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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, 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, 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

Central Coast, Coachella/Imperial Valleys, LA Metro, Nevada, North Coast, San Joaquin, Thruway Bus

RailPAC submits letter to San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority in response to proposed cuts to Thruway Bus Network

May 28, 2020

Honorable Vito Chiesa, Chair
San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority
949 East Channel Street
Stockton, CA 95202

May 29, 2020 SJJPA Board Meeting Agenda Item 7, Thruway Bus Network Changes

Dear Chair Chiesa and Board Members.

At this difficult time the Rail Passenger Association of California and Nevada recognizes that with the reduction in ticket revenues those managing the San Joaquin service face tough challenges in keeping the operation solvent. Maintaining the service while balancing cost reductions while maintaining ridership and ticket revenues will represent a major endeavor. And needless to say, after years working to get SB742 passed shrinkage of the Thruway Bus Network is disheartening.

While it is critical to reduce expenses near term, at some point the country and economy will recover. These Thruway bus service reductions should be seen as temporary. As the market regrows the cities that temporarily lose service should still be seen as part of the San Joaquin franchise. Service may take another form than today, but the SJJPA should still keep its broad “border to border” perspective.
RailPAC has reviewed the Thruway Bus Network write-up and has the following comments and recommendations. The overall comments/recommendations are:

  1. A major shortfall of the report is the lack of financial analysis. What are the estimates of the cost savings from this initiative, the ticket revenue losses?
  2. The implementation of changes authorized by SB742 should be accelerated. This period provides an opportunity to develop multiple partnerships, new markets and an expanded bus network;
  3. There are suggestions that there are opportunities for local transit agencies operating parallel routes being able to undertake replacement service. But these agencies are most likely undertaking similar service reductions to save expenses. Some of these service reductions may be routes suggested as Thruway Bus alternatives;
  4. SJJPA staff should undertake a review after 6-months to evaluate the impact of these changes and the success or failure in expanding SB742 to additional routes, developing partnerships with local transit agencies and Greyhound;
  5. At the 6-month review point, an outline of the timeline and strategy for returning full train and restoring Thruway bus service (where partnerships have not been developed) based on the information available at that time regarding the pandemic.

The comments and recommendations on the specific routes are:

• Route 7 – Elimination of stops at Rio Del-Scotia, Leggett and Laytonville; it is not clear how the elimination of these stops save any costs. All are located on two-lane stretches of US 101 which should facilitate stopping with limited time penalty. Also one of the talking points for SB742 was service to rural areas such as these towns. Finally, shouldn’t these stops remain while the Greyhound partnership is negotiated?

• Route 1b – Elimination of service to Long Beach and San Pedro; an interline agreement with LA Metro for its Silver Line and eventually the Blue Line would appear to offer a large expansion in connectivity to replace the bus route. Would it be possible to originate a Silver Line trip at the LAUS bus bays? Otherwise passengers would have to be provided detailed information on the Union Station stops and Silver Line stops. Major cities (i.e. Long Beach) could be shown in the Amtrak reservation system.

• Route 19 – Elimination of service to Hemet/Indio; these discontinuances would leave a large part of the Inland Empire without service. Many communities along the route are underserved from the transportation perspective. Recommend that this change be postponed until a service plan in conjunction with RCTC is developed. In addition an interline agreement Metrolink for the Indio branch is exactly the market opportunity that SB742 was designed to facilitate.

• Route 9 – Elimination of Las Vegas route; this would seem to be an opportunity to develop an interline service with Greyhound; direct Bakersfield to Las Vegas or via Los Angeles. Greyhound already has an interline agreement with Amtrak and one schedule currently stops at LA Union Station.

• Route 12 – Elimination of Victorville route; RailPAC recommends an effort to reengage with Kern Transit to retain Palmdale and Lancaster ridership.

• Routes 10, 18a and 18b Elimination of service to Santa Barbara and the Central Coast; RailPAC is concerned that the combination of these two initiatives eliminates service to the fast growing Central Coast reducing the San Joaquin franchise. Also there may be ramifications on the political side. RailPAC recommends revisiting doing the combination of both of these initiatives. Which route change saves the most in costs?

As was noted earlier RailPAC understands the challenges that staff faces and we hope our comments are productive. Let me know if you have any questions.

Yours truly,

Steve Roberts, President Rail Passenger Association of California and Nevada

cc: Dan Leavitt, SJRRC, RailPAC Board members

Commentary, High Speed Rail, San Joaquin

RailPAC submits comment letter on California High Speed Rail Authority’s Draft 2020 Business Plan

California High Speed Rail Authority’s Draft 2020 Business Plan was issued February 12, 2020.

The public comment period is open until June 1, 2020

RailPAC’s submitted public comment letter is below:

California High-Speed Rail Authority 
770 L Street, Suite 620
Sacramento, CA 95814

May 21, 2020

Dear CHSRA Board Members:

After review of the 2020 California High Speed Rail Business Plan and the proposed Interim Operating Plan, the Rail Passenger Association of California (RailPAC) recommends the Board adopt both the 2020 Business Plan and proposed Interim Operating Plan at its June Board Meeting.  RailPAC compliments CHSRA on their continued focus on delivering a broad integrated California transportation network with high-speed rail service as its core link.  

RailPAC applauds the statewide reach of the proposed network and the increase in frequencies that will make the rail mode more competitive with the automobile.  The improved and expanded ACE/San Joaquin/HSR network will reach all of California and leverage substantial synergies beyond the current individual systems.  This network also creates the most financially viable option for increased service reducing the required operating subsidy compared to the current standalone ACE and San Joaquin services. 

In addition, the Interim Operating Plan brings true high-speed service to California sooner than any alternative option.  It also demonstrates the potential of high-speed rail while facilitating early testing of equipment and operating systems speeding future expansion of service as future segments are constructed.  Finally, the construction and operation of high-speed rail Merced to Bakersfield will greatly benefit communities and cities in the San Joaquin Valley and allow them to move forward on re-visioning themselves as city center focused transit oriented cityscapes.

Outlined below are a few comments on plan details:

•             Page 64, third bullet, as part of system connectivity at Merced and Bakersfield also note connectivity at the Kings-Tulare HSR station to the Central Coast and eastern San Joaquin cities such as Visalia via the future Cross Valley Corridor plan;

•             Page 72, top column title, should be Memoranda not Memorandums;

•             Page 84, Faster Bay Area Initiative, given the recent pull-back this should be deleted or rewritten into a more generic “Future Funding via Local Initiatives” discussion.

The Rail Passenger Association of California and Nevada 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.

Thank you.

Yours truly,

Steve Roberts

President Rail Passenger Association of California and Nevada

cc: Brian Kelly, CEO California High-Speed Rail Authority
Stacey Mortensen, Executive Director San Joaquin Regional Rail Authority
Dan Levitt, Manager of Regional Initiatives San Joaquin Regional Rail Authority