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RailPAC submits comment letter on Connect SoCal – The 2020-2045 Regional Transportation Plan/Sustainable Communities Strategy

The Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) regional transportation plan is nearing completion. As described by SCAG’s Connect SoCal website:

“Connect SoCal – The 2020-2045 Regional Transportation Plan/Sustainable Communities Strategy is a long-range visioning plan that balances future mobility and housing needs with economic, environmental and public health goals. Connect SoCal embodies a collective vision for the region’s future and is developed with input from local governments, county transportation commissions (CTCs), tribal governments, non-profit organizations, businesses and local stakeholders within the counties of Imperial, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura.

What is at the heart of Connect SoCal are over 4,000 transportation projects—ranging from highway improvements, railroad grade separations, bicycle lanes, new transit hubs and replacement bridges. These future investments were included in county plans developed by the six CTCs and seek to reduce traffic bottlenecks, improve the efficiency of the region’s network and expand mobility choices for everyone.

Connect SoCal is an important planning document for the region, allowing project sponsors to qualify for federal funding. The plan takes into account operations and maintenance costs, to ensure reliability, longevity and cost effectiveness.”

As part of SCAG’s public comment process on the Draft Connect SoCal plan in January, RailPAC submitted the following letter (click here for pdf version) in response to the draft version of the plan’s Passenger Rail report.

January 18, 2020

Draft Connect SoCal Plan Comments
Attn: Connect SoCal Team
Southern California Association of Governments
900 Wilshire Blvd., Ste. 1700
Los Angeles, CA 90017
Re: Connect SoCal 2020 RTP/SCS, Passenger Rail Technical Report

Dear Connect SoCal Team:

The Rail Passengers Association of California & Nevada (RailPAC) welcomes the opportunity to provide input to the Connect SoCal 2020 Regional Transportation Plan/Sustainable Communities Strategy. The Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) is in a unique position to encourage the state, county and local governments to work together to improve passenger rail service in Southern California.

RailPAC offers the below comments on the Connect SoCal Passenger Rail report.

The Passenger Rail report’s Vision and Purpose (p. 2) sets a very positive tone for passenger rail in the SCAG region over the next few decades, with goals to grow ridership and provide more frequent, and new, rail services.

RailPAC has always focused on intercity passenger service and regional rail. While it is important to move large numbers of people short distances by transit, it is equally beneficial to the community to move smaller numbers of passengers over relatively longer distances. An intercity train journey of 70 miles or more is the equivalent to 13 transit journeys in terms of vehicle miles avoided. Investment in Intercity and Regional Rail in the SCAG region has been totally inadequate for the past three decades. We still are trying to operate a modern service with many miles of single-track railroad. The approach to Los Angeles Union Station, the hub of the network, is circuitous and serpentine, unnecessarily adding 5 to 10 minutes to every journey. A bypass track is needed to avoid the near sea level alignment through San Clemente, a serious capacity constraint on the key route between California’s two largest cities.

Detailed comments:

Metrolink SCORE (pgs. 34-41)-

The Metrolink SCORE program is a welcome and long overdue step forward. It can transform Metrolink from a commuter-oriented system (focused on rush hour service to Downtown LA and Irvine) to a truly regional rail system with frequent service in all directions, 7 days a week, from early in the morning to late at night.

These SCORE projects need to expedited, and funding needs to be clearly identified:
• Laguna Niguel/Mission Viejo Siding (OCTA)
• Raymer to Bernson Double Track (LA Metro)
• Brighton to Roxford Double Track (LA Metro)
• Doran Street Grade Separation (LA Metro)
• Lone Hill to White Double Track (LA Metro)
• Placentia Metrolink Station (OCTA)

LOSSAN Corridor Rail Service (pg. 28), San Diego to Orange County market:

SCORE needs to be integrated with LOSSAN and Surfliner. Due to the huge amount of traffic exchanged between SCAG and SANDAG every day, there should be a pooled Coaster/Metrolink additional service San Diego to Fullerton (stopping at Fullerton avoids the frequency conflict on the BNSF with the 91 line slots). The pool trains would connect to the Metrolink 91 and Orange County line trains at Fullerton, on continue to LA Union Station. SCAG and the LOSSAN agency should actively encourage this pooling of Metrolink and Coaster rolling stock and services, and start a working group on it with NCTD or SANDAG. Such a working group would figure out technical issues such as equipment compatibility between Coaster and Metrolink, voltage of hotel power, position of wheelchair ramps, position of locomotive on the train, etc.

