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

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TiBike

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PRIIA was made with your types in mind: the indifferent. I guess that is how they will attempt to get away with it.
If I were indifferent, I'd be happy with the late trains, inconvenient schedules, shabby cars, inconsistent customer service, lousy food, weak beer and bicycle phobia that Amtrak offers in California when the state isn't picking up the tab. I'm not. Amtrak is capable of doing better in every one of those categories – California trains are proof of that – but I don't assume that's the best we can get for our money.
 

Thirdrail7

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If I were indifferent, I'd be happy with the late trains, inconvenient schedules, shabby cars, inconsistent customer service, lousy food, weak beer and bicycle phobia that Amtrak offers in California when the state isn't picking up the tab. I'm not. Amtrak is capable of doing better in every one of those categories – California trains are proof of that – but I don't assume that's the best we can get for our money.
According to you, it might not be the best you can get for your money. However, you are at least getting something for your money (whether you like it or not)...which you're willing to give away....and still pay:

California is a net exporter of cash to the federal government. That's not going to change, and it doesn't really matter where the money goes. We're shifting more tax dollars towards mass transit (and bike infrastructure, BTW), and that won't change either. If the Starlight goes away, it'll be California's choice whether or not to replace it, perhaps with a Coast Daylight and an extended Cap Corridor or SJ run to Redding or beyond. Both of which would be scheduled to maximise service to people along those specific routes and would have a better chance of running on time. If we don't do that, we only have ourselves to blame.

Sign me up
.
Clearly you recognize that if Amtrak California, The Star Late or other things go away, you're still paying for the North East corridor and the various other services that are provided to other states, so it is as I stated: If you're willing to be "signed up," to lose your train, I'm all for it. I'm sure other states won't mind as long as you keep exporting cash to preserve their trains.

As Amtrak gradually reduces competing for state services, the outcome is what PRIIA is designed for. States run their trains and the Feds run the expensive services no one really wants to tackle. As I stated, the San Joaquins are probably not much different than the MBTA (which Amtrak had and didn't go after), VRE (which they did go after) Metrolink (which Amtrak held, went after and lost, then got it back after the Chatsworth collision since the provider of services was hoping to shield themselves under the same cap that Amtrak uses and it didn't work) or MARC (which Amtrak operates one side and didn't bid on the CSX side).

When that happens, the employees generally go to the new operator, (and with a grand total of 4 trains, ACE will need the help), Amtrak's payroll drops, their headcount drops and they look like cost-cutters.

Again, win-win for those with the interest. Of course, she's testifying!

SING LOUDER!!!
 

sttom

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As I've mentioned in past posts, I wouldn't necessarily call California's model a good one. It led to a situation where a commuter agency has say in how Intercity trains run because the state didn't want to be the one holding the bag. Which brings up the question, what does Caltrans actually think about this? Will they let this happen or will they lean on the legislature to take the Intercity services back? Time will tell, but since this is California, I'm betting the legislature will let the locals make a dumb decision just cause, with less of an explanation than Amtrak will give.
 

jis

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So in the limit when Amtrak sheds everything in this grand scheme of things, their payroll will be zero and expenditures will be zero.... win win... GRIN! Juust kidding :D
 

TiBike

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Again, win-win for those with the interest. Of course, she's testifying!

SING LOUDER!!!
As you say, it could be win-win. It makes little difference whether Californians' federal tax dollars go to the NEC or a farmer in Kansas or a sinkhole in Florida. It's all part of the congressional appropriations game, and we do all right by it. Even if you just consider rail transportation – the federal government is kicking in a few billion to pretty up the San Joaquins route, and give us wicked fast trains between Merced and Bakersfield :).

The priority is to make California's transportation system as efficient and useful as possible. Long term, the goal is to reduce carbon emissions, but the immediate objective is to unclog our streets and freeways. And, maybe, in the process improve our standard of living. Commutes that are two hours or more each way are not urban legend, they're a fact of life here. When people are driving from Modesto to San Jose everyday, there's little distinction between intercity and commuter service.

