from the Managing Director to you…
Dear Capitol Corridor Riders and Friends,
By now you have heard about our on-board annual Business Plan Public Workshops, held February 4-7, 2008. If you are unable to attend, here’s a snapshot of what to expect in the coming year.
Operating Budget and Fares
Many of you know that the Capitol Corridor is neither federally funded, nor funded by Amtrak even though Amtrak crews and operates the trains, staffs stations, performs maintenance on our state-owned trains and otherwise provides the necessary supervisory and support personnel to deliver the train service to you on a day-to-day basis.
The Capitol Corridor contracts with and pays Amtrak for these services with state provided operating funds. The Capitol Corridor train service has only two sources of operating revenue: passenger fares and annually allocated state funds, which have remained basically flat for seven years. To meet the state’s goal of passengers paying at least half the service cost, we have incrementally increased fares on a regular basis every year to cover the increased cost of service (eg. fuel and materials) and still satisfy the state’s criteria of a 50% recovery of the cost-of-service from passenger fares.
So, you can expect a modest 3% increase in fares this June (and possibly in November) to help us meet the state’s expectations, and cover rising fuel and material costs. Depending upon Amtrak’s projected operating costs, and the level of funding adopted in the state budget, these fare changes might be somewhat higher to enable us to offer you our current service level. In spite of these fare increases, the cost of travel on the Capitol Corridor is still competitive: a full fare ticket still costs only about 25 cents per mile. With the steep discounts of our ten-ride and Monthly tickets, on a cost-per mile basis, the 10-trip ticket costs about 16-20 cents per mile, and monthlies cost only about 12-15 cents per mile, if used five days a week for business travel. Compared to the current published American Automobile Association costs of driving (48-62 cents per mile), our train travel is a very good bargain in addition to all the other benefits (no traffic stress, opportunity to sleep, read the paper, work on your laptop, or have an afternoon glass of wine or cocktail) — things that you can do on a train that you shouldn’t do while driving!
We don’t like higher fares any more than you do. However, if we have to, riders have told us they prefer smaller periodic increments, rather than a whopping increase every year or so.
We are planning “stay the course” on service frequencies and scheduled trains. Weekdays will remain at 32 trains, and 22 on weekend days. We know that some of the trains are now getting very crowded, particularly from the Sacramento-Davis area to the Bay Area on weekday mornings.
We are doing everything we can to convince our elected officials that we need to order more passenger cars and locomotives, and we need to do it now. Passengers cars take about four years for delivery, and if Caltrans cannot order these cars soon, train crowds four years from now will make today’s crowding look like “the good old days.” We hope that this new car order will be forthcoming, as voters specifically approved the bond funds for this purpose in November 2006. A new fleet of cars will also have a Business Class section, where you can reserve a seat on-line for additional cost on a specific train. This is in response to passenger requests on surveys from the past several years.
Wireless Network Update
Many of you have been aware of some wireless network testing we conducted over the past few years. While the test worked only so-so, we learned a lot from the results. We learned that a useful service has to be fast and reliable, something the test installations were not; and that there are a lot more uses for a wireless network than for just surfing the ‘net many of them operational or safety related. For more than a year, we have been working with rail-experienced wireless network vendors and the Union Pacific Railroad. We had to define the needed capacity of a wireless network to support all the functions we’d like to offer that provides customers with a fast and reliable service. What we need involves a lot more time, effort and money than we first envisioned. Our Business Plan makes this wireless network a priority, for safety and operational functions, as well as for customer convenience.
Electronic Ticketing & Validation
Some significant changes are underway for how tickets are checked. We will soon begin testing electronic ticket readers, which will simplify and speed up ticket validation for train crews. We also hope to implement an online printable ticket option, similar to what airlines use, to eliminate cash fares on trains. We’ve installed Ticket Kiosk ticket vending machines at every station, laying the foundation for online ticket purchases as well as SMART card capabilities.
Our operating priorities will remain the same: reliability of train service, keeping the tracks in good condition so there are as few slow-orders as possible, trying to provide enough seating for riders during peak travel times, and implementing safety and security measures to continue to deliver quality and safe service.
Our marketing program continues the emphasis on keeping existing riders and filling seats on trains that have available seat. As in past years, due to the continued natural growth in peak hour passengers, we will not have targeted programs for these time slots. Marketing efforts will also increase awareness of trains as a “Green Way to Travel” to help decrease greenhouse gas emissions and help the effort to reduce global warming.
Our capital investment program will focus on reliability and ride quality improvements, capitalized maintenance (with increased service investments targeted for the San Jose end of our line and for increased frequency of service to Roseville, Rocklin and Auburn). Union Pacific tie renewal work will continue in 2008 between approximately Suisun City and Dixon. Passengers can expect a bus bridge during the work period, which has not yet been finalized.
Capital projects we hope to have funded and built are at Benicia, Emeryville, Yolo Causeway and Santa Clara, plus advancement of Trade Corridor Improvement funds for freight capacity/fluidity improvements along the Capitol Corridor route that also benefit our passenger service and that of the San Joaquins.
Look How We’ve Grown
The Capitol Corridor has been built from basically ground zero since 1991. The voter-initiated capital bond funds approved in 1990 provides the capital investments needed to establish and deliver the intercity passenger rail service we have today. Our Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority (CCJPA) Board of Directors is comprised of two members from each of our eight-county district and each of them must also be a Board Member of one of our six member transit agencies (Sound complicated? Somewhat, but it seems to work!).
Since the Capitol Corridor is a complex series of arrangements between the CCJPA Board, BART, Amtrak, Union Pacific Railroad, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), the state Business, Transportation & Housing Agency (BT&H), the California Transportation Commission (CTC), our six member transit agencies – Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART), Solano Transportation Authority (STA), Yolo County Transportation District (YCTD), Sacramento Regional Transit District (SacRT), and the Placer County Transportation Planning Agency (PCTPA), some have commented that it is a miracle that it works at all. We believe in miracles, and we now have the third busiest intercity passenger route in the country, called The Capitol Corridor. We offer more intercity service than anywhere else in the nation outside of Amtrak’s busy Northeast Corridor.
We have grown from 8 trains a day in 1998, to 32 trains a day, and we have stabilized the state funding required to due so. We are running a 32 train schedule for about the same level of state funding that we were allocated in 2002 for an 18-train schedule. At the same time, our farebox recovery ratio has jumped from 29% in 1998 to 48% in 2007, and is up over 50% for the first quarter of 2008, meeting the state’s 50% goal.
Few public service agencies can claim such an impressive record of stewardship of public funding. What has made this possible? We would like to think that prudent “run it like a business” management has had something to do with it, but we also know that the availability of capital money to invest, build, maintain and improve the railroad, the trains and facilities we need to continue to deliver this service to the people of California also had a lot to do with it. This is why we believe California voters supported the Governor’s Proposition 1B in 2006, because it had additional capital bond funds to continue our successful, nationally recognized intercity passenger rail program.