New passenger rail services (pgs. 27-28)-

• Los Angeles to Coachella Valley-
This service is long overdue. There is an urgent need to start discussions with UP on the infrastructure upgrades needed. For the distance involved and the kind of traffic an intercity service similar to Surfliner is appropriate, rather than Metrolink regional rail.

• Victorville to Las Vegas/High Desert Corridor-
SCAG should work with Los Angeles County, San Bernardino County, and Virgin Trains USA to connect the Victorville-Las Vegas train to the Palmdale station via the proposed High Desert Corridor.

• Coast Daylight/ Coast Rail Coordinating Council (CRCC)
RailPAC supports restoration of the Coast Daylight if a competitive transit time can be
achieved.

• Southwest High-Speed Rail Network (pgs. 28-30)
The 2014 study recommended a CA-AZ-NV volunteer passenger rail policy and planning group, and a ‘blue ribbon commission’ to study a Phoenix-Southern California Corridor. RailPAC would like to participate in this, if such a commission is created to start implementing an LA-Phoenix service (and not just another study).

Amtrak-

Pg. 8-
Exhibit 1 Amtrak services – Why not show Amtrak stations on the map?

Pg. 9-
Needs updating after passage of SB742 re Thruway buses.
The report does not explain the extensive State role in LOSSAN and refers to the service as “Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner”.

Pg. 22-

Pacific Surfliner On-Time-Performance (OTP):

The Surfliner OTP statistics need tighter metrics than 10 minutes or 15 minutes off of schedule.

The Metrolink OTP standard (pgs. 22-23) is 6 minutes off schedule.

Not surprisingly, the report makes no mention of the pitifully small market share of both intercity or commuter rail, nor does it mention the lack of connectivity between Metrolink routes at LA Union Station. 3 million a year is about 4100 round trips a day, 8200 single rides, in a population catchment of at least 16 million. That’s not even a rounding error 0.06%). 46 mph and 69% OTP factor in.

Metrolink’s story on pgs. 22 and 23 is similar, a tiny percentage of journeys in the region. Also, the definition of commuter rail (pg. 11) is completely out of date with modern travel patterns and needs to be updated to a definition of “regional rail”.
Hollywood Burbank North Station (pg.24) – the airport no longer provides a shuttle to meet every train, on demand only. The station will not be used by HSR and will most likely be demolished hen the second track is added.

California High Speed Rail (pgs. 12-15)-

SCAG should press for completion of the Southern California tunnels as soon as possible. First priority is Antelope Valley to San Fernando Valley which will initiate high speed regional service.

Los Angeles to San Diego – this Phase Two section needs to be accelerated, especially in light of the ongoing erosion of the Del Mar bluffs. In addition, the existing LOSSAN route needs a bypass track to take the line away from the near sea level section at San Clemente. This single track is both vulnerable to sea level rise and is a serious capacity bottle neck.

Locomotives-

The paragraph ‘Tier 4 Locomotives and Electrification’ (pg. 12) implies that the 40 diesel F125 locomotives purchased recently will be the only locomotives that Metrolink will operate for the next 30 years. However the quantity of 40 locomotives is not nearly enough for the level of service increases that Metrolink is proposing over the next 10 years. Metrolink is expecting rapid growth in its train frequency, under its SCORE funding plan the Orange county line currently at less than 1 train per hour (13 trains per day), will have minimum frequencies of 2 trains per hour in 2025 and 4 trains per hour by the 2028 Olympics, for example. The existing fleet of several dozen diesel locomotives is not enough to support this growth. Even if Metrolink had the amount of diesel locomotives needed, it still doesn’t justify delaying electrification. Continuing to run a 100% diesel fleet for the next two decades will not be environmentally or socially acceptable. At the very least a hybrid solution of a battery locomotive supplementing a diesel will help meet air quality and carbon goals.

There need to be more federal, state and locally-funded programs that could support zero-emission locomotive research and development (R&D) projects and technology demonstration projects. There are plenty of incentives and R&D programs, at both the state and federal levels, supporting electric cars and trucks. By contrast, public R&D funding opportunities for electric rail technologies are few and far between. Southern California should be a leader in zero-emissions, electric rail technology, and SCAG could be a major advocate for this technology.

Freight Rail Operations (pgs. 16-17)-

It is commendable that SCAG recognizes that freight rail infrastructure investments have great public benefit. RailPAC fully supports expansion of freight rail capacity and new grade separations on shared corridors, as this will reduce potential for congestion conflicts and delays to passenger trains. More capacity also allows more passenger trains to run.

One issue that needs attention is the safety and reliability impacts of Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR) practices of several of the Class I railroads, notably Union Pacific (UP) in Southern California. UP in particular is adopting so-called PSR to cut costs, running longer and heavier trains, two miles or more in length, which are slower to accelerate. There are several reasons that the longer trains are not in the public interest. First of all, the waiting times for vehicles and pedestrians at the various UP railroad crossings on roads and streets in the SCAG region are getting longer. This inconveniences the public (hundreds of people at a time), creates more pollution from idling vehicles, and harms the flow of local commerce. It also makes it more difficult to share the tracks with passenger trains, which end up running late because of long slow trains taking up so much space on the rails. PSR’s focus on short term profit is a danger to the future of rail transportation, and is leading to corners being cut on safety. Over 100 long freight trains pass through the SCAG region each day.
The use of the term “freight railroads” is inappropriate and misleading. “Common Carrier Class I Railroads” should be used.

Thank you for your consideration.
Sincerely,

Paul Dyson
Vice President, Southern California
Rail Passengers Association of California & Nevada (RailPAC)

Reports

Capitol Corridor JPA Board Meeting November 14 – Doug Kerr

I attended the November 14 Capitol Corridor JPA Board meeting in Oakland.  Here is a summary:

  • Election of Chair Rebecca Saltzman and Vice-Chair Don Saylor for 2-year term: 2019-2020.
  • Approved 2019 meeting schedule, next meeting February 13, 2019, 10AM, in Suisun City.
  • Capitol Corridor FY2018 Performance:

o   Records were set for annual ridership (1.71M passengers; +6.2% vs FY 17), revenues ($36.2M; +6.6% vs FY 17), and System Operating Ratio (58%; +1.8% vs. FY 17).

o   After substandard service reliability in the middle months of FY 18, on-time performance (OTP) rebounded to levels of 93%-95% in the last three months to close out the year with a systemwide OTP of 90%, finishing in 2nd place for service reliability in the Amtrak national system.

o   The rating for Customer Satisfaction was 86% Highly Satisfied, a two-percentage drop as compared to FY 17 due to earlier substandard OTP.

  • A presentation was made regarding a Second Transbay Rail Crossing.  Travel demand will exceed capacity (all modes) sometime between 2030 and 2040 depending on economic and population growth.  CCJPA was awarded $1 million in 2018 Transit and Intercity Rail Capital Program (TIRCP) funding for the network planning and related analyses relating to the planned second transbay rail crossing that would include BART and conventional passenger trains.  The Board approved a $600,000 contract with Bay Area Council Economic Institute to perform economic and market studies to support the Crossing.
  • An interesting fact brought out at the meeting:  The 21 county area stretching from Monterey to east and north of Sacramento would amount to the 15th largest economy in the world if an independent country.
  • The Board approved adoption of BART’s Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) Program as Capitol Corridor’s program.
Reports

San Joaquin JPA Board Report November 16 – Doug Kerr

I attended the November 16, 2018 San Joaquin JPA Board Meeting in Merced.  Here is a summary:

  • Administrative items were approved including moving expense items from one budget account to another.
  • The Board gave recognition to board members Don Tatzin and Tom Blalock who will be leaving the Board due to retirements.
  • The City of Oakley gave a presentation on recent downtown improvement projects in the vicinity of the upcoming new San Joaquin stop at Oakley.
  • Schedule changes were discussed.

o   A Temporary Schedule Change Targeted for Dec 17th:

o   Start the early morning express at 4.45AM (20 min. later) and arrive in Sacramento at 7:56AM.

o   Friday-Sunday, extend train 718 (last train out of Oakland) that currently stops in Fresno, all the way to Bakersfield

o   Friday-Sunday, run both Sacramento-bound trains from Bakersfield (Arriving in Sacramento at 11:15AM and 3:24PM.

o   A full review and analysis of the schedule including On Time Performance issues, train meets, schedule padding, and connections in Los Angeles  will be done with the goal of a permanent schedule change sometime in April.

