Don’t Put All Your Eggs Into One Transportation Basket

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By Noel T. Braymer

A basic concept in safety and reliability is redundancy. A good example of this was in the past when cars had spare tires and often got flat tires. Having a spare tire meant maybe 15 minutes of changing a tire instead of being stranded for who knows how long waiting for a tow truck. I remember in the 1960’s during the “Race to the Moon” how on television reporters would go on about how manned space rockets had redundant systems. What that meant was major systems like life support or communications often had one or more back up systems for travel into “outer space”. At about the same time auto makers added redundancy to car brakes. Most cars up the 1960’s had just one hydraulic brake system. Since the 1960’s cars have 2 hydraulic systems with one for the front brakes and the other for the back brakes. If one of the hydraulic system failed, you would still have half of the car’s braking power, which is enough to let you stop. If you only had one hydraulic braking system and it failed, basically you have no brakes except maybe downshifting and trying to stop using the parking brake. So what is my point with all this? We shouldn’t let ourselves be dependent on only one form of transportation. In this country this usually means roads and cars. When there is a problem or an emergency traffic can come to a halt. We’ve just seen this happen in Santa Barbara.

Since first the fires, then the heavy rains in the Santa Barbara area, have come massive mudslides which have shut down Highway 101 for almost 2 weeks. By comparison the UP was able to get rail service back and running in a couple of days. With the 101 shut down, the railroad is the only alternative for travel through Santa Barbara. Even with additional passenger cars on the Amtrak trains, Amtrak was forced to leave some passengers at the platforms because the trains were full. But things would even be worse if there wasn’t rail service running along the coast. The current situation in Santa Barbara is not unique. In emergency situations evacuating people, particularly those who don’t have cars, or when the roads are jammed or closed can make things difficult or even impossible for travel. Yet there is little in the planning to use rail service resources in times of emergency. What would really help now would be to borrow equipment from Metrolink and run shuttle service at least between Ventura and Santa Barbara. Better yet would be temporary expanded Metrolink service between Santa Barbara and Los Angeles until things can return to normal. Why isn’t this being done? Because most of the railroad in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties is single track, and there isn’t the track capacity to add more trains.

California is lucky to have the rail service it has. Back in 1994 the Northridge Earthquake shut down several freeways. Metrolink was less than 2 years old at that time, but was soon busy carrying extra people because of several destroyed freeway bridges. This also brought about the extension of Metrolink to Lancaster in the Antelope Valley. With the collapse of the Highway 14 interchange to the 5 at Sylmar, the Antelope Valley was largely cut off for commuters to the general Los Angeles area. Metrolink is now a major part of transportation in the Antelope Valley. Before Northridge in 1989 there was the Loma Prieta Earthquake which destroyed several segments of freeway including shutting down the Bay Bridge between San Francisco and Oakland. Both Caltrain (which was one of the few things running the night of the earthquake) and BART came into their own after the earthquake. Ridership on BART grew dramatically as one of the few ways to cross the bay. Even today BART is at near capacity carrying passengers between Oakland and San Francisco. BART often carries as many or more people across the bay than the Bay Bridge does even today. The problem that we face is our demand for travel continues to grow, but not our capacity to carry people and goods.

There are times when rail service fails and buses are needed to carry rail passengers by road. But both our rail passenger service and roads need improving even for normal times, to say nothing about them dealing with an emergency. There are many more people and cars today in California and many other places than there were in 1980. Since the 1980’s there has been a major decline in the construction of new freeways as well as of maintenance of the major roads, bridges and freeways. What we don’t have more of is more land since 1980 as the post World War 2 era of economic growth and new infrastructure slowly came to a near halt during the 1970’s. Much of that transportation infrastructure predates World War 2 and all of it is now in need of replacement or repair. Are more roads the answer? The real question is were would you build them? Building new suburbs would require lots of land. Even if the land was available, long distance commutes by car would be required which is very expensive and exhausting for those commuting by car. The bigger issue for most people is finding affordable housing. The most economic form of housing is high density housing. The problem with that is there isn’t enough land to build enough parking, let alone roads in a city with high density housing for everyone to drive a car.

This brings up the latest hysteria about the cost of building California High Speed Rail. Yes there are problems securing land for rights of way which is causing the price of building High Speed Rail in the San Joaquin Valley to go over budget. But this is not unique to rail service. The same problems occur when trying to build new airports or new freeways. Notice no one in California or most other places are trying to do either now. That’s because of the cost and opposition from property owners if a proposal is made to build anything using private property. The cheapest alternative for building High Speed Rail in the San Joaquin Valley would have been using land on the I-5 freeway. The land would have been free since the State already owned it. The problem with using the I-5 is it doesn’t serve any towns in the San Joaquin Valley. A major goal of High Speed Rail is to serve the cities in the San Joaquin Valley and help stimulate the local economies. So far spending for construction of High Speed Rail has already reduced the high levels of unemployment in  the Valley. Economic growth in cities with train stations is usually seen after rail passenger service is expanded.

Are the problems with High Speed Rail construction going to kill the project which its critics often predict? Let’s look at Los Angeles’s first modern subway line, the Red Line. It went way over budget, had serious accidents and its construction caused damage to many buildings where the tunneling went under. It was late getting built, and early ridership was well under projection. Los Angeles County in the 1990’s even banned all future subway construction for future rail service in the county. Today there are rail tunneling projects in Los Angeles County for the Crenshaw/LAX line due to open in 2019. Also now under construction in downtown Los Angeles is tunneling for the Regional Connector for the Blue, Gold and Expo Lines opening by 2021. Construction is now underway to extend the Red Line by tunnel from Western Ave to La Cienega Blvd to open by 2023. The plans are now to finish extending the Red Line to Westwood in time for the Los Angeles Olympics by 2028.

We clearly need roads and railroads. People will still have cars even if the cars drive themselves. But we need to get more out of the roads we have. That means more people but fewer cars on the roads and streets. Railroads can easily be improved to carry more people and freight. Adding more tracks, from one to 2 and up to four tracks on many existing railroads is feasible and could be done at a fraction of the cost of trying to build new or to expand existing roads. Double track passenger service can carry passenger loads on par with freeways with cars typically carrying mostly one person. Not only is having a good mixture of road and rail service a good idea in times of emergencies, but also for the rest of the time too.

 

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The Riverside Transit Agency May Have A Brilliant Idea Running A New Bus To Disneyland

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By Noel T. Braymer

On Sunday, January 14, 2018, Riverside county Transit  Agency (RTA) introduced a new express bus service, Bus Line 200 to Disneyland. This new bus serves not only Riverside and Orange Counties, but the City of San Bernardino too. It will likely attract Disneyland yearly pass holders as well as people who live in the Inland Empire and work at or in the Disneyland area. The price is $3 dollars one way and $7 dollars with a day pass. The Senior/Disabled fare is $2 one way and $5 dollars with the day pass. This bus runs mostly on the freeway and has only 7 stops which will make the trip faster than most transit bus service. What is interesting about these 7 stops is they are mostly at busy transit centers. Three of these stops are at Metrolink stations. These include the downtown San Bernardino Transit Center which is now the terminus for Metrolink’s San Bernardino Line. There is also the downtown Riverside Metrolink Station where the 200 bus will stop and the La Sierra Metrolink Station in southern Riverside which is also a stop for the 200 bus. What would be even better would be bus stops at the Anaheim transit center for connections to Amtrak and Metrolink’s Orange County Line. Also nearby is the City of Orange Metrolink station with service from both the Orange County Metrolink Line and the Inland Empire/Orange County Metrolink Line.

