“REQUIEM FOR THE PUPPET MASTERS OF THE NORTHEAST? IS PORTAL A BRIDGE TOO FAR?”

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By M.E. SINGER

Prologue: American railroading has many facets both rich in history and drama. These include railroads of the past and the long distance routes that we need to keep as well as bring back into service. But attention is also needed  where so much of the limited funding for rail passenger service is centered in the Northeast and how it fits into a National Rail Passenger system.

As a preface to this story, I found it to be the height of irony to read the stories focused on the Portal Bridge issue in the media of 13 October: In Crain’s New York Business, the headline read: “Officials Stage Mock Groundbreaking for Portal Bridge.” In NJ.Com, the headline read: “Christie Says He Is Confident New Hudson River Tunnels Will be Built.”

The Portal Bridge over the Hackensack River in New Jersey is but another example of how New Jersey in particular, and New York have remained in their defiant silos ignoring the obviously depreciating rail infrastructure for years, as their political leaders have confidently awaited the nation’s taxpayers to pick-up their transportation tab. Really?

If New Jersey/New York claim that $100 Million per day will be lost without the Hudson River Tunnels and Portal Bridge replacements, where was the much vaunted brain trust of the politicians, developers, and financiers in the Northeast not to understand this was an issue growing worse under their tutelage, as they fiercely focused on merely controlling their part of the Northeast fiefdom? Even Big Storm Sandy in 2012 failed to goose those in control to jump start identifying a regional program in concert with the federal government to fund replacement infrastructure.

For the Northeast regional political powers to make the Gateway Project serving New Jersey/New York of national importance is obscene, as it denies the obvious fact how the entire Northeast Corridor is significantly more utilized by the region’s numerous commuter rail lines, than it is by Amtrak. For example, Portal Bridge, just like the Hudson River tunnels, may have but 4 Amtrak trains per hour vs. 20 or more NJT trains in the same rush hour time period. Penn Station-NYC’s capacity is saturated certainly not by increased Amtrak services, but because of growth in NJT and LIRR schedules. In essence, these infrastructure issues are of regional importance; not national significance.

This is a politico game foisted upon the nation by the self-absorbed Northeast politicos down through the ages, who initially secured ownership and control of the Northeast Corridor for Amtrak from the bankrupt Penn Central in 1976. Confidant of an eventual federal bailout down the road, just as today, no attempt was ever initiated to secure buy-in by the states served along the Corridor to mutually support the infrastructure. Nor, was their a rational understanding to allocate Amtrak the additional funds necessary for tending to the vast infrastructure issues so long deferred since built by the New Haven in 1908 and the Pennsylvania in 1935.

Instead, over the years, Amtrak reacted in a dutiful manner by merely starving its national system obligations by redirecting those dedicated funds to shore-up the Corridor. Amtrak has its HQ in Washington for a reason–to fulfill its service, i.e., “obedience,” to its Northeast political patrons, as directed by its Board of Directors run by Northeastern developers and financiers, particularly from NJ. This explains why the infrastructure and safety of Penn Station-NYC was secondary to pleasing Governor Cuomo’s “expressed desire,” i.e., demand, for Amtrak to prioritize its focus on supporting his build-out of Moynihan Station and tower for the benefit of his developer pals.

Given the facts as reported in The New York Times investigative expose on what really happened at Penn Station (9 Oct), how could Anthony Coscia, Amtrak’s Board of Directors Chairman, who was so wired into the political landscape of NJ and NY as a former chair of the Port Authority of New Jersey/New York (PANJNY), make any odorous statements, as if he just learned about everything over the long-standing, long simmering, long neglected Penn Station and Northeast Corridor’s infrastructure? Reminds me of that Marx Brothers movie when Chico Marx made that famous statement, “Well who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?”

Perhaps a follow-up story in The New York Times should identify the puppet masters of Amtrak’s Board, and dissect how that Board interfered with the safety of Penn Station, while dragging its feet to sound the alarm in Congress, USDOT, FRA, and importantly, the states to be impacted for the overall deferred infrastructure maintenance of the NEC?

For those west of the Hudson, and its “political drainage sister,” the Potomac, the sense is just because the politicians of NJ and NY elected to ignore their growing infrastructure issues does not now make for an automatic bailout by the feds. Instead, this should be viewed as the opportunity to “repeal and replace” the mindset of the Northeast politicians-and Amtrak-to logically approach and correct this entire failed economic regional game plan at the expense of the national taxpayers by asserting the following action that should have been undertaken long ago, including:

1) For any aspect of the Northeast Corridor’s infrastructure (e.g., tunnels, bridges, right-of-way, depots) to receive any federal funds must be incumbent upon the federal government, through USDOT, to assume full control of the Northeast Corridor. This will take the Corridor out of Amtrak’s ability, as willed by its Board, to placate the denizens of the Northeast at the expense of the national system, e.g., ignoring GAAP to divert funds from the national system to the Corridor sink hole; not charging the Northeastern commuter rail lines for operating on the Corridor until December, 2015, etc.

2) USDOT to identify the Corridor’s infrastructure costs for maintenance, repair, and improvement; to ensure each state served by the Corridor will be required to contribute to such costs, as well as for the fair apportionment of operating costs to their commuter lines. Indeed, Amtrak should also stop its overt bias and require these Corridor states to start paying the full operational costs, as identified by Amtrak’s own “unique” cost methodology, for their intercity trains–just as required by all of the other non-Corridor states as prescribed by the PRIIA Act of 2008. Also, Amtrak should be charged by the USDOT owner for its share of the operating  and maintenance costs of the corridor.

3) Ideally, as the owner/operator of the Northeast Corridor, the USDOT will not continue to narrowly think as a pure monopolist, but learn from the successful and growing new business models in Europe, where national railway infrastructure is now subject to bids by private operators to franchise new routes, as well as competitive services with the government passenger services, e.g., Germany, Italy. As well, the UK even has the open access model introduced for several private operators to compete on the same route.

This is the only logical course to pursue to get the nation behind in contributing towards re-building the Northeast Corridor to put it on a more solid, broader economic base of support by its users, and the marketplace. But any such federal investment must be totally dependent upon much delayed state participation, so conveniently ignored east of the Potomac.

 

 

 

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A Key To Reducing Suicides On The Tracks

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By Noel T. Braymer

The number of people who die along the railroad tracks in America is incredible. With improved grade crossings and grade separations the number of accidents have been greatly reduced. But what is often found today is many of the people being hit by trains are not accidents but suicides. Suicides are much harder to prevent without an understanding of what drives people to suicide. At the heart of suicide is depression. The risk of a happy person wanting to kill themselves in the best of health is very unlikely. Yet the number of people committing suicide, many of them young and seemingly healthy people is if anything increasing. Even when we look at most murders, these are often part of a murder/suicide. If we want to reduce the number of people committing suicide not just by train but in general, we need to know more about the causes of depression and the problems we are having treating it.

The most common treatment for depression is with a class of drugs called Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors which are often called SSRI’s. Going by brand names such as Prozac, Zoloft, Celexa and so on these are some of the most commonly prescribed drugs in this Country. Many people given these drugs find relief from their depression or other psychological ills which often also includes anxiety. Use of anti-depression drugs has increased 400 percent since 1988 at about the time SSRI’s where introduced to the market. It is estimated that 11% of the American population above the age of 12 have been prescribed SSRI’s at some time in their life. Some SSRI’s prescriptions are allowed by the FDA for children as young as 6. The FDA has what is called a Black Box warning which has found as a side effect of SSRI’s an increase in suicidal thoughts and behavior in patients under 25 years old. Like many prescription drugs there are other side effects for some but not all patients. Many of the people who kill themselves using trains are under 25.