  • A resolution was passed to reinstitute the Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center (ARTIC) as a Thruway Bus Stop as well as Remove San Juan Capistrano as a Thruway Bus Stop on Route 1 and to Relocate the Vallejo Thruway Bus Stop on Route 7 to the Curtola Park & Ride Transit Facility.
  • Staff presented a short analysis of Thruway Route 7 which serves Santa Rosa, Healdsburg (where I live) and the North Coast.  There is a push to increase ridership on this route with the first step being the attached flyer.  I mentioned during public comment that the three county (Mendocino, Humboldt, Del Norte) population is less than 250,000 so there is a limited market to draw from.  That said, the bus route is a very important connection to this often forgotten part of California.  I offered to help staff in any way I could.  Staff presented the idea to move bus stops to SMART train stations in Sonoma County, a position RailPAC should fully support.  There was then a discussion of the Perata Law which would prohibit North Coast bus passengers from transferring to SMART.  Yet another reason to change or eliminate this law.
  • Updates were given by staff on various projects and improvements.

 

The next SJJPA meeting will be held January 25, 2019 in Fresno

Issues, Reports, Tracking Rail News

Amtrak CEO announces organizational revamp for 2017

From an email sent by Amtrak CEO Wick Moorman on Jan. 4, 2017. His full email is reposted below. Only changes to the repost is the formatting, ensuring clarity when reading.

Special Employee Advisory from Wick Moorman – Organization Update

With a new year ahead of us, I want to share some initial thoughts with you about the future of our company and the actions we are taking to improve our organization.

As I’ve been learning about the company in my first three months on the job, I’ve come to see that there is a lot that is working well at Amtrak, starting with the quality of our people. I’ve also gained a deeper appreciation of the importance of our services to customers across the country. Americans want and need a strong national passenger rail service, and the hard work that all of you have put in during the past decade to modernize and improve our service, including our record performance last year, has translated into broad public support for Amtrak and our mission.

Looking ahead to 2017, it is vital for us to capitalize on this success. We have a terrific opportunity to build an even more efficient and effective company that can facilitate, organize and operate best-in-class passenger rail services throughout the United States. To do so, we need to be structured properly, and having reviewed our organization and evaluated our future needs with our Board, I believe this is the time to streamline and improve our reporting structure.

Therefore, we are pleased today to introduce a new organizational structure for Amtrak that will enable us to create greater product and customer focus, along with strengthening accountability and decision-making throughout our company. This new structure aligns with our focus to improve the way we do business, modernize and enhance the customer experience, and invest in our future. While changes to an organization are never a “silver bullet,” the right structure is a necessary first step to driving the five key objectives that we believe are critical to our long-term success:

  • Building a world-class safety culture with a relentless focus on training, risk-reduction, positive reinforcement and personal accountability;
  • Developing and consistently providing competitive products and services;
  • Creating the teams and processes necessary to serve and grow our customers across all business segments;
  • Gaining support for and delivering on investments that sustain, improve and grow our business; and
  • Harnessing innovation, technology and partnerships to enhance and accelerate our business.

To support our pursuit of these objectives, we are making the following changes:

Senior Executives

We are consolidating the senior team into six direct reports to the CEO, effective immediately. This change will streamline decision-making, increase alignment between departments, and establish clear areas of accountability.

These six groups and their respective Executive Vice Presidents are:

  • Operations – Scot Naparstek, Chief Operating Officer (COO)
  • Marketing and Business Development – Jason Molfetas, Executive Vice President
  • Finance – Jerry Sokol, Chief Financial Officer (CFO)
  • Law – Eldie Acheson, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary (GC)
  • Administration – DJ Stadtler, Executive Vice President, Chief Administrative Officer (CAO)
  • Planning, Technology, and Public Affairs – Stephen Gardner, Executive Vice President

Operations

The Operations group will be reorganized to strengthen our focus on safety, service delivery, productivity and capital project execution.
The product development, planning, and contract management functions of the current Business Lines, certain customer service functions and some onboard service personnel for certain products will be transferred to the new Business Development and Product Support and Management organizations within the Marketing and Sales group. Train operations will be managed regionally through Vice Presidents of Operations and supported by Safety, Compliance and Training; Mechanical; Engineering; Network Support; Amtrak Police; and Corporate Security organizations. Additionally, certain planning and station and facility functions will be transferred to the new Planning, Technology and Public Affairs group.