This is a graphic from the Riverside Transit Agency showing the 7 stops between San Bernardino and Disneyland including 3 at Metrolink stations

Weekdays the 200 bus schedule has 17 buses running roughly hourly most of the day in both directions. One complaint reported in a news story was that the last bus of the night leaves Disneyland before the fireworks show is over. With connections at transit centers, such a bus services would open up many more markets than just to and from Disneyland. What most transportation services have learned is ridership grows with the more markets you serve. This new bus will make it easier for passengers riding the trains between Orange County and the Inland Empire to connect to San Bernardino on the 4 out of 8 trains that stop now at Riverside but not at San Bernardino. It will also open more travel from the San Bernardino Metrolink Line to Riverside. There is even a bus stop for downtown Riverside not far from the Riverside Metrolink Station. Adding a couple of more bus stops at Anaheim and Orange would make it possible for people in the Inland Empire to not only go to Disneyland, but to catch trains to southern Orange County and to San Diego County. This could also allow people to travel from San Diego to the Inland Empire with one bus connection.

This RTA graphic show the number of connecting services at the 7 stops for the new express 200 RTA bus

Such an express service with multiple connections to trains and other buses would open many more travel opportunities to get around in this case in Southern California. Similar bus services with rail and bus connections could also work to give rail connections to other places without rail service. This and similar services could also provide service to places with rail passenger service at times there isn’t rail service such as between Riverside and San Bernardino. Hopefully this new service will provide convenient, economical and frequent connections to more places and be a model for other services to connect with rail passenger service.

This is part of the schedule for the 200 bus line showing the 17 buses run going westbound during the weekday.

“THE RAILROADING COMMUNITY IS NOT FOOLED BY THE NEW FOUND SHOCK OF CONGRESS: THE PTC PROBLEM WAS CREATED—AND PERPETUATED—BY CONGRESS!”

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By M.E. Singer

Ah, so this is what Yogi Berra meant by quipping, “this is like deja vu all over again.”

When does Congress put down the Orwellian talking points, look straight into the mirror, and feel the epiphany that the entire problem with the delay of installing the Positive Train Control system (PTC) is directly a result of Congress; persistently remains in their lap which they refuse to resolve. However, history does not lie:

1) In 2008, pushed by hysterical members of Congress from California in reaction to a head-on collision between an LA Metrolink commuter and Union Pacific freight at Chatsworth, CA, that killed 25 passengers, an unfunded mandate was quickly legislated by Congress demanding all railroads to enact the nascent PTC. Like the Tonkin Gulf Resolution(1964) passed open-ended with no thoughts how it would be implemented, Congress gave no regard to the details of PTC, including: cost; burden on railroads Capex for infrastructure improvements and equipment acquisition; requisite up front need to secure from the FCC its cooperation on a timely basis for the band widths required; potential problems with sacred Native American Indian tribal lands; and of course, the issue of inter-operability between different railroads. This is an issue, particularly for commuter and passenger trains, as they must traverse different private railroads along their route. Also note this unfunded mandate was passed as the economy was tanking.

2) Interestingly, as the media is now devoid of transportation experts, and Congress relies almost exclusively on the “expert advice” of lobbyists crammed into their “smoke-filled rooms” to push their one dimensional agenda, nobody has ever bothered (except in my past writings) to look at the parallels here. Doing so would force an understanding how grossly biased against the railroads the federal government has historically been. For example:

3) After a mid-air collision over the Grand Canyon in 1956, Congress swiftly mandated the public treasury to build and maintain the Air Traffic Control system (ATC) for the FAA. Again, after another mid-air collision over Queens, NY in 1960, Congress did not hesitate to increase funding to the FAA to further enhance ATC. So, hundreds are killed in two mid-air collisions, and Congress jumps to open its purse strings–for the benefit of the privately-owned airlines.

4) This action comes in another parallel–how during this same time, the feds were thoroughly funding the airports, runways, aprons; while also completely funding the interstate highway system for privately-owned autos, buses, and trucks; and even the inland waterway locks for private barges. The impact on the privately-owned railroads was inevitable-the erosion of their freight traffic due to federal funding of competitors impacted these railroads from continuing to maintain their passenger services. The railroads were taxed by every jurisdiction for every building, as well as every mile of rail and tie.

The final under-cutitng of the American passenger train was the coup handed by the feds when the USPO in 1967 removed mail from the trains, giving this profit sector to the airlines and trucks. Carrying those RPOs and bulk mail cars often provided the difference between covering a train’s costs-crews, dining, lounge, sleeping, parlor cars, depot/ticket and baggage agents, commissaries, etc, and operating at a deficit; requiring freight to cross-subsidize. Concomitantly, the feds also made it quite easy for the airlines to take their subsidies and move into the short haul market; thus, destroying the very beneficial network of regional passenger trains linking towns and villages to the end point cities.

5) In respect to these historical facts, and how Congress has interfered in the private transportation sector by picking winners and losers, it is now incumbent upon Congress to fix this problem they created. This fix can only be achieved by Congress immediately funding all PTC installation; reimbursing all railroads for prior installation not funded.

If anybody disagrees, just remember that the rush now in Congress to turnover the tax-paid Air Traffic Control system to a private operation, controlled by the airlines themselves, has heard the lobbyists and does not even intend to charge General Aviation for its use.

For Congress, this has become Orwell meets Pork.

The Challenges Richard Anderson Has Running Amtrak

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By Noel T. Braymer

Amtrak now has just one Chief Executive Officer in Mr. Anderson. While he has years of experience as a business executive, running a railroad, one with many problems, will no doubt be a challenge. One thing Mr. Anderson has been doing is shaking up management at Amtrak by offering early retirement to Amtrak managers. At the same time new managers were hired outside of Amtrak to replace some of the now retired managers. Many of these replacement managers came from the airline industry which is where Mr. Anderson has spent much of his career. Under Anderson, Amtrak is seeing improvements in marketing and passenger amenities. Overhauling the Amfleet equipment from the 1970’s was long overdue and should increase ridership. But Amtrak’s biggest problem is dealing with the problems of the costs and repair of the Northeast Corridor, problems of which long predate the creation of Amtrak. For Amtrak to thrive it will need growth. In order to grow it will need a larger route system. But to run more trains to more places it will need more and newer equipment. This will also require the cooperation of the host railroads.

Last year we saw major shakeups at the CSX railroad under the short tenure of the late Hunter Harrison. Mr. Harrison’s successor at CSX is expected to continue Harrison’s policies which were to cut operating costs to the bone while increasing revenues and profits. In the short time of Harrison tenure at CSX efforts to save money at CSX saw massive congestion of CSX rail traffic and late deliveries which upset CSX’s customers. But even before this, last year Hunter Harrison made it clear that he was not interested in allowing more passenger trains on the CSX. There have been efforts on going for years to create daily rail passenger service on the CSX tracks between New Orleans to Florida, most likely to Orlando along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. This would likely be done by extending the train “City of New Orleans” from Chicago past New Orleans to Florida. Amtrak was supportive of this effort. But since the rejection of this proposal by CSX, very little has been said about this project. That is not to say that the backers of this effort have given up.

