September 8, 2015 Click left to open file
By Noel T. Braymer
I rarely have a chance to attend the meetings on rail service to keep up with what is happening. I hadn’t given any thought about attending the recent LOSSAN Joint Powers Authority (JPA) Board Meeting at the SANDAG headquarters,until I figured I could take the Rapid Bus on the I-15 to it and still get back to work on time. Could I have taken the Coaster? Yes to get to the meeting on time. But no If I wanted to get to work on time and home after work. No Coaster trains were running in the late morning for me. I got up before 6 AM and left the house by 7:15 AM. What is normally a 45 minute drive from Oceanside to Rancho Bernardo took at least 70 minutes that morning. I am so happy to work in the afternoons and evenings and usually miss that kind of traffic.
I missed the bus I planned to take. But the next one was only 15 minutes behind it and I got dropped off only 2 short blocks from the SANDAG offices where the meeting was being held. No parking problems for me downtown. The building had new controls for the elevators. You pressed the button outside of the elevator for your floor, and an elevator would open and take you directly to your floor. Much faster than your normal elevator ride. Reminds me of plans for people movers which would work like an elevator but skip intermediate stops to speed up trips. Back in the 20th century though these systems never seems to work.
I got in before the meeting started just after 9:30 AM. I noticed many new board members had replaced some of the old board members.The problem with that is the new board members have a lot to learn about Rail Passenger service to get up to speed on their job. RailPAC President Paul Dyson gave a public comment at the start of the meeting. He announced the December 5th RailPAC meeting and that we’ll have Amtrak Board member Yvonne Burke and a senior representive from the California High Speed Rail Authority. Much of the meeting like most public meetings was boring and hard to hear. There were no major votes, mostly informational items. An early subject was an update on the final handover of management of the Surfuliners from Caltrans to the LOSSAN JPA.
The next business item was the Surfliner Marketing update. Micheal Litschi of the JPA staff went on about branding and name recognition about Amtrak and Surfliners. The JPA is suppose to hire a marketing manager soon. So I don’t understand why they didn’t wait to let the expert do their job? I felt the JPA staff was getting marketing for rail service all wrong. Most public transportation agencies do. Marketing isn’t the same as advertising. No rational business spends money on a new product or service; without first doing marketing research to see how much demand there is for a new product or service. Marketing isn’t an exact science and many products flop when introduced. What marketing information that is needed for rail passenger service is: knowing how frequent people want rail service, to which stations, when they want to travel, how fast they want to go, what connections they want and how much they want to pay to travel with what amenities.These things needs to be tested before going whole hog on a major new service and know to improve service and revenue.
It was during this marketing update that one of the new board members pointed out that he got an angry email from a constituent who wanted to travel from Encinitas to Fullerton by train. But he couldn’t because the trains didn’t connect. We have had LOSSAN, Metrolink and Coaster now for over 25 years and we still don’t have real connections and seamless ticketing between them. We have no sweep trains which are what are needed to connect passengers between local and limited stop trains. It is the job of the Board to order staff to work on these projects, not just talk about them. The LOSSAN Board needs to get together with the boards of Coaster and Metrolink to encourage them to to get their staffs working together for better tran connections. This is important as more double tracking is finished, there will be more frequent train service which should make it easier to schedule connections.
The next presentation was by Jay Fountain of Amtrak. He had a lot to talk about. He was saying how Amtrak prepares months in advance for the Thanksgiving Weekend which is their busiest time of the year. During this time all Surfliner trains have reserved seating. Last year they carried almost 70,000 passengers on the Surfliners on Thanksgiving Week. Many different Amtrak departments work on this. I couldn’t believe it but crew scheduling is done in Wilmington, Delaware for the Surfliners. Last year Fountain pulled in extra equipment for the Surfliners on Thanksgiving including extra Horizon Cars and a Superliner Lounge Cafe car. He said people preferred the Superliner car because the food service was on the upper lever where most people walk on the Surfliners. Surflner have their snack service downstairs and people which often walk right past.
