From me to you.
Dear Capitol Corridor Riders and Friends,
For many a year, it has been my custom on December 6th (St. Nicholas Day) to prepare my end-of-the-year and Holiday Message to you, our riders, and also to our CCJPA and fellow railroad employees at Amtrak and Union Pacific who make the Capitol Corridor passenger train service work. At this time of year when we all take stock of the past year’s events, I think it can be said with certainty that we are most thankful for the progress we are making.
As with any major undertaking, it is worthwhile to pause every once in while, look back, see where we are, and then look to the future.
A Quick Look Back, a Look Around, and a Look Ahead
Some pretty dramatic things happened in 2004 along the Capitol Corridor. Construction of the second track across the Yolo Causeway was completed on March 1, (on time, and within budget) by Union Pacific forces. There is no doubt that this investment is paying off with improved reliability and reduced travel time.
Track and signal work around the Oakland Coliseum was completed, and the City of Oakland is completing the new station platform, pedestrian ramps and surface lot and access improvements. Look for a grand opening of this station in late Spring 2005. Also, construction of the second main track through Newark Junction was started, and is now well underway. Together, these projects and the CP Coast track improvements, will allow many more Capitol Corridor trains to operate to/from San Jose by next Fall.
In April, trip travel time between Sacramento and Oakland was reduced by 10 minutes, with similar reductions planned for the San Jose end that will come next fall when the current construction work is completed.
The CCJPA, Amtrak and Union Pacific implemented a new on-time incentive agreement on December 1, 2003, and during the subsequent 12 months on-time performance of our Capitol Corridor trains has improved markedly. Union Pacific performance is now running at 96% or better, and delivered service to you, the riders, is now averaging above 90% for the first time in the past six years. We are not yet where we want to be (94% or better is our goal), but we are a good ten percentage points ahead of a year ago. Even ‘problem trains’ #527 and #538 have improved, again, not where they must be, but headed in the right direction.
Amtrak maintenance forces have moved into the new, jointly funded (State, Amtrak) Oakland Maintenance Facility. This is the first time the Northern California state-owned passenger train fleet has been maintained in a state-of-the-art shop facility. We should see a significant improvement in the reliability of the rolling stock, and, therefore, further improvements in on-time reliability during the next 12 months.
Ridership continued to grow, and there are now about 1,200,000 Capitol Corridor riders annually. That’s a 2.6% growth above 2003, and the growth rate for the past 6 months alone is above 5%. This also marks six continuous years of Capitol Corridor ridership growth, nearly 3 times as many riders as 1997-98, the year before the Capitol Corridor JPA assumed administrative management of the service. This growth is putting lots of pressure on the state-owned fleet of trains used to operate the Capitol Corridor service.
What is ahead?
First, we need to complete our construction projects and get the expanded service to San Jose in operation, and also to expand service to Placer County by at least two more trains each way. Efforts are well underway towards accomplishing both of those goals.
Second, we are working with Amtrak to improve the maintenance (and reliability) of the locomotives and cars now that there is a new facility in which to conduct this maintenance work. We know that consistent delivery of a reliable service is paramount in attracting and retaining riders.
Thirdly, we must identify and obtain a stream of capital funding to acquire more railcars and locomotives to satisfy our continuing growth (and this is a nationwide challenge not just limited to the Capitol Corridor), and to maintain the current ‘overhaul’ program being conducted by the state for the original passenger cars, which now approaching their 10th year in service. The overhauls are essential to both protect the state’s investment in the cars, as well as to keep them reliable in delivering your service. Hopefully, the economic recovery in the state will allow the voter-approved constitutional amendment (Proposition 42) to be implemented for its intended purpose, which will provide much of these needed capital investment funds.
My Request to All of You
Lastly, until we can expand the rail fleet, we must make the maximum use of our existing coaches and locomotives. This is where you come in. As most of you know, our trains are spacious and people enjoy the legroom and comfort of our trains. However, too many riders are occupying more than the one seat to which they are entitled when they buy a ticket. Many seats that would otherwise be available for more passengers are being ‘taken up’ by coats, parcels, baggage and (sometimes) feet.
We do not try to pack our trains like airliners, by intent. As an ‘unreserved’ service, we sometimes do get some very crowded trains, especially during busy travel times of the year. However, some current riders are also denying boarding riders a seat when they place personal items, or themselves, across more than one seat. Riders should not have to ask someone to remove such personal items or themselves from a seat in order to have a place to sit. Too often, when a rider is asked to make a seat available for another rider, it is taken as an ‘invasion of space’ and the response is not always particularly friendly. I have witnessed this myself, so I am not just relaying complaints from riders.
In addition to creating a needlessly difficult situation, taking up seats with anything but a paying customer also costs you money. When riders cannot get a seat easily, they often do not continue to ride. When they do not continue to ride, we also lose a fare. Our expenses, however, do not go down, and we must pay to move all seats, occupied or unoccupied. So, to get the revenue we need to operate the trains within the reality of a ‘flat state budget allocation’ for four years running, fares must be raised higher than what they might otherwise have to be raised, just to keep up with expenses. So that seat with a paying rider in it is important to you, too.
This is a personal plea from me to each of you to please keep the seat next to you available for another passenger. Going a step farther, when you see someone walking down the aisle obviously looking for a seat, let them know with a smile or a friendly gesture, that the seat next to you is available and they are welcomed to take it. Filling up as many seats as we can in each car on the train is the challenge we face to keeping the service growing and keeping fares as low as we can. So, if for no other reason than ‘pinching your own pocketbook’, make the other riders feel welcome, and invite them to sit in the seat next to you. Who knows, you might even make a new friend!
You will likely hear conductors making announcements asking riders to keep all seats not occupied by a person available to others. Hopefully, that announcement will remind you of this message.
My Vision for the New Year, and my wish to you
By this time next year, I see many more trains to/from San Jose, seven days a week. I see a new Oakland Coliseum Station with quick connections to Oakland Airport, BART and Coliseum events. Also, I see more trains to Placer County and continued improvements in the reliability of the train service. I see more riders, and a continued improvement of the California economy, allowing us to procure more passenger trains for still more added service.
My wish is for a Happy Holiday Season for you and all those you hold dear, and for a Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New Year!