“THE WALL STREET JOURNAL REDUX–HOW MUCH MORE INCISIVE THE STORY ON AMTRAK’S NEW CFO SHOULD HAVE BEEN…

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By M.E. Singer

Although I acknowledge how thrilled we should all be that The Wall Street Journal plunged into depths unknown by electing to run yet another story on Amtrak, “New Finance Chief Looks to Keep Amtrak on Track ” (17 April), the story was overly conflated with the proposed cuts in federal funding, Penn Station derailments, and the ever so popular Governor Christie of New Jersey blithely blaming Amtrak for his own state’s poor planning and safety record of NJT. However, in respect to Yogi Berra, I experienced a moment of “deja vu-all over again” in the lack of knowledge of this journalist, or, simply the writer being uninterested in pursuing any meaningful follow-up. As my response to this piece was limited by the WSJ’s policy, I wanted to expand here upon my reaction and dissect this minimalist, superficial interview in respect to how the real media transportation writers would have conducted this story and followed up on points previously identified from their solid research. First, I would commend Mr. Feidt on his recruitment, as Amtrak’s own HR has fervently stated that the company does not recruit management from the outside.

Two back-to-back comments in this story by Amtrak’s new CFO since February, Mr. William Feidt, screamed out at me: “Mr. Feidt said his priority would be to make the trains safer and more efficient, which may be difficult given the funding constraints. He also said he wanted to add 40% more trains by 2012 across all routes.” Really? Careful scrutiny by the journalist should have provoked the following inquiry re a proposed 40% expansion of more trains:

Equipment:
The question begs what, when, and how to increase the trains by 40% in but four years?
1) The Northeast Corridor is operating at or near capacity with the numerous commuter lines and Amtrak; plus the serious infrastructure deficiencies that inhibit increased frequencies and higher velocities. Despite PRIIA 2008 requiring these commuter lines to pay for their use of the NEC, why did this not happen until mandated by Congress in December, 2015? Where was Amtrak’s number crunchers, let alone its board?
2) The State-Supported Corridors outside the Northeast face a three-fold problem:
a) No equipment. The lowest bidder to produce the new bi-level intercity passenger cars, Nippon Sharyo, has failed to fulfill its contractual obligations. The federal funding earmarked for this project expires in September, 2017. Will Amtrak and the USDOT move this contract to a firm operating in the US with a skilled American workforce to save this investment, e.g., Siemens, Alstom, Bombardier?
b) The Class 1 privately-owned freight railroads have identified an economic valuation of their track slots far above what was initially agreed upon when they were on their death throes in 1970. Any increased frequencies and/or expanded regional routes would trigger significantly higher costs than the bare bones services currently provided. Will such costs consume any additional potential revenue from increased services?
c) Amtrak’s own fully allocated cost methodology inhibits any state incentives towards increasing frequencies or expanding routes. Every additional train is not priced as an incremental cost.
3) The long distance passenger services are currently operating at capacity and experience lack of equipment to meet seasonal demands. Despite this fact, their is not even a proforma to build more bi-level Superliner cars. The Midwest to East Coast-Florida/South routes dependent upon a single level car order with CAF has been delayed by years. As well, this order does not include coach or lounge cars.

Could the new CFO explain why Amtrak has insisted on purchasing its equipment, when everybody else is leasing, given the interest of such leasing companies to obtain the tax benefits, just as they do with orders from Boeing? Also, the asset utilization of this equipment has a significant financial impact. What is the plan to increase schedule velocity and decrease schedule padding to facilitate the turnaround of consists and reduce the number of consists required to cover routes? Concomitantly, what is the future of equipment pools to serve seasonal services? For example, instead of surplus equipment from the “Auto Train” parked in the Sanford, FL yard during the summer, how will Amtrak look to re-direct such assets, such as developing with the State of Colorado a P3 relationship for an overnight Chicago-Denver summer service for access to the western national parks?

Although Amtrak’s CEO, Wick Moorman, will attend to infusing a safety culture into the recalcitrant ranks of employees, it is incumbent upon the new CFO to make Amtrak more “efficient” despite the funding constraints. How will this be conducted and achieved to actually make Amtrak more “efficient?” In what areas, such as:

Labor:
As it is acknowledged that no serious opening to re-negotiate labor agreements occurred in the past ten years allegedly to buy labor peace, what will now be done differently now to reduce labor costs? What are the options to the cost of LSAs and SAs in diners? Just as Amtrak is the opposite of privately-owned airlines and buses using publicly-funded infrastructure, so it is with food & beverage services–typically, those in that industry derive the majority of their income not from salary, but from tips with a minimum of health benefits, as they do not regard such positions as lifetime careers. As well, what are the alternatives to LSAs staffing corridor cafes-vending as on North Carolina state trains, rolling trolley cars as with VIA Rail?

Purchasing:
Will their be a “deep dive” into how such contracts were let out on bids, negotiated, decided, and implemented? Why does it appear that accountability over the vendors falls into a “Grey Zone?” For example, why does Aramark run commissaries when after Amtrak took over the “Auto Train,” it assumed all food services from Marriott? Other than the ex-CEO of Aramark coming from Pepsi, why does Amtrak serve only Pepsi products, when the national market clearly favors Coke products? (Coke=17%+Diet Coke=9.4% vs. Pepsi=8.9%).

Food & Beverage/Catering Services:
In view of the inconsistencies of providing an acceptable F&B service, aside from some individual tweaking on the west coast (meals at coach seats), what is the consideration of outsourcing all catering operations; staffing? Perhaps even focusing on just the Sleeper Class services? Acknowledging that Amtrak cannot continue on this sclerotic approach to what was an appeal of rail travel, if not to be outsourced, than how does Amtrak get control over its inventory PARs to prevent stock-outs on trains? To secure cash management, what will Amtrak propose to provide acceptable pre-paid cash alternatives? Will Amtrak contemplate terminating the inclusion of meals with the sleeper class fares in order to upgrade the menu variety and quality, and to increase overall revenues by strictly identifying the true costs of F&B, instead of burying it within the sleeper revenues? Other than the super-hyped Dunkin Donuts coffee to be served on “Acela,” and the availability of NY state products on the Empire service, what is the plan to move more quickly forward to offer a diversified and attractive menu of regional food and drink specialties to increase revenues? How much faster can this rollout occur beyond the slow rolled, incremental approach as exemplified by the Dunkin Donuts coffee? How will the long distance Superliner diners be more optimally utilized, such as encompassing a full grill service appealing to coach passengers?

Revenues:
What is to be contemplated to move beyond the current situation and actually increase revenues to reduce federal/state subsidies? Why has Special Train movements diminished over the years? What can be done to attract more Private Varnish movements; tours, e.g, “American Orient Express”? To build revenues aboard trains, why have the LSAs not been trained in mixology to make cocktails–and equipped to do so? To what extent can the successful Amtrak Thru bus concept be extended, as recently accomplished in Michigan? In respect to consumption of resources, is their a plan to start charging the states served by the Northeast Corridor in the same full cost allocation methodology created by Amtrak? If not, why not? How are those states uniquely different than the rest of the nation? Is their consideration towards returning to an improved version of the package service concept, without impeding schedules as before? What has Amtrak considered to expand advertising revenues, such as car wrapping? Would Amtrak contemplate re-positioning itself to receive payment by offering open access or franchises on its routes?

Scheduling:
In respect to the obvious need to increase revenues, what will the CFO propose to attain an acceptable OTP (On-Time Performance) relationship with the Class 1s? What shall determine the economic value of the track slots, and how such value will rise and fall with traffic, as well as the passenger demands of schedules, timing, velocity, and frequency? As well, what role will the new CFO play in measuring the metrics of corridors to identify the gaps in services to serve micros portions of the corridors, such as Kalamazoo-Chicago; Chicago-Springfield, etc?

HR:
If any aspect of HR remains outsourced from the former regime, how soon will it be brought in-house? Given the repetition compulsion identified in far too many numerous OIG reports, what is the plan to bring Amtrak into the 21st century to stop once and for all defalcations and fraud re timecards, overtime, and bonus metrics? As well, given the emphasis on Lean and Six Sigma to run the organization, to what extent has this been identified as impeding cooperative efforts? How can Amtrak seriously embrace Lean and Six Sigma given its unresolved operational and financial issues?

