By Noel T. Braymer
The secret to any successful transportation system is access to the largest number markets possible. That’s why major cities are always at major transportation junctions such as at harbors, where major rivers meet, at the base of mountain passes or major road junctions. The same is true for High Speed Rail, particularly in California. There are already plans to have connections to California High Speed Rail with Metrolink and Pacific Surfliner trains in Southern California. There will be a connection to the San Joaquin trains with High Speed Rail at Madera. At San Jose there will be High Speed Rail connections to Caltrain, BART, ACE and Capitol Corridor trains. There are also plans to connect and share tracks with future High Speed Rail service to Las Vegas from Los Angeles.
This is a map of the current plans for High Speed Rail service in California
But more can and should be done by 2029 when full service between Anaheim and San Francisco is planned. There are future plans to run High Speed Rail service to San Diego, which after all is the 2nd largest city in the State. These plans include extending High Speed Rail to Ontario Airport and down the Inland Empire on the way to San Diego. There are also plans to extend High Speed Rail from Merced to Sacramento. None of this is expected to be built before 2030, in fact there are no hard dates for these projects. What can be done in the meantime? There are existing railroads between Anaheim and San Diego, as well as from Los Angeles to the Inland Empire and from Merced to Sacramento. What doesn’t exist is railroad in southern Riverside County to San Diego via Escondido. What can be done in the near future is to upgrade the railroads that we have to create faster and more frequent service connecting to High Speed Rail to San Diego, the Inland Empire and Sacramento. These improved railroads could be used as part of future High Speed Rail service to these places.
Map of the possible routes now being studies for HSR LA-Inland Empire and San Diego. On this map the old SP mainline route is shown on the West Covina,Pomona/Holt, Ontario Airport options.
California High Speed Rail is already planning to share tracks in urban areas with other passenger trains. This will be done between San Jose and San Francisco as well as between Burbank and Anaheim. This is much cheaper than building a new railroad in an urban area and makes connecting to other rail passenger services much easier. In urban areas rail speeds greater than 120 miles per hour are rarely possible or needed. In the next ten years or so the railroad between Los Angeles and northern San Juan Capistrano will be fully double tracked, with 3 and even 4 tracks between Fullerton and Los Angeles. Between Los Angeles and Fullerton most of the railroad will be grade separated in ten years and already most of Orange County’s grade crossings have Quite Zone status which means they have been upgraded so trains don’t have to blow their horns in most cases at these crossings. The plan for High Speed Rail using grade crossing is that they be upgraded to this higher standard for Quiet Zones.
The view of the BNSF Mainline from Buena Park Metrolink Station. This shows there is room for a 4th track which is planned for use of HSR by 2019 between Anaheim and Burbank.
The problem is between San Juan Capistrano and San Clemente. In southern Orange County is a major bottleneck of mostly single track railroad. Much of this railroad is on the beach subject to future storm surges with no room for double tracking. What is planned in this area is a high speed double track train tunnel for speeds up to 120 miles per hour to greatly expand service in this heavily travel corridor. This will be a billion dollar plus project not expected before 2050 if then. By 2025 80% of the tracks in San Diego County from the Orange County line to San Diego will be double tracked. Connecting this to a fully double tracked railroad in Orange County will allow many more trains between San Diego and Los Angeles, including express trains which could also connect to High Speed Rail at Anaheim.
This is the 40 mph single track railroad on the beach at San Clemente subject to storm surges and landslides, which is the only rail connection between Los Angeles and San Diego.
The same is possible between Los Angeles and the Inland Empire. There are several rail lines between Los Angeles and the Inland Empire, the question is which one to use for express connecting High Speed Rail service? The plans for High Speed Rail service to the Inland Empire include a station for Ontario airport. The one railroad with right of way right next to the airport terminals belongs to the Union Pacific. The Metrolink Line to San Bernardino is single track in the middle of the 10 freeway between Los Angeles and El Monte. The old SP Main line goes past the Ontario Airport mostly on a single track on a broad right of way. Most of UP’s train traffic in the San Gabriel Valley is run on the old UP mainline. The biggest question is how far south into Riverside County would such a service run? Currently there is publicly own rail right of way as far south as Perris.
This is the wide railroad right of way next to the terminals at Ontario Airport on the old Southern Pacific mainline.
Sacramento is the capitol of California and for that reason alone is a major travel center both for tourism and government business. Right now it only has 2 round trip San Joaquin trans from Bakersfield. There are now 5 round trip bus connection as well between Stockton and Sacramento to the San Joaquin trains. The population between Merced and Sacramento is almost 4 million people with over half of those in the Sacramento Metro area. This market has been under served for years by rail. This will be needed even more once there is direct High Speed Rail service from Burbank to The San Joaquin Valley.
In Southern California the population of the Inland Empire with San Bernardino and Riverside Counties is 4 million people. Between San Diego and Orange County the combined population is over 6 million. The population of these major travel markets with limited service to High Speed Rail is around 12 million people combing most of Orange County, San Diego County, the Inland Empire and northern San Joaquin/ Sacramento area. These markets can be served quickly with upgraded, faster service on existing railroad rights of way as part of the California High Speed Rail system.
Using these existing rights of way with exclusive passenger train tracks can be used for future High Speed Rail service. Higher speed trains are possible with improved grade crossing in this country for speeds up to 120 miles per hour. This can be done with conventional equipment with diesel locomotives geared for 120 miles per hour speeds. Extended service is possible for trains to run on conventional tracks to continue running on High Speed Rail tracks eliminating the need for transfers. This is common in many countries with High Speed Rail service. This might include electrification of some of these existing railroads. It might also include adding batteries to allow running on non-electrified track for this extended service until there is need for full electrification. The point is Californians should not have to wait an entire generation for decent rail service for some of the most populated area of the state to travel in California.