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San Diegans Invited To Give Input On Statewide Rail

February 19, 2013 1:04 p.m.

GUEST:

Komi Ajise, Deputy Director, Planning and Modal Programs, California Department of Transportation

Related Story: San Diegans Invited To Give Input On Statewide Rail

Transcript:

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. It's Tuesday, February 19th. Our top story on Midday Edition is about a public open house tonight in San Diego on a blueprint for the future of rail in California. Although the start of high-speed rail in California is decades away, plans are being made to integrate San Diego's existing rail transport into the new system. In the process, the new statewide rail plan, San Diego's coaster, freight, and trolley lines may be ready for an upgrade. My guest, Komi Ajise, welcome to the program.

AJISE: Thank you, Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: Can you give us a general idea of and remind us about where the state is on the plan to build high-speed rail lines in California?

AJISE: We're having a public outreach today to discuss the state rail plan which is the plan for passenger rail transportation in California. And we have an outreach event this evening in San Diego. That plan describes what the vision is for the future rail system in California, which includes high-speed rail as well as the -- integrating that into the existing city rail system, that we have as well as freight rail improvement for goods movement. And so where we're going with that is understanding the need to add high-speed rail mobility to our options in California, which as it is right now is a plan, full-service implementation toward the middle of, I think 2025.

CAVANAUGH: Right, as I understand it, construction starts in central valley this summer.

AJISE: Absolutely.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: On the earliest part of T. Then it's a long, long ways, rail service between Los Angeles and San Francisco is not expected to start until 2030. Now, that means that you in planning for how these other existing lines are going to be able to feed into that, you planned quite a long way in the distance, department didn't you?

AJISE: Well, and that's the whole idea. We need to be taking the long view from here. We believe the system will most likely be in operation sooner than 2030. The initial construction will begin this summer in the central valley. But this is a really big construction program, and it will take a few years to get the first spine of the system in place, especially going through some complicated terrain like the that hatch pee mountains.

CAVANAUGH: Right.

AJISE: So the initial system will run from San Francisco to the L.A. basin. That would be the main trunk line. Before that, we would already have a starter line upgrading system in the valley that will also be operational sooner than -- very soon, as soon as I think about six years from the beginning of construction.

CAVANAUGH: Now, what kind of plans will people see at the open house tonight?

AJISE: Well, what the open house is offering is a -- I think for the first time, a more comprehensive rail plan. We've always had a requirement to have a state rail plan which is updated every year and talk about our plan to improve passenger rail and freight rail capacity within the state. A federal requirement was instituted about five years ago that calls for an integrated planning such that it allows the federal government to invest in that and spend wisely. So right now, basically this plan, this 2013 plan, it satisfies both federal and state requirements for rail planning. So it's more integrated than what we had before.

CAVANAUGH: I'm sorry, I don't mean to interrupt, but I'm just trying to get a feel for this when people go to this open house tonight, are they going to see a document, blueprints?

AJISE: Yeah, they will see a document. We have a draft document that was released on -- I believe on the 8th of February. That document -- you can get at it on our website, there should be copies at various public libraries, and there should also be copies available at the open house. And we can make copies available to whoever would like a copy. And basically folks would get a chance to look at that plan. They would also get a chance to talk to people who are working on the plan, and they'll have a chance to offer comments on on what we've stated in the draft document, what we think the vision should be, and what the future should be in terms of rail capacity in the state.

CAVANAUGH: Right.

AJISE: Both passenger and freight.

CAVANAUGH: Now, how will San Diego's rail lines be affected?

AJISE: How will they be affected?

CAVANAUGH: Yeah, what are you looking at? Upgrades to our system?

AJISE: Yes, the plan foresees improvements along all corridors in the state. One, thought because there will be a higher demand we expect with population, we also expect that with better understanding of rile transportation and improvement and the services that are being contemplated. So you will see some infrastructure improvements on the San Diegan line, the Pacific surf liner which is what runs to San Diego right now.

CAVANAUGH: I read that the idea at least from SANDAG, the San Diego association of government, and I believe they're getting some federal funding on this, is to put in a second actual track. We only have one track now for the coaster, is that part of the plan?

AJISE: That would be part of the plan. Really it's a -- when we say it's integrated, and I hate to repeat myself, it's the idea of making sure that we're not -- we're making the best of the resources available. The need for a second rail line is always key so that you can bypass freighted traffic, for example, and have a faster service on the passenger side. So that allows you to provide more timely service, shorter headways, and also quicker service from point to point. So that's an important improvement that you will see on the corridors.

CAVANAUGH: Now, as you mentioned, another part of this plan does have to do with freight tell us about the investment that's going to be made in that area.

