By Noel T. Braymer
Almost every town that has railroad tracks with passenger rail service on them would love to have a train station. If a town has a train station, it would love to have every passenger train going past to stop at its station.The problem with that is if every train stopped at every station, you would have very slow rail passenger service. One of the major attractions for rail passenger service is its speed. As it stands now, most rail passenger service in this country is slower than auto travel except when there is major traffic congestion.
Here are 2 excerpts from the LOSSAN Rail Corridor Agency Business Plan for FY 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 on the speed of the trains between San Diego and San Luis Obispo and the ridership between stations on the corridor.
As you can see, the average travel speed on the Surfliner trains is fairly low. The Surfliner equipment is capable of average speeds of over 60 miles per hour. Also notice that the main travel markets on the Surfliners are fairly long distance trips for the corridor, mainly from Los Angeles to San Diego County The I-5 is an often congested freeway and more people would take the train if it was faster.
Fast trains can’t slow down often to stop and still be fast. But there are plenty of people in the many towns between San Luis Obispo and San Diego that should be able to take advantage of faster trains. This can be done, and is done in many places in the world. This is done by using what are called sweep trains. A sweep train is a slower train that makes all stops that can pick up or drop off passengers with connections to the faster express trains.
The way a sweep train works is it leaves before the express train while making all stops. This way it can pick up passengers wanting to transfer to the express train to their ultimate destination. Just before the express train passes the sweep train, the sweep train pulls into a station for passengers to transfer to the express train. The express train after picking up passengers at the transfer station, then leaves the station and passes the sweep train.
In the other direction, the sweep train waits at the station for the express train to pass. After the transferring passengers board the sweep train, it follows the express train which leaves first. The transfer passengers then get off at their stations the express train flew by.
The LOSSAN Corridor is a perfect place to have sweep trains for the Pacific Surfliner trains combined with Metrolink and the Coaster trains. For example, lets take the Surfliner trains between San Diego and Santa Barbara. We could reduce the running times on the Surfliners quite a bit with express trains. The way this could work would be for a Coaster train to leave San Diego ahead of the express Surfliner. The Coaster train would terminate at Oceanside shortly before the arrival of the express Surfliner. Passengers could transfer at Oceanside to their destinations at Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo. The process can be reversed in the other direction with a Coaster following the express Surfliner after passengers have transferred in Oceanside. If the express Surfliner stops at Solana Beach, passengers from south of Solana Beach on the sweeper Coaster could transfer there to or from the express Surfliner instead of taking a Coaster all the way to or from Oceanside
Metrolink, could also run local trains ahead of the express Surfliners from Oceanside. By the time the express Surfliner reaches Fullerton the Metrolink passengers could transfer there to the Surfliner before it passes the Metrolink train. Midway transfer stops at Irvine from Metrolink to the Surfliner are also possible.
North of Los Angeles, another Metrolink train on the Ventura County Line could leave Los Angeles ahead of the express Surfliner as a sweep train. Transfer points could be made at Chatsworth, Moorpark and Oxnard. For the trains to transfer and pass at stations, extra tracks would be needed in some cases. In Oceanside there are plans by next year to build a third station track and platform so Coaster and Metrolink trains can layover without blocking the double track mainline. At Laguna Niguel/ Mission Viejo, the Metrolink station already has a layover track similar to what is planned for Oceanside. Fullerton has 3 thru tracks and a fourth stub track for 3 platforms to handle possible sweep/express trains.
Also as part of express service, connections at hubs are also important. Los Angeles Union Station is the central rail passenger hub for Southern California. With Metrolink connections can be created at Union Station to the San Bernardino, 91-Riverside, Ventura and Antelope Valley Lines. All of these connections are long overdue. But the combination of hub connections is not just for the Surfliners to Metrolink, It is also useful between all Metrolink lines to each other to allow travel to almost every part of Southern California by rail. The rest of Southern California can be connected to rail by expanded Motor Coach service. This will increase ridership and revenues for all services. This will do it with the fastest possible service to the most places with the fewest stops for all passengers.