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California Rail 2020, TRAC Conference, November 1 - 9, 2008 by Carl Morrison

California Rail 2020

November 7 - 9, 2008

Conference Coverage by Carl Morrison,

Pre-Conference Announcement at (In Italics below):

Please join TRAC for our annual "California Rail 2020"
conference on November 7th to 9th, 2008, in downtown
Sacramento, California. This year’s conference will feature
President Alex Kummant of Amtrak (photo: below right)
and Director Will Kempton of Caltrans (photo:  below left),
 along with a host of other state and regional transportation
leaders to discuss issues important to all California rail users.


After arriving at the Sacramento Station about midnight and walking a couple of blocks, we arrived at the Vagabond Inn where we had 3 nights reserved at the Conference rate of $79 ea.  Amtrak Suits seem to stay here as well, before their turn around the next day to L.A.

The TRAC (Train Riders Association of California) CALIFORNIA RAIL FOUNDATION 2020 Conference was scheduled to start at 8:30 am, November 8, 2008 at the Capitol Plaza Ballroom, 1025 Ninth Street, Sacramento, CA  95814.

Not knowing how long it would take me to get from the Vagabond Inn to 1025 Ninth Street, I got up early, had a nice express breakfast in the lounge at the Vagabond, and walked down J Street to 9th and turned right a 1/2 block.

(Photos from this point are by Carl Morrison; Double Click to see a double-sized enlargement, Click BACK in your browser to return to this page.)

Vagabond Inn, Old Town, Sacramento
Capital Plaza, 1025 Ninth, TRAC World Headquarters and our Conference
IMG_7643.jpg IMG_7644.jpg

Richard McLaughlin

Opening Remarks:  Richard McLaughlin, TRAC VP, welcomed us and announced that Alan. C. Miller, the Executive Director of TRAC, had left TRAC to take a full-time position with CalTrans.  Richard also announced that Alex Kummant would not be attending because of personal matters.  [As it tuned out, he was in the  process of ending his tenure as the head of Amtrak.]  Instead, from Amtrak, we had Joseph H. McHugh, VP.



Corridor Progress:  ACE, Hubert J. Hanrahan; Amtrak San Joaquins, William D. Bonte; California High Speed Rail, Bob Schaevitz


Cal Rail 2020



Hubert Hanrahan
Manager, Customer Service & Marketing
San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission
Altamont Commuter Express (ACE)
929 East Channel Street
 Stockton, CA  95202

Hubert J. Hanrahan, ACE

Mr. Hanrahan, through power point slides, and copies provided attendees, mentioned that ACE recently celebrated 10 years of service.  They held a Rider Appreciation Celebration for their 10th Anniversary.  They've added a 4th round trip.  754,229 riders to date which outdid all projections.  They've had a 14% increase in ridership.  Measure K Sales Tax was used to form ACE which opened October 19, 1998.

Currently at ACE, they have new locomotives this year making a total of 6.  Four new cars were added with luggage racks.  The cars have 8 less seats which is noticeable in the Quads.  Their 10-yr. scheduled overhauls are being conducted.  A future change will be to change the Stockton Station from a stub-in to run-through station.


The Logo of the High-Speed Rail Authority has undergone a change, which was on Bob's handout cover.  The word  "FLY" has been added inside the circle above, so it reads "Fly California."  Also, a second line has been added saying, "Without ever leaving the ground."  I could not find this new logo on their website to show you here.

Go to their modern website to see:  FAQs, Routes, Gallery,  News & Facts,  Library, and others:
Bob Schaevitz, URS Corporation

Parts of his presentation:

Purpose and need:  51 million people will live in California by 2030 (15% of the U.S. population).  Three of five most congested areas in the U.S. --Los Angeles (#1), --San Francisco-Oakland (#2), --San Diego (#5).  Auto congestion now costs $20 billion annually and is growing 10% a year.  LAX and SFO airports are among the worst in on-time performance.  California is the 12th largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the world.  Emissions rose by 15% between 1990 and 2004.  41% of the state's emissions come from the transportation sector.  Cleaner fuels and more efficient vehicles along cannot achieve state AQ goals.  The capacity of the High Speed Train is equal to 3,000 miles of freeways ($66 Billion cost), 5 airport runways and 90 departure gates ($16 Billion cost).

