By RailPAC Director Bruce Jenkins and Treasurer Bill Kerby
Photos by Bill Kerby

The San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee meeting met in Richmond Thursday, July 17, 2008 at the Richmond Amtrak/BART Station.

During Public Comment, Mike Barnbaum (RailPAC Associate Director), made comments on menu items and food service as well as several other items that need attention.

Vern Moss, Supervisor from Madera County was elected Vice Chair (effective Jan 1 ’09) in a special election resulting from Dianne Fritz, Supervisor from Madera, stepping down due to unfortunate health reasons.

Ty Holscher (Tulare) reported that planning effort on running added passenger rail on the existing Union Pacific ROW in the West Valley will fall back and regroup to see how the HSR issue fares in the November election.

Some of the meeting leaders, including Art Lloyd (right), sat in front of a window, with a view of this Richmond Pacific RR caboose.

Including the request by Paul Dyson, RailPAC President, Art Lloyd, RailPAC VP North, spoke to the committee about efforts to get legislation going to relax existing law prohibiting Amtrak Buses from serving non-rail passengers. He stated “we need Division of Rail to go to the legislature and get them to introduce a bill relaxing this restriction on all citizens who want to get from point A to point B without a circuitous route and the required purchase of a rail ticket.” There was a motion for (and carried) to agendize a resolution on this matter for the next meeting.

George Gaekle has represented Stanislaus County from the inception of the SJVRC. Mr. Gaekle is a long time member of RailPAC.

Mr. Gaekle suggested the real need for a “Quiet Car.” “The cell phone chatter is unbearable.” He brought out that the Capitol Corridor and ACE have this feature. Stacey Mortenson, Executive Director of ACE stated that there are problems with enforcement. This matter will be agendized for the next meeting, with a possible input from Gene Skoropowski of the Capitol Corridor.

Tom Mulligan represents the Union Pacific at the SJVRC meetings.

Mr. Mulligan stated that there is ongoing track work from Richmond north to Martinez. He attributed some of the improvements in on time performance of the San Joaquins to UP projects.

Rod Diridon of the High Speed Rail Authority gave a comprehensive presentation extolling the numerous attributes of HSR and making very clear just how far behind the US is when it comes to rail transit. Right now there is only one major industrialized country that has no HSR operating or under advanced planning or construction———–guess who?

Carol Shannon of Amtrak stated that the “first ever National Train Day” was a huge success. Seventeen California stations particpated in NTD in California, 8 of these along the San Joaquin Corridor. Future National Train Day events will be held on the Second Saturday of May to stay as close as possible to the May 9 date in 1869 commemorating completion of the transcontinental railroad.

Martin Yurth of Amtrak gave a stunning report on the performance of the San Joaquin Corridor. Ridership is up 34%, revenue is up 18%. Customer Service Improvement (CSI) scores increased in all categories including friendliness/helpfulness, trip info, comfort, cleanliness and food service. On Time Performance for this year is 84.4%, an improvement of 19.5% over last year’s 68%. The en-route restroom cleaning initiative is still in progress, with current efforts aimed at defining the scope of work and identifying funding for the use of agreement-covered employees as compared to outsourcing. The food cart test period is complete, and initial results show 39% cost recovery. Further analysis will determine if the cart is to become a regular service.

Stockton Amtrak station rehab improvements are underway. Improved bus area signage and a weather canopy will be in place by early fall. New Stockton station funding and location are still in progress with collaboration between Amtrak, DoR, BNSF, ACE, the City of Stockton and other interested parties.

Bruce Heard is, like his mentor Art Lloyd, retired from Amtrak but continues his rail advocacy by representing Los Angeles County on the SJVRC.

Amtrak and DoR are assessing the impact of rising fuel costs on the bus feeder system. More efficient equipment, shorter routes, alternative fuels, fare adjustments and awareness marketing are all being considered to mitigate increase in costs.

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