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RailPAC/NARP March Conference report 3: Bronte and Capon

This report covers the presentations by William Bronte and Ross Capon from the morning session following Mr. Kummant. Andrew C. Selden’s presentation is in the next report.

RailPAC VP North, Art Lloyd, moderated the session. In the PHOTO below, left to right, Mr. Lloyd is at the podium, with NARP Executive Director Ross Capon, Minnesota RPA President/URPA Andrew C. Selden, and Caltrans Rail Program Chief William “Bill” Bronte, with RailPAC’s website maintainer Bill Lindley ready to operate the powerpoint presentations.
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Bill Bronte

Mr. Bronte was introduced by Art Lloyd as, “a good friend.” Bill responded by saying that while he works for a “highway department,” his rail program is a vital part of California’s transportation commitment. California “has had lots of luck and money that have put us where we are, from the day Senator Jim Mills learned that Amtrak wanted to add a 4th ‘San Diegan’ California has stood up and contributed to get us where we are today” with the successful state supported trains running in three corridors. He complimented organizations like RailPAC and NARP for continuing to say we want trains. Proposition 116 passed, gas taxes were increased, capital for intercity projects were provided; all these helped Metrolink, Caltrain, and the Coaster to start and expand. “Rail capital is a big issue. We designed and built our own new equipment.”
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Mr. Bronte continued, saying while the “stars at the Federal level aren’t aligned yet,” we “anticipate markup of the Lautenberg/Lott bill which contains federal-state “sharing,” so we can use state dollars as matching. “We need support from the public to say what we need! We are rolling the wheels off our current equipment, so the challenge to those in this room is to talk up intercity rail to your legislators, and get them to appropriate the newly passed Proposition 1b funds designated for rail.”

Ross Capon

Mr. Capon reviewed several pieces of federal legislation under consideration in Washington, and pointed out how he and NARP are working to secure passage in the Congress. HR1300 is the House version of the Senate’s S294, and it also calls for federal-state partnerships. “There is a real chance for Amtrak Reauthorization this year.” Funding for Amtrak remains tight, “(Speaker) Pelosi says there will be no new spending programs, and there is an impending bankruptcy of the Highway Trust Fund.” That possibility “is an opportunity” for the inclusion of rail in its renewal.
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Attacks on the long distance trains continue, Mr. Capon said, and he called on Amtrak to “Run the system you have and run it well.” He reviewed NARP’s efforts to return the Sunset Limited to Florida. As for Bush budget cuts, including Amtrak by “38%,” cuts for transit projects are also proposed despite ridership growth. S294 is a bipartisan bill, so there is hope. An interesting proposal, PRIIA, calls for monitoring of the on time performance of Amtrak trains, giving “teeth to that idea, and also gives the railroads the opportunity to complain.” Mr. Capon went on to discuss the issue of climate change, showing Amtrak in 2003 used less energy per passenger mile than cars or airlines.

Rail Photos, Reports

RailPAC/NARP March Conference report 4: Selden

This report covers the presentation by Andrew C. Selden, representing the United Rail Passenger Alliance. He is President of the Minnesota Rail Passenger Association, and an author of many articles on rail passenger policy and theory. He was a finalist candidate to be CEO of Amtrak in 1998. In 1986 he was described by the late David Morgan at TRAINS magazine as “The dean of the pro-passenger Amtrak critics.”

A link to a video of Mr. Selden’s presentation can be found after report 5 below.
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“We share a passion for passenger rail,” Mr Selden began. He expressed his confidence that much of what he heard from Mr. Kummant this morning was encouraging. The market for intercity rail traffic is exploding, but “Amtrak is flat and declining.” It “costs $3 to bring in $2, and the trend never gets better. The network is shrinking!”

Citing 2006 figures from Amtrak’s own reports, Mr. Selden reported Income from passenger related activity last year was $1.565.5 billion, other income (excluding Federal subsidy) was $451.4 million. Total Expenses were listed as $3,301.6 billion, yielding a loss of $1,284.8 billion which had to be covered by federal subsidy.

“They have reached the conclusion that growth is not possible without subsidy growth.” But, growth “is not possible with heavy subsidy. Look at their 30 year history. Why are we stuck with this situation?” For one thing, “ridership” is not output. Headcount does not translate into growth in the areas that do count.