AJISE: The state is really the portal for a lot of goods movement both in and out of the country. And so we've always -- we find ourselves to be that important as far as the economy of the state and economy of the nation is concerned. And freight rail is a very important element of moving goods out of the port or into the port. And to the extent that we can increase the capacity and velocity of freight railroad where there's a public benefit, this is public investment planned on the freight railroads as well.

CAVANAUGH: Is the overall plan here -- as this plan is tied to the coming of high-speed rail, is one of the purposes of upgrading San Diego's rail to also act as a conduit for people who are using the high-speed rail, then they can use the more local services that San Diego provides in a better way?

AJISE: Absolutely. I think I couldn't have said it better. The high-speed rail system is going to be a major trunkline, and it's going to be delivering huge amounts of people from one end to the other and to be able to compliment that, and I think we call it the blended system, is to blend the existing rail system with the high-speed rail system to compliment is such that we have enough capacity to be able to move the people that are going to San Diego. There will be more people coming through on the high-speed rail eventually that would be hitting San Diego. We need the capacity on the surf line to get them there, also people to be delivered to the high-speed rail and the surf line. So there will be a need for improvements on the San Joaquin corridor, the Pacific surf liner, as well as the capital corridor. But not only those, there are also regional rail systems like metro link that are in that corridor as well that will be part of the compliment are improving just overall rail transportation in Southern California.

CAVANAUGH: With this draft plan, should whether or not he see an infusion of capital here in San Diego?

AJISE: I couldn't tell you exactly how much money, but definitely there will be an infusion of capital. The rail plan describes an expansion. The existing rail system and city rail system that we just talked about. So there will be plans for additional service on those corridors where you're having the city and rail system to compliment the capacity that will be needed to service the high-speed rail system. There will be an expanded inner city rail system obviously as well. And we've talked about it, the freight rail as well.

CAVANAUGH: Right. And I'm wondering, do you know if the San Diego trolley is expecting an upgrade in these plans as well?

AJISE: I don't know for sure. I would imagine with increased ridership, the trolley has always been an example of a successful transit system anywhere in the country, in the world, as a matter of fact. So I would expect that the planners that are working with SANDAG will be contemplating service improvements as well.

CAVANAUGH: What are you hoping to get out of these open house meetings? Are -- is the public -- is your anticipation that the public will look over this document and provide suggestions?

AJISE: Absolutely. The plan really is establishing a statewide vision. And we're setting some priorities for rail transportation improvement in California, both passenger and freight. We're also going to be showing some -- identifying some strategies of what we think needs to get done in the planning horizon that we're looking at. Really the charge here is to have -- we put some things together on the technical side, working with various stakeholders, on the regional and local level to put together a plan that we think captures all of those things. Now is an opportunity for us to share that with the public and see what kind of input the public would have in terms of the vision and priorities that we've chosen to set.

CAVANAUGH: Right.

AJISE: So we're looking really over the next month or so when the plan is out for public review to get input back from the public on whether or not what things they would like to see, whether or not we set the right priorities or how we could adjust the vision. So those are things that we're looking for the public to comment on.

CAVANAUGH: And what happens then? When will this plan -- when do you see this plan being implemented?

AJISE: Well, we hope to have the man wrapped up by the summer. The public outreach process, the public comment process runs through March 11th, I believe, and once we get all the comments in, we'll take some time sorting through those comments, making adjustments to the plan, and then go through the normal internal reviews and approval process to get the plan out. And so by the essential, we should have a plan to the commission, the transportation commission for advisement, consent, and also to the federal railroad administration for approval. And then you would have a final plan hopefully by the summer.

CAVANAUGH: I wonder, do you take it a step further when will people here in San Diego start seeing these upgrades if indeed they do follow the lines of your proposal?

AJISE: Well, there are different -- the projects that are identified in the plan different timescales to them. Their some that are very short-term that you will start seeing work on.

CAVANAUGH: Like?

AJISE: I'm not looking at the plan right in front of me right now, but I know that across the three corridors that we are part of Caltrans that we have projects that are ongoing, and there are projects that are planned. Such as track improvements where necessary, platform improvements. There are those plans where we're working on procuring rail cars as we speak that would also help to improve the services on these corridors. So there are a number of things already ongoing that will begin to show up very shortly, and when I say shortly, in the next year or two.

CAVANAUGH: Gotcha.

AJISE: And then there are things that are further out in the plan that you will probably not see until maybe another five or ten years.

CAVANAUGH: To see the Caltrans proposal for San Diego's rail lines, the open house is today from 4:30 to 7:30 at the Caltrans district 11 San Diego office building in old town. Thank you very much.

AJISE: Thank you so much.