipment utilization factors are in the Southwest Coast Corridor (now called the LOSSAN Corridor), may not care,and probably didn’t take that into account in planning this service. Two. of his senior marketing and planning officials have recently admitted they do not consider return on investment in planning major investments of Amtrak’s scarce resources. Intercity rail passenger service is not a function of running passenger trains. Rather, it is the business of furnishing a surface transportation system using trains. The distinction is real and important. Amtrak, to judge from its planning and implementation of the San Diego Metroliners, has not grasped it. These trains were foredoomed to fail, and have failed in the marketplace. Private sector rail advocates and local governments predicted this outcome. Amtrak not only failed to foresee these trains’ performance but obstinately refused to acknowledge the factors that inevitably lead to their costly failure. This article explores the history and performance of the San Diego Metroliners, explains why they failed, and concludes with suggestions how to improve the surface passenger transportation system in the Southwest Coast Corridor.

    The San Diego Metroliners are the fifth consecutive failure of a limited stop, limited purpose, “express” intercity passenger train in recent American history. The failures of the prior attempts were due to fundamental misstructuring of the services for the markets being served. The New England Metroliner, the unsuccessful predecessor of the San Diego Metroliner, for example, failed because a limited stop, four-hour train serving business traffic is not and never will be competitive with one-hour jet services, or the stop flexibility and demand scheduling of the automobile.

    The San Diego Metroliner has failed for similar reasons: it does not respond to the needs of the market it purports to serve. Rather than “substantially” increasing ridership and revenues as Amtrak predicted, the San Diego Metroliners have suffered material and continuing declines in ridership and revenue over the conventional trains they displaced. The Metroliners carry an average of 40 to 50 passengers per trip, less than busload quantities and clearly inadequate for a rail service.

    Those who fail to heed the lessons of history are indeed condemned to repeat them. Amtrak’s and its predecessor’s history with limited stop, limited purpose trains has
    not been very good, but it has been consistent. Before Amtrak’s creation, Penn Central had attempted several express Metroliners in the New York – Washington
    market. These limited stop, premium fare trains were an early attempt to draw from Eastern Airlines’ air shuttle end point business traffic that wouldn’t come near PC’s dilapidated conventional trains. The trains failed. They included a nonstop, two hour thirty minute (2:30) schedule in April, 1969, that was quickly changed to a one-stop 2:30 schedule in July, 1969, then another very brief attempt at a nonstop train in October followed immediately by restoration of at least two stops (2:50 running time) and by May, 1970, three-stop schedules at 2:50. Five-stop trains were scheduled in 2:59. (Today’s 1984 best schedules, after nearly $4 billion in capital investment, are four-stop “expresses” scheduled at 2:49, not noticeably different from comparable schedules of 15 years ago.)

    Despite the failure of PC’s limited stop experiments, Amtrak has twice repeated the “don1t-stop-to-pick-up-passengers” trick in the New York – Washington subsector of the NEC, with equally dismal results. In November, 1971, two Metroliners each way were changed to one-stop expresses scheduled for 2 hours, 52 minutes. These trains again went head to head with the Eastern Airlines Shuttle, an hourly, unreserved, guaranteed seat service between La Guardia and Washington National. The Shuttle took an hour gate to gate and under two hours downtown to downtown. Eastern won again.
    The express Metroliners were withdrawn in June, 1972. They could not compete for end point business traffic against jet planes, even in 200 mile markets. Predictably,
    the trains carried no end point traffic to speak of. A large proportion, perhaps the majority, of ridership on today’s Metroliners is only New York – Philadelphia (90
    miles) and Graham Claytor has stated publicly that the Metroliners still carry virtually no end point traffic. No route and market matrix analysis was (or has been) done on the NEC spine and intermediate point markets spanning New York City to test the full potential for rail service in overlapping markets throughout the NEC.

