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Unable to Explain the Plethora of Issues Creating Amtrak’s Raison d’être–to Fail

By M.E. Singer/Rail Provocateur 

As they say in the media, “staying on angle” here is the basic premise of J’Accuse Amtrak’s Board of Directors: What we should have concluded by now, absent competent corporate leadership as experienced under Claytor and Gunn, is the unredeemable fact that these Board members are simple proponents of circular reasoning, given the empirical evidence of how they adhere to “The Peter Principle”--and tolerate the effectiveness of that principle within their corporate, executive, and senior management ranks.

I fervently believe how Amtrak’s problems today can be laid directly at the feet of a Board so thoroughly conflicted due to their overt lack of experience, expertise, and appropriate focus. “Unmasking” the current Board evidences a lack of fidelity in their approach to the National Network by emulating the Luddites in their persistent attacks upon that network they continuously ignore, and starve for resources. This is due to the Board’s exclusive focus on developing real estate opportunities on the Northeast Corridor initiated by its long-term Chair, Anthony Coscia, as so not too obviously encouraged by Senator Schumer (D-NY). Given this self-serving environment, the only Board member with integrity left after but one term to preserve her integrity–Yvonne Brathwaite Burke (from California local and state politics; ex-congresswoman.)

Consequently, the credentials of the remaining current Board members is a testimony to the vapid vacuum plaguing Amtrak, including:

  • Anthony Coscia: NJ resident; appointed 2010 by President Obama; Chair of Amtrak Audit/Finance Committee since 2011; Board Chair since 2013; former Board Chair Port Authority New York New Jersey (PANYNJ); background in re-development finance; attorney.
  • Christopher Beall: NY resident; appointed 2013 by President Obama; background investment banking/finance; Koch Industries (historically anti-rail).
  • Thomas Carper: IL resident; appointed 2008 by President Bush; Board Chair 2008-2013; re-appointed to Board by President Obama 2013; ex-mayor of McComb, IL; small business owner (tavern).

Piling on top of these primarily Northeastern Board members, as they say in business, “the fish rots from the head,” as evidenced how the quality of Board members has continued to deteriorate over the years, until recently becoming nothing more than a parking zone to fill the obvious vacuum with political hacks, including two former congressmen who had voted several times against funding Amtrak. Frankly, does anybody think a major U.S. legacy airline would have Board nominees who had proposed any action inimical to that carrier, such as the re-regulation of the industry, extending take-off slot caps, or any other matter to the economic detriment of that for profit commercial airline? In comparison, this deterioration of Amtrak’s Board is now confirmed by the evidence of the current nominees before the Senate as proposed by President Trump, despite their lack of requisite credentials to to deploy their experience as effective stewards of Amtrak. These nominees include:

  • Lyn Westmoreland: ex-congressman from Georgia; voted against funding Amtrak twice.
  • Todd Rokita: ex-congressman from Indiana; voted against funding Amtrak.
  • Joseph Grueters: CPA from Florida; 2016 GOP election volunteer.
  • Rick Dearborn: career as Capitol Hill and White hOuse staffer from Oklahoma; congressional liaison for the Heritage Foundation (anti-Amtrak).

Why did Congress tolerate for so long the persistent deterioration of the credentials of Board nominees and appointees; today, so far from Amtrak’s enabling legislation that explicitly required appointees to evidence a high degree of competency and experience relevant to serve Amtrak? What Amtrak has consistently been deprived of in terms of relevant experience in a Board nominee/member has been in: rail operations, food/beverage service  human resources  labor relations; union negotiations/contracts; marketing/branding/positioning; strategy/strategic planning; accounting; customer experience; product development. Real estate development is not even in the top ten needs of Amtrak. These functional areas have never changed, and represent the essence of what Amtrak desperately required from its Board–to enjoy the benefits of successful stewardship; to ensure the legitimacy of transparency; to have the knowledge to insist upon full accountability. Instead, the dearth of requisite competency and qualifications of Amtrak’s Board has created a “perfect storm” against the National Network as best explained by Muhammed Ali: “What are the chances? Slim and none; and slim just left town.”

A panoply of non-fulfillment, flops, and negligence at Amtrak, particularly since the departure of CEO Claytor, is a direct result of an uninvolved  unknowledgeable, and totally politicized Board serving its own self interests, or, those its their political patrons. Recent examples include:

Real Estate-Endless Conflict-of Interest Issues:

Why is it tolerated that the singular focus of Board Chair Coscia is his interest (as a Northeastern real estate developer) to eagerly pursue the Hudson Yards and Sunnyside Yards development projects, with Senator Schumer in tow? Interestingly, notice how contrary to the active political and Board interest in such development opportunities on the Northeast Corridor, is how exasperatingly slow any development around Chicago Union Station has been (as it is obviously not a priority).

Indeed, the only “active” actions pertaining to real estate is a history of Amtrak’s illegal actions over the control of depots at the expense of the dominant local commuter lines. We factually know how in the middle of the night Amtrak has surreptitiously demanded exclusive control of Washington Union Station at the expense of Virginia Railway Express; now to manipulate long-standing contracts to achieve exclusive control over Chicago Union Station at the expense of METRA. For Philadelphia’s SEPTA commuter line, Amtrak has sought to strangle that operator over costs for electricity, access to infrastructure, and depots. This is quite relevant for the California JPAs in terms of what Amtrak could seek to manipulate.

“Southwest Chief”-A Three Dimensional Saga:

1) Infrastructure

When the BNSF notified Amtrak several years ago it would no longe maintain its own track infrastructure to passenger standards between Dodge City, KS-Albuquerque, NM, as #3 and #4 were the sole user, Amtrak’s Board Chair refused to make the necessary investment (perhaps too far from the NEC..?) With superb reaction on a timely basis by local rail groups in Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico, agreement was achieved with these states and their municipalities to seek TIGER grants. Amtrak agreed to the formula; even BNSF contributed and promised to maintain the infrastructure to passenger standards for the next 20 years, as the states understood how the daily “Chief” was the lifeblood serving numerous multi-markets without any alternative transportation; a consistently acknowledged common thread of the long distance trains. However, Amtrak balked to purse an unforced error and walked from its commitment to the detriment of those states. Amtrak attempted to fog the issue by declaring a need for PTC on a route segment in New Mexico, despite the FRA providing a variance that deemed it unnecessary. Too bad the senators from the impacted states did not take immediate action to thwart funding of projects on the Northeast Corridor.

2) Bus Substitution:

Apparently, the Amtrak team of Anderson/Gardner blessed by Coscia, abrogated their financial commitment when they pulled out fo the shadows a proposal to substitute a bus along the route in question (Dodge City-Albuquerque), in total disregard of that being a much longer and very uncomfortable journey, let alone so hazardous during the six months of winter. This new model was based upon the Board acceptance of Amtrak’s persistent “smoke and mirrors” to massage numbers and data to perfect its intended GIGO approach (IT talk for “garbage in, garbage out”) to the long distance routes by falsely claiming massive deficits incurred by the “Chief.”

By studiously applying lessons from how the Southern Pacific (SP) infamously turned against its passenger trains in the 1960s, Amtrak’s Board took that lesson further to realize how a bus substitute would serve to fast track the killing of the“Chief.” If successful, such a template of willful self-destruction would be applied to the other “deplorable” long distance routes. Surely, the Board thought that rather than facing the wrath of Congress losing its sole train by simply discontinuing the route, instead, a slow bleeding to death with a bus would be preferable; certainly satisfy the cost concerns of Congress stoked by Senator Schumer. What the Board did not realize is how members of Congress form the three impacted states rose-up in protest, forcing Amtrak to (temporarily) back down. Apparently, Amtrak assumed from recent experience working the edges from the SP playbook by downgrading on-board food/beverage services on the “Silver Star, Capitol Limited, and Lake Shore Limited,” deliberate inventory stock-outs (’86”), etc. that no reaction from Congress could be interpreted to keep attacking the long distance routes.

