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.
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.
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)