Message to Riders: Service Update

Linsey Ettlin CC Rail Mail & Newsletters

Dear Riders:

Well the best-laid plans have run amok. We have been working for two months to plan a reduced train schedule to accommodate an enormous tie renewal project between Pinole (north of Richmond) and Benicia (just over the north side of the Martinez Drawbridge). That temporary schedule was supposed to go into effect January 22.
Then the bottom fell out of the plan. Union Pacific engineering forces discovered major deterioration of two bridges in the middle of the planned tie renewal work area. These bridges need to be replaced before the tie project is done, or everything will have to be ripped up to replace the bridges later. So, this week UP bridge forces undertook a major effort to get the bridges replaced. While the Capitol Corridor was asked to move up the reduced service plan to Jan 8, there is no way that this could have been arranged. The reduced level of train service, as I outlined in my December Message to Riders, will be moved up to start Wednesday, January 17. Restoration of full regular service is still planned for February 22.
Due to the ongoing bridge replacement, this week has been a colossal mess, especially on the later morning trains and the early afternoon trains. Throw in a few signal problems, a drawbridge opening or two, a couple of vehicles and assorted debris intentionally placed on the tracks, a freight train with a crew that reached its legal ‘hours-of-service’ limit (federal law says the freight train stops when the crew uses up their allotted work hours, and the train then sits on the track until a relief crew can be found and sent out by van, taxi …or helicopter…!!) and we have the basic ingredients for the collapse of service. A few of you have not been impacted, as the bridge work starts around 8 am, and is over by about 4 pm. You are the lucky few.
I have received a bundle of complaint letters and e-mails, the likes of which I haven’t seen in several years. It is pretty disheartening from my perspective as well. I apologize to all of you for the delays, especially those who have endured ‘catastrophic proportions’ of delays over an hour.
I think that’s all the bad news.
There is some good news. Starting with the Jan. 17 Temporary Timetable for revised service levels and the tie project, reliability should improve substantially. While we won’t be running all the current trains, we have built an interim schedule designed to be reliable for you during this work period. Amtrak will have an operations supervisor on the ground with UP work forces to ensure rapid and safe movement of passenger trains through the work area. The scheduled trains during the daily work period have added time to allow for some delay, and most trains will ‘pass’ at Martinez Station. Some of you may spend an extra minute or two at Martinez, but this extra time is to accommodate trains passing through the work area.
The Temporary Timetable for the interim reduced service train schedules will be available next week at stations, on trains, and on the website. The Temporary Timetable is on a printed sheet, not in a full Timetable booklet.
When the tie project is completed, reliability should improve substantially. I can report to you that we met with Union Pacific Vice President of Operations for the Western Region (Tom Jacobi) on Jan. 10 in Roseville, and he has committed to make these reliability improvements to the regular schedule once the tie work is finished, and to make the service operating during the tie work operate as reliably as possible. I expect to see performance return to the 90% on-time level by the end of February. Mr. Jacobi expects a report from his own people by the end of March that shows this reliability improvement.
That’s the report ‘from the front’. Well, at least the ‘railroad front’.
Gene Skoropowski
CCJPA Managing Director