Upgrade rail system, rather than reroute ‘bullet train’ | TheUnion.com

Upgrade rail system, rather than reroute ‘bullet train’

Mr. Thomas Elias, I am obliged to comment on your column concerning the routing of the bullet train, or should I say “rerouting,” as you propose.

I think that the majority of Californians have made their point of view quite well known — that the whole project should be scrapped. It will prove to be enormously expensive, the ridership will be well short of the lofty numbers presented to the public, and reasonable alternatives currently exist.

To do as you suggest, to reroute along the I-5/I-580 corridor, reduces the project to a Los Angeles to Bay Area service only, and that service is already adequate thanks to Southwest and its competitors. What is needed in California is a reasonable inter-city rail service between Auburn/Sacramento and the Bay Area, between the Bay Area/Sacramento and San Joaquin Valley cities, between San Francisco and perhaps as far south as Salinas, and between Santa Barbara, Los Angeles and San Diego, all routes too short for air but reasonable as rail corridors.

Now you will argue that such services do exist — and they do, but they are not reasonable. I have taken the Capitol Corridor service on a number of occasions and can only marvel that the running time between Sacramento and Oakland is not any better than it was around the turn of the century — the 19th to 20th century. By federal regulation, trains in these corridors are limited to 79 miles per hour, notwithstanding the fact that the rolling stock can attain speeds of 110 miles per hour. The reason is that the tracks and trains in question are not under Positive Train Control, a computer and GPS system designed to eliminate operator error. The lack of such a system on the Metro-North railway contributed to this past Sunday’s accident and the one several years ago in Chatsworth that was even more deadly. While such systems are mandated in the future, delays by both railroads and Congress have prevented these systems from being operative. The results have been needless deaths and poor service.

Rather than waste enormous sums on a system that shows little promise, we can and should spend the money and effort to speed dramatically the installation of PTC on all of California’s inter-city and long-commute routes, particularly when combined with electrification of these lines, which increases acceleration and deceleration rates. It is not an easy project as it also requires major changes in signaling and road crossing standards, but this will dramatically increase ridership when the services provided are a better alternative than motor vehicles.

I hope that this letter might persuade you that inter-city rail is an important and essential part of California’s need for transportation services and is certainly more important than a single L.A.-to-San Francisco-only corridor, a corridor which is already well served.

Christopher A. Kane lives in Grass Valley.

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