Tag: amtrak

New Bill Allows Amtrak California to Sell Bus Tickets Without Restrictions

A new bill, ” SB 742, Intercity passenger rail services: motor carrier transportation of passengers.” has been signed into law by the Governor that will allow Amtrak to sell bus tickets without a rail component.

Amtrak California Map. Light green are bus routes.

Amtrak California operates an extensive “thruway” bus network that provides vital links to cities that don’t have regular rail service. Bakersfield-LA is the most important link, but there are lines all over the state hitting medium and smaller cities without train service.

The catch is, you can only buy a ticket as part of a rail trip. For example, you can buy Fresno-Bakersfield-LA, but you cannot ONLY buy Bakersfield-LA on the bus. Click to read more!

Comparing Brightline and Amtrak Ridership

The Brightline rail line in Florida has been an exciting rail project that I surprisingly have never posted about. It is a passenger rail line that operates between Miami and West Palm Beach, with plans to expand to Orlando and Tampa. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, you might know it by its original name – All Aboard Florida – or the company that built it – Florida East Coast Railway. To make it more confusing, they recently received an investment from Richard Branson and will be rebranding as Virgin Trains USA.

1920px-Brightline_Trains_at_Workshop_b
Brightline train yard. Wikipedia.

What makes the line so interesting is that it is the first real private rail line to operate in the US in decades. Ok, there are some private trains that do leisure trips around a canyon at 20mph, but this rail line is designed for actual travel. Click to read more!

A Look at Amtrak California Ridership – June 2019

Has it really been over two years since I last looked at ridership on the Amtrak California routes? That’s a surprise! Here are the other posts I made taking a look at ridership and trends:

There’s a good reason for this delay. Amtrak has made the ridership numbers a lot less transparent. Instead of reporting the riders per route in an easy table, they are now reporting “year to date.” So to know the ridership in March, you need to know the ridership for the previous month, and subtract the difference. Easy enough…if those reports were on their website. Nope, they only keep the last three online. I’ve done my best to find all the reports using google and the Internet Archive, but unfortunately, I cannot find March to August 2017. On top of that, the numbers are now rounded. They also changed how they report revenue. Click to read more!

Major improvements in rail service coming to Northern Central Valley

I love plans. I have also learned that every plan should be read with a heavy dose of skepticism because many of them don’t go anywhere. California publishes a State Rail Plan every couple of years, and it is always full of exciting ideas, including new rail lines, increased service, and better operations. However, I never post about those plans because most of them just never happen, so why waste time? For example, from the State Rail Plan:

The Riverside County Transportation Commission (RCTC) has been studying passenger service in a 141 mile rail corridor between Los Angeles Union Station and Indio, CA since 1991.

One such proposal I’ve seen a lot about involves a big increase in rail service in the northern part of the San Joaquin Valley including shifting the Amtrak San Joaquin over to a completely separate rail line into Sacramento, adding a bunch of stations, and increasing service. Cool stuff, but it’ll never happen, right?

Well, earlier this year, those plans were granted $500 million. Five hundred million! That’s real money to turn the plan into an actual operating rail line, so it’s time to take a very serious look at what is actually going to happen. This money is thanks to SB1, a law that is estimated to provide $52 billion over the next decade to transportation projects. Keep that in mind when you vote in November.

The state Thursday put another $500.5 million into expanding passenger rail connecting the Bay Area with Modesto and other inland cities.

Some of the money will go to extending the Altamont Corridor Expresss, which runs between Stockton and San Jose by way of Livermore and Fremont. It could reach Ceres by 2023 and Merced by 2027 with this funding on top of $400 million allotted last year.

The $500 million also will pay for expanding ACE north to Sacramento by 2020, including new stations to be shared with the current Amtrak service in that corridor.

All of the $900 million will come from the gasoline tax increase signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2017. The projects aim to provide comfortable rides for people who now drive to the Bay Area, where jobs are plentiful but housing is costly.
Modesto Bee Click to read more!

Major delays in new trains means no new 8th daily San Joaquin for now

Amtrak California was supposed to be welcoming a whole new fleet of bi-level trains this year. or last year. Who knows. They were funded way back in 2010 as part of stimulus package. You know, the package intended to create jobs fast with shovel-ready jobs.

sanjoaqin
The current two level trains and low floor platforms

Well something odd happened with that contract. The winning bidder (Nippon-Sharyo) couldn’t deliver. Here’s an article from April 2016.

