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By M.E. Singer

As they say in Washington, “the chickens are coming home to roost.”  The Administration has not issued any reasonable plan to conceptualize, let alone, how to pay for our much ignored, under-funded infrastructure; as Congress fights for its legitimacy to get anything done. It becomes abundantly clear the meaning of these revised messages; without any real hope for enhancing passenger rail services. Now, the public is beseeched to understand the obvious “walk-back” of how infrastructure was this integral component of the recent national campaign. Instead of deploying the initial vision of a multi-trillion dollar investment by private financiers, the Administration now claims how little potential there is for true P3. Indeed, as well, how the cities and states will have to “pony-up” real dollars to make infrastructure re-building actually happen.  From Congress, we hear the vagueness of their intentions amidst any plan that identifies priorities.

However, we cannot ignore how the private interests have already financially maneuvered their positions through other bills in preparation for any legislation on infrastructure. Common sense increases in the gas tax, let alone VMT (Value Mile Tax) are scoffed at and dissed. Why does general aviation continue to enjoy the benefits of the FAA without having to pay for any of those public-supported services; to ensure it continues to be eliminated in any privatization of the FAA, which is only to the detriment of the public.? Why is their a continuous scorecard of how the FAA has reacted to the influx of private aviation to cities hosting Super Bowls by providing expanded FAA services gratis? Now, we find the inclusion in the new tax legislation to include relief from taxation for the management of private jets. Yet, at the same time, transit, commuter, and intercity rail continues to take a backseat to finding the true resolution to our unfulfilled needs for mobility, inter-regional connectivity, and creating the catalyst for economic development.

To paraphrase a comment from a politico, Pat Buchanan, perhaps it is time for the taxpayers to understand the threats against their infrastructure needs by their attention to ‘attack the castles (of the powers) with torches and pitchforks.’ As a consequence of the worst elements of crony capitalism, we find our infrastructure depicting a third world thanks to the influence of lobbyists peddling their one dimensional message to protect from taxation those living in their cul de sacs. This mantra has enveloped and steered Congress for the past thirty years; with the net impact of devolving investment in infrastructure. In actuality, to placate the lobbyists, Congress embraced a policy to dis-invest in our infrastructure. A caveat is that before we get consumed by the one dimensional corporate interests of Lyft, Uber, Amazon, Hyperloop, and Google, why don’t we take ownership and encourage Congress to function as it was intended to, minus the influence of lobbyists? But how can we remove the feedbags around the necks of Congress controlled by developers, financiers, and landowners?

In terms of infrastructure, for rail advocates it is imperative we must have a voice to actually prioritize the actual needs of our society. Specifically, the priority should be on enhancing mobility and economic development for the benefit of the public today; not to be overtaken and consumed by the parochial interests of today’s corporate barons. We do not need “pie in the sky” options, but rather, proven, common sense concepts. Let us not waste funds on infrastructure changes to accommodate autonomous vehicles; nor, commercial drones. If Hyperloop is such a perfect solution, rather than a mere Disney ride, than let it be built-and operate-without any public funding. If the electric car is so wonderful, than why is Tesla so heavily subsidized by California? Pathetically, Tesla still cannot meet its production promise; yet, already, Musk now promotes his electric truck.

For an answer to our current mobility issues; to see how economic development is achieved from its incremental improvements, we only need to turn to California, where intercity and commuter rail routes are being wisely expanded to inter-connect its regions.  We only need to see that despite minimal funding, many of the former Pacific Electric interurban lines in LA are being re-built; to acknowledge the demands for increasing the Metro LRT lines has not abated; to appreciate how new commuter rail lines have evolved in North San Diego County (“Sprinter”) and the Sonoma region of San Francisco (“SMART”). California has learned how to tax itself to improve urban and regional transportation by discarding its total reliance on the automobile. As well, along the natural Pacific rail corridor, how the corridor between Seattle-Vancouver, BC is seriously studied to bring these cities in common closer together.

And for those who question the cost and routing of the California High Speed Rail program (HSR), they will see how the California congressional representatives who did the bidding of their landowning patrons to prevent the federal funding and insurance typical of supporting such transport projects will most likely be voted out of office in 2018. This HSR program is critical to link the Central Valley by finally linking the more prosperous northern and southern sections of the state; to bring the mobility key to the economic development potential of the Valley.

Critical to getting to the front of the line on infrastructure, we must understand, and accept, that approaching our infrastructure needs requires the vision to identify how to maximize investment to improve mobility, which leads to expanded economic development, is very much predicated on the role of our freight railroads. As this nation does not have the funds, land, or time to build new right-of-ways, we must learn to cooperatively work with the freight railroads, known in the industry as Class 1s. In essence, this means a common sense, mutually advantageous, economic approach–as we cannot impose our will upon the Class 1 freight operations and infrastructure to accept new or expanded commuter or intercity rail services. Acknowledging as passenger trains operate at different speeds, and require different signaling and grade crossing triggers; as well as the additional time for dispatching, the passenger service must be ready to pay for its way. This is best achieved by the Class 1 identifying its requirements (at a realistic cost) to interface its freight service with passenger operations, such as adding a third mainline track, expanding a bridge, enhancing a diamond crossing with another Class 1, etc.

As we already know from experience elsewhere, i.e., Japan and Hong Kong, but have failed to put into practice here, passenger rail depots and their right-of-way afford numerous investment opportunities for a P3 relationship with the Class 1 railroad, passenger operator, and local/state governments. Therefore, we cannot leave out of any infrastructure discussion how to include the freight railroads–to improve their own freight infrastructure, and to share it with growing passenger rail requirements. Rail advocates must accept the necessity to support infrastructure improvements for Class 1s as part of the overall game plan if we are to ever break out of the approach of spreading bread crumbs, a nickel and dime approach to passenger intercity rail. Doing so will give us a voice to prioritize how funds shall be spent in the context of national goals, e.g.,re: San Joaquin access to Sacramento; LA-Palm Springs commuter/intercity rail; completing CREATE program to relieve Chicago rail gridlock; South of the Lake program to relieve rail gridlock between NE Indiana-Chicago; double track South Shore Line between Gary-Michoigan City; Gateway (Penn Station, Hudson tunnels, East tunnels, bridges); NEC; Gulf Coast Corridor; “Baby Builder” between Chicago-St. Paul et al.