Finance/Accounting:
Aside from the snickering politicos of the Northeast who think they pulled the wool over our eyes, when will the new CFO acquiesce to the concerns how Amtrak presents the numbers for the Northeast Corridor makes the editor of Pravda blush? As Amtrak still remains a national system, the taxpayers deserve a modicum of integrity. How does the new CFO develop a financial system that is truly transparent, to respect GAAP (Generally Acceptable Accounting Principles) to reflect all infrastructure costs and improvements before profits for the Northeast Corridor? As well, and as importantly, to create a truly transparent cost methodology for the state-supported corridors west of the Potomac? Although Amtrak lost key personalities in Government Relations and PR when its board wrongly attacked Mr. Gunn, somebody should be able to explain that with a less opaque cost structure, the states paying their way 100% would be more inclined to contemplate more frequencies or route expansions. Indeed, such states would be before Congress with Amtrak to support funding for more equipment to serve their needs to fulfill mobility and development derived from rail. As well, to what extent will the new CFO come front and center to admit that without the long distance routes, it is obvious that the state-supported route costs would only increase?

How will the new CFO identify the captive value of depots to achieve the collateral value of development, as we have witnessed along the LOSSAN corridor between San Diego-Los Angeles.?

In regards to the latest OIG report, what process and verifiable audit will the new CFO implement to prevent Amtrak paying duplicate bills, missing discounts, and basically running its A/P like a “candy store?”

IT:
How will the new CFO prevent the excessively costly and wasteful duplication of needless implementation of IT services within each area of the firm, instead of being controlled and coordinated by IT itself?
Although the new CFO for Amtrak will spend much of his time housekeeping from the past; hopefully, he will have the time to also assiduously plan how he will scale up requisite capital and benchmark to successfully endeavor to more than preserve Amtrak, but to truly expand our national passenger rail system?

Taking the Train and Bus to LAUS and LAX

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By Noel T. Braymer

In May I’ll be flying to Ireland. When I take a long flight I try to plan for every possible contingency before I go. From Oceanside where I live I have several options to fly to Europe. San Diego’s airport is the closest airport from where I live. There are no direct flights to Europe from San Diego. So a trip by air from San Diego can easily mean a trip to Europe of 16 hours or so with a layover of several hours. Also airfares to Europe are higher at San Diego than from LAX which also has more travel choices. I found a good deal online for a non-stop flight from LAX to Dublin in 11 hours. Better yet, this flight leaves in the early evening and returns in the late afternoon. This will make it easier to take the train to get to LAX than if the flight was in the morning. There were cheaper flights from LAX to Dublin. But one had a 16 hour layover in Iceland and another a 23 hour layover in Stockholm.

As part of my planning for my flight, I decided to make a dress rehearsal to find out possible problems getting to LAX and to find my way around the airport for my flight. I rode the last morning Metrolink train out of Oceanside for Riverside and transferred at Laguna Niguel/Mission Viejo to the Metrolink train to Los Angeles. I’ll be riding Amtrak when I go to LAX in May on a mid day train. While the train to Riverside had plenty of empty seats, the train to Los Angeles had plenty of passengers before it left Orange County. The train was early arriving in Los Angeles around 10 AM. First I timed how long it took to walk from the platform to the Flyaway bus stop at Los Angeles Union Station. I also wanted to be sure how to get to the Flyaway bus stop and to get information and a bus timetable. The man in the Flyaway booth said he didn’t have timetables and told me I could get them at the Information booth at the west entrance of the station. I went to the Information booth and they didn’t have Flyaway Bus timetables either.

Latter on my phone I got the information online I needed for Flyaway Bus service. The Los Angeles Union Station Flyaway Bus to LAX is one of the busiest of the Flyaway Bus lines. It has 24 hour service with hourly service through predawn morning and service every 30 minutes most of the time, with 20 minute service during peak periods. The buses leave Union Station at the top of the hour and at the half hour most of the day. They leave Terminal 1 at LAX at 10 and 40 minutes after the hour most of the day. Flyaway says the trip time between LAUS and LAX is around 35 minutes depending on traffic. The Flyaway buses use the HOV lanes on the freeways which helps them to be faster and more reliable than driving alone The.one way fare is $9.75 cents. Flyaway Bus accepts most credit and debit cards, but not cash.You can also get your tickets online or buy them at a Metrolink ticket machine. I remember when the Flyaway service first opened about 10 years ago the fare was $6 dollars. The current fare is testimony of the popularity of the Union Station Flyway bus even as the price went up.

I wasn’t in a hurry to get to LAX on this trip, so rather than pay to ride Flyaway, I used my all day transit pass that came with my Metrolink ticket to ride LA Metro transit. I caught a Red Line subway train at Union Station and transferred at the 7th and Flower station in the commercial center of downtown Los Angeles. From there I transferred to a Blue Line train to Long Beach and then transferred at Willowbrook to the Green Line heading to the station nearest to LAX at Aviation Blvd. At the Green Line station I caught the shuttle bus to the terminals which are about 2 miles or just over 3 kilometers away. I got off at Terminal 2 which is where my flight in May will depart. While I was there I wanted to check out where Flyaway buses would drop off and pick up. By Red, Blue and Green Lines and then shuttle bus it took just over 90 minutes to get to the airport. It is about 19 miles or 30 kilometers between Union Station and LAX.

This is a map of Amtrak service with the white line, Metrolink in the colored thick lines and Los Angeles Rail transit lines in the thin color lines with M’s at the end. Downtown Los Angeles is where LA Union station is. LAX is to the south west next to the ocean.

The Green Line shuttle bus seemed to run only on the lower level road at LAX. The lower level road serves passengers arriving at LAX and is where the baggage claim is. I went upstairs to the elevated roadway where departing passengers go to check in. I found my airline’s sign outside of the terminal. Since my airline only has one flight out of Los Angeles there was no one working check in for the airline when I was there which are shared with multiple airlines. But I noticed that the other airline signs matched up with the location of their check in, so I was sure this would be the right place.

I returned to the lower level and caught the Green line shuttle back to the Green Line Station. Traffic was very heavy at LAX even in the middle of the day with one way traffic on each road level. Most of the traffic seemed to be from buses, not private cars. The Green Line shuttle buses carried a good load of people and they ran often. Many of the people on the Green Line shuttle buses were employees working at LAX. Airports are major employment centers. When I got back to the Green Line Station, I walked and took pictures of construction of the next to open rail transit project in Los Angeles: the Crenshaw/LAX Line. The Crenshaw/ LAX line will directly connect to the Green Line and have connections for transfers to the Expo Line between downtown Los Angeles and Santa Monica.

This is a map from LA Metro of the under construction Crenshaw/LAX line which is between the Expo Line on the top and the Green Line at the bottom near LAX.

The Crenshaw/LAX Line will include better connections to LAX. It will also connect with the Green line at the Aviation Blvd station. The Crenshaw/LAX Line is expected to open by 2019 with service closer to LAX for it and the Green Line. By 2019 new bus connections with half the distance to travel as the current shuttle will be available at a new station at Century Blvd which is the entrance road to the airport. By 2023 the Los Angeles Airport will be operating a “People Mover” which will serve outlying parking lots, rental car using passengers and a new transit station on the Crenshaw Line roughly a half mile or kilometer north of Century Blvd.

This is a drawing of the planned joint Light Rail/LAX People Mover Station near LAX. The Green and Crenshaw Lines train travel from left to right and the People Mover from down to up.

Even by 2023 there won’t be direct service by rail between downtown Los Angeles and LAX. By 2021 a new subway tunnel will allow the Blue Line to reach Union Station and for passengers to transfer to the Green Line to the shuttle bus at Century Blvd. By 2023 passengers will be able to catch the People Mover. Passengers will also be able to catch the Expo Line downtown to Crenshaw Blvd to take the Crenshaw Line to LAX. There is discussion of building a connection to allow direct service to from downtown Los Angeles to LAX. But building a track connections between either the Blue and Green Lines or Expo and Crenshaw/Lax lines will be expensive since with both combinations the lines are at different levels with the Green Line elevated and the Crenshaw/LAX Line underground at the connecting points. Also both the Blue and Expo Lines are Light Rail services and have to wait at often long traffic lights in downtown Los Angeles.