A Japanese company hired to build new passenger railcars for regional Amtrak service has fallen years behind schedule and likely won’t complete the order before federal funding expires.

The stalled production undermines an ambitious plan to upgrade Amtrak service in California, Illinois, Michigan and Missouri and has highlighted the complexities foreign companies face in complying with made-in-the-U.S. requirements. Funding for about three-quarters of the 130-car order is tied to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

After repeated failures, engineers are now redesigning the car’s body shell. That and additional testing will take about two more years to complete, according to people familiar with the matter. The entire job was to be finished in 2018, with the stimulus-funded portion due for completion in 2017. Now, Nippon Sharyo isn’t expected to start production until 2018, people familiar with the work say. Click to read more!

A look at Amtrak California ridership – February 2017

With the news that the San Joaquin line is looking to get a new 8th daily train next year, I felt it was time to take a new look at Amtrak California ridership. This post looks at the most recent Amtrak report, which covers February 2017. Here are some older posts:

Since we last checked in, the San Joaquin received a new 7th daily train. Unfortunately, the addition of a new train has not resulted in higher ridership. In fact, it has gone down a tad.

The entire Amtrak system was down around 3%, compared to last February, which makes sense when you consider that February 2016 had one more day (leap year). Maybe doing these in February wasn’t the best idea, woops.

However, the San Joaquin line had the biggest drop in the entire system, 5.7% less than last year, and 10.8% less than projected. Stable ridership would be disappointing with the new frequency, but a decline is worrying. What’s going on? Unfortunately, it seems like reliability has taken a huge slide. The San Joaquin Rail Commission blames the wet winter, which created delays. Regardless of who’s to blame, the riders aren’t having it.

The San Joaquin was on time only 61.4% of the time in February (lowest since May 2014), and 71.2% in January. 

The San Joaquin was showing stable growth over a period of years, and was catching up to the Capitol Corridor.  However, the Capitol Corridor started recovering, while the San Joaquin has entered a slump. The Pacific Surfliner, on the other hand, keeps on growing. This past July it was just shy of hitting 300,000 riders in a single month.

Aside from delays, it is possible the new 7th daily train wasn’t scheduled at a time that customers would have liked. The Commission should look into shifting the times based on passenger feedback.

Onto the charts!

We begin with a chart showing all three California lines over the past 15 months. That allows us to see seasonal changes over the course of the year, and get a brief reference of year-on-year progress. Ridership is always highest during the summer.

Amtrakcal2

Now we look as far back as I have data – from October 2008 until February 2017. The Pacific Surfliner especially has huge shifts from winter to summer – maybe international tourists?

Amtrakcal1

And here are individual lines, showing the previous 5 years. The highest ridership month, July, is highlighted.

San Joaquin:

Amtrakcal3

Capitol Corridor:

Amtrakcal4

Pacific Surfliner:

Amtrakcal5

Finally, how these lines compare with other Amtrak lines (no changes in ranking from last year):

Amtrakcal6

I will try and do another one of these showing ridership as of July (so a post in September or October) to see how the San Joaquin did after a full year of 7 daily trains. July is also fun since it tends to be the highest, so we can see if the Pacific Surfliner breaks 300,000. 

Amtrak San Joaquin on Track for 8th Daily Train

It was just last June that the Amtrak San Joaquin line received a 7th daily train, and now planning for an 8th daily is well underway. The current target, according to the San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority, is January, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see that slip a month or two.

The plan is to offer a “morning express,” with service between Fresno and Sacramento. Currently, all trains originate in Bakersfield, with 5 going to Oakland, and 2 to Sacramento. Riders can reach either location the full 7 times thanks to bus transfers.

Currently, to reach Sacramento, Fresno customers can board a 6:18am train, and transfer to a bus in Stockton, arriving in Sacramento at 9:45am. OR, they can board a train at 7:53am, with direct service into Sacramento arriving at 11:20am.

By offering a train that originates in Fresno, the Authority can better accommodate those aiming to reach Sacramento for a morning meeting. While there wouldn’t be ridership south of Fresno, an optimized schedule could pump up ridership in the northern half of the valley. The plan is to eventually have trains arriving in both Oakland and Sacramento around 8am. The Oakland early train would be the next phase, a 9th daily train.

