What Is Good Rail Passenger Service?


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By Noel T, Braymer

Good service runs the gambit from basic to extraordinary. At its most basic level, rail passenger service should pick up people near where they are and take them where they want to go, when they want to go and bring them back when and where they want. We have a long way to go to fulfill that basic level of service in this Country. Las Vegas, Phoenix, Nashville,Louisville and Columbus are all major cities without rail passenger service. As of now Palm Springs, Tucson and Houston have rail passenger service: 3 times a week. To get more people to ride the train, you need to provide rail service when and where people want to travel. If a person needs to be somewhere by 9 AM and the nearest a train arrives is at 9:15 AM, train travel is not a viable option.

Frequent rail service is the best way to serve the most people at times they want to travel. Not only do passengers want a train to arrive at the time they want, but also to leave at the best time as well. It has been noticed for some time that running trains late at night while not carrying many passengers, assure passengers they won’t be stranded if they miss their preferred train. When late night trains have been cut to save money in the past, ridership on the other night trains dropped. When frequencies are increased on a rail service, ridership often goes up. But when service is cut back, ridership often falls more than expected. For long distance trains daily service is the minimum service that should be expected. Less than daily service doesn’t save money because overhead cost are generally the same for both but revenues are lower with less than daily service compared to daily service. Three daily trains is optimum service on most long distance routes, while for regional services frequencies depend on the needs of the market.

Of course frequent service doesn’t work if the trains are not on time or aren’t running at all. The Capitol Corridors service has frequent service running between San Jose-Sacramento with the best on-time performance of any train on Amtrak. It also has some of the shortest scheduled station stops and faster running times than most Amtrak trains. The Capitol Corridor’s secret to their success is simple. They spend extra money upgrading the tracks their trains run on and pay attention to the maintenance of the trains they run. The Capitol Corridor Joint Power Agency which oversees the Capitol Corridor service pays the Union Pacific extra money to maintain the tracks their trains run on to a high level. The State of California owns the train equipment used on the Capitol Corridor and San Joaquin Trains. Amtrak is under contract to repair and maintain this equipment. But the Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Agency has a major oversight role insuring these trains are maintained and in good shape. Good maintenance prevent problems for the trains that cause delays and breakdowns.

A common problem, at least in this county on trains are problems with heating, air conditioning and toilets. Even if your train is going when and where you want to go, its not much of a service if the car is too hot, too cold or the toilets are not working. Many of these problems go back to poor preventive maintenance for trains in this country. Often with Amtrak, it is the lack of communications between departments. Often problems with equipment are reported repeatedly by on board crews, only to be ignored at the yard and have the equipment put back in service without fixing the problems time and time again.

When people travel, particularly by train one size doesn’t fit all. For some people the trip is as important, if not more important than the destination. Ships, planes and trains have long offered different classes of services for those willing to pay more for more room, quieter spaces and more personal service. This is good business because this increases revenues for passenger services when done right. Premium service usually include larger, more comfortable seating and easier access to food service. Often these includes more personal service with attendants. A major part of premium service is enhanced food service. Eating at restaurants is as much or more about presentation and entertainment as nutrition. Even McDonald’s and many other fast food places often offer playgrounds to entice their younger customers to eat there with their parents and offer toys with their meals. Atmosphere at popular and successful restaurants is at least if not more important as the food that is served. So it needs to be for successful food service on trains.

Recently I found on YouTube a three minute video called “Experience the Refurbished Enterprise Train”. It was in fact a 3 minute commercial for the train service in Ireland between Dublin and Belfast. This train runs roughly the same distance as between Los Angeles and San Diego and serves an Island with a population of just over 6 million people. This is about the population of Orange and San Diego Counties combined. The point of this video was to show the improved service for this relaunched service in 2015 staring with a complete overhauls of the 1997 trainsets with a new paint scheme, redone interiors, improved electronic on-board signage and more. A major point of this video was the high level of service for a train with many business travelers. Much of this centered around improved food service. This included a full meal service dining car with meals brought to your table. The video included a scene of a chief preparing meals on the train. This for a service with a running time of 2 hours and 15 minutes. It would be difficult to find anything close to this for rail corridor service anywhere in this country. Most of the week the Irish Enterprise train service runs 8 trains a day. There is discussion of expanding this to hourly service.

For Long Distance Rail Passenger service, this country still has some of the longest routes in the World. Food service on these trains is a necessity, not an option. This is particularly true of sleeping car passengers. Sleeping car passengers often travel longer distances and transfer between trains. A major attraction for train travel for sleeping car passengers is to enjoy high levels of passenger service. Also when spending 2 to 3 days and nights at a time on a train for up to 8 or 9 meals, the food can get monotonous without variety on the menu between trains. Food service on Long Distance Trains in this country was rarely expected to make money by itself in the past. But high standards of food service was central to the railroads in the past to attract high end passengers to 1st class service and in general to give an excellent public image of the railroads to the general population.



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By Mark E. Singer 

Dissecting  The Lack Of Accountability To Build A Service-Oriented Environment Embracing Environment Embracing Revenue Enhancement

Amtrak OBS in the 21st Century: ‘Back to the Future’ Embracing the Penn Central Template

The one inarguable fact depicting the incessant crisis at Amtrak is the long ignored reality of how the only consistency in on-board services (OBS) is the inevitable inconsistency, particularly in the long distance routes dining and lounge services.

To appreciate the gravity of this situation requires dissecting the influencing factors at Amtrak that have caused OBS to “jump the tracks” into its present death spiral. Despite being a key consumer-facing component impacting customer experience, how did OBS in the long distance diners and lounges become such a toxic culture, with many of the new hires and current employees seriously lacking the cultural fit embracing attitude and service?

Can these accumulated issues be attributed to the subpar products offered? Labor relations requiring contract re-negotiations? Tuning up management to the realities of 21st century employee relations? Re-introducing en route supervision as once provided by the Train Chief?

This service and attitude issue extends well beyond the excuse of dismissing how Amtrak’s environment was poisoned from the beginning by inheriting the problematic yards of Penn Central at Sunnyside (NYC) and 14th Street (CHI), and SP’s Oakland yard. My concern is how the overall forces of influence on OBS at Amtrak are so disparate and operating as ‘fire-walled’ political entities within their own realm, even to the extent of working under different performance measurements and data to determine their success-and apparently, bonus. Consequently, there is no overall gatekeeper having any meaningful input and follow through for corrective action; or, to change direction to excel. Progress is inhibited.

With this perspective of no unified approach towards OBS, the question begs who actually is responsible for setting the expectations, if any, of OBS? Given such an excessive top heavy organization under the recently departed CEO, who and at what levels of authority are accountable for carrying out those expectations for OBS? Indeed, was that even succinctly spelled out, if an organization chart actually exists? Judging by the obvious how these different areas were never linked supports the perspective that Human Capital/Talent Acquisition, OBS line operation hiring management, and food/beverage services run their own, distinct part of the business; communicating, if ever, within their Tower of Babel.

I. Human Capital (HC)/Talent Acquisition (TA): The High Cost of Excessive Intervention and Time Wasted

What used to be simply called Human Resources to function an in-house supporting department, has apparently established its own algorithms set to its fancier nomenclature of “HC/TA.” Rather than merely functioning to initially, and expeditiously, screen the OBS applicants to present to the OBS hiring manager who should be directly responsible for the hiring decision, HC/TA is far too involved in the hiring process.
Why does this persist when back in 1970, Robert Townsend authored Up the Organization, vividly elaborating how “HR screens out the best applicants and does not know what senior management wants?” Ironically, to what extent is HC/TA, whether in-house or outsourced, intimately familiar with railroad and Amtrak history and culture, to even accurately provide input on job descriptions?

As a consequence, from the beginning, the responsibility for a successful orientation and training of the new OBS employee falls into a void. If the hiring OBS operations management invests the time upfront by inserting itself into the HC/TA process to interview and select candidates, then Amtrak would not waste so much time disciplining, suspending, and terminating people, just to repeat the process. Typically, operations management bonus is not dependent upon this, or diluted; therefore, the significant cost in dollars and time for the recruitment, orientation, and termination cycle is not appreciated. Yet, these are hard dollar costs to be saved.

Accordingly, where in this process between HC/TA and OBS is the accountability to ensure the best possible candidates are selected? To what extent does nepotism dilute this process? How accurate is the required cultural trait exam?

At what point during the orientation and training; whose responsibility; how is this documented and verified to evidence new hires immersed in the requisite knowledge and tools to succeed?

Where in this process does Amtrak Inculcate and persistently address the new hire with the history and culture of the railroad industry and Amtrak?

How and when is it emphasized and persistently addressed on the importance of a correct attitude towards “service” (as was historically consistently achieved on the Santa Fe)?

What is done to identify, encourage, and support consistently favorable employee morale; to work as a team?

On a personal note, in 1974, when I was in executive management at UCLA/County of Los Angeles Harbor General Hospital, to overcome the debilitating environment of low morale and how it was correlated to poor customer experiences, I brought into this county teaching hospital Trans World Airlines (TWA) training unit to instill in the clerical staff in the many medical departments, nursing units, and clinics how they were viewed as the front portal to the hospital. That importance was not lost on the growing awareness of how patients were becoming consumers with a choice where to go for their hospital care.

As morale and self-image are critical factors, typically sacrificed between the unions and Amtrak’s “cardboard suits,” why has Amtrak not solicited professional input from the airlines evidencing success in this critical area? Or, is this just due to HC/TA unwilling to admit its hiring people with a “county mentality:” people anathema to the concept of good service, working as a team?
At what point in the orientation and training program is Amtrak’s organization chart competently explained; the chain-of-command for OBS directly into the CEO; as well as the relationship of OBS to food/beverage services to report issues, make suggestions, etc? Also relevant is when and how it is described how supervision and the responsible positions en route work together, e.g., relationship to the “captain of the train-the conductor? In conjunction, who and at what point are the union work rules explained and how that contract agreement either supersedes, is subordinate to, or flows into Amtrak supervision and performance expectations?

