Saturday, September 24, 2011

Possible joint powers authority for LOSSAN

More rail service could spring from new agency

A plan is in the works that could lead to a significant expansion of rail service between San Diego and Los Angeles.

Regional transportation agencies are considering joining forces for a super authority that would oversee 351 miles of coastal rail between San Diego and San Luis Obisbo.

Among the many changes forged by that authority could be as many as 27 additional daily train trips along the San Diego-Los Angeles corridor, officials said.

Currently, Amtrak has 11 daily trains each way.

If such an agency comes into being by 2014, as supporters believe, Coaster trains could be running all the way to Los Angeles and Metrolink trains could run from Los Angeles to San Diego, in addition to Amtrak Pacific Surfliner trains.

The Metrolink currently comes as far south as Oceanside, which is the northern terminus for the Coaster.

The San Diego Association of Governments, the regional planning agency, endorsed the concept of the broad rail authority at its board of directors meeting Friday. Other agencies along the corridor are being asked to back the concept.

The San Diego-L.A.-San Luis Obisbo rail corridor — known as LOSSAN to officials — is the second-busiest in the country and is also a complex patchwork of fiefdoms that includes seven owners and five operators, while passing through seven counties.

All the various interests have a voice on the LOSSAN Rail Corridor Joint Powers Board, which strives to coordinate and support the numerous interests, but in 2009 its members began looking for a “new vision for the corridor.”

From the discussion at the Friday’s meeting, it appears the LOSSAN group needed to look no farther than Northern California for a role model: the Capitol Corridor between San Jose, Oakland and Sacramento — the nation’s third busiest rail corridor.

SANDAG officials were told Friday that a single administrative authority would create greater efficiencies in the rail corridor, better manage assets and carry greater clout in Sacramento and Washington.

SANDAG board member Matthew Hall, mayor of Carlsbad, expressed the concern of many, saying “I want to make sure we don’t end up with lots of control and no money.”

Nobody was underestimating the magnitude of the shift in power the creation of a super agency would require. SANDAG for example, currently is administering the $1.5 billion improvement project on the county’s coastal tracks, which are owned and operated by the North County Transit District.

“The group used to be the 800 pound gorilla,” observed Chris Orlando, chairman of the NCTD board and a SANDAG member. “Now the 800-pound gorilla is in Los Angeles.”

Still, the benefits of a super agency proves alluring and the board voted to back the process.

“We’re not getting married,” said SANDAG chairman Jerome Stocks. “We’re agreeing to date -- and so far it is only a lunch date.”
This would be a tremendously important move for the Los Angeles-San Diego rail corridor. As many as 38 daily trains would make it the second most frequently trafficked rail corridor in the country in terms of intercity trains behind Philadelphia-New York. With a single coordinating authority behind the wheel as well, upgrades to improve service frequency and train speed throughout the system rather than individual pieces (such as the Fullerton-Laguna Niguel OC Metrolink train expansion) are more likely. This may also result in the upgrading of the general system to permit 125mph speeds from Los Angeles to San Diego, eliminating the need for the highly expensive Inland Empire routing of the high speed rail system.


  1. Those 11 trains today aren't getting filled. The current average load factor on the Surfliner is 32%. The current frequency could be improved, but it's beyond the point where increasing frequency will result in substantial extra ridership on its own. The question is whether they'll really improve speed, reliability, and integration with whatever passes for connecting transit in LA.

  2. Oh certainly they'll need to increase speed and OTP first, I simply took that as a given since capacity-wise, I don't think they can hit that 38 train per day figure. Speed upgrades are, by far, the cheapest thing they could do (in many areas, simply a matter of extending ATC or PTC at about a million per route mile), and I'd be terribly surprised if they didn't have significantly faster trains by the time they tried adding that many extra trains per day.


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