By Noel T. Braymer
Recently the county of San Diego lost a lawsuit which it had appealed up to and was turn down by the Supreme Court of California. The basis of this lawsuit was the failure by the county to plan for reducing emissions of Greenhouse Gases (GHG) by 80% of the level emitted back in 1990 by 2050. The court’s ruling was based on an executive order by Governor Schwarzenegger in 2005 that requires GHG emissions for the State be reduced by 80% of 1990 levels by 2050. The planning in San Diego County was GHG emissions were expected to continue to rise in the county. The county must now redo most of their transportation planning with the goal of meeting these mandates to be in compliance with the lawsuit. This means more transportation without oil or needing less energy per person.
This lawsuit was brought by a coalition of environmental groups. This coalition is prepared to bring similar lawsuits against other government agencies in the State. This has already led to the city of San Diego announcing a sweeping set of new regulations to bring the city in compliance with the goal to reduce its GHG emissions to the 2050 goal. This includes major changes in land development and increases in the use of public transportation. The goal is to reduce the amount of driving in San Diego and encourage people to walk, ride bikes and ride more trains and buses to get around. This will require new, denser housing near to services and public transportation.
The largest source of GHG in California is transportation from the burning of fossil fuels. To meet these goals will require a major reduction in the use of oil and natural gas for transportation. A major factor to achieving this goal will depend on greatly expanding rail passenger service and ridership in the State of California. This will also require all rail service both passenger and freight to switch to zero emission power sources. This can include electrification, renewable fuels, battery powered trains or combinations of all three. Increased rail passenger service will also be needed to reduce the amount of car miles on the State’s highways and roads. This will be possible with greater urban density and better transit connections to rail passenger service.
To reduce GHG in California will require more trains for both passenger and freight. Not only will more equipment be needed, but also track and station improvements. This means more double tracking and elimination of current bottlenecks preventing expanded service. Outside of High Speed Rail already planned, we won’t need new railroads. But we need expanded service on existing railroads that will all connects with each other as part of a network that also includes bus connections to places without rail service and improved rail and bus service as well to the airports. As part of this we will likely see increased use of zero emission buses and renewable carbon neutral fuels for airplanes and ships.
The areas that needs the most attention now have the least rail service.This includes along the coast between Los Angeles and San Jose. This also includes the Sacramento Valley north of the city of Sacramento and connections from Sacramento and the northern San Joaquin Valley to the San Francisco Bay area. There is also the low desert east of San Bernardino towards Palm Springs and central Arizona. Currently there is only one daily train between San Luis Obispo and San Jose as well as from Sacramento to the Oregon border. There are only 3 trains a week between Los Angeles and the Palm Springs area. There are only 2 round trips by rail between Bakersfield and Sacramento and 4 between Stockton and San Jose.
Besides track improvements and additional passenger trains, we need better connections between services. One project that is planned is in Fremont at Union City. Here is planned a joint station connecting in the east bay with Capitol Corridor, Altamont Corridor Express (ACE) and BART rail services. There is also discussion a link at Union City from San Mateo County with service using the old railroad right of way connecting the Peninsula to the East Bay. There is no final plan of which mode would use this right of way yet. More trains will be needed on ACE to connect the northern San Joaquin Valley to the Bay Area and High Speed Rail at Merced. More passenger trains are needed to connect to High Speed Rail to Sacramento and north to Redding.
Major track improvements needed in Southern California include several tunnels to speed service and eliminate bottlenecks between Los Angeles and San Diego. This includes along San Clemente, Del Mar and the canyons in San Diego at Miramar. Such projects will greatly expand rail passenger service in this corridor and allow faster running times. A great deal is already underway to build 4 tracks between Los Angeles and Fullerton, addition double tracking for Metrolink in Los Angeles County and improvements at Los Angeles Union Station with a new concourse and run-through tracks.
All train stations should become Intermodal centers. We are seeing this happen in San Francisco with the new Transbay Terminal, at Los Angeles Union Station and most other train station in the State. There has been recent increased interest extending the Green Line from LAX to the Metrolink Station in Norwalk, which is a likely future High Speed Rail station. This will create several new connections to LAX, West LA, the South Bay, Orange County and the Inland Empire. San Diego has long term plans to build a new main train station next to the airport and make that its prime transportation hub including High Speed Rail. Beside improved connections at stations, there is need to develop the areas around stations to make the area a destination, not just a way to get someplace else. This will attract more passenger with places to live, work, shop, play and provide services. All of this without the need to drive or find and pay for parking.These and the rest that has been discussed will go a long way in reducing traffic, travel costs and emission of GHG.