California’s future tied to rail: Report

Written by Mischa Wanek-Libman, Editor, Railway Track & Structures; and Engineering Editor, Railway Age
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The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) released a research report that details the impact freight and passenger rail operations have on the state economy.

The report, Rail and the California Economy, is being released as an early research product supporting the 2018 California State Rail Plan and provides an overview of opportunities for rail to address the state’s needs and challenges in the future.

“Rail is a fundamental component of our transportation system that plays a strategic role in meeting California’s transportation needs. California’s population is projected to grow by 21 million by 2050 so efficient movement of freight and people, while assuring safety and meeting air-quality goals, will continue to be our focus as we move forward with our plan,” said Malcolm Dougherty, director, Caltrans.

The research report presents case studies and analysis of freight and passenger rail on land use, freeway congestion, the movement of different types of commodities and the important contributions that these factors play in supporting the state’s complex economy.

The report states that 18% of the more than $400 billion of total U.S. imports moved through the state in 2015. The report notes that without rail service to and from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, container flows through these ports would be reduced by 39%, while port truck traffic would increase by 44%.

The report explains intercity service, such as that on the LOSSAN passenger corridor, has a positive economic effect as it serves as a catalyst for economic development. Additionally, regional commuter rail, such as the Caltrain system, is also noted in the report for its positive impact. The report estimates that Caltrain riders save more than 200 metric tons of gas emissions every day. Multiplied over the year, 50,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide will be saved, which equals more than $1 million on the California cap-and-trade market. The savings is the equivalent of removing more than 10,000 vehicles from the roadway network.

While the report highlights the benefits of developing an efficient and effective rail system it also presents the challenges, such as shared track use, coordinated ticketing, intercounty coordination on funding, maintenance issues and more consistent bus connections. The report supports the California Transportation Plan 2040 and the 2018 State Rail Plan and the idea of rail as a fundamental strategy for ensuring the state’s economic competitiveness, preserving and enhancing the environment and improving the quality of life for California’s residents.

The research report was produced by the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, in cooperation with California State Transportation Agency, Caltrans, University of California Center on Economic Competitiveness in Transportation and University of California Transportation Center.






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