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CCJPB September Meeting Report

Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Board meeting
September 19, 2007
Suisun City Hall
A PHOTO report by Russ Jackson

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As Capitol Corridor JPB Managing Director, Gene Skoropowski, said in the meeting, “Good news is always easy to report,” and that seems to be the theme of all of the CCJPB meetings to the delight of the board members as well as the staff.

A discussion of safety-related projects began with the introduction of Amtrak Police officer, Jake Mumford, who outlined his program.

Officer Mumford is now assigned to the Corridor, and a second officer will soon join him. He worked on other Amtrak lines, and said he is “very impressed with the way the Capitol Corridor operates, it is a safe system compared to other agencies, and I want to keep it that way.” From a law enforcement perspective, “As soon as passengers feel unsafe it takes only one incident and they go back to driving.” He interacts with passengers as often as possible, and wants “to be seen by riders.” He’s impressed with the CC Riders group of dedicated riders. He’s found that there is frequently a problem with local agencies that will delay movement of trains at accident scenes to the detriment of passengers on the trains, so he’s meeting with local agencies to interact with their police departments to keep “our transportation system working,” and he is looking forward to safe growth.

A followup discussion with board members brought a question from Vice Chair Mary Ann Courville from Dixon, who represents Solano County, wondering if a “train watch” group similar to “Neighborhood Watch” could be developed. Mr. Skoropowski reviewed the existence of Operation Lifesaver. He went on to discuss the new proposal for a limited number of security cameras to be installed on trains, and a proposal being worked on with the Union Pacific for placing cameras 1 to 3 miles apart in the right-of-way which will trigger knowledge of problems ahead for engineers who may be in a blind area. Director Steve Cohn, who represents Sacramento County, said “Safety on trains is important, but it’s also important at stations.” Mr. Cohn told Officer Mumford he was pleased about him meeting with local agencies. The Corridor has been plagued with too many accidents and fatalities resulting from car drivers thinking they can beat trains to crossings.

(l-r) CCJPB members Mary Ann Courville, Chairman Forrest Williams, Steve Cohn, Tom Blalock

Several “routine” items were discussed and funding approved, including an updated plan for the Oakland-San Jose Track Improvement Project which requires cost overruns on three projects bringing the total cost for this project to $61,840,345 from the Capitol Corridor and $485,000 from Caltrain. The 2007-08 Budget was likewise adopted, based on continuance of the current schedule of buses and trains, which amounts to $26,729,416 including $2,959,062 for Administration and $1.174,000 for Marketing. It should be noted the latter figure is the same as last year, as the second year of a two-year agreement with Glass McClure Advertising is entered which takes care of advertising @$540,000 per year. The FY 2007-08 Operating Agreement with Amtrak was also adopted. Working with Amtrak, the CCJPA has secured additional operating funds through Caltrans Division of Rail, with Caltrans Director Will Kempton’s support, for increased fuel/labor costs and improved yield (revenues per passenger mile traveled) so that the service expansion (to 32 trips weekdays/22 on weekends) can be continued and financed. This amount had been frozen for 6 straight years. The amount to Amtrak is $22,596,354. This agreement also “Maintains the modified UPRR railroad performance payment program of higher incentives for improved dispatching of Capitol Corridor trains,” which are “separate from Amtrak’s national payment to UPRR for systemwide performance.”

Capitol train 535 is at the Suisun-Fairfield station on September 19, and will take some CCJPB members back to the Bay Area. In the background is the Solano County Administration Center, and the train station is in the trees to the right. Highway 12 crosses over the tracks here.

On Legislative matters, it was noted that State SB 684 (Cox), which the CCJPB supports, passed the Legislature and is enroute to the Governor for signature. This bill would make changes to the current state code regarding restrictions on bus service. Currently, those citizens paying state sales taxes on fuel are not able to use the intercity buses without a train ticket. That is modified now, with limited access in certain locations. On the “Watch List” are SB 717 (Perata) which could result in reduced funding for the state’s intercity rail program, and various bills regarding allocation of Proposition 1B bond funds. Amtrak’s 2008 Budget request (in the Transportation Department Appropriation) has passed both houses of Congress, but differing points must be resolved in Conference, which should happen soon. Meanwhile, S 294 (Lautenberg/Lott) which the CCJPA supports, and is a six-year reauthorization for Amtrak containing a rail capital match (80%-20%) program, is still pending in the U.S. Congress.

Mr. Skoropowski’s “Managing Director’s Report” contained more good news, with ridership up 18.7% in August, and revenues are on their way to a 50% recovery ratio by the end of the year. Sacramento’s train station now is #7 on the list of busiest stations in the Amtrak system, just behind Boston at #6!

september-2007-2-005.jpgThe corridor’s “Quik Trak” ticket vending machine project will be completed “by Friday,” with each station, staffed and unstaffed, having at least two of the new machines. They are working on software simplification.

capitol-15th-anniversary-flyer.jpgThe Corridor received APTA’s first place “AdWheel Award” this year for its 15th Anniversary poster.

A full display of Corridor marketing activities was made available, showing not only advertising items but other promotions which all have the objective of growing ridership and revenue.

The next CCJPB meeting will be November 14 in Suisun City Hall unless changed before then.


RailPAC September Meeting Report

California State Railroad Museum, Sacramento
September 15, 2007
Reported by Russ Jackson and Bob Manning

Photos by the authors
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The CSRM is a perfect place for a rail advocacy meeting. The atmosphere and hospitality were outstanding. The Rail Passenger Association of California board of directors (shown below with President Paul Dyson presiding) met in a morning session to discuss items pertaining to the operation of the organization, which is this year celebrating 30 years of passenger rail advocacy in California.


The afternoon session opened with a report from Amtrak Governmental Affairs spokesman, Jonathan Hutchison, who reported that “everything’s up” at Amtrak these days, ridership, and revenue. System on time performance is 68.4% as of September 12. In keeping with the meeting theme of “running trains without money,” Mr. Hutchison pointed out how that would be very difficult. He said, “True performance comes from enhanced investment,” pointing out that there are currently 41 Superliners and 110 Amfleet cars deadlined at Beech Grove, Indiana, waiting for funds to repair them. There is a “backlog of $1.7 billion of projects needed in the Northeast Corridor alone.” He added, “When we receive a smaller allocation from the Congress than what we need, more projects must be delayed, and the backlog increases.” So, Amtrak is “forced to make decisions on priorities, such as whether to rebuild the yard facilities in Seattle or perhaps put more china on passenger cars.” The current allocation is a “status quo figure.” In answer to questions from the crowd, Mr. Hutchison said “the dynamics of change have improved” in the Congress, with more bipartisan support being generated than at any recent time. The success of the new schedule for the California Zephyr was keeping the train close to on time. After 3 years of UP work, Amtrak anticipates returning the train to its shorter schedule. As to reopening the San Bernardino station, “that’s unlikely, but they are looking at having station hosts to keep it available at train times perhaps by October. He confirmed that the Coast Starlight cars and service will be renovated during the Spring of 2008 and that the Pacific Parlour Cars will remain and will be staffed.

(l-r) Art Lloyd, Gene Skoropowski, Jonathan Hutchison, Brian Schmidt, Bill Bronte, Paul Dyson

Art Lloyd then introduced “a good friend,” Bill Bronte, Chief of the Caltrans Division of Rail. Bill spoke of his pride in the history of his organization, from his predecessors Cindy McKim who founded the “rail program” and Warren Weber, who made things happen for its growth. He takes pride in the San Joaquin corridor, where “rail is now a critical element in the Valley.” The future of operating funds, the availability of voter approved bond issue funds, the diversion of the PTA moneys to other purposes, and particularly increased costs have the program having to plan for doing with less. Mr. Bronte reported that over a two year period the State will be billed up to 20% more for Amtrak’s costs for operating the California corridor services. That is due primarily for fuel costs, now $4.8 million per year, and in anticipation of new employee contracts.
The good news came in response to a question from the crowd about how many new rebuilt Superliner coaches will be leased for use on the Capitols and San Joaquins in California Car colors, (One is shown above, the “Pacific Grove” on Capitol train 533 at Davis on August 29) Mr. Bronte reported there are now two running and he has funds for 5 more. He discussed what he told Mr. Dyson in a letter that “Surfliner sets will have new upholstery and carpets this winter.” And, “a huge committee is looking at the Surfliner/Metrolink schedule to see if there can be better integration.” Also in reply to a question, there will “be no change to Santa Barbara morning service as they would lose too many riders between LAUS and Oxnard on train 799.” Service to Imperial County is not likely in the current plan without more local involvement. Mr. Bronte emphasized the importance of “rail advocacy” to keep them informed of what needs should be addressed. Mr. Dyson responded by thanking Bill for his “straight talk and for reminding us of OUR responsibility in the political process.

Gene Skoropowski was the next speaker, and his usual eloquence was appreciated. The Capitol Corridor started December 12, 1991, and now has 16 round trips daily, in anticipation of a maximum of 18 in the future being the currently perceived optimum. California has 20% of Amtrak’s total riders, obviously because the State “responds to passenger needs.” Ridership and revenue figures are up monthly on all three corridors, and the biggest current challenge according to Gene is On Time Performance. Year-to-date the Capitols are 73.6%, Surfliners are 75%, and the San Joaquins are 66.8%. Most of the problems now are not host railroad related, but due to a “rash of mechanical failures and an epidemic of collisions and fatalities from people who decide to park on the railroad.” When an accident occurs “a train is delayed two hours, and some as much as five hours. There are almost no slow orders on the Capitol Corridor currently.” There are many capital needs; more double tracks, more crossovers, more grade separations (which are big benefits to the highway users), quick ticketing, etc. There is a proposal to place cameras on the corridor to help engineers anticipate crossing problems ahead that are out of their line of sight. The need for capital in the Capitol Corridor alone is $50 million. Gene agreed with Bill Bronte about the importance of active rail advocacy. He has been a 30 year member of NARP, and serves on its board of directors.

