If Rail Passenger Service Is Such A Boondoggle, Why Are So Many Of California’s Passenger Trains So Crowded?


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By Noel T, Braymer

A good example of this is around the Bay Area. Ridership growth on BART took off shortly after the Loma Prieta earthquake on October 17, 1989. With the earthquake came the collapse of a part of the Bay Bridge and of a viaduct for the I-880 freeway in Oakland. BART wasn’t running on the night of October 17th because electrical power needed to run its trains was shut off for most of the Bay Area because of the earthquake. By the morning of the 18th, the BART system was checked and no major damage was found. As soon as power was restored, BART was running again. But for months the Bay Bridge was out of service. Soon ridership on BART jumped because of the shut down of the Bay Bridge. But even after the Bay Bridge was reopened ridership continued to grow on BART.

With Caltrain, it was one of the few forms of transportation working the night of October 17, 1989. One problem was the safes that held ticket stock for Caltrain had electric locks. Without power the safes couldn’t be opened so there were no tickets that could be sold. But the decision was made to forgo charging passengers that night and many people rode Caltrain that night with no other options available. Between BART and Caltrain, ridership has continued to grow and with that the problems of overcrowding on its trains. Of course the freeways in the Bay Area are also often jammed. The Bay Area also has a problem most regions would love to have. The economic engine of the Silicon Valley centered around the city of Palo Alto has created so many jobs, that it is difficult for its employees to find decent, affordable housing and makes commuting challenging. Not only are Caltrain and BART often jammed in the Bay Area. Ridership is often heavy on the Altamont Corridor Express, a commuter rail service between San Jose and Stockton. As for San Francisco’s Muni, crowding is common on its Muni Metro trains and city buses.

But crowded trains are to be found elsewhere in California. The Capitol Corridor trains between San Jose and Sacramento often have full trains. So does the San Joaquin and Pacific Surfliner Amtrak trains. These trains are usually crowded on weekends and during major holidays. More equipment is needed for these services to meet demand and bring in more revenue. Holding back these improvements is lack of funding for track improvements and more equipment. In Southern California rail transit is generally doing well.  The extension of the Purple Line in Los Angeles 9 miles to Westwood will cost $7.9 billion dollars. Finished by 2028 for the busiest transportation corridor in Los Angeles this extension is expected to increase Red/Purple Lines daily ridership to over 300,000 passengers a day. The Light Rail Lines are doing well with ridership much higher now on the recently expanded Expo and Gold Lines. With some Los Angeles County sales tax revenue dedicated to transportation spending, several other projects are also under construction or will be in the near future. Where ridership is declining is on the local bus lines. But traffic is getting so bad, the buses are often late and with it its passenger arriving late for work. This doesn’t have to be. In downtown Seattle the number of jobs has grown recently. But fewer people are driving to work. Instead more people are using improved public transportation.

So who are these people who love to call rail passenger service a boondoggle? The same people who’s solution to every problem is cutting taxes. So how has that worked? Federal Income Taxes hit their lowest rates in the late 1920’s as did Federal spending. At the same time there was a major speculative bubble at the New York Stock Exchange. With lending institutions willing to finance people to buy stocks, many people who knew nothing about the stock market bought stock on credit as prices rose and they dreamed of their seemingly growing wealth. Speculative bubbles are nothing new and even smart people can get caught up in them. Most people who know who Sir Issac Newton was would agree that he was a very smart scientist. In 1720 there was a financial bubble based on the stock of the South Sea Company of England. Newton bought its stock when it was cheap and watched its price rise. Finally when he thought the stock had peaked, he sold it making a fortune. But seeing the stock price of the South Sea Company continue to rise he put his money back into that stock. Soon there after the price of the stock crashed and Newton lost a fortune.

Well much the same thing happened in 1929 after the market crashed which set off the Great Depression, not just for the United States but also for much of the world. With  the coming of World War 2, taxes and  government spending in the United States reached record highs. Even after the war, the post War economy set record levels of economic growth up to the early 1970’s even with these high taxes. And generally they stayed that way until the 1980 election of Ronald Reagan. Based on the work of Economist Arthur Laffer, the assumption was that lowering taxes would cause companies and wealthy people to invest in expanding old and starting new businesses which would stimulate the economy and create more revenue for the Government than with higher taxes. One of the first acts of President Reagan was to push through a major tax cut. In 1981 and 82 the county went into the worst post World War 2 recession only being surpassed later in 2007 which was also preceded by Federal Tax cuts which did little to stimulate the economy during the George W. Bush administration. The Reagan administration was forced to raise some taxes. There was steady economic growth after 1983 along with record breaking Federal deficits. In the 1992 elections a major issue was the recession of 1991 during the administration of George H. W. Bush which was a factor in the election that year of Bill Clinton. Clinton raise income taxes, created a budget surplus and paid down some of the National debt and left office with one of the lowest national unemployment rates since the 1960’s

California’s Governor Brown gets a great deal of criticism from outside of California for raising taxes. But he has turned the State’s massive budget deficit into a major surplus which he guards for use during the next recession which is likely not a question of if but when. Over the last 6 years California has enjoyed record economic growth with higher taxes. California’s biggest problems are transportation and the high cost of housing. Californians in urban areas have voted several times to increase local taxes for things that they want like improved transportation including rail service. Since the National elections of 2016 many campaign promises have been broken. What most voters want from any party is job security, social security for old age or disability, affordable housing, affordable heath care and good transportation. Since 2016 most of the special elections to date have been lost by the party which passed the recent major tax cut, but have not addressed the other more pressing concerns of the voters.


Will California’s First High Speed Rail Train Run Between Bakersfield and Sacramento?


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By Noel T. Braymer

The current draft of the 2018 California High Speed Rail Business Plan has pushed back the start up of the first segment of High Speed Rail service from 2025 to 2029. Instead of running from Shafter to San Jose, it is now planned to run between Bakersfield and San Francisco. This delay in starting HSR service is driven both by problems building such a complex project and funding it on a pay as you go basis largely based on future but not always steady income from the Cap and Trade program. Also in the current draft of the HSR 2018 Business Plan is potential passenger service before 2029 using the 119 miles of High Speed Rail construction now underway between Shafter and Madera in the San Joaquin Valley. The current plan is for completing the current 119 miles of construction by 2022. What is being suggested is running San Joaquin train service between Bakersfield and Sacramento using the 119 miles of High Speed track. What could this look like?

This is a map from the California High Speed Rail Authority of the route of the 119 miles of new High Speed Rail track between Shafter and Madera

The latest diesel locomotives and passenger cars both built in California by Siemens are capable of speeds up to 125 miles per hour. This equipment could be available in California before 2022. Speeds up to 125 miles per hour is currently at the low end of what is now considered High Speed Rail. But this was the original top speed of the first modern High Speed Trains, the Shinkansen trains of Japan which began operation in 1964. At 125 miles per hour this would be the fastest passenger train in California, and one of the fastest in the United States. Such a service if running around 2022, would likely start in Bakersfield at the current Amtrak station and continue along the BNSF tracks to Shafter in northern Kern County not far from Bakersfield. At Shafter a connection between the BNSF and the new 119 miles of High Speed Tracks would be needed. Once on these new tracks, diesel trains could run as fast as 125 miles per hour and likely use the new stations on the 119 miles right of way under construction. The first 119 miles of HSR right of way will also be used by future High Speed Trains between Anaheim and San Francisco by 2033 according to the proposed 2018 business plan. Even at the current top speed for the San Joaquin trains of 79 miles per hour, running times using the new 119 miles of new High Speed trackage will take less time to travel than using the current BNSF tracks which have several miles of slow running speeds .

A few miles north of Fresno the High Speed Rail tracks currently under construction will end at Madera. There are plans to extend High Speed trackage north of Madera to Merced. This is not likely to be finished before 2029 when the first leg of High Speed service is planned now to open. This service is expected to run between Bakersfield and San Francisco. There will be HSR service for Merced both to San Francisco and Bakersfield. But the Merced High Speed Rail station by 2029 will be at a dead end for the High Speed tracks. But it is expected to have connections to ACE, which now runs rail service between San Jose and Stockton. ACE has funding to build a new passenger only track along the UP line between Lathrop which is south of Stockton to Merced. All San Joaquin trains will also still be able to use the BNSF between Madera  and Stockton.

