Issue 32, February 2008

February 1, 2008

from the Managing Director to you…
Dear Capitol Corridor Riders and Friends,

By now you have heard about our on-board annual Business Plan Public Workshops, held February 4-7, 2008. If you are unable to attend, here’s a snapshot of what to expect in the coming year.

Operating Budget and Fares

Many of you know that the Capitol Corridor is neither federally funded, nor funded by Amtrak even though Amtrak crews and operates the trains, staffs stations, performs maintenance on our state-owned trains and otherwise provides the necessary supervisory and support personnel to deliver the train service to you on a day-to-day basis.

The Capitol Corridor contracts with and pays Amtrak for these services with state provided operating funds. The Capitol Corridor train service has only two sources of operating revenue: passenger fares and annually allocated state funds, which have remained basically flat for seven years. To meet the state’s goal of passengers paying at least half the service cost, we have incrementally increased fares on a regular basis every year to cover the increased cost of service (eg. fuel and materials) and still satisfy the state’s criteria of a 50% recovery of the cost-of-service from passenger fares.

So, you can expect a modest 3% increase in fares this June (and possibly in November) to help us meet the state’s expectations, and cover rising fuel and material costs. Depending upon Amtrak’s projected operating costs, and the level of funding adopted in the state budget, these fare changes might be somewhat higher to enable us to offer you our current service level. In spite of these fare increases, the cost of travel on the Capitol Corridor is still competitive: a full fare ticket still costs only about 25 cents per mile. With the steep discounts of our ten-ride and Monthly tickets, on a cost-per mile basis, the 10-trip ticket costs about 16-20 cents per mile, and monthlies cost only about 12-15 cents per mile, if used five days a week for business travel. Compared to the current published American Automobile Association costs of driving (48-62 cents per mile), our train travel is a very good bargain in addition to all the other benefits (no traffic stress, opportunity to sleep, read the paper, work on your laptop, or have an afternoon glass of wine or cocktail) — things that you can do on a train that you shouldn’t do while driving!

We don’t like higher fares any more than you do. However, if we have to, riders have told us they prefer smaller periodic increments, rather than a whopping increase every year or so.
We are planning “stay the course” on service frequencies and scheduled trains. Weekdays will remain at 32 trains, and 22 on weekend days. We know that some of the trains are now getting very crowded, particularly from the Sacramento-Davis area to the Bay Area on weekday mornings.

More Equipment

We are doing everything we can to convince our elected officials that we need to order more passenger cars and locomotives, and we need to do it now. Passengers cars take about four years for delivery, and if Caltrans cannot order these cars soon, train crowds four years from now will make today’s crowding look like “the good old days.” We hope that this new car order will be forthcoming, as voters specifically approved the bond funds for this purpose in November 2006. A new fleet of cars will also have a Business Class section, where you can reserve a seat on-line for additional cost on a specific train. This is in response to passenger requests on surveys from the past several years.

Wireless Network Update

Many of you have been aware of some wireless network testing we conducted over the past few years. While the test worked only so-so, we learned a lot from the results. We learned that a useful service has to be fast and reliable, something the test installations were not; and that there are a lot more uses for a wireless network than for just surfing the ‘net many of them operational or safety related. For more than a year, we have been working with rail-experienced wireless network vendors and the Union Pacific Railroad. We had to define the needed capacity of a wireless network to support all the functions we’d like to offer that provides customers with a fast and reliable service. What we need involves a lot more time, effort and money than we first envisioned. Our Business Plan makes this wireless network a priority, for safety and operational functions, as well as for customer convenience.

Electronic Ticketing & Validation

Some significant changes are underway for how tickets are checked. We will soon begin testing electronic ticket readers, which will simplify and speed up ticket validation for train crews. We also hope to implement an online printable ticket option, similar to what airlines use, to eliminate cash fares on trains. We’ve installed Quik-Trak ticket vending machines at every station, laying the foundation for online ticket purchases as well as SMART card capabilities.

2008 Priorities

Our operating priorities will remain the same: reliability of train service, keeping the tracks in good condition so there are as few slow-orders as possible, trying to provide enough seating for riders during peak travel times, and implementing safety and security measures to continue to deliver quality and safe service.

Our marketing program continues the emphasis on keeping existing riders and filling seats on trains that have available seat. As in past years, due to the continued natural growth in peak hour passengers, we will not have targeted programs for these time slots. Marketing efforts will also increase awareness of trains as a “Green Way to Travel” to help decrease greenhouse gas emissions and help the effort to reduce global warming.

Our capital investment program will focus on reliability and ride quality improvements, capitalized maintenance (with increased service investments targeted for the San Jose end of our line and for increased frequency of service to Roseville, Rocklin and Auburn). Union Pacific tie renewal work will continue in 2008 between approximately Suisun City and Dixon. Passengers can expect a bus bridge during the work period, which has not yet been finalized.

Capital projects we hope to have funded and built are at Benicia, Emeryville, Yolo Causeway and Santa Clara, plus advancement of Trade Corridor Improvement funds for freight capacity/fluidity improvements along the Capitol Corridor route that also benefit our passenger service and that of the San Joaquins.

Look How We’ve Grown

The Capitol Corridor has been built from basically ground zero since 1991. The voter-initiated capital bond funds approved in 1990 provides the capital investments needed to establish and deliver the intercity passenger rail service we have today. Our Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority (CCJPA) Board of Directors is comprised of two members from each of our eight-county district and each of them must also be a Board Member of one of our six member transit agencies (Sound complicated? Somewhat, but it seems to work!).

Since the Capitol Corridor is a complex series of arrangements between the CCJPA Board, BART, Amtrak, Union Pacific Railroad, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), the state Business, Transportation & Housing Agency (BT&H), the California Transportation Commission (CTC), our six member transit agencies – Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART), Solano Transportation Authority (STA), Yolo County Transportation District (YCTD), Sacramento Regional Transit District (SacRT), and the Placer County Transportation Planning Agency (PCTPA), some have commented that it is a miracle that it works at all. We believe in miracles, and we now have the third busiest intercity passenger route in the country, called The Capitol Corridor. We offer more intercity service than anywhere else in the nation outside of Amtrak’s busy Northeast Corridor.

We have grown from 8 trains a day in 1998, to 32 trains a day, and we have stabilized the state funding required to due so. We are running a 32 train schedule for about the same level of state funding that we were allocated in 2002 for an 18-train schedule. At the same time, our farebox recovery ratio has jumped from 29% in 1998 to 48% in 2007, and is up over 50% for the first quarter of 2008, meeting the state’s 50% goal.

Few public service agencies can claim such an impressive record of stewardship of public funding. What has made this possible? We would like to think that prudent “run it like a business” management has had something to do with it, but we also know that the availability of capital money to invest, build, maintain and improve the railroad, the trains and facilities we need to continue to deliver this service to the people of California also had a lot to do with it. This is why we believe California voters supported the Governor’s Proposition 1B in 2006, because it had additional capital bond funds to continue our successful, nationally recognized intercity passenger rail program.

Issue 31, December 2007

December 1, 2007

from the Managing Director to you…

Dear Capitol Corridor Riders and Friends,

Another year has managed to slip by, and as has been my annual custom, I prepare this Holiday Message when St. Nicholas Day (December 6) rolls around. With the holiday spirit once again emerging, the sound of carols, the jingling of bells and cash registers, and people generally in a happier mood, it seems a good time to take stock of where we’ve been, where we are and where we are going. It is also a good time to remember how fortunate we are to live in these United States of America. While no place on this Earth may be perfect, we do have much to be thankful for, living in this land of plenty.

Looking Back at 2007

On the Capitol Corridor line, we have had a very good year, overall. There have been some ups and downs – particularly early in the year with service performance – but as the year went on, reliability improvements came along too. During the last 12 months, there have been some significant changes, mostly good. Our ridership is at an all-time high, and continuing to grow by an annual rate of at least 10%. There are now a million and a half of you on our trains, compared to less than a half-million only nine years ago. While the price of gas is not hurting our growth, most of you started riding well before the big jump in gas prices. As the frequency of our service increased, more riders showed up to take our Capitol Corridor train.
The cost-of-service level paid by the riders is nearly to the state’s goal. Last year, riders paid 48% of the cost of service, while the state paid the remaining 52%. The state’s goal is for riders to pay at least 50% of the cost of service, and we are almost there. This is a pretty remarkable feat, as nine years ago riders were paying only 29.8% of the costs, and the future of the service was in doubt. Not so today.

