Markets,Markets,Markets-Connections,Connections, Connections are at the heart of Rail Passenger Service!

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By Noel T. Braymer

Non stop service generally isn’t profitable for transportation. Non-stop flights before 1980 were subsidized in this country with tax deductible airline ticketing. Most air travel was for business before 1980 which the businesses got much of its money back because of business tax deductions. Deregulating airlines forced competition between airlines to get more business. With that came hub and spoke airports for connections to many more markets and more revenue. Since then low fare airlines often with multiple stops between major airports have lead in profitability. Amtrak’s fixation on Acela trains on the Northeast Corridor (NEC) blinds it to connections to many other markets. Most travel on the NEC now is between New York and Philadelphia which is a distance of less than 100 miles. For most of the length of the NEC intercity bus travel serves more market pairs and stations which are convenient for people’s origins and destinations. When Atlantic City opened gambling in the 1980’s, Amtrak thought their rail service to Atlantic City would be profitable. What they didn’t think about was how people would get to the casinos from the train station which was not close with limited pedestrian access. Most visitors to the casinos got bus rides from near their homes to the casinos where people had reservations at a hotel/casino.

Outside of the NEC most regional Amtrak service is subsidized by the states these trains run through. While most of these services serve major cities, they according to Amtrak are not close to operating profitably. Many of these services operate only a few trains a day. Lets compare this to the Amtrak trains in California which the State helps to subsidize. In the North is the Capitol Corridor service which runs most of their trains between Sacramento and San Jose which is 133 miles long. This is more of a commuter service than an intercity service. But to their credit the Capital Corridor Joint Powers Agency runs a very tight operation and has a very high recovery from the fare box and excellent on time performance. The other Amtrak service in Northern California is the San Joaquin Train with 4 trains a day service between Bakersfield and Oakland with 2 trains a day between Bakersfield and Sacramento plus bus connections at Stockton to and from Sacramento. Also a major part of the ridership on the San Joaquin’s are a system of connecting buses to the San Joaquin trains. Major connecting stations on the San Joaquin trains to bus service include Bakersfield, Stockton, Sacramento, Merced, and Emeryville. These buses provide connections to the Los Angeles area, extra connection to Sacramento, travel to San Francisco, Las Vegas, Reno, Yosemite and up to Redding among other towns in the northern most part of California.

The first state subsidized service on Amtrak in this country was the San Diegans which the State started subsidizing in the mid  1970’s. After the State paid to add 3 additional round trips to the exiting 3 between San Diego and Los Angeles ridership on the trains tripled and cost recovery rose. By 2000 the service was renamed the Pacific Surfliner and until last year it had roughly hourly service between San Diego and Los Angeles with 4 round trips between San Diego to Santa Barbara as well 2 round trips between San Luis Obispo and San Diego. Currently in large part due to the Conronavirus 19 outbreak, fewer trains are in service for the time being.

What is in the planning stage now in California is a State Master Rail Plan. Between the 3 Joint Powers Agencies that control the Pacific Surfliner, San Joaquin  and Capitol Corridor are efforts to better connect these 3 services together with better connections to other services in the State. Much of the inspiration this master plan is the nation of Switzerland. Switzerland is one of the wealthiest countries in the world on a per capita basis. It also has some of the highest use of public transportation.  One of the things done in Switzerland is to run most of their trains on the same schedule at the same time of the hour. This is called a memory schedule because you just need to know what minute of the hour you local train is due. Also in Switzerland rail service is so frequent there are never long waits in most cases for a train.

Included with this at most stations are connecting bus, rail transit, river boats and tourist train services as well as connections to major train stations and airports. The long term plan for California include memory schedules, frequent regular service and connections to other transportation services. We can see some of this in play now with the Peoplemover to LAX  now under construction with connecting transfers to the Green and Crenshaw Light Rail Lines .Planning is underway to start shuttle bus connection this year between the Old Town San Diego Transit Center and the terminals at San Diego’s Airport to reduce traffic congestion around the Airport. At Old Town is already rail service to the Surfliners and local “Coaster” trains in San Diego County. Also the Green Line San Diego light rail service to Mission Valley stops there and in a few years the Blue Line Trolley will also stop at Old Town after being extended north to the busy University City/UCSD Campus which is heavily traveled now by bus and gridlocked traffic,

As part of the State Rail Plan is smart phone ticketing. Already using an app on a smart phone is common for many rail and transit services. What the State Rail plan would allow is buying an entire itinerary from your Smart Phone much like ordering airline tickets with hotel and rental car reservation. If you want people out of cars you need economical and convenient services that have advantages over driving a car and with many of the missing connections of current public transportation. The Swiss shows that this can be true which is also seen in many other affluent nations around the world. The reason isn’t because they don’t have a choice. But that they prefer clean, reliable transportation services like rail.

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The graphic above is from the current California State Rail Plan which demonstrates what is being planned for California rail service.

What’s Planned For LOSSAN

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By Noel T. Braymer

LOSSAN’s name goes back to the late 1970’s with the expansion of Amtrak’s San Diegan Train service between Los Angeles and San Diego from 3 round trips starting in the middle 1970’s to 6 round trips by 1978. In the process ridership on the “San Diegan” more than tripled. Much has happened since then with some trains extended north first to Santa Barbara and later a few as far as San Luis Obispo. While there is plenty of travel demand along the California Coast by rail which is where the majority of the State’s population lives and work. The biggest hold up to ridership on the LOSSAN corridor is with much of it infrastructure going back almost 60 years or more, with much of it north of Los Angeles. The LOSSAN Joint Powers Agency is made of transportation agencies of its member counties between San Luis Obispo and San Diego. Much progress is being made for construction to allow faster, more frequent and reliable rail service along the Coast. The following is from LOSSAN and the LOSSAN RAIL CORRIDOR AGENCY TECHNICAL ADVISORY COMMITTEE.

