What’s The Story With The Talgo Train Lease For LOSSAN?

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By Noel T. Braymer

The surprise announcement that LOSSAN was planning to lease new Talgo cars originally built for the state of Wisconsin has raised more questions than answers. This revelation came as a small part of a much larger announcement of money grants from the California State Transportation Agency (CalSTA) which included $15 million dollars towards a 5 year lease for the Talgo equipment. Since then the information on this effort has been fragmentary and often confusing. The oddest thing about this project is it plans to use this equipment between Los Angeles and San Luis Obispo. There is only one train which goes solely between Los Angeles and San Luis Obispo which has the worst ridership of any of the Surfliner trains.

The 3 other Surfliner trains that go to and from San Luis Obispo and San Diego are the most traveled and best revenue producers of the Surfliners. During the summer these San Luis Obispo trains often have and need 10 cars compared to the normal 6 car consists of the Surfliners. The plan had been for a 12th round trip between Los Angeles and San Diego to have with a new earlier morning arrival in Los Angeles. This train was to be extended to San Luis Obispo on the slot now used by the one Los Angeles to San Luis Obispo train. The reason the San Diego to San Luis Obispo trains are so successful is because of their long route they can generate more passenger miles. Longer average trips mean more revenue. Longer route trains also have direct service to many more stations along the route serving more markets and bringing in more riders than shorter routes.

There has been some confusion about the Talgo equipment being leased. A few years ago the Talgo company set up a factory in Wisconsin to build 4 trainsets of its Talgo 8 trains which meet the FRA crash worthiness standards. The hope was that there would be more orders in the Untied States for Talgo 8 trains in the future. Two of these trainsets were for the State of Oregon on the Cascade trains and the other 2 for the Hiawatha service between Chicago and Milwaukee. Just before the order was completed in 2012 the recently elected governor of Wisconsin in an attempt to “save money” cancelled the Wisconsin order. This has led to years of legal battles which cost the State of Wisconsin money. The Talgo cars for the Pacific Northwest has seating for only 286 passengers, but has a business class car and dining car which the Wisconsin cars don’t. The Cascade route from end to end is 310 miles. By comparison it is 86 miles between Chicago and Milwaukee while the seating for the Wisconsin Talgo trains are 397.

It is hard to compare Talgo equipment to standard rail passenger equipment. While a standard rail passenger car is 85 feet, a Talgo Car is 43 feet long. The Wisconsin Talgo trains have 14 cars, this includes a cab car which has Head End Power generators but doesn’t carry passengers. So the other 13 Talgo cars are roughly the equivalent of a 6 car low level conventional passenger train since a Talgo car is just over half the length of a standard passenger car. This includes 11 passenger Talgo cars, a Bistro or food service car and a bike/baggage end car with 19 seats. Most of the passenger cars are paired so one car has a restroom while the other has more seats. Unlike the Oregon cars, the Wisconsin cars don’t have a first class car with fewer seats. The entire route between San Diego to San Luis Obispo is 351 miles. Just the distance between Los Angeles to San Luis Obispo is 222 miles. The plan is to use this equipment from Los Angeles to San Luis Obispo which was expected to travel on a route 86 miles.

So how would passengers travel south of Los Angeles or north of Los Angeles if the new Talgo equipment begins and ends at Los Angeles? With the current trains that operate north and south of Los Angeles there is usually a 30 minutes layover. This is a combination of padding in the schedule, the need to load a new route into the PTC onboard computer, the changing of train crews and the need to retest the brakes to reverse directions before leaving Los Angeles Union Station. This delay might be cut in half if a Talgo train with crew is standing by while a connecting train from the south arrives at the same platform for passengers to transfer between the trains. This process would be reversed in the other direction with a conventional Surfiner train and crew standing by for the arriving Talgo train. Ten to fifteen minutes would likely be needed for people to transfer between trains.

This could mean a faster trip north and south of Los Angeles. Good transfers are needed to increase ridership for all trains.This will only be an issue for the next 4 to 5 years when run-through tracks will be available at Los Angeles Union Station which will eliminate the 30 minute layovers. Maybe that’s why LOSSAN is only planning to lease the Talgos for 5 years On any train route ridership is highest on those with the least need to transfer to get to a destination. It has been know for some time that the more passengers have to transfer: ridership drops. With the trains to and from San Luis Obispo already the busiest trains, what impact will a forced transfer have over reducing travel times by 10 or 15 minutes? As is it the Talgos are roughly equivalent to a six car train, but the trains to and from San Luis Obispo now often need more than 6 cars as it is.

The most pressing need for new equipment on the Surfliners is the need to eliminate the one trainset of low level equipment now in use. Leasing the Talgo trains is likely to save money over paying Amtrak for these old cars. Also the low level cars are slow to load with manual doors and high steps. This means all the Surfliner schedules have to be planned around these slower loading trains. The Talgo trains have low level loading and powered doors that all open on all cars like the Pacific Surfliner equipment. Some of the lightest traveled trains on the Surflners run on the mid-day and evening between Los Angeles and San Diego. The greatest need for additional cars are on trains that go to Santa Barbara or San Luis Obispo. A better use of these Talgo trains might be to run them on service between Los Angeles and San Diego. This would not only allow reductions on all schedules with shorter station wait times, but increase ridership on the trains now served with the old low level equipment.

The idea of leasing new equipment for the Surfliners is a good idea. This can mean getting more new equipment sooner. The problem now is the long time it takes to get funding to buy new equipment. Most businesses with large fleets of trucks, trains or planes lease instead of buying equipment. This allows them to finance new equipment over time making payments from revenues and savings from the new equipment instead of waiting for funding. Financial institutions are only too happy to arrange leases.These financial companies earn major tax credits and deductions buying leased equipment on top of the revenues from the lease. For the operator leasing simplifies the issue of getting rid of the equipment when no longer needed since they don’t own it. A government agency using tax revenue for equipment can’t get a tax credit or deduction for this equipment. In effect LOSSAN can get the benefit of a government subsidy by leasing the equipment instead of paying cash up front with grant funding.

Why Would Wick Moorman Want To Be Amtrak’s President?

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By Noel T. Braymer

With the retirement of Amtrak President Joe Boardman effective September 1st, with little advanced notice the Amtrak Board of Directors recently announced its selection of Charles “Wick” Moorman to take over as Amtrak President. So who is Mr. Moorman? He recently retired as the CEO of Norfork Southern Railway after a career there of over 40 years. He was chosen over many other applicants for the job at Amtrak. So, why would he want to be Amtrak’s President? It is doubtful that money was a reason. As a retired CEO of a major company one can assume that he is well off financially. His salary at Amtrak will be $1 a year. But he can earn up to $500,000 bonuses a year based on his performance as Amtrak President

With a long career in railroading, Mr. Moorman is likely interested in the impact Amtrak has on the railroad industry. Often there are tensions between the Class 1 railroads and Amtrak. But because railroad workers are not included in Social Security, rail employees and their railroads instead have payroll taxes that go to the Railroad Retirement Board. Amtrak has many employees in the railroad pension system and also contributes a major share of revenue toward it. If Amtrak were to be greatly diminished or to go away entirely, this would place a much greater burden on paying into the Railroad Retirement Fund on the Class 1 railroads.