This is the current schedule between Bakersfield and Oakland (blue trains continue to Sacramento, passengers arrive in Oakland via bus connection). As you can see, an 8am arrival in Sacramento or Oakland simply doesn’t make sense for anyone coming from Bakersfield, as it would require a 2am departure. The full PDF is here.

To add a train from Fresno, they need to spend money to create a place where trains can be stored. The location has been identified as Annadale Avenue, between Chestnut and Willow (Google Maps). This would store two trains, and cost $1.5m.

Additionally, they plan on generating ridership (or accommodating ridership), by expanding the parking areas at various stations.

  • For Fresno, this would mean leasing 50 existing spaces from the city, across from the train station.
  • In Merced, a bus loop would be moved, adding 20 spaces.
  • Turlock would see the existing parking lot expanded into a dirt lot, for 50 new spaces.
  • Modesto would get 77 new spaces in a lot expansion, with the possibility of 124 new spaces to the south.
  • Stockton would get 42 new spaces, followed by 229 new spaces. 

It makes sense that Modesto and Stockton would get the most parking additions. They are closest to Sacramento, so they could see the most commuter use. This model has been successful for the Capitol Corridor line, which runs from Sacramento to San Jose, offering 15 daily trains from Sacramento to Oakland, and 7 from Sacramento to San Jose.

New parking also makes sense because many of the stations are far from residential areas. For example, here is where the new parking would go in Modesto:

modesto amtrak

Additionally, the stations are budgeted for minor enhancements, like new landscaping, way-findings, and lighting. Combined, this would be a little under $2.5m in new expenditures.

One thing that hasn’t been discussed is where the return trip will be slotted. Current trains leave Sacramento at 6:15am and 5:10pm. I could see the 5:10pm train moved slightly earlier (4:45pm?) with a new departure at 6:15pm to best serve commuters. The alternative would be a late train, around 9pm, to best serve tourists making the most of their day. A later train would also benefit those in the bay area. Right now, the last train out of Oakland is at 5:55pm. A 9pm Sacramento departure would allow an Oakland bus departure at 6:30pm, so they can meet in Stockton. Of course, a complete overhaul of the schedule would be an option as well.

For reference, I looked into the history of this train line in this post. Here is how service has slowly grown:

Before 1971 – Two daily trains (one by each freight railroad)
1971-1974 – No service
1974 – One daily Amtrak train
1979 – Amtrak proposes elimination, state steps in to fund a single train
1980 – Second daily train
1989 – Third daily train
1992 – Fourth daily train
1999 – Fifth train, first to serve Sacramento
2002 – Sixth train, second to serve Sacramento
2016 – Seventh train, fifth to Oakland
2018 (predicted) – Eight train, third to Sacramento

I last looked at ridership a year ago. I’ll do a post soon seeing if the 7th daily train has resulted in more riders. I’ll also take a look at improvements made in Stockton.

A look at Amtrak California ridership – February 2016

The recent news that the Amtrak San Joaquin line is getting a 7th daily train inspired me to ask, how is ridership doing? Long-time readers might remember that Amtrak ridership updates used to be a frequent (quarterly) feature on this blog, but the last one I did was in December…of 2012! Oops. Well, I’ve updated my spreadsheets, so let’s take a look at how ridership has been doing on California’s three state-supported Amtrak lines.

We begin with a chart showing all three California lines over the past 15 months. That allows us to see seasonal changes over the course of the year, and get a brief reference of year-on-year progress.

One thing popped out at me immediately.  See July 2015? See how close the San Joaquin is to the Capitol Corridor line? Turns out, that month, the San Joaquin had 90% as many riders as the Capitol Corridor. That’s huge. For reference, in July of 2009, the ratio was 66%, and in 2010, 63%. I did some additional digging and it looks like the highest it has ever been was July 2015, when the ratio was 94%.

This is even more impressive, because while the San Joaquin has been fighting for a 7th daily train, the Capitol Corridor line gets 15 round trips a day.

That indicates to me, that with the new train, the San Joaquin might surpass the Capitol Corridor in ridership for the first time ever – with half as many trains, and operating some hand-me-downs.

