Thursday, September 12, 2013

Updated: The Surfliner is not the Coaster: #noNCTD

I am reposting this from last spring, because apparently they are actually going to do this starting in October.  As I said then, this is a TERRIBLE idea.  The 784 can seldom make its schedule as it is, and now they think they can throw in 3 extra stops between Oceanside and Solana Beach without affecting anyone?  784 is a commuter-heavy train, and as I said previously, if I can drive between OSD and SOL faster than Amtrak will do it, why shouldn't I just get a (cheaper) Metrolink monthly and leave from OSD?

With the new Amtrak schedules, we regular Surfliner commuters were shocked to learn that there's a plan to have some Pacific Surfliner trains make Coaster stops, particularly the heavily used, commuter-popular 784 (the 5.10pm departure from LA south), and the later trains.

The Surfliner is an inter-city service that carries many long-distance commuters in the San Diego-Los Angeles corridor (known as LOSSAN).  The Coaster is a local commuter train that effectively stops at every lamp post, like a dog.  As we sang to the children when they were young, "one of these things is not like the other...."

If you are going all the way to downtown, you will be arriving at least 15 minutes later.Normally, it takes 13min to go from OSD to SOL on the Surfliner.  Now, it will be more than 20.  I can drive between those stations in less than that time.

The RailPac blog has a letter to Caltrans about this.  Among the points they make:
Eliminating the opportunity to regain lost time by adding 4 stops on certain trains can only result in reduced reliability and worsening of the consequences of an incident on the line.
There is also lost revenue--from the cost of stopping and starting a train,and  mis-estimates of passenger usage:  that is, will there be enough Coaster butts on seats to cover the costs and inconvenience?  And this:
Study after study both within the USA and overseas has demonstrated the correlation between improved speed and patronage. This proposal reduces speed and decreases reliability and punctuality, and will drive away the business and end point to end point passenger.
That would be me, and a lot of my fellow commuters.  If we can drive up to OSD in less time than the Amtrak will cover the distance, well....let's be honest, Metrolink passes are cheaper.

And as a CA taxpayer, should you be funding local service?
The rolling stock and locomotives for the Surfliner were purchased with funds both from the federal government and voter approved bonds for intercity service. This is also true of the cars ordered under proposition 1B to be delivered in the next few years. This new rolling stock is specified to operate at up to 125mph, with business and café cars. Both the existing and new build cars are neither designed nor appropriate for multiple stop commuter service. It could be argued that this proposal represents a misuse and possible illegal diversion of funds from state intercity service to a local commuter agency.
Here's how they finish their letter, and I think they are right.
What the Surfliner service needs is a long period of punctual, reliable service, together with low cost route and station specific advertising to maximize high fare patronage. This needs to be followed by continued incremental improvements that reduce journey times. One of the biggest complaints I hear from people who have tried the Surfliner once but don’t want to go again is the number of stops and the overall journey time. We must hold the line and not permit any further deterioration in the competitiveness of the product.
When they open up the Surfliner in Pendleton and it cruises by the traffic on I-5 faster than any driver--well, that's what will bring people to the train.  But you can't move at speed if you keep stopping (a lesson for the HSR folks, but that's for another blog).

People also critique the plan at this discussion board.

If you have an opinion on this, let CalTrans know.  Really, it's worth printing out a letter and faxing it or mailing it!  Here's the address:
Mr. William D. Bronte,
Chief, Division of Rail
Department of Transportation
1120 N Street MS 74
Sacramento, CA 95814


GNS said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
GNS said...

Good post. The whole thing feels like a slap in the face to us loyal Surfliners. The little Coaster will benefit at the expense of hundreds going further every day of the week.

Honestly the Coaster seems like an orphan that screws up would could be one nicely integrated system. If it were up to me I'd extend Metrolink to downtown SAN and retire the Coaster.

Anonymous said...

I'm holding out hope that the stops haven't been implemented yet because somebody realized it was a stupid idea and is working to put a stop to it.

My understanding is that this is a Coaster/NCTD initiative. Apparently part of the HSR funding depends on farebox recovery. Coaster's farebox recovery is incredibly low so they're desperate for ways to boost their farebox recovery without cutting service.

Also, notice that 565 is running fairly reliably post-express? The one ongoing benefit to running the express train was that it pushed Metrolink 687 back behind the Amtrak, instead of ahead of it (as it used to be), and Metrolink has not made an attempt to change that back. This has apparently GREATLY improved the ability of 565 to hold its schedule.

IT said...

I have noticed that 565 is reliable (except today, when a Coaster broke down in front of it!) and that has been GREAT.

Anonymous said...

We're you on when Coaster broke down?

Noel Braymer said...

North County Transit has just announced that starting October 8 three Surfliner round trips will begin making all Coaster stops. Go to