Commentary by Noel T. Braymer
The great success of the combined RailPAC, NARP and The Transit Coalition meeting in Los Angeles on March 17th can be credited to the co-operation and sharing of resources by the different groups. Also shared by the groups is a general consensus for the importance of and need for expanded rail service in California and the Counrty. The ball started rolling you might say with RailPAC President Paul Dyson’s meeting with Amtrak President Kummant.
From that came an invitation for Mr. Kummant to talk to rail supporters in California which was accepted. To do justice to this opportunity it was obvious that expanding the typical RailPAC Annual meeting was needed. Paul was able to work closely with NARP Director Dennis Lytton of Los Angeles to expand the scope of this meeting. Dennis was particularly helpful in contacting Gerald C. Francis who was the Head of Rail Services at the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Before leaving for a new job with the Metro in Washington D.C. Mr. Francis was able to arrange the use of the LACMTA Board Room for the meeting, which proved an outstanding location. With the help of Bart Reed, Executive Director of The Transit Coalition and a RailPAC Director, printed meeting material was provided and a full presentation given of the potential for transit service connecting with intercity rail in Southern California.
The choice of a meeting place right next to Los Angeles Union Station served several important needs. LAUS is a major Amtrak Long Distance Train Terminal. LAUS is also a major hub for Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner Corridor service and Metrolink Commuter service. Added to that Rail Transit with the Red and Gold Lines as well as numerous bus transit services and you have a great study in intermodalism. All these services support and feed traffic to each other. As a transportation hub, meeting next to LAUS made it easier for attendees to attend. If there was a theme to the March 17th meeting, it was a system of services is needed if people are to have transportation alternatives to the car to get to the many places they want to go to or come from.
In speaking of Southern California Regional Rail, RailPAC President Paul Dyson proposed using Switzerland as a model for Southern California. Paul pointed out that Switzerland and Southern California are both about the same size. Switzerland’s population is smaller than California’s, but has over 3,000 miles of rail lines. What is most amazing about Switzerland is that connections are guarenteed for trains up to two minutes apart. In other words if your train arrives at 7:14, your 7:16 connection to your next train is guarenteed in Switzerland. But it is not just trains, in Switzerland that connect, but also intercity buses, local transit and even boats. Scheduling all these connections is no easy task, it takes years to work out an hour’s block of schedules. Because of this the Swiss usually use the same schedule for every hour of the day, seven days a week and rarely change schedules. This also makes it easier for the riders to have a “memory schedule” because they only need to know what time after the hour to catch their train. As Paul also pointed out in Switzerland trips no matter how many connections are needed are “seamless”, that is they are made on one ticket. To do all this requires full cooperation from many organizations
Andrew Selden at the Los Angeles meeting got a few minutes to talk about the importance of passenger miles and the Matrix Theory. Passenger miles are the standard airlines use to measure ridership. Since faires are based on distance, the distance passengers travel is a better measure of income than simple headcounts. The long distance trains by traveling longer distances easily generate greater passenger miles and income than corridor services. This is a reason why extending the SUNSET back to Orlando is so important, to improve the train’s bottom line by expanding passenger miles. Amtrak can improve its bottom line with improvements to its long distance services. These can be as simple as adding more cars to existing trains, extending train routes where equipment or crews would otherwise be idle and/or improving connections to other services. The Matrix Theory was created by RailPAC’s the late Dr. Adrian Herzog. In a nutshell it shows that the more travel combinations a train can give passengers, the greater the ridership. These combinations can come from from adding stations, extending routes and improving connections to other services.It was not a coincidence I think that Adrian was born in Switzerland. That is what the Swiss have been doing for years: Adrian simply demonstrated how this worked mathematically.
The same principles that work for improving long distance trains economic performance can be applied to transit, commuter and corridor train services. Good connections or through trains will increase Metrolink’s or Caltrain’s ridership and revenues with greater passenger miles. Corridor service will be a hot political item because of increasing local travel needs. The problem will be eliminating expensive bottlenecks in the rail network which are mostly in urban areas. Getting political support to pay to fix these problems will help commuter, corridor, long distance passengers and the freight railroads. LAUS is a great place to talk about this. At such a major transportation hub all these issues come together. Everyone will be better off if we all work together.