2018 California State Rail Plan

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Responses to Frequently Asked Questions

Caltrans received a substantial amount of input from the public as the 2018 California State Rail Plan was developed, including over 600 public comments submitted to Caltrans on the Draft Rail Plan. In addition to incorporating revisions to address this public feedback, responses to frequently asked questions from the public and stakeholders, including responses to specific geographic issues, are provided below.

  • Why is the State proposing such a large investment in rail?

    California is home to 40 million people and is projected to grow to 50 million by 2040. To stay at the forefront of economic, environmental, technological, and cultural advancements, California must invest in and build a high-performance statewide transportation system accommodating our needs. Increasing investment in intercity passenger rail systems is an important component of Caltrans’ overall strategy for developing the transportation system and providing options for travel that are consistent with the California Transportation Plan and the state’s goals for improving the environment, building our economy, and supporting the development of healthy and vibrant communities.

    Caltrans is required by state law to develop plans for integrating the state’s individual passenger rail systems with High Speed Rail as part of the State Rail Plan. As such, the Rail Plan reflects total statewide investment by the state, regions and individual operators that can be integrated as part of a statewide network and make intercity rail a viable and convenient option for travel across the state. The Rail Plan is a strategic planning document that identifies a long-term vision and goals to guide incremental planning and funding decisions that support, or at least do not preclude, development of an integrated state network and a viable, convenient travel option for local, regional and interregional trips. This plan identifies a framework for partnerships to leverage the state’s investment in High Speed Rail and intercity passenger rail corridors with regional and local investments in commuter rail systems and public transit to deliver projects that when tied together, can deliver benefits on a statewide scale that must be considered in the context of total statewide transportation spending to determine their value.

    The benefits of expanding the state interest in investing in intercity, regional rail and intercity transit systems are substantial:

    • • Alternatives to Congestion and Reductions in Greenhouse Gas Emissions: By investing in the Rail Plan’s 2040 Vision, 88 million daily passenger miles can be diverted from highways to a largely electrified or near zero emission rail network that benefits the total performance of the state’s transportation corridors, including parallel highway corridors. This rail alternative to increasing highway congestion provides for additional transportation capacity equivalent to additional lanes of freeway that would eliminate 13 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually and improve air quality.
    • Supporting the California Economy: Investing in rail effectively fosters economic growth. A return of two dollars is expected for every dollar invested in rail, representing $77.5 billion in new economic output by 2040, including 463,000 full time jobs and $28 billion in labor income.
    • Improving Safety: Additionally, passenger rail is already 17 times safer than traveling in an auto. Growth projections associated with delivering the Rail Plan’s Vision by 2040 show that of the projected growth in trips, 74 million daily vehicle miles traveled can be captured on rail, thus potentially eliminating 250 fatalities and 19,000 transportation-related injuries when applying current rates.

    The long-term Vision in the Rail Plan identifies infrastructure elements and high-level budget estimates for maximizing the performance potential of the entire state transportation system for carrying people and goods. The Rail Plan is intended to inform choices on how the state invests and to make sure that future actions allow these benefits to be realized.

  • Are rail investments cost effective?

    Yes. The investment strategy is based on anticipated funding over the first 10 years of the plan and is phased specifically to scale services to market demand and eliminate redundant services and investments. To the greatest extent possible, service implementation planning to deliver the long-term Vision will identify infrastructure projects and alternatives that support the Vision while minimizing temporary, or throw-away investments. Service planning guided by the Rail Plan will also be carried-out in a manner that evaluates alternatives for scheduling and operating services more efficiently in the future, maximizing the capacity of existing infrastructure before significant capital investments are considered. The need for new capital investments identified in the Rail Plan is tied to providing significant new connections between the state’s travel markets and many more frequencies carrying many more riders than our disconnected rail systems can carry now – the Rail Plan also presents a strategy for delivering extensions of the state High Speed Rail system to Sacramento and between Los Angeles, the Inland Empire and San Diego sooner and at much less cost, upgrading existing corridors to support these services as much as possible prior to large scale investment in dedicated HSR track.

