Editorials

How My Train Was 90 Minutes Late, Yet I still Got Home On Time

Even the best plans can get derailed. I planned to catch a mid-afternoon train out of Oceanside on a recent Friday to see a friend and his wife off who were taking the Sunset to travel home after a California vacation. The plan was they would meet me at LAUS when I got off the train and we would wait for the Sunset at the First Class Lounge at Union Station since they had a sleeper as usual. Things started off well enough.I planned to take Metrolink Train 609 at 3:26 PM from Oceanside to Los Angeles arriving at 5:35 PM.I got to the Oceanside station a good 10 minutes before departure time. But the ticket machine by the platforms had a long line of people trying to buy Metrolink tickets. I went over to the ticket machine by the Amtrak ticket office. This ticket machine was also working and the line was shorter. But it was still taking about 10 minutes to wait in line and buy a ticket. I didn’t want stay to buy my ticket and run to the platform and hope to catch my train before it left. I ended up just before 3:26 PM buying a round trip ticket at the nearby Amtrak ticket office for the next Surfliner to Los Angeles.

Surfliner 583 leaves Oceanside at 3:41 PM, only 15 minutes after Metrolink 609. It is scheduled to arrive at Los Angeles at 5:40 PM only 5 minutes after Metrolink 609 arrived . Several of the people who were waiting to buy Metrolink tickets for the 609 missed their train. The afternoon schedule at Oceanside for Metrolink doesn’t make a lot of sense. The last morning Metrolink train out of Oceanside leaves for Riverside at 7:37 AM. The first afternoon Metrolink train, the 641 leaves Oceanside at 3:01 PM for Fullerton. Just 25 minutes after that, Metrolink 609 leaves Oceanside for Los Angeles. The next and last train, the 812 out of Oceanside when it leaves on time is at 4:27 PM for San Bernardino. That’s 3 trains in less than 90 minutes and then nothing again until the next morning. The 3:01 departure of the 641 connects at Laguna Niguel/ Mission Viejo with train 808 to San Bernardino. The 609 can connect with the 810 to San Bernardino with a 35 minute wait. But the 812 out of Oceanside doesn’t connect with any trains in Orange County going to Anaheim or Los Angeles.It seems odd to have so little service most of the day and then 3 trains so close together.

The trip on Amtak was a pleasant surprise. The 583 was almost 5 minutes early arriving in Oceanside. The train was clean, comfortable and the ride was smooth. The only problem was when the train got to the junction just outside of the Fullerton Station to the BNSF Southern Transcon mainline, We had to wait several minutes for a long container train headed east. This is not an isolated experience. It is not uncommon for passenger trains to be held at this junction because of freight trains. Freight trains are usually on the center track of the 3 tracks at Fullerton. Northbound passenger trains usually run on the east track and southbound passenger trains on west track at Fullerton. When a freight train is on the center track, this blocks northbound trains from crossing the center track to the east track. The solution to this which has been proposed since the 1980’s is to build a flyover to allow northbound trains to go over or under the center track and reach the east track. This will be needed as more and longer freight trains are run by the BNSF. This will be particularly true when High Speed Rail trains are running between Anaheim and Los Angeles in the next 14 years or so.

Because of the delay at Fullerton, we were 4 minutes late getting into Los Angeles Union Station. I was hoping to meet my friends as I got off the train. But I wasn’t surprised they weren’t there because they were driving a rental car going south to Los Angeles. This Friday the I-5 was shut down because of mudslides after a flash flood in northern Los Angeles County. All traffic from the I-5 was being detoured to the 101 along the coast. Traffic was terrible and my main concern for my friends was they might not reach Union Station on time to catch the Sunset that night.

I spent the first few hours walking or standing in the Station hoping my friends would find me. At 6 foot 3 and well over 200 pounds I usually stand out in a crowd. I could have caught the Surfliner 790 out of LAUS at 7:30 PM. But I decided to wait for the last train, the 796 leaving at 10:10 PM. I later learned that my friends arrived at Union Station a little after 6 PM and looked for me, but we missed each other. They then settled into the First Class Amtrak Lounge and sent me an email inviting me to come over and see them. I never got this email on my phone, but found it the next morning on my computer. One thing I noticed spending an evening at Union Station was how busy it was, even at night. With each train arrival there would be a new stream of people entering the waiting room. Plus there were people waiting for the trains leaving that night. Being a Sunset train departure night no doubt made this Friday night busier than non Sunset train nights. This activity made the wait more interesting. I was also watching the Arrival and Departure displays in the Waiting Room. Despite all the delays that day and night on the freeway, the Coast Starlight arrived early that night. But I couldn’t help noticing the train I was waiting for, the 796 was running late and getting later for its arrival in Los Angeles before proceeding to Oceanside and San Diego.

Sometime after 9 PM I finally decided to try to call my friends to find out what happened to them.I was afraid they were still stuck in traffic and might miss the Sunset. But I didn’t get an answer. By this time the 796 was about 90 minutes late. So it was looking like I would get home even later than I expected. Around 9:45 PM there was an announcement on the station PA which I didn’t catch the start of. But it was a departure notice for a train going to Oceanside and San Diego. But the Arrival and Departure Boards at the station didn’t confirm this. But I decided to find out what was going on. I walked down the length of the tunnel and didn’t see much. As I walked back towards the waiting room I noticed a group of people at the top of the ramp for platform 9B which was the platform for the 796. When I got up to the top of the platform there were plenty of people on the platform and a Surfliner trainset with all the doors closed and no one inside.

