Passenger Trains Are The Answer-More Freeways Aren’t

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By Noel T. Braymer

Public transit in general and rail passenger service in particular are often the butt of politics as being wasteful and expensive. In many places with low population density and affluent home owners there are often calls to build more roads or widen existing roads and freeways in an effort to “reduce traffic congestion”. At the same time these same people fight construction of high density housing with complaints that would make traffic even worse. The following are excerpts from “America is Spending Billions to Make Traffic Worse” posted on Streersblog USA on March 11, 2020. “The 100 largest urbanized areas in the U.S. added a whopping 30,511 miles of new freeway lanes between 1993 and 2017, according to the group (Transportation for America). In case you’re wondering, that means our road network is growing at a faster rate than our actual human population. 

And here’s the kicker: traffic actually got worse over those 24 years (which, how should we put this, kinda defeats the purpose of why taxpayers spent that money in the first place)… 
So, to recap: Americans spent a whole lot of money just to make car traffic worse, and the receipts are still coming in for the last three years that probably aren’t much better.
But how much money are we talking about, exactly?
We’re talking $500 billion. And that’s just what the states paid — local transportation agencies kicked so much into these pointless projects that T4A wasn’t able to accurately account for their losses.”

 

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The blacktop image is for expanded roads. The middle image represents population growth and the cars represent traffic growth.

We have seen this in California a few years back when a HOV lane was added to the 405 freeway over the Sepulveda Pass between Westwood and the San Fernando Valley. Before long after years of increased congestion over the Sepulveda Pass during construction, traffic congestion was as bad or worse than it was before this new lane was added “to reduce traffic congestion”.This is typical when ever roads are widened, its just attracts people to drive more.

Another major issue with road vehicles is that they emit a large percentage of the greenhouse gases that end up in the air in California. This has been an issue for several years here in San Diego County. The planning  agency “SANDAG” for San Diego County had for years ignored the State’s mandate to reduce greenhouse emissions and planned instead for major increase in freeway miles and assumed increased emissions , not reductions.  SANDAG was finally sued and lost the court case to continue ignoring increased greenhouse gas emission.  There has been a change in SANDAG management in the last year or 2 which is prioritizing greatly improved public transportation and greater housing density. But many of the politicians representing the more suburban areas of San Diego County are still opposing efforts to downplay priority of highway projects even in the face that SANDAG funding is less than what was originally budgeted. One thing I will point out is the roads in much of San Diego County are in terrible shape with potholes and crumbling asphalt. The biggest road project in San Diego County now is construction of additional HOV lanes on the 5 freeway between Del Mar and southern Oceanside. As far as greenhouse gas emissions go in San Diego County and the rest of California from road travel, they are still too high. Recent story from Mass Transit wrote “Cities throughout the San Diego region are struggling to rein in tailpipe emissions from cars and trucks — throwing into question whether elected leaders will make good on long-term pledges to dramatically cut greenhouse gases. 
That’s according to a report released Tuesday by the local advocacy group Climate Action Campaign. The nonprofit’s fourth annual Climate Action Plan Report Card analyzes efforts by the region’s 18 cities and the county of San Diego to limit climate pollution within their jurisdictions.”

So what is the solution? In most major urban areas around the world people often live near to public transportation and high density housing. Other countries often have good roads. But don’t have the land to waste for parking and low density housing which is common in this country. How will we find the money to build the urban infrastructure to build new housing and decent,economical transportation?

This takes us to another recent post on Streetsblog USA. 

 Every City Should Try This Innovative Way To Fund Transit
“When the city builds a train line or a bus route, adjacent property values skyrocket. Why shouldn’t the public benefit more from that phenomenon?”

“To  help pay for big transit expansions, many cities around the world turn to an innovative financing approach called value capture. The name sounds wonky, but the idea is simple: As commute times and job access improve with a new transit station, the value of nearby real estate rises. A value capture program aims to capture that future windfall to fund construction today.

The idea of public investment benefiting private real estate raises concerns, particularly amid an urban affordability crisis. That may be one reason why value capture hasn’t caught on in the U.S. But if designed well (more on that later), value capture can ensure that private development supports public objectives — creating a vast source of funding for transit expansions that wouldn’t otherwise exist, and that benefit the broader city.”

This is nothing new. Whenever new roads are built on open land, development usually follows. As a child in Southern California in the 50’s and 60’s I saw new freeways being built all the time. Not long after that shopping centers and new tract housing were built not far from the freeway on and off ramps. We are seeing much the same thing happening now in California with improved rail service. With improvements at train stations and construction of new train stations not only do we see more trains. But also more housing and businesses. This is true in much of San Diego, Orange and Los Angeles Counties. Downtown San Diego and Los Angeles have seen major booms in construction. Much of this is centered on rail transit stations in these downtowns. Much the same is being seen in San Jose. Many of the skyscrapers built in the last 20 years are near BART Stations along Market Street in San Francisco.

If people in California are to have cleaner air, more affordable housing, decent jobs and good transportation: we need more bus and rail services that connect together that serve jobs, housing, schools, shopping and services. Dependence on cars and congested freeways is not a viable solution.

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This is downtown San Diego with the San Diego Trolley tracks in a trench next to the heavy rail tracks to the right. What we see is major new construction, much of it high density housing, with much of it in the last 10 years. And gridlock? Downtown San Diego, in spite of the population density, traffic usually is free flowing. Photo by Noel T. Braymer

 

 

My Most Recent Rail Adventure And “C” line connections to LAX

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By Noel T. Braymer

It had been a while since I had ridden the train to Los Angeles. So I recently got up early to catch my favorite economical train. Which is Metrolink 800 due out of Oceanside at 7:39 AM with connections to Los Angeles at Laguna Niguel/Mission Viejo at 8:43 AM on train 687. I usually don’t drive to downtown Oceanside in the early morning during the workweek. But what is happening is increasing rush hour traffic during the weekday mornings in Oceanside. Needless to say even though I thought I left with plenty of time to buy my ticket and catch my train I was getting worried that I would miss my train. As it is I got to the Metrolink ticket machine about 5 minutes before departure. The two ticket machines at Oceanside are old and get a lot of use. As I was ordering my ticket the machine rejected my attempts to pay by credit or debit card. So I tried to pay by cash. The ticket machine accepted my paper bills, but rejected my coins. For lack of a dollar bill, I couldn’t get a ticket nor had time to walk to the other ticket machine and get back before train 800 departed. Needless to say I was quite annoyed. But I really wanted to go to Los Angeles that morning. So I paid extra and got a one way ticket on the next Surfliner to Los Angeles which arrived well before Metrolink 687.

