What’s Wrong With Bakersfield?

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By Noel T. Braymer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Amtrak Really Needs More And Newer Equipment

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By Noel T. Braymer

Most of Amtrak’s passenger cars are over 30 years old. The original
Amfleet cars were built and in service 42 years ago by the mid 1970’s.
The original Superliner equipment was ordered at about the same time
as the Amfleet cars, but because of production delays wasn’t generally
in service until 1980. There were additional Amfleet cars built in the
early 1980’s and Horizon cars built in the late 1980’s. The last 184
Superliner cars were built roughly 25 years ago in the early 90’s and
50 Viewliner sleepers were built around 1995. The newest Amtrak
equipment is almost 20 years old now with the Pacific Surfliners
trainsets from 2000. Amtrak is now getting ready to replace its Acela
trainsets which went into service in late 2000 by 2021 with 28 new
high speed rail trainsets

As part of an economic stimulus program in the late 2000’s which is
now almost 10 years ago, Federal money was made available to buy new
equipment for Amtrak. This order was to replace single level sleepers,
diners, and baggage cars many of which are 50 years old or older.
Another order with Federal Funding was for additional bi-level cars
for local corridor services to be owned by States in the Midwest and
California. Both of these orders are years behind schedule. CAF is
over 2 years behind schedule for 130 cars, 70 of which are baggage
cars for single level long distance Amtrak service. In the case of the
bi-level car order based on the Pacific Surfliner equipment for local
regional Amtrak corridor service only one car, the prototype was built
by Nippon Sharyo. It failed to pass a FRA mandated test to meet crash
standards. The deadline for spending the Federal funding is at the end
of September 2017.

Nothing has been officially announced about what will happen to the
car order for the States with regional corridor service. But a
statement was found online (and since taken off line) at the Illinois
Department of Transportation that there are plans to transfer the car
construction subcontract from Nippon Sharyo to Siemens which is
building single level passenger cars now in Sacramento. The actual rail
car contract is with Sumitomo with the original plan to subcontract
the construction to Nippon Sharyo. This change to the contract has to
be finalized by the end of September to insure the Federal money can
be transferred to start construction with Siemens. This should have
been done over a year ago. The bi-level design would have higher
capacity than a single level car. But the Siemens car meets all FRA
requirements, is now in production and Siemens has a good record of
delivering on time and on budget. It looks like the Siemens cars
should be available in about 2 years or so.

All of this is rather depressing. Many international companies have
come and failed to build rail passenger equipment in this country for
rail passenger service on time and on budget. Most end up doing a
terrible job and not making money. It doesn’t help that the number of
equipment orders are so small despite the great need for rail cars in
this country. This makes it difficult to get more badly needed
equipment both for Amtrak and regional rail services. Talgo was
successful in building cars for Oregon and Wisconsin. However just
before the Wisconsin order was ready to be delivered, around 2011 the
new governor for the State refused to accept the equipment. Roughly a
year ago there were announcements that the LOSSAN JPA, local manager
of the Pacific Surfliner service had leased the 2 Wisconsin Talgo
trainset for use on the Pacific Surfliners north of Los Angeles. Since
then there has been no word if this lease went through or when this
equipment will be ready for service. The State of California has
bought and refurbished 14 New Jersey Comet commuter cars built in 1968 in
2008 to address equipment shortages in California. This equipment is
slow to load and unload passengers because of narrow manually opened
car doors and many steps to and from the ground. This equipment is
mostly used on the San Joaquin trains with the lightest loads. This
equipment can’t be used with the other bilevel equipment on the same train used on the San Joaquin and Capitol Corridor services.

The United States has the paradox that it can’t buy additional rail
cars because there few reliable car builders and there are few car
builders because there are so few orders. Much of the problem is the
political nature for raising tax money to buy the equipment in the
first place.This often come with conditions which slows the process
down. It doesn’t help that politics being politics as soon as money is
approved for rail cars, after the next election there are attempts to
block the funding by political opponents. Often the winning bidder
underbids, and can’t met the requirements of the contract. Amtrak
needs more and newer equipment to haul more passengers and bring in
more revenues.This is particularly true on the long distance trains
which rarely have more than 10 revenue cars on these trains. Before
Amtrak 18 car trains were common on many passenger trains. Most of the
time Amtrak long distance trains are sold out, particularly for
sleeping car space.

In California ridership growth is creating the need for more equipment
on the San Joaquin, Capitol Corridor and Pacific Surfliner trains.
Having equipment with powered doors and low floor loading saves time
at stations stops and reduce running times for the trains as well as
makes service more reliable. This was what was hoped for with the
bilevel equipment ordered for the three California regional corridors.
But because of shortages of such equipment use of additional equipment
without powered doors has meant no reduction of station dwell time and
no time saving on the train schedules. Having the right equipment|
would have made it possible to have running time savings years ago.
The Siemens cars which are now being delivered to Florida are the
likely replacements for the bilevel order. These are single level cars
which would need high level platforms for quick loading and unloading.
Such platforms are usually seen on subway stations which have floors
flush with the floor height of the trains. The Siemens Brightline cars which are now in production have powered doors and what is called a retractable gap filler. It is a
sliding platform which is extended when the car doors are opened to
fill the gap between the train door and the platform.

High level platforms are not generally compatible on railroads with
both passenger and freight service. There are clearance issue between
freight trains and high level platforms. It might be possible to lower
the door level on these cars closer to the typical low level platform
height of 8 inches above the rail. A slightly longer gap filler might
be used with a raised platform setback from the 8 inch above rail
platform with ramps to the primary platform. Such platforms and ramps
are common in California so people in wheel chairs can get on and off
trains with low level loading and 8 inch above rail platforms. Even
with standard railcar height car doors, with a longer retractable ramp
with a slight down angle it might be possible to have rapid loading
and unloading with the Siemens cars. Platform wheelchair ramps are
often made of concrete. But such ramps can also made of metal or wood
on raised legs which can easily be moved. Siemens has low level light
rail cars with retracting ramps connecting to the low level
platforms for passenger in wheel chairs that the passengers can use
simply by pushing a button on both sides of the train doors. Something
along these lines might be needed for a Siemens car order to replace
the Bi-level order to work for easy and rapid loading and unloading of
these cars using low level platforms.

This is an example of a high level platform in northern San Diego County on the Sprinter DMU service. You can see on the right side 2 drawbridges which are used to allow passengers to get to and from the train and the platform which is setback from the train. During the night the drawbridges at the Sprinter Stations are pulled up to allow freight trains to run past the station.

This is at the Metrolink/ Amtrak Station in San Bernardino. This is a handicap ramp on the platform which is setback from the edge near the train. The train has a foldable bridge which can be placed from the train entrance to the raised handicap ramp. This Metrolink train has low level boarding. The wheelchair ramp would have to be higher and longer for use with a standard height door on a typical single level rail car.

 

Amtrak CEO Anderson Has A Lot To Learn About Trains

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By Noel T. Braymer

This is a Delta Airlines Route Map of just North America. Delta is an international carrier. From this can be seen several hub airports which increases the number of markets that can be served with the fewest number of flights. This increases productivity for airlines and reduced their operating costs.

On September 5th Amtrak CEO in training Richard Anderson gave a series of interviews to the media with some hints of what his priorities will be at Amtrak. These interviews generally covered much the same ground. Here are some excerpts from Mr. Anderson on “CBS This Morning”:
Anderson, previously the CEO of Delta, says he came out of retirement for a job with no paycheck to “serve.”

“More and more mass transit and commuter trains should play a more important role in how we live in urban areas,” Anderson said. “First imperative is to get the infrastructure fixed and the work we did at Penn Station shows Amtrak can do a great job doing this. And we have a lot of investment to make in the Northeast corridor. Second, we gotta clean up our trains, run our trains on time, fix the interior of our trains and grow our services in the regions that provide the highest levels of service to the communities around the country,” Anderson said….

“If we could just get our train speeds up and operate more nonstop service in very densely populated urban corridors, it would be a great service to the traveling public in America. Think about what Acela has done and we’re on the verge of putting a new Acela system in place,” Anderson said.

Well nothing was said directly in this or other interviews about Long Distance trains. Anderson should visit and talk to managers of major passenger rail services in Europe and Asia to see how modern rail passenger services are run and what will be needed to improve Amtrak’s service. These rail services operate at a profit. Running faster trains with fewer stops has been tried several times at Amtrak, 2 or 3 times by Amtrak just between Los Angeles and San Diego. In all cases eliminating stops resulted in ridership declining, not increasing. The problem was always that dropping station stops, reduced the number of markets the train served. Not everyone who rides a train is coming or going from major cities for example like San Diego to Los Angeles. Many are traveling to or from stations in between Los Angeles and San Diego. This is true of any major corridor.

Now there is a solution to filling up express trains  that the railroads have used for years. Express trains generally are run with what are called sweep trains. With an express train from say San Diego to Los Angeles , there would be a sweep train running in front of the express. The sweep train would make all stops. At a point roughly midway on the route the express train would catch up and stop at a station next to the sweep train.  Here passengers would transfer so people on the sweep train going to Los Angeles would get on the express train. For passengers on the express train not going to Los Angeles, they would transfer to the sweep train to get off before it got to Los Angeles. The same process would happen with express and sweep trains from Los Angeles to San Diego.

It seems odd that Mr. Anderson with his long background with airlines would consider non-stop trains. Airlines don’t fly non stop services anymore. Even if the plane you fly on only goes from say San Diego to San Francisco, many fellow passengers will be making connections to flights all over the United States and the world at San Francisco. Ridership on buses, trains and planes depends on the number of connections it has to markets to attract riders. What the airlines and many other businesses also do to attract business is called yield management. What this does is set prices for airlines seats based on demand. In other words discount tickets  prices when business is slow and raise them when demand is high. The point is to fill up planes when business is slow and increase revenue when business is good. Amtrak needs more trains, buses and airports for passengers to make connections with to increase the number of travel markets they offer passengers  so they want to travel to with Amtrak.

The closest that Mr. Anderson came to talking about long distance trains on CBS This Morning was “You can’t really privatize it (Amtrak) because there are pieces of it that have to be subsidized,” he said. “You could privatize if you wanted the pieces that are profitable but that wouldn’t make a lot of sense. Look, this is basic infrastructure. I think the subsidy last year for highways was $40 billion, subsidy for aviation was about $16 billion and when you think about what we do and what’s sort of fundamental to public policy, it’s to fund infrastructure.” 

This is an interesting admission by Mr. Anderson that the government subsidizes most transportation through its infrastructure. The exception to this are the privately owned freight railroads. The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is required by law to put out to bid up to 3 Amtrak long distance train routes for use by private operators. I believe money now budgeted for the long distance train’s subsidy will be available to private bidders who would take over these 3 Amtrak routes . The hope is private operators will do a better job at less subsidy than Amtrak. The irony of this is the subsidy costs to Amtrak for operating their trains on the freight railroads is at best minimal. The freight railroads by law must give Amtrak discounted prices for using their infrastructure. At the very least the freight railroads would like to charge Amtrak more to make some money. Any attempt to increase rail passenger service in this county using the freight railroads will require major investment by government in their infrastructure to avoid conflicts between passenger and freight services as far as the railroads are concerned.

There is clearly a need for government on all levels to pay for transportation infrastructure for a healthy economy. But there will always be disagreements over what is a fair share. Most of the Federal Funding for rail service has and continues to be spent on the Northeast Corridor between Washington, New York and Boston. The vast majority of the rail traffic on the Northeast Corridor is not Amtrak’s, but from the many commuter operators on the corridor. But responsibility for paying for most of the rail and station infrastructure on the Northeast Corridor is Amtrak’s, and by extension the Federal Government’s responsibility.

While Mr. Anderson talked about rail corridor service between large metro areas under 750 miles apart, no so much about long distance trains. In terms of corridor services, those outside the Northeast Corridor such as in California, the Pacific Northwest the Midwest and others are funded in large part by the local states both for operation and infrastructure compared to the states of the Northeast Corridor. Any expansion, let alone support for Amtrak depends on the votes in congress from the majority of States who’s rail passenger service are mostly with long distance trains. Increasingly the “flyover states” are demanding expanded and improved rail passenger service. Increasingly these largely rural regions understand that improved transportation is critical for their local economies too. Considering how many votes in Congress are held by rural areas, it will be impossible to ignore them when Amtrak’s budget is voted on in Congress.

Trains Have More Passengers With Connecting Buses (with photos)

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By Noel T. Braymer

The good news for Ontario International Airport in San Bernardino County is the extension of regular bus service every 15 minutes most of the day and week. Not only will Omnitrans route 61 connect to most of the other buses in the Inland Empire. But it will also stop at Metrolink stations at downtown Pomona served by the Riverside Line and Fontana on the San Bernardino Line for connections to the Airport. Such connections are long overdue between trains and buses. Amtrak has been busy in the last year or two adding bus connections to several of its trains.There are Thruway bus connections on Amtrak’s Heartland Flyer between Oklahoma City and Newton,Kansas  with connections to the Southwest Chief that’s doing very well. Recently there was expanded bus service for the Sunset at Maricopa, Arizona for direct bus connections to Tempe, downtown Phoenix and the Phoenix Airport. Amtrak has also expanded bus connections in 2017 to the Cardinal at Charleston, West Virginia to other towns in the region. Amtrak has also this year added connecting bus service to several towns in Vermont to connect to trains at Albany-Rensselaer, New York. Most of these new bus connections are joint projects with existing bus services. These buses must be doing well for Amtrak to keep adding bus connections to their trains.

This is from the current Amtrak schedule for the Sunset/Texas Eagle/ Heartland Flyer trains. This shows most of the connecting bus services to these trains. All of these connections are to regular intercity bus services like Greyhound and not dedicated Thruway bus services.

We have of course plenty of examples of successful connecting bus services to Amtrak in California. The San Joaquin trains have roughly half of their passengers at some point connecting to it by bus. The Sacramento Station is a local bus hub for Amtrak for bus service on 4 lines to Redding/Stockton, Lake Tahoe, Sparks,Nevada, and Martinez. The Bakersfield Station is also a major Amtrak Thurway Bus station for several bus lines to Southern California as well as Las Vegas. On the Pacific Surfliner route there are buses to and from Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo with some which also serve the Bay Area. But there are still plenty of other places you can’t get to by train and bus in California.

A view from a few years back of the Thruway bus station at Sacramento’s train station.

One of the most successful rail/bus connections is the Flyaway Bus to LAX from Los Angeles Union Station. But there are other places without rail service where there are no bus connections to rail. For people wanting to go to West Los Angeles or LAX from Orange, San Diego or Riverside Counties: there are no direct bus connections. The closest is LAX bus service to the Disneyland and other nearby hotels, but it doesn’t stop at the Anaheim station. Running a connecting bus from the Fullerton station to LAX and West LA would create connections to most of the population of Orange, San Diego and Riverside Counties for both Amtrak and Metrolink trains. One thing that is years away is better rail service between Burbank Airport and LAUS. There is already one train station at the Burbank Airport for both Amtrak and Metrolink on the Coast Line. A second station at Burbank Airport is already under construction for Metrolink service on the Antelope Valley Line and will be the site for the future High Speed Rail station. But there are often gaps during the mid-day and night for rail service between LAUS and Burbank Airport. In the meantime running additional buses so there is regular service between LAUS and Burbank Airport all day and week long would economically fill in those gaps.

A recent view of a LA Union Station Flyway Bus stopping at LAX.

One of the big problems in Southern California is traffic on the I-5 Corridor. By that I mean the combined 5/405 corridor since between them they share most of the north/south traffic in Southern California. The big problem is both freeways are often congested and enlarging them is not a solution to congestion. Rail service is a valuable alternative for travel in the 5/405 corridor.The problem is the railroad has miles of single track in southern Orange County and San Diego County. Some of this will require miles of tunneling needed for double tracking in this area for which no money has been budgeted in the foreseeable future. We will see increased track capacity coming into service in Los Angeles and San Diego Counties in the near future. But the main bottleneck is between San Juan Capistrano and the southern border of San Clemente at the county line with San Diego County. What could be done now is create bus bridges between Metrolink and Coaster trains. Many Metrolink Orange County and Inland Empire/ Orange County trains don’t go to Oceanside which is the Metrolink terminal in San Diego County. While not ideal, busing can be done much sooner for much less money than building rail tunnels. With increased rail travel from the connecting buses, money will be found sooner for tunneling.

A recent view of a Bus Bridge at Oceanside. This is from this summer over a weekend when the railroad in most of San Diego County was out of service for track work and railroad bridge construction. Amtrak passengers from the north would transfer to the buses to their final destination in San Diego County.