Indeed, at what point in the orientation and training process, if at all, is it injected into the new hire, and to actively re-train current OBS staff, to think of themselves as being in the hospitality business; consequently, how the focus in on their level of service to meet customer expectations to provide a favorable experience? New hires and current team members must appreciate the requirement to consistently follow procedures and policies, just as in safety, as the recurring theme of complaints continues to be the lack of consistency on-board, impacting even the same train route.

We already know what is not happening, including to educate new and current staff in the economic realities that directly customer satisfaction and revenue enhancement. How many in OBS understand how Amtrak has multiple revenue centers; therefore, employee payroll depends on more than just ticket sales? To what extent can we say with confidence how the OBS crews know they must work together to support increased revenues in diner and lounge cars by up-selling alcoholic beverages, which are nearly pure profit? How many OBS crews still require re-education to appreciate how it is not about the number of meals they serve en route?

What efforts have been implemented to successfully encourage up-selling efforts? Is it feasible by evidencing per individual train’s staff who is exemplary, and who needs more training? Certainly, we should expect positive interaction in each area of the train:

Diner LSA/Steward upon seating passengers should suggest and take alcohol orders; lead by example and supervise staff to weed-out complacency and lack of interest in tips. In reality, training and enhancing the liquor inventory will evidence higher tips when including alcohol with meals.

Sleeper/Coach OBS should inform passengers and offer to secure their beverages for compartments (also ice buckets) or seats.

Lounge LSA should make PA announcements to advise passengers of opportunity for variety of alcoholic beverages throughout the day.

II. OBS, Food/Beverage Services, Finance, Marketing and Operations: Intra-Departmental Competition and Lack of Communication Playing Penny Ante Failing the Customer

It is a fact that Amtrak has consistently lowered standards at the expense of the customer experience, particularly in food/beverage services. This smells like the classic example of no check-and-balance at the top (pre September 1, 2016); of tolerating an intra-departmental competition to see who can derail Amtrak in the mind of the traveling public, while ensuring their departmental data supports their high performance bonus. These departments exemplify a destructive attitude through their ‘Tower of Babel’ approach where they cannot communicate or coordinate between each other. Given this scenario, how do we determine who makes the final decision that has so pathetically impacted the customer experience? Where is the responsibility and accountability for these critical service interactions with customers who in pure marketing terms Amtrak should be seeking to cultivate to build their repetitive business?

Dining Car (how soon before becoming an SP Automat)?

Problems start with same menu every meal, every day, every train route (monotony on rails); low quality, substandard, poorly prepared food (Fred Harvey rolled over in his grave). Issues compounded by lack of toasters-basics for breakfast and lunch sandwiches (sacrificed to uncontrolled theft in yards); meal shortages (due to inappropriate par levels). To emphasize the customer is not #1, ”Express Meal” on arrival day to facilitate crew conducting inventory and first off the train upon arrival.

Ensuring a consistent, dismal atmosphere, no table cloth-replaced by schmatte (Yiddish for “rag”); no tabletop flower in vase (forget tradition; why bother, no holiday decor either). No up- selling of liquor during meals (why bother, LSA not trained in mixology; also, no inventory to craft/garnish cocktails).

Where in training/orientation did they ever explain the genesis of low or no tipping to staff (in parallel to level of service provided. Perhaps if tips were pooled, team influence or LSA supervision would straighten-up laggards?

Sightseer Cafe Car (nothing more than a rolling 7-11)

Problems start with LSA not trained in mixology; compounded by lack of inventory to craft and garnish cocktails. Issue exacerbated by frequent stock-outs due to unacceptable par levels.

As Amtrak elected to convert the traditional club lounge car into something for everybody, but not satisfying anyone, the functionality of this feature car fails, with the emphasis primarily serving coach passengers with the unhealthy swill of the era–pathetic microwaved sandwiches and pizzas; chips, candy, and pop; or, even chicken dinners from Havre.

III. Fixing OBS and Food/Beverage Services: Structurally Benchmarking to the Past, Embracing the Present in Canada; Don’t Forget the (European) Airlines

At the brink of defaulting in its failed approach towards food/beverage services and re- introducing Fred Harvey lunch counters for trains to stop en route, I would encourage intervention to change the current dynamics by benchmarking to current success stories in railroad history to break the downward cycle frustrating passengers. Concomitantly, such an approach would dramatically increase on-board staff morale and provision of attentive service; therefore, increased revenues.

Unfortunately, Amtrak Marketing has been unable to intercede to prevent this drift to the bottom, directly impacting the brand and market position. Yet, how does Marketing even define and position in the market the long distance trains-catering to tourist, retired elderly, seasonal travelers?

However, just look at what could be “benchmarked” by Amtrak:

VIA Rail Canada

Despite dealing with a similar recalcitrant federal approach to trains, The Canadian continues to run between Toronto-Vancouver offering overall the finest long distance rail experience in North America, and ranked in the top five in the world. What clearly distinguishes The Canadian is its consistently highly regarded food/beverage services and OBS working the diner, coffee shop, and observation lounge cars.

Dining Car: Features freshly prepared meals highlighting Canadian cuisine and regional specialties; the delight of a different menu for every meal, every day. OBS crew/manager very professional. To establish a conducive atmosphere, every meal is served on tablecloths, linen napkins, glassware, chinaware, silverware; with flower in vase tabletop. OBS Wait staff uses cork tray to prevent sliding of plates; glassware has bubbled bottom to prevent sliding on tabletop. Set meal periods for lunch and dinner based upon time of passenger’s breakfast, allowing OBS diner crew working together to plate in one motion initial salad or appetizer. As well, OBS diner crew work in galley drying utensils, plates, glasses. Service Manager (Steward) inquires and takes all liquor orders; payment for inventory control.

Observation Lounge Car (Park-series): First class lounge OBS attendant well trained in mixology to competently create cocktails from scratch with proper garnishments; well-stocked bar, including vermouth to use in Martini and Manhattan (including chilled glassware). Key is the obvious focus of this feature car being a true club/bar lounge, offering only select finger items; not, acting as a sandwich vendor.
Corridor Business Class: Formerly known as VIA1(until corporate travel restrictions), but offering same level of service on primary corridor serving Toronto-Montreal/Ottawa/Quebec City. Offering complementary cocktails; multi-choice full course dinner and full breakfast. Note how lunch was reduced based upon actual passenger input; but those savings put back into dinner.

British Airways Intra-Europe Flights

Now offering for sale in coach branded food items from famous Marks & Spencer London store; improved quality and selection over prior free meals.

Lufthansa Intra-Europe Flights

From personal experience, in a one hour flight just between Frankfurt-Geneva, Business Class receives full cocktail service, complete meal with wine/beer, and coffee.

American Airlines-Domestic First Class

To control cost of inventory and waste, passengers may pick their desired meal from a choice of three entrees for the meal period 30 days before flight.

Learning From History…

In essence, Amtrak must understand that it can no longer structurally be everything to everybody, without being so unacceptable to every segment of the market. When it comes to food/beverage services, Amtrak should learn to appreciate how the private western railroads understood the need for a separate coffee shop/grill/lounge for coach passengers, a separate first class lounge, and an upgraded diner, in the consists of their long distance trains, including: Empire Builder (Ranch Car), North Coast Limited (Lewis & Clark Traveler’s Rest Car), El Capitan (Kachina Coffee Shop), California Zephyr (Cable Car Room), Denver Zephyr Chuckwagon), Western Star-summer (Coffee Shop/Lounge), and the Sunset Limited (Pride of Texas Coffee Shop).

Importantly, today, VIA Rail Canada continues to appreciate the different tastes and demands of a multi-segmented travel market with such a car for coach passengers on The Canadian (Skyline Coffee Shop/Lounge) to augment its first class diner, as well as by providing a first class lounge in the Park observation car.

IV. Fixing OBS and Food/Beverage Services

To structurally fix Amtrak’s food/beverage services requires a revamping of current concepts to successfully segment and serve the different travel markets utilizing the long distance trains.

Superliner Dining Car:

In respect to its expansive, well equipped but under-utilized galley, re-structure so half of the diner should be converted into a cozy coffee shop/grill open 0700-2300. Coffee Shop will have seating and take-out service; operate as a real grill (burger, fries, BLT, grilled cheese, malts; pizza (require return of toasters!); eliminate meal items from Sightseer Cafe Car.
The other half of the diner to be revamped into an enhanced true first class environment with tablecloths, chinaware, glassware, silverware, flowers in vase tabletop (see section IV). Note- requires all sleepers operating together as previously accomplished by the railroads. OBS diner staffing must be increased to provide an improved modicum of service (to be facilitated by software program-see below).

The LSA must be re-trained in mixology (to be required as an OBS competency standard to work on board trains to mix and garnish popular cocktails). The LSA to be responsible for seating all passengers to ensure their drink order is solicited and served immediately; to collect all payments for inventory control.

In support of the diner crew to maximize revenues and control costs by introducing new software programs now available. (I have personally investigated and tested myself this year how such a program does not require internet and can designate each diner as its own restaurant). Such a software program makes the diner crew more efficient in time and motion placing meal orders to galley; to know what’s “86;” to prevent inventory losses; to allow on arrival day a quick re-calculation of usage and revenues, eliminating 4-5 hours required to re- pack and inventory diner, or, to outsource, while upsetting passengers with limited “Express Meal” coming right after breakfast upon arrival day.

Superliner Sightseer Cafe Lounge Car:

To be re-structured as a Coach/First bar/lounge by enhancing liquor inventory to include full-line of cocktails, mixers, garnishments. (Learn from “successful” Pacific Parlour experience), but expand by offering: regional crafted beers (small kegs available); regional wines. (Expect wineries interested in donating for wine/cheese hour to promote their products; sale in diner). Important to re-Train LSA in Mixology (to be required as an OBS competency standard to work on board trains to mix and garnish popular cocktails).

Convert half of the lounge into an enhanced private, first class lounge section, as demonstrated with the Pacific Parlours. (Requires all sleeping cars behind the Sightseer Car, or in front of the diner, just as accomplished by the railroads before.)

