What’s Happening with Local Rail Service In San Diego?

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By Noel T. Braymer

Much has happened in San Diego since the expansion of the San Diegan trains in the mid 1970’s from 3 round trips a day to 12 Pacific Surfliners between San Diego and Los Angeles today. San Diego also pioneered Light Rail in the US with the San Diego Trolley in 1981 which was then the first new Light Rail service in the US since World War 2. San Diego County has also changed from a largely suburban region of low density housing to a growing urban core as part of the second largest city in California. In this transition from suburban to increasingly urban is behind the changing demographics of the County’s population. This is reflected in the current conflicts within the city representatives of the “San Diego Association of Governments” (SANDAG) which is the planning body for San Diego County, particularly for Transportation. In 1988 county voters approved a half cent transportation sales tax which voters extended in 2004 to 2044. To appeal to voters the sales tax funded both rail and highway projects. Problems came up when the previous SANDAG Executive Director refused to comply with State requirements to lower Green House Gas Emissions in San Diego County from Transportation sources. The County lost a lawsuit against San Diego County for refusing to comply with the State Regulations. In 2016 SANDAG put on a ballot measure to raise the County’s transportation sales tax another half cent. While it received a majority vote, it failed the 2/3’s majority needed to pass. At about the same time it came out the assumed revenues from the current transportation sales tax wasn’t bringing in the revenue that was projected for it. At the same time SANDAG tried to hide this fact before the election for the additional transportation sale tax on the ballot in late 2016.

After a long search starting in 2017 a new SANDAG Executive Director was finally selected  on September 14, 2018. Hasan Ikharata had been the Executive Director of the Southern California Association Of Governments (SCAG) before his appointment to SANDAG. Ikharata has been focusing on projects which would serve a more urban population and carry more people without expanding the road network. His efforts have been centered on expansion and better organization of public transport to connect to  more job centers and new high density housing. This has been sparking outrage from elected officials in suburban and rural areas of San Diego. The new road projects have in large part been delayed because there wasn’t funding for these projects due to in large part the lower than expected revenue from the existing transportation half cent sale tax.

There are plans to expand transit, particularly rail service in San Diego County. What is being worked on include expansion of Coaster service between Oceanside and San Diego. By 2021 current efforts to add double tracking will allow the now mostly peak travel period service and a few trains between peaks into half hourly peak period schedules with hourly service the rest of the day. This will raise the number daily of Coaster trains run from 22 to 42 trains. This will require more rail cars and locomotives to run half hourly peak period and hourly service off peak. This will include the 7 new locomotives recently ordered by NCTD to replace the 5 existing locomotives. The North County Transit District (NCTD) has applied for funding for additional rail cars from SANDAG. The question is will there be a majority of SANDAG Directors representing the different  cities in the County voting to approve these improvements? SANDAG is planning to spend $600 million dollars over the next 5 years to increase Coaster Rail service, stabilize for now the bluffs holding the county tracks at Del Mar and creating express lanes on Highway 78 between Oceanside and Escondido.

This may not satisfy local politicians who are more interested in widening highways like the 78 between Oceanside and Escondido than creating express lanes which sounds like High Occupancy Vehicle Lanes. Local politicians are also pleading for expansion of Highway 56 which runs in northern San Diego between the 5 and 15 freeways. Highway 67 is in southeast San Diego County between El Cajon running north to Ramona in a largely rural area.

Along with expanded Coaster service, the NCTD is planning to expand the current half hourly Sprinter rail service between Oceanside and Escondido to every 15 minutes. This will require additional double tracking and trainsets. It will be at least 5 years before these improvements can start building. There is also talk of extending Sprinter service south of Oceanside to Carlsbad. The problem is the Sprinter tracks enters the Oceanside Transit Center from the south and Carlsbad is south of Oceanside. Will this require a backup move if the Sprinters services downtown Oceanside. The other issue is getting Sprinter Trains to Carlsbad. The current DMU trains used by the Sprinters can’t share the tracks also used by Amtrak, Coaster and Freight Trains since they would be crushed if hit by these other trains. Would new heavier self propelled trainsets be needed, or new tracks on the right of way be added to extend Sprinter service to Carlsbad?

One issue that had been in the news recently have been landslides on the bluffs by the beach at Del Mar in San Diego County. This is where Amtrak and Coaster trains run on a single track on this busy railroad paralleling the often jammed I-5 freeway between Los Angeles and San Diego. So far no landslides have undermined the right of way on the scenic Del Mar track segment. But the question is still more of when not if the railroad could be cut off. What SANDAG is planning now is to reroute the tracks in the future to a double tracked alignment under Camino Del Mar, also called Highway 101 which is near the railroad. SANDAG has also been proposing a major project to build a “San Diego Grand Central Station” near the Old Town Transit Center, This would expand the connections to transit and rail services in San Diego to the nearby San Diego Airport which lies halfway between Old Town and Downtown. As part of current planning is redevelopment of 70 acres of land next to Old Town owned by the Navy for new housing and businesses. This is an example of the current planning by SANDAG to have major transit centers combined with new high density housing and employment centers. This is a classic form of urban development. This curtails sprawl since people need to travel less when jobs, housing and services are close together for walking, biking or frequent public transit. There is support in the city of San Diego for such development. But many of the suburban cities are opposing new housing and transit in their towns but support more roads. The reality is building and expanding freeways don’t relieve traffic congestion. It just attracts more people to drive more with  added congestion on the widen freeway. More roads tend to lead to more sprawl which leads to less land for affordable housing.

It is difficult to know what will be planned by SANDAG in the future, and when and if it will be funded. A news story in the San Diego Union Tribune for April 26, 2019 wrote about a planned Purple Light Rail Line “an envisioned trolley route that would run from the Otay Mesa border crossing, through National City, the city of San Diego and to Oceanside.” This hasn’t been in the news much as far as I’m aware. This would be a transit route of at least 50 miles between the Mexican Boarder to Oceanside. This sounds like this would run east of the current Trolley Blue Line between the main border crossing at San Ysidro to downtown San Diego. The Blue Line by 2021 is expected to be extended north of Downtown San Diego to Old Town and then another 10 miles or so to the Campus of the University of California at San Diego and the University City area. This alone will add more connections to Amtrak, Coaster services and connections to regional buses and the Green and Orange  Trolley Lines. The Blue Line would draw more riders with an easy connection to the airport which the Green Line and Blue Line will both ride near by. As for extending the Trolley north of San Diego to Oceanside, that seems unrealistic given the shortage of funding. With expanded rail service coming soon between Oceanside and San Diego plus new connections being added for both local and regional services, this alone will create plenty of faster travel options than what is available now.
 

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Southern California Will Have High Speed Rail Service Before The San Joaquin Valley

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By Noel T. Braymer

Of course by Southern California I mean Victorville, not Los Angeles. For several years XpressWest had been proposing building high speed rail service between Las Vegas and Victorville with running times of 75 minutes. This would be fairly easy to build by using existing rights of way including elevated segments on the I-15 between Las Vegas and Victorville. This plan included electrification of the route for running speeds up to 150 miles per hour. A major sticking point to this project was a requirement of buying trainsets which had to be built in this country. What was being looked at by XpressWest were trainsets built by Bombardier in China. XpressWest was unable to secure funding to start construction and the project went nowhere for years until this summer. First, Virgin Trains USA bought the rights to build a new railroad  on roughly 188 miles between Las Vegas and Victorville from XpressWest. Shortly after this Virgin Trains USA announced that construction would begin in 2020. But after some hemming and hawing Virgin Trains USA announced that it would be postponed for another 2 more years.

