Steel Wheels Conference
2016: A Year of Possibilities
December 5, 2015
9:30 am – 3:00 pm
Doors Open 9:00 am, with a break for lunch (not provided)
Metro Boardroom, Los Angeles
SUPPORT OUR LONG DISTANCE TRAINS!
STEEL WHEELS 2015 Conference is your opportunity to show your support for the long distance trains. By attending this gathering you will show our Los Angeles based Amtrak Board member, Yvonne Burke, that we are behind her as she represents the western states at Amtrak Board meetings. In addition Ms. Burke is a member of the California Transportation Commission.
In addition to Ms Burke we’ll be joined by newly appointed Amtrak route managers Jay Fountain and Eric Smith, who will describe their initiatives to improve revenue and amenities. Jay is responsible for the Sunset Limited, Texas Eagle and Heartland Flyer, while Eric manages the Coast Starlight and the Southwest Chief. Register today and let’s show these folks, and Amtrak in DC, that we believe in the long distance trains and will support them.
Once again RailPAC and NARP are presenting the annual Joint RailPAC/NARP Conference, a must for rail advocates.
Conveniently located at the Los Angeles Metro Board Room at Union Station in Los Angeles, California this meeting will kick off with information and discussion about the issues facing passenger rail.
Keynote speaker will be Director of the Amtrak Board, Yvonne Burke. 2016 will be a challenging year for Amtrak, regional and High Speed Rail. Industry leaders will present their thoughts on growing a mobility network for California. In the afternoon we’ll address the role of advocacy groups and how we mobility advocacy groups are invited to participate.
- Yvonne Burke
Board Member, Amtrak
Former Congresswoman and L.A. County Supervisor
- Dave Golonski
Served 20 years on Burbank City Council including four terms as Mayor
- Darrell Clarke
Chair, Transportation Committee, Sierra Club, Los Angeles
Darrell leads Friends4Expo, the successful campaign for light rail in west Los Angeles
- Bruce Becker
- Dave Cook
Rail Propulsion System – Hybrid diesels and after market emission systems.
Save the date!
Wednesday – August 13, 2014
6:30 – 8:30 PM
Meet local elected representatives including
SLO Mayor and the Chair and Vice Chair of LOSSAN
Donation minimum $10
RSVP essential to Paul Dyson
Saturday – November 15th
10:30 – 3:30 PM | Doors open at 10:00
California State Railroad Museum Auditorium, Sacramento
Members: $35 / Non-members: $45
There’s still time to register for Steel Wheels in Sacramento, your chance to meet and question railroad officials and advocates and to learn about the state of the passenger rail state here in California. I have been told that Jeff Morales, CEO of CHSRA will be the presenter for High Speed Rail, and Chad Edison, Deputy Secretary for Rail of California DoT will update us on the state intercity rail program and passenger rail in general. These are the top two state officials for passenger rail.In addition this is your chance to meet the new NARP President, Jim Mathews, who is coming from Washington DC for this meeting. This is a not-to-be-missed event. Take advantage of the 15% Amtrak discount on travel to Sacramento and bring a friend. See you there!– Paul Dyson
May 10th, 2014 National Train Day Celebration!
Theme:Why should everyone be stuck in traffic? With 101 construction to last over a decade, the obvious solution is waiting at the station. Ventura to Goleta commuter rail is needed NOW!
- Rail Passengers Association of California & Nevada (RailPAC)
- Coalition for Sustainable Transportation (COAST)
- Alliance for Sustainable and Equitable Regional Transportation (ASERT)
- Coastal Rail Now (CRN)
- Elected Officials invited include Das Williams, Salud Carbajal, and Helene Schneider
- Train lovers from far and wide!
What: A train ride at 9:20am to Carpinteria, and back to SB at 10:15. Munch on food from OmniCatering, decorate train cookies from Fresco Café, and enjoy giveaways from Amtrak. The Press Conference begins at10:30 with elected officials. You’ll hear them address the vital role that rail plays in creating a sustainable community, the importance of rail in relieving congestion on the 101, and the necessity of working across county lines. Videographer Larry Nimmer will capture all the action.
When: May 10th, 2014
You’re invited to ride along with local families and elected officials to Carpinteria and back starting at 9:20am, or greet the train’s arrival at 10:15 am at the Santa Barbara station, which coincides with the event’s official kick-off and 10:30 press conference.
- 9:00 am: Arrival at Santa Barbara train station to prepare for 9:20am departure.
- 9:20 am: Depart the Santa Barbara train station southbound for Carpinteria.
- 9:20 am: Ventura County attendees depart Oxnard station northbound for SB.
- 9:35 am: Southbound riders detrain at the Carpinteria station.
- 9:57 am: Board the northbound train for return to Santa Barbara.
- 10:15 am: Train arrives in Santa Barbara – National Train Day 2014 begins!
- 10:30 am: Press conference with elected officials, with press availability to follow.