This had to be a fresh trainset pulled from the yard to carry passengers just from Los Angeles and San Diego. No doubt they annulled the 796 from Santa Barbara at Los Angeles and bused the passengers headed south of Los Angeles. After we left I remembered that this coming weekend the railroad south of Oceanside would be closed mostly for bridge repair and replacement work in San Diego County. If the 796 was late this night, it might not get to San Diego before the railroad was shut down. This would mean Amtrak would be a trainset short Monday Morning! It seemed like an eternity waiting for the crew to open the train doors to start boarding. While I was waiting for the doors to open I got a call back from my friends. He and his wife where settled in their sleeper. He told me a little about the problems getting to Los Angeles and trying to communicate with me. Before the Sunset departed at 10:00 PM I was finally able to board the 796. We left on time at 10:10 PM and I got to Oceanside on time just before midnight.

Editorials

What will the Passenger Trains of the Future be like?

There are major changes coming in the near future to transportation, and this will impact rail passenger service as well. All forms of transportation are under pressure to save money, be more energy efficient and run more cleanly. Autos, truck and bus builders are looking for solutions to these problems. We may find that the solutions these other forms of transportation use could have an impact to the railroads much like when GM introduced the diesel locomotive in the 1930’s.

An example of what is coming is from a start up electric bus company named Proterra . It has built a prototype electric bus with enough range to run an entire day in service on a single charge. A major factor for this range is the fact that the bus is built largely with carbon fiber instead of steel. Carbon fiber is much stronger than steel, lighter than aluminum and doesn’t rust. Because of its costs its use has been limited largely to military aircraft and race cars. However as production increases which brings economies of scale, the price of carbon fiber is coming down. Carbon itself is one of the most common elements in the universe. The automaker BMW has built the world’s largest carbon fiber factory in South Carolina for use in its cars. BMW in now selling a lightweight electric car built with carbon fiber. BMW has announced that in the next 10 years it will phase out all of its gasoline engine cars and build only hybrids and electric cars.

Electric batteries continue to become lighter, hold more energy and cheaper. In 2013 the International Energy Agency (IEA) predicted that for electric cars to be cost competitive with gasoline cars, the cost of the battery on a kilowatt per hour (kWh) basis would have to be no more than $300 per kWh. The IEA predicted that this would happen around 2020. In 2013 the cost of an electric car battery came in at about $500 per kWh. General Motors’ new electric car, the Bolt going on sale in the 2017 model year will have a 200 mile range on a single charge and cost around $35,000. General Motors recently announced that the price of building its battery will cost $145 per kWh in 2017. By 2022 the price for it’s battery is expected to drop to $100 kWh.

Along with cars using less energy by using electricity to travel the same distance than using traditional fuels, the cost of using renewable energy to make electricity continues to go down. The electric utilities are making plans to expand their market by encouraging more customers to drive electric cars. By 2020 we could see a major turn around beginning in the auto and truck markets and declining use of fuels. Trucking companies are also under pressure to save money and reduce emissions. To do this prototype trucks funded by Walmart with much better aerodynamics and hybrid power are being tested. Such efforts have reduced fuel consumption by half for big rig trucks. This has included hybrid turbine electric powertrain. Turbine engines are very efficient run at a constant speed, They are also very clean and produce fewer emissions than diesel engines. Combined with batteries the turbine can keep the batteries charged and gives future trucks long range and excellent fuel economy.

So how could this effect future rail passenger equipment? We could see more MU trains built with strong light weight carbon fiber bodies, run with electric batteries. As a MU the batteries could be spread out on all of the cars along with powered trucks on each car. With lighter weight and improved traction such a train would have excellent acceleration and hill climbing ability. This means shorter running times. Such trains could also have pantographs. This would allow trains to use electrified segments of railroads to save battery power and to use electrified segments to accelerate which has the greatest power consumption for a train. This would allow trains to operated on heavily used main lines under catenary, but continue service on branch lines where it isn’t economical to electrify. Money can be saved by not electrifying entire railroads which can be expensive This would insure that the battery powered trains don’t run low on power. This not only save money on catenary, but avoids complaints from residents of building catenary in their neighborhoods.

So what about the locomotive of the future, for both passenger and freight trains? As battery cost continue to decline, it will become more economical to use batteries than a diesel engine. This is particularly true as the energy density of batteries improve. A battery powered locomotive would have lower operating costs and lower maintenance costs was well. How would an electric locomotive get charged on a long trip? One way would be to have short segments of catenary to allow trains to charge on the go. The best places for this would be at steep grades and where trains are most likely to accelerate. One major advantage of using batteries is that they can be charged using power from regenerating braking on the trains.

In some cases it might be better to use hybrid locomotives. This too can use turbine engines which burn very cleanly and efficiently to keep the batteries charged on locomotives. What fuels can we use to get the cleanest running with a turbine? Fuels made from algae, often called pond scum, have been used and proven to work running diesel and turbine engines. The problem so far is these experimental fuels cost more than conventional fuels. Progress is being made to lower the cost of algae fuels, so it may only be a matter of time before we see much greater use of these fuel. We may first see blends of both algae and conventional fuels. This would create a much cleaner burning fuel. Algae may replace ethanol in fuel as a better alternative to reduce emissions. This is particularly needed in the short run for diesel fuel.

What we can look forward too in the future on trains, is even cleaner, more economical and more reliable passenger and freight trains in the next 5 to 10 years.

Issues

PTC: “It ain’t over till it’s over”

Written by William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief, Railway Age

The House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee has released H.R. 3763, the Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2015, commonly referred to as the “highway bill.” Buried deep within the document (p. 504) is language with provisions to extend the PTC deadline to Dec. 31, 2018, with up to 24 months of additional extensions granted by the FRA on a case-by-case basis.

Read more.

Editorials

San Diego County Trains have connections

San Diego County has 3 intra-county rail passenger services. There is the Sprinter, a 22 mile DMU service between Oceanside and Escondido. There is also the Coaster, the 40 mile locomotive hauled commuter service between Oceanside and downtown San Diego. And the oldest service since 1981, the San Diego Trolley, has 53 miles of Light Rail with three lines, the Blue, Orange and Green lines serving the greater San Diego Metro area. To a great degree all of these services connect to each other and to many of the transit buses in the region which share transit centers at the train station. San Diego a good model for the rest of California and the Country.

The newest service is the Sprinter, running since 2008. When it opened, North County Transit also revamped most of its bus schedules to connect to the Sprinter. In some cases bus lines where shortened or rerouted to allow faster service by transferring to the Sprinter. Most of the riders on the Sprinter transfer either to or from buses. The parking lots at the Sprinter stations still have plenty of rooms for more cars. The Sprinter has a memory schedule, something which is common in other countries such as Switzerland. Trains run every half hour in each direction stopping at each 15 stations at the same minute after the hour. An example of the bus connections to the Sprinter can be found at the Escondido Transit Center which is a terminus for the Sprinter. At the top and bottom of the hour, shortly after the Sprinter arrives can be seen a line of buses that connect to the Sprinter leaving the transit center in a line to their different destinations.

Also at the Escondido Transit Center is the MTS Rapid Bus 235 which was introduced last summer which run mostly on I-15 between Escondido and downtown San Diego. The 235 bus stop in Escondido is right next to the Sprinter Platform.The 235 and the Sprinter’s schedules allow the 235 to connect to all of the Sprinters. There are more frequent 235 buses than the Sprinter: the 235 runs every 15 minutes during rush hours and later at night than the Sprinter. Both services get quite a few passengers transferring between each other. The 235 stops only at transit centers next to the I-15 until it enters downtown San Diego. In the past most freeway bus services rarely did well because freeways are not near where bus riders need to go and there were few stations along a freeway. Ridership on the 235 is doing very well. This is largely due to good connections at the I-15 transit centers to local buses. Many of these connections are timed connections so usually there is a short wait to transfer between buses and trains. The 235 also connects to the Trolley Blue and Orange Lines at the City College Trolley Station in downtown San Diego and the Green line at the Santa Fe Depot also downtown.

The Coaster has been running since 1995. It is primarily a commuter service with most trains running during rush hours so it doesn’t have a memory schedule. But it does stop at stations which are all transit centers served by several bus lines. The Coaster also connects to the Trolley’s Green Line at the Old Town Station and the Orange and Blue Lines at the downtown Santa Fe Depot. The Sprinter also connects to the Coaster at Oceanside.

The oldest local San Diego rail service is the San Diego Trolley. From the start of the second Trolley Line in 1986, the Orange Line has had cross platform connections from it to the Blue Line at the 12th and Imperial Trolley Station at the edge of downtown San Diego. Originally they were timed to allow passengers on the Orange Line to transfer to the Blue Line for trips going south towards San Ysidro by the Mexican Border. Now that the Blue Lines runs every 7,5 minutes the trains are adjusted to give passengers  3-4 minutes for a smooth transfer. The same is also true for the Green Line connections to the Blue Line at 12th and Imperial.

There is also a connection between the Green and Orange Lines at the Grossmont Shopping Center Station in El Cajon.  There is also a connection in the reverse direction from downtown San Diego on the Orange Line to the west bound Green Line. Both these connections are timed so the trains arrive at the stations at about the same time. In most cases there is time for passengers to transfer. If one train is significantly late the passenger take the next trains which runs every 15 minutes most of the day.

When the San Diego Trolley first opened in 1981, there were questions about plans to extend and terminate the original service at the Santa Fe Depot. There were complaints that doing so was a waste of money and it wouldn’t handle much ridership. By 1981 there were 7 round trip San Diegan trains between San Diego and Los Angeles carrying over a million passengers a year. Shortly after the Trolley began service, the Santa Fe Depot became one of the busiest stations for the Trolley

At a time when many transit services are seeing declining ridership, the MTS, the operator of the Trolley and most of the buses in San Diego celebrated record ridership. There is still room for improvement in San Diego County. The Sprinter and Coaster trains often don’t connect directly with each other. The same is true for the Sprinter with the Metrolink trains at Oceanside. Also there is almost no connections between Metrolink and Coaster trains in Oceanside. But all in all there is much to learn about connecting services in San Diego County. The first Transit center was built in Oceanside in 1984. This was the first intermodal station built as such in California if not the nation to connect several transit bus lines, intercity bus lines, and rail service in one location for easy transfers between modes. San Diego County has long been a leader in connections.

