“MIND THE GAP”

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How Gaps in our Ground Transportation (i.e., Rail) Require A Comprehensive Template 
for States to Expand Frequency or Start New Routes for Regional Rail Corridors

By
Rail Provocateur (M.E. Singer)

Upon my return from California on 3 October, I journeyed the next day up to Evanston, IL where the Northwestern University Transportation Center and “Sandhouse Gang” were hosting a well published academic expert on ground transportation issues, Joseph P. Schwieterman, Ph.D, of De Paul University and Director, Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development. Although publishing primarily on bus issues, his topic was most timely for our concerns at RailPAC: “GROUND TRANSPORTATION GAPS: The Most Heavily Traveled Intercity Routes in the US without Rail or Express Coach Service.” Although I intend to elaborate before Thanksgiving on this presentation and corresponding publishing, Schwieterman concisely pointed out my takeaway that reinforces why the three rail JPAs of California continue to progress by expanding their inter-regional reach, connectivity, and frequencies.

However, it also brought home a perfect segue that identifies why the non-NEC states beyond California, Oregon, Washington, and North Carolina are so paralyzed in their approach to developing regional rail corridors and/or to expand frequencies. Despite perhaps having an office tucked away in a corner for rail affairs, most state DOTs are still dominated by highway experienced staff who persist in espousing the solution to everything is pouring more concrete. Given that fact, and the need to prevent a reiteration of the calamitous one-two punch of failing to convert Amtrak’s “Hoosier State” regional corridor to a private operator, initially by INDOT withdrawing its award to the winner of the RFP; than the contractual issues emanating from the briefly operated alternative private operator, I have reached the conclusion that an unbiased, central repository must be created providing the requisite templates for those states bereft of passenger rail, or minimally served by Amtrak’s skeletal approach West of the Hudson. If this information has not been concisely pulled together by the FRA or U.S. DOT, perhaps their is an opportunity for RailPAC to step-up into the vacuum to broaden and hone its geographic image, if not also to gain financially. Although RPA finally stepped-up to belatedly substantiate what had already been published by RailPAC regarding the absurd cost accounting of Amtrak, it is doubtful RPA sees their role as beyond cheerleading state efforts by getting into the weeds.

What I envision to create this footprint to facilitate state efforts (and secure for RailPAC as the “go to” for the media) includes a template, possibly in conjunction with Amtrak and/or a Class 1 to keep their numbers honest (and keep both of their thumbs off of the butcher’s scale). Such a template would offer how to:

Identify and evaluate optimal routes and schedules, either to expand current operations, or, start-up new service. This would be salient information for state DOTs and political proponents how to assess optimal schedules with minimal padding; stops en route and appropriate dwell time; equipment; and on-board services.

Importantly, to level the playing field by identifying the closely estimating the proposed cost per mile to re-build rail infrastructure to accommodate passenger service, either on its own dedicated mainline track, sharing with freight, or, a blend of both dedicated and sharing infrastructure. As for Amtrak, the emphasis should be on either invoking the interpretation of PRIIA, or, securing a congressional interpretation that allows for the private operation of passenger rail dispatched by Class 1s. This will require identifying where and how to acquire current equipment acceptable to the state and Class 1 involved, and possibly Amtrak; a determination whether to piggyback on Amtrak’s insurance, track access charges, use of depots/yards owned by Amtrak.  Also important would be an assessment of current and potential claims of private operators to have the appropriate credentials, including: track record, experience, financial heft for start-up, working capital, and insurance costs, working relationship with Class 1s and Amtrak. Their will be a need to analyze and identify potential union issues for on-board services and the food & beverage component, especially if current Amtrak corridors are fully assumed by the state. Important to note the vast opportunity for current and new state operations to enhance food & beverage services at a far lower product and labor cost than foisted by Amtrak’s approach to cafe cars.

Although their are other areas to include in this proposed template, which I would appreciate hearing from others on, what struck me for the need to offer such a template is to not only avoid the all glossy and no substance approach of prior attempts to insert private operators, but also, my reaction to recent attempts by Minnesota and Pennsylvania to expand their rail corridors. Indeed, my assessment of Minnesota and Pennsylvania, as well as conclusion regarding Connecticut, are quite relevant for California, as it is obvious California’s DOT and the rail JPAs must have a meeting of the minds to establish a “Coast Daylight” between San Francisco-Los Angeles on a reverse schedule of current “Coast Starlight”; as well as options if the gas tax and HSR system are voted down or eliminated in the next governor’s  administration.

Getting Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois together to simply create a “Baby Builder” to serve the desperate need to operate on a reverse schedule of the “Empire Builder” between Chicago-St. Paul epitomizes how Midwest states along such a popular corridor cannot get their act together; the costs just go up. As I elaborated in the Star-Tribune on 23 Sep (“Additional Twin Cities-Chicago Rail Service Viable, Study Finds”), “although this proposal has been studied to death over far too many years, it still evidences a lack of historical knowledge and respect for hos the Burlington Route operated superior asset utilization by turning its “Morning Twin Cities Zephyrs” at both Chicago and Minneapolis; using the same equipment to return to the other city as their “Afternoon Twin Cities Zephyrs.”

Given the cost of a diesel locomotive and passenger cars (3-4 coaches; 1 grill/lounge), it certainly makes sense to serve this market by running this proposed train opposite the “Empire Builder” on a schedule that allows for wyeing (turning) the consist at St. Paul. What is commonly now done with corridor trains is to supply a second diesel engine at the end of the consist to avoid the time and cost of wyeing. Of course, to be built into this model is to allocate for additional diesel power and passenger cars to allow for mechanical/service issues, as well as adjustments to meet seasonal traffic demands.

Therefore, this train (the “Baby Builder”) should leave Chicago at 0800 to arrive St. Paul at 1530; to depart St. Paul 1630 and arrive Chicago at 2400.In an historical context, do note that the Burlington, these trains operated for decades at 90 mph over jointed rail and many grade crossings, achieving Chicago or St. Paul in just 6 hours (including backing up into St. Paul’s stub-end depot.

Importantly, what certainly should be contemplated by the states involved is instead of paying exorbitant lease rates for equipment from Amtrak (already fully depreciated due to age), the states should consider securing their own equipment-buying new from foreign firms such as Siemens, Alstom, Bombardier, or Stadler with excellent factories in the US, offering a well trained American workforce, using American steel and U.S.-built components.  Or, to look North to see what equipment might be purchased or leased from VIA Rail Canada.

This segues to the next equation–rather than just succumbing to Amtrak as the operator, look into a viable, experienced, private operator to negotiate directly with CP Rail and Chicago’s Metra for track access and dispatching.  As Amtrak is currently pushing the envelope in favoring the Northeast Corridor over the National Network, it is inevitable that Amtrak’s monopoly stranglehold is to be eventually released by Congress. Until then, just price-out the cost for an Amtrak turnkey operation. As Amtrak does not even follow GAAP requirements, many corporate and Northeast Corridor expenses are dumped into the state-supported corridor cost allocation.  As well, such state payments are then used to subsidize the Northeast Corridor.”

In the case of Pennsylvania, service across that Commonwealth has truly suffered from the days of the Pennsy operating such a volume of East-West streamliners and locals from NYC to Philly and across to Pittsburgh. As recently reported in the Pennsylvania media, once again their is renewed interest to increase the frequency of service from Pittsburgh. However, as I stated in the Altoona Mirror on 22 Sep (“PennDOT to Study Extended Services”), back in the mid-1980s, the Commonwealth actually had a Pennsylvania High Speed Rail Commission in Harrisburg, eagerly supported by the legislative representative from Altoona, Rick Geist (79th District), who was the first chairman of the Pennsylvania High-Speed Intercity Rail Passenger Commission. (Full Disclosure: I consulted with Mr. Geist and the Commission in 1985-86). I would suggest PennDOT start by interviewing Mr. Geist and reviewing the archives to prevent wasting time and funds on re-learning what has been learned already.

As a well published pundit on passenger rail affairs, I would also suggest for PennDOT to understand:

1) As the Alleghenies impede any fast running of passenger trains, the key will be to offer the convenience of frequently scheduled trains to ensure day-trippers are accommodated. Look to the success of California’s three regional rail JPAs to validate this point.

2) Although it would be logical to serve the entire route between Pittsburgh-Philadelphia, if the proposed service is intended to be within Pennsylvania (e.g., Pittsburgh-Altoona/Harrisburg) , look to North Carolina’s DOT for how they acquired their own equipment and locomotives to re-build, and now, continually expand, their “Piedmont Corridor” service. Perhaps PennDOT should also look to contract with Norfolk Southern for Train & Engine crews. Both concepts would save significant funds for the Commonwealth, instead of paying high cost to lease (despite being fully depreciated) equipment and power from Amtrak.

Although this could be an issue between Harrisburg-Philadelphia, given Amtrak’s ownership of that line; however, given the opening to private operators in the Passenger Rail Investment & Infrastructure Act of 2008, politico powers will need to ensure its enforcement.

For those local political powers to be who do not favor passenger rail, are they aware of how the exorbitant funds currently paid by states for non-Northeast Corridor services provided by Amtrak (e.g., Harrisburg-Pittsburgh) are based upon Amtrak’s highly questionable cost allocation model that is not even GAAP-compliant; that these funds are diverted to subsidize the Northeast Corridor “black hole” where Amtrak does not charge those states along the Corridor for their frequently scheduled train services?”

Given the example of Connecticut, their is indeed hope for such aggressively pro-passenger states as California, and others to follow.  As I pointed out in Progressive Railroading’s article of 27 Sep (“Connecticut DOT Opens Second Track Along Hartford Line”), “the key takeaway point which has been overlooked, is how CTDOT successfully broke the grip of Amtrak’s monopoly on inter-regional intercity passenger service.

