Train Travel Is Catching On In California

Amtrak’s busiest route is the Northeast Corridor, linking Washington, New York City and Boston. Last I heard, Amtrak is now carrying about 60% of the traffic between Washington and New York.

And why not? Amtrak’s Acela trains can take you from within a couple of hundred yards of the Capitol building in Washington to the heart of Manhattan Island in two hours and 45 minutes. Try that by air!

A lesser known success story is the Pacific Surfliner route on the West Coast, running from San Diego in the south as far north as San Luis Obispo and Paso Robles. This is Amtrak’s second busiest rail route now.

Right now, it costs about $50 to ride the entire length of that route; the fare for the 3-hour ride from LA to San Diego is about $30. The Washington-New York-Boston route may be carrying more passengers, but its scenery can’t compare to the ride along the Pacific Ocean. Pretty nice to be rolling along in air conditioned comfort, looking out the window at kids playing on the beach and surfers catching waves.

The State of California supports the Pacific Surfliner route with an annual subsidy of about $80 million. Is that a worthwhile expenditure of taxpayer dollars, you ask?

Damn right! Think of all the cars that takes off the road. And rail travel produces 70 percent less greenhouse gas compared to automobiles. You think $80 million is a lot of money? Of course it is … but we spend that much on one major highway interchange without blinking an eye.

Now here’s the big news: this fall, California voters will have the chance to vote on a $10 billion bond issue, the money to be used for building a high-speed rail line linking Los Angeles and San Francisco, a trip that would be done in three hours.

All right, California! Now we’re getting somewhere!