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Amtrak Long Distance

Amtrak Long Distance, Arizona, Coachella/Imperial Valleys, Commentary

RailPAC submits public comment letter on Coachella Valley Rail Tier 1 EIS/EIR

Click here for more information about the Coachella Valley-San Gorgonio Pass Rail Corridor Service project, currently under environmental review by Riverside County Transportation Commission, the Federal Railroad Administration, and the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans).

Amanda Ciampollio

Environmental Protection Specialist

Federal Railroad Administration

1200 New Jersey Avenue SE

Washington, DC 20590

June 27, 2021

Subject: Comments on Coachella Valley-San Gorgonio Pass Rail, Draft Tier 1/Program EIS/EIR

Dear Ms. Ciampollio:

The Rail Passengers Association of California and Nevada (RailPAC) is pleased to offer these comments to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), the Riverside County Transportation Commission (RCTC), and the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) Division of Rail and Mass Transportation on the Coachella Valley-San Gorgonio Pass Rail Corridor Service Program May 2021Tier 1/Program Environmental Impact Statement/Environmental Impact Report.  RailPAC is a 501c3 volunteer group of railroad professionals and advocates that has campaigned for improved personal mobility in California and the west since 1978.

RailPAC applauds this effort to advance additional intercity rail service between Los Angeles Union Station (“LAUS”) and the Coachella Valley. This new rail service has long been a goal of our organization, the California State Rail Plan, and Riverside County, and has been studied at least seven times by public agencies since the early 1990s. The time for action is now.

We recognize that this draft Tier 1/Program EIS/EIR is one step of a multi-phased iterative process, and that details such as passenger station locations will be evaluated and selected in the subsequent Tier 2/Project-level analyses. We look forward to reviewing this Tier 2 analysis. RailPAC also wants to emphasize how this project can open the door for future projects and goals much greater than the proposed new passenger rail service of two daily round-trip LAUS-Coachella Valley trains evaluated by the Tier 1 EIR.

  1. Third Mainline Track from Colton to Coachella

RailPAC fully supports the main feature of the preferred Build Alternative Option 1: the construction of a new third mainline track along 76 miles of the Union Pacific (UP) Railroad’s existing Yuma Subdivision between Colton and Coachella. Given the capital costs of the third mainline track proposed from Colton to the Coachella Valley, RailPAC wants to emphasize the variety of benefits to passenger and freight rail that are possible with this investment in additional track capacity. Any proposed service in the Coachella Valley Rail (CVR) corridor, and the capital improvements associated with it, must be recognized as a building block for future expansion. The initiatives described below would add significant public value to any capital grant request for a Colton-Coachella third mainline track:

