High Speed Rail at Los Angeles Union Station by 2024, not 2029

In a surprise move at the Los Angeles Metro Board Meeting on October 22, 2015, an agenda item was voted on and approved to make changes to the Southern California Regional Interconnector Project (SCRIP). Part of the change will coordinate SCRIP’s construction of run-through tracks at Union Station with the construction at the same time of a new concourse under the tracks at Union Station. Construction of both projects is expected to begin in 2017 through 2019 or so. This makes perfect sense. The surprising part of this agenda Item was the Metro Board also approved the construction of 2 platforms with 4 run-through tracks for the exclusive use for High Speed Trains at Los Angeles Union Station for use by 2024.

What is being planned for High Speed Rail at LAUS is for 2 of the most western platforms to be rebuilt for High Speed Rail which would include High Level Platforms which will be unusable by Metrolink or most Amtrak equipment in California. This will also include separate tracks from the rest of the station tracks for these 2 platforms which will be used exclusively for High Speed Passenger trains coming into and out of LAUS. The western platforms, the ones with the lowest numbers, are closest to what will be the light rail Blue Line from Long Beach to Azusa by 2024, the Red and Purple subway lines as well as a new bus station which will be alongside the future Blue Line platform. Talk about the best location. This will give High Speed Rail the shortest distance for transfers at LAUS from Metrorail, Metrolink, Amtrak and by bus.

Now the plans for run-through tracks at Union Station is to have 2 platforms with 4 tracks for High Speed Rail trains, 3 platforms and 6 tracks to be shared by Metrolink and Amtrak Surfliner trains and 2 platforms with 4 tracks which will remain stub-end tracks that can be used for long distance trains, equipment storage at the station and equipment displays. That makes 7 platforms and 14 tracks. The problem is although Union Station originally had 8 platforms and 16 tracks, where Platform 8 use to be is now used by a part of the LA Metro Headquarter’s building. Platform 1 is used by LA Metrorail for Light Rail service. So how to get 7 platforms with 14 tracks when you only have 6 platforms and 12 tracks available for intercity rail service?

On a LA Metro graphic for the October 22nd Board Meeting the final design for the SCRIP project shows Platforms 1, 2a, 3,4,5,6 and 7. When I went to school a long time ago that added up to 8 platforms. How did that happen? This graphic shows platform 2a next to platform 1 which is for Light Rail. What is being planned is to relocate the light rail tracks to the west at the station and build a new Platform 1. Platform 2a would in fact be a rebuilt Platform 1 which would be used along with Platform 2 for High Speed Rail trains.

In order to reach LAUS on the surface with High Speed Trains by 2024, it seems that the CAHSRA will likely also have to share and improve the tracks owned by Los Angeles County used by Metrolink’s Ventura County and Antelope Valley Lines at least as far as Burbank. If so, this will restrict the speeds on this track segment to “only” 110-120 miles per hour between Union Station and Bob Hope Airport. In the past all planning for High Speed Rail was for an all new straighter track alignment in and out of Union Station and a separate HSR station near Union Station. But sharing tracks and Union Station will save the CHSRA hundreds of millions of dollars and allow service to LAUS by 2024 and not 2029 as originally planned.

No doubt simplifying construction between Burbank and Los Angeles will allow more resources to be used for building a shorter tunnel between Burbank and Palmdale which will reduce the running times between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Could we also be seeing Los Angeles to Las Vegas High Speed Rail service by 2024?

It appears that in densely populated areas the CHSRA is looking to share more existing rights of way for some segments to reduce costs and avoid slow and costly environmental studies.This seems to be the case between Burbank to Los Angeles and on to Anaheim. Full double tracking and grade-separation or at the least upgraded grade level crossing barrier protection will be needed for high traffic levels and speeds up to 120 miles per hour. Similar shared track usage is planned between San Jose and San Francisco.

Can right of way sharing be used in other places to reduce costs and shorten construction time building more high speed service? Could we see use of existing rights of way for HSR in the San Gabriel Valley to the Inland Empire? This could be part of the route to San Diego on the I-15 freeway. Could this also be done using separate tracks between Merced and Sacramento to extend High Speed Rail from Merced to Sacramento?

