Manager of Valley's San Joaquin trains may ditch Amtrak as operator

Discussion in 'Amtrak Rail Discussion' started by frequentflyer, Nov 15, 2019.

Amtrak Unlimited Discussion Forum

Help Support Amtrak Unlimited Discussion Forum:

  1. Nov 15, 2019 #1

    frequentflyer

    f

    frequentflyer

    OBS Chief

    Joined:
    Jun 10, 2008
    Messages:
    682
    A former Amtrak CEO stated Amtrak needed to get its costs down or this may start happening.

    https://abc30.com/travel/amtraks-presence-in-the-valley-may-be-in-jeopardy/5698401/

    "FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Amtrak has provided rail service in the San Joaquin Valley since 1974.

    However, Amtrak's presence in the Valley could be in jeopardy, based on testimony Action News heard in Washington DC before the US House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee.

    The executive director of San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority, 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.

    It also gives her a unique perspective into train operations.

    In what she called, "A Tale of the Two Services," she was critical towards Amtrak's lack of transparency, especially when compared to the way contractor Herzog Transit handles the ACE commuter rail."
     
    Willbridge, daybeers and Rail Freak like this.
  2. Nov 15, 2019 #2

    Anthony V

    Anthony V

    Anthony V

    Service Attendant

    Joined:
    Mar 10, 2016
    Messages:
    180
    Does this mean the San Joaquin trains are at risk of discontinuance?
     
  3. Nov 15, 2019 #3

    MikefromCrete

    M

    MikefromCrete

    Conductor

    Joined:
    Mar 24, 2009
    Messages:
    2,564
    Location:
    Crete, IL
    No, it means the service could be turned over to another operator. All services run by Amtrak for the states or other local authorities could be turned over to private or public operators.
     
  4. Nov 15, 2019 #4

    seat38a

    s

    seat38a

    Conductor

    Joined:
    Jan 27, 2014
    Messages:
    2,025
    Location:
    Orange County California
    Nope, just means someone else other than Amtrak will operate the trains. Amtrak doesn't own any of the equipment. Its all California State property.
     
  5. Nov 15, 2019 #5

    seat38a

    s

    seat38a

    Conductor

    Joined:
    Jan 27, 2014
    Messages:
    2,025
    Location:
    Orange County California
    Since I've never ridden on ACE, I'm going by my experience riding on Metrolink.
    Amtrak has 3 conductors and a LSA in the Cafe Car, while commuter rail has 1 conductor. Seems like lots more staff to pay for vs a commuter rail service. Also, I think some of the Amtrak crew have to overnight in Bakersfield. San Joaquin has also been trying to eliminate the Merced crew change for a while now. ACE takes 2+ hours from Stockton to San Jose while San Joaquin takes 6+ hours between Bakersfield and Oakland. Oh and let's not forget the checked luggage and staffed ticket counters. Those Truway buses aren't free either. Sounds pretty expensive to me.
     
    daybeers and Thirdrail7 like this.
  6. Nov 16, 2019 #6

    sttom

    s

    sttom

    Lead Service Attendant

    Joined:
    Jan 24, 2019
    Messages:
    301
    ACE runs 4 trips per day, week days only and has no direct connections or staffed stations. Amtrak needs more transparency, but going to Herzog for the San Joaquins would lead to a decline in service probably for not a justifiable cost savings. Or this is a local politicians grandstanding for a promotion to the state legislature. Never takw California and it's "locally controlled" state services administrators at face value.
     
    Thirdrail7 likes this.
  7. Nov 16, 2019 #7

    Seaboard92

    Seaboard92

    Seaboard92

    Conductor

    Joined:
    Dec 31, 2014
    Messages:
    3,258
    Location:
    South Carolina
    There’s nothing to say Herzog Transit Services couldn’t learn how to handle station services, and food service.

    Amtrak is losing a lot of intellectual knowledge with the new administration there. But they could re learn it just like someone else could learn it by reading railroad history. And trying. The resources are out there.

    I’m rooting for Herzog not because I have a friend who works there. But because I would like to see someone force Amtrak to to be more transparent. And losing a contract might cause that.
     
