Notes On The September 24, 2016 RailPAC/ NARP Conference in Sacramento

By Noel T, Braymer

Days before this Conference RailPAC President Paul Dyson came down with health problems which by Doctors Orders caused him to miss this year’s event. The morning arrival of the Capitol Corridor from Oakland ran late which rarely happens so some attendees were late arriving for the 10 AM start of the meeting. So this year’s meeting had one might say had more challenges than most. There was quite a bit of information for those who attended to hear. Some sessions ran longer than the time budgeted for them which is a common problem at such events. For many this forced people who needed to leave to catch trains before the end of the conference. This also reduces the time available for follow up speakers to talk to prevent the meeting getting any later. Here is a recap of the highlights of the Conference on September 24th.

At the opening the first speakers were Peter LeCody who is the Chair of NARP who was later followed up by NARP President Jim Mathews. There was a degree of overlap between what was said by the 2 speakers. There was major discussion of about funding for Amtrak as part of the Continuing Resolution for Amtrak Funding. This is being worked on as part of the need for Congress to avoid a shutdown of the Federal Government for lack of passing a Budget for this year. What NARP pointed out was that at several points funding for Amtrak on the Continuing Resolution being proposed was lower than originally planned in the proposed budget. These cutbacks mostly would effect the Northeast Corridor. But on one segment there was increased funding proposed in the Continuing Resolution which was for Long Distance Trains. According to NARP this was mostly the work of Congress members for the States that will be served if and when there is a return of Rail Passenger service along the Gulf of Mexico.

What is happening along the Gulf Coast is major support along the many towns on the route for a return of rail passenger service. The elected officials representing these towns have been working in Washington to return this service. This is reflected in the increased funding in the proposed Continuing Resolution concerning Long Distance Trains. This reflects a growing interest for more Rail Passenger service in many rural areas of the United States represented mostly by Republicans. The NARP representatives also went into details of NAPR’s efforts to align with many groups and to encourage NARP members to contact officials on different rail related issues.

Former Sacramento Assembly representative and major supporter for Rail Passenger service Roger Dickerson, gave the Keynote Address. His main theme was the need for train friendly elected officials and for more elected officials to be aware of rail issues. This included personal contacts with elected officials. He had a photo of himself with Democratic Nominee for President Hillary Clinton from 2008. The point he made is not only did she know who he was in the California Assembly at that time, but she also recognized the pin he was wearing which was for the Capitol Corridor Trains and she recognized what it was and knew about the rail service. Roger Dickerson also spoke about the problems of Oil Train accidents and of legislation to prevent future problems with them.

Next speaker was Dan Leavitt of the San Joaquin County Regional Rail Commission. This agency is in charge of both the Altamont Corridor Express service and manages the Joint Powers Authority for the San Joaquin trains. He went into detail of the many improvements proposed for ACE. He also spoke about the recently added 7th San Joaquin Round trip train and latest changes to the latest schedule. Mr. Leavitt also spoke of future plans for more local service between Fresno and the Bay Area. This includes plans to store a  San Joaquin trainset for early morning service out of Fresno and late evening arrivals. The most important challenge for the San Joaquin Trains is increasing declining ridership and increasing revenues.

ace-map

This is a copy of the same map displayed by Mr Leavitt of possible track improvements for future ACE service.

Jeff Morales, CEO of the California High Speed Rail Authority gave an update on the progress of building ongoing in the San Joaquin Valley. Much of his speech was about the impact of High Speed Rail Construction and revitalization for the towns served by them. He pointed out that Fresno is the 5th largest city in California with a population of over a half million. With High Speed Rail service will come major economic growth in the San Joaquin Valley. Also High Speed Rail construction will in the case of the San Joaquin Valley eliminate 55 grade crossing for passenger and freight trains as well as for High Speed Trains. He also touched on the High Speed Rail Authority’s involvement in Southern California of upgrading the tracks between Burbank and Anaheim for joint use for High Speed Rail, Metrolink and Amtrak trains on this corridor. He highlighted an example of this with High Speed Rail money being added to other funding sources for a long overdue grade separation to be built in Santa Fe Springs at the intersection of Rosecrans Blvd and Marquardt Ave. This crossing is now rated as the most dangerous rail crossing in California.

David Kutrosky, Managing Director of the Capitol Corridor Joint Power Authority gave a long list of good news about the Capitol Corridor trains. Ridership and revenues are up. On time performance continues to be the best of any Amtrak train. Track and equipment maintenance also remains on a high level contributing to the high levels of service and on time performance on the Capitol Corridor most times. The dark clouds include delays and possible cancellation for additional passenger cars from the problems at Nippon Sharyo with building the order of new cars. New Locomotives however are on track for full delivery by 2017. The Capitol Corridor has plans for additional service which is dependent funding for track improvements. These include funding for track work north of Sacramento to run up to 3 roundtrips up from the current one for Roseville, There are also plans to extend more trains south of Oakland to San Jose. Of course these and other projects are dependent on capital funding which is not yet available and there is no guarantee of being funded anytime soon.

Next to talk was Andrew Selden of the Minnesota Association of Railroad Passengers. The point of his talk was to highlight the role of private companies operating rail Passenger service in this country and around the world. His message was competition leads to lower costs, greater efficiency and higher levels of passenger service. He pointed to the many private companies running many of the commuter rail passenger services in this county won by competitive bidding which all have lower operating costs than Amtrak. He gave a long list of privately operated services in this country and around the world. In many cases to win the franchise to operate service usually on publicly owned rail rights of way, not only are bidders bidding to the pay the highest amount to get the franchise, but they are also expected to put up private capital in the form of new train equipment and stations improvements to win the contract. Mr. Selden’s expectation is that with private operation of rail passengers service, the future of rail passenger service is bright in this county and around the world.

Last but not least was the presentation by Eric Smith, Chief Route Manager for the Coast Starlight and Southwest Chief. He had just arrived by plane from an Amtrak meeting in Washington when he came to talk in Sacramento. He started his talk about Jake the Conductor who was on the Pacific Surfliner which was recently held in Chatsworth because of a deranged man with a gun on this train. Conductor Jake rushed this man, got control of the gun and locked  it in a cabinet on the train. He then evacuated all of the passenger in this car and locked the deranged man alone in the then almost empty car. This went a long way in preventing injuries or possible death in this incident.

The main topic of Mr Smith’s talk was efforts by Amtrak, the Unions and employees to reduce the costs and increase the revenues of food service on Amtrak Trains. For Mr Eric Smith there is no rail passenger service without food and beverage service. What has been happening in California to make food service self supporting it to experiment with ideas propose by Amtrak employee who work in passenger and food service. This includes creating new menu items with existing ingredients at Amtrak. One such example was a Salisbury Steak meal using existing hamburger patties, gravy and  side orders to create a new dining experience. Also being looked at is ways to increase revenues with new services such as the Coast Starlight Business Class. There are efforts to upgrade this service more with seat improvements to make this seats more comfortable and unique. Mr Smith says this project has been very successful. The future of the Palour Car was bought up. Mr. Smith said there are no plans to get rid of the Palour cars. This doesn’t rule out turning newer equipment into Palour cars in the future to replace the original cars. Later this winter Palour Cars will be out of service on some trains for maintenance. Mr. Smith did say that there will be Palour Car service this winter on the weekends.

I Wish I Could Have Taken The Train To Sacramento

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By Noel T. Braymer

I have taken the Bus-Train-Bus from Oceanside to Sacramento more times over the last 35 years than I can count. With the September 24th RailPAC/NARP meeting coming up I also wanted to meet with my older sisters. I haven’t seen them in a while and they live in the Sacramento area. Of course taking the bus/train made doing both in one day impossible. So I drove instead this time. Without a car it is difficult to get around the large Sacramento Metro area to the suburban areas my sisters live. Also with only one day to travel, driving is still faster than taking the bus and train. Riding the San Joaquin service often means a 12 hour trip between San Diego and Sacramento. By car it can still be done in under 8 hours. There was a San Joaquin Train bus departing Sacramento just as the meeting on the 24th was almost over, but it would have left me stranded at Santa Ana at midnight. The last train from Sacramento to Bakersfield leaving at 5:10 PM would have left me stranded in Santa Ana at 1:45 AM. My only option by Amtrak would have been a three hour wait for the 6:30 PM bus with arrival in Oceanside at 4:30 AM. My dream is to be able to get to Sacramento, mostly by train with bus connections in 8 hours or less with more connections south of Santa Ana. I wish this could be done by 2021 or so. Here are some thoughts of how this can be done.

I would love a late evening train from San Diego that would go as far as Bob Hope Airport. This is assuming that LINK, the latest name for the run-through tracks at Los Angeles Union Station are built and in service by 2021. This would be faster and more comfortable than riding the bus. Much of the time on the bus is spent counting noses and getting paperwork done instead of driving. The bus schedule has a lot of padding which is needed when there are problems. But in most cases the buses leave late and almost always seem to get to Bakersfield early. From Bob Hope/ Burbank there would for now be a bus transfer by 2021. It will be almost 2029 before we can expect High Speed Rail service between Anaheim and San Francisco. At Bakersfield there would be a transfer to the train, but this would be a new train. Work on the High Speed Rail Tracks between Shafter and Madera is expected to be finished by 2019. Current plans call for service from the San Joaquin Valley to at least San Jose to begin by 2025. Seems like a waste of a good, fast railroad not to put it to work. I know I’m dreaming. But all things start with a dream.

This new Super San Joaquin would have new cars and locomotives for speeds up to 125 miles per hour. California will soon have the 125 mile an hour locomotives, but the order for the 125 mile an hour passenger cars is now in limbo because the new cars are having problems meeting FRA standards. Passenger cars are available that can go 125 miles per hour and are being built now in California. But they are going to Florida for the Brightline private train service between Miami and Orlando opening next year. But I can dream California orders some of these cars from Siemens and uses them on the San Joaquins. Somewhere between Shafter and Wasco this express San Joaquin would get on the high speed tracks for speeds up to 125 miles per hour. This route will be faster even at 79 miles per hour because there are no tight curves or slow orders. This will be particularly true going through Fresno. Platforms at the future High Speed Rail Fresno Station would be necessary since this train won’t be on the tracks of the Fresno Amtrak Station. Wasco, Corcoran and Hanford stations would likely be skipped. The Super San Joaquins could catch up to regular San Joaquin trains with transfer connections so passengers from skipped trains could connect to their final destinations north of Fresno faster.

At Madera this train would return to the nearby existing BNSF tracks. But even today’s San Joaquin trains should be going faster in the near future. With Positive Train Control in operation it would be possible to run trains on the BNSF  at up to 125 miles per hour even with grade crossings. But this is unlikely, since this would require physical barriers that can stop trucks from entering a crossing with a train approaching. It is also unlikely that the BNSF would allow this. But with additional double tracking and upgraded grade crossings it will be possible to run trains at 90 miles per hour in the San Joaquin Valley. Speeds up to 110 miles an hour are possible with upgraded grade crossing, but without separate tracks the BNSF is unlikely to approve speeds above 90 miles per hour since such high speed rail service will cause conflicts waiting at sidings running on tracks with slower freight trains. Plans to increase speeds to 90 miles per hour have been around for the San Joaquin trains in the Valley for years.

In my dreams there would be more direct rail service to Sacramento with these Super San Joaquin Trains. These could be timed to meet regular San Joaquin trains for transfers to Sacramento and transfers from the express train to get to the Bay Area. Such a transfer for now would have to be done at Modesto. There are 2 stations in Stockton which don’t share the same tracks. There has been talk for years of building a new station in Stockton where Sacramento and Bay Area San Joaquin Trains could share a station and also transfer to ACE Trains. But so far all we have is talk. What is needed are more trains to Sacramento. The UP is demanding additional double tracking before they will consider more Sacramento bound passenger trains. Ideally in the future there should be many Sacramento bound trains transferring with High Speed Rail by 2029, even before high speed rail service is built to Sacramento. But before that even a handful of additional Sacramento trains would go a long way. Even the existing late afternoon Sacramento departure San Joaquin would work for me if the connecting bus service was extended to San Diego County.

In the past there were plans for the Altamont Corridor Express trains to extend service to Sacramento. In fact as part of the deal with the old Southern Pacific which made ACE service possible between Stockton and San Jose there was I believe an agreement with time slots between Stockton and Sacramento. If this is true, would it be possible for the San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority to work out a deal with the Altamont Corridor Express to use these time slots if they exist? Well since ACE is run by the San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission in San Joaquin County, and the San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority responsible for the San Joaquin Trains is managed by the San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission, such negotiations could be done in the break room at the Regional Rail Commission to run more Sacramento trains. The sticking point is: all you need now is money.

But even if we get more trains running faster before 2025 between Northern and Southern California, there is still the problems of getting from the train stations to your final destination. I mean how will I meet up with my sisters in Sacramento without them driving to pick me up? I know what I’d like. Electric bike rentals available the RT Light Rail stations which would cover most of the suburban area of Sacramento ! Its fun to dream.

A Less Than Fond Look Back On The Last 8 years Of Amtrak

By Andrew Selden

With America’s worst businessman, Joe Boardman, gone from his ruinous reign at Amtrak, one can hope for some stability and the prospect of rational investment policy and growth at Amtrak. That remains to be seen.

Boardman’s swan song was a doozy – a five-car, two-engine private train junket around the west in late July for Boardman and invited guests ranging from real railroad executives to gullible local politicians. The train consisted of Amtrak #10001, Beech Grove (a converted Amfleet business car), 10004, American View (converted Viewliner track inspection gallery car), 10021, Pacific Cape (converted Budd Heritage sleeper), 10031, Ocean View (ex-GN full-length dome), and 62044 (standard Viewliner sleeper). It was powered by P-42s 145 and 822, both repainted into a long-retired Amtrak paint scheme. (That is a lot of power for this train; the Empire Builder routinely gets only one P-42 for seven cars between Spokane and Seattle, over Stevens Pass.) The train came west from the Northeast Corridor, through Chicago, to Albuquerque and El Paso, then east on the Sunset Limited.

Boardman used the train to “celebrate” having fleeced the affected states and communities for $42 million used to rehabilitate BNSF’s track in western Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico used by the Southwest Chief. The Chief is a national system train that is, and should be, a 100% Amtrak/federal responsibility. So instead of reprogramming 4% of one year’s federal subsidy to pay for this trackwork, Boardman succeeded in squeezing that money out of the states and cities along the route, in effect getting Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico to subsidize the Northeast Corridor. Boardman also worked the usual con by dangling the prospect of a rail connection between the Chief’s route in Kansas and Dallas-Ft. Worth (via Wichita and Oklahoma City), but only if the local states and cities paid for it. We’re waiting for Kansas to call his bluff and put that proposal out for competitive bids.

Another con that Boardman worked on was a proposed extension of the Southwest Chief route to Pueblo, CO. United Rail Passenger Alliance proposed this 25 years ago as a re-route of trains 3 and 4 between La Junta and Trinidad via Pueblo, allowing BN (now, BNSF) to downgrade or abandon the passenger-only track between La Junta and just east of Trinidad. Existing main line track existed then and still does now to allow Chief trains to run the new route, with a stop at the still-standing Pueblo Santa Fe depot, without any new track construction needed (existing track, as always, would need some enhancement). The extra hour or so of running time would be easily compensated by millions in new revenue from passengers using Pueblo as a gateway to the Colorado mountains, and to Colorado Springs and Denver. Amtrak’s current solution? A free-standing separate train connecting La Junta to Pueblo, but ignoring networking opportunities to serve Colorado Springs, Denver and Gunnison. The Pueblo stop by itself would add 14,000 annual customers and $1.5 million in revenue. No comment was offered on where those new passengers would sit once they got on the Chief, which is often sold out much of the year. Amtrak also offered no comment on why running a local stub train between La Junta and Pueblo made any sense, since by their own estimates only 20 people a trip would ride it.

We haven’t seen a cost estimate for Boardman’s last junket, but at commercial lease costs for five exotic specialty cars, two engines, service staff, engineers and conductors, and track usage charges by the host railroads, plus soft costs like insurance and entertainment, this could easily have come to a quarter of a million dollars. Spent by a totally bankrupt company, out of free subsidies provided by taxpayers and ordinarily used on NEC track maintenance.

The two P-42s commandeered for Boardman’s junket left Ft. Worth (and, we believe, Chicago) with no spare roadworthy locomotives. The Heartland Flyer, as a result, was forced to use borrowed BNSF power (BNSF 6892) after its own engine (Amtrak 177) failed on August 3, thus running late for days due to speed limitations on the freight engine.

Engines are in short supply in Chicago in part because all of the converted F40 car bodies used as cab control cars-plus-baggage room, mostly on push-pull Hiawatha service trains to Milwaukee, had to be parked after a Hiawatha grade-crossing collision on June 20 separated the cab control unit from the train, at speed, and sent it free-rolling on down the railroad for three miles before it rolled to a stop. It turns out that these units’ brakes aren’t designed to apply themselves after a break-apart, unlike all other rail equipment. CP and Metra promptly banned the units, and Amtrak had to replace them with a real, second, locomotive, making the Hiawathas the most ridiculously over-powered trains on the system.

Missed market opportunities aren’t limited to Oklahoma and southern Kansas. Phoenix Sky Harbor airport has 44 million passengers a year. Amtrak doesn’t run even a 9-passenger van to Phoenix from its middle-of-nowhere stop at Maricopa, AZ, 40 miles south. Annual visitation to Las Vegas adds up to more than 42 million people. Amtrak can’t be bothered to run a train to Las Vegas. Annual Canadian visitation to Florida, mostly on the Gulf Coast, is about 3.7 million. Amtrak’s share of that? Zero, because Amtrak can’t conceive of running the Silver Star to Toronto or Montreal.

In June, Joe Boardman said that Amtrak needed new diesel engines (no kidding), but leasing them with builder financing (the same way many people buy a new Chevy or Toyota) wasn’t the answer; instead, Boardman said, “Congress has got to come forward and decide to make some investments in rolling stock.” No one asked Boardman why he couldn’t reprogram a tiny slice of the billion dollars a year that Congress already gives him, to pay for new diesels.

Amtrak did manage to use $7 million of the annual billion subsidy dollars bestowed by congress to build a new Metropolitan Lounge, for business class and sleeping car passengers, in Chicago Union Station.

Replacing a cramped and worn-out space on the concourse opened in 1991, the new lounge is a two-story, 13,500 square foot facility in the depot’s historic main waiting room building. It seats 360, about twice the capacity of the old space. It has a separate street entrance, but lacks the direct access to trains that the old lounge featured using its “secret” back door. This is in addition to the “Legacy Club,” an extra fee waiting area opened recently off the main waiting room, open to anyone willing to pay the entrance fee. The old Metropolitan Lounge space will be redeveloped into a modern pre-boarding area for the nearby tracks. We haven’t heard if the new lounge also has the extremely useful “left luggage” room feature of the old club, where passengers could check baggage during a layover between trains so they could get out for a walk in the loop.

Summer is peak period on most of the long distance trains. For example, we know that between Memorial Day and Labor Day, the Empire Builders have run with every seat occupied and every sleeping car room sold. But in the business traffic-dependent NEC, not so much. Traffic has been so weak in the NEC – already off several percent this year – that Amtrak ran a give-away sale on NEC seats, with prices as low as $49 between NY and Boston or Washington, DC. A 14-day advance purchase was required, ruling out use by most business travelers.

Amtrak was lead on an order for new bilevel regional corridor cars intended for use by several states, including Illinois and California. The low bidder/contractor is Kinki-Sharyo, whose inexperience with US rail car engineering standards showed up in spades last year when the prototype car failed the FRA 800,000 pound crush-load test. That much had been reported, and work on the entire order was suspended as a result. What wasn’t reported at the time was that the test car didn’t just deform slightly, it basically crumpled in a complete structural failure. And, the prototype car was already so over-weight that the usual over the seat luggage racks had been designed out of the cars. The lesson may caution if using an inexperienced low bidder on car orders when proven builders like Bombardier and Siemens are available.

Amtrak was hit by a phony overtime scandal again in July, when two supervisory workers in New Jersey were arrested and charged with fraud and theft for billing Amtrak for almost a hundred thousand dollars in fake straight time and overtime. The episode was reminiscent of a scheme discovered in Chicago a few years ago when workers would punch in at Amtrak’s Chicago shops, then walk out to a second job where they (presumably) actually did some work.

In a “deck-chairs-on-the-Titanic” scheme, Amtrak decided to revamp and re-launch its on-board magazine. (We assume that is cheaper than installing wi-fi on all its trains, but it still has a 19th century feel to it.) The new magazine, to be called “The National,” will feature slick travel photography and hired stories. The first issue will be released in October. Magazines like this are mainly advertising platforms that yield a small revenue stream to the owner.

Amtrak removed dining cars and meal service from the Lakeshore Limited (Chicago-NY via Cleveland and Buffalo) in July, because of structural defects in the 60-year old standard dining cars. (VIA’s identical cars are still going strong in Canada.) Until new Viewliner diners become available sometime this winter, food service, such as it is, will be offered in a second Amfleet dinette car. No reduction in sleeping car fares to compensate for the downgraded dining service were announced. Enough Heritage dining cars remain only to cover the Silver Meteor and Crescent routes.

Finally, Amtrak announced in late July that it had come to terms with Alstom to build a new fleet of replacement Acela II trainsets for the NEC. The original Acelas were introduced in 2000-2001 but have not held up well. By just the most amazing, wildest, coincidence, Alstom said they would build these trains in Joe Boardman’s home state, New York. New York Senator Chuck Schumer took credit for raiding the Treasury, oops, we mean “arranging the federal financing,” for the new trains. Existing Acela trains have an annual load factor of just over 50%, so it’s not entirely clear why new trains are appropriate, but Amtrak’s announcement didn’t explain that. Amtrak also didn’t explain why, if the existing Acelas are so “successful” and “profitable,” their replacements couldn’t be self-financed, rather than depending on “federal financing.”

Five Long Distance Passenger Train Expansions Amtrak Should Do

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By Noel T. Braymer

Wick Moorman will be busy in the next few months in his transition as President of Amtrak. There are lots of problems at Amtrak for him to learn about. He will need to assemble his own management team to get needed changes made at Amtrak. His most immediate issues will be to improve Amtrak’s revenues and improve Amtrak’s equipment reliability of its trains. At the same time there is growing demand around the country for more rail passenger service. This is seen with increased local political action to get Washington’s attention for more rail passenger service. There are many issues holding back these efforts. First of all is lack of funding. There is also a shortage of equipment for expanded service. And the railroads are not eager to have more passenger service on their tracks. Much of the efforts of late by Amtrak studying different route improvements was in the hope of Amtrak getting more funding from the States. The fact is improved Long Distance Rail Passenger service can be self supporting and improve Amtrak’s bottom line. This was done by former Amtrak President W. Graham Claytor back in the 80’s when he turned around Amtrak’s history of rising deficits with modest improvements of Long Distance Rail Passenger service.

The local effort getting the most attention now is from the States along the Gulf Coast between Louisiana and Florida to bring back rail passenger service which was suspended over 10 years ago after Hurricane Katrina and never restored by Amtrak. The best option for the Gulf Coast is not to return triweekly Sunset service from Los Angeles to Orlando. Instead what is needed is to extend the daily City of New Orleans from Chicago via New Orleans to Orlando. This would greatly add ridership to the City of New Orleans by adding many more travel markets to the route. Also increased daytime service on this mostly overnight train will also increase ridership. This would provide connections to most of the upper Midwest from Chicago to the Gulf Coast and Orlando. Such connections are missing now from the Midwest. From Orlando there should be connections on the Brightline rail passenger service opening next year between Orlando and Miami.

The problems doing this are of course funding, lack of equipment and getting cooperation from the railroads. This and other improvements will require the efforts of Congress to develop funding sources to buy more equipment and make track improvements to allow smooth operations with mixed passenger and freight traffic. To get support in Congress will require service improvements around the country to as many congressional districts as possible and not limited to a few areas.

One project that Amtrak is on record supporting is a daily Cardinal which is now run triweekly between New York, Washington, Indianapolis and Chicago . The reality of life is with overhead costs little money is saved with triweekly service, but revenues are much lower with less than daily service. What has been stopping Amtrak from running a daily Cardinal is opposition by the railroads. If equipment can be found and Mr. Moorman is able to negotiate a deal for daily service on the Cardinal this would a fairly simple project to bring about which would increase ridership and revenues for Amtrak. What would make the Cardinal do even better would be a section added to this train breaking off at Indianapolis to St. Louis and Kansas City. This would open up more connections to more trains as well as create more travel markets.

There has been much publicity of late of efforts in Colorado to create service for the city of Pueblo to the Southwest Chief. Amtrak for now is proposing to run a section between La Junta and Pueblo which would only provide service between Pueblo and Chicago. This would mean no connections to New Mexico, Arizona or California which are at least as big a market as between Pueblo-Chicago. If the State of Colorado is able to fund improved track work it makes far more sense to reroute the entire Southwest Chief to Pueblo to provide service to the west as well as the east of Pueblo.

There is great interest in Oklahoma to extend the state supported Heartland Flyer trains between Fort Worth and Oklahoma City up to Kansas City. Doing this will be expensive and Oklahoma is having trouble now as it is paying to keep the Heartland Flyer running to say nothing of Kansas’s budget problems. A more economical solution which would generate more revenues would be to extend the Heartland Flyer to Newton, Kansas for connections ( granted in the middle of the night) with the Southwest Chief in both directions. This would provide connections between the Southwest Chief, the Sunset and Eagle trains, These longer length trips would generate more revenue than service between Oklahoma City and Kansas City. Connections would still be possible overnight via Newton between Fort Worth and Oklahoma City to Kansas City.

