Editorial by Noel Braymer
To get a good idea what improvements we in California can expect in the near future, the best place to look is at is the current CALIFORNIA STATE RAIL PLAN prepared by Caltrans Division of Rail. You can study the entire document on line at the Caltrans web page at www.dot.ca.gov/rail/go/dor/division-of-railreports . There is much to enjoy in this document. While not written in stone it reflects the projects that after years of planning are nearest to being started. With the passage last November of the transportation bonds, there is additional funding to make these projects happen.
A top priority is the need for more train equipment. The State Rail Plan calls for eight new trainsets; 3 for the Pacific Surfliners, 2 for the San Joaquins and 3 for the Capitols. If we assume a trainset as a locomotive and 5 cars; that means the state will order 8 new locomotives and 40 cars. This new equipment will only meet expected growth on existing services. More equipment will be needed to add more trains. There is the possibility that this car order may be expanded for orders of more equipment. As we write this Caltrans is looking at leasing from Amtrak two Superliner ?Coach-Lounge? cars for the San Joaquin/Capitol car pool. Currently there is no back up equipment for Coach-Lounges for these trains. These additional cars will require a major overhaul from equipment currently in storage and not in serviceable condition.
Amtrak has at least 51 Superliner, 85 Amfleet and 9 Horizon cars in storage which they consider available for service after an overhaul. Some of this equipment could be used for the new Coast Daylight extension to San Francisco. In the next 10 years the Rail Plan envisions new services from Sacramento to Redding, Reno and Los Angeles to Palm Springs/Indio. The Rail Plan also calls for additional frequencies on all existing services. There is going to be a need for more equipment.
It will be interesting what will happen with the new car order. All cars now owned by the State are covered with stainless steel. The problem with ordering more cars with stainless steel is few car builders work with it. Stainless steel is expensive and hard to work with. Most commuter and corridor rail cars are covered with aluminum. The reason is the lighter weight of aluminum allows faster acceleration, faster average speeds as well as savings in fuel. If stainless steel is not a requirement for the new equipment, it can open the bidding for modified existing equipment. When off-the-shelf equipment is ordered, time and money is saved. The result is usually more reliable equipment freer of ?bugs?.
The biggest challenge to adding new train routes won?t be equipment, but the need to get an operating agreement with the Union Pacific. All the routes for new service will be on the UP. One of the busiest routes in California on the UP is the line to Palm Springs. It won?t be impossible, but will require major track work to provide smooth operations for passenger and freight trains. Coast Daylight train service will likely be very successful. So much so there may well be a need for more than two trains by 2014. As we have seen from the past ridership grows with additional service, at a greater rate than the level of additional service. An advantage of additional Coast Daylight service is as the longest route, it should generate plenty of passenger miles. This will translate into higher passenger revenues. Extending the route of all trains will do this. Extending some Surfliner trains to Santa Clarita as connectors to the San Joaquin Buses will also reduce length of the bus trip for passengers.
Perhaps the most important need in a rail plan is coordination of services to make travel as seamless as possible. Track work in the Rail Plan which benefits Amtrak trains will also benefit Metrolink, Coaster, ACE and Caltrain services .The trend toward coordination of services needs to continue. Reopening the Dumbarton Bridge between Fremont and Redwood City will also make it possible to connect ACE, Caltrain and Capitol trains with each other as well as with BART in Fremont. In the near future a person in Redding should be able to travel by rail with advertised connections to Los Angeles, Bakersfield, Reno, San Diego or Palm Springs. Most other places in California should be easily reached from intercity rail by connections with commuter trains, transit rail or connecting bus.
Excerpts from the 2005-2006 thru 2015-2016 California State Rail Plan