Trains prove their worth in helping improve air

In “CATS: Decline in smog-forming emissions from California cars a bright spot,” I credited improvement in state motor vehicle smog-forming emissions to “initiatives such as the state’s Smog Check and other programs.” California’s Smog Check Program, by the way, went into effect in 1984.

Moreover, noted in “Planning for a Better Future: California 2025: 2010 Update,” a Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) report, from 1980 to 2005, while smog-forming emissions spewing from state-registered motor vehicles had been on the wane, during that same time, carbon dioxide (CO2) – a greenhouse gas – emanating from the same, on the other hand, had risen, what looks to be by about 75 percent.

That report, as a matter of fact, opens this way: “California’s love affair with the car is legendary. But the state suffers from some of the worst air quality in the nation, and transportation is a major culprit. Not only is it the state’s largest source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, it also contributes the most smog-forming pollutants to the air, causing high rates of respiratory illness,” report authors Louise Bedsworth and Ellen Hanak wrote in the section dealing with “Transportation.”

Compounding the issue is congestion (and gridlock) on state highways which wastes fuel unnecessarily and this in turn adds to California’s endemic poor air quality condition.

320px-FLV_California_train[1]Adding insult to injury, between 1980 and 2006 state highway lane miles grew only by six percent, reports the PPIC. Yet, between 1972 and 2009 California highway vehicle miles traveled (VMT) rose approximately 165 percent. Meanwhile, authors Bedsworth and Hanak, from the report’s introductory passage, reasoned that in going forward, “California needs to reduce the environmental effects of the transportation sector while improving mobility. To achieve both goals simultaneously, technological, organizational, and funding innovations will be needed.”

It just so happens, on Jan. 1, 2013, the Merced Sun-Star reported that 1,144,616 passengers rode Amtrak California’s San Joaquin trains operating between Bakersfield and Oakland and between Bakersfield and Sacramento in 2012. This represents a jump of 7.2 percent over 2011 when San Joaquin ridership was 1,067,441 – also a record-setting total.

Meanwhile, on one other Amtrak California service – the Capitol Corridor run (linking Sacramento and San Jose) – ridership went from 1,708,618 in 2011 to 1,746,397 in 2012, an increase of 2.2 percent.

This all bodes extremely well for passenger train travel within the state. There have likewise been gains on Amtrak trains nationwide.

Columnist Tim Sheehan in the Merced Sun-Star wrote: “The growth in ridership on the valley trains corresponds to similar increases seen by Amtrak nationwide — a record 31.2 million passengers, said Christina Leeds, an Amtrak spokeswoman.”

In the final analysis, if the growth in passenger train ridership is to continue, then additional service will be necessary.

The San Joaquin service currently consists of six roundtrips. A seventh might be in order but, presumably, this would be dependent on funding, equipment availability and/or procurement and approval granted by the hosting railroad(s). Amtrak doesn’t own track in state.

Electrified California high-speed rail service, on the other hand, expected to break ground later this year, when built and operational, will provide a viable alternative to meet the mobility needs of an ever-growing population and be of further benefit air-quality-wise having a strong potential to draw passengers away from other, far more polluting modes.

Other, so-called “advanced transit modes,” not only might these, as well, carve out a niche thereby having a positive effect on the environment, but the potential also exists to bring other benefits to transportation and travel.LasVegasMonorail.2[1]

Right now, the state of Florida is in fact seriously considering the possibility that a magnetically levitated (maglev) train system will be the mode of choice to connect Orlando International Airport with the convention center as explained in a recent Orlando Sentinel news article and in “CATS: Maglev – an iron horse of a different stripe.”

– Alan Kandel