Writing in the December issue of California Rail News, Richard F. Tolmach reminds us of something that should have been obvious to most Californians, especially those who ride trains in the San Joaquin Valley: It would be much cheaper and more practical to extend passenger rail service from Los Angeles to Bakersfield, which would cost about $7 billion, than to build the planned Central Valley segment for $12 billion. The LA-Bakersfield segment would start generating revenue immediately, he writes, which the Central Valley segment might not do for decades.
Those of us who have taken the train to Los Angeles from Madera know of what Tolmach writes. In Bakersfield, a passenger to Los Angeles must leave the train and board a bus for the ride into Los Angeles. On returning, one must get on a bus in LA and ride it to Bakersfield before being able to board a train.
Being able to board the train in LA would be more convenient, quicker and likely more widely used.
In fact, improving the Amtrak line between Los Angeles and the Bay Area would do much to increase rail use. Then, if Sacramento-bound rail passengers didn’t have to take a bus from Stockton to get to and from the Capital, passenger rail service would be faster, and most likely better used.
It would not be high-speed rail, but it would be faster than driving and cheaper than flying, and certainly more comfortable than either.
Los Angeles has one of the best light-rail systems in the country, and it’s a shame it lacks north-south connectivity with the rest of California.
Perhaps what’s important here is that if we want better rail service, there probably are cheaper and better ways to get it than to spend $98.5 billion on a high-speed system we probably can’t afford.