  • Greater frequency and speed of CVR passenger trains. Improvements to the level of CVR service evaluated by this Tier 1/Program EIS/EIR recommended by RailPAC, would require and be enabled by the third mainline track: far greater frequency (minimum of 6 round-trips per day, preferably 12 or more) and higher speed (a goal of at least 60 mph average speed, up from the roughly 45 mph currently proposed). Fast and frequent service, competitive with driving, is essential to attract a rail ridership significant enough to provide major public benefits of reduced traffic congestion and pollution on the I-10 corridor.
  • Daily Amtrak Sunset Limited. Increase of the frequency of Amtrak’s Sunset Limited from tri-weekly to daily service has long been a goal of RailPAC. Of the multiple congestion bottlenecks along the Sunset Limited route between LAUS and New Orleans, which need to be relieved to allow daily service of this long-distance Amtrak train, the San Gorgonio Pass/Coachella Valley segment in Southern California is among the most important. There has long been wide-ranging support in the Coachella Valley for a daily Sunset Limited. Indio has been pushing for the Sunset Limited to return service to their community as well; and a new station built for the CVR service could also serve Amtrak trains. A daily Sunset Limited could complement the regional CVR service.  One of the markets served by Amtrak long-distance trains are shorter distance corridors. The Sunset Limited can add an extra schedule at off-peak times to add options and customer value to the CVR. The current schedule of the Sunset Limited which serves the Palm Springs station late in the evening/early in the morning almost certainly offers such an opportunity.
  • Benefits to UP freight rail. Steady growth of UP freight traffic on the Yuma Subdivision is projected to increase to 88 daily one-way freight trips on the Colton-Coachella segment by 2044 (pg. 2-26), more than double the 2018 average of 42 one-way freight trains per day (pg. 2-18). While UP has invested in many track capacity improvements on the Sunset Route over the years, one of its chokepoints remains the San Gorgonio Pass/Coachella Valley. With the new third main track, UP could run more conventional long-distance freight trains on the Sunset Route, and future short and medium-haul freight trains from LA/Inland Empire to the Coachella Valley and Arizona could be justified on public benefit of getting trucks off of I-10.
  • New California-Arizona regional passenger service. Amtrak’s May 2021 Connects US ‘Corridor Vision’ proposed one daily roundtrip of a LA-Arizona regional service, between LAUS, the Coachella Valley, Yuma, Phoenix and Tucson. For the long term, a daily Sunset Limited on its own is not sufficient to be the prime mover of rail passengers between LA, Coachella Valley, Phoenix and Tucson. RailPAC recommends that dedicated Southern California-Arizona corridor passenger trains should start with a minimum service of two daily trains each way, morning and evening from LA and Phoenix/Tucson (further complementing other future LAUS-Coachella Valley and Tucson-Phoenix trains).
  • Imperial Valley extension. Some trains of theLAUS-Coachella Valley service should extend to Brawley, El Centro and Calexico in the Imperial Valley (as described RCTC’s 1991 Los Angeles – Coachella Valley – Imperial County Intercity Rail Feasibility Study). The combined population of the bi-national region of the Imperial County/Mexicali Municipality is over 1.2 million people, providing a valuable international connection opportunity and ridership driver for CVR service.

2. Noise and Vibration of Passenger Rail Operations

In relation to Section 3.6 (Mitigation Strategy LU-3 “land use consistency”, pg. 3.6-42), RailPAC recommends that sound walls and sound-dampening ballast in railbed should be implemented where the track passes close to residential areas, such as in Loma Linda.

Sincerely,

Brian B. Yanity

Vice President- South and Board Member,

Rail Passenger Association of California and Nevada (RailPAC)

Amtrak Long Distance, Commentary, Editorials

Please contact your U.S. Representative in support of COVID Relief Bill and Amtrak long-distance trains

Within the next week it appears that the House will have the final vote on its COVID Relief Bill.  As released, the bill has funding and a mandate for daily service of Amtrak’s long-distance trains. RailPAC encourages all those who value passenger rail to contact their representative and encourage them to vote for the bill.  All House members on their web page allow constituents to send a short email.  This will be the fastest, easiest way to express your support for daily service.  Your email is a vote for daily service.  Legislators’ staff members count up these email messages.  So communicate your support for daily long-distance service within the next day or so.

Some suggested language:

“Transportation, both local and intercity, is a key factor in the reopening of the American economy.  I urge you to vote for the COVID Relief Bill.  Especially critical, as the travel industry tries to rebuild, is funding and the mandate for Amtrak’s long-distance trains to return to daily service.  Also important is funding for transit systems which will be needed by workers as jobs and traffic congestion return.”  Thank you.

Steve Roberts, President RailPAC

Amtrak Long Distance, Arizona, Central Coast, Coachella/Imperial Valleys, Commentary, Editorials, Electrification, High Speed Rail, LOSSAN, Metrolink/SCCRA, Rail Technology, San Diego County, San Joaquin, Technical and Rolling Stock

Steel Wheels, 1st Quarter 2021 issue available online

Download the pdf of Steel Wheels, 1st Quarter 2021 by clicking here.

