Issue 37, November 2009

Linsey Ettlin Message To Riders

Dear Capitol Corridor Riders & Friends,

In my time as Capitol Corridor Managing Director, now more than 10 years, I have personally written 37 “Messages” to you. This will be my final one, as I am retiring and entrusting the future of the Capitol Corridor to some of the most passionate, caring and customer focused railroad managers that I have encountered in my 42-year career. They should have all the right attributes to continue what we have achieved, as they have worked with me as a true team during these past 10 years.

For the riders who have been on our trains less than five years, you won’t remember “the good old days”….or maybe we should call them “the not-so-good-old-days.’” With 32 trains a day plying the Capitol Corridor route today, it seems like it would have been silly to try to get passengers to ride a train service that had only four trains each way a day. Yet, in October 1998, that was the Capitol Corridor service. To those who have been riding since way-back-then, you know how extensive the service improvements have  been. Not only are there more trains, but also better trains, smoother track, shorter travel times, better stations and better parking facilities (well, better facilities at SOME stations!).


In the beginning…

When I was hired into this job, there were two basic missions set out for me to accomplish: 1) grow the service and the ridership, and 2) build a better and more constructive relationship with Union Pacific, our host railroad. The first mission saw results fairly soon, and by 2002, we had more than doubled ridership and train frequency. The second mission took a little longer. However, the working relationship between the Capitol Corridor and the Union Pacific Railroad today is described by many in the industry as “the best partnership” in the country between a private freight railroad and a public passenger rail service. Indeed, the on-time performance of our service, now the most-on-time of any Amtrak-operated multi-frequency service in the country, is testament to that working partnership.

Amtrak and the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans Division of Rail) have been strong and positive partners with the Capitol Corridor over the years, and I suspect this situation will remain strong. There is also support for intercity passenger rail from the Governor and the Legislature. With high-speed rail looming on the horizon, (I think we will see it first in California, within 10 years), conventional-speed intercity rail service like the Capitol Corridor will take on new markets, acting as feeder-distributor service at stations served by both high-speed rail and conventional-speed rail, such as at San Jose and Sacramento.


What the future holds

A Capitol Corridor capital investment program has been developed for the next 10 years, and we are seeking funds to implement our business plan. We need more double track to get train frequency to San Jose up to the same level as train frequency to Sacramento, which will provide convenient connections to high-speed rail trains. There is an ongoing effort with Union Pacific to identify what is needed and how much it will cost to build these added capacity facilities.

Expanded service east of Sacramento into Placer County has been in the planning stages for many years, but now there is an active design process underway with Union Pacific to define the needed capacity improvements and secure funding for expanded service. Placer County is our most underserved market, and it’s a market with substantial ridership potential.

For now, it is essential that the State order additional rolling stock (coaches and locomo­tives), so that the growth in riders can con­tinue. Our locomotives and station platforms can handle eight-car trains, but we have only enough coaches to operate four- or five-car trains. Longer trains can increase capacity by up to 60% at very little incremental cost and will make room for many more riders.

New cars will be designed to provide the long-awaited Capitol Corridor Business Class service, plus they will have expanded bicycle storage lockers. So we know what needs to be done to continue this success; all we need to do now is shake loose the funding (most of which has actually been voter-approved). And now, the federal government has a capital funding program; with the state funds available, we will have the required 20% match.

So I am leaving this job in capable hands, with a team of well-trained younger ‘pups’ who will both carry on, as well as further improve, the Capitol Corridor success story.


Thank you, riders

To you, the riders, I say thank you for your patronage. You are the sole reason we exist: to serve you and provide you with an attractive means of transport. We follow a public policy mandate, established by the CCJPA Board. That mandate is specific in its charge, with respect to frequency of service all along our route, financial performance, on-time performance and station criteria guidelines. This document, called the Vision Plan, was initially adopted in 2002 and updated in 2005. It is the document that sets our goals and objectives and provides our policy leaders with criteria to judge our progress.Â

The train crews (engineers, food service attendants, conductors, and assistant conductors), station agents, and equipment maintenance technicians actually deliver the Capitol Corridor service to you. In turn, you, in your surveys, rate them ‘tops’ in terms of service, professionalism and customer focus. According to your responses to our surveys, their uniforms and pay-checks may say “Amtrak”, but their hearts and demeanor say “Capitol Corridor”.


From me to you

As I enter retirement, I offer you a sincere ‘thank you’. Few of us are given the chance to serve others in a way that really is appreciated and has a positive impact on the quality of life of their customers.  The passengers we carry on the Capitol Corridor tell us how much they appreciate the service and then often describe the particular circumstance that makes our service important and special to them. This is what has kept me going over the years, your encouragement, your use of our trains, and your support for the additional funding resources to sustain and grow the service. That encouragement has been especially important to me during some dark days when we were experiencing significantly less-than-high-quality performance. Your notes, letters and e-mails provided me with the motivation to keep working to fix the problems. And we did. Together.

Please accept my heartfelt “thank you” for riding the Capitol Corridor trains and for being supporters of your Northern California intercity passenger rail service. We didn’t know that intercity passenger trains weren’t supposed to work here in Northern California, according to the best travel forecaster studies in the country; so we just did it. It seems to work, work well consistently, and almost everyone likes it. We must be doing something right.

Again, many thanks to you all. May the improvements continue…

Eugene K. Skoropowski

Managing Director

Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority