Saturday, March 24 , 2018, 9:20 am | Fair 54º


Local News


Local Officials Train Sights on Management of Pacific Surfliner Rail Service

Under regional control plan, focus aims to improve commuter times, customer service and increase ridership

The Pacific Surfliner, which services a 350-mile route between San Diego and San Luis Obispo, will now have more local control over its schedule and fares. Click to view larger
The Pacific Surfliner, which services a 350-mile route between San Diego and San Luis Obispo, will now have more local control over its schedule and fares. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

The Pacific Surfliner train service that stretches from San Diego to San Luis Obispo is now under local control and management, a change that officials believe will dramatically improve service along the rail corridor.

The change means that local officials will have direct control over schedules, fares and commuter lines. It also means officials will manage food and beverage options, customer amenities, marketing efforts and real-time transit information with smart phone apps.

“We want to transform the existing rail service to be a more passenger-responsive, more friendly service,” said Jennifer Bergener, executive director of the LOSSAN (Los Angeles-San Diego-San Luis Obispo) Rail Corridor Agency.

The Santa Barbara County Association of Governments, comprised of elected officials in the county, is one of the organizations that will have more control over the Pacific Surfliner.

Representatives from Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Ventura, Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties will create an executive board that will vote on local issues. 

“This is going to be a true policy board, not just an advisory board,” said Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider, a member of SBCAG. “The consequences are really going to mean something.”

Schneider said she recalls discussing rail 10 years ago, but that achieving local control “is the real turning point.”

For decades, transportation officials throughout Santa Barbara County have struggled with how to improve train service, particularly to get commuters from Ventura County, and even Los Angeles, to and from their jobs on the South Coast.

About 2.7 million people ride the Pacific Surfliner annually, but after years of growth along the 350-mile corridor, the number has remained flat over the last decade.

Service is also limited on the South Coast because 80 percent of the tracks north of Los Angeles are single lane, making it extremely difficult to run trains in opposite directions without hours of delay.

The state of California had previously managed the Pacific Surfliner trains, but 2012 legislation changed that equation. Train riders pay $69 million of the $102.3 million annual costs, with taxpayers kicking in the rest.

Under state management, the process to make change was tangled in layers of bureaucracy. Now, LOSSAN and its executive committee will be able to work together to make any alterations, taking the state out of the conversation. LOSSAN must still coordinate with Amtrak and Union Pacific, which owns the railroad tracks.

The switch to local control took place July 1. Already, the group is working on a plan to re-time a train from Ventura County to Santa Barbara and Goleta to coincide with morning commute times for workers on the South Coast. SBCAG hopes to launch that service in the spring.

“The promise of local control is to bring that local perspective and that local knowledge of those transportation needs and how rail can really help serve those, so we can improve service for all of California,” said David Golonski, chairman of LOSSAN and a member of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

At a recent SBCAG meeting, member and county Supervisor Peter Adam said he was impressed at the effort to wrest control from the state and turn it over to the locals.

He said he’s not a big fan of public transportation in general because of how difficult it is to service his constituents in rural areas. He added that the local effort demonstrates that LOSSAN is attempting to consider the people’s needs first.

“You are trying to make the service fit the people instead of the people fit the service,” Adam said.

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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