Not long after that this summer Xtrain announced that it would start operating Las Vegas Xpress. This would be a luxury train service starting (hopefully) by July 2020. The train would be operated by Amtrak from Los Angeles on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. The train ride to and from Las Vegas is expected to take 4.5 hours to start. It looks like a station stop will be made at San Bernardino. This train would use BNSF and Union Pacific tracks. The running time is planned after the construction of double track between Las Vegas and Yermo to be reduced to 3.5 hours for Las Vegas Xpress.

It wasn’t long after this announcement by Las Vegas Xpress, that Virgin Trains USA announced that they now had funding and would start construction between Victorville and Las Vegas next year. What is being planned for just over $4 billion is service operating between 75 to 90 minutes between Victorville and Las Vegas. This is where the heaviest traffic is on the I-15 to and from Las Vegas. At Victorville will be built a large parking lot for people to get on the train and off the often jammed I-15. This has been the plan since the earliest planning for Las Vegas Xpress.

So what other plans are in the works for Los Vegas rail service? For several years Los Angeles County and San Bernardino County have been planning a new highway between Victorville and Palmdale. Construction for this should go quickly once funding is raised on this largely open land. What is planned in addition to a new highway, is a fast, passenger railroad right of way connecting Victorville and Palmdale. So far so good. The bottleneck is between Palmdale and Santa Clarita  which has steep grades and many curves which keep train speeds low. Metrolink is planning improvements and expanded service between Los Angeles and Palmdale. What is interesting is the question of electrifying the Virgin Trains USA between Las Vegas and Los Angeles?

The original plan for XpressWest was to operate electric trains at speeds up to 150 miles per hour. Electric trains accelerate faster than diesel locomotives, travel faster up grades and are cleaner than even the cleanest diesel locomotives. The question might be should passengers transfer at Palmdale on Metrolink? Or should track improvements be made and the tracks electrified for both Metrolink and Virgin Trains USA? A third alternative would be to operate High Speed Rail service from Palmdale south to at least Los Angeles sharing tunnels and tracks with High Speed Trains to and from the San Joaquin Valley.
Most likely this will be done incrementally as funding and support for improvements becomes available.

One of the plans being looked now are running self propelled multiple unit trainsets which are faster, lighter and cheaper to run than a locomotive hauled train. Such equipment is now being studied for use in the east San Fernando Valley and northern Santa Clarita Valley. No doubt Virgin Trains USA will have many connections to multiple markets just in Southern California. These will also be linked to property developments sponsored by Virgin Trains USA. So where will Virgin Trains USA get electrified equipment? Well so far Virgin Trains USA has a good relationship with Siemens which is building their train equipment in Sacramento and would be open for more orders. Siemens experience with electric trains goes back to the late 19th century.

Dreaming of California’s 2022 Rail Service

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By Noel T. Braymer
There are improvements coming in the near future and even more later for California Rail Passenger service. This includes new equipment on order, track and station improvements now underway as well as track work which will allow more frequent and reliable service. I can’t wait to see 2022 roll around when many of these changes will be on line. To see what is planned just in Southern California I refer to this graphic from the 2018 California State Rail Plan of service levels planned by 2022.

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Map from the California State Rail Plan showing planned service levels by 2022.

The blue line between San Diego, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo is the route of the Pacific Surfliner. More frequent, up to hourly service in many cases is planned for the Surfliners. Expanded Metrolink service is expected as well with more trains more often also coming in the near future. What I find most interesting are the thin light brown lines on the map for 2022. These are new connecting transit or bus routes at major train stations to places not accessible by rail service in Southern California. This map shows bus connections at Santa Clarita to Bakersfield and Las Vegas. There are planned bus services from Palmdale to Victorville, San Bernardino and out to Palm Springs and Phoenix. The bus connections that interest me the most  are the connections at Santa Ana to Huntington Beach and Long Beach. Also planned are connections to and from Van Nuys, Los Angeles and Santa Monica, as well as connections to LAX and Norwalk,

One of the reasons I am looking at this map for 2022 is I am planning a trip this month from Oceanside where I live to LAX where I will be flying out. This will mean catching the Surfliner to Union Station and then the Flyaway Bus to LAX. This allows a non stop flight from California to Dublin. But as I look at the map seen above, I wish it was 2022 now, not 2019. Along with more frequent Surfliner trains, there are plans to increase the frequency of Metrolink trains in the future between Oceanside and Los Angeles. Hourly service should be possible between Oceanside and Los Angeles which would make connections at the Norwalk Metrolink Station very convenient with connecting bus service to LAX. This would save time compared to catching bus connections at Union Station to LAX.

If the connecting bus services to train stations are running by or before 2022, this will open many more markets where a car won’t be needed on the westside of Los Angeles. This can mean more beach access via Metrolink not only now at San Clemente and Oceanside. But also to Newport Beach, Huntington Beach, Long Beach and Santa Monica. The big question for Los Angeles will be how many new transportation projects will be in service in time for the 2028 Los Angeles Summer Olympics? The almost finished Regional Connector tunnel in Downtown Los Angeles is for run through service on the Blue Line between Long Beach and Azusa as well Expo Line from Santa Monica to East Los Angeles which should be ready in a year or 2. The same is true of the almost finished Crenshaw/LAX rail line . This will include the LAX People Mover with a station stop at the Crenshaw Line station before the 2028 Olympics . Perhaps the most critical project is the extension of the Purple Line at Wilshire and Western to Westwood. If the project is on time it should be finished a year or 2 before the 2028 Olympics. One project that needs to be finished before 2028 will be the long awaited and planned run through tracks at Los Angeles Union Station. This will greatly increase the capacity of Union Station which will be needed to handle the expected crowds for the 2028  Summer games. These are the projects that should be in service in time for the Olympics. By 2028 the plan is to greatly increase service on Metrolink to serve most regions on Southern California which will be needed for the 2028 Olympics.

Our Failing Road System

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By Noel T. Braymer

I generally try to avoid road travel when traffic is heavy. I recently drove my car on an early Monday morning and I was in for a shock. Most of the day, traffic on the route that I took would be free flowing. But on this typical work day morning traffic was congested most of the 6 miles from where I live to downtown Oceanside where I was headed. Needless to say traffic on the 5 freeway was already congested which is common much of the time now. For years efforts to expand roads to relieve traffic congestion have only resulted in making congestion worse. More roads causes people to drive more. For many people affordable housing means longer commutes to their jobs. Longer car trips adds to the congestion slowing traffic down for everyone. So how does public transportation fit into this? Not very well. On September 1st both the North County Transit District (NCTD) and Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) buses will be raising their fares to cover some of its funding shortfalls. In the case of the MTS, it has roughly a $10 million dollar deficit now.

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A San Diego MTS bus at the transit center at University City not far from the campus of UCSD

From the times I have ridden local bus and rail transit in San Diego County, rarely is there standing room only. What is missing is service on the buses with better connections to the County’s Light Rail and Commuter Rail services. This would make commutes faster and easier if more people had access to job centers from where they live in San Diego County by transit. Raising fares often does more to reduce ridership, than it does to balance budgets. As it is there are plenty of empty seats much of the day on both NCTD and MTS buses. Getting more people on transit can reduce the congestion on major roads and freeways particularly during peak periods. One can say that the joint MTS/NCTD regional day pass is the best deal for riding both NCTD and MTS bus services. The price only went up from $5 to $6 for use on both services. For 30 days of travel the pass price comes to $23. But to get more passengers, better marketing and service to jobs and housing will be needed.