CSX is also a host carrier for Amtrak’s train the Cardinal. There is great local support, like there is for Gulf Coast service by the communities on the route of the Cardinal to have it run daily instead of the current 3 days a week service on this train. One of the problems with the Cardinal is the low speeds of the service due to the low level of track maintenance on the Cardinal’s route. This reflects a major difference between freight and passenger services. Freight carriers aren’t concerned as much with top speeds of rail service as passenger service. Running trains at faster speed means spending more money on track maintenance to allow trains to run faster more safely. What freight carriers are more concerned with are delays on their freight lines. What often delay’s freight trains are late running Amtrak trains.

Another railroad which is often not looking for more Amtrak passenger service is the Union Pacific. The Union Pacific owns miles of railroad just in California with passenger service where there is demand to expand service. This includes most of the Coast Line north of Los Angeles past San Jose, service between the Bay Area and Sacramento as well as between Los Angeles and Arizona on the route of the Sunset Limited. One place that will see expanded passenger service on the UP in California is in the San Joaquin Valley between Stockton and Merced. But this won’t be Amtrak service. The Altamont Corridor Express or ACE, is a regional rail passenger service between Stockton and San Jose carrying many passengers working in “silicon valley”. What ACE did last year was with bipartisan support from legislators in the San Joaquin Valley was to get $400 million in funding from the California State Budget to pay for building a new track on the UP south of Stockton to Merced. The UP seems to be happy with this arrangement. This new track means there won’t be mixed passenger traffic with the UP freight traffic on a busy mainline. Also as part of the deal, the UP will be able to use this new track when passenger service isn’t using it to relieve congestion of their mainline. On top of this the UP will get revenue by sharing their right of way.

Railroads generally are more than happy to deal with regional rail passenger services. That’s because such services are usually able to pay for track improvements and willing to pay more for track access than Amtrak. By law the railroads have to give a discount to Amtrak to run their trains on the host railroads. The railroads complain they they don’t make money with these these low trackage fees. The other problem the railroads have is problems with Amtrak trains often being late which disrupts their traffic.

This brings up a new post just created at Amtrak of Chief Safety Officer with the hiring of Ken Hylander, who recently was the Chief Safety Officer at Delta Airlines, which Amtrak President Anderson is also a former president of. Amtrak has been in the news lately due to major fatal accidents in the last few years. Central to Mr. Hylander’s job at Amtrak is establishing a Safety Management System (SMS) there. The origins of the airline industry’s SMS program goes back to the worst airplane crash in airline history in 1977 at the Spanish Canary Island of Tenerife. The Canary Islands are a popular vacation destination which sees heavy air traffic. On March 27, 1977 the main airport for the Canary Islands was closed due to an explosion at a terminal. This forced all the air traffic in the area diverted to a smaller, secondary airport with only one runway. This airport was so jammed with planes, that the taxiways were blocked with parked airplanes. This forced the airport to use the one runway to taxi planes into position which greatly slowed down operations and left many planes and passengers waiting a long time to take off. On top of everything else fog had reduced visibility.

Waiting to take off at Tenerife was a KLM 747. Most airline pilots get their flight training serving in the military. With this came a somewhat military mentality of “I give the orders and you will obey”. From cockpit recordings investigators followed what happened in the KLM cockpit just before the crash. The fight captain had been in conversations with the tower preparing for take off, but the flight didn’t received clearance to take off. The captain gave the pilot the order to open the throttles and take off. The pilot, answered that he hadn’t heard the tower giving flight clearance to take off. If the captain had just contacted to tower to confirm that he had clearance to take off, history wouldn’t have been made on March 27, 1977. Instead the captain reordered the pilot to start the take off not knowing there was a Pan Am 747 taxing on the runway. The resulting crash resulted in the death of 583 people between the two 747’s.

The basic premise of Safety Management at the airlines is to improve communications within the airline. This means leaders are expected to listen to information from subordinates when they report potential problems and to encourage subordinates to report problems. This program has greatly reduced airline accidents in the airline industry. Improving communications when dealing with potential problems at Amtrak will be the greatest challenge Richard Anderson will face at Amtrak. Many of the problems at Amtrak stem from a culture that tends to hide problems, not to address them. This is not unique to Amtrak. But many problems at Amtrak stem from efforts to ignore or cover up problems. For years Amtrak has not done a good job of maintaining its equipment in many cases. This often results in late running trains or train breakdowns. These problems often create hostility with the host railroads when Amtrak’s problems disrupts the host railroad’s traffic. Many mistakes made at Amtrak or most places can be traced to poor communications or lack of attention.

In order for Amtrak’s business to grow and become a major force in this country’s transportation network, Amtrak must improve it’s relationship with the Class 1 railroads on whom many of Amtrak’s trains share their tracks. By just not creating problems for the host railroads will go a long way for Amtrak to improving relationships. The railroads would like to get more money from Amtrak for their troubles. The railroads would be interested in receiving taxpayers money to improve their railroads to allow more public use of their rights of way. This has been shown by the efforts of ACE in the San Joaquin Valley to expand passenger service there. Achieving these goals will require better communications which is also required for improved safety at Amtrak. It will be interesting what changes we will see at Amtrak in the next year or two.

More On The Future Of Metrolink

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By Noel T. Braymer

I have been going over and rereading Metrolink’s ten year strategic plan published in 2015 covering its planning up to 2025. I’ve written about some of this on this blog last week. This plan is a 171 page document which takes some time and rereading to cover a lot of its material. Basically there is a lot in this plan which is very welcomed and long overdue. Much of what is in this says much of what I have been calling for years and is also supported by RailPAC. At the heart of this plan is the realization that the original Metrolink plan to mostly operate rush hour service into downtown Los Angeles in the morning and out by night ignores many other important travel markets. This new plan assumes more frequent service, more reverse commute services, better connections to markets without rail service as well as expanded services on new routes. Getting there will be a battle for funding as well as cooperation with the railroads and between the county agencies which control the Metrolink Board. But it is a giant step the the right direction.

A good example of what I am saying is Metrolink is looking at connections along the coast of Los Angeles County. Metrolink has been getting feedback for connections to West Los Angeles and the South Bay area which is from LAX south. Metrolink is considering connecting bus services and improved connections to transit  to increase its ridership by 2025. The most logical way to operate such a service in the short term would be to work with LA Metro to start with a connecting bus service at the Metrolink station at the border of Norwalk and Santa Fe Springs. This bus service could carry both regular bus riders and transferring Metrolink riders. Traveling mostly on the HOV lanes on the Century and San Diego Freeways, this bus would have few stops. But these stops would be at busy transit centers. This bus could stop at the Willowbrook joint station for the Green and Blue lines. For passengers taking the Blue Line, this will allow travel to downtown Long Beach. There is also the Harbor Freeway busway for connections to the Silver Line Bus. This bus service could stop at one or two stations for connections to the Green Line which runs all the way to the South Bay and offer bus connections to more of the South Bay. This same bus by 2023 could stop at the joint Green and Crenshaw/LAX lines 96th street station which will connect by LAX People Mover to the airport terminals as well as regional transit bus service. Both the Green and Crenshaw/LAX lines will serve the South Bay. This bus could continue up the San Diego Freeway to the Expo Line station at Sepulveda Blvd in West LA for connections to Santa Monica. Passengers who transferred by LAX to the Crenshaw Line can also transfer to the Expo Line at Crenshaw Blvd. A good terminus for this bus would be at Westwood which is a busy area of West LA and could have subway service along Wilshire Blvd by 2026.