This is from a map by the California High Speed Rail Authority of HSR service planned in Northern California. Not only would more frequent, faster service between Bakersfield and Sacramento be popular. But it would create a larger market tying into High Speed Rail service from day 1 between Bakersfield and San Francisco. This will also attract more riders when HSR service is extended to Southern California. The 115 miles or so between Sacramento and Merced may not exactly be considered High Speed Rail. But upgrading existing rail right of ways will quickly and for less money get a decent service running. In the future incremental improvements can be added to operate even faster service to Sacramento. The thin gray lines on this map shows existing passenger rail lines including the BNSF between Bakersfield and Stockton. 

Beginning this year, the San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority, which is the local body overseeing the San Joaquin train service is planning to expand rail service on the San Joaquins to Sacramento. As part of this the SJJPA has an agreement with the UP to move passenger service between Stockton and Sacramento off of the UP mainline to a lightly used secondary UP line to Sacramento. This will allow operation of more passenger trains than the current 2 trains a day to Sacramento on the San Joaquins. This alternative rail line lacks connections to the Amtrak Station in Sacramento. But there are plans to build stations in south Sacramento, near the Capitol area and north of Sacramento with bus connections to the Sacramento airport for the San Joaquin trains to Sacramento.

What could be done by roughly 2022 would be to upgrade the tracks and add more double tracking on the BNSF between Madera and Stockton. This would connect to the 119 miles of HSR track starting at Shafter.  At Stockton, High Speed San Joaquin trains would be routed on the UP passenger line to Sacramento. At the very least this could lead to raising the speed limits for the San Joaquin’s up to 90 miles per hour for most of the line between Madera and Sacramento. With more double tracking and improvements at the grade crossings, speeds up to 110 miles per hour could be attained. Work is on going in the Midwest now to raise rail passenger speeds on existing railroads up to 110 miles per hour. The work to allow such speeds is almost complete now between Chicago and St. Louis.

What would faster and additional rail services do for California? For starters it would carry more passengers at lower costs. Already despite fairly high operating costs charged by Amtrak, the Pacific Surfliner trains are already recovering nearly 80 percent of operating costs from the fare box. As the Pacific Surliners continue to expand service under the management of the LOSSAN Joint Powers Authority, revenues can be expected to increase as well as the cost recovery from the fare box. The Surfliners might even make a small operating profit in the future. We could see much the same with the San Joaquin trains with greatly increased ridership from improved service to Sacramento. Also with reduced running times this makes rail passenger service more economical. Faster trains mean more people can be carried using less equipment and man-hours than at the current speeds now. Also running passenger service on the High Speed right of way might mean income for the California High Speed Rail Authority.

The legislation for the California High Speed Rail Authority allows use of its finished High Speed Tracks by other services if High Speed Rail service is not ready to use the tracks. High Speed Rail service in California has to operate at a profit and its operations can’t be subsidized under the ballot measure approved by the voters to build High Speed Rail in 2008. So at the very least either lower billing or payments from Amtrak would be due the state from Amtrak using California’s High Speed tracks. The California High Speed Rail Authority could use any income it can get. Also opening the future High Speed Rail stations between Bakersfield and Madera well before 2029 will start the process of development around the stations which is a major goal of building High Speed Rail in California and generating income.

So what happens to San Joaquin service to Sacramento after 2029 if there is High Speed Rail service running between Bakersfield and San Francisco? It might be possible to continue San Joaquin service to Sacramento sharing the HSR tracks up to Madera after 2029. The biggest problem with mixing fast and slow trains even on a double tracked railroad is it can lead to track congestion problems if the slower train is late and blocks the faster trains behind it. Another solution would be to return the San Joaquin trains for Sacramento to the BNSF tracks when full high speed rail service is available. But this would do damage to the market established with faster service between Bakersfield and Sacramento. A better solution would be to buy new trainsets capable of faster speeds than 125 miles per hour between Bakersfield and Sacramento. With the introduction of Bakersfield to San Francisco High Speed Rail service, there could also be improved faster rail service between Bakersfield and Sacramento using both HSR and conventional trackage. Such “blending” of services is already planned for High Speed Rail in the Bay Area and in Southern California.

This map from the California High Speed Rail Authority shows in the white circle on the lower right side the location of the current Amtrak station in Bakersfield. This is an option as the HSR station location. But there has been opposition from residents along this route because of new construction and  condemnation of land needed to use this route for HSR. As an alternative a second HSR station site is also being studied along the UP right of way which is in the other white circle in the upper left side.

Such service could start at the new High Speed Rail train station planned in Bakersfield along the UP Line. This would leave the Oakland bound San Joaquin trains still on the BNSF and at the current Bakersfield station. A possible alternative would be to keep Sacramento bound trains on the BNSF and continue to connect to the High Speed tracks at Shafter. What would be new is the trains after 2029 to Sacramento could be hybrid electric trains. In other words, these trains would go faster than 125 miles per hour and have pantographs to collect power while the train is under catenary. These trains would also have batteries to run at slower speeds on rail lines without catenary. These could be modified trainsets which will also be used for High Speed Rail service with blended service between Bakersfield and San Francisco but without the batteries. At Madera these new trains could continue up to Stockton on the BNSF, then on the UP to Sacramento. Another option would be to continue to stay on High Speed Tracks to Merced and continue on the new tracks for ACE next to the UP tracks to Stockton and then on the secondary UP tracks to Sacramento.

This is a California High Speed Rail Authority map of downtown Merced. In the smaller white circle is the site of the future Merced HSR station next to the UP mainline and highway 99. Above the smaller white circle and the red line is the Merced Amtrak station on the BNSF line. It is roughly a half mile between the 2 stations. 

What this would do is create a Higher Speed Rail connection for Sacramento to the main High Speed Rail service between Bakersfield and San Francisco when such service opens hopefully by 2029. The start of such service could be running around 2022. By 2029 High Speed Rail could have many more markets with Sacramento connections by day one than if such service was put off in the distance future with an all new fully grade separated 200 mile an hour High Speed Train. This is not to say such service couldn’t be improved and go faster in the future. But for much less money a much better rail service could be running and available than what we have now when the first High Speed Rail trains are running in the Valley.

Also important is the political question. Good rail service to Sacramento will attract riders including local government officials on business to Sacramento. As well legislators and members of their staffs and State government officials often travel to and from Sacramento. For many of these people the only option for travel is driving. It is 277 road miles between Bakersfield and Sacramento. It is often a road trip of over 5 hours. Having a reliable, comfortable and fast rail service connecting most of the San Joaquin Valley would be very popular with the people who often travel to and from Sacramento on business. Having the support and enthusiasm of such people will be valuable to keep the California High Speed Rail project on track.




By M.E. Singer

Putting politics aside, it is quite apparent that to expedite the evaluation review and planning process to competently prioritize the most feasible investments for introducing new routes or expanded frequencies, passenger rail must benefit from the declaration by President Trump for Congress to reduce, and even eliminate, needlessly required studies that only add cost and delays to the potential viability of passenger rail programs. Prioritizing and implementing passenger rail services must cease being burdened with so many archaic, duplicative studies that only encourage a mañana approach at the state level. Instead, we must learn from how the Class 1s designed and implemented their “Q” and “Z” freights; to impose upon their system how to be consistently dispatched with priority over all other traffic. Perhaps a strong dose of market competition facilitated this mindset; however, it must be emulated to evaluate and prioritize  passenger rail projects.

For far too long, the vacuum in federal leadership has been filled in at the state level; with little thought towards regional inter-connectivity. Consequently, we are presented with a plethora of disparate  programs, as if their is no end to securing open investment of Chinese Renminbi. With that posture, we see one proposal for 220 mph high speed rail networks running throughout the Midwest; another one between Columbus, OH-Ft. Wayne, IN-Chicago; as well between Portland-Seattle-Vancouver. Due to state politics, the long ago proposed and agreed upon Chicago-Quad Cities, IA and Chicago-Rockford, IL routes continue to languish for lack of state participation. The Southern Rail Commission cannot get to first base with the CSX that monopolizes the proposed route to re-start passenger rail between New Orleans-Biloxi-Mobile- Jacksonville.

