Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Perspective: “The Northeast Corridor has nothing on us”

Written by  John Rinard, CEO, Willdan Infrastructure, for Railway Age
Perspective: “The Northeast Corridor has nothing on us” John Livzey
In 1866, The Rocky Mountain News reported that, “The one moral, the one remedy for every evil, social, political, financial, and industrial, the one immediate vital need of the entire Republic, is the Pacific Railroad.” Today, the same could almost be said for the LOSSAN Rail Corridor along California’s southern coast.

California is not good at keeping secrets. Yet there is a quiet revolution going on in rail. Though high speed rail garners most of the headlines, the LOSSAN Rail Corridor is quietly changing the way millions of Californians commute. And this is happening for one simple reason. For now and well into the future, the LOSSAN Rail Corridor is the most efficient, most sustainable, and most effective means for transporting southern Californians where they need to go. For that reason, the LOSSAN Rail Corridor not only deserves critical attention, it merits our wholehearted financial and political support.

A 351-mile intercity rail line, LOSSAN stretches from San Luis Obispo to Los Angeles to San Diego. Traversing six counties, it is the second-busiest rail corridor in the nation, behind only the famed and oft-lauded Northeast Corridor. But the Northeast Corridor now has competition. In fact, LOSSAN is so popular that one in every nine Amtrak riders uses it. Boasting more than 41 stations and more than 150 daily passenger trains, LOSSAN has a growing ridership of more than 2.7 million on Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner intercity trains and 4.5 million on Metrolink and COASTER commuter trains, rail lines that also comprise LOSSAN. But the benefits of LOSSAN extend well beyond its riders.

There is no shortage of cars on Southern California freeways. And as anyone who has driven those freeways can attest, those roads are at or near capacity much of the time. Building new freeways and widening the ones we have are not options. But we must increase capacity. LOSSAN does just that. For example, estimates show that Metrolink users in the Los Angeles area take the equivalent of one lane off the busy I-5 corridor alone. The Pacific Surfliner removes the equivalent of 168 million vehicle-miles traveled each year off Southern California roads. For capacity alone, LOSSAN is worth it. But there are greater benefits still.

Rail is a greener, more sustainable transportation mode than cars. Taking cars off the road also means reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The Pacific Surfliner alone reduces CO2 emissions by 27,000 tons each year. And as ridership increases, so do the reductions in GHG emissions. And that’s only one example. But there’s a bigger point here. California’s population isn’t shrinking. According to U.S. Census projections, the six-county area LOSSAN serves will grow from 17.4 million people to just over 21 million by 2030. So LOSSAN’s value and importance will only increase.

In August 2013, the LOSSAN board of directors selected the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) to serve as the local managing agency to oversee intercity rail service on the LOSSAN Corridor under the joint powers authority agreement. As such, OCTA will use its depth and experience to provide all necessary administrative and operational support required to run the corridor effectively. A smart strategic move, this allows the corridor to seek funding and improve service with a unified voice. And that is where we all come in.

LOSSAN can benefit from a number of strategic improvements. From integrated and coordinated operations to one-seat, seamless rail travel, to an integrated fare system, to expanded service throughout the Southland, LOSSAN is seeking to create a world-class intercity rail system, as detailed in its LOSSAN Corridor Strategic Implementation Plan. We in the rail industry know well why this is a vital and important document. But knowing is not enough.

We need to engage the general public and gain their support for this vital piece of transportation. We must help the LOSSAN Corridor receive the funding and political support it needs to expand strategically to better serve Southern California riders.

In the 19th century, many believed the railroad was the one remedy to fix the Republic. On a smaller scale, the LOSSAN Rail Corridor is a powerful answer to the conundrum of expanding capacity while reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Southern California.

John RinardJohn Rinard, CEO of Anaheim-based Willdan Infrastructure, has led complex infrastructure construction projects including the Alameda Transportation Corridor and portions of Southern California Regional Rail Authority's Metrolink system.