In this issue:

  • San Diego County rail improvements
  • Public transportation in a post-pandemic world
  • Prospects for future LA-Phoenix passenger rail
  • Letter to California High Speed Rail Authority
  • Arizona rail news
  • Russ Jackson commentary on state of U.S. passenger rail in 2021
  • Andrew Seldon commentary on future of Amtrak
  • Battery vs. hydrogen trains
  • European night trains- lessons for USA?
  • and more!
Amtrak Long Distance, Bay Area, CalSTA TIRCP, Caltrain, Central Coast, Coachella/Imperial Valleys, Commentary, Editorials, Electrification, High Speed Rail, LOSSAN, Metrolink/SCCRA, Rail Technology, San Diego County, San Francisco, San Joaquin

RailPAC submits public comment letter on California Transportation Plan 2050

The California Transportation Plan (CTP) 2050 is the “state’s long-range transportation plan that establishes an aspirational vision that articulates strategic goals, policies, and recommendations to improve multimodal mobility and accessibility while reducing greenhouse gas emissions”: https://ctp2050.com/

Read RailPAC’s letter of public comment on the CTP 2050 public review draft by clicking here.

Amtrak Long Distance, Commentary

STATEMENT Of UNITED RAIL PASSENGER ALLIANCE To the House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Hearing on Amtrak Response to Covid-19 September 9, 2020

United Rail Passenger Alliance (URPA) respectfully submits this Statement to the Subcommittee. URPA is an independent national research and education organization on rail passenger transportation issues.

Amtrak’s response to the Covid-19 epidemic has been schizophrenic. At the same time it undertook a campaign to clean its stations and trains to reduce the risk of virus propagation, and a masking requirement for employees and customers, it has also prejudiced the mobility needs of the American public by announcing the withdrawal of the majority of its train services in the only part of its business where Americans have returned to using trains in large numbers. It makes no sense to reduce operations in its largest, most productive and most commercially-successful business segment, the national system of inter-regional trains, just as demand for these services has rebounded more than anywhere else in the system.

URPA applauds Amtrak’s cleaning and masking (and social distancing) initiatives. But URPA condemns Amtrak’s abandonment of the demonstrated transport needs of the American public at a time of crisis brought about by the Covid-19 epidemic.

Amtrak has deceived the Subcommittee in respect to the performance and prospects of its three operating divisions, the Inter-regional trains, the state-sponsored intra-regional corridors, and the federally-subsidized Northeast Corridor (NEC).

Contrary to Amtrak’s misrepresentations, the inter-regional group of trains is Amtrak’s largest, most productive and most commercially-successful segment. These are the trains to which Americans have turned during the Covid-19 epidemic.

The inter-regional group of trains (sometimes referred to as “long-distance” trains) is Amtrak’s largest business—it carries the most intercity passengers of any segment of Amtrak’s operation. NEC trains’ passengers consist predominantly of customers who are classified by the Department of Transportation as commuters, not intercity passengers; the intercity component of Amtrak’s NEC traffic is no more numerous than the intercity component of the inter-regional trains, and in some years, less. (In many years, the state-sponsored corridor trains also carry more intercity passengers than do Amtrak’s NEC trains, leaving the NEC—in terms of true intercity passengers carried—as Amtrak’s smallest division.)

The inter-regional trains are also Amtrak’s most productive. They have the highest load factors in the entire system (50-60+%, in operations where an annual load factor of 65% is a sold-out condition due to the large number of stations served and the regular turnover of passengers en route; on the western inter-regional trains, it is customary for each seat and berth to turn over on average 2 ½ times per trip). The load factor in the NEC by contrast rarely exceeds 50%, and south of Philadelphia and east of New Haven Amtrak’s NEC trains arithmetically cannot have load factors that exceed 28%–more than two-thirds of their proffered inventory goes unsold, a most unproductive use of scarce federal subsidy capital. In the traffic vacuum in the NEC during the Covid-19 epidemic, these NEC load factors are even lower.

The inter-regional trains also always produce 150-200% more transportation output annually than do the NEC or state-sponsored corridor trains. Output is measured in annual revenue passenger miles (not “ridership,” which merely measure transactions). This is the most important index of size and productivity of a passenger transportation network, and nothing else that Amtrak does comes even close to the inter-regional trains in producing annual passenger miles. This is doubly so in the Covid-19 epidemic. (The state-sponsored corridors produce about the same output each year as does the NEC.)

