Hopes High for Train Service
Hopes high for train service despite setback
Slow approval process sinks Mother's Day special run from L.A.
The plan by Coachella Valley leaders to run an Amtrak passenger train from Los Angeles to the Coachella Valley over Mother's Day weekend has been sidetracked.
Tom Kirk, executive director of the Coachella Valley Association of Governments, and Wesley Ahlgren, operations director of Coachella Valley Economic Partnership, said the event isn't going to happen because they don't have the $32,000 to pay for a train demonstration and they don't have the time to sell the event.
Ahlgren said the two agencies and the Palm Springs Desert Resort Communities Convention and Visitors Authority will still try to run one or more demonstration trains in the fall and tie it to a major valley event.
Cathedral City Councilman Greg Pettis, who chairs the Riverside County Transportation Commission, said the delay shouldn't be seen as a lack of commitment to creating a passenger rail corridor through the Coachella Valley.
“We had to have the infrastructure in place and tickets available to sell the packages for the train and hotels,'' he said, and Amtrak was not able to procure final approvals from the Union Pacific Railroad for the demonstration train until mid-March.
“There were too many unknowns: The last thing we wanted was to do was to run a special train and have it not be a complete success,” Pettis said.
Robert Manning, president of the Palm Springs-based Southwest Rail Passenger Association, said he and officials of public agencies are convinced the future is bright for commuter rail.
Two months ago, the Riverside County Transportation Commission approved a resolution that backed Amtrak's federally funded efforts to make Palm Springs a daily stop on the Sunset Limited passenger route between Los Angeles and New Orleans.
It is Pettis' goal to have Amtrak service expansion within 18 months, and the railroad has hired a consultant to work with Union Pacific on a realistic plan to upgrade the rails for daily passenger service.
“They're asking for $700 million in improvements for the route from San Antonio through L.A.,'' Pettis said. “There are some things that need to be upgraded, but it's our view that 99 percent of this is deferred maintenance Union Pacific is trying to push off on Amtrak.”
Lobbying in Washington
Meanwhile, the RTC has designated a lobbyist in Washington to build a coalition of cities along the Union Pacific route to push for service.
“We're all in the same predicament,'' Pettis said. “And we all want this.”
There are also talks to bring a second daily train to the valley, Pettis said.
That route would originate on the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad line. Departing from Union Station in Los Angeles, it would take riders to Fullerton and Riverside, cutting into the Union Pacific tracks near Loma Linda.
From there, the train would head east to Palm Springs — with possible, yet-to-be-built stops in Rancho Mirage and Indio.
Manning said that passenger rail route, projected to cost $2 million-per-year to operate, would allow 400 people or more to travel to destinations in the Los Angeles and southern California market.
Pettis said his goal is to see the second daily train into Riverside and Orange County within 36 months.
“Our tourism industry will benefit from having regular, sustainable rail traffic,'' Pettis said. “And our valley residents would, too. If we could go into Riverside and Anaheim consistently, people here could commute to go to work. It would add to the richness of our social and cultural life. It would help the region boom.”
PETTIS LEADS IN PASSAGE OF GREEN BUILDING LEGISLATION
The City Council of Cathedral City announced its support for the California Green Builder Program, directing city staff to incorporate Green Builder resource-efficient construction practices.
Under the ordinance introduced by Councilmember Greg Pettis, Cathedral City has set an April 1, 2008 timeline to develop a city-wide program that recommends construction techniques, a landscape ordinance and construction waste recycling methods for all home builders.
Additionally, the ordinance will provide promotional materials to help homebuilders and home owners meet the goals of the California Green Builder Program by reducing water usage and emissions of carbon dioxide.
Read more: PETTIS LEADS IN PASSAGE OF GREEN BUILDING LEGISLATION