So how do SSRI’s work? The theory is depression is caused by low levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the nerve synapses of the brain. SSRI’s helps the brain to retain Serotonin levels by slowing down the process by which it is excreted. For many people this works. But for some people it doesn’t work. A researcher studying the effects of brain chemistry on human behavior since the 1970’s thinks he has an answer for this. Dr. William Walsh is a chemist by training. Starting in the 1970’s he studied the brain chemistry differences of people in prisons compared to the general population. He found prisoners often had higher levels of heavy metals such as lead compared to the general population. Those prisoners with higher levels of heavy metals tended to be more violent and impulsive than the general prison population. As lead levels in the environment have gone down since the 1980’s in the country, the level of violent crime in this country has also gone down. What Dr Walsh has found is terms like depression is the name of a list of symptoms, not a diagnosis. In other words there are more than one cause which can cause depression or other psychological symptoms.

What Dr. Walsh has found is while many people with depression benefit from SSRI’s, some people do not. In particular there are people who have too much serotonin which is the cause of their depression. Using SSRI’s by these people which raises already to high levels of serotonin makes them miserable. Dr. Walsh’s research indicates that people with elevated levels of serotonin are the ones more likely to have violent and suicidal behavior after using SSRI’s. Dr Walsh has tried with little luck to get the attention of the public that there are available blood tests which can screen which people would benefit from SSRI’s compared to those who would not.

It is hard to solve a problem if you don’t know the cause of it in the first place. Reducing suicides and suicides attempts would save a lot of money to say nothing of reduced misery both for the person killing themselves and the people their death affects.  Many hours of delayed trains alone would be prevented by preventing suicides along the tracks. A start would be to insure that people with such problems get the right help and their problems can be caught early and not when it is too late.

Deutsche Bahn Knows How To Run High Speed Rail

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By Noel T. Braymer

While subject to approval by the Board of the California High Speed Rail Authority at their next meeting on October 19th, the consortium headed by Deutsche Bahn (DB) for planning initial High Speed Rail service in California is a good choice. This was from a choice of a total of 4 consortiums, all highly competent in High Speed Rail Service. Coming second in ranking was a group headed by Spanish Railroad RENFE with successful HSR service. Third was a group with both Italian and British companies with HSR experience. Fourth was the Chinese group responsible for the largest and fastest HSR system in the world. Much has been said by critics that the California High Speed Rail Project is an example of a government boondoggle. Yet most of the work getting the High Speed Rail Project built has been done by private companies who won their contracts with competitive bidding. This contract was highly prized by those groups seeking it. The $30 million dollars for this contract wasn’t the main object of for these groups. California is a huge travel market and it will be a big first step in establishing High Speed Rail Service in this Country. The winner of this contract has a head start to be the final operator when full passenger service is up and running and for other future start up services.

A major advantage of hiring an outside group to plan and operate High Speed Passenger service is frankly there aren’t many people in this country with the knowledge or experience to manage and operate a high speed rail service with multiple frequencies and services economically and at a profit. Such expertise can be found in countries with successful High Speed Rail passenger service. Germany truly falls into this category with one of the busiest and most complex rail passenger services in the world. Not only does DB serve Germany, but also international service to 16 European countries.  DB is a for profit company which expects to make money running HSR in California. The advantage of being at the start of high speed rail passenger service for DB is it will have control from the start and be able get the most out of its future service. This wouldn’t be true if the California High Speed Rail Authority had built everything without an actual rail passenger operator having feedback on what was needed.

One of the first jobs for DB will be overseeing the construction of the central maintenance facility in the San Joaquin Valley. Next will come operating and supervising the testing of the first trains on a 119 mile test track in the San Joaquin Valley. It will be interesting which car builder will get the contract for the car order. With the ongoing consolidation of rail passenger equipment companies, the choices will likely be between the European merged Alstom/Siemens car builders, Japanese car builders and the Chinese single, recently merged car builder. There will likely be a major fight to win this contract. It is likely that the group headed by DB will have a great deal to say about the choice of equipment for the start up service, the layout and organization of the maintenance facility as well as design and use of the future high speed rail stations in California.

There is going to be a great deal of motivation by DB and the other members of its consortium to get everything right. The object is to have an operation which is not only self supporting, but will make money not only for the operator, but also to be able to pay the state back for use of the high speed railroad which is owned by the State. There will be every incentive to appeal to as broad a market as possible. No doubt this will include several levels of service from economy to luxury. It will be interesting what connections will be made to serve more markets. A Madera station is planned for connections to the San Joaquin trains and ACE trains will be able to make connections at Merced.

What can be expected are policies that are common in most passenger services around the world but not here. These could include plusher seating, amenities and more personal service on first class. We might also see a greater range of travel discounts for coach seating to bring in ridership during slow travel demand. What could be interesting would be connecting services to the train. Could we see expanded dedicated bus connections at Merced to Yosemite National Park or the other National parks along the Sierra’s? Or dedicated bus connections at Hanford to Visalia, Tulare or Lemoore Naval Air Station? What about connections at San Jose? Will interline ticketing and timed transfer be available between High Speed Rail and Caltrain, Capitol Corridor, ACE and BART trains when HSR service starts? How will passengers south of Wasco connect to High Speed Rail before 2029?

 

What might we expect or find different with High Speed Rail service from DB? Well for starters most seats are reserved much like on the airlines. So you can choose what seat you want at what location on the train. Quite likely, like the airlines the better seats will go fast and cost more than the other seats. First class has bigger more comfortable seats and offers at seat meal service. For a journey of not much longer than an hour between the San Joaquin Valley and San Jose you might want to eat something light. For second class passengers there is a cafe car on the train. The big difference between service in Europe and a startup HSR service in California at first will be the limited connections to other rail lines. There are long range plans to have HSR airport connections in California at San Diego, Burbank, Ontario, Palmdale and San Francisco. But none of these airports will have HSR service with the start up of Valley HSR service by 2025 unless the service is extended to San Francisco. Full connections to Pacific Surfliners and Metrolink trains won’t happen before 2029. By 2029 HSR connections will be available at Burbank and Palmdale but not Ontario or San Diego.

“HOW AMTRAK’S BOARD OF DIRECTORS ‘BLUE-FLAGGED'(1) AMTRAK: IS IT NOW BEYOND THE RIP(2) TRACK?”

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By M.E. Singer

Note 1: “Blue-Flag” Rule: The locomotive can be started but nothing can be coupled to or moved! If an electrician puts his/her tag on the HEP (head end power 480 volt) panel then it cannot be cut on until the flag is removed only by the person who placed it.

Note 2: “RIP Track:” “Repair In Place on track(s) in a designated rail yard for minor repairs of locomotive or rolling stock, without removing from the train or from service.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: The essence of this article is an accumulation of issues that leads to my reference to how Amtrak has suffered from being overtly ‘blue-flagged’ by its Board of Directors, who have obviously conspired to serve their Northeast political patrons by preventing any movement, expansion, or development by Amtrak outside of its deliberate Northeast focus. Therefore, how any significant change and re-direction of Amtrak can only happen if Amtrak’s well-connected Board of Directors removes its blue flag.  In the meantime, is it becoming simply too late for Amtrak to be on the RIP track to be “repaired in place?”