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From a PDF on a recent report of ongoing Capital Projects for the LOSSAN Corridor

LOSSAN has numerous committees representing the member Counties along the San Diego-Los Angeles-Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties.

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LOSSAN capitol projects also connect and or share infrastructure with the UP, BNSF as well as with Metrolink service, many of which head inland to the Inland Empire and the High Desert area by Palmdale. LOSSAN is working to establish service to the Palm Springs region.

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A major effort at LOSSAN is to expand service using new and enlarged terminal layover facilities at San Diego, San Luis Obispo and near Santa Barbara at Goleta. In a few more years Surfliner service should be running hourly between San Diego and Los Angeles.

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This graphic on top shows the UP mainline in parts of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties as the yellow dashed line. The solid lines alongside the main line are locations of sidings connecting to the main line The sidings in red show proposed new sidings on this segment of track.

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Building a new Maintenance and Layover Facility not only can mean more frequent service. But will also please the residents of many of the new high rise condos around the Santa Fe Depot to not hear noises from routine train maintenance and servicing such as emptying the toilets at night on the trains. The expected site of  this new facility is seen in this photo in National City a few miles south of the Station and just north of Chula Vista.

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Not only is LOSSAN planning long overdue improvements in San Luis Obispo County and San Diego. But is also planning for improvements along the entire Corridor. Critical to this will require more train equipment for the Surfliners and shared use with Metrolink and Coaster trains in San Diego County and some Amtrak Long Distance trains in California. More equipment is greatly needed on the Surfliner route to meet future traffic as ridership grows back after the current COVAD-19 pandemic runs its course.

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Anderson is out at Amtrak and now Flynn is in

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By Noel T, Braymer

After much noise about making Amtrak profitable by getting rid of most of their Long Distance Trains, former Amtrak President Anderson was replaced on April 15,2020 by Amtrak’s new President William Flynn. Despite lots of talk, not much progress was made adding more regional services under Anderson. The collapse of travel demand world-wide due to the CORVID-19 epidemic didn’t help. According to Evan Stair; President of Passenger Rail Oklahoma. Anderson and Amtrak Senior Vice President Stephan Gardner talked about getting rid of up to 10 out of the 15 Long Distance or “inter-regional” train routes to “save money”. Inter-regional trains travel more than 750 miles in one direction. Why that is important is because Anderson and Gardner wanted services under 750 miles because local states would be paying Amtrak for the operations of these proposed regional services. So much for turning a “profit” under Mr. Anderson.

Years ago I attended a meeting about rail service in Southern California. An Amtrak Vice President was pitching a deal that the State of California should sign a contract with Amtrak to operate California’s High Speed Trains. What this genius didn’t realize was the contract to operate California’s High Speed Trains would be based on the contractor bidding to get the contract by offering to pay the State for the right to run the State’s High Speed Trains. This is common practice around the world. The bidder would have to bid an attractive price to win the contract, while carrying enough passengers to make money while also paying the State for the franchise to operate the trains. As part of his sales pitch this genius started bragging about how little they would have to charge the State. This was because by law when Amtrak was created the Freight Railroads had to give Amtrak a major discounted price to use the Freight Railroad tracks and right of way. This has long been a major point of contention with the railroads against Amtrak. The railroads want to make money, and they say they don’t make much money letting Amtrak use their infrastructure.

What we have seen under Anderson has been a lot of noise to run corridor trains routes under 750 miles long. Most of what was talked by Amtrak was talk of carrying lots of people between major cities under 750 miles apart with frequent service. Most of the talk for these new trains was between Atlanta-Charlotte. Also being considered was service between Atlanta and Nashville. It seems that Amtrak started talking about service to Nashville without talking first to CSX which owns the tracks to Nashville which is a busy, congested mainline for the CSX. Of course Anderson wasn’t interested in spending money for major capital improvements which would be needed to operate a faster and more frequent rail passenger service. So what was Anderson and Gardner up too?

One thing Amtrak has been interested in was getting the States to pay them money to run passenger trains in their States. How is this working out for them? So far it doesn’t look too good. Back on November 13, 2019 the Executive Director for the San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority, Stacy Mortensen testified before a subcommittee of the U.S House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Ms Mortensen oversees both the Amtrak San Joaquin rail service between Bakersfield and Oakland as well as the Altamont Corridor Express (ACE) which is a  commuter rail service between Stockton and San Jose . The ACE rail service is managed by a private company, Herzog Transit Services Inc. Ms Mortensen is very satisfied with Herzog. Their operating costs are very reasonable and she has a good relationship dealing with Herzog. That can’t be said about Amtrak. What Amtrak charges the State to operate the San Joaquin trains is much higher than what it costs to run the ACE Trains. She also isn’t pleased with the level of cooperation she gets from Amtrak compared with Herzog. Quoting Ms. Mortensen “Amtrak’s lack of data transparency, resistance to data sharing and collaboration, inability to fairly determine a cost sharing formula and, higher-than-average costs when compared to other public passenger rail services has caused our agency to question the future viability of the service under this structure.”

