By Noel T. Braymer
The California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) has a limited amount of government money to get a start-up High Speed Rail service running in California. Time is money, and with delays caused from opposition to the project, costs will go up if the project stands idle. Their Business Plan calls for the completion of an Initial Operating Section (IOS) that will have the first passenger service. This will be the shortest length of the the system which can be operated at a profit. In discussions by the CHSRA with potential HSR service operators and investors , they were told before there would be money available to invest, the State first had to build enough HSR that would be profitable to operate. From there the money would be available to expand the system. The Key to building a profitable IOS was to anchor it in one of the two major metro areas in the State, either in the Bay Area or Southern California.
The CHSRA chose Southern California as the anchor for their IOS. Los Angeles County alone has more people than the entire Bay Area. Southern California will be the biggest travel market for California High Speed Rail when the full service is up and running. The CHSRA has to answer its critics that the project is failing by getting HSR service running without wasting time or money. Building HSR in the mountains north of Los Angeles with miles of tunneling will be the greatest engineering challenge of the California HSR project. That part of the project is still a few years away before it will be ready for construction between Bob Hope Airport in Burbank and Bakersfield.
The other alternative is to extend construction north of Fresno up to San Jose as the IOS. This will be less complicated, cheaper and faster to build than starting south of Bakersfield. It might be possible to have service running to San Jose before the 2022 goal for service to Burbank There are 299 miles of track between San Jose and Bakersfield via Merced. That is over half of the 520 miles of tracks for Phase 1 of California High Speed Rail between San Francisco and Anaheim. There are many advantages of to going to San Jose first which will connect more of California to HSR than going to Southern California first.
If the IOS trains terminate at Merced from Burbank, there will be limited connections to the Bay Area, upper San Joaquin Valley or the Sacramento area. There are plans to expand Altamont Corridor Express (ACE) train service from Merced to San Jose. But so far there is little money available for this expansion of ACE. There is some Amtrak San Joaquin train service at Merced to the Bay Area and Sacramento. But the future HSR Station will be several blocks from the Amtrak station. At San Jose there is direct Caltrain service on the Peninsula to the towns in “Silicon Valley” and San Francisco. There is also local VTA Light Rail service around San Jose. There is existing ACE service in San Jose to Stockton which could be expanded. Soon BART will be extended to San Jose serving the East Bay area. And there is Amtrak Capitol Corridor service from San Jose, Oakland, Martinez and Sacramento. San Jose will connect HSR and the San Joaquin Valley to much more of Northern California than a temporary terminal at Merced.
But what about Southern California? There are already plans underway for construction of run-through tracks and a new concourse at Los Angeles Union Station. This is central for running expanded Metrolink and Amtrak Surfliner service as feeders to future HSR service. This will allow Surfliner and several Metrolink routes to go directly to Bob Hope Airport for connections to HSR. This network will be available before 2022. We can still use this feeder rail system for HSR by using a Bus Bridge to connect Southern California passengers to Bakersfield for HSR service to the north. Doing so will greatly expand ridership above what is possible with the current plan to Burbank first with limited connections to Northern California from Merced.
The goal should be to have at least one connecting bus from Southern California to each HSR train coming and going from Bakersfield. The initial plan for HSR calls for 32 round trips a day. That’s 2 round trip trains an hour over 16 hours. That’s a lot of trains and seats to fill. These buses can run non-stop to Bakersfield from Union Station, Burbank and Palmdale. Which station the buses leave from will depend on which train it will be connecting with by bus to which HSR train. At San Jose the ACE and Capitol Corridor trains should each have a connecting HSR Train. Scheduling would also be based on the shortest and most reliable connections by HSR to Caltrain , BART and VTA Light Rail. Connections are also possible to the San Joaquin Trains to the Northern San Joaquin Valley and Northern San Francisco Bay Area with connections to Sacramento at Fresno and Merced with shuttle buses between Amtrak and High Speed Rail stations.
For a person wanting to travel without a car in California, they should be able to find out how to get around using their smart phone, the same way many people buy airline tickets. A person should be able to tap in where they are leaving and where they are going to get a selection of connecting rail and bus services and prices to choose from. A person should be able to buy their “tickets” on line, just like with the airlines with a Bar Code on their phone as their tickets. Then it is just a question of catching their train from their nearest train station and making all the connections to their destination.
How might this work? Say a person wants to travel from Oceanside to Sacramento and back. They could take either a Surfliner in the near future directly to Bob Hope Airport in Burbank or perhaps a new Metrolink service from Oceanside to Palmdale. From either station they could transfer to a nearby waiting connecting express bus to Bakersfield. From Bakersfield this person would get off at San Jose and quickly catch a connecting Capitol Corridor train to Sacramento. Or for a different arrival time transfer to the San Joaquin Train with a shuttle van connection from the Merced or Fresno HSR station to the Amtrak station directly or with a bus connection to Sacramento.This should be done so that it will be possible with High Speed Rail in 6 years or less to travel from Southern California to the Bay Area and Sacramento as a day trip or vice versa. That would mean arriving at one’s destination by the late morning and being home by night. This could be done for business or pleasure. Other than by air this is impossible now to do this by rail/bus and impractical by car. With a car such a trip would mean up to 16 hours out of 24 driving. With rail/bus connections to High Speed Rail, these trips between Northern and Southern California will be faster than driving, even if there is no congestion in about 6 years.