“A NOSE UNDER THE TENT”–FRA SEEKS COMPETITIVE BIDS TO REPLACE THREE AMTRAK LONG DISTANCE ROUTES

By M.E. Singer

For those of us who attained adulthood before the dawn of Amtrak, we were initially thrilled with high hopes the passenger train would be saved; acquire governmental investments (i.e., “subsides”) in equipment and infrastructure in common with other modes of transport; and actually expand to meet its potential. However, within a very short time span we were sadly awakened to a certain reality of lost faith. Just as General Westmoreland learned their was no “light at the end of the tunnel,” because their was no “tunnel” in Vietnam, so too have rail advocates and pundits approached any governmental action regarding Amtrak with suspicion.

Frankly, as it was written under the FAST Act, this FRA bid concept reads more like a manifesto embracing a “Gordian Knot” that portends the devolution of Amtrak.  Like peeling layers of the onion, this FRA program is aimed directly at the winnowing of long distance routes from the federal treasury. How else can we read into this “new and improved approach” to long distance routes?

FRA’s pilot program is directed towards “eligible petitioners;” yet, we lack such experienced operators, as the private firms here have been focused on commuter services. However, their is always European private operators excelling in their services-but only in daytime corridor runs. Apparently, only the Austrian Federal Railway (OBB) continues to enthusiastically expand its fleet of “Night Jet” overnight trains.

To clarify, FRA’s vision of a corral of eager private operators will not be allowed to piggyback on Amtrak’s track access rights, current user fee lease arrangement, nor Amtrak’s own insurance program. Yet, despite such private operators lacking the requisite skills negotiating with Class 1s for trackage and dispatching rights, they will be required to furnish such agreement in writing denoting such access rights, before the bid is awarded.

For discussion purposes only, let’s say the vast hurdle of access is achieved.  However, will the new operator be required to honor all current labor agreements in place with Amtrak for OBS, T&E, reservations, depot services, etc? What about the costs to access depots, yards, RIP tracks, maintenance/repair facilities, etc?  What about equipment? Unlike Europe, doubtful any operator will invest in new equipment, or, pay to fully rehabilitate the overused, long neglected Superliners; nor will they fall prey to those peddling a pipe dream of used equipment already rejected by multiple states.

Why this is a smoke-screened to maneuver against the long distance trains is disclosed in the lessons provided within an historical context obviously  unlearned, or, disregarded by the FRA, including:

1. Why not contemplate competitive bids to franchise or give open access in competition to Amtrak?
-The caveat here is to prevent a private operator from dictating terms of exclusivity to the detriment of the current schedule serving the many multi-market segments of en route communities, as well as connecting them to the end points. History has evidenced how this concept got of control: The proposal of operating just a tour-type train stopping every evening to overnight at hotels has only been feasible for the “Rocky Mountaineer,” between Vancouver-Jasper/Banff, by overnighting in Kamloops (equivalent to a night in Fort Wayne). Yet, this private organization persists in using its political prowess and lobbyists playing to the naysayers in Ottawa by undermining the transcontinental train operated by VIA Rail Canada, despite these services not being competitive.

Interestingly, this transcontinental train operated by VIA Rail Canada, “The Canadian,” was allowed to have its advantageous route sabotaged by the Tory Prime Minister of Canada, Brian Mulroney, in 1990, in a smoke-filled boardroom at CP’s HQ in Calgary. VIA’s long-term, traditional route over the CP directly serving the large tourist market for Banff/Lake Louise, as well as the most populated towns en route, was extinguished, forcing VIA onto the less populous, less scenic CN line.  “Rocky Mountaineer” was awarded exclusive access on CP between Vancouver-Banff-Calgary. Soon after, “The Canadian” was reduced from daily to two days per week for the non-seasonal market (and than, only three times per week operation); causing increased losses; forced to incur additional costs by adding a fourth night to its schedule to no avail to counter CN’s indifference to On-Time Performance (OTP).

2. Whatever happened to the argument of economy of scale? How would any private operator not be allowed to participate in the benefits derived from the rational for creating Amtrak, e.g., centralized  reservations, commissaries, maintenance/repair, purchasing, and eventually, standardized power and equipment?
-However, perhaps a valid private operator from Europe could evidence its expertise by educating the FRA in the relationship of schedules, minus a preponderance of padding, to achieve improved asset utilization? Of course, this continues to be dependent upon the Class 1s respecting OTP, which relates to their enmity over track value. As well, perhaps such a private operator could also appropriately define the true incremental cost of increasing frequency vs. the Amtrak definition of full cost by ignoring both incremental, and GAAP (just in its Northeast Corridor).

3. The open-bid process conducted by the State of Indiana in 2014 for the “Hoosier State” (Indianapolis-Chicago 4 days/week) was a harsh lesson in reality.
-The value to vet proposed operators up front before any award of service was demonstrated in respect to experience, availability of equipment, financing, and working relationship with Amtrak and Class 1s. As well, how the vetting process should clearly identify the bidders capacity to specifically evidence their heft for start-up and working capital funds. Appropriate due diligence by the state would have also clearly identified  Amtrak’s position not to be a subcontractor to any operator. (IPH eventually stepped in to operate this train under Amtrak until consumed by legal/financial issues.)

4. Unlike Europe where the governments own the rail infrastructure, in North America all such infrastructure beyond the Northeast Corridor is owned and controlled by private Class 1s, who covet the increased value of their track slots. After mergers and track abandonment, the resulting tighter track capacity has the Class 1s firmly believing they are still not being paid the full value for access by Amtrak, despite the inflated bonus they receive for a dubious effort at OTP.
-Logically, a proven, experienced  private operator should bid to assume all  responsibilities for ensuring improvement of the customer experience at the higher revenue potential of first class (currently downgraded to “Sleeper Class”) on the current long distance routes. This should anticipate beginning on an incremental basis, eventually to include business class. Certainly, all customer experience services would come under the purview and control of the private operator, including food/beverage services; operation and staffing of first class diner, club, and sleeping cars; provisioning; on-board and housekeeping services. For equipment, perhaps the feasibility of utilizing PVs?

-Remember how the Santa Fe managed from 1958-1971 to combine off-season its “El Capitan” and “Super Chief,” with separate dining and lounge cars, as well as single level and hi-level cars? Given Amtrak’s issues and indifference to ‘spending money to make money,’ let Amtrak just continue running the long distance routes and operating within its current, limited realm of a standardized ability for the coach and cafe sections of the train.

In respect to the plethora of economic issues to restrain any viable bid and private operation of a long distance route, this scenario remains unfeasible. Accordingly, what is the actual point to this FRA pilot program to induce private bids on merely three long distance routes, other than being a “straw horse” to kill those routes? Who is fighting the most logical approach to the long distance routes, as identified in section #4–Amtrak, FRA, DOT; who?

What Expanded San Joaquin Rail Service to Sacramento Could Look Like

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By Noel T. Braymer

The San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority which manages the San Joaquin trains is negotiating with the Union Pacific to add more trains from the San Joaquin Valley to Sacramento. It seems the UP would like to switch the current 2 Sacramento roundtrip San Joaquin trains as well as future additional service from its Fresno Subdivision to its Sacramento Subdivision. The Fresno Subdivision is a very busy freight line, while the Sacramento Subdivision has plenty of underused track capacity. The main issue is there are no direct track connections from the Sacramento Subdivision to the Amtrak Sacramento Station. That would mean no direct connections to the Starlight, Zephyr, Capitol Corridor Trains or the connecting Amtrak Thruway buses at Sacramento. The following will detail these issues and some possible connections to make this work.

This is a map of the Sacrament Light Rail system. The Sacramento Subdivision is shared with the Blue Line from Franklin in the South to Broadway.  Starting at 16th ST. the Blue and Gold lines share much of the tracks in downtown Sacramento. The Blue Line continues to the Northeast to Watt I-80 but skips the Sacramento Amtrak Station. The Gold Line however terminates at the Amtrak Station.