Basically every Metrolink train that terminates in Orange County would have bus connections at the Metrolink stations along the way to Oceanside. This will allow connections with Coaster trains running between Oceanside and San Diego. This will also allow travel combinations not available on the Surfliner trains which make fewer stops than Metrolink or the Coasters trains. This would make possible much more frequent and faster travel to and from San Diego County with Orange, Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino Counties. This will also increase travel capacity in this corridor for a fraction of the cost of expanding the freeways and long before we will see double track tunnels in Orange and San Diego Counties.

This is one of the ART buses in Anaheim that connects the Anaheim Station to the area around Disneyland and to Disneyland.

So who will operate these buses? They don’t all have to be run by one organization. Caltrans has been responsible for years for the Thruway Buses connecting to local Amtrak trains in California. These services had to operate at a profit or else the service would be cut. The cash surplus from these buses has been used in the past to go to the rail program, but not much of this money went for experiments for start ups of additional bus services. Also by law such bus service is suppose to include travel by train and to not compete with intercity bus service. The buses and drivers come from private bus companies working under contract to connect with Amtrak trains. The Flyaway Buses are managed by Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) which is the LA City agency which controls the city’s airports including LAX. They run the buses to reduce traffic congestion to and from LAX. Both Metrolink and Coaster ticketing includes local transfers to transit rail and local bus service between their trains. In Orange County the local Anaheim Resort Transportation (ART) buses connect to Disneyland from the train station. The Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) also run connecting shuttle buses at the Tustin station to John Wayne Airport. The greatest weakness of these services is Metrolink generally runs a commuter service which aren’t running when many people want to go to or leave Disneyland or fly in an out of the airport.

What could work to expand service is connections with existing bus operators for expanded service. This would be along the lines of interline agreements between airlines to allow passenger to transfer to their final destinations with tickets bought at the same time. In other words not all the bus riders would have to also take the train to ride. Not only more people would ride the train, but more people would not need to drive a car to get to where they want to go. This could be used for expanded local connecting services such as by rail/bus to LAX/ West LA, connections from San Diego County to the Inland Empire, expanded service from coastal Southern California to Palm Springs, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Reno and more cities in the San Joaquin Valley and Northern Sacramento Valley. The biggest issue will be who will organize such services? Most bus services tend to be local connectors operated by county transit agencies or in the case of Amtrak Thruway buses in California by the agencies managing the regional Amtrak train services. With the prospect of traffic from rail passenger services, private bus companies would be more open to experiment with new lines and expanded services.

This was shot at a mini-mini mall in San Ysidro next to the Mexican border and the terminal for the San Diego Trolley Blue Line. What caught my eye were the California cities this bus company I’d never heard of to many cities that you can’t get to by rail, particularly in the San Joaquin Valley. Creating agreements to this and other bus companies for connections to rail service would expand business for both rail and bus services.

Amtrak is open to more bus connections with agreements from existing operators. In the San Joaquin Valley, the San Joaquin JPA is looking at using a new locally financed bus service open to the public between Redding and Sacramento to replace the existing Thruway bus. Metrolink has to answer to all of its member counties. But Los Angeles County as the richest and biggest county in Metrolink’s service area has the most influence over Metrolink. North County Transit which operate the Coaster Trains, also operate bus service in Northern San Diego Counties. Trying to get different agencies such as Metrolink and Coaster, let alone counties to cooperate and work together is never easy. Future expanded connecting bus service will likely evolve rather than be part of a master plan. But it will likely come about as more demand for transportation on limited road capacity forces the issue.

“OPEN LETTER TO AMTRAK’S NEW CEO, RICHARD ANDERSON: IDENTIFYING THE GHOSTS IN THE CLOSET”

                                                                    By M.E. Singer

1 September 2017

Richard Anderson
President and CEO
Amtrak
60 Massachusetts Avenue, NE
Washington, DC 20002

Dear Mr. Anderson:

As a published pundit critically analyzing Amtrak over the years, I wish to share with you a synopsis of what I have identified as the salient issues, with a suggested course of action, to enable Amtrak to become more efficient and effective. Such action is relevant in following through on how Mr. Moorman has endeavored to re-build the respect and integrity of Amtrak, in order that it may move forward internally, with Congress, and in the public’s eye. The length of this open letter is parallel to the extent of the issues requiring resolution.

CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE: (The “Master Key” to Unlocking Acceptance/Revenues)

In respect to Mr. Moorman’s decree “to run Amtrak as a business,” there is a need to acknowledge that the only consistency in Amtrak’s customer service delivery is the inconsistency of performance; barely offering a bland, sterile, standardized service concept. Amtrak does not understand it is in the travel+hospitality business; therefore, operating without such critical knowledge, it does not even bother to ‘own the brand.’ Amtrak is oblivious to how its customers desire a consistent, positive experience; particularly the new millennial traveler. Such an oblivious attitude consequently has produced the end result internally of being a comfortable monopoly mindset vs. competitive force such as Richard Branson’s Virgin Rail against so many other private operators.

In response, I would recommend, just as a start:

Establish “A” teams of OBS to work trains together so managers can focus on the 20% problem cases to bring them up to par, or cut them loose.

Hold Food & Beverage responsible for stock-outs.

Hold Maintenance responsible for unsatisfactory yard services to inspect, repair, re-stock, and turnaround consists.

ORGANIZATIONAL STRUCTURE/CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE:

The key to making Customer Experience work, as discovered by the air and cruise lines, requires a singular team approach to identify, competently explain internally, and ensure that customer expectations criteria are achieved. This requires that all consumer-facing operations and services should be under one senior officer for the new, all encompassing area of “Customer Experience.” This includes: Catering, OBS, OBS Training, depot services; with a solid line to Operations (Route Directors, Train Managers) and Product Development.

It is obvious that the success of Customer Experience is dependent upon an actively involved, “hands-on” CEO to prevent the historical “fire-walling” and pulling in opposite directions between Finance, Marketing and Operations; resulting in making conflicting decisions negatively impacting Customer Experience. To ensure the full support of management from top to bottom, the Board of Directors committees must be re-structured to ensure management accountability in the critical areas of Customer Experience.

Frankly, the new CEO with the Board, must seriously contemplate and proforma how Amtrak would benefit from separating and distinguishing its operation by outsourcing its entire first and business class operations, including their food & beverage services, OBS, equipment, etc. Concomitantly, remembering how Mr. Claytor’s pet “Auto Train” quickly eliminated outsourcing the F&B to Marriott, Amtrak should also proforma how much Amtrak would save if it ceased outsourcing its commissary operations to Aramark, and ran them itself, in accordance with the projected categories of savings in developing Amtrak in 1970-1971.

FINANCE/CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE:

Amtrak has yet to seriously focus upon the continuing issue of capturing lost revenue opportunities in Catering/Food & Beverage Services. The persistent unacceptable lack of quality in catering/food & beverage service must be confronted head-on.

In response, I would recommend:

Need to train LSAs in mixology to create cocktails; adequately stock lounges and diners with liquor, mixes, garnishments, and tools of the trade.

To serve crafted beers from kegs; to utilize interest of wineries en route to provide wine sampling and for sale.

Need to immediately implement long-delayed Point-Of-Service IT system (e.g., the Toast POS System) to operate diners as separate restaurants to control inventory pars, prevent stock-outs that stab service acceptability, and cut waste (Be sure to inquire whatever happened to the long delayed implementation of the bar code program–that never happened).

Maximize equipment and services to revamp diners (Superliners) by creating one-half of dining room and galley as a coffee shop/grill, particularly for coach passengers (to include burgers, fries, malts, etc). Historically, most western long distance trains operated with coffee shop/grill/lounge, diner, and F Class lounge.

Learn from European airlines how they established the ability for coach passengers to pre-order/pre-pay upgraded meals thru their website; limited to only cities with end point commissaries; limited selection and quantity available to maintain quality.
For sleeping car passengers, charge for meals to create improved product quality and choices.
Vastly improve menu selections and quality; craft menus by real chefs; convert diner to bistro-type menus; after dinner into a night club.