Editorials

How Metrolink can get more Passengers on their Trains

Metrolink ridership has been in a slump for several years. Efforts are being made to boost ridership with discounted tickets. Metrolink though needs to increase revenues too, not just to get higher passenger totals. Are there any models to copy that Metrolink can use to increase ridership as well as revenues? Of course there are. And you can find them here in California, with local passenger trains such as the Pacific Surfliner, San Joaquin and Capitol Corridor. One of the problems that has held ridership back, is many of the people hired to manage Metrolink used traditional East Coast Commuter Rail service as their model for Metrolink. This model doesn’t apply to regions that have seen most of its growth after World War II. Even Back East travel patterns are not dominated with people going to work downtown. In Los Angeles the number of commuters to downtown is falling. Downtown Los Angeles is now becoming a hot spot for new housing: both for people who work downtown and people commuting from downtown.

So where to start? Let’s look first at the Surfliners. Going back to the 70’s the train then was called the San Diegan. Under the Santa Fe it was primarily a feeder to the Super Chief going between Los Angeles to Chicago. In 1975 Amtrak was running 3 daily round trips on the San Diegans between Los Angeles and San Diego. At this time the State of California started financially supporting the San Diegans. Amtrak at this time also replaced the old equipment handed down from the railroads with new more reliable F-40 Locomotives and Amfleet cars. Around 1976 the State of California through Caltrans supported the start up of a 4th round trip. By 1979 there were 6 round trips between Los Angeles and San Diego. Ridership grew by over 300 percent from around 300,000 passenger annually with 3 round trips to over a million annually with 6 round trips.

In 1987 after years of resistance from the Southern Pacific Railroad, California and Amtrak were finally able to extend one round trip of the 7 San Diegans from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara. Overnight this became the train with both the highest ridership and passenger revenues. Today we have 5 Surfliner trains from Santa Barbara to San Diego and 4 from San Diego to Santa Barbara. Mixed in this is one train from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo. One of the 4 daily trains to Santa Barbara is a round trip train between San Diego and San Luis Obispo. This single round trip has the highest ridership and produces the most revenue of the Pacific Surliner trains.This Thanksgiving Amtrak will run a second round trip between San Diego and San Luis Obispo with the equipment coming down the night before as an extra train in revenue service from Los Angeles. The train will depart San Diego at 4:40 AM. This will be repeated on Monday of the Thanksgiving Weekend. If this proves successful, this might be made a permanent service bringing the number of round trips between Los Angeles and San Diego up from 11 to 12, the number of round trips between San Diego and Santa Barbara from 4 to 5 and between San Diego and San Luis Obispo to 2. With the Coast Starlight will be a third round trip between Los Angeles and San Luis Obispo, with connections to San Diego.

When the San Joaquin Trains first ran under Amtrak, it was as a single round trip. Ridership wasn’t great and around 1979 it was being considered for abandonment by Amtrak. The State of California stepped in, with Caltrans managing the service. What was done was a major overhaul of the schedule. Instead of one round trip, there were now 2. Trains left Bakersfield and Oakland in the morning and left again in the evening. Connecting bus service was also added to serve more markets. Today there are 4 round trips from Bakersfield to Oakland and 2 to Sacramento. Half of the passengers ride connecting buses on the San Joaquin trains to Southern California, San Francisco, Sacramento and other places. Many passengers also transfer to other buses to get their final destination. Sacramento is a major bus hub for San Joaquin passengers.

The Capitol Corridor started in late 1991 with 3 round trips between San Jose and Sacramento. Today the Capitol Corridor has 15 round trip trains during the week with 7 round trips between San Jose and Sacramento and 8 round trips between Oakland and Sacramento. One round trip northeast of Sacramento to and from Auburn to Oakland is part of the 8 round trips between Oakland and Sacramento. Since 1991 ridership on the Capitol Corridor has more than tripled. Also the Capitol Corridor is served with connecting bus service to San Francisco, Truckee, Eureka, South Lake Tahoe, Redding, Santa Cruz, Salinas and the many points in between. What is also notable about the Capitol Corridor is they have a policy of spending money to maintain the tracks the trains run on to a higher standard than needed for current speeds. The result of this is on-time performance is usually over 90%. This was done as running times and station dwell times were reduced allowing for faster service. Efforts are also made to insure that the cars and locomotives are in good mechanical shape and run trouble free.

So, what are the lessons from this for Metrolink? First run more frequent trains. Rail service is of no use if there isn’t service when a person wants or needs to travel. The more frequent the service, the more likely people will be able to travel by train. The second lesson is to extend routes. Longer routes means more stations which gives more places for more people to travel by train. Also this means more and longer trips. Since ticketing is generally based on distance, longer distance travel means more ticket revenue. The third lesson is connections: both between trains and with buses. Connecting bus service feeds a substantial number of riders and opens additional markets to the Surfliners, San Joaquins and Capitol Corridor. Buses are also used to serve the same stations as the trains providing additional service when it isn’t possible to run trains. For example there are buses that serve stations along the coast between San Luis Obispo and Los Angeles which transfers passengers to trains headed for San Diego. People can ride the bus part of the way on one leg and take the train the whole way on another leg, giving additional frequencies for traveler. These buses operate at a profit and are not subsidized. Fourth, reliable service and shorter running times are a major draw for attracting new ridership.