    Compared to the entire transportation system at large, rail can capture 33% of new trips in the state based on Rail Plan projections, on an efficient and effective rail network. This is significant in terms of reducing vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and achieving the valuable benefits outlined in Chapter 6 of the Rail Plan. Expanding statewide investment in the rail network based on the Rail Plan is a strategy for reducing the total long-term infrastructure costs for meeting the needs of our growing population while providing for important economic and environmental benefits. Investing in the integrated rail network in a way that prioritizes service and connectivity integration to support the long-term vision provides significant infrastructure savings while providing additional capacity to the entire transportation system. Investing in the integrated rail network assumes many more connections for more people to more places and thus expands the transportation options and reinforces energy efficient, multimodal transportation.

  • Does the Rail Plan account for operational expenses?

    The Rail Plan included an analysis of the operational costs to be expected from the type of system identified in the Vision, which assumes many more connections for many more people, with more frequencies on a largely electrified rail network that can be operated far more efficiently than the services in operation here today. The analysis of operating costs in the Rail Plan is aligned with known international models for delivering passenger rail services that are operated at significantly less cost per passenger mile and per train mile than existing services. Caltrans expects that the service improvements and investments identified in the plan will serve to significantly drive operating costs and subsidies and allow for reinvestment in the system in certain corridors, which will help deliver the Rail Plan’s Vision. Efficient operations attract future private dollars in direct and indirect economic development. Extrapolated across the entire system, the needed investments outlined in the Rail Plan are reasonable, considering the total future growth captured on the rail system and the efficiencies built into the Vision.

  • How will the Rail Plan be implemented? How does it prioritize projects?

    An ambitious new feature of this Rail Plan incorporates the outputs of the state’s network integration planning process, which has been coordinated by the California State Transportation Agency (CalSTA) with Caltrans as part of the plan. This network integration planning included a market analysis using High Speed Rail modeling resources, a review and analysis of the state’s infrastructure and constraints, and an operational analysis of a network based on synchronized schedules between services allowing for fast, convenient transfers at hub stations on a network. This process acted as a tool for communicating and reaching consensus on the Vision with rail operating partners across the state, and a framework for coordinated planning and investment decisions to deliver the Vision.

    The Rail Plan identifies capital costs associated with delivering the improvements that are necessary for achieving a long-term network vision, with a 2040 horizon year established to analyze the various effects of improvements if implemented within that timeframe. The long-term vision identifies the improvements needed to meet the service levels possible for moving people and goods based on an understanding of the state’s travel markets and to what extent rail can serve that demand, which is necessary to guide development of an integrated system over time.

    The plan identifies two interim timeframes that respond to state and federal requirements, which are opportunities to describe a phased approach to achieving the long-term vision:

    • The 2022 short-term capital plan represents improvements already being planned for which funding for construction and implementation is largely committed - detailed service planning in the next 4 years, with a substantial funding commitment from the State, will identify which projects get prioritized and how they will be delivered, with a focus on implementation in key corridors to deliver improvements that meet service goals for the subsequent time periods.
    • The 2027 mid-term capital plan represents a realistic phasing of the Vision where the State coordinates with rail partners to grow passenger services to a level that maximizes existing capacity. The 2027 capital plan is derived from the Vision, based on what the State reasonably expects to be funded in the next ten years. This 10-year plan establishes the goals and improvements that need to be in place to initiate pulse-hub operations on a network allowing for integration between services with timed transfers, including deployment of an integrated ticketing system allowing travel across the state with a single a single ticket.
    • The 2040 long-term capital plan includes the infrastructure elements required to support the service and connectivity goals of the 2040 Vision. It is intended to maximize the performance and market-capture potential of passenger rail and represents what is possible if funding and political support is in place to deliver this system.