The Solution - High Speed Rail.  Total Length:  800 miles.  26 Stations.  Service to over 90% of the state's population centers.  Priority (spine) segment and two extensions.  

"HST (High Speed Train) Priority Segment:  San Francisco to Anaheim via San Jose, San Joaquin Valley, Antelope Valley (Palmdale), Los Angeles Union Station.  525 Miles.  16 Stations.

Maximum Sustained Operating Speed:  220 mph (north of Bakersfield to Gilroy and Stockton)  Map at 

Project Details:  State-of-the-art electric steel-wheel-on-steel-rail technology.  Double-track with passing tracks at intermediate stations.  Fully grade-separated.  "Open" specification compatible with European and Asian Systems.  Downtown stations connected to Amtrak, airports, and transit.  Ridership >100 million annually by 2030.  No operating subsidy.

Segment Phasing.  5-7 Years:  SF to San Jose.  LA to Anaheim.  7-10 Years: Merced to Bakersfield.  10-13 Years:  Bakersfield to LA.  Merced to San Jose.

High-Speed Train Benefits.  Economic Impact:  Approximately $3 billion in annual revenue.  Approximately 160,000 construction jobs and 450,000 permanent jobs by 2035.  Total economic impact over 45 billion annually.   Congestion Relief:  Eliminate 70 million auto trips annually.  Reduce delays at California's 9 largest airports.  Energy Savings:  Save 13 million barrels of oil annually.  GHG and Pollution Reduction:  Reduced CO2 by 6.4 million tons per year by 2030, equivalent to 1.4 million fewer passenger cars, Meet 50% of statewide greenhouse gas reduction goal for land use and transportation.  Support denser, transit-friendly land use. Part of San Joaquin Valley APCD Clean Air Plan.

Cost and Funding.  Cost of Priority Segment:  $30 billion.  Three-Part Funding Plan:  State Funds:  $9 Billion (Pending bond issue).  Federal Funds:  HSR legislation moving forward in both houses of Congress.  Private Investment:  Revenue-backed investment via Design-Build, DBOM, etc.

Timing of Funds.  State/Federal commitments needed for private participation.  State funds all pre-construction and early construction.  Feds help fund initial segments (e.g., SF-San Jose).  Private funds invested after other funds committed.

Federal Legislation.  HR 2095 signed into law (October 2008).

Private Financing.  California HSR Authority has met with 70 private contractors, equipment vendors, operators, and financiers.  Discussed P3 approach to help fund the HST Project.  Received Expressions of Interest from over 50 possible partners.

Accelerated Activity.   Final Route Approved.  $46 million FY09 Budget Approved.  Starting Project-Level EIS/EIR Process.  $9.95B Bond Issue on November Ballot, $9B for HST, $950 Million for Other Rail Transit. [Which passed, first Tuesday in November].

This report by Bob Schaevitz, URS Corporation, was the best prepared, delivered, and documented presentation this reporter has heard at any TRAC Conference.

Q and A:  There are 8 sections of the HSR, each with its own Manager.  Mr. Schaevitz is one Manager.  It will be 15 years projected to the opening.  (That would be 2024.)  Central Valley Section will be the first built so it can demo. the 225 mph maximum speed.  In 7 yrs the first section will be opened, in 10 yrs the Anaheim Section will be one of two open.

William D. Bonte, CalTrans

William Bonte, CalTrans, began by saying he didn't like PowerPoint Presentations because the presenter ends up watching the power point rather than the audience.  Therefore, there were no notes for the audience or reporters, and any note taking of his speech should be checked for accuracy with him.

Mr. Bonte started by saying that 2008 was a Great Year, with 11% statewide ridership increase, 18% on San Joaquins and this was not vacationers or kids on trains, 17% Capitol Corridor increase with 46.5% farebox recovery, 7% Surfliner increase with 61% farebox recovery.  The overall farebox recovery goal is 51%.

The labor agreement at Amtrak means a 30% labor cost increase and fuel cost has doubled.

Changes include midway cleaning of restrooms because of increased ridership and more family friendly fares.

