Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Vague Rail Article in the PE

Dug Begley writes this very vague article about RCTC studying Metrolink expansion. The focus of the piece is on the supposedly enormous cost of expanding our meagre Metrolink options.

The horrible price tag? $300m. Translation: Less than we spent on adding 4 miles of one lane to one side of the 91 freeway in the Yorba Linda canyon.

It irks me that every article about rail in our newspaper is about the costs, while every article about freeway expansion is about how wonderful and congestion-free the new roads will be, for all the happy motorists about to drive over them.

Furthermore, it seems that the cost estimates in RCTC's study are primarily driven by the need to add rail capacity in Los Angeles and Orange Counties, in order to get more trains into LA Union. This sort of model is based on a fallacious understanding of how people use transit: either we offer them a one-seat ride into LA, or they'll drive instead.

How about we offer a system with robust transfers?

Metrolink's current fare system allows for unlimited transfers in order to reach your destination. You simply buy a ticket to wherever you're going, and take the most direct route- which, from Riverside, sometimes (especially mid-day) means a transfer through Orange or San Bernardino. This could be encouraged- instead of sending more trains to Los Angeles at significant cost (because of capacity problems in LA and, especially for the Riverside Line, UP's pathological hatred of passenger rail), we could simply provide more service on the IE-OC Line, allowing passengers to transfer at either Orange or San Bernardino.

Previously, the Colton Crossing area was a bottleneck for trains. However, stimulus funds went to building an upgrade for those tracks, and so we should take advantage of this fact and run more trains through them. The San Bernardino Line already provides extremely frequent service to Los Angeles 7 days a week, albeit with a longer travel time. The Orange County Line is being upgraded to provide half-hourly service to Los Angeles all day long, and additional service is provided by the Pacific Surfliner (which would require a transfer at Santa Ana- a change in fare policy that would be easy to accomplish).

Upgrading just one of the three lines that serve Riverside would provide access to nearly all the places that 91 and Riverside Line passengers want to go, as well as the San Bernardino and San Gabriel Valleys. Furthermore, more IE-OC trains wouldn't strain the capacity of LA Union Station, and would only require negotiations with the more passenger-friendly BNSF. It might require some additional rail facilities along the LOSSAN corridor, but it would undoubtedly be cheaper than what RCTC is up to.

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