Issue 29, April 07, 2007

April 7, 2007

Dear Capitol Corridor riders and friends,

Well, we made it through the track reconstruction program. Unfortunately, we are now dealing with the aftermath of the big trestle fire in Sacramento, resulting in delays due to freight train reroutes and construction of the replacement trestle. An interim bus bridge is operating for our Placer County riders between Auburn and Sacramento until the tracks are restored.

Proposition 1B Funds

Expectations were high in November when the voters approved Proposition 1B including an additional $400 million for capital investment in our state’s intercity passenger rail system. However, it now seems we also need a legislative appropriation to be able to use any of those funds. We are seeking an appropriation of at least $150 million (of the voter-authorized $400 million) in the state budget for the coming year so that Caltrans can go out for bids for more passenger rail cars for our service. It takes about four to five years from the time they are ordered until they are delivered, and I think most of you know we could surely use about ten more coaches on our existing trains today. The order needs to be placed as soon as possible, due to the long delivery time and escalating worldwide steel prices.
We are currently working with state Assemblymembers and Senators on securing this $150 million in Proposition 1B funds. We are hopeful when the state budget is adopted in June (or thereabouts), it will include the appropriation of the $150 million so Caltrans can START the bid process for the new passenger rail cars.

With Success Comes Challenge

In the day-to-day complexities of trying to operate this Capitol Corridor service for you, sometimes I hear the words of Gilda Radner’s character “Roseanne Rosannadanna” ringing in my ears. When she performed years ago on Saturday Night Live, her character Roseanne would quote the nonsensical famous sayings of her fictitious father, saying with profound conviction: “It’s always something. If it isn’t one thing, then it’s another.”

That’s a bit how we feel right now.

With unparalleled passenger rail success, not just on the Capitol Corridor, but all across California, the challenges remain the same: improve on-time performance, minimize freight train conflicts, secure funds to install more crossover switches for operating flexibility, getting more rail cars to accommodate all the folks who want to ride our trains. So, we are staying focused on these basics.

Working with UP on Improvements

Nonetheless , there are some very positive signs that improvement is coming. First, of course, is that the major Union Pacific trackwork for this year is completed. Second, Union Pacific is going to test a new operating plan to improve Capitol Corridor service.

Ridership Keeps Growing

Additionally, we have more riders now than ever. Since the expanded 32 train service plan went into effect late last August, ridership for the first five months of our fiscal year (starting with October 2006) is up 12%. We now carry more than 1,334,000 riders annually, and that number is growing with each passing month. Again, I make a plea to you to make room for the added riders by keeping seats clear of personal belongings. The revenue from every new rider whom we accommodate on the trains allows us to keep your fares unchanged.

Public Workshops

We finished the Public Workshops for our upcoming annual Business Plan Update the first week of March. Some 280 riders participated in nine on-board workshops and one land-side workshop. Thank you to all who attended and commented or made suggestions. Virtually without exception, the riders tell us how much they appreciate our service, and if it would run on-time on a consistent basis, nothing could top it.

Our Goals for the Future

Based on our plans, and your comments, our highest priority for the coming two to four years is improved and consistent reliability of your trains. Everything we are doing, on both the operations side as well as the capital investment side, is focused on improving the on-time reliability of your Capitol Corridor trains.
We know our service is very popular with the riding public, and our management team has an obligation to you – an obligation we take very seriously – to deliver a quality train service when you ride the Capitol Corridor. We are making progress, but we know there is much more to be done. I want you to know that we are working hard to achieve that goal of reliable, quality passenger train service for you.

On-board Survey Results

As many of you know, a third party conducts semi-annual on-board as a means of letting us (both CCJPA and Amtrak) know how you, our passengers, feel about the Capitol Corridor service. Stay tuned in the coming weeks to www.capitolcorridor.org to view ratings of the service.

Issue 29, April 2007

April 1, 2007

Dear Capitol Corridor riders and friends,

Well, we made it through the track reconstruction program. Unfortunately, we are now dealing with the aftermath of the big trestle fire in Sacramento, resulting in delays due to freight train reroutes and construction of the replacement trestle. An interim bus bridge is operating for our Placer County riders between Auburn and Sacramento until the tracks are restored.

Proposition 1B Funds

Expectations were high in November when the voters approved Proposition 1B including an additional $400 million for capital investment in our state’s intercity passenger rail system. However, it now seems we also need a legislative appropriation to be able to use any of those funds. We are seeking an appropriation of at least $150 million (of the voter-authorized $400 million) in the state budget for the coming year so that Caltrans can go out for bids for more passenger rail cars for our service. It takes about four to five years from the time they are ordered until they are delivered, and I think most of you know we could surely use about ten more coaches on our existing trains today. The order needs to be placed as soon as possible, due to the long delivery time and escalating worldwide steel prices.
We are currently working with state Assemblymembers and Senators on securing this $150 million in Proposition 1B funds. We are hopeful when the state budget is adopted in June (or thereabouts), it will include the appropriation of the $150 million so Caltrans can START the bid process for the new passenger rail cars.

With Success Comes Challenge

In the day-to-day complexities of trying to operate this Capitol Corridor service for you, sometimes I hear the words of Gilda Radner’s character “Roseanne Rosannadanna” ringing in my ears. When she performed years ago on Saturday Night Live, her character Roseanne would quote the nonsensical famous sayings of her fictitious father, saying with profound conviction: “It’s always something. If it isn’t one thing, then it’s another.”
That’s a bit how we feel right now.
With unparalleled passenger rail success, not just on the Capitol Corridor, but all across California, the challenges remain the same: improve on-time performance, minimize freight train conflicts, secure funds to install more crossover switches for operating flexibility, getting more rail cars to accommodate all the folks who want to ride our trains. So, we are staying focused on these basics.

Working with UP on Improvements

Nonetheless, there are some very positive signs that improvement is coming. First, of course, is that the major Union Pacific trackwork for this year is completed. Second, Union Pacific is going to test a new operating plan to improve Capitol Corridor service.

Ridership Keeps Growing

Additionally, we have more riders now than ever. Since the expanded 32 train service plan went into effect late last August, ridership for the first five months of our fiscal year (starting with October 2006) is up 12%. We now carry more than 1,334,000 riders annually, and that number is growing with each passing month. Again, I make a plea to you to make room for the added riders by keeping seats clear of personal belongings. The revenue from every new rider whom we accommodate on the trains allows us to keep your fares unchanged.

Public Workshops

We finished the Public Workshops for our upcoming annual Business Plan Update the first week of March. Some 280 riders participated in nine on-board workshops and one land-side workshop. Thank you to all who attended and commented or made suggestions. Virtually without exception, the riders tell us how much they appreciate our service, and if it would run on-time on a consistent basis, nothing could top it.

Our Goals for the Future

Based on our plans, and your comments, our highest priority for the coming two to four years is improved and consistent reliability of your trains. Everything we are doing, on both the operations side as well as the capital investment side, is focused on improving the on-time reliability of your Capitol Corridor trains.
We know our service is very popular with the riding public, and our management team has an obligation to you – an obligation we take very seriously – to deliver a quality train service when you ride the Capitol Corridor. We are making progress, but we know there is much more to be done. I want you to know that we are working hard to achieve that goal of reliable, quality passenger train service for you.

On-board Survey Results

As many of you know, a third party conducts semi-annual on-board as a means of letting us (both CCJPA and Amtrak) know how you, our passengers, feel about the Capitol Corridor service. Stay tuned in the coming weeks to www.capitolcorridor.org to view ratings of the service.

Issue 28, December 6, 2006

December 6, 2006

Dear Capitol Corridor riders and friends,

Happy Holidays!

Here it is, that time of year again, with the December holidays just ahead. As has been my custom every year, I write my Holiday “Message” on December 6, St. Nicholas Day. Please let me extend to each of you, and your families, my personal “Best Wishes” for a happy holiday season, and to extend these same wishes to you on behalf of the all the dedicated folks on the Capitol Corridor staff, Amtrak’s Capitol Corridor management team, and the folks at Union Pacific Railroad, who are all working with us to build a better Capitol Corridor service for you.

15 Years and Counting

In addition to all the holiday excitement, your Capitol Corridor service is also celebrating its 15th birthday. We’ll be celebrating with a party at the Sacramento station on December 12th at 12:30pm, and we’d love for you to join us. As our way of thanking you for all your support and loyalty over the years, we’re offering our passengers 15% off of any Capitol Corridor ticket (including multi-rides) purchased between December 16 and December 31, 2006. Visit our website for more details.

Where Are We Now?

It hardly seems possible that 5 years have flown by since our 10th birthday. Looking back at just the past year, there were some mighty big changes that happened to your Capitol Corridor. After a very wet and disruptive January and February, things dried out, service improved, and construction work to San Jose was completed in the summer. The single largest increase in service frequency on any Amtrak-operated route went into effect on August 28 on your Capitol Corridor. Travel choices went from 8 to 14 frequencies to/from San Jose on weekdays (+75%), and from 24 to 32 weekday frequencies between Oakland and Sacramento (+33%). Between Sacramento and Oakland, you now have as many daily travel choices as Amtrak riders have between Boston and New York. This is the most frequent intercity passenger rail service in the country outside of the Northeast Corridor. Not too shabby an accomplishment for a new route that first began in December 1991, with just three daily trains each way.
Reliability still isn’t where it needs to be yet, but we are focusing virtually all of our efforts now on making reliability improvements (track and signal improvements designed to keep trains on-time).
We also have a pressing need for more passenger coaches to operate longer trains, as our ridership is still growing. For 8 consecutive years, each year has produced a new, record-high level of riders, over-and-above the prior year. Who says Americans won’t ride trains? You have proven wrong almost every demographic study done in past decades about Americans’ attitude toward train travel. If anything, Capitol Corridor’s success has proven that if we build a modern, frequent, reliable and time-competitive passenger train service, Americans will ride trains in droves. You are doing just that, even though we know we still need to work on the reliability of our service.

Thank You California Voters!

There is much we have to be thankful for. Most recently, the voters of California have decided, by approving Propositions 1A and 1B last November 7 that a continued investment in our state’s intercity passenger rail should be made. New rail coaches and locomotives are on the state’s agenda for purchase. Funds will also be invested in tracks, signals, and other railroad components that increase the capacity of rail lines, both for passenger services as well as for goods movement. I won’t say that “Santa Claus delivered,” but clearly the voters of California “delivered.”

So, What’s in Store for 2007?

The first major investment is rebuilding tracks between Richmond and the north side of the Martinez-Benicia drawbridge. This multi-million dollar project will be done between January 22 and February 17. Union Pacific will be installing some 40,000 new wood ties at their own expense. This is the first installment of a multi-year track upgrade project that will eventually extend to Sacramento, and perhaps beyond. It has been more than 10 years since the line was last rebuilt, and, just like on the highways, keeping the road (or railroad) in good condition is critical to being able to operate reliably. On weekdays, there will need to be a 4 week suspension of some late-morning and mid-day trains during the construction period to give the track workers time to do the rebuilding. To complete the work as quickly as possible, Union Pacific forces will work 7 days a week during this 4 week blitz. We will post the interim schedules in stations, on trains, and on the website as soon as times are final.

January/February Service Disruption

The weekday trains that WILL NOT OPERATE during this 4 week window (January 22 through February 17 are expected to be:

  • #518
  • #526
  • #527
  • #530
  • #531
  • #533
  • #534
  • #541

(#529 will operate thru to San Jose)
Other trains will operate (some with adjustments to their schedule), although some trains passing through the work area between 8am and 3pm might also experience a few minutes delay.
Weekend and Holiday service should not be significantly impacted, and no changes are planned in the weekends/holiday schedules. Upon completion of the work in February, the full present weekday schedule will be restored. We are letting you know about this as early as we can in the event that your travel plans will be impacted during the work window period. This “short term pain for long term gain” is part of the effort to improve your train reliability. I think all of you know me well enough by now that I would not go along with this plan unless I was convinced it was the best way to get the work done with as little inconvenience to our riders as possible.

More to Come…

During the next year, we expect to see a contract awarded by the state for purchase of more coaches and locomotives, and also release of capital funds from the approved bonds to make several track improvements designed to improve reliability, especially at Emeryville, Benicia-Bahia, and at West Causeway in Davis. Additional double track to San Jose is on the list, as are plans for a new passenger track going east from Sacramento to Roseville to better serve Placer County with more trains. Sacramento Station development is moving along, and the first major project will likely be relocation of the tracks just to the north of the existing station. You will also see construction of new passenger platforms and passenger station tracks, separate from the freight tracks. The Sacramento Station plan, and proposed development around it, is one of the country’s most exciting and ambitious transit-oriented development projects. At long last, we may see a train station that indeed is a fitting arrival in the capitol city of the nation’s most populated state.
So here we go, off into 2007! Thank you for riding the Capitol Corridor. We know that we work for you, and you have our commitment that we will do everything we can do to make your Capitol Corridor service the best we can make it. As always, please feel free to contact us at [email protected] or at 510.464.6995 to leave a message.
Again, please accept my best wishes to each and every one of you for a wonderful holiday season, and for a happy, healthy and prosperous new year!

Issue 27, September 29, 2006

September 29, 2006

Message from the Director

From me to you…

The New Service Expansion

Well, we did it. August 28 came and went, and by any account, things went quite well considering the magnitude of the changes. More intercity trains were added to the Capitol Corridor route than have been added to any single intercity train service in the past four decades, maybe longer. It’s a bit hard to tell, as there are few railroad folks around who can remember much further back than that! We added 52% more service to/from San Jose, and 35% more service to/from Sacramento. Now we’re running 14 daily trains to/from San Jose, and a whopping 32 weekday and 22 weekend trains between Sacramento and Oakland. I love telling everyone that there are as many trains now running between Sacramento and Oakland as Amtrak runs between Boston and New York on the much-talked-about Northeast Corridor.
Yes, we had a few hiccups and there is still some ongoing “finishing work”, but overall, the new schedule is actually operating more efficiently than the former 24 train schedule.
Union Pacific dispatchers in Omaha and Caltrain dispatchers in San Jose (dispatchers control all our train movements) took time to meet with us personally, studied the schedules and tracks and facilities that were built, and in turn, made the best use of these new facilities in keeping our trains moving on or close to schedule. This was no small feat. Union Pacific Railroad now hosts an intercity rail corridor with more frequent passenger service than anywhere else in America, except for the Northeast Corridor. This is not a bad accomplishment for a state that has long been proclaimed “the automobile capital of the planet,” and for a railroad that some say is not passenger-friendly!
This new service did not just happen. Aside from the hard work by Capitol Corridor staff, Amtrak and Union Pacific Railroad, the real reason this service happened is that you, the voters of California, approved bond measures back in 1990 directing the state to build an intercity passenger rail system, and those bonds (Propositions 108, 111 and 116) supported the mandate with several billion dollars in state capital funding to carry it out. That vote was, and still is, the only time in America voters were given a chance at the ballot box to take a position regarding intercity passenger trains. It has taken 15 years to deliver the voter mandate, but today California boasts three of Amtrak’s top five busiest routes, and 20% of all Amtrak’s passengers.