ENHANCING THE CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE:

To resolve the incessant, obvious issues, I would also recommend:
Explicitly identify in E-ticket what free meals are included in sleeper fare purchased.
Given current standardized menus, perhaps illustrate those meals and choice options.
Post detailed menus in end point depot lounges, major depot waiting rooms, and within each compartment on-board.
Fix broken partitions between Superliner bedrooms B-E.
Have LSA/SA identify the night before  what hours breakfast will be served on day of arrival (at dinner in the diner;  message card on berth made-up).
Menus should be provided in compartments and in diner to sleeper passengers without prices to eliminate confusion; as well, to identify choices per category of menu.
Identify tipping protocol; look into how the cruise industry applies per diem charges (i.e., sleeper, diner, and lounge).
Provide in each compartment route maps identifying WiFi zones; smoking stops; diner/cafe hours of operation; menu/drink selections; room service; itinerary/areas of of interest.

Each compartment should be offered ice; set-ups from cafe car; morning newspaper; individual wake-up call; re-confirmation of breakfast/last meal hours on arrival day; explanation of diner (location, meal hours) and lounge (location, hours); an indication of the quality of the roadbed during sleeping hours (e.g., CSX lines).
To reduce dwell time and boarding confusion/issues, provide coach passengers with coach reservation by car and seat number, just as offered by private railroads until 1971; now to be introduced by Brightline.
Just as the private railroads accomplished an orderly boarding process at the end point of departure, boarding gate area should display signage identifying the consist by car number and feature cars.
Departure Acela/Metropolitan Lounges should adhere to a consistent concept of service by walking passengers to the boarding gate area (unlike currently not done in Chicago).
Acela/Metropolitan Lounge staff must be fully conversant in food/beverage location and service hours within the depot, especially on major holidays.
Just like the airline clubs, Amtrak should offer a full bar operation in its lounge, as the airlines apparently have no issue with the “Dram Shop Act.”
Determine feasibility of enabling coach customers to purchase pre-paid cards at depots to eliminate cash control issue aboard trains. Also, to enable coach customers to pre-order/pre-pay for meals in advance.

MARKETING: (Indefinitely undefined; non-existent)

Brand Marketing:
How does Amtrak explain its approach to branding? Cruises offer branding as an experience served up, or, as a brand customers can belong to (e.g., Viking). Frankly, the Amtrak brand remains undefined; unsupported; injured by failed customer experience; dysfunctional because of its alignment towards so many divergent sub-brands (e.g., Acela, NE Regional, Silver Service, Auto Train, Wolverines, Lincolns, Hiawathas, long distance western/southern routes, Pacific Surfliners, Capitol Capitol, San Joaquins).

Market Segmentation:
There is an evidentiary lack of route operational marketing expertise to connect corridors into regional service; to identify revenue opportunity by fulfilling traffic demand surges; to create head-on competition to prevent traffic depreciation. Completing this issue is the fact how there is no persistent Special Train effort (e.g., Saturday college football, Sunday pro football, baseball, hockey, play-off games, seasonal weekend, such as Holland, MI Tulip Festival, or seasonal in a given period, such as Cape Cod).

Amtrak persistently suffers from unmet needs to fulfill market demand and achieve increased revenues by failing to provide additional F Class space on Acelas, particularly between WAS-NYC during weekday rush hours. (Important re: Alstom order should revamp rigid consist preventing some Acelas from offering more than just one F Class car.) To what extent are fixed consists and inability to expand to meet market demand shunning co-marketing opportunities, e.g., cruise lines/cruise ports reached by train, etc?

Also, Amtrak suffers from a perpetual marketing myopia refusing to acknowledge and intensely compete against the curbside buses on the NEC and Midwest Corridors. This could be resolved by developing a stripped down T Class (Tourist) to attract the major bus market of price-sensitive college students and the elderly. NEC marketing myopia also includes lack of F Class on NE Regionals, despite given the numerous en route multi-market segments only served conveniently by this train for business travelers.

To enhance Midwest connections to the national system and increase revenues, their is an urgent need to finalize the proforma and implement the “Baby Builder” on a reverse schedule with the “Empire Builder,” #7 and #8, between Chicago-St. Paul-by scheduling morning out from Chicago; afternoon return from St. Paul. It is important for the schedule to allow for turnaround of consist in St, Paul in order to utilize one consist.

Market Positioning:
How is the new demand for “mobility” served? SNCF’s new TGV line between Paris-Bordeaux allows for people to live in Bordeaux and commute to Paris. Similarly, already we know that in the Midwest, the increased frequencies between Chicago-Galesburg facilitated commuters from Mendota and Princeton to Chicago. Where else has the new mobility been defined, identified, researched, and produced proformas for Amtrak?

FINANCE-ASSET UTILIZATION:

There is a long ignored, apparent need to maximize asset utilization and enhance schedule convenience to increase revenues with the elimination of awkward connections at Chicago’s Union Station. This could be achieved by operating run-thru schedules utilizing the two north-south tracks for Midwest corridor services in Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin. Do need to identify potential issues resignaling and T&E between different railroads. (Note-last time run thru attempted was by Amtrak in 1972 between Milwaukee-Chicago-St. Louis).

Amtrak continues to evidence an inability to maximize asset utilization to cut costs and increase revenues. For example: Improved utilization of dedicated Auto Train equipment could be achieved by working with the growing rail enthusiastic State of Colorado to establish a summer season service from Chicago-Denver/Colorado Springs, the gateway to the western national parks (and still very popular with the Midwest.) Up through the mid-1960s, popular rail tours by Union Pacific, Burlington, Santa Fe, Great Northern, and Northern Pacific served these national parks.

Also, quite relevant in respect to the history of railroading, is how the private railroads successfully maximized the asset utilization and daily turn of one consist thru the 1960s:
Burlington-Twin Cities Zephyrs
Gulf, Mobile & Ohio- Abraham Lincoln
Wabash-Blue Bird
Illinois Central-Green Diamond; Land O’Corn
In reference to Auto Train, Silver Meteor and Silver Star, need to embrace The Pullman Company’s proven concept of seasonal consists, e.g., Orange Blossom Special (NYC-MIA) during winter; same consist during summer run as the Bar Harbor Express (NYC-Maine).

Important to thoroughly research if market demand continues to be artificially constrained by scheduling the departure of the long distance trains from Chicago to New York/Boston, Chicago-Washington, and Chicago-New Orleans late in the evening to obviously facilitate the late-arriving long distance trains from Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle/Portland. Historical data should prove if these eastern/southern routes were specifically scheduled for their markets with late afternoon departures from Chicago and a morning arrival, how traffic and revenues would increase exponentially. Achieving this schedule improvement would reduce one required consist to be freed up for other routes; to increase frequencies. As well, labor and on-board costs would be reduced.

It would be interesting to learn why the Budd 480 HEP cars were not retained for extra sections, special trains, or, even route expansions. As well, has their been any determination on the feasibility of acquiring the well maintained VIA Rail equipment?

FINANCE-FORENSIC AUDITS:

Recommend examining vendor contracts-how assured are you of competitive/best pricing; how well negotiated without conflicts? Again, how can it be a better economic deal to outsource all commissary operations to Aramark? (Why is Pepsi served over Coke products, when Coke is dominant, other than the Chairman of Aramark coming from Pepsi?) Certainly, you need to check and balance on how suppliers and supplies are sourced, selected and how contracts are negotiated. As well, to define what is the effort and frequency to renegotiate and push down pricing; to identify new sources to bid.

GOVERNMENT RELATIONS:

Frankly, Amtrak needs to re-invent the competence of a Clifford Black to assuaged the multiple GR and PR issues Amtrak faces. Since his departure when the last “railroader” (Mr. David Gunn) was lost to Amtrak’s Board of Directors in 2005, Amtrak has faltered and failed to stoke any interest in Congress re critical issues, such as:

For Congress to legislate an Amtrak ticket tax as part of a dedicated fund.
For Congress to legislate the one-cent per gallon of gasoline tax towards Amtrak.
To counter airports using their funds generated by taxes and fees to pay for the entrance and marketing of new airline services.
As I explicitly commented in the Lafayette, IN Journal & Courier in August, 2017, Amtrak must fervently educate Congress and the public by publishing the financial costs to Amtrak re each and every grade crossing incident. This should be documented per wreck, per month and annualized. As it is relevant to the fact that Amtrak self-insures to approximately $225-$250 Million, such costs incurred by Amtrak should include:
To replace motive power on designated train by leasing from the Class 1 railroad.
Value and cost of equipment to be repaired or, totally junked.
Cost of T&E (Train & Engine) crew overtime; substitution required for timed-out crew.
Cost to provide complimentary food/beverages aboard delayed train.
Cost of lost purchases in food/beverage on delayed/cancelled train.
Cost to provide substitute transportation (bus, air); hotel accommodations; food/beverages; taxis.
Cost due to mis-connections; lost/refunded revenues; cost of business interruption and lost  opportunities.
As well, what would be relevant is to identify: date, location, type of vehicle, if commercial-identify the firm, type of grade crossing, on which Class 1 accident occurred.
Amtrak should also be focusing Congress and the media on the extra costs foisted upon Amtrak by a Class 1 railroad (CSX) now owned by a hedge fund, including:
Losing the integrity of schedule reliability due to the stabbing of on-time performance; critically devastating Amtrak’s PR and Marketing.
Cost of missed connections (see above); cost of lost revenues by refunding mis-connections.
Lost revenues from on-board food/beverage services; additional cost to provide complimentary,.
Labor costs for T&E-either overtime or timed out replacement.