It’ll be hard to keep giving the San Joaquin 3rd tier status when ridership starts to exceed what has been a model corridor. As the new service starts in June, the July numbers will be very interesting indeed. I’ll report them when they get released in late September.

Viewing all three lines over 7 years shows how they’ve all grown and changed over time.

Now we see that the San Joaquin is showing the fastest growth, but the Pacific Surfliner is very healthy. Capitol Corridor is not doing so amazing. However, part of that reason was a change in accounting. In September of 2013, Amtrak changed how they calculated ridership from sales of 10-ticket packs. According to their reports.

In FY14, Amtrak began counting actual lifted ridership for multi-ride tickets (due to eTicketing), rather than the estimated multi-ride ridership used previously.

This impacted the Capitol Corridor line more than any other in the country, because so many riders are commuters. This change didn’t impact revenue at all however. What appears to have happened was that commuters were buying 10-packs, Amtrak was assuming they were riding – but they didn’t. Either they lost their tickets, or kept them in a drawer, or they expired. So Amtrak gets the money, but the seat went empty.

So in October 2012, ridership was reported as 150,461, and in 2013 for October, just 125,807. That’s a lot of expired tickets!

Here we can see each line, individually, from 2011 to now. July of each year has been highlighted as it tends to be the month with highest ridership.

San Joaquin:

Capitol Corridor

Pacific Surfliner

How does this compare nationally? Here are the top ten lines around the country for January and February of this year – the latest data available.

 
The order hasn’t moved much since 2012. One service that saw significant declined was DC-Newport News, but I believe that’s because Virginia added trains to other destination, so the ridership is now split between 3 lines instead of one.

What jumps out as always is that California makes a lot of sense for High Speed Rail. Always assumed to have low rail ridership by East-Coast media, train ridership in California is always strong. 

I hope to do these updates a little more often again, especially to see if the added service draws more riders thanks to a more convenient schedule.

Amtrak San Joaquin finally getting 7th daily train!

=&0=&is the planned date for when a 7th daily train will begin service on the Amtrak San Joaquin route which serves California’s Central Valley. Currently, 4 trains a day run from Bakersfield to Oakland, with two running from Bakersfield to Sacramento. Additional thruway bus service offers connections to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas, and a dozen other cities. The new train will run between Bakersfield and Oakland.

Final preparations for this addition to the schedule have been underway for about 6 months now. Although the service is run and branded by Amtrak, it is funded by California and currently managed by the “San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority” which took over from Caltrans in 2015. Since they took over, they have pushed to make the new 7th trip a reality. The new service will cost $7.4 million a year.

A new train, 709, will leave Bakersfield bright and early at 4am. Currently, the earliest train leaves at 4:45am. It will arrive in Fresno at 5:53am and Oakland at 9:53am. This schedule is designed to allow those in the Valley to enjoy a full day in the Bay Area.

Presumably, there will be a bus from Los Angeles which will meet the train. Currently the bus meeting the 4:45am train leaves LA at 1:30am. The new bus would leave LA at a more comfortable 12:45am, which allows bus riders to arrive at Union Station using the subway.

A new return train, 708, will leave Oakland at 3:55pm, arriving in Bakersfield at 10:04pm. This schedule closely mimics an existing bus connection that ties in with a Sacramento train.

I assume other train times, including the Sacramento departure, will be adjusted, but the full schedule is not online yet. The current schedule can be seen here (PDF). I will post when the new one is ready. The new schedule will show us if the goal of this service was to expand the coverage or to lower headways.

Caltrans, the previous boss, had been talking about adding a 7th daily train for well over a decade. Unfortunately, the start date kept being pushed back.

In 2002, the state predicted: 

 2004!

In 2004, as that goal was obviously missed, it became:

2010!

In 2006,  the goal for the 7th train remained the same, but the goal for the 8th slipped two years…

  And in 2008, as that goal was becoming unreasonable, it was pushed back again:

 Well, it is finally here, and better late than never. Oddly enough, while every report called for a Sacramento train to be added first, followed by an Oakland train, the reverse has happened.

The last time the route got an upgrade was in 2002, when it attained its current level of service.

