By Noel T. Braymer
In a surprise move at the Los Angeles Metro Board Meeting on October 22, 2015, an agenda item was voted on and approved to make changes to the Southern California Regional Interconnector Project (SCRIP). Part of the change will coordinate SCRIP’s construction of run-through tracks at Union Station with the construction at the same time of a new concourse under the tracks at Union Station. Construction of both projects is expected to begin in 2017 through 2019 or so. This makes perfect sense. The surprising part of this agenda Item was the Metro Board also approved the construction of 2 platforms with 4 run-through tracks for the exclusive use for High Speed Trains at Los Angeles Union Station for use by 2024.
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What is being planned for High Speed Rail at LAUS is for 2 of the most western platforms to be rebuilt for High Speed Rail which would include High Level Platforms which will be unusable by Metrolink or most Amtrak equipment in California. This will also include separate tracks from the rest of the station tracks for these 2 platforms which will be used exclusively for High Speed Passenger trains coming into and out of LAUS. The western platforms, the ones with the lowest numbers, are closest to what will be the light rail Blue Line from Long Beach to Azusa by 2024, the Red and Purple subway lines as well as a new bus station which will be alongside the future Blue Line platform. Talk about the best location. This will give High Speed Rail the shortest distance for transfers at LAUS from Metrorail, Metrolink, Amtrak and by bus.
Now the plan for run-through tracks at Union Station is to have 2 platforms with 4 tracks for High Speed Rail trains, 3 platforms and 6 tracks to be shared by Metrolink and Amtrak Surfliner trains and 2 platforms with 4 tracks which will remain stub-end tracks that can be used for long distance trains, equipment storage at the station and equipment displays. That makes 7 platforms and 14 tracks. The problem is although Union Station originally had 8 platforms and 16 tracks, where Platform 8 use to be is now used by a part of the LA Metro Headquarter’s building. Platform 1 is used by LA Metrorail for Light Rail service. So how to get 7 platforms with 14 tracks when you only have 6 platforms and 12 tracks available for intercity rail service?
On a LA Metro graphic for the October 22nd Board Meeting the final design for the SCRIP project shows Platforms 1, 2a, 3,4,5,6 and 7. When I went to school a long time ago that added up to 8 platforms. How did that happen? This graphic shows platform 2a next to platform 1 which is for Light Rail. What is being planned is to relocate the light rail tracks to the west at the station and build a new Platform 1. Platform 2a would in fact be a rebuilt Platform 1 which would be used along with Platform 2 for High Speed Rail trains.
In order to reach LAUS on the surface with High Speed Trains by 2024, it seems that the CAHSRA will likely also have to share and improve the tracks owned by Los Angeles County used by Metrolink’s Ventura County and Antelope Valley Lines at least as far as Burbank. If so, this will restrict the speeds on this track segment to “only” 110-120 miles per hour between Union Station and Bob Hope Airport. In the past all planning for High Speed Rail was for an all new straighter track alignment in and out of Union Station and a separate HSR station near Union Station. But sharing tracks and Union Station will save the CHSRA hundreds of millions of dollars and allow service to LAUS by 2024 and not 2029 as originally planned.
No doubt simplifying construction between Burbank and Los Angeles will allow more resources to be used for building a shorter tunnel between Burbank and Palmdale which will reduce the running times between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Could we also be seeing Los Angeles to Las Vegas High Speed Rail service by 2024?
It appears that in densely populated areas the CHSRA is looking to share more existing rights of way for some segments to reduce costs and avoid slow and costly environmental studies.This seems to be the case between Burbank to Los Angeles and on to Anaheim. Full double tracking and grade-separation or at the least upgraded grade level crossing barrier protection will be needed for high traffic levels and speeds up to 120 miles per hour. Similar shared track usage is planned between San Jose and San Francisco.
Can right of way sharing be used in other places to reduce costs and shorten construction time building more high speed service? Could we see use of existing rights of way for HSR in the San Gabriel Valley to the Inland Empire? This could be part of the route to San Diego on the I-15 freeway. Could this also be done using separate tracks between Merced and Sacramento to extend High Speed Rail from Merced to Sacramento?
This might be a good time to talk to the BNSF and UP about making deals to share rights of way.The railroads now are seeing a decline in traffic, particularly for coal and oil. The economy is also slowing down which is seen in declining freight traffic, particularly for the UP. The UP has been more cooperative in the last couple of years to California High Speed Rail construction than when Prop 1A passed in 2008 which started the High Speed Rail project. This cooperation can be seen in planning around Bakersfield to build a station and trackage alongside the UP right of way. This is more an acceptance of reality than enthusiasm on UP’s part.