3) Concomitantly Refusing to Fulfill Its Promise to Help Finance Infrastructure Repairs, Amtrak Encourages a Stub Train:

Despite these willful, deliberate actions to see how far Amtrak can go before Congress pulls on its reins, Amtrak has been working with the towns of LaJunta and Pueblo, and the state of Colorado, to determine the feasibility of serving Pueblo from LaJunta. In its current context, such a concept will never reach fruition. Nothing makes economic sense, including:

Amtrak doesn’t not have enough Superliners now to meet travel demand, let alone to run a coach and sleeper in the consists of the “Chief” to be switched off/on westbound/eastbound “Chiefs” for the short run to/from Pueblo from LaJunta. Amtrak does not even have a switch engine based at LaJunta; at what cost could it even procure one from BNSF; or, would Amtrak propose requiring the “Chief’s” T&E crew to uncouple/couple cars and power?

Of course, to date, neither the towns or media have acknowledged, nor indulged in discussing, the extraordinary high cost to set-up and run any piece of such a service, given the cost demands of PRIIA, built-up by Amtrak’s free hand to determine what full cost allocation would be.

Obviously, no Amtrak Board member has read a map and looked at the history of the proposed route to properly guide Colorado. The Santa Fe used to operate a “Little Chief” meeting from Chicago and Los Angeles both westbound/eastbound “Super Chief”/”El Capitan” at La Junta; running a separate stub train of coaches thru Pueblo and Colorado Springs to Denver. (I actually took this train in April, 1967 from Colorado Springs to Denver to meet the eastbound “California Zephyr”). Instead of a very uneconomical short route to Pueblo, the historic service all the way to Colorado Springs; preferably, Denver, is the only viable proposal.

In essence, Amtrak’s Board has consistently not been honest about the “Southwest Chief”, whether about fulfilling its commitment to invest towards infrastructure renewal, playing a “shell game” with bus substitutions along the same route, or, misleading Colorado towns over the viability of a short route from nowhere to nowhere.

A “False Flag” to Congress by the Board-Proposing Profitable State Corridors to Replace Deficit Long Distance Routes:

Ironically, the “Southwest Chief” issue plays right into the overall master plan of Amtrak. Although state treasurers and auditors still have to connect the dots to appreciate how PRIIA was enacted to subsidize the Northeast Corridor at the expense of those states not between Boston-Washington, what makes Amtrak so confident that any state would be eager to pay Amtrak at its full “rack rate” for any new route under 750 miles? What state would exchange its federally paid long distance route for bus substitutions?

Between signing off on the dissolution of the long distance routes by proposing short corridors, with a plan totally predicated on favorable relations with the Class 1s, what Kool-Aid did Amtrak’s Board drink? How knowledgeable is Amtrak’s Board on the advent of Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR) that runs elongated freights with no sidings capable of holding them to allow passenger trains running at a different velocity to overcome at speed? Just look at what happened to VIA’s “The Canadian” operating in that new environment, where another 36+ hours have been added to the schedule  to no avail. But that’s not even the primary issue between Amtrak as a tenant on the privately-owned infrastructure of the Class 1s, given Amtrak’s persistence responding to a basic economic issue by taking a position of litigation, backed up by “Uncle Sam.” So much for the friendly tenant to fight over OTP while totally ignoring the equally aggrieved position of the Class 1s to recognize the market value today of track access and timely dispatching. Time for the FRA to mentor Amtrak to recognize much has changed from 1971.

Amazing how the Board allows Amtrak to project a new strategy to entangle itself with Congress, before even doing its homework, such as, how the significant labor severance/benefits will be funded; where the equipment pool will come from; how will the free-standing corridors thrive without benefit of connecting to a National Network.

Marketing-A Series of Dichotomies Approved By An Unknowledgeable Board:

What part of advertising trains to national parks does the Board not appreciate when it is concomitantly driving a single theme what money losers the long distance routes are, and as a result, requiring less than daily frequencies, discontinuances, or bus substitutions (see Amtrak ad below)?

Reply-To: promotions@amtrakvacations.com received 6.12.19

Even more pathetically evidencing the impact of a Board not tuned in or sensitive to revenue centers, but just marking time, is the third sale on sleeper space just since May, 2018 (see below). This latest sale Amtrak announced in early June, 2019, unbelievably indicates its intent of unloading already limited sleeper inventory (e.g., roomettes and bedrooms) during multiple peak seasons (e.g., Summer, Thanksgiving, Christmas/New Year’s, Spring).

What could be the rationale approved by the Board other than is the space no longer at a premium given Amtrak’s one successful marketing campaign to thrash the long distance trains, with the idea of taking this now upside down business model to Congress to indicate how the long distance routes are failing economically?

From: “Amtrak” <amtrak@e-mail.amtrak.com>
Subject: Ends today: Save on select sleeping accommodations. Date: June 10, 2019 at 10:48:51 AM CDT

What Strategy Is The Board Driving/What Is The End Game? Adios to “National Or Nothing”
Given the above examples, it is eminently obvious the object of Amtrak’s Board, led by Anthony Coscia since 2013 (a member since 2010), is a slow, but steady self-immolation of Amtrak, America’s former national passenger rail system. Under the Board’s direction, the federal funding for the National Network continues to be re-directed towards subsidizing the deficits of the Northeast Corridor; PRIIA was weaponized to layoff Northeast Corridor costs on state- supported routes, as well as to bury in the long distance sector accounting; Anderson was brought in as CEO to do the Board’s bidding, while management ranks of the few remaining experienced people thinned out through incessant lay-offs/buy-outs.

Clearly, the Board’s lack of focus and competency in directing Amtrak is evidenced by the emphasis on cost cutting as the basis for management bonus. What ever happened to building the business, increasing revenues and profitability? Also, why has Coscia remained silent on the outrageous appointments of the past four proposed Board members lacking any requisite experience, other than in his knowledge how he could easily control and direct them?

Where has the voice of Amtrak’s Board been given so many egregious examples of waste in the Essential Air Program, other than the fact that the biggest culprits are in Senator Schumer’s upstate towns of New York? This self-destruction model of governance continues to pass by a Congress mostly composed of wealthy attorneys who don’t question the obvious foibles of Amtrak, until the one daily train through their rural towns is threatened.

When we learn about the “Southwest Chief” case, the killing off of long distance routes, and the subordination of the National Network to the NEC, it shall be quite important for the FRA to determine why Amtrak elected not to charge and collect from the Northeastern commuter lines for their far heavier use of the Corridor from when it was legislated in PRIIA (2008). Why was this basic accounting not even implemented until finally being mandated by Congress in December, 2015? What was the rationale behind the free ride all those years in parallel to not charging those same states for Amtrak’s intercity services along the Corridor?

Where was the OIG and the external accounting agency failing in their curiosity not to identify this financial deficiency; how it obviously contributed to Amtrak’s re-directing more national system funding to subsidize the Corridor? Indeed, where was the Board and its own finance committee not to question and verify receipt of such payments; or, once aware, to take corrective action before being required by Congress? Interestingly, the current Board Chair was also chairman of the finance and audit committee since 2011. Also, did Amtrak ever collect those payments in arrears from 2008?