Prior to a complete dissection to follow of how Amtrak’s Board of Directors coalesced to interfere and prevent Amtrak’s revitalization across the national system, it is relevant to note in such a short time period:

Board of Directors-New Member: if Amtrak’s current Board of Directors, minus the Trump Administration’s Secretary DOT were really concerned and honorable, why would they tolerate and not refute with umbrage the Trump Administration’s selection of an unknown ex-Georgia GOP congressman, Leon Westmoreland, who actually voted to defund Amtrak in 2009 and 2015? To what extent does Amtrak’s current Board join in ‘spitting in the face’ of passenger rail advocates with such a pathetic announcement? What is the point of loading up Amtrak’s Board of Directors with political favors that have no relevant experience, other than Moreland from BNSF’s Government Relations, let alone an overt anti-Amtrak cadre?

Does nobody care that the stewardship of a real board member should serve Amtrak in its weakest areas, such as: Marketing, HR, GR, Food & Beverage, Travel (business/leisure), and Finance? Rather than vehemently objecting to an individual clearly not qualified to sit on this “esteem” Board, the “Code of Omertà”  is apparently more important to follow. Ironically, the hedge funds fully appreciate that if they cannot secure meaningful change  internally, they push from the outside. In essence, for Amtrak to change, we need outside activists to push “proxy fights.”

How Amtrak’s Board of Directors Persist to Ignore the National System in Favor of their Protected Northeast Corridor:  How does Amtrak’s Board claim with a straight face their ambitious “Re-Build Amtrak” program, when it is so obvious this is another mechanism to focus on the Northeast Corridor and shift limited resources to fulfill the commitment of this Board to its Northeastern godfathers?

Notice their is nothing thrown to the other states with equally important infrastructure issues, i.e. California and the Sacramento Division for the “San Joaquins;” the CREATE program to relieve rail gridlock in Chicago; the South of the Lake program to relieve rail gridlock between NW Indiana and Chicago; improving the rail infrastructure of the “Hiawatha” Chicago-Milwaukee CP line to accommodate the new 125 mph Sprinter locomotives to at least operate at 90 mph (currently restricted to 79 mph!); even the South Shore Line proposal to double track the Gary-Michigan City line that could be beneficial to Amtrak.

What Exactly is the Input and Direction of the Board to Embrace Real Core Values to Create Value?  Amtrak lacks any kind of growth plan, and keeps whatever they conceive west of the Potomac as a a well-kept secret. Their is no equipment plan, other than the new generation Acelas, which will replace the existing Acelas.  The Viewliner program is focused on producing baggage cars, at the same time checked baggage service is eliminated at many stations; the much delayed diners as the menus are further minimized.

Also, their has been no no outcry of concern from this Board of the excessively delayed, and eventual failure of the Nippon Sharyo Beta site to construct bi-levels for the California and Midwest intercity corridor trains.  Such an overt neglect of stewardship by this Board says everything! Where was their concern not to push on FRA/USDOT to make things happen re the much needed bi-levels?  Apparently, not urgent as long as the Acela re-equipment program was approved. Wonder to what extent CAF’s production delayed based upon Amtrak’s cash flow, when everybody else leases their equipment?

Delineating Core Values and Cutting Costs: To what extent does this Board seriously benchmark in the transportation industry, and other industries, to learn actions being taken, such as Singapore Airline’s 50+ cost cutting moves in order to be more competitive; Tenet Healthcare cutting layers of regional management to become more cost effective and competitive? As a protected monopoly, does Amtrak’s Board believe they are oblivious to exacting financial results?

Reality Defined for Amtrak’s Board of Directors: To what extent does Amtrak’s Board of Directors understand the “Blue Flag” they have thrust down Amtrak’s throat? Recently, GE cleaned house in the senior ranks of leadership as its financial performance cratered. Yet, Amtrak, even under Wick Moorman, never really cleaned house; in fact, embraced “Peter’s Principle” by promoting its IT officer into Marketing-for all of 9 months. Interestingly, in respect to the persistent never evolving multi-layered management of Amtrak, CIA Director Pompeo commented in a manner quite apropos for Amtrak, “If you are in a process and you are not adding value, get out of the way.”

We are in an asymmetrical situation between the power of the empire that controls the purse, congressional thoughts, and the Northeast Corridor vs. the national system of long distance and state corridor routes. Without significant funding to acquire more motive power and rolling stock to expand routes and increase frequencies west of the Potomac, Amtrak is “kaput.” Incrementalism will not work in the long run, as the current piecemeal approach fails to attract a market base to build upon. Sleeper class (no longer first class) is priced for only old white retired men who think truck stop dining is just fine. This will not change until all eyes in Amtrak management and its conflicted Board are no longer exclusively focused east of the Potomac.

My Latest Adventure For Cleaner Air And Taking The Train. (With Pictures)

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By Noel T. Braymer.

The first Metrolink EMD F125 Tier 4 locomotive on display at LAUS Track 14 on October 5, 2017 Photos all by Noel T. Braymer

October 5th was when Metrolink introduced to the media its first certified Tier 4 low emission locomotive built by Electro-Motive Diesel Inc or known to most people EMD. It is no longer owned by General Motors, but is now part of Caterpillar Inc. Metrolink has ordered 40 EMD F125 locomotives which will be put into service over the course of the coming months. This first locomotive will be in regular passenger service later this October.These locomotives have been parked near  Los Angeles Union Station for a while now. But they must be fine tuned to reach their clean air standards which includes use of low sulfur diesel fuel. These new locomotives will replace many of the existing 55 locomotives used by Metrolink, many of which are near the end of their useful economic life. These new, more powerful locomotives will be able to carry more of the newer, heavier stainless steel Hyundai Rotem cars on a train than the current locomotives. The theme of the ceremony was the combination of better rail passenger service and cleaner air. This was in particular highlighted by the keynote speaker at the event on Track 14 at Union Station, California State Senator Kevin de Leon. State Senator de Leon was a major backer for funding these new locomotives. He is also a leader in cleaning the air in California. Most of the speakers were local officials several of whom were on the board of the Southern California Regional Rail Authority AKA Metrolink as well as on the board of their Air Quality Management District (AQMD).

View of the ceremony with speeches introducing the new locomotive to the press.

After the speeches there was a short ride on the Metrolink train with the new locomotive. It was a trip up the Los Angeles River just past the Metrolink Yard at what is left of the old SP Taylor yard. The train then reversed direction back to Union Station. This left me with several hours until the first afternoon departure at 3:19 PM for Oceanside to ramble around. With my TAP chip embedded in my Metrolink Ticket which gave me an all day pass to ride LA Metro transit, I decided to check out LA Metro rail transit service. First I had to catch either a Red or Purple line train at Union Station. I then got off at the 7th and Flower station to transfer either to the Blue or Expo Line. I chose the Expo Line. What interested me was the sight of property cleared for new construction next to the La Cienega,  Culver City and Sepulveda Blvd stations. At Culver City the original parking lot for the Expo line station is now torn out for use for development. There is lots of new development around many of the stations on LA County transit rail lines. I got off at Sepulveda to catch a Culver City #6 bus on Sepulveda Blvd. This parallels the 405 freeway and runs between UCLA and the LAX area. Not only were the buses clean, but the senior fare was 35 cents. The #6 buses run 4 times an hour most of the day. There is also Rapid 6 bus service on the same route for the same price and nearly same level of service. My only problem at this point was I couldn’t find the southbound bus stop for the #6 bus at the Expo station. But the northbound stop was right at the station. I finally asked for directions and it was up several yards at the corner of Pico and Sepulveda.