V. Fixing OBS and Food/Beverage Services: Costs and Accountability


Create transparent accounting for dining service costs and cease hiding those numbers into the sleeping car cost center; to more fully recover diner costs; to provide increased staffing to be more efficient (and not wear out the crew), recommend actions include:

Stop including low quality, monotonous meals with sleeping car tickets. Stop playing to superficial demands of a Congress that is not interested in being educated in the art of travel. Instead, sell all meals in diner, providing an upgraded menu selection, featuring regional and seasonal items. Coffee Shop section will handle budget-minded passengers minus the microwave concept of cooking.

Unless the Train Chief position is to return, re-train LSA to control and run the diner/crew as the railroad stewards were known to do before. With a Chief no longer on board for the trip, we have to help the passengers hold the crew accountable: post standard meal hours on both doors of diner, on E-tickets, etc. Passengers are frustrated when diner should be opened at 1130am for lunch, but delays on whim of crew until 1230. In-service sleeper/coach crews to identify and appreciate increase in solo traveler market; to encourage their use of diner, coffee shop, or lounge; to understand companionship makes for a happier traveler. As well, to explicitly offer passengers to bring meals or drinks directly to their accommodation.

In summary, when I saw this sign (see below) so prominently attached to the menu this past July at a restaurant in Redondo Beach, CA, it provoked an epiphany and I immediately tore it out of the menu, realizing this summed up Amtrak’s current OBS diner and lounge malaise.
Remember how in railroad diners the name of the steward in charge was placed on every table; how it was the steward who seated people, provided the menus and pencils; received payment and made change; by his dress appearance (different for each meal), you knew who was in charge of the diner? As the diner/lounge crew now typically dresses the same, and the LSA not always seats folks or personally provides the menus, who’s in charge? Unlike on “The Canadian” where the Service Manager (Steward) greets and seats passengers, personally takes and provides all liquor orders, and receives payment, there is no sense, or specific statement, of who is in charge of the diner on the Amtrak long distance trains.

Posting a semblance of this statement as a table signage, and slipped into every menu, will facilitate passengers learning who to go to; importantly, enable malaise Amtrak to be responsive in a timely, on the spot, proactive manner.

Thank you for visiting our restaurant and supporting us. We want to make your time hear as pleasant at possible.

If for any reason the service or food is not to your liking , please let the manager know so that we can remedy  the situation immediately. We truly want to try our best to serve you well. 

Again, thank you very much for being here and we hope you enjoyed yourselves!

M.L and Danny Williams

Owners of the Riviera Mexican Grill”


Trip Report, Part 2: On Amtrak


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From Ft. Worth to Benson again. Commentary by Russ Jackson

Part 1 of this report included photos . . . showing how I went from home to the Ft. Worth Intermodal station by A-Train, DART, and the TRE then had to wait 6 hours for Texas Eagle train 421 to arrive on September 28, 2016. An example of the comments heard on the platform was, “If it’s this late is this train safe?” from a first time traveler.

Part 2 now takes up the journey on Amtrak . . . that started at sunset in Ft. Worth and continued on the Sunset Limited the next day into Arizona. . . . When I booked this trip in early August the pleasant surprise was that my Guest Reward points would cover one way in a roomette, and with a voucher left over from an earlier trip the return trip would cost only $381 in a roomette, but it would be a new experience. More on that later. . . . When the Eagle finally arrived the usual servicing was expedited, and the merry band of folks who had waited, some like me for 6 hours, were checked in and boarded. In my case it would be car 32009, which railfans will recognize as the Sleeping Car named for George M. Pullman, my first trip in that car. . . . I was in roomette 9, and my arrival filled that car, the one that would transfer to train 2 in San Antonio that night. I noted that the adjacent Coach car that would also transfer was at least 90% full. Yes, comment is appropriate, and while this trip was technically “off peak,” I know they could have filled another car or two for transfer to the Sunset Limited.

Boarding the Eagle . . . On the Ft. Worth platform Sleeping Car attendant Reggie handed me a dinner reservation for 6:45, which was much appreciated. Reggie was quite popular with the travelers who had been on board all day, and he was very responsive and available attendant that night. My room was made up for sleeping while I was at dinner. . . . What did I have in the Diner-Lounge car? Well, good service and one of Amtrak’s “flat iron” steaks, which is always a good choice. I fell asleep between Temple and San Marcos, but woke to see my cross-table dinner companion, a coach rider, get off the train there. She was a recent graduate from Texas A&M who had been to Chicago to see family before she started applying for work in Texas in law enforcement. . . . Everyone has a story to tell, and other folks were busy sharing theirs to other riders who they would never see again. Train travel hasn’t changed much, thankfully.

On the Eagle. . . Timekeeping was maintained until we were just north of the San Antonio airport at 1:30 AM, where we stopped for almost an hour. No explanation at that time of night, of course, but there was speculation that there was freight interference on the Union Pacific ahead of us. . . . One more delay, about ten minutes, when it felt like someone may have pulled the cord and we rapidly stopped. It was a crawl into San Antonio station, arriving at 3:22 AM, still over six hours late. . . . Then came the bang-bang transfer of cars to the waiting Sunset Limited, and we departed about 5 AM, still two hours late, which would be maintained all day into Arizona.

A day in West Texas and Arizona . . . The scenery along the Sunset Route can be boring, and usually is very dry. Not this time. West Texas was green, after having a series of rain storms in late summer. At the high bridge, the Pecos River was running high. The Rio Grande was running higher than usual, and the desert looked magnificent. . . . As the train touched the US-Mexico border west of Del Rio my cel phone showed a text message welcoming me to Mexico and “Enjoy your stay.” . . . The Sunset Limited cars were mostly full, too, with most Coach seat checks showing Tucson or Los Angeles as destinations. . . . Breakfast in the Sunset Limited Dining Car found a USAF airman from Lackland AFB across the table, but he was worried he wouldn’t have time to eat breakfast, as he was only traveling from San Antonio to report in at the air base in Del Rio. He paid for his breakfast order before it arrived and unnecessarily left the car. . . . The Union Pacific cooperated with our travel, even though we were two hours late all the way. At least eight sidings along the way were full of stored container or truck carriers. . . . Sleeping car attendant Steven had put out magazines, including some railfan publications. He was very responsive that day. Coffee was available in the car all morning. . . . It was noted, though, that there was no PA heard in this car either the day before or today, except for ones Steven made and he relayed the Dining car reservation information. There were no announcements heard from the Lounge car at all. . . . At the Sanderson flag stop we noticed that the historic station building has finally been removed. . . . Lunch was my favorite Amtrak meal, the cheeseburger, served in my roomette. . . . Because of our lateness, the arrival in El Paso was two hours late, brief, and the eastbound sister train 2 was departing just as we arrived there. Across New Mexico and into Arizona our train had all that magnificent double trackage virtually to itself, and we arrived in Benson at 7:25 to begin the too short visit with my sister and her family.

Back to Benson on Monday . . . The eastbound Sunset Limited/Texas Eagle, train 422 arrived, crawling the downgrade into the Benson station and we departed at 9:30 AM, 15 minutes late. . . . This time the accommodation was different. While my westbound roomette was in the Texas Eagle last car on the train, the eastbound roomette 17 in car 39032 would be in the Sunset Limited Sleeping car on the front end until arrival in San Antonio. This car is actually the transition car, which is used as the overflow sleeper when the Sunset Limited sleeping car is full. The Texas Eagle Sleeping car on the end of the train was full, too; does that tell Amtrak something? I was happy to hear that the PA was working from all sources in this car, which is also the crew dorm. . . . Just as on the westbound train, reservations for lunch and for dinner were taken at the same time, offered between 12 and 2 or 5 to 8. I chose lunch at 12:30 and when I arrived found I was across from a couple from Dorchester, England, who were traveling the western U.S. They had taken the Zephyr from Chicago to Oakland, driven down the beautiful Big Sur highway 1, loved Santa Barbara, and were going to New Orleans, Memphis (Graceland), and Nashville (Grand Ole Opry) before returning to England. When I first saw him it was double take time, as he looked just like RailPAC President, Paul Dyson, complete with the same hat Paul wears. Paul, of course, is from London. . . . We had an excellent young waiter, and because it was now October the new menus were available. There are some new items on the trains now, and I was very pleased with the quesadilla! Speaking of diners, while on board our train we heard from Anthony Lee that the new Amtrak CEO, Wick Moorman, was riding the Crescent in Virginia and ate in its diner.

And then there was San Antonio . . . While the trip back across Arizona and New Mexico was in daylight this time, including running through the UP’s new refueling yard at restricted speed even though there wasn’t a freight train in sight, we were early into El Paso, and arrived just as it was getting dark in Alpine for the crew change there. Paul, the car attendant was excellent, too, and he helped greatly including bringing my dinner to the roomette. I tried the Tortellini, which was very good and cooked just right. The dessert choice was a “chocolate lava cake,” that was quite tasty. Sleep that night was difficult, just as it was on the eastbound train, between Del Rio and San Antonio. That track needs work! Arrival in San Antonio was just about on time, which meant I had to leave my roomette in car 39032 at 4:30 AM and get off the train to wait for the boarding of the Texas Eagle at 6:30. I approved that change so I could see what transpires in the San Antonio station during that shuffle of cars, etc.. . . Back on the Texas Eagle in car 39008 now, we departed on time with car attendant, Vivyan, who was quite efficient too. I had pancakes for breakfast, delivered to my roomette by her. That’s a good choice, too. They were perfect.

