Desperate to unclog the congested Riverside and Costa Mesa freeways, the Orange County Transportation Commission voted 6 to 0 Monday to seek commuter rail service between Orange and Riverside counties by 1993.
A staff report to the commission, drawn from studies by two consulting firms, showed that the proposed rail service is feasible, with a potential for 2.2 million boardings annually by 2010.
However, the report said start-up costs could reach $138 million in an era of reduced state and federal funding for mass transit projects.
The commission on Monday authorized the consultants to begin discussions with Riverside officials and officers of the Santa Fe Railway, which already has freight service on an existing track and owns the right of way along the route of the proposed commuter line.
Final Report in August
Last Wednesday, the Riverside County Transportation Commission voted to accept a similar report and will mention the rail service in the county's list of projects to be funded with proceeds from a proposed half-cent county sales tax on the November ballot.
A final report on the proposed service will be presented to the Orange and Riverside county transportation commissions in August.
According to Monday's interim staff report, rail service linking Riverside and Orange counties could begin no sooner than 1993 and would run between downtown Riverside and an Amtrak passenger station in Irvine.
From Riverside, the line would parallel California 91 through Santa Ana Canyon before turning south near Anaheim Hills and snaking through Orange, Santa Ana, Tustin and Irvine. Twelve stations would be served.
In Orange County, according to preliminary studies, there would be two stations served ain Anaheim, two in Orange, and one each in Santa Ana, Tustin and Irvine.
Additional stops in Fullerton and Anaheim would be considered.
Initially, according to the report, the service would consist of four trips each weekday, beginning at Riverside in the morning and leaving Irvine in the afternoon. With train speeds averaging 40 m.p.h., the entire 50-mile trip would take 75 minutes.
Still, the commission declared Monday that while it wants such service, it should not be at the expense of ongoing efforts to improve rail service between Los Angeles and Orange counties.
"We have to ensure that there is no dilution of our efforts on an L.A.-south Orange County line," Commissioner Dana Reed said after Monday's meeting.
"I see the north-south (Los Angeles-Orange County) rail line as of the most urgent need right now and the one that could be implemented with the least cost to the taxpayer. But I'm certainly not opposed to an east-west line."
The interim report presented at Monday's meeting was drawn from a feasibility study conducted by two independent consulting firms and funded by Orange and Riverside counties.
The firms are Schiermeyer Consulting Services of Los Angeles and Sharon Greene & Associates of Santa Ana. Greene is a former Transportation Commission staff member.
The proposed Orange-Riverside commuter rail link faces a major obstacle in Santa Fe's policy of not sharing tracks used for hauling freight. The proposed commuter service route is used heavily for rail freight. New track probably would be needed for the commuter line, according to the OCTC staff report.
Laying new track would drive up costs, which the staff report estimates would range from $73 million to $138 million.
The staff report projects that the start-up costs would be covered by local funding, with some money coming from state and federal sources.
According to Monday's staff report, about 40% of the line's $9.3-million operating budget would come from fares, but the staff did not specify what the charges would be, and officials could not be reached to elaborate. The rest of the operating budget would be funded by local governments and state and federal transit programs.
Riverside-Orange County Commuter Rail at a Glance
Distance: 50 miles
Travel Time: 74 minutes
Train Speed: 40 m.p.h.
Frequency: Four trips each weekday, beginning at downtown Riverside in the morning and leaving Irvine in the afternoon
Estimated Annual Ridership: 2.2 million by 2010
Start-up Costs: $73-$138 million
Operating Budget: $9.3 million