Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Bridging the Transit Gap between LA and the Coachella Valley

Commuter buses are back and future intercity train service promises to bridge the transit gap between LA and the Coachella Valley. Let's get it moving.

Bus service between Palm Desert and Riverside has arrived. SunLine Transit has established a commuter link between the desert city and the Downtown Riverside Metrolink system. The route started operating on Monday and features twice-daily service for six bucks a ride. The agency will operate two trips into Riverside during the morning peak hours and two return trips in the afternoon. Although an end-to-end trip lasts nearly 2 1/2 hours, most passengers will likely utilize the route's intermediate stops. The route is considered a supplement to rail service between Los Angeles and the Coachella Valley should it eventually become a reality.

A Union Pacific train. Officials in Riverside have already backed a proposal to establish rail service between Los Angeles and Indio. It was a unanimous vote on a motion that urges Amtrak to get going on their plan to upgrade their Sunset Limited service. The plan would put a daily Coachella Valley stop on the route between LA and San Antonio. It also calls for consideration of multiple daily departures on a Surfliner-like intercity service between LA and the high desert. We believe such a route would be very productive.

The expansion of inter-city passenger rail service between Los Angeles and the Coachella Valley has been widely supported since the early 1990's. Therefore, if the tracks and stations are already in place, then what exactly is preventing the extra trains from leaving the station? The rail right-of-way linking the Los Angeles basin to the Coachella Valley is operated by the Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR), not by public agencies. UPRR continues firm opposition to any new Amtrak service on its tracks through this area. Despite widespread public support, local and state officials have no unilateral powers to force UPRR to permit expanded Amtrak service. Public agencies would also have to invest at least $500 million for a new set of tracks.

However, there may be a possibility that Class One private railroads including UPRR which long ago discontinued passenger service could reinstate and directly operate passenger trains in the future. Should UPRR desire to move forward with this concept for the LA-to-Indio corridor, public officials should clear the way for the railroad to do so and allow UPRR to stop their trains at existing transit stations. Public incentives to offset any losses connected with passenger service should be considered and discussed in lieu of the massive $500 million public investment.

Photo © Flickr/Jerry Huddleston CC-BY-SA 

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