By Noel T. Braymer
Ever since the approval by California Voters of Prop 1A which contained an almost 10 billion dollar bond issue in the November 2008 election, there has been an ongoing campaign to oppose the California High Speed project, mostly for political reasons. As with any large complex project, California High Speed Rail with the high costs of construction in the United States, have also seen delays and opposition from “NIMBY’s”. Despite the problems, work continues to build High Speed Rail service between Bakersfield and Merced. The California High Speed Rail Authority is planning a $1.65 billion contract bid to lay 119 miles of track, install signals and electrification between roughly Wasco and Madera. The plan is to award this contract in the summer of 2020 with construction completed by 2022.
There are plans by the California High Speed Rail Authority to start up High Speed Rail passenger service between Bakersfield and Merced by 2028 or so. This would be run as an hourly service with a joint Kings/Tulare Counties station and stations at Fresno and Madera. As part of this Amtrak San Joaquin service would terminate at Madera to connect with HSR at a joint station for service every 2 hours to Oakland or Sacramento. At Merced there are planned connections on extended ACE service to and from either San Jose or Sacramento. San Joaquin and ACE services would run hourly while alternating destinations every other hour .
The most recent news of California High Speed Rail was the agreement by Virgin Trains USA to start construction next year of the 170 miles between Las Vegas and Victorville for speeds up to 180 miles per hour with electrification. The State of California through the California High Speed Rail Authority is organizing $3.25 billion in bonds issued by the California Infrastructure and Economic Development Bank for Virgin Trains USA . This will be used to finance construction of the 135 miles of new track work between Victorville and the state line between California and Nevada on I-15. This will also include construction of a station and rail yard at Victorville. Construction for the whole project is planned to be finished by 2023. The next step is extension of service west of Victorville to Palmdale. This would likely have Metrolink connections to most of Southern California in the near term. Longer range plans seem centered on joint construction of a largely in tunnel route south of Palmdale shared by California High Speed Rail trains from the Bay Area and Virgin Trains USA from Las Vegas to Los Angeles and Anaheim.
Virgin Trains USA is still busy. They recently announced that they will extend their Florida service in the Orlando area to the heart of the Theme Park area. At the same time they plan to extend their Florida service in Miami to the docks of the Cruise Ships in Miami. This will allow quick rail service between Cruise Ship passengers to and from the theme parks around Orlando.
The other recent development in High Speed Rail in this Country is the start up the Texas Central. This private company will soon start construction of High Speed Rail service between Houston and Dallas/Fort Worth with a single stop in the Brazos Valley by College Station. End to end times are planned for 90 minutes. On September 13, 2019 the Texas Central signed a designed-build agreement with Salini Impregilo and Lane Construction Corporation for Texas High-Speed Rail. This new service will be based on Central Japan Railway’s Tokaido Shinkansen trains. Their new Shinkansen N700S, which is the 6th generation of this train will be debuted before this summer’s 2020 Olympics. The planned route of the Texas Central is about 240 miles for a 90 minute run between end points with trains running hourly off peak and half hourly during peak travel times.
What has been in the news lately has been talk and money raised to create High Speed Rail service between Oregon, Washington State and British Columbia. This could connect the cities of Portland, Seattle and Vancouver. A major backer for this new service is Microsoft, which is headquartered near Seattle. Money doesn’t seem to be an issue. But no doubt there are many issues along the route which will have to be resolved.
What has really hit the news in the last few weeks is talk of building High Speed Rail between Atlanta and Charlotte. But so far, there is nothing planned in terms of a final route. News stories report top speeds between 150 miles per hour to 220 miles per hour. There has been stories that the new High Speed Trains would be extended north of Charlotte to Washington and up the NEC. What is not being discussed is who is gong to build, operate and pay for this new proposed service?
Current Amtrak President Richard Anderson has for some time talked about expanding corridor train service while getting rid of Long Distance Trains which he ignores are major generators of revenues for Amtrak. Anderson (who was President of Delta Airlines before coming to Amtrak) in particular has highlighted the Atlanta-Charlotte rail corridor as an example of an under served corridor. The question is who is going to own and pay for a high speed rail corridor between Atlanta and Charlotte? Amtrak, the States, private corporations or the Federal Government? When Anderson first came to Amtrak he talked about buying Diesel Multiple Unit (DMU) trainsets which would be cheaper to buy and operate than locomotive hauled trains. But that only holds for trains up to 4 or 5 cars. For trains longer (with more paying passengers) than 5 cars locomotives make more sense.
Basically in the last year Anderson and Amtrak are speaking less about any network of regional corridor services. One example of a needed rail corridor is between Los Angeles and Phoenix. So what’s the problem? There is an existing right of way by rail between Los Angeles and Phoenix. There is plenty of travel demand. But you will need the cooperation of the State of Arizona, the Union Pacific Railroad and money for new equipment and construction of railroads and stations. We aren’t near that level yet.
The last High Speed Rail service in the news are the new trainsets for 150 miles per hour ACELA service on the Northeast Corridor. The problem with the current ACELA equipment is basically they are too heavy and falling apart. This goes back to old Federal Railroad Administration regulations which in the case of a crash, passengers cars had to be strong enough to avoid being crushed. This resulted in very heavy passenger cars which needed lots of energy to move. The auto industry after years of testing found that absorbing kinetic energy in vehicles by designing areas of the vehicle to be crushed was much safer than than making cars stronger and heavier. Around the world for years rail vehicles have been much safer and lighter than American passenger cars following the old FRA regulations. Only after the FRA tested passenger cars under old FRA regulations, against world wide standards did the FRA accept that lighter rail cars were safer. These were designed to absorbed kinetic energy and not pulse it to the people on the trains with heavier cars after an accident.