Three state-supported agencies provide intercity passenger rail service in corridors connecting metropolitan regions in California. Other California agencies operate intra-metropolitan passenger train services, better known as commuter trains. Some commuter trains operate on the same tracks as state-supported intercity passenger trains. Under the recent devolution of power from the state to JPAs, the intercity services have come to be managed by commuter rail agencies. This intermingling results in confusion as to the respective market functions of these two distinct types of service. None of the state-supported intercity rail agencies has adopted service design standards to distinguish intercity trains from commuter services.
Effective July 1, 2015, Caltrans handed over to the San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority (JPA) the oversight
of Amtrak’s San Joaquins. The JPA hired the San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission (SJRRC), operator of the Altamont Commuter Express (ACE), to operate the service. Now that the management of both ACE and the San Joaquins is under the same roof, there are unprecedented opportunities for major economies and passenger benefits that were not possible with separate operations.
On every side of the Alps, remarkable railway enterprises are redefining what is possible with new thinking applied to old infrastructure. Californians need to wake up, because at the same time our state seems unable to build new local rail or high speed tracks for less than $70 million a mile, Europeans are showing how to do it for as little as $4 million a mile.
A study by consultant Civity recently published by Britain’s Office of Rail Regulation provides some insight why no profitable California train services exist, despite their popularity. It’s because U.S. costs are out of control, compared to the 17 European and British passenger operators studied. The benchmark study compared 2011 data for Irish, Belgian, French, Dutch, and Danish conventional services with a German private carrier and 11 domestic British routes. British routes operated by contractors, but most others are publicly operated.