At the heart of Amtrak’s beginning was the bankruptcy of the PennCentral Railroad. After the PennCentral went bankrupt in June 1970, Amtrak was running by May 1, 1971. While Amtrak wasn’t making money in its early years, it didn’t lose much either at first since Amtrak had very little overhead. Most of that belonged to the PennCentral on the Northeast Corridor. By about 1975 the Federal Railroad Administration in reorganizing the PennCentral  into what became Conrail dumped most of the costs of the Northeast Corridor onto Amtrak. This despite the fact that the majority of the costs for rail service on the NEC came from local commuter rail services not Amtrak trains. The FRA knew that Conrail couldn’t become profitable while also paying the whole cost of the Northeast Rail Corridor’s infrastructure.  When Amtrak got the NEC, it got involved in creative accounting. Basically Amtrak accounting didn’t count their costs so much as they assumed  their “costs”. One example of this is the costs of running Long Distance Amtrak Trains was based on how many miles they traveled. According to Amtrak, “it saved money” when its trains weren’t moving. This made the Long Distance trains very “expensive” the more they were moving. If Amtrak wanted to carry more passengers on a route, it would be “charged” extra for running additional service. This even while additional service would improve Amtrak’s operational efficiency and revenue generation. Over the years in an attempt to save money Amtrak eliminated some trains including some Long Distance Trains.These service cutbacks often instead of saving money usually reduced revenue instead. This did nothing to reduce the high overhead costs of the NEC so no money was saved, but revenue declined with fewer people riding the trains.

Amtrak doesn’t lose money on their Long Distance Trains. The cost of running them are largely dumped on the host railroads. But rather than expand service to increase revenue and productivity. Amtrak instead has been pushing for more contracts to run State funded services. So far it doesn’t look like that ploy is working. This reminds me when Amtrak decided to go after the market to operate regional rail commuter services. Amtrak assumed that it would dominate the market. Amtrak did well at first operating Caltrain and Metrolink services. But with many competitors like Herzog, Amtrak’s high overhead costs left them overpriced with little competitive advantage. The real problem Amtrak has is the cost of the infrastructure of the NEC. Parts of the NEC has many structures that date back over 100 years. To balance Amtrak’s Books, it often puts off maintenance. It seems now on the NEC  the back log for a state of good repair has reached $38 Billion dollars.

To become viable, Amtrak needs to run more trains, more frequently more hours in the day on longer distances.They need more markets to fill up their trains. Also much of the cost of the infrastructure of the NEC should be supported by State and Federal Governments. This is something that the NEC States have been fighting against since at least 1970. Amtrak is a minority user of the tracks of the NEC, but is charged the major share of the costs. Revenue for transportation is generally based on passenger miles. This can be increased on Amtrak by running more Long Distance trains with connections to other trains to as many places as possible. But Amtrak seems to think that running trains loses money. So they have often tried to “save money” by reducing service which never worked.

Finally Some Good News For Rail Passenger Service In California

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By Noel T. Braymer

With the outbreak of Corona Virus-2019 and social distancing, has come major reductions in ridership as well as service levels for all forms of public transport. Recently there is plenty of good news with funding for major improvements of existing rail passenger service in California as well as new services, equipment and track improvements. A major example of this was the recent announcement by the California High Speed Rail Authority with LA Metro of funding for building “run-through tracks” at Los Angeles Union Station.There has been talk of this going back about 40 years ago.

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Along with the track work, the current pedestrian tunnel at Union Station will be greatly enlarged with  extra room for new shops, food services and improved connections to Union Station transportation services. The Memorandum of Understanding between California High Speed Rail and LA Metro includes just over 800 million dollars in funding for Link US (for run through tracks and Union Station improvements) from California High Speed Rail and the California State Transportation Agency. This also includes shared use  and upgrading of the Los Angeles County owned rail right of ways between Union Station and Lancaster. This also calls for additional funding to complete the run through tracks and Union Station improvements in time for the opening of the 2028 Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

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Outdoor view of Los Angeles Union Station Christmas Morning. Photo by Noel T. Braymer

Also in the news in the Modesto Bee is a report of ongoing planning to extend more rail passenger service in a few years between the San Joaquin Valley and Sacramento. In the case of the “San Joaquin” trains, this would bring the previous 2 round trips between Bakersfield to Sacramento to 5 round trips by 2023 and 9 by 2026. This will switch most new  Sacramento service to a branch line of the Union Pacific bypassing the  UP mainline and the Sacramento Amtrak Station while terminating near the Sacramento Airport. This is part of the 900 million dollar- fully funded project to expand service.

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Waiting to board at Bakersfield . Photo By Noel T. Braymer

The other part of this plan is part of the extension of the Altamont Corridor Express (ACE) which until recently ran 4 round trips weekdays between San Jose and Stockton. Construction is underway building a new ACE Track along the UP mainline between Stockton and Merced. For expanded service to Sacramento the new trains would have one round trip train by 2025 and up to 4 by 2027 on the same branch line between Stockton and Sacramento as all but 2 San Joaquin trains that will head to the Sacramento Amtrak station.

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On a smaller scale, but also long awaited are improvements coming to San Diego County. The California State Transportation Agency awarded almost $40 million dollars to the LOSSAN JPA towards construction of a new maintenance and layover facility south of the downtown San Diego Depot as well for major overhauls of the Pacific Surfliner equipment which will run between San Diego-Los Angeles-Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo, The new maintenance/layover facility will be built south of downtown San Diego.