What is the most important lesson Metrolink, or any commuter rail service can learn from these California trains? That would be to stop thinking your only purpose is to carry passengers to and from work. That is only one market of many. People travel for many reasons. Many people travel for fun. Running trains without connections to more markets or concentrating your service only during rush hours limits the number of travel markets you serve. If we look at the busiest month for travel on the Surfliners, it is in August. Why? In part it is because more people are on vacation in August than most months and more likely to be traveling. August is also during the Racing Season at Del Mar Race Track, and since 1937 people have been riding the train to the races. If we look at the busiest travel times for Amtrak in general, it is during holidays. Metrolink and most commuter railroads normally run limited or no service on holidays and weekends.Thanksgiving is the busiest travel week by cars, planes and Amtrak trains. But there is usually no service on Metrolink.

Events, Issues

HSR at Burbank City Council meeting – 10/27/15 6 PM

Tuesday, October 26 at 6.00 pm there will be a joint meeting of Burbank City Council and the City Transportation Commission.  High Speed Rail is the first topic and the meeting is sure to attract opponents from neighboring communities.
RailPAC members are encouraged to attend to show support for the project.  As Chair of the Transportation Commission I’ll be making a presentation.  I’ll also be staying for public comment to counter some opposition arguments.
City Hall is walking distance from the downtown Metrolink station and on many Metro bus routes.  Please try and attend.
Editorials

What does the National Transportation Safety Board know that we don’t?

Almost 8 months after the Metrolink accident at Oxnard this year, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) asked Metrolink to stop using the Rotem Cab Cars to operate trains in push mode. These cab cars can still be used in passenger service, but leased BNSF freight locomotives will be coupled to the cab cars and and used to operate the trains in what would have been push mode. So far the NTSB has not publicly given the reason for this decision. The most likely problem would be with the Pilot, which on locomotives and cab cars is the plow at the front which is used to push away debris off the tracks to prevent derailments. It appears that a major problem during the February 24th crash in Oxnard may have been from debris from the crash with a large pickup truck and trailer on the tracks. It is likely that debris got under the wheels of the leading Cab Car at speed causing the Cab Car to derail. This resulted in the Cab Car going out of control, uncoupling from the rest of the train, spinning 180 degrees and rolling over on its side.

There are other issues to address from this accident besides the Cab Car and its Pilot. Having the train uncouple is unusual and made this accident worse. We are not sure what caused the injures to the trains’s operator which lead a week after the accident to his death. The most likely cause was from blunt force trauma as the Cab Car was spinning and rolling around, causing the operator to be thrown around in the operator’s cab. What would have likely saved this man’s life would have been seat belts in the Cab Car. This would have restrained him and prevented him from colliding with the hard metal surfaces of the Cab.

There are plenty of things than can and should be done to make the railroad right of way safer. Mounting cameras and sensors, particularly at grade crossing where most accidents occur can give advanced warning of problems to dispatchers and operators. Cameras and sensors can be used to warn of either trespassers or objects on the tracks. This might be also be done using flying drones to patrol railroad rights of way. The freight railroads are already using drones to patrol some of their rights of way to find track problems and repair them before they can cause a derailment.

What seems to be needed is more research into the effectiveness of the Pilot on the Rotem Cab Cars in clearing debris off of the track and not letting debris getting under the train. Also more research may be needed to improve the effectiveness of Pilots in general in keeping the tracks clear. Derailments per se are not the problem. Derailments are a safely feature as long as the trains remains coupled and upright and is valuable when there is a problem on the tracks by rapidly stopping trains with minimal damage or injuries.What is the problem is when trains go out of control in a derailment. More work on preventing out of control derailments is needed.

As tragic as the death and handful of serious injuries from the Oxnard crash are, the far greater problem and leading cause of death on the railroads is from cars and people, being on the tracks when trains arrive. In many cases these deaths are suicides. Media coverage of the February Metrolink crash was immediate and world wide, in large part because from the wreckage it was assumed that many people had been killed instantly. What was amazing was how few major injuries there were in this accident. It didn’t take long for the Media to drop this story with so few major injuries.

But almost every day there is as least one fatal grade crossing accident in this Country. This adds up to hundreds every year. These accidents and suicides affect the people who are injured or die and their love ones at these grade crossings. These accidents affects the local traffic tied up from these accidents. And it affects the passengers on the trains, not only on the train involved in the accidents, but also passengers on trains delayed because of tracks blocked by accidents and the need to wait for the coroner to release the body and the trains from the accident site.

There is no single solution to stopping grade crossing accidents. Running locomotives on both ends of a passenger trains won’t stop these crashes from happening in the first place. It will require many improvements to make it harder for people to get on the tracks and vehicles to be in a crossing when a train is coming. Many of these crashes can be prevented with advanced warning to stop the train. More still needs to be done to educate people of the dangers of being at a crossing when a train s coming. More is needed to prevent suicides and identify suicidal behavior.

Editorials

Some Future Rail Connections to LAX and West LA.

Since 1995 the closest (about 2 miles) LAX has been to rail service is the Green Line Station at Aviation Blvd and Imperial Highway. That will change in 2022 when there will be a joint Crenshaw/LAX and Green Lines Station with connections to the LAX People Mover which will be a mile closer to the LAX Terminals.Instead of a 2 mile bus ride mixed in heavy airport traffic, the People Mover will run straight to the airport. There will be moving sidewalks to help connect passengers to the terminals from the 3 People Mover terminal stations. The Crenshaw/LAX Line will be running by 2019. The new station that the Green and Crenshaw/LAX lines will share at Century Blvd. will likely have shuttle bus service to the airport until the opening of the joint Metrorail/People mover station is ready by 2022.