One project which is long overdue is a daily Sunset. Almost 8 years ago when Amtrak brought up a daily Sunset to the UP, the main problems were lack of double tracking on a busy intermodal line serving the Ports of Los Angeles/ Long Beach and the at grade crossing of the UP and BNSF of their busy mainlines at Colton. The Colton flyover has since been built which has eliminated the congestion that often led to freight trains backed up to UP’s Colton yard. The only thing stopping Metrolink from adding more trains on the BNSF between Riverside and San Bernardino now is the BNSF wants Metrolink to pay to extend the triple tracks between Fullerton and Riverside up to San Bernardino first. The other major problem on the UP has been the single tracking between Los Angeles and El Paso. In the last 8 years many miles of double tracking has been added by the UP on this line. There is still 33 miles of single track in Imperial County, California well east of Palm Sprints on this line and about the same amount of single tracking in Arizona. There is also the problem of the single track bridge over the Colorado River at Yuma. Track capacity for now isn’t an issue for the UP with traffic now way down. This also means the UP has no incentive to spend money to add more double tracking on this or any of its lines.

So what can be done about the issues of buying more and new equipment and giving the railroads incentive to double track and have more passenger trains on their tracks? There is a lot Congress can do. It could appropriate funds for more equipment and track work. But there is also much it can do with the tax code to create incentives while not directly adding to the Federal Budget. Amtrak could lease new equipment which legislation by Congress could be made easier to do. Leasing is used by most transportation companies buying planes, trains, cars and trucks. It is a form of financing which allow companies to finance equipment which is paid off from the revenues created with the new equipment. This is more rational than saving money to pay purchases by cash. Financial institutions love to approve leases since they get the tax credit for making a major capitol purchase. This would be a way to use a tax subsidy to buy more locomotives and rail cars for Amtrak. Amtrak doesn’t qualify for tax credits when it gets government funding to buy equipment.

The Federal Government can issue low interest loans for buying equipment and track work. Amtrak is doing this now to buy new trainsets to replace their Acela equipment. Congress could also grant tax credits and or deductions to the railroads which improve their tracks and allow more passenger rail service on their lines. This would give the railroads an incentive to have more passenger service. For now by law, with Amtrak the railroads have to give a discount when Amtrak runs its trains on the freight railroads. Making problems worse for the freight railroads is often Amtrak trains break down or just run late which causes problems. None of these ideas are original with me. But given the politics of rail service, these are some of the more likely way Congress will support more rail passenger service without increasing the Federal Budget.

“Will HSR and Amtrak Arise From Their Ashes Like the Phoenix Bird, Or, Become Extinct as the Flightless Dodo Bird?”

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By M.E. Singer

Currently, the only viable High-Speed Rail (HSR) in the U.S. is the proposed Texas HSR between Dallas-Houston. Hard to believe how the U.S. once led the world before and right after WWII with a vast, inter-connecting network of very fast long distance and corridor streamliners, easily attaining speeds over 100mph under steam and diesel, along jointed rail, with numerous grade crossings.

Today, just as governmental policy in Europe supported rail and the continuous growth of HSR, American federal policy picks winners and losers within the same mode of transport. While the public trough built, and still maintains, the Interstate Highway System and the Air Traffic Control System, the privately-owned railroads were constricted by outdated regulations, and taxed by every jurisdiction where their tracks ran, had depots, or yards. Unable to compete against an open-ended federal treasury directly supporting privately-owned airlines, buses, and trucks; overtly subsidizing the growth of the auto, the final blow to the American passenger train was the federal government’s decision in 1967 to eliminate the Railway Post Office, turning over this lucrative business to the airlines and trucks.

Despite the obvious potential of corridors, America has no HSR because we lost our history and travel habits relying on the inter-city passenger train. Consequently, since the mid-1960s, our major airports are clogged with short-haul “puddle jumpers” flying no more than 500 miles, or less. (At Chicago O’Hare, it was estimated up to 45% of its take-offs are flights under 500 miles). Every European country understands how this ignores the basic economics of HSR, and higher speed regionals, offering fast, frequent, city center to city center service.

However, more to the point, what de Tocqueville never envisioned when he studied American democracy was the growth of powerful lobbying groups and their power of the purse to influence, if not, control Congress. Our politicians are consumed by well-heeled (and high-heeled) lobbyists intent on securing their one dimensional political directive, typically anathema to the public’s interest. So, despite the obvious advantages of HSR in our under 500 mile corridors, including the immense economic development spin-off, land usage and environmental conservation, airports like O’Hare continue to invest in more runways and gates.

Lobbying groups have focused their power around industries vehemently against the passenger train rising like the “Phoenix” out of its governmental created ashes, including: auto, oil, tire, construction, and now, airline, air manufacturer, bus, and bus manufacturer. Concomitantly, the same Congress has created dedicated trust funds exclusively and only for air and highway, financed by their own specific taxes, as well as from general revenues.

In essence, we now have the best Congress money can buy, mirroring the public’s ever growing demand to cut taxes, and cease to invest in the nation’s future. Rather than cutting subsidies near and dear to members of Congress, such as oil, cotton, rice, sugar, pharmaceuticals, Essential Air Services; or, even to accept the legitimate need for user fees by tolling the interstate highways and raising fuel taxes, Congress has espoused a persistent policy to dis-invest in our nation’s infrastructure.

Given the long term impact of this anti-competitive federal policy that has had nearly permanent deleterious results on the American passenger train, Amtrak, has continued to be quite willfully neglected and treated like a step-child of the federal government that created it in 1970. Apparently intended to be but a temporal relief for the Class 1 freight railroads concerned about the spreading financial impact of a Penn Central bankruptcy, Amtrak has never enjoyed the requisite level of funding to facilitate planning for rebuilding corridors; nor to have the financial security to guarantee securing optimal prices for equipment acquisition to increase frequencies and expand routes.

The lobbyists have enjoyed a field day smoke-screening Congress sufficiently to forget its institutional knowledge how reliant the nation is upon an all-mode infrastructure for its mobility and economic growth; successfully convincing the public through its diluted mainstream media to actually believe only Amtrak receives subsidies. With such powerful forces funding these lobbyists, how is anybody expected to learn how all modes of transport are subsidized? Does the public and its media know that only the railroads have self-capitalized to build and maintain their own infrastructure? Does the public and its media realize the persistent bias against the railroads by Congress—that despite Congress fully funding the Air Traffic Control System, Congress created its unfunded mandate in 2008 requiring all railroads to pay for the installation and maintenance of the Positive Train Control system?

Recognizing how Amtrak has been historically required to respond to, if not prioritize, the power-base of the political milieu in its backyard on the Potomac, we have reached a significant crossroads for Amtrak. Will the excessive financial power and extensive political influence of lobbying finally choke-off funding and starve Amtrak by appealing to an antiquated regional philosophy of Congress, and the willingness of the public to be duped, just to keep their taxes low? If so, precious little time is left to avoid an impending post-mortem on “Amtrak: how lobbying derailed Amtrak as the dodo bird.”

Or, we can choose to preserve, and even grow Amtrak, as the nation’s preeminent mode of inter-connectivity by investing in the development of the obvious corridors of potential, acquiring and rehabbing equipment, and designing the appropriate long distance routes serving tourism and our aging population. To experience the rise of Amtrak as the “Phoenix bird” out of its ashes to offer mobility and the resultant spin-off of economic development requires a fast moving, multi-tiered offensive to quickly take the following incremental actions with the new administration in January, 2017.

1) The important first step has been achieved with the retention of Charles W. Moorman as Amtrak’s CEO, effective 1 September 2016. Now Amtrak will be run by a real railroader with a lifetime experience in railroad finance and operations. Moorman has garnered a lifetime of respect from his industry peers, which will be key to reestablishing an improved working relationship with the Class 1s. Importantly, Moorman’s requisite knowledge base will serve Amtrak well by identifying the correct vision to guide Amtrak’s Board of Directors, and to re-build fragile and stressed relationships with Congress, labor unions, employees, and the media.

2) Just like the privately-owned airlines, Amtrak should also be authorized to tax its tickets to directly fund its operational requirements. As well, until Congress resolves the smokescreen preventing the obvious need for gas taxes and tolls to actually pay user fees for our roads, Amtrak should also be authorized to retain the tax it pays on its fuel for its own capital requirements.

3) We need to eliminate the inter-modal bias of the dedicated air and highway trust funds by establishing an overall, embracing Transportation Trust Fund, which would explicitly include Amtrak, commuter rail, and our private Class 1 freight railroads. Amtrak must avoid the annual pejorative budget brawl in Congress by establishing a true budget line item to be fully funded to eliminate its annual “tin-cup approach” for appropriations that barely keep the national network rolling. (Whatever happened to the five year FAST concept?)

