By Noel T. Braymer
Sometimes it pays to read boring government studies and reports. One such report is from the California High Speed Rail Authority called “Central Valley Segment Funding Plan- Final January 1, 2017”. This is the interesting part of this report “Purpose of the Funding Plan.The California High-Speed Rail Authority (Authority) has prepared this Streets and Highways (S&H) Code Section 2704.08 subdivision (d) Funding Plan for the Central Valley segment currently under construction, which is the Usable Segment described in Section A, in satisfaction of the abovereferenced requirement in the S&H Code for the commitment of $2.609 billion of Proposition 1A (Prop 1A) bond proceeds for expenditure for construction activities and real property and equipment acquisition.” So what does this translate into English? Here is an interesting quote from this report.
“The Usable Segment that is the subject of this Funding Plan is the part of the high-speed rail system now under construction stretching from approximately adjacent to the Madera Amtrak station to Poplar Avenue in Shafter. As required, this section includes at least two stations in Fresno and at Kings/Tulare. This Funding Plan includes all of the necessary high-speed rail components to be able to test and run high-speed rail trains over the segment. Additionally, the segment could be connected to the existing BNSF line on both ends to run Amtrak service over the corridor, should the completion of the Valley to Valley Line be significantly delayed. Funds are specifically reserved in the Federal grant for this purpose.”..
“The purchase of high-speed rail trains is not part of completing the Usable Segment but will be part of the Authority’s implementation of the Valley to Valley Line. The trains will utilize this Usable Segment as a test track in order to enable the rolling stock, signaling system, and the electrification system to be tested and commissioned and for all of those systems to be certified. To purchase the trains, the Authority will request an additional appropriation of $865 million…”
“Once the high-speed rail infrastructure is completed and if it is available for an extended period of time beyond testing of high-speed trains, the Authority will explore options for how best to put the infrastructure into service. One such option would be to transfer the San Joaquin service from the existing BNSF line to run on that new infrastructure. The newly built line would allow for faster speeds, decreasing the end to end run time by as much as 45 minutes. Faster service would improve the attractiveness of the service, increasing both ridership and operating revenue. The additional revenue that this could generate would reduce the amount of needed operating subsidy by Caltrans.”
There has been legislative language for some time that would allow the San Joaquin Trains to use the the High Speed Rail trackage in the San Joaquin Valley before it is ready to be used for High Speed Rail passenger service. Generally the High Speed Rail Authority has not been happy with sharing its tracks, and wants to go ahead with testing High Speed Rail equipment as soon as the 119 miles between Shafter and Madera is finished in the Valley which would be used for High Speed Tests. The Authority is already asking for funding from the Legislature to buy equipment and build a maintenance facility for the new equipment. The estimated cost for the current San Joaquin Valley constructions is $7.5 billion, the maintenance facility and HSR trainsets are estimated to cost $865 million dollars. One could compare this to the cost of extending the Purple Line subway in Los Angeles at 9 miles which will cost over $6 billion dollars.
So what are the chances that the San Joaquin trains will use all or part of the 119 miles of High Speed Track? The San Joaquins could use the new HSR Stations in Hanford and Fresno. There is the question of the platforms which will be high level for High Speed Rail and low level for the San Joaquins. If the San Joaquins were to transfer to the High Speed tracks at they would bypass Wasco and Corcoran stations. The San Joaquins now run between Bakersfield and Oakland in 6 hours and 5 minutes and between Bakersfield and Sacramento in 5 hours 10 minutes. Using the High Speed Tracks would cut 45 minutes off the running times on these 2 routes. This quote reflects the thinking of the High Speed Rail Authority “Once the high-speed rail infrastructure is completed and if it is available for an extended period of time beyond testing of high-speed trains, the Authority will explore options for how best to put the infrastructure into service. One such option would be to transfer the San Joaquin service from the existing BNSF line to run on that new infrastructure.”
So it remains that running the San Joaquin trains on High Speed Tracks is an option of last resort for the High Speed Rail Authority. Are there places where faster and slower trains share tracks? The Eurostar High Speed trains between London and the Chunnel share its High Speed Tracks in southern England with local passenger trains and freights. Eurostar trains which are the High Speed Rail service between London, Paris and Brussls, also shares the Chunnel with auto and truck ferrying trains as well as freight trains. The authority which owns and controls the Chunnel does all it can to run as many trains as possible to get as much revenue as possible. The Chunnel was privately financed and is still paying off loans for its construction. The speed limit for trains in the Chunnel is about 100 miles per hour which is much slower than the up to 220 miles per hour planned for California High Speed Rail. Dispatchers hate dealing with fast trains sharing tracks with slower trains since dealing with faster trains passing slower ones need crossovers and space to prevent causing one or both trains to come to a stop.
There are plans to buy new rail cars and locomotives for trains like the San Joaquin in California for speed up 125 miles per hour. The problem is with the rail cars: production is years behind schedule because the prototype car has so far failed FRA crash load standards. The order may never be filled since there is a time limit to get the Federal funding for these cars which is running out. The current plan now calls for High Speed Rail service to begin in 2025 from Kern County north of Bakersfield to San Jose. There is money to start construction north of Madera to San Jose. But the amount of funding from Cap and Trade money is still unknown and other problems could delay completion to San Jose. Under such circumstances the High Speed Rail Authority might have to allow some San Joaquin trains between Madera and Shafter. It could be possible to run San Joaquin trains sharing track with High Speed Rail. But this would require train schedules which reduce potential train conflicts and some third track sidings at grade to pull San Joaquin trains out of the way of passing High Speed Trains. If this could be done it would make meets between High Speed Trains and San Joaquin trains easier. It would also reduce running times for the San Joaquins and allow it to share stations at Fresno and Hanford with High Speed Rail.