How big of an impact will this new LAX rail service have at the airport? It won’t offer direct service to downtown Los Angeles. Many of the people who fly out of LAX live and or work along the coast near the 405 freeway. There is little in the way of connections by rail to this corridor. The 405 freeway (as well as the 105) is often congested around LAX. Much more is needed to carry passengers to LAX with rail than the combined Green and Crenshaw/LAX light rail lines.

Ideally the Green Line should be connected to the Blue Line for direct service to downtown Los Angeles and Union Station. The same is true for the Crenshaw/LAX Line to the Expo Line to West LA and San Monica. Building such connections now won’t be cheap. Also adding more trains, particularly on the Blue Line will be difficult. Both the Blue and Expo Lines have many grade crossings that limit the number of trains it can run without disrupting road traffic. Extensive grade separation would allow many more trains from 2 lines to run on theses routes. What is also needed is rail transit on the 405 corridor between Van Nuys and LAX to link with the Green Line, Crenshaw/LAX, Expo, extended Purple Line at Westwood, the Orange Line Busway (which needs to be rebuilt for rail) and the Van Nuys Amtrak/Metrolink Station.

Ideally the Green Line should be extended 2 miles east to the Metrolink Norwalk/Santa Fe Springs Station. This station is a strong candidate for a future High Speed Rail station as HSR is extended to Anaheim by 2029. Norwalk is closer for passengers from Orange and Riverside Counties to LAX and much of West Los Angeles than connecting at Los Angeles Union Station. As of now for a Metrolink passenger trying to get from Norwalk to LAX they must first transfer to a Norwalk Transit bus (which accepts Metrolink tickets as a transfer) to the Norwalk Green Line terminal This can easily take 40 to 50 minutes since the bus schedules are not timed to meet with the trains. Once on the Green Line it is another 30 minutes to the Aviation Green Line station for a transfer to a shuttle bus to the terminals. It takes well over an hour now to get from Metrolink at Norwalk/ Santa Fe Springs to LAX. Needless to say not many people ride Metrolink to get to LAX. But there is a simple way to improve on this and increase Metrolink ridership.

A shuttle bus can quickly and for little capital expense be run between Metrolink and the LAX area using the HOV lanes on the 105 freeway. The buses can be scheduled to be standing by for each train to carry passengers west. and bring them east on their return trip. Adding a few stops along the way will increase ridership for these buses. Such stops could be for connections to the Green Line as well as the Blue Line at the Willowbrook/Rosa Park station, to the Sliver Line Rapid Bus on the Harbor Freeway HOV lanes and at the Green Line station at Aviation. For connections to the terminals this bus service could go to the LAX City Bus Center which has shuttle bus service and is closer to the terminals than the bus shuttle at the Aviation Green Line station. This bus could also be extended to connect with the Expo Line at Culver City and even Westwood and UCLA.

Most express services have trouble gaining ridership because they serve too few markets. This was one of the problems with the short lived Flyway bus at the Irvine Transportation Center which went directly to the LAX terminals. There were limited frequencies for this service and the bus only went to LAX. That is understandable considering the service was funded by the airport. If ridership supports it, it would be possible to run limited and all stop buses for people just going to the terminals and other going to the Westside. But first we need to start with a decent connecting service.There is no way to know when if ever the Green Line will be extended to Metrolink. Bus service can be in place long before such an extension is built. By 2022 these buses can serve the joint Metrorail/LAX People Mover station for passengers headed to LAX’s terminals.

Just this starter bus connection to the LAX area and Westside LA will increase ridership for Metrolink and the transit services these buses will connect to. The existing connections at the Norwalk/Santa Fe Springs station are too slow and inconvenient for most people to bother with. Connecting bus services will open new, underserved markets for Metrolink. The LAX connecting bus can be a prototype for more connections for Metrolink. Bus service from the San Fernando Valley to Westwood and LAX are also worth looking into. Metrolink bus connections from Riverside to Palm Springs, additional service on the Venture Metrolink Line, connecting buses to San Diego County to Metrolink trains terminating in southern Orange County are just some of the possibilities.There are many markets underserved by rail than can be with decent bus connections.

Editorials

Notes on last Monday’s LOSSAN Board Meeting in San Diego

I rarely have a chance to attend the meetings on rail service to keep up with what is happening. I hadn’t given any thought about attending the recent LOSSAN Joint Powers Authority (JPA) Board Meeting at the SANDAG headquarters,until I figured I could take the Rapid Bus on the I-15 to it and still get back to work on time. Could I have taken the Coaster? Yes to get to the meeting on time. But no If I wanted to get to work on time and home after work. No Coaster trains were running in the late morning for me. I got up before 6 AM and left the house by 7:15 AM. What is normally a 45 minute drive from Oceanside to Rancho Bernardo took at least 70 minutes that morning. I am so happy to work in the afternoons and evenings and usually miss that kind of traffic.

I missed the bus I planned to take. But the next one was only 15 minutes behind it and I got dropped off only 2 short blocks from the SANDAG offices where the meeting was being held. No parking problems for me downtown. The building had new controls for the elevators. You pressed the button outside of the elevator for your floor, and an elevator would open and take you directly to your floor. Much faster than your normal elevator ride. Reminds me of plans for people movers which would work like an elevator but skip intermediate stops to speed up trips. Back in the 20th century though these systems never seems to work.

