Last week’s tragedy along an at-grade crossing in Oxnard adds to the growing list of accidents involving trains and motor vehicles. Fortunately, no one was killed in this latest one, but there were severe injuries.
In almost all cases, these incidents are due to carelessness, recklessness or criminal acts. Given human nature, recurrences are inevitable. However, the possibilities can be greatly reduced with right-of-way improvements that eliminate at-grade crossings.
Some projects designed to do just that are underway, but they cover only a fraction of what needs to be done.
Funding is tight, which means the work will be piecemeal.
What is needed is a systemic approach that not only addresses safety concerns, but improves the efficiency, timeliness and comfort of commuter rail travel.
Measure R2, a half-cent sales tax increase is being planned for the November 2016 ballot. The measure would attempt to raise $90 billion over 45 years. At $2 billion per year, improvements will be slow in coming and, although increasing safety, may not have a perceptible impact on efficiency, timeliness and comfort. We will still be left with a mishmash system juggling passenger and freight service on shared tracks. Not a very attractive option for commuters.
While our local and regional transportation needs are being underfunded, California is doing everything possible to push ahead with High-Speed Rail.
Stop and think of the relative demands – ask yourself: how often do you commute locally versus travel to and from Southern California to the Bay Area? Over the course of the year, how long does you car idle on our clogged freeways and streets? Quite a bit more than the time you spend on the 5 or 99 traveling through the San Joaquin Valley.
Why are we throwing away $68 billion to supplement existing satisfactory alternatives for our infrequent north-south trips? By the way, commercial aircraft and cars have been becoming more efficient and safer. For example, since 2000, domestic airline fuel consumption has improved 40%. Within a decade, hybrid and electric vehicles will comprise a major share of the automobile market.
The State should stop HSR and cut off further funding. Instead, a bill should be introduced to fund rail improvements designed to create a well-integrated network of commuter trains and subways in all major metropolitan areas.
It’s about getting value for the money. $68 billion could create far greater benefits if applied to projects that move people through our major cities, rather than from L.A to San Francisco – or from Bakersfield to Madera. Less gasoline burned; less congestion.
HSR is political pork and payback for California’s oligarchs. It is a project straight from Vladimir Putin’s playbook.
We do not need Sochi on rails.