The interregional trains are also the most commercially successful trains that Amtrak operates, measured by their market share for intercity passenger transport. In their respective corridors, the inter-regional trains ordinarily generate market shares of 5 to 6%. In the NEC, Amtrak’s market share (not the air-rail modal split that Amtrak sometimes publishes) for intercity passenger transport in the region rarely reaches as high as 1 1/2 %, and that has shrunk for decades. Today, intercity buses carry more passengers in the NEC than do Amtrak’s trains.

In the current Covid-19 epidemic, Amtrak’s transaction volume (“ridership”) and output plummeted. But they did not do so uniformly across the system. Amtrak has tried to deceive the public and the federal government by emphasizing its system totals rather than breaking out the separate performance in the epidemic of its three operating divisions. The inter-regional trains fell far less than did the shorter corridor trains, and the NEC fell the furthest. At the same time that Acela demand dropped to zero, the inter-regional trains initially retained 15% of their demand, and then quickly rebounded, in some cases to near-normal levels.

As the system struggles to recover—as Americans regain their confidence to make intercity trips—the inter-regional trains have recovered far faster than the corridors, and especially the business travel-dependent NEC, which remains severely depressed. URPA research suggests that the western inter-regional trains, by sharp contrast, recovered to normal, pre-epidemic, traffic levels during the late Spring and Summer peak period.

This finding is corroborated by the fact that in the four months ending July 31, 2020, the inter-regional trains brought Amtrak more revenue, and URPA believes more revenue passenger miles, than all of the other trains (including in the NEC) combined.

Based on these objective and relevant criteria, therefore, the inter-regional trains are, and remain during the epidemic, Amtrak’s largest, strongest, most successful, and most relevant group of trains. The inter-regional trains, in fact, appear to be the trains that serve the demonstrated demand of a clear majority of American travelers for rail transport during the Covid-19 epidemic, just as in more normal times..

Against this background, Amtrak’s decision to charge ahead with procurement, testing and deployment of costly new high-speed Avelia trains in the NEC—a market for which demand has dropped to and remained near zero—while eliminating even once-a-day services in its largest, most productive, and highest-demand segment, the inter-regional routes (except Auto Train), is bizarre, biased, political and irrational. Amtrak could not have more disserved the American public during the Covid-19 epidemic than by reducing the frequencies of its inter-regional trains.

Amtrak’s coy hints that the interregional trains might be retained if only congress appropriates massive new subsidies is exactly the same ploy, in almost exactly the same terminology, that Amtrak used in 2002 after the roll-out of the Acela program in the NEC exhausted the company’s cash and rendered it insolvent. Congress should not allow itself to be taken in again. Instead, congress should insist that Amtrak use its existing resources first to sustain the trains that customers are actually using:  the heavily-used national network of inter-regional trains.

Respectfully Submitted,

United Rail Passenger Alliance

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Andrew C. Selden, President

612.229.9592

NCL25@yahoo.com

Amtrak Long Distance, Arizona, Caltrain, Commentary, Editorials, High Speed Rail, Metrolink/SCCRA, Orange County, San Diego County, Steel Wheels Conference, The Steel Wheels Column

Steel Wheels, 3rd quarter 2020 available online

Download the pdf of Steel Wheels magazine, 3rd quarter 2020 by clicking here.

In this issue:

  • RailPAC and Steel Wheels Coalition to Amtrak: “Daily is Minimum Acceptable Standard for Long Distance Trains”, and Amtrak’s reply, with Russ Jackson’s reply to Amtrak, Paul Dyson response.
  • High Speed Rail update
  • Tri Weekly and the Heartland Flyer
  • Orange County developments
  • Arizona news
  • and more!
Amtrak Long Distance, Antelope Valley Line, Arizona, CA Rail Statistics, Caltrain, Commentary, Editorials, Electrification, eNewsletter, High Speed Rail, LA Metro, LOSSAN, Metrolink/SCCRA, Metrolink/SCRRA, Nevada, Rail Technology, San Joaquin, SMART, Technical and Rolling Stock

Steel Wheels magazine, 2nd quarter 2020 available online

Download the pdf version of Steel Wheels, 2nd Quarter 2020 by clicking here.

