Issue 15, December 3, 2003

December 3, 2003

From Me to You

Each year for the last 33 or so, on St. Nicholas Day, I prepare an annual message to my staff. This year I am expanding this letter to be this year’s fourth Message to Riders and it is directed to you, who really are “the Capitol Corridor.” As we approach the holiday season, I want to say a heartfelt “thank you” to each of you for your patronage, especially through some not-so-good times this year, and to extend my personal greetings to you and your families for the Holiday Season. We do have much to be thankful for, and this is a good time of year to remind ourselves of that. Like our service sometimes, things are not always perfect. We live in a land that is not perfect, but in that imperfection still lies the reality that we are fortunate to live in “the best place the world has to offer”, and that with our collective determination and persistence, we can make things better than they are today. If this were not true, there would be no reason to continue to try to make things better. Sometimes we need to stop and remind ourselves of why we are living, and the holiday season provides that opportunity.
This certainly has been an eventful year. Most of it was “good”, some of it “not so good”. Overall, however, we have kept the Capitol Corridor in growth mode, with another record year for ridership and revenue. Ridership was up 6%, and the revenue-to-cost ratio is hovering just below 40%. In the last 60 months, ridership has grown a whopping 146%, and revenues have more than doubled, and the revenue-to-cost ratio went from about 29% to as high as 40%.
More service was added (33% more) on the busy Oakland-Sacramento segment, and plans are in the works for added trains to Roseville and Auburn, and to San Jose (when the construction projects are completed). Keeping our “nose to the grindstone” has allowed us to make this happen and still keep our costs within the same state funding allocation. We have implemented several service expansions over the past few years with a flat state budget allocation, an enviable accomplishment.
While the “on-time” reliability of our trains has slipped to well below where it must be, the response of the Union Pacific in establishing the Corridor Improvement Team is most encouraging. Starting in early November, most trains saw a substantial improvement in reliability. Keeping this effort going will be our on-going challenge.
Our strong positive relationship with Amtrak is being further strengthened with a Mechanical Department restructuring, and preparations for moving into the new maintenance facility next fall are well along and on-schedule. At the national level, Amtrak’s new President, David Gunn, has given Amtrak a credibility with Congress that has not been seen in many a year. The level of interest in Congress for a capital source of funding, for intercity passenger rail, for the first time ever, is escalating and we may actually see a funding source for capital projects made available to states who have “local match”. We have a local match through the State’s current investment in our capital improvement program. We have cash in hand so that when such a program is created, we will be in a position to seek funding quickly. This infusion of new funds will allow us (CCJPA, Caltrans, Union Pacific, Amtrak) to implement major beneficial projects along the Capitol Corridor that we can now only dream about. All improvements to date have been made almost exclusively with state funds.
We have seen the start (and almost completion) of our first major capital projects with Union Pacific. One is at Yolo Causeway, the other between Oakland and Elmhurst, including the tracks and signals for the new Oakland Coliseum Station. The completion of the Yolo Causeway by February 2004 will increase reliability by reducing conflicts and improving velocity, keeping the railroad more fluid for both passenger and freight service. Coliseum Station will bring to reality a project on the books for almost 20 years, providing another direct BART connection, as well as access to Oakland International Airport.
The new Oakland Maintenance Facility will transform the environment and facilities for our rolling stock maintenance from “steam-era” to “space-era”. Combined with the restructuring of Amtrak’s Mechanical Department, we should see some dramatic improvements in servicing of the rolling stock, particularly locomotives.
Our challenges remain several. First, there have been major changes at the state level, both with a new administration and a revenue crisis, which present some unknowns. However, with the documented success of the Capitol Corridor, I am optimistic that we will continue to be provided the resources we need to keep up our momentum. The recent discussions with Caltrans regarding alternate ways to acquire additional rolling stock are evidence of this. Second, we must find a means to acquire additional rolling stock if we are to reach the service goals established by our Board, and which are included in our Business Plan. Third, provision of on-going capital funds to invest in the railroad is a must. While we have much work going on right now with Union Pacific, after the end of 2005, there is presently no funding for new capital allocations in the State Transportation Implementation Plan (the STIP). There are several possibilities, including a turnaround in the state economy (and more revenue coming in to the state), protection of Proposition 42 funds for their intended purpose (transportation), and passage of the high-speed rail bond measure (CCJPA would get an immediate infusion of at least $47.5 million, and can compete for an additional $47.5 million). Any of these state funds can also be used as “match” to draw down federal funds for capital investments if, as mentioned above, a federal source of intercity passenger rail is created. Fourth, we need to continue to work with Union Pacific to increase the level of track maintenance, and work towards a dedicated Maintenance-of-Way gang. Only when the 170-mile Capitol Corridor Route is in top condition can we operate service with a minimum of slow-order delays (still our largest cause of delays). Lastly, on-time reliability remains an elusive goal. Much of it is dependent upon Union Pacific, and some of it is dependent upon Amtrak’s vehicle maintenance. Both Union Pacific and Amtrak goals are reachable, but it will take a continued team effort to accomplish them.
On the bright side, our riders remain incredibly enthusiastic and supportive advocates for the service. What you ask is for the trains to be on time and to make your trip time as short as possible. This request is not incompatible with the goals of the CCJPA, nor Amtrak or Union Pacific. Getting trains across the railroad as quickly as possible increases the capacity of the railroad, and keeps trains moving (‘fluidity’). You also want timely and accurate information, both at the stations and on the trains. We have made some pretty big strides here, and we are close to accomplishing our goal and satisfying most of your requests. You know there will be occasional delays, and what you have asked for is timely and accurate information. We can do this. Your advocacy as riders can also be an effective source of support in Sacramento and Washington DC for our efforts to continue, and grow, the level of funding for operations and capital improvements.
Our Marketing efforts are paying off “big time”, on weekends especially. Also, the Train Treks school group program is introducing a whole new generation of riders to train travel. These young folks actually think our trains are kind of “space-age”. As we have often said, today’s trains have about as much in common with a steam engine as your car today has in common with a Model T. The technology of both has been around a while, but the technological advances would make each unrecognizable today by their inventors.
Lastly, the potential for a redefined CCJPA is also on the horizon. The work of our member agencies on regional rail service, and the work with Union City and the proposed Dumbarton Rail Project also could significantly increase the visibility, use and value of Capitol Corridor service. Yes, we have come a long way, yet we have only just begun to scratch the surface of the potential market. Things like City Car-Share and Wi-Fi will only serve to attract more and more riders to our trains. With success comes money, as we have found out. Our mission is indeed NOT impossible, and we have the team that can do it. Continued funding is the essential ingredient.
Again, I want to extend my sincere thanks and appreciation to each of you for being Capitol Corridor customers. I want you to know how much your patronage is appreciated. In that spirit, the CCJPA wants to wish you and yours a very Happy Holiday Season and extend to you our best wishes for a Happy, Healthy, and Prosperous New Year.

