By Noel T. Braymer
RailPAC President Paul Dyson in his opening remarks for the meeting, talked about the success RailPAC had getting a resolution passed in the California legislature. This resolution supported the National Passenger Rail System’s trains and opposed splitting up long distance trains with bus service substitutions.
The first Speaker was Bruce Becker, Vice President of Operations, for the Rail Passenger Association (RPA). Here are some photos taken off of the screen from his Power Point presentation
Mr. Becker has more trust in the word of Amtrak than many long time advocates such as myself have. What progress we have seen recently in fixing many of the flaws of the recent plans for the National System didn’t start with Amtrak. It was a direct result of local grassroot pressures of the communities wanting improved rail passenger service who demanded as much from their representatives in Washington. The jury is still out if Amtrak will keep their latest promises. This problem all started because current Amtrak President Anderson tried to break promises Amtrak had given the States of New Mexico, Colorado and Kansas to keep and improve Amtrak service in those States.
Another RPA issue Mr. Becker brought up was a call for Amtrak to sue the railroads to do a better job operating Amtrak’s trains on time. The problems the railroads have with Amtrak is they don’t make much if any money carrying their trains: by law they have to give a deep discount to Amtrak for using their tracks. Also Amtrak is often not on time, which in turn results in delays on mainlines for the freight trains which are the primary income for the railroads. What is needed is more government funding to upgrade the railroads with more capacity for both more freight and passenger rail services. This is already being done in California. The Joint Powers Authorities in California for the Capitol Corridor, San Joaquins and Pacific Surfliners, as well as the commuter services for Metrolink, Caltrain and ACE negotiate with the railroads, and secure funding to make capital improvement on their railroads allowing better service for both passenger and freight. This is at the heart for much of the expanded rail service planned in California in the next 20 years.
The next speaker was Dan Leavitt, Manager of Regional Initiatives for the San Joaquin Joint Power Authority.
The purple line shows the route in downtown Sacramento of the shared ACE/San Joaquins frequent service to Sacramento. The light greenish dashed line shows the route of Sacramento Light Rail and joint stations to it and expanded rail passenger service to Sacramento. Combing both ACE and San Joaquins service will need a new downtown Sacramento Station. It will have little or no place for passenger parking. But it will be next to transit and major bike routes, as well as walking distance to activity center in downtown Sacramento to eliminate the need for additional parking.
This image shows the trackage for the San Joaquins in Blue and for ACE in purple. Both services will share the tracks between Stockton and Sacramento on a branch line of the UP . The San Joaquins will stay on the BNSF between Stockton and Bakerfield, while ACE will build a new track on the UP between Lathrop and Merced. The 2 existing San Joaquin trains to Sacramento on the UP main line will stay on their current route.
For years there has been talk of building a new Stockton train station at the crossing of the UP and BNSF tracks to serve trains on both lines. What seems to be planned now is to build track connection at the crossing for direct rail service to both lines.
After the lunch break the next speaker was Frank Vacca, Chief of Rail Operations for the California High Speed Rail Authority.
Mr Vacca commented that construction is largely determined by funding. The pace of construction could be sped up if there was more funding. This would also reduce the final cost of the project. The problem with costs in any construction project are inflated as projects are delayed. Mr Vacca also confirm that there are no plans to run non electric trains on the the current 119 miles of new High Speed construction between Kern County and Madera. Track work is planned for completion by 2022. Inter San Joaquin Valley High Speed Rail is expected by 2026 or so. Service to Gilroy and San Francisco is planned by 2029.
The next speaker was was Jim Allison, Manager of Planning for the Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority. The theme for his presentation might be it is hard to make plans, when the goals keep changing.
The planned addition of a second BART San Francisco Bay tunnel and possible reopening of the Dumbarton Rail bridge are bringing major changes to the plans to all the transportation agencies in Northern California. All these changes are forcing more cooperation between agencies and joint planning. This is largely new territory bringing on new service areas to many of these agencies.
The last speaker was M. E. Singer: Rail Provocateur. His writings have been linked via the RailPAC eNewsletter since August 2016. He has also had his writings published in several outlets including recently in Railway Age. The main theme of Mr. Singer’s talk was how impressed he was with the progress being made in California improving and expanding rail passenger service in the State. He also listed many of the problems operating rail passenger service that happens around the country. He also addressed the focus of Amtrak Management on the Northeast Corridor, often at the expense of the National System and some of the flaws in reporting Amtrak’s true costs with a non-standard accounting system. Mr. Singer was also critical of members of the Amtrak Board which is dominated by members from the Northeast. He is also not impressed by some senior Vice Presidents at Amtrak.
Going off as a last note with a little history, Amtrak was created as a part of the bailout in 1970 for the stockholders of the recently bankrupt PennCentral Railroad which included the Northeast Corridor. The high costs of owning the Northeast Corridor, particularly operation of commuter rail services on the corridor was a major factor in the bankruptcy of the PennCentral Railroad. When the FRA reorganized the PennCentral into Conrail, it stripped the Northeast Corridor out of it to insure the reorganized Conrail could make money which it did. The FRA gave the Northeast Corridor to Amtrak which greatly increased its losses. When in 1971 the Nixon Administration was creating Amtrak, they realized that the chance of creating a new public railroad just for the Northeast was unlikely to get the votes from the rest of the country to create Amtrak. This was the motivation for including a national network as part of Amtrak to insure the Amtrak law would pass. While it seems Amtrak believes it can ignore the needs of the rest of the county for rail service while concentrating most of its resources on the Northeast Corridor. History says otherwise.