The Story Behind New Surfliner and Metrolink Services Starting on October 14th 2019

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By Noel T. Braymer

These added services have been a long time coming. What made these additional services possible was construction of a 3rd track on the BNSF between Fullerton and BNSF’s Hobart Rail Yard in the City of Commerce. Improvements such as additional tracks are difficult to build on a busy railroad such as the BNSF mainline. Its a little like trying to make a bed, with people still in the bed. This effort goes back over 30 years ago when the State started supporting grade separations at most of the busy grade crossings on this mainline. All of these new grade separations are being built to handle 4 tracks of mainline railroad which is how wide the BNSF is between Hobart and Fullerton. With completion of this third track, long awaited services can now be run with fewer conflicts between passenger and freight trains. As more track work between San Diego and San Luis Obispo is completed in just the next 3 years or so, additional service can be expected on the Surfliners, Metrolink and Coaster trains.

With the new Surfliner service this brings the number of round trip trains between San Diego and Los Angeles to 13. This will be done by using a single low level trainset now used for one roundtrip daily. This trainset will run round trips twice daily of 13 San Diego/Los Angeles round trips. A 14th round trip is planned by 2021. This will likely use  Surfliner equipment and be extended past Los Angeles to Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo. Additional future service will depend on more equipment being transferred from Capitol Corridor/San Joaquin service as it is replaced with the new Siemens passenger cars.

Metrolink is also adding more service between Los Angeles and Orange County as well as one additional train to Perris via Fullerton in Riverside County. Two new round trips will be added between Los Angeles and Laguna Niguel/Mission Viejo in Orange County. Most of the current Metrolink trains between Orange County and Los Angeles will see changes to their current schedules.  San Diego County will be busy this October for station and track improvements on the weekends of October 19-20th and October 26-27th. This is for expanded rail passenger service which will include in the future hourly Coaster service between Oceanside and San Diego, with service every half hour during rush hours. This will include additional, new locomotives which are in the process of being ordered. This should be fully up and running by 2024 which is when the new locomotives are planned to be in service.

Metrolink is planning SCORE, which calls for frequent service on all of its lines, 7 days a week with most lines running 2 to 4 trains an hours in both directions. Frequent, dependable Metrolink service with good connecting service will attract ridership. A major issue to making this happen is the need to double track more of the right of way used and much of it controlled by Metrolink. A major goal for Metrolink is to have much of this expanded service running by 2028 which is when the Summer Olympics are planned to be held in Los Angeles. A major key to that will be to get built the long awaited run through tracks at Los Angeles Union Station. This will greatly increase the rail passenger service capacity at Union Station as well reduce running times by not needing to reverse direction when leaving the station where the tracks are now at a dead end. Major funding for the run through tracks is coming from the California High Speed Rail Authority which plans to use Union Station for future HSR service. As part of this a fourth track will be needed between Fullerton and Hobart Yard. With these and other improvements it will be possible to run more Metrolink and Surfliner Trains.

This will create a separate double tracked passenger railroad alongside the BNSF tracks.This will allow smoother service with passenger trains allowed to go faster than the freights which will be on separate tracks. The speeds on these new passenger only tracks will be about 110 miles per hour. There is really no need to go much faster since the trains travel short distances in urban areas between stations and this 19th century right of way wasn’t designed for speeds much faster than 110. To get even this much done will require the grade separation of a few more crossings. Two grade crossings are ranked high on number of collisions between Hobart Yard and Fullerton. One is on Los Nietos Road and the other is at the intersection of Rosecrans Ave and Marquardt Ave. Work is already underway building a grade separation at Rosecrans and Marquardt. This is being built with funding from the California High Speed Rail Authority which plans to use this route in the future. In this area are also grade crossings at Santa Fe Springs Road not far from a grade crossing over nearby Telegraph Road. With 4 running tracks will come more frequent trains and greater chances for grade crossing accidents in a area with heavy road traffic.

Metrolink has been in the news lately trying to get High Speed Rail funding for a new “high speed rail” alignment between Burbank and Anaheim. By speed, this segment won’t go much faster than 110 miles per hour. This is particularly true if there are grade crossing on the route. The tracks between Union Station and Burbank are half owned and operated by Metrolink. Metrolink acquired their half of the railroad from the Southern Pacific shortly before the SP was bought out by the Union Pacific. The full right of way has room for 4 tracks, but for now is double tracked.  What it doesn’t have are many grade separations in an area with quite a bit of road traffic. Much of this could be improved by putting in quiet zones which include more barriers to reduce the chance of damage and injuries for people and vehicles at a grade crossing. There are plans by Metrolink to greatly increase the frequency of train travel on the segment between Union Station and Burbank Junction. This would mean at least 8 trains an hour in each direction, likely more. This could include possible use of Diesel Multiple Unit (DMU) trainsets which each car would carry a diesel engine. This is lighter and cheaper to run for Metrolink than using trains hauled by a locomotive. What might also be used is adding batteries and running MU electrical trains instead.

Much of the reporting about Metrolink seeking High Speed Rail Funding focuses on transferring funding away from HSR construction in the San Joaquin Valley. It is difficult to get a clear picture of what is going on since many media outlets are more interested in sensationalism than the facts. One recent example of this are headlines that the Governor had transferred money for road projects to rail passenger service. (Read “Sleepy State Interregional Transportation Plan Sparks Passionate Response” Streetsblog CAL Oct 11, 2019) 

The real story is that the Highway Projects in the San Joaquin Valley are still in the planning stage and not ready to start construction. So the HSR projects in the San Joaquin Valley which are ready for construction will put the available money to immediate use. Money is planned to be available when the road projects are ready. The media has been predicting the immediate downfall of California High Speed Rail for almost 20 years. Complicated projects, particularly when first tried in California or anywhere will have additional problems and opposition from people who don’t see any benefits for them. This was the same in 1817 when New York Governor Dewitt Clinton ordered construction of the 363 mile Erie Canal. It was called “Clinton’s Folly” by his critics. But it secured New York State and the Port of New York becoming the gateway to the “West”.

Now things get interesting. At a recent meeting of the Clark County Commission videoed in Las Vegas, managers in charge of the Virgin Trains USA  project gave an interesting presentation saying their Las Vegas Train will be electrified and run at speeds up to 180 miles per hour. Their Florida service uses diesel locomotives and have a top speed of 125 miles per hour. They plan to start service between Las Vegas and Victorville by 2023. Their next goal is to extend service from Victorville to Palmdale. This will not only open connections to Metrolink services at Palmdale. But could also allow  HSR service to be extended to Los Angeles. No word what route Virgin Trains USA would take to get to Los Angeles. The current planning for  the California High Speed Rail Authority is to dig miles of tunnel between Burbank and  Palmdale. This would be a major challenge for a private company like Virgin Trains USA to do on their own. The State of California is already issuing millions of dollars of tax free bonds for Virgin Trains USA to be used to fund rail construction between Victorville and Las Vegas.

It makes sense to extend HSR service from Las Vegas to Los Angeles and Anaheim. But that doesn’t mean that work can’t continue to build High Speed Rail in the San Joaquin Valley. What is needed is a network of connecting services to make High Speed Rail service profitable and popular. High Speed Rail can carry millions of people hundreds of miles throughout California.  California has plenty of congested roads with cars and trucks spewing tons of Greenhouse Gases. Transferring people to fast, frequent well connected trains goes a long way to reducing pollution and congestion.

 

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Lessons From Dublin Of Rail Passenger Service

By Noel T. Braymer

In the late 1970’s I took a tour of rail  passenger services using rail passes in Britain, France, Switzerland and Germany. Along the way I also made a stop in Dublin with my Eurorail Pass to ride the ferry to Cherbourg , France from Rosslare, Ireland. In the late 1970’s most rail passenger  service in Ireland was limited intercity service with diesel hauled, double cab locomotives running a few times a day and night. Dublin at this time didn’t have anything like a commuter rail service. Most of the public transportation in Dublin came from city buses.  The economy of the Republic of Ireland was rather weak in the 1970’s. At this time a favorite sport of the Irish Republican Army was blowing up the tracks for train service between Dublin and Belfast. No one to my knowledge was injured by these actions. But it made rail service unreliable.

Things in Dublin began to turn around in 1985 with the start up of DART or Dublin Area Rapid Transit . I consider DART more of a local regional rail service than Rapid Transit. But it was a major transportation  improvement for the Dublin area. Basically DART used mostly existing, underused railway right of ways and infrastructure with service centered at Connolly Station in Dublin. Service runs mostly along the coast with several station stops in in the business center of Dublin. DART runs on routes of 33 miles of track.  DART trains usually run every 10 minutes most of the day.  What was new with DART was electrifying the route and using electric multiple unit (EMU) trainsets which gave reduced running times and better acceleration and braking than a locomotive hauled train.

Since DART, Irish Rail has expanded commuter rail service over the years on routes without electrification. These often share the same tracks and stations as DART. These are run less frequently but are run on routes with no other rail service. Diesel Multiple Unit trainsets (DMU’s) are used for these commuter services which are less expensive to operate plus accelerate and stop faster than locomotive hauled trains.
Below is a list of Irish Rail’s DMU service commuter trains.

Dublin Northern Commuter service extends from Dublin’s Pearse Station via Dublin Connolly Station to Dundalk.
Dublin Portlaoise Commuter service extends west from Dublin’s Heuston Station to stations as far to Portlaoise.
Dublin Longford Commuter service extends from Dublin’s Pearse Station via Dublin’s Connolly Station to Longford.
Dublin Dunboyne / M3 Parkway services extends from Dublin’s Dockland/ Connolly Station via Clonsilla to Dunboyne/ M3 Parkway.
Dublin Southern Commuter service operates from Dublin’s Connolly Station to Gorey Station.
Mallow – Cork – Cobh – Midleton Commuter services extends from Mallow to Cork, Cork to Cobh or Midleton.

The newcomer for Dublin Rail service is called LUAS which is Irish for “Speed”. It is a Light rail service, often call a tram which first stated service in 2004. There have been 3 extensions to the 2 LUAS lines: the Green and the Red Lines. There are now 67 station stops on LUAS with 26.2 miles of track. In the area of O’Connell Street  the 2 lines Red and Green cross each other to allow transfers between lines. Trains often run with headways as short as 4 minutes apart. The trains are often standing room only, particularly during rush hours.

Standing room only  isn’t just a problem on the LUAS trams, but also on DART and the DMU commuter trains as well during rush hours. What can be said since 1985 and the start up of DART service has been increased economic growth and population of Ireland as a whole, but particularly of Dublin. The population of metro area of Dublin is now 1.9 million people. This is expected to exceed 2 million in a few years. With this has come new housing with people paying more for housing near DART, Commuter Rail and LAUS stations.

Dublin Metrolink

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By Noel T. Braymer

The next big rail project for Dublin is called “Metrolink”. As it stands now it will be a roughly 12 mile, fully grade separated double track “Metro” running up to 30 trains an hour in each direction. There is consideration of running these trains with full automation without human operators. The current price tag is set at around 3 billion Euros and the goal is to start operations by 2027.  The following is from the Document for the Preferred Route, published in March, 2019.

