RailPAC President’s Message

 RAIL PASSENGER ASSOCIATION OF CALIFORNIA  1017 L Street PMB 217, Sacramento, CA 95814  New Year message from Paul Dyson, RailPAC President:    I think it’s fair to say that RailPAC has had a moderately successful year in 2008, a year that has involved a lot of swimming upstream and around all sorts of obstacles.

We pass a bond issue for passenger cars; “experts” at the state finance office say we don’t need them. The resulting delay has cost the taxpayer millions. A mudslide in Oregon closed the route of the Coast Starlight. We had to fight like the blazes to keep the California portion of the route operative and to shame Amtrak into operating a bus bridge. And we had a terrible collision at Chatsworth that has severely damaged the public’s faith in the safety of passenger rail. To cap it all, years of easy credit and lax financial practices have led us into the grandmother of all recessions which will take some really smart leadership to turn around. On the positive side we have passed the High Speed Rail Bond, and a number of pro public transportation measures around the state. Time will tell how soon the economic situation will allow those projects to move forward. We have a more pro-rail President than we have ever had. We’ll see whether that will mean much to us on the west coast.

We have done well as a group to keep passenger rail on the agenda, to continually push for action rather than more consultants’ reports, and to suggest value for money improvements. In particular we have tried very hard to focus on low cost initiatives such as better integration of schedules between publicly provided services, something that should happen as a matter of course.

We had a great members meeting in the spring in Sacramento, with headline speaker Don Phillips the renowned rail journalist, plus Bill Bronte, Gene Skoropowski, and George Chilson. Once again Ric Silver did a great job of organizing the event, together with Bill Kerby, Marcia Johnston and Russ Jackson. This was the second annual meeting that we have held jointly with NARP, and we aim to continue to collaborate with our campaigns both nationally and at the state level.

This brings me to personnel matters. Ric Silver has resigned as Executive Director of RailPAC to pursue political interests in the Bay Area. Ric has done an extraordinary job, not sometimes without a little controversy, in building up and running RailPAC over the last decade or more, and we owe him a great debt. Russ Jackson, one of the longest serving members and former Editor of the Review, has left California to be closer to his family in Texas. While we Californians extend our sympathy (!) to Russ, he is still staying active over the internet and we appreciate his continued support. As a result we have gaps to fill in our organization, and in particular we need volunteers in the Sacramento area to assist with the Review, and to help keep our membership records up to date. A few hours a month goes a long way. Please contact me before I appoint you!

I can’t write a message of this kind without acknowledging the tireless efforts of Noel Braymer. In addition to editing and writing much of the monthly Review Noel has also taken upon himself the collating of a weekly e-mail containing a digest of news items and opinions which is very popular with our members. Noel is one of the founder members of the group and it was a letter from him published in the L.A. Times in 1980 that prompted me to join RailPAC.

I think we can sum ourselves up as a group of volunteers that believes that passenger trains should make a far greater contribution to our transportation system. We try to make our voice heard above the din of paid lobbyists, and we try to educate and inform all those legislators and opinion formers who believe that the train is yesterday’s story, or who don’t really understand what a railroad is and how it works. We have a great story to tell. Passenger rail, if done right, can provide excellent value for money transportation in urban and suburban areas, and for long distance journeys. Our challenge is to keep up the momentum with our publications, meetings, public comments, and increasingly, the electronic media. I personally believe that rail advocacy groups must pool resources and work together if we are to accomplish our goals.

This coming year will see public expenditures aimed at reviving the economy. Passenger rail is behind the game in having projects that are ready to go. We have to campaign for rolling stock construction and infrastructure. We have to educate our large congressional delegation. They need to understand that support for Amtrak is of limited value if 95% of Amtrak’s capital is soaked up by the Northeast Corridor. What better time than to complete double tracking of the Surfliner Route, and to add a track through Beaumont Pass to extend passenger service to Palm Springs and the desert communities? In northern California we need to start work on the Altamont corridor and continue investment in the Northern regional network to link Sacramento, the Bay Area, the northern San Joaquin Valley and Monterey. We will only accomplish this with the combined efforts of all rail advocates who believe in sensible, value for money, passenger rail transportation.

2009 will be a tough year for many of you. I urge you to do what you can to continue to support RailPAC. Almost all of the subscription income goes to printing and mailing of our publications and the Board is determined that we continue to produce the Review monthly. We aim to expand the print run to send more complimentary copies to federal, state and local legislators and so we need your help to finance this.

Best wishes to you all for 2009. It will be a year of opportunity if we chose to make it so.

Paul Dyson

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