The November Ballot: Propositions 1A and 1B

On November 7, 2006, California voters will again be given a chance again to vote on transportation bond measures. Proposition 1B includes $400 million of additional capital funding for intercity passenger rail. At least $125M of this amount would be allocated for more new passenger coaches and locomotives to help us accommodate the growing intercity rail ridership in California. Proposition 1A seeks to close a loophole in the previously voter-approved Proposition 42 by limiting the ability of the Governor and Legislature to suspend the annual transfer of the sales tax on gas tax to the state’s transportation fund. Primarily, any loans from this fund can occur only twice every ten years and that any loans are repaid with interest. To become more informed of these propositions, study the state’s voter information brochure that you should be receiving in the mail some time soon.
Several of our new trains are already carrying much heavier loads than we expected after four weeks of operation, so it appears the additional trains were scheduled in the right time slots. We know there are still a few slots that need service, especially leaving Oakland for Sacramento around 6pm, but we simply cannot fill this gap yet without additional coaches and locomotives.
It is the start of the new budget year, and we are having a 5% fare increase in October. The added revenue will help us both pay for the added service and keep up with escalated labor and material prices and fuel costs (thankfully, fuel is in temporary decline). We strive to keep fares as low as we can, and even with the new rates, our average fare will still only be about 20 cents per mile. That’s a pretty good value considering the cost per mile is much higher for virtually every other means of travel in the corridorÖwell, maybe bicycle travel is still less costly. We do try to keep our fare increases in smaller bites, and most fares will not change by much more than 5%. As with past fare changes, every dollar of increased revenue is reinvested into your service. Our goal is to deliver you the best quality service we can. We strive for perfection.
Lastly, I would like to thank all of you for your patience during delays suffered during construction of these track projects, and during the weather-related delays of last winter. Improvements in the tracks have been made and the level of regular track maintenance has been increased, all with the goal of delivering a more reliable passenger train service to you. As I’ve mentioned, we exist to serve you. This is your service.

Issue 26, July 7, 2006

July 7, 2006

Message from the Director

From me to you…

I am going to discuss only two issues in this Message. The first is the great news about expanded train service and the new schedules that will go into effect on August 28. The other is a plea for cooperation from you, our riders. It is a follow-up to my discussion about seat occupancy in the last Message.
Well it is finally going to happen! More trains to/from San Jose, every day. We worked hard to utilize our train sets and the Amtrak crews as efficiently as possible to give you the service you have asked for, and have long awaited.
We will now offer a total of 32 weekday trains, and 22 weekend/holiday trains. Long-time riders will remember that less than eight years ago, there were only 4 trains each way.
We have worked hard to provide you with as much service as we can, given the constraints of available locomotives and coaches and limited state funding. A big thank you is also in order for our partners in this effort: Amtrak, Caltrans, and Union Pacific Railroad. Union Pacific’s completion of the State-funded construction projects between Oakland and San Jose has made this service expansion possible. Like they say on highway projects, “These are your tax dollars at work.”

More Ways to San Jose

Weekdays, the first two trains to San Jose will stay in their existing slots, but there will be a later morning train (for those late sleepers) arriving in San Jose at 10:00am, and another that arrives at 1:15pm. A new mid-late afternoon train will get to San Jose at 6:45pm. Existing trains will continue to run in about the same time slots as they do now. Trip times between Oakland and San Jose will be reduced by 5-10 minutes. Heading north, existing trains will stay about where they are. However, there will be a new departure from San Jose at 9:10 am, and an earlier afternoon train at 3:05 pm. The “last bus” will be transformed into the “last train,” leaving San Jose at 7:15 pm. This last train is probably the single most-requested service we have had on the route.
On weekends, the schedule will be the same as now, but with the addition of an afternoon departure from San Jose at 4:25 pm (the same as the new weekday departure time) and an arrival at 6:45 pm in San Jose, again, the same as the new weekday train.
Nearly all the San Jose trains will operate directly to/from Sacramento via Oakland. We are still finalizing the schedule, so there may be minor changes to what I’ve listed here, but overall, we are very pleased to bring you additional service. New schedules will be posted in advance at all stations. Some train numbers will change, even if the train times remain unchanged.

