This week, Caltrans released the final version of its new State Rail Plan. We’ve written before about how excited we are about this plan, which is perhaps the only American plan in recent memory that is big and bold enough to get passenger rail right.

We’re hosting a luncheon in Chicago on October 11 with Chad Edison, Deputy Secretary for Transportation at California State Transportation Agency, who will tell us about the plan and how the Midwest could emulate it.

California’s plan sets goals for frequency, geographical coverage and integration that are unmatched by any other state or regional plan. The goal is a rail system that is so convenient and flexible that fast train travel will be an ordinary, everyday occurrence for people all around the state.

This plan goes far beyond the reaches of the high-speed line from L.A. to San Francisco. In fact, that line is merely the backbone in a statewide network of high-speed trains, regional trains and express buses. All these modes will be connected with timed transfers and a single ticket.

This portion of a diagram of all the services in California’s new state rail plan shows the density of options and connections.

(To get a sense for the density and extent of connected services around the state, take a look at this diagram of service throughout the state, a 1.8MB PDF. As dense as this diagram is, it only shows “core” intercity service, not including regional or commuter service.)

As the plan says, it creates “a coordinated, statewide passenger rail network that will get Californians where they want to go, when they want to go.”

That’s really the key. This plan discards the long-held American thinking that taking the train will be somewhat of an inconvenience, or a second-tier option, compared to driving or flying. Instead, the train is the winning option, the one that speeds past clogged highways and avoids the inconveniences of air travel.

The plan makes it clear that the stakes are high for California. With its growing population and the realities of climate change, rail travel cannot simply be a part of the state’s future. It must be a prominent part.

The completed rail plan will revolutionize travel around California, growing rail ridership by 10 times.

The revolutionary nature of this plan is revealed in one diagram that compares ridership in 2040 to ridership today. Without the plan, business as usual, daily ridership around the state will only grow from 110,000 today to 160,000 in 2040. With the completed network and high-speed backbone, that figure grows 10 times to 1.3 million daily riders. Notice how people are riding not just from one big city to another, but to and from a vast array of destinations around the state. That’s a revolution, and it’s the sort of revolution we need in the Midwest, too.

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