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NARP Region 12 2004 Annual Meeting
Old Spaghetti Factory, Oakland, CA

April 3, 2004
By Matt Melzer of

Friday, April 2

TrainWeb sent me to cover this year's meeting of Region 12 of the National Association of Railroad Passengers at the Old Spaghetti Factory in Oakland. Krista and I decided to make a weekend of it and enjoy some cultural activities in the Bay Area before I had to do my work. We met at the Santa Cruz Metro Center to catch the 11 AM Amtrak bus to San Jose. This would be the final time we would ever take this bus together to San Jose, as Amtrak and the Capitol Corridor are ending the languishing service with the April 26 schedule change. Fortunately, about $370,000 in annual Caltrans funds used to support the line will be transfered to the Santa Cruz Metropolitan Transit District, which operates the Highway 17 Express commuter service. These funds will allow the service to be extended from Scotts Valley to downtown Santa Cruz, and expanded outside of peak commute hours, includings nights, weekends, and holidays, easily filling the gap left by Amtrak. In fact, the service should be improved, with a fare reduction for Amtrak passengers from $6 to $4. (Highway 17 Express passengers currently pay $3, so while their fares increase, they too benefit from expanded service.)

We arrived in San Jose early and boarded Amtrak Capitols train 534 from the newly-rebuilt track 2. The platform it shares with track 3 is brand-new, as are the rails and concrete ties. Similar work is currently being done to tracks 4 and 5. We boarded cab car 6962, which is equipped with a PointShot Wi-Fi access point that has been so highly publicized by the Capitol Corridor. The train departed San Jose on-time at 12:30 PM. Krista soon bought us snacks from the cafe car, and we purchased BART farecards of $10 value, which are sold on the Capitols for $8. I soon decided to try the wireless service. According to the Bandwidth Meter, I unfortunately only attained speeds of 67 kbps, which is hardly better than dial-up. I sincerely hope that there are no plans to make users pay for this service, which is not of the quality many businesspeople might expect from a wireless computer network. We arrived into Oakland at 1:36 PM, seven minutes early, and walked to the Jack London Inn to check into our room. The front desk staff was woefully overworked, and it took twenty minutes for us to get checked in.

We got settled into our large fourth-floor room, which had a nice view of the Union Pacific tracks, and had two queen beds (even though I reserved a room with only one). It soon occured to me that the room was so large because it designed to be accessible to disabled guests, also explaining the low counters and vanities. We soon left the hotel for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. We walked to the 12th Street/ City Center BART station, and caught an SFO Airport-bound train. During the Embarcadero stop, RailPAC (Rail Passenger Association of California) Executive Director Ric Silver boarded the train at the door directly in front of where we were sitting! It's a small world, indeed. I introduced him and Krista, and we bid farewell as we exited the train at Montgomery Street. It was a brief walk to MOMA, where we enjoyed an exhibition on American pop art. After stopping at a local cafe for refreshments, we took BART back to Oakland and returned to the hotel to rest and shower.

Before 8 PM, we ventured out to Yoshi's Restaurant and Jazz Club on the other end of Jack London Square. I had made us dinner reservations for 8:15, and purchased tickets for us to see jazz violinist Regina Carter and her quartet at their 10 PM performance. After I picked up our tickets, we were soon seated at an ideally situated table: against the a front window with a clear view of the street and the north end of UP's street running. We were treated to one of the most memorable sushi dinners we had in recent memory. While we were eating, our server reserved our seats in the adjacent club, which turned out to be very good booth seats towards the front. We were seated with another young couple, and greatly enjoyed the sensational performance. By the end, we were inevitably both tired from the exciting and productive day, and soon returned to our hotel to be asleep just after midnight. But right before we went to bed, I saw train 14, the northbound Coast Starlight, depart Oakland about two hours late. Soon after, Amtrak SSB 1200 switcher 566 brought the private car Palm Leaf towards the West Oakland yards.

