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Commentary

Amtrak Long Distance, Commentary, Electrification, Rail Technology

RailPAC submits comment letter to U.S. DOT on supply chain and freight issues

The majority of intercity and regional/commuter passenger rail service in the U.S. is on tracks shared with freight trains. Therefore, sufficient capacity, safety and reliability of the nation’s freight rail system is vital to the interest of rail passengers. These two different uses of railroad infrastructure need not be in conflict. Both passenger and freight trains sharing the same tracks will benefit from coordinated planning, efficient operations, and capital improvements.

RailPAC is pleased to offer this comment letter in response to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT)’s Request for Information: America’s Supply Chains and the Transportation Industrial Base (Docket No. DOT-OST-2021-0106). RailPAC has provided written responses to particular freight and logistics topics on which the DOT seeking information from the public, as described by the notice of request for information

RailPAC’s 11-page comment letter can be read by clicking here.

Commentary, eNewsletter

Update on Noel Braymer’s rail ENews

“As many of you have noticed, Noel Braymer’s ENews is no longer showing up every Monday in our inboxes.   I wanted to give everyone an overview of the status of this popular information source.  Over the past two years changes with the web vendors and the functionality of their products used to produce ENews combined with increases in the number of publications with “paywalls” has made it increasingly difficult and challenging to produce ENews using its traditional format.  Noel tried very hard to make it work but things became increasingly unworkable. As a result we are taking a step-back to reevaluate the ways in which current news can be provided and products that might be available to achieve that goal at a reasonable cost.  At present, there is no timeline for a replacement. So on behalf of myself, the RailPAC Board and all ENews readers I wish to thank Noel for all his hard work over the past decade in developing, editing and distributing ENews – including during his trips to Ireland.  Thank you Noel.”

-Steve Roberts, RailPAC President

Amtrak Long Distance, Arizona, Bay Area, Caltrain, Commentary, Editorials, Electrification, High Speed Rail, LA Metro, LOSSAN, Metrolink/SCCRA, Nevada, Rail Photos, Rail Technology, SCORE Program, Steel Wheels Conference, Technical and Rolling Stock

Steel Wheels, 3rd Quarter 2021 Issue Available Online

Download the pdf of Steel Wheels, 3rd Quarter 2021 by clicking here.

In this issue:

  • Hydrogen and battery-electric rail propulsion
  • Dumbarton rail corridor
  • Amtrak dining
  • Amtrak to Glacier Park, group trip report
  • RailPAC California infrastructure priorities
  • Arizona News
  • Nevada News
  • RailPAC board member Marcia Johnston remembered
  • and more!

Commentary, Electrification, High Speed Rail, Rail Technology, Technical and Rolling Stock

RailPAC sends letter to U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg in response to letter from California Assembly Speaker Rendon on High Speed Rail Settlement Agreement

The Honorable Pete Buttigieg
Secretary of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Avenue, S.E.
Washington, DC 20590

July 7, 2021

RE: Response to California Legislature’s Electrification Technology Letter

Dear Secretary Buttigieg,

The Rail Passenger Association of California and Nevada (RailPAC) is an all-volunteer
bi-state organization that has advocated for the improvement of commuter and intercity
passenger rail service since 1978. Many RailPAC members are veterans of the railroad
industry or have considerable knowledge and experience of energy application and
transmission.

Recently the Speaker of the California Assembly and several co-signers sent you a letter
regarding the FY2010 High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Grant Settlement Agreement.
The letter from the Speaker argued that battery and hydrogen technology make overhead
power delivery obsolete and that the Settlement Agreement should not restrict funds
solely to an overhead power system. In addition,that letter contained optimistic
assumptions and omissions which we would like to highlight.

While there is potentially a role for battery and fuel cell technology in rail transportation,
it is clear that neither hydrogen fuel cell nor batteries can deliver enough power to
operate a high-speed train. The key issue is the impact of weight and speed on the power
requirements.The critical advantage to overhead catenary electrification is the ability to
“offload” the power source to stationary power sources. This “off-loading” avoids
significant vehicle weight by eliminating thousands of pounds of fuel cell, hydrogen fuel
or batteries. Simply put, batteries and hydrogen fuel cells will never be light enough, or
have the on-board energy storage density to match the power efficiency of overhead
electrification for high speed rail operations. Overhead electrification has proven reliable
and is safe and cost effective for high-speed rail systems around the world.