Less Expensive AND Greener

Even with our relatively modest fare increases, we are very competitive with other travel options. The average cost for a full-fare ticket is between 20 and 22 cents per mile traveled. If you use a 45-day 10-trip ticket, or a monthly pass, your cost per mile is between 11 cents and 16 cents per mile. The American Automobile Association (AAA) just reported that the average cost to drive your car today is now between 49 and 62 cents per mile, not including bridge tolls or parking. While we are not immune to fuel price increases, our Capitol Corridor car can average 100 passenger-miles per gallon, so we can keep fare increases to a minimum as the number of riders grow.
Besides saving money, riding the train is an environmentally friendly way to travel. By using Capitol Corridor, you are part of a growing trend of people who are making more environmentally conscious decisions. Cars are the number one source of harmful air pollutants in Northern California, so leaving your car home for just one day eliminates almost one pound of smog-forming pollution and 30 pounds of greenhouse gases. More riders are making the choice to ride Capitol Corridor because trains are an efficient option to get to their destinations. Rail travel relieves congestion, cuts pollution and reduces your personal carbon footprint.

More Riders, More Cars

Of course, there is a downside to more riders as well. Trains are getting full. People often cannot occupy more than one seat and every once in a while a train has standees. I guess this is the price of success. We are working with Caltrans (California Department of Transportation, Division of Rail) to assist them in procuring more rail cars and locomotives so that we can offer riders longer trains to comfortably accommodate passengers. This will take time, perhaps as long as 3 to 4 years. In the interim, Caltrans has made a deal with Amtrak to pay for the repair and upgrading of as many as seven Superliner coaches sidelined for wreck-damage; in exchange, California will have the use of these cars for 6 years. Two of these cars are already in service on the Capitol Corridor and San Joaquin trains. This innovative arrangement will give us some breathing room until the new California Cars arrive. Kudos to Caltrans for this program.

2008 Trackwork

Last February and March, Union Pacific conducted a major track renewal and upgrade program between Richmond and Martinez. The Capitol Corridor reduced mid-day service by 4 round-trips to give the track crews more uninterrupted time to complete their work. This year’s track work will most likely take place in late Spring between Martinez and Suisun City/Fairfield. While we will provide uninterrupted work windows for the track crews to get the work done as quickly as possible, this year we will provide a bus bridge on late-morning and mid-day trains between Suisun/Fairfield and Martinez. There are simply too many riders now on the Capitol Corridor to curtail service like last year, and this bus-bridge plan actually can help Union Pacific track forces get the work done faster. More will be published about this in March.

What’s Planned for Next Year?

We continue to work for additional capital funding from the state, as there are still needs for reliability improvements, but the prospect for state capital funding is about as bleak as I have seen in the last nine years. All the programmed funds for intercity passenger rail that were supposed to come through the Public Transit Account (PTA) have been raided for other purposes, leaving us with virtually no useable capital funding for track and signal improvements in Davis (Yolo crossovers), Benicia crossovers, Emeryville Station track/platform improvements and extended double track in Santa Clara County. Union Pacific has these projects designed and ready-to-build; but each time we think the capital money is about to flow, another state “sleight-of-hand” diverts the funds somewhere else.

All I Want for Christmas is…More Capital Funding!

My concern is that in order to both serve our growing number of riders and increase the reliability of our service, we need a steady stream of a modest amount of capital funding to invest in our service. All four of our above referenced projects will cost a total of $45 million. Rebuilding one highway interchange can cost anywhere from $100 million to $250 million. The Capitol Corridor and the state’s intercity passenger rail service need to be recognized as an important component of the state’s transportation network, and funding must come along with that recognition. We have the success in California because the voters said they wanted these trains, and they approved the initial capital funding back in 1990 to make it happen. The nearly $2 billion investment of your state tax dollars into the three intercity rail services must be protected with a modest regular stream of capital funding. We are working to accomplish this, but if you have the chance to talk to any of our state legislators, you might want to let them know what this service means to you, and ask for their help in getting this steady stream of capital funding. We can manage the operating costs, if we get some annual capital funding. I am going to ask Santa Claus for some regular capital funding in MY stocking!
While we all have been frustrated by the inability to get more Capitol Corridor trains to Placer County, some recent state developments on the Trade Corridors funding front may present an opportunity to make progress. The level of state funding now projected to be available for Northern California may allow us to carry out some substantial capacity improvements along Union Pacific’s Central Corridor (which includes the Capitol Corridor Route). These improvements would address capacity constraints jointly with Union Pacific, the Port of Oakland, the City of Sacramento (for the Sacramento station) and Placer County.
While we do have some challenges, the operation of our Capitol Corridor service is improving, there is steady growth in our ridership and revenue, and the cooperation with Amtrak, Union Pacific Railroad and Caltrans, has really never been better. That is a lot to be thankful for.

Happy Holidays!

To each of you who ride or help deliver our Capitol Corridor service every day, I extend a heartfelt “thank you” to every one of you. We are here to serve the riding public. You are the reason we exist.
On behalf of myself and the entire Capitol Corridor staff and family, we wish each of you a safe, peaceful and happy holiday season! Best wishes for a happy, healthy and prosperous new year!

Special Issue: September 2007

September 30, 2007

Dear Capitol Corridor riders and friends,

What happened to Capitol Corridor service on Monday evening October 1?
October 1, the first day of our fiscal year started out with a continuation of September’s good record for on-time performance. Then, about 5.30 pm, as train #540 approached Martinez Station, the locomotive pushing the train derailed adjacent to Union Pacific Ozol Yard. After the derailment, train #540’s locomotive also apparently sideswiped a Union Pacific locomotive parked on an adjacent track. While train #540’s locomotive derailed, all passenger cars remained on the tracks, and most passengers were not initially aware of the derailment.
The tracks at the derailment were moved a considerable distance (approximately 4ft.) by the impact of the derailment and all trains in both directions were halted on both sides of the scene. Union Pacific had inspectors on the site to determine if the adjacent main track was in operable condition. Good fortune was on our side and the adjacent main track was determined to be in operable condition, meaning that passenger trains could pass by the derailment site on the other main track once temporary repairs were completed. This all took some time, and Amtrak opened an operations conference call line to ensure that up-to-date information was being provided to the crews, to passengers on trains, and at stations up and down the line, as well as keeping telephone information operators informed of the latest updates. Amtrak police were also dispatched to the scene to assist operating personnel. In addition to train #540, trains #542, 544, 545, 547 and 549 also experienced lengthy delays. The longest delay was for passengers on board train #540, at about 4 hours. San Joaquin trains were also delayed through this area.
Derailments are extremely rare in passenger service and cannot be predicted, and this is the first such incident we have had in more than nine years on the Capitol Corridor involving a scheduled train with passengers on board. A thorough investigation is being conducted by Amtrak and Union Pacific to determine the cause of the derailment and implement any identifiable measures that can be taken to help prevent such incidents in the future.
Union Pacific Railroad estimates that repairs to the damaged track could take 36 to 48 hours. Capitol Corridor trains will continue to operate on one main track, which may result in additional delays through the work area.
To make matters more difficult, this derailment occurred in one of Union Pacific Railroad’s busiest routes in Northern California. Please bear with us while repairs are made, so that normal operations can commence. Once again, I apologize for the delay.

Special Issue: August 17th Incident

August 7, 2007

Dear Capitol Corridor riders and friends- An apology and a report to you on the events of Friday afternoon and evening, August 17th

For those of you who were caught up in the events of Friday afternoon and evening, and there were some two thousand of you on several trains, I apologize to you for your experiences and your delays.I do not need to tell you that this was the worst series of delays, both in terms of duration and numbers of trains and passengers impacted, in the history of the Capitol Corridor service.
First is my apology to you for your delay, and second is my apology to you for the things that did not go right after the incident, particularly on the communication front.
No sooner had we just printed my latest regular quarterly “Message to Riders” (issue #30), wherein I refer to some days being like encountering ‘The Perils of Pauline’, than the events of Friday made these words harsh reality.
Let me describe to you the events, what was attempted to be done, and what actually happened and why.There are several ‘lessons learned’ that have emerged from this situation that identify things we need to do better.
I welcome any comments, criticisms and suggestions for improvement from any of you that were caught in this event.([email protected], telephone:1.877.9 RIDE CC, regular mail: Capitol Corridor JPA, 300 Lakeside Drive, 14th floor, Oakland, CA 94568)

What happened?

At about 3.15 pm, Westbound Capitol Corridor train #541 was traveling towards Oakland from Sacramento on Union Pacific Main Track #2, just south of Suisun-Fairfield Station.At a street crossing on Union Pacific Main Track #1 (the location is identified as MilePost 40.1), three trucks with the special ability to travel on the tracks were being positioned to travel along Main Track #1, to pick up debris along the tracks from recently completed trackwork done by railroad forces in days prior.These vehicles belong to an experienced railroad contractor that Union Pacific had engaged specifically for the debris removal work.At the time train #541 was approaching the crossing on track #2, two-of the three vehicles had been properly mounted on the rails on track #1, and they were awaiting the completion of the mounting of the third vehicle, which was still being positioned on track #1.This is the vehicle which was hit by Train #541.It appears that the vehicle was positioned too far into the clearance envelop of track #2, and was struck by the locomotive of train #541.The incident also damaged adjacent signal indicators.
Union Pacific is investigating in detail the circumstances and conformance to mandatory procedures employed regarding this entire incident .However, it is known that Train #541 had been cleared by dispatchers for travel on Track #2, and was operating according the railroad rules and within authorized speed limits.The contractor and the vehicles getting prepared to work on track #1 had been given permission by the railroad dispatchers to occupy track #1.Union Pacific’s operating and safety rules are very specific about the circumstances, procedures and conditions when tracks may be occupied by any vehicles that are not freight or passenger trains.These operating procedures and safety rules are recognized as among the best and safest in the industry, and they meet or exceed all Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) standards.
As a result of the ensuing collision, Train #541 was stopped and all service on both main tracks was terminated for a five-hour period while emergency crews removed the one contractor employee with a broken arm and the locomotive engineer (removal of the injured locomotive engineer took several hours due to getting access for a stretcher into the cab), and treated the one passenger for minor injuries, and inspected the railroad facilities (track and signals).Some 149 passengers were on Train #541, but also impacted were trains #543, #547, #549, #536, #538, #540, #542, #544, and all later evening trains.During the 5 hour delay, more than 2,000 Capitol Corridor passengers were delayed, many for the full 5 hours.
At about 3.30 pm when an emergency notice went out to all operating people about the magnitude of the collision and the expected magnitude of delay to trains, immediate actions were implemented.Union Pacific Railroad forces were deployed from Roseville to the site.Amtrak supervisors were dispatched to the site.Carl Malvo, Capitol Corridor’s Transportation Officer was at the site and on the phone during the entire event to try to assist Amtrak.An instruction was conveyed by Amtrak to all food service attendants in dining and cafe cars of Capitol Corridor trains already en-route and caught in the delay, to offer food and non-alcoholic beverages to passengers without charge, recognizing that the delay was going to be extensive, although no one anticipated that the delay could be as long as 5 hours, which it was.
Crews were asked to make announcements that an incident had occurred and that the delays would be lengthy.Union Pacific and Amtrak tried to move as many trains as possible into station platform locations to allow passengers to get off the train to try to make alternate travel arrangements.Buses were called to try to build a bus-bridge between Martinez and Suisun-Fairfield Station in an attempt to get passengers to their destinations.At the time buses finally arrived, word was received from Union Pacific that the tracks would be opened shortly.Buses which had boarded passengers transferred them back to trains, only to find out after the buses were released that there was a fuel spill from the truck, and the local fire department would not release the tracks for use until the fuel spill was taken care of.Too many folks, this looked like a saga from the old “Keystone Kops” comedy movies, maybe justifiably so.
Complicating all of this was both the location of the incident, a difficult site along the marsh land in Benicia, and the fact that this occurred on a Friday afternoon (the busiest day for Capitol Corridor travel at the start of the busiest time for travel) during the peak travel hours.Both Union Pacific and Amtrak personnel were caught in heavy traffic on I-80 and I-680 en route to the site.Traffic was so bad that the injured contractor’s employee and the train engineer were removed from the site by helicopter. The attempt to get buses deployed was also complicated because it was peak travel time on a Friday, and the traffic on the roads to the train stations that buses would use were also jammed with congested traffic.
Making the frustration level even higher is that the communication system (electronic boards and telephone lines) were not providing specific information that might have useful to passengers.Only one complaint was received about ‘not being told anything by the train crew’, so I assume that crews told passengers what they knew, which may not have been much.One report from a passenger advised me that the telephone information he was given is that ‘all trains are operating on time’.Other passengers were told that trains would be moving within an hour, when in fact, it was several hours.Clearly, we at the Capitol Corridor and Amtrak need to do a better job of using the resources we already have to provide better, accurate and more frequent information updates.
While I cannot recreate Friday and try to change things for the better, I promise you that we will review every aspect of this incident, and, together with our partners at Amtrak and Union Pacific, we will identify what should be done, by whom, and when, if ever an incident like this occurs again that causes the level of disruption to our service that this incident caused.
I am sorry that this report is so long, but I felt each of you that were caught up in Friday’s event deserve as complete an explanation as I can provide.
Again, I apologize to all of you who were caught up in this incident and its ensuing extensive delays.

Issue 30, August 2007

August 1, 2007

Dear Capitol Corridor riders and friends,

In our annual Public Workshops on the Business Plan Update for the Capitol Corridor, you asked us about the results of the on-board surveys that are taken every 6 months or so. Fair enough.
In this message I will tell you the results, and more importantly, what they mean in general for you as riders, as well as for us as managers of the Capitol Corridor service.
First, when you see or encounter people on the trains conducting these surveys, they are professional survey takers, employed by an independent firm whose sole business is conducting surveys for companies and their customers. The results are assembled and sent to our office and we report them with no modifications. Here’s what you told us in the surveys:

You have given us a clear indication where you as riders and taxpayers who support this service want us to make improvements as we plan investments and service schedules for the future. While this service is technically classified as public transport, we make every attempt to operate it as if it were a business trying to satisfy its customers. As we have said in the past, our job is to provide you with the best possible service within the resources made available to us. Our job is to deliver reliable, frequent and convenient train service, and to provide you with good value for the fare you pay to ride. We may not be the cheapest service out there, but we surely want to be the best service out there.

Where we are, what is occurring and why

If you ride the Capitol Corridor often, you may have noticed days with very reliable service, and days that service is erratic at best. We are painfully aware of these fluctuations and we are doing our best to deliver consistently reliable service. In July we finally reached reliability in the above-80% on range. Better, but far from the 90% or better that is our standard. August, so far, has not been so good.
The reasons read like the Perils of Pauline. There has been an epidemic of automotive vehicles and trucks placed on the tracks, and when a collision with a train occurs, even if a fatality is not involved, train traffic is delayed at least an hour while law enforcement and railroad accident investigation teams conduct their interviews and prepare their reports. Additional inspection of possible damage to the rail (track area) must also be conducted before trains are released from the site. Track renewal work, rail gangs replacing worn rail, and tie gangs installing new wooden ties also have caused some delay, along with several signal failures due to power outages or other electrical related problems. Once signal problems are reported, trains must by law and operating rules slow travel speeds until repairs are made. We have also had an unexpected increase in mechanical problems with the trains, either locomotive related problems or issues with control systems. It seems that the more sophisticated state-of-the-art components that are installed on the trains, the greater the likelihood something will not work right and then delay the train. Usually, it is some mundane component requiring a reset or a computer reboot; but on other items, it takes time to find and fix the problem. These issues all delay your trains. We are working with Amtrak mechanical forces, Caltrans, and Union Pacific to try to get a handle on these issues and get them fixed.
We work for you, and getting your Capitol Corridor service to run right is our highest priority. We need to hear about the good things out there, as well as the not-so-good-things. We can only fix what we know about. You are additional sets of eyes and ears for us, so let us know what you see, and what might need attention.