A recent photo of people departing a Surfliner at Oceanside. Photo by Noel T. Braymer

With the construction of hi rise condos around the Amtrak Station have come complaints about the noise from the new residents by the station of noise at night while crews  work on the train equipment and of the smells from emptying sewage from the train’s toilets. The new maintenance facility will likely be in an industrial area south of downtown San Diego with rail access next to part of the San Diego Trolley Blue Line. This could also open up extended service for the Coaster Commuter trains with stops by the Convention Center roughly a mile south of the Depot. It might also lead to Coaster connections with the Trolley service not far from the Convention Center and Petco Baseball Stadium.

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NCTD Coaster Train at the downtown San Diego train station. The tall buildings by the station are all residential.

The State also granted $12 million for a $36 million project for service on the Green and Orange San Diego Trolley Lines. This is planned to extend a mile of double track in El Cajon to terminate Green and Orange Line trains at the El Cajon Transit Center. A shuttle Trolley will carry passengers transferring at the El Cajon Transit Center to the Santee Trolley Station. Most of the track between El Cajon and Santee  is single track in the median of a major/ road. Also more money was granted for stabilizing the bluffs on the rail right of way at Del Mar.

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A picture from a couple of years back at the downtown train depot in San Diego with Light Rail service in the foreground and local regional Coaster service in the background. Photo by Noel T. Braymer

Also in recent news California announced $500 million dollar towards 17 transit projects in the State. This included $6.5 million for 11 battery powered buses for the Antelope Valley Transit Authority. BART is getting $107.1 million dollars to buy 34 more new railcars. In Sacramento $3.9 million dollars is available for a new access route to connect the Sacramento Valley Station to the nearby new Railway Plaza development. The City of Inglewood is getting $95.2 million for a 1.6 mile People Mover to connect to the Downtown Inglewood Crenshaw/LAX Metro line station to the new SoFi sports Stadium with 3 additional stops in between in Inglewood. Lake Transit received  $13 million for a new transit center at Clearlake and 4 new Fuel Cell buses. Long Beach Transit is getting $6.45 million  for 5 electric buses for service between Long Beach and UCLA. LA Metro and Metrolink are getting $107 million for rail infrastructure improvements for hourly rail service in both directions on the Metrolink Antelope Valley line with addition half hourly service on the Antelope Valley line between Union Station and Santa Clarita.

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A new Tier 4 Metrolink low emission locomotive at Los Angeles Union Station at the head of a trainset. Photo by Noel T. Braymer

Well you get the idea. There are many other projects for new electric bus services,Bus Rapid Transit and orders for new Light Rail vehicles. For additional details, see CalSTA 2020 TIRCP Award List and 2020 TIRCP Detailed Project Award

The Health Threat of the Corona Virus

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By Noel T. Braymer

With the outbreak of the corona virus (COVID-19) has come major reductions for the economy, employment and transportation demand including rail travel. With this has come major increases in unemployment nationwide. There is little written about how COVID-19 sickens and often kills people who come into contact with this new strain of virus. We can see many people who got the virus have often recovered. Two examples include actor Tom Hanks who was diagnosed with COVID-19 along with his wife while they were in Australia. Just recently they arrived back in this country after they recovered. Another example is CNN Reporter Chris Cuomo who is still recovering from COVID-19. He also spread the virus to his wife. So far it looks like both couples will recover.

Many people get viral diseases and most recover after a period of time. But there are often people who die within days of contact with the COVID-19 virus. Examples of this are when people living in nursing homes were exposed to COVID-19 around the world, which often in short order sets off major die offs of these unhealthy people. This is an example of what happens when a person has a weaken immune system which is common with the elderly. But looking at many of the people who died recently from COVID-19 were middle aged or young adults who one wouldn’t expect to be so vulnerable.

One thing that has been reported on is that a greater percentage of people who died from COVID-19 in this country were Black or Hispanic compared to the rest of the population. What seems to be the cause of this? One thing most people tend to ignore or are ignorant of, is the critical role nutrition has for good health and preventing disease. The American food industry is full of sugary foods which are popular with the public. The result of this over the roughly last 30 to 40 years has been a dramatic increase in the rate of diabetes and obesity not just in this country, but in most of the rest of the world. Type 2 diabetes is a direct result of excessive consumption of foods that spike the body’s insulin  levels which turns blood sugar into fat in a person’s body. With this comes what is called insulin resistance which means the body is running out of places to store fat. With high levels of insulin also comes inflammation throughout a person’s body. This can lead to many health problems. This can be a factor in the development of heart disease, cancers, diabetes, arthritis and so on.

An example of where nutrition is critical for good health comes from Vitamins D, C and the minerals Zinc and Magnesium . What kills most people with a viral disease are  lung problems. Vitamin D which is now recognized as a hormone is often called the “Sunshine Vitamin” because the body makes “D” when exposed to sunlight during the day. People with darker skin need more time to make as much “Vitamin D” as people with lighter skin. Vitamin D is critical for healthy lungs. Many people in poor health have problems breathing with viral diseases such as the flu or COVID-19. Many of the people who die from viral disease end up sedated with a ventilator hose down their lungs. The forcing of air from ventilation can make the lungs worse off when they are already poor shape.  While they are “kept alive” the number of people to recover from this is often small. Vitamin D can be stored in the body because it is fat soluble.  Vitamin D is a major part of healthy lungs. Besides sun exposures, Vitamin D is available in foods such as eggs, butter, fatty fish and cheese as well as in supplements. Vitamin D is central to calcium use in the body.  But in many cases people are often deficient in D and other needed nutrients made worse by eating low nutrient level “junk food”.