Where: Santa Barbara Train Station (209 State St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101)
Contact: Dennis Story
The 2014 Annual Steel Wheels Conference
Saturday, February 1, 2014
Los Angeles Metro Board Room
at Union Station, Los Angeles
9:30 am – 3:30 pm • Doors Open 9:00 am
with a break for lunch (not provided)
Once again RailPAC and NARP are presenting the annual Steel Wheels Conference, a must for rail advocates. Conveniently located at the Metro Board Room at Union Station this meeting will kick off the 75th anniversary of the station with information and discussion about the issues facing passenger rail. This could be a year of opportunity, or a very tough year for passenger rail. The national network is struggling, to put it mildly. The Empire Builder service is falling apart, a combination of a surge in freight traffic and extreme weather. The Southwest Chief is in jeopardy, who will pay to maintain the track? The Coast Starlight is a shadow of its former self, with a reduced consist and threat of loss of the Pacific Parlor car. At the same time the regional and commuter trains are underfunded. Punctuality remains poor on the Surfliner service. What will the new Joint Powers Boards do that the old management could not accomplish? These questions and more will be raised at our February 1st meeting in Los Angeles. This is our chance to show the politicians and Amtrak management that we care about these issues, and that we, and the public, deserve better. Please make every effort to attend this important meeting.
Some of the officials coming to the February 1 Meeting (UPDATED January 27);
Not in order of appearance!
LA City Council Member Tom La Bonge,
California Senator Carol Liu,
Mark Murphy – General Manager, Long Distance Services
Joy Smith – Business Liaison Director of Service Excellence, Long Distance Services
Mike Dwyer – Route Director, Coast Starlight and Southwest Chief
California High Speed Rail Authority
LOSSAN Corridor Joint Powers Authority
Fred Strong, Chair, LOSSAN
Dave Golonski, Vice Chair, LOSSAN
Jacki Bacharach, former Vice Chair, LOSSAN
Jennifer Bergener, LOSSAN staff.
Armin Kick, Siemens
Roy Van Wynsberghe, Alstom
Dave Cook, Energy Conversions
Penny White, La Vegas X Train
You can register using one of two methods:
- Send the attached registration form with a check to RailPAC, c/o Marcus Jung, PO Box 22344, San Francisco, CA 94122
- Online, use this link to the Steel Wheels Conference on EventBrite
Joint RailPAC-NARP members meeting,
Saturday, October 5, 2013
Port of San Francisco Community Room
Pier 40 • Embarcadero, San Francisco
10:30 am-3:00 pm with a break for lunch (not provided)
Doors Open 10:00 am
RailPAC members business meeting 3:00 pm
Registration: Register on line here:
OR Complete the form below and mail your check to:
RAILPAC, 1017 L Street, PMB-217, Sacramento, CA 95814-3805
Commentary by Russ Jackson, RailPAC
It is safe to say that Amtrak’s Chief, Product Development, Brian Rosenwald is held in very high esteem by rail advocates in this country. His huge success in developing the Pacific Parlour Car and other enhancements for the Coast Starlight in the mid-1990’s is legendary, and he calls those five years the best in his career. But that success has only been partially duplicated on other Amtrak trains since then. Today’s Empire Builder is a very successful off-shoot of what Mr. Rosenwald under his boss at the time, Amtrak West President Gil Mallery, accomplished back then.
Most of the time all we hear is how Amtrak is in trouble, especially the long-distance trains. Look at the history of those “gems of the system:” Writer Gene Poon reminds us that the “Amtrak we knew has already been downgraded, like when there were 18 cars of the combined California Zephyr/Desert Wind/Pioneer out of Chicago, with two full dining cars; 16 cars of the combined Miami and Tampa sections of the Silver Meteor/Silver Star with a section of each train doing a thriving business on the Ocala route; and of course the loss of direct service to Phoenix, without even the provision of a Thruway bus.” Amtrak moans about how the long-distance trains lose so much money, Congressman Mica roars about the huge cost of the food and beverage service, the Union Pacific and the BNSF hand Amtrak multi-million dollar bills for retaining or restoring service that had already existed. Public perception gained from stories like those mask the actual success the long-distance trains are having with the passengers out on the rails.
On September 15, 2012, RailPAC and NARP held their annual Steel Wheels Conference at the California State Rail Museum in Sacramento. This writer attended, with my wife and I riding the Texas Eagle-Sunset Limited (train numbers 421 and 422) from Ft. Worth to Los Angeles Union Station and back (more in my trip report to be posted on www.railpac.org soon). Brian Rosenwald spoke. The ears of this writer and all our colleagues were finely tuned to hear what might be new, and we knew he would be listening to us. He didn’t disappoint. In his opening remarks he told the audience that he liked coming to meetings like ours because of our enthusiasm for passenger rail and its future.
He started with some statistics: Long-distance ridership is up 24% since 2007, its revenue is up 37%, and on a fully allocated basis the cost recovery is 48% with an annual loss of $563 million. What, he asked, is Amtrak doing to make this better?
