Amtrak CEO Boardman replies to RailPAC re Surfliner problems

December 17, 2009
Mr. Paul Dyson, President
Rail Passenger Association of California
1017 L Street PMB 217
Sacramento, CA 95814
Dear Paul:
Thank you for your letter of December 5,2009, regarding unacceptable service failures on the Pacific Surfliners. We are equally disappointed with the recent service failures on the Surfliner service.

You know, as well as I, that we have higher expectations for our service delivery, and it is not due to neglect that these unfortunate situations occurred. Our mechanical and transportation personnel on the Southwest Division give their undivided attention to the Surfliner service, and I support their efforts wholeheartedly.

We were very dissatisfied with the events that occurred on one of our busiest days of the year. On November 25, Train 567 experienced a head-end power (HEP) failure. As a result, we decided to couple to Train 769 and proceed to Los Angeles. As we approached Anaheim, Train 769 also experienced an HEP failure. At this point, it was decided to have Train 573 run around the double set creating a triple set that would operate to Los Angeles. The triple set proceeded towards Los Angeles and while traversing the flyover, approximately three miles from Union Station, a passenger pulled the emergency cord causing the train to stop. This delayed the train about 30 minutes to locate and reset the emergency valves. The original plan in place was to separate the three sets immediately upon arrival in Los Angeles to ensure the equipment would not block the station tracks due to the excessive length.

Upon arrival at the station, it was discovered that unruly passengers had removed several windows and stuffed the majority of toilets with paper, further delaying the train. It took a substantial amount of time to repair the 27 windows and multiple toilet failures. As you can imagine, this was a difficult situation that was not easy to resolve in a timely manner. Passengers experienced delays from 2’35” to 5’45.” Our staff did their best to recover and ensure that everyone arrived at their destination in a safe manner.

The incident on December 5 was initially believed to be caused by a blown turbo on Engine 459, Train 769. To recover, we decided to annul the train and put the passengers on Train 571 an hour later. Passengers traveling north of Los Angeles would board Train 775. It was known that there would not be equipment in Goleta, so busses were arranged to transport passengers to Los Angeles to protect their connection with Train 796 to San Diego. Passengers on Train 769 were delayed 1 ’29”, Train 571 29,” and Train 775 2’25.”

A complete analysis was conducted on Engine 459, and it was discovered that the problem was not a blown turbo charger, but with the SRS sensor involving the electronic fuel injector. The current procedure in preventive maintenance (PM) is a visual inspection of the SRS and TRS EMDEC sensors. Although this is a rare failure in our Surfliner fleet, mechanical has now implemented a complete download of the EMDEC system during the PM cycle, which will help prevent a recurrence of this situation. We realize that a critical factor is HEP failures on the Surfliner fleet. There is a “request for proposal,” (RFP) out to replace the HEP plant on all units. This has been funded, and we can expect that work will start soon after the RFP is awarded. As for your other requests, we offer the following information:

  • Effective this week, we will be changing our operating plan to provide for a protect locomotive to be positioned in San Diego that can be used in the event of a locomotive failure in the Surfliner service.
  • We are negotiating a cross-lease agreement with NCID to use their locomotives on an as-needed basis. We do not have the same opportunity with Metrolink due to the tight turns and location of their equipment at outlying points making it a time issue to get a locomotive to the Surfliner route. Even with an agreement in place with NCTD, it can take up to three hours to get a locomotive from Stuart Mesa, the Coaster layover facility, to San Diego. This timeframe includes requesting a locomotive, calling a crew, getting the Coaster contractor to inspectltestlMAP the unit, obtain warrants and deadhead to San Diego. However, we plan on having the cross-lease in effect should it be needed.
  • The freight locomotives are not ATS or, more importantly, HEP-equipped, so we cannot rely on that option. As discussed above, we do have a plan to replace the units.
  • We will establish a cross-lease agreement with NCTD; however, it is not economically practical to have standby trains and extra crews under pay to handle emergency situations.
  • In response to your email of December 14 on the annulment of Train 567, Engine 452 on inbound Train 590 experienced a ground relay indicating an electrical ground in one of the traction motors. The crew, working in conjunction with the mechanical troubleshooting desk, attempted to cut out the traction motor. Since we were unable to resolve the problem, Train 592 coupled to Train 590 to shove the equipment to San Diego. Train 567, which turns from 590, was cancelled and passengers transferred to Train 769, incurring a 1’20” delay.
    We want our equipment and service to be impeccable. Our Mechanical Department is addressing the locomotive failures and they have assigned the highest priority to this task. We value the partnership and contributions made by the State of California. They, and your organization, are valuable partners, and we ask for your continued support in our endeavors to make improvements.
    Joseph H. Boardman
    President and Chief Executive Officer
    6 cc

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