Too Many Conductors Ruin the Trains?

Have you every thought about who's in charge of intercity train service in the United States? Hopefully not, because if you did, you'd probably end ...
by | January 26, 2007

Train_1 Have you every thought about who's in charge of intercity train service in the United States? Hopefully not, because if you did, you'd probably end up with a headache.

Take the Capitol Corridor, which runs from Sacramento to Oakland to San Jose.

-Union Pacific, a private company, owns almost all of the tracks and operates freight trains on the corridor.

-Under California law, the Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority (CCJPA), a coalition of six local transit agencies, is in charge of passenger service on the route. These six agencies represent a total of eight counties, which each get to have two members on CCJPA's board.

-Since 1999, CCJPA has selected one of those six transit agencies, the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART), to manage the service.

-But BART doesn't actually operate the trains. The CCJPA has hired Amtrak, everyone's least favorite quasi-federal entity, to do that job.

-The California Department of Transportation (CALTRANS), which managed the line until 1998, still provides funding.

-Ombudsman and oversight responsibilities are handled by an independent commission consisting of James Baker, Lindsay Lohan, the Dalai Lama, Mr. T and Tai Shan.

Ok, so that last one is just a rumor. Nonetheless, this is a pretty complicated way to manage your train service.

In spite of that, the Capitol Corridor is considered one of the most successful intercity passenger rail services in the country. But the future is a bit murkier.

On California railroads and around the country, freight traffic is growing. In regional corridors such as San Jose to Sacramento, especially ones where state governments are contributing money, passenger ridership is up too.

The result is a widespread need for capital improvements, which is why intercity trains have such poor on-time performance. With so many parties involved, it's not clear anyone will see it as their job to provide the money.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com

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