    In November, 1971, Amtrak tried a limited stop “express” operation of the Empire Builder between Chicago and Minneapolis. The Builder bypassed six stops to save twenty minutes. Some service to the bypassed cities continued with the Hiawatha.
    As with the San Diego Metroliner, Amtrak theory predicted that traffic to and from bypassed cities would simply shift to the other train(s). This experiment also was a flop and was quickly withdrawn. The next timetable, June, 1972, restored two stops
    (and ten minutes), and another stop was restored with no additional time the next year. Bypassing intermediate point traffic sources resulted in a sharp drop in revenue without offsetting cost savings, or traffic gains on the Hiawatha. Amtrak still disregards smaller intermediate stops when modelling projected traffic for proposed new services. With the conversion of the Empire Builder schedule, traffic to or from bypassed stops for points east and south of Chicago and west of Minneapolis as well as some intra-route traffic was completely cut off. Amtrak’s displacement theory was proven wrong. Even in tiny absolute numbers, such traffic produced high marginal revenues. Loss of just one “average” round trip long haul passenger each day at just half the bypassed stops, at today’s fares, would forfeit nearly $35,000 in monthly revenue, well over $400,000 per year, virtually free of incremental costs beyond reservations and ticketing.

    The limited stop operation had no offsetting gain, because not enough time was saved to impact marketability, crew costs or equipment utilization. No stations were closed
    or reduced. Travel opportunities, however, were reduced significantly. Amtrak seems to have had no awareness of route and market matrix implications, or sensitivity to network connections, resulting from limited stop, limited purpose operation.

    In the NEC, ten years later, after nearly $4 billion in NECIP and Amtrak capital investments, Amtrak again tried a skip-stop service in October, 1981, with three two-stop Metroliner expresses, timed at 2:59. This quest for end point business traffic failed yet again and for the same (still unlearned) reasons, and was quickly withdrawn. The familiar excuses of rough track, bad dispatching, interference by Conrail commuter trains, etc., willfully disregarded Amtrak Marketing’s gross misperception of rail’s real market function in these areas, serving cities in the matrix not served by frequent, cheap, jet services.

    Amtrak next inflicted its costly theories on the New York – Boston end of the NEC. In October, 1982, they introduced the New England Metroliners, two single-purpose daily 231 mile trains each way aimed yet again at end point business traffic between major cities with ample air service. The trains displaced multiple stop conventional schedules, and featured long distance leg rest coaches, free snacks, a full-service diner, and a million dollar, train-specific, adcampaign over and above customary, extensive NEC advertising. For a time, two 3000 h.p. F-40’s were assigned to the (normally) 4-car trains. A hefty premium fare was charged. The trains were 50% more expensive, and took four times longer, than competitive air services, bypassing such obvious sources of business traffic as Iselin, Newark, Stamford and Rye. The New England Metroliners were structured to fail. Their price and schedules were not competitive with air services for end point business traffic. They did not serve or even permit connections from points south of New York, and by bypassing critical suburban stops at Rye and Stamford (and ignoring Iselin and Newark) they turned their back on the vast majority of their potential target business travellers for whom there might not have been a viable air option. Like the New York – Washington expresses, they spurned traffic for which Amtrak has no real competition. Like the New York – Washington expresses and the entire San Diegan schedule, the New England Metroliners terminated at a major downtown metro station and ignored significant potential traffic flows to and from major population areas beyond.

    Once again, Amtrak took a bath. Ridership on the Metroliners plummeted by more than 50% from the conventional trains they displaced to less than busload levels. Fewer
    than 50 passengers were handled per trip. Despite the fare premium, total revenues fell. Not enough new traffic was captured to pay for so much as the direct costs of advertising and ticketing. The fare premium didn’t recover the direct costs of reservation service, or the on-board amenities or the ad campaign, much less all three. The service consumed two seven million dollar trainsets for just 462 revenue miles per weekday. Both sets sat idle for over five hours during the heart of each business day. An airline marketing officer who scheduled two 727’s to be parked from before noon to after 5:00 p.m. each weekday would be fired instantly.