This might be a good time to talk to the BNSF and UP about making deals to share rights of way.The railroads now are seeing a decline in traffic, particularly for coal and oil. The economy is also slowing down which is seen in declining freight traffic, particularly for the UP. The UP has been more cooperative in the last couple of years to California High Speed Rail construction than when Prop 1A passed in 2008 which started the High Speed Rail project. This cooperation can be seen in planning around Bakersfield to build a station and trackage alongside the UP right of way. This is more an acceptance of reality than enthusiasm on UP’s part.


The Eagle, the Sunset, the Star, a Trip Report, and a rowdy car

Whenever a passenger is ready to travel by Amtrak, has a ticket in hand and is ready to go to the station to board the train the first anxiety is always whether the train will be on time or be running late (in many cases hours late).  For this trip let’s get the on time performance out of the way by saying that Amtrak’s October 5 Texas Eagle/Sunset Limited we boarded in Ft. Worth was nearly on time all the way.  There were no major delay incidents.  Since it takes upwards of 45 to 50 minutes on a good travel day for us to reach the Ft. Worth station it was good to know the status, and while “Amtrak Julie” is the best source, so are Amtrak Status Maps and the other sources of information.  We arrived at FTW just as the train was arriving from Dallas.  Great timing.  Bad track sections in Texas still need work, particularly Temple to Taylor.

This report will cover mostly the westbound trip.  Veteran readers know this reporter and spouse have been traveling Amtrak long distance trains since 1971, traveled on the AT&SF before that, with reports like this one having appeared in RailPAC publications since 1990.  Train travel is our preferred means of travel, for those of you first time readers, and while we don’t do it as often anymore, we enjoy seeing how Amtrak train travel changes or doesn’t change from trip to trip.  Meeting interesting people on board is a pleasant experience, and on this trip we met a couple from Waco traveling on Amtrak for the first time and also going to Los Angeles.

On the Texas Eagle trains from Chicago, arrival in San Antonio is scheduled for approximately 10 PM.  On our train a full sized Dining car replaced the usual Cafe-Diner.  Off-season staffing is two employees upstairs and two downstairs in the galley.  The LSA upstairs also waits tables.  Only one half of the car was used, approximately the same size as the Cafe-Diner.  When the call for dinner reservations came there were only going to be two seatings, at 5:00 and 5:30.  When asked, the LSA crisply replied that there couldn’t be any after that “on days we go to San Antonio.”  Perplexed, I did not continue the discussion.  When we arrived for our 5:00 seating we were pleased to find us sitting across from the Waco folks, and were able to answer most of their questions.  They were sharing a Roomette.  We ordered dinner, and this writer swears the steak was the best one ever in all our trips.  The service crew was excellent, but it still is curious why they thought they couldn’t have scheduled a few later seatings.

Usually on the Eagle there is conductor chatter on the PA, but this crew was nearly silent.  Our sleeping car attendant was very cooperative and helpful.  Our car, #32079, is one that has not been fully updated and has the old carpeted walls that now look quite shabby and dirty.  One new touch is they now post the dining car and lounge car menus on the wall, which helped new travelers to make decisions before entering the Diner.  Why did it take this long to do that simple “marketing” idea?

At breakfast on the Sunset Limited after leaving Del Rio, we found a new crew that was not quite as good as the one on the Eagle but still very competent.  Breakfast was first-come-first-served, and the scrambled egg meals were excellent.  Lunch and dinner would be by reservations, and there would be multiple seatings for both.  We were pleased we could share breakfast with the Waco folks again, and anxiously awaited their comments about the long stay in San Antonio and the overnight ride west of SAS to Del Rio.  When the Eagle cars are transferred to the Sunset Limited in SAS the noise and jolting can be quite annoying, and for those folks it definitely was, as the full speed travel and rough track nearly bounced them out of bed.  They thought they might be able to upgrade to a Bedroom, after seeing ours, but changed their minds when told what it would cost.