The more control we have over our own rail systems, the better able we are to achieve our goals. One item that's high on transportation planners' wish lists here is consolidation of transportation agencies and, consequently, integration of the networks they manage. Among other things, that means contracting with O&M vendors who will conform to our standards and requirements. If it comes to it, losing land cruise service is a small price to pay.
 

TiBike

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What does Caltrans actually think about this? Will they let this happen or will they lean on the legislature to take the Intercity services back? Time will tell, but since this is California, I'm betting the legislature will let the locals make a dumb decision just cause, with less of an explanation than Amtrak will give.
Most of the major decisions that Caltrans implements are made by regional agencies in California. That's true of highways and rail. It's the result of legislation, but also ballot measures and the California constitution. Whether it's the best system, or even a good system, is debatable, but on the whole it works.

SJJPA's rail system serves 13 counties with 10 million people and a land area of 32,000 square miles. On its own, the region would be the tenth largest state by population and the 37th largest by land area. That's not "local". As for explanations, take a look at the publicly available board meeting minutes, and the supporting documents and budget information that decisions are based on. Or sit in on a board meeting yourself. Or run for an office that could get you on the board. For better or worse, you can't do that with Amtrak.
 

Thirdrail7

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Here's the problem I have. I agree with your sentiments up until you make this statement:

If it comes to it, losing land cruise service is a small price to pay.
That's your opinion and you're entitled to it. However, there are people that may not only appreciate what you call a "land cruise" but they may depend on it. A person that may want to heads toward Eugene probably would say the same thing about your San Joaquins. They would probably question the billions to shave a few minutes off that route while they may want additional service, and therein lies the sacrifice.

Why give up something when you should add to it?

There should be ADDITIONAL service that can add to the route. The route should be fed and nourished...not starved and isolated. However, the short term gains are embraced while long term vision is sacrificed. I look at Pennsylvanian, who had the same short term vision as you (we'll give up our LD train and feed the Keystones) and now realize they will have to spend Millions on top of Millions to restore what was already there....and their bills didn't even drop!

Again, if you wish for this to happen, more power to you. I only wish Amtrak could grab equipment. Hell, we're starting to use our "land cruise" trains to carry local passengers (despite the tardiness) because our area invested, fed and nurtured the area.....on your dime of course since PRIIA said you'll pay for it as if you utilize it....which is my problem.

It is wrong. If you have to take care of your state, NJ should have to take care of itself. If the federal government is going to assist in the costs of rail travel, then they should assist in the cost of rail travel just like they do with highway travel and air travel.

You should have the Coast Starlate and it should be on the dime that you pay. There should be no sacrifice. It shouldn't be a competition between the services. Yet, that is the dialogue.
Fine by me, but once you lose something, it is difficult to get it back.

Just ask PA, AL,MS and various other states that are struggling to restore service.
 

jis

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Part of the confusion is of the creation of Amtrak and PRIIA I think.

Ostensibly, because NEC is profitable above the rails NJ pays nothing for the existence of Amtrak service on the NEC because nothing is due from them, just like very minimal amount if any, is due from Virginia. This is a happy convergence of facts as they evolved since PRIIA by itself does not require NEC states to cover the losses on the NEC spine.

At issue on the NEC is the infrastructure, and for that there is endless bickering about what formula to use for federal vs. state share, like there is for similar things elsewhere too. So California has to make a local contribution to get the feddybucks for its infrastructure, just like NJ or NY has to make local contributions to get the feddybucks for NEC infrastructure that benefits them.

In addition NJ, just like California pays fees determined by various statutory bodies or individual contracts for facilities that their own trains use whether it be on Amtrak the host or UP the host.

