Even with more efficient cars and trucks, continuing to rely on freeways would be an environmental disaster — not to mention a traffic nightmare. Traveling by train is 28 percent more fuel efficient than driving on a per-passenger-mile basis. Also, railway companies can save money by switching from diesel to cleaner-burning natural gas, Barry Wallerstein, executive director of the South Coast Air Quality Management District, told The Desert Sun editorial board last week.
CVAG studied the potential of daily train service in 1999 and updated the report in 2010. It envisions new stations in Indio and Rancho Mirage, and expanding the Palm Springs station. Other possible stops along the 141-mile route from Indio to Union Station in Los Angeles include Cabazon, Banning/Beaumont, Redlands/Loma Linda, Riverside and Fullerton.
The Caltrans report based cost estimates on the 2010 CVAG study:
• Rolling stock — two sets consisting of a locomotive, cab car, food service car and five coach cars — would cost $83.4 million.
• Five new train stations and the upgrade in Palm Springs would cost $62.6 million.
• Layover and maintenance facilities would cost $15.7 million.
Total: $161.7 million.
That’s a big price tag, but mass transit is never cheap. Annual operating costs are estimated at $11.4 million. Annual revenue is projected at $3.2 million, so an $8.2 million subsidy would be required.
We hope this study will analyze the potential economic benefits and environmental improvements.
Perhaps the biggest challenge is the Union Pacific Railroad, which owns the tracks along the route from Indio to San Bernardino, where it connects with a commuter rail line operated by Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad. Union Pacific has said it would need a huge investment in track improvements.
About 70 trains a day travel this route, one of the most heavily traveled freight corridors in the country. It certainly can handle 14 more trips by Amtrak trains a week.
Those tracks already accommodate three round trips a week by the Sunset Limited, which runs from Los Angeles to New Orleans. For Palm Springs, arrival and departure times could hardly be less convenient. The westbound train arrives at about 2 a.m. The eastbound train arrives at 12:30 a.m.
Amtrak has a strong interest in a new daily route. A 2010 study called the Sunset Limited its worst performing route financially, but the shorter daily route could be one of its most profitable.
It is a huge proposition. But looking at the growth projections, the potential for environmental improvements and the allure of relaxing in the observation car instead of fighting traffic between here and Los Angeles, it’s definitely an idea worth pursuing.