This year Fountain is adding 2,000 more seats during the Thanksgiving weekend by running an extra round trip with existing equipment. This will be done by having a train leave San Diego at 4:40 AM for San Luis Obispo. They will do it Thursday and Monday mornings of the Thanksgiving weekend.The equipment will leave Los Angeles at 8:30 PM on Wednesday and Sunday as train 592. It will leave Thursday and Monday morning as train 1761. He plans to greatly increase revenue doing this. Mr. Fountain lives in Fallbrook and commutes to LA on the first Metrolink trains out of Oceanside at 4:37 AM. He said there are plenty of passenger on the trains out of Oceanside that time of the morning. He clearly wants to make this a permanent service. He talked about his new job with the Western Long Distance Trains. He said he will continue to work in LA and will still be in charge of the Surliners. Oh I found out from Fountain’s talk that Metrolink’s camera drone is named Caspar. His presentation includes a few aerial photos from Caspar.
The rest of the meeting was too boring generally to talk about. There was a presentation of the capital projects underway for rail service in San Diego County. It was mostly just material from the SANDAG website and projected on the screens in the Board Room.
At the end RailPAC President Paul Dyson got a chance to talk again. He was saying that the new Positive Train Control for the Surfliners will mean the trains going north or south of LA will have to wait 30 minutes to download the route they are going on next. Paul said there should be a way to put the whole route on the trains and not create a longer layover for through trains.
By Noel T. Braymer
Since 1995 the closest (about 2 miles) LAX has been to rail service is the Green Line Station at Aviation Blvd and Imperial Highway. That will change in 2022 when there will be a joint Crenshaw/LAX and Green Lines Station with connections to the LAX People Mover which will be a mile closer to the LAX Terminals.Instead of a 2 mile bus ride mixed in heavy airport traffic, the People Mover will run straight to the airport. There will be moving sidewalks to help connect passengers to the terminals from the 3 People Mover terminal stations. The Crenshaw/LAX Line will be running by 2019. The new station that the Green and Crenshaw/LAX lines will share at Century Blvd. will likely have shuttle bus service to the airport until the opening of the joint Metrorail/People mover station is ready by 2022.
How big of an impact will this new LAX rail service have at the airport? It won’t offer direct service to downtown Los Angeles. Many of the people who fly out of LAX live and or work along the coast near the 405 freeway. There is little in the way of connections by rail to this corridor. The 405 freeway (as well as the 105) is often congested around LAX. Much more is needed to carry passengers to LAX with rail than the combined Green and Crenshaw/LAX light rail lines.
Ideally the Green Line should be connected to the Blue Line for direct service to downtown Los Angeles and Union Station. The same is true for the Crenshaw/LAX Line to the Expo Line to West LA and San Monica. Building such connections now won’t be cheap. Also adding more trains, particularly on the Blue Line will be difficult. Both the Blue and Expo Lines have many grade crossings that limit the number of trains it can run without disrupting road traffic. Extensive grade separation would allow many more trains from 2 lines to run on theses routes. What is also needed is rail transit on the 405 corridor between Van Nuys and LAX to link with the Green, Crenshaw/LAX, Expo, extended Purple Lines, the Orange Line Busway (which needs to be rebuilt for rail) and the Van Nuys Amtrak/Metrolink Station.
Ideally the Green Line should be extended 2 miles east to the Metrolink Norwalk/Santa Fe Springs Station. This station is a strong candidate for a future High Speed Rail station as HSR is extended to Anaheim by 2029. Norwalk is closer for passengers from Orange and Riverside Counties to LAX and much of West Los Angeles than connecting at Los Angeles Union Station. As of now for a Metrolink passenger trying to get from Norwalk to LAX they must first transfer to a Norwalk Transit bus (which accepts Metrolink tickets as a transfer) to the Norwalk Green Line terminal This can easily take 40 to 50 minutes since the bus schedules are not timed to meet with the trains. Once on the Green Line it is another 30 minutes to the Aviation Green Line station for a transfer to a shuttle bus to the terminals. It takes well over an hour now to get from Metrolink at Norwalk/ Santa Fe Springs to LAX. Needless to say not many people ride Metrolink to get to LAX. But there is a simple way to improve on this and increase Metrolink ridership.
A shuttle bus can quickly and for little capital expense be run between Metrolink and the LAX area using the HOV lanes on the 105 freeway. The buses can be scheduled to be standing by for each train to carry passengers west. and bring them east on their return trip. Adding a few stops along the way will increase ridership for these buses. Such stops could be for connections to the Green Line as well as the Blue Line at the Willowbrook/Rosa Park station, to the Sliver Line Rapid Bus on the Harbor Freeway HOV lanes and at the Green Line station at Aviation. For connections to the terminals this bus service could go to the LAX City Bus Center which has shuttle bus service and is closer to the terminals than the bus shuttle at the Aviation Green Line station. This bus could also be extended to connect with the Expo Line at Culver City and even Westwood and UCLA.