Importantly, what has been achieved:

1) Despite Amtrak owning the infrastructure as part of its NEC;
2) CTDOT to operate in competition to Amtrak’s scheduled trains on this route;
3) CTDOT rejecting Amtrak and relying upon a private operator.

Ideally, this CTDOT concept will serve as a successful Beta site to implement for other inter-regional passenger programs, whether currently operated by Amtrak, or, new route expansions. Certainly, by eliminating the high expense of leasing old Amtrak equipment and T&E labor costs, increasing frequencies can be accomplished. As we have learned, the convenience of frequently scheduled trains is even more relevant than speed.

As Amtrak’s business model is to turn its back on the National Network in favor of focusing on its own NEC, the CTDOT model presents a long awaited opportunity for current state-supported corridors to breakout of the Amtrak mold of one size fits all; and exacerbated by a 100% cost allocation methodology created by Amtrak that remains highly questionable, by throwing in everything but the kitchen sink, including unrelated corporate and NEC costs.

Cutting costs and increasing frequencies will be quite relevant for: Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Missouri, California, Oregon, and Washington; to encourage Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio. In reflection, it was critical for Chicago’s Metra to challenge Amtrak’s takeover of Chicago Union Station, in view of Amtrak’s assumed power that would have prevented private operators from using the depot for competitive or new inter-regional services.”

In essence, these illustrations identifying  Amtrak’s “divide and conqueror” approach indicate a need to bring the disparate interests of states together; to share information and data; to work from an established template. As suggested earlier in this piece, perhaps their is a role for RailPAC, given the lackadaisical interest by the U.S. DOT and PR focus of RPA?

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Politics, San Diego’s Airport And Rail Connections

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By Noel T. Braymer

Of Course Its Complicated And Dumb. 

  “None of the letters are timid, but by far the most outspoken is from the Port, which leases the airport property to the Airport Authority. Its letter is 1,229 pages and reads more like a combative lawsuit than a technical response letter.”

San Diego has long had an airport problem. Its airport which opened in the late 1920’s is small and only has one runway in a county now with over 3 million people. But after years trying to build a new airport, no place wanted to be the new airport. So with only 2 alternatives: either build a floating airport just off the coast or improve their old airport, San Diego has been upgrading their old airport. They can’t do much about adding a second runway. So they are rebuilding the 2 main terminals at the airport to get the most gates to handle more flights to maximize their capacity. To do this they will also tear out the parking around the terminals. The airport terminals are on the south side of the airport along side North Harbor Drive which is also a scenic road alongside scenic San Diego Bay. Needless to say for years North Harbor Drive is often congested with airport traffic. Part of the plan to relieve this is to have more people park on the northeast edge of the airport and ride shuttle buses on a recently built road in the airport to the terminals. Long range plans are to have all airport travelers transfer at a new transportation hub at the northeast edge of the airport (which is alongside the I-5 freeway, the Trolley, Coaster and Amtrak tracks) and transfer to a peoplemover under the runway to the rebuilt terminals. This is over 10 years away. So what could go wrong with this idea? In short politics and who is going to pay for it.

Screenshot 2018-10-16 at 7.39.15 PM

This is a Google Map of  the area around the San Diego Airport. At the bottom or south end of the graphic is North Harbor Drive and the location of the airport terminals. To the north or top of the graphic is where the airport has built a new consolidated rental car facility. Notice the road inside the airport between the Economy Parking Lot to the terminal area. At the upper right hand side is the I-5 freeway. Between the freeway and Pacific Highway are the tracks for Amtrak, Coaster and the San Diego Trolley . The Middletown Trolley Station is just off of W. Palm Street. This is suppose to have a Bus Connection with Airport Parking Shuttles, the bus stop for it is almost a half mile away from the Trolley Station.

The San Diego Airport the “Voice of San Diego” website reported on October 3rd of this year, is in the middle of planning an almost $3 billion rebuild of it’s Terminal 1. It had already rebuilt Terminal 2 which has a 2 level roadway with separate levels for arrivals and departures. As part of the rebuild of Terminal 1 it will also connect to the 2 level roadway as well as get more gates. Yet while there is general support for this project, according to the Voice of San Diego “But officials from the city of San Diego, the Port of San Diego, San Diego County, the Metropolitan Transit System, the San Diego Association of Governments, the California Coastal Commission, the California State Lands Commission and the state Department of Transportation submitted stern – at times exasperated – letters opposing the airport’s approach.”  What is the problem these agencies have with the airport? They feel they will get stuck subsidizing the construction while the Airport Authority earns a profit with growing airport travel. The Voice of San Diego goes on saying “The opposition could derail the project, and has revealed massive disagreement over the best way to improve the airport’s connection to transit and deal with its continued growth.”  “None of the letters are timid, but by far the most outspoken is from the Port, which leases the airport property to the Airport Authority. Its letter is 1,229 pages and reads more like a combative lawsuit than a technical response letter.” “In its letter, MTS accuses the airport of routinely building projects and relying on its neighbors to deal with the effects. The Port likewise says the airport is free-riding, and its project will just mean the city, CalTrans, SANDAG and MTS foot the bill for the airport’s expansion.”

At the heart of the Airport’s claims is they need permission from the FAA to spend any money to improve airport service outside airport controlled property. This despite spending by the Airport Authority for projects in the past near, but outside the airport property. The Airport has been accused of not following San Diego’s Climate Action plan which calls for reductions of vehicle emissions and traffic with improved transit connections. Instead the airport seeking to increase its parking revenues. Many people have asked why doesn’t the Trolley serve the Airport? There is a free bus connection between the Middletown Trolley Station which is nearest to the Airport terminals. But its an 8 minute walk from the Trolley station to the bus stop which for a healthy person is almost a half mile. This is a rather indirect route to catch an airport parking shuttle bus to the road at the airport. Few people with luggage are going to walk a half mile and cross busy Pacific Highway to try to find a bus stop. According to Voice of San Diego “MTS said that service is “unsuccessful” because it’s confusing, uninviting, the shuttle service is infrequent and the area feels unsafe after dark. It asked for “greater effort and a longer-term commitment” from the Airport Authority on the connection. The Coastal Commission agreed, calling it “not what was required or envisioned” when the connection was mandated as part of approving the rental car facility.” The only rational solution is to bring the shuttle buses to the nearby Middletown Trolley station. Other bus services which would help are improved existing bus service from downtown San Diego to the Airport as well as shuttle bus connections from the Old Town Transit Center. At Old Town, passengers from Coaster, Amtrak and Green Line Trolley trains could connect directly to the airport as well as passengers from several local bus lines. What is lacking has been cooperation from the Airport Authority.

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This is the lonely Airport shuttle bus stop for Trolley passengers. It is a long way from Palm Street where the Trolley Station is. Needless to say few people have used this “service”.

The Airport claims that transit will have airport connections with an Intermodal Transit Center across Pacific Highway and outside of Airport property as part of its 50 year plan some time between 2030 and 2035. But no funding source has been linked to this project. What the Airport is planning on is future construction near Pacific Highway of a new 7,500 parking structure which would generate revenue. But would do nothing to reduce traffic, or air pollution in downtown San Diego. This also is not in line with San Diego’s Climate Action Plan which includes reducing auto traffic and greater use of transit in San Diego.

 

 

OBSERVING THE FUTURE OF STANDARD RAILROADING

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What Competence Looks Like When Far Enough Away 
From The False Promises of the Northeast Corridor

By
Rail Provocateur (M.E. Singer)

I took advantage of my attendance at the RailPAC Conference in Sacramento to run down to LA on the “Coast Starlight”on 30 Sep (see Part 1 Trip Report 7 Oct). My destination was Oceanside to see for myself its transformation into a major regional transportation hub. Although the “Starlight” arrived LAUS 46 minutes early, the 8:30pm southbound “Pacific Surfliner” was not held for connecting passengers. So, I was forced to while away two hours at Amtrak’s Metropolitan Lounge, which looked more like the recreation room of a nursing home, given the layout and style of furniture. Apparently between the Amtrak crews and dispatchers one of them only speak Russian, as it made little sense not to hold the “Surfliner.”

Funny, in the waning days of American passenger railroading, I was arriving into Chicago from LA on a 1.5 hour late“Super Chief” in August,1966 (during the national airline strike, which I have referenced as “The Railroads Last Hurrah.”) In those days, the conductor walked through every Pullman and Pleasure Dome Lounge inquiring of any passengers connecting with the B&O “Capitol Limited,” NYC “Twentieth Century Limited,” or PRR “Broadway Limited,” so he could radio ahead to hold the trains, and to arrange Keeshin livery transfer service to the other three different depots. At least the Santa Fe maintained a certain panache to the end. Their was no thought to, well their is a later train leaving that night (B&O “Shenandoah,” NYC “Chicagoan,” and PRR “Pennsylvania Limited”). If I am to be told that it’s a dispatching issue with Metrolink, as it is on the run to/from Oxnard, than something has to change, as that is not acceptable.  Next we’ll have different track gauges.

On the last southbound “Surfliner” to San Diego, I was under-whelmed by the business class car, beyond a very courteous attendant who offered a basket selection of non- alcoholic drinks. The seats seemed to be old and not very comfortable; the tables not sturdy. Of course, I was blessed with a dark cloud over me, as an elderly matron seated behind me could not figure out how to work her tray and persistently banged it into my back, as if I was invisible. Eventually, the table wore out and attacked her, hitting her in the head, which required a run for ice to minimize swelling. Not to be outdone, I noticed how a Hillbilly couple occupied themselves at the 4-seat table, oblivious to people looking for seats.  Of course, with the conductor, ACs, and car attendant all congregated in this car, I was surprised how nobody jumped into action. This couple looked like “mountain people” who were on their way to Disneyland, probably for a stage production on early American history.