All departments and functions currently within Operations will continue to report to Scot Naparstek, COO, until February 1, 2017. At that time, the following new and existing departments and functions will report directly to Scot and all previous organizations will be merged within this structure or transferred to other groups:

Department/Function/Leader

Operations, East
Michael DeCataldo, Vice President

Operations, Central
To be announced

Operations, West
Jay Commer, Vice President

Mechanical
Mario Bergeron, Chief Mechanical Officer

Engineering
Rodrigo Bitar, Chief Engineer

Safety, Compliance and Training
Dave Nichols, Vice President

Network Support
Robin McDonough, Vice President

Amtrak Police
Neil Trugman, Chief and Assistant Vice President

Corporate Security
Susan Reinertson, Assistant Vice President

Further details regarding changes within the Operations organization will be announced later this month.

Marketing and Business Development

The newly formed Marketing and Business Development group will be expanded from the current Marketing and Sales department to create greater focus on the development and management of our key products and streamlined to align this work with Amtrak’s broader marketing and branding efforts. The product development, planning, and contract management functions of the current Business Lines and customer service functions within Operations, together with certain staff from the Government Affairs and Infrastructure and Investment Development groups, will be transferred to new Business Development and Product Support and Management organizations within this group.

All departments and functions currently within the Marketing and Sales organization will continue to report to Jason Molfetas until February 1, 2017. At that time, the following new and existing departments and functions will report directly to Jason and all previous organizations will be merged within this structure:

Department/Function/Leader

Northeast Corridor Business Development
Mark Yachmetz, Vice President

State Supported Services Business Development
Joe McHugh, Vice President

Long Distance Services Business Development
Mark Murphy, Vice President

Passenger Experience
Tom Hall, Vice President

Product Support and Management
To Be Announced

Marketing
Rob Friedman, Vice President

In addition, a newly formed group for Commuter and Ancillary Services Business Development has been created, and will be led by Paul Vilter, Assistant Vice President. Paul will report to Mark Murphy.

Further details regarding changes within the Marketing and Business Development organization will be announced later this month.

Finance

The Finance department will continue to report to Jerry Sokol, CFO, with further organizational changes to come within the department over the coming months. Procurement will now report to DJ Stadtler, CAO, effective immediately.

Law

All departments and functions currently reporting to the Law Department will continue to report to Eldie Acheson, GC.

Administration

As the new Chief Administration Officer, DJ Stadtler will be responsible for a newly-named Human Resources department. The new HR department will be developed from the current Human Capital organization and led by Byl Herrmann, Vice President, effective immediately. Byl will assume this role from Barry Melnkovic, who is retiring from the company. I want to thank Barry for his years of service and dedication to Amtrak.

Joining Human Resources in Administration will be Labor Relations, led by Charlie Woodcock, Vice President; Procurement, led by Bud Reynolds, Assistant Vice President; and the Enterprise Project Management Office (ePMO), led by Sarina Arcari, Assistant Vice President, effective immediately.

Further details regarding changes within the Administration organization will be announced later this month.

Planning, Technology and Public Affairs

The new Planning, Technology and Public Affairs group will bring together the network and corporate planning, infrastructure access, government affairs and corporate communications and strategy groups. It will also include fleet planning, real estate, and various station and facility management, maintenance and development functions to better coordinate the long-term development of the company’s key assets and services. In addition, IT will be integrated into this group, as it is an essential function for our current operations across the country, as well as a driver of our future success.

All departments and functions currently reporting to Stephen Gardner will continue to do so, with IT now reporting to Stephen as well, effective immediately.

On February 1, 2017, Stephen’s new organization will include the following:

Department/Function/Leader

Planning
To be announced

IT
Ghada Ijam, Chief Information Officer

Government Affairs and Corporate Communications
Caroline Decker, Vice President

Real Estate, Stations and Facilities
Bart Bush, Vice President

Further details regarding changes within the Planning, Technology and Public Affairs organization will be announced later this month.

Additionally, as part of these changes, we will simplify our titling for senior officials by adopting a three-level titling structure of Executive Vice President, Vice President and Assistant Vice President to apply to all such positions.

I understand that many of you will have questions about these changes. We will follow this announcement up with more information as it becomes available, and I’d ask for your patience, continued focus – especially on safety – and dedication to our mission as we work through this transition.