Brian Schmidt from the Altamont Commuter Express staff spoke next, introduced by Art Lloyd who mentioned that ACE operates over his “favorite railroad, the former Western Pacific,” where Art worked prior to going to Amtrak. Mr. Schmidt reported that ACE is a “9 year success story.” ACE is studying whether to buy the WP line it operates over, and expects to spend $300 million for Stockton to Niles on that line. They have $150 million on hand in anticipation. As for commuter service in the San Joaquin Valley, a proposal has been put forth for ACE to operate between Merced and Sacramento. Studies have shown a rider preference for running over the Union Pacific’s Fresno sub, but the UP has said not only “No,” but “Hell No” when approached on the issue. ACE will continue its efforts, but funds for commuter lines must be raised locally. ACE anticipates having 8 round trips. The mid-day 4th trip now carries 150 passengers daily, a success, and it has helped lower operating costs as crew scheduling is easier.

The session closed with our featured speaker, Caltrans Director Will Kempton (left, introduced by Paul Dyson), who spoke of how “rail is important” to the state. He congratulated the Capitol Corridor riders for their increased patronage, saying, “with all the new trains there is no reason for a person to not ride or to consider it,” chiding Mr. Skoropowski because Mr. Kempton was stranded for hours on a recent trip when an accident occured. He has placed a kiosk near his office where he can buy a ticket, then he can take Sacramento RT light rail to the station. State employees are being encouraged to take the train whenever possible. Mr. Kempton sees the Pacific Surfliners expanding and he encourages consolidation with Metrolink and Amtrak as well as increased service there as well as on the San Joaquins where “OTP must be improved.” He supports single ticket passes wherever possible. As for high speed rail, “For $37 billion? that will be hard to get. It must be moved along incrementally. Meanwhile, intercity rail should be expanded.” In response to questions, he pointed out that a group of investors from Las Vegas advised that the last hotel built in Las Vegas cost several billion so that would not be a problem adding the proposed new train service from Victorville to Las Vegas, and Palm Springs service will be done by Metrolink. He urged rail advocates to express their support for the $71 million that goes into the three current rail services. Advocates should work to get the “Feds to give us capital,” particularly the 80-20% match that is contained in pending Federal legislation. Mr. Dyson thanked Mr. Kempton for coming to the meeting and for encouraging us with his obvious enthusiasm for passenger rail.


RailPAC welcomes expanded Metrolink weekend service

September 5, 2007.
PRESS RELEASE: RailPAC President Paul Dyson today called for continued expansion of Metrolink train service throughout the region.
In welcoming the additional trains on the Antelope Valley line on Saturday, and service for the first time on Sunday, Dyson said that: “At last Metrolink is beginning to fulfill its potential as a true Regional Rail system.”

RailPAC’s policy calls for “all day, everyday” service on Metrolink’s 7 routes. “With 54 stations, and existing rights of way and rolling stock Metrolink is our lowest cost way of increasing regional mobility”, added Dyson. “With reductions in state transit funds, Metrolink represents the best way to enhance service, especially in the San Fernando Valley and north Los Angeles County.”

RailPAC is an all-volunteer group that has campaigned since 1979 for improved rail passenger service. Information at

Paul Dyson, President
(Photo by Noel Braymer)


August 11 Train and Tribute to Bob Conheim

The “Lord Mayor” of the Capitol Corridor Riders group who passed away on July 15 at age 63 was honored by his friends and family at Recreation Park in his hometown of Auburn on August 11. hpim0903.JPG lmmemor024a640.jpg

In his honor a special Capitol train traveled from the Bay Area to Auburn for the event. Many friends chose to ride “Bob’s train” to Auburn in his honor, boarding at stations all along the route.

(Photo by RailPAC Director Marcia Johnston)

Gene Skoropowski, Managing Director of the Capitol Corridor, wrote, “Bob was well known among Northern California rail riders, and he was affectionately dubbed “The Lord Mayor” of the CC Riders (Capitol Corridor Riders). His quick wit, love of life and family, plus his passion for good passenger train service, were his hallmarks. An attorney in California State government for most of his career, he recently retired and hoped to find a niche influencing elected decision makers on the value of public investment in passenger rail, with his Capitol Corridor experience as a solid example of what we could have in many places in California and across America. I will miss him.”

Mr. Conheim, shown when he spoke to the RailPAC Annual Meeting in 2006. (Photo by Russ Jackson)

In the Auburn Journal’s tribute article, Mr. Conheim’s wife, artist Paula Amerine, said the trains “got him off the freway and it was a way to conserve the environment, and the people on the train were so much fun to spend time with, instead of sitting in a car by himself.”

