Take Trains Via The Coast. It can pay for itself.

Commentary by Robert F. Mac Donald, RailPAC Member, Oakland

The media have been playing up the rise in the price gasoline to the summer time high of about $ 5.00 per gallon. For the past several months, the media, and the rail advocate editors, have stressed the potential death of the California High Speed Rail project. The California High Speed Rail scheme has died for several reasons: one, the first idea was to tie the San Francisco Airport to the Los Angeles Airport; second, the nineteenth century idea that San Francisco is the destination of choice, rather than the nine county Bay Area in the north; third, the undeveloped plan of how to get from Bakersfield, over the Tehachapi Mountains and their San Andreas Fault to Lancaster or beyond; and fourth, the two long stretches of much reduced speed that was never presented to the public!

A review of the current Timetable of AMTRAK’s Starlight, and S. P.’s Coast Daylight Timetable of April 29, 1956, shows that the Daylight made its journey between San Jose’s train station to Santa Barbara in six hours and twenty-three minutes (6:23). That is one hour and forty minutes faster than today’s Starlight for the same 323.8 miles!

In the past 55 years, the SP and the UP railroads have up-graded most the rail on the Coast Line to 136 # welded rail, and has added CTC signal systems between San Jose and Salinas, and San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara. Since about 2003, this line has had thousands of new ties installed.

It should be noted that here in the Bay Area, four passenger rail lines meet the Coast Line at the San Jose AMTRAK Depot. They are the Capitol Corridor, CALTRAIN, ACE, and VTA. While VTA is local electric line in Silicon Valley, the Capitol Corridor serves the East Bay, North Bay, and Sacramento; ACE serves the Livermore Valley, Tracy, and Stockton; and CALTRAIN serves the West Bay to San Francisco.

What is true about rail connections at San Jose, CA are true at LA Union Station, at the southern end of the Coast Line corridor! Commuter lines go north, east, south, and somewhat west from this depot and transfer point.

Why is so much more time needed now (2012) than was needed 60 years ago to run trains between San Jose and Santa Barbara, even with better track and signals? Is it the radio dispatching system, or is it lack of track maintenance?

Who is to blame for the reduced passenger train speeds on the Coast Line? Is it the Union Pacific management? Is it CALTRANS and its Division of Rail? Is the California Public Utilities Commission? Is it the California State Legislature? Or is it the Federal Government’s Department of Transportation, Surface Transportation Board or it’s FRA?

Those who need to fly, will continue to do so! Those people that don’t want to pay $5.00 per gallon of gasoline for the 750 mile round trip (about 25 to 42 gallons depending on the vehicle), will ride the train! At $5.00 per gallon, the cost of gasoline alone ranges from $ 125 to $ 210 per round trip. AMTRAK currently quotes fares on the Coast Starlight between San Jose and Los Angeles at $ 54.00 to 105.00, one way, depending on date of reservation before travel. Currently, AMTRAK fares between San Jose and Santa Barbara, CA, are $ 44.00/ $ 86.00, one way!

Remember, that the IRS will allow you to take about $ 0.65 per mile deduction on your taxes in 2011, if your vehicle is used for business! That can be your cost for any vehicle trip; gasoline is usually out-of-pocket!

As the price of operating one’s vehicle soars, it is time to get the Coast Line between San Jose and Los Angeles up to 1950’s Morning Daylight operating schedule, or better. It is time to bring two Surfliner schedules, each way daily, from San Luis Obispo to San Jose, CA. (Call them Morning and Evening Daylights if you wish.) It is time to get Grants to assist the Union Pacific RR upgrade the signal system, add CTC and PTC, upgrade or add sidings, and make 5 to 8 passenger friendly line changes! It is time to have the CALIFORNIA ZEPHYR turn south at Oakland, CA and run as the night train from Oakland to Los Angeles on a pre-AMTRAK LARK schedule!

Interesting, if the Capitol Corridor JPB can run 32 trains a day with Union Pacific’s Roseville /Oakland freights and 10 other passenger trains, someone can operate six (6) more daily passenger trains on the Coast Line now. The Southern Pacific did it more than 90 years ago!

“Next time take the train.” It may pay you!

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