Biggest Issue is Budget.  The aforementioned increased labor anf fuel costs mean fare increases.  From his $65 million budget cut, there will be fewer capital improvements.  CalTrans got $400 million from Propositions in 2006 that will be used for new equipment.  Prop. 1A provides $195 million.  $47 million for each of the 3 corridors.  In the Reauthorization Bill, there is a new part, "Capital Expenditures."  This will provide $60 million a year that is already matched.  Senator Kerry has a High Speed Rail Bill which has bonds for State Rail.

Q&A  San Joaquins over Tehachapi?  Not likely because it is a congested UP and BNSF route so passenger trains through there would be at the speed of the slowest freight.

After each speaker, Randall Hansen expertly collected, organized, and read questions submitted by the attendees for the speakers.

Randall Hansen, Treasurer

Richard Tolmach, TRAC Board Member from Sacramento county introduced the next speaker, Will Kempton.

Richard Tolmach

Will Kempton, CalTrans
Guests could submit written questions after each speaker.  Randall handled the Q & A with expertise.

Mr. Kempton rides trains to his Sacramento Office where he reads, uses his phone and other work related activities, as do many state government workers in Sacramento.

Ontime performance between Emeryville and Sacramento, where he often rides the train for business, is great and beats an automobile on the same trip.  Mr. Kempton related that on several occasions he's raced someone in a car while he rides the train on that same route and he wins each time.

He mentioned that there are four sections of the National Transportation Act:  Highways, Freight, Transit, and Intercity Passenger Rail.  $38 billion is proposed.

Rail is still a small piece of our big problem of congestion in California.

15% rail as share of total modal transportation is his goal.  Paris to Leoné, for instance, has 50% of the passenger traffic going by rail.

There is a need to close the "Gaps" in our rail system.  #1 San Fancisco to East Bay and Central Valley, #2 Bakersfield to Santa Clarita, #3 San Jose to San Luis Obispo.  Each Gap needs increased speed and dedicated passenger track by public ownership with increased frequency.

27 cars were acquired through California budget negotiations.   Los Angeles runthrough plan being implemented.

He is impressed with TRAC's rail advocacy and encouraged the members present to keep up their advocacy.

Joseph McHugh, Amtrak VP, was introduced as the keynote speaker in Mr. Kummant's absence.

Joseph H. McHugh, Amtrak VP
After Q & A, guests asked specific question.

He related that '07's ridership has gone from 25.8 million to 28.7 million in .08, an 11% increase. The Northeast Corridor (Acela) is down some.  It is estimated that 85% of the Acela riders are riding on someone elses money such as business travelers.

He had an example slide of the Hiawatha Service as an excellent service and mentioned that he could have used the Surfliner as his example.  The Hiawatha's slogan is "Milwaukee to Chicago, 90 miles in 90 minutes."  Their ridership is up 25% after adding Mitchell Field.

His philosophy is the way to raise ridership is to add corridors. 

The Surfliner is the 2nd most travelled corridor in the US after the N.E. Corridor.  The New York City to Washington, DC rail ridership in 2000 was 37% with the rest air.  Today it is 62% by rail.  Boston to NYC was 20% in 2000, now 49% in 2008. 

Next Challenges are:  1.  There are 100 pieces of equipment in Beach Grove, Indiana, Amtrak Shops.  i.e.  81 Amfleet cars are in Delaware and New Orleans, with 12 - 15 to be redone next year.  2.  Buy new equipment - long distance cars, locomotives to be used in Albany, NY,  New diners and sleepers in the east, New cars in the west, New trainset in the midwest, New high speed trainset for the Acela Line. 

In the reauthorization there are conditions on frieghts about on-time performance of passenger trains.  The Chatsworth accident moved congress to act on reauthorization with safety considerations.

There is talk of reinstating the Pioneer, the Sunset East, Hiawatha, and others.

Positive Train Control (PTC) is due in 2015, but there must be agreement on which system to use.  It will cost $50,000 per locomotive to equip it with PTC.

