Rail Committee meeting held August 6, 2012
Report by Chris Flescher, Salinas RailPAC Director
Santa Cruz Branch Line
George Dondero, the Executive Director of the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission (SCCRTC), made a presentation. In (last) December, the Sierra Northern Railroad pulled out of an agreement to operate service on the branch line. The SCCRTC issued a Request For Proposals (RFP) to potential operators. They received 5 proposals in response. The SCCRTC chose Iowa Pacific (IP), an agency that currently runs 4 passenger rail services elsewhere in the country. The IP is interested in public/private partnerships. The proposed agreement with Iowa Pacific was filed a week ago with the Surface Transportation Board (STB). When the SCCRTC hears back from the STB, reaching a final agreement with the IP should take a few weeks.
In November, they expect to have a Polar Express tourist train running over the line. They are already running similar tourist services in a few other places. An engineering firm is doing inspection work on the bridges, and that is almost complete. The IP is interested in Santa Cruz-Gilroy-San Jose-San Francisco service, although that would not happen soon. They have a good working relationship with Union Pacific. The IP is also interested in Santa Cruz – Monterey service.
NOTE: An extended report about the Santa Cruz service will appear in the November-December issue of Steel Wheels.
Christina Watson and Debbie Hale attended the California Transportation Commission (CTC) meeting on June 27. The CTC supported the TAMC request to extend some deadlines for funding as follows: The Traffic Congestion Relief Program will provide $4 million for the design phase, with the deadline of Dec 31, 2013. The same program will provide $15 million for the right of way phase, with the deadline of October 13, 2014. Proposition 116 will provide $6 million for the right of way phase, with a February 28, 2014 deadline.
The CTC commissioners asked questions about the project operating costs. TAMC agreed to bring a report to the CTC within 6 months. TAMC expects to develop an agreement with the Capitol Corridor, in time to present a report about it at the CTC January 8, 2013 meeting
On June 22, representatives from the FTA took a tour of the planned station sites.
TAMC continues to work with the FTA on finalizing the Administrative Draft Environmental Assessment in anticipation of publishing a public review in the fall. When the review is complete, it will be presented to the Rail Policy Committee for review and comment, then to the TAMC board for a public hearing.
On June 13, TAMC met with County of Monterey staff to discuss progress and resolution of issues relating to the Pajaro and Castroville stations, as well as land use information needed for the project’s Small Starts grant application.
State High Speed Rail
That project should improve some rail infrastructure and help TAMC with the commuter rail extension. The infrastructure upgrades (San Jose-Gilroy) should be complete by 2018, which is also the year TAMC expects the commuter rail extension to start service. The new infrastructure would allow more trains south of San Jose, and two of those are expected to continue to Salinas.
After 9 short-term extensions, Congress has finally adopted a new transportation authorization bill, MAP-21. The bill contains no earmarks. The new bill will not provide solid long-term funding for the transportation system or new sources of funds. The bill provides similar levels of funds as the older one and will run for 2 years.
The Small Starts program continues, but under the new name Fixed Guideway Capital Investment Program. It continues to provide some funding for Bus Rapid Transit programs. It adds a new category, improving core capacity of existing systems. That means that some existing systems will compete with new systems, like the ones in Monterey County. TAMC will have greater challenges in getting money for the rail projects here.
The bill will allow the approval process for programs to move faster, which should save TAMC some time.