At the moment, the railroad’s business is way down. Trade in general is slow all over the world with low demand holding back buying. On top of this the demand for coal shipments by rail is way down and unlikely to rebound. Much the same is true for carrying oil by train, which was booming just a few years ago when oil was over $100 a barrel. Two major areas of conflict between the Class 1’s and Amtrak include the major discounts by law they have to give Amtrak for using their tracks. The other is problems with Amtrak trains often running late or breaking down on the Class 1 railroads. This disrupts traffic on their lines and causes their trains to also be late, costing them money. There is also the question of public relations. The public when they think of railroads, are more likely to think about passenger service, than of freight. This even though freight dominates rail use. There is also widespread interest around the country for additional and new rail passenger service. These are all issues that Mr. Moorman will be facing as Amtrak President.

Amtrak and the Class 1’s will benefit if Mr. Moorman can improve the time keeping and reliability of Amtrak trains. Increasing the payments to the railroads would also improve Amtrak’s relationship with the Class 1’s. But to accomplish these will require besides improved maintenance, more and newer equipment. Expanded and a more reliable Amtrak would improve both the image of Amtrak and of railroads in general. This could also lead to government grants for track improvements which could benefit both passenger and freight rail service. In order to attract more traffic, the railroads will need to improve its infrastructure. This includes many ancient bottlenecks such as exist in Chicago. But the railroads while recently greatly improving their mainlines, are now faced with low traffic and will have trouble paying for improvements until the world economy rebounds.

If Mr. Moorman was looking for a challenge, he certainly will find it at Amtrak. But it will also allow him to deal directly in Washington with the powers that have a major impact on the railroads. A better running and more successful Amtrak can be a good thing for the railroads. This can improve the public image of the railroads. Having oil trains blowing up and catch fire for days at a time is not good for the railroad’s image. If working at Amtrak Mr. Moorman can improve rail service, on time performance, increase revenues while controlling costs and make a case for improving railroad infrastructure nation wide for the benefit of passenger and freight service, then the entire rail industry will benefit. Time will tell if these goals are in the mind of Mr. Moorman and how well he will succeed.

“AMTRAK: AT THE BUMPER POST OR MILEPOST”

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By M.E. Singer

“Amtrak President Boardman Will Be Gone in September. Who’s Going to Replace
Him?” by NT Braymer (11 August 2016) provided a salient overall interpretation
of Amtrak, emphasizing the persistent frustration of those “on the outside” who
remain undaunted in their interest for Amtrak to become a success story.
However, our continuing exasperation with how Amtrak conducts its business
is best summarized by Churchill’s interpretation of Stalin-“a riddle, wrapped in
a mystery, inside an enigma.”

Given our concern, particularly over Amtrak’s management embracing of the
status quo, perhaps we should heed what President Reagan said about the
status quo: “Latin for the mess we’re in.” As this is perhaps the only heavy
industry where special interest groups, such as RailPAC, are stakeholders with
the knowledge that affords them a seat in the “wheelhouse,” we need to push
aside the Kabuki theatre reaction by Amtrak to our concerns, and “drill down”
to identify what has inhibited Amtrak gaining traction, and how to to actually
fix it. This starts by pushing back on those internal powers at Amtrak who can
only respond to our intent: “honi soit qui mal y pense.” (the motto of the Order
of the Garter: “shame on him who thinks evil of it.)

What has not been sufficiently emphasized in MBA programs, but I found in
my experience to be a key factor to successfully managing company turnarounds
is the requisite to consistently evidence credibility and integrity in the
decision process; a “hands-on” open style of management that is believable at
all levels; the personal strength of a solid leader to “park their ego” and
genuinely solicit, listen, and implement ideas from those in the field–who
actually know more about what’s happening.

Merely faking to posture and emulate this vital aspect of managerial
competence can be smelled a mile away by everybody and just dilutes the
authority of the leader. As even the best paranoid can perceive this lack of
acceptance, their sense of insecurity acutely rises to their own level of incompetence,
as identified by the “Peter Principle” of being promoted above their
talent and capacity to identify a vision to be successfully embraced and
implemented.

Realizing how transparent their superficial leadership actually is, a failed
leader reacts to their sense of inferiority by walling themselves off and holding
court with but a few trusted “Centurions” to guard and protect the anomalous
acts of the failed leader, as it is obviously in their own self-interests to preserve
his reign. Another trait of such a leader personifying the “Peter Principle” is
their instinctive projection of an imperious, arrogant stature; to conduct
management meetings as “Star Chambers” to bully anybody the leader
believes knows more than the CEO; thus, is perceived as a threat to the
leader’s survival. What the leader achieves for himself, to the detriment of the
organization, is anybody who can bail out of that sinking ship bolts, thus,
forever depleting the organization of sorely needed talent with a particular
expertise that can never be replaced.

This vivid depiction of such rank incompetence for over a decade of senior
leadership at Amtrak had to be known by its Board of Directors (“board”), who,
at a minimum of expectation, were required to provide oversight for the
management of Amtrak—approving its visions, decisions, contracts, labor
relations, congressional relations, accounting methodology, etc. Instead of
getting a board acting as a Senate with equal representation throughout the
country, we have a board mirroring a House of Representatives, with its weight
projected towards a majority appointed to protect the ephemeral interests of
only the Northeast, rather than pursuing the original vision of Amtrak as a
national system.

In dissecting this issue, one can point to the board’s inability to be stewards of
the corporation, given that other than the two appointees from California
knowledgeable in community politics and entrepreneurial business, and the
appointee from the BNSF experienced in railroading, what actually do the other
board members “bring to the table,” other than solid Northeast credentials, or,
simply just favoring the Northeast?

Instead of saluting the visage of Amtrak’s CEO and tolerating a disastrous
carte blanche relationship with that CEO due to their lack of seeking to know
the details, Amtrak’s board should reflect how successful boards are
composed. Competently run firms deliberately recruit true stewards of the firm
who lend their expertise in a particular area. In Amtrak’s case, this would
include: marketing, travel (leisure/business), food & beverage, IT, finance,
accounting, communications, community political acumen, and railroading.
Without such desperately needed stewardship this board is so paralyzed and
conflicted with an overt predisposition favoring a regional emphasis over the
national needs of the system.

However, as this board knew at least last November that their “hand-picked”
CEO was ‘riding into the sunset,’ why are we now into mid-August with no
designated CEO, when any competent transition in leadership requires a
minimum of ninety days? Given the financial duress of Amtrak, why was the
current CEO tolerated to run-up significant costs in his farewell train ride in
June, and again in July; ironically, so far west of his favored Northeast
Corridor? With the obvious financial issues that no rug is large enough to
broom them under, why does this board’s CEO continue to state how he will
pick his successor; to profess how the candidate will be one from his own
internal “Centurion” group? In light of this Kafkaesque grandstanding, when
does this board accept its own culpability for derailing Amtrak?

This necessary mea culpa of the board would be cemented by evidencing a
sense of unanimity in declaring that the only way to save Amtrak is to embrace
an outsider who will have their blessings to ‘clean out the barn.’ To merely go
with the same ol’, same ol’ insider on an initial interim basis, and then to be
permanently appointed should be a no-go. Other than the current CEO
favoring such an arrangement with his favorite board members to keep his
hand in stirring the pot, there is no justifiable rationale to take such an
incremental step.

Indeed, this goes to the crux of the Amtrak leadership malaise with the idea of
using the CEO slot as a fallback job for somebody from government looking for
a place to roost. When Amtrak really needs a reaction to its internally
contrived problems similar to how the country reacted to Sputnik, this is not
the time to stoop again to that hyper political level of providing a safety net to a
“made” man or woman who is a federal agency administrator or Northeast
commuter rail administrator. If the U.S. DOT and Congress are serious about
pumping some life into Amtrak to become a viable mode of transport, why
would the board be allowed to fail again by accepting as Yogi Berra so correctly
stated, “deja vu, all over again”?