The Special train’s engineer, Mark Jones, is a regular engineer on the Capitol train that departs Auburn each morning, carrying CC riders into Sacramento and the Bay Area. Mr. Jones attended the tribute along with regular cafe car attendant “Eddie.”

On August 27 A proposal to name Auburn’s Amtrak train/bus station in Mr. Conheim’s honor was unanimously approved by the City Council in that historic Sierra foothills town. Councilman Hanley, who introduced the measure, said, “I believe that when a governmental body names a facility, road or park after a deceased community member that it expresses its heartfelt values. Bob, throughout his life, displayed unquestioned integrity and advocated for the public good. By naming our train and bus station after Robert F. Conheim, we would be clearly expressing our support for the values that he embodied.”


Bay Area “Regional Rail” meeting report

August 20, 2007, Suisun City Hall
Reported by Russ Jackson

The Draft “Regional Rail” Plan was presented at a series of August meetings around the Bay Area.

This writer chose to attend the afternoon session in Solano County, while other RailPAC members attended other meetings. The Plan is called a “blueprint for expanding the region’s network of rail lines,” and “will identify potential rail passenger and rail freight improvements for near-, intermediate-, and long-term.” The long-term stretches out to the year 2050. It succeeds in its goals, and while the Plan has received coverage from other media, my report will cover items I think are of importance to RailPAC readers.

The briefing was given by Brent Ogden of DMJM-Harris, the project consultants hired by the Bay Area MTC for this purpose. First, he gave a comprehensive review of Regional Rail strategies, and gave a “vision for an interconnected rail system to guide investment decisions.” Planning in the Bay Area started with the 1956 BART Plan. BART and Caltrain are now considered to be the “backbone” of the rail system in the Bay Area. BART will double its ridership between now and 2030, going to 30 trains per hour and 2 minute headways. After that, only an expansion of capacity will suffice, as BART’s outward expansion potential is nearly complete. The Bay Area population will increase dramatically, highway congestion will increase (Solano County alone will see a 498% increase in vehicle hours of delay) so Regional Rail is the best alternative for transit improvements. .

RailPAC members participated in the first round of meetings, held last year, and our Richard Silver spoke forcefully for the critical element of connectivity between elements of the rail service. The report agreed, and it is #1 on the list, along with resolving the freight and passenger conflicts, the need for a new Bay crossing for rail, preserving and purchasing rights-of-way, exploring advanced technology (mostly electrification), desirable land uses, minimizing impacts on low income areas, a safe and secure system, and a “One system one ticket” convenience for riders. All of these items were incorporated in the Plan.

The Plan’s “Vision” is to “Ring the Bay” with a rail network, with the right technology in the right corridor. By 2050 the Plan would include:

SMART in the North Bay (Cloverdale to Larkspur), an enhanced Capitol Corridor with 3, 4 tracks wherever possible and a new Benicia-Martinez bridge, ACE to Sacramento and Lodi and to Merced, light weight electrified Caltrain equipment between San Francisco and San Jose, “infill” service between Hercules and Union City, a new transbay BART connection tunnel which would permit Caltrain to go to Oakland through the new Transbay Terminal in San Francisco, the Dumbarton rail bridge connection, the Altamont Pass right-of-way by way of public ownership plus using the largely abandoned Southern Pacific right-of-way giving double track to Stockton, and double track from San Jose to Salinas with standard equipment and with an interline with the Capitol Corridor and Caltrain, and extension to Monterey and Hollister.

That’s an extensive list of projects, many of which have been or are on the books already. Also included in this report are two interesting variables: one assumes the California High Speed Rail project will be funded and built, and the other that it won’t. In the former assumption the report discusses the advantages and disadvantages of both proposed routes into the Bay Area, and instead of recommending one it says both routes, through Altamont Pass and through Pacheco Pass should be built.

Altamont would provide high speed “commuter” trains into the region, while Pacheco would be for the express trains to Los Angeles and serve San Jose. Inherent in this idea would be that there would be only a need for double track on both routes rather than the four tracks required on much of the route if only one is selected. This writer was intrigued with the idea that a new cross-Bay rail tunnel would be able to carry not only BART, but also an extension of Caltrain and the HSR, which would make an expensive construction from Fremont to Oakland and Fremont to San Jose unnecessary for HSR. What is largely left out is service into Napa County which the report concluded did not generate enough potential ridership, but did have freight potential.

The Plan’s cost and governance issues are addressed and are of vital concern. The estimated costs to implement all the elements is $45 Billion, and if the High Speed Rail project is approved it adds another $17 Billion statewide. This writer asked what the plan for coordinating all the elements of the Plan were, as if it is left to each provider to carry out only their own segments it could be a very long time before the Regional Plan was implemented if at all. The Plan recommends a “Regional Rail Authority” to do the heavy lifting, and we would support that. Solano County Supervisor Jim Spering, one of the “fathers” of the Capitol Corridor when he was Suisun City Mayor, agreed, saying a “Single Source Regional Rail Authority” was absolutely necessary, and that “no new operators” be created in the meantime. On August 21 the Sacramento Bee editorialized that “For Northern California rail, the future is here.” It says that the new Bay Area rail plan “lays out what needs to be done. Now’s (the) time to begin.” The Bee adds that each element, like the Capitol Corridor, is “only one slice of the pie,” adding, “What portion of the rail plan is feasible and (the) financing options will be debated in the months ahead.”

What the final Plan will look like will be interesting, and Northern California residents will have a big stake in the outcomes. We recommend readers look at the Plan and quickly submit your comments. Maps and the full draft Plan are available at As the report says, “Help lay the track for the future of our Regional Rail System.”


Capitol Corridor Friday Accident

Special Message to Riders – August 20, 2007 The What, When, and Why

“An apology and a report to Capitol Corridor riders on the events of Friday afternoon and evening, August 17th” from Gene Skoropowski

For those of you who were caught up in the events of Friday afternoon and evening, and there were some two-thousand of you on several trains, I apologize to you for your experiences and your delays. I do not need to tell you that this was the worst series of delays, both in terms of duration and numbers of trains and passengers impacted, in the history of the Capitol Corridor service.

First is my apology to you for your delay, and second is my apology to you for the things that did not go right after the incident, particularly on the communication front.

No sooner had we just printed my latest regular quarterly “Message to Riders” (issue #30), wherein I refer to some days being like encountering ‘The Perils of Pauline’, than the events of Friday made these words harsh reality.

Let me describe to you the events, what was attempted to be done, and what actually happened and why. There are several ‘lessons learned’ that have emerged from this situation that identify things we need to do better.

I welcome any comments, criticisms and suggestions for improvement from any of you that were caught in this event. (, telephone:1.877.9 RIDE CC, regular mail: Capitol Corridor JPA, 300 Lakeside Drive, 14th floor, Oakland, CA 94568)

What happened? At about 3.15 pm, Westbound Capitol Corridor train #541 was traveling towards Oakland from Sacramento on Union Pacific Main Track #2, just south of Suisun-Fairfield Station. At a street crossing on Union Pacific Main Track #1 (the location is identified as MilePost 40.1), three trucks with the special ability to travel on the tracks were being positioned to travel along Main Track #1, to pick up debris along the tracks from recently completed trackwork done by railroad forces in days prior. These vehicles belong to an experienced railroad contractor that Union Pacific had engaged specifically for the debris removal work. At the time train #541 was approaching the crossing on track #2, two-of the three vehicles had been properly mounted on the rails on track #1, and they were awaiting the completion of the mounting of the third vehicle, which was still being positioned on track #1. This is the vehicle which was hit by Train #541. It appears that the vehicle was positioned too far into the clearance envelop of track #2, and was struck by the locomotive of train #541. The incident also damaged adjacent signal indicators.

Union Pacific is investigating in detail the circumstances and conformance to mandatory procedures employed regarding this entire incident. However, it is known that Train #541 had been cleared by dispatchers for travel on Track #2, and was operating according the railroad rules and within authorized speed limits. The contractor and the vehicles getting prepared to work on track #1 had been given permission by the railroad dispatchers to occupy track #1. Union Pacific’s operating and safety rules are very specific about the circumstances, procedures and conditions when tracks may be occupied by any vehicles that are not freight or passenger trains. These operating procedures and safety rules are recognized as among the best and safest in the industry, and they meet or exceed all Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) standards.

As a result of the ensuing collision, Train #541 was stopped and all service on both main tracks was terminated for a five-hour period while emergency crews removed the one contractor employee with a broken arm and the locomotive engineer (removal of the injured locomotive engineer took several hours due to getting access for a stretcher into the cab), and treated the one passenger for minor injuries, and inspected the railroad facilities (track and signals). Some 149 passengers were on Train #541, but also impacted were trains #543, #547, #549, #536, #538, #540, #542, #544, and all later evening trains. During the 5 hour delay, more than 2,000 Capitol Corridor passengers were delayed, many for the full 5 hours.

At about 3.30 pm when an emergency notice went out to all operating people about the magnitude of the collision and the expected magnitude of delay to trains, immediate actions were implemented. Union Pacific Railroad forces were deployed from Roseville to the site. Amtrak supervisors were dispatched to the site. Carl Malvo, Capitol Corridor’s Transportation Officer was at the site and on the phone during the entire event to try to assist Amtrak. An instruction was conveyed by Amtrak to all food service attendants in dining and cafe cars of Capitol Corridor trains already en-route and caught in the delay, to offer food and non-alcoholic beverages to passengers without charge, recognizing that the delay was going to be extensive, although no one anticipated that the delay could be as long as 5 hours, which it was..

Crews were asked to make announcements that an incident had occurred and that the delays would be lengthy. Union Pacific and Amtrak tried to move as many trains as possible into station platform locations to allow passengers to get off the train to try to make alternate travel arrangements. Buses were called to try to build a bus-bridge between Martinez and Suisun-Fairfield Station in an attempt to get passengers to their destinations. At the time buses finally arrived, word was received from Union Pacific that the tracks would be opened shortly. Buses which had boarded passengers transferred them back to trains, only to find out after the buses were released that there was a fuel spill from the truck, and the local fire department would not release the tracks for use until the fuel spill was taken care of. Too many folks, this looked like a saga from the old “Keystone Kops” comedy movies, maybe justifiably so.

Complicating all of this was both the location of the incident, a difficult site along the marsh land in Benicia, and the fact that this occurred on a Friday afternoon (the busiest day for Capitol Corridor travel at the start of the busiest time for travel) during the peak travel hours. Both Union Pacific and Amtrak personnel were caught in heavy traffic on I-80 and I-680 en route to the site. Traffic was so bad that the injured contractor’s employee and the train engineer were removed from the site by helicopter. The attempt to get buses deployed was also complicated because it was peak travel time on a Friday, and the traffic on the roads to the train stations that buses would use were also jammed with congested traffic.

Making the frustration level even higher is that the communication system (electronic boards and telephone lines) were not providing specific information that might have useful to passengers. Only one complaint was received about ‘not being told anything by the train crew’, so I assume that crews told passengers what they knew, which may not have been much. One report from a passenger advised me that the telephone information he was given is that ‘all trains are operating on time’. Other passengers were told that trains would be moving within an hour, when in fact, it was several hours. Clearly, we at the Capitol Corridor and Amtrak need to do a better job of using the resources we already have to provide better, accurate and more frequent information updates.

While I cannot recreate Friday and try to change things for the better, I promise you that we will review every aspect of this incident, and, together with our partners at Amtrak and Union Pacific, we will identify what should be done, by whom, and when, if ever an incident like this occurs again that causes the level of disruption to our service that this incident caused.

I am sorry that this report is so long, but I felt each of you that were caught up in Friday’s event deserve as complete an explanation as I can provide.

Again, I apologize to all of you who were caught up in this incident and its ensuing extensive delays.


Eugene K. Skoropowski
Managing Director
Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority


The Coast Starlight’s summer On Time Performance has improved!

hpim1023.JPG july-2007-006.jpg
Report and Photos by Russ Jackson
Rail passengers wanting to use the Coast Starlight, Amtrak trains 11 and 14, in recent years have agonized about the late trains not only at the endpoints of Seattle and Los Angeles, but at all stations in between.

On February 15, 2007, the status of that day’s two Starlights was 0% trains on time; for the month of February 1.8% had been OT, and since October 1, 2006, only 21.9% of the trains had been OT. The “official” reason given by Amtrak was “Due to track conditions (on the UPRR) between Klamath Falls, Oregon, and Sacramento, with numerous slow orders in effect, trains 11 and 14 are subject to delays.” Updated information for August shows on the 15th it was 0% for both trains, for that month it was 18.8%, and for the FY 20.2%

On May 30, 2006 the Coast Starlight, train 11, was at the Emeryville station at 1:45 pm, running 5 1/2 hours late.

In the last few months, however, the portion of the UP’s Coast line south of Oakland has shown an improvement, so that train 14, the northbound, could reliably run close to on time every day. The hangups there were largely solved with the completion of work in the Chatsworth tunnels in March. Train 11 was the same between Seattle and Portland. The problem continued to be the portion of the route between Sacramento and Klamath Falls into Eugene. It was such a consistent problem of no reliability that in the current Amtrak timetable, on page 94 train 11 appears along with the Cascades, but in the companion northbound timetable on page 95 train 14 does not appear, as Amtrak cannot guarantee it will arrive near to on time to carry passengers north of Eugene.

On July 26, 2007, at 12:44 pm, it’s scheduled train arrival time for train 14 at the Eugene, Oregon Amtrak station. The train will not arrive until after 6:00 pm.

On August 15 the official reason for the delays showed only 27 minutes of delay between Klamath Falls and Sacramento for train 11, and 59 minutes for train 14. Here are some recent performances in the segment between Eugene and Sacramento.

Train 11 Arrival at Sacramento
Scheduled time: 6:15 am

Date Actual time

  • July 7 1:00 pm
  • August

  • 6 9:33 am
  • 9 6:15 am (On Time)
  • 11 7:11 am
  • 13 7:04 am
  • 15 6:47 am
  • 17 8:01 am
  • 19 6:50 am
  • In the same time period the arrival of train 11 into Los Angeles Union Station was similarly improved, with early arrival actually happening on August 8 and 14, and within 30 minutes on most other dates.