Most express services have trouble gaining ridership because they serve too few markets. This was one of the problems with the short lived Flyway bus at the Irvine Transportation Center which went directly to the LAX terminals. There were limited frequencies for this service and the bus only went to LAX. That is understandable considering the service was funded by the airport. If ridership supports it, it would be possible to run limited and all stop buses for people just going to the terminals and other going to the Westside. But first we need to start with a decent connecting service.There is no way to know when if ever the Green Line will be extended to Metrolink. Bus service can be in place long before such an extension is built. By 2022 these buses can serve the joint Metrorail/LAX People Mover station for passengers headed to LAX’s terminals.
Just this starter bus connection to the LAX area and Westside LA will increase ridership for Metrolink and the transit services these buses will connect to. The existing connections at the Norwalk/Santa Fe Springs station are too slow and inconvenient for most people to bother with. Connecting bus services will open new, underserved markets for Metrolink. The LAX connecting bus can be a prototype for more connections for Metrolink. Bus service from the San Fernando Valley to Westwood and LAX are also worth looking into. Metrolink bus connections from Riverside to Palm Springs, additional service on the Venture Metrolink Line, connecting buses to San Diego County to Metrolink trains terminating in southern Orange County are just some of the possibilities.There are many markets underserved by rail than can be with decent bus connections.
By Noel T. Braymer
Politics have long played a major role for Rail Passenger Service in this country. From the start of Amtrak there has been an ongoing political battle over rail passenger service between “Blue States” (with Democratic majorities) and “Red States” (with Republican majorities). The Blue States with more large cities often have short distance trains but with large numbers of passengers. The Red States are generally served more by long distance trains. Often when there are budget battles the long distance trains on Amtrak are held hostage with threats of being abolished if full funding isn’t granted for the short distance trains, particularly in the Northeast. These battles between long distance versus short distance trains produces no winners, only losers for the American traveling public.
Over the years Amtrak has cut back long distance service (but never on the Northeast Corridor) in attempts to save money. This has never worked. On paper the long distance trains seem to lose a great deal of money for Amtrak. This is because trains on Amtrak are charged a share of Amtrak’s overhead by their train miles. Long distance trains get charged a great deal since they travel more miles than short distance trains. The problem is cutting long distance trains does nothing to reduce Amtrak’s overhead. Cutting long distance trains only leaves fewer trains to charge Amtrak’s overhead to. Cutting long distance trains also reduces more revenue than it saves in avoidable costs.
The good news is we are increasingly seeing grass root organizations being formed that have or want long distance passenger train service all around the country. The leaders in these towns understand how vital transportation is to the economic growth and health of their communities. They have often felt the impact of when Amtrak service is disrupted or cut. A good example of this are the local efforts to keep the Empire Builder going between Chicago, Minneapolis, Seattle and Portland. The last 4 years or so have not been good for the Empire Builder. Floods along the route and major rail traffic congestion in large part due to the “oil boom” in North Dakota turned the Empire Builder into the least reliable passenger train in America.
A major problem for the Empire Builder was regular flooding at Devils Lake in North Dakota. Things got so bad that in 2009 the BNSF said if the lake flooded again it would reroute the Empire Builder unless Amtrak paid $100 million dollars to raise the railroad above flood level. This would leave the towns of Rugby, Devils Lake, and Grand Forks without rail passenger service if the line was abandoned. After flooding shut down service around Devils Lake in 2011, BNSF got an agreement with Amtrak and North Dakota that they would each pay a third of the cost of raising the railroad above flood level at Devils Lake. In December 2011, North Dakota was awarded a $10 million TIGER grant from the Federal Government and constructions work began in June of 2012.
At the same time this was happening, freight train congestion hit a peak with a growing economy and the oil train boom which delayed other many trains. With this on-time performance for the Empire Builder was nearly non-existent. This year things have greatly improved. The raising of the tracks around Devils Lake is finished. The BNSF has accelerated its efforts to double track its mainlines in the northern United States and oil train traffic has declined. As far as the Empire Builder is concerned, local efforts were needed to insure it was saved and continued along its historic route.
