December 12, 2011 marks the Capitol Corridor’s 20th Anniversary—what an amazing two decades it has been! In twenty years the Capitol Corridor went from a total of six trains (three round-trips daily) to 32 weekday (22 weekend) trains between San Jose and Sacramento. Ridership has soared faster than the service: from 239,000 to the 1.74 million riders we carried in the last federal fiscal year, which ended in September. As with past end-of-year Message to Riders, I want to thank you for your loyalty and support and recount the highlights of this productive and successful year.
This year, Northern California travelers have truly made the Capitol Corridor one of the most popular intercity passenger rail services in the nation. The Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority’s (CCJPA) year-end Federal Fiscal Year 2011 (FFY2011) results shattered ridership and revenue thresholds set in previous federal fiscal years. The 1.74 million passengers who rode Capitol Corridor from October 1, 2010 through September 30, 2011, resulted in revenue of $27.2 million and for the second year in a row, it leads the nation in On-Time Performance (OTP). Capitol Corridor’s results for all three performance measures showed a steady upward trend this fiscal year—with some months showing double-digit increases—demonstrating that travelers who try trains, stay on trains.
I attribute several elements to the Capitol Corridor’s popularity: its consistently high on-time performance (OTP); Union Pacific Railroad’s™ stellar dispatching; Amtrak’s™ commitment to improving mechanical performance; our successful marketing promotions and the CCJPA’s customer -focused business model.
Besides our popularity with travelers, public support came via state and federal dollars.
The CCJPA received welcome news from federal officials in May when the U.S. Department of Transportation (US DOT) announced it awarded California’s intercity passenger rail services $68 million to procure 15 new, state-of-the-art train cars and four cleaner-running locomotives. The new cars will be distributed between California’s passenger rail services in the north (Capitol Corridor and San Joaquin) and in the south (Pacific Surfliner). I’m expecting the additional train cars will be on our tracks in three to four years. We need these additional rail cars to accommodate the steadily growing ridership not just on the Capitol Corridor, but on all three intercity passenger rail services. Each month we see thousands of more riders on our trains and we need to meet passenger capacity needs.
Another federal entity, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), came through for us in September when it obligated $4.8 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds for the Yolo Causeway West Crossover Project, which is to be located between the Sacramento and Davis stations. The crossover benefits you, our customer, as it will maintain and improve the reliability of the Capitol Corridor trains by minimizing train congestion delays along this heavily utilized section of track between these two busy stations. Construction is expected to begin in spring 2012 and be complete by fall 2012.
The CCJPA received great news from state entities when in February the California Transportation Commission approved our request to use $3.75 million in savings from an infrastructure project in Emeryville towards installing Wi-Fi technology instead. The CCJPA joined Amtrak and the other California intercity passenger rail services to launch free wireless service on Cyber Monday, November 28. Free Wi-Fi is our holiday gift to loyal train passengers who have wanted this service for some time. Our customers can now make their travel mode choice based on which mode is more productive or entertaining; soon making Capitol Corridor trains the preferred means of interregional travel.
Also in November the CCJPA Board learned that the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District (SMAQMD) provided the CCJPA a $320,000 Carl Moyer Fund award to purchase standby power units to run locomotives as they layover at Capitol Corridor/Amtrak Sacramento Valley Station. This award will provide an additional four cleaner power units bringing the total to eight. These added standby units will now be included in the City of Sacramento’s contract with Granite Construction Inc. as part of Sacramento’s track relocation project. Standby units use electricity to power equipment, therefore trains won’t need to burn fossil fuel when stationed for extended periods of time. Instead of idling and emitting harmful diesel emissions as crews clean and maintain the rail cars, passenger trains stopping at the remodeled Sacramento Valley Station next year will be powered by cleaner, quieter standby units. This clean-air grant was the product of a partnership between the City, CCJPA and the SMAQMD.
The environmental benefits to this air pollution reduction measure are significant. Operating eight units will help prevent over 330 tons of greenhouse gases and 2.5 tons of harmful air pollutants from entering our atmosphere each year. Not only will this partnership help the region attain federal air quality standards, we will prevent tons of climate change emissions and will save hundreds of thousands of dollars in fuel costs as well. Once these units are up and running we expect to save about 303,000 gallons of fuel each year.
2011 Golden STAR Award Bestowed to the “Father” of the Capitol Corridor
I saved the best 2011 milestone for last. We had a Golden Star in our platinum year when the Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority (CCJPA), Amtrak and Caltrans bestowed California’s 2011 Golden STAR (State Advocate of Rail) award to Solano Supervisor James P. Spering as scores of train fans flocked to the fourth annual National Train Day celebration in Martinez.
The three rail entities unanimously selected Solano County Supervisor and long-time CCJPA Board member James P. Spering for the 2011 Golden STAR award. Supervisor Spering has been instrumental in implementing the vision to make this service what it is today and was selected not only for his tenacity and foresight to establish intercity passenger rail in Northern California but for his years of experience and direction in developing comprehensive transportation system in Northern California. His guidance has led to tremendous improvements to the Capitol Corridor.
Yes, this has been a milestone year with memorable activities but we know we owe much of our success to our loyal and new riders, as well as the commitment of our service partners: UPRR and Amtrak. I wish you a safe and joyful holiday season and look forward to continuous improvements to the Capitol Corridor in the next year.