09 September, 2008


Amazing news keeps coming out of California. Remember a few years back when the world was saying the LAST STAND of the automobile would be in the "Golden State". The Los Angeles freeway system that attempted to replace a 1,200 mile electric interurban railway and failed. The growing frustration with smog, and endless pavement expansion, the greenhouse created by the sea breeze and the mountains that held a thick grey soup over the cities, burned the eyes and into the minds of the citizens. Rail advocates kept preaching the gospel of bring back the trains, mostly to deaf ears. On the positive side, California hadn't yet, removed any of its mainline railroad track (as Florida has) nor had they completely abandoned their largest passenger terminal Los Angeles, (as Jacksonville has).

But the situation would be confrontational from the start, even if California tried rail it would be with a minimal approach, no station infrastructure and used, begged or borrowed equipment. After all who in their right mind would think the only cities on the globe more sprawled then Jacksonville - Orlando - Tampa - Miami - Sarasota, would willingly abandon 12 and 16 lane freeways for a train ride.

Enter the Loma Preita Earthquake, which typical of most temblors crashed down everything above the ground level. The giant multi-level interchanges of the worlds finest freeway system lay in dusty heaps, countless bodies crushed beneath them. There was only one bright spot in this otherwise dismal history. The deep subterranean railroad tunnels under the San Gabriel Mountains were not touched. Suddenly thousands, if not millions of people desperate to keep working and living, were forced to take to the rail tunnels in quickly gathered equipment from around the Americas. It was to be a short lived experiment, only something strange started to happen. The worlds most auto-centric society rebelled when the political powers suggested removal of the trains and a return to "normal". Nobody it seemed wanted normal to ever come back again.

Now far be it from me to wish a similar natural disaster on my home state of Florida. Rather I would hope someone in Tallahassee or Jacksonville or one of the other major metropolitan areas would look at what has happened not just in Los Angeles but throughout California. In fact, here is the latest on their railway success story:

By Gene Skoropowski, Managing Director, Capitol Corridor JPB
California Intercity Passenger Rail ridership and revenue records continue to be “smashed” by these August statistics. Major ridership growth continues all across California, with the Pacific Surfliners growing at +9.5%, the Capitol Corridor at +21.2% and the San Joaquins at +27.5%. These three California intercity rail services carried 568,132 passengers in August, and the Pacific Surfliner (313,570) route has carried more passengers than Amtrak’s premier Northeast Corridor “Acela Express” (250,440) for the fourth consecutive month.

The Capitol Corridor was again rated by the riders across the country as Amtrak’s #1 route for customer satisfaction for the 7th consecutive month, and Capitol Corridor sustained its “best on-time performance” (at 91.6% on-time) of all but 2 intercity corridors offering multiple frequency services.

Capitol Corridor (August 2008):
158,309 passengers +21.2% vs. 2007 this is a new August record, and second-highest month ever and the Capitol Corridor is still the third busiest route in the country, by a wide margin.Passengers for 11 months YTD: 1,548,783 (11 months YTD: +16.1%)(total riders for the latest 12 months: 1,664,871, +15.7% above prior 12months)
$2,272,935 revenue +27.9% vs. 2007 (11 months YTD: +21.6%)
The farebox recovery revenue-to-cost ratio for July is 62.5% , andthe year-to-date revenue-to-cost ratio holding at 54.3%.

On-time performance for July: 91.6% (a record high for service reliability)The year-to-date on-time performance delivered to the customers after 11 months is 85.3%, among the best in the country. Only the Keystone Corridor and the Hiawatha Corridor have better on-time stats. The premier Acela Express service on the Northeast Corridor is 83.8% on-time for the same 11 month period, while Northeast Regional service is at 75.5%.

The Capitol Corridor (Sacramento - Oakland - San Jose with connections to San Francisco)
A Florida equal to this corridor, while missing the capitol maintains the distances and shape, and would run from Tampa - Miami / Orlando - Miami / Orlando - Tampa, the Florida triangle.

August on-time reliability numbers are exceptionally good, and most encouraging. Again, like last month, not since we went from 6 trains each way to 9 trains each way (back in 2000-01) have we seen ridership growth like we have seen in July and August. Union Pacific Railroad continues to deliver for us. UPRR performance in August was again 95%, and UPRR performance year to date is between 94% and 95%, the best of any Amtrak-operated intercity passenger rail service in the country, whether Amtrak-dispatched or freight railroad dispatched.__________________________________________________

Pacific Surfliners (August 2008): (From Santa Barbara - Los Angeles - San Diego)
One might say this route is roughly the California equal of the Florida East Coast Ry, From Jacksonville to Miami.

313,570 passengers +9.5% vs. 2007, still the second busiest route in the nation, by a wide marginPassengers for 11 months YTD: 2,683,362 (11 months YTD: +7.5%)As noted above, the Pacific Surfliners carried more monthly passengers than the Acela Express on the Northeast Corridor, for the 4th consecutive month
$6,173,776 revenue +14.8% vs. 2007 (11 months YTD: +9.8%)
On-time performance for August: 69.3%YTD on-time: 75.9%__________________________________________________

San Joaquins (August 2008): (From Oakland / Sacramento - Fresno - Bakersfield)
This is a long corridor through a farm belt that started with a tiny 2 car train. If Florida had such a service it would closely resemble our Jacksonville - Tallahassee - Pensacola line.

96,253 passengers +27.5% vs. 2007, keeping its slot as fifth busiest in the nation for the second consecutive month (outpacing New York State’s Empire Corridor Service)Passengers for 11 months YTD: 873,767 (11 months YTD: +18.2%)
$3,093,399 revenue +31.1% vs. 2007 (11 months YTD: +19.6%)
On-time performance for August: 66.4%YTD on-time: 82.4%__________________________________________________________

Total California Intercity Corridor Ridership for August 2008: 568,132
Total Northeast Corridor ‘Spine’ ridership for August 2008: 877,849For August 2008, the California Corridors are 64.7% of Northeast Corridor ‘Spine’ Boston-Washington ridership
Total Northeast Corridor ridership for August 2008with branches to Springfield, MA; Albany, NY and Harrisburg, PA: 1,104,113For August 2008, the California Corridors are 51.5% of the total NortheastCorridor ridership

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The arguments rage to this date, "Should have never been built," "waste of taxpayer money," "Doesn't go anywhere," "Nobody rides it..." etc. Bottom line is we have it, and it is finally showing signs of life. Simple extensions to the Stadium, San Marco, and the area of Blue Cross in North Riverside would turn this little train around. Addition of Park and Ride garages and multimodal transit terminals at the end points would bring on the crowds. The video must have been shot on a Sunday Morning, as downtown is certainly as packed with life as any other major City on weekdays. Jacksonville is a city of Bikes, joggers, walkers, buses and cars, one almost wonders how the photographer managed to find this quiet moment.

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