Amtrak, BART, California, California Zephyr, Caltrain, Coaster, Long Distance Passenger Trains, LOSSAN, Metrolink, Pacific Surfliner, Rail Passenger service, Sacramento, Southwest Limited, Sunset Limited
August 24, 2015 Click left to open file
By Noel T. Braymer
Anyway you measure it, Amtrak just isn’t in the same league as the major league rail passenger railroads of Europe, Japan or China. Be it revenue, on-time performance, running times, average running times, customer satisfaction, passenger miles or whatever:Amtrak just isn’t in the same league for Passenger Railroading of most developed countries. To be fair, the United States let itself be left behind and it has been slow to try to catch up with much of the rest of the world. But Amtrak often seems to be oblivious to just how far behind they are to the rest of the world and what they need to do about it.
An example of this comes from a public meeting I was at a few years ago in California. A Vice-President of Amtrak gave a presentation which was mostly a sales pitch for Amtrak winning the contract to operate California’s future High Speed Trains. A major claim for winning this contract was that Amtrak was the leader in High Speed Rail operations in this country. Since Amtrak is the only operator for intercity passenger rail service this isn’t really much to brag about. But since this meeting, Amtrak no longer talks about getting the California High Speed Rail operating contract. Amtrak when this presentation was given, likely assumed the contract for the California High Speed Rail Authority would pay them to run the High Speed Trains. The fact was always that like many High Speed Rail services around the world, California would own and build the High Speed Railroad. But operators would bid to pay the highest amount to California for the franchise to operate the trains and for the operator to make money while doing it.
Even before the creation of Amtrak, there has been political pressure to build a High Speed Rail service on the Northeast Corridor. There are several problems to doing this. The Northeast Corridor is a railroad that was largely built in the 19th century. Today most of the Corridor suffers from deferred maintenance going back to the 1940’s which after roughly $20 billion in Federal spending is assumed to require another $52 billion to get it in a “state of good repair”. Most of the rail traffic on the corridor is not for Amtrak, but the commuter railroads. For example New Jersey Transit runs 20 trains an hour during rush hour to Amtrak’s 4 in and out Penn Station in New York.
In the 1990’s Amtrak President’s were Thomas Downs and George Warrington: both came from the commuter railroad New Jersey Transit. Under them happened most of Amtrak’s development of the Acela High Speed Train. This included extending electrification from New Haven to Boston for faster service for all trains between Washington, New York and Boston.
Since the 1980’s Amtrak was under increasing pressure to reduce its budget deficit and break even. During the Reagan and Bush Administrations, former Southern Railroad CEO, W. Graham Claytor was able to control overhead costs, increase revenues and make major reductions in Amtrak’s deficit. In 1993 at his retirement, Amtrak President Claytor predicted that Amtrak would be able to break even by 2000, if it continued his policies. These included some extensions of Long Distance Trains and ordering additional Superliner Cars used on the Western Long Distance trains.
In 2001 as Amtrak President, Warrington claimed that Amtrak was on the “glide path to profitability”. Much of this was based on the assumption that with higher fares the Acela would be a major money maker. Under both Downs and Warrington, Amtrak cut back Long Distance service to “save money”. There were many problems with the Acela rollout in 2000. In 2002 George Warrington suddenly resigned from Amtrak. Amtrak was in terrible shape and had borrowed a great deal of money for the start up of the Acela assuming it would be a great success. Since 2002 billions of additional dollars of government money have been spent keeping Amtrak running as it still is recovering with the problems with the start up of the Acela.
During his short 2 year Amtrak Presidency between 2006-2008, Alexander Kummant was honest. He publicly said that it was uneconomical to operate passenger trains on the Northeast Corridor at speed greater than 160 miles per hour. To raise speed above 160 mph would require billions of dollars to build bypasses of bottlenecks and to straighten curves in the densely populated Northeast. His honesty might well have been a factor in his short Amtrak Presidency. This didn’t stop his successor, Joseph Boardman from going full bore at attempts to promote the creation of a multi-billion dollar, largely all new 220 mile per hour High Speed Railroad between Washington, New York and Boston. This was done with no signs that Federal Dollars would be forth coming for this project, Amtrak now is working on plans for replacing its newest equipment, the Acela trainsets, with new tilt-train trainsets for speeds up to 160 miles per hour with some improvements to the existing NEC.
So what is wrong with Amtrak? The culture at Amtrak hasn’t got a clue how to operate passenger service at a profit. Going back the first high speed train on the NEC, the 1960’s Metroliner, the assumptions was the key to making money for rail passenger service was to copy first class airline service of the day. The Metroliners were hailed as the thing that would save passenger service on the Pennsylvania Railroad. In the 60’s and 70’s the airlines were a highly regulated industry which protected airline’s profits by restricting competition and insuring high fares. Most airline passengers then were rich or traveling on business, the costs of which were largely subsidized with tax exemptions. Air travel was faster in the 1960’s, than it is now. There were more non-stop planes, plus airports and the airplanes were less crowded then.
