Assemblyman Mike Davis Held Select Committee Hearing on Rail Transportation
Assemblyman Mike Davis (D-48), Chairman of the Assembly Select Committee on Rail Transportation, held his second of three scheduled hearings exploring the status of rail transportation in California. The Hearing took place on Monday, November 30, at the MTA Building’s, Metro Board Room. There was an outstanding number of members present representing every part of the state, they included: Assemblymember’s Fiona Ma (San Francisco), Cathleen Galgiani (Livingston), Norma Torres (San Bernardino), Nathan Fletcher (San Diego), Mike Eng (Monterey Park), Jeff Miller (Orange County) and Steve Bradford (Gardena).
Arthur Leahy, CEO of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), warmly greeted the Assembly Select Committee. He stated that, “The Metro Board of Directors unanimously approved a Long Range Transportation Plan which calls for significant invests in rail through out Los Angeles County. I would like to express our willingness to work with this committee to address the future development of the rail transportation system in California.”
Chairman Davis opened the hearing by defining the threefold goals of the committee by saying, “We are concerned with the development of rail transportation in California in terms of passenger rail, freight rail and equally concerned about high speed rail. The Hearing reviewed the current passenger rail projects in Los Angeles and explored the impact of high-speed rail construction in this area. Most of all, it was an opportunity to hear about plans for transportation control measures to make rail transportation safer in the Los Angeles area.”
Assemblyman Mike Eng, Chairman of Transportation, stated, “In many parts of the county rider ship has gone up, not only because of joint efforts of city, county and state agencies that have provided commuters with a better product in terms of service and time saved. And in fact, they are striving to get better. The public is concerned about better service and rail safety and that is what the Select Committee is all about.”
While safe mobility was the major topic of discussion, Assemblymember Jeff Miller took notice of the rapid increase in rider numbers on Metro Link and is looking for the best use of tax dollars. He is most interested in seeing how we can get infrastructure projects going quicker. He exclaims, “God knows, we have to get our people back to work and so this is an important area of discussion that will help get more of our people back to work.
Also looking at the many millions of people that will be added to the area in the next 20 years is Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher of San Diego, Vice Chair of the Transportation Committee. Fletcher asked the panel testifying before the committee to explain the transportation infrastructure needs to accommodate California over the next twenty years. He stated that it is important for Californians to know what rail transportation will look like in the next two decades.
Assemblywoman Fiona Ma is confident that California is in a good position to get some of the 8 billion stimulus dollars allocated by President Obama for our high-speed rail project from Los Angeles to San Francisco, which is in great demand. Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani feels that California is at the front of the line for funding. She cites four reasons: 1. Voters passed High Speed Bond I in the last election. 2. We are the only state applying for a true High Speed train that reaches world-class speeds of 220mph. 3. Only plan already approved by the Federal Railroad Administration. 4. The High Speed Rail Authority Board passed over a year ago Memorandums of Understanding with five countries that have already built High Speed trains.
Chairman of the Select Committee on Procurement, Assemblyman Steve Bradford’s interest is in how we get local folks involved, and adds that, we must make sure we get local contract opportunities to present themselves to local qualified businesses. Assemblywoman, Norma Torres, San Bernadino, agrees that all of these issues are of paramount importance and warrants discussion and commends Chairman Davis for bringing together such a large number of Assemblymembers from all parts of the state who are passionate about rail transportation.
Mark Pisano, Senior Fellow, USC, School of Policy, Planning and Development presented on safety in transportation. When you talk about safety he lists three areas to consider: grade crossings, are there multiple modes in the area (shared use in right of way) and the issue of resource requirements. He summarizes that, “These safety systems will increase resources required for us to spend on transit.” Pisano continues, “Where can we bring more resources to the table? You are in a county that has really put its dollars where its policies are. It has raised enormous amounts or revenues for rail transportation and transit. We need to compliment that with additional resources so that we can meet in the kind of safety improvements that we are discussing today.”
To clarify just where the United States is on Safety standards, Assemblywoman Galgiani asked if the US had safety standards for High Speed Rail. Mr. Pisano answered, “The US is in the process of setting guidelines totally grade separated and do not interfere with cross traffic. In Europe, they are trying to come up with a uniform standard. The value of having Memorandums of Understanding with countries that we can borrow standards from is fantastic.
Commissioner Timothy Simon of the California Public Utilities Commission explained that the jurisdiction of the Commission is focused squarely on the safety and protection of the public, of rail employees and the environment. Simon further states, “That it is vital to understand the infrastructure and needs of rail transportation, as well as the CPUC’s role in rail safety oversight. Through Assemblymember Davis’s leadership, the Committee has helped create synergies between agencies that oversee passenger, freight, commuter railroads and light rail transit systems.”
Two power point presentations were presented, the first by Director Clark which illustrated the CPUC safety action plans to lower the accident rates. As of 2008, California was ranked highest in the nation with 140 accidents which was down from previous years. In 2007-2008, there was a spike in accidents due to the change in the definition of what constitutes a reportable accident by the Federal Transportation Administration. Clark is confident that rail transportation is incredibly safe but admits when an accident happens it is catistropic. He sadly remembers Chatsworth and the tremendous loss of human life that is burned into his mind. The second presentation by Valerie Martinez from California High Speed Rail Authority detailed the target dates of completion for lines, LA to Santa Ana (expected completion date 2017), as well as the Phase II project, LA to San Diego. Martinez stresses that this is a green project and will provide LA County with 300 jobs by 2035 according to their economic impact studies.
Michael Canal, MTA, General Manager/Rail Operations for the Gold Line reported that the safety measures being instituted includes: fencing to stop j-walking, signage, train students, guard gates and improve from four miles a year to eight miles a year. In addition, Reene Berlin, MTA’s Executive Officer/Planning, Crenshaw Corridor discussed the Measure R Project’s estimated cost at 1.2 billion dollars and opening in 2018.
In closing, Assemblyman Davis said, “I strongly believe High Speed Rail will help to improve the quality of life for Californians in general. When we think of areas of the state that are under developed economically, such as, the central valley, to have public transportation available to go through those areas will make accessible those areas that do have great economies and thus improve the quality of life for all of our citizens. So I am a strong advocate as well as all members of the committee and we are proud of the plans and progress that has been achieved.”