Vitamin C is also a major part of the immune system. Since the 1930’s Vitamin C has been recognized as an antiviral which means it kills viruses. Vitamin C is an antioxidant which means it can neutralizes toxins in the body and reduces inflammation. As a water soluble vitamin, Vitamin C can’t be stored long term and needs regular supplies to the body to be effective. Vitamin C is also critical to the making of collagen which is a protein needed to maintain and repair damage to the skin, bones and organs. Zinc is involved in many biochemistry reactions in the body. It is also vital in destroying invading bacteria and viruses. Magnesium is also involved in many biochemical processes in the body. It also helps with relaxing muscles and preventing cramps. It also reduces anxiety and helps bring about relaxation.

I am not a health care professional and I am not giving healthcare advice. But I encourage people to do their own research on health and diet. Over the last 20 or so odd years I have lost over a hundred pounds and weigh roughly what I weighed in my late teens and 20’s. I rarely get sick, and when I do I recover quickly. The only times I have slept in a hospital was shortly after my birth and for about 10 days when I was 14  in a body cast after breaking my left thigh during football practice. My belief is avoiding “junk food” has helped me lose weight and made it possible to be healthy and very active in my late 60’s.

A Rail Photo Report from here and there

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Commentary and 8 Rail PHOTOS by Russ Jackson

I dug up some recent rail photos and thought you readers might like to see them.  Just some scenes that caught my eye and that deserved a comment or two.  From California, Arizona, and Texas.

Texas Eagle sign at Austin 1-2020
Back in January, 2020, before all the coronavirus problems became so important we rode the Texas Eagle from Ft. Worth, Texas, to Los Angeles.  A trip report was posted afterward, but here are two photos taken when our train 421 stopped at the Austin, Texas, station after dark.  A new addition to the station is this arrival sign.  With only two passenger trains arriving daily (and they are still running), the sign doesn’t get much of a workout.

Texas Eagle at Austin 1-2020 (1)
The skyline of the Texas Capitol City is outstanding no matter what time of day or night you see it, but on that clear night it sparkled.  One of the scenic highlights is arriving at the Austin station northbound and departing the station southbound while crossing the Colorado River.  No, that’s not the same Colorado River that is the boundary between Arizona and California, this one is pronounced “Coloraydo” in Texas anyway.

Maricopa station 1-2020 (1)
It won’t be dawn for a few hours at the Maricopa, Arizona, Amtrak station for the Sunset Limited on a cold winter morning in January, 2020.  A crowd of passengers off the train are waiting for their rides.  The platform looks empty because all the stops have been made and the train is ready to depart. Since we are in the Texas Eagle sleeping car at the rear end of the train this is the last of the 4 stops the train has to make at the short platform:  1) crew change, 2) Sunset Limited sleeping car, 3) A coach car, and 4) the Eagle sleeping car.  Something tells me they only are making 2 stops there these days.  “The (new) Maricopa station is unchanged except for chain link fencing now on all sides and the old crossing completely removed and fenced off”, RailPAC member Ralph James tells us, there’s “Plenty of room for a long platform now, if only the incentive to build it.”

Amtrak Superliner LED lights

If you see a Superliner go past with what looks like much brighter lights inside, it’s because they are.  This is the view down the hallway of our Texas Eagle Superliner sleeping car with the new LED lights blazing.  The car had been improved and was very clean.  As I said in my trip report, our car attendant said it was one of the cleanest cars she had been on.  So, some things are happening out there that make the trips enjoyable.  Perhaps during this down time with few passengers the maintenance bases can do some needed work on more cars.

SMART train at Novato 7-2019
This photo was taken last summer on a quick trip we made to California which included a short stop in Novato where we saw the new SMART trains in action.  This train is at the Hamilton Parkway crossing in Ignacio.  Since we were attendees at many of the SMART committee meetings back in the early 2000s we have followed the progress of this service and I’m really pleased to see how well it has been doing.  Tough times are ahead for SMART, but if the people are smart they will keep it afloat and extend it finally to Healdsburg and beyond.

SMART Larkspur Ferry 7-2019
Congratulations to SMART for completing the south extension to the Larkspur Ferry landing.  When traffic finally resumes its normal course this destination could bring in big revenue.  HOWEVER, one little hitch exists there, as it takes 15 minutes to walk from the SMART station to the Ferry landing (this photo of the Larkspur landing was taken two years ago, before SMART construction began).  The reason for the long walk given by the city was they didn’t want to give up any parking spaces in the lot to bring the trains closer.  There are no arrangements for transporting riders from the trains, so be prepared to walk.

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Back to Texas.  This is the Lewisville Lake-Highland Village station for the Denton County A Train, a 21 mile service running north-south that connects with the Dallas County DART Green Line.  Service is still running during, under a revised schedule, which is hourly in both directions on a memory schedule from 6 AM to 9 PM daily, with a shorter schedule on Saturdays.  Both trains meet at this station, allowing crews to visit briefly at the mid-point.  On this Wednesday at 10:22 AM the crews told me there were 6 riders on board, but there are a few more during what passes for “rush” hours these days.

A Trains empty parking lot 4-2020

This is the normally full parking lot at the Lewisville Lake-Highland Village A Train station on a weekday in early April, 2020.  Three cars, and one of them was mine, when I stopped long enough to take the photos.  On a normal day the riders who park there are usually southbound, destined to transfer to DART stations in Dallas County.  This service is lacking in any real destinations close to its own stations, although many apartments have been or are being constructed near their stations.  The big destination other than commuters is in the Fall, when a transfer to the DART Green Line takes visitors directly to the Texas State Fairgrounds without another transfer.
Happy trails to us all, now and in the future!