On behalf of our entire leadership team, I want to thank you for everything you’ve done so far to make Amtrak successful. You are an important part of our continued success and I’m excited for the journey ahead of us, starting with the launch of this new organization.

Sincerely,
Wick Moorman President and CEO

Commentary, Reports

The Coast Starlight:  Paso Robles to Eugene; not endpoint travel!  What about the food?

Report and Commentary by Russ Jackson with Ralph James

Amtrak likes to tout its end points and the volume of traffic it gets between those departures and destinations on all of its routes, but while some passengers do that it is the intermediate station travel that fills up the trains.  Can you imagine, as RailPAC President Paul Dyson says, if you could only travel between endpoints on the interstate highway system?  Amtrak is usually surprised when someone wants to travel from, say, Paso Robles, CA, to Eugene, OR.  They might not be able to collect as much money from that passenger, but they can still sell that seat on either side of those two locations.  Here is an instance of that exact travel pair as reported to us by RailPAC member Ralph James.  He recommended to a friend that he take the his Thanksgiving trip on the Coast Starlight from Paso Robles to Eugene.  The  friend was dreading the long drive.  “With the necessary tinge of reservation,” Ralph says, “I suggested he look into Amtrak since his origin and destination were right at stops for the Starlight.”  He did so, and sent Ralph a trip report of the first half of his trip, as an “assessment,” giving Amtrak numeric grades for what he experienced with comparisons to airline travel: Continue Reading

Reports

Overview of the March 27 San Joaquin JPA Board Meeting

Outlined below are some key takeaways I found noteworthy from the March 27th San Joaquin JPA Board meeting:
  1. The Fresno City and County presentation was an overview of the new 2-year pilot Thruway bus initiative linking Fresno with Yosemite National Park and Fresno with Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park.  This 2-year pilot project is CMAC funded grant.  Both services start Memorial Day weekend 2015.  Both services should be available through Amtrak.  The Fresno – Yosemite service will be operated by YARTS and utilize full size motor coaches.  Stops in Fresno with be Amtrak, Fresno Airport and Fresno State.  There would be five round-trips daily 365 days per year.  The $30 round-trip fare includes park admission.  The Fresno – Sequoia/Kings Canyon route will be operated by the local regional transit contractor and utilized 18 passenger vans.  Stops would be at Amtrak and the Fresno Airport.  There would be four round-trips daily 102 days a year (Memorial Day through Labor Day).  The $15 round-trip fare includes park admission.
  2. The SJJPA Board agreed to send letters of support for the three San Joaquin communities, Bakersfield, Stockton and Merced, that applied for Sustainable Communities Grant Applications under the new Cap and Trade funding program.
  3. SJJPA Board approved grant applications under the Cap and Trade Intercity Rail Capital Projects section.  For major projects (projects greater than $3 million) recommended was the BNSF Stockton – Escalon double track segment 4 (5.7 miles MP 1106.8 – 1116.3).  This project is ready for construction, complements Stockton – Escalon segments already completed or underway, and results in run-time savings and the free flow of freight trains that no longer have to stop and idle to meet passenger trains.  It would also facilitate the addition of an 8thround-trip to the route.  For minor projects (under $3 million) recommended was a fare program designed to target lower income San Joaquin Valley residents.  This would be a 3-year program.  It was noted that for many years Kings County has had a special program for its residents – county purchased 10-ride tickets are used by residents for shopping, medical and legal trips on the San Joaquin’s.\
  4. The legislature has appropriated funds for CHSRA planning work for the Sacramento – Merced route segment.  As part of this study, staff would work with CHSRA to include “early action” San Joaquin route investments to improve connectivity between northern San Joaquin Valley communities and CHSRA’s Initial Operating Segment.
  5. The framework of the Interagency Transfer agreement is basically completed.  The two key outstanding issues are liability and equipment.  Also the San Joaquin budget needs to be finalized with up-dated Amtrak costs.  The goal is to have all documents completed by the end of May for submission to CalSTA.  To provide more time in case the SJJPA Board has any issues with the final document, the May Board meeting has been moved to May 15th.  Also being discussed with Caltrans is the specific process for the payment transfer beginning in July.
  6. Brian Schmidt, SJJPA Operations, indicated that the proposed 14 train rotation (compared to today’s 15) would not work without a major change to current schedules (which would negatively impact their marketability).  Unless they can come up with a new solution or reduce consist size from 5-cars to 4-cars (either option are unlikely), the Comet Car trainset will continue to operate on the San Joaquin route.  It was suggested that the SJJPA push hard for the first trainset of new cars be assigned to the San Joaquin route.  Mr. Schmidt also reported that BNSF track work negatively impacted San Joaquin on-time performance in January and February.  Two of three projects are completed and the third will be completed within the next week.  Staff is working with the UP and BNSF on slotting for the 7th frequency which should be starting in the Fall.  Track improvements completed or underway for the 7th frequency should reduce run times by 15-20 minutes.
  7. The recommendation for the SJJPA to send a letter (see below) to Caltrans regarding San Joaquin revenue management policy generated a lively discussion on the subject.  Since the day of the meeting also corresponded to a peak travel day for college students leaving for spring break, the discussion actually started early during the public comment period with members of the audience commenting on the high fares they paid to travel to the meeting and changes in fares they observed during the booking process.  Clem Bomar, retired Caltrans Division of Rail manager, provided some background on the operational reasons (elimination of standees, shifting customers to less full trains, improved equipment utilization, improved motor coach assignments, etc.) for making the San Joaquin’s reserved.  In a separate conversation with Dan Leavitt I added that another reason Caltrans engaged in revenue management was to increase ticket revenues to better meet budget expectations.  The Board acknowledged, as a body, the need to determine the benefits of revenue management and how it works.  They requested that staff set up a workshop with Amtrak’s Revenue Management Department.  In the meantime they agreed to staff’s suggestion to send the letter to Caltrans requesting a meeting and perhaps making some near-term changes in fare inventory levels.
SAN JOAQUIN JOINT POWERS AUTHORITY
March 27, 2015
STAFF REPORT
Item 9 ACTION
Letter to State Regarding Changes to San Joaquin Fare Policy
 