Mr. Selden then cited examples of how Amtrak “does not know its product,” even though these same figures are available to them. The Chicago “hub” last year had two categories of trains, Group A and Group B:

Ridership (the headcount)
A 1,750,000
B 2,150,000

Revenue Passenger Miles (000)
A 250,000
B 1,400,000

Load factor (PM/TM)
A 51.2%
B 55.9%

Revenue (000)
A 41,000
B 180,000

“Now,” Mr. Selden said to a crowd carefully listening to something they had not heard before, “Obviously, Group B excels Group A in each of the important financial categories, so shouldn’t Amtrak be concentrating on providing resources to contribute to the success of Group B?” The question was then answered, that Group A is the 8 “corridor” trains going through the Chicago hub, while Group B is the 8 “long distance” trains that are criticized so heavily.

California has the same story: Group A outshines the ridership of Group B by a factor of 10; but the load factor (passenger miles/train miles) for A is 33% to 57% for B, the Revenue Passenger miles were close, 200 to 190, and the Revenue was 40 to 25 in favor of group A. Group A is the California corridors, while Group B is the Coast Starlight alone. Just one train does almost as well as all the corridor trains combined.

“If you want growth, put it where you are most likely to get a full return.” At Amtrak, like most big businesses, “management chooses where to put its capital resources and prioritizes spending.” The greatest growth for Amtrak “appears to come from the lowest cost potentials, the long distance trains!” Amtrak should “throw out the Route Profitability System of accounting that misleads management on its true revenue potentials and replace it with a business-oriented system.” Mr. Selden co-authored a study in 1984 on Amtrak Accounting, which was published in Passenger Train Journal.

Mr. Selden then discussed the Matrix theory of how many potentials for growth are being ignored at Amtrak, citing the Albany, New York hub as an example. This theory, developed by Mr. Selden with the late Dr. Adrian Herzog and Byron Nordberg of RailPAC and URPA, shows that today different trains serve that area, from Toronto, the Empire corridor services, long distance trains, Vermont and Montreal services, etc. He pointed out how by adding a train coming from Boston that the incremental increase in all the four categories discussed above explodes.

Time did not allow for a full Q & A period, but many meeting attendees came up to ask questions into the lunch period.

Rail Photos, Reports

RailPAC/NARP March Conference report 5: Dukakis and PM panels

This report covers the afternoon session, which began with the inspiring talk by Gov. Michael Dukakis, who was an Amtrak board member and Vice Chairman, followed by panels discussing Regional and Commuter Rail, Southern California, and Urban Rail transit projects in Southern California, followed by a High Speed Rail report.

Gov. Michael Dukakis

Gov. Dukakis, in the PHOTO waiting to be introduced, began by introducing his wife, Kitty, talking about how they spend the winter quarter in Southern California where he teaches a course at UCLA, and ride the transit available to them including taking it to come to this meeting.
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“We cannot diminish the importance of the Northeast corridor,” when considering the transportation picture of the country, he said, citing how he worked to improve the NEC when he was Governor of Massachusetts.

“California must invest in a first class transportation system and High Speed Rail,” he said. “It takes passion to accomplish our goals! You can have impact on the next Presidential candidates by contacting them and expressing your views.”

Paul Dyson and Mike McGinley

Moderator Dennis Lytton, a NARP director, introduced this panel to discuss “Southern California Regional Rail, A Sleeping Giant?” Paul Dyson of RailPAC and Mike McGinley, (PHOTO) a retired Southern Pacific railroad and Metrolink Director of Engineering spoke. Mr. Dyson comes from his experience with British Rail, the Southern Pacific, and GATX Rail and currently serves on the Burbank Transportation Commission.
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Mr. McGinley talked about how Metrolink should not get “carried away with too many projects. We cannot go where we are not invited.” Currently the largest project is the Redlands extension which will be run with DMU vehicles rather than the existing trainsets.

Mr. Dyson compared Southern California to Switzerland, saying the area size is about the same, but they have 3000 miles of rail and 10% of the population regularly ride the trains. Their whole philosophy is “everything connects: ferries, buses, trains, which are designed to connect, with ONE ticket, with service on time within two minutes!” Mr. Dyson advocated that “everything in Southern California, the Coasters and Surfliners should be held to the same factors with single tickets available and connecting schedules.”

Melvin Clark, Jared Wright, Bart Reed

Moderator James Smith, RailPAC VP South, (PHOTO) introduced the next panel on “Urban Rail Transit, Vital Projects to create a Unified System.” The speakers were Melvin Clark, the Deputy Executive Officer for Metro Rail, then Jerard Wright, VP of the Transit Coalition and Bart Reed, a RailPAC director and Executive Director of the Transit Coalition.
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Mr. Clark spoke of the expansion plans for Metro Rail, including the extension of the Gold Line service run-through project which will carry it across the 101 freeway south of Union Station and turn east. Because of this expansion, a fleet of new compatible cars have been purchased from Breda, and they are currently on the property and can be seen in the yard from the Gold Line trains, which are proving more successful every day.