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My Surfliner stopping at Oceanside

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View from the Green Line of the Blue Line on the left. The track on the right belongs to the UP. This right of way is wide enough for 4 tracks. There has been talk of running express passenger service on the UP right of way.

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View from the train of passengers climbing at the Irvine Station to the bridge across the tracks to the main station area.

Once I got to Los Angeles after taking a few pictures at LAUS I got a LA Metro Day Pass for $6. This is usually included with a Metrolink ticket for travel in Los Angeles County for travel on LA Metro. What I was planning was to see if better connections were possible between LAX and  Norwalk on Metrolink. From Union Station, I used the Day Pass to take the “B” or Red Line  to connect to the “A” or Blue Line. I transferred to the “C” or Green line to end up in Norwalk. The C line terminal at Norwalk is about 2 miles from the Norwalk Metrolink Station. I decided to walk mostly on Imperial Blvd to check out Norwalk.

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This is Platform 4 at LAUS. This is the platform were the first run through tracks are planned at Los Angeles Union Station.

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This is the end of the line for the Green Line at Norwalk. This was planned as part of a future extension to Metrolink. But there was no funding to build it.

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The Norwalk Transportation Center/ Metrolink station next to Imperial Highway. In the background is a viaduct for the 4 tracks to the station.

From the Metrolink Station I would ride back to the Green Line Station by Norwalk bus transit and hop on the Green Line to at least the Aviation/LAX station with bus connections to LAX. What is largely ignored is how frequent Norwalk Transit bus service there is to the Norwalk Green Line Station. Norwalk Transit already has Norwalk Greenline Station service on its Routes 2, 5 and 7. Most interesting is Route 4. Between 2 to 4 Route 4 buses are run an hour in each direction during the workweek between the Metrolink Station and the Green Line Station. Metrolink not only has service at Norwalk on the Orange County Line. But also the 91/Perris Valley trains as well, while the Surfliner travels through but doesn’t stop at Norwalk. At least not yet. As part of Metrolink’s SCORE program more frequent train service is planned over the coming 8 years on Metrolink lines.With improvements and better joint scheduling between LA Metro, Metrolink and Norwalk transit it would be possible to greatly increase ridership between Metrolink and the Green Line. It’s a short walk at the Norwalk Metrolink Station to the Norwalk buses and also a short walk from the Norwalk Green Line Station  bus stops to the Green Line. So what’s the hold up?

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The I-5 freeway recently rebuilt over Imperial Highway in Norwalk. The high red walls on the freeway are sound walks to reduce sound levels for local residents .

A major problem is the Green Line. One example of this is when I got back to the Norwalk Green Line Station there were 2 trainsets parked at the terminal. I followed another passenger to a track with a trainset with open doors and other people seating in this train. After some time the other trainset came to life, doors opened and closed before it left with passengers. There was no advanced notice of which train was scheduled to run or how frequent the service was running. It was a while before the train I was in finally left. Part of the problem is that the old Green Line or now C line is the third oldest rail transit line for LA Metro. I didn’t see digital readouts giving information about train frequencies at any of the Green Line Stations.

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Norwalk Transit bus Route 4 after arriving at the Norwalk Green Line Station terminal.

What I did noticed is that once the west bound Green Line train finally departed Norwalk it took only about 30 minutes to get to the Green Line station at Aviation and Imperial Highway. The Green Line is one of the fastest rail transit services in Los Angeles County because it doesn’t have street running. The Green Line trains flew by the heavy traffic on the 105 freeway. According to LA Metro, they are planning to open service on the Crenshaw Line this year. This includes connections to extend the Green Line north nearer to LAX at the corner of Century and Aviation. By 2023 LA Metro is planning to open a nearby Aviation/96th Street Station with connections to the future Airport People Mover to the LAX Terminals. Considering how soon the Green Line service extension is planned to serve LAX, it seems odd that improvements on the main line of the Green Line seem to be moving slowly.

Having direct rapid Green Line service nearer to the LAX Terminals this year should be a big deal. This can include a bus bridge connecting from Metrolink at Norwalk to the Green Line station at Norwalk to the transit center with LAX People Mover service at 96th street and Aviation Blvd. The future planning for the Green and Crenshaw lines include extending the Green Line south of its present terminal in Redondo Beach to Torrance by 2033. This would include extending some of the current platforms southwest of Aviation Blvd to Redondo Beach to handle 3 car trains. Also in planning is to combine the future Crenshaw-LAX/Green Line with one segment running From Crenshaw/Expo to LAX then heading east on the 105 freeway right of way to Norwalk. Basically this would combine the entire Crenshaw Line with most of the current Green Line north of the South Bay. The second service would run from the South Bay then turn east on the 105 freeway route as far as the now Willowbrook/Rosa Parks Green Line Station. The thinking behind this overlap of these 2 lines is to maximize the number of transfer options while cutting down on the number of transfers needed to get to a passenger’s destination.

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This graphic from Wikipedia Shows in orange a combined Crenshaw/Green Line service to Norwalk. The smaller L shape Green line is planned to make transfers easier at the stations shared between the orange and green segments. This may be a few years yet in the future.

From the Green Line Station near LAX I rode the Rapid 6 Culver City bus which mostly runs on Sepulveda Blvd near the 405 freeway. I got off near Pico Blvd to the Expo Line Station to head back to Union Station. I caught the second Metrolink train to Oceanside that evening. Several times the conductor came over the Public Address system announcing the train’s brakes were having trouble releasing which was why the train wasn’t moving. Latter the cause was given stemming from PTC- the Positive Train Control system braking the trains. Despite this the train got into Oceanside almost on time.

What’s Next For The San Joaquin’s?