Then came airline deregulation in the late 1970’s and everything changed for the airlines. In order to compete, the airlines had to become more efficient and get maximum value for each airline seat. That meant having as few empty seats on a plane as possible. A major part of the survival of the airlines, was the use of hub and spokes airports. The reality is that the least productive passenger services are non-stop services. The key to ridership the airlines realized was to serve as many markets as possible, with the fewest planes as possible. This was possible with planes making connections at hubs. The result is from almost any commercial airport today, a passenger can travel to almost anyplace in world, with a few connections. Through the years, Amtrak has tried many times to increase ridership and revenues by cutting stops to reduce running times on trains. The result every time was ridership and revenue went down. Fewer stops meant fewer markets. Here is a good example of the importance the number of stations to ridership
Looking at the Rail Passenger Miles, it is plain that on the Pacific Surfliners that the trains between San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara to Los Angeles and San Diego carry the most people and produce the most revenue. The weakest train is the one that leaves Los Angeles for San Luis Obispo without connections to Orange or San Diego counties. But when this same train (the weekend 1790) heads south ridership is very strong because it ends up in San Diego. This is a major reason the Long Distance Trains actually do well. They may not carry the same number of passengers as on the NEC, but their riders travel more miles and ticket revenues are much higher. Does anyone travel from Los Angeles to Chicago all the way by train. Some do, but passengers are getting on and off all the time on a Long Distance train like the Southwest Chief. That means the train is earning money the length of the trip as long as a seat or bed is filled. Even at night if there are passengers sleeping on a train they are generating revenue. When Amtrak cuts back Long Distance service and eliminates stations, it loses money, not saves it.
What the Northeast Corridor needs more than faster, more expensive trains, are more reliable trains that go or connect to more places in the Northeast. There are people who live in Long Island and upstate New York, yet what are the connections to Amtrak NEC trains for these people? There are plenty of cities in on the East Coast and Midwest which would feed traffic if connected to the Northeast Corridor. Cities such as Pittsburgh. Cleveland Toronto, Montreal. Charlotte and many other cities in between.
Good connections and reliable service are the cornerstone to successful passenger service. Switzerland is one of the best models for this. A wealthy country, it has one of the highest per capita usage of rail passenger service in the world. Most stations have rail service at least every half hour in each direction.The trains all connect with each other with connections as tight as 2 minutes. A late train can be a major news item in Switzerland. Not only do the trains connect to each other, the trains also connect to buses, ferries, airports and many other transportation modes. Successful rail passenger service in the world have good connections. The United States still has a lot of catching up to do.
By Andrew Selden
We were in France and Switzerland in early June, and used the railways to get around. These were our observations, everything is different in Europe, except the track gauge (and we did see some meter gauge main line in Switzerland). The railroads don’t go everywhere, but where they do go, they go frequently and run very fast. They also have some minor timekeeping issues, but when they occur, they are unusual and the subject of intense apologies from employees. The minimum “legal” connecting time between SBB trains in Switzerland is still 2 minutes.
It is still the case, too, that even in Europe, trips over 500 miles are uncommon and very difficult to do in a day. Most Europeans who have to travel those distances, fly or drive. We don’t have any data on this, but we would be surprised to learn that the average trip length exceeded 300 miles, or that rail’s market share for trips in the 300 to 600-mile segment exceeded 5%. (On Amtrak’s western long hauls, the average trip exceeds 700 miles, and rail’s market share in the corridors it serves regularly exceed 5%.)
We landed at CDG airport in Paris, and took two RER suburban routes to get to St. Lazare station for our train to Normandy. CDG has its own train station, with RER trains into the City, and TGV service to just about everywhere else in France. RER trains are perhaps most like MetroNorth in New York – more than an urban subway, less than intercity. One way fare was 10 Euros (taxi fare: about 80 Euros), but the very long walks between trains and to the St. Lazare platforms with heavy luggage were a challenge. Signage was weak, but uniformed platform employees were helpful with directions. Having a basic sense of railroad operations also helped. The ATMs wouldn’t take my brand-new, chip-embedded Visa card,so I had to add a long wait in a hot queue to buy my ticket from an agent.
St. Lazare is one of a half dozen major train stations in Paris. It has 27 tracks, most for longer commuter routes, and 6 for trains to Normandy. Huge boards, and dispersed screens, show all departures, with track assignments posted a few minutes before departure, always producing a minor stampede. Unlike in the UK, these trains have and the signs show train numbers. Mine, #3307 to Cherbourg, is spotted 35 minutes late due to “maintenance.” Hmmm. The French announcements are not helpful, but a stranger helpfully translates the key info for me. (Forget all the stories about “nasty Parisians” – everyone I dealt with couldn’t have been nicer.) My intercity travel was all electronically ticketed from the US, but timetables and route maps were very hard to find.
