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TRAC 2006

 Train Riders' Association of California (TRAC)

(and publishers of California Rail News)

California Rail 2020 Conference, Oakland, California, November 4, 2006

TRAC officers and volunteers prepared Geoffrey's Inner Circle for the Confernece.
Robert Reynolds (above left) and Bill McLaughlin post the banner.  Alan Miller, Exec. Dir. (below) does a sound check.


(Click any photo to view a double-sized copy, click BACK in the browner to return to this page.)


The Geoffrey Inner Circle banquet hall at 410 14th St. was not all that easy to find for those who walked from the Marriott Hotel.  Directions said it was "150 feet southeast of 14th St. Exit from BART."  Well, for someone arriving via Amtrak this does not make much sense.  I asked at the hotel and they gave me a map and directions.  I did, however walk by it (do you see it in either the left or right photo above?)  Realizing I was at 401, I retraced, and spotted, not the name, but the number 410.  As I was about to enter, Bill McLaughlin was posting a note on the door saying this was the place and that the elevator was around the corner.

Registration begins

The attendees find seats and check the candidate for offices bios.


Soon after 10, the conference began, and Alan Miller spoke from the podium  He mentioned that he was impressed at the Friday night Reception by a couple of things, the fruitful conversations among members and the youthful aspect of the membership.  He added that contributions are being accepted by TRAC. 

Copies of the California Rail News, TRAC's newspaper, were provided and if you can't find it at your local station, go to:, or

Gary Patton, Executive Director, Planning & Conservation League


DSC00428.jpg The program said:

Gary will highlight joint TRAC-PCL initiatives and tell how small public interest organizations can influence legislative and administrative agendas, and achieve better transportation while improving the environment.


Mr. Patton was very articulate and spoke without notes or reference to notes.  He mentioned that "environmental protection" does NOT mean an Unhealthy environment vs.  a Healthy economy.  He added a new "E," Engagement.  Like the fingers on your hand, fingers alone, as people alone, are useless in accomplishing a goal, but in cooperation with the other fingers and working through the hand, like PCL and TRAC many good things can be accomplished.  Our challenge today, "How do we work together as a community to develop a transportation system that concentrates on a system for efficient movement of individuals and with good use of natural resources and protection of our environment.

As personified by TRAC, "Engagement leads to Reality."  Mr. Patton says, "Land Use changes are needed" in reference to High Speed Rail in California.  "The Central Valley route can't be allowed to be a growth (sprawl) corridor as the San Fernando Valley became."

Global Warming is a serious challenge for us, as shown in the Al Gore movie.  California set a standard to roll back emissions, leading other states.  It is managed by the Air Resources Board who traditionally has done a good job on stationary polluters, but must focus on transportation.

Mr. Patton's talk was followed by Questions and Answers for about 5 minutes.

Between speakers, Alan Miller gave TRAC's stand on the propositions:  No on 90, Yes on 1A.

Board Candidate Bios (with candidate's pictures) were handed out at the registration desk, and the following Board Members were affirmed:  Mike McGinney, Los Angeles County; Rich MacLaughlin, San Diego County; Victor Rampulla, Los Angeles County; Lynn Franks, Sacramento County; Randell Hansen, Sacramento County; Michael Kiesling, San Francisco County; Marcel Marchos, Santa Clara County; William F. McGeehan, Contra Costa County; Dan McNamara, San Mateo County; Robert Reynolds, Sacramento County; Richard Tolmach, Sacramento County.

Officer Election took place with the following results: William McGeehan, President;  Rich McLaughlin, Vice President;  Lyn Franks, Secretary; and Randell Hansen or Robert Reynolds, Treasurer.

Tom Matoff, LTK Engineering, Program Manager Bay Area Regional Rail Plan


The program said:

Tom will examine Northern California¹s regional needs for more passenger and freight capacity and the prospects for building new passenger infrastructure that gives the Bay Area a unified path for achieving ACE, Capitol Corridor, Caltrain, and Amtrak service improvements. TRAC Board Members Dan McNamara & Michael Kiesling will participate an extended Q&A session.

Tom made remarks associated with a PowerPoint presentation of the booklet:  "Regional Measure 2 - Regional Traffic Relief Plan - June 2004"  The Goal was to create a passenger rail network in the Bay Area.  Congestion increases at a greater rate than population growth.  Connectivity is incremental with more people and where they want to go.  Only rail passenger service can bring people together in great numbers for work, recreation, and other puposes.  The Target Year is 2050.  Shared track is a challenge and a possible solution would be a freight by-pass.  The website for more information is:

During Q and A, Michael Kiesling stood with Tom to field questions.  One statement made by Michael was to the effect that local politicians are surprised by 'how connected European passenger transportation is,' but Michael pointed out that European rail is based on passenger travel and freight is secondary.  Freight travels mainly by barge in Europe.