Mr. Wright spoke of the benefits of crosstown connector services, which should have the highest priorities. One of the Transit Coalition’s position papers advocates how airports are poorly service by transit, including Burbank’s Bob Hope Airport, which is located next to a Metrolink (and Amtrak) station, but that service is too infrequent for much of potential customer base. A solution is to concentrate resources on affordable solutions, develop the regional rail and BRT network, and start with local connections from the Orange line and connection to Bob Hope Airport. Copies of most of the TC’s papers were available to participants.

Mr. Reed (PHOTO) discussed other TC project proposals, including enhanced Metrolink service to the San Fernando Valley on 30-minute headways all day similar to what Orange County has funded for its line, with through service from additional points and, using the MTA’s Harbor Subdivision for new service from LA Union Station to Los Angeles Airport (LAX) and the South Bay. This latter idea has been advocated by RailPAC for many years.
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Mr. Reed made several other TC recommendations, emphasizing the need to build one integrated system in Los Angeles. For LAX service the Green Line must be extended to the Lincoln/Sepulveda parking structure, a People Mover segment be constructed to serve the Central Terminal area, a Crenshaw extension, and an extension to Marina del Rey.

Dan Leavitt

Dan Leavitt is the Deputy Director for the California High Speed Rail Authority. He has served there since 1998. He played a colorful animated video showing the proposed high speed trains running through the vast Central Valley of California hitting 220 mph (on the screen in the PHOTO).
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Mr. Leavitt reported that the current plans call for all in-town running, such as in Los Angeles and San Francisco, would be at 110 mph or less on existing, upgraded grade separated rights of way. It would be an incremental approach to construction. He then took many questions from the audience who showed great interest in this program.

Reports

San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee meeting report

Reported by Bruce Jenkins, RailPAC Director, with Bill Kerby, RailPAC Treasurer and Art Lloyd, RailPAC VP North

The San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee meeting was held Thursday March 8, 2007 in Fresno. Fresno County Supervisor Henry Perea welcomed members of the committee and audience.

The main issue of this meeting was the Committee vote to make Mariposa County a Voting member of the Committee. Due to the large number of speakers, including supervisors, from this county, and the time encroachment on the agenda, these writers were unable to stay for the entire meeting due to train time.

However, the speakers we heard made a good case for Mariposa County to be on the Rail Committee e.g. being the gateway to Yosemite National Park. Representatives from Fresno, Madera, and Stanislaus counties gave early support for the addition of Mariposa County on the SJVRC.

Lee Goldenberg (Caltrans DoR) reported on his research of the bylaws and (reluctantly) recommended against the county, as voting members must be on the rail line according to the bylaws. After lengthy discussion by the Committee. it was moved, seconded and approved for a Mariposa County voting membership pending amending of the bylaws. The issue will be resolved at the next meeting.

Bakersfield Mayor Harvey Hall was unanimously re-elected for another term as Chair, as was Merced County Supervisor John Pedrozo as Vice Chair.

Ty Holscher (Tulare County) reported on a meeting with the Union Pacific in Omaha regarding using UP trackage for passenger service on the lower west side of the Valley up to Fresno. This added service has been under consideration for a year or so. The UP could just not see it now because of their capacity problems.

A new SJVRC meeting schedule was approved:

May 10……….Oakland Maint. Facility
Cafe Car Mockup tour
June 28……….Martinez
Oct 11……….Merced
Jan 10……….Bakersfield
Mar 13……….Fresno
June 12………TBD
Oct 9………TBD

Michael Barnbaum (RailPAC) made the announcement and extended invitations to all to the RailPAC/NARP joint conference in Los Angeles (MTA Bldg) March 17.

Reports

News and a Photo from the Capitol Corridor

Gene Skropowski, the Capitol Corridor Managing Director, replied to RailPAC regarding the photo story about the group traveling to Sacramento from Davis (below the meeting notice) and gave us an advanced look at other important Corridor news including the latest statistics from the other California corridors. NEW Photo added!

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Westbound Capitol train 737 arrives on time with a five-car train at the Davis station on a sunny Sunday, March 11, 2007. After picking up passengers, the doors started to close when the power was lost from Amtrak locomotive 73. Ten minutes later it was restarted and resumed its journey to the Bay Area. Just another routine day on the Capitol Corridor. (Photo by Russ Jackson)

We thank Gene Skoropowski for all the information below; he is a very responsive executive, and we all appreciate that!

