Monterey County Rail October Meeting

TAMC Rail Policy Committee meeting
October 1, 2007, Salinas
Reported by Chris Flescher, RailPAC Associate Director
Most of the meeting consisted of two presentations. The first was from a planner who worked on the Sprinter project in North San Diego County. The second one was from a planner who works for Monterey Salinas Transit (MST), on a proposed Bus Rapid Transit project.

Sprinter Project Information

The rails for the Sprinter were bought by North County Transit District at the same time the rails were bought which the Coaster trains run on. Some aspects of the project were designed to keep the costs down, in order to get federal New Starts money. They included using an existing right of way, having dmu vehicles rather than electrification, and creating a minimal amount of double tracking. One expensive problem was the need to raise a section of track about 8 feet in order to get it above a flood plain. The plan for service is to have “temporal separation” with freight trains, and a 30 minute frequency during most of the day.

The design of the vehicles used was based on the Regio Sprinter. The engines produce very low emissions. Other aspects of them are push-pull service (so they can run in both directions without having to turn around) and level boarding.

The construction costs were $187 million for the “mainline” which was on the existing right of way, $24 million for the San Marcos loop, which was new right of way, and $25 million for the vehicle maintenance facility. Rebuilding grade crossings turned out to be very difficult and expensive because in some cases, it led to requirements like re-aligning streets.

With a separate source of funding, a trail was built along part of the line, and some retention ponds were created near the tracks, for a future flood control project. The San Marcos loop has the only elevated station, and it is entirely grade separated. The station cost $45 million.

There is a 10 acre site which will be used for vehicle maintenance and storage. On the property will be the dispatch center. That might be used to dispatch the Coaster trains in the future.

One source of expense and delay was getting the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to rewrite regulations for the dmus. The existing regulations applied to “regular trains” or to light rail vehicles, but dmus function very differently from both groups. There was extensive testing performed, which took a year. The new regulations will make it easier for other agencies in the state to use dmus.

The project cost was $22 million per mile, the lowest New Start project in the country. The expected ridership is about 10,000 riders per day at the start, and about 15,000 per day in the future. Because the vehicles are so quiet, the agency removed sound walls from the design. When the line opens, a parallel bus line will stop running.

Another major problem related to grade crossings was coordinating the grade crossing sensors with the traffic signals on some nearby streets, so that there would not be conflicts between the traffic flowing on the streets due to the crossings, and due to the signals.

Local BRT Project information

The Monterey County air pollution control district and UC Santa Cruz were recently given some money to study bus rapid transit (BRT) in the area. The main corridor that BRT would use for Monterey County goes from the County Aquarium to the Edgewater Transit Center. This goes parallel to the bike trail which was built over the rail line, and which will be moved slightly if rail service is restored.

Planners at MST spent time gathering data including ridership for buses that run along the corridor. They also met with planners of cities along the route, to get support for installing a signal priority system on the route. It looks like the BRT project will meet the requirements for the New Very Small Starts program, including having a current ridership of 3000 people per day, and plans for substantial stations/platforms. The signal priority system will operate if a bus is running late. Then, the light will stay green for longer than normal, if it is about to turn red. It will not change a red light to a green, and it will do nothing if the bus is running on time.

There may be queue jumpers in some places. Those will allow buses to pass stopped traffic at signals, and then the buses will get an exclusive green phase. The queue jump features, if implemented on Lighthouse Avenue, could also improve service for the regular buses on that street: the full size buses and the free shuttle trolleys which run in the summer.

There is a desire to convert the old train station building in downtown (old) Monterey into a fishing museum and a restaurant. If the building is converted, one plan would place the Monterey bus transit center next to the building. Buses would still serve the existing transit center (which is a few blocks away). Then the buses would no longer lay over at the current transit center.

In order to get money from the New Very Small Starts program, MST must show the FTA that there is a lot of local support for the project. MST planners are talking to various neighborhood and business groups, and they will try to meet with everyone by Thanksgiving. The expected run time savings will be 2.5 minutes westbound, and possibly 7 minutes eastbound, depending on the design of the system on Lighthouse Avenue. MST planners plan to submit a grant request to the FTA by December. MST was not planning to meet with people in Pacific Grove or Pebble Beach, but a suggestion was made that MST do that. The project would not go through those cities, but it would significantly affect people there, because the project would change traffic on some of the streets that people use to travel between those cities and Monterey. MST now plans to meet with officials in those cities.

The FTA may adopt different rules for the New Starts program. Two planners from TAMC met with FTA officials, to discuss the proposed new rules. For the new rules, two criteria will be very important for any rail line. The first is the amount the line can ease traffic congestion. The second is the amount of development along the line that is likely to occur. Any comments on the proposed new rules need to be submitted by November, and TAMC planners will do that.

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