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A Sprinter DMU train arriving at the Vista Transit Center roughly half way between Oceanside and Escondido.

Hassan Ikhrata, the Executive Director of SANDAG, the planning agency for San Diego County is calling for shifting more travel out of cars and better utilization of roads for people on bikes, scooters and buses. This may be years in the making. Most of SANDAG’s efforts right now are focused on creating a transportation center near Old Town with direct connections to the San Diego Airport terminals. What is being looked at is a major redevelopment plan to include new housing and office space as part of this expanded Old Town Transportation center. This would be a first step in reducing distances people would have to travel to commute or shop. It remains to be seen how this can be replicated in other places in San Diego County. One asset this new Transportation center would have is connections to the 10 mile, $2 billion dollar extension of the Blue Trolley Line between Old Town San Diego and the area around the University of California at San Diego. UCSD is already a major job center, while the area in and around downtown San Diego increasingly is becoming more residential with new high density housing.

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View from UCSD looking towards University City in the background and construction in the foreground of the Trolley Blue Line elevated section at UCSD.

Two major freeway corridors in San Diego County are along the coast on the 5 freeway and inland North San Diego County on the 78 between Oceanside and Escondido. There is local rail service parallel to both freeway corridors. But expanded rail service is needed to attract more riders. The Coaster trains are mostly commuter rail service with most service during rush hours with some mid day and weekend services. Millions have been spent to allow more frequent Coaster and Amtrak rail services in a few years. This can be combined with more development near stations to increase ridership. With more frequent service will come increased ridership and less traffic problems along the coast. The NCTD Sprinter service has Diesel Multiple Unit (DMU) trains running every half hour most of the day. The distance between Oceanside and Escondido is just over 20 miles and the running times is just under an hour. Much of its ridership is from students attending Cal State University at San Marcos and Palomar College in San Marcos as well as travel to the beach at Oceanside.

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NCTD buses at Vista Transit Center connecting with Sprinter DMU trains.

Traffic on both the 5 and 78 continues to get worse. Faster and more frequent service is needed to attract more riders on the train. This can be expected in a few years on the Coaster as several track projects are completed by 2021.  This will allow more trains to be run during the day which will attract more riders along the coast for local service. The problem on the Sprinter is most of the line is single track. There are 3 long sidings which allows service every half hour with 15 station stops. More and slightly faster trains can be run with more double tracking. There is little sign of this happening soon since of course there are budget shortfalls. The 78 is congested and getting worse. More frequent and slightly faster Sprinter service would attract more riders combined with dedicated connecting bus service.

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NCTD Coaster Train at the downtown San Diego train station. The tall buildings by the station are all residential.

The key to getting the most out of public transportation is service to areas with housing, jobs and high levels of activity such as education or shopping. Transportation centers are critical to attracting ridership near housing and jobs as well as connections to other transportation services. Frequent and quick service attracts riders. This can include use of bus only lanes in urban areas to insure reliable bus service. What we can’t depend on is the building more and wider roads which only cause people to drive more, instead of going someplace with housing or services a short walk away.

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A San Diego Trolley at the 12th and Imperial station which is a junction of all 3 Trolley Lines, Blue, Orange and Green. At the edge of downtown San Diego even more high density housing in the backgrounds. All photos by the author.

California Rail Passenger Service Versus Mother Nature

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By Noel T, Braymer

One thing railroads are good at is replacing tracks and bridges after floods and landslides. This will become more important as more extreme weather related issues take their toll where railroads and water are concerned. Work has begun to shore up the bluffs along the railroad in Del Mar. Recent heavy rains had soaked the bluffs and caused landslides near the railroad in Del Mar in recent months. These emergency repairs are needed in the short term, but in the long run a more permanent solution will be needed. The I-5 Freeway corridor between Los Angeles and San Diego is increasingly congested with traffic. Expanding rail service both for passengers and freight is needed in this corridor. As it stands now the tracks could be cut off in a matter of minutes due to a landslide. What is needed is a double track connection inland of the current right of way in Del Mar.

SANDAG, the planing agency for San Diego County is looking at several alternatives to double track and provide a secure right of way through Del Mar. One alternative is to put the tracks in a trench in the bluffs. This proposal didn’t go over well with the California Coastal Commission. Another solution being looked  are 4 possible routes for a tunnel a mile inland from the coast which would be as much as 270 feet below the surface. The cost of such a tunnel has been estimated at $3.5 billion.

Another alternative would be to relocate the tracks in Del Mar in a cut and cover tunnel under Camino Del Mar which parallels the railroad but is inland from the current tracks. Camino Del Mar is also the busiest north-south road in Del Mar. Cut and cover construction is less expensive and less complicated than tunneling. It is also more disruptive to build than tunneling. Cut and Cover tunneling has been seen in construction on Crenshaw blvd for the Crenshaw/LAX Light Rail line which is now nearly finished. Cut and Cover has been used in Los Angeles for other rail tunneling projects.

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This is a Google Map of the coast beside Del Mar. The thicker white line along the coast is Camino Del Mar seen between the Del Mar Fairgounds and Torrey Pines. At the north and the south ends of Del Mar the tracks are very close to Camino Del Mar. If you look carefully you can see the rail line as a thin dark gray line  along the coast connecting with Camino Del Mar near where it says Powerhouse Park and Beach as well in the south not far from Torrey Pines along the coast. 

Del Mar is not the only bottleneck along the Coast. Most of the railroad in San Clemente is single tracked on several miles along the beach. The City of San Clemente insists that any double tracking or trains running above 40 miles per hour must be in a tunnel. Needless to say any double tracked tunneling in San Clemente will cost billions to build. The tracks in San Clemente are protected now from waves with a sea wall of large rocks. There is no telling what the future will bring with rising sea levels and increasingly extreme weather. Not only are the tracks near the ocean, but they are just under large buffs which are prone to landslides as well in San Clemente.

Another area where the tracks are near the beach is between Ventura and Santa Barbara. Miles of this rail route is along the coast. Even in places where the ocean can’t be seen are less than 10 feet above sea level. Future storm surges could wash out the tracks in a matter of minutes in the area. Heavy rains flooded much of the Santa Barbara area over a year ago. Weather can be expected to become more extreme for the time being. Making needed improvements before nature destroys the existing outmoded infrastructure will be more cost effective and less disruptive than putting such necessary improvements off.

Another area of concern for future flooding are along the San Francisco Bay and up into the San Joaquin River Delta. These are subject to flooding and will be subject to rises in Ocean levels due to melting ice and raising water temperature. Not only does higher water temperatures melt ice, but also causes water to expand. What has been done in San Diego County as it has improved the 60 miles of County owned railroad along the coast is to replace old wooden single track bridges one at a time with new double tracked steel and concrete bridges. These new bridges are built higher than the bridges that they replaced and are better able to handle high water levels. There are still bridges that need replacing, but at one or two bridges at a time San Diego County have reduced the chances of bridges being washed out due to future storms. This will likely be needed in most places in California and around the world. Infrastructure is to often ignored and taken for granted. This is leading to a backlog of problems that will come crashing down in the future if nothing more is done.