This is construction of the Crenshaw/LAW transit rail line next to LAX. The Crenshaw/LAX line will be something of a roller coast along its 8.5 miles. There will be times when it is on the surface, elevated over many major roads it crosses and has over a mile of tunnels. Here the Crenshaw/LAX will go over 111th Street then in the distance drops down in a tench below street level as it passes the east end of the 2 South runways of LAX.

Well, what did I learn? I am confident that I can get to LAX and back home catching the Flyaway buses and connecting to Amtrak without getting stranded in Los Angeles even if my flights are delayed. For most flights and for many people taking the train and Flyaway Bus doesn’t make sense, particularly for trips that only last a day or two. Leaving my car at an airport parking lot for 2 weeks would be very expensive. Being able to avoid long layovers for connecting flights is very attractive. But for many people living south and to the east of LAX there aren’t good rail/bus connections to the airport for most trips. A simple solution to this would be to have existing LAX bus service to Disneyland extended to the nearby Anaheim Transportation Center to serve passengers from Orange, Riverside and San Diego Counties. This is a market of over 7 million people.

Another solution would be to run shuttle buses from the Norwalk/Santa Fe Springs Metrolink Station. This is at the closest point to LAX by intercity rail. There are plans to make the Metrolink station into a High Speed Rail station as well by 2029. There are also plans to extend the Green Line which terminate now at Norwalk to the Metrolink station. Planning for extending the Green Line to the Metrolink Station are 30 or more in the future. In the mean time adding shuttle buses could be done in a short period of time.

 

Getting the Coast Daylight sooner rather than later

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By Paul Dyson RailPAC President

California Senate Bill 477 (Canella)
The Transportation Agency of Monterey County (“TAMC”) has sponsored
legislation, SB 477, to enable the Capitol Corridor service to be extended to
Salinas. The legislation setting up the state corridor JPAs sets geographic
limits to their operations so this bill is required to run trains between San
Jose and Salinas. This bill will also enable the operation of a Coast Daylight
service by bridging the legislative gap between the LOSSAN limit, San Luis
Obispo, and San Jose. RailPAC strongly supports this. I’ll be testifying at
the LOSSAN Board on Monday 17th April and at the Senate transportation
Committee hearing in Sacramento April 25th.

For your information, below is my testimony to the LOSSAN Board,
followed by the LOSSAN staff report and the legislative bill summary.

Chairman Krantz and Board members, Paul Dyson, President of RailPAC.
One of the many negatives of the JPA form of governance, especially
governance of what is at least nominally a commercial enterprise, is that the
enabling legislation places the Authority in a straightjacket. While Megabus
and Greyhound can add routes and introduce new equipment the JPA takes
months or years to make changes, and is in most cases prohibited from
acting outside its jurisdiction. If you add to that the fact that member
agencies of the JPA tend to be intensely parochial and send representatives
whose first concern is to protect the interest of that agency and certainly to
avoid committing any of its resources, you have a recipe for failure, or at
best limited success.

It need not be this way, and SB 477 could provide a framework which would
enable passenger rail to expand, and for existing services to be far more
successful. The evidence for this goes back to the late 1980s when RailPAC
and others successfully pushed for the extension of the San Diegan trains to
Santa Barbara. Adding new destinations and doubling the number of
stations served quadrupled the number of origin/destination pairs, and the
additional route mileage enabled longer journeys at higher average fares.
For a time farebox recovery of operating costs exceeded 100% until Amtrak
woke up and increased their charges, a salutary lesson and one that you
should be wary of today.

The lesson of this is that expanding a network is not a burden but a benefit.
Adding routes and stations provides greater mobility for our citizens, and
adds to the revenue base. Furthermore the benefits are not just commercial.
Consider that the original Santa Barbara extension added two more counties
and numerous cities, each with their own Congressional and State
representatives, and you will realize that the political gains are at least as
important as the monetary. Without the support of the politicians in Ventura
and Santa Barbara Counties, and later San Luis Obispo, not to mention those
politicians on the routes of the other state corridors, it is doubtful whether
we would have received the capital infusions from the federal and state
governments had the Los Angeles – San Diego not grown to the north.
It seems to me that the LOSSAN Board, and the other state rail boards,
should seize the opportunity presented by SB 477 to establish a more
flexible commercial framework. Indeed I would be looking to offer
amendments to this bill that changed the boundaries of the LOSSAN JPA.
Extending the northern boundary to San Jose, and adding a route to Calexico
via the Coachella Valley, enables you to add service at a future date without
requiring you to do so. The Thruway buses already serve these routes and an
alternative approach would be to enable LOSSAN and the other boards to
convert bus routes to rail where physically possible. This should not be
controversial.

Finally, we live in a climate of political uncertainty at the national level, and
once again the Amtrak national network has come under attack. While
attempts to kill off these routes have failed in the past we cannot be
complacent, not with Executive and Legislative power in the hands of a
single party. SB 477, especially with the amendments that RailPAC
proposes, gives the state corridor agencies the authority to step in and
preserve intercity passenger service over key routes.
RailPAC recommends and requests that the LOSSAN, San Joaquin and
Capitol Boards formally support SB 477 as the next step in expanding
mobility for the people of California.

LOSSAN Staff Report:
Senate Bill (SB)477(Canella, R Ceres):
Intercity Rail Corridors: Extensions
SB 477 (Canella, RCeres) seeks to provide flexibility to intercity rail
corridors to allow for future expansion beyond existing statutorily defined

THE DEEP STATE OF FAKE NEWS AGAINST THE LONG DISTANCE TRAINS-NECESSARY LINKAGE TO THE NORTHEAST CORRIDOR

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By M.E. Singer
The recent superficial attempt by The Wall Street Journal at jumping on the Penn Station bandwagon by opining, “Amtrak’s Rolling Train Wreck” (13 April), causes severe cringing and lamenting for the time when every decent newspaper included a knowledgeable transportation writer/editor. Frankly, this article was a parody of past fake news distorting the facts and dissected accordingly in response, as expanded here:

The Long Distance train services are far from being losers as depicted (unless still relying upon a Commodore computer)

Amtrak pays the private freight railroads for only track slots, dispatching, certain passenger-related infrastructure; however, Amtrak does not carry the fiscal burden of the entire infrastructure responsibility, as with the Northeast Corridor (NEC). Despite being overtly hampered by cost allocations against just one daily trip; lack of equipment to increase frequencies and revenues over increased direct costs, this sector continues to serve a purpose by connecting en route “flyover” and rural towns to each other and cities. It is a false premise to perpetually allude to long distance routes as merely serving as an end point to end point service. Contrary to the popular calumny perpetrated how empty the long distance trains continue to be, which is why they lose serious dollars, in reality the long distance train passengers travel an average 800 miles–just as with the airlines. However, unlike the airlines, the long distance trains turnover their accommodations an average of 2.5 times per trip. (Frankly, I experienced this fact on but one westbound “Southwest Chief” in 2013, when the roomette across from me was occupied Chicago-Kansas City-Trinidad-Albuquerque-LA.) Just as the airlines have developed hub-and-spoke systems to achieve connectivity, so does the long distance train facilitate regional inter-connectivity with state-supported routes. If not persistently denied requisite funding, increased frequencies of long distance trains would be the catalyst to increase or expand regional routes of state-supported trains. Already, we are witnessing the success of this concept by the California Joint Powers Authorities to successfully inter-connect regional corridors.

With the closing of The Carnegie Deli in Manhattan, where do the New York/New Jersey politicos and media go for their information these days?

This starts with the misleading concept in this article referencing the Amtrak Reform Council, as it was not composed of the original “A” team members picked for their acute political capabilities. They walked when it became quickly clear how the outcome was politically preordained (including ex-NJ Governor Christine Todd Whitman). Also interesting is how no correlation was made from when the Amtrak Board of Directors terminated their very competent CEO in 2005, David Gunn, and used that position for political appointees from NJT, UP, and FRA, as we fondly remember the selection of the Acela over off-the-shelf equipment, the endearing claim of a “glide-path towards solvency,” and deterioration in safety. Amtrak was left rudderless until October, 2016, with the arrival of a new CEO with real railroad experience, Wick Moorman, ex-CEO Norfolk Southern.