Notes and Comments . . . While arrival in Austin and Ft. Worth were a half hour late, overall the trip was filled with new experiences, just as any Amtrak trip is. You knew I would have some comments, if you’d ever read one of my trip reports in the past. First, the on board crews on this trip were at the top of my list of best ones ever. Cleanliness was above average. Like that? Well, there are some other things. . . . There were NO Texas Eagle printed timetables in my cars or on any of my trains or in any of the stations I had a chance to visit enroute. San Antonio and Ft. Worth had piles of Sunset Limited paper timetables, but none for the Texas Eagle. The El Paso station agent offered me one of the now out of date National timetables that are no longer going to be printed. . . . There were no on board PA promotions of the Dining car menus to try to entice riders to come in on either train. Is that by design now? The old adage, often mentioned here, is “don’t sell the steak, sell the sizzle.” Get it? When menus have been promoted in the past they always included the price, which can be a real turnoff, particularly when $25 is mentioned for the flat iron steak. Only on the Sunset Limited did the Lounge car attendant promote herself, and that was mostly saying she was going on a break. Other than that all I can enviously say is the southbound Texas Eagle 21 was on time that day I arrived back, and thankfully those riders did not have to wait six hours. Now the standard complaint, the Sunset Limited needs to be DAILY! Everyone agree? The folks from England volunteered that. Everyone knows that! Let’s go, Wick!

Orange County’s Future Rail Passenger Service


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By Noel T. Braymer

Orange County is the third largest by population county in California and the sixth largest county by population in the United States. At over 3 million people, it’s population is slightly greater than Iowa’s and greater than 21 States. What makes Orange County different than most places is that is doesn’t have one major city dominating the region. The largest city in Orange County is Anaheim with roughly 345,000 while the second largest city is the County seat, Santa Ana with roughly 334,000 is not much smaller than Anaheim. There are a number of cities in Orange County with populations over 100,000 including Irvine, Huntington Beach, Garden Grove, Fullerton, Costa Mesa and Orange. The result of this is Orange County doesn’t have a transportation hub or single commuter destination like most traditional urban centers. Most traffic in Orange County is centered around the Santa Ana, San Diego, Riverside and Garden Grove Freeway corridors.

Most of the current rail passenger traffic in Orange County runs on the the former Santa Fe line with both Amtrak Pacific Surfliners and Metrolink Orange County Line trains between Buena Park and San Clemente. There is also service between Laguna Niguel and Riverside using the BNSF Transcon Line to the Inland Empire with Metrolink’s Orange County/ Inland Empire service. Many employees work in Orange County but live in the Inland Empire which makes the Riverside Freeway very congested in Orange County. There is also Riverside to Los Angeles Metrolink service which goes through Fullerton. Amtrak’s Southwest Chief between Los Angeles and Chicago also stops in Fullerton and Riverside.


Part of the Metrolink map showing the lines serving Orange County

There have been many attempts in Orange County to start a regional Light Rail service for the most densely populated parts of Orange County. These have all failed to win popular support needed for funding. The result is Orange County spends a great deal of money expanding its crowded freeways, building toll roads and improving its Metrolink service. Orange County has 34 round trip trains during the weekdays. This includes 11 round trip Surfliner trains between San Clemente and Fullerton to Los Angeles, 15 weekday round trips on the Orange County Line, 5 of these trains run mostly in Orange County and don’t go to Los Angeles. Also there are 8 round trips during the weekday on the Orange County/Inland Empire line which serves much of Orange County between Laguna Niguel/ Mission Viejo and Orange. There have been attempts to use this local service for local travel in Orange County. The problem with doing this is generally the train stations are often not near to destinations transit riders are headed for. Also the frequency of service and the cost of travel is not competitive with existing local bus service. The 5 round trips Orange County Line trains which terminate in Fullerton are generally lightly used. In the case of the last two afternoon departures from Oceanside which includes a Fullerton bound train, many passengers use the trains to transfer to the Inland Empire trains at Laguna Niguel/ Mission Viejo for travel to the Inland Empire.

There are plans to expand rail passenger service between Los Angeles and Orange County. The railroad between Los Angeles and Laguna Niguel/ Mission Viejo is double tracked. To add more trains between Fullerton and Los Angeles will require more triple tracking to handle both heavy freight and passenger train traffic.Triple tracking is being built as more grade separations are built. When all the existing grade crossings between Fullerton and Los Angeles are grade separated it will be possible to build a 4 track railroad with separate tracks for freight and passenger trains. This will allow faster running times for passenger trains. This should be done in roughly the next 12 years.There are plans to add more trains between Los Angeles and San Diego through Orange County. But the number of additional trains is limited by single tracking in San Juan Capistrano and San Clemente with local opposition to double tracking without tunneling.

Orange County now is planning to build a “streetcar” for its first light rail transit service. Earlier this year the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) voted to not go ahead with efforts for a 3.2 mile, $300 million dollar streetcar service between the Anaheim transportation center and train station to the Disneyland area. Instead they chose to concentrate their efforts on building service between the Santa Ana transportation center and train station to Harbor Blvd in Garden Grove. This $298 million dollar, 4.1 mile project is expected to begin construction next year and be in service by 2020. The City of Anaheim is still going ahead with the planning for the Disneyland Streetcar since that is already funded. But the future of Light Rail service in Orange County will likely depend on how well the Santa Ana-Garden Grove Project does.


The Santa Ana-Garden Grove Streetcar planned to open by 2020

The Santa Ana-Garden Grove Streetcar won’t be run only in streets. As part of the this project the old Pacific Electric West Santa Ana Branch right of way will be used at the west end of Santa Ana up to Harbor Blvd in Garden Grove. All of the old West Santa Ana Branch in Orange County is owned by the County of Orange and much of it is also owned in Los Angeles County by that county. This leave open extensions of streetcar service on both Harbor Blvd and on the West Santa Ana Branch. Harbor Blvd is one of the busiest roads in Orange County, has the heaviest transit use and borders Disneyland. This would make possible an extension on Harbor Blvd to Disneyland and to the Anaheim transportation center. There has long been plans to build Light Rail in Orange County using the old West Santa Ana branch. This could make possible service up to 34 miles between downtown Los Angeles from Union Station to Santa Ana. Los Angeles County is now planning to build by 2028 a new connecting station to its Green Line in Paramount to a new line on the old West Santa Ana Branch which will come close to the Orange County Line in Artesia. The city of Cerritos in Los Angeles County is right on the Orange County border and the West Santa Ana Branch runs through it. But for now it appears it is opposed to Light Rail service. For now Orange County has no plans to extend the Santa Ana-Garden Grove Street car past Harbor Blvd.


Current State of Planning in Los Angeles County for Light Rail between Artesia and downtown Los Angeles. The segment using the West Santa An Branch between Paramount and Artesia is expected to by built by 2028.

Orange County has additional existing rights of ways which could be used for light rail service which could connect to Amtrak and Metrolink. In the city of Stanton there is railroad junction called Stanton Junction where the West Santa Ana Branch right of way crosses at a diagonal a railroad between Anaheim and Stanton. Just west of this crossing is a wye track which heads south towards Huntington Beach. Between Stanton and Anaheim the railroad parallels busy Katella Ave and the tracks come very close to the Disneyland Hotel. The line heads north to connect to the UP branch to Los Angeles. There is also single track on the UP, often with street running in Anaheim east of the I-5 freeway which connects to the Metrolink Orange County Line with connections to another UP Branch in south Santa Ana which heads west near South Coast Plaza Shopping Mall and almost reaches Harbor Blvd. If a connection to Disneyland and the Anaheim transportation center were built to the UP line to Stanton, this could provide links to future service on the West Santa Ana Rail Branch right of way to Los Angeles County. Using the wye at Stanton could provide rail service with connections to Los Angeles County and Anaheim to Huntington Beach. This rail line parallels busy Beach Blvd which is second only to Harbor Blvd in traffic. This right of way could provide service to Gold West Community College and several shopping centers just off of the 405 freeway. It could also have stations with bus connection on major streets which also cross Beach Blvd.


Cropped view from a Caltrans map from the 1980’s showing the rail lines in Orange County

Waiting 6 hours for the Texas Eagle to Arrive in Ft. Worth


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A PHOTO report by Russ Jackson

Being a railfan and rail transportation advocate means looking for ways to use rail for ways to get wherever one is going whenever possible.  Sometimes that can boomerang and cause unforeseen problems.  I thought I was going to be smart and start off my trip to Arizona by seeing how easy it is to get from my home in Denton County, Texas, to the Ft. Worth Intermodal Transportation Facility to take the Texas Eagle train #421 on Wednesday, September 28 that was to depart about 2:10 PM.

My son-in-law picked me up at 9:15 AM to drive me to the DCTA A-Train station, about 3 miles from my house, the only segment that would be by car.  The whole journey, using A-Train, DART, and the TRE would take about 2 hours and 15 minutes.  I was allowing 2 hours at the end of this journey in case there were delays enroute.  The Texas Eagle was running late that morning according to the Amtrak Locator Map.  The rest of the story at Ft. Worth will be told with the photos below.


The A Train Arrives

The southbound A-Train arrived at 9:43, on time at the Highland Village/Lewisville Lake station.  I had plenty of time to purchase my Regional Senior ticket that would be good on DART and the TRE as well.  The cost was $2.50, cash because the credit card feature was not working.  The car was not full, so there was room to put my bag on the adjoining seat.  The DCTA A-Train is doing quite well, but would do much better if it were extended a few miles north, and DCTA is working on how that could be accomplished although it may be a long time before it happens.


DART Train

The connection between the A-Train and the DART Green line is at Trinity Mills station.  It’s a shame this connection is necessary, as ridership would be greater if there was through service, but with the diesel powered A-Train and the catenary electric powered DART, that is not going to happen soon.  One future possibility would be extending the A-Train the short distance to the Carrolton station where the connection to the under construction DART Plano to DFW Airport could be made, but as we all know, since that would mean the two agencies would have to agree in separate counties, it’s not likely to happen.  This DART Green line train was two minutes late, and even at 10 AM there were plenty of passengers waiting.



The next connection was at the TRE’s Victory station, which is located next to the American Airlines Center where the Mavericks and Stars play and many concerts are performed during the year.  Many riders use this station to attend the events, as both the DART Green line and Orange line stop here, as well as the TRE.  My DART train arrived on time for the connection to this on time TRE train headed to Ft. Worth.  It was an across platform connection with only a short wait.  The TRE train had many passengers at almost 11 AM, some riding only part way.  There is a connection bus at the Centerport station that takes riders to the Airport, but only one from my TRE did so.