“Having reviewed all the issues raised about the Emerging Preferred Route and as more detailed design decisions have been developed, we have arrived at the Preferred Route.

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Graphic from Document for the Preferred Route, published in March, 2019.

MetroLink will be a high-capacity, high-frequency rail line running from Swords to Charlemont, linking Dublin Airport, Irish Rail, DART, Dublin Bus and Luas services, creating fully integrated public transport in the Greater Dublin area.

As well as linking major transport hubs, MetroLink will connect key destinations including Swords, Ballymun, the Mater Hospital, the Rotunda (hospital), Dublin City University and Trinity College.”

The expectation is that this new service will be  able to carry 20,000 passengers per hour in each direction.This will make it possible to catch Metrolink at the Dublin Airport and be at the city center of Dublin in 20 minutes. The trains are expected to be slightly longer than 180 feet long and stop at 15 stations.

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From the Document for the Preferred Route. ” The plan focuses on a decisive shift away from polluting and carbon-intensive systems and investment in public transport in Dublin including MetroLink, DART expansion, and BusConnects. This expansion of attractive and sustainable public transport alternatives to private based car transport will reduce congestion and emissions.

MetroLink also features in the National Mitigation Plan-9 as an important measure to set transport on a path way to decarbonisation.

MetroLink will be electrified, but its biggest contribution to climate change targets is its capacity: a metro can carry large numbers of people on a daily basis and that’s what brings down carbon emission per person travelling.”

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More information on Dublin Metrolink

What is being planned is not only to get more people to and from the Dublin Airport. But also to more places, faster without driving a car. This will not only include good connections to more places. But also connections to more forms of transportation. This includes access to more bike lanes, connections by Metrolink to LUAS, plus planned Improvements to DART and bus services. Irish Rail currently is planning a major expansion of  train service and replacing diesel powered trains with electrified and battery powered equipment.

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What should also be considered besides the more efficient use of energy traveling by rail instead of by auto and the reduced emission of Greenhouse Gases is the impact on the economy. With improved rail service comes economic stimulation and construction of housing. Dublin like most European cities by nature are more densely populated and more of the housing is attached and not stand alone compared to California. This allows greater density of housing using much less land to house more people as well as making housing more affordable.

What can be seen in many places in Dublin is more, new and often densely built housing near the railways and stations. Also seen are plenty of construction projects for new office buildings and businesses. A major factor in Dublin’s economic growth is the location of overseas businesses in Dublin and the growing traffic at Dublin Airport. The airline Aer Lingus is turning Dublin’s Airport into a growing air hub with multiple non-stop flights particularly to major cities in the United States. At Dublin other short line airlines offer connection flights from Aer Lingus to cities all over Europe. With rapid and well connected public transit, the economy can grow while energy and time is saved with cleaner air and better land use.

 

 

What’s Happening with Local Rail Service In San Diego?

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By Noel T. Braymer

Much has happened in San Diego since the expansion of the San Diegan trains in the mid 1970’s from 3 round trips a day to 12 Pacific Surfliners between San Diego and Los Angeles today. San Diego also pioneered Light Rail in the US with the San Diego Trolley in 1981 which was then the first new Light Rail service in the US since World War 2. San Diego County has also changed from a largely suburban region of low density housing to a growing urban core as part of the second largest city in California. In this transition from suburban to increasingly urban is behind the changing demographics of the County’s population. This is reflected in the current conflicts within the city representatives of the “San Diego Association of Governments” (SANDAG) which is the planning body for San Diego County, particularly for Transportation. In 1988 county voters approved a half cent transportation sales tax which voters extended in 2004 to 2044. To appeal to voters the sales tax funded both rail and highway projects. Problems came up when the previous SANDAG Executive Director refused to comply with State requirements to lower Green House Gas Emissions in San Diego County from Transportation sources. The County lost a lawsuit against San Diego County for refusing to comply with the State Regulations. In 2016 SANDAG put on a ballot measure to raise the County’s transportation sales tax another half cent. While it received a majority vote, it failed the 2/3’s majority needed to pass. At about the same time it came out the assumed revenues from the current transportation sales tax wasn’t bringing in the revenue that was projected for it. At the same time SANDAG tried to hide this fact before the election for the additional transportation sale tax on the ballot in late 2016.

After a long search starting in 2017 a new SANDAG Executive Director was finally selected  on September 14, 2018. Hasan Ikharata had been the Executive Director of the Southern California Association Of Governments (SCAG) before his appointment to SANDAG. Ikharata has been focusing on projects which would serve a more urban population and carry more people without expanding the road network. His efforts have been centered on expansion and better organization of public transport to connect to  more job centers and new high density housing. This has been sparking outrage from elected officials in suburban and rural areas of San Diego. The new road projects have in large part been delayed because there wasn’t funding for these projects due to in large part the lower than expected revenue from the existing transportation half cent sale tax.

There are plans to expand transit, particularly rail service in San Diego County. What is being worked on include expansion of Coaster service between Oceanside and San Diego. By 2021 current efforts to add double tracking will allow the now mostly peak travel period service and a few trains between peaks into half hourly peak period schedules with hourly service the rest of the day. This will raise the number daily of Coaster trains run from 22 to 42 trains. This will require more rail cars and locomotives to run half hourly peak period and hourly service off peak. This will include the 7 new locomotives recently ordered by NCTD to replace the 5 existing locomotives. The North County Transit District (NCTD) has applied for funding for additional rail cars from SANDAG. The question is will there be a majority of SANDAG Directors representing the different  cities in the County voting to approve these improvements? SANDAG is planning to spend $600 million dollars over the next 5 years to increase Coaster Rail service, stabilize for now the bluffs holding the county tracks at Del Mar and creating express lanes on Highway 78 between Oceanside and Escondido.