Where Could We See Passenger Train Service Every 30 minutes?


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By Noel T. Braymer

The current draft of the California State Rail Plans calls for most local passenger rail services to run at least every half hour by 2040. This would create good connections to rail service to almost anywhere in the State including future High Speed Rail service. So where are the places that are likely to see half hourly service in the near term? Once Caltrain is electrified in a few year, it is expected to run more frequent service. During the weekends now Caltrain runs service less than every hour and roughly hourly on off peak times during the work week. The first segment of High Speed Rail from the San Joaquin Valley to the Bay Area is expected by 2025. High Speed Rail is expected to run several trains an hour most of the day, 7 days a week from the beginning and add more train frequencies later. The need for more frequent service for Caltrain will be needed to insure connections to other services like High Speed Rail. Where we won’t see half hourly service in the immediate future will be the local Amtrak run services in California: the Capitol Corridor, San Joaquin and Pacific Surfliner trains. All these lines will need full double and even some triple tracking to run half hour service mixed with freight and other services. So more than hourly service for many will be a few years off. This would include ACE service between San Jose and Stockton.

There are already plans to run Coaster service between San Diego and Oceanside every half hour most of the day in the future. Most of the route is expected to be double tracked in less than ten years. The Coaster runs trains almost every half hour now during rush hours, Monday through Friday. The main issue is track capacity between Coaster, Surfliner and freight trains all sharing the tracks in San Diego County. While half hourly service all day isn’t expected soon, the Coaster in the next year or two after more track improvements are finished  plan to run more frequent service in between rush hours and in the evenings and weekends.

This leaves us with Metrolink. Metrolink is unlikely to add many more trains, let alone half hourly service on their rush hour only services. These include the Riverside Line on the UP to Los Angeles and the 91/Perris Line to Los Angeles as well as the Inland Empire/Orange Counties services which  both use the BNSF mainline. These services depend on the host railroads. No new service can be expected without additional track capacity. Half hourly service is unlikely before 2025 on the Orange County or 91 Perris Lines with Metrolink . Before 2029 there are plans to finish dedicated double track between Los Angeles and Fullerton on the BNSF for passenger service only for use by Amtrak, Metrolink and future High Speed Rail. Orange County now has between Anaheim and Laguna Niguel full double tracking. More local Orange County service by Metrolink could be run on this double track. But the few local trains that are running now in Orange County don’t carry many people. At the very least to get more people on local Orange County Metrolink trains would require more bus connections and connections to Amtrak and other Metrolink trains to get more passengers. So far expanded local rail service hasn’t been talked about at the Orange County Transportation Authority.This leads up to the lines on Metrolink which it has the most control. These are the San Bernardino, Antelope Valley and Ventura Lines. All three of these rail lines terminate now in Los Angeles. The San Bernardino Line already has the most frequent service on Metrolink. Ridership on this line has been declining. Since the extension of the LA Metro Gold Line from Pasadena to Azusa which parallels the San Bernardino Line there have been Metrolink stations that have seen major ridership drops. The San Bernardino Line needs more double tracking and other improvement to reduce running times and improve service reliability.

This leaves the Antelope Valley and Ventura Lines. Much of the Ventura Line and all of the Antelope Valley Line are in Los Angeles County. Both lines travel to some degree in the San Fernando Valley with the Ventura Line ending in Ventrura Country and the Antelope Valley Line in the Antelope Valley at Lancaster. Both the San Fernando Valley and Antelope Valley have little or no rail transit which is something local residents complain about. The only rail transit in the San Fernando Valley are 2 Red Line stations in North Hollywood and by Universal Studios. Metrolink as an organization is dependent for much of its funding from the counties that are a part of it, and Los Angeles is the largest and richest county in Metrolink’s service area. Los Angeles County has already been planning for additional and relocated Metrolink stations in the San Fernando Valley and one possible relocated station in Santa Clarita. There has been much local pressure to add more service and reduce running times on the Antelope Valley Line. Also with the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles, there are proposals to expand Metrolink being looked at to relieve traffic in time for the Olympics.

One of the issues is the longest rail tunnel in California which is on the Antelope Valley Line linking the San Fernando Valley to Santa Clarita. Built in the 1870’s, it is single tracked. Adding more double tracking on both the Antelope Valley and Ventura Lines will be needed and is being planned to allow expanded Metrolink service. Half hour frequencies can be run with some segments of single tracking. The slowest part of the Antelope Valley Line is north of Santa Clarita to Palmdale. Short of buying tilt trains, track improvements will be needed for faster service. There is also interest in electrifying Metrolink on the Antelope Valley Line. This would be expensive, but would be faster with improved acceleration and create much less pollution. For service every half hour for most of the day, operating service only as far Santa Clarita would be the most economical. With construction of High Speed Rail, there will be a double tracked electrified passenger railroad between Los Angeles and Burbank Airport. This would be available for Metrolink service too.

Electrified service with track and stations improvements would be possible if Los Angeles County is willing to largely fund the work on the Antelope Valley and Ventura County Lines. In the case of the area around Lancaster/ Palmdale, there are plans to have High Speed Rail service with a station in Palmdale, which will be much faster for travel to Los Angeles direct than by Metrolink. It would make sense to extend frequent Metrolink service to at least Moorpark in Ventura County. Moorpark and Simi Valley are in Ventura County, but many of these residents commute to the San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles. Expanding Metrolink service past Chatsworth to Moorpark would have a major impact for increased ridership on the Ventura Line. There are several miles of single track and tunnels between  Chatsworth and Simi Valley. This can handle 2 trains an hour service with more double tracking in Ventura County and the San Fernando Valley. Such track work is already overdue for improved Surfliner service along the coast north of Los Angeles.

One thing that is overdue on Metrolink is better connections and seamless ticketing between Metrolink trains and Amtrak. The same is true when High Speed Rail is operating only more so since there will be very frequent service when High Speed Rail gets to Los Angeles. Just as important will be well planned timed connections between trains. Even before High Speed Rail gets to Los Angeles, Metrolink should do more for the Ventura  and Antelope Valley Lines to connect with each other. These two lines with frequent service should also connect to the San Bernardino, and Orange Lines. Maybe not hourly connections, but almost every hour as service can be expanded. More frequent Metrolink trains will also make it easier to connect to Surfliner service which will likely also see some additional service in the future.