Another area where bus connections would be handy would be to add more frequent service on the Ventura line using buses to connect to Metrolink trains. Many Ventura Line trains don’t go all the way to Metrolink’s east Ventura station. Ventura County doesn’t have much money to expand Metrolink service. But adding connecting buses to the Metrolink stations west of where Metrolink’s trains stop short of Ventura would for a low cost expand service. Amtrak has had connecting bus service for Pacific Surfliner trains north of Los Angeles for years to trains that terminate in Los Angeles. Some places in Ventura County without rail service like Thousand Oaks might also use buses to connect to Metrolink. Much the same could be done between Oceanside and Laguna Niguel. At Laguna Niguel many Metrolink trains on both the Orange County and Inland Empire/Orange County Lines terminate there. Adding connecting bus service could bring more service to the stations in San Juan Capistrano, San Clemente and Oceanside. Metrolink has planned in the past extending their trains that stop now in Oceanside down to San Diego. These trains would make all the stops that the Coaster trains make now between Oceanside and San Diego. By 2025, 90% of the railroad between Oceanside and San Diego will be double tracked which should have no problems with more traffic to handle by extending the existing Metrolink trains south of Oceanside. The problems will remain trying to add more trains with single track railroading between San Clemente and San Juan Capistrano.

What Metrolink is also looking at is running more frequent service on its lines in the midday and evening hours. This will require more trains. Once the new fleet of locomotives are in service and older cars which have been out of service for a few years are rebuilt and back in service it will be possible to add more trains. Also in the plans are more maintenance facilities such as in the Antelope Valley and at Colton which will allow trains to run more during the day and be serviced instead at night. There is also discussion of adding Diesel Multiple Unit (DMU) equipment to some of Metrolink’s lines. These are self powered rail passenger cars with operator cabs that often run in trains of 2 or 3 cars.They are cheaper to operate carrying smaller passenger loads than locomotive hauled trains. This equipment may be run on off peak periods on the Antelope Valley Line. To give some idea of what is being planned, Metrolink now uses 39 trainsets to run all their trains. By 2025 Metrolink’s plan is to increase this to between 49 up to 56 trainsets. This will allow Metrolink to run more frequently to provide more midday and evening services. Also being looked at are new routes to run trains on. But before this can happen, there is much needed track work that needs to be finished and agreements with the railroads.

One project that Metrolink would like to get approval from the UP is to run some of their San Bernardino line trains between Los Angeles and El Monte on the Alhambra Branch. The Metrolink line now between Los Angeles and El Monte is single tracked and in the middle of the 10 Freeway with little room for much double tracking. The existing trains on the San Bernardino line will likely stay on the current route because the one station between Los Angeles and El Monte at Cal State University Los Angeles is very popular. The Alhambra branch would be used to add additional trains which would be faster than running them on the existing route to El Monte. There was also discussion of running Metrolink trains between Redlands and Ontario Airport. San Bernardino County is building a local DMU service between Redlands and San Bernardino. All Metrolink San Bernardino line trains now stop at the downtown San Bernardino Transit Center, with a few Metrolink trains to be extended to Redlands in the future. The UP owns the line to the Ontario Airport. This line will be valuable as an airport rail service since its the only rail line that goes right by the terminals. There was also discussion of Metrolink operating local service between Ventura and San Barbara. This has been in the plans for years, but has been going nowhere because an agreement with the UP hasn’t been reached. What is being done there now is adjusting the timetable of the existing Amtrak Pacific Surfliner trains to allow some commuter service for employees living in Ventura County to go to work in Santa Barbara.

Perhaps the most exciting find in Metrolink’s 10 year plan was their thinking about their future use of Los Angeles Union Station when run through tracks are built. The current track layout of Los Angeles Union Station have tracks which all dead end. No firm date has yet been released when construction will start to convert some tracks into run through tracks which is combined with other work at Union Station including a new concourse which will likely be built below the station tracks. With run through tracks, trains will be able to come in from one end, stop then go ahead to another route. What this means is that instead of the trains terminating at Union Station and either going to the yard or waiting to go out on the line it came on, the trains will now continue on a different line. What this means is trains coming in on the Orange County, Riverside or 91/Perris Lines into Union Station, could go out on to the Ventura, Antelope Valley or San Bernardino Lines. Or any other combination of routes. Run through tracks will also increase the number of trains run per hour per track from 2 trains an hour to 6 trains an hour. Extending Metrolink trains on to 2 routes reduces the need to transfer and makes trips that go through Los Angeles faster and more reliable. Even if a transfer is needed, it will be simpler with run through tracks because of fewer transfer combinations. This will make riding Metrolink much easier and attractive to more places around Southern California. While this may not all happen all at once, improvements are on the way.
 

BOLD, DECISIVE ACTION REQUIRED NOW TO PROTECT THE NATIONAL SYSTEM AND ITS STATE-SUPPORTED ROUTES

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By M. E. Singer

Wherever we are located along the national distance route system, we are exhausted hearing the superficial doff of the hats and superficial pledges that do nothing to add or encourage any hope toward meaningful investment in the requisite acquisition of new equipment to increase frequencies and expand routes. Instead of starting with the usual diatribe against the obvious political emphasis of Amtrak’s direction re the Northeast Corridor at the expense of investing in the national system, as we know the historical issues, I prefer to start with my recommendations. Up front, I recommend:

Given the past history of willful neglect by the region’s politicians, and Amtrak’s perpetual “shell game” floating revenues and funding from the national system to shore-up the Northeast  Corridor, the following action must be undertaken to ensure the federal and state governments “sing from the same hymnal” as a matter of national common sense, if we are to avoid another extraordinarily over cost “Big Dig” project (Boston) to impact across the region.These proposed resolutions are reasonable if we are to avoid a “Manhattan Project” fractured along regional and state politics:

1) Through an act of Congress, the USDOT should assume complete control over the Northeast Corridor-operationally, infrastructure, and collecting payments.

2) The FRA, working with the USDOT, will expeditiously pursue a review of the Northeast Corridor infrastructure issues, and provide to Congress within three months a prioritization of projects.

3) To help fund the renovation of the Corridor’s infrastructure, the actual users will pay their proportionate share for operations, dispatching, and infrastructure depreciation costs, including: commuter, freight, and Amtrak. For Amtrak, the states served on the Corridor will pay full costs pursuant to PRIIA and Amtrak’s cost methodology, just as the non-Corridor states have been required to pay since 2013, when that section of PRIIA became effective.

