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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!

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, 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

CA Rail Statistics, Commentary, Editorials, High Speed Rail, Issues, Rail Technology, Technical and Rolling Stock, Tracking Rail News

President’s Commentary – Key RailPAC priorities for 2020

By Steve Roberts – RailPAC President

[Originally published in Steel Wheels, 1st Quarter 2020]

Greetings!

In early January, members of the RailPAC Board developed options and came to a consensus on RailPAC’s policy priorities for 2020.  The two major ground rules were that the priorities had to be focused and actionable in 2020.  A list of about a dozen initiatives was consolidated and prioritized into four key priorities with two additional initiatives RailPAC will be following, but don’t appear to require RailPAC to take the lead.  RailPAC can offer support if the opportunity arises.

The four key 2020 RailPAC priorities are:

Surfliner Service Crisis and Vision – The recent collapse of the cliff at Del Mar clearly shows the threat of rising sea levels and more intense storms to Surfliner/Coaster service.  There is no future for the Surfliner/Coaster route at its current location.  Given the magnitude of relocation project, it needs to start now.  And the collapse of the cliff at Del Mar is not the only threat. The route is also threatened by the same forces at San Clemente.  In addition, the Surfliner route has not developed an expansive vision that would deal with both the climate change issue along with dramatically re-imaging the rail line as an faster, electrified, high-frequency, high capacity service that would incent transit oriented development, generate maximum ridership and contribute to enhancing travel capacity within the Southern California megaregion. Southern California RailPAC’s members are focused on calling attention to the immediate threat to the route as well as championing the development of a robust long-term vision of an interconnected high-performance auto competitive passenger rail system. 

California High Speed Rail Funding Strategy – Even though this initiative is one to watch rather than take the lead, Board members clearly felt it had high importance because of the magnitude of the HSR program. This initiative is both complex and challenging.  It is challenging because, unlike most discussions which often take place at the staff level (which RailPAC can influence with information), the high-speed rail funding discussion is taking place at the highest levels of the Newsom administration and legislature.  Add in the attempted “claw back” of funds from the administration in Washington and as they say “this is way above my pay grade”.  It is complex because all of the discussions and the power plays are happening legislator to legislator with only flashes of light as legislators on both sides make their cases or work behind the scenes for a compromise.  RailPAC will keep members updated and stand ready to weigh in on this issue at the appropriate time.

Daily Sunset Campaign – One thing I think all RailPAC members can agree on is tri-weekly service for a long-distance train route generates sub-par ridership and ticket revenue results.  So not surprisingly, this initiative was identified as a key priority for RailPAC in 2020.  Building on the grassroots outreach over the past few years by advocates along the I-10 corridor, 2020 will see a new phase of the daily Sunset Limited campaign.  Details are outlined in an article on page XX of this issue of Steel Wheels.                

SCORE/Metrolink Vision – SCORE, Southern California Optimized Rail Expansion program, is a $10 billion capital program that will upgrade the Metrolink system, adding additional tracks, grade separations, signal work and investments to facilitate zero-emissions operations.  Currently Metrolink is working on rail operations modeling; development of design alternatives, identifying and prioritizing proposed capacity improvements, undertaking preliminary engineering and the environmental assessment for the proposed projects.  SCORE service goals would deliver faster, more reliable service with greater frequencies system wide and high frequencies within the core network.  This initiative will be being championed by RailPAC’s Southern California members who are especially focused on developing a robust long-term vision of an interconnected high-performance auto competitive transit system.  Near-term goals for these members is advocating for the timely completion of the third main track Hobart to Fullerton including the Fullerton interlocking project, double tracking of the Antelope Valley and Ventura lines and a new station at Pacoima.

Initiatives being monitored:

Several initiatives proposed as 2020 priorities were not rated as highly as the others listed above but they still are important.  These are:

Dumbarton Transportation Corridor (Dumbarton Bridge) – The Dumbarton Transportation Corridor is a critical connection linking San Joaquin Valley and East Bay housing to job centers in southern San Mateo County and northern Santa Clara County.  The current highway bridge is at or near capacity with job growth continuing.  Building a replacement rail line and bridge utilizing the current rail right-of-way would add substantial cross bay capacity to this corridor while facilitating connections and/or direct service from several existing high-capacity transit operators – Bay Rapid Transit District (BART), Caltrain, Capitol Corridor and Altamont Commuter Rail (ACE).  From the transit perspective the lack of service on this corridor represents a critical gap in network connectivity.  Because of these connectivity benefits, RailPAC considers this an important priority.  Currently the project is undergoing the Environmental Review Process so advocacy opportunities are limited until the report draft is completed.  RailPAC’s Northern California members will be monitoring this project.

