By Noel T. Braymer
The California Legislature just passed and the Governor signed legislation to reduce Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions in the State by 40 percent below its 1990 levels by 2030. What the Legislature didn’t do was provide funding or approve the means to achieve these goals. The largest source producing Greenhouse Gases in the State comes from transportation through the burning of gasoline and diesel fuel. To meet the goal of lowering GHG emissions by 40 percent below the level of 1990 by 2030 will require major reductions in the burning of fossil fuel with carbon neutral fuels, more electric powered zero emission vehicles, more public transportation in general and much more rail passenger service in particular. This will have to be done in the next 14 years!
The California High Speed Rail project will go a long way in connecting most of the State’s population by rail with high capacity service. More funding for it will be needed to speed up construction to have an impact to meet these new GHG goals. Phase 1 from Anaheim to San Francisco is now planned to open by 2029. High Speed Rail service is the trunk line, but to fully function it needs branch lines to feed passengers to it for it to serve most of California and make the most impact towards reducing GHG. There are plans to connect High Speed Rail with Los Angeles Metrorail, Metrolink, Pacific Surliners, Caltrain, BART, ACE, Capitol Corridor and San Joaquin trains. More funding is needed to expand some of these services with more equipment and track work to run more trains and carry more people. More new locomotives are needed which will be much lower in emitting GHG. These might include hybrid locomotives with batteries and cleaner burning engines.
On top of this we need an enlarged system of feeder bus services both to connect rail service to more places in California and to provide improved intercity service to more places not possible now to get to without a car. The California Thruway Bus service connecting to local Amtrak trains in the State has a major impact in increasing ridership to the California Amtrak trains. The Thruway buses do this without the need for subsidy. More bus service on this model needs to be expanded to more places. This means filling up these buses with passengers connecting to trains as well as passengers traveling to points between train stations. What will be needed is to get bus operators to coordinate and expand their services to enlarge their markets and be able to transfer passengers to travel to more places by bus and rail. This will mean joint ticketing between carriers along the lines of what airlines do with connecting services between different airlines. This service would also need good connections to local transit. Intercity bus services are doing this now by using transportation centers for their bus stops. This will greatly increase the number of people traveling by bus and should reduce auto travel. GHG emissions can be reduced further by encouraging greater use of electric buses, for both transit and intercity service in the state. Even electric semi tractor trucks are now being developed. Electric buses are now in production which have lower operating costs than conventional buses.
Critical to reducing GHG is changes in land development that require will less driving. This means making it easier to live in places that are closer to transit, shopping, services and employment. Often this means being close enough to walk or ride a bike to. Californians are increasingly living near rail transit stations to travel to stores, services and jobs. Transportation centers increasingly have development being built around them which increases ridership at these centers. Transportation centers will need expanded parking for bicycles and improved bus service for more connections to more places. Transportation centers increasingly are becoming a destination in their own right. A good example of this is in the plans for development next to Los Angeles Union Station which will be building in the next 5 to 10 years.
These changes doesn’t mean the end of the private automobile. But alternative forms of transportation will be needed for the new development needed to reduce driving in the urban areas of California and reduce GHG. Most of this new development will come about through private investment. More government spending will be needed to improve existing railroads for expanded passenger and freight service. The new commercial and residential development made possible by expanded rail passenger service will be drawn to areas around transportation centers. We are already seeing this happen at several train station/ transportation centers in the State.
The only constant in life is change. Good transportation is central to a growing economy. If California is serious about reducing Greenhouse Gas emissions and a growing economy this will mean more rail passenger service, transit, walking, bicycling as well as shorter distances to jobs, services and entertainment. Creating these alternative to driving will work together to make traveling faster and more convenient than driving on congested roads and looking for parking. Increasingly in urban areas the cost of driving is out of reach for people who also have trouble finding affordable housing. The solutions to all of these problems boil down to increased efficiency and better land use possible with improved rail passenger service.