  • (Re the photo story of the group riders) “This is the first I heard of this situation. The only thing I can make of it is that at the time this group wanted to travel to Sacramento (which would have been our train #526), on March 2, train #526 was not running, as it was one of the cancelled trains during the track rebuilding program between Benicia and Pinole. The Capitol Corridor reservation desk actually has full time folks who book group trips, and we do a very good business filling empty seats on trains with available capacity. We had groups travelling on some trains, even during the track work period.

    “I don’t know where the information for this story came from, but it sure isn’t correct. And when groups are booked on the Capitol Corridor trains, they DO sit together, usually in a reserved car, just for the group.”

  • Here is an advance on the February stats:

    “We had barely 70 percent on time. We had a major track rehab program. We cancelled 8 of the 32 weekday trains to accommodate the trackwork project. And we still grew riders by 15 percent and revenue by 22 percent. Go figure! I shudder to think of the demand when on-time performance improves.”

    Summary of February ridership and ticket revenue results:

    Capitol Corridor

    · 103,666 passengers +15.9% vs. FY06 and a record for the month

    · $1,278,488 ticket revenue +22.4% vs. FY06

    Pacific Surfliner

    · 182,964 passengers -3.3% vs. FY06

    · $2,868,601 ticket revenue +2.3% vs. FY06

    San Joaquins

    · 52,809 passengers -4.9% vs. FY06

    · $1,586,189 ticket revenue +4.3% vs. FY06

  • The CC Riders Group passed along a message received from Gene on March 7, 2007, following a meeting the riders had with Mr. Skoropowski on board Capitol train 536, where issues of interest to riders were discussed. CCRiders members received this message from Chuck Roebuck, their President. Because it contains some interesting news, we are reprinting it here.
  • ON-TIME PERFORMANCE: “We had a meeting with UP vice president yesterday and UP indicated that all local freights during daylight hours are being changed to work after 6 pm, and that only 4 freights will be allowed to operate between 5.30 am and 6 p.m and that these freights will be be their ‘hot’ trains that are running thru to Chicago or wherever. Assuming this plan will work, we should see our on-time performance get back to 90 percent or better.

    CLEANLINESS OF TRAINS: “Gene and AMTRAK have notified the clean up crews of the issues raised during the meeting regarding the cleanliness of restrooms, floors and overhead bins and have directed that corrective action be taken.”

    Gene urged the riders to email him anytime they have a problem.

    Reports

    Group rides Zephyr from Davis to Sacramento

    Instead of using a Capitol train. The scene below is the Davis, CA train station this morning, March 2, 2007. The train is the eastbound California Zephyr, #6, which arrived only a few minutes late enroute eventually to Chicago. A PHOTO report by Russ Jackson, RailPAC.

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    This group of children and parents wanted to take the train to Sacramento. When they called they found out that the Capitols don’t take reservations, so they were referred to Amtrak. Amtrak does not sell group rates on the Capitols either, only on the Surfliner and San Joaquin corridor trains, and so booked them on the Zephyr. Think about that. The group boarded the last car on the train, a Coach, (pictured below, departing Davis 15 minutes late) and rode 14 miles on a long distance train. That tied up at least 50 seats that could not be sold to travelers going longer distances from the Bay Area. Kind of a waste, isn’t it? The kids no doubt enjoyed the ride, but there was no time for them to visit the Snack bar, so Amtrak lost that revenue, too. Had the group boarded a Capitol, they would have been spread out over all the available seats and not able to sit as a group.

    A comment from a reader of this item: “I read with great interest your story on railpac.org about the group that rode the CZ one stop because they couldn’t secure a group rate on the Capitols. Capitol Corridor maintains an active group ticketing program — see http://www.capitolcorridor.org/fares_and_tickets/group_travel.php complete with its own dedicated e-mail address: groupdesk@capitolcorridor.org .”

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    Reports

    Coast Rail Coordinating Council meeting report

    Reported by Bruce Jenkins, RailPAC Director

    February 23, 2007
    Inn at Spanish Bay, Monterey
    The primary interest of this group is establishing the Coast Daylight train, which will run from downtown San Francisco to Los Angeles.