The UP Sacramento Subdivision was the old Western Pacific mainline through Sacramento. It has many grade crossing in Sacramento. The Sacramento RT Light Rail shares several miles of the Sacramento Subdivision on its Blue Line in Southern Sacramento between Franklin and Broadway Stations. A possible joint Amtrak and RT station at Broadway might be built. The Blue Line runs west from Folsom through downtown Sacramento before turning northeast to Watt/I-80. But it doesn’t stop at the Sacramento Amtrak Station, which is served by the RT Gold Line. Also there are no connections between the Sacramento Subdivision and the Gold Line. What might be possible would be to run special RT connecting trains from Broadway to the Sacramento Amtrak Station since the Blue, Gold and Green Lines share most of the same tracks in downtown Sacramento. Another option would be to build a new joint station between San Joaquin trains and the RT Blue and Gold Lines. The Sacramento Subdivision goes under the Gold Lines at R Street between 19th and 20th streets. With a new joint station for the San Joaquins to the Gold Line there would be direct service to the Amtrak Sacramento Station. For passengers transferring to the Blue Line a new station could be built near a Midtown San Joaquin Station which would be under a new Gold Line station. If these options are not possible there should at least be connecting shuttle buses to the Amtrak downtown station from a new San Joaquin Sacramento station in Midtown.

This is a Google Earth image of downtown Sacramento. The tag 16th Street Station is for a joint Gold and Blue Lines RT Light Rail station closest to the Sacramento Subdivision 4 blocks to the west. Looking closely you can  see where the Blue Line from the south meets the Gold Line coming from the east merge near 19th st. The Sacramento Subdivision is next to the Blue line and continues north next to 19th street past the junction of the Blue and Gold Lines heading west.

This is a possible joint RT and San Joaquin station in downtown Sacramento. Above R st. is the elevated Gold Line running east to west . The Sacramento Subdivision is parallel to 19th and 20th streets. The rail line branching off from the Sacramento Subdivision is the Blue Line merging with the Gold Line with a joint station nearby at 16th and R streets. RT Stations could be built no both Blue and Gold Lines with connections to San Joaquin trains at this location. Or shuttle buses could carry passengers to and from this site to nearby RT stations 3 to 4 blocks away.

A major issue to deal with if more trains are run in the San Joaquin Valley to Sacramento is the need for more stations between Stockton and Sacramento. The only station now between Stockton and Sacramento is at Lodi which would be bypassed if trains are rerouted from the Fresno to the Sacramento Subdivision. The problem is most of the population between Stockton and Sacramento is along the Fresno and not the Sacramento Subdivision. The best places for more stations would be in the metro areas just north of downtown Stockton and south of downtown Sacramento. It would make sense to go north of Midtown Sacramento with at least one more Sacramento stop. The Sacramento Subdivision goes through Midtown Sacramento and would be no more than a half a mile walk to either the State Capitol or Sutter’s Fort which are both popular tourist sites for visitors. There is much else in this area that would be in walking distance to a Midtown Station for the new Sacramento San Joaquin trains. It would also make sense to run the trains to northern Sacramento for a station stop. Also needed is a place to layover equipment between runs which might as well be a station too in north Sacramento. Downtown Sacramento is a bit crowded for storing trainsets during turnarounds. Bus connections at a northern Sacramento terminus would feed more riders too.

Recently there has been interest in extending San Joaquin service service to Yuba City by local leaders. The San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority said that may be possible in the future but not in the near future. There is limited available equipment and funding to operate more service. The Sacramento Subdivision (the Feather River route) could serve Yuba City and Oroville. It might be possible to extend service with bus connections to Lake Tahoe and Reno on this route. But before that could happen a cost estimate will be needed to see what it will cost to upgrade the the line and buy badly needed new equipment to expand service.

It is possible to connect the Sacramento Subdivision to the Fresno Subdivision to reach the Sacramento Station. But it won’t be cheap. Not far from the Sacramento Station the Sacramento Subdivision goes under the Fresno Subdivision at a 90 degree angle in a trench. It should be possible to build either a tunnel or a flyover to connect the Sacramento Subdivision to the Fresno Subdivision for the short distance to the Amtrak Station. Maybe the Sacramento Subdivision could  also be used for the High Speed Rail connection between Stockton and Sacramento with blended service with San Joaquin trains in the Metro Sacramento area and separate tracks in the open country. The blended tracks in Sacramento could be lowered in a trench to grade separate both passenger services in Metro Sacramento. But that will be few years in the future.

This is a Google Earth screen shot of the Sacramento Valley Station where Amtrak’s trains are to the west. To the east by the wye track and Blue Diamond Global is were the Sacramento Subdivision goes under the Fresno Subdivision in a trench.

Just west of the wye is the Sacramento Subdivision between 19th and 20th streets in a tench. The base of the wye is the line to the Sacramento Valley Station. Either a  flyover or short tunnel could connect the Sacramento Subdivision to the Sacramento Valley Station. This would more likely  be done as part of  blended tracks in Sacramento for joint use by San Joaquin trains and High Speed Trains.

 

Why Roads Are Often Crowded And Trains Are Not

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By Noel T, Braymer

The reason isn’t what you think it is.

From almost the time cars were first sold, there has been complaints that there weren’t enough roads. With this came the belief that if only more roads were built and current roads expanded then traffic congestion would go away and everyone would be happy. But this has yet to happen. The fact is as more roads are built, traffic continues to grow and get worse. Called induced demand, the more places people can drive, the more people will drive. But when there is less road capacity, traffic congestion goes down. A good example of this was the expansion of the 405 freeway between Westwood in west Los Angeles to Ventura Blvd in the San Fernando Valley through the Sepulveda Pass. Over the weekend starting on the evening of Friday July 15, 2011, the 405 was closed through the Sepulveda Pass.The public was warned about this with many members of the media calling this coming weekend “Carmageddon”. This implied traffic created by this construction would be like the end of the world. In fact traffic was lighter than normal that weekend. Those who did drive got to their destination sooner than on a normal weekend. Metrolink also had record ridership for a weekend during “Carmageddon” as people sought to avoid traffic. This likely had little impact on travel in the Sepulveda Pass since Metrolink doesn’t have service that parallels the 405 freeway. Yet once the roadwork was finished on the Sepulveda Pass with an extra high occupancy lane added in each direction on the 405, traffic soon returned to normal. In other words congestion was at least as bad or worse than it was before construction began on the 405 in hopes that with more lanes there would be less congestion.

This has been happening at least since most freeways were built following World War 2. The idea was freeways since they wouldn’t have intersections or stop lights, would be able to carry much more traffic because cars didn’t need to stop, which constrained capacity on surface streets. With faster average speeds many more vehicles per hour could be run on freeways compared to city streets. The theory was traffic diverted to the freeways would leave surface streets with less traffic. The freeways would rarely be congested since they would be able to handle the traffic of many major arterial roads. So what happened?  Lets look back again in LA during the 1984 Olympics. The naysayers predicted traffic would be hell during the Olympics in LA. Yet traffic had never flowed so well than they did in 1984 in LA during the Olympics. People thought there was less traffic. But actually traffic was heavier, but there was less traffic congestion so traffic flowed more freely. A major factor in reducing congestion during the Olympics was that trucking companies agreed to do most of their deliveries at night instead of during the day to relive congestion during the Olympics. What causes most traffic back ups and stop and go traffic is from vehicles traveling at different speeds as well as accelerating and braking at different rates of speeds. As traffic gets heavier, but long before freeways reach their designed capacity we get stop and go traffic because some people think they will save time tailgating other cars or cutting vehicles off to try to get around traffic.

Of course not all roads are crowded. In fact most are not. I spent most of my childhood in the 50’s and 60’s living in houses by streets with little traffic. The house I lived in the longest as a kid from when I was 10 until I finished High School was at the end of a cul de sac. Cul de sacs were the epitome of the quiet suburban life. But I remember it caused long detours getting around on foot or by bike when I was a kid. But when you have people driving from their tract homes first on the arterial roads and then on the freeways, traffic soon gets congested on the busier roads. This is because traffic from miles around gets dumped on a small percentage of the road system. In the past most American cities had roads based on a grid system. These still exist in older parts of town around this country. Instead of dumping the majority of traffic on a few major streets and freeways, in the past it was spread out on many roads paralleling each other. Also people drove less since they didn’t have to travel as far in the past in a more densely populated area to get around as they do today. While there were fewer quiet streets, there were also fewer congested streets in the past. Also since World War 2 city planners have been demanding that there be plenty of parking both for housing and at businesses. This has used up a great deal of land sitting paved and often empty. This also made it harder to walk to places you wanted to go and made people more dependent on cars. The ironic thing today is the traffic is always worse in suburban areas built after World War 2, than the older parts of town with less parking and a grid street layout.