  8. Nov 16, 2019 #8

    sttom

    s

    sttom

    Lead Service Attendant

    Joined:
    Jan 24, 2019
    Messages:
    301
    That doesn't mean that Herzog or anyone else for that matter would actually be cheaper or take away from the prospect that we have a local politician grandstanding on some issue when we are heading into a major election year.

    If this was happening anywhere other than California, I would have a less than cynical view of this. JPAs are run by local politicians that don't necessarily need to be qualified to run whatever it is they are running. Looking and the SJJPA Board, it looks like a roster of people who will probably be running for a promotion....er I means serving the public, at some point and making a fuss about something is a sure way to get eyes on you even if nothing comes of it (which I will assume for the time being will be the outcome)

    I have mentioned before, but this is one of the reasons I don't particularly like JPAs. Having ambivalent state officials running the Amtrak is starting to look even more preferable than local politicians looking to add to their resume at the expense of whatever it is they are running. How outrageous is it that local politicians can even threaten to end an Amtrak line, even when the state is at least in theory against it?
     
  9. Nov 16, 2019 #9

    rickycourtney

    rickycourtney

    rickycourtney

    Conductor

    Joined:
    Dec 21, 2012
    Messages:
    1,665
    Location:
    Fresno, CA
    Stacey Mortensen is not an elected politician, she’s a railroad professional with 20+ years of experience. She’s the woman who the politicians on the SJJPA board have hired to do the important day to day work of running a train.

    While the points raised about the staffing and operational differences are true... does that still justify paying three times as much? We don’t know, because Amtrak “focuses on protecting its proprietary data, solely determines resource allocations and planning decisions, and has no shared performance objectives. Costs cannot be rationally tied to actual service.”

    Amtrak’s steadfast refusal to embrace the principles of “transparency, collaboration, and fairness” has angered its customer (SJJPA).

    Best case scenario for Amtrak... this testimony inspires them to become a better contract operator for states.

    Worst case scenario for Amtrak... they don’t change, SJJPA leaves for a new operator, thereby creating a blueprint for other state-funded services to do the same.
     
  10. Nov 16, 2019 #10

    Palmetto

    Palmetto

    Palmetto

    Conductor

    Joined:
    May 12, 2014
    Messages:
    1,851
    Location:
    Southmost Texas
    Back to the MBTA for a moment. Amtrak lost that contract several years ago. Didn't seem to bother them one bit. Is there anything in the wind now that would cause Amtrak to react differently if they lose the San Joaquins contract.
     
  11. Nov 16, 2019 #11

    Trogdor

    Trogdor

    Trogdor

    Conductor

    Joined:
    Aug 3, 2004
    Messages:
    5,350
    Location:
    Here
    I’m actually curious about the comment of Amtrak costing 3x as much per passenger as ACE.

    What’s the relative total ridership, per train, of each service, and what are the average distances traveled?

    A heavily-loaded commuter train on a short-distance trip certainly ought to cost quite a bit less on a per-passenger basis than a medium-distance intercity train running several times the distance.
     
    cirdan likes this.
  12. Nov 16, 2019 #12

    jiml

    jiml

    jiml

    Lead Service Attendant

    Joined:
    Feb 27, 2019
    Messages:
    473
    Location:
    Toronto area
    I believe there are several commuter services in both the US and Canada operated by Bombardier under contract, including SunRail, MARC and Coaster. Albuquerque was I think, but now Herzog.
     
  13. Nov 16, 2019 #13

    jis

    jis

    jis

    Conductor AU Lifetime Supporter Gathering Team Member

    Joined:
    Aug 24, 2003
    Messages:
    25,078
    Location:
    Space Coast, Florida, Area code 3-2-1
    I watched that entire segment. Her main complaint appeared to be lack of transparency and the fact that they cannot figure out why Amtrak is charging what it is charging. That appears to have been an ongoing gripe about Amtrak form virtually everyone that has ever contracted with Amtrak to run any train service for them, as far as I can tell.

    She did acknowledge that Amtrak may be hamstrung by the one size fits all approach for pricing that the know it all geniuses placed in PRIIA 209, but guess who wrote most of that without much consulting with any of the victims of it? It is kinda neat to be able to write a law and then point to the thing you wrote to claim that your hands are tied. Also, the law does not say that "no details of the reason for the pricing the way it is shall be provided", as far as I can gather from reading the law.
     
