Friday, August 24th, 2007 at 8:36 pm in Misc. Transportation.
Focused as I have been on the Bay Bridge (Did you hear? It’s to be closed Labor Day weekend), I’ve felt guilty all week that I haven’t paid much attention to the Bay Area’s Regional Rail Plan that was put before the public Aug. 15 by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, BART, Caltrain and the California High-Speed Rail Authority.
So I called several people that know something about it, including the author of the legislation that made the plan possible, and I must say it wasn’t much better than when those hasty Web reports came out saying that Harry Potter had been eaten by Voldemort.
The short version is that any meaningful improvement in our regional rail network, including BART, Caltrain, Capitol Corridor, ACE and the San Joaquins, would cost so much that there’s no point in worrying about it.
Why do I think that?
Because one of the conclusions to come out of this is that the best hope for major improvements is to piggy-back our local system, i.e., the system that might get people off of those backed-up freeways connecting the Bay Area with the Central Valley and San Jose with San Francisco, is to hitch a ride with the California High-Speed Rail system.
For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, the California High-Speed Rail System is something that will whisk passengers from Oakland to Los Angeles in under three hours, relieve congestion at local airports and remove the “remote” from in front of the Central and Antelope valleys.
It will do this all for less than $50 billion, by current estimates. So far, the entity charged with doing that, the California High-Speed Rail Authority, has received less than a 10th of that, and was lucky to squeeze $15 million past the governor today and another $5 million from Orange County this year.
If $20.7 million sounds like a lot of money, consider that the down payment on this system is a $9.9 billion bond that has a good chance of being removed from the 2008 ballot so we can borrow for some other worthy purpose.
I should disclose here that I think the bullet train is way cool, and I’m partial to trains in general. That’s why this whole regional rail plan thing is somewhat depressing.
Since I now work across Interstate 880 from Oakland Coliseum, my long-distance commute often starts and ends at one of the loneliest and scariest Amtrak/Capitol Corridor stations I’ve chanced to wait at.
There is no office, a malfunctioning arrival information sign and a homeless encampment literally a stone’s throw from the platform.
As sad as I thought this was, I was surprised when a conductor asked me if I was sure I was going there. Why? Because the southbound/westbound trains scheduled to terminate there in the morning don’t actually go there because no one’s riding them.
At some point, people will get the idea that they can take the train to the airport, especially when there’s a BART connector that the federal government just coughed up $25 million for (again, remember how they laughed at Dr. Evil for his $1 million ransom demand).
But until then, I have the shame of knowing that a monstrous huge locomotive is chugging diesel and blowing particulates for 10 minutes every morning just so I don’t have to drive from the Central Valley.
The rail plan for the next 40 years, properly put together, might, I’m told, make such inefficiencies a thing of the past.
If you can make rail transit faster than driving (which it already is during bad rush hours), you can conceivably coax 50 percent of commuters along that corridor out of their cars. Otherwise, it’s more like 2 percent to 3 percent, according to transportation planner Ezra Rapport, <cm cq> who helped write legislation that created the rail planning process.
Unfortunately, he contends, the process didn’t provide any guidance to get us to that point.
After having difficulty getting the data showing future ridership, the process shut down before actual strategy could be worked out, he said.
The MTCommission convinced the other parties to the process that a September legislative deadline needed to be met, and now the public is left scratching its heads wondering what the whole thing means.
It does have some ideas, such as a second BART tube to move more people across the Bay, adding tracks to the commuter rail corridors and building a rail line through Marin and Sonoma counties, a battle that has already been joined in the North Bay.
What does the MTC have to say about this?
“This was a tall order with respect to forecasting of ridership into the future from around California that took longer than originally expected,” said MTC spokesman Randy Rentschler. “It’s a lot less picking things than articulating what things could look like … It’s a big subject and I think a lot of folks would keep talking about it for a long period of time.”
But considering that the thing was done in large part to see how our regional rail system would mesh with High-Speed Rail, “this is not going to be the last time this subject is going to be discussed.”
Photo from www.world-crisis.com.