The San Joaquin service ticketing is done by reservation. Passengers reserve a seat
on a specific San Joaquin train. Amtrak’s fare management policy on the San Joaquin’s
is to increase the standard “value” fares as the San Joaquin trains start to reach
capacity. In a recent meeting with Amtrak, Caltrans, and CalSTA, SJJPA staff has
learned that under their current practice, Amtrak begins raising the San Joaquin prices
once the train is shown to be 60% full. SJJPA staff was told that they have five levels of
fare increase, and as the trains continue to fill up, the fares continue to rise. The
highest level of increase can be about twice as much as the initial fare offered. Since
the San Joaquin’s have a very limited frequency of service a significant cost increase on
any of the trains may result in a decrease in ridership.
San Joaquin ridership has been below expectations for the last year and a half. Higher
fares could be contributing to depressed ridership on the San Joaquin’s. Staff
recommends sending a letter to Caltrans requesting that they adjust their policy so that
the San Joaquin trains are much closer to capacity before they begin to raise the fares
As part of the SJJPA Business Plan, the SJJPA committed to working with Amtrak to
investigate moving the San Joaquin’s back to unreserved ticketing (like the Capitol
Corridor and Pacific Surfliner). After the administrative responsibilities have been
transferred, the SJJPA will explore with Amtrak the “tradeoffs between reserved and
unreserved ticketing, including if the benefits outweigh the impacts” (SJJPA Business
Plan Update, CH 9, page 38). Nevertheless, action could be taken now by Caltrans, to
adjust their fare management policy which could help stimulate San Joaquin ridership.
Fiscal Impact:
No Fiscal Impact at this time.
Recommendation:
Approve draft letter to Caltrans for signature by the Chairperson
Reports

Breaking News!

Approval has just been granted to form a State Assembly Select Committee for Passenger Rail.  More details to come…

Reports

San Francisco Amtrak Station Will Move

Mike Barnbaum

Effective Sunday, March 1, 2015, five Amtrak Routes (Pacific Surfliner, San Joaquin, Capitol Corridor, California Zephyr, and Coast Starlight) will be affected by stop and schedule changes in San Francisco, California due to the relocation of the staffed Amtrak ticket office from 101 The Embarcadero (Ferry Building) to 200 Folsom Street (San Francisco Temporary TransBay Terminal). The Amtrak computer program “Arrow” should have this information updated for Amtrak Guests booking new reservations sometime during the day on Friday leading into the Presidents’ Day Weekend. Due to upcoming system updates, Amtrak Guests traveling to/from San Francisco, California on and after March 1st should wait to book their travel until at least Valentine’s Day or Presidents’ Day. Staff at Amtrak Bus Operations have emailed me saying that “SFC” will remain the Amtrak three-letter station/stop code, even after the move takes place.

