April-September 2022 Cal Rail News Online

The California Rail News for April to September 2022 is now online at www.calrailnews.org/current. This issue focuses on Measure D in Santa Cruz County, which would destroy possibilities for rail forever if passed.

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A History of Efforts to Revive Rail in Santa Cruz County, Up to Greenway and Measure D

Demonstration battery/electric car on Chestnut Street in downtown Santa Cruz.

The folks at Santa Cruz Trains have prepared a comprehensive history of efforts to revive rail passenger service in Santa Cruz County, up to the current Measure D placed on the June 7th, 2022 ballot by Santa Cruz Greenway.


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July-November California Rail News Now Online

The latest California Rail News in more than a year is now online. See http://www.calrailnews.org/current/

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TRAC Position Paper: How the LOSSAN Corridor Can Do More for Southern Californians

The next issue of California Rail News will carry a major article on the future of the LOSSAN Corridor by Greg Thompson, PhD and Sandra Bauer. That article will be an excerpt of a longer paper titled “How the LOSSAN Corridor Can Do More for Southern Californians” which is available now on this website.

The LOSSAN-South Corridor connecting Los Angeles with San Diego is the second most significant rail passenger corridor in the United States. Patronage in the corridor is now many times higher than it was when the state started supporting Amtrak-operated Pacific Surfliners. However, ridership has plateaued in the last several years, as train congestion has lengthened running times and increased unreliability. The basic alignment of the railroad remains that of the late 19th century single track railroad, inhibiting running time improvements and restricting capacity. It takes almost 3 hours for Surfliners to cover the 128 miles from San Diego to Los Angeles, for an average speed of 44 miles per hour.

The Caltrans Division of Rail developed plans to significantly improve the speed and capacity of the corridor, and completed environmental review of the proposed program in 2009. The improvements would allow hourly intercity trains to complete their runs from San Diego to Los Angeles in 1’50”, including 6 intermediate stops, resulting in an average end-to-end speed of 70 mph. There would be increased local commuter service, as well. 

This article’s analysis concludes that the Caltrans LOSSAN improvement program can make the LOSSAN-South corridor an effective alternative to the I-5 freeway, competing successfully with longer-distance auto travel between San Diego, Orange, and Los Angeles Counties. The project would be a significant first step in bringing the corridor up to the level of the Northeast Corridor between Washington and Boston. (See Intercity Passenger Trains Are Not Commuter Trains)

This paper is accessible on the TRAC Position Papers page: http://www.calrailnews.org/trac-position-papers/

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Don’t Buy New Tier 4 Locomotives

By David Schonbrunn, TRAC President

Editor’s Note: These comments were sent by TRAC’s President to Metrolink, days before their Board directed staff to find grants to fund the purchase of 10-15 new Tier 4 diesel locomotives at $10.3 million a piece.

The Train Riders Association of California (“TRAC”) is a statewide rail advocacy organization that has worked since 1984 to improve passenger rail service in California. We first wish to congratulate you [Stephanie Wiggins, outgoing Executive Director of Metrolink] on your very significant promotion to leading Metro. While you are finishing up at Metrolink, we wish to offer our thoughts on the proposed procurement of new Tier 4 locomotives, to replace aging MP36s.

We have recently been in contact with CARB’s freight division and had a wide-ranging discussion about how the emissions of locomotives have not been accurately measured, for purposes of emissions inventories and most importantly, for incentives for emissions reductions programs. A copy of the notes from that meeting are appended, along with our letter that triggered the discussion.

The problem TRAC identified is high NOx emissions at idle, because the engine doesn’t have enough load to activate the [NOx] after-treatment system. Because these locomotives spend such a large number of hours idling (itself a separate and distinct problem), they emit far more criteria pollutants than is reasonable for a very expensive low-emissions locomotive. We believe this is a flaw in the EPA Tier 4 standard itself. Because it was designed for line haul freight locomotives, the certification process duty cycle does not capture the large amounts of idling typical in commuter and intercity passenger service. We suspect current Tier 4 passenger locomotives would not meet the Tier 4 standard, if evaluated with a real-world duty cycle.

For this reason, we urge your Board to not proceed with the recommended procurement. To confirm this recommendation, we urge you to produce a specification based on the real-world Metrolink duty cycle, to enable you to evaluate whether existing locomotive models can meet Metrolink’s needs. We suspect they cannot. Meanwhile, new technologies are becoming available that leap-frog over Tier 4.

