Caltrans has released Rail and the California Economy, a research report investigating how the state’s vast passenger and freight rail system contributes to California’s economy, as well as an overview of opportunities for rail to address the state’s needs and challenges in the future.
“Rail is a fundamental component of our transportation system that plays a strategic role in meeting California’s transportation needs,” said Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty. “California’s population is projected to grow by 21 million by 2050 so efficient movement of freight and people, while assuring safety and meeting air-quality goals, will continue to be our focus as we move forward with our plan.”
The research report presents case studies and analysis of rail freight and passenger rail on land use, freeway congestion, the movement of different types of commodities, and the important contributions that these factors play in supporting the state’s economy.
Over $400 billion of United States imports moved through California in 2015. That’s about 18 percent of the national total, and 75 percent of containerized goods leaving the U.S. were transported by rail. Without rail service to and from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, container flows through these ports would be reduced by 39 percent, while port truck traffic would increase by 44 percent.
In addition to freight rail, passenger rail plays a huge role in the state’s economy. The LOSSAN passenger corridor, which is under Amtrak and runs from San Luis Obispo to San Diego, has a positive economic effect on the Southern California region by stimulating growth in terms of residential, industrial and commercial development. Many different LOSSAN-corridor towns have utilized their existing stations as anchors for new transit-oriented development, and catalyst for economic development of their communities.
Regional commuter rail can also generate beneficial economic impacts by providing savings for its passengers, and reduce congestion and travel time for travelers on other modes. The Caltrain system is one of the busiest regional rail services in the country, operating along a 77-mile corridor that extends from San Francisco, through Silicon Valley to San Jose. At the height of the peak commute, there are six trains per hour, each accommodating 1,000 passengers, which correlates to a network capacity of over 4,500 people per hour in each direction. This is the equivalent of adding an additional freeway with two lanes in each direction.
It is estimated that each day, Caltrain riders save over 200 metric tons of gas emissions. Multiplied over the year, 50,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide will be saved, which equals over $1 million on the California cap-and-trade market. The savings is the equivalent of removing more than 10,000 vehicles from the roadway network.
While the report highlights the benefits of developing an efficient and effective rail system it also presents the challenges, such as shared track use, coordinated ticketing, intercounty coordination on funding, maintenance issues, and more consistent bus connections. The report supports the California Transportation Plan 2040 and the 2018 State Rail Plan, and the idea of rail as a fundamental strategy for ensuring the state’s economic competitiveness, preserving and enhancing the environment, and improving the quality of life for California’s residents.
The research report was produced by the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, in cooperation with California State Transportation Agency, Caltrans, University of California Center on Economic Competitiveness in Transportation, and University of California Transportation Center.
View the report at http://www.dot.ca.gov/californiarail/about/background_docs.html.