Yet, even when financed principally by the feds, we see completion of the Chicago-St. Louis higher-speed program stymied by lack of state/federal funding to complete the line between Alton, IL-St. Louis (allegedly due to this being principally an Illinois project); no resolution of the route between Chicago Union Station-Joliet, IL. Consequently, Amtrak schedules continue to be stabbed accessing/departing St. Louis with the requirement to traverse dispatching of 5 different freight lines between East St. Louis, IL-St. Louis. Picking a route in/out of Chicago is a classic Hobson’s Choice. How to find the funds to build a flyover from Union Station connecting to the Metra Rock Island District and another flyover connecting to the UP St. Louis line at Joliet. (Allegedly because Metra is a public agency that would also benefit from such investment.) But en route at what speed to traverse over 35 angled grade crossings? Or, to pay the requisite tribute (not in gratitude, but more Chinese Yuan) to CN for construction of another main track to separate from the excessive freight interference that currently hinders Amtrak operations (this is not the CN from our 1960s). Even California’s high speed rail project, with new leadership, finally understands how its acceptance, indeed survival, is predicated upon laying track faster; most importantly, to open up its right-of-way now to Amtrak for the benefit of its “San Joaquin” service.

Minnesota currently is a perfect example of how a disjointed approach to intercity passenger rail impacts meaningful prioritization to focus on getting anything accomplished. Recently, the FRA approved a Tier 2 project level environmental assessment for the state’s proposed higher-speed line between Minneapolis-Duluth. So now, all the MNDOT has to do is “go to the well” attempting to secure design and construction funds. However, just in Minnesota, we see no prioritization and have recently witnessed the coming and going of multiple proposals for different levels of passenger rail between the Twin Cities-Rochester (Mayo Clinic), as well as variations of rail services between Twin Cities-Twin Ports. Yet, despite offering the greatest potential for increasing traffic and stimulating economic development, the proposed “Baby Builder” continues to languish under perpetual studies.

What has been lacking, until now with Ron Batory’s ascendance, has been a strong FRA with an experienced leader in charge to provide oversight, facilitate focused planning, executing prioritization, and achieving timely implementation. The Chicago-St. Paul corridor begs for his attention now by pushing back on the excessive and redundant need for more studies, as in the case of the “Baby Builder.” We are merely looking at increasing frequency on a current Amtrak route over a Class 1, Canadian Pacific, and Metra for access to/from Chicago. Currently, traffic cannot be induced or accommodated due to the “Empire Builder” providing but one coach for “shorts on this corridor; traversing this corridor only once per day on a daily basis; typically running very late eastbound from Seattle/Portland. Ideally, Mr. Batory can help the CP identify only the actual costs required for this incremental increase in service so their freight operation is not disrupted. (Success here would ideally impact negotiations with the CN between Chicago-Joliet)

The need has only grown over time to provide a second train just between Chicago-St. Paul on the former Milwaukee Road route. Long referred to as the “Baby Builder,” the proforma for its success was premised on a schedule that would run opposite of the “Empire Builder,” leaving Chicago in the morning; with the requirement of turning the consist in St. Paul to run in the afternoon back to Chicago. Such scheduling would facilitate day trips, a key aspect of this well used corridor when dominated by the CB&Q. Indeed, the only study required is to review a CB&Q schedule from the early-mid 1960s to appreciate how the CB&Q understood asset utilization and scheduling, by turning its “Twin Cities Zephyrs” in Minneapolis and Chicago to achieve a full round trip per day per consist. Until 1967, these “Zephyrs” even offered full dining, lounge, and parlor services to attract all levels of passengers.

Truly amazing when we look back and see how a once vibrant corridor served by 3 lines between Chicago-Minneapolis declined throughout the 1960s due to the federally subsidized construction of the parallel I-94, as well as airports en route at Winona and LaCrosse for short haul flights made possible by the introduction of the B-727 and B-737. With Amtrak, this corridor was reduced to but one daily service as a long distance route. Until its abandonment in 1963, the CNW operated its daily “400” on this route uniquely serving Eau Claire, Beloit, Janesville, Milwaukee, Racine, Kenosha, Waukegan, and Evanston. The Milwaukee Road scheduled the “Morning Hiawatha” and “Afternoon Hiawatha,” as well as the overnight “Pioneer Limited” to serve Milwaukee, Oconomowoc, Wisconsin Dells, Columbus (Madison), LaCrosse, and Winona. The Burlington Route dominated by scheduling the “Morning Zephyr, “Afternoon Zephyr,” “North Coast Limited,” “Empire Builder,” and the overnight “Black Hawk”/”Western Star”/Mainstreeter” providing frequent, complimentary  schedules linking Rochelle, Oregon, East Dubuque, Prairie du Chien, North LaCrosse, and Winona Jct. Interestingly, the CB&Q and Milwaukee Road ran on parallel routes southbound out of St. Paul; than on either side of the Mississippi River. The CNW and Milwaukee Road competed between the Twin Cities and Milwaukee; particularly between Milwaukee-Chicago. With the introduction of steam/diesel speedsters in the mid-1930s, this became a very robust corridor; unlike Amtrak today, quite viable during the typical Midwest blizzards and summer storms. As a note, I was fortunate to sample every one of these trains; to understand today what introducing additional frequency would mean towards re-establishing mobility in this region.

Under Mr. Batory, it is hoped that the FRA will apply the “Q” and “Z” quotients to focus the desires of such states as Minnesota on what is realistic and achievable in terms of traffic potential and ROI. As well, given the current indifference of Wisconsin towards any participation, ideally that political position too can soon be overcome with an energized FRA. Without an endless stream of Yuan to bet on every red before spinning the roulette wheel, it is incumbent upon a vibrant approach of the FRA to fill in the vacuum and provide the necessary leadership to revitalize passenger rail.

The Secret To Making Money With Rail Passenger Service

By Noel T. Braymer

Last year there was a news story that an unnamed investor had bought the 1915 Santa Fe Depot in downtown San Diego. The Depot was privately owned, but leased to Amtrak. Why did this investor want to buy a 103 year old train station? This investor’s reason for buying this train station was to make money. Train stations are usually seen as cost centers, not profit makers for rail passenger service. The same holds true for intercity bus companies with Greyhound getting rid of as many of its bus stations as possible and moving into intermodal transit centers as bus stops as much as possible to save money and catch transferring passenger from public transit. So how does this investor plan to make money with an old train station? Well this person will get revenue with lease payments from Amtrak. But what will make this deal a winner is the old Depot is a large building with lots of empty space that has been left idle for years.These unused spaces at the old Depot will be renovated and leased to paying tenants. Between Amtrak and future tenants the income from the old Depot is expected to produce a steady source of income. So why would anybody want to work or live by a train station?

Well people are doing just that in downtown San Diego. The Santa Fe Depot hosts not just Amtrak service, but also Coaster service between San Diego and Oceanside, all 3 lines of the San Diego Trolley which is the San Diego Metro area Light Rail service and several local bus lines. With all these transportation options there has come an explosion of new high raise construction around the Depot. Much of this construction is for high end housing in many of these new high rise buildings. A major factor to attracting people to move downtown is the high level of public transportation centered in downtown San Diego near railroad tracks. Much of this new construction near rail service is on land owned by the same company which had recently owned the old Depot. Years ago the railroads separated their real estate division from their railroad, creating in effect 2 separate companies. There have been some changes over the years of ownership of the companies that have inherited this old railroad land. But increasingly much of this land near the railroads which in the past was predominately industrial, is now being redeveloped for commercial uses and housing.

The railroads have long been in the real estate business. When the New York Central Railroad built the Grand Central Terminal in 1903, it lowered its main line below ground level into its terminal. The road that was built over the tracks is called Park Avenue. Not only did the New York Central own the land under Park Avenue, but also much of the land around it. Developing the land around Park Avenue made a lot of money for the New York Central. When the New York Central and the Pennsylvania Railroads merged in the late 1960’s they separated their real estate division from their railroad. When the PennCentral Railroad went into bankruptcy in 1970, the independent real estate part of the PennCentral was not affected and its assets untouched by the bankruptcy of the railroad division. When Amtrak was given the Northeast Corridor by the Federal Government in the mid seventies it got a lot of property of the PennCentral with high overhead costs, but little revenue production.