View from the Sepulveda Blvd Expo Line Station of the construction right next door including new housing.

Taking the Culver City Bus #6 to LAX is a faster connecting between the Expo and Green Lines than on the Santa Monica #3 bus because the distance is shorter and traffic less congested. I didn’t see anything that really stood out with the construction of the Crenshaw/LAX Line worth taking pictures of. But taking the bus did save me some walking. When I got off the bus at the Imperial Highway Green Line Station I was going to transfer to the Green Line and then the Blue line to downtown LA. There was a group of 3 people trying to get to Norwalk blocking the door talking to the bus driver, then they blocked the turnstiles to get up to the Green Line Platform. I finally got around these people going up the escalator to the platform and I can see the eastbound Green Line train train at the station. Then as I rode the escalator I watched it depart. This was at 1:00 PM. I figured there will be other trains, how long will it take?. The next train showed up at 1:27 PM. The problem was west of the Imperial Green Line station which was disrupting traffic requiring some single track operation. Still 27 minutes is a long time to wait for a transit train. The San Diego Trolley runs 4 trains an hour on its Green and Orange Lines and 8 trains an hour most of the time on the Blue Line. This is service mostly at grade level. The Green Line has no grade crossings and is double tracked. It has the potential to operate trains every 90 seconds or 40 train an hour in each direction.

View of the westbound track of the Green Line at the Imperial Highway station. The Green Line here comes off of the 105 freeway median and continues on its own elevated right of way

Both the Blue and Green Lines have been undergoing heavy maintenance in the last few years which is good. Ridership is suffering as a result. There is no secret to getting people to ride transit, it’s called good service. I transferred at the Willowbrook Station to get on the Blue Line. The station is a bit beat up and is scheduled for a major facelift. One thing that is planned and needed a long time ago is a pedestrian crossing from the station to a nearby modern shopping center. Getting there from the station now is rather roundabout. When I got on the Blue Line there was a guy walking up and down the train car selling stuff. First it was electronic accessories.Then he was selling cold drinks. Lastly he was selling clothing articles. Now this type of traveling salesman is fairly common on the Blue and Green Lines. But I had seen the same man selling the same stuff when I was on the Expo Line in the late morning.The passengers don’t seem to mind this activity as least on the Blue and Green Lines. There are announcements on the trains not to buy from these folks. But while you often see police now at the transit rail stations, your almost never see police of sheriffs on the trains even at random times. When you do see police it’s to check tickets. They tend to check tickets as a large group at a station which can cause you to miss your trains as they stop you. Most places in the world have ticket inspectors checking randomly on the trains and buses. Not only do they discourage people from fare cheating, but they are a form of security discouraging other activities.

This is the stairway at the Willowbrook station from the Blue to the Green lines. There are complaints that this busy station has become rundown and lacks things like seating.

I got back to Union Station with almost an hour to spare before my train would leave. I got a snack to eat and looked around the station. I had a treat in store for me. The old booking hall at the station has been generally closed to the public for years and used mostly for special events was allowing the public in. Above the old ticketing booths was a large portable mural which was on display for a time at Union Station. It is called “L.A History,A Mexican Perspective” and will be on display from September 29th to October 22, 2017. I took some pictures and was able to enjoy the restoration work ongoing at the station. Over 60 years of accumulated dirt and dust is being cleaned from the interior of the station.

Inside the old Booking Hall at Los Angeles Union Station during a rare time it is opened to the general public.

Roughly 30 minutes before train time I went up to the platform to catch my train. It was a while before the train arrived and then some before the doors where opened. We left on time and everything seems normal until we were in the middle of the BNSF Hobart Yard and came to a full stop for quite some time. The conductor got on the PA to announce that the BNSF was having congestion problems with its freight trains. The train was on the right hand most track lined up for the train to stop at the City of Commerce. No freight trains where seen moving at the yard, but there were plenty of freights parked in the yard. At 3:47 PM a Metrolink train on the one empty track to our left flew past us. It was the 702, the first 91/Perris Valley afternoon departure passing us. We finally got to Commerce at 3:50 PM but  we were scheduled to have left at 3:33 PM. As the old saying goes: late trains only get later.

This is the city of Orange Metrolink Station as commuters wait in the late afternoon for their tains home.

It seemed the whole time we were on the BNSF mainline on triple track the middle and left most tracks had long freight trains which didn’t seem to be moving. These were long trains with some with locomotives in the middle of the train and on the tail end of the train. When my train got to the Laguna Niguel/ Mission Viejo station we were already well past our scheduled 4:40 PM departure. We were held even longer waiting for a northbound train on the single track south of the station to Serra siding. It was now 5:12 PM when we left LN/MV. When we got to Serra Siding we got stuck again waiting for a northbound train. We departed Serra Siding at 5:27 PM: we were scheduled to arrive at Oceanside at 5:28 PM. We finally arrived at Oceanside at 5:59 PM. This includes the 10 minutes of schedule padding included at the end of the line in the schedules so many trains can finish at their destination on time even when late at every intermediate stop.

This is at Irvine. In the background are bleacher seating for a new venue for concerts walking distance from the station.

Well we can’t blame Metrolink for this late train. BNSF was having its problems it seems which delayed the 602 train to Oceanside. But this is also a classic problem with the single tracking in southern Orange County. Once you miss a meet window you are screwed. Orange County is working on extending double tracking south of LN/MV to the northern edge of the San Juan Capistrano Station. What would help would be extending double tracking north of Serra siding on to the existing double tracking in San Juan Capistrano just south of the station. There was a news report that a new railroad bridge will be built to replace the old one over the San Juan creek. The question is: will it be a double track bridge? Extending Serra Siding to the south along the State Beach would also help. San Clemente has made it clear they are opposed to any double tracking without putting it in a tunnel. Yet there are several miles of single tracking from the north of Camp Pendleton in San Clemente where the tracks are some distance from the beach and housing which could easily be double tracked which would greatly help reduce back ups when trains are delayed and miss their meets with other trains.

How To Run A Railroad: Or Anything Else For That Matter.

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By Noel T. Braymer

The reality of life is it doesn’t pay to be Pennywise and Pound Foolish. There is always the possibility that large, complicated projects will go over budget. Sometimes simple incompetence or corruption wastes money. But too often in life, particularly in rail passenger service, you lose money nickel and diming things in an attempt to save money. Quite often this happens with government budgets for public transportation. A classic example of nickel and diming is deferred maintenance. In the long run putting off maintenance costs money. The same is true from not making capital improvements which will have a positive return on investment. Here are some examples of this that we can see every day when it comes to rail passenger service.

1. Equipment maintenance. There has been progress compared to the past when there were times when passenger locomotives in Southern California would run of of fuel in the middle of their runs. But too often equipment breakdowns still happen more often than would be seen in most advanced countries with rail passenger service. Simple things like doors that are hard to open or close can delay trains or bad heating or air conditioning driving passengers away. Airlines do their best to do their maintenance at night when the demand for flying is lowest. They also want to use their planes the most when demand is the highest usually during the day to get the most income from their planes. Airlines don’t leave planes on idle the ground if they can help it. But quite often rail equipment is idle during the day when more revenue can made with them. Often there are delays getting work done and equipment sits idle even longer not earning money. Often buying new train equipment is put off which in the long run costs more money. As equipment ages it is more likely to breakdown and will need more maintenance. This leads to less reliable service and lower ridership.

