Following up on our recent discussions of frequency mapping (see Martin’s post here and Jarrett’s post here), I thought I’d share a frequency schematic for all intercity and commuter rail service available in California, Oregon, Washington, and the BC Lower Mainland. As we push to develop our rail networks it is imperative that we strike the right balance between vision and process; with too much of the former we lose ourselves in the foaming muddle of railfans (I say this as a railfan), while with too much of the latter we succumb to the sort of stale incrementalism with which we’re all very familiar.  One of the most important requirements for speaking intelligently about our rail networks is knowing exactly what we already have, for this is what we will build upon.  To that end I share this draft map I’ve been working on.

More after the jump…

The map depicts passenger rail frequency as a series of weighted lines.  The numbered width between two stations is meant to denote how many combined intercity and commuter trains pass through that particular segment, daily, in each direction.  In a limited way the map also attempts to depict connections with other rail transit, specifically SkyTrain, Link, MAX, BART, VTA, LA Metro, and the SD Trolley.  Because this is a reference map designed only to gain a big-picture sense of frequency, I have omitted crucial information that would be very important is this were designed for passenger use: time-of-day (peak vs. off-peak), local vs. express, etc…

By getting a sense of the West Coast as a single interconnected network, it becomes easy to see network gaps (Bakersfield-Los Angeles, etc…), under-served corridors (Los Angeles-San Francisco, Vancouver BC-Seattle etc…), and corridors which are served relatively well (Los Angeles-Orange County-San Diego, Los Angeles-Inland Empire, San Francisco-San José, Sacramento-San José,  Seattle-Portland, etc…)

Though I do enjoy the “we should have trains from x to y” conversation, I’ll leave the corridor speculation to the comments section.  If seen as a single network, which improvements should be prioritized, and which are superfluous?  The purpose of the map is not to suggest specific capital improvements or the introduction of new service, but merely to get a feel for what we’ve got and what we’re missing.  I hope it’s helpful.

40 Replies to “Frequency Mapping the West Coast Rail Corridor”

  1. Very elegantly rendered! The way Skytrain’s Millennium Line loops around to hug the Cascades corridor is a particular gem.

    Some real eye-openers here. Portland/Beaverton’s Westside Express has 16 round trips per day? I had to look it up to be sure. Half-hourly trains (albeit rush-hour only) must give it such a sense of commute flexibility/reliability of which Sounder can only dream!

    On the other hand, the high combined volumes on the Greater L.A. tentacles give an illusion of wider and more useful service than Metrolink actually offers.

    1. Metrolink offers weekend service on four of its lines (SB, Antelope, Orange, IEOC).

      On how many Sounder lines is there weekend service now?

      Metrolink is quite useful, IMHO, with frequent service at the rush, and mid-day and evening service as well.

      Remember that from Oxnard to Oceanside, Metrolink is supplemented by Amtrak Surfliner.

      1. Erik,

        To be fair, no American commuter rail is great at facilitating reverse commutes (and especially off-peak reverse commutes), with the exception of the three New York providers and possibly Chicago Metra.

        But every time I’ve wanted to leave L.A. along a corridor that Metrolink serves, I’ve checked the schedule and it’s been a no-go. Every time. 4-hour gaps, service ending at 6:00, partial routes, skipped stops. It’s a long, long way from providing the sort of predictability/regularity that makes it a viable regional choice.

  2. I’ll echo the -Very- elegant comment! What did you use to create this with?

  3. Nice, Zach. It’d be interesting to see an equivalent map from the 1950s – it’d be a very different map, I’m sure w/ much less commute service and way more inter-city.

      1. You could add Tacoma Link and Sacramento light rail.

        CA HSR should add links from Palmdale to Bakersfield, and Gilroy to Fresno.
        If Desert Express starts, that would add Victorville to Las Vegas.

        And, in the unlikely event that Pioneer and North Coast Hiawatha get started, that could fill out the northern part of the map.

