Strange why more passenger-rail pikes in California aren’t being called for more

Today’s thread is a follow-on to “Why moving dedicated HSR funds to California rail ‘bookends’ projects is a bad idea.”

Interest in creating a Bakersfield-to-Merced commuter-rail service in the San Joaquin Valley, was budding long before California Proposition 1A (the Safe, Reliable High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act for the 21st Century) was voted on and approved at state polling sites on Nov. 4, 2008 thus setting into motion the building of the Golden State bullet train. How ironic that all of these years later – 11, to be exact – the plan today is to railroad-couple those two places with an electrified, high-speed train.

The taken tack amongst local and regional interests was the need to provide a non-road but-at-the-same-time ground-based transportation alternative to the busy State Route (Highway) 99, specifically between those two locales.

Bay Area Rapid Transit District system map

Working out the logistics would be a challenge as would be coming up with funding to implement the service should the aforementioned logistics all be worked out in setting that service up. Locating the money with which to put into place said commuter-rail operations in the coastal north and south state, seems far less of an issue than it does in the San Joaquin Valley, with one exception – the Altamont Corridor Express (formerly known as the Altamont Commuter Express or ACE) operating between Stockton and San Jose. Think also the Bay Area Rapid Transit, eBART and the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit or SMART in the San Francisco Bay Area and Metrolink and Coaster and Sprinter in southern California.

Though Sacramento has light-rail transit the state-capital region lacks commuter rail per sé.

To accommodate an increasing and more mobile Valley-based population, the solution by and large has been to add freeway pavement. That practice continues to be a tough nut to crack. Along many portions of the 99 there has been an additional lane per direction added, increasing the number of lanes per side to three from two.

California State Route 99 bridge, Union Pacific Railroad trestle and construction for HSR at San Joaquin River

Experts repeatedly stress that in so doing this action induces demand. Drivers know the extra capacity exists and as a result more and more motorists try to take advantage. And, when they do, by extension, more pollution from transportation in the Valley comes as a consequence. More roadway capacity begets more vehicle miles traveled which begets more polluted air. It’s a sad fact.

ACE will soon serve Merced. And, perhaps even Sacramento someday.

But know this: In the planning if not development stages is a new pike dubbed the Valley Line, its purpose is to rail-link Dublin/Pleasanton and Tracy/Stockton. The state needs more of these; in the Valley even more so.

ACE between Merced and Manteca, meanwhile, the understanding is to run beside and on Union Pacific Railroad track in this territory.

Which begs the question: Why can’t a similar service be created between the former and Bakersfield and also on and alongside that same Union Pacific railroad right-of-way? The assumption is that if a need between Manteca and Merced exists, existing likewise is one the remainder of the way to Bakersfield. Would stand to reason, correct?

Not so fast, some may say. They’ll point to a brand new corridor being constructed, not along the UP and 99 except in the case of Fresno and just to the north to Avenue 8 in Madera County, but, instead, adjacent to the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway right-of-way. Plans are to build between Bakersfield and Merced. In case in the dark, California high-speed rail is what is being talked about. Trains are to be electric powered with a 100 percent renewable energy supply.

But plans can and do change. There is a push among some state legislators to redirect billions in high-speed rail funds and send those to what is referred to as the “bookends” projects in the south and north state. If this happens, it is possible plans for a bullet train could be put on hold.

The state has a mandate to meet its greenhouse gas emissions goals – bring GHGs to the levels they were in 1990 by 2020 (those so far have been surpassed: 424.1 million metric tons carbon dioxide equivalent units in 2017; the target: 431 MMTCO2e) and by an additional 40 percent below levels in 1990 by 2030.

Without cutting back on driving and/or substantially reducing emissions from on-road as well as from other sources both mobile and stationary alike, the 2030 goal may be unattainable.

And, in that sense with these and other factors in mind, it’s puzzling and troubling why these alternative programs to motor vehicle travel in the San Joaquin Valley are being pitched, promoted and pushed-for way, way, way less than what they should.

Images: Bay Area Rapid Transit District (upper); California High-Speed Rail Authority (lower)

– Alan Kandel

3 thoughts on “Strange why more passenger-rail pikes in California aren’t being called for more”

  1. Are you brain dead? This project is the very definition of “boondoogle” Jerry Brown’s specifically. It is billions of dollars over budget, years behind schedule, has been cut back from SF – LA to no where (Bakersfield) to no where ( Merced) and will run out of money before even that can be finished. The final product will not be a “bullet” train but a glorified Amtrak train that will NEVER be cost-effective even if it gets completed, which is highly unlikely. It will never be able to compete with airlines that can fly people from LA to SF at a lesser cost and hugely faster. Even gruesome Newsome has cut the budget further……….I am sure he is hoping to get out of office before it grinds to a halt and he can pass it on to the next addled governor before then to avoid further embarrassment.

    Reducing CO2 levels will have NO effect on the average temperature in our state nor anywhere else in the world. CO2 is NOT the “temperature regulation knob” of the atmosphere.

    The whole purpose of this waste of money project is to push people out of their cars which liberals hate.

    • Consider the Altamont Corridor Express (ACE) train extension from Stockton to Merced. Even with existing Amtrak service between those two locations already, the ACE service will in no way be redundant, even if net population growth was zero.

      No more redundant than, say, the two north-south highways connecting Stockton and Sacramento. And, those highways (I-5 and 99) between those two cities are not that far apart. They are separated by only a few miles.

      The way I see it, passenger train transportation is the correct prescription to congested and gridlocked highways. Granted, passenger train travel may not be for everyone, but it provides a need for many. To compete effectively with highway travel, trains must be frequent, run on-time, be safe and meet or exceed highway speeds. All of these criteria can be met handily.

      I can’t understand what there is not to like about passenger trains.

  2. It is a direct function of politics. ACE got to do a Sacramento-Merced commute run because their legislator, former state sen. Anthony Canella, was the lone Republican to vote for SB-1. He also got Valley Link funded in the same bill. Of course in the same deal he prevented SB-1 from giving money to CHSRA. Any Republican who steps forward and is willing to trade a vote for project cash gets it. Prop 13’s 2/3rds tax requirement enforces this despite the Dem majority.

    Same reason why Pacheco Pass was picked over Altamont in the first place: Sen. Beall and Santa Clara Co have more weight than San Francisco alone and overall the Bay Area has more clout than LA at the moment hence the Northern IOS build instead of the original South IOS between Bakersfield and LA.

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