This may not satisfy local politicians who are more interested in widening highways like the 78 between Oceanside and Escondido than creating express lanes which sounds like High Occupancy Vehicle Lanes. Local politicians are also pleading for expansion of Highway 56 which runs in northern San Diego between the 5 and 15 freeways. Highway 67 is in southeast San Diego County between El Cajon running north to Ramona in a largely rural area.

Along with expanded Coaster service, the NCTD is planning to expand the current half hourly Sprinter rail service between Oceanside and Escondido to every 15 minutes. This will require additional double tracking and trainsets. It will be at least 5 years before these improvements can start building. There is also talk of extending Sprinter service south of Oceanside to Carlsbad. The problem is the Sprinter tracks enters the Oceanside Transit Center from the south and Carlsbad is south of Oceanside. Will this require a backup move if the Sprinters services downtown Oceanside. The other issue is getting Sprinter Trains to Carlsbad. The current DMU trains used by the Sprinters can’t share the tracks also used by Amtrak, Coaster and Freight Trains since they would be crushed if hit by these other trains. Would new heavier self propelled trainsets be needed, or new tracks on the right of way be added to extend Sprinter service to Carlsbad?

One issue that had been in the news recently have been landslides on the bluffs by the beach at Del Mar in San Diego County. This is where Amtrak and Coaster trains run on a single track on this busy railroad paralleling the often jammed I-5 freeway between Los Angeles and San Diego. So far no landslides have undermined the right of way on the scenic Del Mar track segment. But the question is still more of when not if the railroad could be cut off. What SANDAG is planning now is to reroute the tracks in the future to a double tracked alignment under Camino Del Mar, also called Highway 101 which is near the railroad. SANDAG has also been proposing a major project to build a “San Diego Grand Central Station” near the Old Town Transit Center, This would expand the connections to transit and rail services in San Diego to the nearby San Diego Airport which lies halfway between Old Town and Downtown. As part of current planning is redevelopment of 70 acres of land next to Old Town owned by the Navy for new housing and businesses. This is an example of the current planning by SANDAG to have major transit centers combined with new high density housing and employment centers. This is a classic form of urban development. This curtails sprawl since people need to travel less when jobs, housing and services are close together for walking, biking or frequent public transit. There is support in the city of San Diego for such development. But many of the suburban cities are opposing new housing and transit in their towns but support more roads. The reality is building and expanding freeways don’t relieve traffic congestion. It just attracts more people to drive more with  added congestion on the widen freeway. More roads tend to lead to more sprawl which leads to less land for affordable housing.

It is difficult to know what will be planned by SANDAG in the future, and when and if it will be funded. A news story in the San Diego Union Tribune for April 26, 2019 wrote about a planned Purple Light Rail Line “an envisioned trolley route that would run from the Otay Mesa border crossing, through National City, the city of San Diego and to Oceanside.” This hasn’t been in the news much as far as I’m aware. This would be a transit route of at least 50 miles between the Mexican Boarder to Oceanside. This sounds like this would run east of the current Trolley Blue Line between the main border crossing at San Ysidro to downtown San Diego. The Blue Line by 2021 is expected to be extended north of Downtown San Diego to Old Town and then another 10 miles or so to the Campus of the University of California at San Diego and the University City area. This alone will add more connections to Amtrak, Coaster services and connections to regional buses and the Green and Orange  Trolley Lines. The Blue Line would draw more riders with an easy connection to the airport which the Green Line and Blue Line will both ride near by. As for extending the Trolley north of San Diego to Oceanside, that seems unrealistic given the shortage of funding. With expanded rail service coming soon between Oceanside and San Diego plus new connections being added for both local and regional services, this alone will create plenty of faster travel options than what is available now.
 

Southern California Will Have High Speed Rail Service Before The San Joaquin Valley

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By Noel T. Braymer

Of course by Southern California I mean Victorville, not Los Angeles. For several years XpressWest had been proposing building high speed rail service between Las Vegas and Victorville with running times of 75 minutes. This would be fairly easy to build by using existing rights of way including elevated segments on the I-15 between Las Vegas and Victorville. This plan included electrification of the route for running speeds up to 150 miles per hour. A major sticking point to this project was a requirement of buying trainsets which had to be built in this country. What was being looked at by XpressWest were trainsets built by Bombardier in China. XpressWest was unable to secure funding to start construction and the project went nowhere for years until this summer. First, Virgin Trains USA bought the rights to build a new railroad  on roughly 188 miles between Las Vegas and Victorville from XpressWest. Shortly after this Virgin Trains USA announced that construction would begin in 2020. But after some hemming and hawing Virgin Trains USA announced that it would be postponed for another 2 more years.

Not long after that this summer Xtrain announced that it would start operating Las Vegas Xpress. This would be a luxury train service starting (hopefully) by July 2020. The train would be operated by Amtrak from Los Angeles on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. The train ride to and from Las Vegas is expected to take 4.5 hours to start. It looks like a station stop will be made at San Bernardino. This train would use BNSF and Union Pacific tracks. The running time is planned after the construction of double track between Las Vegas and Yermo to be reduced to 3.5 hours for Las Vegas Xpress.