    Train 14 Arrival at Eugene
    Scheduled time: 12:44 pm

    Date Actual time

  • 1 6:25 pm
  • 12 2:17 pm
  • 13 3:32 pm
  • 14 2:01 pm
  • 15 3:57 pm
  • 16 3:05 pm
  • 18 3:04 pm
  • In the same time period the arrival of train 14 into Seattle was approximately the same amount of delay, but with four days times being double digit minutes late instead of triple digits.

    So, what’s happened? The UP completed track projects in that segment some time ago, which no doubt contribute to the improvement. Why the southbound now does so much better between Sacramento and Eugene is yet to be determined. Passengers can take assurance that improvements are being made.

    But, it is still slow out there. As RailPAC Oakland member Bob Mac Donald wrote in the year 2000, “There’s no reason for the Coast Line to be ‘scenic but slow. Scenic Yes, Slow, No.'” The Starlight is scheduled to run the segment between Oakland and Los Angeles now in 12 hours 20 minutes. As Mr. Mac Donald points out, in 1956 the Southern Pacific ran that trip in 9 hours 45 minutes, with only one fewer stop.

    With the on time performance improved now it’s time to work on returning the Starlight’s on board amenities, and improving service in the Pacific Parlour car!

    Next month we’ll look at the Southwest Chief.


    July Amtrak California Corridor Ridership and ticket revenue results

    Provided by Gene Skoropowski, Managing Director, Capitol Corridor JPB. RailPAC thanks Gene for this information and commentary he sends us each month: Gene says, “We have received the ridership and revenue results for July 2007 from Amtrak, and, once again, the Capitol Corridor is setting records, the 10th month in a row.

    “After 10 months in our fiscal year, we continue to AVERAGE a +13.8% growth rate in riders and +20.4% growth in revenue. While the only thing inhibiting greater growth, particularly in peak weekday travel periods, is availability of more coaches to add to existing trains, Caltrans has contracted with Amtrak to repair and renovate Amtrak Superliner coaches in exchange for 6 years of use here in California to help our capacity in peak travel periods. The first 2 such “Caltrans-liners” have already been completed by Amtrak, delivered to Oakland, and are now in service. You need to look carefully from the outside to see them, as their paint scheme is our standard Amtrak California paint scheme. Caltrans Division of Rail should get an award for this innovative approach to help meet our continuing passenger growth needs until new coaches arrive.”

    Capitol Corridor:
    ● 121,991 passengers +18.6% vs. FY06 and another record for the month!
    ● $1,571,625 ticket revenue +14.6% vs. FY06

    “July 2006 had 102,845 riders, so the 18.6% growth in July to 2007 to nearly 122,000 riders is consistent with the incrementally increasing growth in the prior 9 months. Total riders for the past 12 months is now well past 1.4 million at 1,417,975. If on-time performance can be improved and sustained to 90% or above, we should, with only modest growth in the coming year, approach or exceed 1.6 million passengers by September 30, 2008.

    “Revenue is now +20.4% above last year, with revenue-to-cost ratio now at 46.5%. We continue to expect that the revenue in August and September will push this ratio to 50% by close of the fiscal year at the end of September.

    “On time performance improved for the first 3 weeks of July (it was 84% on July 25th), but poor performance in the last week of the month dragged it down to 81.4%. Union Pacific performance is still running in the mid-high eighties (87% approximately), but mechanical failures have increased, especially in late July and early August. All partners (CCJPA, Amtrak, UPRR and Caltrans) are still striving to deliver a quality, reliable service on the Capitol Corridor, and the customers are clearly responding. We are still looking forward to a state budget package that will provide the at least some of needed capital for reliability/track improvements and to enable Caltrans Rail to initiate the procurement of additional California Cars for all three of our state-supported Amtrak-operated passenger services. If at least some capital for infrastructure investments can be provided for intercity rail, UPRR will be able to construct track improvements that are already designed, and these improvements will help on-time reliability.”

    Pacific Surfliner:
    ● 268,475 passengers +1.2% vs. FY06
    ● $5,082,760 ticket revenue +5.2% vs. FY06

    San Joaquins:
    ● 76,107 passengers +1.6% vs. FY06
    ● $2,335,680 ticket revenue -6.0% vs. FY06


    CCJPB July meeting report

    July 18, 2007 Meeting

    Suisun City Hall

    Report and photo by Russ Jackson
    NOTE: Before the meeting started RailPAC learned some interesting news.

    First, and this was reported to us the night before the meeting by Gene Skoropowski, two newly rebuilt Superliner Coach cars that the State of California is leasing from Amtrak arrived in the Oakland yard behind Amtrak train #5 on July 17. These two cars have been fully rehab’d, and will go into service in the Oakland car pool this week. They will go into separate consists in rotation, allowing some trains to have longer consists. Caltrans Rail program Chief Bill Bronte has spurred this deal, and he is working to get four more cars done the same way to add more capacity to the Capitols and San Joaquins. These cars, which are painted in California car colors, are leased for use until the new car order funded by Proposition 1B is delivered in about five years.

