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RailPAC submits public comment letter on California Transportation Plan 2050

The California Transportation Plan (CTP) 2050 is the “state’s long-range transportation plan that establishes an aspirational vision that articulates strategic goals, policies, and recommendations to improve multimodal mobility and accessibility while reducing greenhouse gas emissions”: https://ctp2050.com/

Read RailPAC’s letter of public comment on the CTP 2050 public review draft by clicking here.

Central Coast, Coachella/Imperial Valleys, LA Metro, Nevada, North Coast, San Joaquin, Thruway Bus

RailPAC submits letter to San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority in response to proposed cuts to Thruway Bus Network

May 28, 2020

Honorable Vito Chiesa, Chair
San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority
949 East Channel Street
Stockton, CA 95202

May 29, 2020 SJJPA Board Meeting Agenda Item 7, Thruway Bus Network Changes

Dear Chair Chiesa and Board Members.

At this difficult time the Rail Passenger Association of California and Nevada recognizes that with the reduction in ticket revenues those managing the San Joaquin service face tough challenges in keeping the operation solvent. Maintaining the service while balancing cost reductions while maintaining ridership and ticket revenues will represent a major endeavor. And needless to say, after years working to get SB742 passed shrinkage of the Thruway Bus Network is disheartening.

While it is critical to reduce expenses near term, at some point the country and economy will recover. These Thruway bus service reductions should be seen as temporary. As the market regrows the cities that temporarily lose service should still be seen as part of the San Joaquin franchise. Service may take another form than today, but the SJJPA should still keep its broad “border to border” perspective.
RailPAC has reviewed the Thruway Bus Network write-up and has the following comments and recommendations. The overall comments/recommendations are:

  1. A major shortfall of the report is the lack of financial analysis. What are the estimates of the cost savings from this initiative, the ticket revenue losses?
  2. The implementation of changes authorized by SB742 should be accelerated. This period provides an opportunity to develop multiple partnerships, new markets and an expanded bus network;
  3. There are suggestions that there are opportunities for local transit agencies operating parallel routes being able to undertake replacement service. But these agencies are most likely undertaking similar service reductions to save expenses. Some of these service reductions may be routes suggested as Thruway Bus alternatives;
  4. SJJPA staff should undertake a review after 6-months to evaluate the impact of these changes and the success or failure in expanding SB742 to additional routes, developing partnerships with local transit agencies and Greyhound;
  5. At the 6-month review point, an outline of the timeline and strategy for returning full train and restoring Thruway bus service (where partnerships have not been developed) based on the information available at that time regarding the pandemic.

The comments and recommendations on the specific routes are:

• Route 7 – Elimination of stops at Rio Del-Scotia, Leggett and Laytonville; it is not clear how the elimination of these stops save any costs. All are located on two-lane stretches of US 101 which should facilitate stopping with limited time penalty. Also one of the talking points for SB742 was service to rural areas such as these towns. Finally, shouldn’t these stops remain while the Greyhound partnership is negotiated?

• Route 1b – Elimination of service to Long Beach and San Pedro; an interline agreement with LA Metro for its Silver Line and eventually the Blue Line would appear to offer a large expansion in connectivity to replace the bus route. Would it be possible to originate a Silver Line trip at the LAUS bus bays? Otherwise passengers would have to be provided detailed information on the Union Station stops and Silver Line stops. Major cities (i.e. Long Beach) could be shown in the Amtrak reservation system.

• Route 19 – Elimination of service to Hemet/Indio; these discontinuances would leave a large part of the Inland Empire without service. Many communities along the route are underserved from the transportation perspective. Recommend that this change be postponed until a service plan in conjunction with RCTC is developed. In addition an interline agreement Metrolink for the Indio branch is exactly the market opportunity that SB742 was designed to facilitate.

• Route 9 – Elimination of Las Vegas route; this would seem to be an opportunity to develop an interline service with Greyhound; direct Bakersfield to Las Vegas or via Los Angeles. Greyhound already has an interline agreement with Amtrak and one schedule currently stops at LA Union Station.

