by Noel T. Braymer, RailPAC President — In both the 1989 Loma Prieta and 1994 Northridge Earthquakes, Caltrain, BART and Metrolink proved the value of passenger rail service as a transportation alternative in an emergency. It is not too soon to plan ahead for the next disaster and the role rail can play in it. Over the last year all the rail services in California have had ridership growth at record levels. The rising cost of gasoline was a factor for this growth. While gasoline prices are now going down a little, we are just one disaster, natural or man-made from a major disruption to the nation’s oil supply. This will trigger a flood of new passengers to California’s Rail Passenger system.
During rush hour, most Amtrak and Commute trains are already at near capacity. It will take one to two years to get delivery of new equipment even if the order were placed today. Where there is capacity is during the weekends, holidays and non-rush hours, particularly on the Commuter trains. The only thing missing the operators will tell you is money to pay to expand operations. If there is an emergency, the government will find the money to expand service.
There are projects that are being planned that can be built faster if money is available. The new Los Angeles-San Luis Obispo Surfliner is really Phase 1 of a future Los Angeles-San Francisco Day Train. To make this a reality will require additional track and signaling work between San Luis Obispo and San Jose. This additional track work needs funding. With this track work both the Los Angeles-San Francisco and Caltrain service to Salinas or Monterey are possible. The rebuilding of the Dumbarton Rail Bridge across the San Francisco Bay is expected now by 2010. In an emergency this could be speeded up to allow Caltrain service to the East Bay at Fremont with connections to BART, the Capitol Corridor and ACE.
It would be possible to extend some existing services. A prime example of this be to extend some COASTER trains north of Oceanside to Irvine. This was one of the last projects proposed by Byron Nordberg of RailPAC before his untimely death almost 8 years ago. Extending a service greatly increases passenger miles which increases revenues and operating efficiency. There is heavy commuter traffic from San Diego County to the Irvine area and such service would relieve crowding on Metrolink on this segment. Such an extension could also create a connection from San Diego County via Metrolink to the Inland Empire. The Coaster could also be extended south of San Diego to National City. This would relieve crowding on the Trolley and provide a faster trip for passengers traveling past downtown. With a new Coaster Station planned to open at the job rich University Town Center next year, traffic congestion from people traveling to work from the South Bay can be relieved.
There are still rail lines in California that could be quickly and cheaper upgraded for Commuter service. BART has studied some rail lines on the east side of the Bay Area that could connect with BART, the Capitals and ACE. Los Angeles has several lines that can still be developed. Service from LAX and Harbor area can be connected to LAUS and out to Lancaster using a publicly owned rail line. Service from both Orange County and Riverside/San Bernardino can connect with LAX using a UP branch line near Norwalk off the BNSF and connect with LAX service by the Slauson Ave. Blue Line Station. There is also a publicly owned rail line that could connect LAUS with Long Beach, and the Green Line and the Blue Line in Long Beach. South of the Green Line a branch could be run to Orange County to Disneyland and/or Huntington Beach. From LAUS the train could be extended to El Monte and San Bernardino. To make more of this happen will also need run-through tracks at LAUS. There is still plenty of potential new service that can be quickly created, once the need and money is provided.