Issue 27, September 29, 2006

Linsey Ettlin Message To Riders

Message from the Director

From me to you…

The New Service Expansion

Well, we did it. August 28 came and went, and by any account, things went quite well considering the magnitude of the changes. More intercity trains were added to the Capitol Corridor route than have been added to any single intercity train service in the past four decades, maybe longer. It’s a bit hard to tell, as there are few railroad folks around who can remember much further back than that! We added 52% more service to/from San Jose, and 35% more service to/from Sacramento. Now we’re running 14 daily trains to/from San Jose, and a whopping 32 weekday and 22 weekend trains between Sacramento and Oakland. I love telling everyone that there are as many trains now running between Sacramento and Oakland as Amtrak runs between Boston and New York on the much-talked-about Northeast Corridor.
Yes, we had a few hiccups and there is still some ongoing “finishing work”, but overall, the new schedule is actually operating more efficiently than the former 24 train schedule.
Union Pacific dispatchers in Omaha and Caltrain dispatchers in San Jose (dispatchers control all our train movements) took time to meet with us personally, studied the schedules and tracks and facilities that were built, and in turn, made the best use of these new facilities in keeping our trains moving on or close to schedule. This was no small feat. Union Pacific Railroad now hosts an intercity rail corridor with more frequent passenger service than anywhere else in America, except for the Northeast Corridor. This is not a bad accomplishment for a state that has long been proclaimed “the automobile capital of the planet,” and for a railroad that some say is not passenger-friendly!
This new service did not just happen. Aside from the hard work by Capitol Corridor staff, Amtrak and Union Pacific Railroad, the real reason this service happened is that you, the voters of California, approved bond measures back in 1990 directing the state to build an intercity passenger rail system, and those bonds (Propositions 108, 111 and 116) supported the mandate with several billion dollars in state capital funding to carry it out. That vote was, and still is, the only time in America voters were given a chance at the ballot box to take a position regarding intercity passenger trains. It has taken 15 years to deliver the voter mandate, but today California boasts three of Amtrak’s top five busiest routes, and 20% of all Amtrak’s passengers.

The November Ballot: Propositions 1A and 1B

On November 7, 2006, California voters will again be given a chance again to vote on transportation bond measures. Proposition 1B includes $400 million of additional capital funding for intercity passenger rail. At least $125M of this amount would be allocated for more new passenger coaches and locomotives to help us accommodate the growing intercity rail ridership in California. Proposition 1A seeks to close a loophole in the previously voter-approved Proposition 42 by limiting the ability of the Governor and Legislature to suspend the annual transfer of the sales tax on gas tax to the state’s transportation fund. Primarily, any loans from this fund can occur only twice every ten years and that any loans are repaid with interest. To become more informed of these propositions, study the state’s voter information brochure that you should be receiving in the mail some time soon.
Several of our new trains are already carrying much heavier loads than we expected after four weeks of operation, so it appears the additional trains were scheduled in the right time slots. We know there are still a few slots that need service, especially leaving Oakland for Sacramento around 6pm, but we simply cannot fill this gap yet without additional coaches and locomotives.
It is the start of the new budget year, and we are having a 5% fare increase in October. The added revenue will help us both pay for the added service and keep up with escalated labor and material prices and fuel costs (thankfully, fuel is in temporary decline). We strive to keep fares as low as we can, and even with the new rates, our average fare will still only be about 20 cents per mile. That’s a pretty good value considering the cost per mile is much higher for virtually every other means of travel in the corridorÖwell, maybe bicycle travel is still less costly. We do try to keep our fare increases in smaller bites, and most fares will not change by much more than 5%. As with past fare changes, every dollar of increased revenue is reinvested into your service. Our goal is to deliver you the best quality service we can. We strive for perfection.
Lastly, I would like to thank all of you for your patience during delays suffered during construction of these track projects, and during the weather-related delays of last winter. Improvements in the tracks have been made and the level of regular track maintenance has been increased, all with the goal of delivering a more reliable passenger train service to you. As I’ve mentioned, we exist to serve you. This is your service.