This is from the agenda of a Metrolink board meeting on November 17th. This is early planning for 2 trains an hour or more by 2028 on most of Metrolink’s Lines. 

Along these same lines on the agenda from this same board meeting are preliminary plans to add electrification on several Metrolink Lines



HEY, Amtrak (and others)…Let’s get some things DONE



A loud COMMENTARY by Russ Jackson

The recent commentary by this writer published on the internet and in Steel Wheels was highly complimentary of Amtrak’s long distance trains and its crews following my recent trips.  RailPAC VP Long Distance Services James Smith agrees that the atmosphere and morale “out there” is very high, after his recent trip on the Sunset Limited, City of New Orleans, and Southwest Chief.  To Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson I say “keep it up!”  Good customer service is the most important area to generate word of mouth promotion!  Mr. Anderson, you have a nucleus of talented employees and junior executives who are doing top jobs.  Don’t mess it up.  Keep listening to them, and to rail advocates!  Get out among ’em!  Your presentation to NARP in Chicago was particularly impressive when you said that upgrading Superliner equipment is a priority.  Unfortunately, that will only keep total capacity at what we have now, making growth difficult.  Come west, young man, see what we have out here…and build on it!

A new calendar year is upon us.  Amtrak has been around since 1971, yet there are some projects dating back to that date that need finishing, and many have emerged since then that still need to be addressed, solved, and implemented.  Maybe rail advocates haven’t been loud enough, so in this writing (one of many from this author for over 30 years) I will show my frustration at the lack of finality for some things that should have been accomplished YEARS AGO.  Notice the ALL CAPS?  Well, as you read the following and see something in ALL CAPS, think of the writer SHOUTING those words.  Maybe we can finally have ACTION, AND SEE GROWTH! 

1.  HEY AMTRAK:  WHY isn’t the Sunset Limited DAILY?  It certainly looks like that is still on the back burner, but now the new “Unlimited Sunset” committee has been formed maybe they can DO SOMETHING.  That group met in of all places, San Diego, which if I read the map correctly, ISN’T ON THE SUNSET ROUTE, but was a wonderful (REALLY wonderful) place for a meeting.  They are supported by NARP?  HEY, why isn’t Amtrak doing this themselves?  Is it easier to ignore an outside group?  I am very happy that RailPAC is involved in this new group, and includes Paul Dyson, Bob Manning, and Noel Braymer, as well as retired Amtrak official Richard Phelps, all of whom bring years of level headed advocacy to the table.  If the two biggest hurdles to daily service are the UP and a lack of equipment, GO CAMP IN OMAHA!…THINK LEASING!  LET’S GO!  Amtrak revenue GROWTH and higher passenger mile counts are IMPORTANT.  Would it work to add one new day each timetable change until it’s DAILY?

2.  HEY AMTRAK:  WHY isn’t restoring the route along the Gulf Coast from New Orleans to Florida DONE?  For several years a Southern group has held numerous meetings, run a test train, and worked hard to get this service going.  It’s been, what, twelve years since Hurricane Katrina wiped out the railroad and ten years since that railroad was rebuilt.  We still wait for restoration of service either by extending the Sunset Limited or the City of New Orleans to Orlando.  WHAT’S THE HOLDUP?  If the two biggest hurdles are the CSX and a lack of equipment, GO CAMP ON HUNTER HARRISON’S CSX DOOR! . . .THINK LEASING!  LET’S GO! 

3.  HEY AMTRAK:  WHY does the Palmetto STILL end its run in Savannah, GA?  Isn’t the logical end point for this train in Orlando?  Orlando is only the biggest tourist attraction in the East, ISN’T IT?  WHY does the “Silver Starvation” (Silver Star train) not have first class dining?  Looks like removing it is in concrete and shall return “nevermore.”  Think revenue enhancement, think Passenger Miles!  WHY isn’t the Southwest Chief connection to Pueblo, CO, a DONE DEAL?  ColoRail has done a GREAT job working on this project, and certainly are to be congratulated on getting the Winter Park Express ski train back.  Small things?  Each one is a revenue enhancer!

4.  HEY AMTRAK:  WHY isn’t there more momentum on adding the new train, the connection from the Crescent at Meridian, MS, through northern Louisiana to Dallas/Ft. Worth?  HOW LOGICAL it is to get something accomplished that locals have been asking for and are willing to support?  Is it the railroads holding it up?  GO FOR IT!   And, while you’re at it how about extending that train west of Ft. Worth through Abilene and Midland, to El Paso and on to Los Angeles as the second frequency which also would bring it through Palm Springs in DAYLIGHT.  Sure, this train would have low-level equipment. WHO CARES?  Amtrak, you’ve got lots of low level cars and California is going to be stuck with some from the new car order.

5.  HEY AMTRAK:  What do you think of this idea:  “A rolling hotel overnight between Los Angeles and the Bay Area.”  Can you think of a new marketing idea with A GREATER CHANCE OF SUCCESS?  We floated this idea many years ago and almost had it approved.  The Coast Daylight plan apparently is dead, so this plan provides second service on the flip schedule of the Coast Starlight.  By extending the California Zephyr trainset from Oakland to Los Angeles with departures from each end at 8 PM, and arriving by 8 AM next morning using the Coast Line.  It would be a national system train not needing state support.  Superliner west coast maintenance could then be consolidated in the LA 8th Street shop.  Railfans would want the train named the Lark, but whatever the name it’s a potential gold mine IF IT IS MARKETED.

6.  HEY NARP...or RPA…or whatever you call yourselves now.  Amtrak pays you to run THEIR Customer Advisory Committee, and you know what?  I’ve NEVER seen anything that it recommended.  IS IT TRUE that the work of that group is ignored?  If so, WHY does it exist and WHY do you go along with it?  It SHOULD BE the most important committee Amtrak has.  I’ve attended far too many rail “meetings,” where Amtrak big shots come, speak, take a couple of questions, and then nothing happens.  The most productive meeting I attended was the RailPAC dinner with Brian Rosenwald in Sacramento where we were able to talk customer service.  WHY aren’t you yelling as loud as I am? You should CONCENTRATE on PASSENGER issues!  WHY are you only proud of things like taking the railroads to the Supreme Court?