So why are trains and public transportation in general often having trouble keeping let alone increasing ridership? Part of it is market forces. By that I mean we subsidize driving by giving away lots of “free parking” which is often idle. Also cars have an advantage in that they are their own feeder and distributor. By that I mean most people with a car can drive on almost any road anywhere in North America to any place at any time they want only stopping to rest or fill their car with fuel. In many cases it is almost impossible to get to many places by public transportation in the United States. Quite often the connections between buses and trains in a region are poor or non-existence. Often there are long waits for connections or long walks to get to or from public transport. Much has been made by critics of public transport that fewer people are riding public transport. These are the same people who complain that public transport should cut back service to save money. The result is bus and rail service has been cut back. The result was fewer people ride the bus and trains because there is less service. But the critics complain about how ridership is shrinking so people clearly don’t want to ride public transport.

The population of the United States when I was born was around 158 million people. Today the population of the United States is over 326 million, it has more than doubled since I was born. We have double the number of people, but there is less open land now with more people needing housing and food. We don’t have the land to waste today that we could when I was growing up for new roads and for plentiful parking. The key to reducing road congestion is fewer roads and shorter trips. For a model how this would work we can look at European cities which have higher population densities than cities in this country. Europe simply didn’t have the open spaces like the United States had to build roads and parking on the scale of post World War 2 America. So most major cities in Europe have good frequent rail passenger service as well as frequent rail and bus transit which have good connections to each other. Most of this infrastructure is maintained by tax revenues. Tax revenues are also used to maintain streets and roads in Europe to a higher standard than in this country.

Looking now at Los Angeles we see new skyscrapers all over, particularly downtown. Some of this is for additional housing. The only way Los Angeles can handle the increased numbers of people that will fill up these building will be with more rail service. The freeways are already congested much of the day in LA. A major part of this will be with more rail transit connecting at Los Angeles Union Station to regional Metrolink service, intercity Amtrak and future High Speed Rail service. Better connections between lines with improvements like the Regional Connector downtown for light rail will allow better connections between services and service that run through major hubs like downtown Los Angeles and not terminate there. If you want full trains with rail service you want connections and service to as many places as possible. If you don’t want traffic build cul-de-sacs.

What’s The Best Way To Get To LAX From LAUS By Rail?

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By Noel T. Braymer

Today the only direct way without a car to travel between Los Angeles Union Station to LAX if you are going to fly is the Union Station Flyaway Bus. Since it uses public roads it is subject to delays from heavy traffic. But not everyone is going to the airport terminals who travel to the area near LAX. Also many people who want to travel to the LAX area can’t do so by public transportation conveniently. By 2019 construction will be finished on the Crenshaw/LAX LA Metrorail line which will have shuttle bus connections to the LAX terminals. The LA Metrorail Green Line will also have a branch extended on part of the future Crenshaw/LAX Line sharing it to the area near Century Blvd for shuttle buses which will roughly cut in half the distance buses travel now between the terminals and the Green Line. The current shuttle station for the Green Line is at Imperial Highway and Aviation Blvd by the southeast corner of LAX. By 2023 there should be People Mover service to the terminals at LAX at a new transportation center station a half mile north of Century Blvd for rail and transit buses. What will be missing with both the Green or Crenshaw/LAX Lines is neither have direct service to downtown Los Angeles or to Amtrak or Metrolink passenger rail service.

For trips to LAX from downtown Los Angeles after 2021 with the Regional Connector subway by Metrorail, a person can catch the future extended Blue Line through downtown to the Green Line at Willowbrook. From there passengers can transfer to the LAX area on the Green Line. The other option is to catch the Expo Line downtown to Santa Monica and transfer to the Crenshaw/LAX Line at the connecting station at Crenshaw and Exposition Blvds. While an improvement over what is available now, it still doesn’t give direct service from LAX to downtown Los Angeles. The Los Angeles County Metropolitan  Authority which is responsible for transportation in Los Angeles County including rail transit is looking at options for direct rail service between downtown Los Angeles and LAX. There are only 2 reasonable options: a connection between the Blue and Green Lines or the Expo and Crenshaw/LAX Lines.

This is a cropped LA Metro map showing the major transit rail lines including the now under construction Crenshaw/LAX Line and downtown Regional Connector subway. The Blue and Green Lines are the same color as their names. The Expo Line is the light blue line. The Crenshaw/LAX Line is the vertical line between the Green and Expo Lines.

To connect the Blue and Green Lines, the best solution would be to use the right of way of the Blue Line which it shares with the Union Pacific most of the distance between downtown Los Angeles and Long Beach. At about the mid point between downtown LA and Long Beach is an old railroad junction at the Los Angeles neighborhood of Watts which the UP has a branch line which turns southwest to El Segundo just south of LAX. In the area around Vermont Ave this Union Pacific branch line runs parallel at a short distance to the Green Line which is in the median of the Century Freeway. This would be a good location to build a junction to the Green Line for trains running on both the Blue and Green Lines. The other option would be to build the junction near where the Blue and Green Lines cross at almost a 90 degree angle at Willowbrook. This route will be slightly longer than using the Union Pacific right of way for the junction. Also since the Green Line is elevated in the Century Freeway and the Blue Line is at ground level at roughly a 90 degree angle to each other, a longer ramp going through more private property will be necessary than building a connection ramp at almost the same elevation and parallel to the freeway and Union Pacific right of way.

The other solution is to use the Expo and Crenshaw/LAX Lines . My opinion is this is the more likely alternative. There are plans to extend the Crenshaw/LAX line in the future north to connect with the Purple Line Subway being extended now to Beverly Hills and Westwood as well as connections to the Red Line at Hollywood. Building a portal junction to both to extend the Crenshaw/LAX line and connect trains from the Expo to the Crenshaw/LAX Line should be built at the same time to reduce costs. The advantages of going west first, instead of south is this alternative will serve a greater population and is an area with more jobs and traffic. It will also be fed with traffic on the Expo Line from west of Crenshaw and the Crenshaw Line to the north and connecting from the Purple and Red Lines. Also the Expo and Crenshaw lines have far fewer grade crossings than the Blue Line.

The biggest roadblock to using either the Blue or Expo lines is the street running both lines share in downtown Los Angeles. There are studies underway to increase capacity on the streets for both lines that run in downtown. The Blue Line turns east to run on Washington Blvd which means moving away from LAX in the west which makes for a slower trip than heading south down Flower Street with the Expo Line to junction at Crenshaw Blvd. Some upgrades or grade separations will be needed between Flower St and Crenshaw Blvd. But to add a second service sharing the Blue Line route will require much more grade separation than using the Expo Line. Most of the grade crossings needing to be replaced are between Washington Blvd and Watts to double existing service on the route. Most if not all of the Crenshaw/LAX line will be grade separated allowing for more trains than what the Blue Line can now safely run.

There are however more places people are traveling from going to LAX. The Green Line will have future connection with a new Metrorail Line that will share a new station at the Century Freeway with a planned LA Metrorail line from Artesia to Paramount in Southwest Los Angeles County. This line will latter be extended to downtown Los Angeles and Union Station. There are also long range plans to extend the Green Line east to the Metrolink Station for Norwalk and Santa Fe Springs. This Metrolink station is also planned for use by California High Speed Rail. With Green Line service extended this way would provide connections to LAX for Metrolink, High Speed Rail and possibly Amtrak passengers.

Restoring Gulf Coast Passenger service and current Atlantic Coast Florida service

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Commentary by Anthony Lee and Photos by the author

The Florida state capitol city, Tallahassee, has not seen Amtrak train service since 2005, but the train station remains ready for train and/or bus passengers. It is located near the capitol building and the university

Upgrading the Current Gulf Coast service 

After reviewing the Gulf Commission’s report, some growth things should have been considered, or were not mentioned or discussed:

1)  New thruway bus services and/or extending Amtrak’s Sunset Limited to Miami and the Palmetto to Jacksonville or Miami.

2)  Adding Thruway bus service on the former Floridian route from Nashville (1.8 million),  Birmingham (1.1 million),  Dothan, (68,000), and Montgomery, (200,000) in Alabama, and Valdosta (56,000), Georgia.  The new Amtrak/Greyhound station in Birmingham could be used to connect with the Sunset Ltd at Tallahassee.

3)  Add Thruway buses connecting Jacksonville,FL (1.6 million) and Atlanta,GA (5.7 million) with  the Silver Service at Jacksonville,FL, using existing Thruway bus service from Fort Myers.  Adding a new Amtrak bus/train stop at West Mobile, AL and Southwest Jacksonville is a good idea.

