LOSSAN Corridor Board Meeting report

LOSSAN Board Meeting, Los Angeles, 06/13/07
Report and IMPORTANT COMMENTARY by Paul Dyson, RailPAC President

Although the meeting took place there was no quorum as Chairman Art Brown was taken ill en route to the meeting and there were too many other absences. The meeting could not therefore make any Board decisions, but heard the reports and discussed some of the issues.

Jacki Bacharach conducted the meeting. My comments to the Board are posted separately on this website.

Richard Dial of the consultant firm, IBI, made a report on the LOSSAN North Strategic Business Plan. This “final draft” can be viewed on the SANDAG website. In my opinion it’s a very disappointing document and has little to show for the three years it has taken to produce. Part of the delay has been caused by Caltrans Rail asking the consultant to review the proposed Ventura – Santa Barbara commuter service and incorporate it into this “plan”. While RailPAC strongly supports a sensible and well thought out commuter service for that corridor there is no more justification for including it in the LOSSAN report than there is for say the Metrolink long range plan or changes to Coaster. Furthermore, Wilbur Smith just completed a study of the issue in 2005, and SCAG has just commissioned Sharon Greene to study it again!

I have also reviewed the draft corridor wide strategic business plan, which IBI introduced at the meeting. This is supposed to combine the points from the southern and northern reports. This report, 20 pages of text and 7 of maps, in reality consists of lists of track projects, sorted by county and by timeline, which will be familiar to everyone who knows the line and could have been written by Caltrans staff in an afternoon.

The highlight of the meeting was an informed and sensible presentation by Darrell Johnson of OCTA staff outlining Orange County’s vision of an integrated corridor wide service. OCTA has taken the lead in using Metrolink as the core of its transit system, and they clearly have the vision to see how the three rail operators in the corridor can work together to provide more travel opportunities. Let’s hope the process does not become bogged down in Consultant land.

Pat Merrill and Linda Culp updated the meeting on the state budget process and corridor projects. Pat Merrill took exception to my public comment calling for less study and more action, listing a number of projects in progress. While we applaud the progress of double and triple tracking south of Los Angeles, not one of the active projects is in the Northern part of the corridor, which was my point.

Jonathan Hutchison of Amtrak gave a report of the status of Amtrak funding and federal legislation, together with ridership and punctuality reports for the corridor. On time performance is still stuck at or below 80%. Ridership continues to grow (see our other reports on the California corridors).

The Board is hoping to meet in August, earlier than scheduled, so that decisions can be made by the full Board.

My Comments:

RailPAC has always taken the stance of being a constructive critic of the public agencies and we do our best to be supportive in the public arena. We realize that funding issues are tough, and progress is slow. There are times however when it is necessary to take what might be an unpopular position and to make some waves. The LOSSAN “Strategic Business Plan” process has been extremely disappointing to this writer and to many of our supporters. No one in the private sector would recognize this document as being a business or strategic plan. There is no discussion of the objectives, no targets for revenue or passenger miles, no alternatives examined, such as longer but fewer trains, trains with fewer stops and some stations served by more frequent Metrolink trains, and all the many alternatives that a commercial business would consider. Instead the end result is a list of projects, a list we have seen before from previous reports, with little changed except the price tag. An attempt was made to provide some justification for the timeline of the projects by referring to the Washington Group’s capacity analysis. It is my contention that this analysis is fatally flawed and will lead to the wrong conclusions. (See my public comments for the meeting).

The net result is that Caltrans has spent a great deal of public money on a consultant’s report that in the real world has very little value. The consultant’s contract expires on June 30, and my belief is that this report will be for the most part ignored by those agencies making the investment decisions. What we must learn from this debacle is that it really makes no sense to look at Inter City (Amtrak) service on this corridor in isolation. The only sensible “Strategic Plan” is one that uses the resources of Amtrak, Metrolink and Coaster working in concert to provide the best possible mobility options given the resources that are available.

Paul Dyson

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