Dear Capitol Corridor Riders & Friends,
For more than 10 years, I have personally written every “Message to Riders” with the intent to give you a personal perspective on key issues the Capitol Corridor faces and an inside view of our day-to-day world. My reports may be a bit different from what you read in the media or other official communications. I got started in the transportation business as an angry regular rider, mostly because the managing agency did not communicate well, or regularly, with its customers.
My “Messages” are intended to both inform you of events and assure you that we are advocating for you, our riders, customers, and employees. Sometimes the news I have to report is upbeat and encouraging, at times it is to explain certain actions we are taking, and other times the news is just difficult to report any other way. This Message is a bit of all of the above.
Difficult News to Report
There has been a spike in news reports of the increasing number of trespasser fatalities along railroad tracks in the Bay Area, including along the Capitol Corridor. Some of you may have endured the delays that result from these incidents. I want to explain what must be done after one of these tragic events occur. The majority of these recent fatalities are reported to be suicides. The intentional
loss of any life is a tragedy by itself, but death-by-train also adversely impacts many more people besides the victim and their immediate family. When a fatality occurs it usually results in a delay lasting more than two hours.
One reason for the delay is the emotional trauma suffered by the crew. Engineers who operate our trains bear an enormous burden following these incidents. They are helpless to prevent these tragedies when a person steps into the path of an oncoming train. Some engineers cannot or will not return to their professional career due to the emotional trauma following such incidents. When a train is involved in a trespasser incident, one of the first courses of action is to dispatch a new train crew to the location as soon as possible.
At the same time, a trespasser fatality requires an immediate investigation, often including local, Amtrak and Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR) police, county sheriffs, or California Highway Patrol, and sometimes all or several of the above. Train crews are often interviewed by multiple entities and then usually request relief from their current duty. Meanwhile the train is held where it stopped and often all tracks of the railroad are also closed until the investigators determine which track. if any, may be reopened for train movement. The County Coroner’s office must also be notified. After the Coroner arrives on the scene, is satisfied that all appropriate cleanup and investigations have been completed, only then may trains be released.
While law enforcement agencies and the county coroners try to craft an expedited process to reduce delays to trains and passengers, delays are unavoidable when a fatality occurs. We do the best we can to minimize your delay to get you to your destination.
Riders who are impacted by these incidents often ask: “Why can’t we get off the train here?” or ”Why can’t they get buses here right away?”
Allowing passengers to exit a train along a trackway
depends on the perceived hazards along that trackway. For safety reasons, especially if the train is held in an area far from a station, passengers on the involved train may be denied the option of leaving the train. We work with Amtrak and UPRR to try to move the train to the closest station platform
wherever possible. This may not be possible if an incident occurs at an inaccessible location, like along San Pablo Bay. If a train can be moved to a station platform, or a secure crossing location,
then buses will be directed to that location, assuming that buses are available on short order and can get to the location. This is also often NOT the case, especially if the incident occurs during peak weekday travel times, when most buses are in use. There is no fleet of buses and drivers sitting around on the payroll just waiting to be called to respond to a train incident. Traffic congestion is also a factor, even when a bus and driver are found to be available. I can assure you that Amtrak Operations (rail and bus) do the best they can to secure alternate transportation in the event of an extended delay.
We have developed a communications strategy to ensure that these incidents and any corresponding delays are communicated to as many passengers as possible: Conductors make onboard announcements; at stations, we use electronic message signs or ticket agents; and we issue CC RailMail email alerts to passengers who have opted to receive train updates. To sign up for CC RailMail alerts visit www.capitolcorridor.org.
We run on a network of tracks that almost anyone can get onto if they want. The capital funds made available annually by state and federal entities for highway/roadway grade crossing elimination are miniscule in comparison to overall highway funding; and until the past 24 months, there has been no federal capital funding for investment in intercity passenger rail. These federal funds that have been invested are crumbs compared to what other countries invest annually. As long as roadway crossings of tracks are viewed as an issue for rail agencies, rather than highway entities, to fix, it is unlikely that at-grade street crossings will be removed anytime soon.
State Funding Effects on Capitol Corridor
At the time this message went to print, a state budget was not yet adopted. The Capitol Corridor
relies on only two sources of operating revenue
to deliver your service: your passenger fares and an annual allocation of state operating subsidy.
These amounts are now about equal, which is the goal the state has established. Through our current fiscal year, ending September 30, we have state funds to support the state share. Year-to-date ridership has now flattened, while the last four months average about a 10% decline and revenue is about flat. This is a harsh reality for us, after 10 consecutive years of growing Capitol Corridor ridership and revenue. Ridership today is four times the 463,000 annual riders that existed when the Capitol Corridor took over management of the service in 1998. Management and marketing funds are being reduced by the state by 14% for the coming year. However, I want to assure you that the Capitol Corridor will do everything in our power to preserve your train service at current levels. Cutting service will be the LAST place we will seek to reduce expenses to meet state funding levels.
We will continue to limit our fare increases to the 3% – 5% range, but we must have these modest increases to pay for the rider-generated share of revenue to sustain the service.
Much of the loss in riders has been among the full-fare riders and the full-fare ticket revenue during mid-day and weekend travel periods. We are undertaking a major effort to fill as many of those seats as possible with a paying fare. We’re promoting the Kids-Ride-Free-on-Weekends (2 kids up thru age 15 with a full-fare adult), and the “Senior Golden Ticket” discount (up to 50%) offer good on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. Group travel fares are still in effect for 20 passengers
or more. (Our Group Travel desk is available at 877-9-RIDECC option 3).
We are doing everything we can to grow riders and revenue and with our 92% year-to-date on-time performance, we do have a reliable product to sell.
The Good News
In spite of what on some days seem like insurmountable obstacles, there are causes for optimism. Operation Lifesaver is stepping up its campaign to improve safety along the tracks. A consortium of law enforcement agencies are working among themselves and the county coroners’ offices to expedite a process for more timely resumption of train service following a fatal incident.
Lastly, the federal Stimulus program for Intercity and High-Speed passenger rail (officially: American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, [ARRA]) funds are becoming available for capital intercity passenger rail investments. The state has submitted 10 funding applications prepared by the CCJPA for projects on the Capitol Corridor, and two additional applications to 1) buy new locomotives and coaches to increase our capacity on existing trains, and allow us to add additional services in the
future; and 2) install Positive Train Control (PTC) as mandated by federal legislation. Working with the UPRR, the plan is to maximize the benefits of PTC to increase speeds to a maximum of 90 miles per hour (where track geometry can be accommodating), meaning shorter trips times all along the Capitol Corridor Route.
The Capitol Corridor ARRA applications include funds to improve reliability, install a wireless network on the corridor, enhance safety/security, as well as expand track capacity for the increase of Capitol Corridor service to San Jose and to Placer County, east from Sacramento. I will keep you posted as we are notified of any grant awards.
Finally, I want to express my gratitude to each and every one of you for riding the Capitol Corridor trains. Even though we do receive public funding, our riders are our customers, and we know you do have other choices in the way you travel. We want the Capitol Corridor to be your FIRST CHOICE, to have you complete your trip on our trains believing that you had a good travel experience and that you received good value for the fare you paid to ride the Capitol Corridor.
As always, please do not hesitate to contact me at www.capitolcorridor.org or 1.877.9.RIDECC (1.877.974.3322) with any questions or comments. And thank you for riding your Capitol Corridor
Eugene K. Skoropowski
Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority