ARPA Member Recognized December 21st, 1997
From the Tempe Transportation Division’s Winter 1997 newsletter, Local Motion:
“Bob Barber, Tempe resident, began participating in municipal affairs when the city established commissions on two of his interests: arts and transportation. He served on the Transportation Committee for nine years before the Transportation Commission was formed and was then appointed a commissioner. His term expires at the end of 1997…
“Bob would like to see the Transportation Commission be the catalyst in developing a suburban rail system using the Union Pacific line from the state Capitol to the East Valley. He was a supporter of commuter rail back in the days of ValTrans but considered the elevated system in ValTrans too expensive…
“Hats off to you Bob for your dedication and time you have devoted during the past ten years to improving transportation in Tempe. Let us hope that some day soon there will be a passenger rail line in the Valley… for you, your grandchildren and their children.”
Rail Passenger Advocates And Amtrak: A Future? December 21st, 1997
Guest Editorial by Dr. Adrian Herzog, Vice President, URPA, December 1997
Agreed, we as rail passenger advocates are all in this together, but what now? The loss of service on the Desert Wind and Pioneer is an inconvenience for rail advocates but a complete catastrophe in those communities where we asked the local community to invest in station improvements. The loss of some frequency will, of course, undermine support for Amtrak anywhere; the complete removal of service has the effect of turning off support and making neutral observers actively hostile to Amtrak funding.
This is the situation in the Southwest, where the political support for Amtrak is essentially ZERO, but the interests of states like Arizona in regional rail are rapidly growing. Now, should Arizona RPA ally itself with an Amtrak that has no political support, or with the emerging local forces that are in favor of regional rail? This is not an easy decision to make since we all were part of the creation of Amtrak, but politics being what they are, and Associations needing to work with local politics, the result has been a rapidly emerging alliance with local politics in support of regional rail in which Amtrak has actively taken itself out of the picture by:
- Indicating that they don’t do these things in places like Arizona while bidding against the UP for the contract to run Metrolink trains in L.A.
- Taking the only train they had out of Phoenix just before the next local pro-rail ballot attempt to pass a regional sales tax initiative similar to the ones in California.
In California, Amtrak has never been supportive of efforts to improve service. At no time have they made any significant dollar investments in our corridors. Infrastructure work on the LA-San Diego line, essentially double tracking 80+ miles of the line, is now in full swing with only extremely marginal and reluctant Amtrak participation. The bulk of the investment is from the State and from our local sales tax initiatives. The situation is even more stacked politically against Amtrak here. Due to Amtrak’s constant lack of cooperation with the cities and counties that own the corridor, the local political powers are eager to “get rid of Amtrak ASAP.” The UP and BNSF have already indicated that they will submit operating proposals to compete against Amtrak for the contract to operate Metrolink. Now, should we at RailPAC ally ourselves with Amtrak in this situation?
Amtrak has wasted the last 25 years during which they should have built a strong national political base. Asking rail passenger supporters to build this base, when at the same time they undermine it, is a bit difficult. Western rail passenger associations are in open revolt for a simple reason. We have gotten nothing from Amtrak except hostility and outright sabotage of our efforts. Amtrak must therefore be either reformed or replaced so that we have an institution that realizes that the game is not only to run a few trains, but to constantly work with local advocates and each and every community served so that politically every community from Boston to Laramie and L.A. feels that these trains belong to them and that they should support them with ridership, with political and financial support. It is the neglect of this fundamental rule of politics that has brought Amtrak to the present crisis.
Attacking Arizona RPA or URPA or RailPAC for distancing themselves from Amtrak without knowing the political reasons is counterproductive. Asking us to blindly support the current system is a waste of time.
Commuter Rail Wrapup December 21st, 1997
Calif. / Nevada
As of October 26, there are ten daily San Diegans. Capitol corridor trains now carry over 500,000 annually.
Los Angeles’ Metrolink recorded over 900 riders on its trial Saturday Lancaster line service, almost 1/3 of weekday ridership on that line (with 3 roundtrips instead of the usual 5). All Metrolink’s lines posted ridership gains this year.
Los Angeles â€” Las Vegas service should begin Summer 1998 using San Diegan equipment until the new Talgo trains are ready. With the advent of the Las Vegas service, Amtrak West has “adopted” Nevada, according to Gil Mallery at the NARP convention. (Asked whether Amtrak West could proceed to take over the states west of the Mississippi one-by-one, Mallery declined to comment.)
The Chicago METRA North Central serviceâ€”serving communities from Antioch to Chicago via the O’Hare transfer station, doubled its ridership in its debut year. As Chicago’s first new rail line since 1928, it saw an average of 1,905 daily trips in August 1996. As ridership grew, an additional round-trip was added; and ridership by August 1997 had skyrocketed to 3,773.
METRA plans to double-track much of the line to allow over twice as many daily trains (22 vs. the current 10). Ken Bird, president of the Illinois Association of Railroad Passengers, says the North Central experience demonstrates that “there’s always been a pent-up demand for this, and it’s only going to increase. People are tired of cluttered highways. Once you get on a train, you don’t want to go back.”
On September 29, the MBTA opened the Boston-Plymouth/Kingston and Boston-Middleborough/Lakeville segments of the “new Old Colony” commuter rail line. Initial ridership bears out the expectation that these trains will be a popular alternative to the highly congested Southeast Expressway.
