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Review of the 2013 Draft California State Rail Plan

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Review of the 2013 Draft California State Rail Plan

People come and go from the Amtrak Surfliner stopped at Chatsworth Station. It would be nice if the depot on the right were open on weekends.

Christopher MacKechnie

Review of Proposed California State Rail Expansions Detailed In the 2013 Draft California State Rail Plan

As part of the federal law that provides money for high-speed rail projects (the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008), the state of California is required to provide a rail plan every five years that meets federal requirements in order to be eligible for federal funding for high-speed rail. California is more stringent, and requires a state rail plan every two years to qualify for state funding . The 2013 state rail plan, which meets both federal and state requirements, recently came out and this article will go over some of the passenger rail improvements planned for the state. Note: some of the plan reviews the revised High Speed Rail Business plan of 2012; for information on that document please read my review . Note that this article will only deal with service improvements and not the myriad amounts of capital improvements (new sidings, new station platforms, etc.) mentioned in the plan.

Expansion of Existing Services

The San Joaquin corridor, which operates from Bakersfield to either Oakland or Sacramento, is projected to have an increase in daily trains from the six of today to eight to eleven, with most traveling to Oakland. The Pacific Surfliner will operate more trains from Los Angeles to San Diego, with a total of twelve daily trips in 2012 and eighteen daily trips in 2040. Metrolink will also see significant expansion on many of its lines, with as much as 50% additional train on some corridors. With all the additional service, it is good that Metrolink has significantly increased its safety practices since its deadly crash in Chatsworth, CA. Altamont Commuter Express (ACE) , which operates between Stockton and the San Francisco Bay area; COASTER , which operates between Oceanside and San Diego; and SMART , a commuter rail line Marin County yet to open would see additional service.

New Services

Coast Daylight

The Coast Starlight (an AMTRAK train that travels between Los Angeles and Seattle) is currently the only train that directly connects Southern California and Northern California. While scenic, the Starlight does not arrive and leave at convenient times for patrons wishing to take it to travel between those two regions. In addition, it does not serve San Francisco – a transfer to local transit is required. Finally, the Starlight does not make many stops between the two major population centers in the state.

To rectify the above problems, a train called the Coast Daylight was proposed. Initially, one train would operate each day between Los Angeles and San Francisco by extending an existing Pacific Surfliner train beyond the San Luis Obispo terminus. At some point a second train would be added overnight. While aiming for a 2015 start date, the date is contingent upon some capital improvements and a track-usage agreement with the Union Pacific Railroad. The route would have twenty-nine proposed stations, of which four (Pajaro, Castroville, Soledad, and King City) would be new AMTRAK stations. Union Pacific, according to the report, has “expressed guarded interest in additional passenger rail activity in this corridor, with infrastructure improvements”.

Coachella Valley Route

Another proposed new route will serve the Coachella Valley (home of Palm Springs and other nearby cities). One or two daily roundtrips would be operated from Los Angeles to Indio, a corridor currently only served by thrice weekly AMTRAK Sunset Limited trains on their way from Los Angeles to New Orleans. These trains arrive and leave Palm Springs in the middle of the night, so they are inconvenient for people traveling to Palm Springs. Only $115 million of capital costs would be required to operate this line, but operation of the line requires agreement by the Union Pacific Railroad.

Ventura –Santa Barbara Commuter Service

A new commuter-based train service will operate from Ventura to Santa Barbara, with an initial one train in each direction in 2020 increasing to four trains in each direction in 2040.

X-Train and Xpress West

X-Train and Xpress West are two proposed privately funded trains that would connect Las Vegas and the Los Angeles area, a corridor not served by passenger rail service since AMTRAK’s Desert Wind service ended in 1997. The X-Train would use existing tracks and operate between a new station in downtown Las Vegas and Fullerton, while Xpress West would construct new tracks adjacent to I-15 and operate as high speed rail between Las Vegas and Victorville with a second phase extending to Palmdale. At this time neither operation has secured the necessary funding to move forward.

Extension of Existing Routes

Capital Corridor From San Jose to Salinas

Between two and six existing Capital Corridor trains that now stop in San Jose would be extended to Salinas with stops at Gilroy, Castroville, Watsonville, and Salinas. The Transportation Agency for Monterey County is heavily in favor of this extension, which is currently in the environmental review phase.

Capital Corridor From Auburn to Reno

Up to two roundtrips per day would be extended from Auburn to Reno and Sparks, Nevada with intermediate stops at Colfax, Soda Springs, and Truckee. While operationally feasible, currently the Union Pacific Railroad does not favor additional passenger train service in this corridor (the California Zephyr also serves it).

San Joaquin Corridor From Sacramento to Redding

In this extension, San Joaquin Corridor trains currently terminating in Sacramento would be extended north to Redding. As this project does not have as much local support as the other ones I believe it less likely to come to pass, at least in the near term. In addition, Union Pacific has indicated they have no interest in allowing additional passenger train service in this corridor.

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