By Noel T. Braymer

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From the Website for the San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority

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What is being planned by the San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority (SJJPA) by Fiscal Year 2020/2021 are 2 additional round trips (8th and 9th) by the San Joaquin’s between Bakersfield and Sacramento. This will be in addition to the 5 round trip trains between Bakersfield and Oakland. This also includes the 2 existing Bakersfield/ Sacramento San Joaquin’s. These 2 new round trips will not be using the UP Mainline that is used by the current San Joaquin’s to Sacramento. These 2 existing trains will continue to terminate at the Amtrak Sacramento Station. The 2 new trains will use the old “Western Pacific” main line north of Stockton to Sacramento which doesn’t connect with the old SP, now Amtrak Sacramento Station. This is part of a larger plan to run hourly 7 round trip trains between Stockton and Sacramento by alternating between San Joaquin and ACE trains between Stockton and Sacramento at the start. ACE is building a new track on the UP Mainline now between Stockton and Ceres, finishing by roughly 2023. By 2027 ACE is planning to finish this new passenger track to Merced .

Another project planned for the San Joaquin’s is a new Thruway Bus connecting San Jose to the San Joaquin’s at Madera just north of Fresno. As many as 6 connecting round trips are being looked at by the SJJPA to and from San Jose to train connections on the San Joaquin’s south of Madera.  A major issue for the San Joaquin’s is running times. Currently the San Joaquin’s must by law change train crews after 6 hours of work on the train. This is why there is a Train Crew base at Merced. Long desired by the SJJPA is to reduce running times on the San Joaquin’s to allow running times under 6 hours from Bakersfield to Sacramento as well as Oakland to eliminate the cost of operating the crew base at Merced. According to the SJJPA, it is looking at: “considering a variety of strategies,including implementing measures to reduce dwell times and schedule recovery time, utilizing increased acceleration/ deceleration of new Charger Locomotives, terminating some trains in Emeryville, implementing limited stop service, and increasing operating speeds (up to 90 mph).”   

Today’s San Joaquin’s service between the Oakland Station in the Bay Area and Bakersfield is scheduled to run just over the six-hour threshold. In order to meet labor requirements, a crew change is currently scheduled at Merced. This is a significant expense for the operating budget. Furthermore, the implementation of PTC is estimated to increase the time it takes to swap crews by as much as 15 minutes due to a new set of procedural requirements. The new protocol will add a considerable amount of trip time for passengers. Given the significant cost and schedule implications of continuing to have a crew change in Merced, SJJPA is committed to developing a plan that will eliminate this crew change.   

This may be one of the reasons there is planning to run hourly High Speed Rail Shuttle service between Bakersfield and Merced by 2028 or so. Running San Joaquin trains between Madera to Sacramento or from Merced to Oakland can easily be done in under 6 hours.

As part of the 8th and 9th Daily-Round Trips and establishing service along the Sacramento Subdivision, the SJJPA is currently working to implement up to six new stations north of Stockton, including Lodi, Elk Grove, and four in Sacramento. A new station in Oakley is also being planned, as is a new station in Madera. These are contained in the Short-Term Capital Improvement Program. New stations will also be considered as part of any extension of service north of Sacramento. SJJPA is also implementing numerous station enhancement and parking projects to ensure a high-quality passenger experience.

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What is already underway with the San Joaquin’s and other rail services in California are “pulse services”. Basically the trains run the same schedule all day long, only the time of the hour changes, but the trains run at the same time by the minute on each hour. This improves on time performance and reduces the amount of double tracking needed to run the trains on time. It also makes it easier to make connections to other trains and connecting bus and rail services at stations. This is how much of the rail passenger service is run in Europe and other parts of the world.

Construction Of LAUS Run-Through Tracks Coming Soon!

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By Noel T. Braymer

While I was recently checking out the LA Metro Website. I looked up what if any progress was being made for the long overdue Run Through Tracks at Los Angeles Union Station. To my surprise I found quite a bit recently has happened. What I found were the results of planning presented at an industry forum held on January 9, 2020 for the Link Union Station Project. To its credit LA Metro is getting more down to earth in its planning. This is a 2 phase project with Phase A budgeted at $950 million dollars. Throughout this presentation was the understanding that budgets were tight and everything possible needed to be done to stay on budget. One might say this is a scaled down project compared to earlier planning by LA Metro. Phase A comes in 3 segments which are funded. Phase B which is segment 4 is still  not funded yet.

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This forum was rather recent and there where quit a few informative graphics included that were presented at this meeting,

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This shows the latest planning on creating run through service at LA Union Station. This won’t be finished overnight. Basically lack of funding is holding back construction. What is being planned is to start with one platform serving 2 through tracks to begin. Along the way other long postponed improvements will also be built in the coming years.

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The plan is to first build 2 run through tracks at Platform 4 serving tracks 7 and 8. The viaduct over the 101 freeway will be wide enough to connect to other platforms. But there isn’t enough money yet to connect all the future run through tracks. Much of the problem comes from the need to rebuild the tunnels at the platforms and improvements at the main pedestrian tunnel serving all the platforms. Even with just one pair of run through tracks will increase train capacity at Union Station and reduce running times for trains.

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More from the LA Metro presentation of January 9, 2020

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This is the current budget and the sources of revenue for the LA Union Station run through tracks.

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Just some of the headaches of construction at an active transportation hub on a tight budget.

Screenshot 2020-02-19 at 12.53.56 PM This gives a view of the planned viaduct which will branch from the tracks along the Los Angeles River then go over Commercial Street and the 101 freeway. It makes sense to build such a project all at once. Additional platforms can be added as funding allows with run through tracks. This will also include improvements at Union Station to allow easier travel at the station for passengers transferring between travel modes. As well as making travel easier for people with mobility issues . That will be possible as more funding is available for such improvements in the future.

California High Speed Rail And Metrolink’s Plans For The Next 10 Years

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By Noel T. Braymer

The California High Speed Rail Authority’s goal is to run High Speed Rail service the 171 miles between Bakersfield and Merced by 2029. Metrolink’s plan is to expand its rail passenger service with frequent, connecting services to most of Southern California in time for the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. What we can expect is a lot of overdue rail projects being build in the next 10 years or so. For both services there has been years of stagnation with little progress or growth.

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Just this Month The California High Speed Rail Authority began work on updating its Business plan for 2020. After many years of construction in the San Joaquin Valley of major structures for High Speed Rail operations are now nearing completion. The segment between Fresno and Bakersfield could be laid with rail by 2022. This will lead to using the tracks between Bakersfield and Fresno as a joint test and training track to test the new railroad and train crews.