Thoughts about Passenger Rail while sitting at home

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Commentary by Russ Jackson

Here it is:  April 9, 2020, and the whole country, as well as Amtrak and the transit providing agencies, waits to see what happens next.  All of us can and must hope that all is well with those who read this!  Everything is ok at our house so far.  Let’s see what’s going on that we can comment about.

Amtrak.  Congratulations to Amtrak for continuing to run trains during this epic time in our country’s history!  The NEC has cut back its frequencies, with only 10 daily trains including three of the north-south long distance trains which also now carry regional passengers.  All of the expensive-to-run Acelas were dropped because no one was asking to ride them.  Those passengers likely were work-at-home types who were doing just that.

What we have been most impressed by is all the western long distance trains are still running, albeit with shorter consists.  Only the California Zephyr has had a disruption, because there were not enough qualified employees not under quarantine to run trains 5 and 6, so they were discontinued west of Denver. Otherwise the flag is still flying out here, and although the trains run with few passengers, at least the service is available to those who need it.  Bob Johnston, writing in Trains magazine this week reported that overall bookings are down 95%, with 98% down in the NEC, and state-supported service off 93%.  The long distance trains are down 87%, which also is an indicator of how much these trains are needed compared to the fickle corridors.

There’s been more encouraging news at Amtrak, too, with the new CEO William J. Flynn taking over from the departing Richard Anderson.  While each new Amtrak CEO is an unknown quantity, the initial read on Flynn is he has many professional and personal qualifications that many of his 12 predecessors did not have.  For one thing, his family has vast experience in passenger and freight rail as working-level employees.  Plus, in Bob Johnston’s report of an hour-long “town hall” for employees held on Friday, April 3, his personality came through.  RailPAC’s veteran VP James Smith noted Flynn’s personal story as being very impressive, “I was 7 during the recession of 1960-1961,” Flynn said,  “Dad was a locomotive fireman on the New Haven and was furloughed for 5 or 6 months.  He took a job at the post office during the Christmas rush — I do remember that time.  So when I say our goal (at Amtrak today) is to have no involuntary furloughs, I mean it.”

Regional providers.  Also encouraging has been the attempt by local agencies to continue service during this trying time.  In California service has been reduced and justifiably so.  BART is down to half hourly service on all lines and runs only from 5 am to 9 pm.  The Capitol Corridor now runs four round trips from Sacramento to San Jose and one from Sacramento to Emeryville, down from the 15 trips on a normal schedule.  San Joaquins have dropped two round trips.  The Surfliners and Metrolink are down to service only every two hours or so.  RailPAC’s Noel Braymer, editor of the weekly e-newsletter, rode on Saturday from LAX to Oceanside and said there were only 30 people on board at any time.  Here in Texas, DART, the TRE, TexRail, and the Denton County A-Train have all cut back, but are still running.  The latter runs hourly service in each direction on its 21 mile line, with a memory schedule from 6 am to 9 pm weekdays and a shorter schedule on Saturdays.  An A-Train conductor told us today he had only 6 passengers on board.

Comments.  Ah, you knew I had more to say than report the positive news.  For one thing, although the freight railroads are maintaining shipping of needed goods they continue to implement the Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR) that reduces operating expenses and capital investments.  The result is railroads like the Union Pacific are running fewer but much longer trains.  The effect of that on Amtrak can be seen along the Sunset Route between San Antonio and El Paso,Texas, where nearly every movement of Amtrak 1 and 2 is delayed anywhere from one to four or more hours because one or more freight trains have been dispatched on the single track where they are too long to fit into the few available passing tracks.  Plus, the UP is doing construction work, rebuilding the line.  The Sunset Limited is then stuck waiting for all the freight trains to pass.  I know, as I saw it happening on recent trips.

We can only hope that the really qualified new Amtrak CEO, William J. Flynn, lives up to the glowing comments we have about him above.  By the time you read this he will be in office.  We hope that he dismisses the second in command he is inheriting, Stephen Gardner, who has been pushing Anderson’s agenda of cutbacks to minor items that make passenger train travel so attractive and the disastrous attacks on the long distance trains.  During the current emergency, on-board Dining cars are permitting seating at any open table, not jamming people into one booth if there is plenty of room in the car.  We hope that minor thing continues in the future plans.  Small item?  Yes, but to riders it is important and can be a decision point for coming back again.  We could make a big list of similar items, but other than mention that the menus should contain BLTs as we have suggested in the past we will wait to expound on other things for another time.  For one thing, though, we quote former Amtrak executive Brian Rosenwald (the “father” of the revamped Coast Starlight), who told Trains magazine, “Dining Car prices are completely bizarre…when you consider the Coach customer is the only one that is actually going to pay.”

We remind you, and Amtrak’s new administration, of some statistics that Andrew Selden published in the current issue of MinnARP News.  “The most important numbers from, and about, Amtrak from last year are these:  NEC 1.989, Regional (Corridor) 1.922, and Interregional (long distance)  2.450.  These are the number of annual revenue passenger miles (in billions) produced by Amrak’s three business units in FY’19.  The latter substantially out-produced the entire NEC and all the Regional corridors alike.”  One “rider” with a ticket from Irvine to San Juan Capistrano on a Surfliner counts the same as one “rider” from Los Angeles to Kansas City when “ridership” statistics are published, but the amount of revenue per rider to Amtrak is very different.