As the governors and senators of New York/New Jersey are so quick to now pine about the inadequate investment in Amtrak, what will it take for them to achieve a complete epiphany to link their direct concerns over the NEC with the long distance national system? Where is the logical realization that Congress dumped the NEC on Amtrak in 1976; however, never properly funded Amtrak for the massive infrastructure maintenance and improvement required? To fill that gaping void, Amtrak shifted funding from the National System to support the NEC. Where is their follow through to understand how Penn Station is dominated by extensive Long Island Railroad and New Jersey Transit commuter operations, given that Amtrak runs only 4 trains per hour? So, how did Penn Station become strictly a federal/Amtrak problem, deliberately neglected for so many years by these same politicos? In reality, the commuter lines operating along the Northeast Corridor, including into Penn Station, have enjoyed a free ride until Congress finally mandated in December, 2015, after so many years of having its intent delayed, payment to Amtrak proportionate to the commuter schedule operations. One cannot help but think that despite the Northeast Corridor being an economic facilitator, and Penn Station declared the “regional economic engine,” that such past hesitancy by these politicos to take action to protect the NEC was due to the reality check that this would trigger the Northeastern states paying significantly more to operate their commuter lines.

Inability to assess opportunity costs within the throes of Penn Central accounting standards

How was the opportunity cost determined to build more Acelas by the Obama Administration in its final hours? Given the fact that the new Acelas will not dramatically offer increased speed and faster schedules, perhaps instead of pushing for $2.85B construction work at Alstom’s Hornell, NY plant, the economically savvy Senator Schumer would have been wiser to pursue the re-building of the Northeast Corridor, given the well known decrepit condition of its bridges and tunnels? To avoid the perpetual problems exacerbated by a growing lack of interest elsewhere in the nation, the Northeast Corridor should become the responsibility of U.S. DOT and not bleed the entire Amtrak system. Let the U.S. DOT be concerned with maintenance, dispatching, and ensuring monthly collection from the commuter lines; prorating Amtrak’s actual limited operational exposure. However, the politicos of the Northeast must appreciate the intended linkage between the NEC and the National System. Without the National System, as exemplified by the long distance routes hitting so many political enclaves, the attitude of the people and their politicos outside the Corridor will amplify what ex-U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas said in 2003, “either a national rail system or no system.” Given how the nation has lost its bi-partisan, what’s in the common good outlook, their will be no empathy, even with the threat of the NEC becoming a “rails-to-trails” program.

Just as Governors Cuomo (NY) and Christie (NJ) now seek independent verification that the Penn Station tracks are safe, if they hope to achieve their desired results for Penn Station, Hudson River tunnels and Portal Bridge, it behooves these politicos from New York/New Jersey to join us “at the level of grass where the goats graze” by requiring forensic audits while Moorman is still CEO to implement recommended changes. Such audits must be conducted by independent, external sources to delve into the on-going issues that are widely believed to be the “Gordian Knot” artificially presenting the long distance routes in the worse possible case, and dis-incentivizing state-supported routes. Audit issues to include:

1) Is their more than one Generally Acceptable Accounting Principles (GAAP) defined and applied to allow for NEC infrastructure expenses not to be included before declaring the Corridor profitable?
2) What is the extent of cost shifting from the Corridor to long distance routes? How do cost allocations for the Northeast Corridor and corporate overhead/expenses overly impact long distance and state-supported routes?
3) How will those costs be allocated without long distance routes?
4) Without the long distance routes, how much will state-supported route costs increase?
5) How much of state-supported route payments go towards the Corridor?
6) How can Amtrak’s opaque cost methodology be transformed into a true transparent cost system to relieve the long distance and state-supported routes of the unnecessary economic burden of carrying the NEC? Is their a model to evidence the exponential growth opportunity of frequencies and route expansion based upon a transparent cost structure?

Linking the Northeast Corridor to the National System-identifying options

Instead of Amtrak purchasing equipment, why hot lease or secure through P3 (public private partnership)? For equipment and the NEC, what is the potential for investment by pension funds, insurances, sovereign funds, and even benefiting from the tax to be secured when corporate profits are re-patriated from overseas? Close the loophole for the “paper entrepreneurs” using tax-free municipal bonds to build for their own private business enterprises, e.g., sports stadiums. Before allowing one tax dollar of investment into any Hyperloop or infrastructure for autonomous vehicles, we need to achieve a national transportation policy. It is time to appreciate a bygone era when Senator Claiborne Pell of Rhode Island authored the book, Megalopolis Unbound; endeavored in just 7 years to create the Northeast Corridor Rail Improvement Project initiated in 1969 with the Metroliners and TurboTrains between Washington-New York-Boston.

Following Senator Pell’s vision, encourage package express firms (e.g., FedX, UPS, DHL) to provide turnkey equipment to operate dedicated trains on Corridor during the night. As well, Amtrak itself could Increase revenues by operating a more coherent, efficient package express program than prior attempt. Amtrak should be competing with “Chinatown” curbside buses on Corridor with new Tourist Class. Also, is it time to outsource catering and first class; to re-negotiate labor contracts? (Note-closing long distance routes requires 6 year severance to labor.)
As a source of revenue for Amtrak, should Congress interpret the Passenger Rail Investment & Improvement Act (PRIIA 2008) to encourage vetted private operators to bid on franchises or open access, to directly compete with each other and Amtrak; provide turn-key operation (equipment, crews, etc)?

Judging by the comments of readers to this mis-informed article in The Wall Street Journal, the public at large has no concept of facts and reality here, questioning why Amtrak cannot be coupled to freight trains, why Amtrak schedules are so slow-and late, or not understanding if the long distance trains were cut, so too would be their track slots at the preferred pricing. Indeed, to paraphrase Robert Frost, ‘we have promises to keep, and miles to go before sleep” to fix the perceived problem of the long distances passenger services.

What’s Wrong With Amtrak

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Letter From Andrew Selden President, United Rail Passenger Alliance

To Hon. Elaine L. Chao, Secretary United States Department of Transportation

 

Dear Secretary Chao:

URPA has followed with interest the Administration’s budget proposal and its purported impact on Amtrak, as well as Amtrak’s recent statements concerning its results, investment priorities and spending plans. These stories all reflect long-standing misimpressions of both the financial and operational results of Amtrak’s various train operations, and the outcomes of Amtrak’s investment strategies. The budget proposal threatens to eliminate the largest sector Amtrak operates (by output) and its most commercially successful trains (by load factor and market share).

Amtrak’s investment strategies reflect a serious misapplication of scarce capital resources. For decades—subsequent to the departure of W. Graham Claytor as CEO—Amtrak has produced a negative rate of return on invested capital:  Amtrak’s financial results are worse now than they have ever been despite the investment of tens of billions of dollars of free capital in federal subsidies, or more precisely because of how those grants were deployed.

The financial results of operation of Amtrak’s three segments (NEC, Regional Corridors, and Long Distance) are basically the opposite of what Amtrak portrays. Amtrak uses inappropriate metrics that distort the results.

Inappropriate Metrics

We cannot be sure whether Amtrak’s public utterances are designed to mask or place a “positive spin” on its persistently bad results, or instead reflect Amtrak’s own misunderstanding of the metrics used to report its results. Their reports, built on train and segment “ridership,” chronically deceive congress and the media. “Ridership”—the foundation of Amtrak’s self-evaluation–is not a meaningful measure of anything important that Amtrak does. Amtrak exists to move people between cities by rail. “Ridership” does not measure the performance of that mission. It measures only transactions—tickets sold—not the distances over which customers are carried, or the revenues they generate, or the costs required to move them. A static equipment display generates transactions (“ridership”) but zero transportation output.

The only useful metric for the output of a non-commuter, intercity passenger service is NOT “ridership” but “revenue passenger miles” (RPMs) which factors in the distance a passenger is carried. Passenger miles are the output of the enterprise. They are all that matters to an entity whose purpose is to provide intercity passenger transport. Airlines report, rely upon, and plan based upon passenger miles and load factor, not “ridership.” Freight railroads do not measure output by “units carried” but by ton miles of freight transport produced.

