Kern County, Calif. could ‘miss boat’ if ‘cleaner-air’ train leaves station

I find it unbelievable – and odd – how an entire region seeking ways to reduce carbon and other emissions, apparently, is not thinking along the lines of urban or commuter passenger rail transportation as in it playing an active role in helping the region meet California mandated 2008 Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act (state Senate Bill 375) emissions-reduction targets.

What I’m driving at is this: In the May 17, 2014 Bakersfield Californian article: “Growth plan taking hits from all sides,” staff writer James Burger could not be any more clear when he wrote: “The Kern Council of Governments has finished the delicate job of mapping the county’s growth and transportation future — and been rewarded with grumbling and outright disapproval from environmentalists and developers alike.

“State law requires the regional transportation agency to outline a way to provide transportation for a county population projected to grow to more than 1 million by 2020 at the same time it reduces air pollution.”

Burger goes on to state that a major source of south San Joaquin Valley air pollution is cars and trucks.

Smart Growth, Emeryville, Calif., style

Believe me; other counties and areas besides Kern are experiencing or have already experienced just these kinds of “growing” pains. The key is to come up with appropriate and effective solutions. Perhaps taking a cue from another region is the ticket.

Talking specifics, the approach taken in Salt Lake City, Utah has had what I deem as phenomenal success. For much more on this, see: “eMission control – Focus: Metro travel ways.”

Meanwhile, in “eMission control – Focus: Roadways,” I wrote: “Meanwhile, in ‘Study: 10% More Smart Growth = 20% Less Driving,’ writer Angie Schmitt writes: ‘Dr. Sudip Chattopadhyay measured the impact of certain smart growth indicators on 18 metro areas across the U.S. He found that a 10 percent increase in smart growth amenities — measured by residential and job density and per-capita transit spending — leads to a 20 percent reduction in miles driven.’

“Schmitt notes also that if central California cities like Bakersfield, Fresno and Modesto, for example, had comparable densities and offered transit amenities of the likes of the Los Angeles’ and the San Francisco’s of the world, a reduction of 55 percent in driving activity per household per year or roughly 5,238 fewer miles driven could be expected.”

It appears as though the South Valley region and Dr. Chattopadhyay have neither made acquaintances nor exchanged ideas.

“… [T]he proposed KernCOG [Kern Council of Governments] plan protects federal and state freeway construction dollars from being shut-off if air pollution doesn’t get better,” Burger added.

Did I just read that right? “… federal and state freeway construction dollars …”?! And, here I thought a reduction in vehicle travel miles is what was being sought here.

Expanded freeways yielding fewer motor vehicle travel miles? Sorry, but I just don’t see it.

Moreover, nowhere in the Bakersfield Californian article in question, is there a single reference to trains.

When it comes to sweeping pollutant-emissions reduction, I sincerely hope Kern and the greater San Joaquin Valley don’t miss the boat … make that, the train.

– Alan Kandel

2 thoughts on “Kern County, Calif. could ‘miss boat’ if ‘cleaner-air’ train leaves station”

  1. Sitting as we are at the near arrival of self-driving vehicles, I suspect that heavy investment in trains as they are seen today would be a big mistake. Shared self-driving vehicles with limited range on regular roads and transition to powered railway like rights-of-way yet to be built would be the way to go. No parking the vehicle at your destination, you just release it to go back to wherever there is demand for a ride. No engineers or conductors or ticket collectors. No train schedules either. Your vehicle takes you to wherever you are going express, departing on exactly your schedule. The technology isn’t here yet, but it could be in fairly short time relative to the political process.

    • I like your idea in the sense that increased zero-emissions motor vehicle (ZEV) usage theoretically means correspondingly fewer pollution-producing vehicles occupying roadway space. Related to what you had written, you might like to read: “High-tech highways: ‘Hands-free,’ ‘pavement-powered’ vehicle platforms?” (See:

      On a slightly different note and as it has to do with the San Joaquin Valley, “Last week, in an eye-opening map of communities most wracked by pollution, the California Environmental Protection Agency left no doubt that the Central Valley is by far the state’s biggest and most vulnerable environmental challenge,” the Sacramento Bee Editorial Board had written.” (See:

      The Sac Bee Board went on to declare: “Surrounded by mountains, the region is a hot, massive sink that traps pollution and bakes it.”

      More to the point of in-state electric vehicle purchases, the Sac Bee Board insisted, “Though California has so many electric vehicles now that the state has had to look at narrowing the requirements for the $2,500 rebates it offers, only 2 percent of those rebates have gone to owners of San Joaquin Valley cars.”

      Which means 98 percent of those rebates went elsewhere.

      However, working in favor of getting greater numbers of said electric vehicles on California roads are initiatives like “the historic Pacific Coast Action Plan on Climate and Energy, which also calls for scaling up the use of electric vehicles,” wrote the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in its Nov. 14, 2013 “Charge Ahead California Launches Campaign: Diverse coalition aims to put one million electric cars, trucks, and buses on California’s roads” press release. “Because it is the nation’s largest single market for electric cars, California holds the key to meeting the eight state and Pacific Coast Action Plan goals.” (See:

      One million electric vehicles on California’s roadways in 10 years I think, is doable and, it’s a laudable goal.

      What should never be lost sight of is as the NRDC noted, “Cars, trucks, and buses are the single largest source of air pollution in California and are responsible for 34 percent of the state’s soot and smog-forming pollution. A recent MIT study found that traffic pollution causes almost 6,000 premature mortalities annually in California, almost twice the number killed in traffic accidents.”

      My presumption is, about a tenth of those are San Joaquin Valley-based.

      To me, it shouldn’t come down to having to choose between one option and the other – ZEVs or pollution-free electrified trains. With regard to a creating a balanced transportation network, I believe there is room for both, and having said that, each definitely has a place.

      That’s my take.

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