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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


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

San Bernardino CA Metrolink  power Freericks

Metrolink in a Tail Spin: Is there a way out?

San Bernardino CA Metrolink  power FreericksNapoleon used to say that he liked his generals to be lucky. Presumably he would not have employed the first CEOs of Metrolink, who suffered considerably from ill fortune, particularly the Glendale accident. But bad luck is only one small part of the picture that has brought about the near collapse of Metrolink. After 23 years in being, consider that: Metrolink’s daily patronage is a little over 40,000 trips, or 20,000 customers. The annual operating subsidy is about $6,000 per customer, soon to be increased by another $1,000 (see below), in a population base of about 15 million people.

Metrolink’s locomotive fleet has a high failure rate, and is being prematurely replaced with over $300 million of new locomotives, paid for by 1A High Speed Rail funds (!) and SCAQMD funds, the so-called Carl Moyer program. Metrolink’s peak hour oriented service pattern, with most locomotives enjoying a weekend off, allows for plenty of time for them to be properly maintained yet by their own admission key service and rebuild intervals have been ignored.

There are still severe operating constraints, limitations to capacity caused by lack of investment to remove bottlenecks. Operationally, small delays can expand to major disruption as trains wait for meets on single track sections. Key markets, such as between northern Los Angeles County and Orange County, cannot be addressed because of the time taken to reverse at LAUS.

Since the February Oxnard collision with a stray truck at a grade crossing there has been a cone of silence over the Rotem Cab Cars. At the SCRRA Board meeting of Friday 25th September 2015 the Board voted, with minimal public discussion, to authorize a lease of 40 freight locomotives for a year at a total net cost of $M19.125, or nearly $1,000 per customer. (Just before going to press this amount was increased to over $23M, but was referred back to the member agencies for their approval. They have to find the money.) These locomotives are to be placed on the train ahead of the cab car so that each train will have a Metrolink locomotive with only the HEP operative, the passenger cars including the cab car, and the freight locomotive providing the motive power. Such deliberations as there were, including any discussion as to where this extra money is to come from, was held in closed session under the rubric “anticipated litigation”. We await the NTSB decision on the results of the Oxnard accident, but has SCRRA been forewarned that the cab cars may be found to be inadequate protection for the engineer and passengers? Another theory is that this is a pretext for bringing in locomotives to make the trains more reliable as Metrolink’s own fleet is at a crisis point.

We await the NTSB report about Oxnard with interest. We also await the “anticipated litigation”. Who might sue whom? In the meanwhile operating people familiar with the situation are concerned about the additional difficulties these added locomotives might cause. In some instances, e.g. Lancaster, overnight train storage is so constrained that there is insufficient room to add a locomotive without reducing the number of cars, or storing one train elsewhere. This might require a deadhead move from Los Angeles, shortening trains, or the reduction of service. Furthermore, with two locomotives on each train, both requiring fuel and service, operations at the maintenance facilities become more complex and time consuming, with the likelihood of delays. There is also the issue of whether these freight locomotives, normally having a lower maximum speed, will be able to make passenger schedules.

To add insult to injury the Positive Train Control mandate has proven to be costly and technically complex to meet. I sometimes wonder if the politicians were told that the process would be no more than installing a “Garmin” in every cab, but clearly this is not the case. The area of the greatest long term concern is the turnaround time at terminals, especially LAUS. I have been told that 25 minutes is the minimum required to reverse a train, and indeed Amtrak now schedules 30 minute dwell time at LAUS for through Surfliner trains. The San Bernardino service seems to be the first to reflect this new reality. Billed as a “service enhancement” the number of peak hour morning trains is reduced from roughly 20 minute intervals to 30 minutes between L.A. bound trains.

The eastbound afternoon departures are similarly reduced, although there is at least a clockface rationale to the new offering. And when oh when will we get rid of this nonsense of trains that “may leave up to 5 minutes ahead of schedule”? As far as I know this absurdity is unique to Metrolink. Anyone know otherwise?

I’m hoping that the technical experts responsible for PTC will come up with a fix for this turnaround issue. With a captive fleet operating over limited track miles one would think that most of the data can be stored on board and all that would be required would be for the engineer to select a train number. Otherwise the possibility of adding service at LAUS must be almost zero until the run-through tracks are complete. In the meanwhile punctuality, whether caused by PTC problems, locomotive failures or other issues, has deteriorated. Today (10/2/15) I see 20, 30 and 45 minute delays on the Antelope Valley line. How long will the remaining customers stick with the service? Where do we go from here? We have to accept that Metrolink was built and implemented on the cheap. From the first day the system suffered from capacity constraints and bottlenecks that were an unfortunate fact of life in 1994, but by 2015 should have been fixed. These include the LAUS run through tracks, double track on the Ventura and Antelope Valley lines in the San Fernando Valley, the I-10 single track through Alhambra, and the BNSF Transcon from Redondo Junction to Fullerton and beyond. Instead of making incremental investments over time to permit more reliable and frequent service the counties, Los Angeles County in particular wasted two decades before Metro CEO Art Leahy initiated a program of investment. We are two to three years away from reaping the benefits from those expenditures.

Similarly we are at least two years from delivery of a significant number of the new EMD locomotives, and let’s hope that these units do not suffer from any reliability problems common with brand new equipment.

So how should Metrolink proceed during this 2 to 3 year period with the assets that are available? One of the alternatives suggested by the staff report on the proposed BNSF locomotive lease was to decline to increase the operating budget and not go ahead with the lease. Staff stated that this would result in a major reduction in trains run, up to 50%. As I commented to the Board, this alternative should be seriously considered.

Given the time taken to take delivery, prepare and deploy the BNSF locomotives, and given the ongoing issues with PTC, it may well be the most prudent action to curtail the current service to a level which can be reliably operated. With a Metrolink locomotive on each end of the train, additional cars could be added to the trains that do run, so that at least the number of seats available is not reduced by 50%. Furthermore the train sets that are available could work trains throughout the day, providing more travel opportunities.

Let’s take this a step further. What if service were abandoned completely on some lines with the remaining train sets deployed to all day service on a core system? This would most likely consist of the Antelope Valley, San Bernardino and IE-OC trains. A sensible bargain could be struck with the LOSSAN Board to contract for space on a reconfigured Surfliner service to provide basic commuter schedules on the Ventura and Orange County lines. Perhaps also NCTD could be induced to extend service from Oceanside to Fullerton.

This may seem like radical surgery. Indeed it is. Would the patient survive? There is a risk that Metrolink may lose the political support that it has if the daily passenger count goes down to 25,000 or less. On the other hand there would be considerable operating savings which should be devoted to locomotive maintenance and PTC installation and problem solving, as well as the ticket machines and revenue collection. By 2020 Metrolink will have a new fleet of locomotives, double track in the critical areas of the San Fernando Valley, LAUS run through tracks and other track improvements around the system, and PTC operating smoothly. That will be the time to relaunch the service, preferably with a new brand, to consist of all day, seven days a week through services between the Counties passing through Union Station, and providing cross platform transfers. By 2020 the local transit operators will have had time to plan connecting feeder buses and to integrate fare collection systems.

Can the SCRRA Board rise to the occasion and use this difficult period to take a bold step for the future? In 1994, after the Northridge earthquake, Metrolink seized the opportunity to prove that rail can be part of the solution to our mobility needs. Rather than band aid the present service and essentially continue the poor performance and mediocrity, let’s hope that there are those on the Board with the vision to turn Metrolink into true REGIONAL RAIL.


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, Issues

Comet Car Access problem?  A RailPAC solution.

First Published June 2013

As Noel Braymer has previously reported there is some discontent on the part of the San Joaquin rail board at being allocated two consists of the refurbished “Comet” cars.

The two bones of contention?  The age of the cars, as which date back to the 70s, and the access via steps and a narrow gangway.

The interiors have been nicely done and, just as with a hotel for example, the building can be old but as long as the bed is new and the plumbing works it really doesn’t matter.

But access does matter, for wheelchairs, bicycles, and just for those of us who are not as nimble as we used to be.  A train consisting entirely of Comet cars plus a Horizon café car and a “cabbage” locomotive for baggage and bikes offers no alternative but to climb those steps, and this will inevitably require longer dwell times at stations, and equipment for loading wheelchairs.

