I caught a story in the Desert Sun today about RCTC's new feasibility study of a Coachella Valley commuter rail service, with a daily round trip to Los Angeles. Here's the frustrating thing, though- the Coachella Valley had the next best thing to commuter rail service. The SunLink express bus, offered by SunLine transit, ran several trips per day in each direction, traveling from Palm Springs to Riverside (Metrolink and bus terminal) via Beaumont Wal-Mart. It was provided with a sort of vehicle that I have not seen before or since, a tractor-trailer combination that offered Metrolink-like seating and an on-board restroom. (I found out doing research for this post that these are called "SuperBuses" and ran on several OCTA express routes in the 80's and 90's before moving to SunLine. A photo of one that remains at OCTA's Irvine yards here.) It was canceled back in 2004, and as of now there is no public transit link between the IE and the Coachella Valley, though Amtrak and Greyhound do provide some limited service. (RTA 210 now provides the Beaumont-Riverside route.)
According to The Transit Coalition's Nicholas Ventrone, SunLink managed to garner "productive ridership" before it was canceled in 2004. Train lines, especially to never-served areas, take time to construct, but express buses can go from planning to passengers in the time it takes to put up the sign posts and print the schedules. Let's do something about Palm Springs commuters *now*, and then worry about rail service later.
P.S. According to a 2002 description by the Southern California Transit Advocates, SunLink had coffee and tea on board for a nominal charge. Amenities like this would go a long way towards attracting commuters- the morning coffee run that many make could be accomplished while still in motion. RTA sells the Press-Enterprise on board some CommuterLink routes, and that's a start.