Much the same play book is now being seen on the Southwest Chief in New Mexico, Colorado and Kansas. With the Chief more than 3 towns are at risk of losing rail passenger service. A couple of years ago the BNSF announced that unless Amtrak paid $100 million to upgrade the tracks on the route of these 3 states that goes over the Raton Pass to passenger trains standards, the Southwest Chief would have to be rerouted. There was hope from other towns along the BNSF mainline east of New Mexico that they may get Amtrak service. The BNSF made it clear that any attempt to reroute the Chief would require about the same amount of outside funding as fixing the route through Raton. Towns along the Raton route have gotten together to find ways to to raise money to fix the tracks and save their rail passenger service. In southern Colorado the city of Pueblo has been a major supporter of the Chief to also reroute it to serve their city. Not long ago this would have been thought impossible given the heavy coal train traffic on the BNSF line through Pueblo. But with the recent and rapid decline of demand for coal, this may not seem unrealistic now. Not all of the money has yet been raised, but the BNSF has stopped talking of ending service through Raton for the Chief.
A different story is playing out along the American coast of the Gulf of Mexico between New Orleans and Orlando. After Hurricane Katrina hit the region 10 years ago the tracks and stations were heavily damaged, At this time service of the tri-weekly Sunset Limited from Los Angeles to Orlando was pulled back to New Orleans. Since then the tracks and stations east of New Orleans have long been repaired but Amtrak has refused to restore service on this long distance Amtrak system train. The leaders on this route have been stepping up their efforts to get rail service restored. Amtrak has been pushing a plan to get the states on the Gulf Coast to pay it a subsidy to run a short distance train between New Orleans and Florida. Service in the region only makes sense if there are connections via New Orleans and Jacksonville to Orlando, the rest of Florida, the Eastern Seaboard, upper Midwest to Chicago and the West Coast. More markets mean more ridership and revenues. That’s what the airlines do.
Here is a quote from Coastal officials want passenger rail service back on track AL.com-Jun 12, 2015 “This isn’t about nostalgia or rail fans, it’s about economic development and it’s about commerce,” said John Robert Smith, chairman of the board with Transportation for America – a non-profit alliance that pushes for grassroots support of progressive transportation policy in the U.S.”It’s about security and evacuation and movement of goods in and out before and after tropical storms and hurricanes,” Smith, a former long-time mayor of Meridian, Miss., added. “It impacts southerner’s lives on many different levels.”
This is from “The Hill ” website for August 28th: A provision in a multiyear transportation bill that was approved in July by the Senate would provide funding for a study of the feasibility of restoring the service, which used to make stops in Alabama and the panhandle of Florida before it headed south to Orlando.
Advocates of restoring the dormant Gulf Coast Amtrak service are hoping to win support for the language in the House when lawmakers return to Washington in September. “The Senate has passed a very good bill that does two things: It creates a $100 million fund for states to access for services which were annulled (Sunset Limited) or under threat of downgrading of discontinuance (Southwest Chief),” a group called Friends of Sunset Limited to Florida wrote in a Facebook post as the Senate was approving the highway bill, which is known as the DRIVE Act, in July.
“Also restructures the Amtrak Board of directors by creating better regional representation,” the group’s post continued. “Two directors each would come from the Northeast Corridor, States supporting passenger service and most importantly for us, areas served by long distance service.”
This is clear evidence that local efforts are finally having an effect in Washington to provide funding to improve and expand rail passenger service around the whole country. Cutting trains doesn’t save money and weakens a national rail passenger system, even for the Northeast. The key to rail passenger growth doesn’t come from Washington. It starts at the local level and takes pressure to get Washington to do the right thing.
By Noel T. Braymer
SANDAG , the regional planning agency for San Diego County is appealing a ruling by 2 lower courts to the California Supreme Court of a lawsuit brought by a coalition of environmental groups. The lawsuit is over SANDAG’s transportation planning for the County. The basis of this lawsuit is SANDAG’s current planning expects a net increase of today’s levels of Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHG) from increased vehicle traffic by 2050. State Law calls for a reduction of GHG emissions by 2050 to levels lower than what they were in 1990.The plaintiff’s in this lawsuit wants SANDAG to redirect funding for major road constructions projects to increased funding of rail and bus projects in San Diego County. Over the 40 years between 2010 to 2050, spending of 214 billion dollars for transportation is projected by SANDAG in San Diego County. What then will be needed for regional rail passenger service to make a major dent in reducing auto traffic in San Diego County?