What’s Coming Next For The Surfliners?

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By Noel T. Braymer

You can learn a lot reading the agenda packets for the local California Rail Joint Powers Agencies. From the latest LOSSAN board meeting there was quite a bit of information about upcoming expansion of Surfliner service. What is being worked on is to start up in October of this year a 13th train between San Diego and Los Angeles. This is planned to be extended north of Los Angeles in the near future to San Luis Obispo. To accomplish this, funding by LOSSAN for track work and installation of Positive Train Control (PTC) north of Santa Barbara will need an agreement with the Union Pacific. In 2020 the plan is to run a 14th train between San Diego and Los Angeles.

As part of the planning for a 13th and 14th train LOSSAN has leased 6 additional Amtrak Superliner coach cars. These are cars Amtrak had taken out of long distance service. Before these 6 cars will be put into service, they will be upgraded with onboard WiFi, given a deep cleaning and repairs to the car’s interior. The Wi-Fi upgrade is planned for September after the peak summer travel period for the Surfliners. In addition all 21 Surfliner Business Class cars will be refreshed with new seat cushions covered in leatherette, deep cleaning the cars as well as new decals and signs. The additional cars on the Surfliners will increase their passenger capacity and reduce overcrowding on trains which now often happens.

Also in the works at LOSSAN to expand future Surfliner service are the construction of improved layover and train maintenance facilities in order to expand service at end points. This includes improved layover facilities at San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and San Diego, In the case of San Diego this will mean a new facility will be needed to replace the current practice of serving Surfliner trains at the Santa Fe Depot overnight in San Diego. This is a combination lack of space and complaints by new residents in the high rise apartment next to the Depot of the noise late at night working on the trains and the smell from dumping the passenger car chemical toilets. Since a new site is yet to be picked  it may be a few more years before a new layover facility can be built in San Diego.

A major issue for the Surfliners is improving on time performance. Much of the on time problems seem to stem from 3 trains the 763, 774 and 785. Since these are all 700 series trains, these are all trains that extend north of Los Angeles. The 763 is scheduled to depart San Diego at 5:55 AM for San Luis Obispo. The 774 is scheduled to depart San Luis Obispo at 6:55 AM to San Diego. The 785 is scheduled to depart San Diego at 3:58 PM for Santa Barbara. A major source of delays can be traced to the UP owned trackage in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties. The UP runs few freight trains on this route. Much of the UP railroad starting in Ventura to Gilroy along the California Coast is largely unchanged since the 1960’s if not earlier. This is why working with the UP is critical in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties for track and signal upgrades to increase track capacity and improve on time performance for current and future passenger trains. This is critical for improving the productivity of the 763, 774 and 785. It also will reduce problems south of Ventura with meet conflicts when late trains from the north delay trains in the south and vice versa .

Between the San Fernando Valley and San Diego new track projects are underway which will soon have a major impact on improving track capacity. The almost finished new center double track platform at Van Nuys will allow 2 trains to stop at Van Nuys at the same time. That wasn’t possible with only the one existing platform now in service. Construction is now underway between Mission Viejo and San Juan Capistrano to extend Orange County’s double tracking between Fullerton and San Juan Capistrano. This will eliminate a bottleneck which often delays trains. Improvements are planned and also needed at Fullerton to handle the heavy BNSF traffic between Los Angeles and Barstow.  In San Diego County almost 80% of the 60 miles of railroad along the coast in the county will be doubled tracked by 2020. By 2025 90% is planned to be double tracked. This will be needed soon after the  new platforms at the Coaster Poinsettia Station in Carlsbad are in full service. The Poinsettia station has had double tracking since it opened in 1995. But the passengers have to cross the tracks to get to the opposing platforms. Because of this only one train can use the station when passengers are loading and unloading. This means now a Surfliner or freight train must stop and wait for the Coaster train to depart before it is allowed to proceed. The new platforms will have connecting tunnels between platforms which allows passengers to avoid crossing the tracks. This will allow two trains to travel through the station at a time. This will allow more trains to run on the line.

Also coming in San Diego County is 10.3 miles of continuous double tracking between Old Town and Miramar. This will be the result of construction of 2 new rail bridges over the San Diego River north of Old Town and an improved, new double tracked  and faster 2.6 miles track alignment crossing the area between State Route 52 and Balboa Ave. Not only will these improvements allow more Surfliner service in San Diego County, but also more frequent Coaster service in San Diego County as well.

 

What’s In The Works Between The Bay Area And Northern San Joaquin Valley

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By Noel T. Braymer

The San Joaquin Valley Regional Valley Commission, Altamont Corridor Express, San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority, Valley Link, and the Tri-Valley-San Joaquin Valley Regional Rail Authority are working together to provide rapid and frequent rail passenger service between the Bay Area and the Northern San Joaquin Valley. Travel is already growing in this region as the  “Silicon Valley” job market continues to grow and available affordable housing is harder to find. With the efforts and excellent graphics prepared by the rail related organizations named above, I will be able to show what is being planned which is more effective than writing about it.

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The basic plan is to connect the Bay Area and San Joaquin Valley. This includes High Speed Rail between Bakersfield and Merced. New service between Merced and Sacramento. New service between Stockton and Redwood City by reopening the Dunbarton Bridge across San Francisco Bay. And Better BART Connections with Valley Link between ACE and Capitol Corridor Trains. This will use DMU or EMU trainsets on many miles of  available rail right of way in the Altamont Pass which have been out of service for many years,

 

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This shows both the projected cost of the needed track up grades and the planned travel times between major destinations.

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Valley Link -Northern California Megaregion Rail Connection to BART
“This important project will connect Northern San Joaquin County communities to the Tri-Valley and Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) through frequent and fast rail service via the route of the historic Transcontinental Railroad right-of-way though the Altamont Pass. This approximately 12-mile, abandoned right-of-way, deeded to Alameda County by Southern Pacific in 1984, provides an unprecedented opportunity to deliver a fast and efficient inter-regional rail service – connecting people, housing and jobs in the Northern California Megaregion and providing much-needed congestion relief in one of the Bay Areas most congested corridors.

Valley Link will extend initially from the planned ACE N Lathrop Station in the San Joaquin Valley through the Altamont Pass, then readily connect with the Dublin/Pleasanton BART terminus station in the Tri-Valley, with additional phase one stations in River Islands, Downtown Tracy, Mountain House, Greenville Rd/I-580 in Livermore, and Isabel Ave/I-580 in Livermore.  Additional potential infill stations include Ellis Historical in Tracy, Grant Line Rd in Alameda County west of Tracy, and South Front in Livermore. An initial analysis completed by the Altamont Corridor Express (ACE), found Valley Link to have competitive travel time (73 minutes from planned ACE N Lathrop Station to BART), significant emissions reduction, and significant environmental benefits. Initial travel demand forecasting shows approximately 25,000 riders per day on Valley Link in 2040.

In addition, Valley Link had a capital cost of under $400 million for the segment of the planned Mountain House Station to the planned Greenville Road Station in Livermore – the project segment not addressed in the BART environmental review and now proposed for immediate further environmental review. This segment includes an operations, maintenance, and storage facility in West Tracy near the Mountain House Station.