Contrary to Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) staking out a position of “national or nothing,” we find Coscia and Schumer updating that philosophy to, “Northeast Corridor and nothing!” This explains the end game.


What is Going On With SANDAG And San Diego’s Grand Central Station?


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By Noel T, Braymer

SANDAG, the San Diego Association of Governments is the planning agency for San Diego County. It is also undergoing a major transformation. Late last year it hired a new Executive Director, Hasan Ikhrata. Mr. Ikhrata had been Executive Director for the Southern California Association of Government (SCAG) which is the planning agency of all Southern California Counties except San Diego County. Mr. Ikhrata took over on December 3rd 2018 from his predecessor who “retired” in August 2017. Under Ikharta’s predecessor, SANDAG had miscalculated the revenue generation of the local County transportation sale tax which was lower than what had been predicted which will lead to revenue shortfalls for several major planned transportation projects in the county. This information was covered up just before the 2016 elections which included Measure A which would have added an additional half cent sale tax for transportation projects for 40 years. While Measure A received a majority of the votes, it failed to pass due to failing to win the required 2/3’s majority needed for a tax increase. Mr. Ikharta’s predecessor also failed to produce a transportation plan which would result in the county meeting State wide required reductions in Greenhouse Gas Emissions. Recently the 3 top staffer’s at SANDAG that Mr. Ikharta inherited from his predecessor were fired.

SANDAG is now working on a new transportation plan which it can afford, and which will also put the County in compliance with the State’s guidelines for reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions. Called the 5 Big Moves, the planning so far is preliminary and vague. What it will boil down to is getting more people to ride share and take more alternatives to private autos with increased use of trains, transit, bikes, scooters and walking. The first of the Big 5 is called Complete Corridors. What this will boil down to is multiple use of existing rights of way. This can include giving transit priority on existing roads or rights of way. Also building bikeways on existing rights of ways such as rail rights of ways. This is from SANDAG: “The basic idea of a Complete Corridor revolves around providing a variety of travel choices and then using technology to increase efficiency to balance use of the roadway network. The backbone of a multimodal transportation system is smart and connected highways and major roads that are managed in real-time to ensure people and goods move efficiently and safely. Locally, Complete Corridors provide dedicated space for cars, transit, shared mobility, bikes and pedestrians, commercial vehicles, and other Flexible Fleets.” 

The Second of the 5 Big Moves is the Transit Leap. According to SANDAG “The Transit Leap will create a complete network of high-speed and high-capacity transit services that connect the region’s major residential and employment centers and regional attractions. These connections will be made at Mobility Hubs with links to supporting networks of transportation routes and services. New high-speed services covering longer distances with limited stops may be separated from vehicle traffic by a combination of bridges, tunnels, or dedicated lanes. Improvements and enhancements to existing transit services – such as the Trolley, COASTER, SPRINTER, and Rapid – could include double and triple tracking the rail lines, more frequent service, fixed guideways, dedicated lanes, and signal priorities to keep transit moving quickly.”

The Third of the 5 Big Moves are Mobility Hubs which are “places of connectivity where different modes of travel – walking, biking, transit, and shared mobility – seamlessly converge. These hubs are located where there is a concentration of employment, housing, shopping, and/or recreation. They provide an integrated suite of mobility services, amenities, and technologies to bridge the distance between high-frequency transit and an individual’s origin or destination. Mobility Hubs are places of connectivity where different modes of travel – walking, biking, transit, and shared mobility – seamlessly converge.”

Number 4 of the 5 Big Moves are Flexible Fleets“Flexible Fleets build upon the popularity and success of shared mobility services like on-demand rideshare, bikeshare, and scooters. These fleets provide personalized transportation through shared vehicles available 24/7 for different types of trips, which can reduce the need to own a car. They also provide important connections to and from high-speed transit to key destinations like work or home, making it easier for some commuters to choose transit. In the future, Flexible Fleets combined with transit could be available on a subscription basis, allowing people to plan, book, and pay for all trips across all modes in one place.”

Last at #5 is“The Next Operating System (OS) , the “brain” of the entire transportation system. It connects and integrates different modes of transportation – passenger vehicles, buses, ride-sharing vehicles, delivery trucks, autonomous vehicles, bikes and scooters, and more – to improve overall efficiency and accessibility for people and goods to move throughout the region. The Next OS is a digital platform that will connect transportation infrastructure to provide a real-time view of supply and demand. This coordinated transportation network will enable people to move around the region with more sustainable and lower cost travel options.”

The main thrust of current SANDAG planning is what is being called “San Diego’s Grand Central Station.” What is being looked at now is to expand the  Old Town Transit Center. The  Old Town Transit center is near the San Diego Airport and not far from downtown. Already the Old Town Transit center is a stop for several bus lines, Coaster and Amtrak Surfliner Trains and the Green Line of the San Diego Trolley. By 2021 the Blue Line of the San Diego Trolley will be extended 11 miles north of  Old Town to UCSD and University City area near La Jolla. Soon there after increased frequencies of Coaster and Surfliner trains are also expected. What is being looked at is redeveloping Navy owned land right next to the Old Town Transit Center. Called NAVWAR, it is home of the Navy’s Cyberwarfare. The 70 acre property includes the last remaining buildings from World War 2 of the Consolidated Aircraft factories used for building the B-24 and PBY Flyingboat. Any deal in redeveloping this land includes building new facilities for NAVWAR. Also being looked at is 10,000 new housing units and 10 million square feet of new office space. This according to Voice of San Diego as of July 10, 2019.

Screenshot 2019-07-31 at 12.21.57 PM

This is a Google View of the Old Town part of San Diego. The 3 large buildings just south of Old Town are the Navy’s Cyberwar facility for NAVWAR.

What has been talked about at Old Town is running new electric buses shuttles in the near future to the terminals of the airport. There have also been discussion of extending Trolley service to the airport terminals off of Harbor Drive. Also in the planning between Old Town and downtown are bike lanes and improved sidewalks to encourage walking in the area. This will likely if it gets approved  be the template for other “Mobility Hubs” and expanded Flexible Fleets. No doubt there will be a learning curve to get more people and fewer cars on the roads of San Diego County with more people using rideshares, walking or riding bikes and scooter for connections with rail and bus transit.

2:43 AM on board the Sunset Limited…and more good, bad, ugly


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Trip Report and Commentary by Russ Jackson

We have just returned from our semi-annual round trip on Amtrak’s Texas Eagle/Sunset Limited from Ft. Worth Central Station to Los Angeles Union Station.  And, what a summer trip it was!  Every Amtrak trip is an adventure, with something new always appearing; this one was no exception.

The “good” to report involves the On Board Services of the Sunset Limited, and the Texas Eagle one way.  Outstanding!  The Sunset Limited sleeping car attendant on both trains 1 and 2, Cyndy, was, and is, the example of what all Amtrak employees should strive to be.  She knows what they are there for, and she comes to the passenger to see what they need AND when they need it, and is AVAILABLE.  We have noticed on recent trips that the quality of OBS is excellent, and we were pleased to learn as did other fellow passengers that it is continuing in spite of the pressure the employees are under not knowing what the future of the long distance trains is going to be.  On our cars on 421 and 422 the food quality was as good as ever, even though the menu doesn’t change.  I still like the steak, the scrambled eggs, and the Angus cheeseburger.  They are always prepared to order, and delivery to our room was on time.  I heard no complaints from other passengers about the Dining Car crews or service!

