RailPAC Policy Initiative For 2006

Commentary by Paul Dyson, RailPAC President

Funding For Rail Expansion In California – Grade Separation Projects.

Grade Separation Funding – RailPAC’s view.

RailPAC is concerned that a disproportionate amount of passenger rail funds is spent on grade separation projects. We believe that the State of California does not spend nearly enough on this important aspect of public safety. However, we need a new funding formula and mechanism to ensure equity in the process.

Example: LOSSAN Projects, Los Angeles to Fullerton Third Main Track.

The LOSSAN project list includes the provision of a third main track between Hobart Yard and Fullerton to accommodate the growing number of commuter, intercity and freight trains on that route. This is an excellent development with which we agree 100%. In November of 2005 this project was estimated to cost $383 million. But where exactly is this money going? And who are the beneficiaries? Of the total $383 millions, no less than $257 millions will be spent on 4 grade separation projects! These are needed under today’s highway and traffic volumes, and will be essential when the third track is in place. But the benefits are spread well beyond rail passengers. The list includes:

  • Automobile Users. Significant time savings for motorists at these crossing. Fuel savings too.
  • Bus Users. A number of bus routes use the crossings in question. Delays will be eliminated, making the service more reliable and attractive to riders, and reducing operating costs and fuel consumption.
  • Public Safety: Other than the Glendale criminal act (deliberate derailment of passenger train) the majority of fatalities and injuries at grade crossings are incurred by motorists and pedestrians.
  • Air Quality: The whole community benefits from the elimination of idling of diesel and gasoline engines for long periods at grade crossings.
  • Rail Passengers: Some improvement to safety and reduction of delays due to automobile or pedestrian accidents.
  • Freight Railroads: Greater safety and fewer delays.

As you can see, the benefits of grade separations are widespread, and to some degree benefit all members of society. We should also be aware that rail critics use the total cost of “rail” projects as a propaganda weapon against us, citing what they believe is a poor rate of return. By instituting a fairer system of funding for grade separations we end up with a truer cost of rail infrastructure improvements and a better understanding of the benefits of rail passenger expansion on a comparative cost basis.

It seems to me therefore that the funding should not come exclusively from rail budgets but also from highways, air quality and public safety funds. What we need is an entirely new funding mechanism within the state that acknowledges the multiple benefits of grade separations and provides a consistent source of money to fund a rolling program that will remove a large percentage of the busiest crossings over the next ten years. The “Grade Separation Trust Fund” would receive contributions from Highway, Rail, Air Quality, Homeland Security and local sources and be administered and distributed by Caltrans based on a risk assessment formula. I’d suggest a 20% contribution from passenger rail.

In the case of the LOSSAN triple track project, if this formula existed, the “passenger rail” cost of this upgrade would be more like $125 million instead of $383 million. That would leave us with an additional $257 million to invest in other projects. Imagine the impact of this throughout the state.

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