Clearly, what Amtrak requires, if it is to survive, is not another ‘good ol’ boy
from the ‘CEO’s Centurion Privy Council.’ This penultimate opportunity can
only be filled by a person starting without pre-conceived notions and biases; to
see through the current funhouse mirrors at Amtrak; to probe and question, in
order to re-set the management culture, including:

Identify the apparent conflict between marketing, finance, and operations:

a) How can food service be cut to pieces, particularly on the long distance
routes, to the point it is not even the quality of a truck stop, without understanding
how it further erodes revenues, despite the accounting maneuver to
offset diner costs to sleeper passenger fares including meals?

b) Given the availability of restaurant software programs today applicable to
control diner costs (inventory, server time/motion, quality control, etc) why
have they never been implemented? Bar codes anybody-whatever happened to
that idea? Can this be attributed to too many manager decision levels leading
to the paralysis of decision-making?

c) Why are the liquor kits in lounge cars under-stocked; no cocktails; no
training of LSAs in mixology? (Is there anybody at HQ who knows the history of
how the New Haven made such an unbelievable profit on its bar cars between
NYC-BOS?)

d) Why are the LSAs/SAs not trained to solicit at each meal in the diner
liquor drinks at each meal, given that represents a 100% profit factor?

e) Why the incapacity to benchmark with other passenger rail services to learn
improvements in delivery, quality, and cost of food & beverage; first/business
class services? Are Canada, Australia, DB, and SNCF so far ahead of the curve
that the current management team can only shrug their shoulders?

f) Whatever happened to asset management, as Amtrak should have learned
from how the CB&Q, GM&O, and WAB could turn a consist in Minneapolis/St.
Louis/Chicago and return it on the same day? Instead, we have excessive
schedule padding that prevents optimal utilization of equipment and crews;
consists determined by union rules for staffing.

g) Why are the schedules for the eastbound Lake Shore Limited and Capitol
Limited, and the southbound City of New Orleans, not scheduled for the
market, but instead, to ensure late connections from western trains; thus,
preventing optimal scheduling between multiple market segments? Also
interesting is how these trains actually are scheduled as daylight runs to serve
the markets between Buffalo-NYC, Pittsburgh-Washington, and Memphis-New
Orleans. (The end result of one daily train per route!)

Whatever happened to marketing, market positioning, branding, and market
segmentation?

a) Why does the Northeast Regional not fully segment its market along the NEC
route by offering First Class, as well as a new Tourist Class to accommodate
the curb-side bus passengers (elderly, college) who are rapidly abandoning
the train? (Has Amtrak ever heard of-and learned-from Uber as a business
interrupter; the concept of constantly re-defining mobility; defensive
marketing?) This would also apply to the Midwest corridors serving so many
colleges en route.

b) Why was any semblance of First Class eliminated, instead of learning
from The Canadian, The Ocean, and Australia’s Indian Pacific, how market
segmentation actually works? In each case, dining/lounge/sleeping
facilities are matched to the level of service; in Australia, they actually
have three levels.

c) In respect to the obvious increased revenues derived from a true First Class
service, why did Amtrak fail to learn from its initial inability to operate the
Florida Special beyond only one season (1971-72), and the rationale for the
disengagement of support by the AT&SF for its Super Chief in 1973? How did a
proforma for MHC cars, now rusting away on some siding, take priority over a
proforma for evidencing revenue enhancement produced by re-positioning a
true First Class?

d) How does Amtrak position its brand in the marketplace, as a product or
service, given so many different versions of train types, equipment, and
services?

In view of the obvious issues, accounting requires an external audit with the
results of a transparent financial reporting system:

a) To accurately identify direct and indirect costs per business sector; fully
respectful of GAAP.

b) To prevent the cost shifting methodology of NEC overhead and
infrastructure costs, as well as corporate costs, dumped on the long distance
and state-supported corridors, to bury those sectors with a false performance
cost factor, while protecting the NEC from its higher costs that, if realized,
would bury the idea of “profitability.”

c) To follow transportation industry norm by measuring route success by
passengers per mile.

d) To eliminate the opaque cost methodology to the state supported routes;
thereby, encourage increased frequency and even route expansion, in a true
partnership with Amtrak.

Define a rational political approach by improving congressional relations and
labor relations:

a) Request from Congress explicit interpretation of PRIIA (as initially
conceptualized by Amtrak to further subsidize the NEC from payments by state
corridor routes under 750 miles); to define the potential role of private
operators, franchises, privatization; P3 (Hoosier State) potential to piggyback
on Amtrak’s insurance and trackage fee arrangement.

b) Produce requisite proformas evidencing opportunities for revenue
enhancement to Congress by requesting funding for new and rehabilitated
equipment for the western trains, Midwest regionals; to increase frequencies
and route expansions in conjunction with states/regions for tourism, business,
and leisure travel. Capacity limitation impacting frequency and incremental
revenue opportunities is not how any other firm in transportation operates,
knowing how self-defeating such a static, inflexible position would be in the
marketplace.

c) Return the NEC to U.S. DOT ownership so infrastructure costs do not
impede Amtrak’s principal requirement for maintaining and running trains.
(No different than when former CEO David Gunn closed the failed MHC
program).

d) As the NEC route segments and entire route fall under the current 750 mile
rule, as required for all other states, to generate additional financial support for
Amtrak, charge the Northeastern states for their trains as well. For how many
years did those states avoid paying Amtrak for operating on its NEC, causing
Amtrak to subsidize Northeastern commuter lines to the tune of approximately
$300-$500 Million per year?

e) Re-build labor relations and negotiate contracts based upon the 21st century
re givebacks, etc. to operate more trains; expand services more cost efficiently.
(Need to learn lessons from the IC attempting to re-negotiate labor agreements
re the Green Diamond between CHI-STL in 1968; the NYC attempting same on
its 3C Corridor (Cincinnati-Columbus-Cleveland).

Identify the level of competence in Talent Acquisition (HR):

a) To what extent is it outsourced; why; is it really cheaper vs. how
knowledgeable the recruiters are on Amtrak, the railroad industry, and its
history?

b) In respect to Robert Townsend’s terrific insight in Up the Organization,
determine if Talent Acquisition screens out the best candidates as it does not
know what management wants. In essence, the hiring manager should be more
directly involved at the beginning.

c) Identify the formal/informal “road blocks” developed for Talent Acquisition to
deter and prevent external new blood and ideas from recruitment. Yet, how did
Amtrak developed a reputation for being the biggest center of nepotism?

d) Given how no union contracts were re-negotiated over the past decade,
determine if Talent Acquisition has the skills and integrity to work with Labor
Relations and Operations to correctly identify how specific jobs and tasks can
be successfully re-negotiated.

e) This would be concomitant to a re-organization and downsizing of the
extensive corporate HQ staff.

f) Why in this day is Amtrak still structured with such a convoluted hierarchy
of “managers?” Is the plethora of manager-types a reason for insufficient
workers in the field, and cutbacks in OBS?

g) An external candidate brought in as CEO will have no preconceived biases to
implement this vision, including to flat-line the organization chart and
eliminate the current “Privy Leadership Council.” To build credibility and
encourage open discussion, the walls must come down and the staff, at all
levels, enjoy direct access to management, including the C Suite.

