October 19, 2013
Amtrak's Coast Starlight cruises along the California coast. Coachella Valley travelers can connect with the train at Union Station in Los Angeles.
Local transportation leaders have been pushing for daily train service between the Coachella Valley and Los Angeles for two decades.
On Sept. 30, the Coachella Valley Association of Governments took a major step in that direction when it voted to dedicate a portion of transportation funds to the passenger rail project and approved an agreement with Riverside County Transportation Commission.
The commission unanimously approved the agreement last week, creating a fund to pay for an in-depth study required for the support of the Federal Rail Administration and the California Transportation Department. The fund will get $4.2 million from state transportation bonds and 10 percent of the funding that historically has gone to the SunLine Transit Agency. That share is now about $1.2 million. The plan is to reduce the bite out of the bus budget over the years.
The study will take at least a year, said Sheldon Peterson, the commission’s rail manager.
Caltrans on boardThe Coachella Valley route is part of the draft of the California State Rail Plan for 2013. The Caltrans report says the corridor from Los Angeles to Indio is expected to increase by 5.8 million residents in the next 30 years. Riverside County will get the majority of that growth, 52.4 percent.
“In addition, the Coachella Valley has a significant number of popular destinations that attract a high number of visitors,” the report says.
In 2008, Amtrak organized the Coachella Express, which carried music fans from Los Angeles to the Coachella Valley Festival of Music and Arts in Indio. It’s easy to imagine promotions like that for the Palm Springs International Film Festival, the BNP Paribas Open or just an escape-from-L.A. weekend in the desert.
Keeping up with growthIndio City Councilman Glenn Miller, chairman of the SunLine board and a member of the transportation commission, observed that it’s unlikely that freeways can be expanded to accommodate the level of growth that’s anticipated.
“We can’t afford to continue to just add lanes,” he said.