The Eagle sleeper and coach are the last cars on the westbound Eagle and Sunset, but on the Eagle the diner is only steps away while on the Sunset in both directions the Eagle passengers must pass through three Coaches and the Lounge car to get there.  For younger travelers that’s not a big deal, but older folks (ok, geezers) it can be a chore.  There must be a better way to position the cars as they do on the eastbound train where out of San Antonio the Eagle sleeper is placed at the head end just behind the transition sleeper and just ahead of the Diner.

When we arrived in the Sunset’s Diner for lunch going west things fell apart quickly.  We had neglected to tell the Waco folks when we were going, so we were seated at a table and waited for new folks to arrive to sit on the other side.  A young couple from the Eagle Coach arrived, who had experienced what was quickly called the “rowdy car” overnight, and they were involved in a “spirited” (loud) discussion with all the crew. There are no crew members on board while the train waits for the Sunset connection in San Antonio, so the overnight stay in San Antonio had erupted into quite an uproar in their Coach, which they had joined into apparently, and there were accusations of theft and drunken behavior being shouted.  This turn of events was not conducive to a pleasant lunch meal experience for us.  The crew was not really helpful in calming things down, and we quickly left the car without finishing our cheeseburgers (the best thing on the menu by far).  We chose not to go there for dinner, forfeiting that paid-for meal.  Instead we ordered some snacks from the Lounge, which our attendant brought us.  That in-car service is important, and all four attendants on our round trip cheerfully helped us.  It seems these days that there is always one “rowdy car” on a train, but thankfully that was not the case on our return trip.

At Alpine, Texas, there was the usual “smoking” stop, as well as passenger boardings and a crew change.  Out of curiosity we asked the new conductor standing on the platform (we had recovery time) if he thought there would be a daily train on this route instead of the tri-weekly as it is now.  His laugh could have been heard in El Paso.  “I’ve been here for 27 years,” he said, “I’ve heard it was going to happen all the time, with nothing happening.”  That reply was not unexpected, of course.  He went on, however, to say there is no equipment for daily service yet.  That’s the company line and the employees are stuck with it.

The trip progressed nicely, without further major incidents, up to and including the early arrival at Los  Angeles Union Station.  Some Sunset Limiteds arrive as early as 4:30, but ours pulled in at 5:05.  That has been a controversial situation, with Amtrak putting in writing that sleeping car passengers “are welcome to occupy their accommodations until 6:30.”  Not so anymore.  The crews are intent on going home, so Amtrak changed the rule by opening the Metropolitan Lounge at 5:00 in LAUS.  We were told that we could take our time, but the trainset would be “going to the yard at5:30.”  We had to wait until Hertz opened at 7:00, so we and the Waco folks trudged up to the Lounge.

Update:  All this brings up the long distance service “experiment” taking place on the East Coast on the Silver Star, which has had its dining car removed and sleeping car fares reduced to see what the effect will be on ridership and revenues until January.  NARP finally opposed this move, as did the rest of us, as it sets a dangerous precedent.  NARP Chairman Bob Stewart reported that station agents have received many complaints, Lounge car attendants say they have had long lines for service, and some passengers reported they had purchased tickets at the old price but were not offered any adjustment.  But, on the final day of the NARP annual fall meeting an Amtrak executive was asked how passengers on the Silver Star were responding to the no-dining-car experiment.  He said it seemed clear that people were willing to give up dining car meals in exchange for lower fares.  This writer has said all along that this is not an “experiment” but will be a permanent change as to do otherwise would mean Amtrak would have to admit they were wrong.  In concrete?  Oh, yes, and look for other long distance trains that only travel over one night to get the same treatment if this “experiment” is allowed to stand.

Andrew Selden writes that “The way Amtrak’s internal cost accounting works, it is impossible to know the results of this (Silver Star) ‘experiment’ in financial terms, because the financial results of everything they do are reported as allocations of category aggregates.  Individual trains’ actual results are evaporated into averages and algorithms.  Only months-later analysis of ridership on that one train reflecting re-purchase after a bad experience will show anything, and then only after those numbers have been normalized to the performance of similar trains with either normal or enhanced food service.  Amtrak is too cheap to commission an expensive objective consumer survey.”  Bye bye Dining Cars?  Don’t be surprised.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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.


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.