4) To level the playing field in transportation, Congress should authorize appropriations to the railroads (Class 1s, Amtrak, commuter) to fully fund the currently unfunded congressional mandate of 2008 for Positive Train Control. Just as in 1956, and again in 1960, Congress moved to fully appropriate the FAA and Air Traffic Control System for the privately-owned airlines, (after two major mid-air collisions); now, Congress needs to make it right to the railroads. It’s bad enough that snow on the interstates is plowed by the state DOTs for the convenience of the competitors to the railroads.

5) Congress shall embrace P3 (Public-Private Partnership) specifically to facilitate investment to improve railroad infrastructure to handle regional and state passenger corridors, as well as to meld with and improve interfacing with freight.

a) Concomitantly, Congress shall require Amtrak to create a fully transparent cost model to encourage state participation to increase frequency over current routes, as well as to develop or expand new routes.

b) If the Northeast Corridor is to be separately funded by Congress, perhaps the 85% of full cost allocation by Amtrak to the state-supported routes under 750 miles shall be designated by the same Congress for the specific business sector of state-supported trains in order to fund equipment and infrastructure requirements?

6) Congress shall toll the interstate highway system and increase fuel taxes to a level commensurate to actual user fees; thereby, eliminating the artificial and false subsidy of highways and their users. Perhaps the public will then appreciate what a “subsidy” is?)

7) Congress shall legislate that no national, state, or municipal transport program utilizing any taxes for the purchase of equipment will be required to focus on the “lowest bidder,” particularly if they have no proven track record, as we have witnessed with CRRC subway cars for Boston and Chicago; Hyundai Rotem commuter cars for Boston, LA, and Philadelphia; and Nippon Sharyo for Amtrak Midwest and California inter-city bi-level cars. a) Because of this illogical bidding concept, Congress shall not penalize Amtrak for the inability of Nippon Sharyo to produce bi-levels per contract; thereby, extend the funding date past 2017. b) Congress shall require U.S. DOT to move the incapacitated order from Nippon Sharyo to Bombardier, Alstom, or Siemens, already with plants here with a skilled American workforce; prepared to use American steel and U.S.-made components.

8) If we can lockout the lobbyists from deliberations, Congress shall determine to what extent can higher, and high speed rail, diminish the saturation of major airports by facilitating the financing of HSR infrastructure-and operations-as it has historically provided for air and highway programs, for the potential corridors up to 500 miles.

Why California Needs More Passenger Trains Now

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By Noel T. Braymer

The California Legislature just passed and the Governor signed legislation to reduce Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions in the State by 40 percent below its 1990 levels by 2030. What the Legislature didn’t do was provide funding or approve the means to achieve these goals. The largest source producing Greenhouse Gases in the State comes from transportation through the burning of gasoline and diesel fuel. To meet the goal of lowering GHG emissions by 40 percent below the level of 1990 by 2030 will require major reductions in the burning of fossil fuel with carbon neutral fuels, more electric powered zero emission vehicles, more public transportation in general and much more rail passenger service in particular. This will have to be done in the next 14 years!

The California High Speed Rail project will go a long way in connecting most of the State’s population by rail with high capacity service. More funding for it will be needed to speed up construction to have an impact to meet these new GHG goals. Phase 1 from Anaheim to San Francisco is now planned to open by 2029. High Speed Rail service is the trunk line, but to fully function it needs branch lines to feed passengers to it for it to serve most of California and make the most impact towards reducing GHG. There are plans to connect High Speed Rail with Los Angeles Metrorail, Metrolink, Pacific Surliners, Caltrain, BART, ACE, Capitol Corridor and San Joaquin trains. More funding is needed to expand some of these services with more equipment and track work to run more trains and carry more people. More new locomotives are needed which will be much lower in emitting GHG. These might include hybrid locomotives with batteries and cleaner burning engines.

On top of this we need an enlarged system of feeder bus services both to connect rail service to more places in California and to provide improved intercity service to more places not possible now to get to without a car. The California Thruway Bus service connecting to local Amtrak trains in the State has a major impact in increasing ridership to the California Amtrak trains. The Thruway buses do this without the need for subsidy. More bus service on this model needs to be expanded to more places. This means filling up these buses with passengers connecting to trains as well as passengers traveling to points between train stations. What will be needed is to get bus operators to coordinate and expand their services to enlarge their markets and be able to transfer passengers to travel to more places by bus and rail. This will mean joint ticketing between carriers along the lines of what airlines do with connecting services between different airlines. This service would also need good connections to local transit. Intercity bus services are doing this now by using transportation centers for their bus stops. This will greatly increase the number of people traveling by bus and should reduce auto travel. GHG emissions can be reduced further by encouraging greater use of electric buses, for both transit and intercity service in the state. Even electric semi tractor trucks are now being developed. Electric buses are now in production which have lower operating costs than conventional buses.

Critical to reducing GHG is changes in land development that require will less driving. This means making it easier to live in places that are closer to transit, shopping, services and employment. Often this means being close enough to walk or ride a bike to. Californians are increasingly living near rail transit stations to travel to stores, services and jobs. Transportation centers increasingly have development being built around them which increases ridership at these centers. Transportation centers will need expanded parking for bicycles and improved bus service for more connections to more places. Transportation centers increasingly are becoming a destination in their own right. A good example of this is in the plans for development next to Los Angeles Union Station which will be building in the next 5 to 10 years.

These changes doesn’t mean the end of the private automobile. But alternative forms of transportation will be needed for the new development needed to reduce driving in the urban areas of California and reduce GHG. Most of this new development will come about through private investment. More government spending will be needed to improve existing railroads for expanded passenger and freight service. The new commercial and residential development made possible by expanded rail passenger service will be drawn to areas around transportation centers. We are already seeing this happen at several train station/ transportation centers in the State.

The only constant in life is change. Good transportation is central to a growing economy. If California is serious about reducing Greenhouse Gas emissions and a growing economy this will mean more rail passenger service, transit, walking, bicycling as well as shorter distances to jobs, services and entertainment. Creating these alternative to driving will work together to make traveling faster and more convenient than driving on congested roads and looking for parking. Increasingly in urban areas the cost of driving is out of reach for people who also have trouble finding affordable housing. The solutions to all of these problems boil down to increased efficiency and better land use possible with improved rail passenger service.

Bye Bye Joe; Welcome to Amtrak, Wick

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Commentary by Russ Jackson, September 1, 2016

Here it is the first of September, 2016, and a new Amtrak era begins at the top of the ladder.  Wick Moorman, 64, until last year the CEO of the Norfolk Southern Railway and a 40 year career there, has taken the reins of the leaderless horse called Amtrak and been given a list of incentives that he can earn.  The Amtrak Board of Directors will pay Moorman $1 a year, and if he accomplishes that list of incentives he can earn up to $500,000.  Isn’t it interesting that as of this date no one has reported what is on that list?  We can only guess, and as everyone reading this knows, rail advocates are quick with lists of their own as to what should be on it.

In his opening day letter to employees, “Hello from Wick,” he quickly showed class by thanking his predecessor.  While we wait to see what Wick will do we, too, can reflect on the past few years with some quick observations.  Number one is that Joe Boardman was no Graham Claytor, who has reached the top of rail advocacy’s list of best Amtrak CEO ever.  Boardman will hardly ever reach that level in future years, but without detailing them he did accomplish a few things; unfortunately they were all eastern-related, such as the huge order for low-level passenger cars, diners, and baggage cars.  Oh, what has happened to that order?  Well, all the trains are now running with shiny new bags, even on the western Superliner equipped trains.  The rest of the order is frozen right now and who knows when, or even if, the next part of the order will be forthcoming.  What else did he accomplish?  A daily Sunset Limited?  No, and the Union Pacific put the kibosh on that by saying that they will not consider a daily train until the route from Los Angeles to El Paso is fully double tracked.  We know now that there are 33 miles of that route in California that are still single track, and many more in Arizona west of Maricopa.  There is no current construction on-going there.  Well, Joe, what else?  Oh, never mind…the negatives are too many and Joe is out the door to a welcome retirement in upstate New York.  Thanks for your efforts, Joe, we guess.