    Palmetto likes this.
  14. Nov 16, 2019 #14

    Thirdrail7

    T

    Thirdrail7

    Conductor AU Supporter

    Joined:
    Jul 9, 2014
    Messages:
    4,159
    This doesn't make a lot of sense to me unless there are unexplained cost overruns. The methodology of PRIIA will identify the costs. They aren't usually made public but there was one made public in the Amtrak no longer allowing standing passengers on unreserved trains? thread. It explains the costs, assignments, fees, manpower requirements, depreciation, costs etc, so unless they don't understand the methodology, which should result in consistent costs for the operators, it seems the problem may be with PRIIA.


    Would that be Stephan Gardner? I look much deeper into this. I think she is making waves at this time to undermine PRIIA. After all, if Amtrak is going to dip its toes into more corridor services (which is exactly what Gardner and Anderson purportedly want,) PRIIA would have to change.

    To have her testifying before Congress that costs are 3 times as much(which isn't that surprising when you're operating a lot more trains,3 times as much difference and the operation ise governed by short-distance intercity rules versus commuter rules) is an effective way to do their bidding.
     
    Palmetto likes this.
  15. Nov 16, 2019 #15

    jis

    jis

    jis

    Conductor AU Lifetime Supporter Gathering Team Member

    Joined:
    Aug 24, 2003
    Messages:
    25,078
    Location:
    Space Coast, Florida, Area code 3-2-1
    I suspect she is complaining about depreciation of equipment owned by Amtrak that is not used by them being foisted on them due to requirements of PRIIA, or something like that. As far as I could figure out that is part of the kerfuffle. She pretty much clearly stated that PRIIA is the root cause of the problem.

    Also 3x cost/passenger seems a bit high even taking everything into consideration. But without seeing the actual numbers it is hard to tell. It is also not clear to me why the numbers are such secrets when people's money is being transferred from one government run out fit to another.

    From a State's perspective getting rid of PRIIA 209, or at least seriously modifying it to take better account of the unique needs of specific systems, is generally a high priority, since they do not want to be placed in a straght-jacket about funding formulas. I have yet to find a State DOT person who thinks otherwise. So that will inevitably happen sooner or later. The question is what will be the modified version that they will shoot for, or even whether there is anything remotely approaching a consensus on that. Very fluid situation right now, and Anderson isn't exactly helping with his antics.

    Frankly, AFAICT, the main reason that States put up with all this is because the laws have been set up to give Amtrak almost exclusive preference on track access. Wherever states have been able to break free of that, in many cases they have tended to not deal with Amtrak, if they have managed to set up a sufficiently competent DOT department to handle the necessary foot work. Not that their experience has been uniformly good mind you, but in many cases it has been better than with Amtrak in control, and others it has been questionable.
     
    seat38a likes this.
  16. Nov 16, 2019 #16

    sttom

    s

    sttom

    Lead Service Attendant

    Joined:
    Jan 24, 2019
    Messages:
    301
    And there in lies the issue, the customer is not the State of California, but a local agency it created to pass the buck off onto. The cost structure of an intercity service is different. ACE doesn't have to pay for connecting services like the SJJPA Amtrak contract probably includes or station staff or food service which is historically operated at a loss. As pointed out above, there could be up to double the people working each train vs a commuter train, not including crew changes and station staff. This is also assuming that Amtrak doesn't charge the local agencies more than it used to charge the state, which I probably would if I were Amtrak, since the contract could be smaller than running 3 trains and a bunch of buses under 1 contract.

    Also, what would be the start up costs to switch to Herzog or anyone else assuming they even try to keep the same level of service? What is the cost of hiring and training more train crews, station staff and train operators? What would happen to the equipment? Would the State be as willing to let them keep using state equipment?

    As for her not being a politician, she works for them. Working with them means you need to be one on some level. There is likely more to the story than what is being reported.
     
  17. Nov 16, 2019 #17

    me_little_me

    m

    me_little_me

    Conductor

    Joined:
    Jul 16, 2010
    Messages:
    2,880
    They'll probably just allocate those costs to the long distance trains and give themselves a bonus.
     