Mental Health/Homelessness/Security – For riders on intercity and commuter rail their “final mile” is most likely on transit and/or walking.  In addition to being concerned about this as a social justice issue, RailPAC members are also concerned about how mental health and homelessness impacts the perception of security both on-board and around transit stations.  This perception results in lower ridership and thus reduces the community benefits from the large investments in transit systems.  There appear to be several initiatives underway in Sacramento in an attempt to address these issues.  While RailPAC has no expertise to offer solutions to mental health and homelessness, RailPAC can comment on the impacts of failing to address these issues.  RailPAC will stand ready to support any legislative action around these issues.

Freight Rail Carrier Cost Shifting – This priority focuses on actual and proposed changes in rail freight operations, long-mega trains and single person operator freight trains that potentially have significant negative public impacts.  The issue is not so much the changes to operations, but the implementation of these changes without the investments by the freight railroads to mitigate the potential public impacts of these changes; i.e. blocked crossings and delays to passenger trains.  In effect the freight railroads are shifting the costs of these operational changes, which should be internal and borne by the carriers, to the general public.  While RailPAC has no expertise in the specifics of rail freight operations and investments to mitigate the negative impact of these operational changes, RailPAC can attest to the public costs of these changes.  RailPAC will stand ready to support any legislative action around these issues.

 

Amtrak National Network Campaign 2018, Editorials, Issues, Steel Wheels Conference

Our Most Important RailPAC Steel Wheels Conference Ever

2018 has become a critical year for passenger rail in California.  The threat to the interstate network trains, California Zephyr, Sunset Limited, Southwest Chief and Coast Starlight, puts them on the brink of fading into history barring radical action by Amtrak management and the Federal government.  Two decades of under-investment would have been enough to doom these overnight sleeper trains without the deliberate destruction by Amtrak’s new management team.  Amtrak CEO Anderson stated in April at the Los Angeles summit that “they are not viable” and he means to replace them.  Well, that’s a plain enough statement for me.  Perhaps from his standpoint its a reasonable position to take.  Anderson was not at the helm during the decades of neglect and channeling of of the majority of available funds to the NEC.  Nor is he responsible for the repeated calls from past Presidents and the Congress for the elimination of Amtrak, based on dubious data from Amtrak themselves.  But as CEO he is responsible for ensuring that he has good data on which to base his decisions.  He should understand the value of a connected 500 station network, and he should know the value of the cash flow from these trains.  When you stop selling a product, the first thing that you lose is the revenue.  How much of the allocated costs end at the same time?

Let’s not fool ourselves.  “Saving” the Southwest Chief is not just about maintaining the present operation with some cooperation from the FRA regarding Positive Train Control.  Saving the National Network, especially the “Superliner” trains in the west will require a huge capital investment.  Locomotives and cars do not come cheap.  Indeed they are made more expensive by another Amtrak management failure, the lack of consistent orders for replacement and additional cars which could have formed the basis of an ongoing, low volume production line.  This would have retained the skills and tools needed, rather than trying to start from scratch with the “lowest bidder”.  Nippon Sharyo is now closing their factory in Rochelle, IL, having failed to produce a bi-level car.  We’re in danger of the passenger rail manufacturing business becoming like halloween shops,  the pop up economy.

Siemens is selling passenger locomotives at $7 million a copy, and passenger cars can be had for about $3 million each.  It doesn’t take long to run up a $2 billion tab at that rate, and that’s without refurbishing the best of the existing fleet.  But then, $2 billion pales in comparison with the $150 billion I’ve heard quoted to maintain and modernize the Northwest Corridor.  Let’s not be afraid of large numbers.  And let’s not forget that $2 billion represents a lot of skilled work hours from a number of suppliers around the country.  It also represent the continuation of work opportunities for train crews, station staff and maintenance personnel.  In my view it’s an investment that we can afford, and that is well justified.