I decided to ride the TRE to the end of the line at the T&P station, just west of the Ft. Worth station, and return since I was on time and two hours early for the Texas Eagle.  That extension would give me a good view of the Amtrak yard between the station and the infamous Tower 55 that controls the junction between the BNSF and the Union Pacific.  While a construction project has smoothed out that meet situation, it still is a problem at times.  On the return TRE trip I took the next photos out the car window.


Patrick Henry

This two-car train was labeled Patrick Henry Promotions.  My thanks to Gene Poon for the explanation:  “Patrick Henry (nothing to do with Give me liberty or give me death) and his wife own those two cars.  The train is based in Houston, their regular parking space at the Houston station, and usually operate together.  the Henrys travel in them, lead tours, and charter them out.  They are also available for charter while parked in Houston; they have access to water and 480-volt electricity.  Both the dome Warren R. Henry and sleeper Evelyn Henry are ex-Union Pacific cars.”


Amtrak Display Train

On the same yard track, behind the Patrick Henry, was the Amtrak display train that is traveling around the country.  It would be heading to Houston in a few days, presumably at the same time as the Patrick Henry although the two are not officially connected.  Upon arrival at FTW ,my TRE was on time at 12:16, where I found that my Texas Eagle #21 was running two hours late, and would not be there until around 4:15.


Heartland Flyer Arriving

So, how does a railfan kill time in a train station?  First by having a Subway sandwich, and then by watching trains, of course, and Ft. Worth has good activity with the TRE, Amtrak, the adjacent BNSF, and of course all the T buses come through to also connect with the TRE.  The first event was the on time arrival of the Heartland Flyer from Oklahoma City.  In this photo can you tell which direction it was moving?  In this case Amtrak locomotive 50 is pulling the train with two cars and the “cabbage car” 90222 down the connector track from the BNSF to the station.  Ridership was fairly light, but many were connecting from the Flyer to the Texas Eagles.  One man told me he had come from the Southwest Chief bus connection at Newton, KS and was going to Austin.  All of us had a long wait ahead.


Eagle 22 Arrives

Texas Eagle 22, the northbound train, arrived on time at Ft. Worth that day.  One interesting feature of its consist was it had two Diner Lounge cars instead of a  Sightseer Lounge and a Diner Lounge.  Normally on these trains only the Diner end of a Diner Lounge car is used as the “Dining Car,” and the separate Sightseer Lounge is staffed.  I took this shot from the south end of station platform 1 looking at a busy Amtrak yard that contained the Patrick Henry, the Amtrak display train, and the Heartland Flyer trainset that had arrived earlier and would depart on time at 5:25 back to OKC.  A week later the Flyer would have four cars to bring fans to the “Big Game” between Oklahoma U. and Texas U. that is played in the “neutral” site in Dallas.  This train 22 was quickly serviced and was on its way to Dallas on time via the TRE line, the trains now able to avoid any time consuming wyeing at Tower 55 and freight interference on the UP line.  No change has been made to the running time between Dallas and Ft. Worth since use of the TRE began, and some days all the dwell time is used up.


Eagle Finally Arrives

Little did we know at 2:00 that our wait was going to be much longer than another two hours.  As the afternoon went on the agents came on the station PA to announce new arrival times, 4:45, 5:15, 5:40, 6:08, 6:15, and it finally arrived at 6:30.  Yes, that meant I, and the folks from the Heartland Flyer, all waited six hours for the train.  In this photo it has finally come through the building tunnel north of the station and is arriving on track 3.  The exact delay reasons and locations are not known, but “freight interference and an incident involving a conductor being assaulted,” were overheard.  Naturally, with this much delay the assumption was the single locomotive had had problems but that was denied.  Also, the train had entered the TRE during afternoon rush hours, so there had been delays there, too.  One passenger connecting from the Heartland Flyer was a college student from Oklahoma who was now not going to meet her dinner date in Austin, but she would be there to see the speaker at the weekend event, Angela Davis, the next day.  College life is still pretty much the same as it was decades ago.

Part two will be the trip report on Amtrak.  It will be posted in a few days.
All photos by the author.

If You Want More Rail Passengers, You Need More Rail Service!


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By Noel T. Braymer

This summer LA Metro extended service for both the Gold and Expo Light Rail Lines from Pasadena to Azusa and from Culver City to Santa Monica. The result was ridership jumped on both lines and these trains are often crowded. Efforts are underway to get more equipment in service sooner to add cars to these trains and to run more frequent service. Earlier this year there were stories in the newspapers that LA Metro ridership was down from previous record highs from a few years ago. What these news stories failed to report was the declining ridership numbers followed reductions in service in an attempt to save money. It’s hard to ride a train or bus if it isn’t there to go where you want to go. It has been observed for years that usually when service is improved either with faster service, service extensions to more places, better connections with other trains or buses to more places or just more frequent service: ridership and revenues usually goes up. But when for budget cuts to “save” money rail service is cut back or on-time performance goes down because of equipment problems: ridership and revenues often decline more than predicted.

An example of this, one of many would be Metrolink in Southern California. After years of deferred maintenance and deferred capital improvements have come equipment break downs and attempts to cut costs with service cuts and increase revenues by raising fares. The results of doing this have driven away even more passengers and revenues didn’t increase. In April 2015 Metrolink reached a low point and brought in recently retired CEO of LA Metro Art Leahy to turn Metrolink around. In an interview in the September 2016 issue of “The Planning Report”, Art Leahy spoke of some of his goals for turning Metrolink around. So far he has been more successful than his predecessors in raising money for long overdue new locomotives and some other projects. He makes the point that Metrolink may not carry the same number of people as say LA Metro, but  it produces far more passenger miles because average trips are much longer and usually include trips between counties unlike the shorter trips on LA Metro or most transit services. Because of this Metrolink recovers much more from the farebox than transit and has a greater impact reducing freeway congestion. He also implied that he would like to run more frequent service on Metrolink. He pointed out that in 1990 when the Blue line was first opened between Los Angeles and Long Beach, service began before construction was finished. This meant at first the last train of the night left at 7:00 PM, What he noticed was the last train of the night always had low ridership. But as service expanded with later trains more people rode the trains at night. The last train of the night usually had poor ridership, but it encouraged more riders to travel later knowing they wouldn’t get stranded if they missed their train.

Here are some simple ways to increase ridership and improve revenues that will use Metrolink as an example. But these generally apply for any rail passenger service or transportation service in general. First off where possible, add more frequent service. When the State of California increased passenger train service in the 1970’s between Los Angeles to San Diego from 3 to 6 round trips, ridership tripled. A problem with Metrolink and many public transportation services is they concentrate service during rush hours and store equipment much of the rest of the time. Good times to add service is later in the evening, the weekends and holidays. There is plenty of travel during these times. But it is not work related. Many people travel for pleasure, to connect to other travel modes or personal business.

One market rail service is missing is to the airports. For some people the airport is some distance from where they live and parking fees are high for trips lasting days or weeks. With Flyaway Bus service at Los Angeles Union Station getting to LAX is easy. This works well for passengers transferring from the San Bernardino, Antelople Valley and Ventura County Lines. But what is a problem for many of these potential passengers is limited frequency of service, particularly on the Ventura County Line. People often have to get to the airport before 5 AM and land after 10 PM. It won’t be possible to attract all of these passengers, but for many it is hard to catch the train because there is no service when their planes are flying. For passengers from Orange County and even San Diego County to LAX, rail connections are not good. Catching the Flyaway bus at Los Angeles Union Station is round about and time wasting. A simple solution for this is to run a connecting bus from Fullerton or Norwalk which is shorter and faster than than riding all the way to Los Angeles. Providing bus service at Fullerton has the advantage that both Amtrak and Metrolink passengers would be able to make LAX connections by bus. Also such a service doesn’t have to be an express to LAX. There are other places in the South Bay and West Los Angeles area that lack good connections to Metrolink and the LOSSAN Corridor.

Other airport connections include Bob Hope Airport in Burbank. It already has a train station on the Ventura Line and soon will have a station on the Antelope Valley Line. A major factor why more people don’t take the train to Bob Hope Airport is limited frequencies. Also limited connections to other Metrolink Lines like the San Bernardino Line hold back potential ridership. There are shuttle bus connections to John Wayne Airport now from the Tustin Metrolink Station. But service is generally limited to rush hour service and most useful for commuters but not air travelers. Also it is part of a connecting service to the Irvine business park area, not a direct service to the airport. The San Bernardino Line runs close to the Ontario Airport but doesn’t have bus connections to it. There are plans by the County of San Bernardino to take control of the airport from LAX and increase passenger service. These include plans to run bus service between the closest Metrolink Station and the airport terminals. As an aside there are plans to build a future High Speed Rail station at Ontario Airport.

Another under served travel market is for entertainment. Metrolink and most other regional rail services do a good job with train service to baseball and football games. Metrolink also has had beach trains for years. The beach trains can be expanded with additional service on the weekends, and connections to other regions. The Metrolink beach trains now mostly serve the Inland Empire to beaches at San Clemente and Oceanside. There are plenty of people in the Antelope, San Gabriel and San Fernando Valleys who would love to cool off at the beach. This can include connections to the Inland Empire/Orange County trains to the Antelope Valley, San Bernardino and Ventura Counties trains. Service could be extended south of Oceanside to all the stops to the other beach towns in San Diego County. Beach trains could be run on the Ventura Line to beaches to connect to the San Fernando, San Gabriel and Antelope Valleys. This would need connecting bus service to get to some beaches from Metrolink Stations in Ventura County. If beach train service could be extended to the Amtrak downtown Ventura station passengers would be in walking distance to the beach. Bus connections at Santa Ana in Orange County could get passengers to beaches at Newport and Huntington Beach. More train service for holidays such as more service to the Rose Parade on New Years Day are also good possibilities.