7.  HEY NEC!  (Notice that I singled out the NEC from Amtrak?)  WHY is the load factor for travel on the Corridor huge between Philadelphia and New York, yet so small on either side?  Do all Regional trains have to run to DC?  Why not save some precious bucks and run some trains only between Philly and NYC, freeing up more space for high revenue generating through passengers!  And while you’re at it, if you need more money for the NEC, ASK for it and STOP DUMPING NEC COSTS onto the state supported and long distance trains!

8.  HEY BNSF, UP, NS, CSX:  STOP being so antagonistic to passenger rail.  If you are being underfunded by Amtrak or other rail agencies, get your acts together and march on Washington together to get fair compensation for carrying passenger trains.  And I mean FAIR, don’t try to squeeze as much as you can.  It should be obvious now that Amtrak and passenger trains are here to stay, with general support from a big majority in the Congress.  WORK WITH US!!!

And so the end of my rant is here.  Am I calm?  Yes.  Am I tired of writing about these things over and over?  Yes.  Am I at an age when I’d like to see some of these things HAPPEN? YES.  When people ask why I do these writings the answer is I’ve tried to save Amtrak from itself, and in some ways there HAS been success.  The key LOUD word to Amtrak from rail advocates and me is GROWTH...think it, work for it!

Lower Court Decision Frustrates Congress’ Goal To Reduce Train Delays That Harm Millions of Passengers


November 9, 2017

Washington D.C. – The Rail Passengers Association, legally known as the National Association of Railroad Passengers–or NARP, petitioned the Supreme Court to review a case that would pave the way for enforcement of on-time performance standards for passenger rail. Without these defined standards, freight is systematically prioritized over passenger trains, leading to chronic delays for long distance riders. The petition, filed today by the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC) on behalf of NARP and other passenger advocacy organizations, seeks to overturn a lower court’s decision that flies in the face of the “Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act” (PRIIA), a law passed by Congress in 2008 that included provisions to make sure trains run on time.

“When the DC Circuit nullified Section 207 last year, it took away FRA’s power to develop on-time performance standards. Then the Eighth Circuit this summer interpreted Section 213 in a way that eviscerated the power of the Surface Transportation Board, which was the only agency left to carry out Congress’ assignment to improve on-time performance. The two courts’ moves together have left no agency remaining to fulfill Congress’ statutory mandate in PRIIA to enforce those standards,” said Jim Mathews, President of the Rail Passengers Association. “That gap thwarts Congress’ core intent in PRIIA, and leaves passengers without any recourse.”

ELPC’s “petition for a writ of certiorari” asks the United States Supreme Court to review the July 2017 judgment by an Eighth Circuit court panel. In that finding, the Circuit court rejected the Surface Transportation Board’s (STB) interpretation of Section 213 of PRIIA which created two separate “triggers,” each of which require the STB to investigate sub-standard on-time performance. Even though Congress plainly gave STB the authority to regulate these specific aspects of on-time performance, the freight railroads objected and sought judicial review. The Circuit court agreed. Oddly, in 2015, the Association of American Railroads–the trade group for freight rail carriers in North America–asked the STB to create the regulation that defined on-time performance in the first place. It was only when STB sided with passengers that the group challenged STB’s authority to regulate the issue.

“This fight has gone on long enough,” said Mathews. “For decades, rail passengers have been left waiting for freight trains to clear the rails. Even acts of Congress haven’t been able to budge them out of the way. We need the courts to now recognize and allow Congress’ goal to be carried out. The law creating Amtrak in the early 1970s codified a deal these railroads made with the American taxpayer: we’ll relieve you of your common-carrier responsibility for passenger service, and in exchange you’ll ensure those passenger trains get where they need to go on time. It has been a battle ever since.”

The ELPC has been a strong partner in this fight, and the Rail Passengers Association greatly appreciates their continued support as we pursue passengers’ rights to efficient travel.

Rail Service as a Public, Private Partnership


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This map from the Alameda Corridor-East Construction Authority shows the busiest freight rail lines in Southern California which handle heavy freight traffic from the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Billions of dollars, much of it taxpayer money has gone into grade separating and improving grade crossings to reduce road congestion at crossing, improve safety and keep the local economic growth resulting from the Port’s freight business.

By Noel T. Braymer

Railroad service for both freight and passengers can have a positive impact on local economies and quality of life in a community. Rail service can reduce traffic congestion and air pollution created around freeways and major roads. Railroads are a major factor in job creation. In California local and state governments have been investing money into railroad infrastructure to improve rail service. Local governments in California already own miles of old railroad rights of way which in many cases have been used to to build light rail services or for expanded rail passenger services. In many cases the railroads retain the rights to operate freight service on their former lines while using a much better publicly owned  and maintained railroads than when the railroads own them. A major example of a public investment in railroads is centered on the heavy rail freight traffic between the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach out to the mainlines of the UP and BNSF railroads in Southern California. Most of this investment is in Los Angeles County for improving and eliminating dangerous grade crossing on these busy railroads while reducing traffic tie ups and auto pollution from cars idling at closed grade crossings. Such improvements help both the quality of life in the neighborhoods and reduce problems caused by grade crossing accidents both for the public and the railroads.

A major example of this is the Alameda Corridor Transit Authority. It began construction in 1997 on a rail speedway from the ports to downtown Los Angeles. Years of planning and negotiations were needed to consolidate the 4 original rail lines in Los Angeles County to the harbors with 200 grade crossing between them into a single shared publicly owned 20 mile fully grade separated high capacity railroad called the Alameda Corridor. Finished in 2002, 10 miles of the line alongside Alameda St. is in a fully grade separated trench with 3 tracks. Track capacity on this single route was increased in part because the trains could travel faster than on the other 3 old former harbor rail lines. The other 10 miles of the Alameda Corridor along Alameda St. is on the surface and grade separated. This has allowed heavy port centered rail freight service to continue which is a major factor in the local economy and job market while reducing local pollution and traffic congestion. This project cost $2.4 billion dollars to build. This projects is largely being paid for from tolls charged according to the number of containers carried by the railroads sharing the Alameda Corridor tracks.

