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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.

States for Passenger Rail Coalition Comments on Indiana’s Decision to Stop Sponsoring the Hoosier State

States for Passenger Rail CoalitionPortland, ME – March 6, 2015 – “It is a sad day when the federal agency which administers federal funding for Amtrak, and who has played such a critical role in providing grants to States to help develop and improve intercity passenger rail services, also is determined to require States and intercity passenger service sponsors who contract with Amtrak to become railroads” observed Patricia Quinn, Chair of the States for Passenger Rail Coalition, Inc. (S4PRC) and Executive Director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority (NNEPRA). Continue Reading

Commentary, Issues

Amtrak Statement in Response to the Hoosier Announcement

Indiana is fighting back against the FRA ruling, which is excellent news.  The whole idea of the ruling is ridiculous.  If a State hires a qualified operator to do a job it should not have to become certified to do the job itself.  Boardman is again trying to use PRIIA and now the FRA to force the states into paying their monopoly pricing for service.  This will not win him any friends outside the NEC.  – Paul Dyson Continue Reading


Hoosier State Passenger Rail Service to End April 1

RailPAC is still gathering information about new proposed rulings by the Federal Railroad Administration which would appear to have a profound effect on State rail programs.  This has the hallmarks of a Washington DC power play involving FRA, Amtrak and others to ensure that the states do not use non-Amtrak operators.  However, the burden placed on the states, including states like Texas and California that cannot be railroads for legal reasons, may well backfire on the proponents and cause the Congress to take action on this.
Check and our social media for regular updates.

Continue Reading

The Governor Signing the Symbolic Rail
Issues, Rail Photos, Reports

CAHSR Groundbreaking Ceremony – January 6, 2015

Photos by Paul Dyson, President

Commentary, Issues, Reports

Amtrak’s 2014 – The Real Stats

Amtrak continually tells us about how many passengers they put into seats in the Northeast corridor. What many suspect because of far longer travel distances, but never can get Amtrak to say, is that in passenger miles (passenger mile = one passenger riding for one mile), and is said by some to be the most proper measure of how much transportation is being produced … the Northeast Corridor is the least productive part of the company. Here are the statistics that Amtrak doesn’t tell us for FY 2014.


Includes over 3 million on NEC Spine Special Trains, and over 4 million on State Corridor Special Trains; none on Long Distance Special Trains

  • NEC Spine – 1,931,319,000
  • State Corridors – 1,961,953,000
  • Long Distance – 2,760,957,000

Includes 14,000 on NEC Spine Special Trains, 10,000 on State Corridor Special Trains; none on Long Distance Special Trains

  • NEC Spine – 9,094,000
  • State Corridors – 15,232,000
  • Long Distance – 14,732,000

Includes over 9.2 million on NEC Spine Special Trains, 5.9 million on State Corridor Special Trains; none on Long Distance Special Trains

  • NEC Spine – 3,462,836,268
  • State Corridors – 4,607,897,790
  • Long Distance – 4,678,361,006

Load factors on NEC Special Trains 33.8%, State Corridor Special Trains 72.2%, no Long Distance Special Trains

  • NEC Spine – 55.8%
  • State Corridors – 42.6%
  • Long Distance – 59.0%
Source: AMTRAK
Issues, Reports

Bipartisan Passenger Rail Legislation introduced in U.S. House


Committee Leaders Introduce Bipartisan Passenger Rail Legislation READ THE BILL at

For Immediate Release: September 11, 2014
Contact: Jim Billimoria, Justin Harclerode

Washington, DC – Transportation and Infrastructure Committee leaders today introduced bipartisan legislation that improves the infrastructure, reduces costs, leverages private sector resources, creates greater accountability and transparency, and accelerates project delivery for Amtrak and the Nation’s passenger rail transportation system.

The Passenger Rail Reform and Investment Act of 2014, or PRRIA (H.R. 5449), was introduced by Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA); T&I Ranking Member Nick J. Rahall, II (D-WV); Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee Chairman Jeff Denham (R-CA); and Subcommittee Ranking Member Corrine Brown (D-FL).

“The reality is intercity passenger rail plays an important role in our national transportation network,” Shuster said. “Congress can either sit back while Amtrak and our passenger rail system continue to muddle along without reforms and without improvements, or we can take significant steps forward in improving Amtrak’s transparency and cost-effectiveness, and compelling it to operate like a true business should. I commend Chairman Denham for his leadership on this legislation.”