A major ignored market is service to major theme parks which there are several in Southern California. The classic example is Disneyland. There is now good connecting bus service between the new Anaheim ARTIC station for Amtrak and Metrolink to Disneyland and the rest of of the nearby resort area. But not many people are using this service to take the train to Disneyland. This is because there is no train service during the times people are most likely to travel to Disneyland or other theme parks. Most people come to the park for a day trip in the mornings after rush hour traffic and leave often in the late evening. These are times when there are almost no trains. Clearly working with the different theme parks to create package deals to combine a day at a theme park and travel would go a long way to carry more people on the trains and have fewer people on the crowded freeways. Bus connections would be possible at theme parks beside Disneyland with bus connections to Knott’s Berry Farm from the Buena Park Metrolink station. There is also Magic Mountain which is near Metrolink stations at Santa Clarita or Via Princessa for bus connections. There is also Universal Studios which is not too far from the downtown Burbank Metrolink Station for good shuttle bus connections.

California High Speed Rail And Private Enterprise



By Noel T. Braymer

A constant complaint by critics of the California High Speed Rail project and of High Speed Rail in general is they are money wasting boondoggles which will be a drain on the taxpayers with no benefit for them. For the critics High Speed Rail is an example of Government waste and inefficiency. Is this true? The State of California will own the new High Speed Railroad once it is built. But private companies winning contracts through competitive bidding are designing, building and will operate California’s High Speed Rail. When preparing for this project the California High Speed Rail Authority studied High Speed Rail projects around the world for ideas on how to build High Speed Rail in California economically.

One such idea being used in the construction of High Speed Rail in California is what is call Design-Build construction. In the past separate contracts have been issued for major projects to an engineering company which would draw up the plans for construction. At the same time a construction contractor would get the contract for the construction. This can lead to delays and problems. Work would be delayed if there were problems with the plans and needed to be redone or weren’t done on time. By having the contractors also designing the work, many of these problems can be avoided. Since one company is doing the whole job, there is better communications between design and construction. Also with this approach since the contractor is also the designer, there is more incentive to reduce waste and increase efficiency in order to make more money on the project and stay on or under budget.

How successful is this approach? Every major contract for the California High Speed Rail project had bids lower, often much lower than the cost estimate by the project’s engineers. Because of this the project is million of dollars under budget with every contract being built. The media has made a fuss over isolated cases of some increases of specific segments on a contract. But this is part of the normal course of construction because not every contingency can be anticipated. That is why construction budgets include funding for contingencies. The budgets of every segments are still under budget when it comes to contingency spending. Many of the contractors have experience world wide building High Speed Railroads. They are using this experience to build this project faster and cheaper than was expected. This is being done by private, for profit companies not government agencies.

Another constant claim from High Speed Rail critics is that California’s High Speed Rail service won’t operate at a profit costing the taxpayers money to subsidize government employees. Yet these critics fail to provide a single example of a High Speed Rail passenger service where this is true. In most countries today, the railroads both conventional and High Speed are usually owned by the State or a non-profit company which is controlled and funded by the government. But the operators of the trains are private, for profit companies. Some services can earn subsidies for commuter services or rural areas. But to win the franchise an operator must win it by competitive bid to give the best value for the taxpayers. In the case of intercity services and in particular High Speed Rail service, the bidders for these franchises bid to PAY the highest amount to run such services. This is true over most of the world. As part of this bidding process, capital improvements paid for by the winning bidder is often expected for capital improvements including train equipment and station improvements. Yet private companies bid for these projects and make money doing so even paying the government for their use of the railroad and capital investments for the right to run trains in many places in the world.

This is the plan for the California High Speed Rail project once it is ready to start operation. A private operator will bid to pay the State to operate High Speed Rail service and make money doing so at the same time. Much has been said by High Speed Rail critics about the lack of private investors willing to invest money in this project, which is proof that the private sector knows that California High Speed Rail is a boondoggle. The California High Speed Rail project from the beginning has been set up as a Public-Private Partnership or PPP. The original plan for this has been for a third of the spending to come from the State, a third from the Federal Government (the Federal Program to fund High Speed Rail improvements was largely developed under the George W. Bush administration) and a third from the Private sector. The California High Speed Rail Authority now has enough money with $20 billion dollars to build High Speed Rail in the San Joaquin Valley from Wasco to San Jose. With an additional $2.9 billion they are asking from the Federal Government, they plan to extend High Speed service to Bakersfield and San Francisco. Running to these endpoints will greatly increase the ridership and revenues for this Initial Operating Segment which will the minimum service than can be expected to operate at a profit.

The reason private investors haven’t yet pledged funding for this project is it isn’t ready yet for private funding. Expect this to change after 2018. The reason for this is one thing an investor wants in a project before investing is to see if the project is ready to be built. A major part of this is the selection of the final route and having all of the environmental clearances needed for construction. This process is still underway for Phase One of the project between Anaheim to Bakersfield and from Madera to San Francisco. Having all the work for Phase One cleared for future construction gives investors more confidence in the Project. While construction isn’t even planned yet to be finished for the Initial Operating Segment until 2024, the Authority is busy getting all the planning and environmental clearances done by 2018. This is being done to be ready once current construction in the San Joaquin Valley is finished in 2019 to approach private investment for the rest of Phase One. By 2019 when current work in the San Joaquin Valley will be finished, work to get to San Jose will be ready to start. While service isn’t planned until 2025, the choice of an operator will be needed to prepare for the start up by 2025 which hopefully will include service between San Francisco and Bakersfield. But even with San Jose-Wasco service the Initial Operating Segment is expected to operate at a profit.

An ongoing topic of conversation in the San Joaquin Valley is over the location of the central maintenance facility for High Speed Rail trains in the San Joaquin Valley. There is major competition for this facility among cities in the Valley which all want the economic boost that will come from the jobs of servicing the High Speed Rail Trains. Before the current 2016 Business Plan, the expectation was that High Speed Rail Service would begin by 2022 and that by 2016 or so an announcement would be forth coming on the location of the maintenance facility and for an order to build the High Speed Rail Cars. Since the updated 2016 Business plan there has been no talk of the future location of the central maintenance facility or of ordering equipment. Just a couple of years ago there was a plan for a joint order of High Speed Rail equipment with an order by Amtrak to replace its Acela trainsets between Washington, New York and Boston. The California High Speed Rail Authority pulled out of this plan over a year ago.

While this is only speculation, there is the possibility the High Speed Authority might do what many countries do and have the successful bidder for the California High Speed Rail franchise buy their own equipment and manage the construction of the central maintenance facility. This would be an example of private capital being used to help build California’s High Speed Rail service. Another area where we can expect private capital investment will be at and around the High Speed Rail stations. With increased rail passenger service there has always been commercial development throughout history. Most rail passenger service improvements are driven by land development. A major part of the private investment for California High Speed Rail will be for development. So why haven’t investors come forward for this. Simple, the service isn’t at the point yet for investors to get involved since the stations aren’t even ready to be built for a service which won’t be running before 2025. Remember 2/3’s of the construction costs is planned to be paid for by State and Federal Funding.

Government generally pays for infrastructure such as roads, airports and ports. In California the State will own the High Speed Railroad. A major problem for this project has been the games to block funding for this project for partisan reasons. The law creating the California High Speed Rail Authority was signed into law in 1996 by then Republican Governor Pete Wilson. It has and continues to have bi-partisan support. It is a sad commentary that many of the people who oppose High Speed Rail construction, also oppose increased funding to rebuild our aging infrastructure. This is from a mistaken belief that this will save money. But the reality is a healthy, growing economy is based on spending for investments including infrastructure. The definition of a third world county is the poor state of it’s infrastructure. In many ways, past policies risk turning the Country and California into a third world country. In the last 8 years California has seen a major economic turnaround, particularly in the urban areas. A major factor for this is the transportation sale taxes approved by the voters in several counties which has funded major transportation construction projects which have done much to stimulate the economy. In much of the rest of the country without such spending the economy is declining.

Notes On The September 24, 2016 RailPAC/ NARP Conference in Sacramento

By Noel T, Braymer

Days before this Conference RailPAC President Paul Dyson came down with health problems which by Doctors Orders caused him to miss this year’s event. The morning arrival of the Capitol Corridor from Oakland ran late which rarely happens so some attendees were late arriving for the 10 AM start of the meeting. So this year’s meeting had one might say had more challenges than most. There was quite a bit of information for those who attended to hear. Some sessions ran longer than the time budgeted for them which is a common problem at such events. For many this forced people who needed to leave to catch trains before the end of the conference. This also reduces the time available for follow up speakers to talk to prevent the meeting getting any later. Here is a recap of the highlights of the Conference on September 24th.

At the opening the first speakers were Peter LeCody who is the Chair of NARP who was later followed up by NARP President Jim Mathews. There was a degree of overlap between what was said by the 2 speakers. There was major discussion of about funding for Amtrak as part of the Continuing Resolution for Amtrak Funding. This is being worked on as part of the need for Congress to avoid a shutdown of the Federal Government for lack of passing a Budget for this year. What NARP pointed out was that at several points funding for Amtrak on the Continuing Resolution being proposed was lower than originally planned in the proposed budget. These cutbacks mostly would effect the Northeast Corridor. But on one segment there was increased funding proposed in the Continuing Resolution which was for Long Distance Trains. According to NARP this was mostly the work of Congress members for the States that will be served if and when there is a return of Rail Passenger service along the Gulf of Mexico.

What is happening along the Gulf Coast is major support along the many towns on the route for a return of rail passenger service. The elected officials representing these towns have been working in Washington to return this service. This is reflected in the increased funding in the proposed Continuing Resolution concerning Long Distance Trains. This reflects a growing interest for more Rail Passenger service in many rural areas of the United States represented mostly by Republicans. The NARP representatives also went into details of NAPR’s efforts to align with many groups and to encourage NARP members to contact officials on different rail related issues.