Some members of RailPAC work on the design and building of prototype battery electric
locomotives while others own hydrogen powered automobiles and are involved in
advocating for adoption of hydrogen power. They were uniformly critical of the
Speaker’s proposal. They note that battery and hydrogen technologies are still unproven
both from the technical and economic perspective. There are scalability issues around the
production and distribution of green hydrogen which will require a significant investment
to become viable.Overhead electrification is “off the shelf” technology with decades of
proven service and continuous technological improvements.

Finally, given the lack of technical awareness and the lack of due diligence in the
Speaker’s letter,one can only presume the real intent of the letter was to sow confusion
in order to delay the project further,adding costs. Certain members of the Assembly
hope to divert funds to projects in Southern California seemingly unaware that there is
planned or ongoing investment of over $30 Billion in funded rail projects in the region.
Neither Southern California public agencies nor the construction industry has the
immediate capacity to take on additional large scale projects even if the funding were
made available.

RailPAC remains committed to the California High-Speed Rail project Early Interim
Service as the most viable path to the phase one high-speed network and the only viable
alternative to increased highway and airport investment. RailPAC sees no need to alter
the existing language in the Settlement Agreement. Thank you for your strong support
for passenger rail.

Sincerely,

Steve Roberts, President

Rail Passenger Association of California and Nevada (RailPAC)

cc: Chief Counsel, Federal Railroad Administration

Commentary

Steel Wheels, 2nd Quarter 2021 issue available online

Download the pdf of Steel Wheels, 2nd Quarter 2021 by clicking here.

In this issue:

  • Orange County LOSSAN rail corridor improvement projects
  • Public transportation in a post-pandemic world, part 2
  • Trip report: Ride on the California Zephyr to Utah
  • Super Chief recollection
  • Does Ventura County need Metrolink?
  • Bruce Jenkins and Jim Mills remembered
  • and more!

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)

Commentary, LOSSAN, Metrolink/SCCRA, Orange County, SCORE Program

RailPAC submits Public Comment Letter on Serra Siding Extension Project in Orange County

Click here for more information about the Serra Siding Extension Project in Dana Point, currently under environmental review by the Orange County Transportation Authority.

To: Chris Haskell

SCORE Deputy Program Manager

900 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 1500

Los Angeles, CA 90017

Email: SerraSiding@octa.net

CC: Donna DeMartino, LOSSAN Rail Corridor Agency Managing Director

April 11, 2021

Subject: Public Comment Letter on Serra Siding Extension Project

Dear Mr. Haskell,

The Rail Passenger Association of California and Nevada (RailPAC) is a two-state organization with membership throughout California and Nevada. RailPAC is a strong advocate for an expanded comprehensive public transportation network serving the entire state of California as well as Nevada. RailPAC is an all-volunteer non-profit passenger rail advocacy group, founded in 1978.

RailPAC fully supports the Serra Siding Extension Project. This 1.2-mile siding extension alongside the LOSSAN mainline track in Dana Point frees up a bottleneck at this key location between Los Angeles and San Diego, the second-busiest intercity passenger rail corridor in the United States.  Upon completion, the project will benefit thousands of rail passengers each day on the Metrolink Inland Empire-Orange County and Orange County lines as well as the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner.

The siding will enable a safer, more reliable and more frequent passenger train service, improving on-time performance.  This siding will also reduce the risk of train delays and operational shutdowns during routine maintenance and incidents on the current single track.  The new siding will be on the inland side of the existing main track, thus providing a second barrier to better protect the route and Coast Highway from coastal erosion and storm surge flooding. 

The increase to train capacity resulting from this siding will result in more riders, improved schedule flexibility, which in turn will make it more convenient for riders. This capacity is needed as Metrolink and Amtrak Surfliner reimagine their schedules as LOSSAN ridership rebounds after the pandemic.  Looking forward, the combination of a strong growth in leisure travel, a rebound in business travel and the travel demands of the hybrid office will result in continuing ridership growth and the need for more operational flexibility.

Sincerely,

Brian Yanity

Vice President- South and Board Member,

Rail Passenger Association of California and Nevada (RailPAC)

Commentary, Electrification, High Speed Rail, San Joaquin

RailPAC submits letter to California State Senate Committee on Transportation on Appropriation of Proposition 1A Funds to the CHSRA

California State Senate Committee on Transportation
State Capitol, Room 2209
Sacramento, CA 95814

March 30, 2021

RE: Appropriation of Proposition 1A Funds to the CHSRA

Good Day. My name is Steve Roberts and I am President of the Rail Passenger Association of California and Nevada (RailPAC). I want to thank you for the opportunity to view and comment on the Senate Transportation Committee’s oversight hearing on March 16, 2021 on California High-Speed Rail Authority’s Revised Draft 2020 Business Plan.

