American Railroads

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Location: Middleburg (Jacksonville), Florida, United States

Published in Trains magazine, Railfan & Railroad, Passenger Train Journal

Sunday, August 27, 2006

More trains for San Jose

Six more trains are on the Capitol Corridors schedule starting this morning.

Priscilla Kalugdan, Marketing Manager for The Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority (CCJPA) on Friday reported more direct service to and from San Jose with the added commuter trains.

She said, in Oakland, the 52 percent increase in direct intercity train service between San Jose, the Bay Area and Sacramento coupled with a 30 percent increase in train service between Oakland and Sacramento, “is the largest service expansion in Capitol Corridor’s history. The new schedule will provide 14 daily trains to and from San Jose.”

She added, “When CCJPA began managing the Capitol Corridor service in 1998, there were eight daily trains and 463,000 passengers annually. In FY 2005, nearly 1.3 million passengers rode the Capitol Corridor trains. This number is expected to jump further with the increase in service for San Jose/Silicon Valley area.”

Eugene Skoropowski, CCJPA’s managing director, said, “Ridership has tripled in the past eight years, and continues to grow.”

He added, “Californians have a renewed interest in traveling by train as car travel has become unattractive with soaring gas prices and growing gridlock.”

He noted, “Passengers have asked for more service all along the corridor, and we’re delivering it to them, with no additional state or federal operating funds. For six years, the Capitol Corridor’s annual state subsidy to operate and manage the service has been level, about $23 million per year.”

Consulting contract given
to Assembly speaker’s wife

California’s South Coast Air Quality Management District awarded a $125,000 consulting contract to the wife of Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez at the same time the district is seeking legislation to cut train engine emissions.

Maria Robles, the wife of the Democratic leader from Los Angeles, won an April 7 bid to organize “international conferences on asthma and port emissions control technologies,” The Sacramento Bee reported Saturday via The AP.

The Southern California smog district is sponsoring legislation that would let it charge railroads fees that would be used to offset locomotive emissions. Railroads oppose the bill, but it cleared the Senate and is awaiting action in the Assembly.

Nunez’ spokesman, Steve Maviglio, said Robles signed a conflict-of-interest statement saying she can’t lobby on the bill, and that Nunez will abstain from voting if the bill reaches the Assembly floor.

“She has absolutely nothing to do with any legislation in the Assembly,” Maviglio said.

The contract creates the appearance of a conflict of interest, said Robert Stern of the Center for Governmental Studies and the author of the state’s Political Reform Act.

“The problem is they have to be very careful how it looks,” Stern said.

“She’s making a lot of money and he’s sharing it. There’s nothing illegal, but the perception is that’s an awful lot of money for doing what she’s doing.”

Smog board spokesman Sam Atwood said Robles has “outstanding credentials” to organize an asthma conference, in part because she did well with a smaller consulting contract last year when she was not married to Nunez.

Robles is a registered nurse and former health care provider who also is spokeswoman for the Yes on 86 tobacco tax initiative on the November ballot.

Robles beat a national firm that already has the smog district as a client.

Cliff Gladstein, president of Santa Monica-based Gladstein, Neandross and Associates said his firm was “highly qualified” to land the contract, but he didn’t know he was competing against the Assembly speaker’s wife.

A spokesman for the California Railroad Industry declined comment. The industry opposes the pending emissions fee bill by state Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, saying a U.S. Supreme Court decision means the district can’t regulate train pollution.

METRA gets new chairperson

Downers Grove attorney Carole Doris got METRA’s top post Friday, continuing Collar county oversight of the rail agency critical to suburban commuters. Doris replaces METRA’s only other chairman, McHenry County appointee Jeffrey Ladd, who retired in June.

Ladd helped create METRA in 1984 and headed the agency with few challenges to his leadership until board members swarmed this year to oust him in the face of budget shortfalls and a push for tax hikes to fund transit.

Ladd opposed such tax hikes, and Doris largely sidestepped the issue after taking her post Friday, the Chicago Daily Herald reported.

While Collar county leaders are clearly pleased to have one of their own continue suburban control of the agency, Doris said her home county shouldn’t expect any undue preference in future projects.

“DuPage isn’t going to get any more than [any other county],” said Doris, a former deputy attorney general under Jim Ryan.


Metra: UP failed to fill ’er up

A Chicago-bound commuter train ran out of gas on Wednesday.

A Union Pacific North Line train sputtered to a stop at Central Street in Evanston about 7:00 p.m., according to the Chicago Tribune, leaving 82 passengers stranded.

The problem was traced Thursday to a UP employee, said Metra spokeswoman Judy Pardonnet.

“An employee was told on a number of occasions to refuel the locomotive and failed to do so,” she said.

Riders reported that even the crew sounded bewildered when announcing that the train, which departed Kenosha at 5:51 p.m., had run out of fuel.

“I could hear them saying in disbelief, `We’re out of gas.’ Like they were trying to register it themselves,” said Chicago resident John Hines, 45, who was on the train.

