from the Managing Director to you…
Dear Capitol Corridor Riders and Friends,
Another year has managed to slip by, and as has been my annual custom, I prepare this Holiday Message when St. Nicholas Day (December 6) rolls around. With the holiday spirit once again emerging, the sound of carols, the jingling of bells and cash registers, and people generally in a happier mood, it seems a good time to take stock of where we’ve been, where we are and where we are going. It is also a good time to remember how fortunate we are to live in these United States of America. While no place on this Earth may be perfect, we do have much to be thankful for, living in this land of plenty.
Looking Back at 2007
On the Capitol Corridor line, we have had a very good year, overall. There have been some ups and downs – particularly early in the year with service performance – but as the year went on, reliability improvements came along too. During the last 12 months, there have been some significant changes, mostly good. Our ridership is at an all-time high, and continuing to grow by an annual rate of at least 10%. There are now a million and a half of you on our trains, compared to less than a half-million only nine years ago. While the price of gas is not hurting our growth, most of you started riding well before the big jump in gas prices. As the frequency of our service increased, more riders showed up to take our Capitol Corridor train.
The cost-of-service level paid by the riders is nearly to the state’s goal. Last year, riders paid 48% of the cost of service, while the state paid the remaining 52%. The state’s goal is for riders to pay at least 50% of the cost of service, and we are almost there. This is a pretty remarkable feat, as nine years ago riders were paying only 29.8% of the costs, and the future of the service was in doubt. Not so today.
Less Expensive AND Greener
Even with our relatively modest fare increases, we are very competitive with other travel options. The average cost for a full-fare ticket is between 20 and 22 cents per mile traveled. If you use a 45-day 10-trip ticket, or a monthly pass, your cost per mile is between 11 cents and 16 cents per mile. The American Automobile Association (AAA) just reported that the average cost to drive your car today is now between 49 and 62 cents per mile, not including bridge tolls or parking. While we are not immune to fuel price increases, our Capitol Corridor car can average 100 passenger-miles per gallon, so we can keep fare increases to a minimum as the number of riders grow.
Besides saving money, riding the train is an environmentally friendly way to travel. By using Capitol Corridor, you are part of a growing trend of people who are making more environmentally conscious decisions. Cars are the number one source of harmful air pollutants in Northern California, so leaving your car home for just one day eliminates almost one pound of smog-forming pollution and 30 pounds of greenhouse gases. More riders are making the choice to ride Capitol Corridor because trains are an efficient option to get to their destinations. Rail travel relieves congestion, cuts pollution and reduces your personal carbon footprint.
More Riders, More Cars
Of course, there is a downside to more riders as well. Trains are getting full. People often cannot occupy more than one seat and every once in a while a train has standees. I guess this is the price of success. We are working with Caltrans (California Department of Transportation, Division of Rail) to assist them in procuring more rail cars and locomotives so that we can offer riders longer trains to comfortably accommodate passengers. This will take time, perhaps as long as 3 to 4 years. In the interim, Caltrans has made a deal with Amtrak to pay for the repair and upgrading of as many as seven Superliner coaches sidelined for wreck-damage; in exchange, California will have the use of these cars for 6 years. Two of these cars are already in service on the Capitol Corridor and San Joaquin trains. This innovative arrangement will give us some breathing room until the new California Cars arrive. Kudos to Caltrans for this program.
Last February and March, Union Pacific conducted a major track renewal and upgrade program between Richmond and Martinez. The Capitol Corridor reduced mid-day service by 4 round-trips to give the track crews more uninterrupted time to complete their work. This year’s track work will most likely take place in late Spring between Martinez and Suisun City/Fairfield. While we will provide uninterrupted work windows for the track crews to get the work done as quickly as possible, this year we will provide a bus bridge on late-morning and mid-day trains between Suisun/Fairfield and Martinez. There are simply too many riders now on the Capitol Corridor to curtail service like last year, and this bus-bridge plan actually can help Union Pacific track forces get the work done faster. More will be published about this in March.
What’s Planned for Next Year?
We continue to work for additional capital funding from the state, as there are still needs for reliability improvements, but the prospect for state capital funding is about as bleak as I have seen in the last nine years. All the programmed funds for intercity passenger rail that were supposed to come through the Public Transit Account (PTA) have been raided for other purposes, leaving us with virtually no useable capital funding for track and signal improvements in Davis (Yolo crossovers), Benicia crossovers, Emeryville Station track/platform improvements and extended double track in Santa Clara County. Union Pacific has these projects designed and ready-to-build; but each time we think the capital money is about to flow, another state “sleight-of-hand” diverts the funds somewhere else.
All I Want for Christmas is…More Capital Funding!
My concern is that in order to both serve our growing number of riders and increase the reliability of our service, we need a steady stream of a modest amount of capital funding to invest in our service. All four of our above referenced projects will cost a total of $45 million. Rebuilding one highway interchange can cost anywhere from $100 million to $250 million. The Capitol Corridor and the state’s intercity passenger rail service need to be recognized as an important component of the state’s transportation network, and funding must come along with that recognition. We have the success in California because the voters said they wanted these trains, and they approved the initial capital funding back in 1990 to make it happen. The nearly $2 billion investment of your state tax dollars into the three intercity rail services must be protected with a modest regular stream of capital funding. We are working to accomplish this, but if you have the chance to talk to any of our state legislators, you might want to let them know what this service means to you, and ask for their help in getting this steady stream of capital funding. We can manage the operating costs, if we get some annual capital funding. I am going to ask Santa Claus for some regular capital funding in MY stocking!
While we all have been frustrated by the inability to get more Capitol Corridor trains to Placer County, some recent state developments on the Trade Corridors funding front may present an opportunity to make progress. The level of state funding now projected to be available for Northern California may allow us to carry out some substantial capacity improvements along Union Pacific’s Central Corridor (which includes the Capitol Corridor Route). These improvements would address capacity constraints jointly with Union Pacific, the Port of Oakland, the City of Sacramento (for the Sacramento station) and Placer County.
While we do have some challenges, the operation of our Capitol Corridor service is improving, there is steady growth in our ridership and revenue, and the cooperation with Amtrak, Union Pacific Railroad and Caltrans, has really never been better. That is a lot to be thankful for.
To each of you who ride or help deliver our Capitol Corridor service every day, I extend a heartfelt “thank you” to every one of you. We are here to serve the riding public. You are the reason we exist.
On behalf of myself and the entire Capitol Corridor staff and family, we wish each of you a safe, peaceful and happy holiday season! Best wishes for a happy, healthy and prosperous new year!