In summary, one has to believe that had Warren Buffet purchased Amtrak,
instead of the BNSF, our national passenger rail system would never have been
allowed to operate in such a consistent negative capacity, even to the extreme
detriment of safety when the ATC was removed around Philadelphia prior
to the wreck of #188 in May, 2015; or the MoW crew abandoned before The
Palmetto south of Philly in April, 2016.

Certainly, management would have never been given cart blanche in making
their free-wheeling decisions, until they proved their capacity to effectively lead,
and validated their depth of competent, correct decision-making. Nor would
Buffet have tolerated a hands-off board when their oversight of management
and stewardship of Amtrak was so desperately required, but apparently, not
applied.

What’s Wrong With Amtrak’s Plan To Serve Pueblo?

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By Noel T. Braymer

If the current published plan is correct, Amtrak is planning to connect the Southwest Chief with a one or two car section between La Junta and Pueblo while the rest of the Chief stays on the current route. This will allow service from Pueblo to Kansas, Missouri, Iowa and Illinois. But it will miss connections to New Mexico, northern Arizona and Southern California. The combined populations of the states available by Amtrak’s plan is roughly 25 million. But it will miss the population of just Southern California which is almost 23 million and that of New Mexico at 2 million. Clearly a better option would be to connect Pueblo to all of the markets on the Southwest Chief. This can be done by simply rerouting the Southwest Chief to Pueblo.

There may be some concern about taking a “detour” which will slow the running time of the train between Los Angeles and Chicago. But Amtrak is not competing with the airlines for travel between Los Angeles and Chicago. Most of the passengers on Long Distance trains don’t travel from end point to end point. They are traveling between the many stations on the route or making connections to other trains to other destinations. What is missing with the planning for Pueblo service is the realization of what the effect of just adding one station can have to the entire Amtrak network.

The airlines discovered a long time ago that the secret to increasing ridership and revenues is to serve as many places as possible. They do that by using hubs, airports that have connections to other planes to other places. Even the budget airlines that have fewer connections often fly on routes that make many stops. A plane from San Diego to Sacramento can start in Albuquerque and end up in Spokane with a full plane on most of the route with passengers getting on and off at each airport. We see the same thing with the Pacific Surfliner trains that run between San Luis Obispo and San Diego. The one round trip between San Luis Obispo and San Diego usually runs at over 100 percent capacity. In summer this train often has 10 car trainsets compared to the 6 car trainsets of most Surfliner trains. This train also brings in the most revenue with longer  distance average trips. LOSSAN is working with Amtrak to add a 12th roundtrip between Los Angeles and San Diego on the Surfliners this October. As part of this service improvement it will create a second round trip between San Diego and San Luis Obispo. The point of this is to increase ridership and revenues for the Surfliners.

The science of how train ridership works was developed in the 1980’s by the late Dr. Adrian Herzog. Working with former RailPAC President Byron Nordberg and Minnesota Rail Passenger Association President Andrew Selden, they worked out plans to expand Long Distance Rail Passenger service in this country which would have a level of ridership and revenue to create a self supporting service which wouldn’t need a subsidy. This was based around connecting and expanding Long Distance Passenger service to serve most of the continental United States. Dr. Herzog called this a Matrix Theory. As a professor of Astronomy and Physics at Cal State Northridge, he was allowed to use the schools’ mainframe computer for research. With this came computer simulations of ridership with different routes and connections on the Long Distance Rail Network. This formed the basis of the proposed service improvements for a self-supporting rail passenger service. Dr Herzog was born in Switzerland. In Europe rail service is generally well connected. But in Switzerland connections are taken to an even greater level. Switzerland has some of the highest levels of rail travel of any county in the world and has one of the highest per capita incomes in the world.

Key to a Matrix Theory plan is to connect as many city pairs as possible to each train. If we look at a hypothetical train route with 4 stations, we get 6 city pairs that round trip tickets can be sold. These would be stations 1&2, 1&3, 1&4, 2&3, 2&4 and 3&4. An easy way to calculate this is to take the number of stations, in this case 4 and multiply it by this number minus 1 which is 3, so 4 times 3. This gives you 12. Then divide by 2 which is 6. So if we add just one more station to the 4 on this route, we get 5 times 4 which is 20, divided by 2 is now 10 city pairs. By just adding one more station to 4 stations you go from 6 markets to 10 markets on this hypothetical route. Now lets see what this means on the Southwest Chief by adding Pueblo to the mix.

Right now the Southwest Chief has 33 stations. That gives it 528 city pairs it serves on its current route. That doesn’t count the connections at Los Angeles or Chicago with other trains. So what happens if you add just one station to the the Southwest Chief? You create 33 new city pairs for the whole route. For the city of Pueblo that would mean it has 561 markets it can have for people to go to or come from. So what happens if Pueblo gets a stub train that connects it at La Junta to/from Chicago. For Pueblo, that gives it 16 stations between it and Chicago on the present route. That gives Pueblo only 120 city pair markets instead of 561 if the entire Chief train were rerouted to Pueblo. Rerouting the train instead of running an additional section also saves on an extra crew and locomotive to shuttle a few cars back and forth between Pueblo and La Junta.

Should the Chief be split into 2 train sections in Colorado? There are problems with available equipment which Amtrak is short of for Long Distance services. But in an ideal world a new section of the Chief should be run from Pueblo to Denver. Most of the population of Colorado lives near the I-25 freeway running north and south between Pueblo, Colorado Springs and Denver. This section from Pueblo would give direct service from Southern California to the Denver Metro area. But the real prize would be connections to the California Zephyr. The Zephyr has 35 stations which gives it 595 city pair markets it serves. It the trains were scheduled so there were connections in both directions for both trains there would be a major increase in the markets served by both trains. These connections would be much like  hub connections at an airport, so wait times would be in the range of a few hours. But by adding stations here and there which Amtrak has been doing lately, and adding sections which connect to trains like the California Zephyr and Southwest Chief, we can increase rail ridership and get improved utilization of rail passenger service in this Country.

Rail Passenger Service in Orange County: Now and in the Future.

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By Noel T. Braymer

Orange County with a population of over 3 million is the third largest county in California and the sixth largest in the United States. It has a larger population than 21 states and is the second most densely populated county in California after San Francisco. From north to south the county is about 40 miles long and even narrower. What makes Orange County different from most urban areas is it is not dominated by one large city. Its largest city is Anaheim with a population of about 335,000, while the county seat, Santa Ana is not far behind with a population of around 325,000. If the these and the other nearby cities were to agree to merge, combining the cities of Anaheim, Santa Ana, Fullerton, Orange and Garden Grove would create a city of over a million people. Because of urban sprawl created after World War II when the population of Orange County was about 200,000, transportation has been dominated by the automobile and the freeways. Because of this the county lacks major centers for public transportation.

Train service in Orange County today has 11 round trip Pacific Surfliner trains,7 days a week running north to south along the I-5 corridor in the county. In addition to there are on the weekdays 10 round trip Metrolink trains to Los Angeles that run on most or all of the same route as the Surfliners with more station stops. In addition there are 4 additional Metrolink trains that run in Orange County terminating at Fullerton. There is also a fifth round trip Fullerton train that goes as far south as Oceanside in San Diego County. Lastly Orange County has Metrolink service to the Inland Empire which is comprised of the counties of Riverside and San Bernardino. There are 8 round trip Inland Empire/Orange County trains on the weekdays. Orange County is job rich, with many people making a “reverse commute” from cheaper housing in the Inland Empire to jobs in Orange County. That means for much Orange County during the week there are 34 round trip passenger trains running throughout the weekdays.

