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?