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

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MARC Rider

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The goal is hourly service. Thats more similar to a commuter rail service than an Amtrak land cruise.
The Northeast Regionals, Acelas, Pacific Surfliners, Empire Service, Keystones, etc. have hourly or close to hourly service. Are they commuter rail service, too?

And, please, none of the Amtrak California service can be considered a "land cruise," whatever that is. In fact, the use of the term for Amtrak long-distance service is misleading, and I think it's just a slur used by opponents of Amtrak or long-distance train service in general.

While it's true that most people traveling long distances aren't going to take the train due to available cheap airline fares, there's a significant minority of the population who can't (for medical reasons) or won't fly. Then there's the population of people who can't or won't drive. Then there are people who appreciate being able to have a one-seat ride from their rural town into a major metropolitan area without having to deal with the horrible traffic in the major metropolitan area (hi, Chicago! :) ) In short, most of the people riding the long-distance trains are using it for real transportation and not as a "land cruise." The relatively few riders who do ride the LD trains as "land cruises" are just gravy to Amtrak, and simply add to the market for the service.

Although long-distance train service may not have the largest market share or be the most profitable enterprise, it's certainly a legitimate use of taxpayer dollars to provide a social benefit, and certainly more so than the taxpayer dollars spent on providing 9-seat puddle-jumper flights from small towns that are an easy drive from a major airport. (hi, Hagerstown! :) ) Or, for that matter, four lane limited-access highways that traverse unpopulated expanses, which is a lot of the Interstate Highway System out west.
 

rickycourtney

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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.
My personal complaint is the Valley - Southern California service. It's frustrating that the first southbound train of the day doesn't leave Fresno until nearly 10 am and doesn't get you to SoCal destinations until around 2:30pm.

But again, in 2013, when the SJJPA was formed, the CAHSR project seemed a lot stronger. At the time, the plan was to build a system to connect SoCal, the Central Valley, and the Bay Area. Spending money to improve the system would have been called wasteful. But now in 2019, when the project is years behind schedule, has been scaled back to Merced-Bakersfield (and possibly hosting San Joaquin trains on the HSR tracks), it would've been nice to invest in the South Valley and Bay Area segments.

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.
Right, which was the whole genesis of this discussion. Amtrak should be financially transparent and share data with its customers (in this case the SJJPA and the state of California).
 

me_little_me

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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.
Didn't work for the handicapped man (I believe he was blind) that used to sell fresh BBQ sandwiches on the Piedmonts before they decided to replace him with vending machines.
 

TiBike

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My personal complaint is the Valley - Southern California service. It's frustrating that the first southbound train of the day doesn't leave Fresno until nearly 10 am and doesn't get you to SoCal destinations until around 2:30pm.
You're lucky :). The first Salinas to LA service leaves at 7:30am and arrives 3:30 pm, including a 5 hour bus ride to Santa Barbara. I agree, though. Connecting the San Joaquin Valley to Southern California should have highest priority for upgrades. Connectivity to the Bay Area and Sacramento is excellent by comparison. If a reasonable rail solution to the Bakersfield-LA segment ever comes about, I could see the case for shifting resources from the coast route. Wouldn't suit me personally, but it would provide faster service to a lot more people. I think that segment should be the next priority for HSR money, however it's used.
 

seat38a

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You're lucky :). The first Salinas to LA service leaves at 7:30am and arrives 3:30 pm, including a 5 hour bus ride to Santa Barbara. I agree, though. Connecting the San Joaquin Valley to Southern California should have highest priority for upgrades. Connectivity to the Bay Area and Sacramento is excellent by comparison. If a reasonable rail solution to the Bakersfield-LA segment ever comes about, I could see the case for shifting resources from the coast route. Wouldn't suit me personally, but it would provide faster service to a lot more people. I think that segment should be the next priority for HSR money, however it's used.
It's all about those tunnels. Part of the whole fiasco with HSR has been the result of keep kicking the tunnel problem down the road. I personally think we need a multi modal tunnel to get from SoCal to Central Valley which allows both freight and HSR. Charge a toll to use the tunnel and the one that pays gets to use it.