4) To maximize utilization-and revenue producing opportunities, the USDOT will consider bids from vetted, experienced private operators to either franchise intercity Corridor passenger services, or, to create open access for multiple, competitive private operators along the Corridor. This shall include dedicated mail and express trains running at night.

5) Congress shall pass legislation disbanding Amtrak’s Board of Directors, requiring Amtrak’s CEO to report directly to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), in order to sort and dismiss the politics out of Amtrak’s mission and direction.

This PR release is all good and well; however, what this industry media in particular should be more interested in reporting on is its follow-up to the shocking revelations from the NEW YORK TIMES investigation this past October (10/9/17). This extensive investigation ascribed the infrastructure failure of Penn Station to a highly politicized environment, encouraged, if not directed, by Amtrak’s Board of Directors.

 
I have come to this conclusion base upon the latest PR hack job against the national  system.  In CRAIN’S NEW YORKL BUSINESS, they took an unabashed position oblivious to the national system in their editorial, “Building Industry Leaders to Lobby Trump and GOP re Gateway” (3 Jan) that the NEC is totally uber.

Wrong–to gain any traction over this prophetic political ‘kicking the can can down the road’ by all parties involved requires first to deal only with the facts; let’s stop embellishing the actual situation here. That means how the political powers of the Northeast must stop fogging the issue claiming how heavily utilized the Northeast Corridor is by Amtrak intercity trains in order to create the myth of its intercity travel relevance. Beyond the long distance routes between NYC-Washington and the South, including two Florida, one Georgia, one West Virginia, one North Carolina, and one Louisiana trains, Amtrak has been generally limited to but two trains per hour each way towards Boston and Washington– one Acela; one Northeast Regional. To the contrary, the heavy traffic of the Northeast Corridor is exclusively produced by the numerous commuter rail agencies throughout the Northeast region, e.g., MBTA, Shore Line East, Metro North, LIRR (Penn Station NYC), SEPTA, MARC, and VRE. Until an act of Congress in December, 2015, these commuter lines never paid Amtrak for their operating costs and cost of depreciation of the Corridor; their politicos in cahoots with Amtrak were quite aware.

Amtrak’s perpetual negligent safety culture over its national and stater-supported routes can be directly attributed to the Amtrak Board of Directors and management team overtly tilting their focus and resources exclusively upon the Northeast Corridor to serve their political masters of that region. Consequently, the national system has been marginalized through an avoidance of GAAP to complement a negative PR mantra that would cause Herr Goebbels to plush.

The national system network has experienced how its growth demands have been ignored and financial performance diminished by usurping its revenues to plug-up the worst kept secret –how the ownership of the Corridor is a “black hole” cost Amtrak has never been able to afford, given the inherited, excessive deferred maintenance. So, as long as Amtrak could get away with it through the machinations of its connected Board and obsequious management line eager to participate, irregardless of the overall responsibilities of operating a railroad, resources were diverted to exclusively shore-up the Corridor. This included squandering the non-Corridor state train payments at 100% of Amtrak’s costs, and the illegal forgiving of reimbursement by the Northeast commuter lines.

The governors of New York and New Jersey, eagerly seized upon the encouragement by their state’s congressional members to historically ignored their responsibilities for the Corridor–tunnels, bridges, Penn Station, etc., because they were most eager to accept the myth that this was never a regional responsibility. Therefore, it was most enthusiastically embraced that even before Gateway was conceptualized, every aspect of the Northeast Corridor was a federal responsibility

However, note the irony how quickly Governor Cuomo recognized Moynihan Station in Manhattan as a regional asset for the sake of the developers who are his political supporters. At this point, we should be asking where was the Port Authority New York New Jersey, or due to its political bent, it too followed the storyline of the Corridor as being strictly a federal responsibility.

Frankly, given these facts, for those intent on lobbying Washington, it would behoove them to drop the other myth–somehow ‘the sun never sets on the New York City empire,’ given the allegation that the feds were going to loan New York and New Jersey their half of the costs for Gateway. Couple that to the ‘smoke and mirrors’ that perpetuates, as these politicos and their uber-politicized PANYNJ have yet to acknowledge that Gateway is but a portion of the requisite costs of over $52 Billion required to bring the Northeast Corridor up to par excellence.

Perhaps the K Street crowd down in “Gucci Gulch” still encourages the political class of New York and New Jersey to continue with their pipe dream of having no responsibility for their regional commuter-oriented infrastructure.? However, I’ll bet that if the facts were properly explained to anybody on a bar stool in Red Hook Brooklyn or Bayonne, they would be flabbergasted how their politicians forgot Lincoln’s warning how they “could not fool all the people all the time!”

 

 

“CONNECTING THE DOTS TO NTSB ISSUANCE OF ITS PRELIMINARY REPORT ON FATAL AMTRAK DERAILMENT OF “CASCADES” AT DuPONT, WA”

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“NTSB ISSUES PRELIMINARY REPORT ON FATAL AMTRAK DERAILMENT OF “CASCADES” AT DuPONT, WA–CONNECTING THE DOTS   

By M.E. SINGER

The classic definition of repetitive compulsion is “a psychological phenomenon in which a person repeats a traumatic event or its circumstances over and over again. This includes reenacting the event or putting oneself in situations where the event is likely to happen again.”  Given that backstory, how many more repetitive NTSB reports are required to duplicate what ails Amtrak? To paraphrase a past political campaign mantra, “It’s the company culture, stupid!”  

We certainly do not need to wait years for the NTSB to connect the dots to tell us what we already know: Amtrak puts a higher premium on serving its Northeast political masters, than operating as a railroad. The incessant, needless over-speeding wrecks symbolizes the total lack of a credible, acceptable safety culture. PTC is only a convenient crutch for Amtrak to avoid answering to Congress and the public. Frankly, it is my opinion that although Sound Transit has suffered with other commuter operators forced to divert their limited Capex, it appears this agency succumbed to the political pressures created by Amtrak to open the new shortcut line before the PTC was connected; before the congressional deadline expired.This explains the pathetic limited training at night, not one on one, and for only a couple of familiarization trips.

Amtrak has persistently evidenced its motivation to act more like a partisan appendage servile to its political patrons of the Northeast. However, as a transportation company, safety should have always been its focus-internally and externally. Instead, the overt tilt towards the Northeast Corridor has dominated the culture at Amtrak, at the expense of the national system network. Obviously, as a result, this has been at the cost of safety, from ensuring adequate training (particularly on new routes); opening new routes without the requisite PTC; embracing a mutual commitment with labor to achieve a consistently acceptable safety environment; and more, including, at a minimum, sacrificing customer experience, maintenance, and acquisition of new equipment for the long distance and state-supported routes.

But how can the public and its Congress expect such a common sense approach to basic safety when Amtrak’s leadership and resources are fully allocated to just the Northeast Corridor at the behest of its “connected” Board? Although Amtrak’s management above the middle ranks may have longevity, to what extent was it earned from solid, up through the ranks knowledge of railroad operations? Instead, it is apparent these senior people mastered an innate ability to politically survive by disregarding required railroad operations; and acquiescing to serve the Board in its determination to politically appease its political patrons, who were focused on benefiting from their real estate development ventures.