In Moorman’s Hello letter to employees he said, after thanking Boardman, he hopes to “work together to make Amtrak a safer, more efficient, and modern company, that’s GROWING our business and delivering increasing value to our customers and the nation.”  GROWING?  Did we hear that right?  When did we hear that word from an Amtrak executive, let alone its CEO, since Claytor?  Certainly not from David Gunn.  All we’ve heard for years is how poor the company is, must keep costs down, and must (beg) the Congress to give more free money so “we” can…well, keep the Northeast Corridor running.  Never mind that the real revenue generating chances for GROWTH are in the long distance national network.  Moorman correctly points out, “as our country’s transportation needs continue to change and GROW, there is more and more public interest in passenger rail service everywhere. … We can expand and GROW our company in ways that will help us meet these new demands and make Amtrak the leading rail passenger carrier worldwide.”  (all-caps by the author)  If this is part of the list of achievements that the Board gave Moorman,  they are good starters even without specifics.  If he wants specifics, there are thousands of rail advocates who can give him some, and wouldn’t it be refreshing for him to meet with some of us as well as his employees?  Welcome to Amtrak leadership, Wick Moorman, may your candle burn brightly…come on out to Sacramento, see the great Rail Museum, and on September 24 you’ll find more knowledgeable advocates than you can ever imagine!

Although the new CEO story is the biggest one of the summer of 2016, here’s one more thing about the daily Sunset Limited.  Did you know that 25% of the revenue for the Texas Eagle now comes from passengers to/from the Sunset?  The Eagle would be in much better condition financially if a daily connection was made in San Antonio, and additional sleeping car space was available on a through basis.  The same can be said for a future extension of either the Sunset or the City of New Orleans across the Gulf Coast to Florida.  But, wait, the responses from Amtrak have always been, “we don’t have the equipment,” and “the states must pay for expansions of less than 750 miles.”  While they (Joe) happily went along with the state payment mandate from the Congress, the west has yet to see any effort to increase the size of the fleet.  The original orders of Superliners are now missing 22 cars due to accidents.  That’s almost 3 un-replaced western trainsets!  What’s the “state of good repair” for the locomotives?  As for state payments, they (Joe) were happily able to “convince” the sates of Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico to fork over big bucks to keep the Southwest Chief running on its important traditional route and not abandon folks who have become dependent upon that train.  Even though the Chief is a “national system” train, the precedent has been set for affected states to cough up to keep their trains.  Note:  That requirement doesn’t apply to the states of the Northeast.  Why should it?  The Feds just came up with a $2.45 billion loan to buy new (Acela) trainsets, facility improvements (in NY, MD, and the DC), upgrade tracks and make platform improvements on the NEC.  In his glowing statement, Vice President Joe Biden (another Joe), a big NEC backer, said, “You can’t make this country work without rail…This is really, really sound investment.”  Repayment of this loan is supposed to come from NEC operations, which makes the debt service another large overhead amount that will be parceled out among all Amtrak trains, not just the NEC, as Amtrak books are always juggled.  The West got zip.  Hey, VP Joe, we’re out here!  You listening, Wick?

The other major development this summer, in this writer’s opinion, was the Pueblo, Colorado story.  Way back in 1984 when rail advocacy was just flexing its opinion publicly, RailPAC published the “Quarterly Review,” and one of its first stories was by New Mexico’s Jon Messier, who proposed rerouting the Southwest Chief from Trinidad to Pueblo and then to La Junta as a way of increasing revenue for the train.  Forty years later that proposal is finally under serious consideration, with the state of Colorado and city of Pueblo getting its ducks in a row in anticipation of exactly that.  Oh, wait, that isn’t how Pueblo will be served in the current plan.  No, Amtrak “is investing in a miniature “HO” Scale idea,” as Noel Braymer points out.  “A stub train originating/terminating in Pueblo,” according to Braymer, “would generate far less revenue than rerouting the entire train, at more operating cost for more passenger cars and locomotives, a mini-crew base in Pueblo plus turning and cleaning the train there, and coupling and power cabling time & costs in La Junta.”  To say nothing of BNSF access costs.  Does Colorado know that when the details of the deal are finalized that Amtrak will probably require the state to pay for all that?  The state will probably go along with it so they can crow about how they succeeded in getting train service,  and Amtrak can brag that it isn’t costing them anything.  This plan is far from what Jon Messier proposed 40 years ago, and which would be the best chance for success for Colorado and the other states where the real destination for the stub train, if necessary, should be to Denver and connection to the California Zephyr.  You listening, Wick?

One last urging, this one to readers if you got this far in this commentary.  It is hoped you will attend the RailPAC/NARP meeting in Sacramento at the Rail Museum on September 24.  There is an outstanding list of speakers, see the meeting notice on www.railpac.org.  You will want to meet Peter LeCody, the new NARP Chairman who hails from Texas where he has been an outstanding leader in  both passenger and freight, with the Texas Rail Advocates.  As well as Wick Moorman at Amtrak, we also welcome Peter to NARP leadership, where he should do an outstanding job of advocating for all of us.  This writer hoped to be able to attend the meeting this year, it’s been a long time, but my wife’s health does not permit me to travel that far for that long.  Have a great meeting, folks!  I’m hoping Noel Braymer will be able to record the activities so I can view them.

 

Is California’s High Speed Rail Project Really That Expensive?

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Actually it’s a Bargain!

By Noel T. Braymer

The main argument by opponents of California’s High Speed Rail project is that it is unaffordable. That the cost estimates are too low and the project will result in a major burden for taxpayers with little benefit. The critics point to the original estimate for the project of $30 billion dollars for Phase 1 service between Anaheim and San Francisco. The estimate for Phase 1 by 2012 rose to $68 billion with the critics claiming that the true cost would go past $100 billion if the project continued. So what happened?

Much of what determines construction costs for any form of transportation is the cost of acquiring right of way and costs associated with mitigation of impacts on the environment. The original assumption by the California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) was that most construction in the San Joaquin Valley would be along the Union Pacific Right of Way. This is the straightest right of way, it would be the cheapest to build on, would have the fewest environmental impacts and was where most of the cities in the San Joaquin Valley wanted to build their High Speed Rail stations.The CHSRA assumed there would be no problem getting the Union Pacific’s cooperation on this matter.

Right after the passage of Prop 1A in November 2008 which approved the bonds for the High Speed Rail Project, the Union Pacific made it very clear they would not allow the CHSRA to use their right of way for the High Speed Rail project. After 2012 when it became clear that the project would go ahead, the UP has been a little more flexible, but the damage was done. This forced a new plan using large parts of the BNSF San Joaquin Valley Right of way. But even with this it would be necessary for the high speeds planned for this project to acquire large tracts of private property to build new rights of way for High Speed Rail to avoid curves that would slow the trains. This was a major factor in increasing the cost of the project over the original estimates.

By 2012 the California High Speed Rail project was a mess. There was serious talk of cancelling the project. Out of this came a new business plan which would have a more realistic chance of success. This new business plan was largely the work of the Legislature’s appointed High Speed Rail Peer Review Group. These are unpaid professionals in rail, transportation, finance and engineering who largely dictated the 2012 business plan. To prevent future increases in the construction budget, the budget for Phase 1 was raised to $68 billion dollars. This included much more money for contingencies. This made it harder for the project to go over budget and increased the chance they would come under budget. Since construction began in 2015, estimates and construction costs have on average come in under budget. Even when some segments of the project have cost more than estimated, they were still within the level budgeted for contingencies. With the 2016 business plan the CHSRA lowered its budget for Phase 1 to $64 billion dollars. This was done with the approval of the Peer Review Group.

So how does California High Speed Rail compare to other transportation projects? Let’s look at 3 rail transit projects in Los Angeles County. These projects have broad public support and have not gone wildly over budget as would be predicted by the critics of rail construction. Los Angeles County did have budget overrun problems with its Red Line construction in the late 20th Century. But it has gotten better building rail transit with experience. First example is the recently completed Expo Light Rail Line between downtown Los Angeles and Santa Monica. This 15.1 mile line was built on a publicly owned former railroad right of way and public streets. The only tunnel for it is shared with an existing subway built for the Blue Line into downtown Los Angeles. There are several elevated segments to go over major roads and sound walls were built to mitigate noise in residential neighborhoods. The full cost of the 15.1 mile Expo Line came to $2.5 billion dollars. That is around $167 million dollars a mile in construction costs.

Under construction now in Los Angeles County is the Crenshaw/LAX Light Rail Project. It will connect with the Green Line at the southeast edge of LAX and run north up to Exposition Blvd for passenger connections to the Expo Line. It will also have connections to LAX with a joint station for the LAX People Mover. This route of 8.5 miles has several miles of subway construction under Crenshaw Blvd. The rest of the project south of Slauson Ave is being built on a publicly owned former railroad right of way. This segment on the former railroad will have several bridges over major roads in the region. The current budget for this project is $1.7 billion dollars which for 8.5 miles comes to around $208 million dollars a mile.

The most expensive transit project in Los Angeles County is the extension of the Purple Line subway from Western Ave and Wilshire Blvd to the eastern edge of Beverly Hills at La Cienega Blvd and Wilshire Blvd. This is part of a larger project to extend the Purple Line west next to Century City and finally to Westwood along the Wilshire corridor. The segment to La Cienga is planned to open by 2023, to Century City by 2026 and Westwood by 2035. This is the most traveled corridor in Los Angeles. From Western to Westwood is 10 miles while the extension to La Cienega is 3.9 miles of the 10 miles. This 3.9 mile section now under construction is budgeted at at $2.8 billion dollars. That is about $718 million dollars a mile for construction, Subway construction is always the most expensive transit construction. But it is cheaper than trying to buy land for a right of way in a densely urban area. Much of the cost for subways is for the constructions of stations along with the tunneling.

So lets compare these costs to the cost for California High Speed Rail. Phase 1 is now budgeted for $64 billion dollars. This is for 520 miles between Anaheim and San Francisco planned now for completion by 2029. If more funding was available sooner, this work could be done in less time and for less money. Even with current estimates the cost per mile for 520 miles of Phase 1 is around $123 million dollars a mile which is less than the cost per mile of the Expo Line at around $167 million dollars a mile. Why is that? Primarily construction in dense urban areas, particularly for transportation is always expensive. Most of the construction for California High Speed Rail is in open areas where the main problems are the need to acquire land by eminent domain which is expensive and slow. Even where tunneling is needed, it is less expensive than subway construction because no underground stations will be needed. Also the CHSRA has been working to save money in construction in urban area by sharing station and tracks with existing rail services which is much cheaper than building new in an urban setting. Examples of this “blended service” is with Caltrain between San Jose and San Francisco. In Southern California High Speed Rail will share tracks and stations between Bob Hope Airport in Burbank through Los Angeles Union Station to Anaheim. High Speed Trains won’t be going 220 miles per hour in San Francisco or Los Angeles. It is not practical to run at speeds more than 125 miles per hour in urban areas and time savings running fast for short distances is small. This will not prevent express trains from running between Los Angeles and San Francisco in under 2 hours and 40 minutes.The CHSRA is helping to fund improvements where they are sharing tracks which works for the benefit of all parties.

So what of the claims by opponents that California can’t afford to build High Speed Rail? Let’s compare California to Britain. In size Britain is slightly smaller than California. Its population is slightly larger than California’s. When it comes to Gross Domestic Product (GDP), Britain’s now is slightly greater than California’s. California’s economy has been growing, despite what its critics say, because of technical innovation and use of alternative energy which has led to economic growth while reducing emission of greenhouse gases. Britain has more and better rail passenger service than California. It has had passenger service running at up to 125 miles per hour since the 1970’s. Britain today has many train services which run over 100 miles per hour. There are local British trains that run up to 140 miles per hour sharing the tracks between London and the Chunnel which has international trains that run up to 186 miles per hour. But British trains generally run slower than trains in Europe.

Britain is planning to build 216 miles of high speed rail for multiple services for faster rail service north of the London area. This is called HS2 for High Speed 2. High Speed 1 are the tracks between London and the Chunnel for high speed rail service to the continent. The estimated costs for this project is around $76 billion dollars. There has been much criticism of this project in Britain, mostly from wealthy landowners, who’s land will be near or used for construction of HS2. But there is also strong support for HS2 in the cities in northern Britain which are looking for an economic stimulus they greatly need. Northern Britain is the home of the Industrial Revolution and is the original “Rust Belt”. Recently the new Prime Minister of Britain, Conservative Party Leader Theresa May affirmed her government’s support for the HS2 project. Needless to say $76 billion for 216 miles of High Speed Rail construction is more than $64 billion for 520 miles.

This nation as a whole since the 1970’s has been putting off construction and repair of infrastructure, including transportation largely in an attempt to avoid raising taxes. The result is the cost to catch up with repairs continues to grow. In California, voters have made it clear they want improved transportation with voter approved sale taxes in most urban areas for transportation. There is a desire by a majority of voters for alternatives to autos and road travel. There is also the desire to have economic stimulus which comes with new construction for transportation. A factor in California’s current economic growth is from the billions of dollars being spent for improved transportation now. Californians have also made it clear that they support reductions in the emissions of greenhouse gases. Transportation is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases. Powerful vested interests are opposed to efforts to reduce greenhouse gases since this will cut into their profits. Recently efforts of lobbyists to weaken greenhouse gas emission legislation failed due to strong public support for the  current legislation. The opposition to High Speed Rail has far more to do with the profits of fossil fuels, than concern for the taxpayers or the cost of constructing rail service.

WHY OUR NATIONAL PASSENGER TRAIN NETWORK IS BROKEN

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By M.E. Singer

HOW NORTHEASTERN POLITICAL CLOUT RAN AMTRAK OFF THE TRACKS AT THE EXPENSE OF A NATIONAL SYSTEM

By “getting down in the weeds at the level the goats graze” will show cause for how Amtrak has been deliberately mis-managed to the benefit of the Northeast. How
historically the congressional delegation and governors of the Northeast have used their clout to assure their region’s dominance over Amtrak, by loading Amtrak’s board of directors (“the board”) with a majority of political appointees tied to their clout.* Such total political control over the board has assured Amtrak’s focus on the Northeast by their selecting political appointees from federal administrative and commuter rail agencies only from that region.**

Perpetuating this cycle of Amtrak’s board dutifully following the desires of their political mentors by exclusively picking political appointees inexperienced in Class 1 railroad operations to run Amtrak as a national system is best exemplified by Amtrak’s current CEO for the past eight years, Joseph Boardman, from New York. Although he came to Amtrak via the Federal Railroad Administration, Boardman was an administrator, not experienced in actual railroad operations. Running up a plethora of financial and safety issues related to his lack of railroad experience, not compensated by his focused sensitivity to appease political powers, Boardman has been desperately attempting to hold out before his exit on 30 September 2016.

As the issues related to Boardman’s mis-management see the light,Amtrak’s board is
caught up in what Senator Howard Baker skillfully inquired during the Watergate
hearings, to paraphrase: “when did you know and what did you do about it; if you did not know, why not?” Despite how in business it is well accepted that “the fish rots from the head,” as far as the board’s knowledge and approval of Boardman’s misdeeds, there has been no push by the Obama Administration to inquire, or even dismiss, these board members for malfeasance, with such questionable actions not attributable to the two most recent administration appointees from California.

Consequently, without any guilt or remorse over their questionable stewardship of
Amtrak,and continuing to bask under the protection of their clout heavy political bosses in Congress, the Northeastern/Illinois members of the Board persisted on continuing their fealty to their regional political powers by ignoring reality. Indeed, during the recent recruitment for CEO, this board actually looked to appoint yet another Northeastern commuter rail agency administrator as Amtrak’s next CEO. However, recent actions of mis-management at least known, if not even approved by the board, have evidenced cause for concern to intervene now to break this repetition compulsion cycle of Amtrak’s board to fail in its expected stewardship.

Highlighted here are the most significant inter-related issues why Amtrak’s next CEO
had to be a real railroader, steeped in operations, finance, and safety; whose integrity is respected by the unions; whose credibility will restore congressional relations. By re-building these vital relationships will enable the newly ordained CEO, Charles “Wick” Moorman, to reverse Amtrak’s national misfortunes, including:

D.C. COURT OF APPEALS DEFROCKS AMTRAK’S FAILED ADMINISTRATIVE
LEADERSHIP AS SUPPORTED BY NORTHEASTERN BOARD CLOUT

• The recent legal decision (29 April) by the D.C. Court of Appeals exemplifies
what has happened as Amtrak has morphed into an administrative bureaucratic
body. Consequently, Amtrak has evolved into no longer being being a railroad run
by a railroader, as last remembered under the leadership of W. Graham Claytor,
Jr. and David Gunn. Just ask the unions calling out the lack of a safety culture,
despite Amtrak spending $70 Million on such a program. Did the board vote on
this program; were any “residuals” promised to management re future
employment?

• Ignoring its diminished relationship with the Class 1 private railroads, Amtrak
apparently felt it could administratively bully these freight railroads into accepting its own defined metrics for passenger schedules, despite Amtrak’s own
maintenance issues that caused their trains to lose their track access slots.
However, unlike our interstates and air system, the private railroads built-and
maintain-their own infrastructure, to the extent of being taxed by every jurisdiction on every mile of right-of-way and buildings. Indeed, although Congress required the public to pay for the Air Traffic Control Safety System, it created an unfunded mandate for Positive Train Control–at the cost of the railroads.

