Issue 30, August 2007

Linsey Ettlin Message To Riders

Dear Capitol Corridor riders and friends,

In our annual Public Workshops on the Business Plan Update for the Capitol Corridor, you asked us about the results of the on-board surveys that are taken every 6 months or so. Fair enough.
In this message I will tell you the results, and more importantly, what they mean in general for you as riders, as well as for us as managers of the Capitol Corridor service.
First, when you see or encounter people on the trains conducting these surveys, they are professional survey takers, employed by an independent firm whose sole business is conducting surveys for companies and their customers. The results are assembled and sent to our office and we report them with no modifications. Here’s what you told us in the surveys:

You have given us a clear indication where you as riders and taxpayers who support this service want us to make improvements as we plan investments and service schedules for the future. While this service is technically classified as public transport, we make every attempt to operate it as if it were a business trying to satisfy its customers. As we have said in the past, our job is to provide you with the best possible service within the resources made available to us. Our job is to deliver reliable, frequent and convenient train service, and to provide you with good value for the fare you pay to ride. We may not be the cheapest service out there, but we surely want to be the best service out there.

Where we are, what is occurring and why

If you ride the Capitol Corridor often, you may have noticed days with very reliable service, and days that service is erratic at best. We are painfully aware of these fluctuations and we are doing our best to deliver consistently reliable service. In July we finally reached reliability in the above-80% on range. Better, but far from the 90% or better that is our standard. August, so far, has not been so good.
The reasons read like the Perils of Pauline. There has been an epidemic of automotive vehicles and trucks placed on the tracks, and when a collision with a train occurs, even if a fatality is not involved, train traffic is delayed at least an hour while law enforcement and railroad accident investigation teams conduct their interviews and prepare their reports. Additional inspection of possible damage to the rail (track area) must also be conducted before trains are released from the site. Track renewal work, rail gangs replacing worn rail, and tie gangs installing new wooden ties also have caused some delay, along with several signal failures due to power outages or other electrical related problems. Once signal problems are reported, trains must by law and operating rules slow travel speeds until repairs are made. We have also had an unexpected increase in mechanical problems with the trains, either locomotive related problems or issues with control systems. It seems that the more sophisticated state-of-the-art components that are installed on the trains, the greater the likelihood something will not work right and then delay the train. Usually, it is some mundane component requiring a reset or a computer reboot; but on other items, it takes time to find and fix the problem. These issues all delay your trains. We are working with Amtrak mechanical forces, Caltrans, and Union Pacific to try to get a handle on these issues and get them fixed.
We work for you, and getting your Capitol Corridor service to run right is our highest priority. We need to hear about the good things out there, as well as the not-so-good-things. We can only fix what we know about. You are additional sets of eyes and ears for us, so let us know what you see, and what might need attention.