Many traffic problems were solved with the Alameda Corridor between the ports and major rail yards in downtown Los Angeles. But rail freight traffic continued to be a problem between downtown Los Angeles along the railroads mainlines to the Cajon and San Gorgonio passes to the east. This particularly impacted the San Gabriel Valley east of downtown Los Angeles. Out of this came the Alameda Corridor-East Construction Authority, which is building several grade separations on the railroads mainlines on the busiest streets and upgrading crossing on the less busy ones. Of the 70 miles of mainline railroad in the San Gabriel Valley, the Authority is building 18 grade separations, eliminating 23 grade crossings and upgrading 40 crossings for improved safety.  Not only will the railroads and motorists benefit from these improvements. Metrolink and Amtrak service will as well since they also operate rail service on these lines in the San Gabriel Valley.

This map shows the level of work proposed mostly in the San Gabriel Valley to improve rail traffic while reducing the local impact of growing rail service in the area.

There have been some problems. The economic downturn of 2008 reduced freight traffic at the ports which had an impact on income for paying the bonds used to finance the Alameda Corridor. The Alameda Corridor is still earning enough revenue to service their debt. Another problem at the ports is the heavy level of truck traffic also carrying containers to the Inland Empire. This causes both pollution and traffic congestion problems on the freeways. In an effort to greatly reduce pollution at the harbors, there are plans to operate short haul trains to the warehouses in the Inland Empire east of the San Gabriel Valley in the counties of San Bernardino and Riverside. One such train could remove up to 750 truck trips. According to an article published in the Press-Enterprise in April 2016, a new yard as a terminal near to the warehouses in the Inland Empire would first have to be built. For the Alameda Corridor this would create more traffic for it which it has plenty of capacity to handle.

Another project which the Alameda Corridor Transit Authority was involved with to improve rail traffic from the harbor was the construction of the Colton Crossing Flyover for the Union Pacific over the BNSF halfway between the cities of Riverside and San Bernardino. In late 2006 the Alameda Corridor Transit Authority presented a feasibility study for this project. It was completed by August 2013 eight months ahead of schedule and at $93 million dollars, well below the estimated cost of $202 million dollars.

In the San Gabriel Valley we can expect increased rail passenger service in the near future. This would include additional Metrolink and Amtrak service. But the biggest user in the future will be High Speed Rail. It is likely that upgrades and electrification of existing rail rights of ways in the San Gabriel Valley will be used. This is also planned for High Speed Rail service sharing  existing rights of ways between San Jose to San Francisco as well as between Burbank, Los Angeles and Anaheim. Speed on these urban area would be below 125 miles per hour. As part of High Speed Rail service a station is planned at Ontario Airport which is served by the 2 UP lines in the San Gabriel Valley,

These projects are being funded by a combination of funding from the railroads, the ports, local, state and in some cases Federal funding. This could be a model of future projects which government and railroads pay a share of costs to upgrade railroad which will have benefits for the public as well as the railroads. For years already there have been other major grade separation rail crossings projects largely paid for with government spending. Even more money is needed for this effort. Also raising more money to add tracks and provide service to reduce traffic on major freeways is a better use of taxpayers money by upgrading the railroads instead of spending even more money to expand freeways.

This graphic from a 2012 Powerpoint presentation shows the proposed budget for the Alameda Corridor-East Construction Authority . This show the level of government investment, most of it State and Local that has gone into this project.


The following is the opinion of the author and is not the position of the Rail Passenger Association of California

By M.E. Singer

In 1967, the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) was formed in Chicago by Anthony Haswell to fight the rapid discontinuance and service
deterioration of what was once a vast network of passenger trains operated by the privately-owned railroads.

To strengthen his ardent consumer advocacy work, Haswell moved NARP to Washington, D.C. to work closely lobbying Congress, FRA, and USDOT. Even after helping to achieve Amtrak (nee Railpax legislation October, 1970), Haswell did not consider any group untouchable, as he hammered in congressional testimony and in the media against the preventable errors of Amtrak, antagonistic approach of Greyhound, and uncooperative attitude of the freight railroads; as well, the overt public subsidies to the airlines and interstate highway system.

As a consumer advocate, Haswell was quite successful with congressional committees and transportation writers in their day knowing they could count on him for well researched, actual information. Like Ralph Nader, Haswell could not be bought.

Regrettably, the pure consumer advocacy posture of NARP has been discarded with little notice by Congress, media, and rail passengers.  In an obvious effort to diminish incessant, criticism so effective in Congress and the media, Amtrak moved to align mutual economic interests with NARP. In 1997, Amtrak created the Amtrak Customer Advisory Committee with the intent of funding NARP “to staff and manage.”

Such egregious behavior, perhaps is acceptable in the milieu of Washington, where even the Chair of the House T&E Committee has a relationship with the VP Global Affairs of Airlines for America, the primary lobbying group pushing privatization of FAA. However, such conflict-of-interest is intolerable to those who understand how consumer advocacy was clearly compromised once Amtrak directed its tax dollar subsidy to filling up the outreached tin cup of NARP. Plainly put, in the consumer advocacy world, this would be no different than if Exxon Mobil contributed to the Sierra Club.

For many of us, perhaps this clear conflict-of-interest best explains NARP’s inability to call out the exorbitant cost of the Northeast Corridor, the total lack of GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles) by Amtrak to mask the re-direction of national system funds to fruitlessly bail-out the Northeast Corridor sink hole; the persistent lukewarm support of long distance routes; the failure to aggressively push for equipment acquisition beyond the Northeast Corridor.

As NARP, now transformed into the Rail Passenger Association, throws a lavish party this weekend in Chicago to celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, its leadership must finally understand, and accept, how what was once a preeminent consumer advocacy group for rail passengers has devolved into a mouthpiece for Amtrak. Such an overt conflict-of-interest we should not countenance in our politics; as such, cannot be tolerated in consumer advocacy.

In respect to the Integrity of Haswell on the fiftieth anniversary of his unselfish efforts to fight for passenger trains, NARP, now RPA, must immediately sever its economic benefactor relationship with Amtrak.