San Diego is not the only place that rail service is now making land with rail passenger service more valuable. Many cities in California with rail passenger service own their local train stations and have made them intermodal centers by adding local bus and rail services. Like San Diego, for years Amtrak leased Los Angeles Union Station from the same company which had also owned the Santa Fe Depot in San Diego. Finally the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority or LA Metro bought Los Angeles Union Station. Not only did Union Station have Amtrak and Metrolink service, but LA Metro had built Red and Purple Line subway service to Union Station as well as Gold Line light rail service. LA Metro recognized that Los Angeles Union Station was the logical center for surface public transportation for Southern California. Not only did LA Metro buy Union Station, but it is working on a major commercial redevelopment of the property around Union Station. This will result in Union Station making money.

LA Metro is increasingly getting into the real estate business. A major problem in Los Angeles and many parts of California is a housing shortage which has made housing very expensive. LA Metro is encouraging the construction of high density housing near its rail transit stations. In some cases LA Metro is using land it owns by its rail transit stations to build affordable housing for low income families. It is also helping to finance some of the construction of housing near its stations. These grants by LA Metro after being paid back will use the money to finance more housing construction. This will also spur other commercial development around the stations. All of this will increase passenger traffic for the rail transit services in Los Angeles County.

This is nothing new. For years and up to today, the transit company which operates transit in the city of Hong Kong has been and still is a private, for profit company. Does it make its money carrying passengers? What really makes it profitable is the property it owns around its stations from which it earns income from. This is much the business model being used by the new Brightline rail passenger service that recently opened in southern Florida. It is privately owned and operated by a land development company in Florida. This company also owned the railroad it is using for passenger service in Southern Florida. In a few years Brightline is expected to run from Miami to Orlando. The expectation is they will operate the trains at a profit. But the real money will come from the development at and around the stations attracted by the concentration transportation options.

Amtrak owns a good deal of property which it got from the PennCentral. It owns many of the stations on the Northeast Corridor, Chicago Union Station as well as major yards like Sunnyside on Long Island and Beech Grove in Indiana. Yet Amtrak has done very little to improve their properties to generate revenue. There has been progress with plans to redevelop Amtrak stations at Chicago, Philadelphia and Baltimore with more commercial development. But ideally this should have been done  over 20 years ago. A great deal of attention in New York when it comes to Amtrak have been efforts to add a double tracked tunnel under the Hudson between New Jersey and Penn Station. Much has been claimed that the future of Amtrak and the nation’s economy depends on building this tunnel and repairing the 2 old tunnels built by the Pennsylvania Railroad over a hundred years ago. What’s really behind the Gateway Project to build a new tunnel under the Hudson is a major property development called Hudson Yards. It is 28 acres of high rise construction being built over a rail yard for in Manhattan used by the Long Island Railroad. Hudson Yards is nearby to Penn Station. In order to fill up these new high rise buildings, more commuter trains will be needed to carry people to work at Hudson Yards. Much of the work building Hudson Yards in nearly finished. But funding, let alone construction for the Gateway Tunnel was yet to be secured or started. There’s a lot of money on the line which will depend on getting more trains and people to fill up Hudson Yards.

So what is the secret to making money with Rail Passenger Service? Not much money is made carrying passengers. But lots of money is to be made from property development fed in large part by bringing large groups of people by rail to developments at or near train station/transportation centers. This is much of what is at the heart of the California High Speed Rail project. Most of the cities scheduled to get High Speed Rail stations in California are using these stations as drivers to much more new development for their city’s. Many of these cities could use a major economic kick start. Its not like private companies haven’t noticed. Google is going ahead with plans to build a new headquarters in downtown San Jose next to the Diridon Train Station. San Jose will be the terminus of the first leg of the California High Speed Rail coming up from the San Joaquin Valley. There is already talk of well paid Silicon Valley employees commuting to work from the San Joaquin on High Speed Rail. This could save these people money on housing and still get to work faster than living closer to work and driving. But even without High Speed Rail, the Diridon Station will be a great place to be near by to with Amtrak, Caltrain and ACE rail passenger services as well as local VTA Light Rail services and future BART service to Diridon.

Critical to making rail passenger services function, is it will need funding generated by the very development it helps to generate. Both LA Metro and the California High Speed Rail Authority are working with Public-Private Partnerships to help generate the income to build and maintain rail passenger services. Using the income generated by income property and or increased employment near train stations/transportation centers should lead to faster travel times, fewer travel hassles and reasonable cost of living for more people with more affordable housing and lower transportation costs.

Inside Stories Of California High Speed Rail


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By Noel T. Braymer

I recently got a chance to look at the March 2018 issue of Trains Magazine which had a special report on Speed. This included several stories about high speed rail with one story about the California High Speed Rail project.This story was written by Jody Meacham who is also a reporter for the Silicon Business Valley Journal which does an excellent job covering the California High Speed Rail project. A major challenge building the California High Speed Rail project is the need to keep the curves gentle while running at up to  220 miles per hour. Anyone who has been in a car taking a tight turn too quickly has felt the centripetal force push them towards the car door. Imagine the force trying to take a tight curve at 200 miles per hour? This article points out that to build a balloon track for speeds of 200 miles per hour would need 13 miles of track.This is a major problem building this service since this requires land acquisition where there are curves to allow 200 plus miles operation. Such high speeds are needed in order to meet the goals in the ballot measure which voters approved for this project which calls for rail service between Los Angeles and San Francisco in 2 hours and 40 minutes or less.

This article brought up the claims by some that it would have been cheaper to build high speed rail on the I-5 in the San Joaquin Valley. But the same voter approved ballot measure that calls for fast service between Los Angeles and San Francisco also names the cities that will have High Speed Rail stations. The I-5 bypasses all the cities in the San Joaquin Valley that by law must have high speed rail stations. While I-5 has fairly long segments that are fairly straight, it still has some curves that are too tight to take at 200 miles per hour. This Trains Magazine article brought up the claim of Hyperloop promoters that construction of it along I-5 will be much cheaper than High Speed Rail now being built. That might be true if they can build a tube in the San Joaquin Valley which is perfectly straight.The California High Speed Rail project’s Chief Civil Engineer Scott Jarvis comes with 30 years experience building roads with the California Department of Transportation. Mr. Jarvis knows that trying to build a 200 mile an hour railroad on a freeway built with curves for top speeds of 70 miles an hour wouldn’t be easy. Hyperloop promoters are talking about running pods 2 to 3 times faster than 200 miles per hour in an evacuated tube. So far it is doubtful that there has been much testing simulating a Hyperloop pod turning at speeds around 600 miles per hour. There has been no announcements of such a test being performed with people in such a pod. The amount of land required to take a curve in comfort at 600 miles an hour would be greater than for a train at 200 miles per hour. It is doubtful that Hyperloop passengers would want to wear “g-suits” and risk losing consciousness taking a “high g” turn at g forces as high as those in fighter aircraft. Hyperloop would have many of the same or greater problems getting land for rights of ways for construction that have faced the California High Speed Rail project.

One idea that has been looked at has been to use parts of California’s future High Speed Railroad for moving rail freight. At the behest of California’s State Senator Jim Beall who chair’s the State Senate’s Transportation Committee, the California High Speed Rail Authority contacted the Union Pacific and BNSF about running some of their freight trains taking advantage of the long tunnels to be built between Los Angeles and Bakersfield. This would be with electric locomotives hauling this freight to bypass the slow running speeds in the Tehachapi mountains. Neither railroad was very interested in this idea.That’s understandable since most of their freight traffic is over long distances and the time saved using the new tunnels wouldn’t mean that much over a long trip. Also there is the time spent attaching and removing the electric locomotives if these trains traveled in the new High Speed Rail right of way and the existing freight rail lines which would have to be included in total travel time. This is not to say carrying freight is a bad idea on a High Speed Railroad.

Just in Europe there are examples of freight trains sharing high speed railroads with passenger service. One example is HS1 for High Speed 1 for the rail route between London to the portal of the “Chunnel” between Britain and France. High speed trains and freight trains also share the Chunnel. Switzerland is building long high speed rail tunnels through the Alps to divert truck and auto traffic off of its roads and onto the railroads. The recently opened 35 mile long Gotthard Base rail tunnel in Switzerland has a top speed of 160 miles per hour. The 31 mile Chunnel has a top speed of 100 miles an hour. The tunnels for California High Speed Rail are planned for speeds of at least 200 miles per hour. It should be possible to schedule time slots when slower and less frequent freight trains can run mixed with high speed trains. A double tracked railroad should be able to handle between 12 to 20 trains an hour in both directions. Also freight traffic can be run generally at non-peak travel times when passenger service is light. There are 2 good reasons to run freight service on high speed rail. First is with a high capital investment needed for a high speed railroad, you want to run as much traffic on it as you can to pay the overhead costs. Second, diverting truck traffic on to rail reduces emissions, traffic congestion on existing roads and reduces the need to expand roads to carry more freight.