Former Sacramento Assembly representative and major supporter for Rail Passenger service Roger Dickerson, gave the Keynote Address. His main theme was the need for train friendly elected officials and for more elected officials to be aware of rail issues. This included personal contacts with elected officials. He had a photo of himself with Democratic Nominee for President Hillary Clinton from 2008. The point he made is not only did she know who he was in the California Assembly at that time, but she also recognized the pin he was wearing which was for the Capitol Corridor Trains and she recognized what it was and knew about the rail service. Roger Dickerson also spoke about the problems of Oil Train accidents and of legislation to prevent future problems with them.

Next speaker was Dan Leavitt of the San Joaquin County Regional Rail Commission. This agency is in charge of both the Altamont Corridor Express service and manages the Joint Powers Authority for the San Joaquin trains. He went into detail of the many improvements proposed for ACE. He also spoke about the recently added 7th San Joaquin Round trip train and latest changes to the latest schedule. Mr. Leavitt also spoke of future plans for more local service between Fresno and the Bay Area. This includes plans to store a  San Joaquin trainset for early morning service out of Fresno and late evening arrivals. The most important challenge for the San Joaquin Trains is increasing declining ridership and increasing revenues.


This is a copy of the same map displayed by Mr Leavitt of possible track improvements for future ACE service.

Jeff Morales, CEO of the California High Speed Rail Authority gave an update on the progress of building ongoing in the San Joaquin Valley. Much of his speech was about the impact of High Speed Rail Construction and revitalization for the towns served by them. He pointed out that Fresno is the 5th largest city in California with a population of over a half million. With High Speed Rail service will come major economic growth in the San Joaquin Valley. Also High Speed Rail construction will in the case of the San Joaquin Valley eliminate 55 grade crossing for passenger and freight trains as well as for High Speed Trains. He also touched on the High Speed Rail Authority’s involvement in Southern California of upgrading the tracks between Burbank and Anaheim for joint use for High Speed Rail, Metrolink and Amtrak trains on this corridor. He highlighted an example of this with High Speed Rail money being added to other funding sources for a long overdue grade separation to be built in Santa Fe Springs at the intersection of Rosecrans Blvd and Marquardt Ave. This crossing is now rated as the most dangerous rail crossing in California.

David Kutrosky, Managing Director of the Capitol Corridor Joint Power Authority gave a long list of good news about the Capitol Corridor trains. Ridership and revenues are up. On time performance continues to be the best of any Amtrak train. Track and equipment maintenance also remains on a high level contributing to the high levels of service and on time performance on the Capitol Corridor most times. The dark clouds include delays and possible cancellation for additional passenger cars from the problems at Nippon Sharyo with building the order of new cars. New Locomotives however are on track for full delivery by 2017. The Capitol Corridor has plans for additional service which is dependent funding for track improvements. These include funding for track work north of Sacramento to run up to 3 roundtrips up from the current one for Roseville, There are also plans to extend more trains south of Oakland to San Jose. Of course these and other projects are dependent on capital funding which is not yet available and there is no guarantee of being funded anytime soon.

Next to talk was Andrew Selden of the Minnesota Association of Railroad Passengers. The point of his talk was to highlight the role of private companies operating rail Passenger service in this country and around the world. His message was competition leads to lower costs, greater efficiency and higher levels of passenger service. He pointed to the many private companies running many of the commuter rail passenger services in this county won by competitive bidding which all have lower operating costs than Amtrak. He gave a long list of privately operated services in this country and around the world. In many cases to win the franchise to operate service usually on publicly owned rail rights of way, not only are bidders bidding to the pay the highest amount to get the franchise, but they are also expected to put up private capital in the form of new train equipment and stations improvements to win the contract. Mr. Selden’s expectation is that with private operation of rail passengers service, the future of rail passenger service is bright in this county and around the world.

Last but not least was the presentation by Eric Smith, Chief Route Manager for the Coast Starlight and Southwest Chief. He had just arrived by plane from an Amtrak meeting in Washington when he came to talk in Sacramento. He started his talk about Jake the Conductor who was on the Pacific Surfliner which was recently held in Chatsworth because of a deranged man with a gun on this train. Conductor Jake rushed this man, got control of the gun and locked  it in a cabinet on the train. He then evacuated all of the passenger in this car and locked the deranged man alone in the then almost empty car. This went a long way in preventing injuries or possible death in this incident.

The main topic of Mr Smith’s talk was efforts by Amtrak, the Unions and employees to reduce the costs and increase the revenues of food service on Amtrak Trains. For Mr Eric Smith there is no rail passenger service without food and beverage service. What has been happening in California to make food service self supporting it to experiment with ideas propose by Amtrak employee who work in passenger and food service. This includes creating new menu items with existing ingredients at Amtrak. One such example was a Salisbury Steak meal using existing hamburger patties, gravy and  side orders to create a new dining experience. Also being looked at is ways to increase revenues with new services such as the Coast Starlight Business Class. There are efforts to upgrade this service more with seat improvements to make this seats more comfortable and unique. Mr Smith says this project has been very successful. The future of the Palour Car was bought up. Mr. Smith said there are no plans to get rid of the Palour cars. This doesn’t rule out turning newer equipment into Palour cars in the future to replace the original cars. Later this winter Palour Cars will be out of service on some trains for maintenance. Mr. Smith did say that there will be Palour Car service this winter on the weekends.

I Wish I Could Have Taken The Train To Sacramento


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By Noel T. Braymer

I have taken the Bus-Train-Bus from Oceanside to Sacramento more times over the last 35 years than I can count. With the September 24th RailPAC/NARP meeting coming up I also wanted to meet with my older sisters. I haven’t seen them in a while and they live in the Sacramento area. Of course taking the bus/train made doing both in one day impossible. So I drove instead this time. Without a car it is difficult to get around the large Sacramento Metro area to the suburban areas my sisters live. Also with only one day to travel, driving is still faster than taking the bus and train. Riding the San Joaquin service often means a 12 hour trip between San Diego and Sacramento. By car it can still be done in under 8 hours. There was a San Joaquin Train bus departing Sacramento just as the meeting on the 24th was almost over, but it would have left me stranded at Santa Ana at midnight. The last train from Sacramento to Bakersfield leaving at 5:10 PM would have left me stranded in Santa Ana at 1:45 AM. My only option by Amtrak would have been a three hour wait for the 6:30 PM bus with arrival in Oceanside at 4:30 AM. My dream is to be able to get to Sacramento, mostly by train with bus connections in 8 hours or less with more connections south of Santa Ana. I wish this could be done by 2021 or so. Here are some thoughts of how this can be done.

I would love a late evening train from San Diego that would go as far as Bob Hope Airport. This is assuming that LINK, the latest name for the run-through tracks at Los Angeles Union Station are built and in service by 2021. This would be faster and more comfortable than riding the bus. Much of the time on the bus is spent counting noses and getting paperwork done instead of driving. The bus schedule has a lot of padding which is needed when there are problems. But in most cases the buses leave late and almost always seem to get to Bakersfield early. From Bob Hope/ Burbank there would for now be a bus transfer by 2021. It will be almost 2029 before we can expect High Speed Rail service between Anaheim and San Francisco. At Bakersfield there would be a transfer to the train, but this would be a new train. Work on the High Speed Rail Tracks between Shafter and Madera is expected to be finished by 2019. Current plans call for service from the San Joaquin Valley to at least San Jose to begin by 2025. Seems like a waste of a good, fast railroad not to put it to work. I know I’m dreaming. But all things start with a dream.

This new Super San Joaquin would have new cars and locomotives for speeds up to 125 miles per hour. California will soon have the 125 mile an hour locomotives, but the order for the 125 mile an hour passenger cars is now in limbo because the new cars are having problems meeting FRA standards. Passenger cars are available that can go 125 miles per hour and are being built now in California. But they are going to Florida for the Brightline private train service between Miami and Orlando opening next year. But I can dream California orders some of these cars from Siemens and uses them on the San Joaquins. Somewhere between Shafter and Wasco this express San Joaquin would get on the high speed tracks for speeds up to 125 miles per hour. This route will be faster even at 79 miles per hour because there are no tight curves or slow orders. This will be particularly true going through Fresno. Platforms at the future High Speed Rail Fresno Station would be necessary since this train won’t be on the tracks of the Fresno Amtrak Station. Wasco, Corcoran and Hanford stations would likely be skipped. The Super San Joaquins could catch up to regular San Joaquin trains with transfer connections so passengers from skipped trains could connect to their final destinations north of Fresno faster.

At Madera this train would return to the nearby existing BNSF tracks. But even today’s San Joaquin trains should be going faster in the near future. With Positive Train Control in operation it would be possible to run trains on the BNSF  at up to 125 miles per hour even with grade crossings. But this is unlikely, since this would require physical barriers that can stop trucks from entering a crossing with a train approaching. It is also unlikely that the BNSF would allow this. But with additional double tracking and upgraded grade crossings it will be possible to run trains at 90 miles per hour in the San Joaquin Valley. Speeds up to 110 miles an hour are possible with upgraded grade crossing, but without separate tracks the BNSF is unlikely to approve speeds above 90 miles per hour since such high speed rail service will cause conflicts waiting at sidings running on tracks with slower freight trains. Plans to increase speeds to 90 miles per hour have been around for the San Joaquin trains in the Valley for years.

In my dreams there would be more direct rail service to Sacramento with these Super San Joaquin Trains. These could be timed to meet regular San Joaquin trains for transfers to Sacramento and transfers from the express train to get to the Bay Area. Such a transfer for now would have to be done at Modesto. There are 2 stations in Stockton which don’t share the same tracks. There has been talk for years of building a new station in Stockton where Sacramento and Bay Area San Joaquin Trains could share a station and also transfer to ACE Trains. But so far all we have is talk. What is needed are more trains to Sacramento. The UP is demanding additional double tracking before they will consider more Sacramento bound passenger trains. Ideally in the future there should be many Sacramento bound trains transferring with High Speed Rail by 2029, even before high speed rail service is built to Sacramento. But before that even a handful of additional Sacramento trains would go a long way. Even the existing late afternoon Sacramento departure San Joaquin would work for me if the connecting bus service was extended to San Diego County.

