By RailPAC President Paul Dyson — It’s a great honor for me to take on the duties of President of RailPAC. Our organization has been very effective in the past in uniting rail passenger advocates and politicians behind a policy of affordable, incremental investments in improving mobility in the state of California. We identified surplus equipment in the old “San Diegan” pool and campaigned for through service to Santa Barbara and beyond. We helped create the climate for investments in the Capitol, San Joaquin and Peninsula corridors, and we have continued our support for the Amtrak long distance trains as essential for maintaining a national network.
We are facing many challenges today, some of them the same as 25 years ago when I joined this group, and some of them new. The biggest turnaround has been in the rail industry, both passenger and freight. Back in the 80’s, with a few exceptions, the railroads were hungry for new business and there seemed to be plenty of capacity to add trains to the network. Today, freight traffic volume breaks new records every year, and there are more new commuter and light rail projects than we have seen for probably a hundred years. As a result we need to understand the needs of all rail users and campaign in an informed way for projects that include investment in line capacity as well as the rolling stock to run more trains. It’s not good enough to advocate expanded or new passenger service along a given route if that line is already saturated with traffic. The end result will be a slow, unreliable service that will not attract passengers and end up giving rail advocacy a black eye.
I want to lead RailPAC in campaigns that make sense for the community, and that are workable within the context of a growing railroad industry. We will need new infrastructure, including some new rights of way. I believe we need a rolling program of electrification, starting with the busiest routes in Northern and Southern California. We will then have a strong distribution network to support a High Speed Rail system. And we should advocate joint ventures with the freight railroads to provide capacity for expanded passenger and freight services that will increase mobility AND support our economy with reliable movement of goods.
As with any voluntary organization the majority of the effort falls on the shoulders of a small minority of the members. There is so much to do, so many battles to fight, that we need more of you to step up and get involved in RailPAC. For example, it’s so easy these days to send e-mails to your elected representatives, yet how many of you take the time?
We have a great opportunity to make big gains in passenger service. Thanks to our past efforts passenger rail is part of the agenda as never before.
It’s up to us to build on this success and make passenger rail a vital, successful and growing part of the transportation picture in the western states.