“This bill provides much-needed investments in the long-distance network and ensures continuation of all long-distance trains, including the Cardinal Route that runs through southern West Virginia,” Rahall said. “Reliable passenger rail service helps move our economy forward and is critical to communities across our nation. I appreciate the bipartisan work that went into drafting this bill, and I look forward to advancing it through our committee.”

“The Passenger Rail Reform and Investment Act will bring our nation’s rail system into the 21st century,” Denham said. “It reduces costs, strengthens crucial infrastructure, and encourages innovation through partnerships with the states and the private sector. The bill will require Amtrak to operate more like a business and force them to be accountable and transparent to taxpayers.”

“This bipartisan bill is a good first step in providing the systemwide investment and operational improvements that Amtrak needs to serve its steadily increasing ridership,” Brown said.

Passenger rail presents one of the best transportation alternatives for relieving congestion on some of the Nation’s most crowded highways and in our busy airspace. However, the rail system and Amtrak – the country’s intercity passenger rail provider – must be reformed and improved. For years, Amtrak has operated under unrealistic fiscal expectations and without a sufficient level of transparency. Profits from Amtrak’s only profitable route — the Northeast Corridor (NEC) – currently are not invested back into the corridor. And although significant ridership increases are occurring on Amtrak’s state-supported routes, its inconsistent financial structure and “black box” accounting system hamper states’ ability to help manage the routes and understand what exactly it is they’re paying Amtrak for.

In addition, rail infrastructure projects are unnecessarily delayed by unwieldy review processes that cost time and money, and current law that limits the ability to partner with the private sector holds back the development of the system.

PRRIA addresses these issues and builds upon improvements included in the previous rail authorization of 2008.

Passenger Rail Reform and Investment Act of 2014 Highlights

Reforms Amtrak to Increase Transparency, Reduce Costs, and Operate More Like a Business

Eliminates Amtrak’s losses in food and beverage service
Mandates Amtrak carry out a business case analysis for all major procurements
Eliminates Amtrak’s black-box accounting and requires transparent bookkeeping aligned with core service functions

Leverages Resources and Encourages Non-Federal Participation

Creates station development opportunities for the private sector
Opens new revenue streams through right-of-way development
Unlocks an underutilized federal railroad loan program
Assists with advancing large infrastructure projects through partnerships with states

Targets Investments Where There is the Greatest Potential for Success

Improves management of the Northeast Corridor
Incentivizes increased Northeast Corridor investments

Empowers States to Have a Greater Role in Managing Routes

Ensures states are equal partners, giving them a greater say in decision making to ensure passengers get the best service
Strengthens transparency to give states and Congress greater insight into Amtrak’s accounting to identify areas for improvement
Requires Amtrak to evaluate long-distance routes, improve services, and lower costs

Streamlines Environmental Reviews and Accelerates Project Delivery

Sets hard deadlines to reasonably limit review times
Requires reviews to occur concurrently rather than consecutively
Improves coordination among federal, state, and local agencies involved in the reviews

# # #


Complete the Santa Cruz Passenger Rail Study Survey

Santa Cruz Passenger Rail StudyYour ideas are important!

The Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission (SCCRTC) is analyzing the feasibility of passenger rail transit service along the 32-mile Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line.

Complete an Online Survey on “Passenger Rail Goals & Scenarios”.

Your feedback will guide station, service scenario, and ridership analysis. Ensure the passenger rail study reflects everyone in the community.  The Survey closes at midnight on August 3. Continue Reading

Commentary, Issues

Sunset Limited in jeopardy is serious business: Part 1, Comments by RailPAC member Steve Roberts

I wanted to emphasize that the comments made by Russ Jackson and Paul Dyson on the seriousness of the Sunset Ltd. amendment are not overstated. (Note: See their commentaries also on The whole long-distance network is at risk. Also this is a battle unlike any we have seen in the past for the following reasons:

1.) The Libertarian/Tea Party courting legislators now take pride in eliminating programs that serve their districts (except Cold War era weapons systems, irrigation projects, highway spending, etc.). Cutting Amtrak is a high profile way to show their budget cutting credentials to voters and this provides a road-map for the discontinuance of other long-distance routes;