TrainRiders/Northeast says the cost of completely rebuilding the railroad with new track, signal systems and grade crossings, and 13 new stations was $537 million.
“August ridership on the trains running between Vancouver, BC, Seattle and Portland and Eugene hit the highest single-month total in Amtrak’s history. Just under 56,000 people rode our three Northwest Corridor trains or the Coast Starlight in the corridor… DOT estimates 5 million passenger miles were eliminated from I-5.” [Washington ARP Rail News]
Commuter rail trials in Ohio, from Madison and Lorain to Cleveland, were judged successes this November.
According to the Akron Beacon-Journal, “more than 500 people took advantage of the one-day [Madison] demonstration… filling most seats. Laketran General Manager Frank Polivka said it was fitting that the long-anticipated commuter rail demonstration Wednesday between Cleveland and Madison came on a day when heavy snow and icy roads snarled car and truck traffic: “…Never in our wildest dreams did we think there would be this kind of interest in this.”
Similar crowds greeted the run between Cleveland and Lorain, says RTA General Manager Ron Tober: “There’s tremendous interest in commuter rail.”
The Beacon-Journal reports, “The suburban commuter rail experiment, which is expected to cost about $65,000, was held to show federal officials that it’s possible to establish such service on existing Conrail tracks… With the anticipated breakup of Conrail, Tober said, RTA and Laketran want to ensure that federal officials reviewing the future of area rail lines are aware of the region’s desire to establish commuter rail service.”
Ken Prendergast of Ohio ARP recorded these comments from riders:
“The movement of people into the city, and from the city out to outlying communities is vitally important. (But) it makes no sense to put more money into roads that bring more congestion and pollution when there are tracks already available.” â€“ Jay Westbrook, President, Cleveland City Council
“Transit was an afterthought when it comes to development. There is a growing awareness that we should use rail to get people to where the jobs are.” â€“ Thomas Coyne, Mayor, Brook Park
“It’s a quick, efficient way of moving people. We should pursue it.” â€“ Dennis Clough, Mayor, Westlake
“This is really thrilling. The opportunities that go through your mind in terms of economic development are really exciting.” â€“ Vince Urbin, Mayor, Avon Lake
Other officials, like Bay Village Mayor Tom Jelepis and Lakewood Mayor Madeline Cain, were overheard as saying that the commuter demonstration whetted their appetites for seeking a permanent service.
Mr. Prendergast notes an interesting point from the above quotes: Unlike many highway widenings, which tend to occur in developing areas, a new commuter rail service, such as these, represents a simultaneous investment in both established and developing communities.
Trip Report December 21st, 1997
On May 29 we left Phoenix at 6:25 pm to take the Sunset to Los Angeles. There were 10 people on the Thruway bus… a very hot ride, the a/c did not cool us until we were almost to Tucson. I am sure if Thomas Downs had to ride this bus he would have the train in Phoenix in a short time.
The Sunset was supposed to leave at 9:05 pm but we finally left at 11:30 pm. We did arrive in time to connect with the Starlight, Amtrak’s flagship train. They even have a separate parlor car for sleeping car passengers. The scenery along the ocean was terrific, and the train was crowded…
Returning from Tucson were about a dozen people on the Thruway bus.
On our Houston trip, we arose at 3 am to catch the 4:45am bus to Tucson. The station looked deserted and very dreary. Again ten on the bus… we found the dining car staff and sleeping car attendants very friendly and helpful. The Sunset Limited is much improved…
The trip to Houston is not very scenic but we enjoyed it. Our train got back to Tucson at 11:30 pm, and we arrived at Phoenix at 2:30 am. I will never be happy until the Sunset returns to Phoenix.
[Editor's Note: While the Sunset Limited still stopped in Phoenix, annual ridership in the Valley was 31,000 â€” an average of about 50 people on and 50 off the train. ARPA understands that the 10 or so people Mr. Collins saw on the bus was a higher than average number. In any case, 10 people on the Thruway bus represents an 80% decline in Phoenix ridership. With UP having announced that the Phoenix West Line will not be abandoned, I see no reason the Sunset should not serve this nation's sixth largest city.]
Ohio Perspective December 21st, 1997
From Ken Prendergast’s column in the OARP News:
“Amtrak is [extending the Pennsylvanian] because Chicago has some mail and express shipments to offer. Ohio just happens to be along the way…
“For some reason, Amtrak officials think we’ll keep riding, regardless of how many 3 a.m. trains they throw at us. Give decent arrivals and departures to a city, with good advertising and an attractive station, and you get great ridership, as has occurred at Toledo. Ridership this year may double last year’s 100,000. When the Capitol Limited was arriving Cleveland before midnight, 76,000 people got on and off it. When it was rescheduled to arrive hours later each night, ridership plunged by 25,000.
“I guess they didn’t learn before sending a proposal to the Ohio Rail Development Commission for a Cleveland/Cincinnati/Columbus train. The train’s schedule would have been as inconvenient as trains already serving Ohio. ‘Why must we pay to get more bad service?’ ORDC smartly reasoned.
“Need more evidence of Amtrak’s disregard for Ohio? This fall, Amtrak is airing 30-second TV commercials in 46 U.S. cities, none in Ohio. So Amtrak keeps running past a golden opportunity called Ohio. That’s too bad, especially for a company that’s trying to grow its business. Sometimes, you just don’t know what you’re missing when you’re asleep.” ]