4)  Extending the Sunset Ltd  and Palmetto to Miami instead of terminating the Sunset at Orlando, which would avoid conflict with Sunrail. Extending the Palmetto as an overnight train from Savannah and Charleston to Miami, and Sunset Ltd to Miami (5.7 million) would be the better option, by consolidating maintenance operations at Hialeah for Silver service trains and the Sunset Ltd. would eliminate a need for a service facility at Savannah, and create cruise ships connections at Jacksonville, Tampa, Port Canaveral, Port Everglades (Fort Lauderdale) and Port Miami and other cruise ports.

Reestablishing intercity passenger rail service along the Gulf Coast Corridor will have a challenge from discount buses and cheap airfare as well as the private automobile.

Potential ridership from casinos, military bases, and state colleges and universities between New Orleans and Florida hopefully will provide a market for the new services buses or trains.

Amtrak’s northbound Silver Meteor is at the Ft. Lauderdale, FL, station last year. This trainset has a Heritage dining car, and 3 Sleeping cars. A fourth Sleeper has been added occasionally, and now carries a Viewliner Dining car.

Upgrading  the Current Atlantic Coast Florida service

Amtrak currently handles over one million passengers a year between between the NEC and Florida.

1)  To compete with cheap airfares, discount buses, and the I-95 highway corridor Amtrak needs to do several things, including restoring the dining car service to the Silver Star as soon as possible and add business class service to the Silver Service.

2)  Timekeeping needs to improve for all of the Florida trains.

3)  Restore amenities that were removed from the Auto Train.  Add a seasonal second Auto train, leasing the auto carriers.

4)  Add cars to the Silver Meteor that would connect to the Auto train at Lorton, VA and Stanford, FL.

5)  Lease full length domes or dome cars (Washington D.C to Miami) for first class/business class passengers.

The Gulf Coast and Florida services should be served better, as they would generate more revenue from day one.

 

 

 

 

Railroads are Public Services

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By Noel T. Braymer

Going back to the earliest days of railroad service, railroads were legally treated as utilities and not as a typical business. Utilities are natural monopolies. What that means is it is not practical for a town to have 3 or 4 water systems, natural gas pipelines, electrical suppliers and cable companies all with separate infrastructure competing for the same limited number of customers. But because utilities don’t have competition to control prices and quality of service, they are usually regulated to some degree to protect the public from unreasonable prices and poor service. In the past it was regulations that often required providing passenger rail service at a loss that railroads didn’t like. Today there is increasing interest in communities around the Country for improved and expanded rail passenger services. This will likely only happen with agreements with the railroads to at least share their rights of way and in some cases their tracks. But for some railroads there is little incentive to cooperate any more than they have too.

Most businesses are open to the public. There are laws against businesses refusing to serve paying customers which have been affirmed by the Supreme Court. The public have an expectation that they should be able to use the railroads for public use. A major reason the railroads don’t want passenger service is passenger trains generally run faster than freight trains. This causes problems mixing services with different speeds because unlike freeways with many lanes to get around slower vehicles, railroads would need extra tracks which are expensive to own and maintain to allow trains to pass each other. In the past railroads did run more freight and passenger trains  than they do today. But since the 1980’s the railroads have torn out much of the infrastructure needed to do that to save money. Today’s freight trains are much longer than in the past so more freight is carried with fewer trains than in the past. Railroads differ, but the BNSF is willing to consider improvements on their railroad for passenger service if they get paid for it. The BNSF is willing to allow more passenger trains on its mainline between Fullerton and Los Angeles. But this depends on the amount of triple tracking that is built so passenger trains can be run and able to bypass freight trains. This is a slow process since before more triple tracking can be built, new grade separations are needed before more trains are run to prevent traffic backups at the grade crossings. In less than ten years we should see all remaining grade crossing grade separated which will allow 4 tracks on the BNSF between Los Angeles and Fullerton with 2 separate tracks each for passengers and for freights.

The Union Pacific is generally not interested in having more passengers service on its tracks. The rational choice for California High Speed Rail would have been to share the UP right of way through the San Joaquin Valley which would have been the fastest, cheapest and easiest route to build. But the UP was hostile to the idea and many of the problems with starting work for High Speed Rail in the San Joaquin Valley stem from the need to use  sections of the BNSF and buy land for new alignments without help from the UP. Now that it looks like the High Speed Rail project is here to stay the UP cooperates on construction for High Speed Rail which crosses their rights of way. Just in California there are many places that want more rail passenger service if the UP would allowed it. But this will need track improvements in many cases which funding hasn’t been secured.

What is needed for expanding rail passenger service is a working relationship between public agencies and the private railroads. We can see such a relationship between the UP and the Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority. The Capitol Corridor trains operated by Amtrak are managed locally by the Joint Powers Authority. At the start up of Capitol Corridor service the State negotiated a trackage rights agreement with the then railroad owner the Southern Pacific. After the Union Pacific bought out the Southern Pacific, the UP was legally bound to accept the trackage rights on their tracks by the Capitol Corridor service. The Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority has worked hard to maintain a good relationship with the UP. This has included paying the UP extra money to maintain their tracks used by Capitol Corridor trains to a higher standard than needed for freight service. This has allowed reductions in running times for the Capitol Corridor trains and increased ridership while improving on time performance of the trains. The UP has benefited with a better maintained railroad which improves their rail operations and from the extra money it gets from the Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Agency.

Currently the CSX railroad is claiming it will costs billions of dollars for passenger trains to operate on time if Amtrak service is extended along the Gulf Coast between New Orleans and Orlando. The basis of this claim are several railroad draw bridges along the Gulf Coast which shipping has the right of way when passing through these bridges forcing trains to stop. Not much detailed data has been presented so far to back up these claims. The Federal Railroad Administrations has studied the viability of reestablishing passenger service along the coast and found that start up service would need $118 million dollars in track improvements. The new CEO of CSX, Hunter Harrison has a record as a railroad CEO of slashing costs and payrolls while increasing railroad profits. This is why he was brought to the CSX.  It is likely that Mr. Harrison doesn’t want the bother of adding more passenger train service on the CSX. If he must run more passenger trains he will ask top dollars to be made to do so.

The future of decent rail passenger service in much of this country will depend on access to the rights of ways and in many cases the tracks of the railroads. Since the railroads where built before most major development after the end of the 19th Century, building new rights of way from scratch will be mostly impossible today. But the railroads have a reasonable expectation that passenger service will not cost them any money due to delays or accidents from passenger service. Not only would the railroads want to be paid more by Amtrak for use of their tracks, they would want track improvements to avoid conflicts between passenger and freight trains which affect their freight customers before allowing more passenger rail service.

Governments: local, state and federal are all in the transportation infrastructure business. Since the 1970’s governments have been deferring maintenance on much of their transportation infrastructure. Spending money to share and improve the railroads to avoid building new roads and airports which are largely impossible to do now, would be a bargain. There are many ways on the Federal side to improve freight roads to handle passenger trains. Besides grant money, use of tax breaks and tax credits would be an incentive to accept and upgrade their railroads for more passenger service. Both sides will need to understand each others problems and seek to find mutually acceptable solutions. But the fact is rights of way for transportation are valuable and irreplaceable. We will need to get the most use out of what we have now in the future.

When it comes to predicting the demise of California’s High Speed Rail Project; the predictors aren’t doing a good job.

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By Noel T. Braymer

While Governor Brown has his share of political enemies, he has been on a winning streak over the last 6 years as California Governor. Much of his opposition has been from a small but loud group of very partisan ultra-conservative Republicans. Opposition to rail service was triggered after 2008 in large part because then newly elected President Obama supported increased spending for rail service to stimulate the economy after the economic meltdown when the housing bubble popped in 2008. During the George W. Bush administration the Federal High Speed Rail program enjoyed broad bipartisan support. For the next 8 years after 2008 partisan politicians were only interested in trying to make the Obama Administration a failure. There were no attempts to offer better alternatives from the opposition, they just want to oppose. When Governor Brown was elected in 2012 many people in his party urged him to drop the then troubled California High Speed Rail Project. After much thought he decided to make it a priority of his administration and get the project back on track. Ever since 2012 there has been a constant barrage from critics claiming High Speed Rail was a disaster ready to fail any day now. This sounds like the many false predictions by obscure religious sects about the end of the world coming soon. In both cases their predictions have been equally off the mark.