Political Implications:  Trent Lott has been a big help in getting the reauthorization.  The Strongest support for Amtrak is in the Senate. Barack will embrace Amtrak.  Biden rides Amtrak to work in Washington, DC, and his son is on the Amtrak Board.  Amtrak has been told to "Forget Strategy" and just "Implement the Bill."

Mr. McHugh is the 3rd person in seniority serving as a VP at Amtrak.  His philosophy is that you cannot let a labor contract run out to 18 months because they are strapped to deliver the back pay of the new contract just signed.  Congress likes Amtrak, but loves labor unions.

Q&A:  There is still an unevenness of service among Amtrak employees across the US with "The Best is in the West." 

There is a 2% "quit rate" among Amtrak employees, the lowest in the country of companies of this size. 

He says to let Amtrak know about bad trip experiences.  [ Editor: One way to contact Amtrak is at:  Amtrak Service Standards, 60 Massachusetts Ave NE, Washington, DC 20078-1828 ] 

In reference to reestabishing  the Pioneer and Sunset routes, there is a 180 day report due on both.  Sunset Ltd. east difficulty is problem keeping it on time.  It has 280 miles of "dark railroad" and many stations were damaged by Katrina. 

Reestablishing the Desert Wind, at least LA to Vegas is moving with an Inspection Train running over the route two weeks before this convention.

He had good comments about David Gunn, former Amtrak Chief.  Knowing now that Kummant is gone, maybe Gunn will be brought back.

Amtrak is trying to have all stations barrier free and intermodal.  2010 is the deadline for ADA modifications.

They are trying to reduce debt from 4.2 billion to 1/2 billion to save on debt service of $300 million a year.

Barack is the only presidential candidate that had Amtrak on his website.  Illinois has had rapid rail development and he's from Illinois.

Mr. McHugh has his staff meet with mayors of towns along Amtrak routes each year to help them make station improvements.  There is grant money available for stations for signage and station repairs.  Check the website:

San Francisco to Los Angeles route to be reinstated requires new equipment and is not being considered now.

A generous hot lunch buffet was provided onsite in the adjoining room at the Capitol Plaza Ballroom. Vegetarian options were available.

Post Election Rail Advocacy

Transportation uses 70% of petroleum use by all sectors.

96% of transportation is petroleum based.

High oil prices have moved the US from Cars & Planes to Transit and Trains.

Oil is our Enemy.  It is some country's strategic weapon as they gain control of oil.

Trains are the ticket to the future, electric trains, like High Speed Rail in California.

Mr. Chilson then went into great detail about NARP's reorganization.
George Chilson,  NARP

The SMART proposition passed its ballot measure by 69%.  Therefore, SMART is the next new commuter rail corridor in Sonoma and Marin Counties.

Using the Northwestern Pacific Railroad, the depots will be:  San Rafael, Petaluma, and Santa Rosa.

28 trains a day, DMUs, every 30 minutes.

Siemens, Disiro, or Colorado Railcar, not sure yet.

They own the right-of-way to Napa Junction.  5300 passengers per day weekdays.

$7.7 million cost per mile, low compared to the region.

Measure Q is 1/4 cent sale tax.  Tried in 2006 and got 65.3%, tried in 2008 and got 69.5% which passed.

Thier motto:  "Let the train take you there."

John Nemeth, SMART Rail Planning Manager

Passenger Trains on Freight Railroads

Gene heads the Capitol Corridor.  They have had 55% revenue to cost ration, the highest in 10 years.    He has reduced running time by 20 minutes and increased round trips to nine.

32 cents per train-mile fare (low)

3rd busiest route in the country.

1/2 billion auto miles have been kept off the highway.

9% of ridership have access to bike approaches, not all take their bikes.

Working with UP freights, the Capitol Corridor pays for passenger capacity improvements and includes a 7% expected increase in freight.

Gene's point was to give freight a financial advantage to improve their and the passenger trains performance on their tracks.

Gene Skoropowski

Thus ended a very informative and well-organized TRAC Conference for 2008.  Again we attendees appreciate the opportunity to reach the Conference by rail, and always have a rail excursion on Sunday.  Finally, the speakers were experienced leaders in rail and the TRAC Conference is the only place to get this much timely information in one day.

[ The Sunday ExcursionGetting There and Back by RailOther Reports by Carl | ]