For the remainder of February, 101 The Embarcadero (Ferry Building) will continue to be the Amtrak ticket Office. Based on the information I have received to date, the first Amtrak service that will serve the new “SFC” stop at 200 Folsom Street will be Southbound 3402 at 4:50 am. This is a bus to the Stockton ACE Station for passengers traveling to San Joaquin Valley Destinations. Northbound Pacific Surfliner Bus 4785 that actually departs Santa Barbara on Saturday, February 28th at 9:55 pm, arriving March 1st at 5:35 am in San Francisco will be the first arriving bus. This bus will continue onto Emeryville with a final destination of Oakland Jack London Square.

Printed timetables showing this as well as other changes across the country will be available at stations throughout the Amtrak System later on in March. Prior to the end of February, both Amtrak.com and CapitolCorridor.org should have detailed news about the San Francisco changes.

Additional Comments

Marcus Jung

The 200 Folsom Street address is a separate building at the far end of the Temporary Transbay Terminal that serves as the Greyhound station. I have not been there recently, but I remember that in the past, Greyhound Security only allowed ticketed passengers to access the waiting room and restrooms. It’s 3 blocks between Folsom Street and Market Street to get to/from a BART station. The rest of the Temporary Transbay Terminal spans the whole block and is mostly a huge bus staging lot with loading lanes.

Since the station code remains “SFC”, passengers should be able to continue purchasing tickets in February for travel in March or beyond, without experiencing any computer difficulties. It might be possible for .”Ferry Building” to still be printed on a ticket, but for travel after 2/28, the system would automatically recognize that it really meant “Transbay Terminal”. Since Amtrak uses dynamic pricing (as certain travel dates become popular, those tickets will cost more), it may be to a passenger’s advantage to not delay ticketing, so that they can avoid any subsequent price increases.

The new Amtrak location would represent a return to the station’s previous roots. Prior to being located at the Ferry Building, it was inside the old Transbay Terminal. The bus lines (including AC Transit and Greyhound) are currently operating at this temporary facility while the permanent building is being constructed. A number of SF Muni bus lines also serve the Temporary Transbay Terminal.

If the Thruway buses are also able to use the Financial District stop, it would be right at the Embarcadero BART station, saving the 3 block walk to reach BART. This stop had sometimes been suspended in the past, during periods of heavy construction, but is in a very convenient location very close to the Ferry Building and Embarcadero Center.

The Governor Signing the Symbolic Rail
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CAHSR Groundbreaking Ceremony – January 6, 2015

Photos by Paul Dyson, President

Commentary, Issues, Reports

Amtrak’s 2014 – The Real Stats

Amtrak continually tells us about how many passengers they put into seats in the Northeast corridor. What many suspect because of far longer travel distances, but never can get Amtrak to say, is that in passenger miles (passenger mile = one passenger riding for one mile), and is said by some to be the most proper measure of how much transportation is being produced … the Northeast Corridor is the least productive part of the company. Here are the statistics that Amtrak doesn’t tell us for FY 2014.

 

PASSENGER MILES
Includes over 3 million on NEC Spine Special Trains, and over 4 million on State Corridor Special Trains; none on Long Distance Special Trains

  • NEC Spine – 1,931,319,000
  • State Corridors – 1,961,953,000
  • Long Distance – 2,760,957,000

TRAIN MILES
Includes 14,000 on NEC Spine Special Trains, 10,000 on State Corridor Special Trains; none on Long Distance Special Trains

  • NEC Spine – 9,094,000
  • State Corridors – 15,232,000
  • Long Distance – 14,732,000

SEAT MILES
Includes over 9.2 million on NEC Spine Special Trains, 5.9 million on State Corridor Special Trains; none on Long Distance Special Trains

  • NEC Spine – 3,462,836,268
  • State Corridors – 4,607,897,790
  • Long Distance – 4,678,361,006

LOAD FACTOR
Load factors on NEC Special Trains 33.8%, State Corridor Special Trains 72.2%, no Long Distance Special Trains

  • NEC Spine – 55.8%
  • State Corridors – 42.6%
  • Long Distance – 59.0%
Source: AMTRAK