Most of the freight traffic carried on California High Speed Rail would likely be for time sensitive deliveries, and for intra-California freight traffic now usually carried by trucks on the highways. This looks like a job for the California High Speed Rail Authority’s consultant DB Engineering & Consulting USA. DB stands for Deutsche Bahn which means German Railroad in English. DB has the job of planning services for the operation of California’s High Speed Rail service. DB is also expected to operate California’s future High Speed Rail service at a profit. That means passenger service, but it could also mean freight service too. DB is a major freight handler around the world. It has the contract for all the rail freight traffic to and from Britain that travels to and from Europe. DB if it saw a way to make money with high priority freight traffic with high speed rail would likely be more than happy to add it to its future high speed rail passenger service.

Speaking of tunnels, the planning for California High Speed Rail calls for building 3 of the longest rail tunnels in the United States between Los Angeles and San Francisco. The first tunnel will be 13 miles long under the Pacheco Pass between the San Joaquin Valley and Gilroy. It may be built either as a single or double bore tunnel. The other 2 tunnels in Southern California will be longer than the Pacheco Pass tunnel with the largest one at 16 miles between Palmdale and Burbank. At a current budget of $67 billion dollars this promises to be an expensive and complicated project. Big projects often come with big problems. But to get some perspective of the costs of transportation, the 5 counties in the Bay Area and Los Angeles County will be raising and spending $133 billion dollars on transportation projects alone, much of that will be for rail passenger services. At San Jose, Fresno and Los Angeles there are already major redevelopment projects being planned at and around each city’s train station/transportation centers. Google is planning to build a new headquarters near the San Jose Station to ease traffic problems for its employees. Fresno and the San Joaquin Valley as a whole have seen an economic boost from spending for building High Speed Rail resulting in lower unemployment in a region with some of the highest unemployment in the State. Los Angeles and the Bay Area are spending billion to improve local transit and commuter rail services with transportation hubs in Los Angeles, San Jose and San Francisco. Along with this construction in the San Joaquin Valley have brought improvements to the local economy.

It is always hard to make predictions, particularly about the future. As more rail work is finished, and the more the local economy grows with this construction, the harder it will be for the opponents to stop the California High Speed Rail project.This is not to say everything will go according to what is promised in the 2018 California High Speed Rail Business plan any more than it has for the previous business plans.The 119 miles of major construction work underway now in the San Joaquin Valley is funded and should be finished sometime next year. Funding for now with money coming in from the Cap and Trade sales should be enough to build high speed rail from at least Wasco to San Jose. But what makes budgeting for major projects difficult is neighborhoods want nothing but the best for their neighborhoods at taxpayers expense. An example of this is the issue of how to bring high speed rail into San Jose from the south. An elevated structure would be the most economical way to bring  High Speed trains into the station. But local residents want a tunnel saying that previous highway construction had broken up local neighborhoods and believe an elevated structure for High Speed Rail would do the same. No matter how hard anyone can try, its always impossible to please everyone.

What must be remembered is the High Speed Rail project is not just a fast passenger railroad serving major cities in the Bay Area, San Joaquin Valley and Southern California. It will be a trunk line for the whole State of California with connections to almost the entire State of California. When finished California High Speed Rail will connect to improved  rail services from ACE, BART, Caltrain, Capitol Corridor, San Joaquin, Pacific Surfliner, Metrolink, LA Metro, and San Diego County rail services. All the high speed rail stations could have expended connecting bus services to the smaller towns in the area to serve many more communities. Even if residents never ride a high speed train, this expanded network of public transit will improve transportation in their communities. Let’s not forget High Speed Rail will in time also stop at San Francisco International, Burbank, Palmdale, San Diego, and Ontario Airports when completed. But the biggest benefit of rail passenger service including high speed rail is economic growth and land development. Rail service can allow more housing and jobs while needing less land and expense than freeway based land development. Even without high speed rail there has been significant economic growth already where improved rail passenger service has been built in cities in California. Usually when it comes to transportation the money is made not so much by carrying passengers, but from the development that follows improved transportation.





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A Short Treatise to Break the Mold on the West Coast

By M.E. Singer

In a very astute, detailed article in OREGON BUSINESS, “Post-derailment, Oregon passenger rail struggles to get back on track” (2 March), this media source clearly understood the financial issues for the Cascade route between Oregon-Washington, as magnified by the wreck of Cascade #501 last December. However, what was so apparently lacking in this otherwise fine depiction of what ails state-supported corridors was a concise understanding of the causes, and importantly, how to correct them.

In reality, both Oregon and Washington are dealing with a Sword of Damocles over their heads creating parallel problems these states have no control over, including:

1) The lack of a consistently acceptable safety culture at Amtrak:
This issue grew out of the designation of political appointees for CEO of Amtrak between 2005-2016. These political administrators lacked the requisite railroad operating experience only acquired by coming up through the ranks. The overt focus of Amtrak’s Board of Directors on serving their political patrons of the Northeast caused a failure of their stewardship in the important area of oversight, defining, and holding strictly accountable their expectation of a safety culture.

2) Congress created the unfunded mandate in 2008 for the nascent PTC technology:
It is long past the time for Congress to accept its responsibility and financially patch their mandate by funding PTC over all tracks that carry intercity and commuter trains. This can only happen if the senators and congressmen from Oregon and Washington prod Congress into action. For any dissenters, just remember how Congress paid for the entire installation and maintenance to date of the Air Traffic Control System, to the benefit of the private commercial airlines.

Another piece to understanding how this Sword of Damocles remains over the head of Oregon and Washington is the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 (PRIIA). It is commonly known in the industry how Amtrak coyly participated in creating this legislation as a funding mechanism by the non-Northeast Corridor states for its own Northeast Corridor.

Despite operating on a trolley-like schedule of frequency along the Northeast Corridor, Amtrak’s Board of Directors approved the exemption of those states from PRIIA. However, all the other states  operating a rail corridor under 750 miles were required to pay the full cost for that service, starting 2013, based upon a cost methodology created by Amtrak. (Note the distance between Boston-NYC-Washington is under 500 miles.)

Oregon and Washington should demand an external audit to identify how their state payments to Amtrak since 2013 were used, as that question is also commonly known of those payments being directed into the ‘black hole’ of the Northeast Corridor to cover the unfunded infrastructure repair costs there. It would be wise to join forces with California, where Amtrak cost methodology inhibits reaching profitable performance for its three Joint Powers Authorities (JPAs) operating regional intercity trains in the state.

Perhaps concomitant to this audit, Oregon and Washington, along with  California, can also educate their members of Congress how the Generally Acceptable Accounting Principles (GAAP) have been defied by Amtrak all these years, including:

1) How can Amtrak declare the Northeast Corridor to be “profitable” before subtracting infrastructure and depreciation costs?
2) How could Amtrak get away with dumping the Northeast Corridor’s infrastructure and operational costs on the long distance and state-supported train sectors to artificially tank them, while ‘putting lipstick on a pig’ to dress-up their money losing Northeast Corridor?

Important to understand is again how Amtrak’s Board of Directors at best avoided their stewardship; at worse, like at Wells Fargo, not only knew, but encouraged and facilitated their genuflecting executive management to favor the Northeast Corridor over the national system for years–to the detriment of the state-suppoorted corridors.

A critical example is since 1976 when Amtrak assumed control over the Northeast Corridor from the bankrupt Penn Central, it provided operational and dispatching services gratis to the many corridor rail lines utilizing the Northeast Corridor. This included commuter lines in Boston, Connecticut, New York, Philadelphia, Maryland, West Virginia, and Virginia (MBTA, Shore Line East, Metro North, NJT, SEPTA, MARC, and VRE).