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These graphics are from the current draft of the 2020 California High Speed Rail Authority’s Business Plan.

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This is the current status of Environmental  Studies for the California High Speed Rail Project.

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This maps shows in green and blue High Speed Track segments with electrification as part of the California High Speed Rail Project.

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Examples of some of the major infrastructure projects being built in the San Joaquin Valley.

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At the other end of the State is coming the roll out by Metrolink of their 10 year plan stating this year of SCORE . Construction will ramp up starting this year with the project peaking with the opening of the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.

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This graphic shows the level of service planned by 2028-29 for Metrolink. Check out the green dash lines between Riverside and Los Angeles along Pomona Valley. This line is the mainline of the Union Pacific in Los Angeles. Metrolink has run a few rush hour trains on this line for several years. Older SCORE maps had the caption ” service to be determined” on the UP mainline. No doubt this will require additional trackage on the UP.  Addition trackage is also planned between Fullerton and Burbank as well as between Riverside and San Bernardino to name a few.

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What’s Going On With Future Rail Passenger Service In Southern California?

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By Noel T. Braymer

One thing is true, getting better rail passenger service takes time. Part of that is it takes time to round up the funding to buy new equipment and for new construction. And sometimes one or two problems can delay other projects. But years of proposals are finally getting ready to go into service over the next ten years or so. Here is a look of what we can expect.

A simple example of this has been the creation of 5 “Quiet Zone Grade Crossings” in Oceanside on the “Surf Line” between Los Angeles and San Diego. The City of Oceanside approved construction of these 5 upgraded crossings in February 2017. They were suppose to be in service by Spring 2019. While the construction of these upgraded grade crossings was completed months ago, trains are still blowing their horns before going through these crossings. To find out what was going on I got on line and did some research. This is what I found.

“11-25-2019
Railroad Safety Improvements (CIP Project # CIP14-00013)  is currently under construction. City of Oceanside

The Railroad Safety Improvements per the Plans and Specifications approved by City Council in February 2017 were completed in spring 2019.  The completed Railroad Crossing Safety Improvements were necessary for a Quiet Zone.  The Quiet Zone reduces but does not eliminate the need for the blowing of train horns; that is determined by the train engineer and NCTD policy. This summer, the City sent 60-day Notice of Establishment (NOE) the Quiet Zone to NCTD (owner), FRA and CPUC (regulatory agencies) upon the completion of the work.  The notice prompted a review of the completed improvements by the FRA and CPUC but resulted in additional improvements required by the regulatory agencies.  Given the additional work and a requirement for a second NOE, staff anticipates implementation of the Quiet Zone in February 2020.
Project Manager: Gary Kellison Retired at the end of October 2019.  The Project Management has been assigned to David Toschak,”

Well the good news is it looks like the Quiet Zones will be “Quiet” this month. But the problem had more to do with paperwork, than with construction.

Another project not far from Oceanside are plans to replace a 100 year old rail bridge over the San Juan Creek at the southeast border of San Juan Capistrano. This project has been in the works for some time, but doesn’t get a lot of media coverage. One of the problems with this bridge is a replacement bridge has to be finished before the old bridge is removed. There is also the problem that a bike path on a bank of the creek will have to be rerouted during construction of the new rail bridge and when the old bridge is removed. The Southern California Regional Rail Authority which is the proper name for Metrolink is responsible  repair and construction for this new bridge and many other rail segments used by Metrolink.

“CEQA-California Environmental Quality Act

The purpose of the proposed bridge replacement project is to replace the existing single track bridge over San Juan Creek with a new single track bridge to increase safety and reduce maintenance needs by increasing the load rating and the foundation depths. The new bridge will be constructed next to the existing bridge in order to maintain service on the existing bridge until the new bridge is in place; as a result a new single track bridge over the Vereda bike path is also required. In In addition to the new San Juan Creek Bridge and bike path bridge, the following will require modifications; the siding track, a set-out track, communications and signal systems, and other support infrastructure located within the project right-of-way as required. The existing bridge will be removed and the substructure for a future second bridge across the San Juan Creek channel will be constructed.”

Well the good news is there are plans to have 2 single track bridges over the San Juan Creek which will extend double tracking from Serra Siding into a second track in part of San Juan Capistrano . There will be a short segment of single track at the San Juan Capistrano Station. But once past the north end of the station there will be double tracking between San Juan Capistrano and Laguna Niguel which is now under construction. This will create mostly double tracking between San Juan Capistrano to Fullerton which is most of the length of Orange County. Between Fullerton and Los Angeles the railroad is now triple tracked, with a fourth track planned in the future.

“Railroad Bridge Replacement over San Juan Creek

The Southern California Regional Rail Authority in partnership with the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) is planning to replace the 100 year old railroad bridge over San Juan Creek near the southeast corner of the City’s Groundwater Recovery Plant and to the east of Descanco Park. The current bridge is in need of repair due to its age and condition. The existing bridge will remain in place until a new bridge just to the west is constructed.

During construction of the new bridge, it will be necessary to close the existing bikeway that extends east of the I-5 Freeway to the trail along San Juan Creek, which is anticipated to occur June 2022 through December 2024. To provide a continuous bikeway during construction, a detour will be installed. The detour will be begin on Avenida Padre, continue on Camino Capistrano, turn left on Del Obispo Street, enter the Trabuco Creek trail levee, and then continue south.”

Even this project will take years yet to get build with the planning and design work that needs to be done first. Just in Southern California there are other similar projects being planned and waiting for funding. Still, we’ve come a long way over the roughly 40 years of progress made in California expanding and improving rail service infrastructure.But we also have much more still to build.

The following is from the Metrolink Website with details of construction projects underway and being planned in the near future.

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It all Started in San Diego County

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By Noel T. Braymer

Support to expand rail service between Los Angeles and San Diego in the mid 1970’s was in large part due to the efforts of the then Senator pro tempore James Mills of the California State Senate. Between roughly 1975 to 1981, the number of round trip trains between San Diego and Los Angeles went from 3 daily to at least 7. Today there are 13 round trips between San Diego and Los Angeles. Within a year the plan is it will run 14 round trips between San Diego and Los Angeles with service extended to Santa Barbara for 6 Los Angeles/Santa Barbara round trip trains and 3 round trips between Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo with service to Los Angeles and San Diego as well. James Mills was also the “Father” of the San Diego Trolley which set off the return of Light Rail transit service across the County in 1981. Also in San Diego County was Byron Nordberg who proposed and planned the construction of the first Intermodal transportation center in this country in Oceanside shortly before the creation of Amtrak which happened in 1971. The Oceanside Transportation Center opened 1984.