Trains Ranked by Output

Amtrak’s segment output of intercity transport may surprise you. In FY2016, Amtrak long distance trains generated 2.649 billion RPMs, while the NEC managed only 1.978 billion, just barely topping the regional corridor trains elsewhere in the country, with 1.899 billion. The long distance trains therefore by a wide margin are Amtrak’s largest segment in producing intercity passenger transport. In FY’15, the NEC had the fewest RPMs and was actually the smallest operation Amtrak had, measured by output. These results are not aberrations, they have been consistent for decades.

And the passenger mile data for the NEC overstates the NEC’s production, because nearly half of its output doesn’t even meet the standard definition of “intercity transport,” consisting instead of quasi-commuter traffic occurring solely within the commuter territory between Philadelphia, New York and New Haven, traffic that could just as well be carried by regional commuter agencies.

The “ridership” data in the NEC is equally misleading for the same reason:  the average trip length in the NEC is so short. About half of all NEC passengers ride solely in the quasi-commuter territory between Philadelphia, New York and New Haven. Under the standard definition employed by the US Bureau of Transportation Statistics, these distances aren’t even “intercity” transport.

Trains Ranked by Load Factor

Another key measure of performance is load factor.

Load factor is important for two reasons. It is a measure of capital efficiency, and it is a direct indication of places where the enterprise is over-invested (low load factor—capacity exceeds demand) or under-invested (high load factor—demand exceeds capacity). Load factor measures how much of its inventory a transport enterprise can sell. It is calculated by dividing RPMs by the number of available seat-miles deployed. Airlines depend upon high load factors, report it, and track it intensely, route by route, flight by flight. Amtrak does not.

Amtrak’s long distance trains consistently have a higher load factor than do the NEC trains, in some instances as much as 20% higher. Amtrak’s segment load factors have been generally consistent for decades. In the NEC, Amtrak’s load factor is just over 50%, for Acela premium services and conventional services alike. Amtrak cannot sell nearly half the NEC’s inventory of available seat miles that it generates each year. This demonstrates objectively and unequivocally that Amtrak is over-capitalized in the NEC because it has far more capacity there than it is able to sell.

In long distance markets, load factors are notably higher. A long distance train is effectively sold out at a load factor of about 65%, and most of the long distance trains approach that level year-round and meet or exceed it in the six or so peak months of the year. (Because of the large number of intermediate stations on a long distance route, a load factor of about 65% is functionally sold out because a seat vacant at any given point already has been sold to a passenger boarding downline. On the western trains, every seat and every berth typically turns over two or more times every trip.)  These load factors objectively and unequivocally demonstrate that Amtrak is under-capitalized in its few long distance markets because demand consistently exceeds supply. These are the only trains Amtrak operates where demand consistently exceeds supply.

Trains Ranked by Market Share

Another key measure of the returns on Amtrak’s use of federal capital is the market share its services have attained.

In the corridors they serve, the long distance trains have a much higher market share for intercity transport than do the trains in the NEC. Amtrak’s market share for intercity transport in the NEC (after 40 years and more than a hundred billion dollars in federal subsidy, in constant 2017 dollars) is well under 2%, which is trivially insignificant to regional intercity mobility in the Northeast. In the markets where they operate, the long distance trains often have shares that approach 5%, more than twice the NEC’s and achieved with sold-out trains and almost no recent federal investment at all.

Amtrak’s claims concerning its modal split with the airlines for end-point traffic in the NEC are meaningless. They are comparing apples to oranges in terms of the traffic flows involved, and a modal split in any case is meaningless in measuring performance when a third modality—motor vehicles—commands a market share greater than 90%.

Based on load factor and market shares, the long distance trains, therefore, are also objectively the most commercially successful trains that Amtrak operates. The load factor numbers are Amtrak’s, and the share values were calculated from data from the US BTS, FAA, AAA and other similar sources.

Amtrak disparages its long distance trains, its largest and strongest product, with the “romance and nostalgia” meme and the assertion that they are merely political sops to non-Northeastern members of congress. In fact, these trains are heavily used by a wide array of travelers. Their annual load factors show trains that are functionally sold out much of the year. The average trip length on Amtrak’s western long distance trains essentially matches the average trip length in domestic commercial aviation, showing that these trains compete effectively in the few markets where the service is offered. That average trip spans three to five meal periods and often involves an overnight segment, supporting the market for sleeping car (first class) services and dining cars. These trains carry every category of passenger as domestic airlines, the only difference being that business travelers are under-represented (but not absent). Just like an interstate highway, they primarily serve the thousands of intermediate origin/destination city pairs in addition to the small proportion of travelers who ride between or beyond  the endpoints.

Trains Ranked by Financial Results

Financial results of operation are another important metric of performance.

Recent media stories have repeated Amtrak’s “big lie” that its NEC trains are, as Business Insider recently wrote, “…Amtrak’s only profitable line.” That is simply a falsehood. Amtrak’s statements and suggestions to that effect silently omit any assignment to NEC trains and their revenues of all or most of the massive annual costs of the fixed facilities of the NEC. (If an airline were to omit its landing fees and terminal gate rentals from its financial results of operation, it would be considered a fraud; Amtrak does that on a daily basis.) These trains may (or may not) cover all of their direct operating costs, but they emphatically do not cover all of the fixed facility costs that they require in order to operate. Those costs (which Amtrak mischaracterizes as “capital” costs) came to about $1.6 billion in FY’16, most of which was spent in and for the NEC, and included another $473 million in deferred maintenance and purchasing (primarily in the NEC) that Amtrak incurred to cover a substantial shortfall in anticipated, budgeted, NEC FY’16 revenues. The NEC once it is charged with its annual fixed facility costs (even after accounting for NEC revenues) appears to account for the major part of Amtrak’s annual loss as shown on its audited financial statements, and to consume 100% of the uncommitted portion of the annual federal subsidy grant to Amtrak.

NEC Deferred Maintenance

Amtrak claims that the NEC requires as much as $24 billion in new federal subsidies to be restored to a “state of good repair.” That is an odd claim for a service that Amtrak claims is “operationally profitable.”

The tens of billions of dollars that Amtrak claims it needs to fix up the NEC is simply the accumulation of decades of deferrals, similar to last year’s $473 million in deferred maintenance and purchasing, to cover annual losses in the NEC in earlier years, taking account of the infrastructure costs along with the operating costs. No reporter or member of congress that we know of has ever asked Amtrak, “If the NEC is so profitable, why does it have billions of dollars of deferred maintenance?” Or, “When you say that NEC trains are ‘profitable,’ does that include the annual costs of the NEC’s track, bridges, tunnels, power stations, passenger stations, signaling, and heavy maintenance facilities?”

Amtrak Misrepresents Financial Results of Operations

Amtrak’s losses cannot, and do not, arise out of its operation of trains other than its NEC trains.

The state-sponsored regional trains Amtrak operates cannot lose money (for Amtrak) because Amtrak operates all of them under contracts that obligate the state to pay Amtrak the difference between the train’s revenues and Amtrak’s “fully-allocated costs” allocated to that train. Under Amtrak’s logic, once a state has paid Amtrak’s “fully-allocated” costs of a given train, by definition no other costs–cash or non-cash—can remain. So, these trains are always cash-positive to Amtrak. They cannot, and do not, require or consume ANY federal subsidy.

The long distance trains also are cash positive to Amtrak. Amtrak said so itself in writing a few years ago, responding to a US Senator’s inquiry as to the impact on the annual subsidy if all the long distance trains were to be eliminated. Amtrak’s answer was that elimination of the long distance trains would increase, not decrease, its annual subsidy need and that its subsequent subsidy need would grow year over year. That can be true if and only if the long distance trains also are cash-positive to Amtrak. Thus, these trains also cannot, and do not, consume any federal subsidy dollars.

That same conclusion can be reached by deduction from the fact that the portion of the $1.6 billion in cash spent predominantly on NEC fixed facility costs and not recovered from NEC train and real estate revenue consumes and accounts for 100% of the unallocated portion of the annual federal subsidy grant to Amtrak. No dollars remain after paying for NEC fixed facility upkeep (not covered by ticket and other revenue) to be available for use on any other trains.