      2. Unfortunately, CAHSR has been focusing on building new stuff on the parts of the network that are already fattest: San Francisco to San Jose and Los Angeles to Anaheim. The gaps with no service whatsoever, where HSR can provide the biggest incremental benefit, are for some reason being saved for last.

      3. We don’t know what will be constructed first anonymouse and you know that already. The focus in the urban areas is to get issues of trains passing through the areas. Clear up the issues now, save the easier stuff for later.

      4. Anonymous, you’re plainly wrong; CAHSR has been focusing heavily on Central Valley construction, which is still scheduled to arrive before *anything* else. Yes, Bakersfield-Palmdale is still rather late in the queue, but it’s not really fair to say that they’re focusing on SF-San Jose or LA-Anaheim; those are simply the segments with the *most NIMBYs* and the *most argument over design*, so they’re the ones getting in the news the most.

      5. The map is a bit misleading, which is why I don’t like straight-line transit maps. Bakersfield and Palmdale are more east-west with relation to each other than north-south. Where the Antelope Valley line curves is probably about where a line to Bakersfield would split off, though I don’t know where there are already tracks.

        In general, though, it’s a good idea to have a map of intercity rail travel analogous to our Interstate maps.

      6. Berkeley and Emeryville are switched too, though it’s not that big a deal since it’s mostly for illustrative purposes.

        [posted twice]

  4. This map is really cool. It is kinda sad that there are so many segments with only 1 train, but at the same time, I was just looking up how long it takes to train from Seattle to LA, and it’s so preposterously slow it makes total sense that there’s only that one tiny line between many segments on the west cast.

    1. Yet if the Coast Starlight and Empire Builder are always full, that would argue for adding a second train, maybe for just part of the route, like Eugene-Reddding, or Santa Barbara-San Jose or Seatlle/Portland-Spokane (or Auburn-Spokane via Stampede Pass).

      1. Eh, I’m guessing that the vast majority of people riding the long-distance trains come from the major metropolitan areas along them, so a Eugene to Redding train would get very few riders.

      2. Okay, Portland-Sacramento; time it so that it connects with the California Zephyr. Additional destinations available via Cascades and Capitol Corridor.

      3. See, I’d like to see some representation of when stops are skipped… a distinction between trains that make every stop between Eugene and Redding and those that only stop in those two cities (for example), which I don’t know if we have now but we might eventually.

    2. Just shows what 60+ years of focus on airlines and highways will lead to. Had we developed a “balanced” transport system in the 1950s and 1960s things might have been very different; now we play catch-up, and a very extensive and expensive catchup it will necessarily be.

    3. Yes, substantial improvements between Eugene and Redding would be required to get a true sleeper and improve that from one to two … for the cost v benefit, it would seem more appropriate to look on that as a Steel Interstate project to provide a 100mph electrified freight rail backbone for the west coast, and focus improvements for passenger service on shorter corridors.

  5. Berkeley and Emeryville are switched too, though it’s not that big a deal since it’s mostly for illustrative purposes.

    1. Those are all trains going down the east side of SF Bay. Zach did not show any of the “Ambus” connections on this map – please note that, other than BART (thin red line,) he shows no service between Emeryville/Oakland on the east side of the bay and SF on the west.

  6. To me, because so much of the West Coast track is scenic along the coast, I feel there is no “rail corridor” in the sense of a workaday transportation system.

    However that’s a really good thing for us Blue Sky types as we would be justified in suggesting that rather than do anything incrementally, since there’s nothing to build on, we could think about having a true HSR system that follows I-5. This would be the perfect time to build HSR along the most frequently used route and it could be entirely brand new track graded for higher speeds.

  7. By showing frequency only there is some distortion of how much service is available and how many people might be using the services. For instance, the WES service between Beaverton and Wilsonville looks more impressive than the Sounder service between Seattle and Tacoma. But WES is operated with a DMU and Sounder offers 6-8 car trains.

  8. It illustrates how unfortunate that Vancouver has two railway stations for such a pathetically small amount of service.

