A Look Ahead At The Future Of California Passenger Rail Service

by Noel Braymer — In the short run, it is easy to get discouraged about the future of passenger rail service in this country. But each time I look at traffic on or read how unstable the oil supply in the world is, I know in the long run the future is bright.

In California years of hard work are paying off with steady ridership growth on the CAPITOL CORRIDOR, SAN JOAQUINS and PACIFIC SURFLINERS. The San Francisco International Airport BART extension is now open with connections to Caltrain. The “BABY BULLET TRAINS” project for express service on Caltrain is well underway with new cars delivered and track work underway. Metrolink has announced they will extend service from Riverside to Perris. T he Gold Line between Pasadena and Los Angeles Union Station is now running. and off to a big start. There is even a return of “Red Car” service on one and a half miles of track in San Pedro in the Los Angeles Harbor. This Ten Million-Dollar project certainly has an incredible cost for route mile! In San Diego the extension of the East Line in Mission Valley is well along. for opening in the summer of 2005. Plans are going ahead for a new Union City Station in Fremont which will provide connections between BART, Amtrak, ACE, and future Commuter Service between the Peninsula and East Bay over a rebuilt Dumbarton Bridge. That’s a lot to say wow over!

There are problems of course. The Sprinter is the proposed Oceanside to Escondido Diesel Light Rail project which is funded and ready to start construction this fall. Despite this, a group of Homeowners in San Marcos are trying to stir opposition to kill the project at this late hour. Mostly they are afraid the earthen berm used to elevate the train in their neighborhood will spoil their view. I’ve been in the area; it will be an improvement. In Orange County the Centerline Light Rail Project is being redesigned yet again after the City of Irvine (which once promoted a county wide Monorail system) rejected service in their city. Now an 8-mile starter service from the Santa Ana Train Station to John Wayne Airport is being looked at. The greatest uncertainty of course is the State Budget. Funding for these and other projects are up in the air as long as the polarization in Sacramento continues. Even with a budget there will be a struggle for scarce funds.

Yet according to polls commissioned by the High Speed Rail Authority 80% of Californians favor construction of a State Wide High Speed Rail System. Traffic congestion is a major concern across California. The High Speed Rail Authority is planning to put a 10 billion Dollar Bond issue on the ballot in fall of next year to find how strong demand is in the State for High Speed Rail. There is a group in Los Angeles proposing a High-Speed Rail connection between LAX, Ontario and Palmdale Airports. This would be funded with Airport money and used to develop Palmdale and relieve congestion at LAX. Even before this LAX was committed to extending the Green Line into the airport.

The basic philosophy of RailPAC remains committed to promoting small incremental projects that are easy to fund which have a good return on investment. One piece at a time we are building a statewide system, which meshes into a national system. The Gold Line for example will feed passengers to the Red Line as well as Amtrak and Metrolink. Big successes of small projects feed demand for bigger future projects. Look for more projects in the near future!

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