Amtrak’s APT Reports are not Statements of Profit and Loss

Amtrak’s purported statements of train, route and segment performance generated from its “APT” system do not contradict these conclusions. APT does not generate, and is incapable of generating, statements of profit and loss as used in GAAP-compliant financial statements, and its reports do not represent the financial results of operations of any train, route or segment. APT reports are not GAAP-compliant and are not audited.  Rather, they reflect a largely hypothetical, internal, full cost allocation system based on Amtrak management-derived algorithms, and depict only one out of a nearly infinite number of possible cost recovery scenarios to bring Amtrak as a whole to break-even. Amtrak does not have statements of profit and loss compiled in accordance with GAAP for any train, route or segment.

The inescapable conclusion is that neither the regional corridors nor the long distance trains have “losses” that are cross-subsidized by NEC “profits.” That is a myth and a lie. The NEC may (or may not) have an operating margin based solely on its direct operating expenses, but that margin–if it exists—at most goes only part way to covering the NEC’s enormous annual fixed facility costs, but not all of them. THAT is where the annual federal cash subsidy goes.

Failed Investment Strategies

Amtrak’s investment priorities are backwards, and preclude growth and deficit reduction. They produce negative rates of return on invested capital provided free of charge by taxpayers.

Amtrak invests the vast majority of its financial resources into the NEC. Yet, the load factor in the NEC is just over 50%, meaning that Amtrak cannot sell nearly half of its inventory in that market (and never has). That tells us conclusively that Amtrak already is seriously over-invested in that market. It has too much capital deployed in the NEC, because it can’t sell nearly half of the inventory it produces there. (After 45 years and a hundred billion dollars in current dollars, if those seat-miles could be sold, they would be. But they are not.) In the long distance markets, where the trains’ annual load factors are at nearly sell-out levels, Amtrak cannot grow because it has already sold as much of its small and shrinking inventory as is physically possible to sell (and in the sleeping cars, at breath-taking prices). Amtrak is plainly under-invested in these markets because demand exceeds supply for much of the year. Amtrak turns away tens of millions of dollars a year in proffered business that it cannot accommodate for want of long distance carrying capacity. Amtrak’s newest passenger cars on its western trains are more than 30 years old. That’s how long it has been since Amtrak’s last serious investment in these trains or in the scale of their carrying capacity. Amtrak has no plan to expand capacity in these sold-out trains.

The load factors tell a compelling story of misallocated capital, at the same time that they illustrate the absence of any possibility of real growth in the NEC and Amtrak’s willful refusal to invest for growth in its largest, most commercially successful, and strongest sector, the long distance markets. The three billion dollars of public funds that Amtrak invested in the Acela program has earned a negative rate of return (because Amtrak’s NEC and overall financial results subsequent to the inauguration of Acela services have steadily worsened, taking account of the resulting cannibalization of the NEC’s fixed assets to cover overall losses in that segment), yet Amtrak’s only significant new investment proposal is to sink billions more into the Acela successor, in a market chronically afflicted with low utilization, negative returns, and a paltry market share.
Unintended Consequences

Much of what I have related to you is not well understood because few have bothered to look behind Amtrak’s mischaracterizations of its business results. We think Amtrak’s obsessive fixation on the NEC reflects the preferences of its political patrons in congress, management bias, or perhaps its own obsession with the only market where Amtrak owns the railroad it operates over. But the result is the foolishness represented in both management’s endless repetition of the same failed investment strategy, and as reflected in the Administration’s budget proposal. The great irony is that if that budget were to be implemented, according to Amtrak itself, the country would lose the largest, most successful and productive group of trains Amtrak operates, and the annual federal subsidy for what remains, according to Amtrak, would rise not fall. That doesn’t seem like good policy or good business to us.

Solutions

Amtrak needs to re-think its investment strategies to direct capital to its largest and most commercially successful yet undercapitalized segments. Amtrak needs to come clean with congress, the administration and the public about the financial and operational performance of its three groups of trains using appropriate metrics. The administration could help enormously by demanding that Amtrak measure and report its results using the same metrics that airlines use:  passenger miles, load factor and market share, as well as financial segment results compiled in accordance with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles. Compelling Amtrak to comply with SEC standards for reporting its segment results would also be illuminating and useful, to congress, the executive branch, and the public. The Administration should demand that Amtrak redirect a large part of the capital made available to it, to be invested in its largest and most undercapitalized segment rather than its smallest or second smallest, and most overcapitalized, segment. Only then could Amtrak expect to achieve real growth and real reduction in its endless need for federal subsidy.

I would be pleased to discuss any of this with you if you have any interest in pursuing it.

URPA is an independent institute devoted to research and education on intercity rail passenger issues.
Cordially,
Andrew Selden, President, United Rail Passenger Alliance

April 2017 Was A Good Month For California Rail Passenger Service

By Noel T. Braymer

The California Legislature finally passed a transportation bill which will fund repairs for much of the aging roads around California. With a combination of increased fuel taxes and vehicle registration fees as much as $52 billion dollars is expected to be raise over the next 10 years. Of this $7 Billion is planned to be spent on improved transit which should include rail projects. A pleasant surprise in the push to pass this transportation bill is an agreement to set aside $400 million dollars to  help fund extending Altamont Corridor Express (ACE) rail service between San Jose and Stockton to first Modesto and Ceres no latter than 2023 and to Merced  no latter than 2027. This would include 6 round trips between Merced and San Jose on ACE. This proposal has been in the works for years, but has been held back due to lack of funding. A major benefit of the expanded service will be to open affordable housing to employees working in Silicon Valley. This will spur economic growth in the upper San Joaquin Valley which could use it.

ACE extensions 2016

This is a detailed map from ACE of the route and possible stations between Lathrop and Merced. This map also shows possible reroutes of ACE to straighten track between Lathrop and Tracy as well as connections to BART at Livermore and Union City

Another factor in favor of extending ACE to Merced, is it will create a feeder service connecting future California High Speed Rail at Merced to the upper San Joaquin Valley. April was also a good month this year for California High Speed Rail. The California Appeals Court upheld that California’s Cap and Trade charges were fees and not taxes as claimed in a lawsuit against it. If Cap and Trade was a tax, it would require a two thirds vote in the Legislature to be used to discourage businesses to pollute. With this ruling, much of the uncertainty of the future of the Cap And Trade program in California has been lifted. Current legislation for California’s Cap and Trade runs out in 2020. This ruling will make it more likely that the Cap and Trade program will be renewed beyond 2020. A quarter of the Cap and Trade income is dedicated to High Speed Rail. This money will be critical in funding the $20 billion dollars needed to open the first service by 2025 between the San Joaquin Valley and San Jose.

ACE CHSR

This is also a map from ACE showing the future route of High Speed Rail in Northern California and the connections to it by ACE.

Another milestone was the announcement in April of 5 international consortia have applied for the contract to be the California High Speed Rail Early Train Operator. Of the 5 individual bidder for this contract not to exceed $30 billion dollars were business consortium based in China, Germany, Italy, Spain and Britain. Oddly consortia from Japan and France were not included. The role for the winner of this contract is to advise on the final design and construction of the first segment of passenger service. They will also have a major role in designing the service and marketing of the initial operation of California High Speed Rail. While award of this contract doesn’t guarantee that the winner will be the final operator of California’s High Speed Rail service, it will give the winner of this contract a clear advantage to be the future operator. The will be plenty of incentive for the winner of this contract to propose the most efficient and profitable service possible. This is because the future operator of California High Speed Rail will be bidding to pay the State of California for the right to run High Speed Rail service at a profit so they can make money.

The California High Speed Rail Authority is also busy now finishing all of the Environmental Impact Reports by next year for Phase 1 service between Anaheim and San Francisco. This will make it easier to start construction for the second leg from Madera to San Jose and to attract investors for later phases of the project to San Francisco and Southern California. Recent news reports with officials in southern Los Angeles County towns have remarked than relations between the cities and the High Speed Rail Authority have greatly improved over the last 7 years. This improved level of cooperation and communications is making the planning much easier to finish. At the same time construction in the San Joaquin Valley is continuing with the laying of rail soon to begin. Construction appears to be on track for completion by 2019 between Madrea and northern Kern County.