I got in before the meeting started just after 9:30 AM. I noticed many new board members had replaced some of the old board members.The problem with that is the new board members have a lot to learn about Rail Passenger service to get up to speed on their job. RailPAC President Paul Dyson gave a public comment at the start of the meeting. He announced the December 5th RailPAC meeting and that we’ll have Amtrak Board member Yvonne Burke and a senior representive from the California High Speed Rail Authority. Much of the meeting like most public meetings was boring and hard to hear. There were no major votes, mostly informational items. An early subject was an update on the final handover of management of the Surfuliners from Caltrans to the LOSSAN JPA.

The next business item was the Surfliner Marketing update. Micheal Litschi of the JPA staff went on about branding and name recognition about Amtrak and Surfliners. The JPA is suppose to hire a marketing manager soon. So I don’t understand why they didn’t wait to let the expert do their job? I felt the JPA staff was getting marketing for rail service all wrong. Most public transportation agencies do. Marketing isn’t the same as advertising. No rational business spends money on a new product or service; without first doing marketing research to see how much demand there is for a new product or service. Marketing isn’t an exact science and many products flop when introduced. What marketing information that is needed for rail passenger service is: knowing how frequent people want rail service, to which stations, when they want to travel, how fast they want to go, what connections they want and how much they want to pay to travel with what amenities.These things needs to be tested before going whole hog on a major new service and know to improve service and revenue.

It was during this marketing update that one of the new board members pointed out that he got an angry email from a constituent who wanted to travel from Encinitas to Fullerton by train. But he couldn’t because the trains didn’t connect. We have had LOSSAN, Metrolink and Coaster now for over 25 years and we still don’t have real connections and seamless ticketing between them. We have no sweep trains which are what are needed to connect passengers between local and limited stop trains. It is the job of the Board to order staff to work on these projects, not just talk about them. The LOSSAN Board needs to get together with the boards of Coaster and Metrolink to encourage them to to get their staffs working together for better tran connections. This is important as more double tracking is finished, there will be more frequent train service which should make it easier to schedule connections.

The next presentation was by Jay Fountain of Amtrak. He had a lot to talk about. He was saying how Amtrak prepares months in advance for the Thanksgiving Weekend which is their busiest time of the year. During this time all Surfliner trains have reserved seating. Last year they carried almost 70,000 passengers on the Surfliners on Thanksgiving Week. Many different Amtrak departments work on this. I couldn’t believe it but crew scheduling is done in Wilmington, Delaware for the Surfliners. Last year Fountain pulled in extra equipment for the Surfliners on Thanksgiving including extra Horizon Cars and a Superliner Lounge Cafe car. He said people preferred the Superliner car because the food service was on the upper lever where most people walk on the Surfliners. Surflner have their snack service downstairs and people which often walk right past.

This year Fountain is adding 2,000 more seats during the Thanksgiving weekend by running an extra round trip with existing equipment. This will be done by having a train leave San Diego at 4:40 AM for San Luis Obispo. They will do it Thursday and Monday mornings of the Thanksgiving weekend.The equipment will leave Los Angeles at 8:30 PM on Wednesday and Sunday as train 592. It will leave Thursday and Monday morning as train 1761. He plans to greatly increase revenue doing this. Mr. Fountain lives in Fallbrook and commutes to LA on the first Metrolink trains out of Oceanside at 4:37 AM. He said there are plenty of passenger on the trains out of Oceanside that time of the morning. He clearly wants to make this a permanent service. He talked about his new job with the Western Long Distance Trains. He said he will continue to work in LA and will still be in charge of the Surliners. Oh I found out from Fountain’s talk that Metrolink’s camera drone is named Caspar. His presentation includes a few aerial photos from Caspar.

The rest of the meeting was too boring generally to talk about. There was a presentation of the capital projects underway for rail service in San Diego County. It was mostly just material from the SANDAG website and projected on the screens in the Board Room.

At the end RailPAC President Paul Dyson got a chance to talk again. He was saying that the new Positive Train Control for the Surfliners will mean the trains going north or south of LA will have to wait 30 minutes to download the route they are going on next. Paul said there should be a way to put the whole route on the trains and not create a longer layover for through trains.

Editorials

The Growing Red State Rail Passenger Revolution

Politics have long played a major role for Rail Passenger Service in this country. From the start of Amtrak there has been an ongoing political battle over rail passenger service between “Blue States” (with Democratic majorities) and “Red States” (with Republican majorities). The Blue States with more large cities often have short distance trains but with large numbers of passengers. The Red States are generally served more by long distance trains. Often when there are budget battles the long distance trains on Amtrak are held hostage with threats of being abolished if full funding isn’t granted for the short distance trains, particularly in the Northeast. These battles between long distance versus short distance trains produces no winners, only losers for the American traveling public.

Over the years Amtrak has cut back long distance service (but never on the Northeast Corridor) in attempts to save money. This has never worked. On paper the long distance trains seem to lose a great deal of money for Amtrak. This is because trains on Amtrak are charged a share of Amtrak’s overhead by their train miles. Long distance trains get charged a great deal since they travel more miles than short distance trains. The problem is cutting long distance trains does nothing to reduce Amtrak’s overhead. Cutting long distance trains only leaves fewer trains to charge Amtrak’s overhead to. Cutting long distance trains also reduces more revenue than it saves in avoidable costs.