The train (I rode to Bayeux) was one electric locomotive and 10 cars, two F and 8 Standard class, with no amenities. Seats in F are all 1×2 randomly facing forward or back. All French trains run left-handed. This one promptly got up to about 100 MPH after getting out of central Paris. The ride – across country that looks like central Wisconsin – went by quickly. The track was flawless. The return trip, four days later, was equally uneventful. These trains run every two hours on this line.
After a day in Paris, we went on to Lucerne, Switzerland. This time, we used a newer double-deck (“duplex”) TGV as far as Basel (the TGV goes on to Zurich), and a Swiss SBB Regional, Basel-Lucerne. The TGV leaves from Gare de Lyon, which has three different halls, each with 12 to 28 tracks, and each about the size of Chicago Union Station. It is a happening place on a weekday morning. Signage here is excellent, including huge boards with departure info. Many different varieties of train come and go constantly. Ours pulls in about 25 minutes before departure, and is immediately mobbed. These duplex TGVs can accommodate up to 1500 passengers and ours seems to be well over half full. These run on a regular basis on this route (but not hourly) throughout the day. At the appointed time – to the second – the conductor’s whistle sends the train gliding silently out of the station.
We leave Paris on conventional track at conventional speed, which we guessed at 65-75 MPH. Once outside the city, we are switched imperceptibly (how do they surface their switches so perfectly?) onto TGV track, and quickly accelerate to between 150-185 MPH. At speeds above about 225 KPH, a screen in the car displays the speed in kilometers/hour. The track climbs grades like on a US Interstate, and one long grade knocks down our speed by 40 KPH, which we immediately recover after the line levels out. The trip to Basel takes about three hours. We run for 55 minutes or so at 180, then make a sweeping curve to the east off the central plain of France and leave TGV track for a long climb at 65-75 MPH up to Dijon. Leaving Dijon for the (unmarked) Swiss border, the TGV accelerates again, but this time reaches 318 KPH, which we loosely convert to 220 MPH, and sustains that for 25 minutes. You cover a lot of ground in a very short period at 220 MPH. Soon, we are slowing for Basel, where we have a half-hour connection to a Swiss Regional train.
Along the way, also leaving Dijon, SNCF serves us a very nice cold lunch tray at our seats, with wine and a choice of three entrees.
In Switzerland, almost every line is electrified, and every time you look, there is a junction with another main line.
The trains in Switzerland are so frequent and go so many places that our tickets on the last segment are unreserved, even in F, and the message from RailEurope that came with the tickets just says, “Take the next train, open seating.” OK – that works. This is an older single-level ten-car Regional train – two F, one snack bar, and seven Standard class. It seems to crawl at a mere 70-75 MPH. Our car is about half full.
After our time in Lucerne, our last leg is a one-hour train to Zurich airport. The airport also has an intercity rail station in the basement. We go to the Lucerne station, serving a city of about 90,000. It is busier than the Minneapolis airport, with about 30 stub-end tracks, and a constant rush of trains of all kinds, including narrow gauge trains to Interlaken, and everything from 3- and 4-car EMUs to single- and bi-level SBB Regionals, and TGV-clone intercity trains to Germany and Italy. Trains are operated by at least four different operating companies. Again, it is sufficient to just buy a ticket and join the next train to your destination. In a half hour, there are more than 20 departures to various places. Trains leave for Zurich airport at 35 minutes past each hour. This time, we hit a problem – it is about 86 degrees, and amazingly the duplex Regional train is not air conditioned, so the last hour is most uncomfortable.
Contrasting the experience in Europe with Amtrak is easy, and not flattering to Amtrak. Even in the NEC, where Amtrak is, for the most part, master of its own fate, timekeeping and service standards are mediocre. Europeans would not understand the bizarre lack of services in the US west of Harrisburg, PA., or the utter absence of timekeeping integrity that is a daily occurrence here. Why do we accept almost daily two, three or four-hour late Empire Builders as “just the way it is”? Why is that acceptable? Neither would Europeans understand the parsimonious and inconsistent on board services that are common on Amtrak, and all but unheard of in western Europe. Still, the experience travelling by rail in Europe is instructive, not in the sense that we should try to mimic their services, but in the sense that it is manifest that Amtrak can do far better than it does, both in building a broader national network of services, and in providing a consistently dignified and customer-centered on board service environment. Until Amtrak significantly ups its game, we should not wonder that it struggles to achieve social relevance anywhere in the US.
By Noel T. Braymer
There are now 5 rail transit projects in different states of construction in Los Angeles County. Two projects: the Gold Line extension from Pasadena to Azusa and the Expo Line extension from Culver City to Santa Monica are both now almost finished. Both will have passenger service by early 2016.
Also well into construction is the 8.5 mile Crenshaw/LAX Light Rail Line linking with the Green Line at the south along LAX to Expo Line at Crenshaw at the north. This will include direct service by an airport People Mover to the terminals at LAX. The Crenshaw/LAX Line is planned to open by 2019 with the LAX People Mover to the terminals running by 2022.
