I can’t believe it’s been over a month since my last roundup of how COVID-19 (coronavirus) has affected transportation providers in Fresno and the surrounding areas. Time is really moving in strange ways these days. At this point, it’s clear we’ve reached the bottom in terms of service cuts, short of an airline declaring bankruptcy (cough, AA, cough). How quickly service is restored is an open question. Some transit agencies have already said they don’t expect to return to full service until the end of the year. Agencies that rely heavily on rush-hour commuters are going to be the most affected, as some jobs (such as Twitter) may remain remote forever. It will be interesting to see if those agencies restore more off-peak service than peak-service, which would create a flatter utilization of their fleet, and that may end up being a good thing in the long run.
Ten days ago, I decided to make a record of how COVID-19 (coronavirus) has affected transportation providers in Fresno and the surrounding areas – including the Bay Area and LA region. This post is a follow-up, to chronicle what has changed since. I have also added a few agencies I missed last week. It is sort of lucky I waited until today to make this, instead of last Sunday, as a bunch of changes go into effect today!
Fresno Area Express (FAX)
Officially, no changes to the schedule, but the system has been struggling with drivers calling out, as seen in this tweet:
This makes Fresno one of the only transit systems to continue running full service.
Are you sitting at home, twiddling your thumbs, looking for something to do? Lucky for you, the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) for the Valley Rail Sacramento Extension Project is now available for public review! You have until May 15, 2020 at 5:00 p.m to send in any comments you have.
Unlike many rail projects, this is one you should take seriously, because they got $500 million in funds to actually build the thing. As I mentioned back in 2018, the improvements are aimed at both the Amtrak San Joaquin line and the ACE commuter line.
According to the project team, the purpose of Valley Rail will be:
If you’re anything like me, you’ve spent the last few weeks reading a LOT of news about COVID-19 (coronavirus). All the bad news has taken away most of my motivation to write blog articles, and not just because “regular” news is on pause, but because it’s been pretty exhausting. I also figured that because the news has been changing so quickly, there was little reason for me to write. This isn’t like a new trail, where posting two weeks late is still timely. By the time I get around to posting any news, it has likely changed.
That being said, I’m thinking there may be some value in having a static record looking backwards. Because of the volume of news, six months from now, it will be pretty difficult to do a Google search to find exactly what the transportation impacts were. So the goal of this post (and a probable follow up), is to have one place summarizing what the impacts of the virus were on Fresno-area transportation. Here is what the impacts looked like as of March 29, 2020.
ABC 30 ran an interesting news article last week: Manager of Valley’s San Joaquin trains may ditch Amtrak as operator
The executive director of San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority (SJJPA), Stacey Mortensen, told the House Transportation committee that Amtrak charges three times as much per passenger to run the San Joaquin trains, compared to the Altamont Corridor Express or ACE.
Mortensen is the leader of both the San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority and the San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission, which manages the operators of both routes.
“Amtrak, exceeds its own budget projections year after year with little or any explanation. Their only remedy has been to seek additional funding from our state,” said Mortenson.
If the agency’s issues with Amtrak can’t be resolved, Mortensen feels the San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority may be forced into looking for another provider to operate passenger trains on the San Joaquin route.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
|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.