Saturday, April 3

A 10:15 AM wakeup call awoke us from our long slumber, which was not once interrupted by the sounds of any passing trains. We quickly checked out of the hotel and had some apple juice (but no breakfast) at a cafe by the marina. Krista and I went our separate ways, she to Barnes and Noble and I to the Old Spaghetti Factory. I joined the group of NARP directors and members waiting for the restaurant to open. When it did, Director Bob Glover told the hostess to expect about eighty attendees. We were shown to the front dining room, which happens to have the best view of the tracks. I sat at a table with fellow RailPAC Director Marcia Johnston, Capitol Corridor Riders organizer and Amtrak Customer Advisory Committee member Estelle Shiroma, former NARP Director Leif Erik Lange, railfan and transit planner Alfred Bulf, and another gentleman whose name I didn't get. Before the meeting started, I found out that it was fortunate that Krista and I came to Oakland on Friday, as an accident on Highway 17 this morning prevented the bus we would've taken from making it from Santa Cruz to San Jose! Travel agent Ed Von Nordeck came by my table selling large buttons carrying the "National or Nothing" motto for Amtrak, made famous by the Texas Association of Railroad Passengers and Republican Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (see here).

After everyone enjoyed schmoozing and eating chicken picatta, Director George Chilson started the meeting program a bit late. It was announced that there would be no election for directors, as all ran unopposed. Added to the board was Pat Montague, who is very active with various rail organizations in Southern California. He and Director John Kirkwood were absent from the meeting. Chilson promptly introduced the first speaker, California High-Speed Rail Authority Board Member Rod Diridon, who carries a decades-long legacy of rail and transit development in Northern California. Diridon presented the Environmental Impact Report for the CAHSR project, the largest public works EIR ever (which may be viewed here). The Sierra Club called CAHSR the number three most important environmental project in the nation. Of all the federally-designated high-speed corridors, California's is the most prepared for construction. Every industrialized nation in the world except for the US has true high-speed rail. Per passenger-mile, short-haul airlines are the most polluting transportation systems in the world. Diridon mentioned the High Speed Ground Transportation Association, which represents the interests of the eleven federally- designated corridors to lobby for federal-state matching grants, bond issuances, tax credits, and the like. Diridon expressed confidence in Congressional passage of a high-speed rail financing bill in the Fall.

Diridon pointed out that former California Governor Pete Wilson appointed the original members to the CAHSRA to deliberately kill the project, against which he was outspoken. But his appointees realized that the project was the right thing for the people of California. Diridon mentioned that each year of delayed construction costs an additional $1.5 billion in buying power, as inflation in the construction market runs at a staggering 10%. California's population will double in size by 2040. Without high-speed rail, four new international airports and ten new cross-state highway lanes would have to be built, costing more than double the CAHSR project in direct costs (and untold billions in societal consequences). Bill Wullenjohn asked Diridon about the issue of routing through Altamont Pass, which the CAHSRA decided to no longer consider as an option and omitted from the EIR. Diridon responded that Altamont Pass would have inconvenienced 90% of the ridership (Bay Area-Los Angeles) with a longer transit time. As importantly, a three-way line division would be required at Union City, reducing operational efficiency and ability to run frequent trains to San Jose, San Francisco, and eventually Oakland. The two remaining line alternatives between the San Joaquin Valley and the Silicon Valley are through Pacheco Pass (paralleling state highway 152 between Los Banos and Gilroy), or through the rugged Diablo Pass at the Mount Hamilton Area, which would require numerous tunnels.

One attendee asked if Governor Schwarzenegger would allow the $9.95 billion rail bond measure to remain on the November 2004 ballot. Diridon replied that both the Governor and Sunne McPeak, his Secretary of Business, Transportation, and Housing, are interested in CAHSR, largely from a futurist/economic point of view. However, since both of the Governor's March bond initatives passed, there is obvious concern over the timing of this measure. A poll in May 2003 found that 70% of likely voters would support CAHSR. The same poll will be conducted next month, and if support is above 60%, the CAHSRA hopes to go ahead with the November question. If that happens and it passes, CAHSRA has vowed to not tap into any bond revenues until 2007 or 2008, when the state's fiscal situation would hopefully be improved. If the poll finds lackluster support, state leaders have agreed to place the initative on the November 2006 ballot, which seems more likely at this point. Either way, no state money will be spent on construction for at least a few more years. (Late word from Sacramento, however, indicates a growing consensus among some state lawmakers and administration officials that the intiative should not be put on the ballot until 2008. Stay tuned.)

