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Amtrak Pacific Surfliner Service Problems

Intercity vs. Intracity:

Amtrak Pacific Surfliner is viewed as providing more long distance service city to city, and even skipping some cities in between to reduce travel time. The unproven assumption is that slightly less travel time between cities served will add more ridership than the number of riders lost from the stops that are skipped.

Another assumption is that the intracity providers, Metrolink and Coaster, will serve the cities skipped by the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner intercity service. There are a couple of major problems with this assumption. A separate fare is required when connecting from one service to the other. This often prices such trips out of the market. Generally short trips have a high fare and the fare increases incrementally slower as the distance increases. Forcing someone to pay two fares for their trip creates an artifically high cost for a trip that requires travel on 2 different rail providers.

Another problem is that in most cases there IS NO intracity train to connect to in order to reach the stations skipped by the intercity train. Either the connecting wait time can be hours between the trains, or there IS NO intracity train serving the skipped stations.

So, the whole concept that the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner train can skip stations, drop passengers off at one of the limited stops, and then those passengers can take the local intracity Metrolink train to their desired destination, just does not work. What is the real shame is that same Amtrak Pacific Surfliner train will just zip right past the desired destination or boarding point of those passengers. Service could be provided by just stopping the train at those stations. A great deal of service could be added just by stopping the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner at more of the already existing stations.

It is assumed that stopping a these additional stations would significantly increase travel time and there would be a loss of ridership caused by the additional travel time. Has this ever been studied? Might it rather be that ridership would increase by serving all these stations more than the number of riders lost from the slightly longer travel time?

Also, is it really necessary that travel time increase with the additional stops? Could the travel time rather be decreased through shorter dwell time at stations and better timing of meets? For example, a train I used to take often would sit in the Laguna Niguel Metrolink train every day waiting for a northbound train to pass. However, the train would not open its doors even though it was sitting waiting at the station platform because that station was not in its timetable. If trains have to wait for meets anyway, why not schedule that wait time to be at additional stations that could be served?

Also there are unnecessary delays observed at most stations. Though the Surfliner cars are designed with 2 automatic double doors in every car, not all doors open at every station. Because most trainsets include one Superliner Coach Car with a single center door that is nomrally never opened, this causes passenger to have to walk a car length to the nearest open door. Even worse, Conductors often do not open the door to the Surfliner Cab Car that is beyond the Superliner Car. This often means passengers must walk 2 car lengths to the nearest open door. If these passengers are elderly or have luggage or other walking impediments, this can be quite a delay while waiting for passengers to walk the 2 car lengths.

A related problem is coordinating Business Class and Unreserved Class passengers to board the doors at the corresponding car. Business Class passengers are often directed to board several cars down from where they were standing at the platform.

These delays of passengers getting the right open door to board could be fixed by marking the platform where the doors can be found that ALWAYS open on every train arrival. Even business class positions could be marked totally eliminating the delays of people walking to the correct open doors.

Another cause of delay is people with luggage queuing up to get on the train while they wait for others in front of them trying to climb the stairs with luggage. It is difficult to board quickly if there are people in front of you slowly climbing the stairs in front of you with their burden. Loading could be greatly accelerated if passengers with luggage were allowed to remain on the lower level with their luggage. It seems there are often a lot more seats available on the lower level than needed by those who have difficulty climbing stairs. Passengers with large luggage should be allowed to use lower level seating unless it is in short supply for those that can not climb stairs. Not having to carry large luggage up the stairs would expedite passenger loading at every stop.

The above changes to expedite passenger loading will save significant station dwell times and will allow for the additional time needed to serve the stations that are now being skipped by the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner.

Even further advanced time savings could be implemented to reduce dwell time. Passengers on the train could be requested to disembark from the rear of each car. If this is coordinated with platform markings directing passengers to embark at the front of each car, then at station stops passengers could be embarking and disembarking simultaneously. Certainly not everyone will pay attention to these directions, but overall it should greatly expedite the loading / unloading process and further reducing dwell time.

Another advantage of having the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner stop at every station is that it would help with future servie integration. It would be of great help to passengers in improving service and eliminating confusion if any passenger beginning and ending their trip within the service range of Metrolink could take any train that stops at their station knowing that train will be stopping at their destination station. Same is also true of passengers in San Deigo. If every train stopped at every station and fares could be integrated, then any passenger in San Diego County could board any train knowing it would stop at their destination station. Only those passengers traveling between San Diego and Orange/Los Angeles Counties would have to be concerned about only boarding an Amtrak trains since only the Amtrak trains serve the stations in both regions. But even the boarding of the wrong train in this case would not cause any delays for the passenger. They would just get off at the final destination of the train they are riding and board the next Amtrak train heading in the desired direction.

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