Arriving in Oceanside after midnight, I noticed my hotel, the Marriott Spring Hill Suites just along the right-of-way, but on the other side, as we were running like the ex-C&NW English style on the left main at Oceanside. As I saw the Marines hurriedly jumping into Ubers, I began to feel like a clay target pigeon, like walking in Hue during Tet.  I had no idea so many homeless made Oceanside their favored abode, particularly around the depot, on benches, and the tunnel under the mainlines. Alone, I contacted the hotel and refused their first two proposals-either walk through the garage and several streets, or, walk through the tunnel under the tracks and than through the parking lot. At my point in life, I survived “Chiraq” (Chicago)by being inculcated with certain  “street smarts,” including: you don’t walk with luggage like a lost tourist through darken parking lots or tunnels unless your Blue Cross is a PPO plan with no network restrictions. Instead, I had a taxi called to pick me up, as I watched the circle of interested homeless grow smaller around me.

Just as I had requested, I had a room directly over the mainline, and as warned by the hotel, I was greeted by a flurry of horns and bells from “Surfliners,” “Coasters,” and “Metrolink.” No better music to go to sleep by, or, to be waken-up. As my Leica required more attention, I shot a volume of photos with my Apple 6S+ from my balcony, along the right-of-way, and at the depot. To my surprise, Tuesday, 2 Oct, was San Diego County free travel day for “Coaster,” “Sprinter,” and the Red Trolley lines. Unlike Amtrak’s wrong decision to discard printed timetables, I was pleased to see racks of timetables for all trains serving the area at the Coaster office at this depot. At my now favorite restaurant in Oceanside, Hello Betty, next to the Marriott, I returned to ‘back to the future’ and carefully laid out multiple connections how I would maximize this free day dedicated to studying how California made it happen–with rail.

As if I was in Switzerland, every connection was achieved for a long day down to San Diego and back; a quick round trip to Escondido.  This included:

Lv. Oceanside  11:08am Coaster #648
Ar. San Diego   12:14pm

Santa Fe depot always a marvel; but what would Amtrak’s HQ gang think if they saw all those schedule racks for the“Pacific Surfliner?” (Is it possible for Northeasterners to re-learn passenger railroading from LOSSAN?) I still remember San Diego in 1966 as just a Navy town with blocks of USN warehouses and aircraft plants. Now, over fifty years later, I was amazed how San Diego has so dramatically changed since my last visit in 1999-towering condos and apartments on either side of the rail line parallel to the trolley lines. The height of true downtown living, supported by restaurants and shopping. What better vision to evidence how a TOD should work. Even the depot was privately purchased so it could be assured of retaining its historic beauty and significance, as its space and location would be optimally utilized; apparently something long missed by Amtrak’s real estate/government relations departments.

Caught one of the frequent Red Trolleys to San Diego Old Town just for lunch; no time to walk around.

Lv. Old Town    2:04pm #651 Coaster
Ar. Oceanside  3:00pm

Lv. Oceanside   3:33pm “Sprinter”
Ar. Escondido    4:26pm

Lv. Escondido    4:33pm “Sprinter”
Ar. Oceanside    5:26pm

“Sprinter” schedule is every 30 minutes; more frequency than the “Coaster.” Whether for the free rides that day, or, an early rush hour, the “Sprinter” schedule was operating with two sets of DMUs coupled together. Did not get off in Escondido to observe its own transit center, as I was expecting the same female engineer (“operator”) would handle the return trip, as I was hoping to visit the cab. Nothing against the manufacturer of this DMU, but it becomes quite apparent the Amtrak CEO from Delta is being horribly misled by the consiglieres he inherited at the Board’s insistence. Had he only been versed in the concept of DMUs, he would appreciate how the coupled DMU has a pick-up like a bulldozer; commuter seating is barely tolerable; significant  interior noise from diesels straining to attain speed. Too bad Anderson did not read a bit on Amtrak, as he would have learned about the French Turbos that could not handle Midwest intercity services-or, weather. And still, somebody wants to sell Anderson a new version of “the bridge to nowhere”–long distance DMUs.

In my overall review of my travel day, as Mr. Spock would have said, “fascinating.”  Indeed, to see expensive condos built along either side of the mainline even now in Oceanside, as well as a large resort coming up a block from the tracks is a real story; testimony to the viability of TODs and the vision of how LOSSAN is moving forward; making things happen. Perhaps if more politicians and citizen naysayers could experience what I did on this travel day, this line would not have to depend on being incrementally funded to double track. One can only imagine the impact of reducing schedule padding and increasing frequencies–talk about defining “vitality.” Thanks to Apple’s improved 6S+, some great photos achieved.

What I could not understand was why I could not purchase a one-way ticket for the next day on “Coaster” to San Diego for my flight back to Chiraq. Typically, at least with Metra, the ticket is good for a specified period in advance.  So, the next day, toting my luggage, I went back to the Coaster office at the Oceanside Transit Center and was escorted outside to purchase through a ticket machine my reduced ticket at $2.55, for a one-way to San Diego (vs. a minimum of $15.70 on Amtrak). I could not help but to inquire with one of the staff why was the “Coaster” invented when you already had Metrolink running all the way from LA to Oceanside? The answer was obvious-“politics.” Each county, and parts of a county, feel unserved and just paying the freight for the other counties.  So, it was understood why Metrolink does not run all the way thru to San Diego; instead, the cost of motive power, bi-levels, employees, etc are accepted as a necessary duplication of effort.

Very easy taking the “Coaster” back to San Diego, with the conductor offering to help me push that 4 wheel Rimowa over the gap between the platforms and the bi-level. (Unlike standard bi-level, these steps are not easy to deal with when with luggage.)  From Santa Fe depot, I hailed a Lyft to the airport.  When I checked in, I could not resist remarking how I wished someday soon they would remove Lindbergh’s name, given what an awarded pro-Nazi he was, as well as a leader of the American First movement (with Henry Ford), seeking to prevent America from re-arming between 1939-1941, and Lend-Lease to England. Amazingly, the agent informed me that she only had learned of Lindbergh’s history, as his statue had recently been removed from the airport.

Motivated by taking in how rail truly stimulates TODs and economic development, I plan to seize upon the last days of daylight before we turn the clocks back to standard time for the three corporate farmers and to take a day trip on America’s last interurban, the South Shore Line.  From its downtown Chicago Randolph Street Station, I want to observe street running through the heart of Michigan City, IN before the right-of-way is moved out of town. Street running was classic interurban, as we experienced on the former North Shore Line, its Shore line route through the tony North Shore suburbs, as well as in Milwaukee.

Also, coming up that I will opine upon, is on the day after I flew back to Chiraq, I attended a lecture at Northwestern University by Joesph Schwieterman,Ph.D., who is the head of DePaul University’s Chaddick Institute that studies transportation, primarily the impact and growth of buses. We had a very interesting exchange of issues in response to his talk on “Gaps in Transportation.”  My caveat here is to watch how Germany’s Flixbus seizes the opportunity to fill-in those gaps, as Amtrak continues to flutter like a beached whale unable to wiggle back to the water.

Should States Follow The Brightline Model ?

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By Noel T. Braymer

Brightline is the new, fast and privately owned rail passenger service operating now hourly during the work week between Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach in Florida. There are plans to extend this service to Orlando by 2021. Brightline is also exploring extending service to Tampa and Jacksonville. Brightline was also in the news lately with the recent announcement that it had bought the rights from XpressWest to build a new fast rail passenger service between Victorville, California and Las Vegas, Nevada mostly on the I-15 freeway right of way. Construction is planned to start in 2019 with initial service to run by 2022. Future extensions to Palmdale and latter Los Angeles are also being considered. If that was not enough, Brightline is also looking into running service between Atlanta and Charlotte as well as Chicago and St Louis. Amtrak President Anderson also wants to create rail corridor service between Atlanta and Charlotte. Amtrak already has service between Chicago and St Louis.

So what is Brightline? It is a part of a bigger company which also includes Florida East Coast Industries which is primarily a property development company based in the Miami area. Florida East Coast Industries is part of the company which also owns the Florida East Coast Railway which is used by Brightline to operate passenger trains now between Miami and West Palm Beach and reaches other parts of Florida.

The Florida East Coast Railway was created by John D. Rockefeller and Henry Flagler. Flagler was the major land developer of southern Florida and bought and built railroads to bring people and business to southeast Florida. This was typical at this time of land development in most of the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Another classic example of this was Henry Huntington who built the Pacific Electric Interurban rail service starting at the beginning of the 20th Century. He also founded the Southern California Edison Company. Huntington made his money developing land which depended on the railroads before automobiles or surfaced roads were widely available to bring people and construction material to the new towns Huntington created. With electric Interurban trains, he also brought electricity to his new developments. The Pacific Electric never made much money in its day, and lost money for most of its existence. But the real money was and still is in land development which needs good and economical transportation to succeed.

Brightline is making some money carrying passengers. But the real money Brightline is making for Florida East Coast Industries (FECI)  is from new developments being built on land owned by FECI near and as part of the Brightline Stations. This has been true of railroads for years. The travel market Brightline is going for are short distance corridor services between major cites. There are only a limited number of these corridors in the United States. The current President of Amtrak is also thinking along the lines of expanding services between major city corridors. This assumes that the States on these corridors will be willing to give Amtrak more money to operate such services. Already Amtrak does operate several local rail corridor services which don’t produce much money. The problems with these services are they are often not very frequent, don’t have connections to many potential markets and don’t travel far enough distance to generate much income.

