The Public’s Relationship With The Union Pacific

Guest Editorial by “Coast Observer,” who by his position has asked to be anonymous at this time — In spite of the continued efforts by a handful of stalwarts particularly in the Central Coast area, the effort to increase Coast Line passenger service remains stalled. The problems are a combination of a lack of project specific funding and UP procrastination and obfuscation. Maybe it’s time for a new approach.

Union Pacific is claiming that there is no capacity for additional passenger trains on the Coast Line and in other areas, while at the same time refusing to offer specifics as to the facilities and investments they would require for each additional train. This is in spite of their insistence that the taxpayer pay for a computerized capacity analysis of their choosing. UP is now saying that the analysis may be flawed but it should be run again “when funds are available to run a train”. It’s hard not to characterize this as deliberate obstruction.

I think it’s time for a statewide review of the public’s relationship with Union Pacific at the highest political level. In 1995 when UP was beginning the process to acquire Southern Pacific freight shippers were promised a new dawn; a high level of service from a company with the resources to implement it. The opposite happened, and many California businesses suffered heavy financial losses as a result. Now the economy is strong, we’re sucking in imports at a record rate, and all the spare railroad capacity has been soaked up. UP’s response is to raise freight rates to such a level as to drive away business that they don’t want and consequently to increase truck traffic.

What does this have to do with the proposed Coast Daylight train from Los Angeles to San Francisco? Public agencies, including the Southern California Association of Governments, are proposing to invest heavily in rail freight facilities such as Alameda Corridor East. That’s fine, but public investment in rail freight should be reciprocated with some of the capacity being made available for passenger trains. The Coast Line is one of only two rail links between Northern and Southern California and we need some reserve capacity. Let’s have an amicable, positive dialogue with UP to determine what the true needs are for freight and passenger and then figure out a way to fund it. This is true for all passenger routes in California, not just the coast. It’s time for the Governor of California to get involved.

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