So, what are you doing during the shutdown?  Yes, it’s hard to just sit at home when you want and need employment and a regular paycheck.  These days will surely pass; the question now is when and how much will be restored.  We wish all of you railroaders, railfans, and retirees well in the coming days.  One thing this retiree has “found,” is watching my collection of rail videos makes a great way to pass the time.  The other day I pulled out a great one, “Daylight…the most beautiful train in the world.”  It was on-camera narrated by actor Michael Gross, and featured one of our favorite people, the late Art Lloyd.  We miss Art, one of the best spokespersons passenger rail ever had.  The great scenery of the California Coast Route on the video is outstanding.  One day soon we will all be out riding again because we need to or want to.  Because of the actions that Amtrak has taken during this epidemic we are confident the magnificent long distance trains will continue…right, Mr. Flynn?

Empty Passenger Trains Won’t Last Long

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By Noel T. Braymer

I recently took advantage of a Metrolink Weekend  1 day Pass which I could use on any Metrolink train running on either Saturday or Sunday for $10. In the past I have frequently traveled on Metrolink on the weekends. I know with the current COVID-19 Pandemic, travel is not the same as in the past. Because of COVID-19 most public transportation ridership is way down. I have recently traveled in San Diego County on transit. With ridership down, there is no problem having a 6 foot or greater  “bubble” around you to reduce the possibility of being infected with the corona virus from other passengers. California and much of the rest of the world is now under “Shelter in Place”. Basically to prevent runaway exposure to COVID-19 people are required to avoid being in crowded spaces and instead to spend most of their time at home. On my most recent trip on Metrolink I didn’t have to worry about crowding on the train. The fact is I was largely by myself on my latest trip.

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Shot near Fullerton, there are only 2 passengers on the upper level of this car. One is myself taking this picture, The other is a man at the other end of the car you can barely see sitting down. Photo by Noel T. Braymer

When I got off at Union Station many things had changed since my last trip. There were many new barriers largely forcing people to travel in one direction. There were guards at the barriers who smiled when I showed my Metrolink Pass for the day. I soon realized the reason behind these changes was to create one way pedestrian travel to minimize the exposure of the pubic as much as possible from other people who might unknowingly have the COVID-19 Virus. If you have two way travel, you will be facing dozens of people passing by you only a few feet away. But if you travel in one direction you greatly reduce the number of people around you who might have the virus. Walmart and other major stores are also doing something like this with widely separate entrances and exits for one way travel.

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This is the “new” entrance to Los Angeles Union Station. The main entrance next to Alameda Street is closed for now. Photo by Noel T. Braymer

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Some of the new barriers now in place at Los Angeles Union Station.Photo by Noel T. Braymer

With the Metrolink Weekend Pass comes access to travel on LA Metro trains and buses. But when I tried to use my pass to enter the turnstile for the subway at Union Station I was stopped by 2 or 3 security guards who demanded to know the nature of my travel. They didn’t have much else to do since very few people were headed for the subway. I just gave up trying to talk with them and walked away. But I wondered if this was the case at other Metro Stations. So I decided to walk a couple of miles to the Flower St./ Pico BLVD Light Rail Station for the trains from Los Angeles to Long Beach and Santa Monica. It is an open air station and there was no sign of any security at this station. I had planned to catch the Santa Monica train there but by this time I figured I would just go back to Union Station and catch the early afternoon train to Oceanside.

The train back to Oceanside departed later than I expected so I waited at the station. There was some confusion over which platform the train was leaving from with the original readout for the Oceanside train departing from a closed platform. We left at 2 PM again with very few people on this train. The conductor yelled at one passenger boarding at Union Station who yelled back at him and ran off refusing to show the conductor his ticket.

These same issues are to be found in much of the rest of the world where there are COVID-19 patients. I recently watched a YouTube video in English from Germany which showed preparations for people “Sheltering in Place”. Just like California some businesses had to shut down,  many people were now either out of work or working at home and more home schooling was in place. Many people are not happy to practice “Social Distancing”. Frankly people like company. One thing in the local news has been efforts to close all the beaches in San Diego County. This is in reaction to the antics of college students during Spring Break in Florida, several of whom later came down with COVID-19. While taking the train home along the Coast in Orange County I saw most of the beaches open to the public. Most of the people at the beach were spread out either  walking along the shore or lying in small groups sun bathing on the sand. One thing about sunbathing is Vitamin D. The body makes Vitamin D when exposed to the Sun. This is very healthy and good for lung health. This helps prevent pneumonia which is what kills most people with a viral disease like COVID-19.  A typical day at the beach isn’t the same as Spring Break in Florida.

The goal of “Social Distancing” is to prevent people becoming sick. But the health of the human immune system varies among people. Two people may have contact with the same ill person. But one of these 2 people might get sick, while the other doesn’t. A healthy immune system is critical for staying healthy.  What has been noticed from the recent deaths of people from COVID-19 is that many victims are middle age or even younger adults. Usually most people think  those most likely to die in an epidemic are “old”, usually over 60. What has been ignored over the last 30 years has been a major increase of obesity and diabetes of the world’s population, with the United States at the top of the list. A healthy nutrient rich diet is central for a healthy immune system. Many of the health issues people have are from the Standard American Diet or SAD. Eating “junk food” which are common in processed foods full of sugar and low in nutrition. This spikes the release of insulin which turns blood sugar (glucose) into fat. High levels of insulin and body fat leads to inflammation which weakens the immune system over time and causes many heath problems, including death.