Unfortunately, the “bad” must be reported.  It started at the Ft. Worth station.  We arrived early, about 1:20 PM, knowing that train 21 was running late.  We had an email from Amtrak to let us know “that train #0421 scheduled to depart Fort Worth, Texas on Wednesday, July 17th, has been delayed.  The estimated arrival time is now 3:00pm, but trains can make up time during travel….etc.”  That was transmitted to us at 11:08 AM before we left home, and was much appreciated.  Then, whoops, came another at 12:08 saying arrival would be 3:13.  OK, then at 1:08 while we were enroute to the station,  it would be arriving at 3:46.  After we arrived at the station and took seats on the hard wooden benches in the waiting room, the next message was at 2:30 saying 4:13; at 3:30 it would be 4:08 (but this one came to my wife’s phone).  At 4:00 they said it would be 4:32, but this one came after we had moved out to the platform in 95 degree Texas heat.  The PA from the office then announced that the northbound train 22, arriving very late, would arrive in the station first because otherwise both trains would be there at the same time.  Naturally, the 22 arrived and departed, but 21 did not (it was trapped with the arrivals of TRE and TexRail services) and we continued to sweat it out on the platform along with all of the other passengers.  The last message came at 5:00 saying it would arrive at 5:02.  The train showed up at 6:00.  By then we were all hot and tired, but cheerfully boarded.  Actual departure for us was at 7:05, because two cars from the Heartland Flyer had to be transferred to our trainset bound for San Antonio.

When checking in with the Eagle’s conductor and male car attendant we learned that we had been switched from bedroom D to B, which was ok as both are identical.  Whoever was in D was ticketed to Alpine, Texas, and that room would then be empty for the remainder of our trip (he was supposed to be in B).  Arrival in San Antonio for the loud bang-bang switch of cars was quite late, as was our departure west as the last car on the Sunset Limited.  The “bad” continued. . . the title of this writing may give you a hint.  When the new on board crew boarded in Maricopa they were not told of our change of rooms.  So, as they do, they checked the rooms and who was destined where, and finding that room B was supposed to be empty, they investigated…at 2:43 in the morning near Yuma.  That investigation consisted of BANG BANG BANG BANG on our bedroom door, and when we awoke enough to answer the knocks, we were asked why we were in there.  It took a few minutes to solve that, got an “apology” from the two conductors, and naturally I was awake to see the reconstruction of the Yuma station and other things I usually sleep through out there.  An unusual event at Palm Springs, though, as after passengers were served the train reversed a mile back to the main line before continuing to LA.  Arrival in LAUS was 2 1/2 hours late, which is better than the scheduled 5:30 AM, so no complaints there.  Cyndy was on duty to help us onto the Red Cap tram and say goodbye to all of her passengers.  We were happy to learn she would be our attendant on our return trip!

When we returned to LAUS we got to visit with two old friends, RailPAC’s VP James Smith and E-Newsletter editor Noel Braymer.  Naturally, the conversation turned to the current state of affairs at Amtrak corporate HQ.  The consensus of our conversation was that the Anderson-Gardner leadership has “learned” from what the Southern Pacific did in the 1960s to discourage long distance train riders…the drip-drip-drip removal of the experiences that make train travel a great way to travel.  While most of those changes are now taking place on the eastern long distance trains, (box meals on all of them by October, for example), what is next?  Rumors were flying that the Texas Eagle will be one of the trains losing its Diner-Lounge car when food service is changed in the East this Fall.  They are even tinkering with the Auto Train!

Now for the “ugly” . . . Departure of train 2/422 from LAUS was 33 minutes late, as the trainset did not arrive on the platform until after 10:00, which was an uncomfortable wait for the passengers who were sent out to the platform by 9:15.  That was an ominous start to the trip. Cyndy greeted us warmly, and was pleased to see James Smith was with us as he has traveled with her many times!  We were nearly on time through Arizona, but then it began.  About 20 miles west of Deming, New Mexico, the train came to a halt which lasted 3 1/2 hours.  The conductors kept us informed of their progress talking to Union Pacific officials.  Because of the lateness, the next on board crew changed at Deming (the Amshack there has been painted Amtrak blue, by the way, as has Benson, AZ.)  We later learned that this delay may have been due to a hazmat issue on a UP freight train.  Underway from El Paso was 4 hours 8 minutes late.  But, what happened overnight between there and Alpine?  At 11:27 PM MT I awoke to find our eastbound train was sitting in the Tornillo,Texas siding, and watched while three westbound UP freight trains passed by followed at 12:29 by us reversing out of that siding and resuming travel.  Departure from Alpine was 8 hours 33 minutes late.  Whatever happened during the night that lost 4 more hours we never learned, but obviously there had been debate between Amtrak and the UP.

More “ugly:”  Arrival in Del Rio was 8 hours 37 minutes late.  The UP then informed our crew that there were two incidents ahead, including a tie fire, which was quickly extinguished, and then a broken rail.  We waited for 50 minutes at MP 354 while that rail was repaired; then there was a stop at 11:17 AM for a crew change two hours from San Antonio where we arrived to the expected news that train 22 had departed north and we would be bused to Ft. Worth.  We said a sad farewell to Cyndy, who made sure all of us were on the correct buses (two carried passengers going past Dallas which met the 22 at Longview to go on to Chicago).  Arrival back at the Ft. Worth Central Station was at 9:00 PM after stops at Austin, Temple, Waco (driver’s dinner) and Cleburne, and “enjoying” the Friday night traffic on Interstate 35.  There was indeed good, bad, and ugly this time, but would we travel Amtrak again?  Of course, after our history of doing so since 1971 (and the Santa Fe before that) we won’t change now, unlike a passenger we talked to on the El Paso platform who declared it was his first and last trip in that he had been bused on his westbound trip.  Then when he later found he was going to be bused again from San Antonio it must have cemented it.  Timekeeping on all the western long distance trains this summer has been horrible and discouraging to all with the possible exception of the Anderson-Gardner regime at Amtrak HQ.  Are they, the UP, and the national administration in cahoots (collusion) to return to the 1960s?  We have to work even harder than the past and hope the support of the U.S. Congress continues for “us” in flyover country.




How Amtrak Manipulates Costs to Overcharge State Taxpayers

By M.E. Singer

As Amtrak persists in facilitating regional favoritism by distorting accounting, I recently published an expose delineating Amtrak’s refusal to be financially transparent and accountable, despite being a quasi federal government agency. Published in the industry trade journal Railway Age (16 July 2019) “White Paper: How Amtrak Can Best-Serve the Nation’s Mobility Needs” (https://www.railwayage.com/passenger/intercity/white-paper-how-amtrak-can-best-serve-the-nations-mobility-needs/?utm_source=&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=5091) this article documented the extent of inarguable deceit, if not fraud, perpetrated by Amtrak upon the public taxpayers. As the Senate Commerce Committee soon meets on Amtrak’s funding, and in view of the 2020 election, I was requested by those who share my concerns to disseminate these facts in a public forum to educate the taxpayers, Congress, and the media.

Frankly, all taxpayers west and south of the Potomac should be outraged how Amtrak has played its “shell game” between Congress and the public by manipulating basic accounting to protect its vested interest in the Northeast Corridor, at the expense of all other states-and their taxpayers. Exacerbating this lack of cogent national transportation policy which is under Amtrak’s control to influence and distort, includes:

In conjunction with Amtrak’s inability to shoulder the excessive costs to maintain the Northeast Corridor since it was foisted upon Amtrak in 1976; plus the failure to control extensive costs emanating from the introduction of the Acela program, despite the promise of a “glide-path toward solvency,” Amtrak not too covertly pushed Congress to embrace the Passenger Rail Investment & Infrastructure Act of 2008 (“PRIIA”). Given the apparent confusion of Congress and state politicians over PRIIA, this act became an ATM for the benefit of the Northeast Corridor, at the expense of every other single state. How? Why?