Getting Passenger Trains To More People


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By Noel T. Braymer

When many people think of population in this country, the East Coast comes to mind. The Northeast has had major cities for quite some time. Looking at the metro areas, not just the populations of a major city gives a good idea of the market for rail service. Number 1 in populations in this country is of course the greater New York City metro areas which is a little over 20 million people. This represents much of the area around New York City including much of the population of New Jersey. Along the East Coast the second largest metro area is around Washington D.C. with a little over 6 million people. Not far behind Washington is Philadelphia at around 6 million people. The fourth largest metro area in the northeast is the Boston area with around 4.7 million people. The fifth largest metro area in the Northeast is the Baltimore metro area with 2.8 million people. When we look at the metro areas on a national level, Washington Metro is sixth largest, Philadelphia is seventh, Boston is tenth and Baltimore is twenty first.

Now lets look at the major metro populations areas along the route of the Sunset Limited. Number one is the Los Angeles metro area which is 13 million people. This doesn’t include the total population of Southern California which is over 20 million. Los Angeles is the second largest metro area after New York. Dallas is the second largest metro area on the Sunset route and fourth in the nation with 7 million people. Not far behind is the Houston Metro areas which is the fifth largest metro area in this country with a population of 6.5 million. The fourth largest metro area which should have a station for the Sunset is the Phoenix metro area with a population of 4.6 million. Phoenix metro area is the twelfth largest in this county. The fifth largest on the Sunset route is the Ontario, Riverside, San Bernardino metro area with a populations of 4.5 million which is the thirteenth largest metro area in the nation. It has a population almost as large as the Boston metro area,

Adding up the total population of the 5 largest metro areas of the Northeast gives you a combined population of around 39 to 40 million people with about half on that in the New York area. Adding up the 5 largest metro areas on the Sunset Limited route you get at least 35 million people. If you also include the metro areas of Tucson, El Paso, San Antonio and New Orleans this brings up the total to over 40 million people. This doesn’t include many of the small towns served on the Sunset route between Los Angeles and New Orleans. On the Northeast is it not unusual to have more than 3 Amtrak trains running in an hour. Between Los Angeles and New Orleans Amtrak runs 3 trains a week. By comparison the alternatives to the train are much greater in the Northeast with competitive intercity bus service as well air service. This is not true in many markets of the Sunset Route.

With this large a market, with more large cities than there are in the Northeast and a general populations at least on par with the Northeast, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to have daily service on the Sunset. Tri-weekly service isn’t even saving Amtrak money. Most of the cost of running a train is from the overhead which is roughly the same for tri-weekly service as it is for daily service. But daily service has greater ridership and revenues than tri-weekly service. Adding direct service to Phoenix will also improve ridership on the Sunset. But there is more to the Sunset, since it is also a connection to the Texas Eagle. Daily service on the Sunset would bring daily service between Los Angeles and San Antonio with daily connections on the Eagle to Dallas/Fort Worth, Little Rock, St Louis, Chicago and several other towns in between. There is a good chance that the Heartland Flyer from Fort Worth will be extended north of Oklahoma City to Wichita and Newton, Kansas which would also allow connections to the Southwest Chief for passenger on the Sunset route. Improved connections at New Orleans could be possible to both the Crescent and the City of New Orleans. A daily Sunset would not only increase ridership on the Sunset, but would stimulate ridership on much of the Amtrak route system.

Making this happen will need more than writing letters to politicians. There is room for more stations along the route. A primary need is reconnecting the tracks to run through Phoenix. A major issue is getting the cooperation of the Union Pacific. There has to be much thought about what track improvements are needed to make both freight and passenger service run smoothly. This will be a major issue if local service is also run between Phoenix and Tucson and perhaps Los Angeles. While much is said about how much money passenger trains are suppose to lose, this is often misleading. Passenger trains like most forms of transportation need help from the government with infrastructure. Know of any truck companies which owns roads? Passenger trains can and often do operate at a profit. But more importantly transportation including by rail is critical for a healthy economy. This was known in the 19th century when small towns begged railroads to go to their town and stop there. One such small town in the 1870’s was Los Angeles. The original plan of the Southern Pacific was to travel down the San Joaquin Valley and bypass Los Angeles on its way to the Cajon Pass and Yuma. Los Angeles ended up paying the Southern Pacific to get it to come to Los Angeles. While many people at the time grumbled about paying the SP, it seems that the investment paid off.

What’s in the Draft of the California State Rail Plan?


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By Noel T. Braymer

The current draft of the California State Rail Plan is now available for public viewing and comment. The deadline for comments is December 11th. The Plan envisions what rail service, both passenger and freight could look like by 2040. The Rail Plan has 249 pages of sometimes mind numbing material. A major part of the Rail Plan is called Pulse Scheduling. What this mean is the expectation that future rail passenger service on most regional services would run frequencies of every half hour for most of the day. The schedules for all of these trains are expected to have easy connections to other trains across most of California also running every half hour. This plan sounds a great deal like what is done now in Switzerland. Well if you are going to steal an idea, at least steal from the best. At the center of these connecting services will be High Speed Rail Service which the plan expects to be fully up and running by 2040. There is even the expectation that a ticket to almost anywhere in California can be bought with several connecting services all done on a smart phone. To make this plan work will need major track improvements, new equipment, new services and extensions of existing services. There are also plans of expanded bus service connecting to rail passenger service. What is planned in the next 22 years will greatly exceed the progress seen in the last 40 year in California for rail passenger service. Freight service is not neglected. It appears there is planning for State support for improving rail freight service. In many cases such improvements will benefit both freight and passenger rail service. Below are some excerpts and analysis of what is in the State Rail Plan.

To download a PDF copy of the California State Rail Plan click here. 

A review of recent ridership on regional rail services in California in the Draft of the California State Rail Plan

The graphic above shows the changes in ridership of several intra-California Rail Passenger services in the last few years.

This is the heart of the plan, expanding frequent connecting rail  passengers service linking most of the State.

At the heart of the Rail Plan to connect passenger services is seamless all in one ticketing available on a smart phone


This is a map from the Draft of the California State Rail Plan showing expanded and connected services by 2040.

The dark yellow lines show future expanded connecting feeder bus service to the rail network. The blue lines shows regional rail services with speeds up to 125 miles per hour in the future. These include extended ACE, Capitol Corridor, SMART and San Joaquin services. The green lines shows the route of High Speed Rail.

This from the Draft of the State Rail Plan goes into detail of what is proposed for future rail service in Northern California


This is the proposed plan for future rail passenger service in Southern California. Like the Northern California map, yellow lines are for connecting bus services, blue is for local regional rail services. And green is for HSR both as far as San Diego and Las Vegas. This also shows future service to Palm Springs/Indio and extended Metrolink service to Hemet.

This gives details for what is proposed in the Los Angeles Metro area.

This page gives more detail for what is proposed for connections to High Speed Rail.

This is more on local rail passenger service in Southern California

This show 7 freight bottlenecks in the proposed State Rail Plan which may require state aid.

The State Rail Plan also covers freight rail service planning. This graphic shows examples of the worst rail freight traffic bottlenecks which will likely need major reconstruction to fix. These include 4 problem areas in Southern California. Two in the Bay Area, and one each in the San Joaquin Valley and one over the Donner Pass area.

This a a map in the State Rail Plan Draft showing expected Freight Rail traffic in California by 2040.

This is a list of possible improvements to the State rail freight network, some of which would also benefit passenger service.

This is a list in the Draft of the State Rail Plan of major grade separation progress proposed to be built by 2040.

Last but not least is a graphic of some of the other transportation projects besides rail service the State is working on.




By M.E. Singer

The recent revelation in Railway Age, “Amtrak Thinning Non-Agreement Ranks” (27 Oct) gives credence to the postulation how Amtrak thinks and operates–that when in doubt,it chooses to re-organize by disgorging management.

How many times has Amtrak endured the pain, time, and expense of re-organizing and downsizing since 2005, under Downes, Warrington, and Boardman? What did Amtrak achieve in the end, other than its infamous tagline of a “glide-path towards financial self-sufficiency,” the over built/under performing Acela (“Cochon” in French), and the mail/express business line diverting limited resources to serve Janesville and Louisville? No wonder in “Reorganizing? Think Again”  (Harvard Business Review, October, 2011), it was stated how re-organizing “are surface-level, counterfeit solutions, and they do more harm than good. And yet when it comes to reorganization, they’re the norm. According to one McKinsey study, the success rate for organizational redesign efforts is less than 25%. It’s much more common for reorg efforts to run out of steam before completion or fail to yield improvements once they’ve been implemented.”

With this background, we are to asked to blindly accept the following statement to non-agreement employees picked up in Railway Age by Amtrak’s EVP Administration DJ Stadtler: “We will be reorganizing to meet our goals for 2018 and beyond. We need to improve our safety culture, we need to be obsessed with giving our customers a better experience-and we must lower our operating costs.  We must make changes in how we are organized to get this job done.  Right now, our non-agreement team is too big. We must deliver more results with fewer people.” Frankly, this statement only gives further credence to why the ancient Greeks looked at the entrails of birds to predict the future; probably with better results.

What’s wrong with this Pravda-esque statement is what continues to be oblivious to Amtrak’s executive management and Board, but clearly stated by the noted professor and author of numerous management books, Peter Drucker: “so much of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to work.” Drucker added, “I’ve seen a great many people who are exceedingly good at execution, but exceedingly poor at picking the important things. They are magnificent at getting the unimportant things done. They have an impressive record of achievement on trivial matters.”

Given how executive and senior management at Amtrak has been historically grown in a petri dish created by the Board of Directors, Their failures are tolerated and ‘baked in’ as a reward for their fealty to the Board. Why does this line of management continue to remain above the absolute level of accountability, not even to be viewed in a rear view mirror, instead of middle and lower managers taking the bullet-again? Remember Penn Station; loss of commuter contracts? The Board’s persistent failure in its stewardship, and toleration of a  line of management of ‘bakers who cannot bake,’  casts a gloomy shadow on Drucker’s reflection that “long-range planning does not deal with the future decisions, but with the future of present decisions.” As such, we shall continue to witness the managed decline of Amtrak.

Amtrak HQ continues to perpetuate the antithesis of what are today’s stated goals by Stadtler, given how so few of the over-staffed members of  executive  /senior management bother to even ride the trains to learn the customer experience, as well as how to support the employees on the line. To what extent would the customer experience improve if the Board understood their own position, and traded in several EVPs and VPs for Train Chiefs to provide consistent organization and control on the long distance trains? Perhaps such change management philosophy is simply buried now, as it would be opposite to how the long distance routes have been willfully pillaged to support the Northeast Corridor. When it comes to a safety culture, Amtrak must overcome the nine years of Boardman’s reign that simply sabotaged a joint labor/management coalition to embrace safety. And why have the unions become oblivious and not involved to prevent drugs from interfering with  performance?  To what extent would costs be controlled if Amtrak worked with Congress to lease new motive power and equipment for its national network west of the Potomac? Although  significantly newer than Superliners, the Acela is undergoing a second rendition, along with new electric motors for the Corridor.

When the American Army initially failed in North Africa in its first campaign of WWII, Eisenhower relieved the commander, General Fredendall; but he did not shoot the lieutenants and captains. Although it is quite apparent that as long as the EVPs and VPs willingly oblige the Board’s desire for a narrow focus on the Northeast Corridor, they continue to give new meaning to the definition of “lifer.” However, this perpetual cover-up, at the expense of middle and lower managers, for non-accountability as engineered by Amtrak’s Board and executive/senior line of management can only be seen as ‘whistling past the graveyard.’

In the rush of those who continue to survive the purges to successfully grab a chair when the music stops-again- is the failure to appreciate what was clarified in The Key to Successful Corporate Reorganization (Forbes 07/30/10):  “corporate reorganizations are risky investments of time, energy, and resources, and many do little to improve the business. Chrysler restructured its organization three times in the three years preceding its bankruptcy and eventual combination with Fiat. None of those reorgs had much effect. A recent Bain & Company study of 57 major reorganizations found that fewer than one third produced any meaningful improvement in performance. Some actually destroyed value.” In essence, we already know the outcome.