Anyhow, on the NEC the NEC Commission decides what bill is due to each state, beyond what the feds contribute for the NEC infrastructure maintenance and upkeep. Large projects are handled separately again with some cost sharing between the feds and states.

So all that remains then is to determine who pays for LD trains. There at present appears to be a pretty broad consensus that the federal government will contribute about a billion dollars a year to run them. This is separate from what California, or any other state, chooses to do with service that they are required to fund per PRIIA.

Just because some individuals in California have some extreme views does not mean that the consensus does not exist broadly. They may try to change the consensus and they may succeed at some point, but right now we are far away from such a point. As long as the consensus exists that is how the LD trains are funded irrespective of whether they run in California or NJ. I think it is quite likely that the consensus will outlast Anderson and his ilk at this point. But we'll of course see, won't we?
 

TiBike

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Why give up something when you should add to it?...

Again, if you wish for this to happen, more power to you.
We're not Alabama. We spend our own money on transportation infrastructure and service, including, thankfully, rail.

I don't wish to lose long distance trains. But from a transportation planning perspective, they're a very small tail on a big dog. If LD trains could improve to the point that they function as reliably as bus routes do, that would be a win for California. I'd rather ride the Zephyr from Reno to Sacramento, but I have to give up a day to do it. On the other hand, I can, and recently did, take a morning thruway to Sacramento, spend the afternoon in meetings, then take the Capitol Corridor to San Jose, and get home that night.

If it's about eventually getting to Eugene, though, that's a problem California should, and does, leave to the federal government. We need to move ahead and improve infrastructure and service that addresses our biggest problems. Support and accomodate LD trains? Sure. Compromise on the effectiveness of regional and intrastate rail service to do it? No.
 

Thirdrail7

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If it's about eventually getting to Eugene, though, that's a problem California should, and does, leave to the federal government. We need to move ahead and improve infrastructure and service that addresses our biggest problems. Support and accomodate LD trains? Sure. Compromise on the effectiveness of regional and intrastate rail service to do it? No.
Splendid. Thank you for the clarification. As you can tell, I think (and what do I know) PRIIA was improperly crafted to favor the Northeast. I think the spin they put on the costs of the NEC is thin and for once, we seem to have leadership that embraces this farce.

Maybe if someone invested the BILLIONS that went into the NEC into other parts of the network, your long-distance trains would have more benefit. The NEC is on its second high-speed train benched an electric locomotive after a scant 15 years of service.

What did your route get in that time frame? Hell, have you ever gotten a refresh?

All right! Enough tirading on my part. Thanks for playing tibike and NEVER give up your train. As you said, demand they do better.
 

seat38a

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Splendid. Thank you for the clarification. As you can tell, I think (and what do I know) PRIIA was improperly crafted to favor the Northeast. I think the spin they put on the costs of the NEC is thin and for once, we seem to have leadership that embraces this farce.

Maybe if someone invested the BILLIONS that went into the NEC into other parts of the network, your long-distance trains would have more benefit. The NEC is on its second high-speed train benched an electric locomotive after a scant 15 years of service.

What did your route get in that time frame? Hell, have you ever gotten a refresh?

All right! Enough tirading on my part. Thanks for playing tibike and NEVER give up your train. As you said, demand they do better.
Man, I tried to make a point that Amtrak California is important to Amtrak LD and somehow Alabama and NEC got mixed in and I thought @Thirdrail7 and @TiBike were going to start WW 3 on here. Good to see an entente has been reached. :D
 

sttom

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Most of the major decisions that Caltrans implements are made by regional agencies in California. That's true of highways and rail. It's the result of legislation, but also ballot measures and the California constitution. Whether it's the best system, or even a good system, is debatable, but on the whole it works.