PRIIA, as designed by a senate staffer who overnight became an Amtrak Executive Vice President, opened the floodgates of Amtrak’s highly dubious full cost allocation accounting that determines what states should pay for their state-supported passenger trains. The obvious problem with Amtrak’s cost formula has been, at a minimum, that it failed to abide by Generally Acceptable Accounting Principles (“GAAP”), as Amtrak elected to shift costs from the Northeast Corridor and related corporate HQ costs onto the ledgers of the state-supported trains. This facilitated Amtrak’s creation of a fog of deception for a gullible public, including state officials, who do not understand how the Northeast Corridor is far from being “profitable,” once extensive infrastructure and repair expenses are included, and deducted from revenues.

What should be most intriguing to state treasurers, let alone their taxpayers, is that on top of such fraudulent charges, including the unacceptable business model by not respecting the basic common concept of incremental costs associated with repetitive frequencies, is the outrageous fact that Amtrak utilizes these overcharges against non-Northeast Corridor states in order to subsidize the very costly, deficit-ridden Northeast Corridor. Apparently, that cost manipulation has enabled Amtrak to operate intercity trains at no charge to those states along the Northeast Corridor twice per in both directions. Despite PRIIA explicitly stating that all states must pay for their passenger trains running under 750 miles, the Boston-Washington Northeast Corridor is only 457 miles. The same Amtrak Board of Directors that allowed this public deception also ensured that no Northeastern commuter rail line paid Amtrak for operating on the Northeast Corridor as required by PRIIA, until mandated by Congress–and not until in December, 2015. Long missing has been any congressional curiosity to request a certified external forensic audit to question Amtrak’s accounting assumptions for costs and revenues.

More recently, Amtrak has started maneuvering between Congress and the public taxpayer to create a mirage promoting new corridors by stabbing the long distance routes in the back. Again, what those state taxpayers and their treasurers are so oblivious to is that under PRIIA, they will be hit with the full bill based on Amtrak’s unaudited cost formula for any new service under 750 miles. Apparently, these states are unaware of the facts as Amtrak’s encouragement of new routes* is to fulfill its growing appetite to increase state contributions to Amtrak’s PRIIA-financed piggybank. As proposed by Amtrak, some routes* include:

*Atlanta-Charlotte (226 miles)
*Superior, WI/Duluth, MN-Minneapolis (153 miles)
*St. Paul-Chicago (398 miles)
*Quad Cities-Chicago (168 miles)

Imagine the financial impact of this flawed PRIIA on current state-supported rail corridors denied the requisite accountability and transparency; how profitability is denied, for example, to California’s well run LOSSAN JPA “Pacific Surfliners” between San Diego-Los Angeles-Santa Barbara-San Luis-Obispo (12 daily round trips); or to the Wisconsin/Illinois “Hiawathas” between Milwaukee-Chicago (7-8 daily round trips).

Concomitantly, we know the facts that, beyond over-charging state taxpayers, Amtrak intends to derail its “Southwest Chief” to break its contiguous route between Chicago-Los Angeles with bus substitutions, ignoring how passengers today are served by numerous multi-market segments on the route, many of which have no alternative transport available. Despite this fact, Amtrak seeks to kill the “Southwest Chief” to utilize its sleeping cars to fulfill the seasonal demand for the “Auto Train” running between the Northeast-Florida.

In respect to all irate taxpayers, no state should be forced to handicap its own mobility and development plans to pay an exorbitant, fallacious charge to enable Amtrak to subsidize its Northeast regional deficits just so the Northeast states can receive their train service at no charge. Such mendacity in government would have certainly been awarded the Golden Fleece by former U.S. Senator William Proxmire (D-WI).

Why Metrolink is Often Late And Trains Are “so expensive”!


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By Noel T. Braymer

I recently took a train ride from Oceanside to Los Angeles on the last Metrolink train of the afternoon out of Oceanside. While the equipment arrived on time, the train departed Oceanside 8 minutes late. There were other delays along the way, so by the time we got to Los Angeles we were just over 20 minutes late. The problem was with the Positive Train Control (PTC) system. The train couldn’t go forward until PTC would allow it. This added up to a few 5 and 10 minute delays which made the train late. This problem seems to effect the Orange County Metrolink line the most. The Orange County Line has some of the heaviest ridership on Metrolink. Metrolink has had PTC in operation for some time now and was the first service to have PTC in operation in this country. With any new technology problems and debugging are to be expected. The question is how soon can we expect PTC to work reliably and get the trains to run on time?

This is just one of the many balls that Metrolink now have in the air. Metrolink is in the middle of a $10 billion dollar SCORE overhaul. Between now and 2028 Metrolink is planning to add more double track, improve stations and overhaul passenger cars to have more equipment in service to allow frequent service each hour most of the day ,7 days a week. But to make this work, Metrolink will need to run their trains on time. Already Metrolink is adding new Tier 4 low emission locomotives to improve its reliability and expand new services. A contract has been signed to overhaul its original fleet of passenger cars to give them at least 10 more years of economic life. The 2 biggest barriers to achieving this will be delays to building run through tracks at Los Angeles Union Station and if problems continue with PTC.

One thing that can be said about Los Angeles Union Station is that it is growing as the main surface transportation hub for Southern California. The shuttle buses LA Metro run on game days to Dodger Stadium not only saves time for folks heading to the stadium. But it also pulls more people to take trains and buses while avoiding congested roads going to Union Station. As new services expand we will be seeing more connections made at Union Stations to even more places. One such new service being planned is to build  most likely rail transit between LAX to the San Fernando Valley alongside the 405 to Westwood and Van Nuys.  With the completion of the Purple Line subway extension From Union Station to Westwood this will connect to the Westside of Los Angeles between LAX and the west San Fernando Valley. The current cost estimates for rail service between Van Nuys and LAX run between 10 to almost 14 billion dollars. Of course the headlines from the Los Angeles Times emphasized the possible $13 billion dollars cost of the project.

The question is what kind of return do we get with an investments like infrastructure? Compared to the beginning of the 21st Century the economy and construction business is now booming in California. Much of this is the result of sales tax increases and the construction of rail transit. Much is written by critics of rail service about how expensive it is to build. But little is said about the effects its spending  and operation has on the economy. The current plan for expanded rail transit service in Los Angeles County is somewhere in the range of $120 Billion dollars. Los Angeles County’s government budget is greater than for most States running now at $32.5 billion dollars for this fiscal year. Much has been criticized about the current estimate of $77 billion dollars to build High Speed Rail between Anaheim and  San Francisco. This led to complaints of the rising cost of the project by the very people who have done all that they can to delay the project which is a major reason the costs for High Speed Rail and other projects go over budget. The current estimate for High Speed Rail service between Bakersfield and Merced is at $23 billion dollars for 174 miles of new High Speed Rail service by 2028.

While this is going on, Caltrain is proposing a $25 billion dollar project to expand Caltrain service with increased frequencies and reduced running times. This cost estimate would happen by 2040. The point is construction costs are always the highest in urban areas. Despite these or should I say because of these costs, the result is such projects stimulate the local economy. The San Joaquin Valley has some of the highest poverty rates in California. But with High Speed Rail construction unemployment has declined and the local economies have grown. We have seen in most urban areas with regional sales taxes for improved transportation a growing  local economy. In the mostly rural counties of California their economies remain unchanged.

The challenge for California, and the United States is to build an economy with healthy economic growth, more affordable housing and an efficient transportation system. What California is currently planning is a first step for these goals.