We have a suggestion.  On storage tracks around southern California reside the first generation of Metrolink cars, bi-levels built by Bombardier and now replaced by the Rotem fleet. These cars meet all current safety standards and have low level boarding, just like the California cars.  And like the Comet cars, they were built for commuter service and have seating to match.  Our suggestion is a mixed consist of 3 Comet and 2 Bombardier cars, the latter internally refitted with intercity seating, wifi etc. on the upper levels.  The lower levels would have either bicycle space or wheelchair space, or a combination of the two.

Bombardier Comet mixed consist Richard Suggs 2010

Mixed consist on Metrolink at Covina, March 22nd, 2010.  Photo by Richard Sugg

As the picture shows, these cars have already worked together in mixed consists, but with commuter seating.  The internal refurbishment could be done by Alstom at their Mare Island, California shop, keeping the jobs and the dollars in California.  The Comet cars cost about $1 million each to upgrade, and I’d guess the Bombardier cars would be a little more.

Our proposal demonstrates a couple of points.  One is that a passenger car is a hull which can be configured many different ways.  We need to be creative if we have rolling stock surplus from one service and shortages elsewhere.  Second, why don’t we have a state rolling stock plan that identifies these opportunities and makes equipment available so that we can support the growing demand for both existing and new services?

Unacceptable:  Results of the February 24th grade crossing collision east of Oxnard.
Commentary, Issues

Metrolink to Withdraw Cab Cars from Service

Yesterday evening the Board of SCRRA (Metrolink) held a closed session meeting described as pursuant to public safety threat (or words to that effect.  The notice is no longer on their website).  The real purpose of the meeting was to inform the Board that the NTSB had requested that the Rotem cab cars be withdrawn from service.  As a result of inquiries resulting from the Oxnard accident NTSB has reason to believe that the plows are badly designed and may have been the reason the train derailed after hitting the truck on the tracks.
I wrote to SCRRA Chair Nelson with my concerns about the accident and also contacted the LA Times.  Metrolink was quick to say that the crash Energy management had saved lives!  I think that CEM is designed for train to train collisions but when the object is at a low level the coupling will still override that object and make the train unstable.
Metrolink is leasing 58 locomotives from BNSF and will run the trains with locomotives at both ends pending a determination by NTSB.

SJJPA MTG 8/21/15

It seemed more of a “HIP HIP HOORAY” congratulatory celebration. Very well attended, (standing room only in the fairly large Modesto Council Chambers) . Assembly Member Adam Gray chaired the meeting. Welcome was delivered by Modesto Mayor Garrad Marsh followed by statements from Legislative Members e.g. Senators Cathleen Galgiani (Stockton),  Anthony Cannella (Ceres) and Assembly Member Kristin Olsen (Modesto). All of these speakers made issue of the merits of increased passenger rail would have on reducing auto travel and the improvement of air quality which is a large problem in the central valley. The planned Mid Route early morning departure of north and south trains out of Modesto which would ease and enhance commuter travel to the Bay Area, Sacramento and Los Angeles was enthusiastically touted.

John Pedrozo chair of the San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority (SJJPA) and Dan Leavitt Manager of Regional Initiatives (SJJPA) spoke on background, funding needs and expansion plans e.g. Mid Route Departure pointing out the ongoing negotiations with the Host Railroad and Amtrak concerning lay over facilities etc. Start date for this service may be a year or a year and a half from now.
Bob Johnson chair of the San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission (SJRRC) and Stacey Mortensen Executive Director (SJRRC) Altamont Commuter Express (ACE) spoke of the planned extended ACE service to Merced.

Testimonials for the San Joaquin and ACE Improvement and Expansion were made by numerous valley Supervisors, Presidents and CEO’s extolling the numerous advantages of the increased passenger rail service would bring e.g. ridership could possibly increase up to 70,000 per day, air quality would vastly improve , commuters could reach Silicon Valley and the Bay Area and an increase in business growth and development to the Central Valley would be a very positive result.

Public Comment was more of the same , very positive.


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.