In this issue:

  • RailPAC President’s Commentary on COVID-19 and passenger rail
  • California High Speed Rail Update
  • Amtrak pandemic “Lessons Learned” commentary
  • RailPAC recommendations for Nevada State Rail Plan
  • RailPAC’s recommended priority rail investments for California
  • California company makes progress with zero-emissions locomotives
  • Dick Spotswood commentary on SMART
  • Arizona News
  • “From the Real Platform” – Editor’s Column
  • LA Union Station – looking for a lower cost solution

Amtrak Long Distance, Commentary

Amtrak long distance trains: does less than daily make any sense?

Amtrak has recently requested additional funds to cover operating costs and reduced revenue because of the Covid-19 pandemic. A corollary to this request is a plan to reduce long distance service from daily (in most cases) to three or four times a week.

RailPAC President Steve Roberts replies:

Amtrak’s request for funds – How should advocates respond?

Identifying and defining the costs will be critical. Advocates should start first by strictly defining the assumptions and timeframe. The time frame Amtrak says it is addressing is a 9-12 month period (FY21) where overall travel demand remains substantially lower than normal and discretionary travel is dramatically less than has been seen historically. Ridership on the trains will average about 50% of historic norms. Assuming the roll-out of a vaccine or more consistent social protections and the slow continuation of an economic rebound in late winter/spring of 2021, there should be a steady growth in ridership by Summer of 2021. In short, we are looking at a one year event.

On the cost side there is a reason why this is important. It means the estimates of cost savings need to focus on short-term avoidable costs without allocated additives. (Additives are added to direct costs to account for overheads directly link with an activity, i.e. the cost of crew base management shared by many routes accounted for with an additive on for example a conductors salary cost, a specific known cost). When you make a change for only a year you save the cost of the conductor’s salary but the cost of the crew base remains. Any proposal to reduce service needs to focus on short-term avoidable costs – fuel, on-train wages, train supplies, turn around maintenance, etc. The decision should not be made based on fully allocate costs, i.e. backbone costs, that are allocated to train routes as part of the accounting process (A perfectly fine academic accounting exercise but totally useless for deciding tri-weekly vs daily).

Two revenue areas that are important.

The first is connections. It varies by route, but looking at arrivals at the major hubs around 30% of the riders are connecting to other trains. Many are connecting to corridor trains but many are also connecting to other long-distance trains. It is impossible to have all the long-distance trains operate tri-weekly and still have connectivity in Washington, Chicago, LA and Seattle. So that is a big loss in revenue from breaking those schedules. Only daily service can maintain the utility of the National Network.

The second is what is called “claw-back”. Claw back is the percentage of riders who will shift their travel date to match a tri-weekly schedule. Longer distance vacation/leisure travelers are those where the greatest percentage of riders will shift their travel days. For those traveling strictly for transportation, a lower percentage will shift. Sleeping car riders are more likely to shift, 300 to 500 mile coach travelers are the riders least likely to shift but will choose another mode. The key difference driving these differences is that leisure travelers are making longer duration trips with more options for layover days. Shorter distance travelers are making shorter duration trips where adding a day to match a train schedule can add 30% or more to the trip duration. Because there have been numerous instances of LD trains moving from daily to tri-weekly and then daily again Amtrak has data to correctly calculate “claw-back” should it choose to use it.

So why is this important? The answer is who is going to be traveling in FY 21? Will it be seniors taking long circle trips in sleeping cars around America or will it be coach passengers traveling between 300-500 miles on the long-distance trains, strictly for essential transportation, to handle personal business, a medical treatment, to help elderly parents, etc. The level of service required for this type of market in FY 21 is daily service. A tri-weekly train is exactly the wrong kind of service for the market in FY21.

Steve Roberts – RailPAC President