Rail Passenger Service And Development Go Together

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Text And Photos By Noel T. Braymer

Having watched improvements in Rail Passenger service in California over the last 35 years or so, I notice new construction and business happens after rail passenger services improves. Let’s face it, the old pre 1970’s train stations were generally not in the best parts of town. In the past the railroad stations were mostly used for freight business with passenger service as a sideline. But as passenger service improved in California starting in the mid 1970’s, so has the neighborhoods around the stations. This is particularly true when train stations have been transformed into intermodal transportation centers.This is a major selling point for expanding and improving rail passenger service. The local transit agency in Hong Kong is also a major landlord in Hong Kong. The rental income from the property it owns around its stations is its largest source of income. In fact the Hong Kong transit agency makes money based on their income property which is valuable because of their transportation service to these properties. My analogy for years has been that rail service is akin to elevators in a hi-rise building. No one charges passengers to ride the elevator in a hi-rise building to make money. But hi-rise buildings can’t make money without good elevator service.

Major problems in California include traffic congestion, air quality and lack of affordable housing. Improved rail and connecting transit service with increased development around transportation centers will go a long way in solving these problems. Development at the stations with new housing, services and employment would reduce the amount of driving people would need compared to today. This isn’t really new. Major cities around the world function with higher densities and have excellent alternatives to auto travel which work well. People also walk and bike ride more too which reduces the need for driving. So let’s take a look at what has happened in Southern California around transportation centers when rail service was improved. Since I live in Southern California, that where I’ve seen the progress the most. Here are some examples of what has happened and what is planned.

Oceanside was one of, if not the first place to build a new rail centered transportation center after World War II in this country. Its history goes back even before the creation of Amtrak. After a 13 year effort it was finally opened to the public in 1984. Actually phase one was opened in 1984. Since 1984 there have been many improvements and new improvements are still ongoing. A major factor behind building the Oceanside Transit Center was as a way to redevelop downtown Oceanside. The downtown area around the old train station was rundown with crime problems and the property around the nearby beach and pier was undervalued. The city and local chamber of commerce planned with the new transit center, other development would follow making Oceanside a seaside resort which would increase local property values and the city’s tax base. This is what happened.

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Oceanside California in late 1983 at the “temporary” World War II ATSF station. This station was also part of a freight yard.

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This is the almost finished Oceanside Transit Center in late 1983,it was build next to the old ATSF station. In 1984 it had only one passenger platform of the 2 tracks at the station. But it did also have intercity and local transit bus service.

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This is a recent photo of the Oceanside Transit Center. The 2 large building in the background are resort hotels. The station has a tunnel under the tracks to serve the platform on the left hand side and for walking to the nearby beach. Besides Amtrak, Oceanside is served by Metrolink and Coaster Trains was well as DMU service to Escondido 20 miles away. A third track and platform is under construction to the south. This picture is viewing north.

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This is the view of some of the new construction built from the edge of the Oceanside Transit Center

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This is a closer view across the street from the Oceanside Transit Center. The tall building are housing on the top floors with retail businesses on the bottom floor. Across from this building when this picture was taken is a fenced off construction site.

This is an old picture of the Santa Fe Depot in San Diego from the roughly the late 70’s to early 80’s. Not many tall or new building in the area.

This is a picture from the early 90’s of the new light rail “Trolley” tracks recently built to extend rail transit to the Santa Fe Depot.

This is the current view at the Santa Fe Depot in San Diego with Trolley Tracks in the foreground and new tall building in the background and surrounding the Depot in San Diego.

This the location of the then future Santa Ana Transit Center in the mid 1980’s. Many of the features at Oceanside were incorporated by the Santa Ana center.

This is a recent view from the Santa Ana Transit Center of new housing that has been built across the street.

This is at the Fullerton Station. This is the old Fullerton Union Pacific Station which was on the other side of the tracks and some distance from the ATSF Fullerton Station. The old UP Station was moved next to the ATSF station, the site of which has become Fullerton’s transit center. The UP Station was converted in the 1980’s roughly into a restaurant as part of the transit center. There are other new restaurants and other building now in Fullerton by the train station.

This drawing of Los Angeles Union Station is the front cover of a report called “Transforming Los Angeles Union Station”. This is the final report written for LA Metro, the Los Angeles County government body in charge of transportation and owner since 2011 of Union Station. This drawing shows the planned run-through tracks and new hotel planned at the station as well as pedestrian bridges over the station platforms. Across from the main station with the red roof on the other side of the stations tracks are planned new hi-rise office buildings.

This is also from “Transforming Los Angeles Union Station”. This gives some detail into the goals of the development around Union Station.

What California Can Learn From London About Rail Passenger Service

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By Noel T. Braymer

The red lines shows the roughly 12 miles of tunneling for Crossrail in the heart of London connecting west and east areas around London with direct no transfer needed service. The boxes by the stations shows rail connections to other services at those stations.

The largest infrastructure project in Europe, at a cost of almost 19 billion dollars is now almost finished in London. Called Crossrail, with construction starting in 2009, it has over 12 miles of new double tracked tunnel in the heart of central London. With this tunnel will be 73 miles of rail service mostly using existing rail lines outside of London, connected by tunnel giving run through service from the west to the east of London. This includes 7 new underground train stations in the heart of London. Initial service is expected by December of 2018. By December 2019 a new branch line will be added serving Heathrow Airport to the Crossail matrix of stations. Many of the stations for Crossrail have connections to other regional rail services as well as to London’s Underground rail transit. Ridership is expected to be high. Nine car passenger trains capable of carrying 1,500 passengers will be run with 24 trains an hour in each direction in the Crossrail’s trunk line during peak periods with a top speed of 90 miles per hour.

This is the whole Crossrail service running by December 2019. It is named the Elizabeth Line after the Queen.

So why are the planner in London so sure that such an expensive and complicated new project to link so many locations will generate so much ridership? This brings us to Thameslink. Thameslink is a runthrough rail service linking the areas north and south of London by crossing the Thames River in the heart of London. This service has been linking the area running the 140 miles between Bedford and Brighton with 68 stations since 1988. The key to this connections was the use of an 19th century tunnel in London called Snow Hill which hadn’t seen passenger service since World War I. Using this tunnel, Thameslink was able to operate run through service between the north and south of London on May 1988. The equipment has to have pantographs for running with high voltage AC power north of the Thames and use the third rail DC power south of the Thames. By 1998 Thameslink was carrying 28,000 passenger just during the morning peak travel period.

This is a graphic of the current Thameslink service in London.

Since 1998 there have been several right of way improvements. With increasing train crowding, in 2007 the over $8 billion dollar Thameslink Progamme was started that will expand the service and increase the capacity of the line. This will include adding trains with up to 12 cars and raising track capacity on the trunk line to 24 trains an hour, which is a train every 2 to 3 minutes in each directions during peak periods. This work will also allow additional service to more stations and other rail lines north and south of London.

One thing Thameslink already does is serve Gatwick and Luton airports which serve the London area. Thameslink will also connect with Crossrail at a joint station at Farrington in central London. This will allow passengers to transfer between Thameslink and Crossrail to all the other stations on both services. This will make it possible for passengers in the greater London area to travel by train to three major airports in London: Heathrow, Gatwick and Luton.

The black lines shows Thameslink before 2009 and the blue lines after 2009. The darker red lines are the expanded service by 2019. The lighter red lines on the top of the graphic are connecting services to Thameslink.

Building runthrough service in most major cities is not cheap. This is because in Europe and North America when railroads where first being built, they were often built by different private companies which terminated their lines on the edges of downtown where land and construction was fairly cheap. Over time development came to the areas around the stations. One of the few exceptions to this was the State owned railroad of Germany. Starting in the late 19th Century, Germany usually built a main or head station in every major city that had connections which radiated to other parts of Germany and Europe.

How does this relate to California? Major construction is expected in the near future at Los Angeles Union Station. This will include construction of new runthrough tracks and a new much larger concourse to be built under the station platforms and tracks. With runthrough tracks it will be possible to run trains to more stations with less need to wait for connecting services. This will result in greater demand for more rail passenger service and greater ridership if done right. It may be some time before we see trains running every 2 to 3 minutes at Los Angeles Union Station on a single track. But Los Angeles will see the effects of greater rail ridership and increasing development which is already underway around downtown Los Angeles, particularly around Union Station. This is happening for much less money and disruption than in London.