    At the same time the disastrous New England Metroliners were being withdrawn, Amtrak Marketing was planning yet another limited stop, limited purpose, premium fare express train aimed at end point business traffic, this time between San Diego and Los Angeles. To save fifteen scheduled minutes and the time-consuming nuisance of loading paying passengers, the trains bypass four heavily used and rapidly growing intermediate stops, three of which feature major, new regional multi-modal transportation centers. The purported time saving itself is a mirage as these trains actually add to the end point trip times. Amtrak dogma states that five minutes is consumed by a station stop, yet these trains save only fifteen minutes by skipping four stops.

    Amtrak has ignored the character of San Diegan traffic. Only 15% is end point business, 35% is end point-intermediate point, and fully 50% never sees either end
    point. Amtrak’s alleged “market studies” for this service (if they exist) therefore are essentially irrelevant to this market. End point expresses are even more meaningless in this corridor than in sub-segments of the NEC. Amtrak claimed that Los Angeles-San Diego was the largest single origin and destination pair of stops in this market, disregarding the fact that 85% of this market’s traffic moved between other points. Amtrak’s claim that the two intermediate stops chosen are “suburban” stops, like Metropark,N.J. or Glenview, IL., merely illustrates Amtrak’s ignorance of Southern California’s urban geography.

    The two stops the trains do make suffer from poor accessibility, low visibility, stagnant traffic bases and in one case no parking availability. These stations’ principal attractions to potential rail passengers are a race track, a ballpark and Disneyland. The new Metroliners may draw business traffic, but it may not be the kind of business Amtrak had in mind. The Metroliners stop at Del Mar but bypass Oceanside’s new $7.5 million regional transportation center. Traffic at Oceanside in early 1984 was up 23% and climbing, with station revenues up 37% and climbing. Oceanside has over 250 parking places, a heavily used “kiss-and-ride” facility, a regional multi-modal transit center and excellent freeway access. Oceanside’s current population is over 15 times Del Mar’s, and by 2000 will be 21 times Del Mar’s. Del Mar’s station parking lot is already full and has no capacity for expansion, while Oceanside’s parking was just tripled and is soon to be nearly doubled again. Unlike Oceanside, Del Mar has no effective freeway access and cannot service its inland area. Amtrak’s marketers said they picked Del Mar over Oceanside because Del Mar’s population was better able to afford the higher fare, and because the Del Mar to LA fare would be higher than the Oceanside – Los Angeles fare.

    The trains also bypass Santa Ana, the Orange County seat and state and federal court center. Santa Ana is the second strongest intermediate source of business traffic on
    the line. It has a major new regional transportation center. Fullerton, the strongest intermediate station on the line, is the site of a $5 million station rehabilitation, with a new regional transit mall, just quintupled parking, and freeway access. It serves a major university community and is a natural throat at the end of the Santa Ana canyon tunneling traffic flowing toward downtown LA from the east. It too is bypassed.

    The Metroliner scheme, never discussed with local transportation agencies or elected officials, raised a storm of bitter protest, ill will and bad press. Four cities, one
    transit district and the Orange County Transportation Commission formally, and in some cases scornfully, protested the scheme. Southern California members of Congress have bitterly attacked Amtrak’s arrogant intransigience, and demanded that Amtrak re-evaluate and justify the decision to implement the Metroliner scheme.

    Graham Claytor then contradicted his earlier claims and conceded the trains will produce a loss in ridership. They must, as skipping stops produces an instantaneous and exponential loss of travel opportunities. In the San Diego local market alone, numerous daily local market opportunities were lost, plus hundreds more to the extent that the schedules adversely impact connectivity at Los Angeles to national system trains. In May, 1984 total San Diegan ridership fell 4.6% due to these trains. The 30% premium fare will also drive away business. The South Coast market has proven to be exceptionally price sensitive, with a maximum tolerance limit of about twelve cents per mile. Pricing even a little beyond that drives away traffic, while modest price promotions at the net level of about nine cents per mile have strongly stimulated marginal sales and profits when left in place long enough to reach the consumer’s awareness. The Metroliner fares are well beyond the proven tolerance level and without apparent offsetting amenities. The New England Metroliners had proportionally smaller surcharges, greater amenities, greater frequencies and massive advertising support, and still failed miserably.

    The San Diego Metroliners produce no cost savings. Train miles, station hours and staffing, available seat miles, trip cycles, crew hours and other relevant cost factors remain essentially constant. Indeed, the Metroliners achieve some limited cost savings only by ticketing fewer passengers, but that will be offset by substantial new reservation services costs. Amtrak charged Minnesota for the alleged “short term avoidable cost” (what Amtrak believes to be its marginal cost) of reservation services for the NorthStar at a rate equivalent to about $17 per reservation. A $5 fare premium certainly won’t recover that marginal cost on the Metroliner.

    The apparent fifteen minute time savings will be ineffective as a marketing device, as many current trains, especially the first two morning northbound trains, which make all stops on a ten-minute longer 2:40 schedule, routinely arrive eight to twelve minutes early after having waited for time along the line. Business travelers to LA know and rely on this phenomenon. They won’t pay extra for a gimmick on a later train. The pronounced Metroliner traffic imbalance that quickly developed (as much as 30% more traffic on the southbound train than the northbound) shows that travelers use the trains based more on their schedule slots than their service amenities.

    The Metroliner operation produced an immediate increase in labor costs of $200,000 per anum by causing a fourth crew and $5 to $7 million trainset to stay overnight in San Diego six days a week. Equipment utilization decreased substantially on a system already critically short of rolling stock. Special trainsets, including two Amdinettes, were ferried (deadhead) to Southern California to operate these trains.

    Metroliner trainsets get but a single round trip a day on a 128 mile line, and sit idle at LA for six hours in the middle of each business day, consuming expensive track space, or extra switcher costs if yarded. Although Graham Claytor has said that in his view poor equipment utilization is inherent in short distance corridor operations, that is not only not true (no successful corridor or budget airline, bus or truck company operates that way), it reflects a shockingly irresponsible, lazy management attitude. Claytor has a duty to optimize utilization of $5 to $7 million trainsets, not shrug off their controllable misuse as inescapable.

    Claytor probably doesn’t know what the equipment utilization factors are in the Southwest Coast Corridor, may not care, and probably didn’t take that into account in planning this service. Two of his senior marketing and planning officials have recently admitted they do not consider return on investment in planning major investments of Amtrak’s scarce resources.

    Finally, Amtrak structured the service 180° off the mark. To the extent that the Southwest Coast Corridor represents a funnel to collect and deliver business traffic,
    that funnel points south not north. “Los Angeles” is too diffuse a destination and too thinly served west, north and east of downtown, to be an effective target for business traffic on a limited purpose express train. If a business express is to be run, it should run south in the morning with a target San Diego arrival of 7:50 or 8:20 a.m. (depending upon one’s perception of when San Diego business meetings get underway, and on the schedule’s demands for equipment turns), with a northward departure in the late afternoon, say 4:15 or 5:15 p.m. (and with another round trip in between).

    In view of these critical flaws in the San Diego Metroliner proposal, Amtrak’s intentions and possible conflict of interest must be questioned. Has Amtrak stonewalled improvements in the Southwest Coast Corridor for years, and now undermined it with the Metroliner concept and other counterproductive decisions, to benefit American High Speed Rail Corporations’s “bullet train” scheme? AHSR’s executives include former senior Amtrak officers who were responsible for San Diegan services during the same time they were planning the competing bullet train for the private benefit of AHSR’s investors, insiders and foreign suppliers and financiers. Amtrak’s senior marketing officer is a protege and confidant of AHSR’s chairman, former Amtrak president and bullet train promoter, Alan Boyd. Amtrak officers recently explicitly told an elected public official from southern California that they had no interest in improving San Diegan conventional services and preferred instead to see the bullet train implemented. The capacity of conventional rail in the Southwest Coast Corridor will be a major factor in the environmental evaluation of the bullet train proposal, and by undermining the San Diegans Amtrak is making a significant contribution to AHSR’s bullet scheme. The tragedy for the Southwest Coast Corridor is that inexpensive and profitable short term solutions are readily available. Amtrak could not be expected to discern these opportunities. They include:

    (1) Immediate reduction of scheduled running time on all trains making all stops to 2 hours 30 minutes. This is not only physically possible and frequently achieved now, it would actually unclog the flow of traffic over the line, open better daytime
    maintenance of way windows, greatly improve equipment and labor utilization and significantly enhance the competitive position of the train versus the freeway.

