Issue 23, Dec. 8, 2005

Linsey Ettlin Message To Riders

Message from the Director

From me to you…

Well, here it is St. Nicholas Day again (December 6), and, as has been my tradition for over 35 years, my holiday “Message” gets written. The Holiday Season is a special time for me and all of us at the Capitol Corridor office to say “thank you” to you, our loyal customers and riders of the Capitol Corridor trains. May this festive season bring peace and hope to you, your families and friends, and may the coming year bring you all health, happiness and prosperity.
The Capitol Corridor trains are truly your trains–built, bought and operated with your passenger fares and state tax dollars. The Capitol Corridor office staff exists solely to serve you and provide you with the highest quality passenger rail service we can deliver. We know that it is not yet a perfect service, but we, along with our partners at Amtrak and Union Pacific Railroad, are striving to make it the best passenger service we can provide.
It has been another eventful year, with some real highs, and a few “not-so-highs.” On the “not-so-high” side, our on-time performance has suffered, and reliability has not been where it should, can and must be, since January 2005. I can provide a list of reasons, none of which matter when you count on the train being on-time. Every effort is being made by the Capitol Corridor office, Amtrak and Union Pacific Railroad to restore the high level of on-time performance enjoyed prior to February 2005. The construction work between Oakland and San Jose (more tracks) and the maintenance work all along the line (tie replacements, new crossover switches, a dedicated UPRR track maintenance gang) will contribute substantially to our ability to deliver better on-time service when completed late next summer.
Virtually every other performance statistic indicates continuous growth and demand for our train service. Ridership increased 8% above the prior year, to a new record-high of more than 1,260,000 passengers, cementing the Capitol Corridor as the third busiest route in Amtrak’s national system. More impressive, our revenue increased 16%, with big gains in off-peak and weekend travel, the places where we have had the greatest available capacity. On weekday mornings and evenings, it is no secret that some trains are close to full, which is compounded by some passengers still occupying more than one seat, thereby denying other passengers the opportunity to sit down until a conductor has to request removal of a body, parcels or feet from otherwise unoccupied seats.
This revenue growth also results in a cost-recovery-from-fares ratio of 43% (up from 38% last year), the highest in the history of Capitol Corridor service since 1998, and well on the way to achieving the state’s goal of a 50% recovery.
All of this growth has happened with no change in the number of trains operated, for more than two-and-a-half years now. This is what the industry calls “pure growth”.
Our successful ridership growth is putting pressure on the train equipment and track infrastructure – driving the need for capital investment for more locomotives and passenger coaches and railroad projects (double and triple track, added crossovers, new track alignments and bridges and/or structures).
Elimination of vehicular highway crossings is also high on our list for safety and security of the right-of-way, as is the provision of more modern technology for security upgrades at stations and on the trains, selling and collecting tickets, and establishing real-time passenger manifests (who is on-board) for every train. You will see increased emphasis on modernizing these functions in the coming years. You may also see some new on-board customer amenities involving electronic technology, as well as continuation of our efforts to provide wireless internet service on all our trains.
Probably the most visible changes, and the most attractive to riders, will be the expansion of Capitol Corridor train service next fall. There will be more trains to/from San Jose. At least 7 trains will operate each way daily, and there will also be a significant increase in service between Oakland and Sacramento, with as many as 16 trains each way on weekdays, and 12 on weekends. These new trains should spread the current ridership demand to the new trains, relieving some of the crowding pressure off of our most heavily traveled trains. Overall, this service expansion is the equivalent of a 25% increase in our scheduled seated capacity to try to better accommodate your needs and the needs of the new riders who seem to “discover” our trains every day.
The Capitol Corridor service exists for you, our riders. You are the reason we exist, and we are committed to making the Capitol Corridor the best public service offered by a transportation entity, anywhere. As I’ve said before, we are not where we want to be by a long shot, but we are in way better shape today than we were 7 years ago, and we are well on our way towards accomplishing the goals set for the Capitol Corridor by our Board some 4 years ago.
Happy Holidays!