Issue 17, June 4, 2004

June 16, 2004

Dear Capitol Corridor Riders and Friends,

Since the winter holidays, there has been an incremental improvement to our service performance, culminating with 90+% or better on time performance in April and May. Unfortunately, during the first week of June things took a pretty bad turn following an early morning trespasser fatality that involved a freight train and then delayed all the morning trains on Monday June 7th. Then, collapse of the levee in San Joaquin County put the BNSF mainline tracks out of service, forcing all San Joaquin passenger trains to go to Sacramento, and several BNSF freight trains to operate on the same tracks as Capitol Corridor and Union Pacific trains to/from the Port of Oakland and Port Richmond. Those of you that experienced delays to your trains during this week (June 7th-June 13th) need not be told the result of all these events.
To add to the delays, a rail inspection car revealed several track conditions needing repair, resulting in the immediate imposition of ‘slow orders’ (reduced speed, longer travel time) until repairs could be made. Coupled with slow orders near the Kinder-Morgan Pipeline spill clean-up north of Benicia, service was ‘not pretty’. Hopefully, by the time you read this, the slow orders will have been removed and our on-time performance will be restored to where it was during April and May. Please accept my sincerest apology for these delays. We are trying, but some days it seems nothing goes right, and that we have no control over events. We met with Union Pacific officials on June 11th to go over their program for removing these slow orders (and Union Pacific is doing this repair work quickly).
Making the May statistics even more impressive is that we were able to reduce your travel time between Sacramento and Oakland by a full 10 minutes, and the trains still ran with a high degree of on-time reliability. As you know from my prior “Message”, we asked for cooperation from you, the riders, to board and depart the trains as expeditiously as possible to keep your trip time as short as possible. We also asked the train crews to try to get the passengers on and off as safely and as quickly as possible at stations to keep the train on schedule. We asked Union Pacific to make a concerted effort to provide as timely and disciplined dispatching as possible to ‘get the trains over the railroad on-time’. I am pleased to report cooperation on all three fronts, and to offer a commendation to all of you: the riders, our train crews and Union Pacific. April, and especially May, clearly showed us all that faster, reliable and on-time Capitol Corridor train service is indeed possible to consistently achieve. Hopefully, when the June track repairs are made, on-time reliability will return to the 90% plus range, where it should be.
A few milestones to be noted: The second track across Yolo Causeway was completed in March and has provided a major addition to line capacity, making faster, reliable service easier to achieve. We still are planning to install additional crossover capability (switches to cross from one track to the other) between Sacramento and Davis, but the available funding did not allow us to do this in the initial project. As the state economy improves, we will be seeking the capital funds to make this additional improvement.
From mid-June to mid-July three more “Wi-Fi” cars will be introduced to Capitol Corridor trains, vastly expanding the on-board availability of wireless internet service to our riders. More information will shortly be on the Capitol Corridor website: www.capitolcorridor.org
Also by the time you read this, the new signals should be in operation between Oakland and Elmhurst (the end of double track south of Oakland), which will improve the flow of trains there (to/from San Jose) and enhance on-time reliability. Many of you who travel to/from San Jose have seen the start of construction on a major capacity improvement project at Newark Junction, which is part of our effort to add more trains to/from San Jose. Hopefully, by next Spring (2005), with the completion of this Newark Junction work, and also an additional passing track near Caltrain’s Santa Clara Station at CP Coast, you will see at least 7 trains each way operating to/from San Jose, every day.
I need to say a few words about Safety and Security, and what is being done on the Capitol Corridor trains. No, we hope you will NOT be required to go through the process you have to at an airport, but Amtrak crews are rigidly enforcing identification requirements for tickets purchased on board the trains. Station agents already require identification. The credit/debit cards used in the Quik-Trak ticket machines may also require presentation of valid identification to the train crews when the ticket is collected. These measures have not been undertaken to make your life more difficult, but rather for your safety and security, and we appreciate your cooperation and understanding. Additionally, all outlying overnight train storage locations will be fenced and locked, lighting and cameras installed, and security patrols implemented Again, this is to provide you with safe travel. We have received a federal security grant to evaluate and initate implementation of cameras on the ceilings of Capitol Corridor passenger cars, using the new Wi-Fi communication system. Our first priority is to transport you safely to your destination. As always, if you see any suspicious packages, activity or persons, please report them immediately to a member of the train crew, or the station agent if you are at a staffed station.

Stations

the City of Oakland expects to have the new Capitol Corridor Oakland Coliseum Station completed for the 2005 Baseball Season, and this will add another direct BART connection, as well as a direct connection to Oakland Airport, and, of course, all the events at the Oakland Coliseum complex. The crossing improvements and temporary platform paving have been made to Berkeley Station, and the City of Berkeley expects completion of the new permanent platform by early 2005. The City of Rocklin has major improvements underway at Rocklin Station, and the City of Auburn is expanding the new parking lot, as the recently completed Auburn Station parking lot is already full.
Regional Measure-2, adopted by Bay Area voters last November will provide $25 million for Solano County improvements, including additional tracks to reduce train congestion, and a new station at Fairfield-Vacaville (Peabody Road). Regional Measure-2 will also benefit the Capitol Corridor service in the Union City/Fremont area, as some $135 million has been provided for the new Dumbarton Rail service, a substantial portion of which will be for tracks and facilities shared with the Capitol Corridor.
The State (Caltrans- Division of Rail) and Amtrak are funding the new Oakland Maintenance Facility, and it is expected to be ready to open this coming October, providing a long-needed state-of-the-art environment to maintain our fleet of locomotives and railcars. The maintenance goal is to eliminate mechanical failures en route by providing a higher quality level of maintenance in facilities designed for this purpose (in place of the ‘makeshift’ 1920’s enginehouse and outdoor tracks used today). In addition, the State is undertaking a multi-year overhaul of our state-owned passenger cars, which will both renew the electrical/mechanical components and improve the amenities on board (provide 110 volt electrical outlets at EVERY pair of seats, for instance) as well as make the cars operationally more reliable.
The Capitol Corridor is increasingly becoming a major component of the Northern California transportation system, helping to contribute to the economic recovery of the state. Our ridership base, and its continued growth, is an indication that our economy is indeed turning around. Ridership has begun to climb again after five months (December 2003 through April 2004) of being basically flat. May 2003 ridership jumped 5.5%, reaching 105,710 passengers, the highest May ever, and second highest month for ridership in the history of the service.
Lastly, I want to assure you that in spite of the late-train ‘snafus’ at the beginning of June, there is a concerted effort to keep our collective primary focus on restoration and maintenance of 90% or better on-time reliability. You have told us that on-time reliability is YOUR highest priority, therefore, it is our highest priority. The Capitol Corridor Office, Amtrak and Union Pacific Railroad are striving to deliver you reliable passenger rail service that you can count on for your travel needs. We know we aren’t there yet, but we are making every human effort we can to ‘get there’. Thanks for riding the Capitol Corridor.

Issue 16, April 4, 2004

April 4, 2004

“Shorter Travel Time?” A Frequently Asked Question

“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 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?

Performance

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.