2. Right of Way. Not maintaining the tracks and structures on a right of way is a common way to lose money in the long run. Track or signalling problems can cause delays and upset passengers. These can cascade not just to one train, but all trains along the line for hours with delays. Lack of track capacity or low speeds on existing track reduces the revenue potential of rail service. This is a problem on many of the tracks in California. I am very aware on this for most of the rail route between Los Angeles and San Diego on the busiest travel corridor between the 2 largest cities in California. The biggest problems are in southern Orange County and parts of San Diego County. In San Clemente there is a speed limit restriction of 40 miles per hour on a single track railroad along the beach in San Clemente. A tunnel to replace this trackage would cost around a billion dollars. But it would mean double tracking for increased capacity with faster operating speeds. Double tracking in this area would mean greatly increased capacity for more trains on this busy congested corridor.

There are 2 major bottleneck in San Diego County. There is also single track running on top of the buffs at Del Mar and on the wetlands of Los Penasquitos Lagoon. A tunnel could replace these tracks between Del Mar and Sorrento Valley which would be double tracked and allow faster speeds. A few miles to the south is 2 miles of 25 mile per hour single track running in the Carroll Canyon area. By eliminating miles of existing track with a tunnel to cut several miles from the current route we could have time savings of several minutes of running time. Also a station on this bypass at the UTC mall would have connections to the San Diego Trolley Blue Line now under construction  as well as transit bus service. The University City area near the University of California at San Diego is where the UTC mall is which is in is the largest employment center in the city of San Diego .

3. Operations. Management is critical to preventing and rapidly responding to issues that can shut down or delay rail service. A few years ago there were problems getting a locomotive to start on a morning northbound Surfliner in San Diego. The locomotive barely made it to the siding north of San Clemente. Several trains passed the stranded train and its passengers for 6 hours until a northbound train to San Luis Obispo stopped and picked up the passengers of the stranded train. The crew on the rescue train hit their 12 hour work day limit when it reached Anaheim which further delayed everyone on the train. The next morning the first northbound train to Santa Barbara was given the job of coupling to the disabled train to tow it to Los Angeles. The crew of this train was also suppose to run a southbound morning train from Los Angeles to San Diego. But because of the delay getting the disabled train towed the crew was still in Orange County long after the southbound train was due out of Los Angeles. It was over an hour after what should have been the departure before anyone called in a replacement crew for the southbound train. After the blowback of this incident Amtrak keeps a standby locomotive at San Diego to replace any locomotive that isn’t running well. Since this policy was put in place, Surfliner reliability has improved.

The result of equipment problems, track capacity problems and management issues all can combine to raising cost and discouraging ridership. Certainly being on time and competitive with auto travel times is a major plus for rail passenger service. A few years ago the Capitol Corridor cut several minutes off of the running times of their trains between the Bay Area and Sacramento. There were grumblings by some that it wouldn’t work and they needed the padding in the schedule. Well the Capitol Corridor already had one of the best on time performance of Amtrak trains. They still ran on time even with the shorter running times. How did they do it? First it helps that the Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Agency pays the Union Pacific extra money for extra track maintenance. Not only do the passenger trains have fewer operational problems on the road, but the UP has fewer problem too. Overall there are fewer conflicts between all trains. The other thing is the trains didn’t go faster to save time. What was done was cutting a minute or 2 out of the dwell times at the station stops on the Capitol Corridor trains.

The cheapest way to run trains faster is to spend less time stopped. This means less time at sidings and stations. Train cars with low floor loading and remote controlled powered doors save time at stations. This is the equipment used on the Capitol Corridor service. On the Surfliners, some trains have older cars with narrow doors, multiple steps and with most doors closed with station stops often of 5 minutes or more. The other Surfliner trains add badly needed seats with Superliner coaches which need an attendant to open the door. With Metrolink’s and most other commuter train equipment most station stops are 30 seconds or less. When the Pacific Surfliners first got their  new Bi-level cars in 2000, the expectation was that station dwell times would be generally cut to 2 minutes. With roughly 7 station stops between Los Angeles and San Diego cutting 2 to 3 minutes off the running time at stations alone would save at least 15 minutes off of the running time. The problem is there is not enough Surfliner equipment to reliably make station stops in under 2 minutes.There is too many of the old, slow loading equipment mixed in the Surfliner fleet.

Reducing running times is also being held back by extra station stops on the Surfliners. These are markets that need to be served. But too many stops also end up with fewer passengers traveling longer distances. Revenue is based on passenger miles when tickets are sold by the mile. Having local trains and buses serving all stations and connecting to faster limited stop trains has been used successfully for years in many places. The long term plan for the Surfliners back in 2000 was that  with speeds up to around 110 miles per hour, track improvements and fast loading equipment that service between Los Angeles and San Diego could be run in just a little over 2 hours. In the 1970’s the scheduled running time between Los Angeles and San Diego was 2 hours and 35 minutes. That’s the fastest it has been in almost 40 years.

Raising money is never easy and most transportation projects wait years for funding which often don’t get funded. But a key to gaining support of capital projects for rail service is to point out the increased productivity possible with improvements. This has been a selling point that will get run through tracks built at Los Angeles Union Station. Such projects shouldn’t be seen as costs, but as investments with a positive return on their investment. Running faster trains don’t just make passengers happier. Faster speeds also means carrying more people, further in less time increasing the productivity of rail passenger service. Faster trains mean running more miles in a day. Rail Passenger service has come a long way in California compared to 40 years ago on many levels. But it still has a way to go before it fulfills its potential.

What a summer….for Amtrak too

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Commentary AND a Trip Report, by Russ Jackson

The biggest challenges for Amtrak this summer have been named Richard, Harvey, and Irma

Richard Anderson is the new Amtrak CEO who has had no experience in railroading but extensive experience in customer relations in the transportation industry as CEO of Delta Airlines.  The departing Amtrak CEO Wick Moorman has been advising the new guy.  As URPA’s Andrew Selden told us, “Moorman is late to the party, but he is also corroborating what URPA figured out decades ago:  the long distance trains, as a group, are cash-positive to Amtrak.”  Anderson told CBS, “Amtrak is an iconic brand in America and it provides an essential service to many communities…it’s critical to getting people to work every day.”  His first priority is fixing the infrastructure (he is listening to Moorman there), the second priority is “we gotta clean up our trains, run our trains on time, fix the interior of our trains and grow our services in the regions that provide the highest levels of service to communities around the country.”  RailPAC’s Noel Braymer adds, “I think Richard Anderson is starting to have an impact as the head of Amtrak.  We are seeing much more in the way of promotions and marketing going on now to beef up ridership and revenues as well as improve Amtrak’s image.  This is clearly needed.  But, what will also be needed are more service, more reliable on time service, and connections to more markets.”   We are all watching, Richard.

Harvey and Irma of course were the hurricanes that brought havoc to South Texas, Louisiana, Florida and some southeastern states in August and September.  While communities still struggle in those states and in the Caribbean because of another hurricane, Marie, the railroads on the US mainland in the affected areas have resumed service including those that carry Amtrak trains.  After Harvey blew through, Sunset Limited service was first truncated back to being Los Angeles to El Paso only, and on board personnel tell us that those trains ran nearly empty.  The Texas Eagle ran Chicago to Ft. Worth only.  Shortly thereafter the Sunset and Eagle were extended back to San Antonio.  Then on September 13 Sunset Limited service resumed to New Orleans.  The first westbound full Sunset Limited arrived in San Antonio on Saturday, September 16 and this writer and wife rode it to Los Angeles in the full Texas Eagle Sleeping Car.  That Trip Report begins below.