• Importantly, now that Amtrak will be run by a railroader respected within his
industry and the unions, such court action will be unnecessary. A true
railroader will successfully evidence such competency and depth of experience
to facilitate fruitful negotiations with the Class 1 railroads dispatching
Amtrak’s trains over their own right-of-way; to accomplish this out of court. The
last time this was obviously evidenced was by W. Graham Claytor, Amtrak’s
finest CEO, from 1982-1993.

A former CEO of the Southern Railway, Claytor knew how to work with his peers
in the railroad industry in behalf of Amtrak. The failure of Amtrak by relying upon
the court process as a weak substitute for respectful working relationships
predicated on in-depth experience cannot be lost in remembering the leadership
of Amtrak under Mr. Claytor, and why he was successful. Amtrak desperately
needs to re-embrace those characteristics of a rail industry leader, as Mr.
Moorman clearly evidences, as he assumes the CEO position.

LOST OPPORTUNITIES: CUTTING LOSSES AND EXPANDING SERVICES WITH
CLASS 1 FREIGHT RAILROADS: RESULT OF NO OVERSIGHT TO CONTROL
AMTRAK’S POLITICAL HOMAGE AND LODESTAR DIRECTED BY THE NORTHEAST

• Here is a classic example of the nation’s taxpayers suffering at the hands of
Amtrak’s politically appointed management team motivated to appease its
political crony board, exemplifying what has been missed for so long by not
relying upon an experienced railroad officer as CEO, with solid credentials and
respectful relationships with the Class 1 railroads.

• Lacking such industry relationships, does anybody at Amtrak understand that just
in April, 2016, national freight traffic reported almost 12% down from 2015;
containers traffic alone was down nationally approximately 7.5% from 2015? How
could Amtrak’s political board and administrative appointees in leadership fail to
recognize this vital data as the ultimate opportunity to cut losses and even
expand services by directly negotiating with the freight railroads? The Class 1s
would be only too interested to respond to the economic incentive to supply their
own crews and equipment, to avoid furlough and storage in the desert.

• Regrettably, without the requisite talent at the top of an experienced and
respected railroader, the current political administrative team is too handicapped
to think beyond the Northeast; without appropriate oversight, content to lose this
economic opportunity.

NO LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL EXISTING OUT OF THE NORTHEAST

The above two revelations are a direct result of the Northeast congressional delegation and governors inserting their tentacles for control over and within Amtrak,to the exclusive benefit of only the Northeast; apparently at the acquiescence of the Boardman administration. Amtrak’s politically appointed administrative team serving at the political crony board’s discretion has voiced no problem carrying out the board’s mandate,seeing how two former ex-railroad CEOs were forced out for non-compliance with the board’s mantra for subservience to the Northeast. Most interesting is how the continued deception and mis-information has been carried out without an objection from the administration or Congress.

Importantly to appreciate the Northeast vise containing Amtrak to inhibit it serving as a true national system is to bring factual clarity to a continuing misnomer perpetuated by Amtrak and its Northeastern political supporters, widely dispersed in the Northeastern media, of Amtrak’s claim of the “profitability” of its Northeast Corridor (between Boston- NewYork-Washington):

1) The claim of such profitability defies the Generally Accepted Accounting
Principles (GAAP), by omitting infrastructure costs and investments, which if
included, would certainly eliminate all “over the rail” profits.

A) Common sense dictates that the U.S. Department of Transportation
should assume control over the Northeast Corridor to assure timely
commitment of necessary funds to re-build and maintain its decayed
infrastructure; to assure collection of full payment by Northeast commuter
lines and Amtrak for dispatching and operating rights for track access; to
cease Amtrak from mis-directing operational funds towards the Northeast
Corridor’s vast, deferred infrastructure maintenance and repair needs.

B) Why has Amtrak, under the guise of being a national system, persisted in
objecting to this concept, other than how would the Northeast politicos
maintain control over Amtrak through its board appointments and their
obedient past selection of an administrative, non-railroad CEO?

2) To ensure this “profitability,” Amtrak has also dumped the Corridor’s infrastructure and overhead, and corporate overhead costs into its other business sectors:long distance and state-supported corridors.

A) Where has the GAO and independent auditing agencies been to tolerate
this abuse of GAAP; non-transparency of data to falsely improve the
obvious poor numbers of the Northeast Corridor?

3) Until Congress finally demanded enactment of its own requirements from years
ago, Amtrak has been subsidizing the Northeastern commuter lines utilizing the
Northeast Corridor to the tune of $300-$500 Million per annum.

A) How did Amtrak get away for all those years from Congress identifying this
unauthorized, gaping subsidy, which obviously came out of support for the
national system?

4) If Amtrak abided by the common metric in the travel industry to measure traffic as “passengers/mile,” it would not be dissing its own long distance routes, as they
now meet the same metric as the airlines: average 800 miles/passenger.
Typically overlooked is how coach seats and compartments turnover en route an
average of 2.5 times. In reality, lack of investment in equipment, frequencies,
services, and route expansions due to the subsidization of Northeast commuter
lines for years (see #3) actually has impacted and denied the success of
the long distance routes.

A) In actuality, the long distance trains are not really “the dogs” for Amtrak, as
they serve multi-segmented markets not reached by air, bus, or auto; their
costs are lower as Amtrak does not have to maintain their infrastructure as
on the Northeast Corridor.

B) If Amtrak invested in equipment for more frequencies, the incremental cost
would be more than covered by the increased revenues due to
convenience of schedule frequency and connections.

5) To visualize how Amtrak’s singular focus on the Northeast Corridor has skewered
the interpretation of numbers, note how under the Passenger Rail Investment
and Improvement Act of 2008 (PRIIA), as designed by Amtrak for Congress was
foisted upon the states to collect operational funds for all state services under
750 miles. This maneuver became an “Animal Farm on rail,” as the Northeast
Corridor was the exception to the rule of all states being equal, despite the fact
that Boston-New York is 220 miles and New York-Washington is 225 miles.
This is a classic example of how Amtrak has been governed by the Northeast, for
the Northeast; to exclusively serve those regional parochial political interests at
the expense of a truly national system. Add to this how only the non-Northeast
states have been mandated to pay each year, since 2013, 85% of all costs for
their trains as identified by Amtrak’s quite deliberate opaque cost accounting
system.

A) The lack of transparency in Amtrak’s cost accounting is deliberately
structured as a disincentive to non-Northeast states seeking to increase
schedule frequencies, or, to expand with new routes.

B) Given Amtrak’s continued death spiral under current CEO Boardman’s
financial mis-management (you cannot blame lower gas prices for
everything!), when does the curiosity of Congress, the Administration, or
the GAO finally get peeked to question and audit how can Amtrak’s
fortunes be tanking concomitantly with the increased revenues derived
from these states for past three years? In essence, the logical answer is
how those new found funds are being siphoned off to cover the increasing
losses attributable to the Northeast Corridor.

In summary, these issues scream out for Amtrak’s new CEO, Mr. Moorman, to
immediately contend with, including

1 With the overt machinations by the political powers of the Northeast, politically
appointed cronies from that region have historically been successfully inserted on
Amtrak’s board to ensure the perpetuation of administrative-type management,
also secured from that region’s commuter agencies or federal agencies. This
parochial approach ensured share responsibility in rubber-stamping the nonfactual
data to distort costs and revenues in favor of only the Northeast.

2 Unlike the airlines with private and institutional investors to express intolerance for such excesses of repetitive compulsion, Amtrak does not enjoy that level of oversight.

3 As the incoming CEO of Amtrak, Mr. Moorman defines our expectations of a real
railroader, far from another Northeastern political administrative-type appointee,
or, again, somebody from a Northeastern commuter rail agency. Such an
experienced railroader like Moorman can be expected to demand financial
transparency. As well, this CEO will embrace the employees who want to perform
well, know how to solve the problems, and need a CEO to sincerely listen to their
suggestions; cease patronizing them and infuriating their unions with a noninclusive
environment.

If Amtrak is to survive its current fiscal malady and lack of credibility on Capitol Hill, it must firmly break with the past of single regional dimensional decisions that solely reflect the power of the Northeastern congressional delegation, at the expense of the national system.

*Current Amtrak Board of Directors:
Joseph Boardman-NY
Anthony Coscia-NJ (Chairman of Board; AND Director Audit & Finance Committee
Jeffrey Moreland-PA (Vice Chairman)
Christopher Beall-NY
Albert DiClemente-DE
Thomas Carper-IL (votes with Northeast members)
Yvonne Brathwaite Burke-CA
Derek Kan-CA

**Note: two most prominent disastrous CEO regimes were back-to-back ex New Jersey
Transit CEOs; later a non-railroad federal administrator from the FRA:
-Tom Downs (1993-1998)
-George Warrington (1998-2002)
-Joseph Boardman (2008-2016)