One of the most successful Amtrak Corridor service is the 300 mile Pacific Surfliner service between San Diego, Los Angeles and San Luis Obispo. It has 12 daily trains between San Diego and Los Angeles and the highest cost recovery of the State supported Amtrak trains. A new 3rd train is planned between San Luis Obispo and San Diego in 2019 which will mean 13 trains between San Diego and Los Angeles as well as 6 between San Diego and Santa Barbara. The largest collection of Amtrak Corridor services radiate out of Chicago. But most of these corridor services have limited frequencies, limited connections to other trains in Chicago and no trains running through Chicago for more direct service to more markets. The most productive Surflner trains are the ones which extend north of Los Angeles to Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo.

Would these corridor trains be better off without Amtrak? Many of the States in the Midwest are talking to each other to better coordinate their services to improve ridership. Would the Brightline model work for other regional services? Brightline is promoting fast, limited stop service with hourly headway in southern Florida. They have stations which have good intermodal connections which feeds passengers to their trains. They are also profiting from the rents in new buildings near their stations owned by their parent company Florida East Coast Industries. What could these existing regional corridors do without Amtrak?

The hardest thing would be to get a railroad, or at least trackage rights to a railroad to operate rail passenger service. This has already been done with many commuter services. Generally if you are willing to pay the railroads to use their rights of way and pay for track improvements, the railroads will at least be interested. We have seen several such deals in California between the railroads and local government agencies for rail service improvements. Many commuter services now contract with private rail operating services to run their trains. Amtrak has lost out on many contracts to operate commuter services because they can’t offer a lower bid compared to private operators. But how can you operate such services without major tax subsidies?

Much of this will depend on land development. Los Angeles County a few years ago bought Los Angeles Union Station. Major construction is planned at Union Station to allow run through train service and to increase train capacity at the station. Also as part of this plan is major new property development at and near Union Station to generate revenue for the County of Los Angeles. What is often ignored by the critics of the California High Speed Rail project is that major new development planned around the new High Speed Rail stations is part of the revenue creation coming with High Speed Rail service. This will be part of the Public, Private Partnership used to build and pay for California High Speed Rail. Increasingly rail transit agencies are finding themselves in California getting into the business of building housing on their property at their stations.

All of this will depend on future improved rail passenger service. This will depend on faster, more frequent service with connections to more places. This will take the cooperation of many different agencies and private companies. An effort to do just that is underway as part of the California State Rail Plan which will result with rail passenger service with connections to almost all parts of California by rail, bus, boat or scooters. When there is improved rail passenger or any form of transportation for that matter, property values increase. Given the limited number of rights of ways, most new services will likely need access to existing rights of ways. The biggest problem building California High Speed Rail has been acquiring land for new right of way. This same problem makes building new freeways all but impossible.

Either with private companies, government agencies or a combination of both, we will likely see new and expanded rail passenger services. This will be combined with other travel modes and increased property income allowing  creation of new and improved rail passenger services. This was how passenger rail service worked in the past. It is also the way it works to some degree or other still in many countries. While you can, its not easy to make money carrying passengers. The real money has always been the land development spawned by improved transportation.

What’s Planned For Metrolink In The Next Ten Years Will Be Revolutionary !

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By Noel T. Braymer

A common problem with any form of public transportation, at least in this country is it often doesn’t go where you want to go, when you want to go and doesn’t connect to other services which would solve many of these problems. Metrolink since 2015 has been working on these problems. First they needed a plan to fix their problems that prevented ridership growth. This plan is now going into effect over the next 10 years. This is projected to cost around $10 billion dollars with the goal to be fully up and running in time for the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. This will provide service on most of its lines of at least hourly trains, with several lines running trains every half hour and some lines every 15 minutes most of the day. At the heart of this will be Metrolink service which will be 1,) Regular-Service at regular intervals. 2). Repeating- Service repeats at the same time every hour. 3). Pulsed- Line schedules are synchronized to facilitate transfers.4). Bi-directional – Relatively balanced in both directions to serve multiple destination points. 5). Reliable- Scheduled times can be reliably met at all stations.

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This is the planned frequencies of the SCORE plan for Metrolink by 2028. The solid orange lines are for trains every 15 minutes. The green lines are for trains every half hour. The dash orange lines are for hourly Metrolink service.

What this all means is every line will run its Metrolink trains every hour of the day on the same schedule all day long. This will be critical to insure that all the trains make all their connections to other trains and services on every run. This will also create a “memory schedule”. That means regular passengers know what time of the hour at any hour of the day trains will arrive and depart from their local station. Also in most cases if a passenger misses a train, there is a good chance there will be another train arriving in a half hour or less, not hours or not at all. This will also likely require schedule changes in Southern California for Amtrak Surfliner Trains and Coaster trains between Oceanside and San Diego. This will be needed to reduce traffic conflicts between Metrolink, Surfliner and Coaster trains. But it will also be needed to allow smooth transfers of passengers between Metrolink, Surfliner and Coaster trains.

So is there any proof that this idea works? Switzerland has been doing this for years. It is an affluent and somewhat conservative country. But it also has some of the highest levels of passenger rail and public transportation usage in the world. The reason for this is because their passenger rail service is very good and used by all economic levels of Swiss society. What this type of service does is open many more markets to rail passenger travel. This will make traveling by train just in Southern California much more time competitive, economical and able to get people to many more places. Already San Diego County is doing this on a small scale. The Sprinter trains, the 20ish miles between Oceanside and Escondido operate every half hour most of the day on the same schedule. All you need to know is the times on the hour that Sprinter trains will stop in each direction to know when to catch the train. At each station there is connecting local transit bus service which are scheduled to arrive shortly before the train arrives and to depart after the train departs and passengers have transferred between the Sprinter and the buses.

Of course there is plenty Metrolink will have to do before this will happen. First Metrolink has to do something about it’s equipment. Metrolink’s locomotive fleet was already often unreliable and overdue for replacement. New locomotives had been delivered last year. But poor quality control issues from the manufacturer has delayed getting all this new equipment into reliable service. After months of delays fixing these problems, Metrolink is finally getting these new locomotives into regular service and the full order of new locomotives can now be delivered. The other issue is getting more passenger cars back into service. Metrolink has plenty of cars bought in the 1990’s which are overdue for a major overhaul. With an overhaul these cars have another 10 to 15 more years of useful life on Metrolink. Many of these cars have been in storage for years. The plan is to sends groups of these cars over the next few years back to the factory and be stripped to bare metal and rebuilt like new. This will start with those cars which are now in storage. Once these rebuilt cars are in service, another batch can be sent back for rebuilding. Over the next few years this will mean Metrolink will have more cars and locomotive power to put more trainsets in service to allow for more frequent service.

But another major problem is track upgrades. Much of the trackage for Metrolink is single track. In order to operate more trains reliably, more double, triple and in some cases 4 tracks will be needed in Southern California to operate more passenger trains including Metrolink. This includes sharing tracks for future high speed rail service on rights of ways with freight trains between Burbank and Anaheim. This will require up to 4 tracks with passengers trains having their own separate tracks. Central to all of this will be the construction of run through tracks at Los Angeles Union Station for Metrolink, Surfliner and future High Speed Rail service.  All of this has been in the works for years. It will take a few more years to get the track capacity to the level planned by 2028. But even short of full double tracking, Metrolink recently allowed funding to double track the Metrolink Ventura Line 6 miles between the streets of Raymer and Bernson to be transferred to other local rail projects. Metrolink still wants to double track between Raymer and Bernson, but it won’t need the double tracking until Metrolink is ready to run trains on that route at headways up to 15 minutes apart which is still a few  years away.

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This is a map of most of the Metrolink’s rail lines. The green segments show double tracking and the red is single tracked. The gold lines are controlled by the freight railroads and Metrolink shares their tracks. Between Los Angeles and Fullerton much of the line has 3 tracks. By 2028 it should have 4. Between Fullerton and Riverside the line is triple tracked, and double tracked to San Bernardno. The line between Riverside and Los Angeles may have some single tracking. This is now also Metrolink line extension from Riverside to Perris all in Riverside County which is single track.

All these changes will be done incrementally. More Metrolink trains are planned in the near future, particularly in Los Angeles County. Metrolink is also looking at buying Diesel Multiple Unit (DMU) cars to offer frequent, short distance service at low cost. This may include frequent service between Los Angeles and Burbank as well as service between San Bernardino and Ontario Airport. Such cars will be cheaper to buy and operate. But since most DMU trains don’t have toilets, they would generally be for trips under a hour end point to end point.

These changes will be introduced on an incremental basis. Metrolink already has a significant amount of its ticketing now done on line using apps on passenger’s smart phones. Many transit agencies and Amtrak also offer such ticketing which payment is made by either credit or debit cards. A passenger’s smart phone gets a barcode which is the ticket for that passengers which can be scan by Metrolink conductors or in Los Angeles County by turnstiles at LA Metro transit train stations. In the near future such ticketing is planned to be extended to other agencies that have on line ticketing with Smart Phones. One example of this could be a trip from Eagle Rock in Los Angeles County to Encinitas in San Diego County. Online a person could get a bar code to ride bus 83 in Eagle Rock and transfer to the Gold Line to Los Angeles Union Station. At Union Station this person in the near future will be able to catch with the same bar code  service on Metrolink to Oceanside. Waiting at Oceanside will be a Coaster train which will soon depart with a stop at Encinitas. Trying to do that now would at best have few possible connections just between Coaster and Metrolink or Surfliners. But that will change with more frequent service and coordinated schedules between services planned in the next few years. Also having one ticket for all connections eliminates the chance of seeing a connecting transit service pull away while you are trying to get a ticket to ride a local train or fumble for change to pay bus fare on a bus service you have never used before. This increased connectivity could be possible by 2021 when San Diego County will have enough double tracking to run more frequent Coaster service.

