Overview

The proposed Coachella Valley Rail project, which seeks to connect downtown Los Angeles with the city of Coachella via a 144-mile rail line, is moving forward with a second environmental study.

The Riverside County Transportation Commission is seeking an additional $20 million to move forward with the Coachella Valley Rail project, which seeks to connect Los Angeles to the Coachella Valley by way of Orange and San Bernardino counties.

“We all strive to be exceptional in our public service and the things we try to do here, and exceptionalism is great, but we are an exception in a way that I don’t like,” Aaron Hake, RCTC deputy executive director, said during Thursday’s Palm Desert City Council meeting. “We are the largest region of our size and population that does not have daily intercity rail service in the United States, and we are trying to change that.”

According to Hake, initial conversations about the intercity rail project started back in 1991, but did not get off the ground until 2016 when a grant from the office of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California) and the Federal Railroad Administration to conduct the Tier 1 environmental study which was completed last summer.

The Tier 2 study, for which the agency is currently seeking funding, will be a more in-depth environmental study that will look at specific proposed station locations and the impacts on the communities of adding a third track east of Colton, which Hake said was necessary to ensure “efficient movement of the passenger train.”

“We need to take a look at what this means from environmental, traffic, all sorts of different angles, to make sure that we’re doing the right thing,” he said. “So that process hopefully will begin soon, and then once we finish that environmental document, we’ll be able to begin designing the project and then constructing it and then running service.”

Hake said this phase of the project is estimated to cost a total of $60 million, of which $40 million has already been secured. He said RCTC has applied for federal funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation for the remaining $20 million, and said the commission hoped to hear back in the next few months.

The project, as it’s currently proposed, would provide daily roundtrip service between Union Station in downtown Los Angeles to Coachella Valley with stops at existing stations in Fullerton, downtown Riverside and Palm Springs, and proposed new stops in San Bernardino County (in the Redlands/Loma Linda area), the San Gorgonio Pass area, Mid Valley, Indio and Coachella. The proposed route would cover 144 miles in just over three hours.

“We can’t slow down now,” Council member Jan Harnik, who serves on the RCTC, said. “We really have to continue emphasizing how important this is.”

While Hake said the project is still about a decade away from completion, he noted that it has received strong support from the public and stakeholders collected through briefings, public hearings and written comments. He also noted the project has unanimous support from the commission.

“There is unanimous support for this project,” Hake said. “I have to tell you that doesn’t happen very often when we bring a project of this magnitude.”

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