By Noel T. Braymer
The California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) recently proposed several changes to the draft of their 2016 Business Plan. This new business plan was approved by the CHSRA Board in late April but still needs to be approved by the Legislature this May. These changes are designed to reassure cities supporting High Speed Rail service in their communities that they will not be left out with the changes proposed in the new business plan to serve the Bay Area and not Southern California first with their Initial Operating Segment (IOS). Merced was particularly upset not to be included as a stop in the new IOS. Along with Merced, many of the cities in the northern San Joaquin Valley were disappointed that more wasn’t done to help them in their efforts to expand service on ACE to connect Merced to the upper East Bay area. They also wanted more Amtrak San Joaquin train service in the northern San Joaquin Valley to connect with High Speed Rail from the start. These changes to the business plan’s draft if approved will result in more connections to the IOS HSR service now planned to start in 2025. It would also provide money to upgrade existing tracks for trains connecting in the future with HSR trains.
These new additions to the CHSRA 2016 Business Plan proposes four things. High Speed Rail service as part of the IOS to Merced. Construction of joint Amtrak/ HSR stations as the terminal for the IOS in Wasco, north of Bakersfield and at Madera for HSR transfers with Amtrak San Joaquin trains. Additional money to upgrade tracks in Southern California that will have connecting service to High Speed Rail service or share tracks with it. And extending service on the ” Silicon Valley to the Central Valley” IOS to San Francisco. The most disappointed city in the San Joaquin Valley was Bakersfield. That city wanted an extension of High Speed Rail service along with Merced as part of the IOS. Instead Bakersfield got a “temporary” HSR Station planned at Wasco north of Bakersfield for connections on Amtrak to High Speed Rail.
In reading the proposed changes to the 2016 CHSRA Business plans there are hints of what is planned. The plan for Merced HSR service calls for a single track railroad be built at a junction in Madera County to the roughly 34 miles to Merced. The mainline would head west on to Gilroy and San Jose. This would include a leg of the future Madera HSR Wye track. But which leg is not specified in the revised business plan. The most likely route would be for trains to and from Merced to the “Silicon Valley”, bypassing Fresno and points south.
This CHSRA map shows the status of the wye tracks between Merced, Fresno and Gilroy. The final route is yet to be picked. The joint Amtrak/HSR station in Madera would be to the south and east of Merced.
Also in the proposed changes in the business plan is a joint Amtrak San Joaquin/ High Speed Rail Station in Madera. This would allow transfers on the San Joaquin trains to the upper San Joaquin Valley, Sacramento and the East Bay. This assumes but doesn’t specify increased service on the San Joaquin trains and ACE with extension of ACE to Merced. Use of the existing Amtrak Station in Wasco is planned as a “temporary” High Speed Rail station and southern terminus. This will allow passengers from Bakersfield to ride the San Joaquin trains to connect to High Speed Rail. As the old saying goes few things are more permanent that temporary buildings. Since the future Bakersfield High Speed Rail station won’t connect with the existing Amtrak Station, for passengers in the future connecting to Amtrak from the south to the San Joaquin trains, a nearby transfer is better than a crosstown transfer in Bakersfield. Wasco will likely be a bus terminal for buses from Southern California and Bakersfield buses to serve HSR trains without connections from Bakersfield to the San Joaquin trains.
The cropping of a CHSRA Map shows the route of the proposed Initial Operating Segment (IOS) in black. Not shown is the Wasco Station between Bakersfield and Kings/Tulare. Also in this map is the site of a San Francisco Airport HSR station which is not part of the IOS. The yellow line is part of a future extension of High Speed Rail to Sacramento. But it can also represent plans to run additional San Joaquin trains to Sacramento from Bakersfield and connect at a joint Madera Station with the IOS High Speed Rail service to Merced and the other major cites between Merced and Sacramento.
The CHSRA Business plan goes into depth the history of the original plan to fund the project. The original planning was for a third of the funding to be by the State, a third from private funding and the other third from the Federal Government. Much of this expectation of Federal Funding was from planning for a National High Speed Rail program worked on by the Federal Railroad Administration during the George W. Bush administration. The CHSRA pointed to the recent plan to build the Gateway Project, a now $24 Billion dollar project being built in the states of New Jersey and New York which includes a new tunnel under the Hudson to Penn Station. The CHSRA points out that the Federal Government is committed to funding half of this project. Not said by the CHSRA is that on the Northeast Corridor there is board bipartisan support for rail passenger service. The problem in the San Joaquin Valley are the partisan efforts to derail High Speed Rail by some elected Republicans by opposing Federal Funding. The San Joaquin Valley is one of the poorest sections in not only California, but the Nation. Recently in an editorial in the Fresno Bee expressed fear that lack of support by Republican legislators for High Speed Rail could cost the building of the Central Maintenance Facility in Fresno and give it to Merced. The Fresno Bee lamented that the same thing happened causing Merced to become the site of the University of California in the San Joaquin Valley, and not Fresno.
Also as part of the revised business plan is extending service to San Francisco. None of the other HSR stations proposed such as near San Francisco Airport, Palo Alto or Redwood City are discussed. What is interesting is that the terminal being discussed is the existing Caltrain Station for 2025 and not the new Transbay Terminal now under construction in San Francisco. While the Transbay Terminal building is almost finished, no efforts have been made by the City of San Francisco yet to build the connecting railroad from the existing Caltrain terminal to the new Transbay Terminal. Extending the IOS to San Francisco at the current Caltrain Station should be a fairly simple thing to do. But it will greatly increase ridership and revenues for the IOS service. Running to San Francisco will go a long way to operating the IOS at a profit. This is critical to plans to raising private funding to complete the rest of California High Speed Rail Project.
Caltrain plans to have the tracks between San Jose and San Francisco electrified by 2020. The IOS isn’t expected until 2025. There is no firm word how many HSR trains will run from San Jose to San Francisco by 2025. The plan was for the IOS to run 32 round trips a day which is half of the 64 round trips planned when full service is expected in 2029 between Anaheim and San Francisco. The area around the current Caltrain station is a growing activity center and has excellent Light Rail connections to the rest of downtown San Francisco.
The revised CHSRA 2016 Business Plan also list several projects it will help fund in Southern California. Several of these would support connecting local services and not be directly used by High Speed Trains . This is from the proposed changes to the proposed 2016 business plan. “The projects that have been regionally identified beyond those in Exhibit 4.2 include: –Brighton to Roxford Double Track in Los Angeles County –Orangethorpe Avenue Grade Separation in Orange County –Ball Road Grade Separation in Orange County… The Rosecrans/Marquardt Avenue Grade Separation Project is one of the priority projects identified in the 2012 Memorandum of Understanding. The California Public Utilities Commission has identified it as the most hazardous grade crossing in California. When complete, it will yield significant traffic, safety and air quality benefits. Passenger rail services throughout the region will dramatically improve — allowing service to the Inland Empire to more than double from Los Angeles. Orange County could also see a greater than 50% increase in rail service as well. –McKinley Street Grade Separation in Riverside County –Jurupa Road Grade Separation in Riverside County –Lilac to Rancho Double Track in San Bernardino County –San Onofre to Pulgas Double Track in San Diego County –Eastbrook to Shell Double Track in San Diego County” .