Here in California, with a new Governor taking office in January, questions will inevitably raised about the High Speed Rail project.  Even the most ardent supporter has to be disappointed in the lack of progress since 2008.  Rather than rehash all the reasons for the current situation, RailPAC will be looking at ways to exploit the work done so far and make recommendations based on what can realistically be delivered in the next decade.  That will be the debate that we will have in Sacramento, and continuing into the New Year.

Speaking of disappointment, what real progress have we seen with the state corridors?  In 2018 it still takes most of three hours to travel by train between Los Angeles and San Diego, about the same as 1971.  And how about an hour and ten minutes for 50 miles between Oakland and San Jose?  RailPAC’s early campaigns were about using existing routes and making incremental improvements, and that was OK for the first decade or so.  But the low hanging fruit has long since been harvested, and the boards that now govern the state corridors had better wake up to the fact.  Single track railroads along the beach may be picturesque but they don’t move people quickly or efficiently.  Both LOSSAN and CapCor need major capital investments if they are to have real impact on our mobility needs.  Yes, we’re talking billions again.

This is why we have an annual conference, and this is why it’s more important than ever that you attend.  National Network, State Corridors, High Speed Rail are all at a turning point and in need of very large investments if they are to continue and prosper.  This is your chance to meet industry experts and RailPAC leaders and tell us your ideas and where we should focus our efforts.  REGISTER TODAY!

Paul Dyson, RailPAC President

pdyson@xg1.b3e.myftpupload.com

 

 

Amtrak National Network Campaign 2018, Editorials

Anderson and crew have it all wrong about Raton Pass

In their recent employee bulletin Amtrak management, (Anderson and crew) upped the ante by demanding over $100 million for the route of the Southwest Chief between Kansas and New Mexico, including “full PTC”.  If you want to hold politicians to ransom you wave the safety flag.  An elected official can be no more be against safety than she or he can oppose motherhood or apple pie, so it’s a slick tactic.  Our job is to expose it as a sham.  We can spend billions on marginal improvements with full PTC on every mile of track, or we can be sensible and assess the risk, keeping in mind that every dollar spent on PTC is a dollar that cannot be spent on track, improved and safer access for the handicapped, lighting and paving at stations, all of which improve safety.  As for taking people off trains and putting them on buses, it’s quite unbelievable for a supposedly safety conscious organization to even consider such a thing.

Per former NARP President Ross Capon:

“Putting people in buses to ride over Raton Pass would worsen safety, not improve it. Some rail-to-bus and bus-to-rail transfer injuries are likely, especially among older passengers. Moreover, Grady Cothen Jr., a leading PTC expert who retired in 2010 as FRA Deputy Associate Administrator for Safety Standards and remained active as a consultant until about two years ago, has told us that—based on available information—risks are limited on most of the Dodge City-Madrid segment because competing traffic is light in some places, nonexistent in others. The absence of heavy axle load freight traffic should also make derailment prevention easier, given the reduced risk of rail breaks and freight braking-induced kinks. Indeed, with limited PTC functionality procured at a tiny fraction of the $55 million Amtrak has quoted, this segment should have lower overall risk, even without PTC, than most of Amtrak’s network. (FRA does require PTC on the 20+ miles between La Junta and Las Animas Junction, due to freight tonnage — this is part of BNSF’s coal route.)

Amtrak claims SW Chief infrastructure capital costs are $100+ million over five years including $55m for PTC.

* The bulk of the $55m is not reasonable, per the above. 

* $22.5 million (the non-Amtrak share of the latest TIGER grant) would become available if and when Amtrak releases its $3m.

* This creates a dramatically more manageable scenario than Amtrak has portrayed.

Amtrak claims $3m operating costs — as has been noted, this figure would be dwarfed by the combined impact of charter bus expenses and revenues lost due to the bus operation.”

Once again much of Amtrak’s thinking is driven by their own negative attitude towards their own product, i.e. the interstate sleeper trains that are a key element of the National Network.  A growth minded organization would be figuring out how to add trains to this lightly used but scenic section of track which would not suffer from delays caused by freight trains.  If you read this quarter’s Steel Wheels you will see some good ideas about increasing revenue (making stations revenue and activity centers, 24 hour dining cars), as well as an essay on reorganizing Amtrak for the 21st century.  The threat to the Southwest Chief has brought some life back into the advocacy movement.  Let’s momentum and campaign for a reformed Amtrak with new management for the National Network.

Paul Dyson, 17th August.

pdyson@xg1.b3e.myftpupload.com