SJJPA's rail system serves 13 counties with 10 million people and a land area of 32,000 square miles. On its own, the region would be the tenth largest state by population and the 37th largest by land area. That's not "local". As for explanations, take a look at the publicly available board meeting minutes, and the supporting documents and budget information that decisions are based on. Or sit in on a board meeting yourself. Or run for an office that could get you on the board. For better or worse, you can't do that with Amtrak.
Good system? No we have a commuter agency running an Intercity line, that's not a smart idea. As for their existence, JPAs are created by statute in California, they could be defunded like the redevelopment agencies were. They weren't created at the same time either. So it's not like it's 100% mandatory that they exist.

Also this is a great time to bring up California and it's lack of a regional level of government. This state really needs one. And it should be the one dealing commuter service and Intercity service should be on the state. And I would class the JPAs as local since it's a collection of local governments. From my digging into it, there have been more issues than good.

As for running for office, if I was going to spend the next 10 years in California politics, I'd do what a politician would do, get into the legislature. There is no point to me in reforming an institution that I don't think should exist. If I were to get my way with rail in this state, your precious JPAs wouldn't exist, but we'd be on the road to 200+ Intercity trips per day and a lot more commuter trains.
 

rickycourtney

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Just to be clear here, while the SJJPA *could* drop Amtrak as an operator within the next 12 months, I doubt they would be on such an aggressive timeline.

The biggest issue facing the San Joaquins and the Capitol Corridor at the moment is a lack of equipment.

The SJJPA is putting up with (and not without a fair amount of grumbling) with the old Comet cars on the route, because they allowed them to add another round-trip and increase capacity on all trips. The California-owned Comet cars are used with NPCUs and Horizon dinettes they leased from Amtrak.

If SJJPA dropped Amtrak, I could see angry Amtrak managers ending the lease immediately to spite the SJJPA, if the contract allows it.

Now, it would be possible to run a Comet car San Joaquin without a NPCU and Horizon dinette (we have extra locomotives, and the new Siemens cars are going to have vending machines), it would be an unnecessary pain, and the SJJPA knows that.
 

jis

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Aren't the new Siemens cars primarily targeted for San Joaquins. So their long term food service plan is basically vending machines. Loss of Horizon Dinettes is a given for them. It is just a matter of how soon, no?
 

rickycourtney

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Aren't the new Siemens cars primarily targeted for San Joaquins. So their long term food service plan is basically vending machines. Loss of Horizon Dinettes is a given for them. It is just a matter of how soon, no?
Yeah, California isn’t purchasing café cars for the Siemens trainsets.

It’s not an ideal plan IMHO to put no café car on a train with a long travel time (especially compared to the Capitol Corridor).
 

TiBike

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The last plans I saw on the Siemens thread were dated February 2019 and had Caltrans buying 7 lounge cars, which seems to correspond with the number of train sets. There was also a vending machine concept graphic posted on the thread about the same time, but nothing that said Caltrans was buying that instead of lounge cars. Illinois seems to be making a distinction between lounge and cafe cars, so I assume there's a difference, but that doesn't mean that food/beverages won't be available in both. Doesn't mean it will, though.

Is there some other information available that says Caltrans and/or SJJPA is moving toward vending machines instead of continuing something like the current service?
 

rickycourtney

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TiBike

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That's an interesting presentation -- good info, thanks. The section on future plans for ACE and integration with the San Joaquins tells a lot. It sure looks like SJJPA wants to create an integrated, one seat ride network.

The section on the new cars doesn't mention lounges, though, and it shows the "concept" vending machine coaches as scheduled to appear in mid 2022, two years after the first consist arrives. It might be that it doesn't mention lounges because those have been removed from the order, or it could be that the presentation is just about coaches, as also might be inferred. Not saying one way or the other – it's ambiguous. It'll be interesting to see what they actually do.

