Desert Sun

Estimated printed pages: 2

July 18, 2008
Section: Opinion
Page: B6

Our voice: Six Amtrak stops a week in Palm Springs is inadequate

By Staff
The Desert Sun

The potential benefits of having a rail system, with a regular schedule, linking the Coachella Valley and the Los Angeles area are plentiful.

The valley currently has Amtrak rail service, but it's limited to stops in Palm Springs at 6:37 a.m. and 5:06 p.m. on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.

Here are just a few ways valley residents could benefit from expanded service:

· Travel by rail saves gas, which in turn reduces our dependence on oil.

· Beats fighting traffic congestion.

· Cuts down on dangerous greenhouse gas emissions.

· The valley could be marketed as a vacation destination to those who travel by rail.

· Adds day-trip business and leisure travel opportunities for valley residents.

· Two studies show people want it.

A California Department of Transportation rail plan was endorsed two years ago by the Riverside County Transportation Commission. Stops would be in Palm Springs and Indio. Fabulous, so what's the problem? It would cost a lot of money in the millions.

It also would take the support of state and federal legislators.

Rep. Mary Bono Mack, R-Palm Springs, supports the expansion and efforts to ease commuting costs, reduce congestion and improve air quality.

"Congresswoman Bono Mack believes that passenger and light rail service should play an increasingly important role in our nation's future," said Jennifer May, Bono Mack's press secretary.

Bono Mack is supporting a measure, H.R. 6003, that would help fund infrastructure updates and advancements in new technologies, including high-speed rail. She said growth in the Coachella Valley will require collaboration among federal, state and county organizations in setting transportation priorities.

Tough economic times and a state budget deficit nearing $20 billion could make finding the necessary funds difficult but the potential payoffs in the long run would be great.

Still, it will remain stalled if the expectation is that the money will come from one or two sources. There has to be creativity and an effort to find matching funds. A public and private partnership is a possibility that could help make expanded train service to and from Los Angeles a reality sooner.

The issue is at least on the agenda of state and federal leaders and transportation officials. They will attend a September forum in Palm Desert to further discuss the issue.

The current Amtrak schedule of six weekly stops isn't enough. We need daily service. The beach is calling.