The next project after the Crenshaw/LAX Line is the Regional Connector. This is a new 1.9 mile subway tunnel under downtown Los Angeles. This will allow the Blue Line from Long Beach to be extended to Los Angeles Union Station and out to Pasadena, Azusa and in the future maybe as far as Ontario Airport. The Regional Connector will also reroute the Expo Line out to East Los Angeles on the current Gold Line. A new subway station in Little Tokyo will replace the current surface station and should allow easier transfers at the same platform between the two lines in the Region Connector. The new tunnel and rerouted services should be operational by 2020.
A related project, but not directly a part of LA Metrorail is SCRIP, or Southern California Regional Interconnection Project. Also know as the run-through tracks at Los Angeles Union Station. Construction should begin around 2017 and be fully operational by 2020. This is part of a larger program to increase the number of regional Metrolink and Amtrak Surfliner trains to 278 trains by 2025. This is up from roughly 156 train a day now run at Union Station. Run through tracks will eliminate the need for trains to either back in or back out of Union Station. It will also increase the train capacity of Union Station. Related plans are in place to allow more trains by double tracking more of the tracks in Los Angeles County. This will include full double tracking in the San Fernando Valley. SCRIP is a major part of the rebuilding going on at the same time of Union Station. The station will get a new concourse, replacing the 1939 tunnel to allow more passengers to use the station and for more direct connections between trains with rail transit and local bus services. This will also include more amenities at the station for all passengers and visitors.
The latest major rail project for LA Metrorail is the extension of the Purple Line west along Wilshire Blvd. An all subway service will make this the most expensive project for LA Metro. But this corridor also has the heaviest travel demand and greatest development unserved by rail transit in Los Angeles County. The first 3.9 miles segment from Western Ave. to La Cienaga Blvd. in Beverly Hills is expected by 2024. The full 9 miles from Western Ave to Westwood by the I-405 is scheduled no later than 2036. The exact day depends on future funding.
So what is planned after that? Voter approved Measure R calls for service to extend today’s Gold Line further east from East Los Angeles. Service to either Whittier or El Monte are both being studied. Measure R also calls for rail service on the old Pacific Electric West Santa Ana Line which is now publicly owned from Paramount next to the 605 freeway in southeast Los Angeles County to Santa Ana in Orange County. An extension of the Green Line in the South Bay is planned as far as Torrance. There is also suppose to be Light Rail in the San Fernando Valley. Also in Measure R is some money for rail transit from the San Fernando Valley in Van Nuys to Westwood and LAX. While Measure R has funds for all of these projects, it doesn’t have enough to fully fund these projects.
Los Angeles Metro is preparing a new ballot measure to present to the voters of Los Angeles County for the November 2016 election. A similar ballot measure was on the November 2012 ballot. It would have extended the current sale tax for transportation in Los Angeles County, which would allow the County to borrow money now to speed up construction of projects and avoid higher costs of construction in the future. This measure failed to pass, missing the required 2/3’s majority needed by less than one percent. Great care is being taken in what projects will be proposed for the 2016 measure that it will have greater support to insure passage.
There is no lack of desirable projects for rail service in Los Angeles County. LA Metro is proposing to convert the Orange Line Busway into a Light Rail service. The Orange Line is already reaching capacity as a Rapid Bus service as ridership continues to grow. One major project many people would like to see is rail service along the I-405 to connect the San Fernando Valley with the Westside of Los Angeles and LAX. Current planning for this is to use a Public,Private, Partnership, or PPP. This would include building a Toll Road in a tunnel under the 405 and a smaller tunnel for rail transit from LAX to the Van Nuys Train Station. The funding for this project is expected to come from tolls on the highway tunnel and higher fares for the rail service. No word yet how high the tolls and fares would be to pay for this project.
There are several improvements that could be done on the Green Line. It should have a connection to the West Santa Ana Line project for service from Orange County to LAX and up the Crenshaw/LAX Line as far as Exposition Blvd. There are plans, but no funding to to extend the West Santa Ana Line at Paramount up the old UP Harbor Line to Los Angeles Union Station. Such service could be done for much less by extending existing Metrolink service on the UP Harbor Line as far as Long Beach with connections to both the Green and West Santa Ana Light Rail Lines.
What will also make sense for the Green Line is to extend it east from its Norwalk terminal by the 605 freeway 2 miles to the Norwalk/Santa Fe Springs Metrolink Station. This will be needed if this Metrolink Station is chosen as one of the California High Speed Rail Stations. As it stands now the Metrolink Station only has bus service by one line of Norwalk Transit. It will need more transit service if it becomes a High Speed Rail Station. Green Line service to Metrolink and High Speed Rail would give direct connections to LAX. as well as the South Bay and connections on the Blue Line to Long Beach as well as the area south of downtown Los Angeles and parts of West Los Angeles on the Crenshaw/LAX Line to the Expo Line.