More trains to/from Sacramento, too!

Weekdays, the schedule will increase from 12 trains each way to 16.From Sacramento, additional morning trains will leave at 7:00 am, and 8:30 am. Existing train times are revised for later morning trains at 9:20 am, and 10:10 am. The big hole between 2:10 pm and 4:40 pm from Sacramento to Oakland (and San Jose) will be filled with a new departure at 3:35 pm and a new train at 7:40 pm. The last train will run a half-hour later at 9:10 pm. Going to Sacramento, there will be a new early bird train from Oakland at 4:30 am, arriving in Sacramento at 6:30 am. The current 10:45 am train from Oakland will run earlier at 10:15 am. Afternoon departures from Oakland will be at 12:15, 1:25, 2:50, 3:30, 4:10, 4:50, and 5:30 pm, a major improvement. The 3:30 train will still run through to Roseville and Auburn. There will also be a new later train from Oakland to Sacramento at 9:20 pm, again, by popular request.
On weekends, service will increase from 9 trains to 11 trains each way. As with weekdays, the two added round-trips will fill big gaps in afternoon and evening service. The 3:35 pm departure from Sacramento will go all the way to San Jose, just as it will on weekdays. A new 7:10 pm train from Sacramento will provide added choices for riders to travel to the Bay Area, and connect by bus to points south as far as Santa Barbara. From Oakland to Sacramento there will be new trains leaving Oakland at 4:25 pm, and 7:55 pm, again filling service gaps. And, the train to Roseville and Auburn will operate two hours later on weekends/holidays, giving day train-travelers two more hours in San Jose, San Francisco or Sacramento on weekends. Again, this last change is among the most popular rider requested changes.

Joint Ticketing with San Joaquin trains

As an added bonus, by arrangement with Caltrans (California Department of Transportation, Division of Rail), all passengers between Oakland and Martinez will be able to use any train operating between those two points using any valid Capitol Corridor or San Joaquin ticket. For riders in this busy part of our corridor, this will offer you 20 trains per weekday in each direction, or 40 weekday travel choices. San Joaquin trains stop at Oakland, Emeryville, Richmond and Martinez. They DO NOT stop in Berkeley. These San Joaquin trains will now be shown in the Capitol Corridor Timetable as a convenience to our riders.

Seat Occupancy

Now for the “flip side” of all this good news. We need your help and cooperation to continue to improve the Capitol Corridor service, and to use all the state-owned trains in the most efficient manner possible (to generate as much farebox revenue and keep fare increases as low as possible). I wrote about this issue in my last Message. Please do not be a “Seat Hog.” We try to provide every passenger with a seat. There are more seats on every train we run than there are passengers, even on those described as “crowded”. These trains are only “crowded” (meaning riders cannot find a seat without someone or something in it) because passengers are placing themselves or their belongings on more than one seat.
Please, limit yourself to one seat so that others may be able to sit. A seat with a person in it generates revenue to help us run the Capitol Corridor. A seat with “stuff” or legs and feet traveling on one ticket denies us the revenue from that seat. We need to fill as many seats as possible to generate revenue, otherwise YOUR fare will have to be increased because a paying passenger’s seat is filled with “non-revenue” stuff. So please help here. Use the overhead bins/racks to stow your extra belongings. Conductors may ask you to move your things to make room for others who are looking for seatsóplease cooperate. If you want to stretch out, take a window seat, but leave the seat next to you free for another rider.
I am personally riding those trains I get complaints about, and I am counting all seats filled with stuff or extended bodies occupying seats that should be available for paying customers. Soon, you can expect me personally to be asking you to remove these items to make room for other passengers. It is not a job I relish, but if I need to be a “church usher” on the trains, that’s what I will be doing. That is how important this issue is right now.
I ask, beg, and plead for your help and cooperation on this issue. It is key to our continued success.
We hope you are looking forward to the added service, and as always, we appreciate your continued patronage.