    On time Capitol train 727 roars past Elmira crossing in Vacaville on July 14.

    The other news is the San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee Chairman, Bakersfield Mayor Harvey Hall, has written a strong letter to the Governor asking him to veto the line item passed by the legislature which diverts $15.5 million of the remaining Proposition 116 money to the California High Speed Rail Authority. These funds were designated for a new Stockton station which is still in the planning stages, and for track work in the Port Chicago area on the BNSF route of the San Joaquin trains.

    The CCJPB meeting began on a sad note, with Chairman Forrest Williams, who represents Santa Clara County, giving a tribute to the late Capitol Corridor Riders “Lord Mayor,” Robert Conheim, who passed away on Sunday. (A tribute, with a photo of Mr. Conheim when he spoke to the RailPAC meeting in January, 2006, has also been placed on RailPAC Associate Director Mike Barnbaum added his tribute to his friend. A memorial service will be held in Auburn on August 11.

    1. Several routine “consent” items were passed, with a quorum present, but just barely. A report of plans for a permanent Wi-Fi installation on the trains was heard. A successful experiment was concluded in March. Among the considerations is whether it is to be a free system or a pay system. Member Christopher Cabaldon, representing Yolo County, urged this project proceed at full speed to bring this service to the train riders on a permanent basis.

    2. Mr. Skoropowski reviewed the Governor’s “May Revise” budget. “First the good news, $187 million of Proposition 1B funds were programmed for intercity rail improvements, including the $150 million for new rolling stock. It also included an increase of $6.5 million for intercity rail annual operating funds to support the Amtrak contracts for the 3 corridor service plans. Now the bad news, there are several anti-transit components in the draft Governor’s Budget. More than $1.3 billion form the PTA is proposed to be diverted to resolve other shortfalls.” As of the date of this meeting there still was no new state budget, but the legislature had rejected $800 million of the diverted funds.

    Mr. Skoropowski reported the U.S. Senate is expected to take up S 294 (Lautenberg/Lott), the “Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2007,” (Amtrak reauthorization) in September. This is of particular interest to California as the bill contains a “federal match” of 80% to state money spent for capital projects. Operating funds are separated from capital funding. The CCJPA supports this bill.

    3. Two surveys of Capitol Corridor on board riders are done annually. The latest report shows 21.4% of riders drove alone to a train station. This is a meaningful statistic, as in most areas this figure is much higher; 25.6% were dropped off; 7.4% took an Amtrak Thruway bus; 17% were local transit transfers, 15.3% walked, 2.9% used carpool, 6.9% rode a bicycle, and 2.4% took a taxi with the other 1.0% “other” (including another Amtrak train). This means over half of the riders used alternate transportation to get to the trains.

    4. The ridership and revenue reports were presented, and are posted on Mr. Skoropowski reviewed them, pointing out the 9.1% increase in the 12-month period shows 1,384,364 passengers. Revenue continues to grow, up 20.6% over FY 2005-06, and the Revenue-to-Cost Ratio is “a bit over 45%, however we are just about to enter our period of highest monthly revenue” so, 50% is achievable this year.

    5. On Time Performance is not what is most desirable. Year to date OTP is only about 71%, but has shown a big improvement in recent months. Mr. Skoropowski reported that 50% of the late trains have been late 10 minutes or less, while the big delays are usually caused by fatal accidents (unfortunately there were two this month.) The number of mechanical delays has “significantly decreased, and full train consists are generally being provided.”

    6. Installation of “Quik Trak Ticket Vending Machines” Phase 1 will be completed this month. Installation of a second machine will be completed at some stations by late September. One of the machines has been installed outside Caltrans Director Will Kempton’s office, so officials can buy their tickets easily.

    The next CCJPB meeting will be held September 19, also at Suisun City Hall at 10:00.


    RailPAC President/LA Councilmember press conference re Amtrak

    Los Angeles City Council Member Tom LaBonge and Paul Dyson, president of the Rail Passenger Assn. of California, held a joint press conference at LA Union Station on July 13.


    Councilmember LaBonge received unanimous council support on July 13 for a City resolution supporting U.S. Senate bill S 294 that would fund Amtrak through 2012. Mr. Dyson pointed out that “Amtrak, the nation’s passenger rail line, operates the popular Pacific Surfliner trains from San Diego to San Luis Obispo that carries nearly a quarter million passengers a month.” Mr. LaBonge added, “In our heavily congested region when more people than ever seek alternatives to traveling our crowded freeways, we cannot lose Amtrak. S. 294’s price tag is $1.2 billion for six years. It has bi-partisan support in Congress.”