What’s up with the Northern California Siemens Car Order?


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By Noel T. Braymer

The good news is construction of the new cars are underway. The new trains will have consists of 7 cars each with a total of 7 consists. The first cars are expected to be delivered in September 2020. The final delivery of cars is planned by March 2024. This equipment will likely be used for both Capitol Corridor trains as well as the San Joaquin trains. The cars will use Semi-Permanent Couplers which mean it takes about 35 minutes to couple or uncouple these cars on a train. The advantage of this is it will allow easier travel between cars for passengers. This means a handicap passenger will be able to travel between cars in a wheelchair or on a walker.

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Graphics from Caltrans and Siemens

A question on everyone’s mind is how will passengers get on and off this train? The cars all have powered doors . At least 5 of the cars on the train will have folding steeps to allow all car doors to open and for passengers to enter or exit to and from 5 of the train’s cars using existing platforms. It looks like the 2 cars at both ends of the trains will have handicap access at floor level. High Level platforms will be built at either ends of the existing platforms.

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There will be ramps to get from the lower platform up to the high level platform at each end of the platform. There had been some discussion of using a moving bridge plate from the platform next to the high level car doors. The host railroads have vetoed that plan. What Siemens is working on now is a Car-borne Bridge Plate to connect the cars to the high level platforms.

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What is shown on one of the Siemens’ graphic is a Cafe-Vending concept car. It is not known how advanced the planning is on this concept. There are passengers who would prefer alcohol sales and warm food as an option on these upgraded trains. On the Surfliners in Southern California “Business Class” is both popular and well used by riders willing to pay extra. There is the issue of the joint use of this new equipment by both Capitol Corridor and San Joaquin train services. So it remains to be seen what the final service will look like when the new equipment first goes into service by September  2020.

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Siemens is building one of the most advanced rail passenger cars here in California. This will include both passenger Wi-Fi and train related information for passengers as well as for the train crews.

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Dare To Inquire What’s Next in the SP Playbook…?

By M.E. Singer (Rail Provocateur)

The current Board leadership and executive management of Amtrak is quite intent on running Amtrak off the rails into the mine field, with an obvious attitude that the U.S. Senate and public interest be damned. How correct was Barbara Tuchman in pointing out in her book, The Guns of August, how bad things happen during the summer?

Devoid of any approval by the Senate, Amtrak has nevertheless embarked on a singular path to eliminate any rationale for continuing the National Network of long distance trains. With the recent announcement by Amtrak to eliminate conventional dining cars on the “Silver Meteor” (NYC-Miami) and “The Crescent” (NYC-Atlanta-New Orleans) on the first day of its new fiscal year (1 October), as already accomplished on the “Capitol Limited” (Chicago-Washington) and the “Lake Shore Limited” (Chicago-NYC), all that remains in Amtrak’s blitzkrieg against the National Network are the Superliner western long distance trains.

Regrettably, many of us have seen this horror movie and know how it ends, as we have studiously evaluated the Southern Pacific (SP) formula for killing long distance trains, and succeeded, despite the alleged mastery of the ICC and state utility service boards for their detailed regulations. Remember, in the case of the SP, they went to war against the long distance trains even before the USPO removed their RPOs and mail storage cars from our trains in September, 1967.

AS we know Amtrak EVP Stephen Gardner as the principal designer of PRIIA when as a senate staffer before his elevation to Amtrak, rest assured he is the puppet master behind CEO Anderson taking a page our of the history of the SP. From experience, we know how the dominos will fall on the long distance trains as evidenced by the SP (“Sunset Limited”):

1) SP- Full lounge and diner eliminated; replaced by a “Hamburger Grill/Lounge Car.”
-At Amtrak, LSAs are already being pulled from staffing the Sightseer/cafe/lounge cars in order to provide a semblance of their service from the diner.
2) SP-Thru sleepers cut back and eventually eliminated.
-At Amtrak, already we understand the third Viewliner sleeper on the “Silver Meteor” is to be cut. So, just like the SP, more difficult to secure desired space (on top of having nothing more than AmFood Boxes, and at such a high cost for the sleeper.)
3) SP- As the cutback in sleepers created a lack of need for checked baggage, the baggage cars were eliminated.
-As Amtrak seeks to reduce sleeper availability on the “Silver Meteor,” and we know from experience that Amtrak has cut consists during off-season, the need for baggage cars is becoming less and less, particularly as many depot agents have been eliminated; those rural depots served many older people who still traveled by train with checked luggage.
4) SP-changed daily to tri-weekly schedule; ensured broken connections at end points and enroute.
-For Amtrak, as tri-weekly works fine for the “Sunset Limited” and “The Cardinal;” what stops a draconian move to allegedly save costs by reducing all schedules to tri-weekly?
5) SP-to cap the downgrading of its long distance train, all food service was cut and an Automat Car was substituted.
-As Amtrak eliminate the ability to fill sleeper space demand, it is inevitable that while destroying the concept of meals in the diner, Amtrak will attempt to further marginalize the travel experience by offering an adventure in mealtime less worthy than the meal service at Guantanamo.

In essence, as we have the template from the SP, and we witness how Amtrak methodically implements it on the eastern/southern trains, in my opinion as far as the western long distance Superliner trains are concerned, Amtrak has several options:

1.As #27/#28, the Chicago-Portland section of the “Empire Builder” already carry frozen meals in the Sightseer Cafe/Lounge to serve sleeper passengers for breakfast into Portland; dinner out of Portland, a parallel concept could be implemented all the way between Chicago-Seattle on #7/#8, with the diner serving as merely a table car.
2. Possibly expand upon the concept  how the “Empire Builder” takes on locally prepared chicken dinners at Havre in both directions for coach passengers, ordered in advance that day. Cities would be identified where Amtrak could pay for meal preparation to put aboard trains at meal times, again achieving cost savings in galley and wait crews..
3. Simplify everything by re-creating the Fred Harvey House concept by stopping the train for designated meal breaks to eliminate the high cost of all on-board staffing involved with food. Caveat-several airlines flying internationally (to Europe) now encourage first and business passengers to have their dinner in the dining room of their airport lounge.

As this master plan is unveiled in bits and pieces, why would we believe Amtrak could not achieve this plan, given how the wealthy attorneys sitting in the Senate are clueless, just as apparently their staff tend to be.

Although Hamlet warned us that “doth protest too much, me thinks,” I am still concerned with the absence of the OIG, given the disinterest of Amtrak’s Board, to appreciate Amtrak’s game plan against the National Network; lack of audit to identify costs and waste of storing new CAF diners at Hialeah, only to rip-out their new galleys to accommodate boxed meals. Not only would John Reed nor Al Perlman never act in such a pathetic manner not to know what they were building and how to utilize it, but the other CAF equipment being produced for no reason at this time, including:

-Baggage cars coming on line as station agents are eliminated, particularly in the rural area where older folks still travel by train–with luggage.
-Expensive diners stored at Hialeah awaiting disposition from Gardner, “now what do we do?” With no competent F&B managers, so the new, costly galleys are pulled out to merely store, perhaps heat, “Amcrap in a box.”
-Sleeping cars built as sleeper lines are being cut.

Who realizes that as Amtrak kills off diners, and so goes their sleeping car lines, who in their right mind would pay those charges to eat out of a box in their compartment?

If we cannot get these rascals out of command and control, this war will soon be lost, as it will be too late to correct all these willful, destructive actions. At that point, it will be just a question of what scene and sounds you wish to hear on that conveyer belt in “Soylent Green…

Summer, Amtrak, Railfans, and Flyover country


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Commentary by Russ Jackson

The headline indicates that this article will tell many stories, and just as we have done for many years here is what is being observed by this writer at the middle of the year 2019.  The summer heat is upon us; the middle of the country is having storms and flooding; Amtrak is having timekeeping problems.  So, what else is new you ask?  Let’s see.