Now having said that, can anyone chime in if a base tunnel would be more benneficial for freight than Tehachapi?

Not 100% sure how it would be financed and built but I strongly believe the State should have ZERO management role in its construction.
 

neroden

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If we had a different sort of freight rail operator in this country, a base tunnel would be highly beneficial. Switzerland's two giant base tunnels were specifically part of a deal with the EU under which Switzerland could restrict truck traffic, and instead send the trucks piggyback through the base tunnels. It works.

The incompetent and backward-looking freight rail operators we *do* have in the US wouldn't know what to do with a base tunnel. They've been focusing on chasing away customers and increasing unreliability with Imprecision Unscheduled Railroading.
 

neroden

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Not 100% sure how it would be financed and built but I strongly believe the State should have ZERO management role in its construction.
The actual issue is that the State doesn't have in-house expertise regarding construction of this sort, which means that the state doesn't have a way to spot when they're being cheated by contractors, or a way to crack down. CHSRA is mostly subcontracting the oversight of the construction contractors, which turns out to be a really bad business model if you want to avoid cost overruns. It's actually essential to have permanent, in-house, salaried employees who are capable of sanity-checking the bids you get.

This is, in my opinion, one of the largest problems with infrastructure construction costs in the US.
 

jiml

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How would a tunnel of that length and scope reconcile with California's physical "instability", fault lines, etc.? Would the risk outweigh the benefits?
 

Steve4031

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How would a tunnel of that length and scope reconcile with California's physical "instability", fault lines, etc.? Would the risk outweigh the benefits?

They have long tunnels all over Japan. There is a system that detects seismic activity and stops the Shinkansen trains whenever there is significant seismic activity.
 

rickycourtney

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The actual issue is that the State doesn't have in-house expertise regarding construction of this sort, which means that the state doesn't have a way to spot when they're being cheated by contractors, or a way to crack down. CHSRA is mostly subcontracting the oversight of the construction contractors, which turns out to be a really bad business model if you want to avoid cost overruns. It's actually essential to have permanent, in-house, salaried employees who are capable of sanity-checking the bids you get.

This is, in my opinion, one of the largest problems with infrastructure construction costs in the US.
Wholeheartedly agree, but dishonest bidding is problem across the world. Marketplace had a fantastic story about the problems facing the Crossrail project the other day. The best quote in the piece: “The trouble is, when contractors bid for a large and complex (project), they almost always understate the costs and the difficulty. If they tell the truth, they won’t get the job because they’ll be more expensive than their competitors."

The quote is very applicable to CAHSR and most infrastructure construction projects here in the US.
How would a tunnel of that length and scope reconcile with California's physical "instability", fault lines, etc.? Would the risk outweigh the benefits?
LA Metro and BART have successfully built subway tunnels that have rode out California earthquakes. A Caltech professor says "Structures which are underground are less vulnerable to shaking than structures at the surface." Curbed LA has a pretty good primer on the subject.
 
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seat38a

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Wholeheartedly agree, but dishonest bidding is problem across the world. Marketplace had a fantastic story about the problems facing the Crossrail project the other day. The best quote in the piece: “The trouble is, when contractors bid for a large and complex (project), they almost always understate the costs and the difficulty. If they tell the truth, they won’t get the job because they’ll be more expensive than their competitors."

The quote is very applicable to CAHSR and most infrastructure construction projects here in the US.

LA Metro and BART have successfully built subway tunnels that have rode out California earthquakes. A Caltech professor says "Structures which are underground are less vulnerable to shaking than structures at the surface." Curbed LA has a pretty good primer on the subject.
During the Loma Prieta quake in 1989, the BART tunnels survived, the Bay Bridge and much of the freeways not so much,
 

jamess

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The Northeast Regionals, Acelas, Pacific Surfliners, Empire Service, Keystones, etc. have hourly or close to hourly service. Are they commuter rail service, too?
In many ways, yes. Demand, as shown by ticket prices, is heavily tilted towards trains that arrive at a major CBD at 9am and leave at 5pm. You can also buy a monthly pass, and many of the passengers are regulars.

