Issue 34, December 2008

Linsey Ettlin Message To Riders

From Me to you…
Dear Capitol Corridor Riders & Friends,

As hard as it is to imagine, another year has passed. Following tradition, this is my annual St. Nicholas Day (December 6) Holiday Message to you, with a review of the past year, and a look ahead to the next. Let me begin with a hearty holiday greeting to each of you, along with my thanks and appreciation for riding the Capitol Corridor trains. While some will focus on the doom and gloom of the current economic situation, we are a country with a history of hope for a better tomorrow. Count me in among the hopeful that we will see better days soon.

2008: A Year of Change

We certainly have seen some changes in the last 12 months! Through the rise and fall of gas prices, collapses on Wall Street, and the election of new national leadership, ridership on Capitol Corridor trains has continued to surge. While this last year has made us increasingly aware of the challenges in our country and across the world, as residents of the United States we still have many reasons to be thankful. Historically, our population has been the pioneers of the world, and to this day people are still willing to make incredible sacrifices to come here. They come for a brighter future, and it is this desire for a brighter future that distinguishes our country from almost any other on the planet.

Ridership, Revenue & Performance

Overall, we have had a banner year for ridership and revenue. In October, we smashed through ridership records again, carrying more than 1,716,000 passengers in a 12-month period. That is 17% growth over the prior year. Revenue also had a record year, growing 22%.

For us at the Capitol Corridor, and for our riders, there was some very good news during the past year in terms of reliability of our service. The Capitol Corridor service now operates better than all but one corridor route in the entire Amtrak system – and that route is Chicago-Milwaukee. They are operating at 93.2% on time, while Capitol Corridor trains are operating at 92.3%. We have our sights set on being the best performing passenger corridor service in the country and are working towards that goal.

The Capitol Corridor still has the most frequent Amtrak service anywhere in the country outside the Northeast Corridor (NEC). Even with fare increases, our fares are about 25% of fares for the same distance traveled on the NEC.

Your fares are paying up to 55% of the cost of the service; and since Amtrak expenses have risen and the state subsidy has been limited due to the state’s budget crisis, we still need periodic fare increases. We do our best to raise fares in modest increments and still maintain the quality and quantity of your service, so you continue to receive good value for the fares you pay. We know that there is always room for improvement, and I want to assure you that we continue to work with Amtrak and Union Pacific Railroad, our operating partners, to deliver the best service we can for you.

2009 Capitol Corridor Work Plan

What is ahead for next year? From mid-February to mid-March, Union Pacific will again conduct a track-renewal project as part of the multi-year program. The work area will extend from just north of Suisun-Fairfield Station to just outside Davis. Some 50,000 ties will be installed on 30 track miles. This work will require some bussing of mid-day trains, but peak travel trains in the morning and evening will operate through the work area. This track renewal work assures us of good track conditions so that your trains can operate reliably throughout the year.

You will see completion of the new Bahia crossover in Benicia. This crossover will cut delays in half when there is a freight train on the lower level main track shifting cars into the auto yard. More crossovers are planned, and start of construction of the new Sacramento Station passenger platforms and tracks is expected during 2009, as are improvements to the Emeryville station tracks.
The high-speed rail bond measure was approved by the voters, and the Capitol Corridor will get at least $47.5 million in capital funding from that program for improvements to better connect to high-speed rail stations. Since San Jose will be the first major high-speed rail connection point for the Capitol Corridor service, much of those Prop 1A funds will support projects that allow us to increase service frequency to/from San Jose.

Amtrak police officers dedicated to the Capitol Corridor service are working with local police, Union Pacific police and member agency police departments all along our corridor to improve safety and reduce incidents that cause delays to passenger service, especially around grade crossings. Operation Lifesaver is also stepping up activities to educate young people of the hazards of being around, or walking along an active railroad right-of-way.

Discussions between the Capitol Corridor and Union Pacific to identify capacity improvements that are needed in order to operate more trains East of Sacramento to Placer County. This effort is voluntary on both sides, and we hope that a viable plan emerges in the upcoming year.

What About More Coaches on the Trains?

While Caltrans is in the procurement process of ordering new coaches (similar to the ones we currently have), the new California Cars will not be delivered for as many as four years. In the interim, Caltrans has contracted for the repair and use of several Superliner-type cars. Caltrans plans to acquire two trainsets of single-level equipment to supplement the Northern California fleet. We hope these measures will be adequate to accommodate ridership growth until the new cars arrive.

Meanwhile, the original 66 California Cars have been overhauled and major components renewed and replaced. The soaring number of riders is wearing out the upholstery and carpets faster than anticipated on the existing fleet, so you will begin to see coaches with rider requests), curtains on the windows of all cars.

The Future for Rail Depends on Federal Support

A major part of our fate will rest with funding decisions at the Federal level. The Amtrak reauthorization bill was passed by a wide bi-partisan margin in Congress in the fall, and signed into law by the President in October. This comprehensive bill authorizes, for the first time, major passenger rail investments across the country, and federal appropriators are addressing the bill as I write this. A major effort to fund the authorized intercity passenger rail programs is expected in Congress shortly after the new Congress is seated. This is about as optimistic as I have been in my life regarding the future of intercity passenger rail.

You might have noticed that there was a recent election in our country, and it appears that intercity passenger rail is (after 37 years of waiting) about to get a fair share of federal capital funding, similar to the way federal capital funds are provided to all the other modes of travel. California is ready. We have the local matching funds required to draw down as much federal capital funding as will be available to our state. The Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority has identified projects that are ready to go into construction. These will benefit both our service performance and the economy, as they will create construction jobs right away. We are also carefully monitoring the proposed economic stimulus bills in Washington so we can compete to get the resources we need to continue to grow. The new team in Washington seems to ‘get’ the economic benefits of infrastructure investment. Now, we need to get it – the capital money that is!

Holiday Greetings from CCJPA

In closing, to all of you, please accept my sincere thanks and best wishes for this Holiday Season. I have said it in prior years, and it continues to be true: this is your service, and we exist solely to deliver the best service to you that we can.

On behalf of the entire Capitol Corridor staff and our extended family at Amtrak, Union Pacific and Caltrans, we wish you and yours a safe, peaceful and joyful holiday season! Best wishes for a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year!

Feel free to call us at our toll-free Customer Service Line (1.877.9.RIDECC) or e-mail us at [email protected] with any questions or comments.