One long term proposals is to extend the Crenshaw/LAX Line to the planned extension of the Purple Line west of Western Ave. There are other calls to extend the Red Line in North Hollywood to the Bob Hope Airport in Burbank and rail connections from Bob Hope Airport to the current Gold Line at Pasadena. There are also calls to build a connection between the Red and Purple Lines through West Hollywood. It will be some time before all of these projects can if ever be funded and built. The priority should be to serve as much of the region as possible with connecting services between LA Metrorail, Metrolink, California High Speed Rail, Amtrak as well as intercity and urban transit bus services.
By Noel T. Braymer
In the United States, we have been running rail passenger service the wrong way for years. What we need is a rail passenger system. What we have instead is a fragmented series of services that that don’t connect with each or serve places when and where people want to travel. Often service providers look at each other as competitors for passengers and funding, instead of valuable providers of transferring customers. They tend to be focused on existing and often shrinking travel markets while ignoring new ones.
The roots of these problems goes back when many different rail services began as unconnected local services. Over the years American rail passenger services have ignored changes in rail passenger service around the world and have shun efforts to innovate and learn from them. To often Rail Passenger service is a political football as social welfare and not as a valuable service vital to a growing economy.
The New York Times recently ran a story about the problems traveling around the San Francisco Bay Area by public transportation. It pointed out that the Bay Area has 9 counties and 20 public transport operators which often don’t connect or provide transfers to each other. This can make it difficult to get around the Bay Area, particularly if you are not travelling to downtown San Francisco. Even if you are going to San Francisco it is difficult to transfer to your final destination. But one can find many of the same problems in New York. There instead of counties not cooperating with each other, you have states with different services not working together to attract passengers.
What is needed to get different organizations to work together is a single umbrella organization that oversees all of the member agencies. By nature such an oversight organization should be neutral and fair so no agency feels it is being taken advantage of. But at the some time it is impossible to get anything done without sometimes upsetting someone. Such oversight organizations in one form or another have been around for years in Europe. In California there have been some efforts for oversight at the regional and county levels.
One example of this is the Metropolitan Transportation Development Board (MTDB) of San Diego which was created int 1976.It was responsible for planning all transportation for the metro area of the city of San Diego. Besides roads, it oversaw several local bus services and San Diego Transit which was then the largest bus carrier in San Diego County. By 1979 the San Diego Trolley project was approved . The bus operators, particularly San Diego Transit opposed the Trolley project fearing it would take funding and passengers away from them. The MTDB had to take responsiblity for building and operating the future Trolley. One of the first things noticed after service started up on the Trolley was that bus ridership also increased on the lines connecting to the Trolley.
In 2003 San Diego Transit was reorganized into today’s San Diego Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) which operates and builds extensions to the Trolley and operates most of the Bus service in the San Diego metro area. Service and operation of bus and rail service from northern San Diego County is handled by the North County Transit District (NCTD). The MTDB was phased out with it’s jobs split between the MTS which handles operation of both the Trolley and much of the bus service in metro San Diego. The planning and service coordination for both the MTS and NCTD where taken over by the County’s planning agency SANDAG.
Many of the issues that San Diego went through happened in Los Angeles County and its rail program. In 1976 the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission (LACTC) was created. Its job was to oversee planning for all forms of public transportation and highways in the county. One of its jobs was to rule on whether or not to allow Culver City Bus to extend service on one of its bus lines to Westwood and UCLA. This effort was opposed by Santa Monica Bus which had many riders in Westwood. The LACTC approved Culver City Bus service to Westwood.
Shortly after the successful start up of the San Diego Trolley in 1981, local efforts in Los Angeles County were begun to build Light Rail on the old Pacific Electric Line between Long Beach and Los Angeles. At the same time Los Angeles County had a problem with having money and no project. There was State and local matching funds for a Federal Match for a “Downtown People Mover”. In the early 1980’s the Federal People Mover project was killed by the Reagan Administration and the local money for it had no place to go. Without a project the County of Los Angeles would have to return money to the State. This was the beginning of the Blue Line.
At this time the Southern California Rapid Transit District (SCRTD) was responsible for both most of the bus service in Los Angeles County, plus planning and construction of the future “Heavy Rail” transit system for the region. The RTD was opposed to Light Rail because it feared it would take money away from its future very expensive Heavy Rail projects. As a result the LACTC ended up taking over the planning and construction of the original Blue and Green Lines. The Red Line subway project had many problems during construction and early ridership was below projections. What did happen was as Light Rail service expanded, ridership increased for the Red Line.
In 1993 the Legislature reorganized the LACTC and SCRTD by merging the two organizations. This resulted in the new Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority. It not only operated the buses and trains of the RTD, but was responsible for all transportation planning in Los Angeles County, including highways and oversight of the many local municipal bus companies in Los Angeles County. There are still bus services in Los Angeles County which don’t accept transfers between other bus services.
