Quantcast

Manager of Valley's San Joaquin trains may ditch Amtrak as operator

Help Support Amtrak Unlimited Discussion Forum:

frequentflyer

OBS Chief
Joined
Jun 10, 2008
Messages
730
A former Amtrak CEO stated Amtrak needed to get its costs down or this may start happening.

https://abc30.com/travel/amtraks-presence-in-the-valley-may-be-in-jeopardy/5698401/

"FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Amtrak has provided rail service in the San Joaquin Valley since 1974.

However, Amtrak's presence in the Valley could be in jeopardy, based on testimony Action News heard in Washington DC before the US House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee.

The executive director of San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority, Stacey Mortensen, told the House Transportation committee that Amtrak charges three times as much per passenger to run the San Joaquin trains, compared to the Altamont Corridor Express or ACE.


Mortensen is the leader of both the San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority and the San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission, which manages the operators of both routes.

It also gives her a unique perspective into train operations.

In what she called, "A Tale of the Two Services," she was critical towards Amtrak's lack of transparency, especially when compared to the way contractor Herzog Transit handles the ACE commuter rail."
 

Anthony V

Service Attendant
Joined
Mar 10, 2016
Messages
207
Does this mean the San Joaquin trains are at risk of discontinuance?
 

MikefromCrete

Conductor
Joined
Mar 24, 2009
Messages
2,620
Location
Crete, IL
Does this mean the San Joaquin trains are at risk of discontinuance?
No, it means the service could be turned over to another operator. All services run by Amtrak for the states or other local authorities could be turned over to private or public operators.
 

seat38a

Conductor
Joined
Jan 26, 2014
Messages
2,025
Location
Orange County California
Since I've never ridden on ACE, I'm going by my experience riding on Metrolink.
Amtrak has 3 conductors and a LSA in the Cafe Car, while commuter rail has 1 conductor. Seems like lots more staff to pay for vs a commuter rail service. Also, I think some of the Amtrak crew have to overnight in Bakersfield. San Joaquin has also been trying to eliminate the Merced crew change for a while now. ACE takes 2+ hours from Stockton to San Jose while San Joaquin takes 6+ hours between Bakersfield and Oakland. Oh and let's not forget the checked luggage and staffed ticket counters. Those Truway buses aren't free either. Sounds pretty expensive to me.
 

sttom

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Jan 23, 2019
Messages
497
ACE runs 4 trips per day, week days only and has no direct connections or staffed stations. Amtrak needs more transparency, but going to Herzog for the San Joaquins would lead to a decline in service probably for not a justifiable cost savings. Or this is a local politicians grandstanding for a promotion to the state legislature. Never takw California and it's "locally controlled" state services administrators at face value.
 

Seaboard92

Conductor
Joined
Dec 31, 2014
Messages
3,633
Location
South Carolina
There’s nothing to say Herzog Transit Services couldn’t learn how to handle station services, and food service.

Amtrak is losing a lot of intellectual knowledge with the new administration there. But they could re learn it just like someone else could learn it by reading railroad history. And trying. The resources are out there.

I’m rooting for Herzog not because I have a friend who works there. But because I would like to see someone force Amtrak to to be more transparent. And losing a contract might cause that.
 

sttom

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Jan 23, 2019
Messages
497
There’s nothing to say Herzog Transit Services couldn’t learn how to handle station services, and food service.
That doesn't mean that Herzog or anyone else for that matter would actually be cheaper or take away from the prospect that we have a local politician grandstanding on some issue when we are heading into a major election year.

If this was happening anywhere other than California, I would have a less than cynical view of this. JPAs are run by local politicians that don't necessarily need to be qualified to run whatever it is they are running. Looking and the SJJPA Board, it looks like a roster of people who will probably be running for a promotion....er I means serving the public, at some point and making a fuss about something is a sure way to get eyes on you even if nothing comes of it (which I will assume for the time being will be the outcome)

I have mentioned before, but this is one of the reasons I don't particularly like JPAs. Having ambivalent state officials running the Amtrak is starting to look even more preferable than local politicians looking to add to their resume at the expense of whatever it is they are running. How outrageous is it that local politicians can even threaten to end an Amtrak line, even when the state is at least in theory against it?
 

rickycourtney

Conductor
Joined
Dec 21, 2012
Messages
1,788
Location
Fresno, CA
ACE runs 4 trips per day, week days only and has no direct connections or staffed stations. Amtrak needs more transparency, but going to Herzog for the San Joaquins would lead to a decline in service probably for not a justifiable cost savings. Or this is a local politicians grandstanding for a promotion to the state legislature. Never takw California and it's "locally controlled" state services administrators at face value.
Stacey Mortensen is not an elected politician, she’s a railroad professional with 20+ years of experience. She’s the woman who the politicians on the SJJPA board have hired to do the important day to day work of running a train.