While the goal is to operate BART hours of operation and frequency, current plans for initial service levels on weekdays in the Tri-Valley will have trains operating every 12 minutes during peak hours to match BART service frequency.  In the off peak trains in the Tri-Valley will operate every 30 minutes.  From the San Joaquin Valley trains would operate on 24 minute service intervals during peak hours that will meet every other BART train.  In the off peak trains in San Joaquin Valley will operate on an hourly frequency.   Trains will operate from 5am to 8pm both weekdays and weekends. Peak hours will be 5am to 8am and 5pm to 8pm on weekdays. 

​This vital rail connection provides a highly economic way to close a significant passenger rail gap, but in addition, it will improve the overall mobility in this key freight movement corridor between the San Joaquin Valley and the Port of Oakland.”

“J’ACCUSE: AMTRAK’S BOARD OF DIRECTORS”

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Unable to Explain the Plethora of Issues Creating Amtrak’s Raison d’être–to Fail

By M.E. Singer/Rail Provocateur 

As they say in the media, “staying on angle” here is the basic premise of J’Accuse Amtrak’s Board of Directors: What we should have concluded by now, absent competent corporate leadership as experienced under Claytor and Gunn, is the unredeemable fact that these Board members are simple proponents of circular reasoning, given the empirical evidence of how they adhere to “The Peter Principle”--and tolerate the effectiveness of that principle within their corporate, executive, and senior management ranks.

I fervently believe how Amtrak’s problems today can be laid directly at the feet of a Board so thoroughly conflicted due to their overt lack of experience, expertise, and appropriate focus. “Unmasking” the current Board evidences a lack of fidelity in their approach to the National Network by emulating the Luddites in their persistent attacks upon that network they continuously ignore, and starve for resources. This is due to the Board’s exclusive focus on developing real estate opportunities on the Northeast Corridor initiated by its long-term Chair, Anthony Coscia, as so not too obviously encouraged by Senator Schumer (D-NY). Given this self-serving environment, the only Board member with integrity left after but one term to preserve her integrity–Yvonne Brathwaite Burke (from California local and state politics; ex-congresswoman.)

Consequently, the credentials of the remaining current Board members is a testimony to the vapid vacuum plaguing Amtrak, including:

  • Anthony Coscia: NJ resident; appointed 2010 by President Obama; Chair of Amtrak Audit/Finance Committee since 2011; Board Chair since 2013; former Board Chair Port Authority New York New Jersey (PANYNJ); background in re-development finance; attorney.
  • Christopher Beall: NY resident; appointed 2013 by President Obama; background investment banking/finance; Koch Industries (historically anti-rail).
  • Thomas Carper: IL resident; appointed 2008 by President Bush; Board Chair 2008-2013; re-appointed to Board by President Obama 2013; ex-mayor of McComb, IL; small business owner (tavern).

Piling on top of these primarily Northeastern Board members, as they say in business, “the fish rots from the head,” as evidenced how the quality of Board members has continued to deteriorate over the years, until recently becoming nothing more than a parking zone to fill the obvious vacuum with political hacks, including two former congressmen who had voted several times against funding Amtrak. Frankly, does anybody think a major U.S. legacy airline would have Board nominees who had proposed any action inimical to that carrier, such as the re-regulation of the industry, extending take-off slot caps, or any other matter to the economic detriment of that for profit commercial airline? In comparison, this deterioration of Amtrak’s Board is now confirmed by the evidence of the current nominees before the Senate as proposed by President Trump, despite their lack of requisite credentials to to deploy their experience as effective stewards of Amtrak. These nominees include:

  • Lyn Westmoreland: ex-congressman from Georgia; voted against funding Amtrak twice.
  • Todd Rokita: ex-congressman from Indiana; voted against funding Amtrak.
  • Joseph Grueters: CPA from Florida; 2016 GOP election volunteer.
  • Rick Dearborn: career as Capitol Hill and White hOuse staffer from Oklahoma; congressional liaison for the Heritage Foundation (anti-Amtrak).

Why did Congress tolerate for so long the persistent deterioration of the credentials of Board nominees and appointees; today, so far from Amtrak’s enabling legislation that explicitly required appointees to evidence a high degree of competency and experience relevant to serve Amtrak? What Amtrak has consistently been deprived of in terms of relevant experience in a Board nominee/member has been in: rail operations, food/beverage service  human resources  labor relations; union negotiations/contracts; marketing/branding/positioning; strategy/strategic planning; accounting; customer experience; product development. Real estate development is not even in the top ten needs of Amtrak. These functional areas have never changed, and represent the essence of what Amtrak desperately required from its Board–to enjoy the benefits of successful stewardship; to ensure the legitimacy of transparency; to have the knowledge to insist upon full accountability. Instead, the dearth of requisite competency and qualifications of Amtrak’s Board has created a “perfect storm” against the National Network as best explained by Muhammed Ali: “What are the chances? Slim and none; and slim just left town.”

A panoply of non-fulfillment, flops, and negligence at Amtrak, particularly since the departure of CEO Claytor, is a direct result of an uninvolved  unknowledgeable, and totally politicized Board serving its own self interests, or, those its their political patrons. Recent examples include:

Real Estate-Endless Conflict-of Interest Issues:

Why is it tolerated that the singular focus of Board Chair Coscia is his interest (as a Northeastern real estate developer) to eagerly pursue the Hudson Yards and Sunnyside Yards development projects, with Senator Schumer in tow? Interestingly, notice how contrary to the active political and Board interest in such development opportunities on the Northeast Corridor, is how exasperatingly slow any development around Chicago Union Station has been (as it is obviously not a priority).

Indeed, the only “active” actions pertaining to real estate is a history of Amtrak’s illegal actions over the control of depots at the expense of the dominant local commuter lines. We factually know how in the middle of the night Amtrak has surreptitiously demanded exclusive control of Washington Union Station at the expense of Virginia Railway Express; now to manipulate long-standing contracts to achieve exclusive control over Chicago Union Station at the expense of METRA. For Philadelphia’s SEPTA commuter line, Amtrak has sought to strangle that operator over costs for electricity, access to infrastructure, and depots. This is quite relevant for the California JPAs in terms of what Amtrak could seek to manipulate.

“Southwest Chief”-A Three Dimensional Saga:

1) Infrastructure

When the BNSF notified Amtrak several years ago it would no longe maintain its own track infrastructure to passenger standards between Dodge City, KS-Albuquerque, NM, as #3 and #4 were the sole user, Amtrak’s Board Chair refused to make the necessary investment (perhaps too far from the NEC..?) With superb reaction on a timely basis by local rail groups in Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico, agreement was achieved with these states and their municipalities to seek TIGER grants. Amtrak agreed to the formula; even BNSF contributed and promised to maintain the infrastructure to passenger standards for the next 20 years, as the states understood how the daily “Chief” was the lifeblood serving numerous multi-markets without any alternative transportation; a consistently acknowledged common thread of the long distance trains. However, Amtrak balked to purse an unforced error and walked from its commitment to the detriment of those states. Amtrak attempted to fog the issue by declaring a need for PTC on a route segment in New Mexico, despite the FRA providing a variance that deemed it unnecessary. Too bad the senators from the impacted states did not take immediate action to thwart funding of projects on the Northeast Corridor.

