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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.

Sincerely,

Brian B. Yanity

Vice President- South and Board Member,

Rail Passenger Association of California and Nevada (RailPAC)

Amtrak Long Distance, Arizona, Central Coast, Coachella/Imperial Valleys, Commentary, Editorials, Electrification, High Speed Rail, LOSSAN, Metrolink/SCCRA, Rail Technology, San Diego County, San Joaquin, Technical and Rolling Stock

Steel Wheels, 1st Quarter 2021 issue available online

Download the pdf of Steel Wheels, 1st Quarter 2021 by clicking here.

In this issue:

  • San Diego County rail improvements
  • Public transportation in a post-pandemic world
  • Prospects for future LA-Phoenix passenger rail
  • Letter to California High Speed Rail Authority
  • Arizona rail news
  • Russ Jackson commentary on state of U.S. passenger rail in 2021
  • Andrew Seldon commentary on future of Amtrak
  • Battery vs. hydrogen trains
  • European night trains- lessons for USA?
  • and more!
Amtrak Long Distance, Bay Area, CalSTA TIRCP, Caltrain, Central Coast, Coachella/Imperial Valleys, Commentary, Editorials, Electrification, High Speed Rail, LOSSAN, Metrolink/SCCRA, Rail Technology, San Diego County, San Francisco, San Joaquin

RailPAC submits public comment letter on California Transportation Plan 2050

The California Transportation Plan (CTP) 2050 is the “state’s long-range transportation plan that establishes an aspirational vision that articulates strategic goals, policies, and recommendations to improve multimodal mobility and accessibility while reducing greenhouse gas emissions”: https://ctp2050.com/

Read RailPAC’s letter of public comment on the CTP 2050 public review draft by clicking here.

Central Coast, Coachella/Imperial Valleys, LA Metro, Nevada, North Coast, San Joaquin, Thruway Bus

RailPAC submits letter to San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority in response to proposed cuts to Thruway Bus Network

May 28, 2020

Honorable Vito Chiesa, Chair
San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority
949 East Channel Street
Stockton, CA 95202

May 29, 2020 SJJPA Board Meeting Agenda Item 7, Thruway Bus Network Changes

Dear Chair Chiesa and Board Members.

At this difficult time the Rail Passenger Association of California and Nevada recognizes that with the reduction in ticket revenues those managing the San Joaquin service face tough challenges in keeping the operation solvent. Maintaining the service while balancing cost reductions while maintaining ridership and ticket revenues will represent a major endeavor. And needless to say, after years working to get SB742 passed shrinkage of the Thruway Bus Network is disheartening.

While it is critical to reduce expenses near term, at some point the country and economy will recover. These Thruway bus service reductions should be seen as temporary. As the market regrows the cities that temporarily lose service should still be seen as part of the San Joaquin franchise. Service may take another form than today, but the SJJPA should still keep its broad “border to border” perspective.
RailPAC has reviewed the Thruway Bus Network write-up and has the following comments and recommendations. The overall comments/recommendations are:

  1. A major shortfall of the report is the lack of financial analysis. What are the estimates of the cost savings from this initiative, the ticket revenue losses?
  2. The implementation of changes authorized by SB742 should be accelerated. This period provides an opportunity to develop multiple partnerships, new markets and an expanded bus network;
  3. There are suggestions that there are opportunities for local transit agencies operating parallel routes being able to undertake replacement service. But these agencies are most likely undertaking similar service reductions to save expenses. Some of these service reductions may be routes suggested as Thruway Bus alternatives;
  4. SJJPA staff should undertake a review after 6-months to evaluate the impact of these changes and the success or failure in expanding SB742 to additional routes, developing partnerships with local transit agencies and Greyhound;
  5. At the 6-month review point, an outline of the timeline and strategy for returning full train and restoring Thruway bus service (where partnerships have not been developed) based on the information available at that time regarding the pandemic.

The comments and recommendations on the specific routes are:

• Route 7 – Elimination of stops at Rio Del-Scotia, Leggett and Laytonville; it is not clear how the elimination of these stops save any costs. All are located on two-lane stretches of US 101 which should facilitate stopping with limited time penalty. Also one of the talking points for SB742 was service to rural areas such as these towns. Finally, shouldn’t these stops remain while the Greyhound partnership is negotiated?

• Route 1b – Elimination of service to Long Beach and San Pedro; an interline agreement with LA Metro for its Silver Line and eventually the Blue Line would appear to offer a large expansion in connectivity to replace the bus route. Would it be possible to originate a Silver Line trip at the LAUS bus bays? Otherwise passengers would have to be provided detailed information on the Union Station stops and Silver Line stops. Major cities (i.e. Long Beach) could be shown in the Amtrak reservation system.

• Route 19 – Elimination of service to Hemet/Indio; these discontinuances would leave a large part of the Inland Empire without service. Many communities along the route are underserved from the transportation perspective. Recommend that this change be postponed until a service plan in conjunction with RCTC is developed. In addition an interline agreement Metrolink for the Indio branch is exactly the market opportunity that SB742 was designed to facilitate.

• Route 9 – Elimination of Las Vegas route; this would seem to be an opportunity to develop an interline service with Greyhound; direct Bakersfield to Las Vegas or via Los Angeles. Greyhound already has an interline agreement with Amtrak and one schedule currently stops at LA Union Station.

• Route 12 – Elimination of Victorville route; RailPAC recommends an effort to reengage with Kern Transit to retain Palmdale and Lancaster ridership.

• Routes 10, 18a and 18b Elimination of service to Santa Barbara and the Central Coast; RailPAC is concerned that the combination of these two initiatives eliminates service to the fast growing Central Coast reducing the San Joaquin franchise. Also there may be ramifications on the political side. RailPAC recommends revisiting doing the combination of both of these initiatives. Which route change saves the most in costs?

As was noted earlier RailPAC understands the challenges that staff faces and we hope our comments are productive. Let me know if you have any questions.

Yours truly,

Steve Roberts, President Rail Passenger Association of California and Nevada

cc: Dan Leavitt, SJRRC, RailPAC Board members