The closest thing we have today in Southern California for an oversight agency for Rail Passenger Service is the LOSSAN Joint Powers Authority (JPA). Just by having regular meetings between the different government agencies both within this JPA and the other 2 JPA’s in the State has gone a long way in improving communications and creation of common goals.
But progress is still very slow. With the construction of run-through tracks at Los Angeles Union Station by 2020 will bring 50 % of all trains at the station being extended to other end points. This will create a more efficient service for both Surfliner and Metrolink trains. This will also improve revenues and shorten running times for all of these trains.
But what is missing and have been advocated for some time in Southern California are better connections between trains and seamless ticketing with a single ticket for connections on a trip. Many connections that do exist are not highlighted on schedules and many potential connections have yet to be made. No major schedule changes have yet been proposed, let alone made to create more and better connections within or between Metrolink, Coaster and Surfliner trains.
You can buy Amtrak tickets on Metrolink Ticket Machines, But there still isn’t information about existing connections or one place ticketing between Amtrak, Metrolink and Coaster trains. By comparison airline passengers can go online and not only get tickets of a full itinerary over several carriers, but also reservations for hotels and car rentals.
On a State Wide basis the closest thing we have to a State wide oversight agency for rail passenger service is LOSSAN. LOSSAN started out as the Los Angeles-San Diego Rail Corridor Agency back in the late 1980’s. Today it represents counties from San Diego north along the coast as far as San Luis Obispo and as far east as Palm Springs.
Still LOSSAN is a local JPA. The other 2 rail passenger JPA’s serve the area of the Capitol Corridor Trains now from San Jose to Oakland, Sacramento and Auburn, and the San Joaquin trains from Bakersfield , Oakland and Sacramento. These three JPA’s share connecting buses with each other and these bring in many passengers between these 3 services. With the creations of 3 JPA’s for these California Trains, much of the attention of the JPA’s are on local issues and service. What is often missing are efforts to connect all these services to each other and connecting services of each for intrastate passengers.
This becomes even more important as High Speed Rail passenger service is built. For example there is only one joint station planned on the San Joaquin Trains with High Speed Rail. This would be the Bakersfield Station. The reason there are so few joint stations was from the desire of the local cities in placing their High Speed Rail Stations near areas in need of redevelopment. Now the city of Bakersfield is proposing a new station site that won’t connect to the San Joaquin trains. There is a simple solution to this. This is to build transfer stations in the south and north of the San Joaquin Valley were the San Joaquin and High Speed Rail tracks are near to each other. High Speed Trains could stop there when there are San Joaquin Trains to connect to. High Speed Rail will be running several trains an hour with some as local and other as express trains. Adding 2 stops to a local High Speed train shouldn’t be that difficult.
For the public to get their best value and most economical service from Rail Passenger service, we need services to be connected to each other and have seamless ticketing with stations providing good connecting services. This will only happen if there is planning and coordination between services. This may not always be done voluntarily by the different agencies. This is why we need a small oversight agency to make the final decisions to insure that we have a true rail passenger network of many parts and not a feudal patchwork of independent fiefdoms.
By Andrew Selden
Some critics of long distance trains look at the route map and say, “Who would ride a train from Chicago to Los Angeles? We should get rid of this.” That is like asking, “Who would drive I-94 from Detroit to Seattle? We should tear up that useless Interstate.”
As with the interstates, the secret is the intermediate markets that the train links. Just as a 2,000-mile Interstate freeway links as many origin/destination (“O/D”) opportunities as there are on- and off-ramps, so a long distance train connects as many O/D pairs as there are stops on the line, plus connecting opportunities along the way and at the endpoints.
For the Empire Builder, for example, the route’s 41 stops between Chicago and Seattle (set aside for the moment the Portland Section) represent a potential of 1,640 O/D pairs just within the route, plus a vastly greater number through connections at the endpoints and at Spokane (for Oregon and California).
On the Empire Builder, for example, the average trip exceeds 800 miles, some are much longer, and some shorter. The average trip spans about 14 hours. St. Paul to Seattle is about 38 hours. On average, every seat and berth turns over about 2½ times on every trip. This is how the train (like ALL long distance trains) generates its enormous productivity: long routes with many intermediate stations, and turnover.
We recently saw a sleeping car manifest for one trip of the through sleeper that is connected from the Texas Eagle to the Sunset Limited at San Antonio three days a week. It was instructive on the character of the traffic that uses the train for longer distance travel. We acknowledge that sleeping car passengers skew towards longer trips (why pay Amtrak’s astronomical sleeping car prices for a shorter trip?). Even so, on this eastbound trip, in February of 2015, no one rode all the way through Los Angeles-Chicago on this car (no surprise), yet the car remained sold-out, with passengers on these trips:
Los Angeles to Dallas, Tucson, Maricopa, Austin, Little Rock.
Little Rock, Texarkana, Temple, Maricopa, and St. Louis to Chicago.
Tucson to Ft. Worth, Chicago, Joliet, and San Antonio.