What Metrolink is planning and will be doing is not unique to it or Southern California. In the last few years, the transportation planning agencies in California have been talking to each other about how to connect each other’s public transportation services together to serve the entire State . The result of this is the current California State Rail Plan includes all of these schedule and ticketing changes for the entire State, which are proposed for Metrolink. Rail centered public transportation can carry many more people, more economically and faster than continued dependence on autos and freeways. Caltrain today running between San Francisco and San Jose with a right of way of roughly 2 lanes of road is now carrying  as many people as a 6 lane freeway with 3 lanes in both directions. Using largely existing railroads with double tracking for passenger service could carry more people than any of our now congested freeways. Not only can this be a cheaper way to travel, but for many places it will be a faster way to get around than by car. What can also be expected is economic growth that usually follows improvement in transportation. An example of this is plans by Google to move their headquarters in the Bay Area near the San Jose train station which will be a major transportation hub with not only Caltrain, Amtrak, ACE and local Light Rail service. But will soon get BART service and will be a major station for California High Speed Rail.

This is a recent view of new development at the north throat of the San Diego train station. At the station are 2 tracks for San Diego’s Light Rail system and 2 tracks shared by Amtrak, Coaster and freight trains. Twenty years ago this was a largely old and rundown part of downtown San Diego. Photo by Noel T. Braymer

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This is a recent picture in downtown Los Angeles at the joint Blue/Expo Lines Light Rail Station at Flower Street and Pico Blvd. It is a short walk to the Convention Center and Staples Center arena. As you can see it is in the center of much new construction. most of it for new, high rise housing. Photo by Noel T. Braymer

 

“TRIP REPORT: “STARLIGHT” STAR BRIGHT”

All that Is Missing Is A Pacific Parlour Car

By Rail Provocateur (M.E. Singer)

Notice:  I was not under anesthesia nor tortured by the North Koreans in my observation and the preparation of my notes for this trip report. Although the equipment is decrepit and the Parlour seriously missed, it is indeed true how people make the difference. In this case, #11 was staffed from the LA crew base. Also, I had the pleasure of traveling with my new friend from the RailPAC Annual Conference, James Smith.

Back Story: 

As I was already in position in Sacramento and was interested to check-out the rapid growth of Oceanside triggered by the emerging rail/bus transportation center there, I seized the opportunity to take the only thru train between Sacramento-LA, the “Coast Starlight.” Although I always travel first class (not for Amtrak’s epicurean meals), I was curious to observe first hand the success of business class on this train. In LA, it would be a convenient transfer to the evening’s last “Pacific Surfliner” in business class down to Oceanside.

Departing Sacramento Sunday, 30 September:

With no car number indicated on my Amtrak internet purchased ticket; no consist listed in the depot; no information pointing to which ramp to take-up to the platform, I felt like a rookie traveling by train. Initially I inquired of a car location with an Amtrak mechanic on the platform, who indicated he just did not know where business class was in the consist.  Finally, I saw a group of conductors who were preparing to man southbound #11 upon its arrival who advised me business is right behind the diner, forward of the lounge (consist included 3 sleepers forward; 3 coaches on rear).

“Starlight” arrived Sacramento late which provided me time to observe its arrival (always exhilarating). After placing my alleged light but heavy Rimowa luggage in convenient baggage area in car line #1111, I took my seat on the lower level, which I find in sleepers to be typically quieter due to less traffic meandering the corridor. As we departed 16 minutes off the timecard, my appetite had returned from the three block walk in the dark from my hotel to the depot, so I headed to the diner at 0635.

Food & Beverage (F&B) Services:

I am not going out on a limb when I pronounce the diner and lounge crew to be the best I ever encountered on Amtrak since its operation of the “Super Chief” in 1972 with the Santa Fe crews! (No, I was not converted into a “Manchurian Candidate” by NARP).

Diner
The diner was competently handled by two young ladies as waits, and an LSA controlling tables and cash.

I immediately recognized the downside to traveling in business, instead of a roomette.  Rather than serving the same meal as indicated in the menu, non-sleeper customers are required to pay extra for everything; the true definition of A La Carte. At breakfast, no juices+coffee; no bacon or sausage; no bread. At lunch, no cheese or bacon on the burger; no beverage.  At dinner, no salad; no beverage; no dessert. Making light of my distress, I inquired of our wait how much for the mustard and ketchup packages; butter at dinner!

After I informed the LSA I found it rude to interrupt my conversation midway through breakfast in a barely half empty diner to request payment, it was a pleasure to work with him for the rest of the trip. As lunch and dinner were by reservation, it was fortunate that Jimmy Smith was in a roomette (out of Emeryville) and pulled two seatings for us; otherwise instead of lunch at 12:15pm, it would have been 1:30pm; dinner would have been a maybe instead of at 5:30 pm. (I have never had dinner at so early a time, other than being a patient in a hospital; I had nursing remove the tray and return it at 8 pm.) Also, I was impressed with the service hours: breakfast ran from  0630-0900; lunch from 1200-1400; dinner from 1700-1745. Meal calls were also clearly announced, as well as closing of diner after meal period. Thankfully, this crew was not burdened nor were the passengers short-changed with an Express Meal on arrival day. At each meal, service was competently carried out; nothing forgotten or mis-ordered; no items “86.” However, I still cannot get over how the scrambled eggs come out in a rubbery appearing square; the roast chicken at dinner is no longer a one-half chicken, and barely a breast.

From my observation, one reason Amtrak persists in faltering at labor relations is its unwillingness to ‘go to bat’ for its employees. For every decent tip left by Jimmy and myself, most people ignorantly do not tip, or, moths fly out of their wallet/purse to pull out a dollar. Given the close fraternal relationship between Amtrak’s Chairman, Anthony Coscia and New York’s Senator Charles Schumer, you would think that in respect to the number of times they’ve discussed how to drain federal funds from the National Network to subsidize the NEC, that the opportunity should have been seized in behalf of the diner/lounge crews. Certainly, the case could be made not to automatically deduct 8% from salaries for the imaginary tips they receive.  If Amtrak’s Board was not so focused on development opportunities of Hudson Yards, and if Amtrak had depth in Labor Relations and HR, this issue would not have occurred, or, had long ago been resolved in favor of the LSAs and SAs.

Sightseer Lounge
First time I have ordered a Bloody Mary on Amtrak and not had to provide detailed directions how to prepare the drink; been advised Tabasco and other items were ’86.’ This LSA was a pro; without my input, he used Tabasco, Worcestershire, pepper, and to my shock, actually had the right fruit-lime. Just to ensure this was not a fluke, before dinner, I ordered a vodka tonic; by gosh, their was that lime appropriately dressing up the drink.

The only downside to this car were the numerous hand-scrawled signs on the upper level indicating cafe downstairs. After 37 years running Superliners, you would think somebody in management would attend to the issue–if they actually rode the trains. Interesting how the bathroom in the lounge is always broken. Also, for public health reasons, their should be signage instructing passengers to keep their shoes on and not place their smelly, bare feet in the well where people normally place their drinks and food items. To my surprise, one conductor (or AC) observed the bare feet of the person next to me, but said nothing.

Business Class:

No longer just limited to the lower level, but now, the entire car. Very comfortable leather seats with paper antimacassar head covers. Car attendant came to diner to give me my $6 coupon I used at breakfast; provided water bottle. I do not think any signage can correct the habit of passengers from trashing the bathrooms. Of course, what also contributes and does not help is Beech Grove’s failure to create a lip on the sink counter to prevent water splashing on the floor and on passengers; to prevent the water from exploding onto the passenger when turned on; to install toilet paper and toilet seat holders to prevent them from failing on watery, soiled floor.

Although I do not know if the car attendant can control the volume emanating from people (or more signage?), but for part of the trip I was “entertained” by five “cackling geese” traveling as a middle aged sorority-irritatingly  loud, jumping around seats.

What did not mollify my mood was to find a copy of Amtrak’s National magazine (from December 2017/January 2018) featuring what could only make Pravda proud, including:
1) “A Message from Richard Anderson and Wick Moorman”
“We’re always thinking about ways to make our current customers happier…”
Where does the Pacific Parlour; buses interrupting the “Southwest Chief”; false statements re PTC, etc fit this PR line?
2) “On the Southwest Chief”
“Photographer Jesse Riser on the train from Arizona to New Mexico”
Nostalgic view pre-bus substitution?
3) “Amtrak Ad: Imagine the 900 Miles of Traffic You’ll Avoid”
“Break the Travel Quo” on the Stress-Free, Nonstop Trip from D.C. to Florida on the Auto Train”
What about the stress from no diner on the “Silver Star” despite a dozen new CAF diners stored at Hialeah? Or, the persistently late “Silver Meteor/Silver Star”? Or, the Amtrak-initiated growing threat to the long distance trains?

Arrival LAUS:

Arriving 46 minutes early, despite departing Sacramento 16 minutes late makes one wonder how much schedule padding built into the timecard; yet, UP still wins with a bonus? The real issue is why Amtrak has done nothing to re-establish the broken connection between southbound #11(“Coast Starlight”) and eastbound #4 (“Southwest Chief”) as it exists between westbound #3 and northbound #14? Such a previously long-standing connection would certainly well serve connecting traffic on the “Chief” and negate Amtrak’s efforts to manipulate traffic data, as it also does by cutting the consist to  artificially reduce demand.
Next Week: my Trip Report reviewing the “Pacific Surfliner” and “Sprinter”.

“WHAT IS THE BAR FOR NARP TO PREVARICATE?”