2) Bus Substitution:

Apparently, the Amtrak team of Anderson/Gardner blessed by Coscia, abrogated their financial commitment when they pulled out fo the shadows a proposal to substitute a bus along the route in question (Dodge City-Albuquerque), in total disregard of that being a much longer and very uncomfortable journey, let alone so hazardous during the six months of winter. This new model was based upon the Board acceptance of Amtrak’s persistent “smoke and mirrors” to massage numbers and data to perfect its intended GIGO approach (IT talk for “garbage in, garbage out”) to the long distance routes by falsely claiming massive deficits incurred by the “Chief.”

By studiously applying lessons from how the Southern Pacific (SP) infamously turned against its passenger trains in the 1960s, Amtrak’s Board took that lesson further to realize how a bus substitute would serve to fast track the killing of the“Chief.” If successful, such a template of willful self-destruction would be applied to the other “deplorable” long distance routes. Surely, the Board thought that rather than facing the wrath of Congress losing its sole train by simply discontinuing the route, instead, a slow bleeding to death with a bus would be preferable; certainly satisfy the cost concerns of Congress stoked by Senator Schumer. What the Board did not realize is how members of Congress form the three impacted states rose-up in protest, forcing Amtrak to (temporarily) back down. Apparently, Amtrak assumed from recent experience working the edges from the SP playbook by downgrading on-board food/beverage services on the “Silver Star, Capitol Limited, and Lake Shore Limited,” deliberate inventory stock-outs (’86”), etc. that no reaction from Congress could be interpreted to keep attacking the long distance routes.

3) Concomitantly Refusing to Fulfill Its Promise to Help Finance Infrastructure Repairs, Amtrak Encourages a Stub Train:

Despite these willful, deliberate actions to see how far Amtrak can go before Congress pulls on its reins, Amtrak has been working with the towns of LaJunta and Pueblo, and the state of Colorado, to determine the feasibility of serving Pueblo from LaJunta. In its current context, such a concept will never reach fruition. Nothing makes economic sense, including:

Amtrak doesn’t not have enough Superliners now to meet travel demand, let alone to run a coach and sleeper in the consists of the “Chief” to be switched off/on westbound/eastbound “Chiefs” for the short run to/from Pueblo from LaJunta. Amtrak does not even have a switch engine based at LaJunta; at what cost could it even procure one from BNSF; or, would Amtrak propose requiring the “Chief’s” T&E crew to uncouple/couple cars and power?

Of course, to date, neither the towns or media have acknowledged, nor indulged in discussing, the extraordinary high cost to set-up and run any piece of such a service, given the cost demands of PRIIA, built-up by Amtrak’s free hand to determine what full cost allocation would be.

Obviously, no Amtrak Board member has read a map and looked at the history of the proposed route to properly guide Colorado. The Santa Fe used to operate a “Little Chief” meeting from Chicago and Los Angeles both westbound/eastbound “Super Chief”/”El Capitan” at La Junta; running a separate stub train of coaches thru Pueblo and Colorado Springs to Denver. (I actually took this train in April, 1967 from Colorado Springs to Denver to meet the eastbound “California Zephyr”). Instead of a very uneconomical short route to Pueblo, the historic service all the way to Colorado Springs; preferably, Denver, is the only viable proposal.

In essence, Amtrak’s Board has consistently not been honest about the “Southwest Chief”, whether about fulfilling its commitment to invest towards infrastructure renewal, playing a “shell game” with bus substitutions along the same route, or, misleading Colorado towns over the viability of a short route from nowhere to nowhere.

A “False Flag” to Congress by the Board-Proposing Profitable State Corridors to Replace Deficit Long Distance Routes:

Ironically, the “Southwest Chief” issue plays right into the overall master plan of Amtrak. Although state treasurers and auditors still have to connect the dots to appreciate how PRIIA was enacted to subsidize the Northeast Corridor at the expense of those states not between Boston-Washington, what makes Amtrak so confident that any state would be eager to pay Amtrak at its full “rack rate” for any new route under 750 miles? What state would exchange its federally paid long distance route for bus substitutions?

Between signing off on the dissolution of the long distance routes by proposing short corridors, with a plan totally predicated on favorable relations with the Class 1s, what Kool-Aid did Amtrak’s Board drink? How knowledgeable is Amtrak’s Board on the advent of Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR) that runs elongated freights with no sidings capable of holding them to allow passenger trains running at a different velocity to overcome at speed? Just look at what happened to VIA’s “The Canadian” operating in that new environment, where another 36+ hours have been added to the schedule  to no avail. But that’s not even the primary issue between Amtrak as a tenant on the privately-owned infrastructure of the Class 1s, given Amtrak’s persistence responding to a basic economic issue by taking a position of litigation, backed up by “Uncle Sam.” So much for the friendly tenant to fight over OTP while totally ignoring the equally aggrieved position of the Class 1s to recognize the market value today of track access and timely dispatching. Time for the FRA to mentor Amtrak to recognize much has changed from 1971.

Amazing how the Board allows Amtrak to project a new strategy to entangle itself with Congress, before even doing its homework, such as, how the significant labor severance/benefits will be funded; where the equipment pool will come from; how will the free-standing corridors thrive without benefit of connecting to a National Network.

Marketing-A Series of Dichotomies Approved By An Unknowledgeable Board:

What part of advertising trains to national parks does the Board not appreciate when it is concomitantly driving a single theme what money losers the long distance routes are, and as a result, requiring less than daily frequencies, discontinuances, or bus substitutions (see Amtrak ad below)?

Reply-To: promotions@amtrakvacations.com received 6.12.19

Even more pathetically evidencing the impact of a Board not tuned in or sensitive to revenue centers, but just marking time, is the third sale on sleeper space just since May, 2018 (see below). This latest sale Amtrak announced in early June, 2019, unbelievably indicates its intent of unloading already limited sleeper inventory (e.g., roomettes and bedrooms) during multiple peak seasons (e.g., Summer, Thanksgiving, Christmas/New Year’s, Spring).

What could be the rationale approved by the Board other than is the space no longer at a premium given Amtrak’s one successful marketing campaign to thrash the long distance trains, with the idea of taking this now upside down business model to Congress to indicate how the long distance routes are failing economically?

From: “Amtrak” <amtrak@e-mail.amtrak.com>
Subject: Ends today: Save on select sleeping accommodations. Date: June 10, 2019 at 10:48:51 AM CDT

What Strategy Is The Board Driving/What Is The End Game? Adios to “National Or Nothing”
Given the above examples, it is eminently obvious the object of Amtrak’s Board, led by Anthony Coscia since 2013 (a member since 2010), is a slow, but steady self-immolation of Amtrak, America’s former national passenger rail system. Under the Board’s direction, the federal funding for the National Network continues to be re-directed towards subsidizing the deficits of the Northeast Corridor; PRIIA was weaponized to layoff Northeast Corridor costs on state- supported routes, as well as to bury in the long distance sector accounting; Anderson was brought in as CEO to do the Board’s bidding, while management ranks of the few remaining experienced people thinned out through incessant lay-offs/buy-outs.

Clearly, the Board’s lack of focus and competency in directing Amtrak is evidenced by the emphasis on cost cutting as the basis for management bonus. What ever happened to building the business, increasing revenues and profitability? Also, why has Coscia remained silent on the outrageous appointments of the past four proposed Board members lacking any requisite experience, other than in his knowledge how he could easily control and direct them?