Despite the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 by Congress requiring Amtrak to finally start collecting operational, dispatching, and infrastructure depreciation costs from those commuter lines using its system, nothing happened until it was literally mandated by Congress in December, 2015. Not only has this been a critical failure of the stewardship of Amtrak’s Board; but again, to what extent were the costs of the Northeast Corridor, and the uncollected commuter revenues, rolled into the state-supported cost methodology for “The Cascades,”  and on an even larger scale, JPA services for the “Pacific Surfliners,” “San Joaquins,” and “Capitol Corridor”?


Why Mag-Lev And Hyperloop Won’t Work And How Passenger Trains Can Run Full


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By Noel T. Braymer

There is lots of talk by promoters about how High Speed Rail or any rail service is too expensive and won’t attract many riders. But according to the promoters the solution is technology with either Mag-Lev or Hyperloop. But there isn’t much in the way of examples of either Mag-Lev or Hyperloop services that are successfully in service . But you do have thousands of miles of successful rail passenger service around the world, including new High Speed Rail services continuing to be built. So what’s wrong with either Mag-Lev of Hyperloop? It boils down to they often don’t get you where you want to go. The reason for this is plans for both are basically non stop services. The travel time between these 2 point will be very short. But what if its not near where you are at or close to where you want to go? Most people don’t travel to or from the same places.

Transportation is a system of services, not a question of technology. What makes a train station work is a combination of development built around it and connections to other modes of transportation at it. Development follows improved transportation. People want to live near good transportation. And people want to go to places that are near good transportation be it by road, air or rail. Now if you want to go really fast, you can do so by not stopping. But if you don’t have connections to stations for the people living or going to the places in between the 2 stations on an express line,  most people won’t have a reason to ride such a service.This has been understood for years.The New York City subways for example have for years run some lines with 4 tracks.Two track are used for local trains which make all stops. The other 2 tracks are used by express trains. The local and express trains share the few  express stations to allow passengers to transfer between trains to come and go where they want. This system of joint local and express services is also seen on hi-rise buildings so a person going to the 42nd floor can take the express elevator from the ground floor to the 40th and then catch a local elevator to the 42nd floor. Where you don’t have 4 tracks you can use local and express trains on the same tracks. At double tracked stations passengers can transfer between local and express trains with the express train passing the local train at the joint stop.

This also works on freeways. Ever notice on many freeways that unless there is an accident or during a holiday weekend that traffic is very light out in the country. But in some places like in the Bay Area or the Los Angeles basin traffic seems to crawl 7 days a week most of the day and evening. Why is that? The freeways are like the express tracks on a railroad. The local tracks are the surface roads with on and off ramps to the freeway. The cause of the road congestion in urban areas is a combination of too many people trying to get on and off the freeways with drivers traveling at different rates of speeds to each other. This causes drivers to get in way of each other and to slow down near the on and off ramps. This congestion at the ramps often causes traffic on the freeways to back up. Road travel is very popular because for most people their car is near where they live, and they can take roads, including freeways to places usually with free parking close to were they want to go. There are plans for Hyperloop service to ferry cars between stations with people riding Hyperloop in their car. But they will still face the problem of local traffic congestion once they leave the Hyperloop station and finding a place to park if they are in a dense urban area. If you are a billionaire, such trifles such as paying for parking or to have their car ferried are no big deal. But for many people particularly in urban areas the increasing cost of transportation is a major consideration for a growing number of people.

Recently there was a newspaper columnist’s story about his experiences traveling on a crowded Pacific Surfliner train during the weekend. Basically his 2 young sons ran ahead of him to the Cafe Car to get something to eat so they became separated. Because of the number of people standing in the aisles the writer couldn’t get around them, but his kids could. This is nothing new. The Surfliners, Capitol Corridor and San Joaquin trains are often crowded during holidays and weekends. All these services have needed additional equipment to handle more passengers and improve their operational efficiency  and to add more frequent service for years. There is also the most recent California State Rail Plan which calls for expanded rail passenger services with more frequent service with more connections between the services, particularly to future High Speed Rail service.

For rail passenger service to work and prosper will depend on all the services connecting to each other. This is seen in many places around the world. The California High Speed Rail service once built between San Francisco and Anaheim will depend for riders with connecting services. In Southern California Metrolink trains will connect to High Speed Rail at Anaheim, Fullerton, Norwalk, downtown Los Angeles, Burbank Airport and Palmdale. Surfliner trains will also connect to High Speed Rail at Anaheim, Fullerton, downtown Los Angeles and Burbank Airport. In the San Joaquin Valley the San Joaquin trains will connect to High Speed Rail trains at a joint station at Madera north of Fresno. This will allow connections to and from High Speed Rail at all San Joaquin stations for passengers to and from the San Joaquin Valley between Wasco and Sacramento. ACE which now operates local rail service between San Jose and Stockton, will extend service first to Modesto and then to Merced to connect to the High Speed Rail Station in Merced. At San Jose, High Speed Rail passengers will be able to make connections on the Capitol Corridor trains to the East San Francisco Bay towns and up to Sacramento. There will also be connections to ACE Trains to Stockton. Also at San Jose there will be connections to Caltrain which will be electrified between San Jose and San Francisco. Also BART is being extended to San Jose and will be in full service at San Jose when the first High Speed Rail Trains are running as far as San Jose from the San Joaquin Valley.

In the interim, we can expect many local rail services to operate more frequent services. This will hinge on more double tracking. With electrification Caltrain will operate faster and more frequent service between San Francisco and San Jose. Expanded service is also expected with ACE service to Stockton and to Merced. The San Joaquin trains are planning more frequent service to Sacramento. Metrolink is planning in the future to operated more trains during the day and weekends. Some services will run every half hour most of the day. For this to happen will require run through tracks to be built at Los Angeles Union Station both for Surfliner, Metrolink and High Speed Rail Trains. In San Diego as more double track is added, plans are to run more frequent service in the future with Coaster trains. The goal is to run Coaster trains every half hour during the day between San Diego and Oceanside. There are plans as well to run more Surfliner trains to San Diego which there are already 12 roundtrips between San Diego and Los Angeles. These projects won’t all be built at once. But this process of building a state wide rail passenger network has been underway since the late 1970’s and shows no sign of stopping.

Another positive Amtrak Trip Report?!! …and a few other things like Maricopa, BLTs and 737s



Commentary by Russ Jackson

Whenever one can write a positive report after a trip on an Amtrak long distance train it is a welcome breath of fresh air.  When a positive report can be written for two consecutive trips the celebration should begin.  Not that these are the only positive trips in our 40 year riding experience, but I think there is a positive culture “out there” on the rails.  The first trip report was written about our September trip, and this one is our January trip from Ft. Worth to Los Angeles on the Texas Eagle/Sunset Limited; one way this trip; circumstances forced us to fly home.

The tri-weekly schedule for this train remains a problem for scheduling travel and it must be a high priority to get  daily service, plus returning to Phoenix, adding Marfa,Texas and Willcox, Arizona (even as flag stops) to enhance revenue so spectacularly there will be no reason for the long distance trains, at least that one, to disappear.  What’s happening with the NARP/RPA-sponsored “Sunset Unlimited” group?  We haven’t heard anything lately other than that Jim Mathews was going to “talk to Richard” (Anderson).

The culture of the on board service was so positive on our January trip that it must be mentioned.  From the time we boarded until we departed at Los Angeles Union Station the sleeping car attendants were helpful, easy to reach, and were seeking to know how they could help.  Steven, Alissa, et al (I don’t have all the names) were first class, and that included room service for meals, assistance on the stairs and on/off the car into the redcap’s vehicle, and at the Metropolitan Lounge in Los Angeles.  Everything Amtrak’s Eric Smith has been doing has paid off!   Oh, and the meals were excellent.  If you’ve looked at AmtrakFoodFacts.com lately, you’ll see that the menus on all the western long distance trains are identical, which is unfortunate from a “choice” standpoint, but what is served is of high quality.  And, yes, our favorite is still the Angus steakburger sandwich on the lunch menu.  If there was a BLT available, and there should be, it would be a nice alternative lunch as I’ve said before, and would probably sell better at lower cost than some of the fancy items on the menu.