    The main thrust of this meeting was a comprehensive report by Bill Bronte, Chief of Caltrans Division of Rail (DoR), explaining the posture of the situation in Sacramento concerning transportation funds:
    Caltrans will propose to the Calif. Transportation Commission (CTC) that $20 to 25M be authorized for capital improvements for the Coast Daylight service and $150M for equipment (cars only). A substantial order for cars is required in order for a manufacturer to start up a line. Locomotives are relatively available and run about $2.5M. However, the Dept of Finance did not provide appropriation authority for STIP augmentation. There is a 4 year lead time on the procurement of rolling stock. DoR is working with stakeholders to give Caltrans appropriation authority to allow continuous procurement process, recognizing that cash will not flow for another year. The Governor’s office is metering the Prop 1a-1b Bond funds and the overall method of distribution of those $$ by Sacramento has changed. The Coast Daylight Program has very good support of upper management in Caltrans. Capital funds are likely to be released soon.

    Paul Dyson, RailPAC’s President suggested that a review of Surfliner service be made and that a reduction of Surfliner trains would free up a train set and could be used for an “earlier” start up of the Daylight, rather than wait 5 years for new cars. Agreed, this is not the best outcome, but if Metrolink and Coaster schedules were adjusted to cover the gaps it would be acceptable at the same time reducing overall train count in the
    LOSSAN corridor and would improve on time performance. Mr. Bronte replied that “we don’t want to cut service anywhere” and offered that “within the $25M (requested above) we could refurbish some equipment in Beach Grove that is on wreck status and do a long term capitalization lease to get that in process”.

    Track access negotiations for the Coast Daylight with the Union Pacific will start as soon as funds are released. The capacity model has to be updated, however. Much of the model is still applicable, so it is estimated that it may only cost approximately $5K.

    Mr. Bronte reported the operating budget for all three rail corridors, the Surfliner, the Capitol Corridor, and the San Joaquins, will be increased by $6.2M for rolling stock repair and fuel etc. This is the first increase in many years.

    Bronte will be assigning one of his staff to be Coast Corridor Project Manager, working with all agencies and stake holders.

    There is overwhelming support for the Daylight train, shown by resolutions from agencies and cities between San Francisco and Los Angeles. RailPAC President Paul Dyson reported that Burbank and Glendale just passed their resolutions, and RailPAC Vice Pres. North Art Lloyd reported that the TransBay Terminal JPA passed their resolution of support.

    The very much missed Eric Schatmeier’s Marketing position at Caltrans will be filled by Katy Peterson, who comes from The Caltrans Directors Office. Mr. Bronte will be introducing her at the various future corridor meetings .

    It was moved and carried that a letter will be sent to oppose the “elimination of spill over funds” for transit.

    Reports

    RailPAC Alert: Ridership Report for Amtrak California Trains

    RailPAC Alert: Ridership Report for Amtrak California Trains

    FROM Capitol Corridor Manager Eugene K. Skoropowski

    We just received the January 2007 ridership and revenue numbers from
    Amtrak. I am still in shock.

    On January 22, Union Pacific started a major track project. On January 17,
    to accommodate this trackwork, we temporarily suspended 8 of our 32 weekday trains. The on-time performance of service in January was a lackluster, at 71.6% (and worse at the end of the month than at the beginning)……. go figure.
    It is a scary thought at what the ridership will be when the
    trackwork is done at the end of February, and the on-time reliability gets
    back up to the 90% level……. we will be desperate for added coaches on
    at least 4 of our eight trainsets. Our capacity growth from hereon out
    will be primarily in longer trains, not more trains.

    Adding 2 coaches to each set of rolling stock (8 sets) equals a 60%
    increase in capacity. Clearly, our efforts need to be on more coaches.

    Summary of January ridership and ticket revenue results:

    Capitol Corridor:
    · 114,588 passengers +14.3% vs. FY06 and a record for the month
    · $1,337,960 ticket revenue +20.6% vs. FY06

    Note: While we do not have final numbers, the revenue-to-cost ratio is
    well above last year’s record high (46%), and this year will likely be
    50% or better.

    Remember, we were at 29.8% recovery just before the
    CCJPA entered into its first Amtrak agreement starting October 1, 1998,
    with only 8 daily trains on the line. Also, since we started the 32
    train weekday schedule/22 trains on weekend days in late summer, our
    October, November and December were each up 10% in passengers and an average of 19% in revenue.

    January makes 4 straight months of record
    growth in both ridership and revenue.

    Pacific Surfliner:
    · 189,098 passengers +2.6% vs. FY06 and a record for the month
    · $2,956,144 ticket revenue +4.5% vs. FY06

    San Joaquins:
    · 51,925 passengers -4.5% vs. FY06
    · $1,704,390 ticket revenue +2.9% vs. FY06

    Ridership on the Capitol Corridor and San Joaquins was likely impacted this
    month by planned track work on the UP and BNSF.

    Eugene K. Skoropowski
    Managing Director
    Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority