Five years ago, at a time of robust economic growth, the board of the Orange County Transportation Authority approved a plan to expand Metrolink commuter rail service.At the time, officials predicted that by 2010, average weekday ridership on the three Metrolink lines that serve Orange County would grow from about 14,000 to more than 30,000.Then came the recession. Ridership levels are back near where they were five years ago, after rising in the intervening years. In October 2010, average weekday ridership on the three lines was 14,818, down 3 percent from a year earlier.Meanwhile, OCTA has delayed plans to add new trains. The agency initially envisioned adding 16 round trips between Fullerton and Laguna Niguel by 2009, but didn’t. It’s now looking at adding at most six round trips in 2011, with more to come later.The expansion, which was approved by voters as part of the renewed Measure M sales tax ballot initiative in 2006, ultimately envisions adding 34 new trains in the county, to bring the daily total to 76. The overall cost, which includes buying new locomotives and passenger cars as well as making improvements to stations, expanding parking lots, and making street crossings safer, is more than $400 million.Will Kempton, OCTA’s CEO, believes that once trains are running more frequently, more people will ride them.The idea is that, with trains running every half hour or so, “people won’t have to worry so much about a schedule,” Kempton said. “They can simply go to the station and know that there will be a train.”That, he says, should result in a “stable and expanding ridership base.”Still, it’s unclear who the new riders will be.“Voters always vote for rail,” said David Brownstone, an economics professor at UC Irvine who studies transportation.Brownstone noted that California voters in 2008 approved a $10 billion bond measure for a high-speed rail system that could one day compete with Metrolink and Amtrak on the Anaheim-to-Los Angeles route.“They think it’s going to cut congestion,” Brownstone said. “Time and time again, people vote for these things and I think they think someone else is going to take (the train). It doesn’t happen.”Yet studies have shown that increasing the frequency of transit service does yield an increase in ridership, said Marlon Boarnet, a professor of planning at UCI.The studies suggest that a 100 percent increase in service will result in a 50 percent growth in ridership, he said.“I think it’s a pretty good idea,” he said, of OCTA’s plan to expand service.One pitfall: while OCTA owns the tracks between Fullerton and South County, the tracks between Fullerton and Los Angeles are owned by freight-hauler BNSF. Metrolink gets a certain number of daily slots and on the Fullerton-to-Los Angeles rails, and those are already filled.That means L.A.-bound riders on new Orange County trains are likely to find there are no additional connections waiting for them once they get to Fullerton.
Monday, November 29, 2010
More trains, more riders
Sunday, November 28, 2010
Russian HSR turns a profit
The Sapsan high-speed train launched by Russian rail monopoly Russian Railways (RZhD) less than twelve months ago has proved to be the monopoly's sole profitable enterprise in the passenger transport sector, with its profit margin hitting 30 percent, RZhD President Vladimir Yakunin said on Tuesday.
"The other types of rail passenger transportation are loss-making," Yakunin said in an interview with Vedomosti business daily, adding that losses amounted to 34 billion rubles ($1.1 billion) from commuter train carriage and 36 billion rubles from long-distance train transportation.
Commuter train tariffs are regulated by regional authorities while rates for economy-class coaches are set by the Federal Tariff Service. These rates are lower than the economically justified level and therefore the government has to compensate the rail monopoly for its losses, an RZhD representative said. Tariffs for Sapsan fast-speed trains, however, are regulated directly by Russian Railways, which offers competitive rapid carriage services compared with other means of transport.
The demand for high-speed rail passenger carriage has proved to be so strong that the company is considering buying another eight Sapsan trains, Yakunin said, without specifying the terms of the expected deal.
The company plans to make a decision on the purchase by the end of 2010, Valentin Gapanovich, RZhD senior vice-president, said on Friday.
Russian Railways currently has eight high-speed Sapsans produced by the German engineering group Siemens. They run between St Petersburg, Moscow and Nizhny Novgorod. The Sapsan occupancy rate is 84.5 percent, according to RzHD.
The company's revenues from ticket sales may amount to 205 million euros annually at the current ticket price, while profits from the operation of these trains exceed 61 million euros.