While the points raised about the staffing and operational differences are true... does that still justify paying three times as much? We don’t know, because Amtrak “focuses on protecting its proprietary data, solely determines resource allocations and planning decisions, and has no shared performance objectives. Costs cannot be rationally tied to actual service.”

Amtrak’s steadfast refusal to embrace the principles of “transparency, collaboration, and fairness” has angered its customer (SJJPA).

Best case scenario for Amtrak... this testimony inspires them to become a better contract operator for states.

Worst case scenario for Amtrak... they don’t change, SJJPA leaves for a new operator, thereby creating a blueprint for other state-funded services to do the same.
 

Palmetto

Conductor
Joined
May 12, 2014
Messages
2,032
Location
Miami
Back to the MBTA for a moment. Amtrak lost that contract several years ago. Didn't seem to bother them one bit. Is there anything in the wind now that would cause Amtrak to react differently if they lose the San Joaquins contract.
 

Trogdor

Conductor
Joined
Aug 3, 2004
Messages
5,492
Location
Here
I’m actually curious about the comment of Amtrak costing 3x as much per passenger as ACE.

What’s the relative total ridership, per train, of each service, and what are the average distances traveled?

A heavily-loaded commuter train on a short-distance trip certainly ought to cost quite a bit less on a per-passenger basis than a medium-distance intercity train running several times the distance.
 

jiml

Conductor
Joined
Feb 27, 2019
Messages
1,510
Location
Toronto area
I believe there are several commuter services in both the US and Canada operated by Bombardier under contract, including SunRail, MARC and Coaster. Albuquerque was I think, but now Herzog.
 

jis

Conductor
AU Lifetime Supporter
Gathering Team Member
Joined
Aug 24, 2003
Messages
25,841
Location
Space Coast, Florida, Area code 3-2-1
I’m actually curious about the comment of Amtrak costing 3x as much per passenger as ACE.

What’s the relative total ridership, per train, of each service, and what are the average distances traveled?

A heavily-loaded commuter train on a short-distance trip certainly ought to cost quite a bit less on a per-passenger basis than a medium-distance intercity train running several times the distance.
I watched that entire segment. Her main complaint appeared to be lack of transparency and the fact that they cannot figure out why Amtrak is charging what it is charging. That appears to have been an ongoing gripe about Amtrak form virtually everyone that has ever contracted with Amtrak to run any train service for them, as far as I can tell.

She did acknowledge that Amtrak may be hamstrung by the one size fits all approach for pricing that the know it all geniuses placed in PRIIA 209, but guess who wrote most of that without much consulting with any of the victims of it? It is kinda neat to be able to write a law and then point to the thing you wrote to claim that your hands are tied. Also, the law does not say that "no details of the reason for the pricing the way it is shall be provided", as far as I can gather from reading the law.
 

Thirdrail7

Conductor
AU Supporter
Joined
Jul 9, 2014
Messages
4,490
I watched that entire segment. Her main complaint appeared to be lack of transparency and the fact that they cannot figure out why Amtrak is charging what it is charging. That appears to have been an ongoing gripe about Amtrak form virtually everyone that has ever contracted with Amtrak to run any train service for them, as far as I can tell.
This doesn't make a lot of sense to me unless there are unexplained cost overruns. The methodology of PRIIA will identify the costs. They aren't usually made public but there was one made public in the Amtrak no longer allowing standing passengers on unreserved trains? thread. It explains the costs, assignments, fees, manpower requirements, depreciation, costs etc, so unless they don't understand the methodology, which should result in consistent costs for the operators, it seems the problem may be with PRIIA.


She did acknowledge that Amtrak may be hamstrung by the one size fits all approach for pricing that the know it all geniuses placed in PRIIA 209, but guess who wrote most of that without much consulting with any of the victims of it
Would that be Stephan Gardner? I look much deeper into this. I think she is making waves at this time to undermine PRIIA. After all, if Amtrak is going to dip its toes into more corridor services (which is exactly what Gardner and Anderson purportedly want,) PRIIA would have to change.