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San Diego around 1995 after the startup of Coaster service. Coaster train just arrived at San Diego. The netting is for a golf driving range which didn’t do well. Photo by Noel T. Braymer

In the news now are plans by the North County Transit District to completely overhaul the Oceanside Transportation Center with commercial and residential development. This would  include shops, housing and office buildings. This will be placed on the just over 10 acres of the current site, which now is mostly used for parking and buses. This redevelopment is expected to both bring more people and revenue to Oceanside. So far no drawings have been published of what is planned for the Transportation Center, if there are any. What has happened since 1984 has been new major developments around downtown Oceanside including resort hotels near the Transportation Center.

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Roughly the 1990’s at Oceanside with train northbound. Train has Cab Car,Push-Pull operation eliminating the need to Wye the train.

In the 1980’s the area around downtown Oceanside was a hangout for prostitutes who often catered to Marines on Liberty. The area had problems with crime. There were also many vacant lots and rundown buildings in downtown Oceanside. The last 2 major parking lots in downtown Oceanside were closed last year for construction of 2 new resort hotels near the Transportation Center, beach and pier. Besides adding 2 additional platforms and tracks and a parking structure over the years at the Transportation Center, there is also much new housing, stores and restaurants nearby . Just north of the Transportation  Center are at least 3 major 6 story high housing complexes with ground level shops and services.

All of this is not unique to Oceanside. A much larger scale example of this is downtown San Diego. In the 1980’s the Santa Fe Depot was in an old rundown part of town. Today the railroad right of way in San Diego is flanked with skyscrapers. Between downtown to Old Town the passenger trains and Light Rail Trolley service share right of way. New construction is on going, particularly where there is rail service in downtown San Diego. A year or so ago an investor who’s name was not published bought the old Santa Fe Depot in Downtown San Diego which serves the Trolley, Amtrak and Coaster rail services. The reason for buying it was as an investment. The income would come from rents paid from tenants such as Amtrak, Transit agencies etc. But at the time of the sale the representative of the buyer pointed out there was lots of space in the Depot building that could be leased out.

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Recent photo as of 2019 of the San Diego/Santa Fe Depot which is stimulating a great deal of new development.

Also in the news is the plan between SANDAG (the planning agency for San Diego County) and the Navy to jointly redevelop Navy owned  property just south of Old Town about 3 miles north of downtown. Old Town is already a major transit hub with rail, light rail and bus services. What is planned is to build new buildings to replace the World War 2 aircraft factory buildings with new buildings for the Navy, new housing and retail. This would tie in directly with transportation services services at Old Town. Already there are plans by this Summer to start running electric shuttle buses between Old Town and the San Diego Airport which is north of downtown.  As part of the new construction around Old Town, a dedicated new service is planned to run between Old Town and the airport terminals. This could be either a “People Mover” or an extension of the San Diego Trolley. Both tunnels and elevated structures are being looked at for this new connection between Old Town and the airport.

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This Navy Property at Old Town San Diego at 70 acres covered by 3 large World War 2 airplane factory building. The Navy wants a new headquarters at the site and San Diego wants to redevelop the site for more housing, offices and retail. Photos by Noel T. Braymer

A major goal of these new and or improved services is to reduce the traffic congestion around downtown San Diego and places like Oceanside while reducing travel times. Another part of such plans is generating more business in San Diego, Oceanside and elsewhere in San Diego County. Transportation is at the heart of a decent economy. Any major growing city is either tied to a harbor, river, rail and or highway network. The quality and capacity of transportation services is central to a healthy local economy. In the post World War 2 era, highways and air service took off which was behind much of post war boom. Many road, air and other infrastructure improvements were largely funded then by tax dollars. The railroads after World War 2 didn’t share in the infrastructure tax bonanza other forms of transportation enjoyed. But back in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries towns would fight over getting rail service so that grass wouldn’t grow in their streets. Since the late 20th Century the amount of capital spent on infrastructure such as transportation has declined with many needed projects being delayed. Major complaints in most states are that the roads are in poor shape and congested. This is rarely seen in other major counties outside of the US. What started in San Diego County in the 1970’s has spread to many parts of the country over time. But much of this follows what many major cities around the world have discovered. Which is you can’t depend just on roads to have a healthy economy.

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A recent look south towards the Oceanside Transportation Center flanked with new hotels condos and shops. Photo by Noel T. Braymer

The plan for the commercial development of the Oceanside Transportation Center is centered on generating revenue for the North County Transit District. In some form or other this is done at many transportation services. Running just bus and or rail passenger services doesn’t make much money. This development model has been used in many rail related services in Europe and Asia. If we look at what is now Virgin Trains USA, that service is planning to make much of its money leasing land that it owns to tenants near and at the Virgin Trains USA stations. Having passengers using the rail service also brings in money for other services near the stations. This will likely be the goal for the North County Transit District with their planned redevelopment of the Oceanside Transportation Center.

TRIP REPORT: The Texas Eagle to LAUS; Amtrak Food; Fred; and Dear Senator___ Report and Commentary from Russ Jackson

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Here we go again!  Yes, we were off on Amtrak’s Texas Eagle in January for our winter trip to Southern California, wondering all the way how much if anything changed since our trip last summer.  You will be happy to know the answer to that is “not much, if anything.”  That’s good, and that’s sad in many ways.  The good is the quality of the experience, as we reported to Amtrak on its trip evaluation form, is still excellent due largely to the high competence of the on board service crews that are assigned not only to the Texas Eagle, but also to the Sunset Limited that the Eagle connects with in San Antonio.  While some employees are more energetic than others, the days of complaints about the crews are over, at least for us.  The complaints we have are with the no-growth policies of Amtrak’s administration, its lack of recognition of the value of the long distance trains to its bottom line and its future, and its seeming lack of competence in working with the host railroads in the West in getting the guaranteed preference for access that is required by law.

You’ve heard about the bad on time performance of the trains lately, but our trains, 421 and 422, ran pretty much on time, which was a huge improvement over last summer.  That is not always the case with Amtrak on UP in South Texas.  Recently two Sunset Limiteds were delayed up to 5 hours in just the area around Del Rio, Texas, due to “freight interference.”  In our case, the only delay westbound was at tiny flag stop Sanderson, Texas, where there was a medical emergency that required calling for an ambulance.  That was interesting, in that Terrell County is one of the least populated in the state, with only two towns making the map.  But, the ambulance showed up, the folks were taken care of, and we were released in just over a half hour.  On the eastbound trip, there was one encounter with a very long UP freight that required us, not it, to wait in a siding.  On the BNSF portion south of Cleburne we had to wait for the passage of a very slow moving short freight train for about the same time before arriving back in Ft. Worth.  We were lucky, remembering our having to ride a bus from San Antonio to Ft. Worth due to UP incompetence last summer.  Our 421 attendant told us the number of passengers in the two Texas Eagle through-cars was at 80% of capacity, and the Sunset Limited Sleeping car was the same.  Eastbound train 422 was somewhat less, as we were the only occupants of an Eagle deluxe bedroom leaving LAUS, and only two others were booked along the way.  There was only one Coach car on the Sunset Limited, rather than two we have seen in the past.  Our Sleeping car on 421 had the new LED lighting in it, in its hallways, and it was “one of the cleanest cars I’ve ever had,” according to our attendant.

Have you been to Los Angeles Union Station lately?  We noticed the on-going work to make the place look better, and they are succeeding in doing so.  Lighting, the track canopies, the patios, etc. look great and with the new seating arrangement in the waiting room that requires passengers to have a ticket in order to wait there.  The absence of homeless squatters is duly noted.  The return of the Traxx Restaurant was not only noted, but patronized by us along with three veterans of our RailPAC group that extends back up to 40 years:  Noel Braymer, Paul Dyson, and James Smith. The meal was excellent, the choices are fewer but very enticing, the service was very good, and the prices are reasonable!  Welcome back, Traxx!  We found the Metropolitan Lounge to be a popular location for first class travelers, just as we have in the past.  Procedures for holding baggage up there vary from employee to employee, but it is the place to be before departing LAUS on a long distance train.

Now let’s go on board the trains and discuss their food service.  You knew I’d get there eventually.  I can make a flat statement that the food and the service on board our trains were excellent with no fear of contradiction.  We were on board for 8 meals total.  You may remember my saying in the past that my favorite is the Angus cheeseburger, and it still is.  The flat iron steak was done just as I like it, but with a plastic knife it was more difficult to cut.  Last year we had regular steak knives, so did those disappear?  The fresh-made breakfast pancakes were superb!  What had changed since last summer was the “At Your Seat” meal choice for Coach passengers is no longer available.  On our western train the LSA in the Dining Car came on the PA after lunch to offer his five leftover Baked Chilaquiles ($13.50 list) for $10 each, so passengers would not have to buy from the “Burrito Lady” at the El Paso station.  He sold all of them, but it didn’t appear to affect the sales at the El Paso station, including to many of the crew.  After dinner he offered four leftover roasted chicken dinners ($18.50) and sold all of them at a reduced price presumably to Coach passengers.  Was he supposed to do that?  We commend that LSA for his ingenuity that brought in some additional revenue and reduced wasted food disposal at the end of the trip!   Anyway, it is a pleasure to report to you that the quality of the on board dining experience on the western Amtrak long distance trains remains not only high but is something for Amtrak to advertise and be proud of.  Why aren’t they doing that?  Yes, I am leading up to contrasting Amtrak’s “Traditional Dining” with what is going on with Amtrak’s eastern long distance trains and their “Contemporary Dining” debacle.

In December Andrew Selden, who we all have known as the “Dean of Amtrak Critics” for many years, rode the Boston section of the Lake Shore Limited from Massachusetts to Chicago, then transferred to the Empire Builder to return home in Minnesota.   In an article titled, “The Emperor’s New Clothes” published by Railway Age, we discovered the truth of what that eastern experience is for first class passengers on those trains.  Selden said, “There is absolutely nothing ‘First Class’ in ‘Contemporary Dining.’  Lavishing free food and adult beverages on the expense account swells commuting to New York in First Class on a 90-minute trip on Acela, while trashing the meal service for the highest fare-paying passengers embarked upon days-long trips on the interregional trains, emphasizes just how far out of touch with the actual business of the company the leadership is.  They have everything backwards.”  Is it designed to drive off first class passengers?  That might work.  For example, on his trip Mr. Selden and his wife sampled two meals and provided Railway Age with photos of them.  Mrs. Selden called her meals, “Frozen TV dinners.  Mine was dry and flavorless.”  The shrimp, rice and sausage offering had so much pepper it it she couldn’t finish it.  It was borderline inedible.  Passengers who don’t require room service are required to go to the food service car (not really a dining car anymore, even though they are using the brand new Dining Cars back there) to get their reserved box.  The Selden’s LSA told them most passengers “prefer to eat in this car and only a few in their rooms.”  Amtrak says they are pursuing “Millennials” with this new service, but the LSA said those people “Don’t ride in Sleepers,” and are therefore not eligible to participate in the “contemporary” dining her car offers.  Selden noted, with an accompanying photo, that at 7:15 PM on their Lake Shore Limited they were the only people in the Dining Car at that very important time for dining.  If you watch the westbound Southwest Chief arrive at LaPlata, Missouri, on Virtual Railfan video you will see its full Dining Car pass by and it is very busy at about the same time.  Head in the sand time at Amtrak.  And you are stuck with it for now.  “By contrast,” the Seldens report, “dinner the next night on the Empire Builder was delightful, the car heavily used, and we enjoyed a pleasant conversation with the strangers with whom we shared the table.  It was a completely different universe from 49/449.”