HR:

Despite being the front portal to the world for Amtrak, HR is disconnected and evidences antiquated attitudes contrary to proven 21st century concepts. HR discourages external management candidates below C-Suite level, despite position advertising in Linkedin, Indeed, etc. Contrary to the thinking of Amtrak’s HR, it is interesting to point out that Brightline’s new CEO was hired from New York as a sports event operator.

HR is like the hamster that cannot get off the spinning wheel to accept change, by persistently denying  and dismissing how relevant, transferable experience is today. HR persistently falls into the old trap of how Amtrak is so “unique”; thus, only condemning Amtrak to continue following a course of repetition compulsion to internally re-enforce a limited, narrow vision; preventing new blood, fresh ideas. To combat this pathetic self-destructive vision, Robert Townsend, author of Up the Organization, wrote emphatically to warn American management how,”HR screens out the best candidates, as HR does not know what management wants in a candidate.”

In essence, from my own experience, discussions with others, and from the Harvard Business Review, I believe it is critical to drive the much needed transformation of Amtrak from the outside in. Tom Pendergast, recently retired CEO of the MTA, voted Railway Age “Railroader of the Year-2016,” directly expressed his appreciation for the value of a fresh pair of eyes and bold ideas: “because if you see the same thing from a different perspective, you may have a fuller picture of it. That’s good because they will ask the question, why? If you matriculate up in the organization, sometimes you don’t ask that question.”

Amtrak should be actively recruiting seasoned, external management with the background and proven competency to correctly evaluate and fix the situation–to cut costs and maximize revenues without destroying the product or impugning the brand. Indeed, as the articles have indicated, one “Baby Boomer”  is equivalent to at least two X, Y, Z, or millennial individuals (as aptly proven by Mr. Moorman). When I was involved with Arthur Bass, CEO of Midway Metrolink Airlines, to create an all Business Class carrier from a no frills operation, he informed me how the airlines for too long just re-cycled the same people, with the same failed ideas between each other; never looked “outside the box.”

Also, for a company of Amtrak’s size and revenues, the plethora of confusing, complex job titles (non-agreement) is incredible, perhaps contributing to how the inconsistency in customer experience starts at the recruitment level. To what extent is the perpetuation of the problem of inconsistency in OBS due to HR (nee TA) itself by excessively hanging onto the candidate before releasing to the hiring manager? As such, how does Amtrak hold the manager responsible for the appropriate recruitment, successful orientation, and correct training? The hiring manager must be held accountable for turnover and supervisory issues by being immediately brought into the hiring process; then to be held accountable for a successful or failed hire; discipline issues, adequate supervision, and turnover.

Over the past 10+ years, when was the last time any union agreement was re-opened and negotiated to require appreciation for the brand, evidence an all encompassing concept of Customer Experience; acknowledgement that promotion, and the job itself, are most certainly not based just upon seniority, but predicated upon embracing a company designated culture to achieve consistently acceptable Customer Experience? When did HR last attempt to shorten length of disciplinary process to achieve termination? How was HR involved to review the staffing of LSA/SA crew on long distance trains, given the red ink in food/beverage?

How has the work environment/culture been “tuned-up” and communicated to re-build morale? Exactly what has HR done to prevent timecard fraud, company credit card theft, vendor abuse? How has HR moved to prevent a Wells Fargo-type syndrome encouraging management to manipulate financials and other metrics to set their bonus, manipulating the interpreration of financial results of sectors, etc? How has HR clearly identified the process to prevent retaliation by managers against employees identifying problems, e.g., safety, theft, etc?

In essence, like the slack running out on a braking freight train, each of these major areas impact each other; inhibiting the overall efficiency and effectiveness of the organization.

 

Commentary for the new CEO of Amtrak

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By Anthony Lee

Editor’s note:  Anthony Lee has been a RailPAC member since he was a teenager, and was a board member until he retired and moved to Florida.  The items below are his ideas for improving Amtrak service.

A new era is coming to intercity rail passenger service in the United States and for Amtrak starting after July 12th when the new Amtrak CEO, Richard Anderson, comes on board.  Hopefully, there will be a  better customer experience.  The  best way for Amtrak to increase revenue and ridership is to expand the national network by filling the gap (75-750 miles) in the under-served markets and it also would /improve network  connectivity and desirability for intercity passenger rail to other modes in the United States.

The best way forward is to create a network of shared thruway bus service/Amtrak regional bus/rail hubs, and use ride-sharing services to compete with discount  buses, cheap air fares, and private cars by using leased equipment from Europe with a FRA waiver, or using Talgo series 8 equipment on certain routes. Also, using equipment that was on overnight trains in Europe that were replaced by High Speed trains and low budget airlines could be used.

Improving Service and Expanding  Service and Market Share in  the Northeast Corridor 

Pennsylvania Station, New York – The  new Penn Station will not be open until 2022 and new Acela equipment will be operating at the same time.
One option right now would be to use Grand Central Terminal for Acela service from Boston to New York using leased high speed (tilting trains) rail running equipment from Europe or Asia, and later with refurbished Acela equipment. New services to Albany, the Inland route, and other New England destinations from GCT would reduce pressure off using Pennsylvanian Station. Also, some Northeast Regional trains from Washington D.C., and Keystone service from Harrisburg, should be rerouted to Hoboken NJ Terminal with ferry access.  In addition, Amtrak needs to the restore new sleeper car service on Northeast Regional train 66/67 (Boston-Washington-Newport News) with cross country cafe service. In Addition, Amtrak needs to restore the  Montrealer to Montreal, which would provide connections to the Silver Services and the Crescent since Canada to Florida is an important travel market along with the NEC-to-Florida market as well.

Here are some suggested uses by Region:

Expanding  rail service in the  Midwest -Northeast Corridors

New York to Chicago  and Chicago -Washington are the busiest train markets.  Amtrak needs to create a separate Chicago to Boston train, the “New England States”  from Chicago toBoston ; extend the Capitol Limted from New York to Boston with leased equipment from Europe; and extend the Pennsylvanian from Pittsburgh to Chicago via Detroit using  the Amtrak/MDOT Chicago-Detroit rail corridor. These will restore The Broadway Limted/Three Rivers services eliminated in 1995/1997 because of budget cuts. An Advance Chicago-New York flip schedule of the current schedule using Grand central Terminal as a terminus could be run when needed or scheduled service.

The Crescent
Amtrak needs to extend sections of the Crescent from Meridian MS to Forth Worth and from New Orleans to San Antonio.  Amtrak needs to also extend Northeast Regional trains 66/67(Washington-Atalanta-New Orleans) to New Orleans and extend Northeast Regional trains 171/174 from Roanoke to Bristol-Knoxville-Chattanooga- Birmingham-Montgomery-Mobile-New Orleans. They should also expand more service to the South and Sunbelt, especially Nashville, Charlotte, Atlanta. and Dallas. New Orleans is being re-discovered by hi-tech firms, so growth along the Gulf coast, and in Birmingham, the Space program at Huntsville, Knoxville, and Chattanooga is getting the spill over effect in Atlanta, Hollywood South in Atlanta, and Airbus Industries in Mobile.  Mobile is also a major cruise port, and casinos and beaches are proper destinations along the Gulf Coast as well.

New  Possible  Potential Talgo Train Routes and other Western services:

A second Coast Starlight would  provide much-needed capacity on that corridor and route.  Since the Starlight  is often sold out, especially in the sleepers, the West Coast/Cascade Starlight  service would connect   Cascadia  region (Pacific Northwest), Silicon Valley, and Southern C alifornia with the growing desert high tech cites of Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Tucson. Al buquerque and El Paso. and this train would also connect with the Southwest Chief at Barstow by a cross platform connection.