    While specific time horizons are used as building blocks for planning, some projects may get completed well in advance of the dates – the phasing identified in the Rail Plan represent time thresholds by which improvements need to be in place and do not stop projects from being delivered sooner.

    Service implementation planning will focus on network integration and inform applications for state funding. This will require committed collaboration between the State, rail operators, regional, and local planning partners. The collaboration will require working with existing governance structures to deliver improvements, with decisions about future governance needs based on a thorough understanding of the infrastructure and operation requirements of the network.

    Senate Bill 1 – The Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017 (SB1) provides needed long-term resources to invest in California’s rail system. The economic, environmental, safety, and congestion-related benefits justify this investment and support the State’s mission of advancing multimodal transportation. These state resources can be leveraged with regional and local funding sources to deliver improvements as part of statewide rail network over the next 10 years, which will provide a foundation for further development to achieve the long-term Vision.

  • Why is High-Speed Rail included in the Rail Plan?

    The Rail Plan is an important component of a statewide process to plan for an integrated passenger rail network in California. Caltrans is required to create a Rail Plan that integrates the State’s systems with High Speed Rail. The Rail Plan Vision leverages investments in the High Speed Rail system by integrating intercity and regional services to provide connections that can deliver auto and air competitive door-to-door trips using coordinated schedules and connectivity hubs. The Rail Plan incorporates the timeline, budget, and planning priorities of High Speed Rail as identified in the 2018 High Speed Rail Business Plan for Phase 1 of this system between Anaheim, Los Angeles and San Francisco. High Speed Rail will provide crucial longer distance services that will act as the backbone of the statewide rail network while serving local markets in the Central Valley – the Rail Plan establishes the core services that should be provided by High Speed Rail to connect the state and provide access to local communities – additional market based services will be implemented by High Speed Rail using the capacity available on the system being constructed. The Rail Plan also presents a strategy for interim investments that will allow High Speed Rail trains to travel through on existing corridors to provide connections to Sacramento, the Inland Empire cities and San Diego with travel times almost as fast as those specified for the full, dedicated “Phase 1” High Speed system to these areas.

    For more information on High Speed Rail, please read the 2018 Business Plan.

  • Does the Rail Plan identify specific rail alignments? How will this impact me?

    The Rail Plan identifies a statewide network design that establishes a state interest in service goals and points of connectivity between services in rail corridors across the state. The plan does not identify or specify project-specific details about the location of new track, especially as it relates to High Speed Rail – the details of future investment will be subject to detailed service planning with many more opportunities for community input to ensure that rail service improvements are associated with projects that address safety, such as grade separations or crossing improvements, and other measures to make rail a good neighbor as the system grows. Individual projects are also subject to project-level environmental review, including documentation of probable impacts and mitigation measures to meet state and federal requirements.

    Several Native American Tribes expressed concerns about cultural resources that may be affected by rail project construction. The Rail Plan does not itself result in ground disturbances and identify specific effects to resources. The plan does instruct that all future rail development in the state will be guided by the Rail Plan’s Vision, values, and objectives. Given the tribes’ concerns for potential effects to cultural resources, this Plan seeks to emphasize the need for tribal coordination by future project proponents early in the project planning and development process.

    High Speed Rail planning, development and construction falls under the purview of the California High Speed Rail Authority and interested members of the public are encouraged to contact the High Speed Rail Authority for more information – links to the High Speed Rail Authority and online resources are listed elsewhere on this site.

  • How can someone tell which agency will be delivering the identified improvements?

    The Rail Plan provides an operator neutral framework for partnerships between the State, other public agencies, and private industry that can be used to leverage different sources of funding and different types of operating models. Service goals are strategic, rather than prescriptive. The intention of providing an operator neutral framework was to better coordinate services and projects while collaborating across regions to deliver cost-effective improvements that implement the statewide Rail Plan goals while remaining sensitive to local and regional needs and priorities. Specific operating and institutional responsibilities will be negotiated over time to deliver the improvements.