It was then time for lunch and guests lined up in front of a buffet.  However, there was nothing at the buffet, nor was there any evidence of anything soon to arrive.  I hadn't gotten in the line to begin with, so I wandered around the facility, finding an exact banquet room upstairs as well as another restroom.  Eventually the tasty chicken, fresh lettuce salad, green beans with onion, potato salad, and rolls arrived.  After lunch I heard no negative comments about the food, and I complemented the caterer.


Will Kempton, Director, California Department of Transportation:



Mr. Kempton noted, at the beginning of his talk, that there is a great age, gender, ethnic diversification of TRAC members here.  (Really? I counted three women who were not either speakers nor conference workers, maybe I should look again at the pictures of the audience. I'll agree with the age diversification, but the ethnic diversification, well, it could be better.  Maybe TRAC marketing should focus on these under represented folks.

Will had met and was impressed with the new Amtrak President, Alex Kummant, in the two meetings they were both attended.  He says the President wants to move Amtrak forward.  (This  impression was also shared by the Gary Hess, Amtrak Customer Service Manger, that was on the Coast Starlight as I returned home.)

Cal Trans has 32 trains a day and is very attractive to automobile drivers.  He observed that there are 90,000 state employees in Sacramento (He notices many commuters from the bay area to Sacramento with "E" (state government license plates).   He talked about trying to "get these Bay Area commuters to Sacramento to commute by rail or justify why they drive."  (Ok, Will, if they've already been given a government car, wouldn't it be cheaper to give them a monthly rail pass?!  Seems to me you, or whoever doles out government gas using/pollluting automobiles, are part of the problem including global warming.  Am I being too harsh?)  He continued that there are 4.7 million Cal Trans rail riders in California annually, on the 2nd, 3d, and 5th busiest rail routes in the USA, including the Surfliners.  He says the biggest challenge is Private Rail, namely, in the west, Union Pacific RR.  He said it is important to look at the ballot as part of the CA Governor's "3 Rs" Recovery, Reform, and Rebuilding.  He supports Prop. 1a, 1B (including $4 Billion for rail and transit, and $125 million for equipment), 1C, 1D, and 1E.

Will mentioned a new service that was being talked about from Victorville to Las Vegas called, "Desert Express."  (Not quite the Desert Wind, but a start.)

During Q & A, Bill Bronte, Chief, Division of Rail for CalTrans ( joined Mr. Kempton.

Mr. Kempton had mentioned two things that Alan Miller mentioned before Q & A:  1.  That Mr. Kempton rides the train to work, and 2.  That Mr. Kempton cannot make all the speaking requests that he is invited to, but Mr. Miller was very appreciative that he made it here for the TRAC Conference.

Bill Bronte mentioned sort of a national equivalent of TRAC as being Surface Transportation Policy Board.

He also gave a quote he seemed to be proud of, that he wants to maximize resources to get more "cheeks in seats."

There was mention of a Bond for Hwy. 99 upgrades so that it can be designated as an Interstate Route.

CalTrans' new slogan, "We're here to get you There."  Transportation, especially rail transportation, is important as California moves from 37 million to 50 million people in the next few years.

Jonathan Hutchison, Director of Government Affairs-West, National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak)


Program Promised:

Jonathan will expound on the challenges of running a national railroad without enough funding, trying to work with anti-passenger freight railroads, and the prospects of having an actual future for passenger trains despite all the hurdles.


Jonathan skipped the history of Amtrak since he knew we'd heard it many times.  He gave somewhat of a State of Amtrak report. 

He mentioned that as of Sept. 30th '06, this was the 4th consecutive year of increased ridership for Amtrak.  2006 fiscal year System Ridership was 24,306,965 (+1.1% vs. 2005) Included in that is a -1.3% ridership of named trains.  System Revenue for 2006 fiscal year was $1,371,271,855 (+10.7% over 2005).  For my local readers in Southern California, Pacific Surfliner Ridership was Up 5.4% to 2,657,773 and revenue was up 16.3% to $43,068,554.  Coast Starlight revenue was down 11.5% to $2,264,551 and ridership was down 17.6% to 25,185. 

Amtrak has asked Congress for $1.598 billion this year.  Predictions are that they will get between $1.3 and $1.4 billion which means status quo for Amtrak.  The Bush Administration proposed $900 million.

Anticipated changes are being made in:  Restructuring the Food Service, Reducing Labor Costs which are 80% of costs, reducing corporate overhead, and Outsourcing. 

