Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Metro Can Now Upgrade the Orange Line to Light Rail (when funding becomes available)

Horray!  Governor Brown has signed AB577 which repealed the law banning surface rail along the Chandler Right-of-Way in the San Fernando Valley.   

Now that this law has been passed, and there are no legal restrictions, the Orange Line may now be planned for a light-rail upgrade.

Of course, there is no such funding for such an upgrade, and any such upgrade will have to compete with all the other proposed rail projects competing for funding.

But the good news is that the Valley will not be condemned to BRT only transit planning while the rest of the county sees rail expansion.

And the San Fernando Valley deserves an east-west light-rail line and a north-south light-rail between Sylmar and LAX.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Any progress on passenger rail to Palm Springs?

I regularly get asked if there is any progress on getting daily passenger rail between Los Angeles to Palm Springs.

Here is what I have been able to find.

The Riverside County Transportation Commission passed a resolution in October 2013 supporting daily intercity rail service from Los Angeles to the Coachella Valley.

Here is the current RCTC Fact Sheet on the project.

In the maeantime, I am wondering how that Sunline Transit Commuter Bus 220 service is fairing.  Also, I have friends who occasionally take Amtrak from Los Angeles to Fullerton and then catch the Amtrak bus to the Coachella Valley and then back the same way when returning.  Those Amtrak buses are nice and have WiFi.. 

Two big questions remain:  

(1) Should passenger rail service between Los Angeles and the Coachella Valley be a Metrolink operation or an Amtrak operation?  If there are sufficient people who would commute daily to work from the Coachella Valley and Riverside or even Los Angeles, the Metrolink makes sense.  If this is more resort and holiday travel, then perhaps Amtrak is the more suitable carrier.  Either way, we all want to Palm Springs and Coachella Valley having daily stops in the morning and evening.  And if that happens will Palm Springs upgrade its station with amenity or two?

(2) Competition with Freight Rail for use of those tracks.  Right now the freight rail carriers do not want to share the tracks for daily passenger rail service.  Approximately 40% of America's incoming goods go through the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, so you can see why.  Is the answer for the federal government to make them share the tracks with passenger rail through regulation or is it to find the money to build more tracks or both?  

That is where we are at and as soon as I know more I will let you know. 

Friday, March 8, 2013

A Positive Sign for Los Angeles - Palm Springs Passenger Rail Service

According to a Desert Sun article, recent draft of the 2013 California State Rail Plan includes a Coachella Valley Route that would connect Los Angeles to Indio, expanding passenger rail service for the Palm Springs region.  The proposal calls for eight stops, with three — Palm Springs, Rancho Mirage and Indio — in the Coachella Valley.

So what has been the hold up?  Freight rail owning these rail rights-of-way.  From the article:

The project would require cooperation with Union Pacific Railroad, which may be the largest obstacle.
“The main challenge to implementation of passenger rail service in this corridor is securing cooperation with UPRR,” the draft rail plan reads.
“Service initiation is contingent upon an operating agreement with UPRR (Union Pacific Railroad) and securing necessary capital and operating funding,” the draft continues. Union Pacific officials could not immediately be reached for comment on Tuesday.
The project would cost an estimated $161.7 million, which includes $83.4 million for trains, $62.6 million for new stations and $15.7 million for maintenance facilities, according to the rail plan.
Train industry watchers in the Coachella Valley say Union Pacific could be amenable to increased passenger traffic given the mostly public-funded rail upgrades in Colton that make freight traffic flow smoother.
“We’re going to hold their feet to the fire on this one,” said Robert Manning, president of the Southwest Rail Passenger Association. “I’m sure if we push, we’ll get this.”

What is not determined yet is whether this increased passenger rail service would be Metrolink or Amtrak.

Tourism officials in the Coachella Valley have long wanted better passenger rail service between Indio and Los Angeles, ideally with daily service — up from the three-day-a-week service the area currently receives via Amtrak — and at times better suited for weekend travelers.
The rail plan does not get into scheduling specifics or the operator of the line. Local tourism officials say they hope it’s Amtrak, which is well-suited for the 125-mile trip to Palm Springs.
“We in the tourism industry are pushing for Amtrak because of the better consumer experience over Metrolink,” said Tim Ellis, general manager for the Palm Mountain Resort and Spa in Palm Springs and vice chair for the Hospitality Industry and Business Council, a valley-wide consortium of tourism leaders. Metrolink operates commuter trains reaching areas like Riverside and San Bernardino.
“Metrolink has commuter cars designed to move many people on shorter trips,” Ellis added, characterizing them as “public transportation rather than an experience.”
Manning also said he’d like the Coachella Valley Route to be operated by Amtrak, which has indicated a willingness to operate the train service.

So who would you rather see operate the service, Amtrak or Metrolink?  At this point I'd cheer for either.

And it isn't just tourists.  This region is expecting explosive population growth:

The California State Rail Plan points out the significant population growth the region is expected to see in the next 30 years, with the Los Angeles-Indio corridor expected to add 5.8 million residents. Riverside County will experience the bulk of this growth — 52.4 percent. Added access to rail should be a vital part of the transportation picture and one that needs to be started today, Manning said.

Right now when I travel to Palm Springs I take Amtrak to Fullerton and transfer to an Amtrak bus with WiFi.  I look forward to hopefully taking the trip to Palm Springs on one direct trail soon.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

How about a West Hollywood Transit Tunnel (inspired by Seattle)

Seattle has a transit tunnel downtown in which buses run underground unencumbered with auto traffic.  Seattle's growing light rail system also uses this transit tunnel creating a four station underground transitway shared by buses and rail.  Here is a picture.

West Hollywood could put one of these under Santa Monica Boulevard.

We do not necessarily need to wait for Metrorail to build it.  Perhaps our City Council candidates could be asked to raise bond money to build it for Rapid buses today (while local buses continue to run on the surface), while we can add light-rail tomorrow as Seattle has done.

With ever more congested traffic and density, we cannot depend on single-occupancy vehicles as the sole means of transportation to/from/within West Hollywood anymore.

We could partner with the cities of Los Angeles and Beverly Hills to create a transit tunnel from Hollywood/Vine to Century Century using the unused Metro right-of-way through Beverly Hills.

However, a four stop transit tunnel underneath Santa Monica Blvd. through West Hollywood would be very attractive to bringing future transit improvements. Stations at San Vicente/Robertson, La Cienega, Fairfax and La Brea come to mind. Imagine rapid buses entering the tunnel through at Doheny and exiting at La Brea.  Eventually the neighboring areas would want to extend it and add light-rail and streetcar.

And as an affluent city, I believe West Hollywood could start on this as a capital project were it so inclined.  West Hollywood voted 86% in favor of Measure R and was also the highest voting  city for Measure J.  Right now we are getting NOTHING for that vote.  For those who want to build something cheaper than an underground tunnel, we could create our own transit-only lanes on Santa Monica Boulevard.

Metro depends on the overwhelming "Yes" votes West Hollywood, Hollywood and surrounding areas in order to pass countywide transit measures, yet it still offers us NO Metrorail projects for our sales tax dollars. While I strongly supported Measure R and Measure J and still do, what if instead of voting to spend our sales tax money on the rest of the county, West Hollywood spent its own sales tax revenue on its own transit infrastructure?

Just a thought.  What are yours?

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Streetcars are coming to Downtown L.A. (and one suggested change)

As you may have heard, streetcars are returning to downtown Los Angeles, and downtown voters gave overwhelming approval to streetcar funding, with this one way circular route being the first alignment of many.

I am excited for this project, but would make one small tweak if the money were available.  I would add streetcar tracks on 7th Avenue both ways between Hill and Broadway as the first upgrade to this line.

We would have three streetcar routes immediately:

(A)  The full clockwise loop we see constructed.
(B)  A northern clockwise loop from Bunker Hill to 7th Avenue
(C)  A southern clockwise loop from 7th Avenue to 11th.

That's a lot of mobility right there for the streetcar system before any counter-clockwise routing is built.

I have a strong hunch that when this streetcar goes online that there will be demands for similar routes all over Southern California.

Note:  That dotted line on the map is the norther extension of the Blue/Expo Lines toward Union Station and connection with the current Gold Line, also called the Regional Connector.  These are exciting times for transit downtown and for the whole region.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Recent travel to Palm Springs by Amtrak

On this blog I have previously discussed and advocated for more passenger rail between Los Angeles Union Station and Palm Springs.

Based on the recommendation of my friend Rob who began using this service, over Labor Day Weekend, I traveled to Palm Springs via Amtrak for only $24 each way.

We ride an Amtrak train between Los Angeles Union Station and Fullerton Station and then catch an Amtrak thruway bus between Fullerton and Palm Springs.  There are several destination stops in the Coachella Valley for this Amtrak bus, such as downtown Palm Springs, Palm Springs International Airport, Indio, etc.

The train car was clean, comfortable and had WiFi.  But guess what?  So did the Amtrak thruway bus!


One of the discussion points about increasing passenger rail through this area is whether or not people would actually commute between Palm Springs and Riverside or Los Angeles, or whether this area is more of a resort/vacation destination.  While Metrolink is designed to serve the needs of commuters, a few Amtrak trains per day might be sufficient for vacationers.

Note:  SunLine Transit Agency, which provides local transit service within Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley, has begun a new Commuter Bus between Palm Desert and the Riverside Metrolink Station:  Line 220, covered by the Palm Desert Patch.  It will be interesting to see how it does.

Soon everyone will hopefully come out to see the giant statue of Marilyn Monroe

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Can we get higher capacity buses on the Orange Line?

As those of you who have read this blog know, I believe the Orange Line should have been built as and should be upgraded now as a light-rail line.

In the meantime, every time I ride the bus line everyone is stuffed like sardines into regular articulated buses.  Why not have tri-articulated buses as they have for other BRT systems in the world?

Here are two examples of what these type of buses look like.

Metro, can we purchase some of these so we can breathe again?