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.
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.
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.
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.