Commentary, Issues

Great Meeting in Sacramento on January 16, 2010

Report by Noel T. Braymer
Full House in Sacramento A Full House in Sacramento
The underlying theme of most of the speakers at the RailPAC/NARP meeting was on the challenges ahead for the State’s Rail Passenger services with future ridership growth in the mist of the current economic problems.

Compounding this will be the need to expand service to handle ridership growth feeding riders to the future High Speed Rail service. As RailPAC President Paul Dyson reflected attendees at the meeting on January 16th got the level of information that professionals regularly pay up to $500 to learn at industry symposiums.

Sacramento County Supervisor Roger Dickerson and David Kutrosky, Managing Director of the Capitol Corridor spoke of the future of the Capitol Corridor. Plans continue to expand service from 16 round trips a day to 22 trains. In addition there are plans to extend trains to reach more markets. To handle future normal growth and growth created by High Speed Rail even more equipment will be needed to run longer trains. These steps will increase the operating efficiency of the Capitol Corridor and continue to lower the per passenger costs. In addition more capital is needed to upgrade tracks and signaling to increase track capacity and allow faster speeds and reduced running times for the Capitol Corridor trains.

Bill Bronte of Caltrans Division of Rail pulled no punches on the difficulties his department has. Because of the State’s budget problems, millions of dollars in State Bond money for future track work and new equipment is frozen for years in the future. In government most budget issues decided today won’t be implemented for about 5 years in the future. As for Division of Rail about 30% of staff has retired in the last two years. There are no plans to hire replacement employees and the current rate of retirement is likely to continue. The bright spot is future Federal funding for rail passenger service. Mr. Bronte had just returned from Washington. He reports that the states with rail programs have come to agreements about standardizing types of passenger cars for state services. This will reduce the per unit cost of the cars and mean bigger orders for manufactures There was also agreement about increased detailed information from Amtrak about its billing for state supported service. If there is continued funding the Federal Government will be able to greatly help states buy more equipment.

Stacey Mortensen, Executive Director of Altamont Commuter Express (ACE) spoke about the future plans for ACE. ACE has hit a roadblock in dealing with the UP. UP it seems has discovered that its rights of ways are very valuable. In the future UP is expecting major growth of freight traffic and will need to expand capacity on every line they have. ACE has given up trying to expand service on the current right of way it shares with the UP and is determined to get its own tracks. In addition ACE is working with the California High Speed Rail Authority to jointly create a High Speed corridor between Merced and Sacramento and integrate that with fast service between San Jose and Stockton via the Altamont pass. Ace will be doing this on an incremental basis so they won’t be selling their existing equipment anytime soon. There are plenty of issues to work out such at sharing the tracks with HSR trains going up to 220 miles per hour with local ACE trains running between 125 to 150 mph. Also improving connections with other service providers such as BART is being work on.

Architect Hinda Chandler for the City of Sacramento Department of Transportation spoke of the progress upgrading the downtown Sacramento Station. This spring work is expected to begin to reroute the station’s trackage to take out tight turns and open land for redevelopment. The plan to move the old station to the new station platforms has been dropped. Instead a covered passenger walk way and service tunnels will be built to connect the station with the platforms. This will also create access to the old SP Shops behind the station which is expected to be a redevelopment area. Paul Hammond, Executive Director of the California State Railroad Museum also spoke. The museum will be expanded into part of the old SP Shops. One of the buildings Mr. Hammond pointed out goes back to 1869 and was built by the Central Pacific for the transcontinental railroad. Sacramento has one of the busiest stations in California and carries many of the visitors to the Railroad Museum.

Mr. Armin Kick, Director of High Speed Rail Development for Siemens spoke to our group about Siemens proposal for HSR in California. Siemens has been building Light Rail Vehicles for years at its plant in Sacramento. Siemens is going ahead with a new expansion next to its Light Rail manufacturing plant to build a High Speed Rail manufacturing plant. Siemens has the Velaro which is a 220 miles per hour HSR train in Spain. In addition to Spain Siemens have contracts for HSR in Germany, Russia and China. It also has experience with turnkey contracts and Public Private Partnership (PPP) projects which are used in many countries to fund large projects. Both turnkey and PPP operations are planned for the California HSR project. In addition Siemens is proposing building a carbon neutral HSR operation. Siemens plans to do this by using a combination of solar, and wind generated electricity coupled with using excess power from those sources to pump water from lakes downstream of hydroelectric plants to “store” power for times when there isn’t enough solar and wind to run the train.

This is only a brief snapshot of what was a great meeting with excellent speakers.

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