Frankly, we have already connected most of these dots. We can tie together and make the case how the denial of resources for the long distance routes and the diversion of their funds and revenues to shore-up the NEC is substantiated by the overt tilt towards the NEC; the crony capitulation to serve New York and New Jersey developers at the expense of timely repairs for Penn Station; the willful delusional games of tagging the NEC as a major intercity route of federal responsibility, when it primarily serves the many regional commuter lines of the Northeast (who never paid for their operational and depreciation costs until required by Congress in late 2015).

Apparently, the appropriate congressional leadership of infrastructure committees have elected to ignore this glaring revelation by focusing their attention on their interest to appease the lobbyists, with ‘a personal touch,’ to turn over the tax-financed Air Traffic Control System to the airlines. Consequently, connecting the dots to verify and hold accountable the willful failure of Amtrak’s Board and management team includes:

1) How the historical neglect of Penn Station’s infrastructure is endemic of the failed stewardship of Amtrak’s Board and its focus on appeasing their Northeast political patrons. To what extent did this Board not only know about the growing deficiencies of Penn Station, but actually orchestrated the perpetual delay of repairs while diverting its limited capital project resources to follow NewYork’s Governor Cuomo’s own priorities, such as Hudson Yards and Moynihan Station, both directly serving the developers who have supported Cuomo? (Reference The New York Times investigation of 10/09/17).

2) Given the apropos definition of ‘endemic’ as a condition regularly found amongst particular people, the Amtrak Board has vectored its management to overtly tilt towards the Northeast Corridor. Serving such a political environment within Amtrak, and beholden to externally powers, created a less than subtle willingness to sacrifice safety as a priority in order to appease the political kingmakers, particularly of New York, and their domination over the Port Authority New York New Jersey (PANYNJ).

3) By not focusing on the basic elements of a railroad, with safe operations being most important, this clarifies how the Board put a premium on political appointees, rather than railroaders, to manage Amtrak. These political appointees, particularly since 2005, were conditioned and groomed to pursue the Board’s wishes to make the critical decisions of politics over safety that clearly evidence a failed company environment. This is certainly demonstrated by:

a) To not re-install ATS at Frankfort Jct., PA, let alone emphasize its priority for PTC installation to avoid #188 wreck in 2015.
b) To not have a viable chain of communication between dispatching, MofW, and operations to avoid #89 wreck at Chester, PA in 2016.
c) To prioritize PTC installation and not subordinating it to fulfill political requirements to avoid wreck of #501 at DuPont, WA in 2017; just months after over-speeding wreck of another “Cascade” at Chambers Bay, WA in 2017.

4) Other than pushing out into early retirement some middle managers involved in capital projects/station management for Amtrak’s Penn Station, what is the destiny of the executive and senior levels of management who were the implementors for the Board; the “go to” guys who knew how to enforce the Board’s tilt towards the NEC at the complete expense of the national system; to appease the Board’s favorite Northeastern governor(s); to disown the priority of PTC if it delayed start-up of new lines?

In essence, it is irrefutable that such a politically focused company is not really in transportation or concerned with continuous quality to ensure safety. Instead, Amtrak is but another political institution on the Potomac, as evidenced by its own Board lacking in-depth hands-on railroad operational experience to fulfill its stewardship; and an executive and senior management group anointed to build their career by serving the Board’s Northeastern regional political patrons over safety.

With such exposure to the machinations of Amtrak’s Board which directly contributed to the failed safety culture, we should impose upon this Board how such willful failure is handled in Japan. When a company fails to the degree Amtrak consistently has by not clearly focusing on and adhering to the relevance of safety, the Board, and its top management who carried out the Board’s will, elects on their own volition, to honorably offer up their resignations. In this case, such action is long over due!

If Amtrak is to even continue with a Board of Directors, its members must clearly have actual railroad operating experience to provide a semblance of meaning to their stewardship. Rather than turning to a consultant firm, e.g., McKinsey, to tell us the obvious, I would propose immediately inserting Mr. David Gunn as Chair of a completely revamped Board. Remember, after Mr. Gunn was himself a victim of the political games of Amtrak’s Board in 2005, no CEO succeeded him who actually had real railroad operating experience until the arrival of Mr. Wick Moorman in 2016, and his short tenure.

Time for a change at Amtrak!

 

What’s Up With Metrolink ? With Graphics

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By Noel T. Braymer

It pays to go online and read the agendas and supporting documents of government agencies when it comes to rail service. Its a great way to get information that most news outlets either ignore or don’t understand. What is most interesting is Metrolink has plans for major service and ridership expansion by 2025. This is detailed in a ten year strategic plan published in 2015. This report details trends of where Metrolink ridership is growing and declining. Ridership on Metrolink grew steadily from 1993 after initial service began up to 2009. 2009 was at the beginning of a major recession and increased unemployment which lead to lower ridership. Since 2009 there has been some gains in Metrolink ridership, but it is still hasn’t topped the numbers in 2009. But if you look at passenger miles during this time frame, that dropped in 2009 and 2010. But by 2012 Metrolink’s passenger miles had exceeded it levels from 2009 and continued to up to 2015 when this graph was made. The significance of this is passenger miles is a better measure of the utility of a transportation service and a better predictor of revenue than just ridership numbers.

Metrolink is planning on increased ridership and service expansion over the next 7 years. This will include additional, more frequent service with connections to more places. This will also depend on better connections with transit services at intermodal stations with Metrolink. What Metrolink realizes with this 2015 study is that the traditional market of people commuting to downtown Los Angeles is in decline. Where the travel market in Southern California is going is outside of downtown Los Angeles. So the plan in the future will be for more “reverse commute” services in Southern California for Metrolink.

This is a table of potential increases in Metrolink services from its 10 year strategic plan between 2015-2025

Metrolink has its eye on transfers between other services. The greatest ridership and Metrolink service increases are based  on connections in the future with the start up of High Speed Rail service which won’t happen in Southern California by 2025. But this brings up another issue, Metrolink will need major track improvements, reliable equipment, new locomotives and additional passenger cars in order to expand.  What is somewhat shocking is how little double tracking Metrolink has on their routes. Additional double tracking is necessary to add more service and to improve on time performance on its routes. This work will have to be done one project at a time.

This is a Metrolink graphic from its 10 year Strategic Plan of its routes. Double tracking is green, single tracking is red and yellow are tracks controlled either by the BNSF or UP. A major priority of Metrolink is more double tracking.

This brings up the issue of cars. Metrolink is not planning on buying any new equipment. Instead the plan is to overhaul the original cars built by Bombardier, many of which have been in storage for several years. The expectation is that this overhaul will give at least 10 more years of service with these cars with at least half the cost of buying new cars. This overhaul would include new interiors, lighting, air conditioning, PA systems and train door opening mechanisms.

This memo is for the Metrolink Board meeting held December 8, 2017 on the planning to overhaul the Bombardier cars, many of which are now in storage.

Another major issue is that of locomotives. Since fall of last year Metrolink has been accepting a fleet of new Tier 4 low emission locomotives. As of December 1st  there have been 2 of these new put into service on Metrolink. The rest of the locomotives in this order are expected to be in service before the end of the year. There have been some problems found from the experience gained from running these first 2 locomotives. Getting these new locomotives running reliably is central to Metrolink’s plans to expand service and operate reliably. These more powerful locomotives will be able to haul longer trains on Metrolink. Also besides carrying more cars, these new locomotives are central to improving the on time performance and reliability of Metrolink service.

