by Noel T. Braymer, RailPAC President — We have come a long way in nearly 30 years of expanding passenger rail service in California. We are not finished through in creating a complete network for most of California to major travel centers in and near California. There are plans to extend service toward Reno/Sparks, Redding, Palm Springs, Las Vegas, and create Los Angeles to San Francisco as well as Los Angeles to Bakersfield service. It is important to look at these future services not as individual projects, but parts of a coordinated network.
The issue is not if we can afford to expand service, it is that we can’t afford not too. State funding for increased Rail Service is far from a “slam dunk.” California’s State Budget problems have not gone away and the State still faces a deficit next year. But recent service expansion on the CAPITOLS and the new SURFLINER to San Luis Obispo were made possible using surplus funds in the State Rail Program. These surpluses were there because ridership and revenues had grown faster than expected. With ridership growth, revenues can grow faster than costs. This is how successful businesses work.
How we expand service will determine if we can continue to fund new services from increased ridership. Increasing ridership will also put the Rail program in a stronger position each year at budget time. To maximize ridership and revenue, the key is to expand passenger miles, by getting longer average trips. Passengers pay by the miles when they travel, the more passenger miles, the more revenue. One way to increase passenger miles is to run trains on the longest routes possible. Not every passenger will ride from end to end. But longer routes will produce longer average trips and that increases passenger miles. Extended routes also add more stations which give passenger more places to travel by train., which brings in more riders We have seen both of these things happen as we extended routes in the past.
Another way to expand passenger miles and trip lengths is to have convenient transfer points so passengers have a greater choice of destinations. This is what is behind the Hub and Spoke network of most major airlines. With proper transfer hubs you can greatly enlarge the potential market of each train at the hub. In creating a California Intercity Rail Network, we need a minimum of three daily trains per corridor. Travel peaks generally in the morning, evening and mid-day. These trains need to be scheduled to meet at guaranteed connections at major hubs. There are four main California Hubs: Sacramento, San Jose, Los Angeles, and the Inland Empire. In the Inland Empire there are three possible Hub Sites: San Bernardino, Colton, or Riverside. How future trains are routed will determine which site is used. As part of this three trains a day minimum corridor service, existing and future long- distance trains can be included as part of the Corridors service.
Sacramento is the key Hub in Northern California. Passengers from Reno should be able to travel or transfer to Redding, Bakersfield or Oakland. San Jose will be the Hub allowing passengers from the Coast Route to transfer east toward Reno, north toward Redding, and west to local Bay Area services. Los Angeles will allow passengers on the Coast Route or from south of LA in the future to connect to services to Las Vegas and Palm Springs. Palm Springs might be a startup service, but it makes more sense to create passenger miles by running service out to Tucson or even Nogales, Arizona. Future Bakersfield to Los Angeles service will also tie in with the PACIFIC SURFLINER route and METROLINK. The Inland Empire Hub will likely be the last to be developed. At the Inland Empire Hub, connections between Las Vegas and Arizona services will be possible. Running a San Diego to Sacramento service via the Inland Empire opens up direct service from Las Vegas and Arizona to the San Joaquin Valley and San Diego County.
RailPAC has advocated this concept of four California Hubs for over twenty years. We are now seeing the elements to make this happen falling into place. Too often no consideration is given to how one train can feed passengers to the other. Trains are often scheduled to leave just minutes before a possible connecting train is scheduled to arrive. In order to generate the ridership and passenger miles needed to fund additional services, trains will need seamless transfers and coordinated services. Additional equipment will also be needed. Running trains that can be broken into sections at Hub points is a good possibility. A strong cash flow can make it possible to lease additional equipment. After all, few airlines “own” their airplanes – they lease them. The result of all this will be a truly intra-California Passenger Rail network covering most of the State and places Californians are most likely to travel. This won’t need outlandish amounts of tax dollars, but will be economical, efficient, and widely used.