Monday, September 30, 2013

How can you add three stops and no time? #nonctd

I've argued strongly that having Amtrak make Coaster stops in San Diego is a Bad Idea.    It is a feat of astounding stupidity to have several Amtrak trains including the commuter-heavy 784 making Coaster stops, adding three stops (Carlsbad Village, Poinsettia, and Encinitas) between Oceanside and Solana Beach.

Let's have a little thought game, shall we?

How long does it take to get from OSD to SOL? And does the fact of making intermediate stops make a difference?

Let's look at some schedules.
Friday night coaster 664 dep OSD 6.35 arr Sol 7.02   (27 min)
Amtrak 580 dep OSD 556  arr Sol 612  (16 min)
Fri night Amtrak  784 deep OSD 7.03   arr Sol 7.25 (22 min)

The  scheduled arrival time of the 784 in SOL  is 7.25pm. If we look at its arrival time over the last few weeks,  it's getting there right around 7.25, and on occasion, even a few minutes early.  So, the schedule is pretty accurate.

9/30 7.26
9/27 7.28
9/25 7.27
9/24 7.24
9/23 7.24
9/20 7.23
9/19 7.22
9/18  7.28

BUT here's the thing.  The schedule actually includes the stops, even though the 784 is not making them right now.  So, WITHOUT stopping, 784 gets to SOL at the scheduled time of 7.25.  Do you really believe it can slow down and stop 3 times  between OSD and SOL and still get to SOL at 7.25?   I'm thinking not, but time will tell.

Expect some hot-under-the-collar commuters from LA and the OC, when they find their long day is even longer, thanks to the Coaster.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Station to Station: the train

So, often I see private train cars in Union Station, usually hooked onto the end of a long-distance Amtrak.  I've been taking photos with the intent of doing a piece here on the Surfliner Stories blog.  Imagine my surprise today to find a consist with two Gennies, entirely made up of classic cars!

From The Huffpo  
Turns out it is an "Art Happening" called Station to Station, which explains why the only people I saw around it were cool hipster types.  I don't think I'm cool enough.  In fact, I know I'm not, because I was much more interested in taking pictures of the train cars.

Originally, the artist Doug Aitken whose idea this is, wanted the train to look something like the picture at the right.  Yeah, well, I guess that didn't work out.

Instead, they are using a consist made up of private train cars, mostly classics.  They have a description of most of them on their web page that includes a lot of interior pictures.  Quite a few of these cars are from the old Hiawatha service of the "Milwaukee Road", which was a famous streamliner-style passenger train.

They ARE pretty neat. Here are a few pictures:

Lambert's Point is a luxury sleeper/lounge car dates from 1914, and
has carried many famous political candidates on their "whistle stop" train tours. 

See those 3 rows of sparkly dots along the side?   Those are color changing LEDs
that are flicking on and off. MOst of the cars had them.  I guess this is part of the art.  

Nice dome.  Apparently this is the dining car;  downstairs is the kitchen. 

This is the classic "Skytop" lounge car, built in 1948.

Another view of the Skytop. Looks oddly modern in a retro way.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Another specialty paint job: Amtrak 42, honoring veterans

Here is locomotive 42, which is painted in a specialty scheme to honor veterans (more info here).  It was sitting at the Middle Track of Indignity at LAUS on Weds, which is where they tend to drop off mis-behaving locomotives.  I don't know if it was misbehaving, but an F59 hooked up to it right as I took these pictures, and took it back to the yard.

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