Thursday, December 5, 2013

Riverside: Going for high speed rail done right


Okay, it's not quite high speed rail just yet, but it's turning out to be higher speed rail. Officials in the City of Riverside are moving forward in their master plan to separate the railroad grade crossings all throughout the city at the major crossings.

One such crossing due to be separated is along the Union Pacific Railroad right of way at Riverside Avenue. The Metrolink Riverside Line and numerous UPRR freight trains utilize the corridor. The $33 million project will be paid for through local, state, and federal sources with private capital coming from UPRR.

It's no question that separating these grade crossings will speed up mobility both along the rails and the roads. With fewer at-grade crossings, existing trains would be able to travel safely at higher speeds, especially along the straighter segments of the line.

Both the logistics industry and the riding public have much to gain. Faster moving freight trains improves economic productivity of goods movement and reduces waste in the industry. Faster moving passenger trains allows Metrolink to operate more productively and could bring private investments into the Inland Emipre's rail transit corridors for expanded service. Should the travel trip times for a passenger train to travel between Los Angeles and points east be reduced thanks to public infrastructure improvements such as separated grade crossings, both the private sector and the Class One railroads themselves may be inclined to expand passenger rail service on top of expanded Metrolink service from early morning through late night.

Higher travel speeds would entice more choice riders to use the train instead of driving or flying, thus making intercity and regional rail corridors profitable. Imagine being able to board into a business class UPRR passenger train in downtown Riverside and arrive in the Coachella Valley or Los Angeles in about an hour. Or, how about having a more reliable, corridor-based Metrolink train network for those needing to travel local or looking for affordable fares.

Certainly there's much more work to be done beyond local separated grade crossings to speed up trains headed to/from Riverside, but getting robust rail infrastructure into the Inland Empire's transit system that supports faster mobility could one day incline the marketplace to invest private capital into true high speed rail infrastructure.

2 comments:

  1. Grade crossings aren't a limiting factor for rail traffic in the Riverside area-- FRA rules permit operation up to 79mph with grade crossings, or up to 90mph with grade crossings given the provision of automatic train-stop technology. The only real benefits to rail traffic of grade separations is the reduction of grade-crossing accidents. Otherwise, grade separations are a popular way for politicians to spend alternative transportation money on road projects.

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    1. Justin, Thanks for the productive input of current rail policy. Under the current federal rules that you've stated, separating the grade crossings will not necessarily speed up trains overnight, but it is the right thing to do since the infrastructure would be able to support higher speed trains in the future as rail crossing safety won't be a major issue as you've mentioned. As passenger rail technology is matured and electrified, their speeds can go beyond the 90 MPH mark through the straighter segments of the routes. That's where the feds and rail engineers can debate integrating separated grades into the speed rules.

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