The first thing that is needed is to run more frequent trains. But to do that, what is needed is to fully double track the 60 miles of passenger railroad in San Diego County. Current plans call for 90% of this railroad to be double tracked by 2025. The last 6 miles however are the most difficult and expensive to double track. Full double tracking isn’t planned until after 2050. So what are the problems on the last 6 miles to be double tracked? The most expensive project is in Del Mar and the Los Penasquitos Lagoon wetlands. The plan is to build a double track tunnel in this area which is expected to cost at least a billion dollars. To double track most of the railroad is also costing another billion dollars. Another area which will need double track tunneling is under the UTC shopping mall in La Jolla. This will be a major transit hub with the extension of the San Diego Trolley Light Rail service to the University of California at San Diego (UCSD) and UTC. The area around UTC, UCSD and nearby Sorrento Valley is the largest job center and heaviest traffic generator of the San Diego region.
The tracks today south of Sorrento Valley go slowly around the UTC area in a long detour through hilly canyons. This is the slowest segment of rail in San Diego County. There are plans to double track this slow segment and raise speeds from 25 miles per hour up to 40 miles per hour after 2030 for about $100 million dollars. If we want to make a major impact on rail travel in San Diego County, we need to tunnel under UTC, both to make a major reduction in running times with a faster, shorter railroad and to serve a major and now largely ignored activity center. A third major tunnel project that is needed, is in Orange County at San Clemente. A tunnel is needed at San Clemente both for a faster and double tracked railroad to replace the slower single tracked line on the beach. This makes the railroad vulnerable to being washed out by heavy seas or blocked by landslides from the nearby cliffs. There is a lot of traffic between Orange and San Diego Counties and beyond. These 3, one billion dollar plus a piece tunnels are needed to dramatically increase rail passenger service and reduce GHG emissions by 2050.
There are now 11 round trip Pacific Surfliner trains run by Amtrak daily. On weekdays the Coaster runs 11 round trip trains between Oceanside and San Diego. A double tracked railroad could handle these 22 round trip trains in one hour. A major freeway can carry just over 300,000 cars a day. To make a major impact on travel in San Diego County would need rail ridership of around 100,000 passengers a day. Between San Jose and San Francisco, a distance of 51 miles, Caltrain now carries 58,000 passengers a day and expects to go over 100,000 in the future. A double tracked railroad can carry per hour more people than 10 lanes of freeway,with 5 lanes in both directions.
The main factor in carrying a large number of additional passengers is getting people in and out of stations. What is holding back ridership now is the amount of available parking at stations. More parking will be needed. But we can’t build enough parking to carry up to 100,00 passengers a day. We will also need more development with new high density housing that people can ride buses, bikes, mobility devices or walk to the train stations. We will also need to upgrade local bus service to carry more people to and from the trains.
We will also need more stations. There are several new stations being planned. A Transit Center is being planned with a Coaster station in Camp Pendleton near the Coaster/Metrolink Maintenance Facility. There are also stations being planned at the Convention Center in downtown San Diego. This will also serve PETCO Park baseball stadium, the popular Gaslamp District and is near the 12th and Imperial Trolley Station, the hub of all three Trolley Lines. A joint Trolley/ Amtrak/Coaster and High Speed Rail train station is also planned at the San Diego Airport. A station is also proposed for High Speed Rail at UTC. Stations should also be considered south of downtown San Diego to National City and at the 32nd Street Naval Base Trolley station. this would allow faster connections for passengers south of downtown by Coaster to the Trolley Blue Line by avoiding the slow street running of the Trolley downtown.
The best way to add more stations and riders to the Coaster is to extend some trains north of Oceanside to Orange County. There are plans to run some Coaster trains to Fullerton in the future. There are also plans to extend Metrolink trains to San Diego. To extend a significant number of Coaster trains and add more, faster Surfliner trains will require a double tracked tunnel in San Clemente.
These improvements will cost billions of dollars. But trying to expand freeways increasingly impossible. To justify such spending for rail passenger service will require greatly expanded rail ridership. Greatly increasing the ridership is what will be needed for rail service to have a major impact on transportation in San Diego County and the greater long term reductions in Green House Gas and other emissions.