Hurricane Irma swept up the Florida peninsula knocking out vital services, and causing Amtrak to suspend service on the Eastern seaboard for a week.  According to Gene Poon, when service resumed there was a rash of mechanical issues for those trains, and “NOT ONE can be blamed on the CSX and (its CEO) Hunter Harrison.  They were pretty much self-inflicted.  (Former Amtrak CEO) Boardman cut maintenance and repairs on the diesel fleet to help bail out the ‘profitable’ Northeast Corridor.”  That situation did not happen on the UP’s Sunset Route, as this writer’s trip was nearly flawless and arrived early at most stations, both westbound and eastbound, despite heavy freight traffic including many very long double stack trains headed east.  There have been rumors that the UP was emulating the philosophy of Harrison at CSX and running longer trains which meant fewer crews needed.  We saw evidence of that.  Most of those long double stacks had two rear end helper locomotives vs the usual one.  There was excellent dispatching, though, as our Sunset/Eagles wove through the UP’s freight traffic on both double track and single track.  The same can be said for the segment of the Texas Eagle on BNSF track in Texas.

Trip Report for train 421 in car 32103, formerly known at the “Ohio” sleeping car, and regular riders will know what we mean when we celebrate that there were NO door rattles!  It was clean and the attendant Jason was very helpful and seemed to reflect a very positive attitude we saw throughout this trip.  . . . Room service was necessary for us, and we enjoyed the dinner from the Eagle’s dining car.  We decided to try some of the new menu items, the chicken enchilada for me and the shrimp for my wife.  As usual on the southbound Eagle, the sittings in the Dining Car were limited to only 5:00 and 5:30, giving the crew three hours to clean up before fast detraining in San Antonio, and the Cafe car closed after San Marcos.  This was the first trip on this route that I slept through all the banging around in San Antonio when the Eagle cars were switched to the Sunset Limited.

A new car attendant took over our sleeper for the ride from San Antonio to Los Angeles, and she may have been the best one we have had in all our years of traveling Amtrak:  “C.C.” was available to her car riders whenever she was needed, and (really!) inquired as to everyone’s needs and scheduled herself to do what was necessary.  No hiding requiring a passenger to hunt for her, she was there!   Bottled water was always available.  We lucked out in that C.C. was scheduled to be on our car when we departed from Los Angeles Union Station to return home, too!  C.C. has been with the company for 16 years and still enjoys her travels.  . . .  The meals on the Sunset Limited were excellent, too, and we enjoyed the scrambled egg breakfast and the magnificent “Angus Steak (cheese) Burger” lunch.  Coach passengers were offered the “Just for You” meal-at-your-seat chicken sliders, and many were observed buying it.  While there was no PA mention of this service on the return train, we were told that dining car revenues have increased considerably since its start, and it does not require any additional crew.  We heard no complaints about the Dining Car service from any fellow riders, and “John’s Place” in the westbound Sunset Limited Sightseer Lounge entertained the folks with his “jokes” on the PA.

Trip Report for train 422 in car 32043, a newer upgraded sleeping car with panels instead of the carpeted walls.  While the car was “newer,” the door rattles were there unlike in the older car on our first train. . . . Having C.C. as the car attendant was a big bonus.  Avia who came on board in San Antonio, spoke of her 11 year career at Amtrak and the first 10 years were on east coast trains where  she could “look out the window and tell where she was then, but was still getting used to the Eagle route.”  She was very efficient, too.  . . .  Again, the breakfast scramble and the lunch (cheese) burger were excellent choices.  The PA announcements varied from crew person to crew person on all four segments of our trip, and while none of the “blame the freight railroad we are riding on” blurbs of the past were heard, only the first Texas Eagle train tried to “sell” dinner in the Diner by describing the available items.  . . .  This was our first trip on this route that we saw a double spot stop required at the Lordsburg, NM (flag) stop.  We were told that construction of the new highway overcrossing at the Maricopa, AZ, station was beginning construction, which will eliminate the necessity of 3 or 4 spot stops there and improve timekeeping.  . . . One new thing noticed was there were two non-service type dogs traveling in Coach with their owners this time, thanks to the new regulation.  Both animals were quiet and caused no problems.  The same can be said for the passengers, as to my knowledge no one was removed because of bad conduct including smoking.  There were plenty of warnings from the conductors about no smoking on the trains, and we can definitely say the whole atmosphere on this trip was positive.  . . .  One last personal note:  we enjoyed visiting with both RailPAC e-newsletter Editor Noel Braymer and VP James Smith in Los Angeles Union Station prior to our departure from there.  It’s always good to see old friends, and it was also great to see all the work that is going on in that magnificent station.  We hope the former Fred Harvey place there will be open on our next trip west.  . . .  Meanwhile, Amtrak, keep up the good work, it’s great to be positive about you!

 

Where Will The Next Long Distance Trains Go?

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By Noel T. Braymer

There is no shortage of places that want more rail passenger service in this Country. Where we are seeing the most interest is in the heartland or some might say the flyover states of America between the coasts. What will be needed to get more rail service is plenty of political muscle. Where that is strongest right now is in the Southern States. There are 4 lines that the South is pushing for. First project has been in the works for some time: extending the City of New Orleans along the Gulf Coast to Orlando Florida. This has its problems. This will require the willingness of the CSX railroad to cooperate with Amtrak to restore service to the Gulf. The CSX lately has been a disaster. Also there is no sign that the new 72 year old CSX CEO Hunter Harrison is in any mood to cooperate with Amtrak. This will likely require much logging rolling and deal making with some strange bedfellows to see the light of day. But if anyone can do it, it is the Southern Rail Commission. They have 4 priority lines. First the Gulf Coast between New Orleans and Orlando. Second a rail link between the Crescent at Birmingham to the extended City of New Orleans at Mobile by way of Montgomery. Third another connection from the Crescent at Meridian to Dallas via Shreveport. And fourth a rail connections between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Between the Southern States are a large block of Senators that give it extra leverage in Washington.

The thick blue line shows the proposed route of the extended City of New Orleans to Orlando. The thin blue lines are existing Amtrak lines. At Mobile is a proposed train connection between the Crescent at Birmingham to the extended City train at Mobile. There is also proposed a Crescent connection at Meridian to Dallas/ Fort Worth. The train connection is between Baton Rouge to New Orleans

What is impressive is the level of connectivity between lines in the plans of the Southern Rail Commission. Just extending the City of New Orleans to the Gulf Coast to Orlando opens up travel markets in the upper Midwest to the beaches of the Gulf Coast and attractions in Orlando. This also opens up connections to other trains at Jacksonville and Chicago. The link at Mobile to the City of New Orleans covers much of Alabama with new connections on the Crescent to the upper East Coast. Creating a section of the Crescent to Dallas/Fort Worth opens up connections to the Heartland Flyer, the Texas Eagle and with that to the Sunset. These connections will give support for these new services from states outside of the States of the Southern Rail Commission.