  • What are connectivity/mobility hubs? Where are local station stops?

    The State supports regional multimodal hubs and opportunities to connect regional services to the statewide network. The 2040 Vision foresees a statewide passenger rail network that physically integrates services at hub stations, allowing for seamless transfers between services, and convenient trips by rail across the state. These hubs provide connection points to local and regional transit systems providing fast frequent access to regional destinations and expanding the coverage of the State rail network. In addition to service goals, the Vision establishes State connectivity goals and key transfer hubs that tie corridors together. These hubs will have co-located rail, transit, bicycle, and pedestrian facilities to connect people to the rail network through coordinated schedules and infrastructure. In some cases, hubs will require infrastructure investments to improve connectivity. However, many of the statewide hubs already exist and only need operational and minor capital improvements to achieve the statewide rail connectivity and service goals.

    Some hubs are specifically identified in the Rail Plan where their location and connectivity are crucial to the network design, pulse schedule, and integration of the entire system. The network design, in some corridors, also identifies different services providing for both express trips making stops at transfer hubs, and regional services that provide for local stops in between where there is a state interest in providing this access to the larger network with connections at hubs for longer distance travel. However, this network design does not identify all potential local or regional stops on the network and does not preclude planning or funding anticipated for individual stops on the rail system. Hubs or stations not identified as a specific capital project are still important and may be integrated in the future as detailed service planning based on State Rail Plan service goals is completed.

  • How does the Rail Plan propose coordination with local transit?

    The 2040 Vision depends on local connectivity. Network hubs identified in the Rail Plan also consider and provide for connectivity to fast, frequent urban mass transit systems that do not require timed connections because of their 15 minute or better frequency. In some cases, the network design assumes that these services provide service levels in urban areas that meet state goals and intercity or regional service goals are scaled accordingly to serve the expected market – expansion of the Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART) to San Jose is an example of this. Where connectivity hubs have been identified on the network, the State will work with regional partners to coordinate transit schedules for services operating frequencies more than 30 minutes that can provide for important connections within a region and co-locate all service types at the hubs to enhance mobility and ease of transfer rail and transit. For the many transit services not identified on the statewide network, connectivity to the rail network will be important for local and regional mobility, but those decisions will be made by local transit agencies and local decision makers – the Rail Plan identifies many more opportunities for local/regional transit connections to a statewide transportation system than exists today.

  • What does the Rail Plan mean by a ‘second Transbay crossing’? Why is it important?

    The Rail Plan identifies the need for a second Transbay crossing between San Francisco and the East Bay as an important delivery option for providing the necessary connectivity and service through the Bay Area to support statewide goals. In 2017, San Francisco and San Jose ranked second and fifth, respectively, for worst cities for vehicular congestion in the country – both with 2-3% more congestion than 2016. Simultaneously, BART trains are running at capacity and at crush-capacity during peak commute hours, and Caltrain reaches bi-directional maximum capacity during the peak.

    As the regional population grows, continued strain is put on the transportation system; and as the median income and housing prices grow exponentially in the Bay Area core, workers are forced to move further away from their jobs, increasing their dependency on a congested transportation system. Improvements to the Transbay crossing will help alleviate some of these regional issues, but there are additional megaregional and statewide implications of not building a second crossing that accommodates conventional rail.

    A second crossing with conventional rail will better connect the Bay Area to the Central Valley and Sacramento regions, increasing interregional investment and competitiveness. However, an important consideration for the location and timeline for a San Francisco to East Bay connection is the location and timeline of proposed Dumbarton rail service and an East Bay hub. The bay crossings will need to be studied as part of a comprehensive planning effort to model and analyze the impact of changing travel patterns resulting from increased cross-bay connectivity. The result of those planning efforts will indicate where an East Bay hub needs to be located to support and deliver the Rail Plan connectivity goals.