Unlike Ohio, theres not much activity at the train stations at 3am.

And, please, none of the Amtrak California service can be considered a "land cruise,"
Correct. Amtrak California service is more commuter-focused in nature than all the national Amtrak trains that serve California.

My personal complaint is the Valley - Southern California service. It's frustrating that the first southbound train of the day doesn't leave Fresno until nearly 10 am and doesn't get you to SoCal destinations until around 2:30pm.
The good news is that in January, you will be able to buy a ticket on the 7am bus from Fresno to LA without a connecting rail segment.
 

rickycourtney

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The good news is that in January, you will be able to buy a ticket on the 7am bus from Fresno to LA without a connecting rail segment.
I'm crossing my fingers that SJJPA adds a southbound stop at Santa Clarita/Newhall on the early morning bus once "bus only" tickets sales start!
 

gswager

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Can you give me a source about buying a ticket to ride Ambus without using rail ticket? I've been using a loophole for a while- buy bus on first segment and then rail on second segment to avoid cancellation.
 

jamess

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Can you give me a source about buying a ticket to ride Ambus without using rail ticket? I've been using a loophole for a while- buy bus on first segment and then rail on second segment to avoid cancellation.
The law was changed 2 months ago to allow it.

Amtrak California says they will start allowing unlinked purchases in January, on some routes, and expanding over time.
 

jis

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Unlike Ohio, theres not much activity at the train stations at 3am.
Interestingly, around 3am there is probably more action at many Amtrak stations on the NEC than there is at stations in Ohio, specially if one takes into account MNRR, LIRR and NJT actions in addition to Amtrak ones. ;)
 

rickycourtney

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seat38a

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This is great news since really outside of major markets like LA -> Bay Area and LA -> Las Vegas etc, there really isn't that many viable bus options for visiting smaller cities. Amtrak California Thruways have much better bus services in state. It won't be cheap, relative to the private bus operators, but I'd rather have the option to go from Fullerton to Palm Springs without having to purposely book from Anaheim just so I meet the train requirement.
 

rickycourtney

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It's a win-win-win: the train services will generate additional revenue by selling seats on these buses that would've otherwise gone unsold, it expands travel options in the state, and it comes at virtually no extra cost.

There is a catch and SJJPA has already recognized it: they need to be careful to not oversell seats on the buses. For example, the SJJPA doesn't want to deny a seat to someone looking to travel between Fresno and Palm Springs because someone purchased the last remaining seat to travel between Riverside and Palm Springs.
 

seat38a

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It's a win-win-win: the train services will generate additional revenue by selling seats on these buses that would've otherwise gone unsold, it expands travel options in the state, and it comes at virtually no extra cost.

There is a catch and SJJPA has already recognized it: they need to be careful to not oversell seats on the buses. For example, the SJJPA doesn't want to deny a seat to someone looking to travel between Fresno and Palm Springs because someone purchased the last remaining seat to travel between Riverside and Palm Springs.
Personally as a California Taxpayer, I'm ok with expanding Thruway Bus service with or without train service. Even add more frequencies to current routes. I'd like to be able to arrive at my local station, park in the free parking structure and jump on a train or a bus and get to where I want to go. Private bus companies have lobbied against this in the past but frankly outside of LA -> Bay Area, private bus services do not exist intra state direct or connecting.

Like yourself, I'm from Santa Clarita and I would love better options to get up there or other places.
 

TiBike

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It could solve some problems on the Central Coast, too, particularly morning service northbound to the Bay Area and evening service southbound. Big gaps there. Success with buses could help make the case for extending the Capitol Corridor to Salinas.

Managing seat availability is a problem, but it's not unique and it's been solved before. Allowing standees can deal with glitches.
 
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