As for myself I’ve never had a serious illness. Injuries yes, but I usually healed from them quickly. Most of my adult life I’ve tried to exercise and eat healthy. But as an adult I often also ate a SAD diet and couldn’t understand why I kept gaining weight. Over roughly the last 15 years I have lost around 115 pounds and am now wearing the same size clothes I wore when I was a young adult. I still rarely get a cold, let alone the flu.

Healthy Economies Need Good Transportation And Public Health

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By Noel T. Braymer

With the requirement for people to stay home as much as possible due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the result is a major slowdown of the economy both here and world wide. So much of what makes an economy works depends on transportation: both for travel and shipping. But with travel comes exposure to other people who may be carriers of the COVID-19 virus. If, and it’s a big IF the Government had been prepared to test large groups of people for COVID-19. Then it would have been able to isolate viral carriers and prevent major spreading of COVID-19. This is a function of a well organized government. But we don’t have a well organized Federal Government today. With most epidemics, transmission of a virus can be spread exponentially. An example of this is one virus carrier could easily unknowingly infect 2 people. The next day that could bring the number up to 9 carriers, the following day 27 carriers and so on. In a short time from just one virus carrier, hundreds of people can be infected. This process has been on going in several locations around the world.

The high death rate being seen in Italy, Spain and other counties is a direct result of not isolating carriers of the virus and allowing unchecked exposure by these carriers. But the other factor in the death rate is not just the exposure to the virus, but the health of a person’s immune system. Much has been reported of people under 40 years of age coming down with and sometimes dying from COVID-19. A healthy immune system depends on a healthy lifestyle and nutrient rich diet. But many younger people don’t take care of themselves and eat mostly what can be called junk food. This has resulted in a major rise of obesity in people in the last 40 or so years worldwide. This is not to say that all young people have poor immune systems. But much of the population eat large amounts of processed foods that is pre-cooked and packaged. These foods usually are high in sugar which causes inflammation in many parts of the body and and is a major factor for people becoming diabetic. Healthy levels of vitamins and minerals are needed  and often missing for a healthy immune system. In the case of people over 40, years of unhealthy life style and eating  leaves them in even worse shape to fight a viral disease.

Most deaths from viruses happen because a person gets pneumonia. Most people who come down with viruses like COVID-19 don’t get pneumonia. What they often get is something like the flu only worse in most cases so I have read. A major factor in preventing getting viral pneumonia or overcoming it depends on a generally good lifestyle and diet. What is even better is prevention. This works hand in hand  with local public heath agencies in isolating viruses and limiting exposures to them. I can speak of this from personal experience. For most of my life  I’ve rarely gotten sick, and when I did it rarely lasted long. Also between the 1980′ and 90’s my weight went up to 330 pounds by the year 2000. Since 2004 I made major changes to my diet which over several years I have lost around 115 pounds back to what I weighed in my 20’s. I’m back to wearing 36 inch waist pants . I’ve only had the flu once in the last 20 years and I was ready to go back to work after taking 2 sick days off.

An Another Fine Mess We’ve Gotten Ourselves Into!

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By Noel T. Braymer
As the recent weeks have gone by, we have seen the start of one of the largest economic recession unfolding in American History. At the same time due in large part because of mismanagement, the United States finds itself with shortages of protective face masks, gowns, gloves, eye protection, hospital beds and ventilators for medical staff and patients. Most of the deaths from viral infections are from pneumonia. Many people who get viral infections who are basically healthy recover as long as they don’t get pneumonia. Due to being totally unprepared without test kits to see what people have this new strain of corona virus, it is very difficult to screen patients before they get sick. Basically the United States is now stuck with quarantining large segments of the population of the Country to avoid spreading the COV-19 virus to even more people. This causes fewer people being allowed to work which also helps tanks the Nation’s as well as the world’s economy.

As part of this quarantine, people are being told to stay home and work or attend school from home mostly on line. At the same time the public is being told not to eat out, or drink at bars, watch movies in theaters, attend sporting events or other recreational venues. The point of this is avoiding other people who could spread this virus.  A major impact of this policy now is road traffic is light. The air is becoming cleaner as a result. Much the same happened in China and other counties which limited travel and shut down factories. This greatly improved the local air quality. In the United States, particularly in California and parts of the East Coast travel is way down. With people being told to stay home, ridership on public transport, particularly by rail has drastically gone down. Amtrak has cut service in many places on the Northeast Corridor and other rail services in the northeast and midwest.

This is happening in California too. Service cuts are planned on some of the Capital Corridor, Pacific Surfliner as well as the Coaster commuter trains. In the case of the Surfliners several trains have been cut that travel to Santa Barbara and all trains that go to San Luis Obispo. BART has lost a great deal of ridership and is now running their last trains at 9 P.M instead of midnight. Caltrain and SMART train ridership is down. In San Diego ridership is also down on the San Diego Trolley light rail lines. The million dollar question is how long will this last?  It is not just rail service, but also the economy which is running out of money. Money is going to be needed to get rail service back up and running as part of an economic recovery. As it is the economy has been stagnating at best for years while debt grew. A healthy economy depends on consumer spending. But many people have trouble making debt payments, with little chance of paying their debts off let alone having any extra spending money.

It looks like things are going to get worse before they start to get better. The same people on both sides of the aisle who got us into this mess, are the ones who will try to get us out. What would help are younger leaders and a better informed electorate. Of the 2 assumed  Presidential candidates, both are in their 70’s, of questionable health and neither are very eloquent, let alone well informed. So things may have to get even worse before they get better.