Today there is good news — a peak-hour morning train for commuters coming to Santa Barbara and Goleta from the south, beginning April 2. This is the second attempt to reschedule the Pacific Surfliner from its current arrival time of 10:15 a.m. in Santa Barbara to a more commuter-friendly arrival time, which is planned for 6:47 a.m. Peak-hour train riders who contact SBCAG’s Traffic Solutions will be offered free 10-ride ticket books for the month of April, and MTD will have free bus rides available at both the Santa Barbara and Goleta train stations for those who have train tickets — to provide the “last mile” connections. You’ll be hearing more about the new rail option for commuters in the coming weeks. This is an option which started as one of the many solutions to congestion on the 101 that began as part of the 101 in Motion Plan in the early 2000s, and its conclusions are found in thefinal report, prepared by consultant Parsons Brinkerhoff in 2006.
As a stakeholder in that process, I put commuter rail forward as a solution to congestion. At that time, the usually empty train track running next to the 101 (gridlocked at peak hours) seemed like a no-brainer for commuter use. The Train and Lane final package of solutions from 101 in Motion pretty much rolled into the failed Measure D 2006 three-quarter-cent transportation tax measure. Funding in the 2006 Measure put “Train & Lane” on an equal footing, just as it had been modeled in 101 In Motion. It would have provided three trains to the north and three trains to the south between Santa Barbara/Goleta and Ventura County. Funding in Measure D 2006 was $140 million for 101 widening and $126 million for commuter rail.
Two years later, a new half-cent transportation tax was proposed with Measure A 2008. When the budget was initially rolled out at the SBCAG (Santa Barbara County Association of Governments) Sub-Regional meeting, commuter rail had been cut by 88 percent to $15 million. Highway 101 still had full funding at $140 million. Thanks to Salud Carbajal, who chaired the meeting, my advocacy for more commuter-rail funding resulted in an increase to $25 million, now 80 percent less funding than in Measure D 2006. However, Measure A 2008 was still marketed as “A Train and a Lane,” just as it was in 2006, but this time Train & Lane could in no way be considered equal, as they had been envisioned in 101 in Motion and funded in Measure D 2006.
Modeling for commuter rail in the 101 in Motion Plan was on an equal footing with 101 widening (in its ability to move people), and rail polled equally with county voters versus widening. So with a “Train and a Lane” campaign, Measure A 2008 passed overwhelmingly, but now commuter rail was working from a serious deficit. That’s what led to the efforts to reschedule the Surfliner, most importantly because the Surfliner is considered an “intercity train.” As such, it is not subject to the exponentially higher track fees that a commuter train is required to pay Union Pacific RR (owner of our the rail corridor). It is a positive development to finally have a morning train for commuters, and a first step to the three trains a day needed to accomplish the congestion relief envisioned in the 101 in Motion Plan, and found in Appendix D of the 101 in Motion Final Report. You can find the full report at www.sbcag.org under Planning, the document is titled: 101 in Motion Final Report.
As we get closer to April 2, Kent Epperson, director of SBCAG’s Traffic Solutions, reports there is a high demand for the free 10-ride ticket book for the new peak-hour train, and has the first week of the service sold out. This led me to ask about the possibility of adding more cars to the train set. During the closure of the 101 after the mudslide on January 9, the Surfliner trains were often standing room only — so I know they do allow people to stand — and this led to additional passenger cars being added. Kent tells me that with approval from LOSSAN, the rail corridor agency, additional cars could be made available.
Dennis Story is a director with RailPAC (Rail Passenger Association of California, railpac.org) and chair of its Santa Barbara Rail Task Force.