LOSSAN BREAKTHROUGH?

Commentary by Paul Dyson, RailPAC President
The September 9th LOSSAN Board meeting at Oceanside may well be regarded as a turning point in bringing some rationality and common sense to the governance and operation of this corridor. And it perhaps was appropriate that the meeting was held at Oceanside, the site of the “Berlin Wall” between Metrolink and Coaster services.

In addition to a large turn out of Board members and staffs some key executives were present, notably Metro CEO Art Leahy, OCTA CEO Will Kempton, and recently appointed Matt Tucker, CEO from NCTD. If we are finally to see some progress in implementing RailPAC’s vision of an integrated customer focused service along this corridor, these are the people that will make it happen.

Without going into too much detail, (I’ll be glad to provide you with a link to the reports) the current state of affairs has its history in the 1990s when the southern California Counties passed up the opportunity to form a 9 county rail “super agency” and instead kept LOSSAN for intercity services and SCRRA and NCTD for commuter. Would a super agency have done better? That’s academic for now. To show how hard it is for agencies to give up any independence we see the desire of San Diego County to separate itself from the barbarians to the north, manifested not only in the “wall” at Oceanside but by their acquisition of otherwise similar rolling stock to Metrolink but with an incompatible “hotel” voltage. So much for coordination.

As a result we have three passenger operators, six counties and two railroads owning track, and a lot of taxpayer money being spent on administration, to operate a couple of dozen intercity trains and a couple of hundred commuter trains on weekdays, perhaps sixty on weekends. This boutique “service” still presents itself to the public as three separate entities with separate schedules and ticketing systems and no planned connections. On weekends Metrolink cannot even organize its own handful of trains to connect with one another, the subject of a forthcoming article.

So what do we have to hope for from this meeting? Well, needless to say another study was called for, to compliment the wheelbarrow load that have been published over the last 20 years since LOSSAN came into being. But at least this one is supposed to be done within a month (!!) with a meeting scheduled in October or early November to implement some of the recommendations. The Board “directed the member agency CEOs to draft a memorandum of understanding to among other thing hire a project manager and develop a work plan that can be implemented by June 2010”. (Full text available).

Board Chairman Art Brown permitted me to make some additional comments during this discussion. I pointed out (again!) the example of Switzerland, the geographical similarities of size and population with the Southern California area, and that the Taktfahrplan Schweiz had been centrally directed and taken 10 years to implement. We need an Executive Director to move the process forward.

What do we stand to gain from a unified rail authority for Southern California? Let’s turn to our old friend the matrix theory. In this we measure the utility of a network by counting the number of origin/destination pairs that a network offers. Today the 55 stations of Metrolink (should they choose to operate a coordinated schedule) offer a matrix of 1485. The 8 station Coaster service has a matrix of 62. Simply by combining these services into a 62 station network increases the matrix to 1891 without a yard of new concrete or rail! Add in the Oceanside – Escondido Sprinter’s 14 additional stations and the 7 Surfliner stops north of Oxnard and we have 83 rail stations with a combined matrix of 3403, more than double today’s Metrolink. That means, if we build a coordinated and regular interval schedule with connections at hubs such as LAUS, we can offer each rail station in Southern California a decent service to 82 other stations either by direct train or easy connection, with a single through ticket. This surely is a worthy objective, which will give taxpayers excellent value for money and could well generate sufficient additional journeys and ticket sales to support the majority of operating costs.

We congratulate Chairman Brown and Vice Chair Jacki Bacharach, and the indefatigable Linda Culp of LOSSAN for moving this forward. We are delighted that Art Leahy has taken up the challenge and at last shown that Los Angeles County recognizes the value of regional rail service. RailPAC will continue to encourage and exhort the players so that passengers and taxpayers finally enjoy the service they deserve.

Paul Dyson, President

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