It wasn’t long after this announcement by Las Vegas Xpress, that Virgin Trains USA announced that they now had funding and would start construction between Victorville and Las Vegas next year. What is being planned for just over $4 billion is service operating between 75 to 90 minutes between Victorville and Las Vegas. This is where the heaviest traffic is on the I-15 to and from Las Vegas. At Victorville will be built a large parking lot for people to get on the train and off the often jammed I-15. This has been the plan since the earliest planning for Las Vegas Xpress.

So what other plans are in the works for Los Vegas rail service? For several years Los Angeles County and San Bernardino County have been planning a new highway between Victorville and Palmdale. Construction for this should go quickly once funding is raised on this largely open land. What is planned in addition to a new highway, is a fast, passenger railroad right of way connecting Victorville and Palmdale. So far so good. The bottleneck is between Palmdale and Santa Clarita  which has steep grades and many curves which keep train speeds low. Metrolink is planning improvements and expanded service between Los Angeles and Palmdale. What is interesting is the question of electrifying the Virgin Trains USA between Las Vegas and Los Angeles?

The original plan for XpressWest was to operate electric trains at speeds up to 150 miles per hour. Electric trains accelerate faster than diesel locomotives, travel faster up grades and are cleaner than even the cleanest diesel locomotives. The question might be should passengers transfer at Palmdale on Metrolink? Or should track improvements be made and the tracks electrified for both Metrolink and Virgin Trains USA? A third alternative would be to operate High Speed Rail service from Palmdale south to at least Los Angeles sharing tunnels and tracks with High Speed Trains to and from the San Joaquin Valley.
Most likely this will be done incrementally as funding and support for improvements becomes available.

One of the plans being looked now are running self propelled multiple unit trainsets which are faster, lighter and cheaper to run than a locomotive hauled train. Such equipment is now being studied for use in the east San Fernando Valley and northern Santa Clarita Valley. No doubt Virgin Trains USA will have many connections to multiple markets just in Southern California. These will also be linked to property developments sponsored by Virgin Trains USA. So where will Virgin Trains USA get electrified equipment? Well so far Virgin Trains USA has a good relationship with Siemens which is building their train equipment in Sacramento and would be open for more orders. Siemens experience with electric trains goes back to the late 19th century.

Dreaming of California’s 2022 Rail Service

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By Noel T. Braymer
There are improvements coming in the near future and even more later for California Rail Passenger service. This includes new equipment on order, track and station improvements now underway as well as track work which will allow more frequent and reliable service. I can’t wait to see 2022 roll around when many of these changes will be on line. To see what is planned just in Southern California I refer to this graphic from the 2018 California State Rail Plan of service levels planned by 2022.

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Map from the California State Rail Plan showing planned service levels by 2022.

The blue line between San Diego, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo is the route of the Pacific Surfliner. More frequent, up to hourly service in many cases is planned for the Surfliners. Expanded Metrolink service is expected as well with more trains more often also coming in the near future. What I find most interesting are the thin light brown lines on the map for 2022. These are new connecting transit or bus routes at major train stations to places not accessible by rail service in Southern California. This map shows bus connections at Santa Clarita to Bakersfield and Las Vegas. There are planned bus services from Palmdale to Victorville, San Bernardino and out to Palm Springs and Phoenix. The bus connections that interest me the most  are the connections at Santa Ana to Huntington Beach and Long Beach. Also planned are connections to and from Van Nuys, Los Angeles and Santa Monica, as well as connections to LAX and Norwalk,

One of the reasons I am looking at this map for 2022 is I am planning a trip this month from Oceanside where I live to LAX where I will be flying out. This will mean catching the Surfliner to Union Station and then the Flyaway Bus to LAX. This allows a non stop flight from California to Dublin. But as I look at the map seen above, I wish it was 2022 now, not 2019. Along with more frequent Surfliner trains, there are plans to increase the frequency of Metrolink trains in the future between Oceanside and Los Angeles. Hourly service should be possible between Oceanside and Los Angeles which would make connections at the Norwalk Metrolink Station very convenient with connecting bus service to LAX. This would save time compared to catching bus connections at Union Station to LAX.

If the connecting bus services to train stations are running by or before 2022, this will open many more markets where a car won’t be needed on the westside of Los Angeles. This can mean more beach access via Metrolink not only now at San Clemente and Oceanside. But also to Newport Beach, Huntington Beach, Long Beach and Santa Monica. The big question for Los Angeles will be how many new transportation projects will be in service in time for the 2028 Los Angeles Summer Olympics? The almost finished Regional Connector tunnel in Downtown Los Angeles is for run through service on the Blue Line between Long Beach and Azusa as well Expo Line from Santa Monica to East Los Angeles which should be ready in a year or 2. The same is true of the almost finished Crenshaw/LAX rail line . This will include the LAX People Mover with a station stop at the Crenshaw Line station before the 2028 Olympics . Perhaps the most critical project is the extension of the Purple Line at Wilshire and Western to Westwood. If the project is on time it should be finished a year or 2 before the 2028 Olympics. One project that needs to be finished before 2028 will be the long awaited and planned run through tracks at Los Angeles Union Station. This will greatly increase the capacity of Union Station which will be needed to handle the expected crowds for the 2028  Summer games. These are the projects that should be in service in time for the Olympics. By 2028 the plan is to greatly increase service on Metrolink to serve most regions on Southern California which will be needed for the 2028 Olympics.