George Chilson extended a special welcome to Estelle Shiroma and praised her for her immense efforts helping to improve service on Amtrak's Capitol Corridor, which segued nicely into Gene Skoropowski's speech (but not before Bob Glover gave away some door prizes). Chilson introduced Skoropowski, Managing Director of the Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority, to a rousing round of applause. Reflecting on the history of the Capitols since being managed by the CCJPA, Skoropowski discussed the Authority's recent five-year performance report (which may be viewed here). The creation of the CCJPA was a leap of faith for the eight member counties. The reward, of course, has been a 200% increase in service since 1998, a 146% increase in ridership, a farebox ratio improving from 29% to over 40%, and a larger base of civilian support.

Credit must be given to Union Pacific where it's due. On-time performance for March 2004 was the highest in two years, at over 90%, with the long-awaited Yolo Causeway second main track now open. UP has a new district manager in Roseville, Tom Jacobi, who has apparently gone out of his way to coordinate operations with the CCJPA, make Amtrak's performance part of his office's morning call (which is unprecedented), and make his subordinates' performance dependent on the performance of Capitols trains. The Capitols are no longer part of Amtrak's incentive payment program, which has been ineffective in this and other corridors. The CCJPA instead devised its own system to which UP has agreed. The highlights are that partial incentives are paid only with 92% of trains on-time, and full incentives are paid once on-time performance reaches 96%. State-funded capital investments in the infrastructure have also benefited UP's operational flexibility, not just Amtrak.

But indeed, with the April 26 schedule change, ten minutes will be removed from the Capitols schedule between Oakland and Sacramento. In the near future, time will be removed between San Jose and Oakland. UP is also being cooperative in planning two new Capitols frequencies into Placer County (Roseville, Auburn), and, eventually, three new trains to San Jose. By the end of the year, the new Oakland Airport / Coliseum station will be open, seamlessly integrated into the exisiting BART station. In 2005, double track will come to Fremont, and the Newark Yard will be reconfigured to add a main track between Santa Clara and San Jose. CP Coast (at Santa Clara) will also be reconfigured to add capacity. Once the necessary track improvements are made, eleven round trips to San Jose will be possible. Unfortunately, Amtrak only has enough equipment for seven. New equipment would come from the feeder rail portion of the high-speed rail bond (a portion of the $950 million). Five of the eight CCJPA counties are also exploring creating a new "commuter rail" service utilizing existing Amtrak California equipment in 2007. In fact, to the rider, it would be identical to the Capitols, only it would be funded by sources for which Amtrak itself is ineligible.

Skoropowski repeated Diridon by emphasizing that this may be the year that Congress forges legislation to create a federal-state partnership to fund new passenger rail services. He ended his presentation by exclaiming that the long-derelict clock in the Sacramento station finally works. When he took questions, I had to leave the meeting slightly early to catch Amtrak Capitols train 737 back to San Jose. I met Krista outside of the restaurant, and we returned to the Oakland Amtrak station. We boarded the front car of train 737, which departed on-time at 2:40 PM. The electrical outlet at our table only worked after I informed the conductor and he reset the car's fuses. We arrived into San Jose at 3:55 PM, five minutes early, and departed on the bus for Santa Cruz at 4:06 PM, one minute late. We arrived into Santa Cruz for the final time on an Amtrak bus at 4:48 PM, seventeen minutes early, ending our weekend of both work and leisure.

Click on the below links to view each set of photos:
Set #01 - Amtrak Capitols with Wi-Fi, SF MOMA
Set #02 - Yoshi's Restaurant and Jazz Club
Set #03 - NARP Region 12 Annual Meeting
Set #04 - Amtrak Capitols

Coverage of previous NARP Region 12 Meetings:

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