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How the Dedicated Protectors of the NEC Stumbled Out West

By Rail Provocateur (M.E. Singer)

My regrets for not providing feedback on our guest from the Rail Passenger Association a/k/a NARP; however, I was frankly so taken aback by the extremely confident oratory and slick slide presentation, I felt better to digest what I observed to competently comment but one week later.  Also, I was quite focused on leaving early Sunday morning (30 Sep) on the “Coast Starlight” all the way to LA; with a transfer to Oceanside on the “Pacific Surfliner.” (Separately, I will indulge you in a surprising trip report and assessment of long distance and inter-regional passenger rail; hint: very much alive and well in California.)

Despite my Chicago heritage and the street approach to be very direct, I elected not to verbalize my shock at how appalling I interpreted this presentation before the RailPAC Annual Conference on 29 Sep by Mr. Bruce Becker, VP Operations, RPA. This was simply because my mum had required us to treat all our guests with a certain deference, even if they did track mud on our carpeting into our home. However, now that the Pepto Bismal bottle is empty, I feel relieved to rationally surmise this production by RPA.

Frankly, if I had closed my eyes, the verbal presentation could have been provided by any senior Amtrak officer; the slick slideshow only reinforced that perspective. Yet, when we pull back the curtain on RPA’s presentation of the Wizard of Oz, we find the same components that defined the wizard, and that are indicative of a narrative based upon prevarication, including:

For Mr. Becker to overtly exclaim how “Richard” (a/k/a Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson) was the best thing that ever happened to passenger rail since creamed cheese was simply astounding. Frankly, it reminded me of how we correctly interpreted LBJ’s claim of the war in Vietnam when we really knew that fighting for freedom in Vietnam was like fornicating for chastity. If NARP was really on the outside as a rail advocacy group, and not in Amtrak’s tent to willingly seduced and conspire to strip away our suspicions, how can RPA, now with a vastly expanded staff, have their radar AND their sonar so totally blinded to the facts?

When challenged by a RailPAC member to specify if the order for long distance network locomotives was actually placed, despite Mr. Becker’s obvious hesitancy to commit, the issue was eventually resolved by a persistent position of RailPAC to finally have Mr. Becker admit “well, we believe the order is imminent.” Do we really need a seminar explaining the difference between “believe” and “imminent” vs. “order date placed.”

Forget that this speech failed to elaborate, let alone, embrace the National Network of inter-regional connectivity, as well as its growth prospects, but I was further astounded when Mr. Becker calmly explained the insight of “Richard” to convert the National Network, currently supported by Superliners, to a single level equipment program. (As if any version of the Boeing 737 will do).

Certainly, if the founder of NARP, Tony Haswell, was privy to this plan, he would have strenuously objected, instead of meekly proposing our future through the rose-tinted glasses of the new RPA. Just from an initial reaction, Bruce, are you kidding me? With the extraordinary growth in staff at NARP’s Washington HQ, what has prevented anybody from taking out their slide ruler to measure such an impact that would only increase Amtrak’s costs, including:

1) Acknowledging a Superliner sleeper (other than the specially ordered ones for the Northeast’s “Auto Train”) carry 44 passengers  the equivalent of two 10-6 sleepers.
2) Unless Amtrak intends to re-negotiate labor agreements, the single level proposal would trigger additional sleeper attendants.
3) Such an elongated consist would certainly trigger an additional locomotive ( despite current shortage); creating higher costs for asset depreciation of locomotive; fuel; sand.
4) When I took out my abacus to calculate the obvious increase in costs for Amtrak to convert to a single level operation, I could only reach one conclusion: NARP’s relationship with “Richard” means only one things–the plan is to eventually eliminate the National Network of long distance trains; with that  accomplished, the single level equipment would be moved to the East. End of story. But Bruce did not speak on that point.

Given the overall shock to this presentation, what really awed me was, in my opinion, the complete lack of acknowledging in this calculated presentation, the important role of the individual state rail advocacy groups, along with RailPAC, to not merely fight to prevent the disembowelment of the National Network; but to encourage the growth and expansion of the inter-regional connecting National Network.

For example, in this presentation, why the hesitation, if not just the ignoring of the obvious fact that the state rail advocate groups, along with RailPAC, immediately jumped into action to mobilize city, regional, state, and federal politicos to push back on Amtrak’s absurd idea to destroy the “Southwest Chief” contiguous route by substituting buses between Dodge City-Albuquerque. The local advocates understood how this would kill the route, let alone, during the extended period of inclement weather, delay the buses and kill patronage. For this, I have condemned RPA to serve as the “caboose” in respect to such critical issues, as we have simply experienced RPA’s PR machine ignoring how this group is last to jump on the issue; instead, bringing up the rear, as with the “Southwest Chief; “yet, with no hesitancy to take credit for all that was achieved in RPA’s initial absence.

I did find most ironic, and commented during my own presentation later on 29 Sep, how RPA believes they require a specific research focus group to determine how they can secure meaningful labor support.  As I pointed out during my talk, rail labor was already here in the audience. Apparently, for some reason, rail labor have found RailPAC to offer the credibility that takes into consideration their concerns for a safe, hospitable, economic environment. Indeed, as I discussed with several rail labor members later, it certainly does not take a brain surgeon to reach out, embrace, accept, and include rail labor in a viable organization as RailPAC has proven to be.

On that note, I have to question what RPA members in California , Nevada, and the Northwest think they are getting for their dues; perhaps would they not be better served by a very focused regional advocacy group such as RailPAC that actually gets the job done?

 

My Recent Trip To Sacramento on the San Joaquins-With Photos

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By Noel T. Braymer

I got up early on Friday morning, September 28 to go to a RailPAC Directors meeting the night before the joint RailPAC/RPA Conference held on Saturday the 29th at the California State Rail Museum. The fastest way to get to Sacramento and back from Oceanside without flying, besides driving was taking the San Joaquins including dedicated bus connections for it. My first link was catching a northbound Pacific Surfliner train 763 just before 7 AM in Oceanside. This being a Friday, the 763 was already crowded and by the time we got to Irvine the conductor reported on the PA that the train was sold out! Fridays and Sundays are the busiest time for most of the regional Amtrak Trains in California. This being a train traveling north of Los Angeles are the ones that carry the most passengers. Announcements from the Cafe Car gave its location on the lower level of car 3. The cars on the trains had their number posted inside the car. This is helpful since people have had problems finding the Cafe since most people are on the upper level and sometimes don’t know the Cafe is on the lower lever. So far most of the morning was foggy and dull.

We were scheduled to arrive in Los Angeles at 8:51 AM: we arrived at 9:05 AM. Crowding on the train didn’t help, which was a factor why the train was late. I went right to the Amtrak bus station at Union Station which I have been to several times before. I tried following the instructions to the bus station from the signs at Union Station. But I found the signs more confusing than helpful, so I ignored them and went my usual path. The bus left Union Station almost full and headed non stop to Bakersfield. But the bus did hit stop and go traffic, more stop than go between downtown Los Angeles and roughly Glendale. From Burbank to Bakersfield traffic was often heavy, but flowing. As we drove inland the sky got sunnier.

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Stop and Go Traffic in Los Angeles seen from the Thruway bus to Bakersfield. Photo by Noel T. Braymer

As we neared Bakersfield other Amtrak Thruway buses which had made the other stops in Southern California passed by us. There were at least 4 other buses besides the one I was in stopping at Bakersfield to connect passengers to San Joaquin 715 departing Bakersfield at noon for Oakland. Train 715 soon was crowded and had few available seats. It didn’t help that there only seemed to be 4 cars on the train and one of them was the cafe car which was for people who were eating or drinking. There were regular announcements on the PA for passengers not to ride in the Cafe. Extra equipment would have been useful on this day and for other Fridays and Sundays if any was available.

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The view from my bus in Bakersfield. On the left are 3 other Thruway Buses on their way to connect passengers to the noon San Joaquin departure. Another Thruway bus had passed my bus before taking this picture. Photo by Noel T. Braymer

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The view of the Bakersfield Amtrak bus parking at the Bakersfield train station. Photo by Noel T. Braymer

As I traveled north I noticed BNSF freight traffic was fairly heavy. Not only would more double tracking be helpful allowing more San Joaquin trains to travel faster and more often. But I got the impression that triple tracking in some segments might be needed between Bakersfield and Fresno. I also noticed many more almond trees growing in new groves in the San Joaquin Valley. Also I saw several Solar Farms: many farmers were selling electricity from solar cells on their property to the grid. The trip northbound was going smoothly, until we reached Fresno.

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Waiting to board at Bakersfield . Photo By Noel T. Braymer

We reached Fresno roughly on time which would be by 2:02 PM. But we couldn’t load or unload passengers because the southbound train, which I assume was the 714 due in Fresno at 1:40 PM was late. One of the biggest problems on the in San Joaquin is the single track bottleneck north of the current Fresno Station. Some of this track is in the middle of a road where there is no room for a siding. What was also disheartening was later I learned during the rail conference on the 29th that the earliest passengers can hope to use the new High Speed Rail tracks in the San Joaquin Valley was 2026, and this would only be for High Speed Rail Trains traveling roughly between Bakersfield and Merced. No word how passengers would connect to other markets on such a short route. I also find it ironic that CAHSRA engineers recently pitched the idea of letting freight trains use the new High Speed Rail tracks when finished it could to earn money for the CAHSRA  and relieve freight congestion. The railroads were not interested in using the HSR tracks.

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This is the view looking west from the BNSF tracks between Hanford and Fresno. This is grading for the High Speed Rail right of way. Most of the California HSR trackage in the San Joaquin Valley will be build on the surface which is cheaper to build than tunnels or viaducts. Photo by Noel T. Braymer

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This is also seen from the train south of Fresno along HSR construction. This is a grade separation for a road bridge to allow cars and trucks to go over both the BNSF and HSR tracks. This is cheaper than building bridges or underpasses for the trains. Photo by Noel T. Braymer

It was 2:22 PM when we finally departed Fresno. Between the area north of Hanford and south of Fresno the new High Speed Rail right of way is under construction just west of the BNSF tracks. North of Fresno to Madera the same is also true. It wouldn’t be hard to build track connections between High Speed Rail south of Fresno and near Madera to the BNSF tracks. This is because the tracks are at the same grade level. It makes more sense to reroute future San Joaquin trains even before there is High Speed Rail service to the new Fresno HSR train station and transportation center. This can be done with connecting tracks between the BNSF and HSR north and south of Fresno. This alone would result in a sizable time savings for the San Joaquins. Also the new station is closer to central downtown Fresno and will be more convenient for San Joaquin passengers. With reduced running times for the San Joaquin trains, this will make the service more reliable, attractive and economical.

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This is at Fresno from my train of the view of passengers loading and off loading at the late southbound train at the station. Needless to say the the Fresno Station is not designed to handle 2 trains at a time . Photo By Noel T. Braymer

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This view from the train north of Fresno is of the new finished HSR bridge over the San Joaquin River. Photo by Noel T. Braymer

North of Fresno is the Merced Station for the San Joaquins. This station is also a crew base for the San Joaquins. A major goal for the San Joaquin Joint Powers Agency is to reduce the running times of the San Joaquins particularly between Bakersfield and Oakland. By doing this, the San Joaquin service would be able to run their trains without changing crews at Merced. This would save even more time and money running the San Joaquins. The crew change for the 715 on September 28th took longer than a normal station stop. The 715 was scheduled to arrive in Stockton at  4:15 PM, we arrived at 4:52 PM. The bus to Sacramento was fairly full and started off at a fairly good pace. It was as we got into the Sacramento Metro Area that traffic crawled to stop and go traffic. This turned out not to be normal Friday night traffic, but there had been a major multi-vehicle accident on I-5 in downtown Sacramento which had shut down several lanes. The bus driver was forced to take a detour on equally congested surface streets. The bus was scheduled to arrive at the Sacramento Valley Station by 5:15 PM. I think it was after 6 PM when I arrived.

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More stop and go traffic, only this time in Sacramento. Photo by Noel T. Braymer

Leaving for my trip home Saturday evening I had 4 connections to make to get from Sacramento to Oceanside. Most of my travel was by bus. I caught the 6:25 PM bus to Stockton to catch at 7:39 PM the 718 train to Fresno. From Fresno I caught the bus to Bakersfield. At Bakersfield I had to transfer to my final bus to Oceanside. The fastest way to travel now on the surface between Northern and Southern California without a car is with bus connections on the San Joaquins. It still takes over 10 to 12 hours to travel between most points between Northern and Southern California by bus and train. The soonest High Speed Rail is expected between Southern and Northern California is now 2033. I may still be alive in 2033, but I may not still be in California.

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Interior of the recently restored SP Sacramento Train Station. Now called the Sacramento Valley Station. Photo by Noel T. Braymer

What I have long hoped for is faster train service to make surface travel between Northern and Southern California a little faster and more reliable than driving. I could see faster, frequent trains from south of Los Angeles going north at least as far as Santa Clarita. From there a bus bridge could connect Santa Clarita to Bakersfield long before 2033. With long overdue track improvements, additional trains could be run from Bakersfield to the Bay Area and Sacramento before 2028. Will this happen? Things usually  happen very quickly after years of stalemate. Major changes are often triggered by disasters. There are several things that could go wrong in the next 5 to 10 years. What is certain is we can’t turn back the clock to the good old days of the 1960’s and new freeways, which also had it share of problems.

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The view outside of the restored SP Sacramento Station. Photo by Noel T. Braymer

 

Notes On the September 29th Annual Joint RailPAC/RPA Conference

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By Noel T. Braymer

RailPAC President Paul Dyson in his opening remarks for the meeting, talked about the success RailPAC had getting a resolution passed in the California legislature. This resolution supported  the National Passenger Rail System’s trains and opposed  splitting up long distance trains with bus service substitutions.

The first Speaker was Bruce Becker, Vice President of Operations, for the Rail Passenger Association (RPA).  Here are some photos taken off of the screen from his Power Point presentation

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dscn4528.jpgMr. Becker has more trust in the word of Amtrak than many long time advocates such as myself have. What progress we have seen recently in fixing many of the flaws of the recent plans for the National System didn’t start with Amtrak. It was a direct result of local grassroot pressures of the communities wanting improved rail passenger service who demanded as much from their representatives in Washington. The jury is still out if Amtrak will keep their latest promises. This problem all started because current Amtrak President Anderson tried to break promises Amtrak had given the States of New Mexico, Colorado and Kansas to keep and improve Amtrak service in those States.

Another  RPA issue Mr. Becker brought up was a call for Amtrak to sue the railroads to do a better job operating Amtrak’s trains on time. The problems the railroads have with Amtrak is they don’t make much if any money carrying their trains: by law they have to give a deep discount to Amtrak for using their tracks. Also Amtrak is often not on time, which in turn results in delays on mainlines for the freight trains which are the primary income for the railroads. What is needed  is more government funding to upgrade the railroads with more capacity for both more freight and passenger rail services. This is already being done in California. The Joint Powers Authorities in California for the Capitol Corridor, San Joaquins and Pacific Surfliners, as well as the commuter services for Metrolink, Caltrain and ACE negotiate with the railroads, and secure funding to make capital improvement on their railroads allowing better service for both passenger and freight. This is at the heart for much of the expanded rail service planned in California in the next 20 years.

The next speaker was Dan Leavitt, Manager of Regional Initiatives for the San Joaquin Joint Power Authority. 

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The purple line shows the route in downtown Sacramento of the shared ACE/San Joaquins frequent service to Sacramento.  The light greenish dashed line shows the route of Sacramento Light Rail and joint stations to it and expanded rail passenger service to Sacramento. Combing both ACE and San Joaquins service will need a new downtown  Sacramento Station. It will have little or no place for passenger parking. But it will be next to transit and major bike routes, as well as walking distance to activity center in downtown Sacramento to eliminate the need for additional parking.

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This image shows the trackage for the San Joaquins in Blue and for ACE in purple. Both services will share the tracks between Stockton and Sacramento on a branch line of the UP . The San Joaquins will stay on the BNSF between Stockton and Bakerfield, while ACE will build a new track on the UP between Lathrop and  Merced. The 2 existing San Joaquin trains to Sacramento on the UP main line will stat on their current route.
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For years there has been talk of building a new Stockton train station at the crossing of the UP and BNSF tracks to serve trains on both lines. What seems to be planned now is to build track connection at the crossing for direct rail service to both lines.

After the lunch break the next speaker was Frank Vacca, Chief of Rail Operations for the California High Speed Rail Authority. 

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dscn4540.jpg Mr Vacca commented that construction is largely determined by funding. The pace of construction could be sped up if there was more funding. This would also reduce the final cost of the project. The problem with costs in any construction project are inflated as projects are delayed. Mr Vacca also confirm that there are no plans to run non electric trains on the the current 119 miles of new High Speed construction between Kern County and Madera. Track work is planned for completion by 2022. Inter San Joaquin Valley High  Speed Rail is expected by 2026 or so. Service to Gilroy and San Francisco is planned by 2029.

The next speaker was was Jim Allison, Manager of Planning for the Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority. The theme for his presentation might be it is hard to make plans, when the goals keep changing.

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The planned addition of a second BART San Francisco Bay tunnel and possible reopening of the Dumbarton Rail bridge are bringing major changes to the plans to all the transportation agencies in Northern California. All these changes are forcing more cooperation between agencies and joint planning. This is largely new territory bringing on new service areas to many of these agencies.

The last speaker was M. E. Singer: Rail Provocateur.  His writings have been linked via the RailPAC eNewsletter since August 2016. He has also had his writings published in several outlets including recently in Railway Age. The main theme of Mr. Singer’s talk was how impressed he was with the progress being made in California improving and expanding rail passenger service in the State. He also listed many of the problems operating rail passenger service that happens around the country. He also addressed the focus of Amtrak Management on the Northeast Corridor, often at the expense of the National System and some of the flaws in reporting Amtrak’s true costs with a non-standard accounting system. Mr. Singer was also critical of members of the Amtrak Board which is dominated by members from the Northeast. He is also not impressed by some senior Vice Presidents at Amtrak.

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M.E.Singer, Rail Provocateur at the 2018 RailPAC/RPA conference in Sacramento

Going off as a last note with a little history, Amtrak was created as a part of the bailout in 1970 for the stockholders of the recently bankrupt PennCentral Railroad which included the Northeast Corridor. The high costs of owning the Northeast Corridor, particularly operation of commuter rail services on the corridor was a major factor in the bankruptcy of the PennCentral Railroad. When the FRA reorganized the PennCentral into Conrail, it stripped the Northeast Corridor out of it to insure the reorganized Conrail could make money which it did. The FRA gave the Northeast Corridor to Amtrak which greatly increased its losses. When in 1971 the Nixon Administration was creating Amtrak, they realized that the chance of creating a new public railroad just for the Northeast was unlikely to get the votes from the rest of the country to create Amtrak. This was the motivation for including a national network as part of Amtrak to insure the Amtrak law would pass. While it seems Amtrak believes it can ignore the needs of the rest of the county for rail service while concentrating most of its resources on the Northeast Corridor. History says otherwise.

 

What, ANOTHER positive Amtrak Trip Report? Yes!