Recently I found some sites on YouTube that I hadn’t seen before.  There are hundreds of sites catering to rail, both freight and passenger of course, but the new ones for me are web cameras that show real-time activity at train stations.  That’s nothing new, as TrainWeb was doing that at Fullerton, CA, and other locations years ago.  The current cameras are run by Virtual Railfan, which has 17 locations and operate 24 hours a day.  Included are the stations at San Juan Capistrano and Barstow in California and Flagstaff, Arizona.  The cameras are attached to the Amtrak train station buildings.  If you miss the arrival of the train and you know what time it arrived there you can rewind the picture to that time and watch it.  There is an operator who moves the picture to see arrivals, and the railfans (Yes, me too) watching can comment on what they are seeing.  One group watching the arrival/departure of the Southwest Chief at Flagstaff plays a game guessing how many bags of trash are taken from the dining cars and placed on the platform.  Now for my observations from sitting in my Texas home and “watching” trains this summer.  The myth of “Nobody rides trains anymore” has been forever put to rest.

San Juan Capistrano:  Every train that stops at this station, whether it is an Amtrak Pacific Surfliner or Metrolink has passengers get off and get on.  It is a busy station for both providers.   It is too bad that it is still only single track there, and probably will be for the forseable future.  The right-of-way may be wide enough for a second track, but that location is historically not going to relinquish the space necessary to build another platform.  The beauty there is caught by the color camera, and its proximity to the famous Mission certainly makes the station an attracting feature for tourists, but many of the folks boarding the trains, both northbound and southbound, are commuters.  All Surfliner consists have at least one Superliner Coach car, leased by California from Amtrak.  Yes, Amtrak could be using those cars to expand consists on long distance trains.

Barstow:  This high desert community sees all of the freight trains moving on the BNSF Transcon route and the Union Pacific route that goes up through Las Vegas, and the camera shows all of them moving through the former Fred Harvey “Casa del Desierto” train station property.  Sadly, there are only two passenger trains that stop at what at one time was a four track station, where all the classic Santa Fe and UP passenger trains stopped:  Amtrak’s Southwest Chief stops there daily, and you can watch it arrive and depart and see the activity on the fully lit platform.  The scheduled time the Chief arrives there eastbound, coming from Los Angeles, is at approximately 10 PM, and the westbound arrives at the scheduled time of approximately 4 AM PT.  What has been interesting has been seeing that almost every arrival has a handful of passengers get on or off there, although there have been a few days nobody did.  That’s an intriguing location, just like the station at Victorville west of Barstow, where it would be possible to travel into Orange or Los Angeles counties, spend the day, and return the same night.  But, from seeing the timekeeping of the westbound train #3, the reliability is not something that a prospective passenger can count on.

Flagstaff:  This is a fun station to watch.  Needless to say, most of the passengers there have been visiting the Grand Canyon, and large numbers of families wait for both Southwest Chief trains 3 and 4.  The historic Flagstaff station is staffed, unlike Barstow.  Consists this summer for the Chief has been consistent, with three Sleeping Cars (one is the transition car) at the front behind the locomotive and baggage car, and three Coach cars at the rear.  When it arrives, the folks waiting head out to board and inevitably some Coach passengers find that their car is at the other end and must trek across the platform to board the correct car.  Both Sleeping Car and Coach passengers board here; it is a cash cow for Amtrak.  Again, though, the unreliability, particularly train 3 heading west, must be discouraging as some mornings before dawn they find themselves waiting for hours for the train to arrive.

Ft. Morgan, Colorado:  Well, this is not a 24 hour camera.  Every day a railfan treks down to the station, records the arrival of the westbound Californa Zephyr #5, and posts it on YouTube.  I mention this here, because it proves the need for this train in a small town…about an hour east of Denver.  Every day I’ve watched this video there has been passenger activity at this station.  The passengers getting off here have come long distances, and are not just from Denver.  Again, stopping the train here is a cash cow for Amtrak.  The Zephyr consists this summer have been FOUR Sleeping cars (one is the transition car that sells room space) and three Coach cars.  As a car attendant told this writer recently, the Zephyr is big because many foreign visitors want to ride it through the Rockies and Sierra Nevada, just as many do on the Empire Builder across the northern route through Glacier National Park.  Amtrak has been advertising its vacation plans for years, and must keep it up…even do a better job of that.  The success of the Rocky Mountaineer in Canada proves how popular trains can be.  I’m sure the Sunset Limited, Texas Eagle, and Coast Starlight are doing well this summer, too, but there are no cameras to watch them.  Yet.

Comments:  And these comments are directed at the Amtrak administration and the national administration.  So you are working together trying to break apart these long distance trains because you think they are losers and attract only railfans and senior citizens?  Take a look at these cameras each day and see who is traveling on these trains.  It is the whole range of ages and folks who CHOOSE to ride, or who have NO other alternative to travel by automobile.  Losers?  HA, if you were honest you would see how dishonest what you fed the Wall Street Journal to print recently was.  Arizona’s Tony Trifiletti wrote an excellent rebuttal, “We have to protect these trains” …the only problem is the WSJ won’t print it.  Sometimes I worry that we are only preaching to the choir, but fortunately many members of the U.S. Congress support passenger rail transportation.  That support will come crashing down if the long distance trains are removed, as most of these “Flyover country” legislators see the value to their communities in having these trains run and as you can see above how these small markets are responding; maybe not in huge numbers but in cash cow tickets that would disappear from Amtrak’s coffers with no replacement.  Why is it so hard for Amtrak management and the national administration to see value where value exists in many forms?  Why is it so hard to demand a GROWTH strategy within the current structure at Amtrak?

Then, of course the issue of on time performance at intermediate stations must be addressed.  While most of the delays are not Amtrak’s direct fault, it must be a deterrent to repeat business.  I think honest negotiations with the “partner” railroads could solve much of the problems; Gene Skoropowski and David Kutrosky did that for the Capitol Corridor.  So, we say good bye to David on his retirement, too, but the legacy of both in this area of train management set the tone for the huge continuing success of this great service in California.


The Race to Lower California’s Greenhouse Gases


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By Noel T. Braymer

A major policy of California’s goal to reduce its emission of Green House Gases is the use of more electric vehicles. California has been a world leader in reducing Green House Gases by expanding its use of renewable energy largely with electricity from solar energy. Despite this progress, California’s Green House  Gas emissions continue to grow, not shrink. The reason for this is increasing road traffic and growing consumption of oil by trucks and private cars. While electric car sales continue to grow they are still a minority of the new cars sold in California. Electric car construction will need years of sales to start to  pull ahead in numbers over existing gasoline fueled cars. In roughly the next 5 years electric cars will be cheaper to buy than comparable gasoline powered vehicles. Electric vehicles are already more economical to run and less expensive to maintain than comparable  gasoline powered vehicles. But that will still leave millions of old gasoline cars still on the roads of California. This also doesn’t address the growing problems of traffic congestion or need for more maintenance on California’s aging roads. Building more roads doesn’t reduce traffic congestion, it makes it worse by encouraging more people to drive more.