Issue 14, September 3, 2003

September 3, 2003

“When is my travel time on the train going to improve (get shorter)?”

The answer is: on April 26, 2004. You will see the “first fruits” of the capital investment program when travel time between Sacramento and Oakland is reduced by 10 minutes.

So, how are we doing this?

It is a three-pronged approach involving 1) completion of construction work, 2) Union Pacific dispatching + Amtrak train crews, and 3) you, the passengers.
Union Pacific has now completed the first major construction project for the Capitol Corridor JPA, the second main track across Yolo Causeway. More construction will be underway this Spring, mostly between Oakland and San Jose (at long last!). Each of these improvements will reduce running time somewhat and improve the likelihood of reliable operation.
You must also be noticing the much higher level of on-time performance lately. For the month of March, through the 25th (as I am writing this on the 26th), on-time performance is 89%. Not where we want to be yet, but far better than any month in the last year. We all know that reliability is key to success. Union Pacific has made the operation of Capitol Corridor trains a priority, and it is beginning to show.

What else needs to happen to get the trains over-the-road faster??

We need to stop the trains in a consistent location along the station platform, and define for passengers where the doors will open along the platform (and the places at which passengers with disabilities should wait for the fastest boarding). Amtrak will be installing “car markers”, which are small signs to assist the engineers in stopping their train in the same location all the time, with the doors opening on the higher part of the platform, and not on a cross walk.
The Amtrak train crews will be asking passengers to exit from the trains as quickly as possible at their destination and they will be encouraging waiting passengers to board as quickly as possible. Most stations now allow two minutes stopping time, although usually passengers are off-and-on the train in about 45 seconds. If we can reduce the station “dwell time” at just five of our fifteen stations by one minute each, then your train trip will be five minutes faster, even without the benefit of the track improvement program.

And what do you, the riders, need to do?

To make this work, on-board riders will need to be ready to exit the train as soon as it stops, and passengers on the platform will need to board the train as quickly as possible once the doorways are clear of exiting passengers. The benefit of this effort will be getting you to your destination sooner, and less of your time spent traveling on the train.
Since this is the least costly way (and the fastest way) to reduce your travel time, I felt you should know what “The Plan” is, so that you will understand the changes you will be seeing on the train and at stations along the Capitol Corridor. Taking 10 minutes out of your travel time between Sacramento and Emeryville, for example, will allow you to leave home perhaps 10 minutes later than you do today. And it works the other way, too; you will get home 10 minutes sooner. A minute here, a minute there, and suddenly your daily travel time can be some 20 minutes shorter. We hope this plan responds to your requests.
We are counting on everyone to do his or her part to make this work, and deliver shorter trip times to you.

So that is “The Plan”

The first phase, a ten-minute travel time reduction is going into effect with the new Timetable, on April 26. It may not seem like much, but each step we take is a step to improve the quality of the service we are trying to provide for you.

Issue 13, July 3, 2003

July 3, 2003

From Me to You – What Is Happening To Our Capitol Corridor Train Service?


After a good start in March, most of you have experienced a dramatic and steady decline in “on-time” reliability. Since mid-April, I personally received more than twelve hundred e-mails (yes, that’s 1,200!) “communicating” to me your disappointment, frustration and anger over the situation. Service performance in May, and so far in June, has declined even further. The week of June 23-27 recorded the two worst days for on-time performance in recent history of the Capitol Corridor (since October 1, 1998). Wednesday, June 25 was 16.7% on time and Thursday June 26 was 20.8%.
As valued customers, you are owed an explanation of what happened (causes), and what corrective measures are to be/ have been implemented jointly by the Capitol Corridor JPA Office, Amtrak and the Union Pacific Railroad.

What Happened?

Following the early April freight derailment near Crockett, and the subsequent track repairs, it also became clear that the tracks in this entire area (Martinez to Richmond) were in need of ‘heavy maintenance’ to curtail further deterioration. After the freight derailment “clean up” and repairs, UP forces started a major track improvement program between Martinez and Richmond. We expected “some pain” to mid-day trains between 9am – 3pm, and issued a notice to riders (and on the website) about this. However, on many days thereafter, during the several week period of “undercutting” (railroad parlance for plowing out the stone ballast under the tracks that had become saturated with mud) the trackwork extended beyond 3 pm, delaying some very heavily patronized trains. Train #538 was especially hard hit, making its departure time record from Sacramento to Auburn the worst in the history of the service.
UP made an attempt to “get trains through” the maintenance area with as little disruption as possible. As you know, often it did not work as planned. I was delayed 3 hours myself on train #541 returning from a meeting in Sacramento, so I have “shared” in your experiences.

What has been done to fix things?

Early in May, as a result of this deteriorating performance, I requested a meeting with Jeff Verhaal, Union Pacific’s Western Region Vice-President of Operations. Independently, the ‘CC Riders’ organization also contacted Union Pacific, our office and the local media expressing their concern and calling for action to restore service to a high degree of reliability. On May 12, the requested meeting was held in Roseville, and Mr. Verhaal directed establishment of a Capitol Corridor Improvement Team (the ‘CIT’). This team is comprised of Union Pacific, Capitol Corridor, Amtrak and Caltrans staff with a common purpose: improve Capitol Corridor on-time performance to 95% by August 1, 2003. The purpose of the first meeting of the CIT (on June 4) was to analyze the operations of the Capitol Corridor route and identify and document the causes of the delays. The following meeting was scheduled for June 27, a most timely selection, given performance during the week of June 23-27. The primary purpose of the June 27 CIT meeting was to identify specific actions to be taken to correct the causes of delay identified at the prior meeting.
The June 27 CIT meeting at Union Pacific’s offices in Roseville jointly planned some initial specific actions to restore a high level of Capitol Corridor on-time reliability.

Specific Actions

Effective the week after the Fourth of July, Union Pacific is going to reschedule the Berkeley-Richmond-Martinez track work to start after the passage of train #542 (work will no longer be done mid-day, but rather between approximately 6.30pm and midnight). Although this trackwork will likely continue through early September, you should see dramatically improved on-time performance immediately. After passage of Train #542, there are no major conflicts which would cause long delays to Trains #544 through #551.
Next, to prevent further ‘Slow Orders’ and remove existing ones, additional high-speed track surfacing equipment is going to be used. This work can be done mid-day without significant service disruption.
Communication between UPRR, CCJPA and Amtrak has been increased to get a better handle on the extent of trackwork and the necessity of providing selective “bus-bridges” or “bus substitution” during the most intense periods of trackwork. Amtrak has now selectively put buses ‘on call’ at Sacramento to cover Sacramento to Auburn service when train #538 is significantly delayed. As you know there is only one train each way daily between Sacramento and Auburn and it is very heavily patronized, and riders are not currently able to ride alternate Capitol Corridor trains, as there are none. Additionally, the Union Pacific is reviewing its freight schedule to see if revised operating times could improve overall train performance.
Lastly, in spite of all this, our April 28 schedule change is having the desired results of keeping train #540 and #542 on-time to a much greater degree than under the prior schedule (the week of June 23-27 excepted, primarily due to late Train #541, which turns in Oakland Station to become Train #540).

What Else is Out There?

As part of our effort to upgrade and improve Union Pacific’s tracks, major track work is being undertaken in two locations between Oakland and San Jose. While this work should not impact peak hour train operation, some mid day trains may be “buses” for a few weeks during the Summer and some “bus-bridges” may be required for a few days at a time at other locations. Completion of this work should substantially improve service reliability on Trains #521, #522, #523, 534, #537, #542, #544, and #547 to/from San Jose.
Yolo Causeway double track between Sacramento and Davis is well underway, and is on schedule to be completed by the end of this year. Any delays from construction should be minimal, as work is being done adjacent to the current track, and does not require moving, crossing or shifting existing tracks. Switch replacement will be done over a weekend.

An Apology

To each of you, I extend a heartfelt apology as you have borne the burden of these delays. We have taken as many steps as we can identify to try to mitigate construction/repair work impacts to you and to your travel time.
We (the CCJPA, Amtrak, Caltrans and Union Pacific) are undertaking the largest capital improvement/ building program in the history of the Capitol Corridor. This program cannot be carried out without some disruption, but we are trying to identify the areas and extent of the work and to plan mitigating measures to keep you ‘on schedule’ as much as possible.
Again, I apologize for these recent delays, and I want to let each of you know that we are trying to improve things. You are entitled to this explanation. It certainly is not the type of “Message to Riders” I’d prefer to write, but you are our customers and the reason we (the CCJPA) exist.

Issue 12, June 25, 2003

June 25, 2003

From Me to You – What Is going on with our trains?

I need not tell you that service has deteriorated along the entire Capitol Corridor Route during the last several weeks, with an all time low of 45% on-time reached yesterday (June 24), and today is not looking much better. And these stats include the 10-15 minutes of “recovery time”, plus an additional 10 minutes tolerance for Union Pacific at the destination station.
I don’t have all the answers yet. Here is what I know. There are two Union Pacific track gangs scheduled to be out on the Capitol Corridor territory; one at Oakland Coliseum (impacts only trains to/from San Jose), and one between Richmond and Martinez doing ballast cleaning. Today there were at least two additional gangs working on the track between Martinez and Davis. Their presence and the nature of the their work added to the delays. This further slows down trains. We are trying to get additional information about these events right now.
Also this morning, freight cars were being switched on the main track in two places during the morning peak travel times for passenger trains, further restricting normal train movements. Again, this is not supposed to be done at this time of day.
Further complicating matters was a report of a disabled freight train (not yet confirmed) and three brush fires. It is the hottest day of the year.
All I can do is apologize for what’s going on. Yes, I know you have heard that story before, but I do not have any more information yet. I will post it as soon as it is available. I do not know what this evening will bring. It is a sorry state of affairs, and very discouraging, especially given the team effort led by Union Pacific to improve Capitol Corridor service to 95% on-time by August 1st.

Action to Be Taken:

We have a meeting of the Corridor Improvement Team (CIT) at Union Pacific’s offices in Roseville on Friday. I expect the events of this week will be a major topic of discussion. And I expect to be on the telephone during the next 24 hours getting details about all of this.
Again, my sincere apologies. I advise you all to check train status via the website in the morning and evening before traveling to see how things are going. You might find yourself able to catch the train that was scheduled BEFORE the train you planned to catch. Not a very good way to run a “scheduled” transportation service, but these are the harsh realities we are facing right now.