  18. Nov 16, 2019 #18

    nti1094

    n

    nti1094

    Train Attendant

    Joined:
    Apr 9, 2015
    Messages:
    63
    On my San Joaquin ride last month from Hanford to Sacramento for Winter Rail, there was only one conductor and an engineer working the entire run to Sacramento. I got the impression that was not normal, but still he seemed to have no problem working the train.
     
  19. Nov 16, 2019 #19

    nti1094

    n

    nti1094

    Train Attendant

    Joined:
    Apr 9, 2015
    Messages:
    63
    ACE is on the far extreme of commuter railroad and more like a short corridor run.
     
    crescent-zephyr likes this.
  20. Nov 16, 2019 #20

    nti1094

    n

    nti1094

    Train Attendant

    Joined:
    Apr 9, 2015
    Messages:
    63
    I saw her testimony and one of her main points is that Amtrak has not once come in on or under budget, but Herzog has for years come in under budget based on beginning of year estimates. That makes planning and fare policy much easier and allowed for a cushion in an economic downturn. She was frustrated that Amtrak, despite being a railroad, can’t seem to get a handle on true costs. Also, she said that they don’t explain things that defy logic, like cutting service yet charging more for the service.
     
    daybeers, neroden, sttom and 3 others like this.
  21. Nov 17, 2019 #21

    TiBike

    TiBike

    TiBike

    OBS Chief

    Joined:
    Apr 18, 2015
    Messages:
    693
    Location:
    Alta California
    The SJJPA's "Valley Rail" project is below. It includes two more daily round trips for the San Joaquins. The environmental work (the toughest part of any project in California) is underway. The SJJPA board and staff are planning and managing accordingly. Right now, only the two roundtrips between Sacramento and Bakersfield share a station with ACE. They barely touch. But if Valley Rail happens, it's going to be an integrated system. Having a single operator could be very advantageous, perhaps even necessary.

    Interoperability and a seamless passenger experience within the system is far more important to SJJPA, and the State of California, than any benefit connectivity to long distance trains might offer. Even now, the San Joaquins and the extensive network of thruways (which aren't legally restricted any more to only serving passengers with train connections) offer better transportation service between northern California and LA/Las Vegas than Amtrak long distance trains.

    Amtrak needs the San Joaquins far more than the San Joaquins need Amtrak.

    [​IMG]
     
  22. Nov 18, 2019 #22

    sttom

    s

    sttom

    Lead Service Attendant

    Joined:
    Jan 24, 2019
    Messages:
    301
    Having used trains in Europe and having talked with Europeans, having suburban and provincial trains (the equivalent of ACE) be separate from the national rail operator (in our case Amtrak) never seemed to even be an issue for them. There is such a notion as being a specialist in one area and not a jack of all trades. This is also an argument for not letting commuter agencies run intercity services.

    As I haven mentioned before, what about the costs to transition? Or train the train and station staff should they switch? Also where is Herzog going to get people that know how intercity trains work vs commuters? Would the transition lead to a downgrade in service? It would stand to reason that switching operators might end up costing more than its worth.
     
  23. Nov 18, 2019 #23

    crescent-zephyr

    c

    crescent-zephyr

    Conductor

    Joined:
    Oct 21, 2015
    Messages:
    1,954
    The costs would be the new operators responsibility.
     
  24. Nov 18, 2019 #24

    Thirdrail7

    T

    Thirdrail7

    Conductor AU Supporter

    Joined:
    Jul 9, 2014
    Messages:
    4,159
    I would hope that what basically translates into an intrastate short distance service offers better transportation than a long-distance train that operates once a day.

    People made the same foolish statements about MARC, MBTA, VRE and MetroLink.

    Yet, Amtrak still seems to hang in there. I doubt Amtrak "needs" the San Joaquins any more than the San Joaquins "needs" Amtrak.
     
    Pere Flyer, sttom and Bob Dylan like this.
  25. Nov 18, 2019 #25

    sttom

    s

    sttom

    Lead Service Attendant

    Joined:
    Jan 24, 2019
    Messages:
    301
    Who would really take on the start up costs with no guarantee of either a multi year contract or the state footing the bill for the transition? The original reporting shows that contract with Amtrak is an annual contract.
     

Share This Page



arrow_white