El Paso to St. Louis, San Antonio, and San Marcos.
San Antonio to Dallas.
Dallas to St. Louis and Chicago.
Austin to St. Louis.
Palm Springs to Mineola.
Lordsburg and San Marcos to San Antonio.
Longview to Springfield.
Note that many or even most of these O/D pairs have daily direct air service, usually with several flights a day. Note, too, that this one Superliner sleeper was essentially sold-out over its entire itinerary, and that Amtrak probably turned away as many potential passengers as it carried on this one off-season trip. Ponder how much revenue Amtrak lost by not having a second sleeping car on this train, or by not running this service daily. These are strategic lost opportunities, invisible to the brick-headed people who snipe at Amtrak long distance service, even those inside Amtrak management who still don’t get what these opportunities represent.
It is possible even that a few of these travelers were the briefcase-toting business travelers who make up so much of the traffic at the airports, in addition to the Seniors, students, tourists and rail-preferring customers who used this train, and paid fares that far exceeded the cost of coach air fares to do it.
This pattern prevails throughout the long distance network. It explains why the California Zephyr is full just about every departure between Chicago and Denver, a market in which there are dozens of daily non-stop commercial flights. It explains why sleeping car fares from Minnesota to the west coast are often in the range of $1,000 or more, three times what Delta will sell you a ticket for. By not running more Superliner sleepers on existing trains, and on more routes and better interconnecting them, Amtrak is leaving tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars of forfeited revenue on the table, every year.
We know from Amtrak itself that these trains are already making money – they are not receiving ANY of Amtrak’s lavish federal subsidies – so adding cars to gather still more revenues won’t cost the taxpayer anything. So why is it that Amtrak’s strategic plan calls for more money-losing high speed trains in the Northeast, but absolutely nothing for the western long distance services? Joe Boardman really is the worst businessman in the country.
By Noel T. Braymer
What about California? There is going to be a great deal of tunneling needed for the California High Speed Rail project. California has secured $3.3 Billion Dollars in Federal Funding for the first leg of High Speed Rail between Burbank and Merced out of a total estimated cost of $31.3 billion dollars. By comparison the Hudson Gateway Project, which would include a new double track tunnel under the Hudson River and related projects in Manhattan is now estimated to cost $16 billion dollars. For this the Governors of New York and New Jersey are demanding that Amtrak and the Federal Government pay half the cost which is $8 billion dollars.This is for a tunnel which the vast majority of use is for local commuter rail service on New Jersey Transit. Already Amtrak has spent millions of dollars on the Hudson Gateway Project even though it has not been funded. This is because the State of New Jersey refused to pay it’s share of that project.
In Southern California alone, we need at least 2 but could use 4 tunnels for the LOSSAN Corridor to be fully functional. The highest priority is for a tunnel in San Clemente to replace a long segment of slow, single tracked railroad which is a major bottleneck on the Corridor. Sooner or later this trackage is likely to be swept out to sea. At Del Mar is another major single tracked bottleneck on the bluffs overlooking the Ocean. Sooner or later these tracks will slide down the bluff of this major rail connection between the 2 largest cities in California and its busiest travel corridor. Each of these tunnels will cost about a billion dollars a piece.
So why do folks in the greater New York City area feel that their tunnel should have priority? And why is Amtrak being given the job to build and pay for this Hudson River tunnel? There are 2 major projects underway now in Manhattan. One is the Hudson Yards Redevelopment Project which at 28 acres is billed as the largest private real estate development in US History. It is being built over the yards of the Long Island Railroad on the west side of Manhattan. New York City has already spent 2 billion dollars to extend subway service to this project despite other needed improvements of the subways.The promoters of this project claim that it is only 2 blocks away from Penn Station. To make this project profitable will require major improvements in commuter rail service to Manhattan.
The other major project is the Hudson Gateway Project. This is the $16 billion dollar project that not only would add 2 additional tracks in a new tunnel to the existing 2 under the Hudson to Penn Station. It will also make improvements in several areas to speed up service around the New York City area. To carry additional New Jersey Transit commuter trains to Manhattan a new annex to Penn Station is planned for these additional trains. This will be a new station built 15 stories underground below the Manhattan Macy Department store. Little has been reported on how passengers are going to get out of this station and to Penn Station and the surface.
So why is this a Federal job for Amtrak? The state of New Jersey pulled out of the original project to transfer 4 billion dollars allocated for this project to its highway department so that it wouldn’t have to raise its gasoline tax which is already the 2nd lowest in the County. Since 2010 state of New Jersey’s budget is so screwed up now all the transportation funding for the state is nearly broke. But New Jersey hasn’t raise any of its taxes.