These last 2 pages are from a report to the Metrolink Board for their December 8, 2017 Board meeting on the status of the delivery of the new Metrolink EMD locomotives.

One question left unanswered in these documents is how will Metrolink service change after the construction of run through tracks at Los Angeles Union Station. The run through tracks will greatly improve the efficiency of the service will trains being able to spend more time in service and less time in the yards or at Union Station. Having run through passenger service will create faster and more direct service by Metrolink to more places in Southern California. But first we have to start construction and get the run through tracks in service. So far it will still be a few years before construction may even begin. Another question will be Positive Train Control (PTC). One problem with the current system used by Metrolink of PTC is the limited memory of the on board PTC computers on the Metrolink trains. Often when changing routes at a terminal, it can take up to 20 to 30 minutes to download a new route. Slow PTC download times are a common factor making current Metrolink trains late. With available solid state computer memories (as oppose to mechanical hard drives) it would seem that it would be possible to hold the entire route system for instant downloads. The problem may be finding a vendor who can provide such an upgrade.

Is Rail Service The Answer To All Our Problems? Does San Diego have Some Solutions? With Photos

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By Noel T. Braymer

This is looking south at the north end of the platforms of the downtown San Diego train station. In recent years there has been a building boom around the station of hi-rise buildings, mostly for housing.

Well maybe not to all our problems. But rail service it is a major factor for relieving traffic congestion, reducing the cost of housing, cleaning air pollution and promoting a healthy economy. Many of these problems are due to over reliance on the automobile for transportation. With this have come hidden costs that subsidize our use of driving. Near the top of this is “free parking”. Most drivers expect to find free parking near their destination. For years local zoning has often required that businesses provide a certain amount of “free” parking around stores, governments around public buildings and for developers to have plentiful parking around housing. The problem with anything that is considered “free” is people will over use it. This goes against the principle of supply and demand. When something is “free”, demand by nature will outstrip supply. That’s why parking is often hard to find and traffic is congested during peak travel times.

But there is a price for “free” parking and “free” roads. Using acres of land in an urban area for parking, removes it for development which would pay much more in property taxes than used for parking. This development can be in the form of housing and commercial uses. There are now many shopping centers with acres of empty parking lots. With this are increasingly empty stores. Combing stores and housing would mean people would have less need to drive to go shopping. For the shopping centers this can mean more shoppers who can walk or ride a bike or who use a mobility device to shop at a center near their where they live. This is basically how towns have functioned for thousands of years often with housing being built in the upper floors above shops and business at the ground floor. This is also how many large cities function today.

So how will this affect traffic? For at least a 100 years there have been efforts to solve traffic problems by expanding existing roads and building new ones. Well it doesn’t work. Every time a road is built or expanded in an urban area it doesn’t take long before traffic is worse than ever and there is talk of the need to build more roads. What has worked have been closing roads. With fewer roads, people drive less, while adding roads causes people to drive more. The other factor about building more roads is where do you put them? Generally people love to live near major roads, but not right next to them. About 10 years ago planning began to expand the 5 freeway from Del Mar to Oceanside in San Diego County. Many home owners along the route discovered the planning included tearing down their houses to expand the freeway. This didn’t go over very well with the people who would be affected. Finally the planning required less land and fewer new lanes. One of the questions that was asked at the public meetings was why wasn’t there plans to expand the Coaster rail service which ran along side the 5 freeway between San Diego and Oceanside? Out of this came a program to double track 90% of the rail line by 2025 and run more frequent service. The goal is to run Coaster trains every half hour all day long and double track 99 percent of this rail line by 2050.

So what effect can public transportation have on traffic? About 20 years ago the San Diego Padres Baseball team announced plans to build a new stadium in downtown across the street from the Convention Center next to a popular tourist area called the Gaslamp District which has many late 19th century buildings many of which now are restaurants and bars. The planned location for the new Padres Stadium was far from any freeway on/off ramps and had limited parking. The new baseball stadium would have access to  all 3 lines of the San Diego Trolley service which is the local light rail system. There was heavy criticism to this plan claiming the Trolley would fail to attract enough riders to make a dent in traffic and lack of parking and traffic congestion would be a nightmare. Attendance starting in 2004 at the Padres’ new stadium was very good. As for parking, the lots had plenty of extra spaces on game days.

On the right is the Little Italy/County Center Trolley Station, the closest Trolley Station to the downtown train station. The tracks on the left are used by Amtrak, Coaster commuter  and freight trains. Most of the buildings in this picture are fairly new and for housing not far from the Trolley Station.

What has been happening in San Diego since 1981 when the San Diego Trolley’s first line opened have been efforts to combine housing and commercial development around Trolley Stations. A few Trolley stations have been built on what was vacant land on which were built new apartments and stores as well as a new Trolley station. This can be seen in many places on the Green Line in San Diego’s Mission Valley as well as existing shopping centers where the Green Line also has stations. The Green Line also runs along Harbor Drive serving Seaport Village, the Gaslight District, Convention Center and Petco Park which is the San Diego Padre’s stadium. The Green Line runs to the north of the downtown San Diego Train Station sharing the right of way used by Amtrak and Coaster Trains as far as Old Town before turning east to Mission Valley. Construction is underway to extend the  Trolley’s Blue Line north of the downtown train station sharing tracks with the Green Line, then extending the Blue Line north most of the way sharing the existing railroad right of way before crossing the 5 freeway west to serve the University of California at San Diego (UCSD). The Blue Line would then recross the 5 freeway and terminate at University City at a major shopping mall and transit center.

Why is San Diego extending the Blue Line by 11 miles at a cost of just over $2 billion dollars? The Blue Line which starts at the Mexican border is already the most traveled line of the San Diego Trolley.  This would mean 8  Blue Line trains at least every hour north of downtown along with the 4 trains an hour on the Green Line up to Old Town. The reason for this is the I-5 is the busiest traffic corridor in San Diego and the rest of California for that matter. The area of heaviest traffic and the largest employment center in San Diego is around the UCSD , University City and nearby Sorrento Valley area. The ironic thing is for the Coaster trains, their busiest station isn’t downtown, but at Sorrento Valley. The traffic on the 5 freeway is heaviest northbound between downtown and the University area in the mornings. The traffic is heaviest southbound from University City to downtown in the late afternoon. Taking a Coaster Train out of downtown San Diego in the afternoon sees more people getting off the train than getting on. Freeway traffic is heavy southbound but light northbound to Sorrento Valley. From Sorrento Valley the road traffic northbound is much heavier than southbound traffic.The point of the Blue Line extension is to relieve some of the traffic congestion in this area with the greatest traffic in the region.

SD Trolley Blue Line extenstion 2019

This shows the route of the extension of the Blue Line of the San Diego Trolley to the area of greatest employment in San Diego County.  Downtown San Diego is just south of this map and Sorrento Valley is just to the east and north.