    (2) Immediate institution of an eighth daily round trip, not under 403(b), to supply the early morning San Diego arrival, permitting for the first time ever use of the service for business traffic into San Diego. A 1974 professional engineering study commissioned by local governments and CalTrans projected 100 to 300 new daily riders for such a train just from the Oceanside metro area. Fullerton, Santa Ana and other on-line cities would add many more. No capital expenditures or new equipment would be required. The line as is can handle at least one more frequency. The new trip will actually bring an immediate savings of $200,000 per year in cash labor costs by cutting San Diego overnight layover crews and trainsets. Equipment utilization will improve. Significant and immediate growth in passenger miles and revenues would be realized with a net reduction in Amtrak’s operating deficit.

    (3) Immediate introduction of a pricing and advertising policy aimed at maximizing ridership at compensatory, rather than exploitative, fares, such as a 25% round trip discount. This would reflect a radical departure from Amtrak’s admitted historic policy of gouging the greatest possible yield (i.e., charging the highest price the market will bear) from an extant traffic base, rather than inducing growth with fares equated to marginal costs. The positive lessons of Amtrak’s own “All Aboard” fares should be applied to the Southwest Coast Corridor now. Graham Claytor recently revealed the bankruptcy of Amtrak’s understanding of basic business economics by saying, “[Marginal cost-based pricing] unfortunately leads in the railroad business to an attempt to obtain profitability by generating high volumes of traffic, all priced on a strictly incremental basis.” (Emphasis added.) What Claytor regards as “unfortunate” is widely regarded by economists and successful private sector business executives as optimal.

    (4) Immediate extension, not under 403(b), of at least three daily San Diegans to serve the populous San Fernando Valley, Simi Valley, Oxnard and Santa Barbara northern leg of the Southwest Coast Corridor. No additional equipment would be required, and utilization would be further enhanced. Trains could stop in the valleys north of Los Angeles at existing platforms built by CalTrans. No track capital improvements would be necessary beyond one leg of a wye at Santa Barbara. For the first time ever, meaningful, cost-effective service would be provided to the majority of the spine of the Southwest Coast Corridor. Average SWCC ride lengths could double and revenue yields would expand materially. Terminating all SWCC trains at LAUPT makes as little sense as would stopping and turning all NEC trains back to the north at Wilmington, ignoring Baltimore, Washington and Richmond.

    (5) If a persuasive case can be made for a major, focused effort to draw discretionary business traffic to the San Diegan, that effort can be accomplished far more effectively and inexpensively by adding a single car to expedited existing trains, either a 60-seat “custom coach” or a parlor/club car for truly first class service. This would support a major advertising campaign to draw consumer attention to the entire San Diegan service, entail virtually no incremental costs and maintain all existing market/demand opportunities within the SWCC market matrix.

    Limited purpose, skip-stop intercity trains have failed consistently. New directions are needed. Is anyone listening?


    Preserve the Railyards “Depot” site for an Intermodal District and Build Affordable Rental Units in the Railyards

    Commentary By Chuck Robuck, RailPAC Director, Sacramento, and former President, CC Riders
    In the past, the City of Sacramento has proposed building BOTH an Arena and an Intermodal Transit Facility on the City-owned 13-acre parcel near the Historic Train Depot (AKA the “Depot” site).
    There is clearly not enough space on this site to accommodate both projects.

    Downtown Sacramento seen from the Train Station

    Downtown Sacramento seen from the Train Station

    I propose that the “Depot” property be preserved exclusively for the Intermodal Transit Facility and related functions, such as adequate space for buses, taxes, rental cars, passenger drop-off and pick-up and short-term parking.