Now to the transportation aspects of the trip.  We were on time on the segment to San Antonio, this being before Amtrak had to detour the train from Longview to Taylor in Texas in February while the BNSF did maintenance of way work, which would have required us to board a bus from Ft. Worth to Taylor.  And, we were on time from San Antonio to Tucson.  Unfortunately, the old mysterious “technical problems” arose which had us sit at the Tucson station for an extra 90 minutes.  Enroute we corresponded with our friend Ralph James, who follows on time dwelling at various stations including Maricopa.  Ralph asked for a note about how long the stop there was for us.  Maricopa, Arizona, has been the substitute station for Phoenix for almost 20 years.  Its short platform requires the train to make “spot” stops for loading and unloading passengers.  On this night, January 27, train #1 first stopped at 11:07 for the crew change; then at 11:11 spot stop at the baggage car; 11:15 spot stop at the front sleeping car; 11:21 spot stop at a coach car; 11:25 spot stop at the rear sleeping car (our Texas Eagle car); 11:27 we departed Maricopa.  The Phoenix van was there and had passengers both ways, including the one from our car, a radio station manager from the St. Louis area who takes his vacations on Amtrak.  That was a total of 20 minutes of stopping and blocking the state highway (the timetable calls for 10 minutes), Eventually there will be an overpass over the tracks although we saw no evidence it is under construction yet.  Ralph James says it is common for the Maricopa stops to be 30 minutes or more.  The situation there can only get worse now, as Amtrak has decided to unstaff the station, which means the on board crews will have to do everything.  The best thing of course would be to return to Phoenix, but that is unlikely until the line west of Buckeye to Wellton is restored but that won’t happen until the nuclear power plant is shut down and the line is needed to transport material out of its desert location…that’s what we hear.

On to other things.   Amtrak has removed the Pacific Parlour Cars from the Coast Starlight, the cars have been moved back to the mid-west, and no replacement is going to be initiated to retain this high quality amenity.  I can’t help thinking that 81 years ago the Southern Pacific called its new Coast Daylight train “The Most Beautiful Train in the World,” in a style Gene Poon calls “unmatched…and yes, undreamed of…today.”  It’s a shame that the work that Brian Rosenwald initiated 20 years ago on the Starlight has now disappeared into Amtrak uniformity.  I don’t totally buy it that the age of the cars has ended their useful life.  Nor that the need for such unique service doesn’t exist today.  I agree with what RailPAC President Paul Dyson wrote in his letter to Amtrak CEO Anderson on the subject of Premium Accommodations, and if you haven’t read that letter you can find it on the RailPAC website.  Paul wrote in Steel Wheels that Amtrak “scored a spectacular public relations shot in the foot,” and, “while we realize a political campaign against this decision would be difficult…it is a really bad business decision to stop providing this type of accommodation when Amtrak should be continuing to improve their product wherever possible.”  While we are commending the service on the Eagle/Sunset, we see in a trip report by Ted and Sylvia Blishak in the 2018-1 issue of Passenger Train Journal, (names that are very familiar from their many years of promoting train travel from their travel agency), of their trip from Klamath Falls to Oakland on the Starlight.  Both of them had similar circumstances as we did, in that sleeping car assistance was needed.  Their experiences were almost the opposite from ours, with help being almost non existent.  They write about requesting Special Service in advance, which we did not, and they found no record of their requests when they boarded.  Is this the way Amtrak competes with the airlines?  I must say that American Airlines was extremely helpful for our needs on our flight back to Dallas-Ft.Worth in a 737 that had only three empty seats.  As Andrew Selden wrote, “Boeing is building 47 new 737s every month and can’t keep up.  Airbus is doing at least that much with its A-320 series.  Meanwhile the orders for new Superliners is…uh…never mind.”

The fact is, and this is addressed to Mr. Richard Anderson and his Delta Airlines recruits at Amtrak HQ:  the first class service on Amtrak long distance trains remains strong in revenue and ridership despite the bad mouthing heard in Washington.  “Your own” 2017 reports show the California Zephyr sleeping car revenue percentage on the trains to be almost 54%, on the Southwest Chief and Coast Starlight it’s 45%.  You want to lose that kind of revenue?  If the long distance trains are zero’d out due to Congressional action or allowed to wither and die from little support from within Amtrak and from a lack of marketing, you know you will suffer politically and financially, so don’t let it happen!  GROWTH is what will save Amtrak.  Just look at how successful the Rocky Mountaineer is doing at selling itself.  They know you have to spend money to make money.  Amtrak must do the same!





M.E. Singer

As the status quo will not hold much longer for Amtrak, let alone the Northeast Corridor (NEC), a new paradigm is desperately required. Having no transparency on data and finances provided by Amtrak plays into its “shell game” that prevents a logical paper trail to audit how the long distance routes funding is bled off to cover the widening fiscal hole of the NEC. Concomitantly, how much, if not every dollar paid by the non-NEC states is turned around to support the NEC? For how long has Amtrak manipulated such finances to dump the NEC’s overhead and infrastructure costs into the long distance and state-supported sectors?

Just as California wised up to bring in DB for the LA-SF HSR infrastructure and operations, so must we now acknowledge that Amtrak has failed to maintain, let alone, improve the NEC infrastructure. As neither the USDOT nor FRA have the requisite sources, it is definitely time for the FRA/USDOT to commence a process to open-up the NEC infrastructure for a competent, experienced, and successful owner, or, owner/operator for the NEC.

This must be a better alternative to the present situation, where currently Amtrak does not even charge the NEC states for their trolley-like schedules. As well, despite the requirement of PRIIA 2008 for Amtrak to finally start charging the commuter users for operating and infrastructure depreciation costs, because Amtrak is an appendage so beholden to the power brokers in the Northeast, it never bothered to charge. As this neglect was apparently approved by Amtrak’s Board of Directors, this issue did not change until mandated by Congress in December, 2015. As Amtrak has willfully evolved into a subservient tool to its Northeast political patrons, it has neglected its mission for a national system.

A privately-owned and operated NEC infrastructure should serve the following purpose:
1) Identify market rates to charge–and collect– for NEC operating and infrastructure depreciation costs from all users–commuter, freight, and Amtrak.
2) Consider fuller utilization and revenues of the NEC by enabling all parcel or mail trains to operate at night.
3) Appropriately prioritize infrastructure maintenance, repairs, and replacement for all parties to contribute, including states and federal, just as the states pay now for repairs to the interstate highways serving them.
4) Rather than continuing the solo operation of intercity trains by Amtrak, this operator should offer opportunities to properly vetted experienced operators to bid on franchise, or, even just offer open access.
5) With the infrastructure freed from the current political machinations favoring just current status quo commuter or Amtrak services, major improvements in the NEC could be contemplated to facilitate increased services and frequencies by improving the design of the current infrastructure.

We have to remove the “flash in the pan” politics that had the feds underwrite new Acelas to be built in NY state, when the NEC infrastructure begs for major renovation and cannot currently accommodate any significant increase in speed or frequencies. By ignoring the continuous degrading of the NEC infrastructure, the governors of NY and NJ, and their congressional delegations, have forfeited their voices and control over the NEC. The only way to save the NEC is to place it in the hands of a competent operator.  Indeed, the nation’s taxpayers west and south of the Hudson River do not appreciate the muscle game recently played by the senators from NY and NJ to withhold the approval of Mr. Batory to the FRA. If their continues to be this persistent obstinance to neglect the rest of the nation’s rail needs in favor of just the NEC, Hornblower ferries may become the best option for crossing the Hudson

New Rail Transit Being Built In The Next Ten Years In Los Angeles


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By Noel T. Braymer

Los Angeles County under the management of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, also known as LA Metro, has an ambitious and multi billion dollar plan to expand rail transit service in the county. As each new link is finished and connects to the rest of the transit system more people will be able to get around the county without dealing with jammed freeways or hunting for parking. There are 8 major rail projects LA Metro is planning to open between now and 2028. The next project which is planned to open next year is the Crenshaw/LAX light rail line. This $2 billion plus project is being built between Exposition Blvd running south down Crenshaw Blvd before connecting to the old Sante Fe Harbor line near Inglewood. This brings it within a mile of LAX airport with 8.5 miles of construction ending at the Green Line Station at Imperial Highway and Aviation Blvd. This line is mostly if not entirely grade separated with tunnels under much of Crenshaw Blvd. There is also trenching at the south end of Crenshaw Blvd as well as next to the south runways by LAX.