While the hearing provided a valuable update on the high-speed rail project, its challenges/risks and options for moving forward and I understand hearing comments are closed, members of RailPAC feel that there was a major omission that we want to bring to your attention. While the risks for CHSRA’s proposed path forward were presented to legislators, the risks associated with the alternatives outlined were not presented. In some cases these risks are substantial and exceed the risks for the plan outlined in the Authority’s 2020 Business Plan. As a result, Senators only have a full understanding of the benefits and risks of the proposed 2020 Business Plan, but do not have the same level of information on risks for the alternative options.

For example, Lou Thompson of the High-Speed Rail Peer Review Group suggested postponing the Proposition 1A appropriation decision by six-months. But that would put the decision out of the 21/22 State Fiscal Year budget cycle. The result would be, not a six-month delay, but a year’s delay,until the State Fiscal Year 22/23 cycle. As the Authority has noted,the cost of Covid-19 delays in 2020 has driven cost increases which combined with the Cap & Trade short-fall,sets up a cash flow crisis of unknown magnitude. Helen Kerstein, Principle Fiscal and Policy Analyst in the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO),felt that the Authority could manage any cash crisis associated with a delay in bond funding;but as we have seen this year, there is no certainty of that. Why take the risk and set-up such a scenario where perhaps work is slowed, bad relations are created with contractors and sub-contractors as a result of slow payments,and pre-construction work on other environmentally cleared segments is delayed? Shouldn’t the Authority’s management be totally focused on the 119-mile project completion instead of on managing a cash crisis that could have been avoided? These risks should have been highlighted to the Senators during the hearing.

A conundrum was also introduced when Mr. Thompson also suggested pausing until the Memorandum of Understanding between the Authority, the San Joaquin JPA and CalSTA could be finalized, so that with specific cost details could be provided. As a result of that pause, the Track & Signal Systems as well as equipment RFP would be deferred. Yet the track and equipment maintenance and lease costs represent the two biggest cost items in the MOU, which cannot be defined untilcontracts are undertaken. If Mr. Thompson’s recommendations are followed, the MOU would not be finalized, thus resulting in planning gridlock.

A risk factor not discussed in the recommended postponement of the Track & Signals Systems contract is the marketplace challenge presented by the fact that many of the track and signal components are long-lead time items, some specially built, in a market with a shrunken domestic supply chain.

In discussing the risk that there may be a shortfall in funds to complete the proposed Merced – Bakersfield Interim Operating Segment, the proposed option, delaying the project, in fact increases the risk, by adding costs due to construction cost inflation. This increased risk was not noted in the hearing.

Also noted,a risk for the Authority’s plan is the uncertainty over whether there would be sufficient revenues to pay maintenance and operating costs for use of the Merced – Bakersfield line. Yet,when the option of operating the existing seven round-trip San Joaquins over the HSR line was discussed, the risk of whether fewer and slower trains with no ACE connection could generate sufficient revenue to pay the Authority’s costs was not highlighted.

Regarding the diesel operation of seven daily round-trips,how does that fit with the environmental studies, all of which estimated large green-house gas (GHG) reductions as a result of very frequent electrified rail service with substantial trip time savings? Doesn’t this suggested diesel option undermine the whole environmental study process? The reversal of environmental commitments in a region where the American Lung Association’s 2016 State of the Air Report found that the San Joaquin Valley has the highest childhood asthma rates in the nation,would seem especially disingenuous. The electrification of the high-speed rail is designed to be a contributing mitigation effort for reaching GHG reduction commitments.

There was also discussion of the total cost of the remaining bonds (principle and interest). What was not noted is that,given current low interest rates, there is an opportunity to reap a substantial interest cost saving by selling the remaining Proposition 1A bonds this year rather than waiting several years.

Additionally, it was suggested that additional right-of-way planning and advanced project design (beyond the Authority’s current plan) be undertaken on the environmentally approved new segments of Phase I. While a very productive effort,this forward leaning initiative would be the first to be eliminated in SFY 21/22 if steady funding through the appropriation of Proposition 1A funds is not achieved and there is cash flow shortfall.