Have you noticed that Fred Frailey has retired from writing his monthly commentary for Trains Magazine?  I will miss reading Fred’s words every month, just as I do Don Phillips, even though I didn’t always agree with what they said.  Both will continue writing; Fred will be doing occasional pieces for Trains, Don is now with Passenger Train Journal, and that’s good news.  Meanwhile, Bob Johnston continues to do good writing about passenger trains for Trains.  In the January issue of that magazine Johnston discussed load factors, something dear to our hearts out here in the west where at times it is impossible to get a reservation because the train you want is sold out.  Johnston points out the “Flexibility to add cars to long distance trains, if demand warrants, was further reduced when 18 Superliner coaches were leased to California to expand business class on Pacific Surfliner trains.  Today there isn’t enough reserved space for passengers joinng at Albuquerque, despite efforts to assign specific seats from inside the station.”  Have you seen the crowds of passengers turned over at LaPlayta, MO, on every train and at Flagstaff, AZ?… in “flyover country.”  To its credit, Amtrak expanded consists during December into early January with one or two extra sleeping cars and coaches on the western trains except the Texas Eagle.  Do you agree that with better marketing extra cars could be filled year round, yielding high extra revenue from each train?  Of course!  More head in the sand time “up there” at Amtrak.

Were you as pleased as I was that Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) and his fellow Senators along the route of the Southwest Chief were instrumental in keeping the train the way it is supposed to be, traveling its full traditional route?  We commend the groups in those states along that route who brought those Senators into the picture, and got Senator Moran to lead the charge.  Now we must look at what Amtrak CEO Anderson has been saying about the rest of the long distance trains.  Have you noticed that when he lists the ones he would consider retaining that the Sunset Limited is not one of them?  That has not escaped the notice of the employees on that train.  A group has been formed out of California and Arizona to encourage the elected officials in those states, and in New Mexico, Texas, and Louisiana, to be interested in preserving this historic, needed service.  We wish them  similar success!   Recently I wrote a letter that I hope to mail soon, (after that Impeachment thing is over).  See if you agree:

Dear Senator ____________:  The Amtrak CEO, Richard Anderson, is about to embarrass you and your state.  Anderson’s recent statements regarding the Sunset Limited, his 100-year old national system train that goes tri-weekly between New Orleans and Los Angeles through your state, put it in his sights for either elimination or making it totally unacceptable as transportation for thousands of travelers across its route. The same situation occurred along another Amtrak route recently, and it took the leadership of Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) to successfully bring Kansas and the other affected states’ Senators together in order to continue operation of the Amtrak Southwest Chief that serves thousands of riders across the middle of “flyover country.”  I am calling on you to avoid the embarrassment of  the discontinuance of the Sunset Limited…by taking the lead as Senator Moran did, and to get the train daily which will sharply increase its revenue.  Sincerely, Russ Jackson

 

“AMTRAK’S CORPORATE CULTURE CREATES ITS OWN FOIBLES”

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By M.E. Singer

Just as Boeing’s rancid corporate culture over emphasizing cutting cost was firmly exposed over the 737 MAX fiasco, by connecting the dots, we are witnessing a highly problematic, persistently decaying corporate culture at Amtrak.

The repetition compulsion for Amtrak’s culture to fail is explained simply due to the lack of a dedicated, knowledgeable CEO, supported by competent, experienced management with hands-on knowledge running passenger trains. This failed culture is further exacerbated by an indifferent Board of Directors lacking any aspect of skills and knowledge as required by the initial Railpax legislation. Lacking Board stewardship and the oversight of Congress, the end results should not be shocking.

For those who have been gandy dancer pundits pointing out Amtrak’s foibles over the decades, it is with certainty that the issues to horribly over-charge wheelchair bound customers, refuse service to coach passengers on Eastern dining cars, and penalize customers changing tickets would never have occurred under the leadership of Amtrak’s renown CEO, W. Graham Claytor, 1982-1993. Mr. Claytor was a highly educated, Southern gentleman, who would have never tolerated such abusive, racist policies.

Wheelchair Customers: if they cannot depend upon a publicly supported transport mode as Amtrak, who should they turn to to ensure they can appropriately maintain their life with respect? I would recommend that Congress request Amtrak to appear and breakdown its accounting methodology to convince all that it really costs $25-$50,000 to accommodate customers in wheelchairs. And if Amtrak’s troika (Anderson, Gardner, Stadtler) are so consumed by micro cost data, I suggest such full allocation of alleged costs go against their own bonuses. Actually, this reminds me of the mystery Amtrak accounting re PRIIA and full allocation of costs.

A multitude of similar problems indicated below only further evidences a problem with Amtrak’s culture that did not exist before, including:

1-Demanding Seat Change: The lady from the NAACP traveling home to Baltimore from Washington was victimized by an illicit, uncontrollable negative attitude of an AC apparently encouraged, if not, tolerated at Amtrak. Although we still cannot confirm if this was a business class car with the new reserved seating, or a thru coach, or whatever, does it matter? The lady was traveling to Baltimore-the very next stop. Why does everything Amtrak does have to have a racial spin to it?

Ironically, Amtrak has continued to fail to explain why passengers are chased out of the Sightseer Lounge on the “Empire Builder” to accommodate passengers boarding in North Dakota. Whatever happened to operating a dedicated coach for “shorts”?

2-Dining Car Restriction: Despite this nation deciding to embrace civil rights in the legislation of the 1960s and to do away with service restrictions, we have Amtrak re-introducing the Sunshine Laws to prevent access for coach customers (i.e., minorities) to the new dining car program in the East. Amtrak is also defying the 1950 SCOTUS decision of Henderson v. U.S. by refusing to seat coach customers (i.e., minorities) at tables in the new dining car program. We all know how limited table seating exists in the cafe car; how T&E crew take-up two tables; how difficult it is to meander through cars on a moving train carrying hot food.

3-Ticket Change Restriction: Perhaps as a final gasp at hitting customers, Amtrak also seeks to squeeze its customers for extra charges should they be required to change their tickets. What happened to the ease of taking the train midtown to midtown?

As Congress ramps up a review and continuation of the FAST program, it is high time for Congress to insert itself and provide some moral relief-and expectations-for Amtrak. No longer does Amtrak enjoy a CEO conversant with the expectations of Congress; setting the tone of a corporate culture; looking out for the best interests of his customers. That ended when Mr. Claytor left the scene in 1993.

Why Is High Speed Rail Doing Great Almost Everywhere But Here?