Report and Commentary by Russ Jackson, with PHOTOS
For almost two decades this writer wrote a monthly column titled “Tracking Rail News,” which appeared in the Western Rail Passenger Review, the official publication of the Rail Passenger Association of California and Nevada. It was discontinued when the RailPAC Board voted to go a different direction with its publications, along with the increasing popularity of the electronic media which brought the weekly e-newsletter edited by Noel Braymer, and the Steel Wheels publication edited by Paul Dyson.
Not that there is any real need for its resurrection, but sometimes thinking about the old days brings out the old three dot mentality, and there is no better way to end this summer of musings about the western long distance trains than to bring together several “news” items and “commentary” about them in the grand old style and see what we’ve learned along with two superb photos we have received.
… The Silver Star. Yes, this brings up again the Amtrak “experiment” in eliminating the Dining Car entirely from this east coast train that travels daily from New York to Miami via Tampa, Florida. How’s it going? Well, not much has been said, but it is very apparent that passengers who reserved space on this train before and since the discontinuance were taken by total surprise when they boarded. According to a report obtained by URPA, an Amtrak manager issued a statement in AUGUST, three months after the policy went in effect, saying that while “several channels have been used to communicate that there is no dining car, many passengers were not aware”….etc. So, a “notice” was attached that was to be posted at stations along the route that passengers would see WHEN THEY ARRIVED at the station to take their train. It says that “Silver Star Trains 91 and 92 Dining Car Temporarily Removed, & Lower Cost Sleeping Accommodations Offered.” When an on line reservation is made for that train there is a red flag warning taking the purchaser to advisories, only one of which pertains to the Star, but how many riders other than railfans go there? Well, not enough, as the complaints are rolling in. It’s just too difficult for non-railfan riders, who make up the huge majority of Amtrak’s riders, to notice everything. If they notice anything it is the lower sleeper fares, which can drive sales, but what a surprise welcomes them on the platform when boarding! Will Amtrak admit that this “experiment” didn’t work? Of course not. Concrete is set.
… On Time Performance. This has always been one of this column’s favorite topics. While full summer statistics are not yet available, this fiscal year has seen a consistency of “red” reports. On its official website, Amtrak.com, they publish their monthly performance reports which contains details of what they say are their financial and operations statistics. As of this writing, only the June, 2015 report is available, and it was a sea of red figures for OTP as none of the Long Distance Routes were doing better than the 80% On Time goal. In early August the Southwest Chief #3 stalled for 10 + hours on Raton Pass because there was “a mechanical issue with a locomotive on the ascent to the summit.” No passengers were allowed to disembark for any reason and with the on board electrical outages rest rooms did not operate and air conditioning was not functioning. How many “Never Agains” did that create because the vital locomotive head end power did not work? Can’t blame the BNSF or freight interference for that.
… Coast Starlight and Southwest Chief. There were several improvements to the on board service on the Starlight, which began some positive “experiments” first by adding a 12 seat “Business Class” seating in the lower level of the Coach just behind the Sightseer Lounge car. Did it work? Very well is what we hear. Reader Mike Palmer wrote that he attempted to get a Business Class ticket to ride from Los Angeles Union Station to Santa Barbara on Friday, August 14, but those spaces were sold out, and the train itself was almost sold out. Coach passengers on board the Starlight can now order BLT or Grilled Cheese sandwiches to be delivered to their seats at lunch time, or a Salisbury steak and salad at dinner time. They are selling like hot cakes; but where did these ideas come from? This summer Amtrak appointed a new route manager to handle both the Starlight and the Chief, Eric Smith, who is implementing these experiments and expects to try them on the Chief, too. RailPAC President, Paul Dyson, and RailPAC VP Long Distance Development James Smith met with Eric Smith at LAUS recently. He is taking his ideas, along with three route chefs, back east to show how they work. As for the Southwest Chief’s other major problems of saving the traditional route in Northern New Mexico, Southeast Colorado, and in Kansas, agreements were worked out with the states to participate in the line maintenance and reconstruction, but more work can begin in Western Kansas after the August receipt of a Federal grant. What is undone, however, is who will pay for the installation of PTC (Positive Train Controls) on that portion of the route. The BNSF has no interest in paying, and Amtrak cannot or will not kick in the rest. URPA’s Howie Dash says, “The distance from Raton to Lamy is 176 miles. According to a report I read, the cost of installing PTC averages $130,000 per mile. So, on that section of track alone we are looking at a cost of approximately $23 million just for PTC installation.” The shakedown of the states resumes. Oh, and the City of Pueblo, CO, still wants the Chief rerouted to serve that city, and a $215,000 “study” could result “if the voters there approve an excise tax on marijuana grown in that county.”
