Posted in: Commentary,
by Gregg Laskoski on Dec 13, 2013 06:00 AM
Some Californians truly think the state has it in for them. They're convinced that California's state legislators all prefer bicycles to passenger vehicles and will do as much as they can to 'penalize' motorists who cannot afford electric or hybrid vehicles...
California's gasoline tax (71.6 cents per gal.) is the highest in the nation and its gasoline is often among the most expensive in the U.S. So it's no wonder that more Californians are commuting by rail than ever before...
California's DOT reports that in a state noted for its freeways, Californians are riding trains in unprecedented numbers. In 2012-13, Amtrak California carried a record 3.9 million passengers on its thriving Pacific Surfliner and San Joaquin rail lines. Over the past ten years, ridership on the Pacific Surfliner, the second-busiest rail corridor in the nation, and the San Joaquin, the fifth-busiest, increased by nearly one million passengers, and ticket revenues skyrocketed from $44 million to $102 million.
If nothing else, the trend should help reduce traffic congestion. But at the same time, if those folks continue to opt for train travel, who is paying the fuel tax needed for infrastructure?
“In California, a rail renaissance is underway. Train travel is increasingly seen as a smart option,” said Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty.
Caltrans provides funding to run all three intercity passenger rail lines in California: the Pacific Surfliner, the San Joaquin, and the Capitol Corridor, which had a combined ridership of 5.6 million passengers in 2012-13. The recently approved 2013 California State Rail Plan includes plans to add more trips to each of the routes.
Since Caltrans began funding the Pacific Surfliner corridor between San Diego and San Luis Obispo in 1976, nearly $1 billion in capital improvements have been made, and the number of daily trains has risen nearly fourfold from three daily round trips to eleven.
Caltrans has invested $460 million since 1979 to improve the San Joaquin corridor between Bakersfield-Sacramento-and the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Area. Passenger service has increased from one daily round trip to six (four between Oakland and Bakersfield and two between Sacramento and Bakersfield).
In 2011, the Federal Railroad Administration awarded two grants to Caltrans for $168 million for the purchase of 15 rail cars for the Pacific Surfliner, three locomotives for the San Joaquin corridor, and 12 rail cars and three locomotives for the Capitol Corridor.
In Southern California, a $163 million, 15-mile main line track expansion between Commerce and Fullerton, known as the Triple Track Project, is building an additional third track next to two existing lines. The Pacific Surfliner, Metrolink, and freight trains currently share two tracks, which can create congestion.
Additionally, in 2012, three new tracks opened at Los Angeles Union Station along with a platform to serve Amtrak and Metrolink passengers.
Let's hope the boom in California's rail won't stall the pace of much needed highway and bridge repair.