RailPAC Comments to California Senate Transportation Committee hearing, on SB 1098 about LOSSAN Rail Corridor

RailPAC Comments to California Senate Transportation Committee hearing, Tuesday, April 9, 2024.

Subject: SB 1098 LOSSAN Rail Corridor Recommended Amendments and Actions

Chair Cortese and Honorable Members of the committee,

The Rail Passenger Association of California and Nevada (RailPAC) is a statewide all-volunteer group of railroad professionals and public transportation advocates. Since its founding in 1978 RailPAC has taken a keen interest in leveraging the full potential of Southern California’s rail network, including the San Luis Obispo – Los Angeles – San Diego corridor, to improve the quality of life for Southern Californians.

As a focused step toward the goal of a high-frequency high-performance rail network throughout Southern California, the Rail Passenger Association of California and Nevada supports SB 1098 and recommends that the legislation move forward.

There is urgency for revisions to the network governance and accelerated action. The importance of California’s clean air and GHG goals, post-covid changes in travel patterns and geologic earth movements present a clear challenge to the rail network and its traditional product mix. RailPAC is concerned that the current governance structure is not up to the task. It is hindered by an inability to weigh regional benefits in investment decisions and a bias toward local transit projects. County ownership of rail rights-of-way, unique to Southern California, results in a hyper-local influence on rail investments and their impacts without any countervailing analysis of reginal benefits. Combined with Supervisor courtesy, this has negatively impacted the rail network’s transition to meet the challenges noted above.

With Caltrans using additional managed lanes, longer acceleration lanes, truck safety lanes, etc. in their strategy for freeway lane expansion, combined with the glacial pace of investments in Southern California’s rail network, rail is falling further behind.

Proposed Amendments:

SB 1098 Title renamed “Regional and Intercity Passenger Rail in Southern California.”
Reason: Given the post-covid travel changes the proposed Coachella Valley Service is transitioning from a commuter focused service to a regional/intercity service. The Southern California region really extends from San Luis Obispo and Lancaster to San Diego and Calexico.

CALSTA should be the Convenor of the stakeholder meeting and convene its first meeting within 90 days of the legislation passage.
Reason: CALSTA is a neutral party, has a regional view and is best able to bring facilitator skills and rail planning and engineering expertise to the enterprise.

Sec, 1 14072.6 (a) Reduce Report timelines, Interim report 1/1/25 with final report with recommendations 7/1/25.
Reason: Given the critical situation facing Southern California’s rail network and the number of studies previously undertaken, report deadlines, especially for the priority inventory of projects, needs to be reduced by six months.

Sec. 1 14072.6 (b) Engage worldwide management firms, AECOM, Network Rail Consulting, DB Engineering & Consulting, Jacobs Engineering, etc. for the MPO report.
Reason: While the MPO’s bring significant planning expertise to the report, and should be key participants, there is some question about their depth of knowledge and expertise in organizational models, management structures, project management and best practices.

Sec. 1 14072.6 (2) The MPO report should be reviewed but not necessarily approved by the five agencies.
Reason: Given the need for accelerated action introducing a format that allows a veto by one member of the working group could potentially compromise the working group’s efforts.

Near-Term Actions:
San Bernardino County, SCRRA and NCTD should be added to the LOSSAN Board.
Reason: Reflects the transition of Coachella Valley Service from a commuter to a regional/ intercity perspective and a governance model for the intercity brand encompassing all of Southern California.

Legislative focus on delays to key transformative projects-

Situation: Los Angeles Union Station Run-Through Tracks, Raymer-Bernson double track, Serra siding extension and Antelope Valley capacity are all vetted (environmental reviews and design) projects that are key to transitioning Metrolink from a commuter rail to a regional rail service. Despite being keystone priority projects, they remain as plans because the existing governance structure prioritizes an agency focus on local transit projects or defers to local concerns with no mechanism to weigh the regional benefits of the project.

Accelerate the timeline for the San Clemente Long-Term Bypass Study-

Situation: Each year the relocation study is postponed adds millions in additional costs due to construction inflation. It is unlikely that the near-term study will develop a politically or geologically acceptable solution that would allow the rail line to continue on its coastal alignment.

Please let us know if you have any questions. Thank you.

Steve Roberts, President RailPAC

Paul Dyson, Vice President, Government Affairs RailPAC