Capitol Corridor JPA March Meeting Report

Capitol Corridor JPA Meeting Report
March 21, 2007, Suisun City Hall
Reported by Russ Jackson

“One track will be open by the end of March, and the other by the end of April,” was the good news from the Union Pacific’s Tom Mulligan, reporting to the CCJPA on progress in repairing the destroyed rail bridge east of Sacramento.

capitol-2007-logo.jpg capitol-route-map.jpg (New Capitol logo and route map)

That fire, with its March 15 cause unknown but suspected to be of “suspicious” origin, lit up the skies and poured creosote smoke into the air, disrupted the UP’s freight traffic, the Capitol Corridor’s Auburn train service, and Amtrak’s California Zephyr. The railroad’s speedy work to replace the destroyed wooden structure with a concrete replacement drew compliments and envy from the CCJPA board members. Interestingly, as Capitol Managing Director Gene Skoropowski reported, the last train across the bridge before the fire started was Capitol 536 to Auburn, with the CC Riders’ annual St. Patrick’s Day party going on! Bus service has replaced the Auburn trains until repairs are made, and Amtrak originates the Zephyr in Roseville, busing riders to/from the Bay Area and Sacramento. CCJPA board member Steve Cohn, a Sacramento City Councilman, thanked the riders for their positive comments and patience.

Now to the meeting agenda. A passing of the gavel from Chairman Roger Dickinson to the new Chairman, Forrest Williams from San Jose, was made. Mr. Williams thanked his predecessor and expressed his congratulations for the biggest increase in service, to 32 trains, yet, including expanded service to his home town of San Jose. Mr. Dickinson replied, thanking everyone and saying how proud he was for the progress made. Mr. Williams then presented Mr. Dickinson with a plaque in appreciation, and then the group honored its first Chairman, Jim Spering from Suisun for his years of service to the CCJPA.

1. The board then approved an update to its Business Plan, which was premised on the State’s current financial situation. The CCJPA conducted ten public workshops, most of them on board the trains, which is very important to get rider input. On time performance, according to Mr. Skoropowski, is the #1 concern, so this Plan focuses major attentions of the efforts to work with the UPRR and Amtrak mechanical staff to improve “on-time reliability to acceptable levels, 90% or better.” The 32-train service will be maintained, additional capital will be available, the passage of Prop 1B will permit future capital projects, and raising the awareness of the Capitol Corridor “brand” as a viable transport alternative to highways, are goals of the Plan. In answer to a question from Mr. Williams, a farebox recovery ratio of 50% (45% now) is anticipated.

2. A presentation by representatives from Union City in the South Bay was made, showing their extensive plan to “establish a compact, pedestrian- and transit-oriented downtown district centered on an innovative Intermodal Station that includes connection to passenger rail from the CCJPA, future Dumbarton Rail, ACE, BART and bus all in one facility. On chart below you can see one of their charts showing their Transit Oriented Development plans, to be built on the site with the joint-use BART/rail station. While only a “discussion” item, the CCJPA board expressed its consensus that they support this effort and a letter will be sent so saying. RailPAC’s Mike Barnbaum asked if Amtrak had been approached about having the Coast Starlight stop at this new station. No, however, it would require rerouting it, and Amtrak would not likely be willing to spend money on this new facility.

3. Mr. Skoropowski was enthusiastic about a plan they have worked out with the UPRR, where only four “hotshot” freight trains (in each direction) will travel the Corridor from 6 AM to 6 PM daily, with all other freight traffic restricted to overnights. Mr. Mulligan of the UP concurred that this plan is important and will be tested for its impact. The CCJPA will purchase $2 million of “spring frogs” switches and other equipment, which would then be installed at main track turnouts to replace those now in existence but wearing out too quickly. The result should reduce the extent and duration of slow orders and improve OTP.

4. In a Legislative report, Mr. Skoropowski reviewed pertinent bills in the State Legislature and for Amtrak nationally. The big challenge is “to restore funds to the PTA (Public Transportation Account) as well as to add Prop 1B funds for the intercity rail program to fund at least the acquisition of more rolling stock, a $150 million item, that is desperately needed,” because “it will take at least 4 years to build the new cars.” Among other bills, the CCJPA supports SB 684 (Cox) which would allow the general public to board an intercity rail feeder bus without a train ticket as long as there is no regular route intercity bus service provided by a private intercity bus company. (RailPAC also supports this bill.)

5. Ridership went up in February, despite the loss of daily trains due to the now completed track projects on the Corridor! “The Corridor is up 12% since October 1, revenues continue to grow, up 18% over last year, with weekends continuing to be especially strong, and riders are almost evenly spread throughout the day with very good average train loadings,” said Mr. Skoropowski. As we reported above, the Revenue-to-Cost ratio is expected to be at 50% by the end of this year. With the service levels remaining the same “the only way to grow is to operate longer trains now.”

The next meeting of the CCJPA board will be April 18, 2007 in the same place, Suisun City Hall.

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