While these technologies are being commercialized, we recommend you do a pilot
project to attempt to add aftertreatment to an MP36. If successful, this would create a
viable short-term alternative to getting locked into a 25-year capital investment in new
Tier 4 locomotives, with their disappointing emissions. This would leave much more
money available for the transition to zero emissions.

Using this approach, it may be possible to skip the further procurement of new diesel
locomotives altogether. In considering Metrolink’s future path to zero emissions, we
suggest you consider the direction now being explored by the Long Island Railroad for
their unelectrified routes. (See attached article.) They will outfit existing Electric Multiple
Unit cars with batteries, and install fast charging facilities at selected stations.

Another battery approach would be Stadler’s Akku Battery Electric Multiple Units, which
recently demonstrated a 115-mile range without recharging, despite heat and cold
conditions that fully stressed the HVAC system. (See attached articles.) These trainsets
are commercially available now. We think they make far more sense than proceeding
with a $20 -$30 million dollar prototype electric locomotive.

Thank you for considering these comments. We would be pleased to answer any
questions you might have, at the phone number below.




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TRAC files STB response, challenging transfer of freight rights to SMART

By David Schonbrunn, President of TRAC

In response to the threats to the Northwestern Pacific Railroad (NWP, which spans over 300 miles from Larkspur Landing in Marin County to Samoa in Humboldt County), the Train Riders Association of California (TRAC) took action today based on its letter to Senator McGuire about his Great Redwood Trail Bill, SB 69.  TRAC filed comments with the Surface Transportation Board (STB), the federal regulatory agency that governs railroad legal matters. (The bookmarked comments are a 140 page, 20 Mb. download.)

Today’s action opposes the request of the current freight operator on the NWP, which is named NWPCO, to have the transfer of its freight operating rights to SMART be exempt from a full administrative process. TRAC opposes the transfer on three principal grounds: 1). SMART has neither the financial strength nor the institutional competence or temperament to be in the freight business; 2). SMART appears to be moving to become freight operator in bad faith–it seems more likely that SMART wants to discontinue freight service than operate it; and finally, 3). exempting the transfer from a full administrative process would strand shippers located along the Cloverdale to Willits segment of the NWP.

The Cloverdale to Willits segment of the line is part of an extensive portion of the NWP that has been out of service since 1998, after damage from floods and deferred maintenance left the line in such poor repair that the Federal Railroad Administration shut it down with an Emergency Order. Senator McGuire’s SB 69 would rip out the tracks north of Cloverdale and put a trail where the tracks had been, in an effort to reduce construction costs. TRAC asserts that this approach is penny-wise and pound-foolish. A look at the Los Angeles area shows how incredibly expensive it is to restore rail service after its pre-World War II rail infrastructure was converted to highways. Building trails alongside rails is what SMART is already  doing, and what NCRA has been doing in Humboldt County. TRAC vigorously opposes SB 69’s attempt to change that approach.

The North Coast Railroad Authority (NCRA) currently owns the tracks between Healdsburg in Sonoma County and Samoa in Humboldt County. TRAC’s ally, TRANSDEF, has sent NCRA a letter demanding its Board retract its vote to file an application to railbank its tracks between Willits and Samoa. Railbanking is an alternative available to railroads that seek to legally abandon their rail infrastructure. If railbanking is approved by the STB, the rails can be removed without (arguably) affecting the easements from adjacent landowners that establish the rail right-of-way. We say arguably, because there is a large amount of litigation seeking to have these easements revert to landowners. If rails are not removed, there is absolutely no reason to railbank. Trains cannot legally be operated on railbanked lines.

Because NCRA’s railbanking application avoided dealing with the Cloverdale to Willis segment of the NWP, today’s action by TRAC specifically seeks to have the STB order NWPCO to propose the future status of that segment in the current proceeding.

TRAC recognizes that the Eel River Canyon is an entirely different issue than the restoration of rail both north and south of the Canyon, both of which TRAC views as feasible. As such, TRAC has no objection to railbanking the Canyon, although it would serve little purpose.

If TRAC is successful in blocking SMART from becoming the freight operator of the southern portion of the NWP,  it would remain possible for cost-effective extensions to Willits and Suisun City to move forward, led by a private-sector freight operator that would offer freight service, passenger service and excursion service. Passenger service could possibly be undertaken as a subsidized public-private partnership, once freight service is restored to Willits.

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