By David Downey | Contributing author
Southern Californians may one day be able to take a train to the Palm Springs area to attend music and date festivals, roll the dice in casinos, visit museums, take a tram or dine at restaurants.
And the desert dwellers of Riverside County could drive west to catch the Dodgers or Lakers, visit Disneyland, the Los Angeles Art and History Museums, or even the annual Festival of Lights at the Mission Inn in Riverside. .
All could enjoy passenger rail service that would travel 144 miles from Union Station in Los Angeles to the Coachella Valley, passing through Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.
Aaron Hake, deputy executive director of the Riverside County Transportation Commission, which is leading efforts to create the service, said the vision was to provide a competitive travel option for people traveling to the Coachella Valley — and residents of the desert heading west.
The construction price would be at least $1 billion, he said.
“At this time, there is no alternative to driving on I-10,” Hake said of the 10 Freeway. “That’s it. And when there’s an accident or a festival in the desert, you’re stuck with the 10.”
It could be 10 years before Coachella Valley Rail service begins.
“We’d like it to happen a lot quicker than that,” Hake said. “There is a need today for service.”
There is a lot of work to be done, however, to make this vision a reality.
Coachella Valley Rail is one of several ongoing area train projects.
Arrow, a 9-mile passenger line built by the San Bernardino County Transportation Authority, is scheduled to begin service later this month. There are plans to build a high-speed rail line to transport gamers between Rancho Cucamonga and Las Vegas, which would allow people from all over Southern California to reach Nevada’s entertainment capital by train. And a study would pave the way for air travelers to get to Ontario International Airport by train.
The Coachella Valley train project recently reached a major milestone.
The Riverside County Transportation Commission, Federal Railroad Administration and Caltrans have been studying ways to expand travel choices between Los Angeles and the Coachella Valley for six years. In June, Riverside County Commissioners certified an environmental study centered on the idea of daily train operation in the corridor.
Plans call for running at least two trains each day, possibly five, Hake said.
“And hopefully there’s a demand for more,” he said.
Another study is needed, one that thoroughly examines the environmental impacts that would be created by the construction, which would involve building about 77 miles of track and five stations, Hake said.
There would be nine stations in all, he said. The project would build on existing stations in downtown Los Angeles, Fullerton, Riverside and Palm Springs.
New stations would be built in the Loma Linda-Redlands area, the Calimesa-Beaumont-Banning area, somewhere in the middle of the Coachella Valley, Indio and the city of Coachella, Hake said.
The new tracks would be added between Colton and Coachella, he said.
The next more detailed environmental study is expected to cost $60 million, Hake said, and the agency will apply by December for a $20 million federal grant to help cover expenses and begin analysis.
Otis Greer, director of legislative and public affairs for the San Bernardino County Transportation Authority, said the authority welcomes “all efforts to increase transit options” in the Inland Empire.
“We have raised a number of questions and look forward to working with them as they move the environmental work forward for the project,” Greer wrote in an email.
Preliminary estimates peg the construction cost at $1 billion to $1.5 billion, Hake said.
“It’s going to be expensive,” said Riverside City Councilman Chuck Conder, who represents his city on the Riverside County commission.
But as expensive as it might be, Conder said building an extra set of tracks would be crucial to the success of the rail line.
Freight trains run on existing tracks between Colton and Coachella and have priority, he said.
“If you’re going to corner a passenger train behind a freight train, people won’t use it,” Conder said, saying the service must run at high speed on a separate track.
The goal, Hake said, is to make train travel competitive with car travel.
There are no plans to add track west of Colton, where rail capacity is adequate, Hake said.
Riverside County Supervisor Karen Spiegel, who also sits on the commission, said the project will reduce congestion on Highway 10 and create a new way to access events and entertainment venues in the Coachella Valley.
“There’s a lot to do there,” said Spiegel, one of several commission officials who traveled to Washington, D.C. in September to promote the project and lobby for federal funding for the next study.
The area is known for its Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, Stagecoach Country Music Festival, Riverside County Fair and National Dates Festival, Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, Zoo and Gardens at living desert and other events and attractions.
The project would also expand travel options for desert residents.
V. Manuel Perez, Transportation Commission Chairman and Riverside County Supervisor of the Coachella Valley, said in a statement that “CV Rail will be a massive boost for the Coachella Valley.”
The train will connect the valley to job and education opportunities, Perez said, while boosting the economy of the entire region and cleaning the air.
Hake called the project “a huge economic development opportunity to make the Coachella Valley more accessible to everyone in Southern California.”