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By Angela Cotey, associate editor
Dec. 12 marked the 15th year of intercity commuter-rail service on northern California’s 170-mile Capitol Corridor. For the Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority (CCJPA), it was cause for celebration and a chance to reflect on several accomplishments it had made since the authority assumed corridor management in 1998.
In its first year of operation, the state-managed, Amtrak-operated route ran three round-trip trains and carried about 270,000 passengers. By 1998, four daily trains carried 460,000 passengers daily — much fewer than projected, says CCJPA Managing Director Eugene Skoropowski.
So CCJPA was created that year under a state law that enabled counties and transit agencies in any of California’s three intercity route service areas to assume management of the route. CCJPA comprises two representatives from each of the eight counties the Capitol Corridor serves; the authority also represents the corridor’s six member transit agencies.
When CCJPA assumed management of the San Jose-to-San Francisco-to-Sacramento route, its main objectives included increasing service and making the Capitol Corridor a bigger part of northern California’s transportation system.
“We wanted to interconnect with local services at the stations we serve, build a better working relationship with the host railroad and work with them to make mutually beneficial capital investments,” says Skoropowski.
CCJPA has followed through on those goals. During the past seven years, the authority has invested $80 million to upgrade the corridor to accommodate more trains and, in turn, riders. Amtrak now operates 32 trains along the corridor and serves 1.3 million passengers daily. In addition, the farebox recovery ratio has risen from 29.8 percent in 1998 to just under 50 percent today.
“We haven’t received an increase in state funding since 2001, so all of our additional service has been financed by farebox growth,” says Skoropowski.
That growth provided CCJPA $70 million during the past several years to add double track and sidings along a 45-mile stretch between Oakland and San Jose. Once the project was completed in August 2006, the authority implemented its largest-ever service expansion by adding eight trains between Sacramento and Oakland, and six trains between Oakland and San Jose. And ridership has grown.
In October 2006, ridership rose 9.8 percent compared with October 2005 data to more than 120,000 — a ridership record. And in November, the authority posted another record, carrying more than 121,000 passengers — a 10.8 percent increase compared with November 2005’s total.
Preparing for growth
Now, CCJPA has identified several other projects it would complete in conjunction with Union Pacific Railroad, which owns most of the Capitol Corridor tracks. But first, officials expect to begin operating longer trains rather than more trains, says Skoropowski.
The authority plans to purchase additional rolling stock, which will enable CCJPA to operate seven- or eight-car trains instead of the four- to five-car trains it operates now.
In the meantime, CCJPA will improve passenger amenities. In mid-2007, the authority expects to put out a request for proposals for a wireless-fidelity (Wi-Fi) Internet provider. The agency has tested Wi-Fi technology onboard trains for the past couple of years. In addition, CCJPA will install new ticket vending machines at all stations in spring. Also this year, CCJPA plans to upgrade a software program that provides automated train arrival information at stations to offer the information in real time.
Last month, U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters signed a $2.6 billion Full Funding Grant Agreement (FFGA) for MTA Long Island Rail Road’s (LIRR) East Side Access project — the largest-ever federal investment in a transit project, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. The FFGA will be administered by the Federal Transit Administration.
Once complete in 2013, the $6.3 billion, 3.5-mile extension will provide LIRR commuters direct access to New York City’s Grand Central Terminal, shaving more than 40 minutes off commute times and freeing up space at capacity-strained Penn Station. Currently, 80 percent of LIRR commuters take trains to Penn Station on Manhattan’s west side, where many then back-track to the city’s east side.
The project — which will extend LIRR’s system for the first time in more than a century — includes building new tunnels under Manhattan and Queens to connect with the existing 63rd Street Tunnel below the East River.
The FTA will distribute grant funds between now and 2016.