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A Map of Southern California showing the different Metrolink Rail lines that run through Orange County. Metrolink shares the tracks with the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner trains between Oceanside and Los Angeles.

There have been many attempts to create local rail transit in Orange County which have all failed. The 5 round trip trains terminating at Fullerton in northern Orange County was an attempt to get more local travel by train in the county by adding more service to fill in  service gaps during the day. So far not many people use the 23 weekday Metrolink trains for local travel. The five trains terminating at Fullerton have very light ridership. What ridership there is seems to be for passengers transferring to Inland Empire/Orange County trains. Part of the problem is riding the train for short distances is more expensive than taking bus transit and is not as frequent. Also many of the Amtrak/Metrolink stations are not close to destinations in the county local residents want to travel to. What would increase ridership on Metrolink trains in Orange County would be more connections to the larger Southern California region, not local travel.

The current effort for local rail transit in Orange County is for a 4 mile long “Streetcar” service between Santa Ana and Garden Grove. This Streetcar would connect the Santa Ana train station and transportation center to downtown Santa Ana running on city streets. From the edge of downtown the Streetcar would use a short segment of former railroad right of way called the West Santa Ana branch now publicly owned to Harbor Blvd in Garden Grove. Harbor Blvd has the heaviest bus service in Orange County and is along side of Disneyland. The railroad right of way being used for this service extends well into Los Angeles County. Los Angeles County is planning to use this right of way and another now publicly owned railroad between Long Beach and downtown Los Angeles to run Light Rail service in the next 20 years from Artesia near the Orange County boarder to Los Angeles Union Station. There has been discussion about combining service for Orange County/Los Angeles County Light Rail service on this route. But so far Orange County has not committed to such a project.

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This is a map of the planned Santa Ana- Garden Grove Streetcar project planned to open in 2020.

Recently the Orange County Transportation Authority suspended planning for another Streetcar project from the Anaheim transportation center and future High Speed Rail train station to connect with and serve the area around Disneyland almost 3 miles away. The Transportation Authority has decided to concentrate its efforts into building the Santa Ana-Garden Grove Streetcar service which it plans to open by 2020. This service could easily be extend to Stanton which is on the old rail right of way and is near the border with Los Angeles County. If service was extended on Harbor Blvd it could also serve Disneyland and might be able to go as far as Fullerton.

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This is a map of the proposed Streetcar connection between ARTIC (Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center to Disneyland and the activity center in between.

Stanton is an old railroad junction. The line between Santa Ana and Artesia crossed the Stanton Junction at a 45 degree angle. There are still tracks and some freight service at Stanton with a line that goes south towards Huntington Beach paralleling busy Beach Blvd. At a 90 degree angle to the south line are tracks that head east paralleling Katella Ave which is also a border for Disneyland. The tracks come close to the back of the Disneyland Hotel and goes around Disneyland to join the tracks used by Amtrak and Metrolink. These branchline tracks are own by the Union Pacific Railroad and have at best light freight traffic. On the east side of the I-5 freeway there are at least 2 miles of track in the middle of 2 Anaheim streets. Another UP branch line comes off the Metrolink controlled tracks south of the Santa Ana station and turns west. These tracks come close but doesn’t reach South Coast Plaza which is a major shopping mall and commercial center. These tracks are along the boarder roughly between Santa Ana and Costa Mesa. While nothing is planned, this rights of way could be improved and used as part of a local rail service in the county.

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These are plans for Los Angeles County Rail Transit Projects. This includes the line that could connect Orange County from Santa Ana to Los Angeles County and Union Station.

The best hope for rail transit in Orange County would be to extend the starter Santa Ana-Garden Grove service to more of the county. Improving connections between the different stations in Orange County to more activity centers would help train ridership. Rail service on the UP tracks junctioning at Stanton could be handled with self powered rail cars. What will be expensive is providing connecting service from Stanton between Disneyland and the Anaheim transportation center which is near Anaheim Stadium and Honda Arena. Expanded Metrolink weekend service would also make rail service more attractive for Orange County residents.

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This is a Caltrans map from the early 1980’s showing the then existing railroads between Los angeles and Orange Counties.

Amtrak President Boardman Will Be Gone In September: Who’s Going To Replace Him?

By Noel T. Braymer

A recent Blog by Fred Frailey on the Trains Magazine website brought up this September’s retirement of Joe Boardman. Nothing so far has been announced by the Amtrak Board of Directors on who his successor will be. Fred Frailey speculated that an interim president selected by Boardman would be likely and that Stephen Gardner, who is Amtrak’s executive vice president for Northeast Corridor Development would get the job. Frailey went on to point out that Boardman was originally named an interim President after then Amtrak President Kummant resigned 8 years ago.  Boardman, then the FRA administrator for the George W. Bush Administration clearly needed a new job after 2008. The assumption seems to be that Boardman who has made hints of wanting to appoint his successor is pushing for an insider at Amtrak to replace him. Is this a good idea? I don’t think so.

Amtrak has had a number of problems largely due to systemic poor management in just the last few years. Amtrak is millions of dollars short in revenues and has been trying to stop the bleeding of cash by cutting costs. The result is reductions in service which in turn reduces revenues. Last year saw the deadly derailment and crash of train 188 in Philadelphia with 8 killed and over 200 passengers injured. This was a result of the engineer not paying attention to the speed limit and came to a 50 mile an hour curve at over 100 miles an hour. There has been much talk about the lack of Positive Train Control (PTC) which would have prevented this crash. The fact is PTC wasn’t available last year. But what would have prevented this crash was an older signalling system: Automatic Train Control (ATC) which was in use on the NEC last year. It just wasn’t operating on the track train 188 was on. But it was available on other tracks next to train 188. After the crash the FRA ordered Amtrak to put ATC on all tracks on the NEC before it allowed Amtrak service to resume. This was a failure of Amtrak Management. Why was the ATC removed in the first place?

An even more serious management failure was another train accident this April near Philadelphia. A track crew was doing routine track maintenance on a Sunday morning on a track which was suppose to be out of service. What happened was a major failure of communications and failure to enforce safety regulations. At a shift change, there was a failure to update the oncoming dispatchers of the work on the track where the accident happened. The red block on this track was removed at the shift change. Even more disturbing was the work on this track was allowed without 2 vital pieces of required safety equipment. One missing safety item was radio communications with the dispatcher. The track crew had cell phone connections with dispatch. But radio connections are needed for workers to monitor train radio traffic in their area. With it the work crew would have been able to know that a train was coming on the track they were working on. This would have given them time to contact dispatch of the problem and more time to get out of the way. But an even more important missing safety device was a copper cable called a shunting device. What this does is simulate the effect of a train in a block. Tracks have electricity running through them. A train or a shunting device causes a short circuit on a track segment putting a red signal on that block. If all else had failed, if that crew had a shunting device deployed they would have lived and the Palmetto would have come to a full stop short of the work area.

An important measure of good versus bad management is communications. With poor communications comes bad management. A classic example of this at Amtrak happened just 2 years ago. Passengers at New York Penn Station were sent to the wrong platform for an Acela train to Washington. The Acela came on a track next to an empty platform for a train with 85 reserved passengers boarding at New York. Nobody at Amtrak asked any questions about where were the passengers. So the train left empty and 85 very angry paying customers of Amtrak raised hell and this was a very embarrassing incident for Amtrak which made headlines around the world. Communications is critical in transportation. The airlines learned that lesson in 1977 at the airport at Tenerife on one of the Spanish Canary Islands. This secondary airport was jammed with planes because the main airport for the Canary Islands was closed after a bomb exploded at a terminal. This small airport with one runway was jammed with planes that blocked the taxiway, so planes had to taxi on the runway. On top of this the airport had problems with fog. So operations were very slow at this airport with lots of planes running late .

