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
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
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.