What is interesting are the changes to downtown San Diego. Along with service from all 3 Trolley Lines, the downtown downtown train station now has 12 Amtrak trains a day as well as 11 Coaster trains Monday through Friday. Twenty to thirty years ago the area around the station was rundown and mostly light industrial. Since World War II few people  tended to live in most downtown cities including San Diego. In the last 15 years or so have seen an explosion of high rise construction in downtown San Diego. What is most interesting is many of these new buildings are for housing, and much of this construction is along the downtown train station and the light rail stations downtown. Yet despite this population boom in downtown San Diego, traffic downtown isn’t worse than it was in the recent past. Could it be that shops and services are closer and walking distance living downtown? Are these new residents taking trains and trolleys for much of their travel? It would appear so.

A nice thing about people living in cities in high density housing is you can give many more people comfortable housing using much less land and costing less than living in the suburbs. It is difficult for people to afford housing today. With what land  that is available for housing, local residents usually oppose new construction expressing fears of worse traffic, unwelcomed newcomers and lower property values. Increasingly in California we are seeing formerly commercial property being used for new high density housing in major cities and smaller cities with rail transit and rail passenger service. Since San Diego was first to build Light Rail service in California in 1981 and is a major terminus of the LOSSAN corridor, it got a major head start in rail service driven development.

But none of this is new. This January the Florida East Coast Industries (FECI)  company will startup a new, privately operated rail passenger service between Miami and West Palm Beach. This service called BrightLine is planned to be extended to Orlando in a few years. The Florida East Coast Industries company has been around for over a 100 years in southern Florida primarily as a land development company. It still is. Like most developers for most of the 19th and early 20th centuries, such companies often built and owned railroads. The FECI still owns and runs its own railroad in southern Florida. A 100 years ago and even today there wasn’t much money to be made hauling passengers. But the money then was in the land and commercial development having a railroad brought. The Brightline service is expected to operate at a profit. But the real money is the development to be built around the stations on land owned by FECI. To some degree this is happening in San Diego and other towns around railroads with passenger service in California. Much of the land around the San Diego Station was formally owned by the Santa Fe Railroad in the past. Over the years the real estate properties of the Santa Fe was separated from the railroad and has changed hands a few more time since then. A major factor in the growth of rail passenger service in this country won’t be a question of worrying about if owning a railroad will make money. It will be from the economic growth brought by improved and expanded rail passenger service.

 

 

DOES THE ACQUIESCENCE OF THE MEDIA EVIDENCE HOW AMTRAK HAS BEEN WRITTEN OFF AND PUSHED OVER THE PRECIPICE?

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Crony Appointed to Amtrak’s Board of Directors Despite Voting in Congress Against Funding for Amtrak

By M.E. Singer

Cronyism continues to thrive in “the Swamp.” As egregious how the carried interest tax loophole has survived the new tax legislation as a special treatment against the middle class, so too “below the radar” do we witness how “cronyism rides the rails” against the middle class.

How does the media remain silent, Congress disinterested, and the traveling public oblivious towards the deliberate travesty of stewardship expected of Amtrak’s Board of Directors? What can possibly be the logic of this current Amtrak Board to tolerate the Administration’s nomination in October, 2017, of Leon Westmoreland to Amtrak’s Board? In respect to his record as a Congressman from Georgia (2004-2016), Westmoreland voted twice against funding Amtrak–in 2009 and again, in 2015. Given such an overt, anti-Amtrak record, his nomination fulfills the proverbial concern of “putting the fox in the hen house!” Indeed, how would the media react if Exxon Mobil were to use its cronies to secure a seat on the Board of the Sierra Club?

However, the media now has the opportunity to stake a position and move with alacrity to derail this nomination of Westmoreland. Pursuant to Senate Rule XXXI, “Nominations neither confirmed nor rejected during the session at which they are made shall not be acted upon at any succeeding session without being again made to the Senate by the President.” Fortunately, Westmoreland’s nomination was not held over from 2017 to the next session in 2018. For the public good, I urge the case be made now to prevent the President renewing Westmoreland’s nomination to Amtrak’s Board.

The inappropriateness of nominating Westmoreland to Amtrak’s Board, with no dissent from the Board itself, is a self-fulfilling prophesy explaining the historical persistent lack of filling in the obvious gaps in Amtrak’s Board of Directors if they intended to fulfill their stewardship to the nation by ensuring a true national rail system. Composition of such a Board would have pursued the requisite expertise of members successful in evidencing a particular expertise in catering, customer experience, business and leisure travel, human resources, IT, and marketing. Instead, the power of Amtrak’s Board is derived exclusively from its members who are Northeastern developers and financiers.

Quite deliberately, the stewardship of this Board is predicated upon a narrow focus to only serve their Northeastern political patrons; requiring management to focus only upon the Northeast Corridor, at the expense of the national network. As a consequence, management historically has not benefited from a Board committed to its expected stewardship to actively provide oversight; to direct and lead a national rail system through a viable vision.

Despite Board committees allegedly covering these areas, we have continued to experience no meaningful accountability of executive and senior management of Amtrak, as clearly evidenced by the perpetual, unresolved, self-made issues of Amtrak. This includes: the National Transportation Safety Board documenting the lack of a safety culture, e.g., 2015 over-speeding Frankfort Jct., PA derailment; 2016 Chester, PA hitting a maintenance of way crew; 2017 over-speeding Chambers Bay bridge and DuPont, WA derailments. A foundering capital projects program subservient to parochial politics of New York and New Jersey that seriously contributed to the fiasco at NYC’s Penn Station. The conscious manipulation of Generally Acceptable Accounting Principles (GAAP) to disavow the proven methodology of accurate cost accounting in order to bury the excessive corporate and Northeast Corridor overhead costs on the Long Distance and State-Supported Routes; the willful defying of transportation industry standards not measuring a train’s success by revenues per passenger miles to inaccurately portray the Long Distance Routes as generating huge operating deficits; when in reality, their revenues cover operating and infrastructure costs of the Northeast Corridor “black hole.” As the State-Supported Routes are mandated to cover all costs as Amtrak’s cost methodology determines, their revenues too are utilized to cover the growing infrastructure costs of the Northeast Corridor. The Board secured the Federal purchase of new Acela consists for the Northeast Corridor in 2016; yet, the Board actively pursues a dis-investment program for the Long Distance and State-Supported Routes, whose equipment is far older and more traveled than the original Acelas. The Board is content not to pursue a marketing strategy west of the Potomac, knowing there is no current capacity, nor proformas before Congress to rehabilitate equipment and power, let alone, to increase capacity to meet increasing revenue traffic demands. Pathetically, the Board is silent with Amtrak’s purchasing of east coast dining cars when catering continues to be downgraded, as well as purchasing baggage cars as more depots en route lose their station agents for handling baggage.

Given this scenario of failed Board stewardship, such an irrational selection for an Amtrak Board member becomes quite rational when we understand Westmoreland’s purpose is to support the regional will of this Board to derail the very popular, heavily traveled Long Distance and State-Supported Routes. Ensuring such perpetual fiscal neglect of the national system will enable Amtrak to satisfy its Northeastern political sponsors by solely focusing on its own backyard, the Northeast Corridor. In essence, given the extreme regional focus of what Amtrak has concocted as the “Ready to Build” campaign  is, in theory, the “Ready to Build the Northeast Corridor at the Expense of the Long Distance and State-Supported Routes” campaign.