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By Noel T. Braymer
I regularly scan the internet for news stories about transportation, mostly about rail passenger service. Whenever there are proposals to run passenger trains more than 100 miles per hour, the American media often criticize the plans as a boondoggle, a waste of money which few people will use. But when I follow stories overseas on rail passenger service, High Speed Rail is often profitable and popular. Here are a few examples of positive rail passenger stories from overseas.

High-speed rail operator’s shares zoom by 43.24%”...

“Beijing-Shanghai High Speed Railway Co Ltd, the operator of the high-speed railway linking the two most developed cities of China, saw its shares rising by 43.24 percent to 6.99 yuan ($1.02) on debut before closing at 6.77 yuan on Thursday, up 38.73 percent from its initial public offer price of 4.88 yuan.
The strong debut signaled investors’ confidence in the State-owned railway operator, as it owns China’s most lucrative high-speed rail network, and has been deepening reforms to enhance performance and operation efficiency, analysts said.

MSCI Inc, the world’s largest index provider, said on Thursday that it would include the company’s shares in two of the indexes for China’s stocks, starting Feb 6.”

Bullet Train/High-Speed Rail Market Unbelievable Growth| Alstom, Bombardier, Siemens, Hitachi 

The Global Bullet Train/High-Speed Rail Market study with 100+ market data Tables, Pie Chat, Graphs & Figures is now released by Data Bridge Market Research. The report presents a complete assessment of the Market covering future trend, current growth factors, attentive opinions, facts, and industry validated market data forecast till 2026. Delivering the key insights pertaining to this industry, the report provides an in-depth analysis of the latest trends, present and future business scenario, market size and share of Major Players such as Alstom, Bombardier, Siemens, Hitachi Ltd, ABB, CAF, Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles, S.A, Kawasaki Rail Car, Inc., TOSHIBA CORPORATION, MITSUBISHI HEAVY INDUSTRIES.
Global bullet train/high-speed rail market is estimated to grow with a substantial CAGR of 6.04% in the forecast period of 2019-2026.

Bombardier’s joint venture to provide maintenance service for 656 high-speed train cars in China :

Global mobility solution provider Bombardier Transportation announced today that its Chinese joint venture, Bombardier Sifang (Qingdao) Transportation Ltd. (BST), has been awarded a contract with China State Railway Group Co., Ltd. (CHINA RAILWAY) to provide maintenance service for 656 high-speed train cars (71 trains), which BST manufactured for China’s evolving high-speed rail network. The total contract is valued at approximately 2.45 Billion CNY ($357 million US, 321 million euro). Bombardier Transportation owns 50 per cent of BST shares, which is consolidated by Bombardier Transportation’s partner CRRC Sifang Rolling Stock Co., Ltd.

Jianwei Zhang, President, Bombardier Transportation China, said, “We are very honoured to be awarded this maintenance service contract at the beginning of this year. Our team’s skills and experience across the portfolio will ensure we deliver a high-quality maintenance service. In China, we bring together integrated designing, manufacturing and maintenance service expertise to support our customers’ strategic goals, and we look forward to contributing further to the development of China’s railway industry.”

If Madrid and Barcelona can build a high-speed rail connection, why can’t Toronto and Montreal? 

Both city couples are roughly 600 km away from each other: Madrid is 650 km from Barcelona, and Toronto is 540 km from Montreal.
Jointly, 11 million people live in the metropolitan areas of the two largest Spanish cities, compared to 10 million in the metropolitan areas of the Canadian cities.

Both pairs are the cultural and financial hubs of their countries, the engines of economic activity, and are home to world-renowned universities. They host professional conferences, major sports events and welcome millions of tourists every year.

Measured by GDP per capita, Canada is 50 per cent wealthier than Spain. But despite this wealth advantage, when it comes to high-speed rail service, Spain is well ahead in the game.

Helsinki Eyes New 6-Hour Bullet Train to Moscow 

Finland has expressed interest in a new high-speed train that would connect its capital Helsinki to Moscow in just six hours and boost tourist traffic between the cities, the RBC news website reported Monday.

The project would be an extension to a new high-speed railway between Moscow and St. Petersburg that is expected to be built by 2026. Russia’s government has previously estimated the planned railway’s costs at 1.5 trillion rubles ($24 billion).

The wow effect is coming’ as German government signs €86bn rail programme –  

GERMANY: The €86bn LuFV III railway operating and financing agreement running to 2030 was signed by Federal Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer, Deutsche Bahn CEO Richard Lutz and Board Member for Infrastructure Ronald Pofalla on January 14, at a ceremony attended by Federal Minister of Finance Olaf Scholz.

What is behind all the bad press about rail passenger service? I think it is safe to say that in America rail passenger service peaked during World War 2 . Because of the war, oil was in short supply. So many people during the war took to the trains which were largely powered by coal. Coal was used both by steam locomotives and electrically powered rail service. After the war through people had plenty of money if they worked during the war which often went to buy new cars which had been rationed as well as gasoline. Soon after the war new highways were built. The long and short of this is government taxes paid for the construction of new roads and highways. As for the railroads, much of their infrastructure was worn out and the rail companies were responsible for the upkeep of their stations and rail lines. Any changes to reduce their costs were often held up with long waiting periods to get permission from the Interstate Commerce Commission to cut costs for the railroads.

On the other hand tax dollars were no problem used building new roads and airports after the war. After the war former military air bases were easily converted into airports. As for the roads, drivers often paid gas taxes to pay for new roads, while the oil companies enjoyed tax breaks.  With new natural gas pipelines the demand for coal declined for most households. This peaked by the 1970’s. But the reality was roads, air services and oil production were heavily subsidized before and after World War 2 in this country while rail service was criticized by the public for problems often out of their control.

I think this has continued to today. The oil industry, the road construction industry and to a lesser degree the airlines like things just the way they are. The media gets most of their income from advertising revenue from big businesses, whom have no desire to criticize. So calling any rail project a boondoggle is no problem for most media outlets. Another problem getting expanded rail service is the fact that we don’t have much in the way of a passenger railroad service or rail passenger car industry. Also we have so much to catch up on creating decent rail passenger service. We have had very little good rail passenger service since the 1950’s. We don’t have broad knowledge how to operate a decent rail service while much of the world have improved their rail service. We have come a long way just in California improving rail passenger services in the last 40 years. But we still have a way to go to create an integrated regional, intrastate, long distance system and high speed express service just in California between rail services, connecting rail and bus services and destinations.