After high-speed rail demise: Downtown SF to Downtown LA trains?

(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

The U. S. Census counted 10 million Californians in 1950.

Today the California Department of Finance says there are some 40 million of us.

In the years around 1950, Downtown San Francisco and Downtown Los Angeles were connected with a day- and night-long stream of storied, streamlined trains. The Morning Daylight, the Noon Daylight, the Starlight, the all-Pullman Lark, The Coasters, the San Francisco Passenger, and others sped up and down the 470-mile corridor carrying millions of Californians annually. The fastest trains took less than ten hours.
Today, with California 400 percent bigger, the two downtowns are connected with zero trains. And last week Governor Newsom pulled the plug on the high-speed rail project that would have linked them as often as every 15 minutes.

While five airlines provide almost hourly service between LAX and SFO, might there be a train market among those 40 million for people who are not in a hurry or who want to save a few bucks?

• The scenic route hugs the Pacific for 200 miles.

• The line links universities in San Francisco, Santa Clara, Palo Alto, San Jose, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, the San Fernando Valley, and Los Angeles and virtually touches the boundaries of airports in San Francisco, San Jose, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Burbank.

• It connects the two largest financial and cultural districts in the west and goes within blocks of two of the world’s major medical centers. Busy arenas and stadiums are steps away.

• It tends not to be delayed by fog or rain, as airports are.

• It allows for such pleasantries as meals, wi fi, strolling, napping, sight-seeing, and pickup/drop-off right at passengers’ home cities, eliminating trips to airports, parking, security, and long walks.

An experiment in SF-LA train travel could start as early as next week, since no new infrastructure is needed.

• The tracks and signaling systems are all there and are in better shape today than they were in 1950. The stations are all there, too.

• There is very little conflicting freight traffic on the portion of Union Pacific-owned tracks.

• The system between San Luis Obispo and Los Angeles-San Diego alone carries three million passengers annually on a publicly-owned right-of-way. So the market is already proven. Imagine how many would stay on for the San Luis Obispo to San Francisco segment if it were offered…today to Fourth and Townsend and eventually to Salesforce Transit Center.

(The San Joaquin train between Bakersfield and Sacramento/Oakland carried 1.1 million passengers last year and the Capital Corridor line between San Jose and Sacramento tallied 1.78 million. The population served by those routes is far less than that of the SF-LA market, so the numbers for a new coast extension to San Francisco seem portentous.)

The infrastructure exists. There’s almost nothing to spend. It would seem simple to figure out how to extend a few trains beyond SLO and re-schedule personnel hours for those who already work on the railroad. A contract signed by UPRR, Caltrain, and the California Department of Transportation is almost all that would be needed.

Until high-speed rail is born again, way down the line, low-cost, medium-speed SF-LA train service would fill an obvious void – and it would be $77 billion cheaper and 30 years sooner.

Stanford M. Horn writes on transportation and development issues.

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

The J Church train could begin running again later this month on at least part of its surface route. (Mira Laing/Special to S.F. Examiner)
First Muni trains will return to service Dec. 19

Three additional bus routes coming back online in January

Smoking cannabis. (Shutterstock)
Supes ban tobacco smoking in apartments but exempt cannabis

San Francisco banned smoking and vaping of tobacco in apartments Tuesday night,… Continue reading

Dr. Grant Colfax and Mayor London Breed said new restrictions could come this week due to rising COVID-19 cases.<ins> (Examiner screenshot)</ins>
Breed: ‘More restrictive action’ needed to slow spread of COVID-19

San Francisco officials said Tuesday tougher restrictions will soon be imposed to… Continue reading

Many landlords fought the proposal requiring them to register properties, calling it an invasion of privacy. 
Kevin N. Hume/
S.F. Examiner
Housing inventory wins unanimous approval from supervisors

Legislation will require landlords to register properties, report vacancies and rents

Harlan Kelly, head of the SFPUC and husband to City Administrator Naomi Kelly (right), faces federal charges for allegedly trading inside information on a city contract in return for a paid family vacation. (Courtesy photo)
Harlan Kelly, head of SFPUC, charged with fraud in widening Nuru scandal

Kelly accused of engaging in corrupt partnership with permit expediter

Most Read