Recently after much political drama and horse trading, Governor Brown got a 2/3’s majority in the legislature to raise gasoline taxes which in current dollars are at a record low in buying power to raise money for badly needed transportation infrastructure repairs. He also recently got a 2/3’s majority to extend the Cap and Trade program to reduce Greenhouse Gas emissions. Cap and Trade is actually a Market approach to bring about positive change without new government regulations. It was first used in the early 1990’s with legislation signed by President George H.W. Bush to reduce mercury emissions into the atmosphere. It was very successful in removing mercury from the environment. The California Cap and Trade program to reduce Greenhouse Gas emissions will both clean the air and be a source of revenue for projects that will lower the State’s carbon footprint. This includes funding for California High Speed Rail. This money will be critical to build the Initial Operating Segment (IOS) of California’s High Speed Rail project which is now planned to open in 2025 between the Bay Area and southern San Joaquin Valley. This first leg of High Speed Rail is planned to operate at a profit and attract investors to build out the rest of the High Speed Rail system.

Even before the 2012 election of now Governor Brown, California had been a leader in cleaning its air and reducing Greenhouse Gas emissions under Republican Governor Schwarzenegger. There is more to doing this than just building High Speed Rail. Transportation is now the largest emitter of Greenhouse gas in California. Greenhouse Gas emission from electricity production is way down in part from expanded production of Wind and Solar power which is becoming cheaper than using fossil fuels. Reducing Greenhouse Gas emissions will require more low and zero emission transportation and reducing the amount of travel needed by people in their life. To accomplish this later goal California will have to build more new housing which is well served by public transportation as well as easily accessible to stores, jobs, services and schools by foot, bicycle and mobility devises. The problem with cars and more roads is as more roads are built, the more people drive and the more congested traffic becomes. Increasingly we will see urban life more like it was before the freeway building boom of the 1950’s and 60’s,

So what is rail’s role in California’s effort to reduce Green House Gases?  In the case of High Speed Rail it will provide a high level of  travel capacity with zero emission travel along most of the major population centers in the State. This will transfer passengers now using local short haul flights in the State to a cleaner and more fuel efficient High Speed Rail service. With fewer short haul flights more flight slots will be available to the airlines for longer distance and more profitable flights. A major role for High Speed Rail is stimulating the local economies of the towns with High Speed Rail stations. People in the San Joaquin Valley have already seen reduced unemployment since construction began in the San Joaquin Valley. There is already talk of the San Joaquin Valley becoming bedroom communities for employees working in the Silicon Valley who are having trouble finding good and economical housing in the San Francisco Bay Area. Critical to the success of High Speed Rail and cleaner air will be connections to it with regional rail services and transit to serve almost all of the population centers in California. These  transportation services will also see improvements to run even cleaner than they do now.

Naturally California High Speed Rail is still years away from completion and still have challenges ahead. But despite all the hysteria by professional naysayers that the California High Speed Rail Project will the biggest catastrophe since the seven plagues of Egypt, the project is doing better than many major projects. In terms of being on budget and delivered on time, it is doing much better than many weapon systems or health care service paid for with taxpayers money. As more construction is finished the chances that the Initial Operating Segment will be up and running in about 8 years greatly improves. Despite the critics, around much of the world, High Speed Rail service is growing and is a valuable, economical and popular form of transportation. Interest and support for High Speed Rail in California is also likely to increase world wide which sees California as a major partner with most of the rest of the world in cleaning the environment and reducing Greenhouse Gases on this planet.

The Cliff Notes™ Approach to Amtrak Marketing: The Airline-Style Seating Proposal

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Why Amtrak Refuses to Know Its Market Position and to Learn from New Coke and Other Market Failures

By M.E. Singer

Amtrak Marketing In The Vacuum Of A Cul De Sac

Thankfully, the advocates and customers of Amtrak passenger trains can rely upon the commitment of U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) to quickly size-up and critically admonish Amtrak’s recent marketing lunges at innovating increased revenue opportunities.  So desperately seeking to increase revenues, without rationally understanding their product within their market position, is like watching Amtrak Marketing enact Don Quote attacking the windmills. The virtual lack of any definition and explanation of what is proposed with airline-style seats, on what trains and corridors, and time of introduction evidences how Amtrak Marketing is still going by the book–the abbreviated version of Marketing by Cliff Notes™ Although Amtrak senior leadership is undergoing another passing of the baton, where is the stewardship of the Board of Directors to provide their requisite check-and-balance before allowing such a concept to be floated in the media? Just as Senator Schumer so quickly called out how the imposition of airline-style seating would be the antithesis of Amtrak’s position in the market, the fallibility of the airline-seat proposal should have triggered within the Board, or FRA, the urge to dissect this tendency of the repetition compulsion for Amtrak to fail in its Marketing ventures.

From the 1950s into the mid-1960s, the Santa Fe Railway continued to advertise its fleet of “Chiefs” on the evening CBS News TV broadcast in Chicago. Not simply relying on flim, the Santa fe also displayed on the set actual coach seats from the “El Capitan” (Chicago-Los Angeles, extra-fare, all hi-level coach train). Clearly, the Santa Fe understood the unique assets in its market position and how to promote its brand. Contrary to that clear vision of the Santa Fe, Amtrak continues to ignore the French marketing expression, cherchez le creneau–“to look for the hole;” meaning, what gap in the transportation industry could Amtrak position within? Believing that initially the Northeast Corridor is being targeted for the airline-style seats, Amtrak has failed to define the market how and with what product(s) its “Northeast Regionals,” will compete. Their is no product positioning nor any attributes of the “Northeast Regionals” identified to define its product(s); therefore its position remains nebulous in the market.

Assuming the contemplated airline-style seats are intended for the “Northeast Regionals,” Amtrak has yet to identify what positioning gaps exist that Amtrak could “own” on that route. Unlike the Santa Fe, Amtrak has not embraced its unique product that differentiates its competitive position in the Northeast Corridor market-“the largest, most comfortable coach seats offering the most legroom©.” Consequently, the inability of Amtrak to define the gap in the market to stakeout its ownership has created a competitive opportunity for the “Limoliner,” a limited business class seating, multiple bus frequency scheduled between midtown Boston-New York offering meals, WiFi, and seat selection. Amtrak has already forfeited to simply observe the gutting of its low-end budget market by failing to counter for years growing inroads by the curbside and other bus firms (e.g., Megabus, Bolt, Peter Pan, Greyhound, Chinatown-Fung Wah, Lucky Star, et al). Compounding Amtrak’s failure to understand and successfully pivot on its unique product advantage of the coach seat; as well as Amtrak’s inability to protect that market position from inroads by both luxury and budget bus firms, Amtrak Marketing has also unsuccessfully differentiated its Northeast Corridor service in the mind of the customer by not pivoting off its other unique strength–the multiple market en route segments that are not served by air or bus competitors, e.g., Stamford-New London.

How Amtrak Marketing Must Appreciate The Death Throes of Line Extension

In reaction to the initial proposal for airline-style seating, given the understanding how a typical Amfleet coach will be sub-divided into a separate section for budget passengers, marketing proponents understand how onerous the task is for one product to be associated with multiple levels of branding. The concept of a “step-down line extension” is typically at the cost of weakening the higher brand. Indeed, this is what the CATO Institute report stated in its 18 July 2017 response to the proposed airline seating, (aside from its typical anti-Amtrak diatribe) how Amtrak would be “drawing most of its economy customers away from its own regularly priced trains, not from the bus companies. Thus, economy seating would minimally lower costs but significantly reduce revenues.”

Into this unknown market segment that Amtrak has not achieved in before, i.e., no slumbercoaches, no coffee shop/grills, etc., Marketing must tread lightly here.  Valuable lessons can be learned from prior marketing fiascos that endeavored to revamp and re-define their market position, including:

New Coke: Considered “the biggest marketing blunder of all time.” Why? Coke tried to fix something not broken.

Edsel: “The Edsel was a classic case of the wrong car for the wrong market at the wrong time. It was also a prime example of the limitations of market research…”

Aerotrain: Short-haul or long-haul service, Aerotrain was unacceptable. “The ride was uncomfortable, particularly at high speeds.” The engines could not get up hills, grades, and passes without helpers. So much for the lightweight, low gravity, cheaper to operate concepts to save the passenger train from GM, Talgo-ACF, Pullman, and Budd.