    Here are some points to consider:• Sacramento’s Current Train Station with 1.2 million passengers is currently the 2nd busiest in California (L.A. is 1st), and 7th busiest in the Nation.
    • The planned Intermodal Facility is expected to have over 15 million users by 2025 (SACOG est.)
    • Building an Arena on this site would severely limit the space for an Intermodal to approx. 3.5 acres – compare this to the New Intermodal Station under Construction in Anaheim (A.R.T.I.C), which is dedicating nearly 16 acres to transit functions (and the Anaheim Station has about 1/3 of the no. of passengers as Sacramento)
    • Additional Close-in Parking needs to be part of the planned Intermodal for use by transit riders as well as for those who will patronize new businesses inside the remodeled Historic Train Depot (such as restaurants, express freight pick-up, etc). Anaheim’s new Intermodal Station includes 1,082 Close-in Parking Spaces for Users.
    • An Arena on the “Depot” site would create a huge visual and physical barrier (est. 135 ft. High) between Downtown and the Historic Shops and the rest of the Railyards Development. This was a major concern presented by the Urban Land Institute in their recommendations to the City.

    While I think a new Arena in the Railyards could be an added attraction that could help stimulate business, I feel it should be located on OTHER parcels in the Railyards (such as the original plan to locate it NORTH of the newly relocated Tracks).

    One of the keys to jump-starting the Railyards Development as well as revitalizing Downtown and Old Sacramento, is to build AFFORDABLE RENTAL housing.

    Rental Housing should be targeted to be affordable to ENTRY and MID-LEVEL employees of both government and private sector companies located in the downtown area. This demographic group has been historically important in supporting retail, food service and the nightlife scene, which are vital to creating a vibrant downtown.

    As a hub of Government, Sacramento has an unique, and ready-made
    base of employees who could be attracted to live close to work, near two major rivers, parks and bike paths, and other downtown attractions, as well as the future Intermodal Transportation Facility which offers the ability to travel almost anywhere without owning a car.

    To attract this group, Rents must be affordable. Restricting development to high priced condos and apartments will greatly reduce the chances of successful development of the entire downtown area.

    Developers should be offered tax incentives for building such affordable housing.


    RailPAC: Who and what are we?

    By Russ Jackson, Marcus Jung and William Kerby

    Just what is RailPAC all about?  We are frequently asked.  Since the late 1970’s when the group was founded as “Citizens for Rail California, Inc.,” which is our legal corporate name, and in 1984 adopted the dba name Rail Passenger Association of California, here is what we are as we look to the future of passenger rail:

    The RailPAC Mission: Passenger rail advocacy, Publications…both print and electronic, Representation at regional meetings, and Rail education. Join us!  More memberships increase our strength in presenting the case for rail to policymakers at all levels!

    This simple statement appears at the top of each “page” on our website,, on the back cover of the Steel Wheels publication, and on the weekly electronic newsletter so everyone knows what RailPAC is and what we do.  As it also says on the back cover, we are legally a non-profit corporation organized under 501(C)(3), and donations are tax deductible.

    Being a “citizens” group means we advocate and participate in the growth of passenger rail not only in California and Nevada, but we are involved in helping to shape the national scene so that not only our members, but everyone has an opportunity to travel by rail whether it is across the country or within the communities where we live.  Active participation means all “citizens” who are like-minded are encouraged to join us and work toward goals that will continue to deliver fiscally responsible, safe, reliable, and frequent passenger rail service.  RailPAC will continue to provide you with information, and will represent your views. 

    Not yet a RailPAC member?  We invite you to join today!  Simply complete the membership form on the back page, or join online at using a major credit card.  Your membership dues will help support RaiPAC’s work and aid in expanding and improving passenger rail service.  Our members receive a copy of Steel Wheels in the mail every other month and a weekly e-newsletter where they enjoy reading about current issues affecting passenger rail service throughout California and the West.  We welcome your comments and can be reached at or415-787-2252.

    Thank you for joining us!