You would think that if any people in California had an informed view of rail travel, it would be the group that calls itself Train Riders Association of California. These are folks who pay $40 or more a year to belong to a group that lobbies for improved train travel. They also pay money to support their quarterly newspaper, California Rail News, which has been published 24 years.
I tell you all this so that you may feel, as I do, that these folks aren’t the village idiots when it comes to trains and train travel. And, what they have to say about future train travel in California might be worth one’s attention.
In particular, in the most California Rail News, they address the Draft California State Rail Plan, which they say parrots the high-speed rail plan without addressing the real rail transportation needs in the state.
Frequent departures and arrivals are more important than speed, they say, especially in the heavy-population corridors of the Los Angeles megalopolis and the Bay Area. This need would best be met by fast trains — 110-mile-per-hour setups — and not necessarily high-speed rail.
That should be basic, says Michael D. Setty, the Train Riders Association of California executive director. Operate trains where the population and need is the greatest, he says.
Also, he says, there is “no solid technical justification for the focus on the initial 130-mile segment from ‘nowhere to nowhere,’ from a point south of Merced to a point north of Bakersfield.”
We, of course, are one of the nowheres. If the laying of the tracks begins, as planned, in Madera County, then heads south, it will accomplish little more than to give train-builders jobs until public opinion forces a change in philosophy which puts the trains first where they are needed most.