    Really nice map. It really shows where service is lacking. Three times a week service on the Canadian just isn’t frequent enough. I just rode it to Kamloops on Friday and it was well used. There was over 25 cars on the train. It could easily support one train per day in the peak season at least. Also lacking is decent corridor service as far as Hope, re-instated service to Squamish and Whistler, and improved service to Mission.

    How about adding the Victoria to Courtney train? Once per day.

    Maybe someone will make a ‘wishlist’map?

    1. Yeah dont forget the Mahalat/E&N. Its a shame it doesnt tie in with the Victoria Clipper in both schedule and location of terminals.

    2. It is sad to think that we lost the daily North Vancouver-Lilooeet, B.C. train and the thrice-weekly train to Prince George not so long ago.

      And with the connection to the Skeena at Prince George to Prince Rupert, one could connect by ferry to the Alaska Rail Road.

      So in theory, a passenger trip by rail from Fairbanks to San Ysidro was possible if one allowed the AMHS ferry trip and a short bus ride (or better yet long walk to SeaBus and then SkyTrain to Main Street/Science World) at Vancouver.

    3. Less than one a day each way is really intolerable. Amtrak to its credit recognizes this now and has been making schemes for making the Sunset Limited (and the Cardinal) into daily trains, even with its limited equipment.

      I don’t know what VIA Rail is thinking; they should most certainly do the same with the Canadian. With a 25-car (!) train, they could split it into 2 13-car trains and only need new locomotives and engine crew.

  9. Is there a way to weigh this with population? Maybe California’s beefier frequency is due to larger populations along the rail corridors?

    1. Yes, that is certainly true. But California has invested a lot of its own money in improving their intercity train service. And it’s paid off. The three state-supported Amtrak routes are the highest ridership Amtrak trains outside the NEC. The numerous commuter routes add a lot of trains too.

      Except for the Amtrak long distance routes, it’s all down to local investment.

  10. Zach:

    A couple of nits to pick.

    A) The Ventura County Line of LA Metrolink actually terminates/originates at Montalvo during peak (AM south/eastbound, PM north/westbound):
    This could be shown as a spur off of the line that Amtrak Surfliners follow up towards Goleta.

    B) The Sunset Limited does service Downtown Pomona but does so using the former SP tracks on the north of what is now the Alameda Corridor East. Metrolink Riverside Line stops on the southside of the corridor (on the original UP Line, IIRC) . The two platforms are connected by a passenger bridge:

    I mention this because the route of the Sunset Limited would be more accurately portrayed as its own thin line, in between the Metrolink San Bernardino and Riverside Lines, from LAUPT to Downtown Pomona, dipping into Downtown Pomona and then bouncing out as shown on your map. This is because the Sunset Limit usually uses a different line from LAUPT to Downtown Pomona and does not pass through Montbello and Industry as you depict.

    C) The stop at San Clemente for Metrolink is different from the stop at San Clemente Pier for Amtrak Surfliner, although they are no more than a 20 minute walk along the beach from one another.

    D) For the time being, shouldn’t Tacoma be shown as two stations: Tacoma-Freighthouse Square and Tacoma-Amshack?

  11. Nice map – it is really great to be able to visualize all the frequencies and connections. Alas I also have some quibbles:

    1)Why not show San Francisco Muni Metro? It’s only the oldest and densest rail transit system on teh West Coast, and connects to BART and Caltrain. I wouldn’t bother with the cable cars and historic streetcars though.
    2)Same goes for Sacramento’s LRT system. It does connect to the Amtrak Station, and provides a similar type of service as Portland, San Jose and San Diego.
    3)Stockton has two train stations. ACE trains and the Sacramento San Joachins serve a station east of downtown while the Oakland San Joachins serve a station on the south side of town. Kinda dumb but that’s the way it is.
    4)San Jose VTA does not serve the Santa Clara Caltrain station.
    5)How about showing airport connections? Vancouver, SeaTac, PDX and SFO and maybe even Burbank all ahve direct rail connections. which is amazing considering that most of that did not exist 10 years ago.

  12. I’m going to guess that the colored ‘rapid transit’ lines are all systems with some minimum frequency. What is that frequency?

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