Draft California Rail Plan Released
The State of California has released its draft California State Rail Plan, an in-depth document that looks at the present and future of both passenger and freight rail. The plan is built around the following vision statement: “California has a premier, customer-focused rail system that successfully moves people and products while enhancing economic growth and quality of life.”
Specifically, the plan’s objective for passenger rail is:
California is committed to developing a world-class, sustainable passenger rail system that accomplishes the following objectives:
• Integrates high-speed, intercity, and commuter rail services into a coordinated statewide network.
• Is state-of-the-art and customer-focused.
• Provides an accessible mobility option that connects to other modes.
• Reduces highway congestion, improves air quality, reduces greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, promotes local and regional economic development, fosters livable and vibrant communities, and supports social equity.
The draft plan itself runs to 380 pages and is a gold mine of information about the current state of passenger rail in California as well as the history of intercity rail, with detailed ridership and financial data for routes like the Pacific Surfliners (known until 2000 as the San Diegans) going back to 1973. The data shows steady ridership growth over several decades, including significant jumps in the early 1980s and again in the early 1990s as new capacity was brought online, as well as the huge leaps in ridership over the last dozen or so years that most readers are more familiar with.
Looking forward, the plan takes a look at ways to integrate passenger and freight rail, addressing common bottlenecks such as tracks in the East Bay and handling future passenger rail service on freight tracks such as a Capitol Corridor extension to Salinas or Reno, a San Joaquin extension to Redding, and the X Train proposal for weekend service to Las Vegas (separate from the XpressWest plan for HSR service on dedicated tracks). The corridors with “the most pressing challenges” were identified as follows:
• Downtown Burbank to Ventura, Central Coast (SCRRA member agencies, UPRR). Modest freight train counts, high numbers of commuter trains.
• Stockton to Martinez, San Joaquin Valley (BNSF, UPRR). Northern California Unified Rail Service (NCURS) effects, modest freight train counts.
• Sacramento to Stockton (UPRR) to Bakersfield, San Joaquin Valley (BNSF). Heavier freight train traffic in a critical freight corridor, NCURS effects.
• Oakland to Sacramento to Roseville, Northern California (UPRR). Modest freight rail traffic, high Capitol Corridor train frequencies.
• Los Angeles to Downtown Burbank, Southern California (Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority). Modest freight traffic, very heavy commuter traffic.
• Los Angeles to Colton, Southern California (UPRR): High freight and passenger train counts, including commuter rail.
• Los Angeles to Riverside, Southern California (UPPR, BNSF). Substantial freight train counts in critical cross country traffic lanes matched with high commuter rail frequencies.
• Los Angeles to Irvine, Southern California (BNSF, Orange County Transportation Authority). Modest freight traffic, heavy intercity and commuter traffic.
• Oceanside to San Diego, Southern California (NCTD and San Diego Metropolitan Transit System). Heavy intercity and commuter traffic.
The plan also notes that major increases in ridership are expected on the Peninsula rail corridor between San Francisco and San José, which to me is further argument for pushing back hard against any move by Peninsula cities to prevent capacity expansion on that route.
In Chapter 8 the plan gets into precise details regarding possible investments for passenger rail service, from the Northern California Unified Rail Service proposal (aligning the passenger rail needs of multiple agencies) to high speed rail’s Initial Operating Segment to improvements for existing intercity rail corridors.
Proposed new rail service includes the long-discussed Coast Daylight (and a detailed list of track improvements is given) as well as regular service to the Coachella Valley, where new Amtrak Thruway bus service has demonstrated demand for intercity rail service. Commuter rail improvements are also discussed, including everything from Metrolink to COASTER to a long-overdue Ventura to Santa Barbara commuter rail service.
The map on page 268 of the draft plan is worth a look, though the image is too large to effectively post here. In fact, you should just set aside an evening, or a day, or a week, to read closely through the entire document.
I am still wading through the details of the plan and will have some more thoughts over the weekend. But feel free to post your impressions, whether shallow or deep, in the comments.