To have her testifying before Congress that costs are 3 times as much(which isn't that surprising when you're operating a lot more trains,3 times as much difference and the operation ise governed by short-distance intercity rules versus commuter rules) is an effective way to do their bidding.
 

jis

Conductor
AU Lifetime Supporter
Gathering Team Member
Joined
Aug 24, 2003
Messages
25,841
Location
Space Coast, Florida, Area code 3-2-1
I suspect she is complaining about depreciation of equipment owned by Amtrak that is not used by them being foisted on them due to requirements of PRIIA, or something like that. As far as I could figure out that is part of the kerfuffle. She pretty much clearly stated that PRIIA is the root cause of the problem.

Also 3x cost/passenger seems a bit high even taking everything into consideration. But without seeing the actual numbers it is hard to tell. It is also not clear to me why the numbers are such secrets when people's money is being transferred from one government run out fit to another.

From a State's perspective getting rid of PRIIA 209, or at least seriously modifying it to take better account of the unique needs of specific systems, is generally a high priority, since they do not want to be placed in a straght-jacket about funding formulas. I have yet to find a State DOT person who thinks otherwise. So that will inevitably happen sooner or later. The question is what will be the modified version that they will shoot for, or even whether there is anything remotely approaching a consensus on that. Very fluid situation right now, and Anderson isn't exactly helping with his antics.

Frankly, AFAICT, the main reason that States put up with all this is because the laws have been set up to give Amtrak almost exclusive preference on track access. Wherever states have been able to break free of that, in many cases they have tended to not deal with Amtrak, if they have managed to set up a sufficiently competent DOT department to handle the necessary foot work. Not that their experience has been uniformly good mind you, but in many cases it has been better than with Amtrak in control, and others it has been questionable.
 

sttom

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Jan 23, 2019
Messages
497
While the points raised about the staffing and operational differences are true... does that still justify paying three times as much? We don’t know, because Amtrak “focuses on protecting its proprietary data, solely determines resource allocations and planning decisions, and has no shared performance objectives. Costs cannot be rationally tied to actual service.”

Amtrak’s steadfast refusal to embrace the principles of “transparency, collaboration, and fairness” has angered its customer (SJJPA).

Best case scenario for Amtrak... this testimony inspires them to become a better contract operator for states.

Worst case scenario for Amtrak... they don’t change, SJJPA leaves for a new operator, thereby creating a blueprint for other state-funded services to do the same.
And there in lies the issue, the customer is not the State of California, but a local agency it created to pass the buck off onto. The cost structure of an intercity service is different. ACE doesn't have to pay for connecting services like the SJJPA Amtrak contract probably includes or station staff or food service which is historically operated at a loss. As pointed out above, there could be up to double the people working each train vs a commuter train, not including crew changes and station staff. This is also assuming that Amtrak doesn't charge the local agencies more than it used to charge the state, which I probably would if I were Amtrak, since the contract could be smaller than running 3 trains and a bunch of buses under 1 contract.

Also, what would be the start up costs to switch to Herzog or anyone else assuming they even try to keep the same level of service? What is the cost of hiring and training more train crews, station staff and train operators? What would happen to the equipment? Would the State be as willing to let them keep using state equipment?

As for her not being a politician, she works for them. Working with them means you need to be one on some level. There is likely more to the story than what is being reported.
 

me_little_me

Conductor
Joined
Jul 16, 2010
Messages
3,257
Back to the MBTA for a moment. Amtrak lost that contract several years ago. Didn't seem to bother them one bit. Is there anything in the wind now that would cause Amtrak to react differently if they lose the San Joaquins contract.
They'll probably just allocate those costs to the long distance trains and give themselves a bonus.
 

nti1094

Train Attendant
Joined
Apr 9, 2015
Messages
75
Since I've never ridden on ACE, I'm going by my experience riding on Metrolink.
Amtrak has 3 conductors and a LSA in the Cafe Car, while commuter rail has 1 conductor. Seems like lots more staff to pay for vs a commuter rail service. Also, I think some of the Amtrak crew have to overnight in Bakersfield. San Joaquin has also been trying to eliminate the Merced crew change for a while now. ACE takes 2+ hours from Stockton to San Jose while San Joaquin takes 6+ hours between Bakersfield and Oakland. Oh and let's not forget the checked luggage and staffed ticket counters. Those Truway buses aren't free either. Sounds pretty expensive to me.
On my San Joaquin ride last month from Hanford to Sacramento for Winter Rail, there was only one conductor and an engineer working the entire run to Sacramento. I got the impression that was not normal, but still he seemed to have no problem working the train.
 

nti1094

Train Attendant
Joined
Apr 9, 2015
Messages
75
I’m actually curious about the comment of Amtrak costing 3x as much per passenger as ACE.