What happened was a Pan Am 747 was taxiing on the runway. A KLM 747 was standing by waiting for clearance to take off. The pilot thought he had clearance and ordered the co-pilot to start take off. The co-pilot said (heard on the voice recorder in the cockpit) that he hadn’t heard the tower clear them for take off. The pilot at this point could have checked with the tower and would have been told to stay put. Instead he repeated the order to take off. The result was the KLM 747 hit the Pan Am 747 and 583 people died between the two planes. Since then the airline industry has encourage pilots not to act like martinets and  instead spend more time listening to lower ranking airline employees. The result of this has been a marked reductions in the number pilot error accidents since 1977. This has even spread to military aviation. Not long ago a crewman on an American Navy aircraft carrier made a mistake on the flight deck which could have resulted in damage and injury. As a result of his training he reported his error to superiors which brought on a complete shutdown of flights while the problem was fixed. The ship’s captain instead of “chewing the ass” of this crewman, got on the ship intercom to publicly praise this crewmen’s quick reporting of this problem which saved the Navy money and prevented injuries.

Amtrak President Boardman has a reputation of having a thin skin and being easily angered when given bad news or opposing views. One result of this is several of the best managers at Amtrak have quit, passed  over for promotion or fired by Boardman. He has started many projects without careful planning only to walk away from them. The classic example is the plan for a daily Sunset. As soon as he got resistance from the UP, he backed off. He has been promising lots of new trains to States in the hopes they will pay Amtrak to run them. But in reality Amtrak is short of equipment as it is. The lone attempt to replace low level diner and sleeping cars by 2014 so far have only seen the delivery of baggage cars. Full delivery isn’t expected until 2017. There are no plans to buy new Superliner cars which the newest are over 20 years old. This despite revenue loss due to limited capacity on Western Long Distance Trains which are often sold out. What Amtrak is buying  at a time it is short of revenues are High Speed Trains to replace Amtrak’s newest trainsets: the Acelas. Amtrak has continued to claim based on accounting that doesn’t meet industry accounting standards that they “make money” on the Northeast Corridor but lose money on the long distance trains.

Most of the problems at Amtrak predate President Boardman’s tenure. But he has done little to solve these problems. He successor may well fall victim to having these problems come home to roost in the near future.

Why Is Metrolink’s Ridership Down But Surfliner’s Ridership Growing?

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By Noel T. Braymer

LOSSAN is the rail corridor between San Diego, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo. The LOSSAN Joint Powers Authority is responsible for oversight of the Pacific Surfliner trains and coordinating rail passenger services for most of Southern and mid Coastal California. The July 18, 2016 LOSSAN JPA Board Meeting agenda had a report on ridership of the passenger trains running on the LOSSAN corridor for the 3rd quarter of LOSSAN’s Fiscal 2015-2016 year. For this latest quarter, ridership for the Surfliners was up 3.8% over last year’s 3rd quarter with revenues up 5.1 %. Ridership in general was down on the LOSSAN Corridor. On Metrolink’s Ventura County and Orange County Lines, both saw ridership drops of just over 14% compared to last year’s 3rd quarter. Coaster train ridership was down 5% this last quarter from last year’s 3rd quarter. Much of the ridership downturn for the Coaster was credited to 3 weekends during this last quarter when all rail service was shut down for track and new bridge construction in most of San Diego County. This didn’t effect Metrolink’s Orange County Line service but did impact Surfliner ridership. So without this track work it is likely that Surfliner ridership would have been even higher.

What explains the major ridership loss for Metrolink? Metrolink has many problems that have been ignored for several years which now there are major efforts to fix. Problems with the ticketing machines causing people to miss their trains, driving passengers away and reducing repeat business. There have been problems getting the new Positive Train Control (PTC) signaling system to work at times which have caused delays in service. Aging and under maintained Metrolink locomotives have been unreliable. There was a suggestion that the lower price of gasoline was a factor in lower ridership. However lower gas prices didn’t cause the Surfliners to lose ridership. What has been happening is commuting to downtown Los Angeles which is the main market for Metrolink is a shrinking market. Government jobs downtown in particular have been declining. Also we are seeing a major housing boom in downtown Los Angelels, so many people working downtown are moving to downtown Los Angeles instead of commuting.

What Metrolink should do is learn from the Surfliners how to attract riders and increase ridership and revenues. Metrolink today is primarily a commuter railroad for people working in downtown Los Angeles. Much of its service runs into downtown Los Angeles in the morning and leaves in the late afternoon. A major difference between Metrolink and the Surfliners is the level of frequency of service and the average distance of trips. The Surfliners run 7 days a week and on holidays with 11 round trips between San Diego and Los Angeles. Four of those trains from San Diego are extended to Santa Barbara, with one round trip extended to San Luis Obispo. There is also one train which leaves Los Angeles for San Luis Obispo and on the return trip terminates at San Diego. The Surfliners heaviest travel is on weekends and holidays. Its most crowded train is the 784 southbound departing Los Angeles at 5:10 PM. This trains starts at Santa Babara and is often at 140 percent of capacity. Often one third of the riders are Metrolink Passholders which Amtrak honors their tickets under the Rail 2 Rail program. The trains between San Luis Obispo and San Diego are the most productive trains of the Surfliners. This is because the ticket revenue is better because ticket prices are higher for longer trips. Also longer routes serve more stations which create more market pairs for people to ride. Express trains usually don’t do well, because by skipping stations, they lose markets.

By comparison, Metrolink routes often has no service on holidays and limited service on weekends. There are large gaps during most of the mid-day and limited service at night on Metrolink. In theory a person could travel most of Southern California by Metrolink, but this is often impossible due to limited service to many locations and limited or no connections between Metrolink routes or to the Surfliners to travel around the Metrolink service area. Ideally many of the routes on Metrolink could be extended through Union Station at Los Angeles like the Surfliners between San Diego and San Luis Obispo. This won’t be practical for another 4 to 5 years when run-though tracks are planned to be completed. For now at least 20 minutes is needed to bring Surfliner trains into Union Station, then reverse direction to provide through service north and south of Los Angeles.

What can be done in the short term is timed connections for passengers between different Metrolink routes and connections to Surfliner trains. This should include shared platforms of connecting trains and adjacent platforms when more than 2 trains are connecting. Such connections are possible between the San Bernardino Line to Ventura County and Antelope Valley lines and Surfliner trains . Orange County line trains should have good connections to Antelope Valley trains and the San Bernardino Line. There are now 8 round trips between Orange County and the Inland Empire. With connections to the Surfliner trains, most of the Inland Empire/Orange County trains could have service to San Diego and most of the stations south of Irvine. Expanded Weekend service is needed with all Metrolink lines connecting with each other and Surfliner trains at Los Angeles Union Station. Better connections are needed on Metrolink 7 days a week to the beaches, airports, major theme parks as well as towns which are popular destinations such as San Diego from the Inland Empire.

LOSSAN is busy with improvements to the Surfliner service. There are plans to run a 12th round trip between San Diego and Los Angeles by October of this year. This would also create a second round trip between San Diego and San Luis Obispo. This will be done with existing equipment and getting more productive use of equipment. This will be done by adding an evening departure from Los Angeles to San Diego. This will be turned around as an early morning departure from San Diego for an early arrival into Los Angeles at the start of the business day. It will be run to San Luis Obispo replacing the existing Los Angeles morning departure. This schedule has already been tested as 2 extra  round trip trains run last Thanksgiving weekend. LOSSAN is also planning to adjust existing schedules between Ventura and Santa Barbara for commuter service for Santa Barbara. LOSSAN is also working on running special trains over three weekends next year to serve the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival next April. Similar efforts by Metrolink would greatly improve its ridership, revenues and public image. Maybe more trains for the Rose Parade with connections to the Gold Line?

What’s Needed For A Quiet Zone Grade Crossing – With Pictures.

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By Noel T. Braymer

Grade Crossings are the most dangerous place on the railroad where it meets traffic and pedestrians. To warn drivers and pedestrians, the operator of the locomotive has to sound the locomotive’s horn 4 times before running through a grade crossing. Needless to say, particularly on a busy rail line, regular sounding of the train’s horn is very annoying for people living or working near a grade crossing. The train’s horn is the loudest part of a train by far. It has to be in order to get people’s attention who are approaching a grade crossing at train time.

In the last few years the Federal Railroad Administration has developed guidelines for local governments to create “Quiet Zones”. This requires upgrading of grade crossings to be given Quiet Zone status. This cost extra money, although still much less than the cost of full grade separation. Some of these improvements are easy to see. But much of the improvements include improved electronics and additional sensors at the grade crossing which are not visible to the public. Local agencies are increasingly working to bring Quiet Zone Grade Crossings to their communities.

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Many grade crossings to this day are like this with only a warning sign and the train’s horn for warning of an approaching train. This picture is only 12 years old. This is the old ATSF Branch Line between Oceanside and Escondido in San Diego County. This line has since been upgrade to local passenger service.

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This is another picture of the Oceanside-Escondido Line showing work to upgrade the tracks for passenger service. On this mast is a “Wig-Wag” which was an early 20th century warning device when a train was approaching a crossing. But this crossing like many other didn’t have barriers to warn people not to cross.

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These are Quad-Gates on the Gold Line Light Rail service in Los Angeles. The point of these gates is to seal the crossing to to prevent drivers and pedestrians from going around the barriers to beat the train. Sensors in the road delay lowering  the  second barrier from dropping before  vehicles have cleared the crossing. This prevents vehicles from being stuck in the crossing with a train approaching. There are also barriers that come down to discourage pedestrians from trying to beat the train

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A Gold Line Train in a Quad Gate rail crossing in Los Angeles.

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This is a Quiet Zone crossing in Orange County, California. Recently the county upgraded most of their rail crossings to Quiet Zones. Instead of Quad Gates a median is used in the middle of the road to discourage drivers from driving around the gates. The road is blocked by the barriers in the direction of traffic

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At Quiet Zone crossings there is often extra fencing and barriers to discourage pedestrians from trying to run across the tracks at train time.

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This is the right of way of the Quiet Zone grade crossing seen in the other pictures. The right of way is fairly narrow making it unlikely that vehicles would drive alongside the tracks. This crossing is next to the Santa Ana train station which is part of the San Ana Regional Transportation Center.

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This is the view from the Santa Ana Regional Transportation Center. The platforms and fencing make it unlikely that anyone would drive a vehicle on this part of the railroad right of way.

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This picture is from the train showing a swing gate on the railroad right of way. This gate is kept lock to prevent unauthorized drivers and vehicles getting on the right of way. Vehicles on the right of way or tracks have caused accidents in the past.

There are plans in the future for California High Speed Rail service to share existing right of way with other trains between San Jose to San Francisco and from Burbank  near Los Angeles to Anaheim near Disneyland.  On these track segments all crossings with High Speed Trains will have Quiet Zone status. This is both to make the surrounding environment more pleasant and to insure the highest level of safety for the rail passengers and people using or by the rail crossings.

How To Get More People Using Rail Passenger Service: More Service!

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By Noel T. Braymer

Why and when people travel is not a one size fits all situation. Much of the thinking on transportation planning is centered on commuter travel during “rush hours”. But the fact is commuting is only a small percentage of the travel market. People want or need to travel to different places, at different times and for different reasons. Sometimes people travel for work. Other times people travel to go to school or to visit family and friends. People travel to shop, or for personal business. But most people travel sometimes for the sake of getting away and having fun. Often the trip is more important than the destination. If we look at the local Amtrak trains in California, they are busiest on the weekends, over holiday seasons and in the summer. The Pacific Surfliners busiest months are July and August. This is during the Del Mar Track Horse Racing season, Comic-Con and summer vacation time. Successful travel services need to accomodate as many different travel markets as possible to be successful. Failure to serve multiple travel markets is a major reason ridership is often low when they could be filled serving unserved travel markets with modest service expansion .

The most basic question a traveler asks is can I get to where I want to go, when I want to go and get back when I want to ? This is a major obstacle for people taking the train: often trains don’t travel when people want to travel or return when they need to. This is a major issue when trains in some cases only run 3 day a week in this country. Frequent rail service is more convenient and usually increases ridership. As extra trains were added on the Pacific Surfliner route as well as the Capitol Corridor and the San Joaquin trains ridership went up. The opposite happens often when rail service is cut. As rail ridership declined after World War II, several railroads tried to save money by running fewer trains, cutting the least used trains late at night. The problem was that ridership dropped more than for those trains there were cut. A factor in people riding the train it was discovered is even if a person never rides the last train of the night, knowing there was a late night train meant they wouldn’t be stranded all night if they missed their train home.

Even if you live near a train station doesn’t mean that you can go from there to where you want to go. One old fashion solution to solve this problem is to run trains as sections. This is like getting two trains for the price of one. An example of this is the Lake Shore Limited.The Lake Shore leaves Chicago going east to Albany. At Albany the train is split into 2 sections, with one heading to Boston and the other to New York City. This is much cheaper than running two separate trains from both East Coast terminals to Chicago. The Empire Builder from Chicago runs through North Dakota to Spokane Washington. From there one half of the train heads to Seattle, Washington and the other to Portland, Oregon. The Empire Building usually has the highest ridership and produces the most revenues of the Long Distance trains.

Getting to one’s final destination is critical as well. Just because you can get on a train doesn’t mean you can get to your final destination. It isn’t possible to run trains everywhere. This is where feeder buses come into play. Good transit connections are also important at train stations. Having dedicated bus service connecting to trains also works. In California all the intra-California Amtrak trains have connections to buses. On the Pacific Surfliner trains there is bus service north of Los Angeles which connect to Los Angeles-San Diego trains to allow more service for passengers. The San Joaquin trains depends for roughly half of its ridership from bus connections. This includes bus service shared with Capitol Corridor trains from Emeryville to downtown San Francisco as well as connections between Southern California and to Sacramento from Stockton. At Sacramento is a major bus hub for Capitol Corridor and San Joaquin train passengers to inland Northern California, High Sierra and Reno. Dedicated train/bus service also works with regional transportation service. GO Transit is the Regional Rail service for the Toronto Metro area in Ontario, Canada. Bus are run as stand alone services as well as connectors to trains from places without rail service. Buses also serve rail lines stations to add more frequent service when demand is not high enough to justify full rail service.

Just as important as having good connections at train stations for ridership, is the need to make train stations a destination. This includes commercial development at and around the stations. Around the world trains stations often have shops, restaurants, movie theaters and nearby office buildings which feeds ridership. When train service is increased at a station, commercial developments soon follows. A good example of the need for easy access at train stations to places is the failure of rail service to Atlantic City. In the late 70’s early 80’s with major casinos being built to make Atlantic City the East Coast Las Vegas, there were plans by Amtrak and New Jersey Transit to cash in. Both services gambled a good deal of money to run service to Atlantic City. It was a flop. The problem was the casinos were literally on the other side of the freeway from the train station. There were no plans to get people to the casinos or arrangements with the casinos to market a joint travel/ lodging package. Passengers had to walk a good distance or get a cab to get to a casino. The way most people got to Atlantic City at this time was to take a charter bus which picked them up near their home and dropped them of at the hotel/casino they had reservations. This was faster and more convenient than taking the train to Atlantic City.

For many travelers, the journey is more important than the destination. On a long distance train there is often spectacular scenery and a view of the country you can’t get from the sameness seen from the freeway. Another pleasure for many passengers on long distance trains is meeting and talking with other passengers from all over the country and even around the world. On a long distance train, people often meet and talk eating at the diner where you are often guaranteed a dining partner due to limited seating or in the lounge car. Traveling by sleeper car is more expensive in most cases than flying. Yet people are willing to pay more to ride across the country in a sleeper. They expect for their money to have a pleasant travel adventure seeing things and meeting people they can’t do in a car or plane. Sleeping car passengers are looking for good service for the extra money they are paying. Unlike cruise ships, trains can’t offer shows or gambling. Historically passenger trains did offer excellent food and a high level of personal service to attract passengers and to give the railroads a good public image. If sleeping car passengers wanted a cheap trip they would have packed their own food and taken the bus.

Faster Trains Needed To Connect With California High Speed Rail

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By Noel T. Braymer

The secret to any successful transportation system is access to the largest number markets possible. That’s why major cities are always at major transportation junctions such as at harbors, where major rivers meet, at the base of mountain passes or major road junctions. The same is true for High Speed Rail, particularly in California. There are already plans to have connections to California High Speed Rail with Metrolink and Pacific Surfliner trains in Southern California. There will be a connection to the San Joaquin trains with High Speed Rail at Madera. At San Jose there will be High Speed Rail connections to Caltrain, BART, ACE and Capitol Corridor trains. There are also plans to connect and share tracks with future High Speed Rail service to Las Vegas from Los Angeles.
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This is a map of the current plans for High Speed Rail service in California

But more can and should be done by 2029 when full service between Anaheim and San Francisco is planned. There are future plans to run High Speed Rail service to San Diego, which after all is the 2nd largest city in the State. These plans include extending High Speed Rail to Ontario Airport and down the Inland Empire on the way to San Diego. There are also plans to extend High Speed Rail from Merced to Sacramento. None of this is expected to be built before 2030, in fact there are no hard dates for these projects. What can be done in the meantime? There are existing railroads between Anaheim and San Diego, as well as from Los Angeles to the Inland Empire and from Merced to Sacramento. What doesn’t exist is railroad in southern Riverside County to San Diego via Escondido. What can be done in the near future is to upgrade the railroads that we have to create faster and more frequent service connecting to High Speed Rail to San Diego, the Inland Empire and Sacramento. These improved railroads could be used as part of future High Speed Rail service to these places.
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Map of the possible routes now being studies for HSR LA-Inland Empire and San Diego. On this map the old SP mainline route is shown on the West Covina,Pomona/Holt, Ontario Airport options.

California High Speed Rail is already planning to share tracks in urban areas with other passenger trains. This will be done between San Jose and San Francisco as well as between Burbank and Anaheim. This is much cheaper than building a new railroad in an urban area and makes connecting to other rail passenger services much easier. In urban areas rail speeds greater than 120 miles per hour are rarely possible or needed. In the next ten years or so the railroad between Los Angeles and  northern San Juan Capistrano will be fully double tracked, with 3 and even 4 tracks between Fullerton and Los Angeles. Between Los Angeles and Fullerton most of the railroad will be grade separated in ten years and already most of Orange County’s grade crossings have Quite Zone status which means they have been upgraded so trains don’t have to blow their horns in most cases at these crossings. The plan for High Speed Rail using grade crossing is that they be upgraded to this higher standard for Quiet Zones.
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The view of the BNSF Mainline from Buena Park Metrolink Station. This shows there is room for a 4th track which is planned for use of HSR by 2019 between Anaheim and Burbank.

The problem is between San Juan Capistrano and San Clemente. In southern Orange County is a major bottleneck of mostly single track railroad. Much of this railroad is on the beach subject to future storm surges with no room for double tracking. What is planned in this area is a high speed double track train tunnel for speeds up to 120 miles per hour to greatly expand service in this heavily travel corridor. This will be a billion dollar plus project not expected before 2050 if then. By 2025 80% of the tracks in San Diego County from the Orange County line to San Diego will be double tracked. Connecting this to a fully double tracked railroad in Orange County will allow many more trains between San Diego and Los Angeles, including express trains which could also connect to High Speed Rail at Anaheim.
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This is the 40 mph single track railroad on the beach at San Clemente  subject to storm surges and landslides, which is the only rail connection between Los Angeles and San Diego.

The same is possible between Los Angeles and the Inland Empire. There are several rail lines between Los Angeles and the Inland Empire, the question is which one to use for express connecting High Speed Rail service? The plans for High Speed Rail service to the Inland Empire include a station for Ontario airport. The one railroad with right of way right next to the airport terminals belongs to the Union Pacific. The Metrolink Line to San Bernardino is single track in the middle of the 10 freeway between Los Angeles and El Monte. The old SP Main line goes past the Ontario Airport mostly on a single track on a broad right of way. Most of UP’s  train traffic in the San Gabriel Valley is run on the old UP mainline. The biggest question is how far south into Riverside County would such a service run? Currently there is publicly own rail right of way as far south as Perris.
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This is the wide railroad right of way next to the terminals at Ontario Airport on the old Southern Pacific mainline.

Sacramento is the capitol of California and for that reason alone is a major travel center both for tourism and government business. Right now it only has 2 round trip San Joaquin trans from Bakersfield. There are now 5 round trip bus connection as well between Stockton and Sacramento to the San Joaquin trains. The population between Merced and Sacramento is almost 4 million people with over half of those in the Sacramento Metro area. This market has been under served for years by rail. This will be needed even more once there is direct High Speed Rail service from Burbank to The San Joaquin Valley.
In Southern California the population of the Inland Empire with San Bernardino and Riverside Counties is 4 million people. Between San Diego and Orange County the combined population is over 6 million. The population of these major travel markets with limited service to High Speed Rail is around 12 million people combing most of Orange County, San Diego County, the Inland Empire and northern San Joaquin/ Sacramento area. These markets can be served quickly with upgraded, faster service on existing railroad rights of way as part of the California High Speed Rail system.

 

Using these existing rights of way with exclusive passenger train tracks can be used for future High Speed Rail service. Higher speed trains are possible with improved grade crossing in this country for speeds up to 120 miles per hour. This can be done with conventional equipment with diesel locomotives geared for 120 miles per hour speeds. Extended service is possible for trains to run on conventional tracks to continue running on High Speed Rail tracks eliminating the need for transfers. This is common in many countries with High Speed Rail service. This might include electrification of some of these existing railroads. It might also include adding batteries to allow running on non-electrified track for this extended service until there is need for full electrification. The point is Californians should not have to wait an entire generation for decent rail service for some of the most populated area of the state to travel in California.

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