We need daily trains between here and Los Angeles

Mar 6, 2011

Ray M. Smythe: We need daily trains between here and Los Angeles

The Desert Sun – Palm Springs, Calif. / Author: Ray Smy / Date: Jan 18, 2011 / Start Page: B.7 / Section: OPINION / Special to The Desert Sun


Several Sundays ago, we drove to Los Angeles to see a matinee. After the play, we headed home to Palm Springs. Unfortunately, it started to sprinkle as we got on the Hollywood Freeway. As we continued, the sprinkle turned into a downpour and we ended up going 17 mph for the next 45 minutes. Visualize thousands of cars crawling along five lanes slowly with folks hitting their brake lights every other minute. It seemed like a nightmare that would not end.

When we finally got onto Interstate 10, speeds increased to about 40 mph. Again, imagine five lanes of traffic continuing to stop and go at that speed. There were several accidents along the way and you could sense every driver was nervous, irritated or scared. By the time we reached home, the four of us were exhausted. It was a major feat to get home in one piece without having an accident.

President Dwight Eisenhower was responsible for starting the interstate highway system across the United States. It was a fantastic idea and a project that helped our economy and tourist trade. Having said that, I-10 here in the Coachella Valley has become dangerous. This section of the I-10 has had several fatal car accidents and traffic jams in the last few months. Getting in and out of Los Angeles is always a challenge. We need a change and we need it now.

Our valley needs our own corridor train that runs between Los Angeles and the Coachella Valley every day of the week.

Imagine being able to board a train in Palm Springs at 8 a.m. and arriving in Los Angeles in just a few hours. During the trip into L.A. you could relax in a comfortable seat, work on a project using your laptop, go to the dining car for breakfast or just take in the scenery. After arriving in Los Angeles you could shop, enjoy entertainment venues or complete a business task. Then you could board the train and return to Palm Springs in early evening. You would have enjoyed your day with no freeway complications and no polluting the air.

This would be a great boost to valley tourism. Imagine how many folks would like a convenient way to get out of L.A. and come to our desert paradise. This would help hotels, restaurants, merchants and casinos. Plus, many people have never been on a train. It is an adventure and just plain fun.

How do we get this to happen in a depressed economy? No. 1, it has the potential to be very profitable for Amtrak. It has the potential to increase commerce in the valley, so it is likely to be supported by local business owners. Plus, most Californians support reducing air pollution and fewer cars on our freeways would certainly help clean up our air.

If this is something you would like to support, you can join the Southwest Rail Passenger Association. Robert Manning is the president of the association and you can contact him through the web site SWrail.org.

The Sunset Limited, which passes through Palm Springs three times a week on its way from Los Angeles to New Orleans, is the oldest train name in the United States, dating back to the 1890s. It also is the worst performing Amtrak train financially, according to Manning.

“An Amtrak internal study revealed that if the Sunset Limited operated daily, and made some minor schedule changes, the train could become one of Amtrak’s best performing long-distance trains,” Manning writes on the website. “We strongly support making the daily Sunset Limited a priority.”

The problem is that Union Pacific owns 80 percent of the line and blocks daily operation.

“It is important to note that the proposed Coachella Valley train with service from Los Angeles to the Coachella Valley will not become a reality if there is no daily Sunset Limited,” Manning says. “But there is a strong indication that Amtrak is interested in establishing a crew base in the Coachella Valley to support and serve both the Sunset Limited and the proposed Coachella train.”

Again, we need to make major changes in the way we think, travel and do business. The time has come for daily train service between Los Angeles and the Coachella Valley. Let’s make this happen in 2011.

Ray M. Smythe is a retired history teacher from Marywood-Palm Valley School in Rancho Mirage. He is a member of the Southwest Rail Passenger Association and lives in Cathedral City. E-mail him at Rayme49@aol.com