… Sunset Limited, Texas Eagle, and Heartland Flyer. These trains are grouped together now that there is a new route manager for all three, and like Eric Smith, Jay Fountain will be based at Amtrak offices in Los Angeles Union Station. Technically, his title is “Director Long Distance Routes in the Southwest Region.” What is unique about Jay Fountain is his 40 year longevity with Amtrak, where he started as a Dining Car Steward in New Orleans. RailPAC’s James Smith salutes this appointment of someone who not only has been a manager but knows passenger railroading from experience on the road. The major development for these trains has been the relative high consistency of on time performance this summer, with many westbound trains arriving at LAUS early, some as much as an hour. While that sounds great, it means #1’s arrival in Los Angeles as early as 4:30 AM. Passengers who had been permitted to stay in their sleeping cars until 6:30 found that they now are required to leave the train. Amtrak has opened the Metropolitan Lounge for first class passengers at 5 AM, where they can wait. But, with the turnover load factor on this and the other long distance trains it means that end point ridership is low (see Andy Selden’s report in the current issue of Steel Wheels). Most of the layover passengers are transferring to the Coast Starlight. As for the Texas Eagle, major summer storms in the Midwest caused havoc with its on time performance.
… What did we learn this summer? Can you see some small steps being taken by Amtrak here in the West? All the positives outlined above are the result of “outside the box” thinking by local managers, something that was frowned upon for a long time. If this is an indication of a new attitude that can generate not only increased “ridership”, but also the vital passenger mile revenue that is the key to the success of the long distance routes even if east coast management ignores that factor. True, there have been some disappointing things happen this year, and the long distance trains are not out of the woods for longevity yet, but if it takes a bunch of small improvements to equal a big future we support that. As Dr. Bob Snow wrote when he sent his Winslow photo, “Managers who are into penny pinching these days are missing a growing trend in the country and elsewhere. People are turning toward quality over quantity and rejecting the McDonalds experience.” And, isn’t it interesting that the McD folks are now going to offer breakfast items all day now? How about that idea, Eric Smith and Jay Fountain? You now have BLTs and Grilled Cheese as successful as we predicted here. Keep those low cost highly popular ideas coming!
By Noel T. Braymer
Summer, particularly in August up to Labor Day is one of the busiest travel periods in this Country. The Pacific Surfliners has its busiest month in August. The reason for this is no secret. Summer is the time for vacations and leisure travel. People like to travel. Thomas Cook understood that as early as 1841 when he organized the first rail excursion. Much of the extra travel in August on the Surfliners is from passengers going to the the Del Mar Racetrack for a day at the races. Metrolink has good ridership with beach trains and special trains for County Fairs, the Rose Parade and baseball games. Both Metrolink and the Surfliners get ridership for people visiting coastal cities like San Diego, Oceanside, Ventura and Santa Barbara. But there is still plenty of potential markets untapped just in Southern California for leisure travel by train. A major example of this is travel to Disneyland. And not just Disneyland, but many major travel destinations in Southern California, many of which are near Disneyland.
Why don’t more people take the train to places like Disneyland? Often what is missing are good connecting services from the stations to many leisure destinations. Also trains don’t always run at times when people want to arrive or depart from places like Disneyland. Many people on a day trip to Disneyland arrive in the morning and don’t leave until late in the evening. The last Metrolink train on Weekends is at 5:21 PM southbound leaving Anaheim, it is 10:19 PM on weekdays.This would be a tight connections on weekdays for someone staying for the firework show starting at 9 PM.The last weekday northbound train from Anaheim has a connection to Los Angeles at 6:35 PM weekdays and 6:45 PM on weekends.On the Surfliners southbound from Anaheim there is a departure at 10:49 PM and northbound at 11:04 PM.