Another advantage the Southern Rail Commission has is close contact with Wick Moorman. Mr. Moorman plans to leave Amtrak in the hands of Richard Anderson at the of this year. But he has said that he will remain as a consultant for Amtrak for the foreseeable future. Mr. Moorman has his roots in Mississippi in the heart of the Southern Rail Commission. Remaining as a Vice President and CFO of Amtrak is another Mississippian William Feidt. Mr Feidt has spoken in the past of his desire to add service at Amtrak to increase revenues and make Amtrak more self sufficient.

On top of everything else for any of these plans to come about will require more and new passenger cars and locomotives. This might include some creative financing with the help of Congress. There is also the possibility of coalitions with other state groups.The States of Colorado, Kansas and New Mexico have worked together to replace the ancient rail of the Southwest Chief’s line through these states. Colorado is now working to extend the Southwest Chief to Pueblo and a section of the Chief past Pueblo to at least Denver and perhaps Cheyenne. Minnesota and North Dakota have worked to rebuilt trackage used by the Empire Builder through their states. Wisconsin and Minnesota are working together to add a new train between Minneapolis and Chicago. Having these States work together with the Southern Rail Commission might help all these States hasten long awaited new rail services.

One of the most neglected, yet populous regions wanting rail passenger service is the Southwest. A daily Sunset has been a dream before the creation of Amtrak in 1971. There are problems with heavy traffic on the UP. There is also interest for more passenger service between Los Angeles, Palm Springs, Phoenix and Tucson. The biggest problem is there isn’t a rail connection to Phoenix from Los Angeles. But the right of way still exists. To get daily Sunset service will likely need more cars and locomotives as well as track work for more trains on the UP. But what a daily Sunset could mean is connections to the Heartland Flyer up to the Southwest Chief at Newton. Sunset connections to the Texas Eagle daily as well as to the Crescent at Meridian would also be possible. This would also open daily service to Chicago between San Antonio and Los Angeles. All of these trains would see increased ridership and greater local public interest. What would make this more likely to happen is coordinated cooperation between these local groups tor new service that will benefit all of these regions.

Hyperloops, Helicopters and High Speed Trains

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By Noel T. Braymer

Transportation like anything else has fads. This was particularly true when I was growing up in the 1960’s. When Disneyland started running Monorails in 1959, people said that would be great everywhere to replace the old streetcars and buses. I also remember the first People Mover at Disneyland. Unlike the Monorail it was removed years ago. The big thing in the 60’s where helicopter airlines. I remember a regularly scheduled helicopter service from Newport Beach carried passengers to LAX for several years. Helicopters aren’t cheap to fly so I’m sure the fares where high, but you could avoid the traffic and save time by flying. Helicopters are cheaper than tunneling to bypass traffic. A more well known helicopter airline flew between JFK airport in New York City and the Pan Am building in New York. If you are under 40 you may not know that Pan Am was the name of an airline way back when. The Pan Am building (now the Met Life building) was right next to Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan. It was the crash in 1977 killing 5 people of one of these helicopters on top of the Pan Am building that largely brought the end after a long decline of helicopter airlines in this country.

The 60’s was also the beginning of the Jet Age. To replace the 707, Britain and France proposed jointly building a supersonic airliner capable of flying at Mach 2 or twice the speed of sound. The only supersonic services to fly were between New York to London and Paris. The high operating costs generally made supersonic flights uneconomical. In 1964 in time for the Tokyo Summer Olympics the first modern High Speed Trains ran the 320 miles between Tokyo and Osaka at a then incredible 125 miles per hour. This route is still in business, only the trains go faster now.

Much is written by pundits about how slow construction is going for the California High Speed Rail project, it is too expensive, it won’t have ridership and so on. Well it is difficult to build almost anything today because most major projects face major opposition. One small example of this is in Los Angeles. The 105 Century Freeway was finished in 1993. The planning for it went back to the glory days of freeway planning in the 1950’s which included many other freeways that didn’t even get built in Los Angeles. The 105 will be the last freeway built in Los Angeles. There is work ongoing to rebuild and enlarge some freeways in Los Angeles County like the Santa Ana Freeway or I-5. But going back to the glory days of freeway planning was a plan to extend the 710 freeway to connect to the 210 in the northern San Gabriel Valley through South Pasadena. This year LA Metro basically gave up trying to build this freeway extension which the city of South Pasadena has opposed for over 30 years. The Reason Foundation claimed fast, cheap tunneling would make it possible to build a freeway tunnel to extend the 710 to the 210. So far very few of these massive tunnels have been built.The Reason Foundation also predicted after its reporter took a ride on the Expo Line that it would never meet the ridership projected for it by 2030. In this case the Reason foundation was right, the Expo Line didn’t reach its projected ridership in 2030. It did it in 2017 a year after the Expo Line was extended to Santa Monica.

The only new road planned in Los Angeles County is in the high desert between Palmdale and Victorville in San Bernardino Valley. It will also have the right of way for future High Speed Rail service connecting Las Vegas to Los Angeles. The 105 Century Freeway has the light rail Green Line running in the middle of it. By court order the only way the 105 freeway could be built was it had to have a “transitway” which became the Green Line. As for the 710 freeway, most of its traffic is from heavy trucks carrying trailers and containers from the ports to warehouses in San Bernardino County. Much of this traffic could be handled by trains on upgraded existing railroads.

For now work is proceeding in the San Joaquin Valley for the first 119 miles of California High Speed Rail after a groundbreaking in 2015. Every effort has been made to delay and stop this work. But work is generally moving along. All the work between Wasco to Madera will be finished by 2019. Is this a long time? The Crenshaw/LAX light rail line is 8.5 miles long and will also be finished by 2019. The groundbreaking for the Crenshaw/LAX line was in 2014.

Building this 119 miles of HSR track in the San Joaquin Valley  will cost around 10 billion dollars using much of the bond money and all of the $3.2 billion in Federal Grant money approved under the Obama Administration. Part of what is holding back construction to San Jose is time needed to raise money from Cap and Trade revenue.The California High Speed Rail Authority is also planning on generating revenue using its new right of way for other uses like high speed internet and rent for concessions at future stations. It will be at least 2025 before passenger trains will be running between at least Wasco and San Jose. This will cost around $21 billion dollars. For $2.9 billion more they could` extend service to the current Caltrain station in San Francisco and to Bakersfield.

The expectation is that once running, this HSR service will operate at a profit. There are plenty of High Speed Rail services that already do that. Like most HSR services a private operator will run the new trains at a profit, while paying the State for using the new railroad.  The State will own the HSR railroad just like any other public property and there is no saying if or when the full cost of the railroad will be paid off. But that was never an issue nor is it for other publicly owned roads or infrastructure.The California HSR project has companies and nations around the world interested in being a part of it. Some of it is to make money. Some of it is to encourage more HSR construction to more places in this country. Also there could be payback supporting California by some countries opposing policies of the current administration which has strained relationship with many countries. The closer construction gets to the finish, the more interest there will be by private capital and foreign countries to invest in High Speed Rail in California. California is a major transportation market with plenty of potential business in the future. By 2050 the population of California is expected to be over 50 million.

The news is full of stories about the Hyperloop. From a rational perspective Hyperloop is years away from being practical if ever. The two big problems with the Hyperloop are seals and stations. So far no testing for the Hyperloop has been anywhere near the speeds promised which is near the speed of sound.The key for it to going fast will depends on a tube with very little air pressure to reduce aerodynamic drag. Trying to maintain a low atmospheric pressure in a tube requires a lot of energy to pump the air out. Also the tube and the vehicles in the tube will have to depend on seals to prevent an implosion of the tunnel and decompression in the vehicles. At least in an airplane with decompression at 30,000 feet you can breathe oxygen while the pilot brings the plane down to a lower altitude and higher air pressure. With thousands of seals, this means thousand of possible failures on Hyperloop which could be deadly.