• Route 12 – Elimination of Victorville route; RailPAC recommends an effort to reengage with Kern Transit to retain Palmdale and Lancaster ridership.

• Routes 10, 18a and 18b Elimination of service to Santa Barbara and the Central Coast; RailPAC is concerned that the combination of these two initiatives eliminates service to the fast growing Central Coast reducing the San Joaquin franchise. Also there may be ramifications on the political side. RailPAC recommends revisiting doing the combination of both of these initiatives. Which route change saves the most in costs?

As was noted earlier RailPAC understands the challenges that staff faces and we hope our comments are productive. Let me know if you have any questions.

Yours truly,

Steve Roberts, President Rail Passenger Association of California and Nevada

cc: Dan Leavitt, SJRRC, RailPAC Board members

Antelope Valley Line, CalSTA TIRCP, Central Coast, Electrification, LOSSAN, Metrolink/SCRRA, Rail Technology, San Diego County, Technical and Rolling Stock

2020 Transit and Intercity Rail Capital Program (TIRCP) Grants Awarded

This past week the California State Transportation Agency announced the 2020 grants distributed as part of the Transit and Intercity Rail Capital Program (TIRCP). Created by SB 862 in 2014, the TIRCP utilizes revenues from the State of the California’s cap-and-trade program and vehicle registration fees to fund capital projects that reduce greenhouse gases (GHGs) and increase transit and rail ridership.

More information is available on the TIRCP website.

Two major 2020 TIRCP awards for intercity and commuter rail were $107 million for improvements to Metrolink’s Antelope Valley Line (see RailPAC 4/26/2020 commentary), and $38.7 million to LOSSAN for new maintenance facilities in San Luis Obispo and San Diego counties along with overhaul and modernization Pacific Surfliner railcars.  Detailed description of these two major rail project awards are quoted below from the 2020 TIRCP Detailed Project Award Summary. A particularly positive detail in the San Luis Obispo maintenance facility description is where it was noted that “facility is also supportive of future service expansion to northern California once additional investments are made in improving the infrastructure on the Central Coast.”  This is one of the many small steps to build the foundation for frequent Central Coast – Bay Area service, which RailPAC has long supported.

Another TIRCP grant awarded to San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), with San Diego MTS & North County Transit District, includes $4.9 million in funding for Del Mar Bluffs Stabilization Project, which is critical to a reliable and safe corridor for passenger and goods movement.  This TIRCP funding will “expand the work achieved by Phase 5 of the Del Mar Bluffs Stabilization Project, in combination with other federal, state and local funds committed and being pursued for the project”.

Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LA Metro) and Southern California Regional Rail Authority (Metrolink)

Project: Metrolink Antelope Valley Line Capital and Service Improvements

Award: $107,050,000

Total Budget: $220,850,000

Estimated TIRCP GHG Reductions: 584,000 MTCO2e

The proposed Metrolink Antelope Valley Line Capital and Service Improvements Project will add targeted capacity-increasing infrastructure on the Antelope Valley Line, increase service in step with new capacity, and assess the feasibility of rail multiple unit and zero-emission propulsion service through a pilot project on the Metrolink Antelope Valley Line. The 4 infrastructure projects included allow Metro to initiate regular 60-minute, bi-directional service, followed by introduction of regular 30-minute bi-directional service from Los Angeles Union Station to Santa Clarita, in deployment waves that accelerate delivery of new service as planned under the Southern California Optimized Rail Expansion (SCORE) program.

The 4 infrastructure projects include:

1. Balboa Double Track Extension

2. Lancaster Terminal Improvements

3. Canyon Siding Extension

4. Brighton-McGinley Double Track

This award builds on the investment in Phase 1 of the Southern California Optimized Rail Expansion (SCORE) Program awarded in 2018 and expands those benefits. This award accelerates delivery of key AVL Projects, which provide regional “bookend” capacity for state-supported Intercity and High-Speed Rail, as well as significantly advances the County’s ability to integrate the regional rail system into the Metrolink station communities.