A New Talgo service could go Chicago-Pittsburgh-Washington on-Richmond-Newport News.  This train would provide overnight service to Northern Virginia and the  Tidewater region, another proper business/leisure  market.  Converting the City of New Orleans to Talgo equipment coach/sleepers, and  the Capitol Limited to single level equipment would free up Superliner equipment for use on other Superliner equipped trains.

Using Talgo equipment on these new trains would provide an alternative to congested highways, discount buses and air travel on these corridors. Amtrak uses Talgos on their Cascade service, and Talgos are used on intercity trains in Europe.  The State of California plans to use Talgos on the LOSSAN corridor some day.  Also, Talgo has facilitates in Milwaukee, Seattle and Los Angeles to maintain these trains. Talgos are very reliable trainsets, have been in service more than fifty years, and are best suited  for routes with a lot of curves which reduce running times.  Depending on funding sources, Talgo equipment could be use to re-establish intercity rail service on the North Coast Hiawatha and Pioneer routes in the northwest, or as a much desired second Minneapolis-Chicago round trip.

Expanding Auto Train services nationwide

Expansion of Auto Train Service by using private/partnership Auto Train service could be expanded to some National Parks, popular recreational areas, and tourist attraction areas, using leased auto carriers and locomotives, and surplus cars from Europe that were used on night trains in Europe but replaced because of cheap airfares and high speed trains.

Possible and Potential Auto Train train routes.

Chicago to Lorton (Washington/NEC)

Chicago to North Jersey/Albany-New England/NEC

Chicago to Sanford/Orlando

Chicago to Denver

Chicago to Phoenix/Tucson (seasonal) and Grand Canyon

Los Angeles-Grand Canyon

Chicago to Las Vegas

Seattle/Bay Area/Southern California on the I-5 Corridor

 
Florida Silver Services/Palmetto

Amtrak should do the following to increase  East Coast ridership, since Florida is a highly competitive travel market with competing air, discount buses and of course the private automobile.
Extend Florida  service down the FEC line from Jacksonville to Miami serving the Treasure coast and other cites along the Florida East Coast

Overnight Thruway express bus Nashville-Chattanooga-Atlanta  to Jacksonville with a connection with the Silver Services/Palmetto/Sunset Limited

Restore rail service to Ocala and Gainesville currently served only by thruway bus service
Extend the Palmetto with sleeper and cafe food services from Savannah to Tampa and Miami.  By extending  the Palmetto to Miami Amtrak would provide  a must needed overnight train service within Florida to Savannah and Charleston as the alternative to driving the  turnpike and I-95

Amtrak should add Business class to the Silver Services and a first class diner car lounge, as well as restoring dining car service on the Silver Star service

Extend the Sunset Limited from New Orleans to Orlando and Miami daily

Add a second seasonal Auto Train
Add a thruway express bus Augusta Georgia/Aiken South Carolina to Columbia, SC and Savannah,GA to connect to the Silver Star service
Add a Fourth Flordia train via Columbia SC, the Silver Comet, using leased equipment

Extend the Texas Eagle to Los Angeles via the Texas and Pacific (the Abilene and Midland route)

Extend the Heartland Flyer to Newton, KS via Wichita
Restore the Sunset Limted to Florida

Add  a Thruway express bus( Ft .Worth  -Dallas Longview- Shreveport-  Baton Rouge-  New Orleans)  bus connection the Heartland flyer and Texas  Eagle at Ft .Worth.
Add Uvalde, Sierra Blanca, and Segiun,TX  as Sunset Limited stops
Add Willcox, and change Benson AZ to a scheduled stop, not a flag stop

Extend train sections of the Sunset Limited from Los Angelesto Emeryville,
and from Los Angeles-Barstow-Phoenix, and Las Vegas connecting with the Sunset at Tucson

 

The Desert Wind/Southwest Chief-
Combine the restored Desert Wind with a Southwest Chief connection to the California Zephyr at Denver
Combine the train between at La Junta and Chicago (La Junta -Pueblo-Denver-Cheyenne-Ogden- Salt Lake City-Provo-Las Vegas Los Angeles) restoring  rail service to Las Vegas
Thruway service to Amarillo and Lubbock would connect with the Southwest chief at Albuquerque

First Class/Business class -restore the amenities that were eliminated because of budget cuts
Add First Class/Business Class/Business Class “Plus”
Restore Wine tasting
First Class dining car lounges on all long distance trains
Slumber coaches be re-branded as “Business Class Plus” on overnight trains, meals not included in the fare
Create more Metropolitan lounges/first class lounges
Amtrak should add business class on the Keystone service, with trolley food cart service
Expand Business class to long distance trains and to the San Joaquins and Capitol Corridor,

Is Amtrak’s CFO Going To Be Wick Moorman’s Most Lasting Impact On Amtrak?

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By Noel T. Braymer

CFO stands for Chief Financial Officer. One of the first acts made by Wick Moorman when he came to Amtrak was hiring a new CFO. The CFO is a Vice-President level position. A major roll for the CFO at Amtrak is overseeing Amtrak’s accounting. There have been many questions about Amtrak accounting which doesn’t follow the norms of most accounting systems. Accounting is critical in measuring whether an organization is making or losing money and where it is making or losing money. Without this information it is impossible to know what actions are needed by management to reduce unneeded costs or to increase revenues. Mr. Moorman’s choice of a new CFO says a lot about the problems he found at Amtrak and that the CFO will be crucial to turning around Amtrak.

Wick Moorman chose as Amtrak’s CFO William Feidt. Besides both being from Mississippi, William Feidt also has a reputation for being able to clean up corrupt organizations. In 2013 Feidt was hired as CFO of the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources. There was evidence that this agency was riddled with corruption and he was hired to take care of it. Feidt’s work studying the books of this agency sent a Director of the Department of Marine Resources, Bill Walker as well as several people on his staff to court and finally to prison. Since this time William Feidt has recently recovered from cancer.  It was at this time that Moorman approached Feidt. It appears that recruiting Feidt and Richard Anderson, former CEO of Delta Airlines as Amtrak’s next CEO are central to Moorman’s plans for turning around Amtrak before he steps down as a CEO at the end of the year. Central to turning around Amtrak will be controlling costs and increasing revenue.

One project that Feidt supports is extending Amtrak service along the Gulf Coast between New Orleans and Florida, likely as an extension of of the City of New Orleans. Some of this interest in expanding service is it would serve the region he is from. But it also suggest that Feidt sees increasing service and ridership is needed to covering Amtrak’s costs. Amtrak is also looking at other service improvements such as extending the Heartland Flyer north of Oklahoma to Kansas and connections to the Southwest Chief. There are also plans to extend service on the Chief to Pueblo, Colorado.

It appears that the best hope for expanding service on Amtrak is with the BNSF. They are still a railroad, but within reason they are willing to cooperate with Amtrak to expand rail passenger service on their road. This is not true of all railroads. Three projects that should have priority at Amtrak are Gulf Coast service plus daily service on the Cardinal and Sunset. The problem here is Gulf Coast and daily Cardinal service depends on the cooperation of the CSX. With the new president of the CSX Hunter Harrison, the last thing he wants to deal with are passenger trains. His efforts to streamline the CSX for increased profits have so far left the CSX a mess. As for daily service on the Sunset that will depend on the cooperation of the UP. That is at best a slow process. It remains to be seen what the long term affects will be on the Sunset Route after Hurricane Harvey.

The choice of both Feidt as Amtrak CFO and Anderson hold promise of a stronger and better run Amtrak. This will depend on expanded and better service for more income. This will also require more and newer equipment. It will be interesting to see starting next year what the new team at Amtrak will attempt and be able to do.

What Is Elon Musk Up To With His Boring Company?

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By Noel T. Braymer

Elon Musk is primarily a promoter. He hires scientists and engineers to develop the cars, rockets, batteries, solar cells or what ever idea or project he is promoting. As a promoter he is an expert at teasing the public by releasing just enough information to spark their interest. But without to much information of what his intentions or what the status are for any of his many projects. This is particularly true with his Boring Company. He implies his company is working on a technological breakthrough which will create miles of tunneling costing much less than conventional tunneling and dug much faster than possible now which will be used to reduce auto congestion. There is plenty of history that shows adding more roads increases congestion, not relieving it whether on the surface, elevated or underground. So what are his short term plans for the Boring Company? I think he is working on a deal with the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LA Metro) to build a joint auto/transit bypass paralleling the 405 freeway. This would be part of a Public, Private Partnership with LA Metro. He is in contact with the Mayor of Los Angeles Eric Garcetti who is also a board member of LA Metro.