Market-Oriented Revenue Building Solutions

Before Amtrak destroys the uniqueness of its product that it will not be able to restore, Amtrak must recognize its own failings not to seize the ever-present opportunities to initiate revenue-building concepts that for too long have simply been ignored; its persistent unwillingness to benchmark to successful concepts–just in the railroad industry, including:

Seat Reservations:
Specific seat assignments by car would abide by the recent OIG report criticizing Amtrak’s boarding process by eliminating the unpredictability, stress, and given the sense of conductors unable to manage the passenger flow, the impression of hostility by the crew. To further respect the passenger as customer, platforms should be clearly marked where each class and car number is located and stops.  Just like in Europe; even with first and business cars marked with explicit color and number/logo. Trains throughout Europe carrying far more passengers in longer, more frequent schedules have  experienced no problem with the reservation concept.  Such reservations can also be procured same day from the automatic ticket machines. Even VIA Rail denotes car and seat diagrams for reservations. A recent article noted how the “Dutch rail company NS is working on an expansion for its Travel Planner-app that will tell train passengers where to find empty seats in crowded trains.” Until their end in 1971, the major railroads continued to require reservations on their passenger trains; accomplished this before  computers. So, what continues to stymie Amtrak from taking this common sense approach?

Upgrade Food/Beverage Services On-Board
Why does Amtrak continue with such a begrudging attitude towards on-board food service for coach and business classes on the “Northeast Regionals” (and other corridor services)? It is simply a waste of a car-and LSA-to be operated in the ex-Penn Central fashion–stock-outs, booths cluttered with boxes or conductors gear; most importantly, the denial of significantly increased revenues because the Cafe LSA is not trained as a bartender; insufficient liquor kit, condiments, and tools for creating cocktails. Does anybody at Amtrak, particularly in  catering, or, if their is even a Customer Experience Department, know the history of how the former New Haven Railroad’s bar cars were so profitable? What is the excuse; the reluctance not to maximize revenues?

First Class; Improved Business Class:
As already indicated, one key aspect of the market position of the “Northeast Regionals,”  persistently ignored in promoting, is its competitive advantage in serving multiple market segments.  As many of these markets are not served by the Acela, it is difficult to believe their is no market for first class for the many business travelers relying on this route. At the same time, Amtrak needs to revamp its Business Class, which is currently nothing more than a coach car behind the motor, and inconveniently several  cars from the cafe.

Charter/Special Trains:
Although VIA Rail unabashedly promotes its ability to operate charter/special trains along its corridors, it appears to be a secret that Amtrak is reluctant to promote. As a potential source of newfound revenues, why is this ignored?

Selden Research:
In respect to the eye-opening research conducted by Mr. Andrew Selden and explained in the publication of RailPAC, why is the response from Amtrak stone silence; not acted upon?  Mr. Selden has amply illustrated how the major traffic along the Northeast Corridor is principally commuter between New Haven-NYC and Philadelphia-NYC. It is this commuter-type traffic that crowds the Amtrak trains. Given this analysis, the answer also appears reasonable–for Amtrak to acknowledge this market as it is, and designate one class  specific trains, perhaps utilizing the lower comfort level Horizon cars, to operate exclusively between these two commuter zones.  Consequently, this would dramatically free up space along the entire Northeast Corridor.

T Class (Tourist):
If after all of the above revenue-producing concepts are implemented, only than should Amtrak contemplate appealing to the budget-minded elderly and college student traveler. To gain their patronage without depreciating Amtrak’s “image,” just as is done during Thanksgiving, perhaps Amtrak can lease a bi-level commuter car from an east coast commuter line; to provide the strip-down  environment now sought by Amtrak as its panacea for not understanding and serving its market with an acceptable, unique product to compete-and profitably.

Frankly, I would think these issues and solutions would be forthcoming if the multiple management and leaderships levels of Amtrak got out of their offices for a regular pattern of MBWA–“Management By Walking Around.” The lack of on-site, on-board management is a contributing factor to the inconsistent customer  experience provided by OBS.  As well, the employee with the right idea has nobody on the spot to communicate with his idea.

In the end, Amtrak must recognize that “the perception is the reality” in the minds of their customers.
 

How To Make Money With Passenger Trains: Real Estate. Photos by author

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By Noel T. Braymer

Transportation has always been central to land development. Major cities are always near transportation at harbors, rivers, the base of mountain passes and highway junctions. When new towns were being created in the 19th century in the United States, getting a railroad to put a station in at a town was the difference between thriving or seeing grass grow in the streets. The city of Los Angeles in the 1870’s was dead set on getting the new Southern Pacific Railroad to serve it. The Southern Pacific was laying track south from Sacramento through the Tehachapi mountains on its way to New Orleans. Los Angeles wanted the Southern Pacific to continue south down the Antelope and San Fernando Valleys to Los Angeles before heading  east to Yuma where the best crossing on the Colorado River was to New Orleans. The Southern Pacific wanted the cheaper and shorter route to Yuma by heading east at what is now Palmdale and dropping down the Cajon Pass to Colton before turning east to Yuma. In a likely attempt to discourage the city of Los Angeles from asking for rail service, the Southern Pacific gave the city a bill for what it would cost to build the railroad to Los Angeles. The city leaders were shocked and angry at this quote, but raised the money to pay to extend the railroad which forced the Southern Pacific to go to Los Angeles. For years afterwords people in Los Angeles grumbled about the greedy so and so’s at the Southern Pacific. For the Southern Pacific it was over 90 years later in 1966 that they finished their preferred route between Palmdale and Colton.

From the late 19th to the early 20th Century wealthy speculators would often buy large parcels of cheap undeveloped land. Usually the first thing they would do is build a railroad to connect their property to other railroads to bring people to the property to buy lots for homes, farms and businesses. There are 2 major examples of such men in Southern California at this time. John D. Spreckels was the son of Claus Spreckels who made his fortune making sugar from sugar beets in Northern California. Before this Claus Spreckels also helped build the railroad in the San Joaquin Valley now owned by the BNSF. John D. Spreckels after moving to San Diego soon went to to work developing San Diego, starting with creating today’s downtown San Diego next to San Diego’s harbor. The original San Diego was 3 miles to the north along the banks of the San Diego River and the area now called Mission Valley near the first Spanish Mission in California. During this time Spreckels built the San Diego Streetcar system. He also owned ferry services and shipping companies in San Diego. But his biggest project was building a rail connection for the port of San Diego to the Southern Pacific which met it at El Centro. The Southern Pacific helped pay for the construction of this railroad called by many “The Impossible Railroad”. It wasn’t as successful as hoped and the cost of maintaining it wiped out most potential profits. Spreckels’ interest went beyond transportation in San Diego. He also helped build a water system for San Diego which was central to attracting people to move there. He was a major supporter of the 1915 Panama-California Exposition which celebrated the opening of the Panama Canal. It also brought many visitors to San Diego. Many of the buildings at Balboa Park today were built for the 1915 Exposition, as well as the current Santa Fe Depot in downtown San Diego which is still the train station for  downtown San Diego.

An even better known local California businessman was Henry E. Huntington. He was the nephew of Collis P. Huntington, one of the “Big Four” of the Southern Pacific. Henry E. Huntington is best known for owning the Pacific Electric Interurban railroad which connected most of Los Angeles County to parts of Orange, San Bernardino and Riverside Counties. I once bought a reproduction of a Pacific Electric magazine at the Orange Empire Museum at Perris. What I remember most about this publication were the many ads of land for sale near stations of the Pacific Electric Railroad. The Pacific Electric Railroad never made much money carrying passengers. Most of what money the Pacific Electric made was carrying freight. It usually lost money. But Huntington, like Spreckels invested and controlled many other businesses besides railroads. More important to Huntington was that he owned what is now the Southern California Edison Company. Some of the first electric generators installed in Southern California were placed in Long Beach to power the Pacific Electric trains. But more than that, as they electrified the railroad, the Edison Company also electrified miles of open land near the Pacific Electric to provide electricity to the new homes and businesses on the lots people bought after traveling on the Pacific Electric to find their dream property.

The transit company in Hong Kong makes money, it has for years going back to the days of British rule. Would the reason be because of the high population density of Hong Kong? Or the difficulty of trying to drive in Hong Kong with few roads or places to park? The main reason the transit company (it is and always had been a privately owned company) is profitable is because it owns developed land next to the stations of its transit services. The rents of buildings on the land owned by the transit company is the reason why the transit company makes money. But this land wouldn’t be nearly so valuable without the transit service bringing people to or from the properties owned by the transit company.