    Without a second, conventional rail crossing, the region’s access to additional markets and rail services will likely decrease statewide economic activity and competitiveness and reduce mobility opportunities associated with other Bay Area investments. There are many decisions still to be made regarding the location, type, timeline, funding and equity concerns of constructing a second Transbay crossing and locating an East Bay hub and the State supports short term action to study the alternatives. Implementing the Rail Plan vision and pursuing partnerships to generate associated economic growth depends on a second Transbay crossing.

  • How much are the freight railroads investing?

    Most of the investment outlined in the Rail Plan is intended to support future passenger service goals, but these investments support freight movement. The freight railroads are making their own investments into the statewide rail network, although publicly available lists of capital projects are limited as the railroads are private businesses and are not required to disclose those investments. The private freight railroads invest in their own systems to meet their business objectives. The improvements identified in the State Rail Plan are designed to either preserve rail freight capacity, or provide for rail freight enhancements in certain high traffic corridors, particularly intercontinental trade corridors that provide rail connections to ports. The Rail Plan establishes a policy framework for working with and guiding public and private investments that enhance freight movement while providing co-benefits with passenger services. The Rail Plan serves to clarify state policy for investing in rail freight to support state goals for improving goods movements. The Rail Plan provides inputs to Caltrans California Freight Mobility Plan, which will be updated in 2020 and prioritize specific freight projects for funding.

    The 2040 Vision and network were designed after analysis that led to the understanding of freight constraints, including projected freight volumes and the ability to accommodate increased passenger service while preserving freight capacity. The goals identify places where the State wants to add capacity to support the network vision, but also where there are willing private partners or public ownership of the right of way (ROW). Where there are willing private partners, the State could consider the payment of access fees for new passenger service that flexibly addresses maintenance and capital needs of the host railroad in lieu of developing capital projects and the fee paid to the railroad will support additional capacity improvements.

  • How does the Rail Plan relate to Regional Transportation Plans (RTPs) and Sustainable Communities Strategies (SCS)?

    Each region’s most recent RTP/SCS was incorporated into the State Rail Plan as an underlying assumption for establishing service goals; and are likewise expected to use the State Rail Plan guidance to align their regional goals and priorities with statewide benefits and connectivity. Both the RTPs/SCSs and the Rail Plan align with the goals and policies of the CTP and inform funding and project delivery. However, the Rail Plan is mode-specific and therefore provides more detailed rail objectives and plans for an integrated network beyond the scope of many RTP/SCSs.

    The Rail Plan also seeks to coordinate future statewide planning with regional planning to better connect services between regions and across the state to increase ridership and improve mobility. The statewide travel demand modeling assumes regions will plan for growth in priority development areas as outlined in SB375 and therefore accounts for concentrated housing and jobs growth in certain parts of a region to facilitate coordinated land uses around transit rich corridors. Ridership modeling completed for the Rail Plan shows that most growth in rail ridership is carried on regional systems, but the additional connectivity and reach of the long-term Vision in the Rail Plan will allow the rail network to carry more longer distance trips between more destinations. The State is uniquely poised to lead interregional and megaregional transportation planning that is beyond the capacity of any one MPO or RTPA and the Rail Plan sets the policy framework, investment strategy, and service and delivery goals to guide megaregional planning in a way that supports the statewide network.

  • Does the Rail Plan provide for connections in the North State?