Challenges still are:  Continued underfunding, Host Railroad Performance (Namely UP and CSX), Absence of federal capital matching program, Aging infrastructure, Uneven Customer Service, and System's political context,  2010 deadline for all stations to become ADA compliant. 

Opportunities:  States are emerging as railroad advocates and the aforementioned ridership and revenue gains. 

Immediate needs in the California Corridors include Rolling Stock and Long-Distance Trains. 

Jonathan said one of the 18 new Superliner Diner/Lounge cars going into service in the east will replace the 2 food service cars now on national trains [diner and sightseeing-lounge car].  Perhaps in peak travel times there will be 2 of these cars in service on high-volume trains. 

Jonathan was positive about Alexander Kummant, the new President of Amtrak, and challenged riders and advocates to keep an open mind.  The President has 300 trains a day and 19,000 employees to deal with each day.  He said the fate of the Pacific Parlour Cars only on 3 of the 5 trainsets of the Coast Starlight is in flux, and different than a month ago. 

The new Amtrak President, Alexander Kummant,  has ridden on one of the Pacific Parlour Cars and likes the concept, so they have been spared the hatchet, for the moment.  The issue is that the cars are over 50 years old and the cost to bring thm up to snuff is prohibitive in these challenging times.  (Gary Hess said the problem that needs upgrading on the Parlour Cars is the Air Conditioning.  He says the Beech Grove Shops have estimated it would take $500,000 to do the job...maybe this should be "outsourced.")  Finally, by 2011 the food and beverage and sleeping cars must be profitable, meaning a 20% savings by 2007.

Jonathan Hutchison's Handout Amtrak Update, from which he made his summary talk above, can be read it it's entirity.  Click the link below:

Page 1,   Page 2,   Page 3,   Page 4.

Debbie Hale, Executive Director

and Christina Watson, Senior Transportation Planner

Transportation Agency for Monterey County (TAMC)


The Program Promised:  Debbie & Christina will report on Monterey County's efforts to start a local Monterey-Castroville shuttle using RDCs, subsequent regional connection possibilities, extension of Caltrain to Salinas, recent additions of bus service to the Capitol Corridor and future Coast Line service improvements including the Coast Daylight and overnight service.

Notes -


Debbie Hale:

In their jurisdiction, the largest city on Hwy. 1 and 101 as well as the Coast Starlight is Salinas.  Proposals include CalTrain extension of rail service Salinas to Gilroy and to Sal State Monterey (now 10 years old) at Fort Ord.

Transportation needs that need attention are the jobs in Silicone Valley, Agriculture for transportation of product and workers, Tourism, Aquarium, Laguna Seca, Cannery Row, and Fisherman's Wharf in North County.

DSC00531.jpgHistorically there was a Del Monte Express to Cannery Row and some want it back.  Current services include the Coast Starlight at Salinas, and Commuter Rail to San Jose.  Future plans include a Coast Daylight (a new train that does not go north of Sacramento)(Original Daylight Poster, left), the Gilroy to Salinas extension of service, and Monterey Pennensula Service.

Notes - Christina Watson:


She gave the stops on the proposed SF-LA Coast Daylight's one-daily round trip.  The CalTrain extension from Gilroy to Salinas in 2009/10 is a two round-trip  a day plan with 4 round trips in the future.  $6.50 fare.  Est. 530,000 riders yrly.  New Stations at Pajaro, Castroville, and Salinas.

Based on $3.24 a gallon for gasoline, the Salinas to San Jose trip would cost a CalTrain Monthly Pass holder $4.50,  CalTrain one-way $6.75, or Drive alone for $12.88.

She used the term "Fixed Guideway" for Bus Rapid Transit.  There is a new Line 55 from Monterey to San Jose.

Notes - Debbie Hale:

(Debbie was articulate and well-informed).  The needs for this proposal are:  Federal Approval, CalTrain Agreement, Union Pacific Agreement, Right-of-way for station development. 

Trains will be kept in Salinas and there is revenue generating property in Ft. Ord.

Robert Doty, Director

Rail Transportation, Engineering & Construction, Caltrain


Program said:

Bob will present the unfolding Project 2025 plan, which will transform Caltrain into a showcase for world-class service, safety and efficiency, building on the success of the Baby Bullet project.



Mr. Doty's power point presentation was "State of Good Repair Program"  CalTrain's Project 2025.

He mentioned that in his childhood in Illinois, the family used to set out chairs to watch the "City of New Orleans."

"I always wanted to run a Rapid Transit System in the 'worst way.'"  So he became a BART conductor!