In addition, this project includes funding for a zero-emission rail multiple unit (ZEMU) equipment pilot to assess potential to provide more cost-effective and flexible rail service and reduce the carbon and emissions footprint of rail service. The ZEMU pilot tests rail technology in one of the more challenging Metrolink corridors due to topography, density, temperature variations and elevation differences between Lancaster and Los Angeles. If the pilot project is successful on this corridor, it will bode well for ZEMU operations throughout the entire Metrolink regional rail network and help provide data and performance measurements useful to other agencies in California seeking to implement similar ZEMU rail technology. Technical assistance will be provided by the California Department of Transportation to integrate rail demonstration pilot efforts with statewide rolling stock planning.

Over 1 million residents of the 3.3 million residents in the census tracts in the Antelope Valley station catchment areas are from Disadvantaged Communities. The AVL investments will improve rail mobility and access for these priority populations to major employment centers and other regional destinations, including Hollywood Burbank Airport.

Due to the extended timeline for delivery that goes beyond this cycle’s 5-year program (completion date: 2027), the project is expected to receive allocations over the life of the implementation schedule.

Los Angeles – San Diego – San Luis Obispo Rail Corridor Agency (LOSSAN)

Project: Building Up Control: LOSSAN Service Enhancement Program

Award: $38,743,000

Total Budget: $87,196,969

Estimated TIRCP GHG Reductions: 325,000 MTCO2e

Designs and constructs two new maintenance facilities in San Diego and San Luis Obispo that enable longer trains and better departure times to be operated out of both locations, contributing to both frequency and ridership growth for the Pacific Surfliner. Aligned with needs identified in the 2018 State Rail Plan.

Provides funding for design and construction of a dedicated maintenance, support and storage location for the Pacific Surfliner service in National City, at the southern end of the LOSSAN rail corridor. The facility will allow storage and maintenance of additional and longer trains (up to 7 7-car trains, or equivalent), increasing the efficiency and ridership of services into San Dan Diego. It also will move primary maintenance activities away from the Santa Fe Depot in San Diego, which is primarily surrounded by residential and commercial land uses. In addition, this new facility can be utilized by COASTER service to support service expansion goals within San Diego County, supporting additional opportunities for integration and connectivity to the regional transit network.

Provides for design and construction of an expanded maintenance and layover facility south of the station in San Luis Obispo, allowing for the storage and maintenance of additional and longer trains (up to 4 7-car trains, or equivalent). Allows for train movement between maintenance facility and station without impacting mainline passenger and freight train operations. Facility design and construction will be coordinated with the City of San Luis Obispo to integrate the facility into the community plan for the roundhouse district and provide the opportunity for the City to connect the surrounding development within the district to the station in San Luis Obispo by way of a pedestrian and bike trail that will also provide a natural barrier between the facility and the existing and planned developments within the district. Ability to maintain more trainsets in San Luis Obispo is aligned with the State Rail Plan and allows for better departure times that capture higher ridership. Facility is also supportive of future service expansion to northern California once additional investments are made in improving the infrastructure on the Central Coast. The San Luis Obispo investment is coordinated with additional investment through Proposition 1B and the State Transportation Improvement Program, reflected in the project matching funds.

As part of the overall scope of this project, state funding from the Public Transportation Account will be used to enhance the condition of the Pacific Surfliner fleet, providing a fleet that has improved reliability and meets customer expectations. Technical assistance will be provided by the California Department of Transportation to integrate maintenance facility planning with statewide rail planning, facility development, and fleet deployment efforts.

Project benefits are enhanced through complementary service improvements in the corridor awarded in previous years, which includes investments in signal optimization and various capital improvements which prepares the corridor for higher frequency services to be introduced by the Pacific Surfliner.

Due to the extended timeline for delivery that goes beyond this cycle’s 5-year program (completion date: 2026), the project is expected to receive allocations over the life of the implementation schedule.