San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee report

Reported by Bruce Jenkins, RailPAC Director

The San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee met in Merced Thursday, January 8, 2009.  RailPAC Associate Director George Gaekle, from Modesto, who also is a SJVRC committee member, introduced the new committee member for Stanislaus County, County Supervisor Vito Chiesa.

Ty Holscher from Tulare County reported that “in view of the economic situation that the 99 Corridor effort (to place some trains on the Union Pacific line) would be tabled for now”.

Robin Owen of Caltrans Division of Rail (DoR) reported on the issue of the “Quiet Car”.  The present rolling stock shortage precludes adding a Quiet Car at this time. It is felt that a successful effort would require a 5 car consist.  Also, unlike the Capitol Corridor which has a Quiet Car on early morning and evening trains which are utilized by business and student travelers, the San Joaquins have a much more varied clientele. Stacey Mortensen, Exec Dir. of ACE added that they have problems enforcing the quiet car. Lee Goldenberg (DoR) stated that signage and PA announcements could be the first attempt at achieving semblance of a Quiet Car.

Marguerite Monahan (DoR) informed the committee that “Meal Tray” service will cease due to poor sales.  Only about 13 meals sold per day (about 2 per train). “we are pursuing a combo sandwich (chips or fries & soft drink) which are good sellers, and will redesign the combo  to include salad and drink”.  Meal carts that travel through the trains are seeing brisk business, and burritos and pot roast on onion roll sandwiches selling well.

Ed Steiner of Amtrak reported that labor relations is still in negotiation on “In Route Rest Room Service” and should be implemented in 60 to 90 days. A program for “Conductor Training”  will commence soon to train conductors for improved customer service. On Time Performance (OTP) on host rails was at 85.5% for October, 2008, 90.8% for November. and 80.6% for December for BNSF. Union Pacific OTP, while showing  improvements, was slightly lower.

Jonathan Hutchison of Amtrak indicated that San Joaquin ridership was up 9.5%.  Funding for FY09 for Amtrak is unknown at this time.

Lee Goldenberg (DoR) reporting on DoR Capital Projects, stated that projects are still proceeding for station relocation for Madera, Fresno Station Dropoff, double track at Port Chicago and Hanford,  2 trainsets (12 cars) from New Jersey Transit (NJT) and the Positive Train Control (PTC) Program by 2012 (or sooner).  Regarding funding, Lee stated that “we just don’t know what we’re getting”.

The next  SJVRC meeting is scheduled for April 9, 2009 at Stockton.

It should be noted that this writer “sat-in” for Facilitator Art Lloyd, who had a temporary conflict of simultaneous meetings.  Art (representing Caltrain)  is now on the Transbay Terminal Joint Powers Board, succeeding San Mateo Cnty Supervisor Jerry Hill who was elected to the State Assembly last November.  Art has been Hill’s alternate on the Transbay Board for the past few years.

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