RailPAC feels that,when the risks of the alternative options to the Authority’s Revised 2020 Business Plan are considered, the appropriation of Proposition 1A funds to the Authority is the only proper course. RailPAC is a bi-state organization with membership throughout California and Nevada. RailPAC is a strong advocate for an expanded comprehensive public transportation network serving the entire state. RailPAC is an all-volunteer non-profit passenger rail advocacy group, founded in 1978.

Thank You for your consideration of the points that we raised in this letter.

Yours truly,
Steve Roberts
President Rail Passenger Association of California and Nevada

Commentary, Electrification, High Speed Rail, San Joaquin

RailPAC submits comment to California Senate Transportation Committee & Senate Budget Sub-Committee #5, Joint Informational Hearing on High Speed Rail

March 15, 2021

California State Senate Sub-Committee #5 -Transportation
State Capitol, Room 5019
Sacramento, CA 95814


Chairs Gonzalez, Durazo and Sub-Committee Members:

After review of the California High Speed Rail Authority Revised Draft 2020 California Business Plan,the Rail Passenger Association of California and Nevada (RailPAC) recommends that the Revised 2020 Business Plan be adopted. RailPAC also supports the appropriation of the remaining Proposition1A funds to complete the core 119-mile Central Valley segment. RailPAC feels it is critical to continue to focus on completing the rail line from Merced to Bakersfield and initiating the Interim Central Valley Operating Plan as the best strategy forward.

In order sustain and accelerate project momentum and avoid cash flow issues, it is critical that the remaining Proposition 1A funds be appropriated to finish the core 119-mile segment between Madera and Poplar Ave. This would eliminate a major current risk (COVID driven short-fall in Cap and Trade funds) while positioning California’s high speed rail project as the strongest candidate for additional Federal funds.

Ironically some of the project options proposed by others substantially increases project risk resulting in a high probability of an increase in costs due to delays. Suggestions that the Proposition 1A appropriation be postponed rests on the assumption that the cash flow shortfall can be mitigated. This is speculative and the recommendation increases risk. In addition, not providing a steady funding source prevents the agency from taking advantage of any opportunities to accelerate construction. This suggestion also assumes that the Biden Administration will favorably view projects that are not taking actions to best position themselves to leverage Federal investment.

Among the other postponements suggested,none creates a greater risk than the delay of the Track and Systems contract. First, the core 119-mile segment requires a track to meet ARRA requirements, second all of the core 119-mile designs for civil works will be completed by the time the Track and Systems contract is finalized, third the Track and Systems project will require many months of design and pre-construction activities all of which occur off-site without impacting civil construction. The fourth issue is extremely critical and the activity most impacted by any delay. Much of the Track and Systems components (such as rail, ties, signal components, etc.) are long-lead time items in an environment of a major federal infrastructure initiative where the capacity of the railroad supply industry is geared to lower, normal levels of railroad investment. Delay risks putting California’s HSR project behind the Northeast Corridor, Brightline, Texas Central and Chicago Hub passenger rail capacity projectsin acquiring track and signal components.

One of the key initiatives of the CHSRA Revised Draft 2020 Business Plan is to initially construct the Merced to Bakersfield operating segment as a single track line (with passing sidings). This is an example of focusing in on what is critical to start-up. A single-track rail line is adequate for systems and rail equipment testing. Given the Interim Operating Plan’s proposed service level (hourly service from Bakersfield and Merced 18 hours per day); a single track with passing sidings is sufficient. It is not until hourly service is added between Bakersfield and the Bay Area that a double-track railway will be required. During testing and subsequent interim operations additional segments of double track can be safely constructed. Amtrak totally reconstructs its Northeast Corridor tracks even as operations safely continue on adjacent tracks.

The CHSRA Revised Draft 2020 Business Plan presents a viable plan that substantially improves the California passenger rail network. The Interim Operating Plan brings true high-speed rail service to California sooner than any alternative option. It demonstrates the potential of high-speed rail while facilitating an improved and expanded ACE/San Joaquin/HSR network reaching all of California and delivering a broad integrated California transportation network with the high-speed rail service as its core link. This network also creates the most financially viable option for increasing service and reducing the required operating subsidy compared to the current standalone ACE and San Joaquin services.

The Rail Passenger Association of California and Nevada is a bi-state organization with membership throughout California and Nevada. RailPAC is a strong advocate for an expanded comprehensive public transportation network serving the entire state. RailPAC is an all-volunteer non-profit passenger rail advocacy group, founded in 1978. Thank you for this opportunity to provide input on this vital issue.

Yours truly,

Steve Roberts
President Rail Passenger Association of California and Nevada

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