By Noel T. Braymer
Much of the time reading agendas can be rather boring. Much of the material is either technical or legalistic. But like digging for gold if you dig in the right places you can hit paydirt in the LOSSAN Board Meeting Agenda. The latest meeting was held on September 15th. The minutes for the meeting held in August was included as well as informational items which gives an idea of what is planned in the future for the Surfliners as well as the Metrolink Orange County Line and the Coaster.
In the minutes of the then not yet approved August 14th meeting, was the item “Donald Bing, City of Moorpark resident, requested a rescheduling of the Pacific Surfliner in order to provide additional weekend service to all the stations in Ventura County, due to the ridership demands.
Director MacDonald reported that he received a comment from a
Thousand Oaks resident, which he forward to Ms. Bergener regarding
commuting by train to Santa Barbara for work and requested additional service
stops at the Camarillo train station.
Ms. Bergener responded that she discussed the request with Amtrak, and at the
next operations meeting, there will be continued discussion to review
opportunities for the Camarillo station.”
Part of what makes this interesting is that Donald Bing is also a RailPAC Board Member. Shortly before this meeting Andy Mackay, a Ventura County resident and regular reader of the RailPAC eNewsletter had written RailPAC about how to contact LOSSAN about service improvements in Ventura County. I suggested that he contract the Ventura County LOSSAN Board member Bryan MacDonald.
Also part of the agenda are Attachments which gives the board information of the planning by staff and staff of other agencies on the LOSSAN Technical Advisory Committee. Here is a overview from ATTACHMENT B on the current state of Surfliner service.
Chapter 6: Operating Plan and Strategies
“As of the most recent schedule change (October 2014), Amtrak will operate 23 daily Pacific Surfliner trains, with 22 daily trains (11 roundtrips) between San Diego and Los Angeles, and one daily train (761/1761) that originates from Los Angeles and travels north to Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo. Ten daily trains (the 700-series trains), extend north of Los Angeles to serve Santa Barbara and Goleta, with four of those trains extending further north to serve San Luis Obispo. Dedicated Amtrak Thruway bus connections supplement the train service by providing transportation to and from San Luis Obispo for rail passengers making connections to Pacific Surfliner trains in Santa Barbara.
San Diego to Los Angeles travel times currently average 2 hours and 47 minutes. Los Angeles to Santa Barbara travel time averages 2 hours and 37 minutes in the northbound direction, and 2 hours and 55 minutes in the southbound direction. Los Angeles to San Luis Obispo travel time averages 5 hours and 26 minutes in the northbound direction and 5 hours and 27 minutes in the southbound direction. The current minimum scheduled Pacific Surfliner running time between San Luis Obispo and San Diego is 8 hours and 20 minutes.
The average train speed between Los Angeles and San Diego, including station dwell time, is 46 miles per hour (mph) in both directions. This segment includes more than 70 miles between Santa Ana and Sorrento where the maximum track speed is 90 mph, and is the only location on the route where trains operate above 79 mph. Between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, the average speed is 40 mph in the northbound direction and 36 mph in the southbound direction. Train speeds between Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo average at 44 mph northbound and 51 mph southbound.”
LOSSAN Business Case for Future Service
“For the 2014 horizon year, the Plan anticipated the addition of one Pacific Surfliner roundtrip between San Diego and Los Angeles, and no additional Pacific Surfliner service north of Los Angeles. The Plan also assumed that two of the 24 daily Pacific Surfliner trains would be limited stop trains, serving only Los Angeles, Anaheim, Irvine, Oceanside, Solana Beach and San Diego. The additional roundtrip anticipated in the Plan by 2014 is not currently included in the Caltrans DRMT fiscal year (FY) 2014-15 operating budget for the Pacific Surfliner service.
Longer-term service planning goals for the Pacific Surfliner discussed in the Plan include converting peak period Pacific Surfliner trains to limited stop express services, introducing Coast Daylight service between Los Angeles and San Francisco, starting commute-friendly service between Ventura and Santa Barbara, and adding new station stops in San Diego and the San Diego International Airport, Del Mar Fairgrounds, and San Diego Convention Center. In addition, the plan envisions improved scheduled coordination and timed connections between Pacific Surfliner intercity trains, and Metrolink and COASTER commuter trains.
The LOSSAN Agency will also work with local transit agencies to explore opportunities to provide better transit connections from Pacific Surfliner stations to local airports, including John Wayne Airport in Orange County, Los Angeles International Airport, and San Diego International Airport. The Pacific Surfliner already directly serves the Burbank-Bob Hope Airport. Finally, the LOSSAN Agency will research the budget and legal impacts of offering free local transittransfers for Pacific Surfliner passengers, similar to the transfers offered to COASTER and Metrolink pass holders.”
The addition of a 12th round trip with existing equipment begs the questions of what equipment? For the current 11 round trip schedule, one trainset of low level equipment is still needed. This has problems with longer dwell times at stations because of slow loading and unloading. This also prevents reducing running times on the Surfliner since the schedule is based on the slowest trainsets. A solution to this is to add some surplus Metrolink bi-level cars to the low level equipment which will add capacity and speed up loading and unloading. This would allow faster schedules on all trains. Running one limited stop round trip sounds like a repeat of different “express trains” which have all produced lower ridership because the time saving where minimal (and trains were often late) and because fewer stops mean fewer markets served. What is also needed to run successful express services are connections to the intermediate stations so a person can transfer and still save time while servicing all the markets on the corridor. Better bus connection to places like airports sounds very promising.
“While not immediately planned to begin operation, a number of future service expansion projects are in the planning stages, and will be discussed in greater detail in the Expansion and Enhancement chapter of the Business Plan. These projects include additional rail service between Ventura and Santa Barbara to relieve peak-period congestion on Highway 101; Coast Daylight rail service which would extend the Pacific Surfliner from San Luis Obispo to San Francisco; and the proposed Coachella Valley service which would connect to the LOSSAN rail corridor at Los Angeles and provide intercity passenger rail service between Los Angeles and the Coachella Valley, including Palm Springs and Indio. The LOSSAN Agency will continue to take an active role with the project sponsors in advancing planning efforts for these new services.”