The Herald reported this week that Monterey County's two largest industries, hospitality and agriculture, are opposing investment in passenger rail services to Monterey County. They are arguing that TAMC, the Transportation Agency for Monterey County, should invest more in roads and less in alternatives.
This view is shortsighted. There will never be enough money or land to pave our way out of traffic congestion. Furthermore, as energy prices rise, environmental concerns increase, and freeways just get more and more hectic, we will need alternatives that are comfortable, energy efficient, and environmentally friendly. Trains are the answer.
People in our area don't realize that California has the fastest growing passenger rail system in the country. In fact, the nation's third busiest rail corridor, the Capitol Corridor between San Jose and Auburn, terminates just 60 miles from here. Other successful corridors can be found in the San Joaquin Valley (Bakersfield to Sacramento and Oakland) and down south where the Surfliners (San Luis Obispo to San Diego) are very popular. This is an especially great accomplishment when you consider that this was done with almost no federal funds (yup, its all state and local money) in a state where cars were once thought to be invincible.
If Monterey County wants to stay competitive in attracting diversified industries, we need to be connected to the state rail network. As it stands now, if you want to get to any of those cities up north you have to suffer on congested bay area freeways or take a very expensive plane. Wouldn't it be nice to have a choice wherein you could sit back, relax, get some work or reading done, then grab a bite to eat at the snack bar, all while cruising along at 70-80 miles per hour? We could, if we set our minds to it.
Certainly, the hospitality industry would benefit by having a train that brings tourists right into downtown Monterey, just steps from major hotels and tourist destinations. I suspect their opposition is most likely based on ignorance of how convenient trains can be.
Alas, even TAMC is taking its time. Not long ago rail service to Monterey was expected to start in 2006, then it was 2009, and now it has been pushed aside indefinitely. Proposed Caltrain commuter services to Salinas are getting all the attention. Contact your local representatives, at TAMC and in your city councils, and ask them to support intercity rail service to the Monterey Peninsula.