Our Failing Road System

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By Noel T. Braymer

I generally try to avoid road travel when traffic is heavy. I recently drove my car on an early Monday morning and I was in for a shock. Most of the day, traffic on the route that I took would be free flowing. But on this typical work day morning traffic was congested most of the 6 miles from where I live to downtown Oceanside where I was headed. Needless to say traffic on the 5 freeway was already congested which is common much of the time now. For years efforts to expand roads to relieve traffic congestion have only resulted in making congestion worse. More roads causes people to drive more. For many people affordable housing means longer commutes to their jobs. Longer car trips adds to the congestion slowing traffic down for everyone. So how does public transportation fit into this? Not very well. On September 1st both the North County Transit District (NCTD) and Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) buses will be raising their fares to cover some of its funding shortfalls. In the case of the MTS, it has roughly a $10 million dollar deficit now.

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A San Diego MTS bus at the transit center at University City not far from the campus of UCSD

From the times I have ridden local bus and rail transit in San Diego County, rarely is there standing room only. What is missing is service on the buses with better connections to the County’s Light Rail and Commuter Rail services. This would make commutes faster and easier if more people had access to job centers from where they live in San Diego County by transit. Raising fares often does more to reduce ridership, than it does to balance budgets. As it is there are plenty of empty seats much of the day on both NCTD and MTS buses. Getting more people on transit can reduce the congestion on major roads and freeways particularly during peak periods. One can say that the joint MTS/NCTD regional day pass is the best deal for riding both NCTD and MTS bus services. The price only went up from $5 to $6 for use on both services. For 30 days of travel the pass price comes to $23. But to get more passengers, better marketing and service to jobs and housing will be needed.

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A Sprinter DMU train arriving at the Vista Transit Center roughly half way between Oceanside and Escondido.

Hassan Ikhrata, the Executive Director of SANDAG, the planning agency for San Diego County is calling for shifting more travel out of cars and better utilization of roads for people on bikes, scooters and buses. This may be years in the making. Most of SANDAG’s efforts right now are focused on creating a transportation center near Old Town with direct connections to the San Diego Airport terminals. What is being looked at is a major redevelopment plan to include new housing and office space as part of this expanded Old Town Transportation center. This would be a first step in reducing distances people would have to travel to commute or shop. It remains to be seen how this can be replicated in other places in San Diego County. One asset this new Transportation center would have is connections to the 10 mile, $2 billion dollar extension of the Blue Trolley Line between Old Town San Diego and the area around the University of California at San Diego. UCSD is already a major job center, while the area in and around downtown San Diego increasingly is becoming more residential with new high density housing.

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View from UCSD looking towards University City in the background and construction in the foreground of the Trolley Blue Line elevated section at UCSD.

Two major freeway corridors in San Diego County are along the coast on the 5 freeway and inland North San Diego County on the 78 between Oceanside and Escondido. There is local rail service parallel to both freeway corridors. But expanded rail service is needed to attract more riders. The Coaster trains are mostly commuter rail service with most service during rush hours with some mid day and weekend services. Millions have been spent to allow more frequent Coaster and Amtrak rail services in a few years. This can be combined with more development near stations to increase ridership. With more frequent service will come increased ridership and less traffic problems along the coast. The NCTD Sprinter service has Diesel Multiple Unit (DMU) trains running every half hour most of the day. The distance between Oceanside and Escondido is just over 20 miles and the running times is just under an hour. Much of its ridership is from students attending Cal State University at San Marcos and Palomar College in San Marcos as well as travel to the beach at Oceanside.

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NCTD buses at Vista Transit Center connecting with Sprinter DMU trains.

Traffic on both the 5 and 78 continues to get worse. Faster and more frequent service is needed to attract more riders on the train. This can be expected in a few years on the Coaster as several track projects are completed by 2021.  This will allow more trains to be run during the day which will attract more riders along the coast for local service. The problem on the Sprinter is most of the line is single track. There are 3 long sidings which allows service every half hour with 15 station stops. More and slightly faster trains can be run with more double tracking. There is little sign of this happening soon since of course there are budget shortfalls. The 78 is congested and getting worse. More frequent and slightly faster Sprinter service would attract more riders combined with dedicated connecting bus service.

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NCTD Coaster Train at the downtown San Diego train station. The tall buildings by the station are all residential.

The key to getting the most out of public transportation is service to areas with housing, jobs and high levels of activity such as education or shopping. Transportation centers are critical to attracting ridership near housing and jobs as well as connections to other transportation services. Frequent and quick service attracts riders. This can include use of bus only lanes in urban areas to insure reliable bus service. What we can’t depend on is the building more and wider roads which only cause people to drive more, instead of going someplace with housing or services a short walk away.

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A San Diego Trolley at the 12th and Imperial station which is a junction of all 3 Trolley Lines, Blue, Orange and Green. At the edge of downtown San Diego even more high density housing in the backgrounds. All photos by the author.

California Rail Passenger Service Versus Mother Nature

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By Noel T, Braymer

One thing railroads are good at is replacing tracks and bridges after floods and landslides. This will become more important as more extreme weather related issues take their toll where railroads and water are concerned. Work has begun to shore up the bluffs along the railroad in Del Mar. Recent heavy rains had soaked the bluffs and caused landslides near the railroad in Del Mar in recent months. These emergency repairs are needed in the short term, but in the long run a more permanent solution will be needed. The I-5 Freeway corridor between Los Angeles and San Diego is increasingly congested with traffic. Expanding rail service both for passengers and freight is needed in this corridor. As it stands now the tracks could be cut off in a matter of minutes due to a landslide. What is needed is a double track connection inland of the current right of way in Del Mar.