2.) A significant number of legislators whose districts are served by long-distance trains are courting conservative support by calling for the defunding Amtrak (which is why you never see any funding for additional Superliner cars – it is always deleted from the Amtrak capital budget);

3.) With freight traffic rising dramatically don’t overlook the freight railroads influence in this effort. Make no mistake, they want the long-distance passenger trains gone, it is worth millions to them in capacity increases without capital investment. The idea that they would welcome passenger trains on their key mainlines with additional payments is wishful thinking. Every year the freight railroads leave millions of dollars in on-time performance incentive payments on the table;

4.) Historically, except in the case of national security, Congress has paid great deference to the wishes of its members for activities in their districts. Since few in Congress understand network connectivity, the Sunset Ltd. amendment is seen as a regional issue supported whole-heartedly by most members from states effected. If successful, the “regional” approach could be taken to target the long-distance trains one-by-one;

5.) Congress makes policy for Amtrak and hires managers to carry out these policies. An Amtrak manager advocating for different priorities beyond what Congress determines will be out the door – just ask Dave Gunn. He fought Congressional priorities and was out the door faster than an Acela Express rolling on the New Jersey speedway.

So there will no help (except as private citizens) from Amtrak management.

Because of the perceived “regional” nature of this proposal this is a battle that will have to be fought and won primarily by rail advocates in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Louisiana. Another key ally are the Texas Eagle supporters since, without connecting revenue from the Sunset Ltd.’s through cars, the Texas Eagle will be third on the discontinuance list (after the Cardinal). Californians have just one key point of influence. The 23rd Congressional District , (near Bakersfield and Tehachapi) the district of Rep. Kevin McCarthy, House Majority Leader. RailPAC members in the 23rd District need to go the “extra mile” in pointing out the true motivation of this amendment (the ultimate discontinuance of all long-distance trains by increasing costs and reducing revenues).

Other California RailPAC members (and those in states not served by the Sunset Ltd.) need to point out to their legislators that a vote for the amendment to discontinue the Sunset Ltd. is a vote to ultimately eliminate all long-distance rail service. This is because:

1.) The costs listed for the Sunset Ltd. include many joint and common costs (i.e. Beech Grove Shops) allocated to the long-distance as a group. These allocated costs will not be “saved” by discontinuing the Sunset Ltd. they will simply be reallocated to the the long-distance routes increasing their losses. The only way to save costs associated with the long- distance trains as a group is to discontinue all long-distance rail service. Route related station and maintenance facility costs (i.e. Los Angeles) will not be saved but reallocated to the Pacific Surfliner and other routes. This will increase subsidy payments for the state of California. Overall corporate joint and common costs (i.e. Website, reservation center costs, etc.) will also not be saved but reallocated to all other routes;

2.) The Sunset Ltd. is part of an interconnected nationwide network. Riders don’t just travel between stations on the route of the Sunset Ltd. they connect to other trains and generate revenue on those other trains. If the Sunset Ltd. is discontinued it means less revenue on the Coast Starlight, Pacific Surfliner, San Joaquin’s, Texas Eagle, City of New Orleans and Crescent.

The result is little if any near term budget savings from discontinuing the Sunset Ltd., costs are just allocated to other routes, revenues reduced which increases losses on other Amtrak routes.

RailPAC members also need to point out that the amendment forbidding subsidies for food and beverage service is counter-productive. A significant amount of the “expense” of on board food service is the infrastructure required to deliver food and beverages to trains in a safe and timely manner. The only way to save these expenses is to eliminate all on-board food and beverage service, including on Northeast Corridor trains. Food service is an integral part of the rail service package. Without food service ridership and revenues decline more than costs are decreased. This increases the operating subsidy. Also this has been tried several times before and the results have always been the same, a worsening of the financial results for the train route.

The resolution of these amendments will not come until the House-Senate Conference on the Transportation Funding Bill. The situation could become worse for the 2016 budget if the Republicans control the Senate. It is unlikely that Democrats will call for 60 voles for a “regional” proposal such as the Sunset Ltd. amendment and it is doubtful that the President will veto the entire transportation funding bill to save one long-distance train.

NOTE: Steve Roberts was employed at Amtrak Public Relations, and worked in the West and the NEC. He now lives in the Bay Area.