What’s the relative total ridership, per train, of each service, and what are the average distances traveled?

A heavily-loaded commuter train on a short-distance trip certainly ought to cost quite a bit less on a per-passenger basis than a medium-distance intercity train running several times the distance.
ACE is on the far extreme of commuter railroad and more like a short corridor run.
 

nti1094

Train Attendant
Joined
Apr 9, 2015
Messages
75
And there in lies the issue, the customer is not the State of California, but a local agency it created to pass the buck off onto. The cost structure of an intercity service is different. ACE doesn't have to pay for connecting services like the SJJPA Amtrak contract probably includes or station staff or food service which is historically operated at a loss. As pointed out above, there could be up to double the people working each train vs a commuter train, not including crew changes and station staff. This is also assuming that Amtrak doesn't charge the local agencies more than it used to charge the state, which I probably would if I were Amtrak, since the contract could be smaller than running 3 trains and a bunch of buses under 1 contract.

Also, what would be the start up costs to switch to Herzog or anyone else assuming they even try to keep the same level of service? What is the cost of hiring and training more train crews, station staff and train operators? What would happen to the equipment? Would the State be as willing to let them keep using state equipment?

As for her not being a politician, she works for them. Working with them means you need to be one on some level. There is likely more to the story than what is being reported.
I saw her testimony and one of her main points is that Amtrak has not once come in on or under budget, but Herzog has for years come in under budget based on beginning of year estimates. That makes planning and fare policy much easier and allowed for a cushion in an economic downturn. She was frustrated that Amtrak, despite being a railroad, can’t seem to get a handle on true costs. Also, she said that they don’t explain things that defy logic, like cutting service yet charging more for the service.
 

TiBike

OBS Chief
Joined
Apr 18, 2015
Messages
709
Location
Alta California
The SJJPA's "Valley Rail" project is below. It includes two more daily round trips for the San Joaquins. The environmental work (the toughest part of any project in California) is underway. The SJJPA board and staff are planning and managing accordingly. Right now, only the two roundtrips between Sacramento and Bakersfield share a station with ACE. They barely touch. But if Valley Rail happens, it's going to be an integrated system. Having a single operator could be very advantageous, perhaps even necessary.

Interoperability and a seamless passenger experience within the system is far more important to SJJPA, and the State of California, than any benefit connectivity to long distance trains might offer. Even now, the San Joaquins and the extensive network of thruways (which aren't legally restricted any more to only serving passengers with train connections) offer better transportation service between northern California and LA/Las Vegas than Amtrak long distance trains.

Amtrak needs the San Joaquins far more than the San Joaquins need Amtrak.

 

sttom

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Jan 23, 2019
Messages
497
Interoperability and a seamless passenger experience within the system is far more important to SJJPA, and the State of California, than any benefit connectivity to long distance trains might offer. Even now, the San Joaquins and the extensive network of thruways (which aren't legally restricted any more to only serving passengers with train connections) offer better transportation service between northern California and LA/Las Vegas than Amtrak long distance trains.
Having used trains in Europe and having talked with Europeans, having suburban and provincial trains (the equivalent of ACE) be separate from the national rail operator (in our case Amtrak) never seemed to even be an issue for them. There is such a notion as being a specialist in one area and not a jack of all trades. This is also an argument for not letting commuter agencies run intercity services.

As I haven mentioned before, what about the costs to transition? Or train the train and station staff should they switch? Also where is Herzog going to get people that know how intercity trains work vs commuters? Would the transition lead to a downgrade in service? It would stand to reason that switching operators might end up costing more than its worth.
 

Thirdrail7

Conductor
AU Supporter
Joined
Jul 9, 2014
Messages
4,490
Even now, the San Joaquins and the extensive network of thruways (which aren't legally restricted any more to only serving passengers with train connections) offer better transportation service between northern California and LA/Las Vegas than Amtrak long distance trains.
I would hope that what basically translates into an intrastate short distance service offers better transportation than a long-distance train that operates once a day.

Amtrak needs the San Joaquins far more than the San Joaquins need Amtrak.
People made the same foolish statements about MARC, MBTA, VRE and MetroLink.

Yet, Amtrak still seems to hang in there. I doubt Amtrak "needs" the San Joaquins any more than the San Joaquins "needs" Amtrak.
 

sttom

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Jan 23, 2019
Messages
497
The costs would be the new operators responsibility.
Who would really take on the start up costs with no guarantee of either a multi year contract or the state footing the bill for the transition? The original reporting shows that contract with Amtrak is an annual contract.
 
Top