This summer will see the start up of a new, privately owned passenger railroad in Florida called Brightline. It will start between Miami and West Palm Beach and later will be extended to Orlando. It is being built for the Florida East Coast Industries company which is a land development company founded by Henry M  Flagler. Flagler was also owner of the Florida East Coast Railway. Mr. Flagler was primarily in the land development business responsible for development of Miami Beach, West Palm Beach and St. Augustine in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. The Florida East Coast Industries company has always been a land development company which also owned a railroad. The railroad was central to developing land in Florida, but the real money was made developing the land, not running the railroad. Now the new Brightline railroad is expected to operate at a profit which is normal for most intercity rail passenger services. There is interest in other places having Brightline create and operate other start up rail passenger services on other corridors outside of Florida. But the main interest of the Florida East Coast Industries company in building Brightline is from the money made building at and around the stations on land they already own. In downtown Miami Brightline is building a new train station. But the Miami Central Station is being build not just for Brightline, but also for the regional Tri-Rail train service and transit connections at the new station to Miami’s Metrorail, Metrobus and Metromover, the last of which is a free elevated People Mover circulator service for downtown Miami.

What is being seen in Southern California since the State of California started supporting rail passenger service between Los Angeles and San Diego in the mid 1970’s is major development around many of the stations. One problem in the past to riding trains in Southern California was that the locations of the stations were generally not in a part of town people wanted to go too. Most of the old Santa Fe Stations in Southern California were in industrial or warehouse districts of towns and cities. The primary business of the Santa Fe was freight, and businesses using the Santa Fe for freight were often close to the tracks. The stations also worked for the freight as well as the passenger side of the business. In the case of Oceanside before 1984 the station was also the site of a railroad freight yard. Services such as hotels, restaurants, parking or transit were also limited at many of the stations. Many places had little or no population before World War II. But by the 1970’s were major population centers but with no nearby train stations. The first major turnaround when it came to stations started with the opening of the new Oceanside Transit Center in 1984 as one of the first new train station in the US since World War II.

This is a view north of the Oceanside Transit Center looking south in the summer of 1991, seven years after it opened. I was taking these pictures to document the problem of trespassers on the railroad. In front of the train station is the Mission Blvd grade crossing. There is a red vehicle seen clearing the crossing in the background of this photo

Around 1970, a recently returned reserve Marine Major from a one year tour in Vietnam started thinking about what could be done with the old train station in Oceanside. After his return he bought a doughnut shop to go into business for himself in Oceanside and joined the Chamber of Commerce. He started talking about his ideas to other members of the Chamber. His basic plan was to create a multi-modal station. That meant combining as many “modes” of transportation as possible in one place. This would make it easier for passengers to travel by allowing passengers to make transfers in one place. This was common in many places in the world, but largely unknown in this country in 1984  1w. This would no longer be just a train station, but also the station for Greyhound and Trailways buses and for the transit buses in Oceanside to layover and make transferring between bus lines or to trains easier. Byron Nordberg was the reserve Marine Officer who planned the Oceanside Transit Center which opened in 1984. Central to his plan was replacing the old 1943 “temporary” Santa Fe wood and stucco station building with a new facility. Also critical was moving the freight yard out of downtown Oceanside. The station area was in the center of downtown Oceanside near the beach and pier. The area in the 1980’s was also seedy and rundown. These changes and improved transportation would encourage new construction in downtown with the plan to attract resort hotels to serve the nearby beach. What sold the members of the Chamber of Commerce was the new construction and broader tax base that this new transportation center could bring to Oceanside.

This is the view in the summer of 2017 at the Oceanside Transit Center next to the Mission Blvd crossing. At the left hand side are new apartments under construction . In the background are more apartments with retail services on the ground floor. On the right is the Oceanside Marriott SpringHill Suites resort hotel next to the station and tracks.

It wasn’t long after the Oceanside Transit Center opened that other cities in California started plans to copy many of the same ideas used in Oceanside. Over the years the rate of development around the stations has increased. In 1981 San Diego opened the San Diego Trolley light rail service. It used part of the old railroad built by John D. Spreckels to get to the Southern Pacific at El Centro. The Trolley first ran between the Mexican Border and the Santa Fe Depot in downtown San Diego. Several of the transit planners in San Diego thought it was a waste of money to extend the Trolley to the Santa Fe Depot. It soon became the busiest stop for the Trolley. Today there is much more Amtrak, Trolley and now Coaster commuter train service at the Santa Fe Depot. What is equally amazing is all the new construction in mostly the last 20 years around the tracks and Santa Fe Station in San Diego. Many of the buildings are hi-rise apartments and condos. There are million dollar high rise condos along the tracks now in downtown San Diego what not long ago was a run down part of town.

This is a view of the area around the Santa Fe Depot in downtown San Diego around 1990. This picture shows show new tracks built to extend the San Diego Trolley to the Depot which latter were extended further north to Old Town.

This is a picture from the summer of 2016 along the same trolley tracks of some of the development around the station today.

Perhaps what is most amazing is the rapid change around downtown Los Angeles. A major problem trying to build in Los Angeles County, particularly new housing is because of opposition to new development by local residents. Their main complaint is fear of more traffic because of higher housing density. About the only place that is seeing  major new construction including housing is in downtown Los Angeles. Much of this new construction is in older parts of downtown and the old warehouse and industrial parts by the river and railroad tracks. In 2011 LA Metro which controls transportation in Los Angeles County bought Los Angles Union Station. Their plan is to transform this iconic part of Los Angeles into the surface transportation hub of Southern California. This will include a new concourse which will reduce overcrowding at the station and make it easier to connect to other trains and rail transit. It will also include more retail and food services. A critical part of the remaking of Los Angeles Union Station will be new platforms and tracks for run through service for High Speed Rail, Metrolink and Pacific Surfliner trains. There are also plans to build a major hotel at Union Station and new commercial high rises around the station. LA Metro is also overseeing getting new housing and retail construction built near its rail transit stations. Hopefully several of these developments will also improve the revenues of LA Metro.

This is the view from the train in downtown Los Angeles. This is along the river and is also the site of the maintenance yard for the Red and Purple lines of LA Metro rail service. The long rows of white buildings behind LA Metro’s rail yard are fairly new high density housing. Such construction was possible in this industrial area because few people were in the area to complain. Now that LA Metro is planning to expand their yard to handle more railcars for the extension under construction of the Red line to Westwood, their new neighbors in the white buildings are complaining about LA Metro’s construction plans.

So often the critics of rail passenger service cry about it loses so much money and so claim it is worthless. What is often forgotten by these folks is the role of transportation, particularly rail service to a healthy growing economy. If you want a see a place that is poor and rundown, its usually where roads are empty, rundown, potholed and go nowhere. To me, trains are a form of horizontal elevators. I mean has anyone ever complained that elevators don’t make money? Even if you tried to charge people to ride the elevators the cost of collecting fares would likely be more than any income they might generate. But owners of large buildings know that without fast and reliable elevators, they won’t keep tenants willing to pay rent for using their buildings. Charging people to ride trains does makes more sense than for elevators. But the real money to be made is not from running trains. Its from the economic growth made possible with rapid and efficient rail transportation.

This is the masterplan for development at Los Angeles Union Station. This is the view looking east and north is on the left hand side. The new tall building along the west side of the tracks at the north end of the station is the site for a proposed new hotel at LAUS. At the east end of the tracks on the south side are some of the new high rise office buildings proposed for LAUS. The new run-through tracks of the station can be seen at the right south end of the station turning east to connect with tracks along the LA River running north/south.

“The Public Be Damned!”

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By Noel T. Braymer

I was thinking about this famous quote recently which I knew was from a 19th century railroad baron. With help from Wikipedia I discovered it was a quote from the Chicago Daily News in 1883 from an interview by reporter John Dickerson Sherman with the then president of the New York Central Railroad William Henry Vanderbilt. The question to Mr. Vanderbilt was “Do your limited express trains pay or do you run them for the accommodation of the public?”. Vanderbilt replied, “Accommodation of the public? The public be damned! We run them because we have to. They do not pay. We have tried again and again to get the different roads to give them up; but they will run them and, of course, as long as they run them we must do the same.” Well this was an honest answer but in today’s parlance a PR disaster. But this was true in the “golden days” of American rail passenger service and is still true today with American railroads. The American railroads have long had to subsidized rail passenger service and they didn’t like it. As Mr Vanderbilt said in a follow up interview to the Chicago Daily News in an attempt to repair the damage from the first interview: “Railroads are not run for the public benefit, but to pay. Incidentally, we may benefit humanity, but the aim is to earn a dividend.” This is still the philosophy of most corporate executives today.

