By Noel T. Braymer
Despite record low truck and auto pollution emissions in Southern California, it just had the worse smog season in the last 6 years. The cause of this has been record high temperatures increasing the pollution levels despite lower emissions. It looks like we will have more hot weather in the future so we will need to do even more to reduce emissions. Rail passenger service is already doing its share to reduce traffic congestion and lower emissions. As Metrolink has been pointing out, its trains carry many passenger across counties. The impact of highway travel is based on the total miles vehicles travel, not the total number of vehicles. In other words a single vehicle being driven 20 miles will have 10 times the impact on traffic and emissions than a car going 2 miles. Carrying people by train and getting them out of their cars is like adding 1 to 2 additional lanes on existing freeways. In the San Francisco Bay Area whenever the BART system is not running, local traffic which is already bad, gets much worse.
Trains are going to be getting even cleaner. As new locomotives are bought they have to meet Tier IV low pollution levels. Future locomotives will likely run even cleaner and be more energy efficient than today’s Tier IV. Today on a per person level even with existing diesel rail passenger service already has lower emissions than one person in a typical car. To get greater benefits with rail passenger service in Southern California to keep a lid on traffic congestion and pollution we should expand rail passenger service on Metrolink, Surfliners and Coaster trains. There are already plans and projects in the works to do that. Here are some things that are being planned and also could be done to get more benefits from Rail Passenger service.
There is much track work and station improvements being planned which will allow more passenger rail service in Southern California. These include run-though tracks at Los Angeles Union Station which will allow more trains to run in and out of the station and for faster service to all points from both sides of Union Station. Work is planned to add more tracks between Bob Hope Airport in Burbank to Union Station on down to Fullerton. Much of this work is being paid in part by the California High Speed Rail Authority which will be sharing use of these tracks and Union Station. With these new tracks it will be possible to run more trains from southern Orange Country through Union Station to the Antelope Valley and parts of the San Fernando Valley. There are a limited number of trains that can be run from San Diego to Orange County due to single tracking in southern Orange County. But it will be possible to add a few more trains. Some additional Surfliner trains from San Diego can be run in the future to Ventura County on to Santa Barbara with a few more of these trains to San Luis Obispo. In Orange County Surfliner trains from San Diego and Los Angeles can be scheduled and ticketed to connect with Metrolink trains to the Inland Empire.
Other improvements that should be considered would be adding a 3rd track between Riverside and San Bernardino on the line from Fullerton.. This will allow more passenger service while not interfering with heavy freight traffic on this BNSF Transcon Mainline. Because of capacity problems there are few passenger trains between Riverside and San Bernardino. This would allow more rail travel between the Inland Empire to both Los Angeles and Orange County. There is a need for more rail passenger service between San Bernardino and Los Angeles. Los Angeles has plans now to extend Light Rail Service east from Azusa to Montclair in San Bernardino County near the Los Angels County Line. This will share right of way with Metrolink and possible joint stations at Montclair, Claremont and Pomona. The goal for this light rail service is for it to be extended to Ontario Airport. This could be complicated since there is only one rail line which goes past the terminals at Ontario Airport. There is no Metrolink service on this line or right of way to cheaply connect it to future Light Rail. This is the former SP Mainline between Colton and Los Angeles. It would make sense to add tracks to operated more express passenger service between the Inland Empire and Los Angeles on this line. There are long segments of single track between Los Angeles between El Monte now on Metrolink and it will be difficult to double track this segment to run more trains. The former SP Line would make sense for future High Speed Rail service between Los Angeles and San Diego through the Inland Empire. There are plans to have a high speed rail station at Ontrario Airport.
The LOSSAN Rail Corridor JPA and the County of Riverside are planning to start up rail passenger service with Amtrak between Los Angeles and Palm Springs. Such service should connect to as many places as possible in Southern California. The line to Palm Springs is already double tracked which will make additional service possible. The most likely route of this train will be via Riverside and Fullerton to Los Angeles. All three of these stations have connections to other rail service. San Diego County is adding additional double tracking and other improvements to run more frequent services between Oceanside and San Diego. Bus bridges can be run between southern Orange County and Oceanside to connect Coaster train passengers to Metrolink trains. Potential connections are possible to the San Diego Airport with dedicated bus service at the Old Town Station to the airport. Besides providing direct service to the airport for Coaster riders, Old Town is already a transportation hub for many local buses and the Trolley Green Line from Mission Valley. In the future it will also have Blue Line Trolley service from downtown San Diego north of Old Town to the major employment area of University City near UCSD.