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Commentary and a few PHOTOS by Russ Jackson

It was time again for us to trek down to the Ft. Worth, TX train station and board the Texas Eagle/Sunset Limited train 421 (and return on 422) in September, 2018.  We look forward to these trips and enjoy every minute, give or take a few, on board with destination at Los Angeles Union Station.  This trip we can say was one of the best we’ve had.  Let’s face it we’ve been traveling Amtrak since 1971 and were on the Santa Fe’s El Capitan before that.  We’ve been through a lot with Amtrak, and the current highly charged atmosphere of uncertainty over the future of all of the long distance trains certainly made us curious to discover what the current situation on board is.  We were pleased, very pleased.  For one thing it was the first time in our traveling Amtrak that we had the same car attendants both coming and going on our round trip!

Rainbow near Waco Sept 2018This rainbow was near Waco, TX, seen from the Texas Eagle train window

Texas Eagle 421.  Departure from Fort Worth (FTW) was on time.  That was a relief, as timekeeping on the Texas Eagle has not been very reliable this summer.  We found our clean Sleeping Car 32106 bedroom (formerly called the Pennsylvania) and settled into familiar surroundings.  Attendant Renee had cookies and trail mix available on her makeshift stand upstairs.  The GOOD news was the Eagle was still serving diner-prepared meals, not “serving” the boxes that are now entrenched on some other Amtrak trains.   South of FTW I took a walk up through three Coach cars, found the Cafe Car attendant, Ken, and enjoyed a long chat with him about Amtrak and his career.  He brought up that this train “is not a tourist train, the California Zephyr is.”  Riders on the Eagle are “going places, not looking for scenery.”  He’s been on the Zephyr in his 20 year career, where he “welcomed many visitors from overseas who ride it to see the Rockies and the Sierra Nevada.”  We talked about how Amtrak needs to market the trains differently.  Ken believes that eventually the Eagle will lose its full service Dining to boxes.

As usual on the Eagle, Dining Car seatings are only at 5:00 and 5:30.  The Cafe car always closes after San Marcos. The two of us are now of an age where we need In-Room service at meal times, and we enjoyed a very well prepared dinner.  My wife had the chicken, and I had the flat iron steak which was prepared exactly as I requested.  Renee was very helpful, and suggested dessert be the creme brule, which did hit the spot, and is highly recommended.  Of note was the use of cloth napkins and real flatware, not plastic, on the Eagle, but not on the Sunset Limited the next day.

As for timekeeping,  freight traffic on the BNSF and the UP between FTW and SAS was extensive, and the delays included a long wait south of Austin while the UP cleared two northbound freight trains.  The result was arrival in San Antonio two hours late that night.  More on this subject later.  Oh, yes, a small problem in our car was it was breezy cool.  After a hot summer in Texas we should have been happy to be cool, but those of you who have traveled in a Superliner, either in Coach or Sleeping Car know it can be too cold, too hot, and in some cars both.  Still, we managed to sleep ok despite all the car movements during the night, and the UP’s rough track between SAS and Del Rio.  Listening to AM radio at night brings in many enjoyable signals, including KONO 860 in SAS, which sounds like the stations I worked for back in the 50s and 60s, with its Top 40 music and format from that era.  Two baseball games were available on good old radio, and I heard the Colorado Rockies vs Arizona Diamondbacks from Denver on KOA 850, and the Texas Rangers vs Los Angeles Angels on KGNC 710 in Amarillo!  Not all AM radio is crazy talk.

Breakfast on #1 Sept 2018
We can recommend the scrambled eggs with bacon, potatoes and a crossant as being as good a breakfast as you can get anywhere.

Onto the Sunset Limited.  The breakfast on Amtrak No. 1 was of high quality, and our new attendant Janette was always available and efficient.  It’s like a new day on board these days, as the culture of “come find me if you can” just has not been operative on recent trips. That quality stood up throughout our time on the Sunset, with the Angus cheeseburger lunch being as good as always, which filled us up and we skipped dinner.   Amtrak, that saved you a pile of cash, right?   Coach passengers were offered an At-Your-Seat dinner (I didn’t hear if there was a lunch offer) of chicken breast with red pepper sauce, and water for $12 cash or credit.  John did his act in the Cafe car as usual, saying he was in “John’s Place.”  Breakfast is not served on arrival in Los Angeles, so when we had our Hertz rental car our first stop was Philippe’s for a french-dip sandwich.  That makes a great breakfast and a welcome back to California.

LAUS arrival Sept 2018Departure from Tucson (TUS) was at 9:15, Palm Springs at 4:00 AM, and arrival at LAUS onto Track 8 shown here was at 6:00 AM on a beautiful morning.

The BNSF had quite a bit of traffic in its segment that first day, including a loaded coal train head south.  Timekeeping was somewhat better the next morning despite departure from San Antonio being 90 minutes late, which always gets the Sunset in trouble with UP dispatchers.  Between Del Rio and Sierra Blanca we encountered four freight trains, but the dispatchers must have felt good that morning and we zipped by all four.  One long double-stack eastbound, one carrying new military equipment including track vehicles moving west (where do you suppose it came from/was going?), one empty container move westbound, and one mixed boxes-tank cars-grain gondolas, etc, going east.   While there were no on-offs at flag stop Deming, NM, there was one of each and a double spot stop at tiny Lordsburg!  On double track in New Mexico the parade of UP double stacks began, and here we were weaved through them quite expertly.  It can be done.

Maricopa bridge Sept 2018 The best news was at Maricopa, AZ, construction of the long awaited highway over-crossing east of the station has begun.

Back on the Sunset Limited enroute home.  After our week of “going home” to familiar surroundings and visits with two long-time friends, then meeting with two of our 35-year plus RailPAC colleagues Noel Braymer and James Smith at LAUS prior to departure, and we thank them for the help in carrying luggage to the train!, we settled into Sleeping Car 32079 for the departure which was only 6 minutes late and had accommodated the passengers who were transferring from the a bit late Coast Starlight.  We were pleased our attendant would be Janette again!  Arrival at Maricopa was on time at 5:31 AM and we were out at 6:03 after three spot stops including passengers boarding our car.  Just west of the Tucson station the UP had a westbound 71 car auto-rack train sitting that was covered with grafitti, no car was clean.  The weather at Tucson was very nice in the early morning, and it was a pleasure to step off and breath the air of my home town.

Tucson trolley exhale car Sept 2018Across the tracks from the Tucson Amtrak station is the Tucson Trolley barn, and each car is now covered with advertising, as are all the buses there.  Not very attractive, but likely lucrative.

How’s Amtrak business?  On this trip every room in the Sleeping Car was occupied out of LAUS, and several turned over enroute.  Janette was kept busy!  The Coach that would transfer to the Texas Eagle with us was full, with many destinations in not only Texas, but in Arkansas, Missouri, and Illinois including several with Chicago destinations as did several Sleeping Car rooms.  High revenue.  The other Coaches were over half full until Tucson and El Paso, then not so many into San Antonio.  I wasn’t able to see how the sleeper to New Orleans was doing, but Janette said it is always full up there.  San Antonio added a large weekend crowd headed North, as did San Marcos and Austin, many were homeward-bound college kids.

El Paso station in the rain Sept 2018There was rain at the El Paso station, so few left their cars to “stretch.”  That rain was extensive across West Texas, so watching it from the comfort of our Superliner was enjoyable knowing we were not driving through it.

We were only 45 minutes late at Alpine, but then through the night the UP decided we could be sacrificed to their freight movements and we ended up 2 1/2 hours late into San Antonio.  I woke up several times finding our train standing still while a westbound freight went by us.  If you check with the Amtrak status lists you’ll find that is almost a nightly happening out there to Train 2.  On the PA Conductors tell us that we are “waiting of instructions from the dispatcher.”  They were good at that the entire trip.

A big negative for the Sunset, however, was the failure of toilets in one Coach, with those passenger spreading out to other cars and the Cafe Lounge toilet on the lower level, which brought angry PA announcements from the attendant down there.  I don’t know if they were fixed after we left San Antonio, but the sad news is that this trainset was the one that collided with an 18-wheeler near Houston.  No major injuries there, but a long delay for them.  Meals on this Sunset Limited were of equal quality to the westbound train, Excellent.  I had my second flat iron steak, and enjoyed it…every bite.  Coach passengers had a chicken wrap lunch offer with a “huge” chocolate chip cookie for $10 and a Salisbury steak dinner with mashed potatoes and water for $12.

Back on the Texas Eagle!  Moving the cars around at SAS was different.  To save time we were not repositioned to the front of the waiting Texas Eagle #22, we were tacked onto the rear and off we went at 8:35, 95 minutes late.   It was great to find Renee was our attendant again on the Eagle.The lateness of our train allowed us a leisurely lunch, with another of those great Angus cheeseburgers devoured entirely.   Ken was in the Cafe car again and we enjoyed another chat.  After lunch Ken had a “trivia” contest, doing a “radio” broadcast of it on the PA and giving prizes to winners who came down to the Cafe car.  Arrival back in Ft. Worth was at 4:00, two hours late thanks to more freight interference on the BNSF.

Okay, you’re waiting for the shoe to drop.  Are you waiting for me to go into a hard dissertation of what Amtrak CEO Anderson has been up to?  I could do that, but so far I haven’t seen anything that has affected the service level he inherited on the long distance trains despite the pressure that must be on crews wondering what their futures are.  But, if you’ve read all this report up to now, at least on our round trip that crew quality was excellent, and above what we’ve seen on some trips.  Not that the crews don’t know how improvements could be made, we all know many things that must be done,  and for this writer we are anxious to see a corporate culture at Amtrak that wants to GROW, not just cut.  Maybe some day.