For my recent trip to Disneyland I took Metrolink 641 north from Oceanside to Fullerton. This is the first direct northbound Metrolink train from Oceanside to Anaheim after the departure of of the 607 at 6:39 AM. There are 4 Metrolink trains from Orange County to Anaheim between the 607 and 641, but there are no connections south of the Laguna Niguel/Mission Viejo station. Many of the passengers on the 641 are people transferring to the 808 at Laguna Niguel/Mission Viejo to the Inland Empire. Oddly enough the next Metrolink train from Oceanside after the 641 is the 609 to Los Angeles leaving only 26 minutes later than the 641. At all stations the conductor on the 641 made announcements for passenger waiting at the station that this wasn’t the train to the Inland Empire or Los Angeles,
At the Anaheim ARTIC station, there is plenty of room for growth. There are plenty of empty bus bays, with only 3 Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) lines now serving ARTIC. These are the 50 which goes near Disneyland on Katella Blvd then out to Long Beach. The 53 starts in Orange, then heads south on Main Street through Santa Ana to the edge of Tustin and Irvine.The 153 goes north of Anaheim to Brea. More bus lines at ARTIC would make it a true hub transit for the region. Megabus and Greyhound also stops at Anaheim.
What was most amazing to me was ART, or Anaheim Resort Transportation. This is a local bus service that serves primarily the “Anaheim Resort district” which includes the Disneyland Resort, GardenWalk, the Anaheim Convention Center and the many hotels in the district. There are 19 ART bus lines, all of which connect to each other at its hub at the Disneyland Resort Transportation Center. The Disneyland Resort is comprised of Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure Theme Parks, 3 major hotels and the Downtown Disney District. Many of the 19 bus lines on ART run about every 20 minutes. There are no published timetables for most of these buses and times are subject to traffic. But you can use your cell phone to text TEXT2GO with your Bus and stop number for real time arrival information.
At Disneyland, ART passengers can transfer to almost any place in the Anaheim Resort District. Not only that there is service to Buena Park to Knotts Berry Farm, Medieval Times, Pirates’s Dinner Adventure and other attractions. ART also runs connecting buses to the Metrolink trains at the Anaheim Canyon Station to Disneyland. At ARTIC there are the 14 and 15 buses to Disneyland. The 14 bus arrived first, but the driver suggested that passengers for Disneyland wait for the 15 which was right behind the 14 which takes a more direct route to Disneyland. Coming back from Disneyland I took the 14 bus which came directly to ARTIC. When the 15 bus turned up Harbor Blvd, it was full of ART Buses. Each line had its own distinct graphics on the sides of the buses. The 14/15 buses are mini-buses with 28 seats and a wheelchair lift. But many of the other ART buses were standard 40 foot long buses.
There is a large untapped market of leisure travel on the non-rush hours times that can be served by rail. What is generally missing are trains running at the right times for leisure travel and connecting bus service to get people where they finally want to go. The Pacific Surfliner could carry more passengers to Disneyland. This would need packaging with connections to hotels and local transportation like ART. For people staying at a hotel the time of arrival and departure for the train is not critical when people are staying in Anaheim for a few days. For Metrolink carrying day trip riders to Disneyland would need service in the morning when most people want to arrive. The biggest issue is departures needed at night and having good bus connections to make the last train of the night. Most people leave Disneyland after the fireworks show which starts at 9 PM. So many people leave after the fireworks that it takes some time for everyone to move because of the crowds and catch shuttle buses to their hotels or the parking structures for their cars.
Metrolink has the problems on the LOSSAN Corridor with its other users of bottlenecks on the corridor which limits the number of trains it can run at a time. At least running extra trains a night should be a time with fewer trains than during the day. Extra trains during the weekends shouldn’t be difficult to add to serve Disneyland. This isn’t much different than extra trains for baseball games or County Fairs which Metrolink has experience doing. Such weekend trains can be run to better serve Disneyland, Beach Cities, Hollywood, downtown Los Angeles and other places people want to travel to for fun.
An advantage Metrolink has is it is a regional service with over 500 miles of rail running in 6 counties serving almost 18 million people. These millions of people love to travel to fun places and Metrolink can carry them to all the most popular places in their leisure time. By 2020 with new tracks at Los Angeles Union Station allowing trains to come and go without backing in or out as they do now, which will make it faster and easier for people from Ventura, Riverside, San Bernardino and the many valleys of Los Angeles County to get to many of the attractions in Orange County and the rest of the region. At the Disneyland Resort, there are plans to spend to spend a billion dollars to expand and improve the parks to to draw ever more guests there. Will rail service be ready when these new attractions are?