1) Increase revenue density through yield management and augmented capacity.
2) Continue to focus on increased passenger per train mile and average yields.
3) Contain costs through efficiency.
4) Strategically invest capital when possible to reduce operating losses.
In other words, did he say add cars when demand requires it? Are they doing that? Well, yes and no. On our trip train #421 was at capacity; both the through Coach and Sleeping Car were full out of Ft. Worth and remained so most of the way to LA. Train #422 was a bit less full. “Offs” and “ons” were frequent, with each station, even the flag stops in NM and AZ, serving many passengers. Amtrak had to know that, early enough to schedule an additional car to fill up. This summer the Zephyr and the Builder ran with added seasonal cars in the West. According to RailPAC’s Anthony Lee, Mr. Rosenwald said they were considering adding a fourth sleeping car and a first class Cross Country Cafe Diner (ala the Pacific Parlour Car) permanently to the Builder year around. Demand for travel into and out of Williston, ND, has skyrocketed because of the oil field expansions; they can board/detrain 100 folks a day there frequently. Also, they will extend Auto Train from 46-48 cars to 55 cars and are seeking approval from CSX. A Chicago-Los Angeles dedicated express car would be added to the Southwest Chief, but is that train moving to the BNSF Transcon line? Unknown now, but it looks very possible since KS, CO, and NM have said they will have no money to invest to keep it on the present line. Amtrak is going ahead with adding a new bus from Denver to LaJunta and one from Newton to Oklahoma City, making connecting through-service Denver-San Antonio possible! As RailPAC’s Noel Braymer wrote, “In the past the most successful trains were the longest ones that carried the most passengers. The problems with doing this now is the shortage of equipment and doing it in a way that doesn’t increase the cost of operating the train on a fully allocated basis.” A new, more independent Long Distance Train Division is being created at Amtrak, which will speed up the decision-making process and will result in a greater “ownership” of those trains by the Amtrak employees working in that Division, which will lead to improved service.
What can a passenger riding on a long-distance train expect to see? If you have ridden a long-distance train more than once lately you know there has been no change in the dining car menus. Mr. Rosenwald said it took him only three weeks to make menu adjustments on the Coast Starlight, while now it takes a year. So, variety may be in the future, with regional specialties available. In the sleeping cars, and this writer can attest that many of the items are already on the trains, they have been working on things like faucets and sinks. Forever, Superliner sinks have splashed water and the faucets have been hard to use. No more. Reading lights have been dim, but the new ones are bright LED type with touch switches! New mattresses are on the way to replace the thin ones in use forever. I pointed out that I had just come off one of the newly rebuilt sleeping cars, 32059, and there were no soap bars (only liquid soap), no paper cups, only one towel hook, and no hooks to hang up clothes, jackets, etc., only the small closet for those items. He made note. On our return trip in a car, 32032, that had been even further upgraded we had the soap bars and cups. Progress at last, in that restroom cleanser odors have been mostly eliminated. The clean, new floor carpeting is welcome, and the replacement of the carpeted walls with paneling makes cleaning the cars easier. The one major problem we have seen no progress on is the rattle of the doors that can open between bedrooms. Guess what: the PA in our car on #422 worked only partially and we missed all the conductor/dining car announcements. In the works also is a “business class” section to replace the lower level “Kiddie Car” on the Coast Starlight, which would generate an additional $3 million. Nothing’s perfect, but we commend Mr. Rosenwald and Amtrak for these upgrades, even if they were needed years ago.
Hey, Brian, here are some things you can do in the Dining car. Real china is returning to all the Western trains soon, he said. On our trips the crews were excellent and had high morale. Mr. Rosenwald noticed this writer’s article about 24-hour meal service, (see the July/August issue of Steel Wheels or look on www.railpac.org or www.unitedrail.org) and he remembered the experiment and that the crews and passengers liked that. It didn’t go past the experimental stage because the bureaucracy found it would increase employee costs and they didn’t want that then, and probably don’t want it now. We have since learned that there has been a crew-size reduction on train #2. But the added revenue from 24-hour service would make up much of the loss today and would entice more Coach passengers in to eat. He thought another experiment might be feasible. As for food, we love the Angus Cheeseburger that is served at lunch and it should be available all day. How about a BLT? Everybody likes those, and they already cook bacon at breakfast and have lettuce and tomatoes available for salads all day. I showed Mr. Rosenwald a picture of a Texas-shaped waffle that I had at a hotel in Amarillo recently. Could a waffle iron be installed in the lower kitchen? Can you imagine the conversations a passenger would have about the breakfast waffle after he and the kids got off the Texas Eagle? And last, but not least, Brian, have those crews walk through the cars with illustrated menus promoting what passengers can have while they “eat their way across the country.” Sell! Sell! Sell! …with specifics!
I know the RailPAC Board joins me in wishing Brian Rosenwald well, and urge that he be selected to be the new Chief of the new Long Distance Division!