U.S. Dept. of Energy data shows train travel per passenger mile is 34 percent more efficient than by automobile and 16 percent more efficient than planes; as a result, trains contribute far fewer greenhouse gases that both auto and air travel. But the triad of transportation — rail, air, and road — should not compete with one another, but complement one other! This is not a zero-sum game!
Our region (as well as the country) has long struggled to keep up with the demand of travelers, both commuters and those who are visiting or passing through. Studies are done and plans are made, but the implementation of those plans can be quite a challenge.
The Regional Plan for our area was “101 In Motion,” and Measure A was the way to “find the money.” While SBCAG made the 101-widening portion of Measure A a priority, the economy slowed down, and cities in Santa Barbara County had to contribute some of their local funding for road repair to the 101-widening project. Along with capital challenges are the planning challenges that have been in the news of late, i.e., whether to do right- or left-hand on-ramps, the railroad bridge conundrum, and the beat goes on. These things need to be solved before the final 12 miles of widening to Carpinteria commences. Land acquisition will be needed, and there are more than a dozen overpasses that will have to be rebuilt. It’s six years since Measure A was passed, and only some three miles of the 101 have been widened! Estimates on the completion of the final 12 miles of 101 are at best 10 years, but more likely 15.
The 101 In Motion study was to find 101-congestion-relief solutions, and identifying alternatives to the automobile was part of the objective, be it carpooling, telecommuting, bus, or rail. “Train & Lane” was the mantra of the Measure A campaign, as the commuter rail solution polled equally with 101 widening. This tells us that Santa Barbarans find road and rail to be of equal value. While some pit road against rail, in fact, they are part of the transportation trial and very complementary to one another.
As we move through the many years of road construction that 101 widening will require, let’s utilize the UPRR (Union Pacific Railroad) corridor that passes through our county for an option that voters asked for when they passed Measure A — the Ventura to Goleta Commuter Rail Service that is part of Measure A.
Union Pacific has been reluctant to permit additional passenger trains on the corridor between Oxnard and Goleta, and planning and engineering are underway for additional sidings at Ortega and Seacliff that they require.
Currently there is a Draft EIR in process that concerns oil-trains (crude oil) that UP would like to run from the north and as far south as the Santa Maria area (Nipomo). While not in Santa Barbara County, it is within the LOSSAN (Los Angeles – San Diego – San Luis Obispo) Corridor.
Our county’s representatives to LOSSAN should ask that if UPRR would like to operate oil trains within our region, then they should also allow commuter trains to operate between Oxnard and Goleta.
Rail and road cross in many ways, and each has its own challenges. Let’s think of them in complementary terms, and the projects needed to solve our regions congestion issues show how they can work together to get the job done.
Dennis Story is chair of the Santa Barbara Rail Task Force and director of RailPAC (Rail Passengers Association of California.