SANDAG, the planing agency for San Diego County is looking at several alternatives to double track and provide a secure right of way through Del Mar. One alternative is to put the tracks in a trench in the bluffs. This proposal didn’t go over well with the California Coastal Commission. Another solution being looked  are 4 possible routes for a tunnel a mile inland from the coast which would be as much as 270 feet below the surface. The cost of such a tunnel has been estimated at $3.5 billion.

Another alternative would be to relocate the tracks in Del Mar in a cut and cover tunnel under Camino Del Mar which parallels the railroad but is inland from the current tracks. Camino Del Mar is also the busiest north-south road in Del Mar. Cut and cover construction is less expensive and less complicated than tunneling. It is also more disruptive to build than tunneling. Cut and Cover tunneling has been seen in construction on Crenshaw blvd for the Crenshaw/LAX Light Rail line which is now nearly finished. Cut and Cover has been used in Los Angeles for other rail tunneling projects.

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This is a Google Map of the coast beside Del Mar. The thicker white line along the coast is Camino Del Mar seen between the Del Mar Fairgounds and Torrey Pines. At the north and the south ends of Del Mar the tracks are very close to Camino Del Mar. If you look carefully you can see the rail line as a thin dark gray line  along the coast connecting with Camino Del Mar near where it says Powerhouse Park and Beach as well in the south not far from Torrey Pines along the coast. 

Del Mar is not the only bottleneck along the Coast. Most of the railroad in San Clemente is single tracked on several miles along the beach. The City of San Clemente insists that any double tracking or trains running above 40 miles per hour must be in a tunnel. Needless to say any double tracked tunneling in San Clemente will cost billions to build. The tracks in San Clemente are protected now from waves with a sea wall of large rocks. There is no telling what the future will bring with rising sea levels and increasingly extreme weather. Not only are the tracks near the ocean, but they are just under large buffs which are prone to landslides as well in San Clemente.

Another area where the tracks are near the beach is between Ventura and Santa Barbara. Miles of this rail route is along the coast. Even in places where the ocean can’t be seen are less than 10 feet above sea level. Future storm surges could wash out the tracks in a matter of minutes in the area. Heavy rains flooded much of the Santa Barbara area over a year ago. Weather can be expected to become more extreme for the time being. Making needed improvements before nature destroys the existing outmoded infrastructure will be more cost effective and less disruptive than putting such necessary improvements off.

Another area of concern for future flooding are along the San Francisco Bay and up into the San Joaquin River Delta. These are subject to flooding and will be subject to rises in Ocean levels due to melting ice and raising water temperature. Not only does higher water temperatures melt ice, but also causes water to expand. What has been done in San Diego County as it has improved the 60 miles of County owned railroad along the coast is to replace old wooden single track bridges one at a time with new double tracked steel and concrete bridges. These new bridges are built higher than the bridges that they replaced and are better able to handle high water levels. There are still bridges that need replacing, but at one or two bridges at a time San Diego County have reduced the chances of bridges being washed out due to future storms. This will likely be needed in most places in California and around the world. Infrastructure is to often ignored and taken for granted. This is leading to a backlog of problems that will come crashing down in the future if nothing more is done.

What’s Coming Next For The Surfliners?

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By Noel T. Braymer

You can learn a lot reading the agenda packets for the local California Rail Joint Powers Agencies. From the latest LOSSAN board meeting there was quite a bit of information about upcoming expansion of Surfliner service. What is being worked on is to start up in October of this year a 13th train between San Diego and Los Angeles. This is planned to be extended north of Los Angeles in the near future to San Luis Obispo. To accomplish this, funding by LOSSAN for track work and installation of Positive Train Control (PTC) north of Santa Barbara will need an agreement with the Union Pacific. In 2020 the plan is to run a 14th train between San Diego and Los Angeles.

As part of the planning for a 13th and 14th train LOSSAN has leased 6 additional Amtrak Superliner coach cars. These are cars Amtrak had taken out of long distance service. Before these 6 cars will be put into service, they will be upgraded with onboard WiFi, given a deep cleaning and repairs to the car’s interior. The Wi-Fi upgrade is planned for September after the peak summer travel period for the Surfliners. In addition all 21 Surfliner Business Class cars will be refreshed with new seat cushions covered in leatherette, deep cleaning the cars as well as new decals and signs. The additional cars on the Surfliners will increase their passenger capacity and reduce overcrowding on trains which now often happens.

Also in the works at LOSSAN to expand future Surfliner service are the construction of improved layover and train maintenance facilities in order to expand service at end points. This includes improved layover facilities at San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and San Diego, In the case of San Diego this will mean a new facility will be needed to replace the current practice of serving Surfliner trains at the Santa Fe Depot overnight in San Diego. This is a combination lack of space and complaints by new residents in the high rise apartment next to the Depot of the noise late at night working on the trains and the smell from dumping the passenger car chemical toilets. Since a new site is yet to be picked  it may be a few more years before a new layover facility can be built in San Diego.

A major issue for the Surfliners is improving on time performance. Much of the on time problems seem to stem from 3 trains the 763, 774 and 785. Since these are all 700 series trains, these are all trains that extend north of Los Angeles. The 763 is scheduled to depart San Diego at 5:55 AM for San Luis Obispo. The 774 is scheduled to depart San Luis Obispo at 6:55 AM to San Diego. The 785 is scheduled to depart San Diego at 3:58 PM for Santa Barbara. A major source of delays can be traced to the UP owned trackage in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties. The UP runs few freight trains on this route. Much of the UP railroad starting in Ventura to Gilroy along the California Coast is largely unchanged since the 1960’s if not earlier. This is why working with the UP is critical in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties for track and signal upgrades to increase track capacity and improve on time performance for current and future passenger trains. This is critical for improving the productivity of the 763, 774 and 785. It also will reduce problems south of Ventura with meet conflicts when late trains from the north delay trains in the south and vice versa .

