Issue 18, October 10, 2004

October 10, 2004

Dear Capitol Corridor Riders and Friends,

On-time Performance

Since the disruptions of June caused by the freight congestion, we have worked with Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR) to remedy the freight issues causing delay to passenger trains, and I am pleased to report steady progress since July. UPRR is now performing at 96% on-time, and total delivered service to you, the passengers, is now at about 90%. We ended our fiscal year (September 30) at 86% on-time for the last 12 months–the best annual on-time performance in the last 5 years, in spite of a spate of delays in June. While this performance for the year is good, our standards call for 90% or better, and we are continuing to work to achieve this.
You should also know that the Oakland-Sacramento Union Pacific rail line over which Capitol Corridor trains operate is among the busiest in the UPRR network. There are now 36 passenger trains and about 42 freight trains operating every weekday on these tracks. Six years ago, at the start of the Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority, there were 20 passenger trains and about 12 freight trains every weekday on this same route, so the improved on-time reliability represents a major management improvement in use of these resources.
Not readily apparent from the statistics is the poorer performance during most of the last 3 months of trains #527 and #538, particularly train #538 in the afternoon. These are the only two trains that serve Placer County, and they must traverse through UPRR’s massive freight marshalling yard in Roseville, and then on to primarily freight-only tracks to Rocklin and Auburn. While the operation of these trains has improved since July and August, more improvement is needed to make them reliable. UPRR is preparing a significant track improvement program to rehabilitate and upgrade deteriorated segments of the line beyond Roseville that have caused periodic slow orders to crop up, and delay trains. UPRR is also working to further reduce mid-day train delays.
There are still some significant delays not related to UPRR’s dispatching, and these are primarily related to mechanical problems with the rolling stock. We are hopeful that Amtrak will be able to improve the mechanical reliability of the trains and I am certain that the new Oakland Maintenance Facility (brand new shop to service all Northern California trains, opening in November) will assist in that effort.
Also, there is a never-ending series of events that delay trains, beyond the occasional drawbridge being open. This list includes vandalism (placing objects on the tracks intentionally, to disable a train), people walking along and across the tracks, some with a head-set on (so they are unable to hear the train’s whistle blasts until it is too late), vehicles getting themselves onto the tracks (not at a street crossing) and then getting stuck and struck by an on-coming train, or, the latest one, an inebriated person (who boarded the train in that state) and then became belligerent and lit up a cigar on the train, requiring police to remove him. These events delay trains, and inconvenience an entire trainload of passengers. While these events tend to be “the rare exception”, they happen far too often than they should, and an increased security and surveillance effort is being implemented all along the route and at stations to try to minimize them.

Fixing an Important Bus Connection

For several years, riders have complained about the need to “hold” at Sacramento the scheduled 4.00pm bus to Placer County/Nevada City even after train #534/#734 has arrived, due to a late bus arrival in Sacramento from Stockton with connecting passengers. Effective immediately, the 4.00pm bus covering the Nevada City run will be dispatched as soon as all connecting passengers from train #534 have boarded. This bus will discharge passengers at Roseville, Rocklin and Auburn en route to Nevada City. The second bus to Colfax-Reno/Sparks will be held, if needed, for connecting passengers from the arriving bus from Stockton. This will allow for a reliable departure for Capitol Corridor passengers headed to Placer County train stations. While this may not solve the problem for every passenger, it will make travel more certain for most train passengers to Placer County.

New Timetable Date

A new Timetable will be issued effective November 1, 2004. There are NO CHANGES to Capitol Corridor trains. There are some connecting bus changes, as mentioned above, and a new bus connection to San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara from San Jose effective November 17.

A New Transit Partner

Starting on November 1, Capitol Corridor ticket holders will also be able to use the Placer Commuter Express (PCE) buses serving the Auburn and Rocklin stations. Only PCE monthly and 20-ride passes will be honored on the Capitol Corridor. There are two trips in the morning (one before and one after the train) and two trips in the afternoon, both earlier than the departure of train #538. Bus service is weekdays only, and the closest stop near the Sacramento Valley Station is located at 4th and J Street, about a block and half from the train station. We hope this gives our Placer County riders a bit more flexibility in their travel options. We are still working with UPRR on additional Placer County trains, but until the freight congestion problems around Roseville are resolved, these trains cannot be started, so the PCE bus option is offered as a quick way to offer you more travel flexibility.

Construction Overview

For those of you who ride to/from San Jose, you have been seeing a lot of activity around Newark Junction as UPRR constructs major capacity improvements and several more miles of double track. This part of the work should be completed by late Spring 2005. Also, UPRR and Caltrain are constructing several major capacity improvements at CP Coast in Santa Clara, where the UPRR and Caltrain tracks merge into San Jose Station. This work should be completed by mid-summer, allowing the operation of 14 daily Capitol Corridor trains with the Fall 2005 Timetable.
The passage of Regional Measure 2 in the Bay Area provides construction funding for several Capitol Corridor improvement projects, particularly in Solano and Alameda Counties. Passage of several more local tax measures for transportation improvements on the ballot in November could provide funds for further improvements. I will keep you posted on these programs.

Oakland Coliseum Station

The City of Oakland’s contractor is well underway building the new station platform, adjacent parking lot, bus loop, and handicapped access to the walkway directly into the Stadium/Sports complex. This station will also provide another direct BART transfer point, as well as direct transfer to Oakland Airport connector service. We are looking at a Spring 2005 completion time, hopefully in time for Oakland A’s baseball season.

State Funding

We have received our allocation letter for the fiscal year October 2004-September 2005 from the Secretary of the Business, Transportation & Housing Agency. Like last year, the bad news is: no more state funding, and the good news is: no less state funding. So, for the fourth year in a row, we are operating the Capitol Corridor on a ‘flat’ state budget allocation. We expect that we will be able to deliver the full level of service currently being provided to our riders for the entire year. We do have funds to operate the added service to San Jose as soon as the construction work is completed.
We are concerned that the level of capital investment for the Capitol Corridor is being deferred (along with everyone else) due to the state’s budget crisis, and we need additional rolling stock (more coaches and locomotives) to accommodate our expanding ridership. Some trains need more cars, and we also need to add more trains in peak travel slots. Right now, we do not have the coaches or locomotives to do that. If Washington implements a federal ‘matching program’, this would allow us to leverage our state dollars to expand the rail passenger program. Right now, there is NO federal matching program for intercity passenger service, like the Capitol Corridor. All of our funding, operating and capital, is either 100% state dollars, or revenue from passenger fares.