What got me thinking about this is a recent phone interview I had with a reporter from the NBC station in New York City. I was contacted due to articles about Amtrak I had published online. The reporter was clearly covering the ongoing story of effects of years of deferred maintenance at Penn Station in New York and the effect it has on local commuter rail service. I covered for the reporter the early history of Amtrak and the fact that it was a result of the bankruptcy of the PennCentral in 1970. Amtrak was created in 1971. I pointed out in the book “The Wreck of the PennCentral ” wrote of the pressure on the then Nixon administration to do something from major share holders of the PennCentral after the bankruptcy. I was asked by the reporter: who owns Amtrak? I replied that the railroads in theory did. The railroads could get out of the intercity passenger business by joining Amtrak and were given shares in Amtrak. The original plan was for Amtrak to have little overhead and few employees. Amtrak was given rolling stock from the member railroads, but was to lease track time, stations, locomotives and road crews from the member railroads over their routes. Amtrak was forbidden from running commuter service. This was in realization that commuter rail service rarely cover their operating costs. The best hope for Amtrak to thrive was to operate at a profit and avoid major overhead costs. At the start up of Amtrak roughly half of all its trains ran on the PennCentral.

One point I made in the interview is the difference in the railroad industry between above the rail costs and below the rail costs. Above the rail costs are the operating costs of running a train. Most intercity rail passenger services operate at a profit.They generally make more money the longer distances they travel and more markets they serve. Passenger trains that generally don’t operate at a profit are urban commuter services and branch line services usually in rural areas with low population densities. Below the rail costs are the killers. This includes all the overhead costs including the biggest one: infrastructure costs of the railroad. The problem Amtrak has, isn’t that it has trains that don’t operate at a profit, but that it doesn’t have enough trains operating at a profit to cover its overhead costs. Most of the losses claimed on specific trains is based over the overhead Amtrak charges to each of its trains. But the reality is each time Amtrak has eliminated trains, its losses increased. This is because revenue was lost after the trains were discontinued, but there was no reduction in Amtrak’s overhead costs. Amtrak is admitting now that if it loses the long distance trains with the reduced subsidy funding proposed in next fiscal year’s Federal budget, it won’t be able to spend any money repairing the NEC. This is because most of the subsidy money for next fiscal year would have to go to cover the overhead spending now paid from the Long Distance trains. Where is most of Amtrak’s overhead?: the NEC.

By 1976 the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) was planning the reorganization of the PennCentral to get it out of bankruptcy and off the government dole. It was finally decided that the only chance to make Conrail, the name for the reorganized PennCentral profitable was to take out the high overhead costs of its railroad between Washington and Boston. This was an admission that the Northeast Corridor, the NEC was a White Elephant. It was something very valuable but very expensive to own and take care of. But who to give this white elephant too? The government dumped it on Amtrak.

Around the time it got the NEC in 1976, Amtrak deficits which were modest at the start: exploded. By 1979 during the Carter Administration it was losing around a billion dollars a year. The Carter Administration demanded that Amtrak cut its losses by getting rid of its “money losing trains”. Finally 5 trains were cut and Amtrak’s deficit went up slightly not down. The reason for this was no overhead costs had been cut, but revenues streams were lost from those trains that were eliminated . A major fixation on the NEC was that High Speed Rail would save it. This started before Amtrak in the mid 1960’s with the creation of the Pennsylvania Railroad’s Metroliner. In 1964 with the opening of the Tokyo Olympics, Japan’s National Railroad introduced the first modern High Speed Train coined the bullet train by western journalist. It had the blazing at that time top speed of 125 miles per hour. It also operated on a new dedicated right of way without mixed traffic from commuter or freight trains. The response to the “Bullet Train” by the United States was the Metroliner going 160 miles per hour between Washington and New York.This was under the Johnson Administration and the beginning of government involvement for rail passenger service. By the time Metroliners first ran in 1969 it was operated by the PennCentral. It did increase ridership on the NEC, but didn’t save the PennCentral. It had many problems including rough track which made high speed operation difficult. Another major problem that slowed it down was track congestion running in mixed traffic from a few freight trains and plenty of commuter trains on the NEC.

The first substantial reduction in Amtrak’s deficit happened during the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations. The FRA administer under Reagan was John Riley, a fairly young lawyer from Minnesota who had a passion for trains, including passenger trains. He actively lobbied to get the job of FRA administer, then heavily recruited recently retired Southern Railway President W. Graham Claytor as Amtrak President in 1982. Claytor at first really didn’t want the job at Amtrak. Between these 2 men Amtrak went to recovering 80% of Amtrak’s cost from revenue by the time Claytor retired in 1993 a year before died. As long as Amtrak’s deficits went down the Reagan Administration was happy. Claytor predicted when he retired that Amtrak would break even by 2000 if his policies were kept. Riley and Claytor did it in part by leaving the NEC alone. That would have been walking into a political mine field to try to cut costs and service on the NEC. The main focus during the Claytor presidency was on incremental improvements mostly on the long distance trains. These included extending the Palmetto from Savannah, Georgia to Jacksonville Florida. Extending the Sunset east of New Orleans along the Gulf Coast to Orlando, Florida plus buying the Auto Train service between Virginia and Florida. Claytor with help from John Riley was able to get support to order new low level sleeping cars for the eastern long distance trains and additional Superliner cars for the western long distance trains to get more revenue for Amtrak.

By 2002, during the George W. Bush administration Amtrak instead of not needing a subsidy almost went out of business and needed billions of dollars in bailouts. Claytor’s successors had bet the farm on the Acela being the glide path to profitability. Acela was the new high speed train equipment to replace the Metroliners combined with many millions more for track improvements on the NEC to reduce running times. It was in 2000 that electrification was finished north of New Haven to Boston for the Acela service. There were problems and cost overruns with the Acela project. Amtrak sought to save money and increase income. This included cutting the Palmetto back from Jacksonville to Savannah, eliminating the Desert Wind train from Los Angeles and Pioneer train from Seattle that  both connected with the California Zephyr at Salt Lake City. At this time Amtrak reformulated the way it charged  states for subsidy to local state supported trains. For example take the then San Diegan trains between San Diego/Los Angeles with a few extended to Santa Barbara. Since about 1989 these trains according to Amtrak recovered just a little over their operating costs. In the late 90’s the San Diegans were under the new formula recovering no more than 60% or so of costs.

This article covers in more depth than what I was able to discuss in my interview with the local New York NBC reporter about Amtrak and the NEC. The last questions he asked me were about the future of Amtrak and what would be needed to improve rail service on the NEC. He also asked why was rail passenger service was so good in most developed countries and so bad here. One reason was these other railroads were often publicly owned. I pointed out that the problem in the past was American railroads were forced to subsidize the infrastructure used to operate passenger trains with their profits from freight. In the case of both the New York Central and Pennsylvania Railroads, as well other railroads on the Northeast and Midwest railroads, profits dried up after World War II in part from the drop in demand for coal being replaced with fuel oil and natural gas. The current problems around Penn Station in New York have their roots to deferred maintenance starting in the 1950’s. In the United States railroads are the only transportation service which is expected to pay the full costs of its infrastructure. Ports,waterways,Coast Guard, airports, air traffic control and roads are services or infrastructure which is paid in large part by taxpayers. Trucking companies, airlines and ship lines pay taxes and fees, but they don’t pay the full cost of the infrastructure they use that the railroads have done here since the 19th century. The railroads are thriving now in large part because since 1980 with railroad deregulation they have been able to abandon thousands of miles of lightly used secondary and branch lines. They did this to save billions over the years in reduced costs in property taxes and costs to keep and maintain rail lines that didn’t earn enough revenue to make money.

The reporter asked in effect if the Northeast would be better off without Amtrak owning the NEC. I pointed out in many places in the world the railroad infrastructure now is either owned by the government, or a non-profit company owned by the government.The train operators in Europe now are mostly for profit companies. In Europe there are efforts to encourage more competition and expanded rail passenger and freight service between European countries. An example of this are plans by German based railroad Deutsche Bahn to extend direct service to Paris and London. The best way to pay for track infrastructure is to have as many paying trains as possible to use it. A busy mainline railroad in this country or any country is profitable railroad infrastructure. I pointed out to the reporter that California publicly owns miles of railroad. I gave as an example the fact that most of the railroad between Los Angeles and San Diego is publicly owned. What I didn’t share with the reporter were my views of the chances that local government might take over ownership of the NEC. This would save Amtrak a great deal of money since they would only be paying for the infrastructure they use, not all of it. Despite this Amtrak is opposed to losing the NEC. One reason might be that a lot of Amtrak jobs and Amtrak managers work on the NEC. Where there could be even greater opposition would be from the commuter railroads once they find out how much more they would have to pay to use NEC tracks without the Federal subsidy Amtrak gets to fix and maintain it.