SANTA ANA — Electrifying 806 miles of Southern California's current and planned commuter and freight rail service to reduce harmful diesel emissions will cost $4.6 billion, may boost consumers' monthly electric bills and could take 18 years, according to a new study.
What's more, the tentative ranking of rail lines for electrification would put some additional Orange County-Los Angeles commuter rail service near the bottom of the priority list, after almost every other line in Southern California is completed first.
The report recommends proceeding with plans for additional diesel-powered commuter trains while electrification is pursued. And the statistics contained in the report show that it's not cost effective to electrify rail unless freight trains are included because they contribute all but about 5.4% of a key pollutant, nitrogen oxide.
"This is ridiculous," said Dana W. Reed, a Costa Mesa lawyer who represents the Orange County Transportation Authority on the Southern California Regional Rail Authority. "The thought of billing the utility rate payer $4 billion to fix something when we're little more than 5% of the total (air pollution) problem is totally unacceptable, and I will not support it."
Reed was referring to the report's inclusion of rate hikes for electricity users as a way to finance rail electrification. He said freight haulers should pay for electrification as a cost of doing business and that it should not delay new commuter rail service because rail provides a much-needed alternative to congested freeways.
The new study, a draft summary of which was made public Wednesday, was commissioned by regional rail officials at a cost of more than $500,000 after recent battles between advocates of electrification and others, including some Orange County officials, who complain that such an effort would unnecessarily delay new commuter rail service in Orange and Riverside counties.
Current plans call for diesel-powered Riverside-to-Los Angeles commuter rail service through Fullerton and additional OCTA commuter trains on the Amtrak line between Oceanside and Los Angeles by late 1993. But that schedule has been jeopardized by unsuccessful negotiations over the sales price of Santa Fe's rights of way to the rail authority.
The report was written by a task force appointed by the rail authority and chaired by former Orange County supervisor Bruce Nestande, a former state Transportation Commission member who is vice president of Costa Mesa-based Arnel Development Co.
Nestande said that the report never proposed that electricity customers pay for anything but the cost of electrifying commuter service and that the state Public Utilities Commission would never approve rate hikes beyond that.
The report, which recommends that preliminary engineering go forward for an electrification demonstration project on a Riverside-Los Angeles route through Ontario, does not estimate how much utility users' bills would increase to fund a systemwide conversion from diesel power.
The electrification debate has had ripple effects politically. Last month, Yorba Linda Councilman Henry A. Wedaa, who chairs the South Coast Air Quality Management District, was challenged for his seat on the AQMD board by Costa Mesa Councilman Peter F. Buffa and several other candidates, partly on the basis of Wedaa's support for electrification. The challengers failed to obtain the necessary votes among the county's mayors to unseat Wedaa, but another vote may be scheduled soon.
Regional planners and air quality officials have adopted a goal of 90% electrification of rail by the year 2010 in order to meet requirements of the federal Clean Air Act.
The regional rail authority is made up of representatives from Orange, Los Angeles, Ventura, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.