The good news is we are increasingly seeing grass root organizations being formed that have or want long distance passenger train service all around the country. The leaders in these towns understand how vital transportation is to the economic growth and health of their communities. They have often felt the impact of when Amtrak service is disrupted or cut. A good example of this are the local efforts to keep the Empire Builder going between Chicago, Minneapolis, Seattle and Portland. The last 4 years or so have not been good for the Empire Builder. Floods along the route and major rail traffic congestion in large part due to the “oil boom” in North Dakota turned the Empire Builder into the least reliable passenger train in America.

A major problem for the Empire Builder was regular flooding at Devils Lake in North Dakota. Things got so bad that in 2009 the BNSF said if the lake flooded again it would reroute the Empire Builder unless Amtrak paid $100 million dollars to raise the railroad above flood level. This would leave the towns of Rugby, Devils Lake, and Grand Forks without rail passenger service if the line was abandoned. After flooding shut down service around Devils Lake in 2011, BNSF got an agreement with Amtrak and North Dakota that they would each pay a third of the cost of raising the railroad above flood level at Devils Lake. In December 2011, North Dakota was awarded a $10 million TIGER grant from the Federal Government and constructions work began in June of 2012.

At the same time this was happening, freight train congestion hit a peak with a growing economy and the oil train boom which delayed other many trains. With this on-time performance for the Empire Builder was nearly non-existent. This year things have greatly improved. The raising of the tracks around Devils Lake is finished. The BNSF has accelerated its efforts to double track its mainlines in the northern United States and oil train traffic has declined. As far as the Empire Builder is concerned, local efforts were needed to insure it was saved and continued along its historic route.

Much the same play book is now being seen on the Southwest Chief in New Mexico, Colorado and Kansas. With the Chief more than 3 towns are at risk of losing rail passenger service. A couple of years ago the BNSF announced that unless Amtrak paid $100 million to upgrade the tracks on the route of these 3 states that goes over the Raton Pass to passenger trains standards, the Southwest Chief would have to be rerouted. There was hope from other towns along the BNSF mainline east of New Mexico that they may get Amtrak service. The BNSF made it clear that any attempt to reroute the Chief would require about the same amount of outside funding as fixing the route through Raton. Towns along the Raton route have gotten together to find ways to to raise money to fix the tracks and save their rail passenger service. In southern Colorado the city of Pueblo has been a major supporter of the Chief to also reroute it to serve their city. Not long ago this would have been thought impossible given the heavy coal train traffic on the BNSF line through Pueblo. But with the recent and rapid decline of demand for coal, this may not seem unrealistic now. Not all of the money has yet been raised, but the BNSF has stopped talking of ending service through Raton for the Chief.

A different story is playing out along the American coast of the Gulf of Mexico between New Orleans and Orlando. After Hurricane Katrina hit the region 10 years ago the tracks and stations were heavily damaged, At this time service of the tri-weekly Sunset Limited from Los Angeles to Orlando was pulled back to New Orleans. Since then the tracks and stations east of New Orleans have long been repaired but Amtrak has refused to restore service on this long distance Amtrak system train. The leaders on this route have been stepping up their efforts to get rail service restored. Amtrak has been pushing a plan to get the states on the Gulf Coast to pay it a subsidy to run a short distance train between New Orleans and Florida. Service in the region only makes sense if there are connections via New Orleans and Jacksonville to Orlando, the rest of Florida, the Eastern Seaboard, upper Midwest to Chicago and the West Coast. More markets mean more ridership and revenues. That’s what the airlines do.

Here is a quote from Coastal officials want passenger rail service back on track AL.com-Jun 12, 2015 “This isn’t about nostalgia or rail fans, it’s about economic development and it’s about commerce,” said John Robert Smith, chairman of the board with Transportation for America – a non-profit alliance that pushes for grassroots support of progressive transportation policy in the U.S.”It’s about security and evacuation and movement of goods in and out before and after tropical storms and hurricanes,” Smith, a former long-time mayor of Meridian, Miss., added. “It impacts southerner’s lives on many different levels.”

This is from “The Hill ” website for August 28th: A provision in a multiyear transportation bill that was approved in July by the Senate would provide funding for a study of the feasibility of restoring the service, which used to make stops in Alabama and the panhandle of Florida before it headed south to Orlando.

Advocates of restoring the dormant Gulf Coast Amtrak service are hoping to win support for the language in the House when lawmakers return to Washington in September. “The Senate has passed a very good bill that does two things: It creates a $100 million fund for states to access for services which were annulled (Sunset Limited) or under threat of downgrading of discontinuance (Southwest Chief),” a group called Friends of Sunset Limited to Florida wrote in a Facebook post as the Senate was approving the highway bill, which is known as the DRIVE Act, in July.

“Also restructures the Amtrak Board of directors by creating better regional representation,” the group’s post continued. “Two directors each would come from the Northeast Corridor, States supporting passenger service and most importantly for us, areas served by long distance service.”

This is clear evidence that local efforts are finally having an effect in Washington to provide funding to improve and expand rail passenger service around the whole country. Cutting trains doesn’t save money and weakens a national rail passenger system, even for the Northeast. The key to rail passenger growth doesn’t come from Washington. It starts at the local level and takes pressure to get Washington to do the right thing.