The lack of beer aside, there's nothing wrong with vending machines as such. What matters is what's put in them and how often and diligently they're restocked. Modern vending machines are pretty capable – there's not a significant difference between getting a pre-packaged sandwich or salad from a machine versus from a person. The important thing is to get from point A to point B conveniently, safely and on time.
 

jis

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I was on the Piedmonts in North Carolina Raleigh - Salisbury - Raleigh a week back. Vending machines work just fine on those trains. Their total run is about three hours. So yes, vending machines can be made to work on short to medium run regional trains. The proportion of people who were expecting excellent, or for that matter any cuisine, on those trains was probably minuscule anyway.
 

TheTuck

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While I agree that the SJJPA's complaints about Amtrak's high costs and low transparency are noteworthy, let's not forget how much money was wasted on the Fresno-Sacramento commuter train. The SJJPA was behind this idea, which failed miserably, and Amtrak played along as good partner would. Is there any accountability for their ridership studies which obviously missed the mark pretty bad here? Now they're trying to compare the ACE commuter trains to the San Joaquins. Apples and oranges, which is obvious to any professional passenger railroader. The proposals for vending machines further illustrate how little they understand about the trains they manage. They are only looking at dollars and cents, and trying to do more with less. Dare I say protecting their jobs?
 

jis

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They are only looking at dollars and cents, and trying to do more with less. Dare I say protecting their jobs?
Sounds like Amtrak, doesn't it? :p Well almost, as Amtrak appears to be trying to do less with more, since their federal subsidy has been increasing marginally while they are busy hacking away. ;)
 

rickycourtney

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...let's not forget how much money was wasted on the Fresno-Sacramento commuter train. The SJJPA was behind this idea, which failed miserably, and Amtrak played along as good partner would. Is there any accountability for their ridership studies which obviously missed the mark pretty bad here?
They had an idea, tried it, when it didn't work they admitted it and fixed it. That's how progress is made.

However, I do get a bit frustrated that there seems to be a bias towards improving Central Valley-Sacramento services, and not Central Valley-Southern California services.

I put that blame on the fact that the SJJPA has been told to avoid investing too much in infrastructure that would duplicate CAHSR, the state is investing in ACE's Valley Rail project that will add capacity for Central Valley-Sacramento services, and most of the board members are lawmakers who regularly travel to Sacramento (and overestimate how many normal business people do the same).
 

DSS&A

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In the mid-1990s, I understand that the State of Illinois received more than one price quote when one of their contracts was up for renewal. The State eventually stayed with Amtrak. Competing proposals are always a good idea.
 

jamess

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SJJPA is definitely biased towards Sacramento travel.

In the long-term, their plans make sense, once HSR is running. But right now it doesnt. Of course, theres nothing they can really do to improve connections to LA. Im of the opinion that they should think less about Sacramento and think more about the Bay Area. IE, right now the last "train" out is 5:30pm. Many people in the CV would rather go home at 8pm after enjoying a full day.

CC is a business train, the SJ is a leisure train. The schedules should reflect that.

and Amtrak played along as good partner would.
Did they have a choice? Is Amtrak a partner or a contractor?

The proposals for vending machines further illustrate how little they understand about the trains they manage. They are only looking at dollars and cents, and trying to do more with less. Dare I say protecting their jobs?
The goal is hourly service. Thats more similar to a commuter rail service than an Amtrak land cruise.


One question I have for them is what happened to all the 2008-2010 money earmarked to speed up the SJ. Lots of Obama and HSR prop money was earmarked for 90mph travel on the SJ. Where did the money go?
 

TheTuck

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SJJPA is definitely biased towards Sacramento travel.

Did they have a choice? Is Amtrak a partner or a contractor?
The arrangement has elements of both, and is rather unique for sure. It's in Amtrak's best interest to accommodate the requests of the JPA's, even if it means charging them more. This is where the frustration of the SJJPA started, as costs quoted by Amtrak ended up being too low. While Amtrak seems content just being a contractor and not having to made big decisions, they need to start acting more like partners, by actually knowing what it costs to run their trains. They should be able, and willing to provide data on virtually anything related to their services.
 
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