How We Can Get The Railroads To Want More Passenger Service


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By Noel T. Braymer

They just don’t make rights of ways like they use to. Back around 1860 the population of the country was 32 million people. Today the population of this country is over 325 million people and growing. Just the population of California is already almost 40 million. 150 years ago there was much more wide open space which made buying land and building railroads a fairly simple thing to do compared to today. Today building new or widening existing roads is increasingly expensive and harder to build. When new roads are built traffic congestion doesn’t go down. Critics love to complain about the “high cost” of building high speed rail in California. But building rail isn’t that expensive. Much of the cost is due to the need to build grade separations to avoid crossing the many roads in the San Joaquin Valley.There have been some impressive rail bridges built for high speed rail in the San Joaquin Valley. But most of the bridges being built for the High Speed Rail Authority are road bridges to grade separate road traffic over the high speed tracks. What is interesting is to watch the video of the route proposed by the California High Speed Rail Authority between Gilroy and San Jose. Basically it is planned to be along side of the tracks of the Coast Line of the Union Pacific. The original expectation of the planners of California High Speed Rail was it would share the right of way of the UP in the San Joaquin Valley from Bakersfield to at least Merced. This was the best route available and construction on it would have been much cheaper than what it is now. What happened? Shortly after the 2008 November election which jumped started the California High Speed Rail Project, the Union Pacific railroad announced it would refuse to cooperate with the HSR project in California.

Any hope of creating a truly national rail passenger service will depend on access to the railroad rights of ways owned mostly by the privately owned railroads. As for profit businesses the railroads are primarily interested in making money, and avoiding expenses that are not necessary for their business. Passenger trains were never a major part of the railroad’s income. Passenger trains generally operated at a profit. But they rarely make enough money to pay the costs below the rails, in other words the infrastructure. When the railroads before 1945 had healthy freight traffic, they could make a small profit operating passenger trains mixed with the freight traffic which took care of the costs of the railroad infrastructure. But after 1945 major declines in freight traffic meant the railroads were losing money and in many cases freight traffic could no longer cover the costs of its infrastructure.

Amtrak was created primarily as a bailout of the PennCentral railroad which went bankrupt in 1970. The PennCentral had the majority of the nation’s passenger service in the Northeast and that is where it remains.To achieve broader political support for this bailout, the legislation for Amtrak was opened to all intercity rail passenger services. Most of the railroads outside of the Northeast weren’t sure if they wanted to be apart of what is now Amtrak. While not bringing in much money, most intercity passenger trains tended to be run on mainlines which freight traffic paid for the railroad’s infrastructure.The extra incremental costs of running a few passenger trains on their mainlines was minimal. While most railroads finally accepted Amtrak in 1971, a few hold outs like the Western Pacific and Southern Railway continued to run passenger service on their own for a few years after the start up of Amtrak.

The railroads have complaints about having Amtrak on their tracks. For starters, going back to the original Amtrak legislation, the railroads have to give Amtrak a major discounted price for track access. The railroads complain they are not making money from Amtrak with these discounted prices. There have been over the years problems with Amtrak trains breaking down. Quite often the host railroad has to use it’s crews and locomotives to get these Amtrak trains moving or at least out of the way. A major change with the railroads since 1971 is they are running fewer but longer trains which carry more freight than before at lower costs. Because of this the railroads don’t need as much double tracking or as many sidings while carrying more freight today compared to the past. A major complaint by the railroads is it only takes one late Amtrak train to force several high value freight trains into the limited number of long siding to let an Amtrak train not get any later.

Now are the railroads against all passenger service? Well the railroads are more open to commuter services. For starters the railroads can negotiate with commuter agencies over what they can charge. The railroads are able to be paid more by commuter agencies than what they can charge Amtrak. Also the railroads expect the commuter agencies to pay for track improvements in advance of the start up of service. An example of this would be Metrolink service in Southern California between Riverside and Los Angeles via Fullerton. Amtrak and Metrolink trains use the BNSF mainline between Los Angeles and Fullerton. The mainline is fully double tracked and is being tripled tracked. The hold up is the need to build grade separations before more triple tracking can be built so not tie up major roads with more trains at grade crossings. Before the BNSF would allow Metrolink trains from Fullerton to Riverside, they demanded that a third track be built. It is not unusual to be on the center track of this track segment with double stack container trains on the tracks on both sides. There are  4 out of the 8  Metrolink trains to Riverside from Fullerton which Monday through Friday are also extended to San Bernardino. A few years ago the BNSF/UP track crossing at Colton which is midway between Riverside and San Bernardino was replaced with a bridge for the UP over the BNSF tracks. Some people soon asked asked the BNSF if now more Metrolink trains could be extended north of Riverside to San Bernardino. The BNSF answered sure, as soon as you pay us and we extend the triple tracking from Riverside to San Bernardino.

ACE, for Altamont Corridor Express operates mostly rush hour service between San Jose and Stockton is dependent on the UP to run on for its trains. ACE has funding to extend service south of Stockton first to Modesto and finally to Merced. By 2025 service to Merced will connect there with the start up of California High Speed Rail which will stop at Merced. ACE will provide connections from Merced to High Speed Rail between Merced and the northern San Joaquin Valley. ACE has an agreement with the UP for this. A new track will be built for use by ACE on the UP to Merced to separate passenger service from their busy freight mainline in the San Joaquin Valley. The UP will also have the right to use ACE’s track when ACE isn’t using it. The UP is also working with the San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority to expand service on the San Joaquin trains with more service to Sacramento. What is being proposed is to move the Sacramento San Joaquin trains off of the UP mainline in the San Joaquin Valley to a  secondary lightly used line. The downside of this plan is this alternative route doesn’t connect to the Amtrak Sacramento Station. ACE which manages the San Joaquin Joint Powers Agency is also looking into running an hourly shuttle service between Stockton to Sacramento on this underused UP line.

A major factor in the relationship between the UP and local services in Northern California is the fact that their rail service depends mostly on the UP. ACE, the San Joaquin and Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Agencies all have years of experience working with the UP for providing rail passenger service on the UP tracks. What has marked many of the problems between passenger service and the freight railroad has been an often adversarial relationship between the railroads and passenger service since at least the 1950’s. Much more can be done when people are talking but not shouting with each other. To deal with our future transportation needs we must do more with less. We have to get more use out of the existing rights of ways. Building new roads that continue to only carry one person per vehicle will increase congestion. Good rail passenger service attracts riders. Trains can carry hundreds to thousands of people in less space and faster than on congested roads. The best option the public has is to work out fair deals for both sides for access to the railroad rights of way which will likely include improvements. This will be far more cost effective than what we are doing now.