Dreaming of future trains

By RailPAC President Noel T. Braymer — This seems the right time of year to reflect on what new rail service we have to look forward to and to dream about new projects. I’m writing about my own personal choices, though I’m sure many share some of my dreams. We have many projects to look forward to. There is light rail service being extended on 3rd St. in San Francisco in 2006 as well as RT light rail service to the Amtrak Station in Sacramento. The SPRINTER between Oceanside and Escondido will be running by 2008. By 2009 the GOLD LINE will be extended from LAUS out to East Los Angeles. Metrolink will see service extended to Perris and half-hourly service in Orange County by 2009. By 2010 the EXPO LINE will be running from Culver City to downtown Los Angeles. Also in 2010 the Dumbarton rail bridge will reopen connecting the Bay Area between the Peninsula and the East Bay. All these projects stared out as a dream.

What I would most like to see are major upgrades on the Coast Line between Los Angeles and San Jose. This is needed to improve service and on time performance for the COAST STARLIGHT, PACIFIC SURFLINERS, METROLINK, future commuter service in the Santa Barbara area, direct rail service to Monterey and CALTRAIN service to Gilroy. Ridership on the PACIFIC SURFLINERS and connecting bus service north of Santa Barbara has shown there is strong demand on the Coast Line for passenger service between Los Angeles and San Francisco. I’d love to see a minimum of three Bay Area to Los Angeles trains on the Coast Line. This would include a fairly fast morning departure from both ends, a mid-day COAST STARLIGHT and an overnight train. Few services could serve more of California as a whole than service along the Coast. But before this can happen, the Coast Line needs major upgrading.

Something which will work well and is very “doable” would be to extend CAPITOL/SAN JOAQUIN service to Reno and to Redding out of a hub at Sacramento. Sacramento is a natural connection point. Coordinated service greatly expands ridership while controlling costs. That’s why the airlines have run hub and spoke operations for so many years.

A personal favorite of mine is to extend Metrolink on the old Santa Fe Harbor Line in Los Angeles. This would bring rail service from downtown Los Angeles to LAX, the South Bay and Harbor Areas of Los Angeles County which have little or no service now. Since this rail line is publicly owned, rail service can be opened in a very short time and at a very modest amount of money. Combined with the extension of the Green Line up to Century Blvd. and the LAX area, these two services will feed traffic to each other giving passengers multiple travel options to and from the LAX area. I want to mention that this service would parallel both the Santa Monica and San Diego Freeways in the areas that are the most congested in Los Angeles! (NOTE: See Mr. Braymer’s article and airport/rail photo in the Archives section of this website.)

Speaking of Los Angeles, a mere mile and a half of new trackage will greatly improve transit there. I’m talking about a downtown connector which would connect the Blue Line at 7th and Flower to the Gold Line’s East Los Angeles extension at 1st and Alameda. This will eliminate some annoying transfers while making others much easier. It can also open up the Bunker Hill area of downtown to rail transit.

Coming down for a moment back to the present, what is holding back most projects is money, or rather the lack of it. Rail spending has been stagnant in the state the last few years. Much progress has been made because as ridership on state services has grown, the extra income has made it possible to expand some service. But several good projects will need major funding before there is a chance they can begin. The state’s budget deficit is finally starting to balance as the economy has improved. Now is a good time to think about more rail construction funding. For example Los Angeles to Las Vegas service seems like a natural. The problem is the Cajon Pass is already congested with ever increasing harbor traffic. The railroads don’t say if, but when more tracks will be built in the pass.

Los Angeles to Palm Springs and further to Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona rail service is long overdue.. The problem again is increased harbor traffic. A flyover is badly needed to separate the UP over the BNSF at Colton crossing. The UP is trying to double track the entire Sunset route. Until the route to at least Palm Springs is largely double tracked it is unlikely that there will be more passenger trains.

Perhaps the greatest dream is direct service between Bakersfield and Los Angeles. The problem is the Tehachapi loop. There is growing traffic from the north going through the loop headed east on both the UP and BNSF mainlines. It is more realistic to talk about a new alignment for faster San Joaquin Valley to Southern California rail service than to try to fix the current line. This is not to say we won’t have these projects. But it will take longer and harder dreaming.

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