"You can't cut your way to a balanced budget."  So he didn't, instead he reduced end to end run time by 15% and increased revenue by 60%  He thanked the employees for their support and credited them for the success.  CalTrain is the fastest growing  commuter rail in the world.  "It is about 'Capacity,'" not about money.  He reduced stops rather than slowing trains, to get on schedule.

He said the main issue is how to manage the peak of the peak traffic time.  There was only one door per car and it was designed for 1 1/2 second per person throughput.  Bicycles took more time than this to board.  He also sold air rights above tracks and stations to get revenue.

Future thoughts, it is cheaper to electrify a line than to run diesel-electric locomotives because you are not taking the power plant with you.  He has two kinds of customers - Pull and Push customers.  The Push customers have a car.

The FRA requirements are 1930's requirements.  Based on what it took in steel to make a car safe, then they multiplied it by two, why two.  This must be changed.

Commuter rail is 31 times safer than automobile commuting.

"Door-Dwell" is the time required to stop at a station to exchange passengers.  A station that trains pass through and continue on down the line instead of a dead end station is much more desireable.

Michah Posner, Director
People Power, Santa Cruz

Michah tells the story of citizens successfully rescuing a useful local railroad by breaking the destructive rails-or-trails assumptions and deciding to accomplish both goals.


Capitol Corridor / Niles Canyon Railway EXCURSION

Program Notes:

This will be a historic event with a first-time special stop at Niles for the Capitol Corridor. We will depart Jack London Square (optionally Coliseum) Amtrak Station about 9:30am for the trip to our special Niles stop adjacent to the Niles Canyon Railway station. We'll then take a round trip on the scenic Niles Canyon Railway to Sunol and back, have some time to explore and eat lunch in historic Niles and visit the Niles SP Depot. At about 1:30pm a northbound Capitol will make a second historic Niles stop and return us to Oakland before 2:00pm.

Roundtrip will be $10 ($8 Senior) on the Niles Canyon Railway, $11 on the Capitol Corridor (with ten-ride tickets) and a suggested $10 donation to TRAC or CRF (payments day-of-trip). Friends and family are welcome. Don't miss this historic trip! We would like to thank the Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority, Amtrak, Union Pacific Railroad and Niles Canyon Railway for making this special stop possible.

My Notes and Pictures:
On our way to the first-time special stop at Niles for the Capitol Corridor.

While awaiting the Capitol Corridor triain to Niles, the Southbound Coast Starlight stopped at Oakland Station (above and right)
The Cal. Corridor Amtrak California train pulled in immediately...

and we boarded.

This train has a nicely designed cafe car, here showing the upstairs.
The Niles Station/Shed, has a nice platform and benches and temporary shade for those waiting for the train to Sodul.
If a stop is put in on the Capitol Corridor, as Niles-Sodul train volunteers hope will happen, they will need to add a platform.  Even though difficult, TRAC members were able to make this historic stop work.
We boarded either open or closed cars and made our way the 6 1/2 miles from Niles to Sodul.

With an engine on both ends, so they would never be in push mode, SP 1423 was our locomotive westbound.


Western Pacific 713 pulled us to Sodul.

The caboose was for rent for parties, including a ride in the copula!
Alan Miller in one of the two open cars, which were being decorated for their big Christmas excursions.
The first car was uncovered with porta-potties.  I guess this was truely an Out House!

Sunol, CA, was our destination.  A good place for locomotive pictures and a quick stop in their gift shop.


I stepped away from the train to shoot the closest business...
and the Hwy. 84 sign to remember where Sodul, California was located.

TRAC members enjoying the excursion (above and right)
And, the younger generation enjoyed the ride as well!

An onboard snack shop was welcome.  They also sold a historical book on railroads in Niles.  This route was part of the original "Transcontinental Railroad."
One of three original wig-wag signals still operate along the line.
Some of the organization's rolling stock.

A highlight for me was at the end of the run back in Niles...The Niles Depot - SP Museum:



RR underpass into Niles' downtown.
They close the underpass to traffic specifically for the safety of pedestrians from the train when the Niles - Sodul train is running .

The Amtrak California train made its second historic stop (to pick up the TRAC riders) and we boarded and returned to Oakland.
OKJ -- Oakland Amtrak Station, very nice and close to Oakland's embarcadero restaurants and shopping.
Only a couple of blocks north of OKJ, Jack London Square provides excellent new restaurants.
At this Conference, we learned about railroad plans all the way to the year 2020, and we paid our respects to the first Transcontinental Railroad...Railroads have played a big part in the history of the USA, and will play a bigger part in America's future!

Join TRAC and go to next year's conference in San Diego!

[ Getting ThereThe Conference and Niles Excursion | Getting Home ]

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