In makes no sense to build an annex to Penn Station for New Jersey Transit. A better solution would be to send more trains to Grand Central Station after leaving Penn Station. Grand Central Station has plenty of excess tracks and platforms plus it is in a better neighborhood on the eastside of Manhattan. Penn Station has run through tracks. Terminating trains at a station is a waste of money since this greatly reduces the number of trains you can operate at a station. This is why there are plans to build run through tracks at Los Angeles Union Station to increase the station’s capacity by 50%. Run through service can also open new markets and faster, more direct service to more places. By 2020 with run through tracks, 50% of the trains at Los Angles Union Station will be extended and not terminate there. For this to happen at Penn Station will require cooperation between New Jersey Transit, Long Island Railroad and MetroNorth. This is highly unlikely to happen voluntarily.
The agency that that should be building the Hudson Gateway project is the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, not Amtrak.The job of building transportation infrastructure has been the Port Authority’s job in the New York City area since the 1920’s The Port Authority has its own sources of revenue. It also has the power to sell bonds. In the past the Port Authority funded big projects with bond money and paid them off with the revenue from the projects it build. It controls many of the bridges and tunnels into Manhattan and collects the tolls too. It also runs and earns income from the 3 major airports in the New York City Area. It is also a landlord, including the World Trade Center. It was also responsible for building most of the tunnels and bridges into Manhattan. It even owns and runs its own rail passenger service:PATH, which connects the World Trade Center with New Jersey.
The Port Authority also has a reputation for being highly political and corrupt. It has been deferring maintenance on many of its bridges and tunnels to fund other projects. La Guardia Airport which is owned and run by the Port Authority has been called the worst airport in America. The Governor of New York recently announced a plan for a 4 billion dollar overhaul of La Guardia. Funding calls for the Port Authority to supply half of the funding with private funding making up the rest. Critics of this plan claim it will encourage more driving in already grid locked New York City and ignores the needs for public transportation. There is almost universal agreement that the very busy Port Authority Bus Terminal is a mess and needs replacing. It handles over 60,000 commuters a day. Depending on the source, cost estimates for a new Bus Terminal vary from 1 billion up to 11 billion dollars. A major criticism of the transportation planning in New York is it is heavy on glamorous projects for carrying professional people on planes, trains and in cars. But it poorly serves most workers to Manhattan who ride buses and the subway. The New York subways need major improvements including a new signalling system to replace the 80 year old one which replacement parts need to be custom built for.
At the heart of the problems with the Port Authority is politics. This quote says it all from “Inside the Port Authority, the Corrupt Powerhouse Behind Christie’s Bridgegate Scandal by Jim Epstein on The Daily Beast Jan 21, 2014 “The Port Authority has been a money tree, an ATM machine…a place [the governors of New York and New Jersey] can go to do projects that they can’t get through their budgets,” Stephen Berger, a former Port Authority executive director, said at a recent breakfast forum held by the Citizens Budget Commission. During Berger’s tenure, New Jersey Governor Thomas Kean pushed the Port Authority to underwrite an office building in downtown Newark that had nothing to do with transportation. In 1992, Governor Mario Cuomo got the Port Authority to buy a portion of the Aqueduct Racetrack for $40 million to help plug a budget shortfall.
So who is one of the biggest boosters for Amtrak being in charge of the Hudson Gateway Project which is more about local commuter trains and land development than Amtrak’s purpose which is Intercity trains? It is Anthony Coscia, Chairman of the Board of Amtrak. Mr Coscia has been on the Amtrak Board since 2010.Before that he was Chairman of the Board of Commissioners of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey from 2003 through June 2011.Mr. Coscia is a lawyer from New Jersey. By law all Chairman of the Post Authority are from New Jersey. The current Board for the Port Authority are all White Men. None of them have a background in transportation, but the board is dominated by bankers and real estate developers.
The problems the New York area is having with transportation is not unique to New York. Everywhere in the United States there are major backlogs of infrastructure projects that have been underfunded for up to 40 years. These problems won’t be fixed overnight. Spending should be done on a priority basis, not by politics. To pay for this more money is needed. That will mean raising Taxes. Every region of the Country should get it’s share of Federal dollar, but it should include a hefty local share of the spending. California is doing its part with some of the highest gas taxes in the Country and high Sales taxes in many regions for improved transportation.
If the Northeast, particularly the New York area gets more Federal Spending, the largest share of that money will come from California since California has the largest Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of any of the States. New York is third just behind Texas of the states GDP. California’s Gross Domestic Products is around 2.3 trillion dollars. New York’s GDP is around 1.3 trillion. If you add New York’s GDP with New Jersey’s of just over a half a trillion dollars, your get a combined GDP of just over 1.8 trillion dollars. If we also include’s Pennsylvania’s GDP of 6/10ths of a trillion you have a combined GDP of over 2.4 trillion dollars which is greater than that of California’s. California has a 60 billion dollar backlog of road work to deal with. It is building a High Speed Rail system largely on its own. It is also expanding both transit and regional rail passenger service. It is doing this largely with local taxes. California has raised it taxes by popular vote, turned the State’s budget deficits into surpluses and created economic growth. So what is New York and New Jersey’s excuse?