My Latest Rail Adventure to Burbank

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By Noel T. Braymer

I got up early Friday morning in time to catch the last morning Metrolink train out of Oceanside. I’ve been feeling run down for the last few months so haven’t been to Los Angeles by train for a while. When I got to the Oceanside station I noticed the ticketing machine by the tracks wasn’t working. I remembered that last week when I took a short ride to San Diego that a person complained that the same ticket machine wasn’t working then. I went over to the other Metrolink ticket machine across from the Amtrak ticket office. Luckily for me there was only one person in line in front of me at this machine. The people who were taking Metrolink this morning seemed to be pass riders not needing a ticket. This guy was taking forever on this machine. Seems he was down to his last dollar which the machine kept rejecting. He turned to me and asked I would swap dollar bills with him. Instead I gave him a dollar coin, which worked on this machine.I got my ticket with no one behind me and got on the train with time to spare.

The trip was pleasant to Los Angeles. With the recent heavy rains the hills are still very green. What I mostly noticed was there seemed to be slow orders and the train was often going slow. We were running 4 to 6 minutes late at most of the stations. We even got into Los Angeles about 6 minutes late even with the padding in the schedule which usually gets late trains arriving early into Los Angeles Union Station. Again when we arrived we shared the platform with the Coast Starlight which was loading passengers. I first went to the south end of the platforms where the freeway runs next to the station. I took some pictures of early construction of a new bus station for the El Monte busway which will include a walkway for passengers to get to Union Station. When I went into the station I noticed lines of people waiting to use the bathrooms at the east end of the station. This happens when the main bathrooms are closed for maintenance at the westside of the station. The bathrooms at the eastside are much smaller than the ones on the west end, so there were lines of people waiting to use the bathrooms when the larger bathrooms are closed. The reality is there are not enough bathrooms now for the much larger crowds of people using the station. Yet no efforts can be seen to build more at the station any time soon.

After checking out things to take pictures of around LAUS, I decided it was time to go to Burbank. Why Burbank? I wanted to get pictures of the new 2 mile long  elevated grade separation on the Metrolink Antelope Valley line along side the Burbank Airport. This is near the second Burbank airport train station where construction is now starting. It will later be a shared station for Metrolink and High Speed Rail. I decided to take the LA Metro 794 Rapid bus to Burbank because I could use the TAP card on my Metrolink ticket for no extra to Burbank. Also most of this bus’s route was next to the railroad. To catch the 794 in Chinatown, I decided to take the Gold Line from Union Station to the Chinatown Station, them walk to catch the bus. As luck would have it I arrived at the Gold Line platform at Union Station as the northbound train arrived. As I went over to get on the doors closed and the train drove off. It was a 12 minute wait for the next train. I had arrived at LAUS at little after 10 AM. By the time I caught the 794 it was just after 11 AM. The 794 buses run every half hour and I must have just missed a 794 and had to wait almost 30 minutes for the next bus. It seems odd that the 794 doesn’t stop at Union Station or the Chinatown Gold Line Station. In fact I didn’t see any signs that any buses stopped at the Chinatown stations.

When the 794 finally arrived  at Chinatown it was just after 11 AM. The 794 is called a Rapid bus and it did have fewer stops than local buses. But traffic was heavy and to go the roughly 12 miles between Los Angeles and Burbank took at least an hour. But this bus got me very close to the tracks and I got off the bus not far from Burbank Airport and the new elevated, long grade separation on the Antelope Valley Metrolink line. For once I was in luck. Not long after I got up near the near elevated grad separation, a Metrolink train came by. A train in the picture makes for a better picture. I was a little disoriented being at a place near Burbank Airport I hadn’t been before. I did notice a Pacific Surfliner train on a dnearby track, so I knew I was near the junction of the Antelope Valley and Ventura County rail lines and I knew I was close to the Burbank Airport. I walked in the general direction of the Ventura County Metrolink line and got to the airport terminal area. Before I left Burbank I got something to eat since it was after 12 by this time.

After eating, I walked to the nearby transportation center at Burbank Airport which includes the new consolidated car rental center. It is also right across the street from the train station at Burbank Airport. As I walked to where the bus stop was for the Burbank Bus shuttle to the North Hollywood Red Line Subway/ Orange Line Busway station use to be, the Burbank Bus drove right past me. I couldn’t find the old bus stop. I walked around some more and found the new bus stop which was closer to the main entrance of the airport transportation center and train station. I wished I had caught the bus that went past me. I was able to use my Metrolink ticket to ride the 794, the Burbank bus and the Red Line. This trip on the Red Line was a bit rowdier than usual. As the Red Line left North Hollywood station a small group of young men played recorded music and danced to it. Before we got to the next station, they finished and passed a hat around to collect money. I was not entertained. They then got off the train. I think they shuttled back and forth between stations hoping to make some money. Later on there was an upset rider, who was upset with an other rider which became annoying.

I got off the Red Line at the 7th and Flower Station. I wanted to see work on the Regional Connector which will be a subway for extending the Blue Line from Long Beach to Union Station, Pasadena and Azusa. It will also connect the Expo Line from Santa Monica to downtown out to East Los Angeles. I wanted to find the nearest Regional Connector Station to the 7th and Flower Station which is a joint Heavy Rail/Light Rail station with separate tunnels for Heavy and Light Rail trains. I saw some road work for the Regional Connector on Flower by 5th street. But I found the nearest station was at 2nd and Hope Street. Hope Street is only a short block from Flower. But the road looked blocked past 4th street so I decided to go back to 7th and Flower and go back to Union Station.

I got on the next train, which was a Purple Line Train and got off at Union Station. By this time it was almost 3 PM. I decided not to overdo things and take the next next train home. I looked around Union Station for other things to take pictures. I noticed sitting in the station that the brass fixtures and wall tiles had been cleaned and the brass polished. This is the cleanest they have been since 1939. The train trip home was smooth and uneventful. I noticed the City of Commerce Metrolink Station had a new, free shuttle and the station spruced up with new signs. I noticed more cars in the parking lot this time too. This time the train was on time. Even at the south end of Sierra siding it was a short wait for the northbound Metrolink train to San Bernardino. This train was usually late, but it was more or less on time this time. I enjoyed watching my train flying past stop and go traffic on the I-5 north of Oceanside. I believe the train was a few minutes early. But I didn’t want to get stuck in the traffic of cars leaving the parking lot after the train arrived. So I took my time getting to my car.

By Amtrak bus and train from Torrance to Camarillo; it’s possible but can be difficult

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Trip Report and Photos by Mike Palmer
Some time ago Amtrak and Caltrans extended a Thruway bus route to Torrance; it connects at Bakersfield with the San Joaquins and stops at Van Nuys along the way. I decided to check it out on March 11.

Amtk bus 5919 at Van Nuys 3-11-17

Amtrak bus 5919 is at the Van Nuys Amtrak station on March 11.

My northbound trip – Bus 5919 Torrance to Van Nuys, then train 769 Van Nuys to Camarillo was mostly fine. The bus ran on time but had few passengers: me and one other person boarded at Torrance; no one boarded at El Segundo or Westchester; 2 more boarded at UCLA. The bus was 20 minutes early to Van Nuys.

Amtk 769 at Camarillo 3-11-17
Amtrak train 769 is at the Camarillo Amtrak station on March 11.

Train 769 was on time at Van Nuys. It had some on-board problems with the head-end power – no a/c or microwave food at first. They successfully got the onboard power re-started at Chatsworth.

Southbound was another matter. I had intended to ride 784 back to Van Nuys, then bus 5910 back to Torrance. While at Camarillo I received a series of text alerts stating the train was delayed – 30, 40 minutes, then over an hour. I found a local cab, we agreed to an appropriate barter rate, and he drove me back to the Van Nuys station. With luck, I caught a late running bus 5910 back to Torrance, again with a light load. Three people got off at Van Nuys, one other person rode to UCLA. With no passengers for Westchester or El Segundo those stops were skipped. The bus got back to Torrance about 20 minutes late. The text messages for the delayed 784 kept coming – it was close to 3 hours late. I don’t know what caused the delay except that the Coast Starlight had hit a trespasser in Montecito earlier in the day, and I don’t know if the rail line was closed to all traffic for the investigation.

I did appreciate not having to drive in LA traffic, though I would have driven to LAUS and not Van Nuys had I gone by car to catch the train. At some point I plan to ride the San Joaquin again – I will see if the Torrance bus works for that trip.