History of route:

Before 1971 – Two daily trains (one by each freight railroad)
1971-1974 – No service
1974 – One daily Amtrak train
1979 – Amtrak proposes elimination, state steps in to fund a single train
1980 – Second daily train
1989 – Third daily train
1992 – Fourth daily train
1999 – Fifth train, first to serve Sacramento
2002 – Sixth train, second to serve Sacramento
2016 – Seventh train, fifth to Oakland
2018 (predicted) – Eight train, third to Sacramento
Late 2020’s – High Speed Rail begins, San Joaquin future unknown (although service to Sacramento is almost guaranteed, from at least Fresno)

An 8th daily train is also being planned, however, there are significant roadblocks. New bi-level equipment that was scheduled to arrive this summer has been delayed a year, and the line cannot add more service without additional equipment. In 2013, Amtrak California purchased 40-year old New Jersey Transit trains to support demand on the route until the new trains arrived.At that time, the new trains were expected in 2015.

In addition, because the rail is owned by freight companies, they force the taxpayers to build capital improvements in exchange for a train slot. A layover facility and additional double-tracked segments are required for more trains to run. As with the new 7th daily train, these capacity improvements have been in the work for over a decade. Some have received funding from the initial HSR bond, while others are looking to Cap and Trade money. Still others are unfunded.

That is, don’t expect the 8th train before 2018, even if the 7th is a runaway success. 

The committee will also be using Cap and Trade funding to optimize current schedules and make plans for future growth. The committee also realizes that low gas prices have hurt ridership, and this May they plan on launching new discounts aimed at groups, along with a new advertising campaign.

All this information was gained from the March board meeting presentation.
You can view the full packet here (PDF)
The November board meeting presentation is here (PDF

You can find the PDFs of the various State Rail Reports here.

A look at Greyhound’s New Downtown Fresno Station

I’ve mentioned a few times in this blog that as part of the High Speed Rail (HSR) project, Gryehound has moved from their old location to the Amtrak station. For a couple of years, the old station will be used by HSR personnel, and then it will be demolished when it is time to build the new rail station in that very spot. Presumably, Greyhound will then move back.

Let’s start by taking a look at the old station.

Here we see the station with the baseball stadium in the background. 

The iconic bus signs.

The portion on the right used to be a cafeteria I have no idea how many years that side of the complex has been abandoned.

A close up look at the old cafeteria…

And a peak inside the station. Unfortunately, I never took pictures when the station was active. Woops.

And here’s a look at the back of the station, which featured a very large parking lot for the buses. I guess the company will still be using that area for now.

Back out front, we see the station from the stadium

 

Bonus: 


Ok, so that’s the old station. Now let’s explore the new (much smaller) station. And by new, well, it’s over 100 years old, but it looks nice.

Here we approach the Amtrak station. The new 7-11 is across the street from it. 

The new sign. 

The front of the building has not been modified at all, although this door leads to the Greyhound waiting area, which is separate from the Amtrak waiting area.

Looks pretty nice!

Much, much smaller than the old station, but I doubt crowds get much larger than this. Also, there are now bathrooms here and also in the Amtrak area, which is good if one of them ever breaks down.

One of the doors leads to the Amtrak side, with the outdoor Amtrak waiting area in the distance.

The other side pops us out here, with the 7-11 in the back.

Turning left we see some bicycle parkin.

And then some more waiting space, outside, but well sheltered.

A bus…

 Their boarding system.

Looking back.

This loop is now bus only. It fits 3 buses, barely.

Here’s another bus coming in!

The station has parking…but now it’s only for Amtrak customers. If you are riding on Amtrak, you show the ticket agent your ticket and they give you a permit for your car. I believe the permit allows unlimited free parking.

Amtrak and Greyhound customers still have access to a car roundabout for pickups and dropoffs.

Unfortunately fitting three buses requires the first bus to encroach into the crosswalk.  You can see the bus stopped in a permanent wheel grab thing, which I assume was installed so the three buses fit perfectly. The drivers need to be careful of pedestrians when leaving.

This bus has quite the trip ahead of it.

Across the street, another bus area was carved out for YARTS. The Amtrak station has finally become a multi-modal terminal!

  

Station visitors have access to one of Fresno’s famous restaurants, just across the street. 

And here we see a bus leaving to CA-99, in front of the new First Five building.

Hope you enjoyed the tour!