So what’s the solution? It’s doing more with what you already have. It’s also a case of setting priorities. An example of this has been the major reduction of bus ridership in California in many places. The reason for this is as vehicle traffic has gotten worse, bus service has become slower and less reliable. This causes people to buy cars that they can’t afford. But at least they have more control over getting to work on time than relying on bus service. There is a solution to this. Giving buses priority using the streets, not cars. This can be done with increased use of bus only lanes on busy roads and signal priority for buses at intersections. This could lead to more frequent service which along with faster more reliable bus service would lead to ridership growth. This has been proven to work in many cities. Just one full bus can easily carry as many people as 40 cars which are mostly carrying one person.

So what about longer distance travel? A good way to decongest major freeways in California is to run more passenger trains more frequently all day long, 7 days a week.  Just one train load of passengers easily carries as many people as one lane of freeway in an hour. Planning for this is already on the way in many major urban areas in California. One example of this is Metrolink in Southern California. No latter than 2028, Metrolink plans to run most of its trains every half hour and some trains every 15 minutes of the day. Planning for this new service goes back to at least 2015. Not only will Metrolink be running more frequently. But it will have scheduled connections to other trains and buses to increase ridership and make the service more reliable. This can greatly reduce traffic congestion and lower green house gas emission. This is not only planned by Metrolink. Such services will connect also with the Coaster, Surfliner, ACE, Capitol Corridor, San Joaquin and SMART trains. These changes are already in the works. We will be seeing many of these changes soon.

This brings up the future of California High Speed Rail. Planning is coming along to run High Speed Rail hourly between Bakersfield and Merced by 2028 or so. This will replace existing San Joaquin service between Bakersfield and Merced. At Bakersfield what is being looked at is a bus bridge to Metrolink at Santa Clarita for transfers to High Speed Rail. This will allow more connections in Southern California to Northern California than what can be done now with the existing buses connecting to the San Joaquins. At Merced High Speed Rail will terminate in 2028 with connections to Oakland or Sacramento on the San Joaquins, as well with ACE with service to San Jose or Sacramento. High Speed Rail service will cut the current running times in half between Bakersfield and Merced down to 90 minutes. Not only will time be saved, But since the high speed trains will be electrified, this will result in a substantial reduction in the production of Green House Gases.

Electrification is already underway in the Bay Area between San Francisco and Gilroy. This will be used first by Caltrain, and shared latter by California High Speed Rail. There is also the possibility in the not to distance future of electrifying rail passenger service in Southern California. This would likely be on the north/south spine between Orange County and Los Angeles County on the LOSSAN Corridor. Electrification could be extended from this route which will be used by future High Speed Rail service to other branches. What may be more economical would be the use of hybrid locomotives with both battery and capacitor electrical storage as well as use of pantographs to avoid emitting Green House Gases. Rail passenger service can be the most productive transportation service as well as the cleanest carrying large number of passengers.

The biggest impact in reducing Greenhouse Gas Emission in California can be the expansion and better coordination of rail passenger service centered around the most populated areas of  Northern California and Southern California. This will include ultra low green house gas emitting locomotives for better rail passenger service. Just as valuable will be hybrid freight locomotives which will be much cleaner than current freight locomotives. Such Hybrids could be a combination of battery power and a turbine generator. Turbines can be run very cleanly at full power when it is at its most efficient. The greatest increase in greenhouse emissions come from vehicles driving the most miles. By making rail passenger service more productive, this can translate into fewer vehicle miles by making regional rail passenger service an attractive alternative to long drives in heavy traffic. This can go a long way in reducing green house gas emissions even with a majority of gasoline powered cars that drive fewer miles annually than what we see today.

Using High Occupancy Vehicles to Decongest San Diego’s Downtown and Airport.


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By Noel T. Braymer


The view from the train next to the north end of the San Diego Airport with the view of the downtown San Diego Skyline in the background. All Photos by Noel T. Braymer

Recently the San Diego Airport Authority with several other local transportation agencies announced an agreement which will allow spending up to a half billion dollars for projects to reduce traffic congestion in and around the area of the San Diego Airport. For those not familiar with downtown San Diego, its airport is very near to downtown and a major traffic generator. The San Diego Airport goes back to the early 1930 when San Diego’s population and travel demands where much lower. It is one if not the smallest commercial airport in the country and has only one runway. Since it is almost impossible to find a suitable place now to build a new and larger airport in San Diego County. The San Diego Airport Authority is rebuilding its terminals and making other improvements to the airport to handle as much traffic as possible. This latest agreement is the result of complaints by the other San Diego transportation agencies that the Airport Authority was not working with them to deal with traffic problems in and around the airport, the County and Downtown.

Google Map of San Diego Airport

Google Map of the San Diego Airport

While a half a billion dollars sounds like a lot of money. What is planned are several small, less expensive projects. For example the San Diego MTS which builds and runs the San Diego Trolley is spending at least $2 billion dollars to extend it’s Blue Line 12 miles to the UCSD area. To reduce congestion around the airport will require getting more people to travel to Downtown without their cars. This will require attractive services to get better use of the existing roads and rights of ways to carry more people with fewer single occupancy vehicles. So far there is not a firm list of which projects will be built or even when construction will begin.


This is the view from the Broadway St. Pier in the heart of downtown San Diego looking across the Bay at a plane landing the the San Diego Airport.

One project that the public has been asking for years is extending Trolley (light rail) service to the Airport. What is suggested is a major overhaul of road use along Harbor Drive which is the road to the Airport’s terminals. A major bottleneck now is at Harbor Drive and Laurel Street. It is a fork in the road with Laurel St merging into Harbor Drive from the east to the west while Harbor Drive bends southeast. For years at the junction of Harbor Drive and Laurel St there are traffic lights blocking one street and allowing traffic to flow only on one street at a time. What is being proposed is to take out the traffic lights and allow traffic to flow freely. This is estimated to remove 45,000 cars a day off of Harbor Drive. What is also being looked at is extended Light Rail service on Harbor Drive and or Rapid Bus service. This would serve not only the terminal areas, but also Harbor Island which the Port of San Diego has redevelopment plans in the works.

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This is a close up look at the Harbor Drive/Laurel Street junction which is now the biggest bottleneck congesting Harbor Drive by the airport. To eliminate this bottleneck, there is a proposal to take out the traffic lights and let traffic flow freely.

One project that seems certain to happen soon will be a proposed electric shuttle bus service between the Airport and the Old Town Transit Center. Old Town is already a station for Amtrak, Coaster train service between Oceanside and San Diego, the Trolley Green Line to Mission Valley and will in a few years be a stop for the Blue Line extension between downtown San Diego and the area around UCSD. This will impact traffic on I-5 between Oceanside and the Airport with better options to get to the airport or downtown San Diego than what is possible now without driving. This sounds promising. It will be interesting to see what will be planned in the coming year and when something gets started.  There are plans to make the area around the airport easier to walk and ride bikes around, further reducing vehicle travel demand in the Airport area. All of this can be started in less that 5 years if there is the will. There has been talk for some time of an Airport Transit Center. Earlier planning for this was at the north end of the airport on the east side of Pacific Highway and the Trolley and train tracks for Amtrak and Coaster trains. This was planned as a joint train and trolley station for the airport. This was planned for years in the future and included plans for a connection to a People Mover which would carry people from the north end of the airport under the runway to the rebuilt Terminals. The plan for this was based on moving all of the parking at the Terminals over to the north end which would have massive new parking structures for cars getting on or off of the nearby I-5. This was planned to ease traffic on Harbor Drive. The new plans now on the table may well make this former planning void. At the very least passengers ridding directly to the Terminals on the Trolley on Harbor Drive can be done faster and cheaper than building new parking structures and People Movers. It will also do more to relieve traffic congestion and reduce pollution if fewer cars and more people are going to downtown San Diego.