For some time Los Angeles County has been working on a plan to use a Public, Private Partnership to build a toll road tunnel between LAX and the San Fernando Valley as well as a mostly underground rail service also along the 405 corridor. Original planning called for revenues from tolls and fares to pay for these tunnels. The planning called for a large tunnel which would hold a double dock roadway for north and southbound traffic. A similar large tunnel over 57 feet in diameter started digging on July 30, 2013 for a 2 mile highway tunnel in Seattle. This massive tunnel boring machine got stuck by December 6, 2013. It was 2 years later before tunneling was resumed and it only finished tunneling on April 4, 2017. The actual tunnel won’t be finished now before 2019. Since these problems in Seattle, LA Metro was been rather quiet about any plans for tunnels along the 405 corridor. The reality is some of the heaviest traffic in Los Angeles is along the 405 between LAX and the San Fernando Valley. It also has the fewest options for using rail transit alternatives to replace driving north and south on the west side of Los Angeles County. There is great interest by people in Los Angeles County for alternatives to the 405.

So what do we know now about what the Boring Company is up too? They have been digging a 12 foot diameter tunnel using a used tunnel machine originally built to dig sewer lines on property owned by Elon Musk in Hawthrone, California .This is near the Hawthorne Airport where Tesla and Space X companies also controlled by Musk have offices. He recently received approval by the city to extend his tunnel by 2 miles to the west under city streets of Hawthorne. The plan of the Boring Company is to save money tunneling by digging smaller tunnels. A road or rail tunnel is usually 26 to 28 feet in diameter compared to the 12 foot diameter tunnel being dug by the Boring Company. A typical highway lane is only 12 feet wide. Only autos or small trucks will fit in this small tunnel. It is so small that it would be difficult for anyone to drive safely in these tunnels. What is planned is for cars to drive onto a wheeled platform called a “skate” when entering a car size elevator to reach the tunnel. The skate would carry the vehicle to its final destination in the tunnel and would most likely use Tesla Auto Pilot to navigate the skate in, through and out of the tunnel at speeds up to 125 miles per hour.

What is also planned by the Boring Company are the use of “pods”. These pods would be attached to skates to carry passengers and bikes in tunnels parallel to the 405. No information has yet been released on how big these pods are, how many people they could carry or where they would stop. Basically with these small tunnels, you would have one row of no more than 3 across seating and need doors for each row of seats with doors at both ends of the seat row much like a car. To carry many people at a time you would likely need a train of several skates and pods connected together. This might be something like the trams used at Disneyland to get people from the parking structures to the main gate. But even these tram cars are wider than your typical auto so they wouldn’t ft in a 12 foot diameter tunnel.

So how many cars can such a tunnel carry? According to a web site for traffic engineers a typical 4 lane freeway is expected to carry up to 72,000 vehicles a day. This about the average daily ridership of a busy light rail service. If divided by 4 that gives 18,000 cars per day per lane and 750 cars per hour on each lane. Now these results are averaged over 24 hours. So most freeway have much higher traffic during peak periods and lower traffic late at night. On a freeway lane a rate of 2,000 cars an hour is the most that can be achieved before traffic becomes congested bringing on stop and go traffic which greatly reduces a road’s capacity. With automated operation of the skates let’s assume service is accident and congestion free with up to 2,000 skates per hour in each direction. If half of the skates carry cars with 1.5 passengers that ‘s 1,500 persons per hour with 1,000 skates. If you carry 10 people in 1,000 pods every hour that’s 10,000 people per hour. There are 60 minutes in an hour which makes 3600 seconds in an hour. With 1,000 pods each carrying 10 passengers an hour that means a 10 passenger pod drives by every 3.6 seconds. What’s the shortest time at stops for a pod will it take to safely load and unload pods? Maybe 15 seconds if there are no problems.

How would pods or cars on skates get in and out of such a tunnel with skates only a few seconds apart? The solution in use since the 1930’s is to build acceleration and deceleration lanes or in this case tunnels to get on and off the main tunnel. The pod would start accelerating to fit in a slot between skates coming up to speed right behind the skate in front of it. These acceleration/deceleration tunnels will add costs to the construction of this project as well as increase the complexity of operations.

There are times when transit in heavily populated areas needs capacity of up to and greater than 10,000 passengers an hour. There are Light Rail services that can carry up to 20,000 passengers an hour and heavy rail even more. Los Angeles will continue to see transit rail service ridership grow as more lines are built or extended with more connecting together. Now a possible solution to carrying people with pods is to run pods that are express services. Instead of making all stops, you could be assigned a pod that stops where you are at and to where you want to go. This would be something like riding a smart horizontal elevator. Such schemes have been tried in the late 20th Century but none succeeded. Let’s see what it takes to carry 10,000 passengers an hour in pods with up to 50 passengers? That would require 200 pods an hour which would mean a pod every 18 seconds. That’s very convenient, but still cutting things tight. Even though the pod would be off of the main tunnel, the problem will be unloading and loading people and bikes in under 30 seconds. One late pod could disrupt service for several pods on a line for some time. What do you need to run pods every minute? You could carry 10,000 passengers an hour with pods carrying 167 passengers run every minute.You could also do that with a single light rail car. At least with larger vehicles there is more time for passengers to get to the platform and less of a rush to exit the pod.

Of course this is all conjecture since Elon Musk and his Boring Company hasn’t disclosed their plans of what they want to do with their pods or their skates. There is economy and simplicity is using fewer and longer vehicles. Fully automated light rail vehicles already exist and are in operation carrying comparable loads of people. Perhaps the biggest issue will be mixing traffic with auto skates and pod skates. The solution might be to dig 4 tunnels, 2 for autos and 2 for super large pods. But first we will have to see what is planned for this Boring tunnel project.

 

 

“Part II: Another Nose Under the Tent: What CTrail Portends for Amtrak’s Intercity Monopoly Protected by PRIIA vs. Potential for Franchises/Open Access”

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By M.E. Singer

Since posting in RailPAC on 11 August 2017, “A Nose Under the Tent”-FRA Seeks Competitive Bids to Replace Three Amtrak Long-Distance Routes,” yet another significant issue has evolved in parallel to literally shake the foundation of Amtrak by portending the breaking of Amtrak’s alleged inviolable (pursuant to its own decree) assertion of an exclusive monopoly to operate all intercity passenger rail services.  Despite authoritative voices pooh-poohing any threat to Amtrak with the opening of Connecticut’s “CTrail” between New Haven-Hartford-Springfield, this has the potential to relieve Amtrak of its exclusivity and render it to become one of many competitive factors negotiating over franchises and open access.

Although we have different commuter agencies operating segments of their lines within Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, e.g., MBTA, Shore Line East, SEPTA, MARC, and VRE, CTrail poses a different perspective in chipping away at Amtrak’s “fortress monopoly.” We have already re-learned our lesson from Rep.”Tip” O’Neill that “all politics are local”–the federal politicos for Connecticut sank the unsolicited FRA proposal  to destroy the tranquility of Connecticut and Rhode Island by re-routing the Northeast Corridor.  This year we also learned the value of federal politico proprietorship to issues important to them when the USDOT buckled under Senator Feinstein’s threat to throttle that agency unless it approved the (well planned, well deserved) authorization to fund Caltrains electrification plan. Before that, we had U.S. Senators Blumenthal and Murphy from Connecticut stepping up to ensure appropriate funding for the revamped New Haven-Hartford-Springfield line.

Although apologists will attempt to explain that the CTrail is nothing more than a mere commuter service, I question that is CTrail not the “nose in the tent” re Amtrak’s monopoly, given:

CTrail already promotes the concept of how Metro-North ticketing will be available at Springfield ( MA) Union Station so “from New Haven, passengers will be able to continue to New York City’s Grand Central Terminal via Metro-North, a rail service run by New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority.” So much for Amtrak’s run thru schedules. (Remember, in 1964, the NYNH&H offered 9 thru frequencies between Springfield/Hartford/New Haven-NYC; in 1981, even Amtrak offered 3 thru frequencies; today, Amtrak offers but 2 thru frequencies.)

 
CTrail promotes the “upgrading and rebranding of Amtrak’s New Haven–Springfield line.” Re-branding Amtrak?

Certainly this is not to apologize for Amtrak, as its obstinance and arrogance over a decade under its non-rail experienced CEO Joseph Boardman, created this untenable position, unchecked by its Board of Directors, allegedly committed to carrying out their fiduciary duties to, as reported in the area media (Meridien Record (CT) of 26 July 2017):

“Amtrak has received plenty of criticism over its operations in Connecticut, both from commuters and from public officials. Malloy (CT governor) even wrote a letter to the Federal Railroad Administration in May 2015 saying Amtrak’s lack of maintenance on the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield line required so much work that service would be delayed from late 2016 to January 2018. The date was pushed out again until May 2018 to allow for double-tracking between Hartford and Windsor, Malloy announced Monday. In the 2015 letter, Malloy also said the total cost of the project jumped by roughly $250 million to $623 million because of the additional work needed along the railroad, which Amtrak owns.”

“Under questioning by Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Boardman acknowledged that completing projects on time and budget “hasn’t always been standard practice” at the railroad. But he said a switch in senior management has changed that. Gov. Daniel P. Malloy last spring sharply criticized Amtrak for mismanaging the project. The state ultimately agreed to issue more than $135 million in bonds to cover the overruns and related costs Amtrak has control over construction even though the funding comes from Connecticut and the federal government, and Blumenthal said the railroad owes it to taxpayers to manage the costs. Connecticut, with very limited control, is depending on Amtrak to do its job here,” Blumenthal said. “Connecticut taxpayers will largely pay for this line and will use it. Disputes with Amtrak, which owns the rail bed, have pushed the project behind schedule and over budget, and thrown off the DOT’s schedule for hiring a contractor to run the trains.”

In announcing its decision not to go with Amtrak, who owns the right-of-way, the CT DOT administrator let us know that “the management team in Amtrak’s proposal, meanwhile, didn’t have the type of experience Connecticut was looking for. Amtrak is a legacy railroad,” he said. “They’ve been doing it for lots of years…”

Are we surprised that former Amtrak CEO Boardman, protected by his Board of Directors in his pocket, blew this opportunity for Amtrak, just as other similar situations were deemed by the political Boardman as not important? Given how Amtrak’s Board of Directors was so depended upon being directed by a CEO looking to merely mark time before drawing down a spectacular pension (NOT Moorman), the gate has already been opened. No matter what part of PRIIA points to, whether Sections 201, 209, 213, or 217, what CTrail will inevitably trigger is a full congressional review of what was signed off on back in 2008 when Amtrak pushed the initial PRIIA legislation before unsuspecting, but willing politicos. The only caveat remaining now, as Amtrak has shown the “emperor wears no clothes,” is the question does CTrail create a re-definition of PRIIA merely for the Northeast Corridor, and its appendages, or, has it truly re-opened all routes?

Bottom line–by allowing CTrail to interpret Amtrak’s deemed monopoly on its own Northeast Corridor for inter-state trains, with this current administration looking to shuck off as much federal responsibility and subsidies as possible, it is quite feasible that Amtrak has lost its argument as a unique and exclusive provider of intercity passenger rail transportation.  Accordingly, well informed politicos may indeed understand the alternatives that have historically been denied, such as franchising operations with Amtrak owning the infrastructure, as in this Connecticut-Massachusetts operation. Or, open access to allow all willing comers with the financial and operational heft to participate.

How can these options be wrong for the traveling public?  Passenger railroading as we know it, in all due respect, was always a wide-opened competitive  playing field, until 1971.

Home, Downtown, Home?

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By Noel T. Braymer

I’ve noticed when riding the Coaster train between Oceanside and downtown San Diego that in the late afternoon the busiest trains are not the ones leaving downtown, but the ones arriving. This goes against the traditional commuter traffic of people working downtown and going home to the suburbs. A major factor since World War 2 in San Diego and most places in California is most jobs now are not downtown. The largest job center in San Diego is in the area around the campus of the University of California at San Diego west of the 5 freeway roughly 14 miles north of downtown. Nearby is University City just east of the 5 freeway and to the north, south east of the 5/805 interchange is Sorrento Valley which are where the heaviest concentration of jobs are in San Diego County. This is also where the heaviest traffic is. One of, if not the busiest Coaster station is the Sorrento Valley station. From the train in the late afternoon south of Sorrento Valley you can see freeway traffic is stop and go southbound into downtown. But northbound traffic out of downtown is usually free flowing. But once you get north of Sorrento Valley the reverse is seen with heavy northbound traffic and light southbound traffic.

Some of the new high rise buildings in downtown San Diego by the train station. If you look closely you will notice many of these buildings have balconies. This is typical of residential high rise buildings. Photo by Noel T. Braymer

Now there are plenty of jobs in downtown San Diego. There are plenty of new high rise office buildings around downtown. But many of the new high rise buildings are residential buildings. Much of the new housing in San Diego is downtown. Not all of it is high rise, but it is high density. What is going on? Well there is the high cost of housing and on a square foot basis high density housing is cheaper than a single family home. But the other factor is increasingly downtown is one of the few places that new construction can be built. Much of this is because of Not In My Back Yard or NIMBY’s: local residents opposing more people and housing in their neighborhood. The main fear of these home owners is the assumption that high density housing will make traffic congestion worse in their area and will lower the value of these people’s property. This is a contributing factor to both the high cost and shortage of housing in California. One of the few places left, at least in urban areas that housing can be built is in old industrial areas which are often next to railroads which are near downtown.

Much of the new high density housing being built in Southern California is along rundown and underused commercial or industrial property near the railroads. This can be seen in many other cities with rail service in Southern California, particularly in downtown Los Angeles. This is creating major changes in downtown with more stores and services for residents. Even more high density housing is planned for downtown Los Angeles. This is being made possible because of the construction of rail transit since the 1980’s in Los Angeles County. Los Angeles Union Station will increasingly be the hub for downtown residents to travel out of downtown without using a car. While owning an automobile was central to living in the second half of the 20th century in the suburbs, it is an expensive liability living in a major city. The new high density housing in California cities will increase demand for intercity, regional and transit rail service.

This is near the Pico and Flower LA Metro station in downtown Los Angeles for the Blue and Expo Lines. The 2 high rise buildings near the station under construction have balconies. There are plenty of other high density housing development now in Los Angels. Photo by Noel T. Braymer

Now let’s look at the Bay Area which has the greatest shortage of housing in California. There is much talk of people working in the “Silicon Valley” moving to the San Joaquin Valley and commuting by High Speed Rail once it is running by 2025 or so. Given the cost of housing in the Bay Area a person with a good paying job could save money living in the San Joaquin Valley and commuting by High Speed Rail. Where would these people live in the Valley? A good idea would be to build high quality, high density housing in major San Joaquin Valley cities with high speed rail service in rundown areas near downtown and the stations. This reduces the chances that there will be rush hour traffic and parking shortages around the stations in the San Joaquin Valley.

But you don’t have to wait for High Speed Rail. There is already Altamont Corridor Express (ACE) rail service between Stockton and San Jose. ACE is planning to extend and expand service between the northern San Joaquin Valley and San Jose. These efforts include extending service south of Stockton to Modesto and Merced before 2025. Money approved recently in the State Budget for the will make this possible. ACE is also looking at extending service to Sacramento. This would be as a shuttle service using Diesel Multiple Unit (DMU) trains with motors powering each car instead of using a locomotive. This service would run between Sacramento and Stockton for transfers between Amtrak San Joaquin trains and locomotive hauled ACE trains to San Jose.

The employers in the “Silicon Valley” are also planning to help reduce traffic and housing problems in the Bay Area. Google recently announced their plan to move their headquarters from the suburbs to downtown San Jose. It will be next to the San Jose Diridon Station with is already served by Amtrak, Caltrain, ACE and VTA local rail transit. BART will soon be running to Diridon and it will also be a future High Speed Rail station when the first segment is finished. This will both encouraged more people to commute to work to Google without driving and the construction of more high density housing in downtown San Jose.

Not to be outdone by Google, Facebook has single handedly revived plans to rebuild the Dumbarton rail bridge over the San Francisco Bay and reestablish passenger rail service from the east bay to San Francisco. It just happens that the Facebook headquarters is right next to this railroad right of way now publicly owned between the peninsula and the east bay. This is planned to be done in increments and will take at least 20 years or so to finish. But this could mean extending Caltrain from San Francisco to the east bay and ACE service from the northern San Joaquin Valley to the upper peninsula and downtown San Francisco. This should include high density development around the stations to all these rail service both for housing and services for new residents.