Another unknown is the capacity of a Hyperloop. For safety you need to space vehicles far enough apart so if one slows down or stops the vehicles behind it have enough time and space to safely stop. Earlier Hyperloop plans had too many vehicles per hour for all to stop in time in case of a stopped vehicle. This limits capacity. It also appears that these vehicles will be a bit small since money will be saved by having the smallest cross section for the vehicle and the tube. This will also limit capacity. Another problem with limited numbers of stations will be the limited number of markets. Most Hyperloop proposals call for hundreds of miles between stations and only a handful of stations on a line. Express service sound nice. But without connections they are not profitable. Airlines don’t have non-stop flight anymore, all flights have multiple connections to other flights at all airports.

Two of the things that killed supersonic passenger air service was the high cost of operation and the limited passenger capacity of the airplanes. The slower jumbo jets that hit the market before the supersonic passenger planes could carry many more passengers and earn more money with lower fares than the supersonic planes. Also the jumbo jets could go almost anywhere in the world while supersonic planes couldn’t fly supersonic overland due to complaints about sonic booms.This project had the financial backing of the British and French Governments. There was a news story recently that Hyperloop recently raised $85 million dollars. This brings up the total raised to $245 million to date for Hyperloop. The cost of construction of the 15 miles of the Expo Line in Los Angeles was $2.5 billion dollars using an old existing railroad right of way. This saved a lot of money. That was a bargain because the line was mostly built on the surface with only one small section of trench and a few bridges to go over some busy streets. How far will $245 million go for Hyperloop? 15 miles?

What’s Wrong With Bakersfield?

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By Noel T. Braymer

Bakersfield is finding itself on the losing side when it comes to  getting rail passenger service in the San Joaquin Valley. Current plans for the Initial Operating Segment (IOS) of High Speed Rail in the San Joaquin Valley calls for service ending in the south several miles north of Bakersfield at Wasco. Recently the San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority (SJJPA) announced they are adding service from Fresno to Sacramento at the same time they are eliminating one train from Bakersfield to Sacramento. One of the odd things about Bakersfield which is in Kern County is the county is not a voting member of the SJJPA board. Of course its representative in Congress is Kevin McCarthy who is an opposition leader against High Speed Rail construction. Kern County is both a major oil production center and has some of the worst air quality in the United States. But Bakersfield is also a major hub for connecting buses with Amtrak trains to Las Vegas and much of Southern California.

None of this seems to be a concern of the Kern Council of Governments (KCG) which is the planning body for Kern County which doesn’t bother to be a part of the SJJPA. Kern County is focused on road construction not rail service. Ahron Hakimi, executive director of KCG was reported saying the trains are slower than driving and have trouble being on time. Clearly he doesn’t ride the San Joaquin trains very often. The San Joaquin trains are the fastest passenger trains in California with an average speed of about 53 miles per hour between Bakersfield and Sacramento.The main problem for travelers is service isn’t frequent enough by train, particularly the two current roundtrip trains to Sacramento. The trains now leave Sacrament early in the morning and late in the afternoon.The trains arrive in Sacramento almost mid day and late in the afternoon. There are 5 other San Joaquin trains that travel to Oakland which also have bus connections at Stockton to Sacramento. But what is missing are arrivals into Sacramento at the start of the business day and convenient departures in the early evenings. Peak travel times in most places are morning, midday and late afternoon to early evening.

At the heart of the problem getting rail passenger service, but particularly in the San Joaquin Valley is money, or rather the lack there of. Economically the San Joaquin Valley is on a per capita basis is one of the poorest regions in the country. The San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission (SJRRC) in San Joaquin County is in charge of the Altamont Corridor Express commuter rail service between Stockton and San Jose. The SJRRC also manages the San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority (SJJPA) which means it is in charge of planning future service for the Amtrak San Joaquin Trains. The SJRRC is busy planning ACEforward which proposes to extend ACE service to first to Modesto and shortly there after to Merced . ACE recently secured funding for this in the State Budget. ACEforward also calls for connections to BART in Livermore as well as with the Capitol Corridor trains at Fremont. This also includes more frequent rail service for ACE. For the San Joaquin trains there are plans to raise train speeds. This will require track upgrades which have been awaiting funding for quite some time now. At the SJJPA, planning is going ahead to run additional service to Sacramento starting with a early morning arrival at Sacramento by 8 AM which will be the train that skips Bakersfield and leaves Fresno around 4:30 AM. There is a planned bus connection as far as Bakersfield leaving at 2 AM to Fresno. It would make sense to start this northbound bus in the evening in Southern California which has a large market to add riders to the Fresno connection to Sacramento. While there may be more people riding from Fresno and points north, much of the revenue for transportation is from the distance people travel.

The planning for adding rail service to Sacramento includes shifting the train route to Sacramento from the Fresno subdivision to the Sacramento subdivision. The Fresno sub is a busy Union Pacific mainline while there is plenty of unused capacity on the Sacramento sub. The downside with the Sacramento sub is it has no connections to the Amtrak Station in Sacramento. The planning calls for additional stations including in downtown Sacramento, North Sacramento and Natomas which is north of Sacramento for a bus connection to the Sacramento Airport. Along with expanded San Joaquin service to Sacramento there are plans to run an ACE DMU self propelled railcar train as a shuttle between Stockton and Sacramento with connections to ACE trains and possibly San Joaquin trains. At the heart of the planning of the SJJPA, ACE and SJRRC which are basically the same people wearing 3 hats is to create a system serving as a connector to future High Speed Rail service. This will give better connections along the northern San Joaquin Valley including Sacramento to High Speed Rail at San Jose, Madera and Merced. The San Joaquin trains will connect to High Speed Rail at a joint station at Madera while ACE will connect at both San Jose and Merced.

Where does this leave Bakersfield? Behind the 8 ball for now. Planning of the route for High Speed Rail to downtown Bakersfield was delayed for years until the California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) agreed to use the route along the Union Pacific preferred by the city of Bakersfield instead of on the BNSF. The advantage of the UP route is there were fewer people opposing use of this route compared to a joint HSR station with the San Joaquin trains along the BNSF. One might say the area along the UP is economically depressed compared to the BNSF side of town. Relations between Bakersfield and the CHSRA have improved since most of attention for the High Speed Rail station is now focused on the UP route. But because of this delay Bakersfield has largely taken itself out of contention as a site for the future HSR central maintenance facility in the San Joaquin Valley. The indifference of the Kern Council of Governments about rail passenger service in Kern county doesn’t help either. For years the cities of Fresno, Merced and Bakersfield have wanted to have the central maintenance facility built in their tax base because it will be one of the largest employment centers in the San Joaquin Valley.

A case could be made that Bakersfield has shot itself in the foot several times when it comes to rail passenger service. But this misses the point that for rail service to work in California we need good service at Bakersfield. The disadvantage is there will be no connections between High Speed Rail and and San Joaquin trains in Bakersfield unless the San Joaquin Trains are shifted to the UP Line south of Wasco. Not only would this be expensive, but it would mean leaving the fairly new Bakersfield train station which is closer to the center of Bakersfield than the future UP High Speed Rail station. Time will tell, but as the towns in the northern San Joaquin Valleys see increased development and economic growth with improved rail service, Bakersfield will likely get to work to catch up.