In the past there were plans for the Altamont Corridor Express trains to extend service to Sacramento. In fact as part of the deal with the old Southern Pacific which made ACE service possible between Stockton and San Jose there was I believe an agreement with time slots between Stockton and Sacramento. If this is true, would it be possible for the San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority to work out a deal with the Altamont Corridor Express to use these time slots if they exist? Well since ACE is run by the San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission in San Joaquin County, and the San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority responsible for the San Joaquin Trains is managed by the San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission, such negotiations could be done in the break room at the Regional Rail Commission to run more Sacramento trains. The sticking point is: all you need now is money.

But even if we get more trains running faster before 2025 between Northern and Southern California, there is still the problems of getting from the train stations to your final destination. I mean how will I meet up with my sisters in Sacramento without them driving to pick me up? I know what I’d like. Electric bike rentals available the RT Light Rail stations which would cover most of the suburban area of Sacramento ! Its fun to dream.

A Less Than Fond Look Back On The Last 8 years Of Amtrak

By Andrew Selden

With America’s worst businessman, Joe Boardman, gone from his ruinous reign at Amtrak, one can hope for some stability and the prospect of rational investment policy and growth at Amtrak. That remains to be seen.

Boardman’s swan song was a doozy – a five-car, two-engine private train junket around the west in late July for Boardman and invited guests ranging from real railroad executives to gullible local politicians. The train consisted of Amtrak #10001, Beech Grove (a converted Amfleet business car), 10004, American View (converted Viewliner track inspection gallery car), 10021, Pacific Cape (converted Budd Heritage sleeper), 10031, Ocean View (ex-GN full-length dome), and 62044 (standard Viewliner sleeper). It was powered by P-42s 145 and 822, both repainted into a long-retired Amtrak paint scheme. (That is a lot of power for this train; the Empire Builder routinely gets only one P-42 for seven cars between Spokane and Seattle, over Stevens Pass.) The train came west from the Northeast Corridor, through Chicago, to Albuquerque and El Paso, then east on the Sunset Limited.

Boardman used the train to “celebrate” having fleeced the affected states and communities for $42 million used to rehabilitate BNSF’s track in western Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico used by the Southwest Chief. The Chief is a national system train that is, and should be, a 100% Amtrak/federal responsibility. So instead of reprogramming 4% of one year’s federal subsidy to pay for this trackwork, Boardman succeeded in squeezing that money out of the states and cities along the route, in effect getting Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico to subsidize the Northeast Corridor. Boardman also worked the usual con by dangling the prospect of a rail connection between the Chief’s route in Kansas and Dallas-Ft. Worth (via Wichita and Oklahoma City), but only if the local states and cities paid for it. We’re waiting for Kansas to call his bluff and put that proposal out for competitive bids.

Another con that Boardman worked on was a proposed extension of the Southwest Chief route to Pueblo, CO. United Rail Passenger Alliance proposed this 25 years ago as a re-route of trains 3 and 4 between La Junta and Trinidad via Pueblo, allowing BN (now, BNSF) to downgrade or abandon the passenger-only track between La Junta and just east of Trinidad. Existing main line track existed then and still does now to allow Chief trains to run the new route, with a stop at the still-standing Pueblo Santa Fe depot, without any new track construction needed (existing track, as always, would need some enhancement). The extra hour or so of running time would be easily compensated by millions in new revenue from passengers using Pueblo as a gateway to the Colorado mountains, and to Colorado Springs and Denver. Amtrak’s current solution? A free-standing separate train connecting La Junta to Pueblo, but ignoring networking opportunities to serve Colorado Springs, Denver and Gunnison. The Pueblo stop by itself would add 14,000 annual customers and $1.5 million in revenue. No comment was offered on where those new passengers would sit once they got on the Chief, which is often sold out much of the year. Amtrak also offered no comment on why running a local stub train between La Junta and Pueblo made any sense, since by their own estimates only 20 people a trip would ride it.

We haven’t seen a cost estimate for Boardman’s last junket, but at commercial lease costs for five exotic specialty cars, two engines, service staff, engineers and conductors, and track usage charges by the host railroads, plus soft costs like insurance and entertainment, this could easily have come to a quarter of a million dollars. Spent by a totally bankrupt company, out of free subsidies provided by taxpayers and ordinarily used on NEC track maintenance.

The two P-42s commandeered for Boardman’s junket left Ft. Worth (and, we believe, Chicago) with no spare roadworthy locomotives. The Heartland Flyer, as a result, was forced to use borrowed BNSF power (BNSF 6892) after its own engine (Amtrak 177) failed on August 3, thus running late for days due to speed limitations on the freight engine.

Engines are in short supply in Chicago in part because all of the converted F40 car bodies used as cab control cars-plus-baggage room, mostly on push-pull Hiawatha service trains to Milwaukee, had to be parked after a Hiawatha grade-crossing collision on June 20 separated the cab control unit from the train, at speed, and sent it free-rolling on down the railroad for three miles before it rolled to a stop. It turns out that these units’ brakes aren’t designed to apply themselves after a break-apart, unlike all other rail equipment. CP and Metra promptly banned the units, and Amtrak had to replace them with a real, second, locomotive, making the Hiawathas the most ridiculously over-powered trains on the system.

Missed market opportunities aren’t limited to Oklahoma and southern Kansas. Phoenix Sky Harbor airport has 44 million passengers a year. Amtrak doesn’t run even a 9-passenger van to Phoenix from its middle-of-nowhere stop at Maricopa, AZ, 40 miles south. Annual visitation to Las Vegas adds up to more than 42 million people. Amtrak can’t be bothered to run a train to Las Vegas. Annual Canadian visitation to Florida, mostly on the Gulf Coast, is about 3.7 million. Amtrak’s share of that? Zero, because Amtrak can’t conceive of running the Silver Star to Toronto or Montreal.

In June, Joe Boardman said that Amtrak needed new diesel engines (no kidding), but leasing them with builder financing (the same way many people buy a new Chevy or Toyota) wasn’t the answer; instead, Boardman said, “Congress has got to come forward and decide to make some investments in rolling stock.” No one asked Boardman why he couldn’t reprogram a tiny slice of the billion dollars a year that Congress already gives him, to pay for new diesels.

Amtrak did manage to use $7 million of the annual billion subsidy dollars bestowed by congress to build a new Metropolitan Lounge, for business class and sleeping car passengers, in Chicago Union Station.

Replacing a cramped and worn-out space on the concourse opened in 1991, the new lounge is a two-story, 13,500 square foot facility in the depot’s historic main waiting room building. It seats 360, about twice the capacity of the old space. It has a separate street entrance, but lacks the direct access to trains that the old lounge featured using its “secret” back door. This is in addition to the “Legacy Club,” an extra fee waiting area opened recently off the main waiting room, open to anyone willing to pay the entrance fee. The old Metropolitan Lounge space will be redeveloped into a modern pre-boarding area for the nearby tracks. We haven’t heard if the new lounge also has the extremely useful “left luggage” room feature of the old club, where passengers could check baggage during a layover between trains so they could get out for a walk in the loop.

Summer is peak period on most of the long distance trains. For example, we know that between Memorial Day and Labor Day, the Empire Builders have run with every seat occupied and every sleeping car room sold. But in the business traffic-dependent NEC, not so much. Traffic has been so weak in the NEC – already off several percent this year – that Amtrak ran a give-away sale on NEC seats, with prices as low as $49 between NY and Boston or Washington, DC. A 14-day advance purchase was required, ruling out use by most business travelers.

Amtrak was lead on an order for new bilevel regional corridor cars intended for use by several states, including Illinois and California. The low bidder/contractor is Kinki-Sharyo, whose inexperience with US rail car engineering standards showed up in spades last year when the prototype car failed the FRA 800,000 pound crush-load test. That much had been reported, and work on the entire order was suspended as a result. What wasn’t reported at the time was that the test car didn’t just deform slightly, it basically crumpled in a complete structural failure. And, the prototype car was already so over-weight that the usual over the seat luggage racks had been designed out of the cars. The lesson may caution if using an inexperienced low bidder on car orders when proven builders like Bombardier and Siemens are available.

Amtrak was hit by a phony overtime scandal again in July, when two supervisory workers in New Jersey were arrested and charged with fraud and theft for billing Amtrak for almost a hundred thousand dollars in fake straight time and overtime. The episode was reminiscent of a scheme discovered in Chicago a few years ago when workers would punch in at Amtrak’s Chicago shops, then walk out to a second job where they (presumably) actually did some work.

In a “deck-chairs-on-the-Titanic” scheme, Amtrak decided to revamp and re-launch its on-board magazine. (We assume that is cheaper than installing wi-fi on all its trains, but it still has a 19th century feel to it.) The new magazine, to be called “The National,” will feature slick travel photography and hired stories. The first issue will be released in October. Magazines like this are mainly advertising platforms that yield a small revenue stream to the owner.

Amtrak removed dining cars and meal service from the Lakeshore Limited (Chicago-NY via Cleveland and Buffalo) in July, because of structural defects in the 60-year old standard dining cars. (VIA’s identical cars are still going strong in Canada.) Until new Viewliner diners become available sometime this winter, food service, such as it is, will be offered in a second Amfleet dinette car. No reduction in sleeping car fares to compensate for the downgraded dining service were announced. Enough Heritage dining cars remain only to cover the Silver Meteor and Crescent routes.

Finally, Amtrak announced in late July that it had come to terms with Alstom to build a new fleet of replacement Acela II trainsets for the NEC. The original Acelas were introduced in 2000-2001 but have not held up well. By just the most amazing, wildest, coincidence, Alstom said they would build these trains in Joe Boardman’s home state, New York. New York Senator Chuck Schumer took credit for raiding the Treasury, oops, we mean “arranging the federal financing,” for the new trains. Existing Acela trains have an annual load factor of just over 50%, so it’s not entirely clear why new trains are appropriate, but Amtrak’s announcement didn’t explain that. Amtrak also didn’t explain why, if the existing Acelas are so “successful” and “profitable,” their replacements couldn’t be self-financed, rather than depending on “federal financing.”