Commentary, Issues

Passenger Rail Investment Priorities – RailPAC View

I was recently asked by a member about our policy towards investments, particularly regarding High Speed Rail versus conventional incremental improvements.  Below is my attempt at a brief answer.  I’d be interested to hear from you, and let me know if I have your permission to post your comments.


Thank you for raising a vital question.  I’ll try to be brief and to the point.

1.  Passenger rail is under invested in California.  Examples in southern California include lack of double track on the LOSSAN corridor and several Metrolink routes, and failure to build the Los Angeles Union Station run through tracks.  There are many similar examples in the north.  These investments are not just vital but represent a bare minimum commitment to an efficient passenger rail service.

2.  In my view, and shared I think by most members, is that there are key routes, built in the 19th or early 20th century, that are simply not competitive for modern transportation needs.  These include Los Angeles to Bakersfield, Los Angeles to the Antelope Valley, and the northern San Joaquin Valley to the Bay Area and Silicon Valley.  No amount of investment will be sufficient to upgrade the existing lines, and new construction, especially tunneling, will be necessary to facilitate the kind of service we believe is needed.

3.  When the High Speed Rail Project was first proposed our concept was to see investment in electrified regional networks in both northern and southern CA which would be the anchors of a trunk line linking the two.  If the project survives after many missteps I think this will be the course finally taken.  It will be a long time before Los Angeles and Bakersfield are finally linked by fast rail service.

4.  As for the money, California has a similar sized economy to Spain, Switzerland, or the Netherlands.  These countries have made the decision to invest large in modern rail systems, and I don’t see why California should not be able to do the same.  Both Spain and Switzerland have similar topographical challenges to California, and they were not daunted by the cost.

5.  The national network (long-distance) trains are nice to have, and represent some useful mobility options as well as leisure and tourist opportunities.  The trains urgently need new rolling stock, which should be funded at the federal level from the large sums Amtrak receives every year, and chooses to spend elsewhere.

I hope that helps, and I’d certainly be interested to hear your opinion.

Paul Dyson.

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