Where has the voice of Amtrak’s Board been given so many egregious examples of waste in the Essential Air Program, other than the fact that the biggest culprits are in Senator Schumer’s upstate towns of New York? This self-destruction model of governance continues to pass by a Congress mostly composed of wealthy attorneys who don’t question the obvious foibles of Amtrak, until the one daily train through their rural towns is threatened.

When we learn about the “Southwest Chief” case, the killing off of long distance routes, and the subordination of the National Network to the NEC, it shall be quite important for the FRA to determine why Amtrak elected not to charge and collect from the Northeastern commuter lines for their far heavier use of the Corridor from when it was legislated in PRIIA (2008). Why was this basic accounting not even implemented until finally being mandated by Congress in December, 2015? What was the rationale behind the free ride all those years in parallel to not charging those same states for Amtrak’s intercity services along the Corridor?

Where was the OIG and the external accounting agency failing in their curiosity not to identify this financial deficiency; how it obviously contributed to Amtrak’s re-directing more national system funding to subsidize the Corridor? Indeed, where was the Board and its own finance committee not to question and verify receipt of such payments; or, once aware, to take corrective action before being required by Congress? Interestingly, the current Board Chair was also chairman of the finance and audit committee since 2011. Also, did Amtrak ever collect those payments in arrears from 2008?

Contrary to Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) staking out a position of “national or nothing,” we find Coscia and Schumer updating that philosophy to, “Northeast Corridor and nothing!” This explains the end game.

What is Going On With SANDAG And San Diego’s Grand Central Station?

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By Noel T, Braymer

SANDAG, the San Diego Association of Governments is the planning agency for San Diego County. It is also undergoing a major transformation. Late last year it hired a new Executive Director, Hasan Ikhrata. Mr. Ikhrata had been Executive Director for the Southern California Association of Government (SCAG) which is the planning agency of all Southern California Counties except San Diego County. Mr. Ikhrata took over on December 3rd 2018 from his predecessor who “retired” in August 2017. Under Ikharta’s predecessor, SANDAG had miscalculated the revenue generation of the local County transportation sale tax which was lower than what had been predicted which will lead to revenue shortfalls for several major planned transportation projects in the county. This information was covered up just before the 2016 elections which included Measure A which would have added an additional half cent sale tax for transportation projects for 40 years. While Measure A received a majority of the votes, it failed to pass due to failing to win the required 2/3’s majority needed for a tax increase. Mr. Ikharta’s predecessor also failed to produce a transportation plan which would result in the county meeting State wide required reductions in Greenhouse Gas Emissions. Recently the 3 top staffer’s at SANDAG that Mr. Ikharta inherited from his predecessor were fired.

SANDAG is now working on a new transportation plan which it can afford, and which will also put the County in compliance with the State’s guidelines for reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions. Called the 5 Big Moves, the planning so far is preliminary and vague. What it will boil down to is getting more people to ride share and take more alternatives to private autos with increased use of trains, transit, bikes, scooters and walking. The first of the Big 5 is called Complete Corridors. What this will boil down to is multiple use of existing rights of way. This can include giving transit priority on existing roads or rights of way. Also building bikeways on existing rights of ways such as rail rights of ways. This is from SANDAG: “The basic idea of a Complete Corridor revolves around providing a variety of travel choices and then using technology to increase efficiency to balance use of the roadway network. The backbone of a multimodal transportation system is smart and connected highways and major roads that are managed in real-time to ensure people and goods move efficiently and safely. Locally, Complete Corridors provide dedicated space for cars, transit, shared mobility, bikes and pedestrians, commercial vehicles, and other Flexible Fleets.” 

The Second of the 5 Big Moves is the Transit Leap. According to SANDAG “The Transit Leap will create a complete network of high-speed and high-capacity transit services that connect the region’s major residential and employment centers and regional attractions. These connections will be made at Mobility Hubs with links to supporting networks of transportation routes and services. New high-speed services covering longer distances with limited stops may be separated from vehicle traffic by a combination of bridges, tunnels, or dedicated lanes. Improvements and enhancements to existing transit services – such as the Trolley, COASTER, SPRINTER, and Rapid – could include double and triple tracking the rail lines, more frequent service, fixed guideways, dedicated lanes, and signal priorities to keep transit moving quickly.”

The Third of the 5 Big Moves are Mobility Hubs which are “places of connectivity where different modes of travel – walking, biking, transit, and shared mobility – seamlessly converge. These hubs are located where there is a concentration of employment, housing, shopping, and/or recreation. They provide an integrated suite of mobility services, amenities, and technologies to bridge the distance between high-frequency transit and an individual’s origin or destination. Mobility Hubs are places of connectivity where different modes of travel – walking, biking, transit, and shared mobility – seamlessly converge.”

Number 4 of the 5 Big Moves are Flexible Fleets“Flexible Fleets build upon the popularity and success of shared mobility services like on-demand rideshare, bikeshare, and scooters. These fleets provide personalized transportation through shared vehicles available 24/7 for different types of trips, which can reduce the need to own a car. They also provide important connections to and from high-speed transit to key destinations like work or home, making it easier for some commuters to choose transit. In the future, Flexible Fleets combined with transit could be available on a subscription basis, allowing people to plan, book, and pay for all trips across all modes in one place.”

Last at #5 is“The Next Operating System (OS) , the “brain” of the entire transportation system. It connects and integrates different modes of transportation – passenger vehicles, buses, ride-sharing vehicles, delivery trucks, autonomous vehicles, bikes and scooters, and more – to improve overall efficiency and accessibility for people and goods to move throughout the region. The Next OS is a digital platform that will connect transportation infrastructure to provide a real-time view of supply and demand. This coordinated transportation network will enable people to move around the region with more sustainable and lower cost travel options.”

The main thrust of current SANDAG planning is what is being called “San Diego’s Grand Central Station.” What is being looked at now is to expand the  Old Town Transit Center. The  Old Town Transit center is near the San Diego Airport and not far from downtown. Already the Old Town Transit center is a stop for several bus lines, Coaster and Amtrak Surfliner Trains and the Green Line of the San Diego Trolley. By 2021 the Blue Line of the San Diego Trolley will be extended 11 miles north of  Old Town to UCSD and University City area near La Jolla. Soon there after increased frequencies of Coaster and Surfliner trains are also expected. What is being looked at is redeveloping Navy owned land right next to the Old Town Transit Center. Called NAVWAR, it is home of the Navy’s Cyberwarfare. The 70 acre property includes the last remaining buildings from World War 2 of the Consolidated Aircraft factories used for building the B-24 and PBY Flyingboat. Any deal in redeveloping this land includes building new facilities for NAVWAR. Also being looked at is 10,000 new housing units and 10 million square feet of new office space. This according to Voice of San Diego as of July 10, 2019.

Screenshot 2019-07-31 at 12.21.57 PM

This is a Google View of the Old Town part of San Diego. The 3 large buildings just south of Old Town are the Navy’s Cyberwar facility for NAVWAR.

What has been talked about at Old Town is running new electric buses shuttles in the near future to the terminals of the airport. There have also been discussion of extending Trolley service to the airport terminals off of Harbor Drive. Also in the planning between Old Town and downtown are bike lanes and improved sidewalks to encourage walking in the area. This will likely if it gets approved  be the template for other “Mobility Hubs” and expanded Flexible Fleets. No doubt there will be a learning curve to get more people and fewer cars on the roads of San Diego County with more people using rideshares, walking or riding bikes and scooter for connections with rail and bus transit.

2:43 AM on board the Sunset Limited…and more good, bad, ugly

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Trip Report and Commentary by Russ Jackson

We have just returned from our semi-annual round trip on Amtrak’s Texas Eagle/Sunset Limited from Ft. Worth Central Station to Los Angeles Union Station.  And, what a summer trip it was!  Every Amtrak trip is an adventure, with something new always appearing; this one was no exception.

The “good” to report involves the On Board Services of the Sunset Limited, and the Texas Eagle one way.  Outstanding!  The Sunset Limited sleeping car attendant on both trains 1 and 2, Cyndy, was, and is, the example of what all Amtrak employees should strive to be.  She knows what they are there for, and she comes to the passenger to see what they need AND when they need it, and is AVAILABLE.  We have noticed on recent trips that the quality of OBS is excellent, and we were pleased to learn as did other fellow passengers that it is continuing in spite of the pressure the employees are under not knowing what the future of the long distance trains is going to be.  On our cars on 421 and 422 the food quality was as good as ever, even though the menu doesn’t change.  I still like the steak, the scrambled eggs, and the Angus cheeseburger.  They are always prepared to order, and delivery to our room was on time.  I heard no complaints from other passengers about the Dining Car crews or service!

Unfortunately, the “bad” must be reported.  It started at the Ft. Worth station.  We arrived early, about 1:20 PM, knowing that train 21 was running late.  We had an email from Amtrak to let us know “that train #0421 scheduled to depart Fort Worth, Texas on Wednesday, July 17th, has been delayed.  The estimated arrival time is now 3:00pm, but trains can make up time during travel….etc.”  That was transmitted to us at 11:08 AM before we left home, and was much appreciated.  Then, whoops, came another at 12:08 saying arrival would be 3:13.  OK, then at 1:08 while we were enroute to the station,  it would be arriving at 3:46.  After we arrived at the station and took seats on the hard wooden benches in the waiting room, the next message was at 2:30 saying 4:13; at 3:30 it would be 4:08 (but this one came to my wife’s phone).  At 4:00 they said it would be 4:32, but this one came after we had moved out to the platform in 95 degree Texas heat.  The PA from the office then announced that the northbound train 22, arriving very late, would arrive in the station first because otherwise both trains would be there at the same time.  Naturally, the 22 arrived and departed, but 21 did not (it was trapped with the arrivals of TRE and TexRail services) and we continued to sweat it out on the platform along with all of the other passengers.  The last message came at 5:00 saying it would arrive at 5:02.  The train showed up at 6:00.  By then we were all hot and tired, but cheerfully boarded.  Actual departure for us was at 7:05, because two cars from the Heartland Flyer had to be transferred to our trainset bound for San Antonio.

When checking in with the Eagle’s conductor and male car attendant we learned that we had been switched from bedroom D to B, which was ok as both are identical.  Whoever was in D was ticketed to Alpine, Texas, and that room would then be empty for the remainder of our trip (he was supposed to be in B).  Arrival in San Antonio for the loud bang-bang switch of cars was quite late, as was our departure west as the last car on the Sunset Limited.  The “bad” continued. . . the title of this writing may give you a hint.  When the new on board crew boarded in Maricopa they were not told of our change of rooms.  So, as they do, they checked the rooms and who was destined where, and finding that room B was supposed to be empty, they investigated…at 2:43 in the morning near Yuma.  That investigation consisted of BANG BANG BANG BANG on our bedroom door, and when we awoke enough to answer the knocks, we were asked why we were in there.  It took a few minutes to solve that, got an “apology” from the two conductors, and naturally I was awake to see the reconstruction of the Yuma station and other things I usually sleep through out there.  An unusual event at Palm Springs, though, as after passengers were served the train reversed a mile back to the main line before continuing to LA.  Arrival in LAUS was 2 1/2 hours late, which is better than the scheduled 5:30 AM, so no complaints there.  Cyndy was on duty to help us onto the Red Cap tram and say goodbye to all of her passengers.  We were happy to learn she would be our attendant on our return trip!

When we returned to LAUS we got to visit with two old friends, RailPAC’s VP James Smith and E-Newsletter editor Noel Braymer.  Naturally, the conversation turned to the current state of affairs at Amtrak corporate HQ.  The consensus of our conversation was that the Anderson-Gardner leadership has “learned” from what the Southern Pacific did in the 1960s to discourage long distance train riders…the drip-drip-drip removal of the experiences that make train travel a great way to travel.  While most of those changes are now taking place on the eastern long distance trains, (box meals on all of them by October, for example), what is next?  Rumors were flying that the Texas Eagle will be one of the trains losing its Diner-Lounge car when food service is changed in the East this Fall.  They are even tinkering with the Auto Train!

Now for the “ugly” . . . Departure of train 2/422 from LAUS was 33 minutes late, as the trainset did not arrive on the platform until after 10:00, which was an uncomfortable wait for the passengers who were sent out to the platform by 9:15.  That was an ominous start to the trip. Cyndy greeted us warmly, and was pleased to see James Smith was with us as he has traveled with her many times!  We were nearly on time through Arizona, but then it began.  About 20 miles west of Deming, New Mexico, the train came to a halt which lasted 3 1/2 hours.  The conductors kept us informed of their progress talking to Union Pacific officials.  Because of the lateness, the next on board crew changed at Deming (the Amshack there has been painted Amtrak blue, by the way, as has Benson, AZ.)  We later learned that this delay may have been due to a hazmat issue on a UP freight train.  Underway from El Paso was 4 hours 8 minutes late.  But, what happened overnight between there and Alpine?  At 11:27 PM MT I awoke to find our eastbound train was sitting in the Tornillo,Texas siding, and watched while three westbound UP freight trains passed by followed at 12:29 by us reversing out of that siding and resuming travel.  Departure from Alpine was 8 hours 33 minutes late.  Whatever happened during the night that lost 4 more hours we never learned, but obviously there had been debate between Amtrak and the UP.

More “ugly:”  Arrival in Del Rio was 8 hours 37 minutes late.  The UP then informed our crew that there were two incidents ahead, including a tie fire, which was quickly extinguished, and then a broken rail.  We waited for 50 minutes at MP 354 while that rail was repaired; then there was a stop at 11:17 AM for a crew change two hours from San Antonio where we arrived to the expected news that train 22 had departed north and we would be bused to Ft. Worth.  We said a sad farewell to Cyndy, who made sure all of us were on the correct buses (two carried passengers going past Dallas which met the 22 at Longview to go on to Chicago).  Arrival back at the Ft. Worth Central Station was at 9:00 PM after stops at Austin, Temple, Waco (driver’s dinner) and Cleburne, and “enjoying” the Friday night traffic on Interstate 35.  There was indeed good, bad, and ugly this time, but would we travel Amtrak again?  Of course, after our history of doing so since 1971 (and the Santa Fe before that) we won’t change now, unlike a passenger we talked to on the El Paso platform who declared it was his first and last trip in that he had been bused on his westbound trip.  Then when he later found he was going to be bused again from San Antonio it must have cemented it.  Timekeeping on all the western long distance trains this summer has been horrible and discouraging to all with the possible exception of the Anderson-Gardner regime at Amtrak HQ.  Are they, the UP, and the national administration in cahoots (collusion) to return to the 1960s?  We have to work even harder than the past and hope the support of the U.S. Congress continues for “us” in flyover country.