Some stranded passengers waited an hour for the next train or used their cell phones to arrange for rides home. Others walked to their destinations or hopped on a Chicago Transit Authority train to finish their ride into Chicago.

Despite the inconvenience, several riders got a chuckle out of seeing a locomotive engineer in a predicament that usually befalls absent-minded or cash-strapped motorists.

“I thought they were only joking,” said Joan Ellis, 43, who takes the train nightly from her baby-sitting job in Lake Forest to her Evanston home.

Typically, locomotives on that line are filled with diesel fuel in a Chicago yard before heading north on the rail route, which runs between the Ogilvie Transportation Center and Kenosha, Pardonnet said – but on Wednesday, the Union Pacific employee never filled the tank, Pardonnet said.

The train left Ogilvie at 4:13 p.m. and made it to Kenosha without any problems, but on its way back to Chicago, it ran out of fuel north of the Central Street stop in Evanston and “sort of limped into the station,” Pardonnet said.

Another train had to push the disabled one back to Chicago, she added.

Union Pacific, which operates Metra trains on the North Line, apologized to riders.

“We regret that and certainly apologize to the commuters and those who were affected,” said Union Pacific spokesman Joe Arbona.

“It was not our intention.”

Train crews are responsible for monitoring fuel levels, said Arbona, who did not provide details about the incident. He would not say if the employee who failed to refuel the locomotive or anyone else was suspended or fired.

“That’s a personnel question and obviously we keep those private,” he said.

Rell takes some rides

Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell rode a Metro-North train on Friday, then returned in a Cadillac, to tout a $2.3 billion transportation bill that will improve railways, busways and highways, including commuter service and a new freight-rail link in New Haven.

“A strong transportation system is vital to a strong economy,” said Rell, applauding the massive investment after originally proposing to spend only one-sixth of that sum on transportation this year, the New Haven Independent reported.

The transportation bill, which adds to a $1.3 billion transportation package passed last year, focuses on improving public transportation as well as the state’s highways.

To New Haven, the bill brings funds to complete the rail link to the cargo operators at the Port of New Haven, so that freight can be lifted off trucks and onto freight cars. The city will also benefit from $146 million for new rail service from New Haven to Hartford to Springfield, as well as $25 million to rehabilitate coaches on Metro North.

New “Virginia” coaches should arrive by September, said Rell, who boarded a Metro-North train in Stratford to talk about the bill before a host of media cameras. The coaches are Virginia Railway Express hand-me-downs.

The bill also includes, according to the governor’s office, $11 million for a new train station in West Haven, plus some planning funds for a new station in Orange; $60 million for parking and station improvements; $45 million for branch line improvements; and several highway improvements.

The State Bond Commission also approved a fortnight ago $469 million for new coaches, which Kawasaki will build, said Rell.

“One of the things we often talk about is getting people off the highway, out of their cars, and into mass transit,” said Rell, “and yet we’re not going to be able to do that unless we give them a clean, safe train in which to ride.”

Rell noted 80 percent of Connecticut commuters drive alone to work; 9 percent carpool and 4 percent use public transportation. She said she had no specific plans to encourage carpooling or bicycling to work, but would consider using incentives to encourage businesses to encourage employees to carpool or ride mass transit.

Rell’s opponent in the governor’s race, Democrat John DeStefano, said Rell was touting legislators’ accomplishments for the purposes of her own campaign. The bill was signed on June 6, but Rell waited until after the Democratic primary to reannounce, and re-sign, the bill, noted DeStefano campaign spokesman Derek Slap.

He also said that Rell didn’t show nearly as much vision or willingness to invest in transportation during her 2006 State of the State address, when she proposed spending only $344 million on transportation.

In a similar ride-along event in July, DeStefano proposed his own transportation reforms, including: “implementation of commuter rail along 91 and 84, creation of a Port of Connecticut to coordinate development of the state’s three ports, and the establishment of Bradley airport as truly an international airport.”

Rell’s press conference and train ride ended in Fairfield, where transportation officials said commuters must sit on a waiting list for “years” to land a parking space by the station. Rell got off the train, leaving the media entourage to wait 45 minutes for a train back to New Haven. Rell herself jumped into a Cadillac to head to a diner then drive back to East Haven for another press event.


ACE adds fourth train

Altamont Commuter Express riders today will begin a fourth daily weekday round-trip run between Stockton and San Jose.

It will give the Tri-Valley a late-morning westbound run and a midday return to the east, according to the Contra Costa, Cal. Times.

The new train will take the place of the daily Amtrak bus now operating between Stockton and San Jose, just as a major widening project on Interstate 205 in San Joaquin County gets under way. The train, Caltrans officials say, should be substantially faster than a bus negotiating construction delays on the freeway.

The new fourth train will leave Stockton on weekdays at 9:30 a.m., arriving in San Jose at 11:40 a.m. The return trip would turn around only 25 minutes after arrival in San Jose, ending up back in Stockton at 2:15 p.m., according to the new schedule.

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