California Department of Transportation

California State Rail Plan

Overview and Existing Plan

The California state rail system consists of intercity passenger rail, commuter rail, freight rail, and the future high-speed rail.  Under both state and federal law, the Department is required to produce a State Rail Plan presenting the vision, priorities, and implementation strategies for rail services that will support the state’s goal of an integrated, multimodal transportation system. 

State law requires the Department to prepare a ten-year State Rail Plan, which is updated biennially and which must contain both a passenger element and a freight element.  The federal Passenger Rail Improvement and Investment Act of 2008 (PRIAA) requires all states to develop a rail plan meeting additional, specified requirements. 

The last California State Rail Plan (CSRP) approved by the Governor was for the period from 2007-08 to 2017-18 and was published in March 2008.

Freight Element

The freight rail system in California is primarily operated by two privately owned Class I railroads: Union Pacific (UP) and BNSF.  Additional freight rail operations are conducted by regional railroads and shortline railroads.  Intercity passenger rail, commuter rail, and freight rail share much of the same infrastructure, which is owned by the private railroad companies or by public entities.  The Department works with the freight railroads to improve safety and efficiency, while minimizing environmental and community impacts.

New Rail Plan in Progress

In the spring of 2011, with grant funding from the Federal Rail Administration, the Department, under the management of the Caltrans Division of Rail, retained a project consultant team and began preparation of a new State Rail Plan that will comply with current California and federal law.  The Caltrans Division of Planning (DOTP) Office of System and Freight Planning staff members also serve on the technical and GIS teams.

The State Rail Plan, now in development, will be the first such plan that fully integrates the planned California high-speed rail system with the existing and proposed conventional rail system (intercity and passenger) and the freight rail system.  It will also include four Service Development Plans that will provide more specific planning for four major passenger rail corridors.  The Rail Plan will serve as a roadmap for federal and state rail investments within the State for high-speed, intercity, commuter, and freight rail projects.  Both five-year and 20-year capital project plans are required.  It will also provide an assessment of greenhouse gas emissions for the existing and future system, as well as an assessment of the economic impact of the planned systems. 

A draft California State Rail Plan is scheduled to be available to the public for review in early 2013. Public comments will be considered in the development of the final State Rail Plan, which is planned for completion in mid-2013. Additional information on the new Rail Plan is available on the California State Rail Plan website.