The Crenshaw/LAX Line will have several connections to other rail services. The Exposition Blvd station is next to the Expo Light Rail Line for quick connections to Santa Monica or downtown Los Angeles and points between. As part of this project, the Green Light Rail Line from Norwalk will be extended north from the Imperial Highway/ Aviation Blvd station using the Crenshaw/LAX Line to the Century Blvd joint light rail station by 2019 with an additional station at Aviation Blvd and 96th St. to open by 2023. The 96th St. station will also be a stop for the LAX People Mover. The People Mover will also serve a new LAX consolidated rental car facility right off the 405 freeway, a major airport parking lot/bus station outside the terminal area as well as bus and light rail passengers at 96th St. The People Mover will use an elevated viaduct all the way into the terminal area starting at the consolidated rental car facility.

LA Metro graphic of the Crenshaw/LAX Light Rail Line opening in 2019.

An other big project by 2027 are plans to extend the Green Line south of its current terminal southeast of LAX at Redondo Beach further southeast to Torrance. The final route of this project has yet to be finalized. On the LA Metro web page for this project is discussion that the Crenshaw/LAX line will also be extended to Torrance by 2027. It could be that not only will the Green Line share the Crenshaw/LAX Line to LAX. But the Crenshaw /LAX Line will share the Green Line south of Imperial Highway too. Both the Green and Crenshaw lines are fully grade separated and can handle more trains. The track connections to do this are being built. Also 8.5 miles is a rather short route so extending the Crenshaw/LAX line to Redondo Beach, then Torrance opens more travel options for the South Bay area to LAX, West LA and even downtown LA.

LA Metro graphic of the general area of the extension of the Green Line to Torrance. Most of the extension would use the railroad shown south of the Redondo Beach station terminal. The Crenshaw/LAX line would also be extended on the Green Line south of Imperial Highway.

A big project due to open by 2021 is the Regional Connector. This is a 1.9 mile tunnel with 3 subway stations costing $1.76 billion dollars. What this will do is allow the Blue Light Rail Line from Long Beach to be extended to Los Angeles Union Station. The Blue Line would take over what is now the Gold Line traveling also to Pasadena and Azusa in the San Gabriel Valley. By 2025 there are plans to extend the route east of Azusa 11 miles to at least Claremont at the eastern edge of Los Angeles County. If the County of San Bernardino can find funding, the line will be extended a mile to Montclair. The distance between Long Beach and Claremont is about 50 miles by rail. The other line using the Regional Connector is the Expo Line. It, like the Blue Line will be extended north of their current terminal in downtown Los Angeles to as far as the Little Tokyo station at the end of the Regional Connector. At Little Tokyo passengers can transfer between the Blue and Expo Lines. From Little Tokyo the Blue Line will head to Azusa while the Expo Line will travel to East Los Angeles in 2021 on what is now the Gold Line. By 2028 the Expo line will be extended east to either Whittier or south El Monte. Final route has yet to be chosen. With the Regional Connector rail ridership is expected to jump and the number of direct services to greatly increase.

LA Metro graphic of the Regional Connector in downtown Los Angeles which are the broken blue and gold lines on this map. The solid red and purple lines are the existing downtown subways.

Graphic of the future stations of the extended Light Rail line in the San Gabriel Valley being extended past Azusa to Montclair just inside San Bernardino County.

The most expensive project and the one expected to carry the most passengers on the heaviest travel corridor in Los Angeles is the extension of the Purple Line Subway. The plan is to extend the Purple Line which it and the Red Lines share as far Vermont. The Purple Line now ends at Western Ave which is the next station after the Vermont subway station. By 2015 construction began on the first of three phases to extend the Purple Line west, mostly along busy Wilshire Blvd 9 miles to Westwood near UCLA and the Veteran Hospital. Segment 1 to La Cienega Blvd is 3.9 miles long and will reach the border between Los Angeles and Beverly Hills. This phase is planned to be open by 2023. This will include 3 new subway stations at Wilshire and La Brea, Wilshire and Fairfax as well as Wilshire and La Cienega.

Construction is planned to begin on the other 2 phases this year. Phase 2 is 2.59 miles long with stations at Wilshire and Rodeo in Beverly Hills and at Century City. It is expected to be completed by 2025. Phase 3 will also start construction this year and is also 2.59 miles long. It will have subway stations at  Westwood/UCLA and Westwood/VA Hospital. This last phase is scheduled to open by 2026. This will be in time to be in service for the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles and UCLA will have venues for the Olympics. Also many tourists will be drawn to visit Beverly Hills during the Olympics in 2028 on the Purple Line as well as to Hollywood on the Red Line subway. The estimated cost for the full 9 miles of the 3 Phases is now $6.3 billion dollars with 75% of the funding for it from locally raised taxes.

LA Metro graphic of the 9 mile extension of the Purple Line from Western Ave to Westwood.

The next big project is expected to start construction in 2022 and finished by 2028 is for now called the West Santa Ana Branch. This is a Light Rail Line which will travel northeast from Artesia near the county line with Orange County to downtown Los Angeles. The name West Santa Ana Branch refers to the name of the right of way this line will use which was part of the Pacific Electric railroad. This branch ran between Santa Ana in Orange County to the Los Angeles neighborhood of Watts which was the junction to a mainline to downtown Los Angeles. The old West Santa Ana Branch will be used for this project between Artesia and the city of Paramount . At Paramount this Light Rail Line will use a former Union Pacific branch line from the Los Angeles/ Long Beach harbors to the outskirts of downtown Los Angeles. In Paramount this new Light Rail Line will go under the Green Line and both will share a new joint station for connection between the the lines. What is yet to be decided is the final route into downtown Los Angeles and what connections to make with other transportation services downtown. This project wasn’t originally expected to be built before 2041.

LA Metro Graphic of some of the proposed routes for the West Santa Ana Branch to enter downtown Los Angeles

Last but not least: what about the San Fernando Valley? There is the East San Fernando Valley Transit Corridor which is just over 9 miles long running on 2 of the busiest roads in the San Fernando Valley; Van Nuys Blvd and San Fernando Road. There are alternatives still being studied using either Bus Rapid Transit or Light Rail. There is strong support locally for Light Rail service. This project is planned to open by 2027. One of the biggest question is service between the Valley and West Los Angeles. Current planning calls for $260 million dollars in improvements for Express Lanes on the 405 between the 101 freeway in the Valley and the 10 freeway in West Los Angeles by 2026. This might include faster bus service on what sounds like a toll road in the freeway. There are plans for a “fixed guideway transit service” between the San Fernando Valley and Westwood by 2033 for around $5.7 billion dollars. For $3.8 billion dollars more this can be extended to LAX by 2057. Just in time for my 105th birthday. Traffic on the 405 over the Sepulveda Pass is over 300,000 vehicles a day and is expected to grow to 447,000 by 2025.

LA Metro graphic of the East San Fernando Valley Transit Corridor which might be Light Rail or Rapid Bus.

LA Metro is also overhauling the Blue and Green Lines to carry more passengers faster in time for more connections to the new lines and extensions being built by 2028. It is also making improvements to the Orange Line, which is a rapid bus service built on an old railroad right of way. These improvements will speed service and increase capacity by grade separating the Orange Line from surface streets in some cases and adding gates at other intersections like those used on railroads to speed service up and avoid stopping at red lights at intersections. The long term plan is to convert the Orange Line from bus to Light Rail service. There are  also plans to spend $2 billion dollars in a major overhaul at Los Angles Union Station hopefully before 2028. This will include construction of run through tracks which will allow trains to stop at the station and then leave pulling forward instead of backing out which is needed now. This will almost triple the number trains that can use the station now. Union Station will also get a new passenger concourse and lots of revenue generating development at and near Union Station. With this will come more frequent rail service for Metrolink and the Pacific Surfliner trains. The San Fernando Valley’s best hope for good rail service could come in part from track upgrades for High Speed Rail planned by 2029 between downtown Los Angeles and Burbank. Depending on how successful LA Metro is in mitigating local homeowners objections to adding double tracking in the San Fernando Valley, Metrolink would be able to run many more trains in the San Fernando Valley to at least the Santa Clarita Valley and to Ventura County. Metrolink is receiving 40 new locomotives which will be able to haul more cars than the old locomotives they have now. Metrolink also has over 100 older passenger cars in storage which they are planning to overhaul and put back in service in the next 3 to 5 years roughly with the intent to operating regular service on most of its lines 7 days a week and regularly most of the day and early evenings.

LA Metro graphic of the changes planned at Los Angeles Union Station