    The Rail Plan includes Integrated Express Bus connections between Sacramento and Redding to provide regular connections to Sacramento and the state rail network, which provide opportunities to connect local and regional transit service to a state system at Redding and points in between. The Rail Plan also supports extension of regular, regional passenger rail services as far north as Oroville with timed bus connections to Chico, as well as continued planning for extending rail service to Redding and further strengthening rail and bus connections to this part of the state.\

    Integrated Express Bus service is used as an important part of the State rail network, in part to deliver service to rural markets. The State Rail Plan assumes there are different delivery options for providing integrated express bus connections, which emphasize partnerships and flexibility in State support for connecting bus services. Delivery options include:

    • State-supported bus routes: where connections are made with state-supported bus routes, the Rail Plan supports improvements to allow purchase of a ticket to ride state-supported buses between local stops without requiring a connecting rail trip.
    • Partnerships with local transit districts: where local transit agencies operate longer distance regional bus routes, the State is interested in partnerships with those operators where those routes can provide connectivity as part of the State network.
    • Commercial operators: Greyhound provides intercity bus service in several California interregional corridors that provide State connectivity as part of the rail network.

    In addition to increased integrated express bus service to provide connections, the State supports coordinated planning to provide daytime passenger rail north of Sacramento to Redding via the Sacramento airport.

  • What is the Rail Plan doing to prioritize construction of a San Diego rail layover facility?

    The Santa Fe Depot in Downtown San Diego has become the center of a thriving station community that represents the kind of community that can be developed in station areas and which is important to the success of the rail and transit network. Unfortunately, layover and maintenance functions currently must be performed in the station facility overnight due to the absence of a dedicated facility in the Southern LOSSAN rail corridor. The State is committed to coordinating with rail operators, owners, and planning agencies in the San Diego region to plan and implement improvements that meet the long-term goals identified in the Rail Plan. The improvements will be implemented in a manner that addresses existing and potential impacts to the growing community living near the existing facility.

    Development of a layover and maintenance facility for this corridor is a short-term priority for the State and the Rail Plan commits to completing a feasibility study addressing maintenance needs in the South LOSSAN rail corridor and advancing plans to construct a facility as soon as possible. This study will include an analysis of existing and planned train service levels and schedules to facilitate a more synchronized operating pattern in the corridor that will no longer require trains to layover at the Santa Fe Depot in downtown San Diego. Recently awarded Transit and Intercity Capital Program (TIRCP) funds include funding for this study which will require multi-agency coordination.

  • What does the Rail Plan say about preserving rail corridors and publicly owned ROW?

    The State supports preserving rail rights of way for future rail services, particularly where there has been a public investment to purchase rail lines for this purpose. These rights of way can successfully accommodate different types of transportation, including bicycle and pedestrian trails – numerous examples of these shared rail rights of way exist, which the Rail Plan documents, accommodating and benefiting both intercity and local travel needs.

    Caltrans received substantial public feedback expressing support for maintaining the Santa Cruz Branch line in Santa Cruz County for rail use, which could be converted to a bicycle trail if a regional decision is made to so. The Rail Plan identifies this facility as a key corridor for providing passenger rail connectivity to this popular destination in the Central Coast, with connections to the San Francisco Bay Area and High Speed Rail at Gilroy, as well to the rest of the Central Coast region. This facility provides an alternative to automobile travel in the congested Highway 1 and Highway 17 corridors, and provides for an alternative route into and out of this area if area highways are closed due to weather or severe traffic-related incidents. Caltrans supports regional efforts to develop the Santa Cruz Branch Line for passenger rail use, including development of a bicycle trail, all of which are consistent with the Sustainable Communities Strategy for the Monterey Bay Area and meeting regional greenhouse gas targets.

  • Does the Rail Plan support improvements for freight rail to the Port of Humboldt Bay?

    The State also has an interest in supporting regional economic development and investment in ports, proposals for economic development in the North Coast region and improvements to the Port of Humboldt Bay being an example. The Rail Plan Vision for freight supports the expansion of new freight rail facilities at ports if the benefits and feasibility of those projects can be documented to justify state investment, which can leverage regional funding support and private investment to deliver improvements.

Contact Information

Mailing Address:

California Department of Transportation (Caltrans)
Division of Rail and Mass Transportation
2018 California State Rail Plan
Rail Planning Branch

1120 N Street, MS 74
Sacramento, CA 95814