Amtrak Long Distance, Arizona, Coachella/Imperial Valleys, Commentary

RailPAC submits public comment letter on Coachella Valley Rail Tier 1 EIS/EIR

Click here for more information about the Coachella Valley-San Gorgonio Pass Rail Corridor Service project, currently under environmental review by Riverside County Transportation Commission, the Federal Railroad Administration, and the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans).

Amanda Ciampollio

Environmental Protection Specialist

Federal Railroad Administration

1200 New Jersey Avenue SE

Washington, DC 20590

June 27, 2021

Subject: Comments on Coachella Valley-San Gorgonio Pass Rail, Draft Tier 1/Program EIS/EIR

Dear Ms. Ciampollio:

The Rail Passengers Association of California and Nevada (RailPAC) is pleased to offer these comments to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), the Riverside County Transportation Commission (RCTC), and the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) Division of Rail and Mass Transportation on the Coachella Valley-San Gorgonio Pass Rail Corridor Service Program May 2021Tier 1/Program Environmental Impact Statement/Environmental Impact Report.  RailPAC is a 501c3 volunteer group of railroad professionals and advocates that has campaigned for improved personal mobility in California and the west since 1978.

RailPAC applauds this effort to advance additional intercity rail service between Los Angeles Union Station (“LAUS”) and the Coachella Valley. This new rail service has long been a goal of our organization, the California State Rail Plan, and Riverside County, and has been studied at least seven times by public agencies since the early 1990s. The time for action is now.

We recognize that this draft Tier 1/Program EIS/EIR is one step of a multi-phased iterative process, and that details such as passenger station locations will be evaluated and selected in the subsequent Tier 2/Project-level analyses. We look forward to reviewing this Tier 2 analysis. RailPAC also wants to emphasize how this project can open the door for future projects and goals much greater than the proposed new passenger rail service of two daily round-trip LAUS-Coachella Valley trains evaluated by the Tier 1 EIR.

  1. Third Mainline Track from Colton to Coachella

RailPAC fully supports the main feature of the preferred Build Alternative Option 1: the construction of a new third mainline track along 76 miles of the Union Pacific (UP) Railroad’s existing Yuma Subdivision between Colton and Coachella. Given the capital costs of the third mainline track proposed from Colton to the Coachella Valley, RailPAC wants to emphasize the variety of benefits to passenger and freight rail that are possible with this investment in additional track capacity. Any proposed service in the Coachella Valley Rail (CVR) corridor, and the capital improvements associated with it, must be recognized as a building block for future expansion. The initiatives described below would add significant public value to any capital grant request for a Colton-Coachella third mainline track:

  • Greater frequency and speed of CVR passenger trains. Improvements to the level of CVR service evaluated by this Tier 1/Program EIS/EIR recommended by RailPAC, would require and be enabled by the third mainline track: far greater frequency (minimum of 6 round-trips per day, preferably 12 or more) and higher speed (a goal of at least 60 mph average speed, up from the roughly 45 mph currently proposed). Fast and frequent service, competitive with driving, is essential to attract a rail ridership significant enough to provide major public benefits of reduced traffic congestion and pollution on the I-10 corridor.
  • Daily Amtrak Sunset Limited. Increase of the frequency of Amtrak’s Sunset Limited from tri-weekly to daily service has long been a goal of RailPAC. Of the multiple congestion bottlenecks along the Sunset Limited route between LAUS and New Orleans, which need to be relieved to allow daily service of this long-distance Amtrak train, the San Gorgonio Pass/Coachella Valley segment in Southern California is among the most important. There has long been wide-ranging support in the Coachella Valley for a daily Sunset Limited. Indio has been pushing for the Sunset Limited to return service to their community as well; and a new station built for the CVR service could also serve Amtrak trains. A daily Sunset Limited could complement the regional CVR service.  One of the markets served by Amtrak long-distance trains are shorter distance corridors. The Sunset Limited can add an extra schedule at off-peak times to add options and customer value to the CVR. The current schedule of the Sunset Limited which serves the Palm Springs station late in the evening/early in the morning almost certainly offers such an opportunity.
  • Benefits to UP freight rail. Steady growth of UP freight traffic on the Yuma Subdivision is projected to increase to 88 daily one-way freight trips on the Colton-Coachella segment by 2044 (pg. 2-26), more than double the 2018 average of 42 one-way freight trains per day (pg. 2-18). While UP has invested in many track capacity improvements on the Sunset Route over the years, one of its chokepoints remains the San Gorgonio Pass/Coachella Valley. With the new third main track, UP could run more conventional long-distance freight trains on the Sunset Route, and future short and medium-haul freight trains from LA/Inland Empire to the Coachella Valley and Arizona could be justified on public benefit of getting trucks off of I-10.
  • New California-Arizona regional passenger service. Amtrak’s May 2021 Connects US ‘Corridor Vision’ proposed one daily roundtrip of a LA-Arizona regional service, between LAUS, the Coachella Valley, Yuma, Phoenix and Tucson. For the long term, a daily Sunset Limited on its own is not sufficient to be the prime mover of rail passengers between LA, Coachella Valley, Phoenix and Tucson. RailPAC recommends that dedicated Southern California-Arizona corridor passenger trains should start with a minimum service of two daily trains each way, morning and evening from LA and Phoenix/Tucson (further complementing other future LAUS-Coachella Valley and Tucson-Phoenix trains).
  • Imperial Valley extension. Some trains of theLAUS-Coachella Valley service should extend to Brawley, El Centro and Calexico in the Imperial Valley (as described RCTC’s 1991 Los Angeles – Coachella Valley – Imperial County Intercity Rail Feasibility Study). The combined population of the bi-national region of the Imperial County/Mexicali Municipality is over 1.2 million people, providing a valuable international connection opportunity and ridership driver for CVR service.

2. Noise and Vibration of Passenger Rail Operations

In relation to Section 3.6 (Mitigation Strategy LU-3 “land use consistency”, pg. 3.6-42), RailPAC recommends that sound walls and sound-dampening ballast in railbed should be implemented where the track passes close to residential areas, such as in Loma Linda.


Brian B. Yanity

Vice President- South and Board Member,

Rail Passenger Association of California and Nevada (RailPAC)

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