Between the San Fernando Valley and San Diego new track projects are underway which will soon have a major impact on improving track capacity. The almost finished new center double track platform at Van Nuys will allow 2 trains to stop at Van Nuys at the same time. That wasn’t possible with only the one existing platform now in service. Construction is now underway between Mission Viejo and San Juan Capistrano to extend Orange County’s double tracking between Fullerton and San Juan Capistrano. This will eliminate a bottleneck which often delays trains. Improvements are planned and also needed at Fullerton to handle the heavy BNSF traffic between Los Angeles and Barstow.  In San Diego County almost 80% of the 60 miles of railroad along the coast in the county will be doubled tracked by 2020. By 2025 90% is planned to be double tracked. This will be needed soon after the  new platforms at the Coaster Poinsettia Station in Carlsbad are in full service. The Poinsettia station has had double tracking since it opened in 1995. But the passengers have to cross the tracks to get to the opposing platforms. Because of this only one train can use the station when passengers are loading and unloading. This means now a Surfliner or freight train must stop and wait for the Coaster train to depart before it is allowed to proceed. The new platforms will have connecting tunnels between platforms which allows passengers to avoid crossing the tracks. This will allow two trains to travel through the station at a time. This will allow more trains to run on the line.

Also coming in San Diego County is 10.3 miles of continuous double tracking between Old Town and Miramar. This will be the result of construction of 2 new rail bridges over the San Diego River north of Old Town and an improved, new double tracked  and faster 2.6 miles track alignment crossing the area between State Route 52 and Balboa Ave. Not only will these improvements allow more Surfliner service in San Diego County, but also more frequent Coaster service in San Diego County as well.

 

What’s In The Works Between The Bay Area And Northern San Joaquin Valley

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By Noel T. Braymer

The San Joaquin Valley Regional Valley Commission, Altamont Corridor Express, San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority, Valley Link, and the Tri-Valley-San Joaquin Valley Regional Rail Authority are working together to provide rapid and frequent rail passenger service between the Bay Area and the Northern San Joaquin Valley. Travel is already growing in this region as the  “Silicon Valley” job market continues to grow and available affordable housing is harder to find. With the efforts and excellent graphics prepared by the rail related organizations named above, I will be able to show what is being planned which is more effective than writing about it.

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The basic plan is to connect the Bay Area and San Joaquin Valley. This includes High Speed Rail between Bakersfield and Merced. New service between Merced and Sacramento. New service between Stockton and Redwood City by reopening the Dunbarton Bridge across San Francisco Bay. And Better BART Connections with Valley Link between ACE and Capitol Corridor Trains. This will use DMU or EMU trainsets on many miles of  available rail right of way in the Altamont Pass which have been out of service for many years,

 

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This shows both the projected cost of the needed track up grades and the planned travel times between major destinations.

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Valley Link -Northern California Megaregion Rail Connection to BART
“This important project will connect Northern San Joaquin County communities to the Tri-Valley and Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) through frequent and fast rail service via the route of the historic Transcontinental Railroad right-of-way though the Altamont Pass. This approximately 12-mile, abandoned right-of-way, deeded to Alameda County by Southern Pacific in 1984, provides an unprecedented opportunity to deliver a fast and efficient inter-regional rail service – connecting people, housing and jobs in the Northern California Megaregion and providing much-needed congestion relief in one of the Bay Areas most congested corridors.

Valley Link will extend initially from the planned ACE N Lathrop Station in the San Joaquin Valley through the Altamont Pass, then readily connect with the Dublin/Pleasanton BART terminus station in the Tri-Valley, with additional phase one stations in River Islands, Downtown Tracy, Mountain House, Greenville Rd/I-580 in Livermore, and Isabel Ave/I-580 in Livermore.  Additional potential infill stations include Ellis Historical in Tracy, Grant Line Rd in Alameda County west of Tracy, and South Front in Livermore. An initial analysis completed by the Altamont Corridor Express (ACE), found Valley Link to have competitive travel time (73 minutes from planned ACE N Lathrop Station to BART), significant emissions reduction, and significant environmental benefits. Initial travel demand forecasting shows approximately 25,000 riders per day on Valley Link in 2040.

In addition, Valley Link had a capital cost of under $400 million for the segment of the planned Mountain House Station to the planned Greenville Road Station in Livermore – the project segment not addressed in the BART environmental review and now proposed for immediate further environmental review. This segment includes an operations, maintenance, and storage facility in West Tracy near the Mountain House Station.

While the goal is to operate BART hours of operation and frequency, current plans for initial service levels on weekdays in the Tri-Valley will have trains operating every 12 minutes during peak hours to match BART service frequency.  In the off peak trains in the Tri-Valley will operate every 30 minutes.  From the San Joaquin Valley trains would operate on 24 minute service intervals during peak hours that will meet every other BART train.  In the off peak trains in San Joaquin Valley will operate on an hourly frequency.   Trains will operate from 5am to 8pm both weekdays and weekends. Peak hours will be 5am to 8am and 5pm to 8pm on weekdays. 

​This vital rail connection provides a highly economic way to close a significant passenger rail gap, but in addition, it will improve the overall mobility in this key freight movement corridor between the San Joaquin Valley and the Port of Oakland.”