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 Ticket Kiosk 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.
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.